Wednesday, October 03, 2012

LIFE: The Odds

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Reading Mark Evanier's blog today got me to a posting at the New York Times ( that dealt with the age-old conundrum of, "How many people have to be in a group for the odds of two (or more) of them sharing the same birthday be at least 50-50?" The answer is almost always a surprise.

The genesis of the article is the finding of an old clip from the Johnny Carson show that dealt with the issue in a mildly amusing manner. The all-time great talk show host bungled the issue a fair bit, trying to match exact birthdays by asking one person their birthday and then surveying the crowd of 500 for a match. That failed as did a second attempt. The third attempt, Carson's own birthday, resulted in two other co-celebrators on that day.

Still, the column and then watching the video at the Cornell Collective (the link is in the column), brought back my own introduction to the issue. And an astonishing result that even had my Grade 4 teacher, Mrs. Benham, absolutely speechless.

Mrs. Benham, one of my best teachers during my academic life, started math class by asking the familiar question. It wasn't me, but one smart aleck in the room answered immediately, "365." Which, of course, GUARANTEES there will be a match (barring a Feb. 29th outlier). In reality, as the column points out, the odds are ALMOST guaranteed with as few as 253 people. And that's because, birthdays are NOT scattered randomly over all 365 days. Birthdays occur in clusters approximately nine months after certain annual events ... Valentine's Day, the first cold weather day of the year, Christmas and New Year's, last harvest day of the season, etc.

However, Mrs. Benham got a bit of a shock on that day almost 47 years ago. I started laughing, even before the wise-ass went for the 365 answer. I KNEW she was going to say some ridiculously low number and she was going to be right, NO MATTER HOW LOW SHE WENT. She finally gave 23 (the exact size of the class with full attendance, as there was that day) as the 50-50 answer, drawing oohs from the kids who weren't wrapped up in my giggling.

Mrs. Benham gave me as close to a dirty look as she was capable of. And said, "Let's start the test of my theory with Gary here." I sat in the first seat in the first row immediately in front of the teacher's desk. "July 18th," I answered, collapsing in laughter. Mrs. Benham somehow failed to comment on, or ask, why I was laughing and asked the girl sitting behind me, my next door neighbour Susan. The reason behind my laughter became obvious immediately.

"July 18th," she answered.

Then I got a big shock myself. The third-to-be-asked was a girl named Nancy that I didn't know that well but had a bit of a crush on. She sort of gasped when Susan revealed her birthday. When Mrs. Benham, smiling like she had been totally vindicated, continued to Nancy, saying, "Well, let's see if we have more than one pair in the room."

Nancy's birthday? Obviously July 18th. Otherwise, there's no story.

I've tried this survey at various times over the years and have actually found a better than 50-50 record during that time. But that's outside of the real odds. I've even bet people and won, taking advantage of the fact that I knew the crowd included a set of non-identical twins (the East girls). But even when I haven't salted the results beforehand, it's still an interesting test to run at parties or bars. Get the group up to about 30 and bet the winning side and you might enjoy a night of drinks for free.

But don't try three out of three. The odds of that are more than a 100,000 to one.

Friday, September 28, 2012

SPORTS: Lose ... Please!

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About a year ago, I opined that the Toronto Blue Jays should tank the last month to ensure a low-enough drafting position to weather going out onto the free agent market and spending big, but retaining the first-round draft pick this summer. They won just a LITTLE too much over the last month to protect the draft pick and Alex Anthopoulos didn't go after the free agents he needed to, because of the cost of that precious pick. And went through injury hell all season long as a seeming karmic response.

New season. A bit later (there's a week left this time). Same message.

The Jays currently sit seventh in the so-called reverse standings with the same number of wins as the eight-place Red Sox and one less than the tenth place Royals. In between are the Pirates, who hold the ninth pick by virtue of not signing Mark Appel after the summer draft. The Pirate win totals are moot.

Soooo, can the Blue Jays somehow 'catch' the Mets, currently with three more wins? Of course the Jays can. And it would be partially at the cost of the front-running Yankees, maybe even costing the Bronx Bombers a playoff spot. THAT would be fun ... for about a day. Long-term? Not so much.

Nope, the idea is to keep the current seventh pick and maybe even move up a slot or two. The Marlins have three less wins right now and the Twins (visitors for the last three games of the season in Toronto) and Indians have four less. The odds are surely against Toronto moving 'up,' although a Twins sweep in the concluding week of the season would help. That seems like the best hope for a better draft pick.

And it's not outside the realm. Sure, the Twins will face Brandon Morrow, the lone Toronto starter worthy of the name. But the rest of the final six-game rotation reads like a draftnik's wish list: rookie Chad Jenkins for his second and third career starts, starting with New York tonight, Ricky Romero, the worst starter in the league since June, Aaron Laffey, fading fast and Carlos Villanueva in his last start in a Toronto uniform and with August stats comparable to Romero's. His fading has been the most precipitous, coming after Anthopoulos wondered publicly (and correctly) about his endurance. Suddenly, 1-5 or even 0-6 doesn't appear to be so much of a pipe-dream, hunh?

Having a protected top-10 pick in the draft affords Anthopoulos the luxury he didn't have last year: signing one big-ticket free agent with impunity (well, a LOT of money and impunity). The big problem, is that there might not be somebody willing to take Toronto loonies and toonies. At least that will help the team. Most of the pitching choices seem to want West Coast, contenders or specifically West Coast contenders to sign them. And it would take a little bit of forward thinking to call Toronto a contender in 2013. Just a little bit. But many athletes are not real good at the thinking part.

The Jays need to do something at second base, add one more bat to play LF or in the 1B-DH platoon with Edwin Encarnacion and arrange for the addition of two REAL GOOD pitchers or one ACE and two pretty good pitchers.

I'd like to see them send Escobar out of town to Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Arizona or some place far, far, away ... but get some talent back. In the absence of a talent-acquiring trade, I'm torn about keeping him and moving Hechavarria to second. But I'd prefer Hechavarria to start at SS on Day one, 2013. He's ready. If Rasmus, Lind and Arencibia were given new addresses, I think I could find a way not to cry (by cheering, but that's just how I handle happiness). I am a Lind fan, but everything comes to a natural conclusion. And Rasmus for a power-hitting left-fielder might be a solution. I think I could live with the growing pains for Gose (SOMEBODY teach the man how to bunt, PUHLEASE!!!) and the time to cash Arencibia is NOW. Good defence, good power, good guy. Better to trade the guy a year early then a year late. And is anybody going to pay full price when the Jays are stuck with an embarrassment of riches upon the arrival of Travis D'Arnaud?). Or when Arencibia gets hurt?

So, if the Jays were REALLY going to start the rookies (no longer because of playing time in 2012, but WE will call them rookies), and team them with Encarnacion, Bautista and Lawrie, you would still need that LF, 1B/DH and a 2B. There isn't ANY second-sacker on the free-agent market. A trade would be necessary. Maybe Daniel Murphy of the Mets or one of the Nationals' middle infielders. Maybe employing an old-timer like a Marco Scutaro to put off the decision for a year might work. Problem is, that Scutaro seems to have settled into San Francisco and they probably have the will and the dollars to want him back. It's THIS conundrum that will most plague Anthopoulos come winter. As much as he despises the jackass behaviour and cultural insensitivity demonstrated by his current shortstop, he might have to hold onto him for a year. The BEST combo for Toronto 2013 might very well be Escobar-Hechavarria.

Corner outfielders with some power are not in endless supply, but are available in limited numbers each year. The suggestion that Torii Hunter might want a short-term contract is a thing Toronto should think about. Sure, Hunter wants that contract in California and would have a soft spot in his heart if Minnesota came a-calling. But both options MIGHT not be available to him. Hunter doesn't offer up power as much as good defence (still), a decent bat and some leadership. And that seemed lacking in Bautista's absence due to injury and recuperating elsewhere. Hiring Hunter for a year and keeping Rajai Davis for his late-inning legs would leave me happy with our outfield, with or without Rasmus.

David Ortiz is not leaving Boston. He would be an add for Toronto of immense proportions and would be the final kick at the carcass of what was a Boston contender. But he isn't moving north of the border. Who is? Don't know. I'd hate to start the year with Lind in place, but if he goes, he's going to end up being Aaron Hill redux (you know, the solution at 2B, grrrrrr!). The Mets have Ike Davis (and Lucas Duda) which would make him available. The issue, of course, is that Lind won't fetch much beyond salary relief. Maybe better to keep him as the pinch-hitter, DH and emergency fifth outfielder. But there HAS to be somebody in place between him and regular duty to start the year.

The solution might very well be the same place I expect Toronto to go pitching shopping. The Angels. Might Jerry DiPoto be agreeable to Toronto solving some overstock issues for some of the Blue Jays' pitching treasure? Allegedly, the Angels are thinking hard of non-tendering Dan Haren AND Ervin Santana to accrue the funds to pay for recently-acquired Zack Greinke. PLUS, the Angels have one too many DH types.

So, we have the MASSIVE trade of the off-season. The Jays acquire BOTH Haren and Santana, plus Kendrys Morales. And maybe the Angels even throw in Maicer Izturis but I'm stretching things JUST a tad with that one. What does Toronto offer in return? Casey Janssen, Darren Oliver, JP Arencibia and one of the Lugnut Three, say Sanchez, Deck McGuire from AA and Lind for money and backup reasons. Maybe you announce a player to be named later and make that player a second of the Lugnut trio, contingent on the Blue Jays signing either Haren or Santana to a contract extension. Otherwise, the PTBNL turns into a secondary prospect from the low A ranks.

How's THAT for a whopper?

The Jays would then follow that up with signing Edwin Jackson to a four-year contract. Plus the addition of Hunter. But the Jackson signing is the 'big' money free-agent signing. In fact, I'd give Haren, Santana and Jackson all the same money.

Which would still leave Rasmus, Escobar and ... Ricky Romero as Blue Jays. Would Cleveland take all three (plus Lind if he isn't California-bound) for Shin Soo Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera and Justin Masterson? Wouldn't THAT be interesting?

Why would the Angels participate in this massive re-organization of the Toronto Blue Jays' major-league roster? Turning non-tenders into bullpen upgrades, catching depth (for trade purposes) and two pitching prospects, one of which is exciting, at the cost of an extra DH and an infield super-sub, plus the money saved from declining options on unwanted players, makes this a trade worth considering for them. Choo and Masterson are on their last years in Cleveland and Cabrera can be a bit Escobarish. Maybe swapping the problem children would work out. Escobar has a friendly contract, Rasmus is still under team control for a few years and Romero is, or was, a LOT better than Masterson. Can Romero repeat a common pattern of a good pitcher bouncing back from one bad year? I'd rather he do it far, far away. But if he comes back ... well, history does suggest Toronto regains an ace. But I wouldn't sniff at the opportunity to divest myself of Escobar and Rasmus, both passive-aggressive pains in the butt. And you know, Cabrera might even be willing to move to 2B!!!

Awright, let's see what that leaves in the starting line-up in Toronto come opening day:
Brett Lawrie 3B, Asdrubal Cabrera 2B/SS, Jose Bautista RF, Edwin Encarnacion 1B, Kendrys Morales DH, Torii Hunter LF, Travis D'Arnaud C, Adeiny Hechavarria 2B/SS, Anthony Gose CF. On the bench, Shin Soo Choo, Rajai Davis, Maizer Izturis and Jeff Mathis.

The Jays starter pitching staff? Morrow, Haren, Masterson, Jackson and Santana. Uhhh, THAT'S an upgrade. A little right-handed for my liking, but them's the breaks. The relief crew? Sergio Santos and Steve Delabar at the back end. Lefties would include Aaron Loup and Brett Cecil plus J.A. Happ in long relief. The two righties would be Brad Lincoln and hopefully the re-signed Brandon Lyon.

Which leaves Henderson Alvarez in Buffalo, along with whatever veteran flotsam and jetsam Anthopoulos can find to stock up for the inevitable injuries. Jenkins, David Carpenter, Joel Carreno, Sam Dyson, maybe Aaron Laffey and the returning-from-injury crew ... Jesse Litsch, Dustin McGowan and eventually Luis Perez, Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchinson. I'd still go out and get a veteran or three to stash in Buffalo. Experience is supposed to be a great teacher. The offence in Buffalo would be a bit thin. Yan Gomes, David Cooper, Sierra ... the New Hampshire grads from the team that had a losing record. Depending on how quickly the High A class could move, moving the AA crop up ahead of them, the talent stream might be a bit better than mediocre. High tides raise all boats in all. But I'd be spending some money on veteran free agents willing to wait in Buffalo. This year's injury history might attract some good ol' old guys.

What's REALLY going to happen this off-season. I suspect some of that Angel pitching is headed to Toronto. I still think Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Arizona all have stuff Toronto wants and Toronto, for sure, has stuff they want. i keep thinking Washington and the Mets are also trade partner candidates. The Blue Jays DO have one big signing in them, but it will be just one and the rest of the replacements will come via trade. I expect Lind, Rasmus and Escobar to stay. Drat!! As much as they want to see D'Arnaud get some more time in Buffalo to prevent being a Super Two, I just think this off-season is the time to maximize the return on Arencibia. So, he DOES move. Romero stays, of course. But the acquisition of an Angel hurler or two, plus maybe Masterson or Jackson isn't an option, it's a requirement. And if Alvarez starts opening week, it won't break my heart. I STILL believe in him. I don't think Toronto will be in play for Josh Hamilton and I hope desperately Nick Swisher to Toronto never appears. He's the next Jason Werth. On the other hand, his wife is a knockout. Hmmmmm.

My probable Blue Jay line-up in April? D'Arnaud, Ike Davis, Hechavarria, Escobar, Lawrie, Hunter, Rasmus and Bautista, with Encarnacion DH'ing. Davis, Lind, Mathis and a McCoy type on the bench. Morrow, Romero, Santana, Masterson or Jake Peavy, Alvarez starting. In the bullpen, Janssen, Santos, Delabar and Oliver on the back end, Loup and Happ from the left side and Lincoln from the right side. Cecil, Gose, Sierra, Gomes, Cooper et al will be in Buffalo.

Oliver is the wild card, equally likely to retire, agree to being traded to a more logical contender nearer his home town or to come back. By the way, Arencibia went to the Mets along with Dyson and a couple of prospects. ONE of the Lugnet Three along with maybe Oliver went to California for Santana and either Peavy signs for big money or Alvarez and prospects go for Masterson, leaving a spot for secondary free agent pitching being signed. Some mix of trades like that.

Important: No getting National League pitching that doesn't have a track record of success in the American League. No taking on other team's problems, whether they be psychological or injuries. And that includes Grady Sizemore, who I hope has a bit of Paul Molitor in him. Same goes for Brian Roberts. Ohh that would hurt to say no to both of them. A solid citizen, or two, have to be added. No signing on anybody, though, just for teaching purposes. In other words, no footing the bill for Omar Vizquel's farewell tour. Or a reasonable facsimile there of.

LASTLY: Trade John Farrell to Boston. I'd like one of the pitching prospects from the Dodger trade. But I think I'd accept Daniel Bard. Would Cleveland do Bard and Sierra for Choo subsequently? Might be the way to avoid having to sign Hunter. And Choo and Davis would make a good platoon. But Farrell hasn't done anything to indicate he's the new Terry Francona. With both Cleveland and Boston maybe having a hankering for their old-time employee, let's see which is willing to foot the bill. Then sign the old Terry Francona. Or elevate Brian Butterfield or Don Wakamatsu. Torey Lovullo probably follows Farrell elsewhere. But if he stays ...

All of which require Jays to "just lose, baby, just lose."

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

SPORTS: Piling On Yunel

Yunel Escobar deserves no sympathy for the mess he created for himself with his homophobic face graffiti Saturday. There's not much new that can be said about the matter, beyond my belief that Bob McCown of The Fan 590 radio network is right. Escobar should never, ever, wear the Toronto Blue Jay uniform again.

Of course, I've been stumping for that for the last half of this season, after anointing Escobar as thisclose to being an A.L. all-star candidate 12 months ago. But over the last six months, we have seen why the Atlanta Braves were willing to not only trade the talented kid to Toronto, but to disparage him on the way out the door, which is pretty rare outside of Boston in Major League Baseball.

What I have seen is selfishness, lack of concentration, a willingness to embarass teammates (I mean, who else in your memory has wandered 50 feet out of position to call off Omar Vizquel on a pop fly? That's perennial Gold Glover Omar Vizquel, a first ballot Hall of Famer) and a sub-par performer this season. Bob Elliott of The Toronto Sun notes the one instance where I started to change my point of view on the Escobar issue early in the season. He got upset at a hard sliding Baltimore Oriole and low-bridged the next runner he had a chance to intimidate. The revenge-driven throw ended up in the stands, a run scored and Escobar established his own sense of self-worth exceeded that of his team.

How about hustling to first on routine grounders? Not for Escobar, who missed out on at least one hit that I can think of. Probably more. He's been a .250 hitter all season long, despite being quite capable of hitting 25-40 points higher. The power he's shown in the past? Halved this year. And despite hot dogging and hogging, he's not on anybody's list of Gold Glove candidates this year. Seems that without babysitter Jose Bautista around full-time, the terrible tot comes out to play twerp.

So I wanted his butt on the first plane out of Toronto post-season. I had all kinds of trades envisioned for what was supposed to be a young, cost-controlled talent that could play plus defence and was a better than average offensive force for the position. I was MORE than willing to go with Adeiny Hechavarria, if trading Escobar could help net a gain in starting pitching or an upgrade at second base. All Escobar had to do was not blow up his trade value completely over the last month of this disappointing season.

And the horse's patootie couldn't do even that much.

But it does bring up a question. Is Escobar really as dumb as a brick? Or is this his deluded, self-immolating attempt to make him trade-proof? Does he love playing in Toronto SOOOO much that he's willing to do the proverbial anything to prevent Alex Anthopoulos from trading him? Hard to figure. But given the mealy-mouthed, disingenuous explanation that emanated from New York Tuesday, it's almost more comprehensible.

The debate on whether Escobar is a future Republican candidate or a clumsy liar is for the future to reveal. I suspect he's a stupid, vain athlete who was rescued from a bad situation in Atlanta and decided to repay that kindness with contempt. Contempt for gays, contempt for his teammates (culpable through lack of earlier action), contempt for his organization that pays him well, contempt for the fans of the Toronto Blue Jays and contempt for all that listened to his apology and had their intelligence insulted.

And the real tragedy, beyond the fact that he DOESN'T GET IT (and please don't ever equate employees and friends in the future, Yunel), is that he might actually be doing it to stay under the protective embrace of his good friend Jose.

I don't want him here. Toronto Blue Jay fans are in agreement. They want him gone too. IF that sounds like piling on. That he deserves it is as plain as the words on his face.

Monday, September 17, 2012

LIFE: Discounting the Enterprise experience

[Do NOT click on ANY LINK found in the comment section of this blog. No matter how innocuous the link MIGHT appear to be, it is MOST LIKELY SPAM or a link to MALWARE. I am disheartened by the need to do this, which accounts for the sparsity of posts this year.]

While it took TWO phone calls, the latter one quoting the complaint file number to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, to get Enterprise Car Rentals to finally get rid of my personal information, it took exactly ONE call to make me a happy car renter again.

Turns out Enterprise is NOT the only car rental outfit that will pick you up, despite the omni-present ad slogan that implies just the opposite. My brother Wayne laughed a little when i told him I was a bit worried about cutting my nose off to spite my face telling Enterprise to 'lose my number.' And I was the supposed smarter older brother, Wayne MUST have gotten a little satisfaction letting me know Discount picked up AND was a helluva lot cheaper than the company with the heartless customer support I had just left.

How about more than 30 percent less expensive. Yep. And it seemed everybody I dealt with was a friendly, attractive lady who made this grumpy old guy feel a bit special. So special, I sent off a letter of commendation to their boss. What follows is the text of that letter (which does include the ODD improvement idea. I'm nothing if not a nit-picker after all):


  On Thursday last week, I had my first experience renting a car from Discount Rentals. Having been an extremely dissatisfied Enterprise customer, I was more than a tad nervous in going through the whole car rental process again. My friends, aware of the Enterprise fiasco the last time I depended on their services, encouraged me to just get them to drive me around. But that seemed self-serving and I thought it necessary to at least try an Enterprise competitor to see if the whole shabby rental experience was industry-wide, or just a product of Enterprise's poor customer support.

  I am happy to report that the Discount employees have made me a monthly Discount customer for the foreseeable future. I see no reason to impose upon friends when I can get the proverbial service with a smile and a rate more than 30 percent cheaper than that of Enterprise. Indeed, that price is good enough that I can afford to do two days out and about a month, if needed. And unfortunately, I have an increasing need to see various doctors, so that might become necessary. However, I no longer am getting stressed over that possibility.

  The whole experience started the day before when I called and talked to Janice at your office. Please excuse the spelling if I have mis-spelled either her name, or that of Katrina's. Janice was a wealth of information, giving me advice on whether to book on-line, via telephone or in person, discussing the pro's and con's of doing so. She instantly made me feel like she was looking out for my best interests. By the time she was finished, i knew the costs and parameters of my best extras choices for my circumstances. (I go out about once a month, striving to do all my payment collection, banking, food-shopping and sundry store visits. Otherwise, I have everything delivered via phone or internet ordering). 

  On Thursday morning, I phoned the recommended 45 minutes in advance of my scheduled rental time and was picked up a half-hour later by Katrina. She was a confident, controlled driver and never caused me to flinch. That's rare. Traffic in Brampton is almost as bad as the insurance companies over-estimate it is. At the office, I was treated like a long-lost friend. I was on my way in a decently short period of time (I AM hoping subsequent visits will be a little quicker as you should have my information on file). The car, a Honda Civic, exceeded my expectations, which were for a box on wheels. The car performed well during the day and the air conditioning on a hot day was quick and comfortable. Thank you.

  I returned the car late Thursday afternoon, as I had said I would. My only quibble with the day was getting the gas to fill it up. I thought there was a gas station south on Kennedy as I attempted to make all right hand turns into your parking lot. But I was wrong. I ended up just opposite the old hospital getting a 'fill-up' from an attendant for $2.36, which I apologized for misusing his time. I would have preferred a self-serve for obvious reasons. I drove something around 80KM for the day and it's too bad that there isn't a pre-paid gas plan that works for short day use. 

  A couple of pleasant surprises upon returning the car. First, I was able to pay cash. I prefer to keep my credit card as empty as possible (and yes, a 6x hold is a little strong). That's a bonus worth advertising, at least on the website. The only potential issue was exact change. Not a problem for me. The second was another assured drive by Katrina, getting me home through the worst of Brampton rush-hour traffic. Again, kudos.

  My total cost for the day, gas in, was just about $57. Compare that for a day's rental from Enterprise that was $69 last September and had risen to almost $79 as of last month, getting more expensive in drips and drabs.  That $57 was less than half what CAAA wanted to charge me for a month's insurance on my 12-year old car (needing two grand in repairs) back in November. I gave up my car on Remembrance Day and have been renting since. I watched the price for that decision go up seemingly month by month at Enterprise. But having found Discount, I'm back to thinking I've made the right decision and am saving money again. 

  I do have some suggestions that I might bring to your attention. The contracts provide very, very, very small spaces for signatures. Leaving aside my own sense of the grandiose calligraphy I call a signature, the spaces are too small for all but the most petite of hands. I also found myself a LITTLE baffled by the Civic control panel. Possibly a black and white sheet with a labeled diagram of the control panel would have been welcome. One for each make? I normally refuse to touch rental car controls. I drive, park and return car as minimally changed as possible. I had a decent grasp on raising and/or lowering the temperature in the car. But the trip meter? Never looked hard, but it wasn't obvious WHERE to look. 

  In conclusion, I initially chose Enterprise due to proximity to my home and their famous slogan. I didn't KNOW other companies also picked you up. It would be worth advertising that little fact. "We pick you up with a smile and save you 30 per cent while doing so!"

  Please pass along my hearty thanks for a job well done to all the people involved in making my day a good one. 


Thursday, September 06, 2012

LIFE: Enterprise Rent-A-Car, 7-Eleven Phones PFUI!!!

[Do NOT click on ANY LINK found in the comment section of this blog. No matter how innocuous the link MIGHT appear to be, it is MOST LIKELY SPAM or a link to MALWARE. I am disheartened by the need to do this, which accounts for the sparsity of posts this year.]

Not every probem has a solution. When you are in the service industry, what makes--or breaks-- a reputation is how much effort you put into TRYING to find a solution. When you make NO effort whatsoever, you deserve every bit of bad karma you can possibly get.

Three weeks ago, I lost my phone service is the midst of losing all of my internet connection on all five computers I have here. It was a cascading failure that started with the two android tablets, first the Toshiba Thrive, then the Envizion 7. Midway through the week I lost connection through Ollie, followed by my main computer Quincy. And six days after it started, my last internet connection on Popeye went poof. Early in that sequence, I lost my house phone, which is a Vonage box that runs off the internet too. So, I was without any home phone capability from sometime early on the Tuesday to late on Saturday.

I don't blame either Vonage or Rogers for those issues. Hardware fails and some effort was put into servicing my needs at the time. Those efforts weren't entirely satisfactory, but at least they fessed up and apologized.

The other companies? Hope they don't make a profit again in my lifetime. I'd wish hell, fire and brimstone on them, but some innocent bystanders would get caught in the storm. On the other hand, if you work for the ... well let's call them armpits of service, you shouldn't be surprised when karma's a bitch.

At any rate, the first problem was the emergency phone, known as the 7-Eleven piece of crap phone, wouldn't work. Was charged, because it's kept on a charger. I knew it was on its last legs due to finding out that the company that advertises, BRAGS even, that there are no hidden charges on their pay as you go plan, was charging for access to the 911 service. And when called, stated baldly, it's required by law that they charge for the service. Ahhhh, not in Ontario they don't. As of now. In the future, maybe. But not now. And their hidden charge by the company with no hidden charges, FOURTY PERCENT MORE than any other company that also charges, without having to actually give the raised money to the government here in the province. Pure profit.

So, when I needed the emergency phone (I had used it for a total of seven minutes in 14 months of ownership), it did not work. Changed charging outlets three times over the next five days, but it never worked. Yelled at 7-Eleven when I told them (eventually) to take the phone and deposit it where the sun doesn't reflect off the screen. Checked yesterday when I was getting rid of the sim card inside. It worked then. Still ended up in the garbage. GIGO.

Okay, so, I was a bit peeved when I used one of the two still working computers to book a reservation with Enterprise on the Wednesday for the following day (To go buy a real cell phone, oh the irony). The slogan they use on all their advertising, "We'll pick you up," is omnipresent. It's the same jingle you hear ad nauseum when on hold on their 'customer support' line. But I couldn't find any place to check off I actually wanted to be picked up. I've needed picking up every time I've used the service, given the fact I surrendered my car back on Remembrance Day last year. But I finally noticed NO CHECKBOX.

So, I sent off an email saying I needed picking up and that I had NO PHONE SERVICE. No home phone, no cell phone. Could I get confirmation. I sent it to customer support at THREE hours and a bit later,  Mary replied with the boilerplate text from the website. I was expected to phone an hour in advance of my reservation to confirm pickup.

Several epithets escaped my mouth. I angrily emailed back, asking if she had read the email? Wednesday ended with no reply. But surely TWO emails back and forth with Mary at Enterprise Customer Support was sufficient to communicate the uniqueness of the situation and any customer support rep with more than 10 minutes worth of training and more than a negative amount of empathy would be doing something positive about the situation.

Thursday morning came. Still no reply from Mary. The time for pickup came. And passed. With no other option available, I did the untenable. I went across the street and woke my 87-year old, recently-widowed neighbour who is still struggling with the effects of losing her husband of more than a half-century. I watched her, still in bedclothes, come to her back door. Asked to borrow the phone. Being one of the nicest people alive she was quick to do it. And I called Enterprise, seething as I was doing it. Was I the worst guy in the world or what?

Of course the local Enterprise hadn't gotten any information from dear old Mary. "Do you want us to come get you right now?" Yes, I answered and then excused myself as quickly as possible, letting my neighbour get back to bed. I went back over to my house to await the driver from Enterprise, which is about five minutes away from me. Takes seven minutes to drive from my house back to their office, because of all left-hand turns. I waited for 43 minutes.

Turns out, 'coming to get you' is a euphemism for finding somebody to come get me ... THEN coming to get me. Since, at this stage, the locals were being apologetic and the person I was most mad at in the world, and it's a looooooooooong list, was this Mary, I decided I'd stop yelling at them. They told me a number of things:
  1. No, their email address was not published on the internet by design
  2. No, they don't WANT people to ask to be picked up, so they don't make it easy
  3. Yes, good ol' Mary COULD have forwarded the email I sent along to them or
  4. YES, ever-helpful Mary COULD have given me the private email address

At the very least, she could have replied in a timely manner to my second email that would have allowed me to CANCEL my Enterprise reservation and I could have used my email to get a buddy to play taxi driver for a day. It would have cost me some brownie points, but I've spent years accumulating them for emergencies of this nature. Seems Mary didn't do the least she could do, she'd actually found a way to do less than the least she could do.

The rest of the morning was spent shopping, spending money. Including a new cell phone from Walmart with a pay as you go plan from Virgin Mobile. Maybe not the big boys, but several steps above that crappy service from 7-Eleven. And no, just in case you are wondering, I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever step foot in one of their stores again. If you were wondering.

Half-way through my day of spend and spend, I stopped at home and found an email from the unsainted Mary had arrived. Yes she had read the email. No it didn't matter, I was responsible for finding a neighbour to call for me or to allow me to use their phone. The milk of human kindness dripped from every word she typed. I genuinely hope Mary never finds herself in the same situation as my neighbour, the one who's grief I did interrupt, because you should never wish that upon another person. It's close, but even her lack of empathy doesn't quite fill the bill. Later I tried to give my neighbour a brand new Kindle reader as a means of assuaging my guilt in the matter. But she declined.

When the day ended and I returned the car to Enterprise (Still early enough for them to rent it out again and double-book the vehicle for extra profit), I had a copy of Mary's emails available for them. The local manager offered to rebate my day's rental. I declined saying, "I pay my bills and if I accept the money, I have to stop ranting and raving. I want the charge to the credit card and I want a written apology with somebody with a title from Enterprise. I know he'll (a bit chauvinistically, i know) have his secretary do it. But I want some acknowledgement of the complete screw up that today was." I didn't ask for Mary to be fired, although I left no doubt that IF I ran Enterprise, she'd be an ex-employee five hours ago.

I got a call from Enterprise surveys on the following Monday. Enterprise didn't fare so well. But it was suggested a followup contact would come the next day. TWO WEEKS LATER, I called the local Enterprise manager ... a new guy .... surprise!!! That was last Thursday. He was supposed to pass along my desire to be an EX-Enterprise customer along to somebody higher on his red-tape chain. I got two emails from Enterprise Plus, the on-line arm of Enterprise that has my personal information AND financial info. But nobody contacted me ... and yes, I have a very much working home phone again.

Today, I called that customer support line again. Talked to Lendell and to Kyle. Told them I wanted my membership cancelled, written confirmation of same, including that Enterprise no longer had my personal information, Neither asked why. Kyle said "yes sir and thank you for selecting Enterprise Rent-A-Car." My guess? They've been through this before. Which says all that there has to be said for Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

Want to bet I'll have to sic a lawyer on them to get the written confirmation they've deleted my personal information from their computers? I do to. 

Next Thursday, when I have to go to the doctors amongst other places, I will be using Budget Rent-A-Car. What I didn't know when I first selected Enterprise, was that their slogan is not all that unique. Just about all the car companies do that now. Sure, like Enterprise, they'd prefer I didn't ask to be picked up, but at least they charge 25 percent less than the company with the slogan. New Enterprise slogan? "We charge more for less."

E for effort, Enterprise and 7-Eleven. You don't care. I'm just one customer who doesn't make the barest dent in your bottom line. But at least the three readers of this blog have now been forewarned. Maybe they'll tell enough people, who'll tell enough people, etc. Karma has a funny way of making things like that happen.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


[Do NOT click on ANY LINK found in the comment section of this blog. No matter how innocuous the link MIGHT appear to be, it is MOST LIKELY SPAM or a link to MALWARE. I am disheartened by the need to do this, which accounts for the sparsity of posts this year.]

As I mentioned before, I was going to switch from using Avast! Pro Anti-Virus to BitDefender Anti-Virus Pro 2013 on my birthday Wednesday. I was tired of Avast!'s ceaseless hectoring to renew as much as anything. But I was also troubled by reports from Patrick of an issue on some machines that had Avast! on them when a Microsoft ordained update came down from on high. Like on this past Tuesday.

And naturally, my machine was pummeled in the aftermath. As the previous blog notes, my machine was soon bollixed up, I had to reformat and re-install. Was it Avast!"s fault? Maybe Microsoft's? Bad pairing? Or the vagaries of luck that accompanies publicly revealing your plans to ditch something? Who knows?

On to brighter and better AV products. Having dispensed with the A's (AVG and Avira before Avast!), I was moving onto the B's. BitDefender to be precise. I installed it on Saturday morning. Let it run on my machine for about 18 hours. And then UNINSTALLED it and sent nasty, bordering on rude, emails to the BitDefender people.

I assume from reviews that BitDefender works. And probably works for a lot of people. But in my system, with double, triple and quadruple redundant backup systems, the simplistic BitDefender failed. It went about deleting things it disliked. And it disliked lots of stuff it found disagreeable, include programs with installers for crapware that I'm smart enough to NOT install when I put them onto my computer. And by deleting, I mean, made to be gone, not to the Recycle Bin and NOT to a quarantined area. Without asking me so much as a question first. It even deleted a PAS file, which I WROTE and know NOT to be infected.

BitDefender is not for me. Small computer systems without much saved that MIGHT have lousy cookie installers? Sure. But for me, this was money sent down the toilet. And I still don't have full knowledge of what all the program made to poof while I was occupied elsewhere. And that meant deleting files from original source and then their backups. To say I really, really, really, really was mad was to underestimate my ability to go thermo-nuclear and still not burst blood vessels. Although, you know, my nose seems redder already.

Okay, onto the next candidate. I can't JUST rely on Windows Defender. If I try, Microsoft's Action Centre flag nags about needing to find an anti-virus product. Even goes to a helpful web page with tens of them. So say what you want about Defender, even Microsoft doesn't trust that it will do the job. (in a way, that allows me to claim a D in this alphabetic race to find a solution).

So, my NEW AV product is eSet Anti-Virus. I've recommended the web-site AV scan for people who suspect their computer has been compromised. But this is my first time actually trying the disk-based product. A 30-day trial. And so far, it looks like I might have found my new defender against the slimeware that is out there. But, it's on trial. And if the trial doesn't work, then it's on to MalwareBytes. I'll keep you posted.

Honest, I will.

COMPUTERS: An Unfunny Thing Happened On The Way...

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I REALLY DID have intentions of posting almost regularly this month. I have reasons and even some excuses. But you would be bored by them. Still, ONE explanation is probably important to get out.

IF you are running Avast! anti-virus, make sure you make a backup of the C:\ drive some time on the Monday before Microsoft's Update Tuesday. Oh, and two different types would PROBABLY come in handy IF you one of the chosen few that MIGHT have (let's call them) issues, the unhappy pairing of Avast! and MS Windows update MIGHT cause (I think I have enough allegedly allegories there to indicate how rare a thing this MIGHT be). Patrick tells me he knows of THREE machines where the update process went belly-up and the ONLY solution was uninstalling Avast!, doing the update, and then re-installing Avast!. Once it was the free version, the other times Pro installs. And actually he knows of FOUR machines with the problem.

My machine, Quincy, was the fourth.

And I had backups up the wazoo. I have file backups. I have image backups done regularly. And I even have cloud backup in a couple of places. As of Tuesday night, though, Quincy was an unbootable mess that would boot into Safe Mode (not very viable), or produce the dreaded Blue Screen of Death if I attempted a standard log in.

I spent two days playing email tag with the support specialist at the German HQ of the drive image program. He seemed genuinely shocked when even the latest unreleased version of the product proved unable to recover my lovingly regularly-created drive snapshots to replace the mess Microsoft (and, I believe, Avast!) had made of my year-old Solid State Hard Drive. There are, other potential guilty parties that various involved parties pointed at. Certainly, one early candidate was the ADB driver I installed for my Toshiba Thrive tablet, an Android device. I rooted it a couple of weeks back. That's the subject of a whole different blog later this month. Everybody seemed to agree that it WAS a driver issue. My habit of NOT installing programs, including hardware drivers, to the C: drive came into focus as a causitive agent. But nobody had a confirmed villain and nobody, worst of all, had a working fix.

On Thursday night, I pulled the plug and re-formatted Quincy's C: drive and re-installed Windows 7. At the SAME time, I was back on Popeye (my older, backup machine) programming some important updates for a main client and also finding out somebody was back-dating some data entry for that client thus creating a difference in June's data reports here from the reports running there. Arrrrggghhh!!!!

Still, by Friday night, I had an operational Quincy, minus the programming environment, which for me, is usually a 48 hour commitment when I do it. I think I can probably reserve Tuesday and get it done in a single day. Why? Well, remember that criticism for keeping data on drive D: and programs on drive E:? Well losing drive C: meant I DID NOT lose the program's installed on E: and their configuration files. PLUS, I COULD and DID have backups with almost current copies of whatever configuration files were on C: the day before the crash. PLUS a copy of the registry, which came in handy in NOT having to customize my file manager all over again (a day long process shrunk down to ten minutes).

So, I type this Sunday morning. Most everything I use day to day is back. My Win7 environment is a little faster than before, not having all of those extra 'just to look at' programs installed. I've even figured out some improvements this time around. My shortcuts to programs that I wanted in Startup, but had to OK them during startup, no longer do that. I created a shortcut for them. Went into the properties and changed each of them to run as administrator and then moved THAT shortcut to the startup folder. An annoyance cured. If you right click on the taskbar and choose properties, change the Taskbar buttons to combine when taskbar is full. The best of the Classic XP and Win 7 default behaviours. Very, very neat.

I now have an install order in my Evernote notebook of what I did, what I changed and in what order. For example, I needed Microsoft Intellipoint early in the process, because to use a trackball for decades and then have the buttons do different things ... well, AARRGGHH!!! Did it seventh, should have been third. First, my file manager, then 7-zip. Evernote was fourth, because I've been slowly going through my programs and opening the settings dialogs and just grabbing a screen picture and popping them into Evernote. Like I said, I've largely recovered all of the programs I use more than once in a blue moon, and a large part of it was having incontrovertible documentation of which boxes were checked, radio buttons dotted and pick lists pointing to MY preferred setting.

With these backups, incapable as they were to provide for a 20-minute recovery as I have experienced in the past, I have a very complex environment back after less than 48 hours of work, done simultaneously with setting up a DIFFERENT computer and doing some programming. All with a LOT less stress than you might expect me to respond to. All because I had backups. Backups are good, people. Friday the 13th and their corresponding 3 Days of Hell lead-ups are going to happen. You can either expect and prepare for a semi-relaxed few days after ... or find some place high to jump from.

BACKUP TODAY. And tomorrow, and the day after, and ...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

SPORTS: Dwight Howard- How to Lose Fans and Make Enemies

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Is there any sports hero that has fallen further and faster than Dwight Howard in recent memory? A LOT of fans didn't like LeBron James pre-'The Decision.' A fall, but from lower in the airy pantheon of sports heroes. Jealous fellow golfers had instituted enough of a whisper campaign so that Tiger Woods backing into a monument and some garbage cans, and subsequently heading for divorce and a career swoon that might or might not be over, is maybe the closest analogy.

But everybody loved lovable Dwight Howard, the Man-Child in the Superman cape. He did some extraordinary things, but then shot free throws badly enough that he felt human. Human as in, WE could do 'that poorly,' and a LOT of us could do better. Not after being pounded on for 35 minutes by behemoths from other teams. But perception doesn't actually have to match reality. Dwight Howard smiled for the cameras. And women, children and even men swooned. We, the public, loved the public persona we were allowed to see.

Behind the scenes, of course, things were different. And in the last 11 months, we, the public, have seen just how different the man and the myth are. Dwight Howard has privately told the Orlando Magic that contract or not, he wanted to be traded. And he wanted to go where the Russian Rubles-turned-Dollars were flowing ... Brooklyn, New York. Heck, he'd even spend a few months playing for one of the worst teams in the league, in New Jersey, before moving to the part of New York City that Staten Islanders joke about. Dwight Howard didn't want to go ANYWHERE else, including places where they were serious about winning a title. He wanted to go to Brooklyn. Sooner than later. And if he didn't get his way, he would leave in a season's time.

All that would have been fine, 'cept he let his private betrayal of his team go public. And when THAT didn't work, he worked to undermine the team's coach, a difficult fellow in his own right, but a good man ultimately. He campaigned for a good coach to be fired. For the temerity of not kowtowing to he, THE Dwight Howard, sent down from the pantheon of basketball gods to lead the Brooklyn Nets to prominence again.

The impetus for this post was an article at Wages of Win Journal that asked whether Orlando OWED anything to Dwight Howard. The article leaned towards giving the big guy a big send-off, rather than kicking his keister to the curb. Dwight Howard HAD earned out his contract and then some. Orlando gave him all the money it could ... under league rules. It also allowed him to operate as a de facto GM, acquiring players that were friends or that caught his eye. Whatever Dwight Howard wanted. Orlando fulfilled more than just the letter of the contract it signed with Dwight Howard. It fulfilled the spirit and then some. Dwight Howard? Never learned to shoot free throws. Couldn't be on the court in crucial time at the end of the game because he couldn't (wouldn't?) learn to shoot free throws. Never developed much of an offensive game that he wasn't gifted by nature to begin with. And he cashed every cheque Orlando gave him and basked in the adulation of the public as a good guy hero.

So, why reward Dwight Howard at all. Orlando doesn't OWE him a damn thing. Period. He didn't carry his head high on the way out of town as so many have. See Nash, Steve for a recent example of how loyal behaviour actually begets loyalty, even to the departed. Dwight Howard?

The sentence that goes here was originally short and sweet. It included at least one word describing a sexual act and was intended to deliver my intent to have Dwight Howard regret his actions while being ... well, you know. I don't have to say it. This mental midget wants a new toy (that is, a new coach in a new town with a spigot of money that will flow his way, while 'other benefits' will accrue). Okay, that's doable if you are a free agent.

But Dwight Howard is NOT a free agent. He could have been. But in a blindingly awesome display of stupidity bordering on .... well, I can't think of any other stupider decision recently ... he GAVE UP HIS IMPEDING FREE AGENCY. Well, maybe not COMPLETELY stupid. He was still hoping Orlando would help him along by TRADING him to the Nets for pennies on the talent dollar so that he would get maximum pay from his new overlord (and I'm not talking about Watson the IBM computer). Traitorous, childish and greedy. Not the stuff heroes are made of, is it?

Of course, Dwight Howard doesn't want to appear to be the villain. He actually floated the theory he'd been blackmailed into declining his opt-out option (and wouldn't WE like to know what he was being blackmailed with) but did a u-turn on that one extra fast when it didn't gain any traction, save for derision.

Like any person not living and cheering for either Orlando or Brooklyn, I am sick and tired of Dwight Howard. He's become schadenfreude material of the first order and I can't but hope that bad things happens to him. Not negative life-altering things, but he's already got a bad back. Who's to say that isn't the karmic response to his shenanigans? And whoever in Brooklyn that has been shining light into his eyes at the expense of the actual GOOD teams in the NBA, maybe YOUR involvement in this turncoat creation is about to be visited upon you too.

Orlando doesn't owe Dwight Howard a damn thing. The Magic will trade him, likely to Brooklyn if the rumour mill is true. Then, like Cleveland in the post-James era, the team needs to get good enough to beat whatever team this tantrum-throwing child ends up. Frequently and when it counts. That's all. CERTAINLY nothing more. And it could have been a whole lot less. 

Sunday, July 08, 2012

SPORTS: Raptor Report ... In Progress

[Do NOT click on ANY LINK found in the comment section of this blog. No matter how innocuous the link MIGHT appear to be, it is MOST LIKELY SPAM or a link to MALWARE. I am disheartened by the need to do this, which accounts for the sparsity of posts this year.]

Took a couple of days to rest from posting FIVE, count 'em, FIVE straight days. So, now, I've had a break and I'm baaaaaack!

The topic du jour is the incredible ignorance demonstrated by actual paid pro basketball writers, bloggers that consume too much of the wine and idiotic Toronto Raptor fans. It's a pretty nauseating bunch. NOTE: Not all pro basketball writers, bloggers or Raptor fans are included the in the Ignorance List.

Let's start with the hand-wringing over Steve Nash's declining Toronto's offer after LISTENING to the offer. He also listened to others, and if word filtered out in the least about what he was thinking of the offers, it didn't get to me, first-hand, second-hand, even fifth-hand. Did he STRING the Raptors along? Did he USE the Raptor offer to stimulate other offers? Uh, NO. Despite saying a week prior he couldn't see doffing his Suns' uni for the dreaded enemy's colours, his only mis-step that I am aware of, he signed to be relatively near his kids and with a team that can remedy that "Greatest Player NEVER to make the NBA finals" label.

And NOT getting Nash hardly qualifies Bryan Colangelo for the dunce cap. He offered 8-9 MILLION dollars MORE for Captain Canada than either L.A. or N.Y. He put on the kind of dog and pony show that DID work the last time he tried it on Nash. And instead of cowering in a corner like you all DUNCES want, he rebounded by stealing Kyle Lowry for a weirdly protected pick and third (maybe fourth) stringer Gary Forbes. The weird protection? For the next four summers (maybe it's five), the Raptors owe Houston a draft pick. It's protected a bit in case calamity (Andrea Bargnani getting hurt in training camp and every added player in the interim being crappy) strikes, so that Toronto can get a superstar to start  rebuilding with. But it's also protected the OTHER way. If it's not in the so-called lottery, then Houston gets to hold off taking the pick. Eventually 2018 will arrive and the Rockets will take the pick then, whether best or worst, or in-between. THAT's Toronto's plan, don't be in the lottery until 2019 at the earliest and finally hand Houston payment for Lowry in the 20's.

Which brings me to the most consistently idiotic phrase you heard over the last month when Raptor talk was heard. They'll amnesty Jose Calderon. GIVING away a player for ONE SEASON of cap relief without looking through the trade market or offering a buyout, is dumb, dumb beyond all belief. I like Glen Grunwald as a man and as a basketball intellect. How he signed off on ditching Chauncey Billups rather than trying to trade the guy first, I'll never know. Don't think Billups and a future first (supposedly never going to be of any value) would have merited a second-round pick from somebody? Or even two picks? A trade exception and a bench filler? No, despite the fact that Nash WOULD HAVE FIT INTO THE RAPTOR CAP WITHOUT AMNESTYING CALDERON by merely rescinding a contract offer to putative back-up PG Jerryd Bayless or amnestying a guy WITH a long-term contract that wasn't earning out (Amir Johnson, who, as much as I love the guy as a human being, has been too hurt, too regularly to earn out, especially with the influx of big men since he signed the contract).

Don't think Houston would love NOT TO START Shaun Livingston at point guard this fall? Think Calderon appeals to them, what with their fifty-five forwards, many of whom vaguely fill the small forward description. So, after Morely FINALLY gives up his vision quest for Dwight Howard for a season, maybe he calls ol' trading pal Bryan and says, all right, send me Calderon, Ed Davis, James Johnson and Amir Johnson and you can have that wacko trade pick back and one more future second, or two, plus SF Chandler Parsons and your pick of the forward draftees. (That would be Royce White for those of you who are wondering). Bryan would say sure, and follow up that deal with re-signing Bayless to be the mini-Lowry afterall. Plus the apparently already-done re-upping of Centre Aaron Gray.

Or does the fact that Dallas, who wiffed big-time on Howard making himself available legitimately this summer (the man-CHILD doing everything in his tantrumic powers to rectify THAT little mistake) and thus winning the heart of Deron Williams, now faces a future of starting Roddy Beaubois at the point. Sure, it might end up being Ray Felton on some three-year deal, or Ramon Sessions on a three-year deal or even Bayless. But surely that doesn't fill Mark Cuban's heart with pride or give Dirk Nowitzki any kind of confidence. Nowitzki thought he might be playing with Howard, Williams and roster filler come November. Now, it will be Vince Carter, Shawn Marion and Felton? Ahhhhhhh, NEIN! Maybe Dallas can spring free Darren Collison from Indiana. OR, the Mavs could come back to Toronto (yes, trade discussions did occur) and enquire if the price for Calederon had come down at all. Would Toronto be interested in Marion for Calderon straight up? Ahh, no. Maybe Dallas would so good as to add to their BIG man roster by taking on Amir Johnson's contract too. (and you ALL know, I dream the big man on the go would be Ed Davis). Sure, Dallas would have to send some draft picks back. Maybe some pay roll on short contracts. But getting ONE-YEAR of Calderon, allowing Dallas to re-tool next summer, would certainly have value. And indeed, if Dallas doesn't want to turn 2012-2013 into a full-on rebuilder, this is the kind of trade the Mavs will HAVE to make.

Giving away Calderon, ne PAYING Calderon to go away, has to be the single most idiotic thing ANY supposed roundball fan/expert/reporter has said, written or otherwise communicated in a looooooong time. And yes, I DID muse about the possibility AFTER Calderon's replacement was in hand (Nash) and after NO other team would have reduced themselves to NO COMPETENT NBA STARTER at the point guard position. Non mea culpa finished. I really do understand the ignorance of the American members of the non-intelligensia. They see one Raptor game a year and if it's a bad one, they can get the impression Calderon's old, worn and done. Limited sample leads to uninformed opinions. But Raptor fans? The ones who supposedly WATCH a lot of games. Idiots. (Sorry Mom).

Even evaluating the team on the work Colangelo has done thus far is premature exposition. That's obvious. The word circulating was that Jamaal Magloire was coming back to provide what he did last year: Occasional hard fouls, professionalism, cheer-leading, and teaching young'uns how to do the same. But the news today of Gray's signing probably means Magloire either goes directly into coaching (with a hefty community ambassadorial role) or plays elsewhere this autumn. And Gray won't be signed to look menacing on the bench. He'll be getting minutes. Hmmmmm, besides the legions of small forwards who secretly want to be under-sized power forwards (James Johnson, Linas Kleiza), there's Bargnani, uber-rookie Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson, Davis and the new Reggie Evans' clone, Quincy Acy. Add in Gray and you have eight guys trying to divvy up 96 minutes a night. Bargnani will get his 42. That leaves 54 for the others. Let's say Valanciunas starts out with 24 and Gray gets 16. Stay with me now. That's 14 minutes to share (until Valanciunas starts playing, oh, 36 minutes a night) for Amir Johnson, Davis, Acy and any of the SF candidates.  Now, if YOU were Davis or Amir Johnson, would YOU be putting in a bid for a condo in Toronto right now?

The small forward spot isn't manned to perfection. There are some nights that each of Kleiza, James Johnson, wing-type guards DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross and Landry Fields will fill the position and turn in a good game. Part of Dwane Casey's pay is to determine which of that group CAN guard the other team's guy AND provide some offence. But the best thing Colangelo could do for Casey is go get an actual, you know, starter-type small forward. Allegedly, Andrei Kirilenko cooled at the thought of NOT having Nash to play with and upped his salary demands. Gerald Green remains an awfully intriguing candidate. But the trade route seems clearly the path Colangelo is on. Maybe it's just payroll clearing deals to pay Kirilenko's stipend.

James Johnson has been a tease for three years now. Maybe he can catch some other team's eye. Kleiza is a pro and, once again, he's doing the deed in international ball. He'd be useful on any team (although, as a fellow Lithuanian to mentor Valanciunas, he's got a certain cache here in Toronto). The problem is he's a PF in a SF package. And you could make a case that the Raptors actually hope the Knicks match on Fields' offer. Or that DeRozan, clueless on defence and still not a great shooter, might have some trade oomph, what with his spot on the American Olympic Trial practice team. (I do remind you, DeRozan works hard and is actually a pretty good guy. Not sold on his basketball IQ). Add in the aforementioned power forward excess and there are too many chips in Colangelo's possession to think he WON'T be dealing before there's a little nip in the air.

WHEN Colangelo finally gets done dealing and the team assembles for Summer League and then training camp under Casey, THAT'S when Colangelo's off-season can be commented on. It'll still be too early for the rookie evaluations, of which there will be at least three to formulate. But the Raptor plan will stand revealed. To do so before, is to reveal the ignorance of the person claiming the Raptors are NOT play-off bound or are a LOCK to make the play-offs. So, my advice to the call-in show participants, "SHUT UP, Colangelo is doing fine."

So far.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

BOOKS: And Another Thing About Amazon

Yesterday, I mentioned that getting published has never been easier, thanks to Amazon. One of the other effects that publish-on-demand creates is a book that isn't outdated by the time you finally see it in print.

I am reading a book (it's a romance and I'm simply not going to admit to the title so you can make fun of me for what drew my attention to downloading AND reading it). In it, are references to the somewhat crude TV series 2 Broke Girls and to the disappointing movie John Carter. (and no, I was not disappointed despite being a huge collector of Edgar Rice Burroughs' books and a long-time lover of his Martian books).

In the old days, a manuscript would have taken some time to write and re-write under the usually austere gaze of a sharp-eyed editor. Let's say a year to be charitable. The process to actually print and distribute the books would have added a year to two years, 18 months on average, to it's publication date. Somewhere between a year and three years after the writer thought to joke about 2 Broke Girls and John Carter, those humourous bits of dialogue would have finally been exposed to the world.

And the odds are that readers might be scratching their heads. The likelyhood of 2 Broke Girls still airing three years from now is slim. And John Carter, while unsuccessful, will survive on DVD and won't nearly be noteworty as a bomb to the same degree as say, Heaven's Gate or Ishtar. So those references will be lost on the people who buy the book and look over to their DVD pile and see the described bomb in the book and wonder.

But the beauty of instant publishing is that the book comes out and the jokes are still fresh. It's also the issue with instant publishing. If the book DOES become a perennial and keeps selling year after year, fewer and fewer people will be understanding the topical references. Yin and Yang.

Still, I'm enjoying the book for what it is ... a book length blog posting. I get the jokes while I'm reading the book. And that's all that's important to me.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

BOOKS: Kindle's Free Books List

[Due to Google Blogger's COMPLETE and UTTER FAILURE to stop the COMMENT SPAMMING BY REGISTERED GOOGLE BLOGGERS (Yeah, I'm talking to the primordial slime that goes by Kevin and variations), all postings from now on will start with this preface. Do NOT click on ANY LINK found in the comment section of this blog. No matter how innocuous the link MIGHT appear to be, it is MOST LIKELY SPAM or a link to MALWARE. I am disheartened by the need to do this, which accounts for the sparsity of posts this year.]

Joe Konrath has been beating the drums over ePublishing on Amazon for a few years now. The fact is, that just about anybody can get a book out to the public at little or no cost. That said, spending a little money on a cover designer and an editor is wise money spent, if the book has the merits to sell to more than just family and friends. The best part of the Amazon process is that it has almost killed off the vanity press, the carny barkers who preyed on writers' need to see their names in print ... usually on the covers of the case of books sitting in their basement.

One of the things Amazon does is produce a cornucopia of free books that are on sale for a few hours or a day or two, every day. I haunt two sites to see the day's freebies at Amazon. There's a curated list at  But my favourite is 

The reason I favour the site is that it shows book covers. I miss that about the way I bookshop these days. I know the author and title and I search Amazon for it. I barely look at the cover before hitting the buy button. And after buying it, I don't stick around to 'browse.' Cuz it's really not browsing, is it? It's linking to known quantity after known quantity. I hadn't 'bought' a book because of its cover in a LOOOOOOONG time. But recently, I have. 

100 Free Books offers up a scrolling list of covers, most of which have a small snippet of descriptive text, I average finding about two covers a day worth investigating. In the early days, it was more, but I've become more discerning in my advancing Amazon Browsing age. Clicking on the cover opens an Amazon tab with the book selected. I can confirm the price is still ZERO (these free deals don't all continue or expire at the same time) and I get the extended description. If, after reading it, I want the book, it's easy enough to obtain. I get a confirming email from Amazon for my order later in the day. I DO read that confirmation, making sure one last time I've gotten a freebie. Then I move it out of my active inbox.

Some things about these free books. MOST serve as an introduction to new authors. In months of monitoring these lists, I've seen recognized authors rarely, excepting classics from the Gutenberg list of out of copyright books. Maybe one or two a week. As for books I've read, a half-dozen in total. Which leads to a funny story.

I finally got around to reading Paul Levine's Solomon vs. Lord, a legal thriller wrapped up in a goofy Floridian mystery that came out in 2005 and immediately went on my want list. I didn't get it until a couple of years ago and I didn't read it until early May of this year. Let me tell you, it's a five-star book. Worth every penny to whoever got it for me as a present (hard to read inscriptions on eBooks and I lost who got it for me specifically. Sorry). So, two more books had come out in the series in 2006, Deep Blue Alibi and Kill All The Lawyers. I went looking for the books and couldn't find them on ANY free list. And even on the free lists guys like me are NOT supposed to know about. 

Stewing about the unavailability of the books for about a half-hour finally forced my hand. I checked out the site and the author's site. I wanted to be sure there weren't some sort of specials I could take advantage of. I mean, it's pretty rare for me to buy a book these days. That's what family and friends and birthdays and Christmas were for. This was May, and my birthday was still the better part of THREE WHOLE MONTHS away!!! So, I broke down and bought the ebooks on Amazon rather than put them on my want list. Three books, because a new book in the series had been released that very morning!! Really!! That morning! And with a name like Habeas Porpoise, it was a no-brainer. Three minutes later and fifteen credit card bucks poorer, I had the full series. 

And of course there is a but ... or two. Deep Blue Alibi was inferior in quality. Had I JUST bought that book, I would have stopped reading the series and saved myself ten dollars. And Kill All The Lawyers was only a bit better. Say average. Sigh. Fortunately, I can report that Habeas Porpoise is a four-star book and almost is worth the 15 dollars by itself. On the other hand (here's the BIG BUT), ALL THREE BOOKS APPEARED ON THE FREE LISTS over the next three weeks. I waited, what, six years to read Solomon vs. Lord, and had I waited just three more weeks, I would have saved my money.

Which is churlish, if my genuine feeling at the time. While it's emminently possible to survive on just free books on the Kindle, the fact is, good books should result in good earnings for their authors. A good book IS worth five bucks. Heck, it's worth 15 bucks. Or more. Then again, not all of the books on the free list are good books. I'd call a lot of them, closer to 'training wheel' books. 

Training wheel books are the ones that probably wouldn't have gotten published five years ago. They're lower in quality because they're the author's first try at this book-writing gig. Which is hard work. I speak from experience. I have a book that could have been put out there by now. But it's not ready for success. So, it's not on Amazon yet. It will be. But it has to get better. 

The book needs another re-write or seven. EVERY read-through finds a typo or an awkward sentence structure. EVERY pass seems to find one place where a character name has not been changed to reflect the current list of character names. Or place names. Plot-lines are STILL being added in and some taken out. It's going to have to be perfect in my mind before I ask people who aren't friends, or friends of friends, to invest their time and money reading the book. 

And I wish some of these authors had similarly anal quality requirements.  Simply put, you get what you don't pay for. Free gives you the chance at something interesting, without the requirement that it meet your previous minimal levels of 'professional book' expectations. There WILL be typos. There WILL be some awkward writing. And in one of the books I read, the ending was just a tad abrupt, as if the author had ridden the idea as far as he was capable of  (or willing) and said, "Let's just call this finished and get it out there." 

Bottom line, I haven't found an author yet to move to my watch list. Nobody has me salivating yet for their next book. But I've actually enjoyed these little tastes of something new and somewhat unformed more than I expected. The books I've guessed wrong on only waste an hour, two at the most. Then I delete them and move onto the next free book. Having no investment in them means I don't continue to waste my time with writing I'm not enjoying.  

There WILL come a day when I discover a new talent. I'm not talking about a Paul Levine or a Dana Stabenow, both of whom have had freebies on the list, and whom I was already familiar with. It'll be somebody new. And then I will have had that rarest of gifts. Another author to enjoy. My birthday is two weeks away. Is it asking too much?  

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

SOFTWARE: I Won't Use It, But I Recommend It

[Due to Google Blogger's COMPLETE and UTTER FAILURE to stop the COMMENT SPAMMING BY REGISTERED GOOGLE BLOGGERS (Yeah, I'm talking to the primordial slime that goes by Kevin and variations), all postings from now on will start with this preface. Do NOT click on ANY LINK found in the comment section of this blog. No matter how innocuous the link MIGHT appear to be, it is MOST LIKELY SPAM or a link to MALWARE. I am disheartened by the need to do this, which accounts for the sparsity of posts this year.]

Over  the years, I have migrated from anti-virus program to anti-virus program. I liked them all better when they were JUST an anti-virus program than a "do everything not nearly as well as just the AV" program suite. In trying to steal business from the firewall people and the parental controls people and the spam people, the AV people lost their focus on what made them worth noticing in the first place.

Years ago, the first AV program of choice to fall to feature bloat was AVG. It had replaced Norton Anti-Virus and McAfee Anti-Virus, not because of the bloatedness of those programs (eventually that did happen), it was the general crappiness and resource hogging of the leading two pro programs that were coasting on reputation at that point. AVG fell hard. It's been years since I recommended AVG as a free alternative to the dollar-happy big two.

I switched, after some research, to Avast! And I've been pretty happy with the product. Indeed, I recommend just about everybody I 'consult' with use it. Even my father, the ultimate 'don't bother me' tester. He just wants to use the computer and doesn't understand the need for anti-virus programs at all. He still won't, even though I'm delivering a new computer to him this week as a combination of belated Father's Day gift, birthday present and excuse not to delouse his current computer. He went a day or two past the free subscription he had to Avast! And the result was almost predictable. White Smoke got onto his computer. I have words for the developers of White Smoke. But Mom insists I refrain from using words like slime buckets to describe people this month.

I wavered a couple of years ago when a Delphi programming specific virus got through Avast! and onto my computer. It was the Stuxnet of its time, but only aimed for those of us who programmed in the Delphi Pascal language. Too specific for general AV programs to catch ... until MONTHS after the fact. I switched at that point to Avira professional.

Now, Avira is a bit more finicky than Avast! But I was in panic mode myself and longed for all the finicky I could get. But long before my subscription to Avira Pro ran out, I ran back to Avast! Pro. Got a good deal and did the switch.

Along with Patrick, the HW guy in my team, I bruited Avast! even to my professional clients. It replaced McAfee on the network of my main client. I guess you could say I was on Avast!'s team. But you would be wrong.

I'm in my last month of my current Avast! subscription and I will NOT be renewing. I still recommend YOU stay with Avast!  But I'm switching to BitDefender Professional. Not sure if it will be JUST the Anti-Virus 2013 or the Internet Security suite. It's ten bucks difference when it goes on sale at Bits Du Jour in  a week or so. (Check daily, there's other deals too) I'm getting sort of tired of Windows 7 Firewall Control saying NO and THEN asking me, rather than the way I used to be familiar with--Zone Alarm's asking me how it should answer, BEFORE answering it. So, a while with the BitDefender firewall is possible.

WHY am I switching when I suggest you don't? I have NO tolerance for being bugged by a program that I pay for. Daily, MULTIPLE TIMES A DAY, DAILY, I am now being reminded my Avast! subscription has only a few specific number of days left before it expires. It started with a MONTH TO GO!!! I can't turn off, modify or make the notes fade away on their own. I'd get less bother from the free version.

The other reason is Avast!'s sandbox. I don't use it. I have Sandboxie when I want to run things in their own little memory space. What bothers me about the auto sandboxing feature is that turning it off is more than a little work. And that the automatic default setting is auto ... and auto too often means "NO, I won't let the user run the program." At a minimum, you have to change that setting to ASK from AUTO. And frankly, I surreptitiously turn the feature completely off on most computers I deal with. Even if they don't have Sandboxie.

I like choice and I like easy choice. I don't like the way Avast! has moved to deciding too much for the inexperienced user. It's annoying ads, come-ons and begging for you to convert free installations to paid ones (and the tricky way they handle just about every update to facilitate taking another run at the inexperienced). I totally HATE their bleepin' little doomsday clock warning and I think I need some time away from Avast! to see if absence makes the heart grow fonder. It did after the Avira experiment. This time? I don't know. This isn't a panic switch, this is the result of a growing itch that switching scratches. I might not be back.

And while I recommend staying with Avast! (assuming you can handle the constant ads), don't be surprised if I'm back here clanging the bell for a change to BitDefender (or something else). Times are a-changin', as they always are in the world of computer software.