Friday, July 31, 2009

LIFE: "You're tags are expired."

The post below describes the joylessness of my experiences getting my car's licence sticker renewed. I point out that I'm more or less unenthused about getting pulled over driving with expired licence tags. That's because it happened to me once. As a passenger, but nonetheless, it wasn't fun.

Back in my more sociable days, I would occasionally do things because friends asked me to. Things I didn't want to do, and knew I SHOULDN'T do. I've put that niceness well behind me now, so I'm unlikely to fall into the trap again. Just so you should know.

It all started with the breaking up of a bridge partnership. I was playing, successfully, with a gent by the name of Wayne. Wayne had a small problem with alcohol, but sober, was one of the best young players in the country. I was slightly older and responsible for driving. Wayne had lost his licence. I found Wayne a dependable partner, except when he failed to show up or answer his door when being picked up. One last time, a club championship missed, and I told him the partnership was over. I didn't talk to him for the better part of a decade. (I'm legendary for holding grudges).

One of my other friends, the lady in a recently split-up relationship, eventually started seeing Wayne socially. She looked at me with those big sad eyes and pouty face and begged me to give Wayne another chance. Just for her. I KNEW it was wrong. But there was no saying no. I agreed to partner Wayne at the upcoming Canadian Nationals. The Good Friday Open Pairs. As an act of goodwill, Wayne volunteered to drive. He showed up the morning of the game driving his mother's car.

As it turns out, the magic that had been our partnership had disappeared. We turned in average sessions in the afternoon and then in the evening. It wasn't unpleasant, but the strained conversation was too much pressure to turn in a good performance. I wasn't at my best. And his rust showed. He wasn't anywhere near ready to play in a serious tournament. I tried. But I simply didn't enjoy the game. Ultimately, what was wrong was a reversal of playing postures. In the original partnership, I had been the aggressive player while Wayne had been the solid conservative one. In the intervening years, I had become the rock of most of my partnerships, letting my partners be the shooters. Two conservative players rarely succeed in tournament bridge.

Anxious to bring this experiment in taking one for a friend to an end (he had been inveigled into this as much as I was), we lit out right after the evening session and headed home. We just got off the highway south of Bramalea when flashing cherry lights in our rear window foretold of problems. The next 20 minutes were spent by Wayne weedling permission out of the policeman to allow him to drive me home and then go get the licence sticker for the car. The sticker was on top of the fridge at his mother's house. By the way, it had been on the fridge for FIVE MONTHS!!! Wayne was never anything other than personable in situations like this, even in his drinking days. The officer acquiesced.

Wayne apologized as he got into the car. I said nothing, seething. I was more mad at myself than anything else. The next three minutes were spent in silence, Wayne recognizing the opportunity to not foment any angry conversation. Three minutes? With my house ten minutes away? Yep. That's how long it took for ANOTHER POLICE UNIT to pull us over!! Took a half-hour this time for the latest member of the constabulary to check with the first one and verify the deal.

Once on our way, the silence was deafening. As we pulled into the driveway at my house, Wayne offered one word. Sorry. I nodded acceptance, got out of the car and haven't spoken to, or seen him, in 18 years.

Not that I'm counting.

LIFE: The DMV Was Met and Conquered

Over the years, I have had a hate-hate relationship with the Department of Motor Vehicles.

There was a time where my choices were to go to the provincial driver test centre at the corner of Steeles and Airport Road. T'was a zoo. So I drove 30-45 minutes north to Bolton where I could walk in and then out, ten minutes later. Better to sit in the car, burning gas, risking my life, than sit in the miasma of humanity at the testing centre.

Then, the DMV opened up a place on Steeles just around the corner from me. This should have been the start of something good. Right? No, not so much.

Let's just use the last four visits prior to this year as examples of why my trips to that nice little office in the strip plaza haven't worked out.

July 2003: I pull into the parking lot of the DMV and turn off the car. It rattles. It moans. And the air conditioning expires. Maybe not the DMV's fault, but little did I know how often this 'coincidence' would occur.

July 2005: I pull into the parking lot of the DMV and turn off the car. I try to take the key out of the ignition. This proves impossible. A relatively new acquisition (the old car of 2003 having expired), I find myself suddenly in need of a tow to my mechanic, who keeps the car for a week and then returns it with a new ignition block and some other stuff.

July 2007: I successfully park at the DMV AND leave the car seemingly in good order. However, I'm not in good working order, suffering in the throes of a bout of flu. Shouldn't have been anywhere near other humans, but it was the last day of the month and I had a disinclination to get pulled over for expired tags (another story to follow). So I bundled up and trundled to the place of my worst nightmares. I struggle up to the front when my number is called and complete the transaction. I then stumble out in front of the office, where my gold Saturn is parked. I apply the sticker to my rear licence plate and beep to unlock the driver-side door. It fails. I then notice, the gold Saturn I have applied the sticker to, is next to the gold Saturn I own. Side by side. I re-enter the DMV and go through the waiting process before finally getting the chance to tell my tale of woe. Costs me $100 bucks, $10 for each of two replacement stickers and $80 for the DMV to track down the owner of the other gold Saturn, who's new legal sticker I had 'replaced' with mine.

July 2008: I had used the one-year option the prior year, hoping to break my dismal double-year luck. Again, for the second time in a row, I successfully negotiated parking AND exiting the vehicle with it in one working piece. I go through the DMV line-up and proudly dump my paperwork in front of the bored clerk. She processes it and starts to give me my sticker, when she notices it was the extra copy of the 2007 paperwork I'd ended up with during my double-purchase of stickers. I must have looked like a crestfallen puppy. She took pity on me and sent me on my way. As it turns out, there MIGHT have been one piece of paper she didn't give back to me.

July 2009: I look high. I look low. I don't have my ownership slip to my car. It is SUPPOSED to be in the travel documents folder in the glove compartment box. It isn't. The insurance slip's there. I have the Licence renewal paperwork. But NO BLOODY PINK SLIP! It's now the last day of the month, not that this is unusual for my renewals. Technically due on my birthday, the fact is, giving the government money on time, let alone roughly on time, causes heart palpitations. And get this, the place I bought the car from no longer exists. It was a SATURN dealership. Thanks GM. Grrrrrrrrr! But Patrick does some research (he's been unusually calm and helpful lately) and discovers I can get a replacement pink slip for ten bucks and I can get it at the same time as I get the stickers.

And that's what happened. Waited in line, getting a seat almost immediately. Took 40 minutes start to finish, giving me time to read the first five chapters in Joe Haldeman's excellent The Accidental Time Machine. Lady who handled my business didn't even raise an eyebrow when I mentioned the need for both a pink slip and the sticker.

I'm no fool, although you couldn't prove it by this post. I know next year (it has to be next year, because I was prevented from re-upping for two years by the need next year of an emissions test) it'll be something else that will crop up. I'm already down to driving less than 3,000 kilometres a year and it won't take much to convince me to give up the car completely and taxi/rent from here on.

Say, like a trip to the DMV.

UPDATE: Yes, I know Pink slips are green (and the insurance slip is pink). But I'm old. I grew up in a time when car ownership papers were called pink slips. And now I'm too old to change habits. Punks!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

SPORTS: Bart Andrus ... Your ARE The MAN!

Bart Andrus is my newest hero.

Unlike just about every football man west of Bill Belichick, Andrus ain't taking any guff from fools like that buffoon Arland Bruce III. And today, the Toronto Argos can start figuring out which players will get to put a big hurt on Bruce when he returns for the Labour Day game with his new team, the Hamilton Tiger Cats. I say, why pick? Let's have a big pile-on every time the jerk touches the ball.

That I detest Bruce's antics is no big news. The Argos didn't have a single happy moment last year after Bruce pulled that self-aggrandizing Spiderman schtick after a touchdown against Hamilton. The twit seems to have caught OchoCinco disease here in T.O., what with the imminent arrival in T.O. by T.O his bad self. Good receivers all, lousy teammates and worse showmen. Self-deluded into thinking they are entertaining with their antics. And worse, they puff out their chests and claim privilege to act out. A pox on them all.

Football is the ultimate team game. There has NEVER been a Bruce touchdown that was completely and utterly his own work. The quarterback (Kerry Joseph, the one he tried to sideline last year in favour of Bruce best pal Mike Bishop) had to get him the ball. The quarterback needed some time to do so, so let's credit the faceless giants along the offensive line. And it occasionally requires an upfield block or two from Bruce's fellow receivers. AND I've seen a running back make a block on a blitzer a time or two in my life. No, Bruce doesn't get it. HE didn't score the touchdown, the TEAM did!

Joe Paterno once opined that a touchdown scorer should act like they'd done it before. That would look cool (in the parlance of the folks who use it that way). I believe in that. Acting like a crazed moron trying out for America's Got Talent ... comedic acting category ... has no place on the football field.

Now Bruce's a Ti-Cat. Let the hate flow. Feels good, doesn't it?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

SOFTWARE: Beware the Graugon

I've never heard of Graugon Software. Well, not until a few days ago. Now, I wish the company ill. Say, a venereal disease ill. Something long-lasting and painful. Not life threatening. Just a reminder that karma's a bitch.

I have had some issues with double-clicking on HTM and HTML files of late. Something else (not Graugon-related) got in there and mulched my file associations. Soooo, I found Extension Manager for download and decided to give it a whirl. Didn't mention the company behind it. But the purpose was very specific and I didn't think I could hurt anything too badly. PLUS I had backups. AND I had the full-blown Zone Alarm Internet Security Suite rocking the computer in extreme mode.

What could go wrong?

Initially, nothing. It fixed the associations I tried it with. Just what a little free utility is supposed to do. But I kept finding a Graugon page up and running, every time I ran Firefox. Now, I leave Firefox up and running for days at an end and don't restart all that often. So I didn't really notice Graugon had decided I needed a new start up page. But, I tried a bunch of new add-ins over the last 24 hours and that's when I found Graugon had snuck behind my back and made it my new start page. Without changing the start page listed in Firefox's options, which is sneaky at best, nasty at worst. Zone Alarm and NoScript DID prevent the page from running whatever scripts are on the page. Maybe it's a real malware site, maybe it's just a case of them wanting their pound of screen time for offering up the free program. And undoubtedly, I OK'd this pernicious misuse of my Firefox program somewhere deep within the bowels of their licensing agreement I tacitly agreed to, while pressing NEXT.

But, now that I knew that the slow start to Firefox was the result of this scumware, I got rid of it. I ran REVO Uninstaller, which got the program and most of the registry references. I needed to run Registery Workshop and clear out the last three references to this PITA. It bit back though. When I ran Firefox, it crashed into the debugger. Which is Delphi's debugger, meaning the whole programming environment I have, had to load, which took three minutes ... just to have me close it down immediately.

Eventually, I had to re-install Firefox 3.51 to get it to work again. Which it now does, free of the last contaminating bits of Graugon crapware. In addition to the Extension Manager utility, I understand Graugon also offers a anti-virus/firewall program. You couldn't pay me enough money to even look at the web-page for the 'security' suite. Once burnt, twice shy, I guess.

Now that I think about it, maybe a sexual disease would be too good for the #$(*U#@$ who futzed up my computer. I'll leave it to your imagination as to what I'd REALLY like to happen to the whole lot of them.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

TV: ABC Family's 2 Newest Shows

ABC Family continues to confound me with what it puts on the air, having given up on both The Middleman and Kyle XY over the last 15 months or so. The latest hour the network is showing is 10 Things I Hate About You and Ruby and the Rockits. Neither's terrible. Neither makes me glad time was cleared to air them.

10 Things I Hate About You got off to the earlier start. The only holdover from the movie that birthed the concept is Larry Miller, who reprises his role as the overly-protective father of high schoolers Kat and Bianca. Kat (Kate from The Taming of the Shrew, in effect) is a feminist gone overboard, while Bianca is forbidden to date until Kat does, by fatherly dictate. Since Kat's never going to date, this puts the younger sister on the sideline until ... like, forever. Father's parting words upon leaving for school, "Don't get pregnant!"

Of course, in the movie, Kat (Julia Stiles) eventually crumbles before the sexiness that was Heath Ledger, allowing Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) to start dating, albeit dating the class geek played by Joseph Gordon-Leavitt. Amongst other things, Oleynik and Gordon-Leavitt were basically the same size.

In the TV show, Kat's played by Lindsay Shaw. Shaw's not quite in Stiles' class as an actress, but she does well enough. Ethan Peck has to fill Ledger's shoes, and that ain't happenin'. He's trying hard, but Ledger's smile is what made him. So far, Peck's not smiling much. But the real problem is the pairing of the new Bianca (Meaghan Martin) with the twice-as-tall Nicholas Braun, who's Cameron isn't geeky so much as awkward. Doesn't work.

The first episode did end with the same song as the movie, which had Letters To Cleo covering Cheap Trick's I Want You to Want Me. Teeny-gal band KSM does the cover this time. Still prefer Letters to Cleo, who also covered Nick Lowe's Cruel To Be Kind in the movie. Wonder who'll end up doing it in the movie.

Not curious enough to continue watching the show, but still curious.

This week's Ruby and The Rockits debut was Cassidy overkill with a shot of My Two Dads deja vu. The Cassidys are all over this half-hour. Shaun's the producer while David and Patrick star as a former hit rock duo act called The Rockits. David Gallagher's still touring on 20-year old fame, while Patrick's a married father of two boys, who owns an auto dealership. The two are estranged until a cleaving force (cleave being the only word in the English language that is its own antonym. But I digress) appears.

David has a long-lost daughter, played by Alexa Vega of Spy Kids fame. But here's the deja vu part. They've made Vega into a visual clone of Staci Keanan, who played the young daughter of Greg Evigan and Paul Reiser in My Two Dads. Uncannily alike. I know, I saw the My Two Dads pilot about a month ago. And even some of the dialog seems to have made a transition between the two shows. Not a lot, but the fighting men and the young girls' response, dialog-wise, is eerily similar.

While the first episode only reunites the Rockit duo, it's going to be a family band before too long. Vega does have a solo singing career and David Cassidy is a long-time rocker. So singing won't be an issue. It might even be fun to see if anything hits the charts from this latter day Partridge Family progeny. But I don't think I'll spend much time waiting for good music.

ABC will probably cancel it if it's any good.

Friday, July 24, 2009

HARDWARE: Disk Media

I get asked every now and then by a friend or family member as to which brand of blank DVD's to buy. The answer is ... ask Patrick. I buy them in bulk from his supplier. Usually, they are TDK, Maxell or iMation. That's not top of the line, but when I burn off stuff, it's usually two copies. I burn at the 4x speed for DVD's and 24x speed for CD's, despite buying media rated for higher speeds and having the burners to burn at those higher speeds.

That combo seems to work for me. I rarely have had problems reading disks burnt at the slower speeds on the 'B' rated disks. So I think I get a decent price to performance ratio.

However, I think I'm going to abdicate Patrick's role for this question and start directing people to this site:

Bluntly, it does a good job of pointing out the advantages of good media and the names that make the 'A' list. Bob Thompson, who's word on hardware matters, matters a lot to me, touts Taiyo as well. Don't know how much access to Taiyo we have up here in Canada, but it might pay to look. Afterall, if you make one and only one copy of your wedding stuff, it might be worth having the best possible disk holding those memories.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

SOFTWARE: Anit-Virus Choices

I have used various anti-virus programs over the years. I was partial to Norton Anti-Virus at one point. But it was costly to stay current, a resource hog, and enforced upgrades proved to be the final straw. I also used McAfee during that time period and found the same flaws.

So, I moved to the 'free' camp, starting with AVG. Despite a couple of hiccups over the years, I stuck with AVG until version 8. That's when THAT program tried to outgrow its niche and became less a master of one trade, and more or less a semi-decent jack of several trades. It even required leaving a big fat portion of itself in memory for non-anti-virus purposes ... even if that's all you wanted to do with it. So, I switched to Avast! Other than a regular requirement to re-register, it has seemed to do the trick.

But I am not using it right now on my main machine.

About two weeks ago, I switched to ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite, finding it on sale for half-off at the local Best Buy. The reason for the switch actually has nothing to do with Avast!. It has everything to do with the ZoneAlarm firewall.

One of the reasons I like ZoneAlarm, besides the relatively easy handling of the two-way firewall access, USED to be its ability to tell me what programs were currently accessing the internet. The latest free versions removed that capability, and I was left in the dark. Infuriatingly, my ZoneAlarm system tray applet was showing my computer was almost constantly accessing the net, even when I wasn't running that SHOULD have been accessing the internet. Maddening.

I tried several freeware solutions to detail this info. All failed. So, in order to solve THAT mystery, I bought the ZA Internet Security Suite, which came with a bunch of stuff, including anti-virus. So, I gave it a try. I liked that it updated every three hours, which was better than the every day updating of Avast! It seemed fairly straightforward in handling found virii, including giving me options to repair, quarantine, delete and ignore now/forever. It wasn't exactly a speed demon and it DID slow down copying/moving operations between my various computers. But all in all, I decided to keep it as the anti-virus on my main machine.

By the way, the constantly accessing situation was Network Magic.

Even though I have a three-machine license for ZA-ISS, I'm leaving Avast! running on the rest. At least until October. Why October? That's when a new version 5 of Avast! comes out. The story certainly intimates that the product might be trying to outgrow its britches. That's following the same path as AVG.

Now, it's possible the free version of Avast! will continue to be just an anti-virus. I hope so. For once, I'd like a company to be proud of what it does and do it better than everybody else, rather than do what everybody else does. IF that's the case, more the power to the folks at Avast!.

But it's a situation to watch.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

SPORTS: A Letter to Clarence

Clarence Gaston is a creature of habit. To some, that means having faith in his players. To others, it shows a shocking lack of creativity. Me, I tend to lean towards the second point of view.

When the Toronto Blue Jays put Gaston in charge last summer, he was a breathe of fresh air, bringing along a hitting strategy that was proven successful in the past, replacing the dumb as dirt organizational point of view to wait for walks and three-run homers. (Put in place by you know who). Without the 'though shall not swing' strictures in place, the team's offense turned from moribund to bountiful. That bounty lasted through until a month and a half into this season.

Finally, teams got the idea Toronto batters weren't taking incessantly any more. Different pitching strategies resulted in less Toronto success at bat. More losses than wins. And now Roy Halladay knows playoff dreams are nothing up pipedreams in T.O. Exit strategies have been planned.

Now, some managers would figure a few things out. He's tired Marco Scutaro out by playing him in EVERY SINGLE GAME (until just recently). Scutaro could have really used about one day off in eight to ten. And certainly, Scutaro's astounding control at the bat and Hill's brilliant performance as a second-place hitter, have re-enforced Gaston's commitment to not changing something that's working.

But in the greater picture, it ain't working Clarence. For whatever reason, Alex Rios has been average and Wells has ranged from above-average on the road to the WORST HOME BATTER IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL! Lyle Overbay has hidden a below-average season behind one hot ten days when he was Player of the Week in the league. Gaston has bowed to the obvious by kicking Rios and Wells down the batting order. But all that's done is create the hole elsewhere. MORE creativity is needed if there is the slightest chance to kick the offence into higher gear.

So, here's my idea (not original, Jeff Blair's mentioned it at least once).

Make Alex Rios the lead-off batter.

Yeah, we know he's a homer-hitter on the best of days, which we haven't seen this year. He's also the club's main speed threat. Scutaro has been serving as the perfect second-hitter since that home run explosion in the first month. He takes pitches, gets walks and is hitting .280. Please define a more perfect guy to move Rios or give him time to steal. Hill's been a three-spot hitter all year long. It would have been nice to have more runners on base for his home runs. Adam Lind's been hitting for average and power, which more or less describes a clean-up hitter and Scott Rolen's not hitting the long ball, but as the final piece of the middle of the batting order, he's just about perfect. Vernon Wells has got to start hitting at home, but if he does, he could easily switch with Rolen when he gets hot (and he's been hot on the road). Then that leaves Lyle Overbay and Kevin Millar to share first base and the seventh spot in the order. Rod Barajas seems to be doing alright in the eighth slot, leaving the final place in the batting order to the left fielder/DH, whichever retread Gaston trots out there these days.

All of this presumes Rios gets enthusiastic and starts concentrating by becoming the spotlight player who leads off games. Baseball is all about the Three C's, Capability, Confidence and Concentration. Rios has never lacked for the first one, mostly never lacked the second and is so rarely concentrating that he's the most baffling player on the club. No Rios on a tear, no chance the Blue Jays make a belated run at relevance. I say it's time to stop doing the accepted, no more reading whatever book Gaston's been coaching out of for 30 years. Make Rios the lead-off guy. Maybe it works and Gaston looks like a genius. Maybe it fails and Toronto continues treading water.

Or worse.

Back to you Clarence.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

BOOKS: Finger-Lickin' Fifteen

The one-word review of this book:


If you need more words, read on. This blog, NOT this book fer gawdsakes!

It has become a rite of passage. On my birthday, the O'Neills take me to a fast food joint for dinner. We re-assemble back at the Castle of Confusion. They present me with some books, one of which is always the latest Stephanie Plum novel by Janet Evanovich. Books in hand, I kick them out of my house and then spend the rest of the night of my birthday laughing through the latest adventures of the bounty hunter and her crazy crowd from The Berg.

Holes in this plan started to reveal themselves last year. Book 14 in the series wasn't exactly a thigh-slapper and it was more work than fun to get through. That said, Fearless Fourteen did nothing to prepare me for the utter disaster that is Finger-Lickin' Fifteen. It gets a half star out of five because there are a few laughs in the book. But everything else between the two covers suggests somebody else wrote the book. Seriously, it's that bad.

First, there's the crude language and situations throughout the book. I dislike gutter language but have come to expect some of it in everything I read these days. Sometimes it adds spice to a book. In this book, the sheer volume is distracting. Fueled by a sub-plot regarding a flasher, this is one creative decision that Evanovich should regret by now. And then there's the 'mysteries' in the book. The main mystery is Ranger's problem with somebody foiling his security systems and stealing from his clients. Repeatedly. He asks Stephanie to basically solve this unsolvable case ... which would have been solved after the first robbery by ANY of the homeowners simply complaining how he got robbed AFTER TWO VISITS by Rangeman personnel earlier in the week! And the murderous Maniac and his gun-toting henchman were simply silly in trying to take out Lula after she witnessed a beheading.

And there's Evanovich's continuing obsession with men in dresses. That's long since ceased to be amusing, if it ever was. Lula's fat, and just realized it ... again. No new fun there. The usual car destruction took two-thirds of the book and then Stephanie went through three lickety-split quick. Only the use of an exploding Lula's Firebird landing on the car Ranger had loaned Stephanie 24 hours earlier and destroying it, showed some creativity.

There is absolutely nothing in this book to further the lust triangle between Stephanie, Ranger and Joe Morelli. Even Joyce Barnhardt plays really no bigger a role in the book than Vince the Bondsmen. There is that confusing scene where she steals food from Stephanie after spitting in it. Then she serves it up to Joe and his family, while indulging in it herself! All so we can chuckle at her and Joe having the runs.

Awful might be a better word than crude. But I really, really am disappointed by the book to the point where I wonder if I shouldn't wait for the reviews for the sixteenth book before committing to it as my birthday day-capper. You know, birthdays are SUPPOSED to be special.

And Finger-Lickin' Fifteen wasn't.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

SOFTWARE: Time to Upgrade to Firefox 3.51

Okay, forget what I said a couple of days ago. Go ahead and upgrade to Firefox 3.51. The update includes a patch for the security bug that reduced Firefox 3.5x to the level of Internet Explorer. Not trustworthy. But the patch came on Thursday and seems to have done the trick.

What I did to upgrade: Backed up my WHOLE system Friday night. Backed up Firefox 3.0.11 via MozBackup 1.49, downloadable from Pavel Cvrcek's site. Then I backed up AGAIN, using FEBE, one of Chuck Baker's great add-ons. (You really should install CLEO, OPIE and FEBE, if you already haven't). Lastly, I installed Password Exporter and then exported my passwords to a file, JUST IN CASE things went south with the upgrade. I have heard reports that passwords can occasionally be lost during the upgrade process from 3.0x to 3.5x.

Now, I ran the 3.51 installer. Since I don't install to 'default' locations, I chose Custom at the appropriate place and then kept pressing next and finish until ... well I was finished. During the rebooting of Firefox, I had some add-ons that were listed as not yet ready for Firefox 3.5x. It was a scarily long list, but I continued. Ran the Check for Updates routine when asked and found a couple of upgrades available. In my case, they were Undo Closed Tab Button and Hide Unvisited. I did the upgrade and booted into Firefox 3.5 for the first time.

And right there was a notice from Hide Unvisited to reboot immediately and it would UNINSTALL itself!!!! It seems that the options Privacy|History setting obviates the need for Hide Unvisited. It set that setting to HISTORY and then went away. Gotta admit I liked the programming of that person!!

I had odd results with Tab Mix Plus during my testing of 3.51. I did try the beta of the version that is supposed to work with 3.5x, but it failed on two of my machines. On the other hand, All-in-One Sidebar, my tab manager of choice before TMP, DOES work with 3.51. And better yet, no TMP means bringing back Tabs Open Relative. The combo of AIOSB and TOR does what TMP does and I like the ability to have a toolbar running down the left side of my application, giving me easy in-place access to things like bookmarks and my add-ons. It collapses in two steps without fanfare and I feel like it's old home week having it back. Plus, I don't have to use tricks to get lots of tabs open in the order that I want them. If I have folder A, Bookmark 1, Bookmark 2, folder B and folder C, and I want to see 1,2,B,C,A open in that order, in TMP I have to middle-click A,C,B,1,2. Not completely mind-boggling, but not as much fun as middle-clicking on them IN THE ORDER I WANT THEM!

So, I uninstalled Tab Mix Plus, enabled Tabs Open Relative and installed All-In-One Sidebar. (all of these add-ins can be found by searching at them at In some cases, you have to read through the page and find the home-page of the add-on and go there for a new/beta version. None of it is too difficult.

That process allowed me to get Automatic Save Folder working, but couldn't save either Line Marker nor Redirect Remover. So, I searched the add-ons page and found Highlighter and NoRedirect to replace them respectively.

After that, I updated User Agent Switcher and then enabled Java Quick Starter, which left two issues of MAJOR concern. NoSquint was vitally necessary while Microsoft .NET Framework Assistant was vitally necessary to dispense with. And wouldn't you know it, both needs were met. I had to go to the NoSquint site via the Add-Ons site at Mozilla. Seems the update version might even be MORE handy. And, while it's wild and wacky, I was able to get rid of the MS Framework crap too.

When you installed Firefox 3.51, it disabled the Framework add-on YOU PROBABLY DIDN'T KNOW YOU HAD. That's right. When you updated Windows a while back and installed the .NET Framework security upgrade, Microsoft installed this Add-on and made it virtually impossible to get rid of the thing. Somewhere, George Orwell's ghost is laughing. You could get rid of it by editing a half-dozen settings in various places, but the next Windows update would put it right back. Well, version 1.0 of the gift from hell wouldn't work in Firefox 3.51, thus was disabled. Still no getting rid of it, but you could ignore it if you wanted.

Not me. I wanted it gone. And here's how you get rid of it. UPGRADE to version 1.1 of Microsoft .NET Framework Assistant!?!?! Yep, upgrade the disabled version to the WORKING newer version!! And then uninstall it! THIS version of the add-on allows itself to be uninstalled. What do the say about two steps backwards, one step forward?

My last little change I had to make in my setup to feel comfortable working in the newest Firefox was to fine tune the toolbars a little (moving some of the icons to the All in One Sidebar vertical toolbar). I also went into the All in One Sidebar and told it not to show the download panel, since Download Statusbar was handling that chore for me these days.

I was done. Here are the list of extensions I currently have installed.

Friday, July 17, 2009

TV: The Top 25 from the last 365 Days Part 3

So here on the last day of my 52nd year on the planet, I present the top ten most entertaining programs of that year. I make no apologies to others who presume they know better quality amongst overlooked programs. These are the ones I most looked forward to seeing. (I'm also going to use links to prior postings for a majority of them, rather than rehash those reviews from earlier this year).

#10 - Eureka [#6 - LY]

There is almost no justification for the loss of ranking of Eureka this year, other than to note there were nine better shows. The show lost Ed Quinn which was a shame because he was spectacularly good right through to his sacrificial end. Hard to believe the smarmy red tape guy from the earlier seasons had as much heart as Quinn's Nathan Stark. His work overcame an otherwise dreary sub-plot involving Francis Fisher. That one ended well, though.

Otherwise, Eureka was what it has been from the beginning, an idea incubator with drama and humour thrown in, in equal measures. Whimsical, but thought-provoking. If you let your mind wander a bit.

I missed Matt Frewer, but others did step up. I thought Erica Cerra moved away from her one-note character into something approaching interesting ... and still pretty. Neil Grayston's Fargo sort of grew up, as did the petulant child, Jordan Hinson. Hinson's Zoe and her sheriff dad, played with usual charm and hidden strength by Colin Ferguson, are no longer outsiders and have made their intellectual mark. It's gone a long way at erasing the 'Mensa' snobbery of the other residents of Eureka.

Eureka is a show where anything is possible, but enjoyment is guaranteed.

#9 - How I Met Your Mother [Tied #9 - LY]

I reviewed this show back in this post. I am happy to report since that review that things HAVE moved forward in the quest for Bob Saget to reveal just how he met the mother of the two bored kids he's lecturing/telling tales to. We know Sarah Chalke isn't the mother and we know Ted traded in his tri-square and business cards with Architect written on them to become a teacher. That's progress, although THIS YEAR better be the year we find the better half to Ted's life.

That said, Neil Patrick Harris continues to be amongst the funniest guys on TV, a fact not missed by the awards shows. He's popping up everywhere. And good for him. Shows he's more than Barney, not that we can have enough Barney on prime-time TV.

#8 - Hustle (British)

Michael "Mickey Bricks" Stone came back, and brought some new playmates with him. This was news back in February when I wrote this post. And apparently we'll be seeing more of Adrian Lester, Kelly Adams and the crew just after the new year. I really think Adams is a find and a match for Lester, which is as high a compliment as I can think of. If caper shows are in your interest spectrum, Hustle rates to entertain you a lot. After a year out of the top 10, it's good to see this British staple is back where it belongs.

#7 - Life

One of two of the top ten to get cancelled, I believe the NBC execs who ordered Life extinguished deserve a lifetime of watching Richard Hatch in his naked glory 24/7/52 until their eyes fall out and they scream themselves hoarse. Damian Lewis, Sarah Shahi, Donal Logue and Adam Arkin played great characters, each brought to life by an expressive actor. The puzzles were interesting. Given the pablum that DID make the Fall 2009 schedule, Life's cancellation was unfathomable. For my review, see this post.

#6 - Burn Notice [#5 - LY]

If you haven't seen Burn Notice and only now plan on now seeing the second season on DVD, jump the rest of this paragraph. SPOILER COMING: Tricia Helfer's character gets killed in the season finale and I couldn't be happier. Helfer, a fellow Canuck, seems destined to never play a character I like. And I DO like the occasional nasty villain type. It's just that she seems to play pretty faces who are supposed to be bad ... and just come off boring to me. I know I'm in the minority, maybe even a minority of one, but I dislike seeing her on the screen as much as I like seeing Paula Marshall or Kelly Rutherford. Soooo, Carla's dead and gone and the show's better off for it. END OF SPOILER.

The review from earlier this year was in this post.

#5 - Demons (British)

Philip Glenister can just about do no wrong. He's been the real star of the mental time travel series Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes. And he brought the same hurly-burly persona to Demons this spring. And the dopes at ITV decided the show was too expensive to bring back for a second series. Yes, this is the last of the cancelled shows in my Top 25. And next year will be all the poorer for that bad, penny-pinching decision.

Demons is the latest of many shows to try to replicate Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Playing the distaff Buffy was Christian Cooke. Cooke plays Luke, who just might be the Last Van Helsing (One of the working titles for the show). He's naturally reluctant, as would be any teenage boy who's told to buck up and start killing demons for a living, rather than being a layabout. Besides being reluctant, he's just a little incredulous. Glenister has the Anthony Head role as trainer/tutor/hectoring old guy. His Rupert is on his last legs, but is more he-man than most. The two of them are paired with two interesting ladies.

Holliday Grainger plays Ruby, Luke's more-than-friend, less-than-girlfriend. Shows more brains and just as much valour as her pal at times. A second season would certainly have brought about a union of a different kind. And Rupert's friend is Mina Harker. The Mina of legend. This time, a blind pianist. And a vampire. And many decades old. Probably older than Rupert, and not much older than Luke in appearance. Mina, played by Zoe Tapper, is probably the most interesting character on the show. And the cliff-hanger ending spotlighting her made me want a second series bad.

Oh well.

The reason Demons stands out from others of the genre, including another Brit show out around the same time, Being Human, was it's understanding that vampires don't sell shows by themselves anymore. The uniqueness of the vampire epic disappeared years ago. But combining vamps with other interesting monsters, Demons had a lot of room to grow. Sad to say, it won't get that chance.

#4 - NCIS

Like House last year, a good show suddenly jumped into prominence with an outstanding season out of the blue. There's been nothing wrong with NCIS over the years where its been a steady top 25 show under the radar. But this season, the show's ability to hide behind the flashier CSI shows disappeared. Almost no missteps in a consistently great year.

Mark Harmon's Gibbs is consistently fascinating to watch. I guess that's because I always admired David Janssen. Whether it was The Fugitive, O'Hara or Charlie O, the one trait Janssen's characters had was a kind of taciturness where words were used sparingly and emotions kept under wraps. I've wished for many things in life--being tall, being artistic, etc. But the one I've found myself most wanting of over the years is the ability to keep my mouth shut. I've actually tried it more than a few times. Can't pull it off. Eventually, the verbal diarrhea comes out. Harmon is this century's Jannsen. And good on him.

The rest of the cast were great too. Cote de Pablo has now been forgiven for replacing Sasha Alexander. And Rocky Carroll was already forgiven for replacing Lauren Holly, who might very well have been what was keeping the show down. She never appeared comfortable (or believable) as an agent turned bureaucrat.

Pauley Perrette, Sean Murray and David McCallum continued to be smart characters with personality. It's sometimes hard to equate coroner Ducky, played by McCallum, with Ilya Kuriakin, McCallum's introduction to North American TV audiences in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. back in the sixties.

But the guy who stepped up his game the most this year was Micheal Weatherly. Weatherly's Tony Dinozzo seemed genuinely changed by the bitter duplicity that cost him his relationship last year with Jeanne Benoit. His patter was more subdued and he was almost cute in trying to dance around his attraction to de Pablo's Ziva. There were times Dinozzo looked almost leader-like. Certainly, the show's creators were grooming him for the NCIS spinoff, NCIS Los Angeles, before deciding to go another way. That's all right for me. Sort of like the chatterbox yin to Gibbs' yang.

My guess is that the show won't be able to maintain this ranking. It's tough to be good to great for 20 plus episodes in any given year. But I wouldn't bet against it either.

#3 - Chuck [#3 - LY]

Look, Chuck's going to be a top ten show for as long as its on the air. Two words. Yvonne Strahovski. Two more. Jordana Brewster. And apparently the girls out there find Zach Levi cute too. And some think Adam Baldwin's sexy. I just think Baldwin and Levi are funny, but whatever floats your boat.

This spy spoof is what Reaper could have been for the monster biz, but wasn't. Same sort of home base for the heroes, an electronics big box store in Chuck's case. Same slacker worker turned super-dude by events beyond his control. Same kind of sidekicks, although Joshua Gomez is way less wearing than Tyler Labine. I would say the same kind of cute girlfriends, but Strahovski is in a league of her own.

The difference? Levi really grows into his role. You really get the idea that Chuck is growing up as he rallies the troops, literally, to stop Chevy Chase's attempt to take over the world. All while getting his sister married off to Captain Awesome and telling off the brass back at Buy More.

So even if you come to see pulchritude (Brewster probably won't be back), stay for the laughs and the antics and the thrills. Chuck's that good.

#2 - Leverage

The American Hustle is now into its second season and there's no reason to believe it won't keep up with its British forebearer. I've written two posts about the show, the latest being this one. And I'm happy to report that the second half of the first season was actually better than the first half. As a result, Leverage bounced ahead of a great Hustle season to finish second in my rankings of shows over the last 12 months.

#1 - The Big Bang Theory [Tied #9 - LY]

I predicted the show might be a contender for top spot here. And nothing knocked it off its perch since then. I laughed out loud a lot watching the show this year, and I'm notoriously hard to actually make laugh intentionally. I laugh a lot, but mostly at life's absurdities. This show made my tummy hurt at time. That's how hard I laughed.

The earlier post boasts Jim Parsons as the funniest man on TV. I'll stand by that. But I do want to mention again the growth in Kaley Cuocco's character, Penny. Penny started off purely as eye candy and an object of lust. Any pretty girl could have played the role. But Cuocco and the writers have turned Penny into something other than a bimbo walking dream. She's caught up to the tail end of the gang and has even fought Parson's Sheldon to a grudging stalemate at times. The predicted reversal of pining did happen at season's end, but it was handled fairly well.

A little bit romantic, a little bit geeky and a whole lot funny. The Big Bang Theory was the best show on TV in the last 12 months.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

TV: The Top 25 from the last 365 Days Part 2

I only had a top 15 last year, but managed to discuss at least another 20. See the full posting here for last year and here for the year before.

Only nine of those shows are back for honouring this year. So let's get on with it and present the second ten of our Top 25.

#20 - The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (British)

Jill Scott is a star. Not just a great singer, she's sensational as the lead actress in this charming BBC import set in Botswana. The American Scott is completely believable as Precious Ramotswe, the proprietor of the first and best ladies' detective agency in the small country of Botswana. It's also the only ladies' detective agency, a fact not lost on Mme. Ramotswe.

She's ably assisted by the rod-straight Mme. Makutsi, played with admirable stiff upper lip by Anika Noni Rose. She's the complete counterpoint to Scott's Ramotswe and a key part of what makes this show work. She's not a caricature, as we see behind her veil of privacy to moments spent with her ailing brother Richard. He has Aids and is dying, as are too many Africans. Add in Ramotswe's would-be beau, played with stoicism by Lucian Msamati, and you have a little group of people who go around solving problems and mysteries.

It's all very ... gentle. Mysteries unfold slowly and sometimes surprisingly. The case of the man missing after a baptism ceremony certainly had a surprising conclusion. That was the outstanding wpisode of the first season. On the other hand, solving the burglars at the mall where the agency is located took a tad too long.

What makes the show special, beyond the three actors mentioned, is the scenery and the music. It was shot completely in Botswana and features a lot of African music. It all makes for a pleasant time. Author Alexander McCall Smith surely has to be pleased with how his books have been translated to the small screen.

#19 - Doctor Who (British)

Really, there are only two specials to talk about in the preceding 12 months. But that's enough to place Doctor Who on the list and in the Top 20 for this year.

The last two Christmas specials have been crackerjack entertainment in the Doctor Who series. They had to be, after the completely disappointing decision to afford David Tennant some time off to do other projects and turn 2009 into a series of Doctor Who Specials. This past Christmas' entry was The Next Doctor and it was spectacularly humanistic. David Morrissey is the next Doctor of the title and he and Tennant's current Doctor meet during a Christmas in the Victorian age. We all know that Tennant's Tenth Doctor will eventually regenerate into a newer version of himself. Could this steampunk version Morrissey purports to be, be one of his future selves? That's the central issue of the special, which also involves the dire threat of the Cybermen.

In between fighting off the latest attempt by the Cybermen to take over Earth, Tennant's Doctor resolves the mysteries of Morrissey's Doctor. And it's heart-breaking and yet inspiring at the end. A truly great Doctor Who Christmas Special.

The first of the Tennnant 2009 Specials in the spring saw ex-Bionic Woman Michelle Ryan join the good Doctor in The Planet of the Dead. Ryan plays Lady Christina De Souza, cat burglar extraordinaire. While making her escape from her last purloining outing, she, the Doctor and a bus-load of interesting characters end up on a planet far, far away. A dead planet, with no life, save for the visitors on the bus and a stranded starship not too far away. It's a predicament made worse by a horde of mechanical thingies that want to keep the planet free of biological life ... and get through to the next planet to denude of life in the same way. That planet's Earth, of course.

The action and the solutions weren't out of this world, so to speak. But I really liked Ryan's bounce back performance after the dreadful turn as Jaime Summers and I'd welcome her back as a future Doctor companion ... or frenemy. She looks quite fetching in a catsuit, by the way.

About three hours isn't much to claim to be a series. But Russel T Davies has gifted us with as much Doctor Who as Tennant will allow. And that's adequate. Tennant is the best Doctor of all time (I've recently watched some Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker shows. It's true). We'll take what we can get and be happy about it.

#18 - My Boys [#12 LY]

I did a mini-review of this show back in June of last year. See it here. Nothing much has changed in the show since then, beyond Jordana Spiro's character PJ now dating Bobby, played by Kyle Howard. PJ is still girl-next-door sexy and still a Chicago sportswriter (Enough right there to recommend the show). The scoobies are still fun, with PJ's brother, played by Jim Gaffigan, consistently one of the funniest guys on TV. It's just a pleasant half-hour to look forward too. Would it be on the list without the sports angle? Maybe not, there are other good-looking women on TV doing comedies (See Fey, Tina and Marshall, Paula). But the whole melange just works. It comes and goes in eight episode mini-seasons and is always welcome here.

#17 - Cranky Geeks

No, the show is not a biographical look at my life. If that was the case, it would be called The Cranky Geek. And no, you didn't miss this show on your TV. It's an INTERNET show!

Every Wednesday night or Thursday morning, I dutifully go to and download the WMV version of the weekly show about what's going on in the computer world. Hosted by John C. Dvorak and Sebastian Rupley (both of whom are connected to PCMag), the cranks have two well-connected people in the industry on each week to talk about what's going on in the news.

Dvorak is a sort of love-him, hate-him kind of guy. Some in the industry dismiss him. Others follow his every word. He's always making predictions and they can either inform or entertain and occasionally do both. I'm one who enjoys what he says, but I take a lot of what comes out of his many media appearances with a grain of salt. Besides writing for several websites, he does a daily five-minute audio show, has a couple of him-versus-?? webcasts and does this show too. He's certainly not media shy.

But the opinions are mostly informed on this show and that's always good. If you are interested in computers, hard to do wrong by downloading this show.

#16 - Stargate: Atlantis [#8 LY]

I don't watch much live TV other than sports. But Stargate: Atlantis came closest to this mark over the years. It was rare for me to wait longer than a day after, before loading up the show to watch. And that remained true, through this past season, its last. Yes, yet another cancelled show on my list.

The reason for the drop in the rankings this year was simple. The end was coming and everybody on the show knew it. The story arcs were short and sometimes not too sweet. Shutouts to characters past were numerous. It was all a case of winding down.

Right as Robert Picardo joined the team as the new commander. Woolsey, Picardo's character, had been around the Stargate universe for a long time. His officious antithesis of previous commanders Col. Samantha Carter and Dr. Elizabeth Weir worked. And worked well. The scene where he goes off to slip out of a spacesuit into something more comfortable and then shows up in a suit and tie, is one of the funniest throwaway scenes. Ever. And I was a big fan of the humanizing effect love had on David Hewlett's Dr. Rodney McKay. Plus, I thought the pairing of Jewel Staite's Dr. Keller and Jason Mamoa's Ronon was delightful. Joe Flanigan continued to be the very best at being the heroic quipster, Col. John Sheppard.

But a show on a limited life span just never has the energy a bright, positive, forward-looking show has. Stargate: Atlantis was good, just not as good as the previous year's version.

#15 - Being Erica (Canadian)

Last year, CBC hit with The Border and it almost made the Top 15 of Summer 2008. Well, the CBC came right back this past fall and launched a show that charmed the shoes right off me. Being Erica was a chicklit delight, with a smattering of science fictiony time travel thrown in.

Starring as Erica was Erin Karpluk, who's irresistably charming in real life and on this show. Erica doesn't have an easy life, mostly through her own wrong choices over the years. She's been afraid of confrontation and standing up for herself. So, just about everybody in her life treats her dreadfully, blaming their own behaviour on Erica most times? She's more or less a doormat, when she encounters a most-strange Psychiatrist/Shaman played with vigour by Michael Riley. Riley's Dr. Tom seems available just behind any door Erica might want to open. He spouts quotes like a Bartlett's come to life and he can send Erica back into her past.

And here's where the show gets shady. She can and does make small changes. Just nothing major. Especially when it comes to the tragic death of her beloved elder brother some years back. Turns out said brother isn't quite the saint Erica makes him out to be, but that's fitting with the rest of the family. Her adulterous rabbi of a father, her shrewish mother and her little sister with the big chip on her shoulder. She deals with them down through the ages, again and again. All leading to the dreadul moment, the fire that killed brother Leo. Her traipsing through time to that moment leads to a shocker of an ending to the first season.

Riley is spectacularly good on this show (He BETTER be back for season two). Karpluk is a revelation, even though I'd seen her on Godiva's in a not too dissimilar role. It'll be tough to roll the same ideas through a second season. We've seen most of the ugly sides of her immediate family. And the folks at job at a publishing company would be hard to make use out of the time travel gimmick. But if the shocking cliff-hanger has some legs, we might just spend time in a parallel universe this coming year.

#14 - Carla Cametti, PD (Australian)

This is an Italian private detective show set in Australia. Makes for an interesting mix. Carla, played with sultry heat by Diana Glenn, has family issues. One of her uncles is obviously connected, a fact that her chef father, played by Alfredo Malabello knows and tries to ignore. He's busy running the family restaurant with Carla's mom (Dina Panozzo) and trying to get the family together for family meals.

It's not all smooth sailing, especially with copper Luciano Gandolfi (Vince Colosimo) looking to put the uncle behind bars AND make the moves on Carla. Add in Carla's best friend, the bed-hopping Lisa Testro (Nicole da Silva) and her dad Joe the Don (Tony Poli) and things get complicated.

The series took an episode or two to sort out who's who and who's bad and who's good. But once up to speed, this was a delightful romp through the culinary underbelly of Melbourne. Nothing Sopranos-like, but entertaining throughout. The episode where poppa Leo wants desperately to get a birthday present for his beautiful Angela was a highlight.

#13 - The Zoo (British)

Okay, I'm a sucker for zoo shows. I'd put a dozen here at this spot if I could. And, although I hate the transitional music with a passion, I am totally in love with this British show that mostly features the goings on at the Colchester Zoo. Konnie Huq has taken over quite well as presenter from Jayne Horrocks and guides us through the various life and death and birth stories that populate any good zoo. And Colchester is a good one.

If you like animals, this a great show. If you can do without seeing cute little cheetahs and other babies and not ocassionally feel sad over the passing of Scorch the Bear, then pass this by.

Enough said.

#12 - Real Time with Bill Maher [#4 LY]

You have to give Bill Maher credit. He lost the source of immense comedic material when George Bush finally left to the sound of one hand clapping. Uber dunce Sara Palin didn't replace him. All Bill was left with was a President with little to make fun of.

What was he to do?

As it turns out, still run a pretty smart political discussion each weak and take potshots at the President and the gang of tax-avoiding Democrats he's surrounded himself with. That's the job of a comedian. Attack the top and try to do their bit to reign in anybody who gets too big for their britches. I think Maher's been as funny as he's ever been this year, despite the losses of his comedic foils. The foibles of the 'good' guys, while not so frequent, still occur often enough to amuse. And it's not like the Republicans have gone away permanently. They just visit Argentina on secret hiking trips to the mistress' house.

Smarmy and sometime preachy, and with a PETA agenda I disagree with, Maher isn't everybody's cup of tea. But he works for me.

#11 - House [#1 LY]

It was the top of the heap last year. It had only one way to go. And down it went. It just couldn't maintain a crazy level of excellence that saw House run his own reality show, voting off prospective team members each week, while setting the course for destruction that cost his best friend's girlfriend her life when all was said and done. A remarkable year. This past season? Not so remarkable.

Hugh Laurie continues to shine as the emotionally and physically crippled Dr. House. Sometimes, he's so good, you just think they should cast the Emmy trophy in his image and be done with it. From the dalliance with a detective (wish we'd seen more of Michael Weston as private eye Lucas Douglas) to his romantic pas de deux with Lisa Edelstein's Dr. Cuddy, House was the best thing in the show.

The problem this year was the loss of focus amongst the rest. The old team was around in greater amounts this year, with the on-off-on wedding between Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) and Chase (Jesse Spencer) taking away from the new team. The relationship between Thirteen (Olivia Wilde) and Foreman (Omar Epps) had its moments. And certainly, the shocking exit by Kal Penn was as devastating as advertised. Just poorly fore-shadowed.

But the reason I think House faltered this year was the lack of on-screen time for Robert Sean Leonard's Wilson. It was understandable that he'd withdraw from House after the death of of Amber (Annie Dudek reprised the character as a personal ghost, to great effect). It's just that his leavening presence on the show went AWOL. It's not like Wilson is any paragon of mental stability himself. But he served as yin to House's yang in the past. And without that guiding influence, House went completely off the rails.

Into the loony bin. Which is where season six will start in the fall. I hope that phase doesn't last long. He's got some new and old team members to get back to. And a top ten to re-enter.

Tomorrow: I hope, the most entertaining shows of the last year. As I saw them.

SOFTWARE: Scratching that NoScript Itch

One of the reasons Firefox is so superior to Internet Explorer is the presence of the must add-on, NoScript. In essence, what NoScript does is turn off java for any site you visit, until you explicitly tell it to allow java from the various contributing parts of the site you are looking at.

It might come as a shock, but most sites host OTHER sites running java, as well as any little java applet they're using for their own purposes. Mostly, these other sites are things like google analytics and double click and other tracking sites. In other case, it might be links through to You Tube and the such. And occasionally, they are links to bad, bad, bad sites. That's how you get drive-by infections. It's not like you are GOING to the bad, bad, bad sites. It's just that those sites are hiding in behind places you think should be perfectly safe.

NoScript stops that. Cold. It's a bit of a nuisance to whitelist sites as you go along, but if you confine your trips to regularly-visited sites that you have already whitelisted, there is no impact whatsoever. And you'll appreciate the protection when travelling elsewhere, the first time you hear of a friend who traveled without the protection. heh, heh, heh.

At any rate, the itch with NoScript is the frequent updates ALWAYS creating the need to show you a web-page with the details ... which mostly, you DON'T CARE ABOUT. It's like a car. As long as it runs, who cares how it runs.

Finally, the good people at GHacks has a solution to the window popping up after an update. You can find the full details here. Basically, type about:config into the url box. Search for noscript.first and then double click on the true value and turn it false. Close the tab, reboot Firefox and Bob's your uncle. That's it in a nutshell, you really SHOULD read the whole article with its various warnings and explanations.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

TV: The Top 25 from the last 365 Days Part 1

My birthday is Saturday and that means the beginning of reading week. So, I better get the top 25 TV shows I enjoyed in the last year over and done with. Today I present shows #25-21.

#25 - The Unit

The first of six canceled shows on the list (and I'm not sure of the future of two more, plus a ninth is not running a regular show this calendar year), so it hasn't been a great year for me. The Unit beat out Gary Unmarried for the last slot on the list. I chronicled why Gary Unmarried was worthy of watching earlier.

Dennis Haysbert is the reason this show ran as long as it did, and should have run longer. He was completely central in an ensemble cast and dominated every scene he was in. From Now and Then to 24 to this show, Haysbert is the black face of TV. A commanding presence. The problem with The Unit this year was the failure to follow up on a fabulously great season opener. The conspiracy did weave its way through the remainder, but in unbelievable ways. The evacuation of the ladies and their subsequent spying duties was the dull edge of an otherwise sharp series. That first episode brought in Bridget (Nicole Steinwedell) as the first female unit member and then discarded her save for an unsavoury set-up rape attempt.

But all griping aside, The Unit was gripping almost all of the time. Sad to see it go.

#24 - Reaper

Another dead-on-describe show. It was generally not as fresh as last year's rookie season and couldn't build enough of a fan-base to merit continuation. Didn't help coming on as a spring replacement show with only 13 episodes. But it didn't do what Chuck did, which was to explore interesting new avenues. Lead Brett Harrison just never seemed to grow on me. And a little bit of Tyler Labine goes a long way. And there was a LOT of Labine in this show.

On the other hand, a couple of characters continued to shine. Ray Wise is the perfect Devil. He's ruined the role for all time for all other actors. And Missy Peregrym had some nice turns in year two, ending with her decision to sell her soul to the Devil in exchange for a failed attempt by Sam to succeed at breaking free of the contract his parents assigned him to.

But the real fun this year were the 'other' girlfriends. Eriko Tamura was hilarious and sexy as Sock's sister/girlfriend (don't ask). And Jenny Wade was a revelation as Ben's girl, Nina the Demon. Wade played sweet and murderous, sometimes in the same scene. She and Wise were the reasons Reaper made it onto the list. Simple as that.

#23 - Friday Night Lights

Less football, more home lives from hell. It was what I was hoping for. And getting it more or less sent the show tumbling off the Top 20 for me. Still, Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler can do wrong as far as I'm concerned. So, the show lingers on in memory, favourably.

Adrianne Palicki's Tyra wore me out with her Cash-fixation. Coming off last year's dalliance with Landry (played with aplomb by Jesse Plemons), I was hoping for better from Tyra. I understood it and didn't, all at the same time. The late season return to what I wanted turns out to be an exit strategy for Palicki. So, no happily ever afters.

Exiting included seeing Gaius Charles' character moving on, meaning no more Smash-ing performances. That left the show awfully white. And that's not right. But I assume that will be fixed in season four.

Picking little moments here and there aren't difficult, starting with Tami's realization that a lot of her school's money troubles were directly the result of the money spent (squandered?) on her husband's football team. It wouldn't be the last of the money trouble moments, both professionally and privately. Matt's handling of the McCoy Challenge jumped around, but our hero met the challenge and conquered it. Sometimes Matt Saracen'd lot in life imitated that of a beaten dog, but he always seems to overcome that hanged-dog look.

One last thing though, I continue to hate Aimee Teegarden's Julie. Will forever, I suppose.

#22 -- Smallville

Almost no Lana Lang and this show can't crack the Top 20? Seems soooooo wrong, since, like everybody else, I've been wishing Kristin Kreuk's Lana off the show for a few years now.

It didn't change the dynamic. Sure, there were a LOT of little insider moments. The Legion of Super Heroes, changing in a telephone booth (inside The Daily Planet, but still!), the return of Kara (aka Supergirl), the viable threat of Doomsday, Zatanna, Maxima and the death of a major character in the final episode, especially since it was a 'name' in the comic books. The death, of course, being a great misdirection.

But Tom Welling's Clark Kent didn't get far enough with Lois Lane (played by Canuck Erica Durance) and enough with calling the show Smallville. Should come back next year as Metropolis, but won't. The solutions to problems seemed less well thought out and more blah. And too much attention was spent on Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow. Nothing against Justin Hartley, but there's a reason why the Arrow wasn't a major player in Metropolis over the years. He's just bland compared to Superman and that's why he's off on the west coast with his bride, Black Canary.

And lastly, the Lex Luthor replacement, Tess Mercer, as played by Cassidy Freeman, was all over the map. Mercer could never settle in as a good girl or a bad girl and her motivations for switching in-stream weren't all that well founded. Wished she'd grown from good to bad, or the reverse. The switching back and forth wasn't intelligible.

One more season? Okay. But it better end with Mrs. Clark Kent, if you know what I mean.

#21 - Corner Gas

And this makes three canceled shows of the five. It's placing here might be a Lifetime Achievement Award, but it really did earn consideration for tomorrow's list of #20-11. It had a GREAT final season, proving Brent Butt's desire of going out on a creative high actually happened.

This show was Canadiana right through the core. Gentle jibes at everything seemed fitting. Nothing was too cutting, nothing too innocuous to throw up there and see if humour could be found. And frequently, it was. We are going to miss the residents of Dog River.

Hank, played by Fred Ewanuick, had his best season of the series. He was constantly presenting himself as a comedic dupe, often at the hands of Wanda (Nancy Robertson). Her wandering through his mind was a highlight during the great password-guessing show. There was less nasty in Wanda this year (Robertson married Butt, and Butt and the writers toned down Wanda's nasty meter a fair bit). And that made her character fit in even more perfectly with the rest of the cast. Good decision.

I had one friend decry the final show as nothing happening. OF COURSE nothing happened. Sure, we spent the whole episode assuming Brent's character Brent would go off to the big city to become a comedian, but Brent LeRoy is forever doomed to sit around the Corner Gas station reading a comic book. It was ever thus. And, to Butt's credit, he remained true to the little understated comedy he created.

Tomorrow: Assuming I survive my trip to the dentis in an hour's time, shows 20-11. Then we wrap it up on Friday, just in time to turn off the TV and start turning pages.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

SOFTWARE: The Choice in Browsers

There is but one choice to trust right now in the world of web-browsers for the Windows operating system. Firefox 3.0.11 is the choice for now. The just-released Firefox 3.5 has a whopper of a security hole and I'm waiting for the release of 3.5.1 before I switch.

Truth be told, there are some nits with the new version that would have me holding off anyways. Super-important add-ons Line Marker and NoSquint don't work with the newest version. And Tab Mix Plus pretty well locked up the test machine with the test version of itself in Firefox 3.5 (admittedly, it looks like the old combo of All-in-One Sidebar and Open Tabs Relative now seem to work, making Tab Mix Plus sort of ... unnecessary). But NoSquint is an absolute necessity, and I won't switch until a new version is ready for the latest Firefox.

Now, for those of you using the always insecure Internet Explorer, there are three, count 'em THREE, security potholes that the fine folks at Microsoft have NO IDEA how to fix. Well, that's not true, they suggest you turn off key features of Internet Explorer, lest you end up victimized by 0ne of the many nasty little sites on the internet. And that includes some legit sites you might want to visit, thanks to the insidious frames bug that let's the bad guys overlay invisible sites overtop of the legit ones you think you are looking at (and clicking on). All in all, if you use Internet Explorer, for gawd sakes STOP!

You can temporary patches for the three current stinkeroos for I.E. A good wrap-up article by Michael Horowitz can be found at the ComputerWorld site here. You can directly load the Microsoft msi files to patch your system there.

SPORTS: Halladay And Why He Can't Be Traded

Roy Halladay is something rare in today's sports world. A man worthy of being lionized and called a hero by his fans. Does a LOT of stuff behind the scenes (both he and his wife) that a lot of people don't know about. And when in the spotlight, there's no better pitcher in all of baseball. A great guy.

And a future ex-Toronto Blue Jay.

If Paul Beeston is one-tenth as smart as he is, he won't let his lame duck. truth-challenged GM, JP Ricciardi trade Halladay. Oh, it would be great to see Halladay get his chance at the post-season this year, rather than waiting for next. And I'm excited about some of the talent being bruited about as future Blue Jays. But Beeston simply cannot let Ricciardi screw up one more time going out the door. He will be fired at season's end when Beeston hands the presidential reins over to his successor. The new guy's first act will be bring in his own GM (with the blessing of the manager, Clarence Gaston). THEN, that guy, who will be more talented than the peripatetic Ricciardi at the art of the trade, will sift through the offers and move Halladay.

Bluntly, Ricciardi has shown a penchant for acquiring utility men and back-end of the rotation guys and relievers. His eye has been quite blurry otherwise. And the 'talent' in the Blue Jay pipeline has me asking some questions. Afterall, we've heard about catcher JP Arencibia, first-baseman David Cooper and shortstop Justin Jackson, to go along with the talented Travis Snider. He had a good September last year, but otherwise, Snider's had a tough time since the spring of 2008 living up to his rep. Injuries have certainly played a part. There are other non-pitchers we've heard about, like catcher Brian Jerolman, third-sacker Kevin Ahrens and second-basemen Scott Campbell and Brad Emaus. But their names NEVER make the top 100 listings from independent rating services like Baseball America. So let's consider Arencibia, Jackson and Cooper. (I'll leave out the almost complete dearth of outfield prospects to speak of. It's too obvious after Snider was replaced by, first, failed shortstop Russ Adams, then by no-hitting David Delluci).

What are the Blue Jays apparently after in the coming Halladay swap? A shortstop for sure (Mr. Jackson, you are no longer needed. Dismissed!). Any credit Ricciardi gets for Marco Scutaro's breakout season should be tempered by the efforts Ricciardi made ALL LAST WINTER to find a different starting shortstop. All the credit goes to Scutaro and Gaston (who blows the semi-credit for playing the stellar utility man into the ground. But that's another post). Oh, and the Jays would like any of a number of catchers included in deals with several teams. (Mr. Arencibia, you won't be needed quite yet. If ever.) And some of the prospects the Jays find most enticing play the same spot that has been reserved for Mr. Cooper. (Sit down. Everybody. Your talent has been evaluated and found wanting).

Ricciardi has done some good things. He signed Scott Downs to a good contract and he dumped completely useless Troy Glaus (injuries, not talent nor desire, but the outcome is dismal just the same) for very useful, but overpaid Scott Rolen. The Scutaro and McDonald acquisitions were solid. He showed a willingness to forgive and forget (which I admit I wouldn't have) to bring in Rod Barajas. And he's fouled up just everything else he's done to some degree. The managers, the contracts, the non-contracts, the lying, the pig-headed drafting of college kids because that's what the book said, the brash attitude ticking off fans and ballplayers alike ... the list goes on. You'd have thought his ability to forgive and forget with Barajas might have extended to, say Orlando Hudson, merely an all-star on every other team he's played for. Break your word to him, but never call him a pimp. Otherwise, you end up on the next trade out of town.

Since Beeston has not been able to emplace his replacement as of yet, it's not logical to name a new GM. The new guy will want that task for himself. So the Toronto Blue Jays and their fans (remember, I cheer for the Twins these days) have to stumble along with the stumblebum who has authored this roster of over and under-achievers none of whom are worried about kids coming from the minors to take their jobs. If Ricciardi gets the chance at one more mistake going out the door, the Blue Jays are doomed to the mediocrity Ricciardi has institutionalized into the team.

That's why Roy Halladay will wear the horrible black Blue Jay uniform until year's end. My guess, a Christmas gift of a trade to the National League will follow the arrival of the new GM by mere days. By that time I will have rejoined the Blue Jay fan flock and will be sorry Roy's going.

At least I hope that's what happens.