29 July, 2009

If I hear one more person

complaining about the weather, I just might snap.

Every weathercast leads off with the news anchor accusing the meteorologist, "Where's my summer?" Now, before I get going on my main rant, indulge me in a little mini-rant against these people who seem to think the forecaster has something to do with the weather. Yeah, buddy, that guy sitting next to you performed a shamanic rain dance before he came to work today. He's personally responsible for the cool and cloudy conditions. (Actually...ssshhh!...there's a global cabal of meterologists uttering arcane incantations and stirring hailstones into bubbling cauldrons so as to ruin your summer.) Shut the $%^ up, already.

Yes, I have a visceral hatred of the kind of weather conditions it seems most of the rest of you are pining for. Once the thermometer starts edging much above room temperature (20C, or 68F), I get bitchy. If the humidex hits the thirties--86F and above--I'm abjectly miserable.
I know how much of a freak this makes me. Like all freaks, I'm think I'm the only sane one in a world full of crazy people. And I've learned to justify my freakishness in terms the crazy people might be able to relate to, if they can tear themselves away from their unrelenting worship of the Great Goddess Melanoma.
That's my first justification: the same sun that ensures our pale blue dot can nurture life will give you cancer if you let it. And it'll make you look like this in the process.

Because oh, man, that's attractive.

Everyone knows the danger of sunburn. But when I play word-association with the teens at work and the word I throw out is suntan, at least half will say "healthy". Yeah, whatever. Suntans are healthy in the same way "light" cigarettes are healthy.

Let's look a little closer at the weather conditions you're all wishing for.
Southern British Columbia is basking in 40-degree (104F) temperatures with concomitant smog and high UV levels. The CBC reports brisk sales of fans and air conditioners. Hmm. If people like the heat so much, why are they so quick to buy and employ devices to counter it?

Moving east, we enter the Prairies, Canada's foodbasket. While Ontarians bitch about the rain--and, in most of Ontario, we actually got more rain last July--farmers a couple of provinces over are plowing their desiccated crops under. Rainfall is less than 40% of normal in some districts. Which means food prices across the country are set to skyrocket. But hey, who cares, right? They got SUN!

In Ontario this year, there has been no need to import additional power to meet demand. Lawns are lush and green...naturally. Most summers, if you want your lawn to stay green, you've had to deplete the municipal water supply...an act I've always regarded as criminal, and recently, many cities have come around to my way of thinking: water your lawn on the wrong day (or on any day in dry years) and you'll pay dearly for the privilege. Unless it's actually storming, working outside ranges from bearable to actually comfortable. As far as I'm concerned, this summer's been damn near ideal so far. If you feel otherwise, you're welcome to your freakish opinion.


25 July, 2009

For those of you wondering...

...our contractor threw his back out, which has delayed completion of our reno. Not sure when it'll be done, but pics will be shown when it is.

Why I Hate "Reality" Television

Well, I always hated reality TV because it quite simply isn't reality. But now I have a whole 'nother reason to loathe it: because even when good intentions are present, the execution is fatally flawed.
I'm referring to the show "More to Love", which is, not suprisingly, from FOX. From the blurb on the cover of the current STARWEEK, More To Love is a "new reality show [which] gives hope to plus-sized women who have had a hard time finding a mate".
It does no such thing. Turns out it's a Bachelor-style show where the bachelor in question is 6'3" and over 300 lbs--presumably because they couldn't find a non-obese man who's interested in plus-sized women. He gets to go on dates with a variety of women, some of whom are a size twelve.
If you wear a size twelve, by the way, you're too skinny to shop in Pennington's, Canada's premiere plus-sized chain.
So he goes on a bunch of dates and then selects his prize...humiliating all the women who don't make the cut on national television! What's not to like about that?
As my wife noted when I told her about this show, it might have some redeeming value if it involved a bunch of men--normal men, not ex-NFL linebackers gone to fat--pursuing one woman who (among her many attributes) happened to be plus-sized. That would send a message that there are lots of men out there who don't discount a woman because she's not anorexic. But no, FOX has to go and bollocks it up. Sickening, really.

22 July, 2009

Things your kids may never know about...

From Wired's Geek Dad column:

Audio-Visual Entertainment

Inserting a VHS tape into a VCR to watch a movie or to record something.
Super-8 movies and cine film of all kinds.
Playing music on an audio tape using a personal stereo. See what happens when you give a Walkman to todays teenager.
The number of TV channels being a single digit. I remember it being a massive event when Britain got its fourth channel.
Standard-definition, CRT TVs filling up half your living room.
Rotary dial televisions with no remote control. You know, the ones where the kids were the remote control.
High-speed dubbing.
8-track cartridges.
Vinyl records. Even today’s DJs are going laptop or CD.
Betamax tapes.
MiniDisc.
Laserdisc: the LP of DVD.
Scanning the radio dial and hearing static between stations. (Digital tuners + HD radio bork this concept.)
Shortwave radio.
3-D movies meaning red-and-green glasses.
Watching TV when the networks say you should. Tivo and Sky+ are slowing killing this one.
That there was a time before ‘reality TV.’


Couple points here. If there was a time before reality TV, *I* don't remember it. The Phil Donahue Show premiered five years before I was born.
Also, it's funny just how quickly some of these things die. Or rather, how long they persist before suddenly disappearing. I last used a VCR about two years ago. We've got three of them--two of them are even hooked up!--but I can't think if I'll ever turn one on again.

Computers and Videogaming

Wires. OK, so they’re not gone yet, but it won’t be long
The scream of a modem connecting.
The buzz of a dot-matrix printer
5- and 3-inch floppies, Zip Discs and countless other forms of data storage.
Using jumpers to set IRQs.
DOS.
Terminals accessing the mainframe.
Screens being just green (or orange) on black.
Tweaking the volume setting on your tape deck to get a computer game to load, and waiting ages for it to actually do it.
Daisy chaining your SCSI devices and making sure they’ve all got a different ID.
Counting in kilobytes.
Wondering if you can afford to buy a RAM upgrade.
Blowing the dust out of a NES cartridge in the hopes that it’ll load this time.
Turning a PlayStation on its end to try and get a game to load.
Joysticks.
Having to delete something to make room on your hard drive.
Booting your computer off of a floppy disk.
Recording a song in a studio.

Joysticks! What I think of as a joystick hasn't existed in twenty years! Remember these?


Now those were joysticks. Not the flimsy stickless monstrosities Nintendo introduced, which inexplicably spread industry wide.


The Internet

NCSA Mosaic.
Finding out information from an encyclopedia.
Using a road atlas to get from A to B.
Doing bank business only when the bank is open.
Shopping only during the day, Monday to Saturday.
Phone books and Yellow Pages.
Newspapers and magazines made from dead trees.
Actually being able to get a domain name consisting of real words.
Filling out an order form by hand, putting it in an envelope and posting it.
Not knowing exactly what all of your friends are doing and thinking at every moment.
Carrying on a correspondence with real letters, especially the handwritten kind.
Archie searches.
Gopher searches.
Concatenating and UUDecoding binaries from Usenet.
Privacy.
The fact that words generally don’t have num8er5 in them.
Correct spelling of phrases, rather than TLAs.
Waiting several minutes (or even hours!) to download something.
The time before botnets/security vulnerabilities due to always-on and always-connected PCs
The time before PC networks.
When Spam was just a meat product — or even a Monty Python sketch.

Several things here I goggled (as opposed to Googled) at.

1) Phone books and Yellow Pages. I just used one last night. While I don't use them often, I can't imagine not having one accessible. Not everything is on the Net, you know.
2) SPAM (Shit Posing As Mail) is itself on the endangered list. I can't remember the last time something snuck through into my e-mailbox.
3) Road atlases: if they ever disappear, I'll miss them. Really, as far as I'm concerned, anything bound has an advantage over a screen. Particularly in a car: who's going to steal your atlas, huh?


Gadgets

Typewriters.
Putting film in your camera: 35mm may have some life still, but what about APS or disk?
Sending that film away to be processed.
Having physical prints of photographs come back to you.
CB radios.
Getting lost. With GPS coming to more and more phones, your location is only a click away.
Rotary-dial telephones.
Answering machines.
Using a stick to point at information on a wallchart
Pay phones.
Phones with actual bells in them.
Fax machines.
Vacuum cleaners with bags in them.

FAX MACHINES?! When, exactly will they go extinct? In the course of my job, I'm faxing at least once a day.

Everything Else

Taking turns picking a radio station, or selecting a tape, for everyone to listen to during a long drive.
Remembering someone’s phone number.
Not knowing who was calling you on the phone.
Actually going down to a Blockbuster store to rent a movie.
Toys actually being suitable for the under-3s.
LEGO just being square blocks of various sizes, with the odd wheel, window or door.
Waiting for the television-network premiere to watch a movie after its run at the theater.
Relying on the 5-minute sport segment on the nightly news for baseball highlights.
Neat handwriting.
The days before the nanny state.
Starbuck being a man.
Han shoots first.
“Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.” But they’ve already seen episode III, so it’s no big surprise.
Kentucky Fried Chicken, as opposed to KFC.
Trig tables and log tables.
“Don’t know what a slide rule is for …”
Finding books in a card catalog at the library.
Swimming pools with diving boards.
Hershey bars in silver wrappers.
Sliding the paper outer wrapper off a Kit-Kat, placing it on the palm of your hand and clapping to make it bang loudly. Then sliding your finger down the silver foil of break off the first finger
A Marathon bar (what a Snickers used to be called in Britain).
Having to manually unlock a car door.
Writing a check.
Looking out the window during a long drive.
Roller skates, as opposed to blades.
Cash.
Libraries as a place to get books rather than a place to use the internet.
Spending your entire allowance at the arcade in the mall.
Omni Magazine
A physical dictionary — either for spelling or definitions.
When a ‘geek’ and a ‘nerd’ were one and the same.


You mean...a geek is something different from a nerd? The two terms were interchangeable into my teens. I didn't know they aren't anymore.
Libraries as a place to get books...we get a bunch every month. I can maybe imagine an entire library migrating online, but I don't see that happening any time soon. Yes, there's Google Books...but what about newer releases?
How many phone numbers do you know? I started to protest at this and Eva asked me what my parents' cell phone number was. I drew a blank. The only cell number I've got memorized is my wife's--on the grounds I occasionally need to use that one. Guess I should bone up on some others. But I know more than thirty different phone numbers just from work, as well as several other numbers I frequently call. All of the personal numbers are stored in our cordless phone's memory...but paging through the "phonebook" takes so long it's quicker just to dial the number!
Oh, and when did diving boards go bye-bye? Shows you how long it's been since I dog-paddled anywhere.

Anything else you can think of that's on its way out? And how many of these things will you miss?

16 July, 2009

Pardon my dust

Excuse me for a minute...

AAAAARRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHH!

*whew*

Okay, I feel better. A little.

The renovations are proceeding apace. First let me make this abundantly clear: the man we hired is doing a good job. A very good job. With the "after" pictures, I'll be putting a word in for him.
So the problem is not Dan. We'd be having the same problem if Dan was Stan or Yann or Fran.
The problem is this: my wife and I are quintessential homebodies, the both of us. If it was at all realistic, Eva and I would never leave home; we always feel slightly on edge past the edge of our property. It's compounded when we invite what's Past The Edge....inside with us. We feel...compromised. Have you ever been laying in bed and you suddenly get to thinking, I wonder if I locked the side door? Like that, except all day and all night.

(It just occurred to me that friends, reading this, will conclude we'd rather you never darkened our door. Please don't think that. Friends are great. Family's great. We love you all. Just please don't come in here and RENOVATE!)

As I write this, we're still without a functional shower, and that more than perhaps anything else, grates on our nerves. Eva's in particular. Her body runs hot. On any day when it's not actually snowing, Eva is apt to be, uh, what's that word for what females do? Ah, yes, glowing. On summer days, she glows red hot. She needs air movement and she needs hydration and she needs both badly. Me, I don't sweat much, but I likes me my showers. The only thing that could possibly make a shower more enjoyable is a second showerhead mounted on the back wall of the tub. Don't think I haven't thought of it. As it was, we broke down last night and went to Eva's work and showered there. I felt a thousand times better.
We haven't had to live without an upstairs toilet, which is great. The bathroom is floored, the drywall is mudded, and tomorrow the shower surround gets installed, complete with, yay yay yay yay shower doors hooray! I haven't had shower doors in more than a handful of the dozens of places I've lived in and by God do I miss them.
In addition, our master bedroom closet--which is exactly doubling in size--is almost done. I think. And today the living room carpet went bye-bye and was replaced with a laminate so close to what's already in the kitchen, they might as well be identical. Most of that's laid down now; all that remains is a corner by the front door and to reattach the baseboards.
Our dogs are freaked, which is understandable. Dan and his helper have played with the Tux and the Peach on their breaks, for which we are eternally grateful. A contractor who is not a friend would probably not do these jobs with the dogs around, and as I may have mentioned a time or two, our dogs are special in more than the obvious way. Let's put it this way: they are VERY VERY VERY VERY happy to see the Mommy and the Daddy each day.

It seems silly to be stressing out over something we asked for, we're paying for, and which--let's face it--is going very well. Silly or not, it's there. I can't wait until this is over.

12 July, 2009

Tomorrow, it starts

Our current abode was built in 1969. The bathroom's original.

That should be all the explanation required for the upcoming "week the washroom went." But I'll give you a little more anyway, superfluous words being something of a trademark of mine.
By "original", I mean "puke-green", as in "hey! A toilet, sink and bathtub that's puke-green! That's original!"
And "1969" coupled with "puke-green fixtures" immediately suggests a piss-yellow floor, right? I mean, what other colour could possibly go?
We chose, sadly, not to continue the body functional theme with a shit-brown shower curtain and accessories, but trust me, the room looks perfectly terrible without them. And the mould that's undoubtedly gained a toehold thanks to my continued insistence on boiling hot showers just adds a certain je ne sais yuck to the whole affair.
Oh, and my unique talent of breaking things caps the whole thing off. Not three months after we moved into this place, I sat down on the toilet one night and shattered the tank lid. Okay, sat down is perhaps a bit of an understatement: I have a habit of, well, throwing myself on to the toilet on occasion, especially when it's a-gonna be a photo finish, if you catch my whiff. So you shouldn't infer from one shattered tank lid that I weigh a tonne and a half. I ain't heavy, I just act that way.
Replacement tank lids for 1969 toilets...not available. We've had to, ahem, craft one, just for the extra tacky points.

So: the bathroom's being redone. Not just superficially, either. The room's being gutted down to whatever lurks behind the drywall and rebuilt: stronger, sleeker, and a helluva lot nicer. (Before and After pics are coming when the after pics come, okay?)

I find myself wishing I could just snap my fingers and make it Saturday. Because after tomorrow, I'm going to have to do without a few things I kind of take for granted, namely a toilet that isn't two flights of stairs away from the bedroom and...a morning shower. I'm dreading the lack of a morning shower. I'm hoping the weather either continues substantially cooler than normal (the better not to sweat, my dear)...or gets blisteringly hot (so that a garden hose feels refreshing instead of f-f-f-freezing.

There are a few other jobs being done around here as well: our master bedroom closet will almost double in size, the carpet's coming out of the living room at long last, and several other, more cosmetic changes await. Our house won't be ours for a week, but it will feel more like ours afterwards...

08 July, 2009

Seems pretty disharmonious to me...

I don't usually put links to petitions in the Breadbin. In fact, this will be the first one in my five plus years of blogging. But I'm going to sign this one myself...something else I don't usually do. Petitions, to me, are beyond useless. I mean, so you've got a hundred squillion signatures on something. Great. Now why, pray tell, do you think the government gives a fart in a high gale? This is Canada. Governments have nothing to fear from us, no matter what they do. Not when the first reaction to absolutely any misfortune, no matter how large or small, is the government's gotta do something!

So why am I signing this one? Because (a) I strongly agree with it and (b) I'd like to get some small psychological boost from saying I did. I'm under no illusions that "my voice will be heard"...I'm just, to reach for the low-hanging cliche, mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore....

Here's a small sampling of what the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) means for the average Ontarian family.

CABLE TV: If $60 monthly, yearly increase is $57.60

Oh, how I'd love to pay just $60/month for cable! Our satellite runs us $97...but we'll go with that number, anyway. After all, television, sorry to say it, is a luxury.

GOLF FEES: If $1500 yearly X 2, annual increase is $240

I don't golf, so I don't know if three grand is reasonable for a year's worth of golf for two people. But it actually sounds low to me. Still, if you golf in Ontario, prepare for the government bogey man.

GYM MEMBERSHIP for two: If $35/month, your annual bill will be $67.20 higher

You're working out the first month for Johnny Canuck!

HYDRO BILL (that's the electric bill, for my American readers): If $85/month, yearly increase is $81.60

Shocking, isn't it?

If you pay $800 each year for HEATING FUEL: presto! It's $864!

Does somebody prepare your income tax? If that costs $150 x 2 returns, ch-ching! Another $24, please.

Is that "tax on tax"?

Oh, here's a good one.RRIF/RRSP: On $400,000 family savings, an annual increase of $1,040.00. This is a new HIDDEN TAX of $52/$20,000 deposit, annually.

You get the picture. The HST will insinuate itself into your life in literally hundreds of ways, large and small. This in a country where, in my humble opinion at least, we pay far too much tax already, given the absurdly poor quality of services received. Ask Toronto residents how much they're getting in services right now.

The government suggests that this tax will actually result in *cough* *cough* savings which will *sputter* *hack* be passed on to the consumer. May I suggest that all that will be passed on to the consumer is a giant heaping helping of bovine excrement? I look at this list (which I've only excerpted) and see hundreds upon hundreds of dollars magically vanishing from my wallet each year. For nothing.

So--and just as an exercise in wishful thinking--.I'm going to go to

unfairtaxgrab.com and sign their petition. It won't do any good, but it might make me feel better for a few minutes.

Best Computer News I've Heard In A While

is right here, folks: the Google operating system!

I bet Microsoft's shitting peachpits right about now.

I use Chrome almost exclusively: it's by far the best browser I've ever seen, and I've tried a few. Yes, all the power users out there employ Firefox, and I don't blame them: it's endlessly customizable and it runs quickly. If you're the kind of brainiac who loves tweaking things, Firefox is tailor-made for you.
I'm not that kind of person. My computer life has three overarching principles. In order of importance: simplicity, stability, and speed. Chrome embodies all three.
Simplicity: the home page. It's simply clickable thumbnails of your top nine most visited sites. Which is only logical...you can't surf the web by staying "home", after all.
This home page is unique in my experience, and highly desirable after just a couple of sessions. One of my father's friends sent me a link to the latest version of Safari; immediately after install, I was greeted with...a blank page. Well, that's attractive. Upon further review, I noticed it wasn't a home page at all but a "bookmarks menu". So I looked for the button to bring me home.
It didn't exist. It doesn't...freaking...exist. EVERY browser has a little house you click on to bring up your home page. Except Safari. Whatever.

Back to Chrome: the stability is appreciated. If one tab crashes, you can close it out and keep surfing like nothing happened. Try that in Explorer.
And speed: Chrome may not be the fastest out there--depending on your benchmark, Safari can outperform it--but it's plenty fast enough. In real-world application it's a shade quicker than a 'fox and moves at light-speed compared to Explorer.

There's no place like Chrome...

And that's just a web browser. Every other application I've seen from Google has something, or several somethings, to recommend it. From Google Earth to Google Books (drools) to the new Android, this company doesn't seem to miss a step.

Which raises some thorny ethical issues. I wrote a story a few years ago in which Google ran the world. At the time, I meant the conceit facetiously. Now, it looks uncomfortably close to the unvarnished truth. I can see how this would bother people.
It doesn't bother me. If it wasn't Google, it'd be some other company...and I have a lot of respect for any company with the informal motto "Don't be evil". They've reacted to pressure re: Street View and blurred faces "to protect people's privacy", even though privacy in a public space is patently ridiculous. The EULA on Chrome was another flashpoint until Google fixed it. I knew when I first read that agreement it was a mistake, and unenforceable in any case, because the code for Chrome--as is the case with this new OS--is open source. In short, my default position is to give Google the benefit of most doubts...and it seems the market agrees with me.
I can't wait for this shiny new OS to land. It sounds like it will take up dramatically less memory (always a good thing...just because you have umpty-terabytes available doesn't mean you have to use it all). It should also run more stable and faster. Like Chrome. Bring it on.

05 July, 2009

This is why I can't vote for you, Mr. Harper

It's not that you're a control freak. Chretien was a control freak before you; he was just a lot better at masking that aspect of his personality with le p'tit gars de Shawinigan charm.
It's not because of any of the little scandals that have bubbled up here and there under your watch. Scandals come and scandals go, and all of yours put together don't even approach AdScam, as far as I'm concerned.
It's not even that you're Conservative. Although I don't vote Tory by default, the way I did when I was younger and had a more black/white view of the world, I can still be swayed to. It just might take a little swaying, is all.

No, the reason I can't vote for you is because of your mindless hatred of anything and anyone that doesn't share your philosophy of the world. That doesn't play well in a country that itself embodies most of the world.

It started with the round of attack ads on Mr. Ignatieff. You'll forgive me, first of all, for missing the election call. I didn't realize there was a campaign going on requiring the use of Parliamentary resources (four million dollars' worth!) to attack other Members of Parliament. That such monies are being spent now, in a recession, is all the more concerning. But the content of the ads is perhaps more so.
Michael Ignatieff has, indeed, spent some time away from Canada. Your ad says 34 years, which is false: 1978-2005 only makes 27. Still, that's a long time to account for, isn't it? What kind of Canadian would spend so long abroad? What the hell was he doing all that time?
Well, the man has eleven honorary doctorates, to go with his Ph.D. in History from Harvard University. He's an accomplished writer, broadcaster and filmmaker. He's held teaching positions at universities all over the world.

Egghead.

This attack ad is really nothing more than your Tim Horton's/Starbucks strategy resurrected. It plays well in the hinterlands, I'll grant you that, but a great many Canadians saw the ad for what it is: provincial and anti-intellectual.

That ad was bad enough. This one is much, much worse:

"Your Bloc MP has voted against the protection of children"

The Bloc is rightly furious. What they voted against was mandatory minimum sentences for child trafficking. And not because they're a bunch of perverts: it's because mandatory minimums don't work. A Bloc MP even said as much, several times.
Mandatory minimum sentences are no deterrent to crime. In order to impose a sentence, a criminal must be caught, tried, and found guilty--and most criminals don't believe they'll ever be caught, let alone tried, let alone found guilty. Also, the prospect of prison doesn't scare many. Several states in the U.S. are repealing mandatory minimums because they've had no effect on crime. So why would we want to go down that road?

The aforementioned Ignatieff is standing with the Bloc on this.“I’m in politics to defeat the Bloc Quebecois with real arguments, rather than slurs and vicious . . . personal attacks", he said. "This is unworthy.” In French, Ignatieff said “I will never descend to that level of attack because when we do this, we fragment our country, we divide our country. We create suspicion and fear and hurt, where there has to be healing.”

And that's why I'm not voting for you, Steve. You're all about fragmentation, division, suspicion, fear, and hurt. Your Canada doesn't include the two million Canadians who have spent time abroad and returned. It doesn't include anyone who's inclined to think past whatever message you're sending.
What we need in this country is consensus. We need someone willing and able to bridge gaps between East and West, French and English, urban and rural, right and left, and whatever other gulfs you, Mr. Harper, have sought to exploit and widen.

04 July, 2009

Three Quick Hits

First of all, a Happy Fourth to my American friends.

Going through the papers today, I find a few things worth remarking upon.

1) Tim Hudak, the new Conservative leader in Ontario, is supposedly the second coming of Mike Harris. The Star is, predictably, full of vitriolic letters to this effect. Mike Harris. Remember him? Architect of the "Common Sense Revolution?" A politician hated so much that he...won back-to-back majorities? Whose party only lost its grip on power when he left politics in the middle of his second term and was replaced by the much more moderate Ernie Eves?
How convenient it would be to forget a lot of people liked Mike Harris, and before him, Brian Mulroney. The two are held in such low regard by the punditocracy, after all.
I'll give Hudak some advice, gratis, unlikely as he is to ever see it: maintain the integrity of Harris--say what you'll do, and then do what you say--and try to be a shade less confrontational than Mike was...and you'll win the hearts and minds of most of the province. Oh, and promising to repeal the HST wouldn't hurt, either.

2) Afghanistan: "IEDs (improvised explosive devices) are the tools of cowards", says Brig-Gen. Vance of the Canadian Armed Forces.
Uh, not really. They're the tools of a fighting force that's outnumbered and vastly inferior to what we're throwing at them. The jihadis know that in any face-to-face encounter, they're likely to be slaughtered. So they don't do face-to-face. That's not cowardice, it's sensible self-preservation.

3) H1N1: Okay, this is getting ridiculous. When this virus first appeared on the scene, you could glimpse the end of civilization lurking just between the headlines. The mediots went absolutely nuts with it. And comparatively little happened. Then, aside from a few doomer-type articles saying just you wait, the real outbreak hasn't happened yet, the papers subsided into a somnolent buzzing, lulling the readership to sleep.

This site details the spread of H1N1. It's not pretty. There are four columns of data for each country, territory or area: a cumulative total of cases reported and deaths, also the number of new cases, and deaths, confirmed "since the last reporting period".
"The last reporting period" was two days ago.

May I draw your attention to the bottom of the graph, after you've checked out the stats for whatever country you're in, of course...

Total number of global cases: 89921
Deaths: 382
Cases newly confirmed in the past two days: 12720
Deaths in the past two days: 50

Now, the mortality rate is nothing to be terrified of...a measly 0.0042%. For now: I caution you, we're not in flu season and the virulence could well intensify. What has me worried isn't the prospect of imminent death...it's the prospect of approximately one third of the North American population getting sick. Better minds than mine have crunched the numbers and come to that conclusion, which is curiously being underplayed in the media. In short: if you don't get this flu, you will know people--multiple people, and probably a goodly number--that do. For those of us who work with the public, the chances of contracting H1N1 are very high.

This sucker is spreading and spreading fast...a titch over 14% of the total number of cases have been confirmed since the first of July. Even a mild illness that affects that many people would utterly wreck our economy, the same economy we're trying like hell to resuscitate. And that's just for starters. I think we'll see schools shut down for long periods; businesses forced to run with skeleton crews if they can run at all; hospitals in lockdown...let your mind run wild. And that's, again, assuming H1N1 stays mild. If it gets more deadly, all bets are off.

01 July, 2009

Canada Day In Hockey

[Note: Everything I've said here...and here...and here...still applies. As I posted on Facebook, to all Canadians, a happy Canada Day, and to all those not so lucky, maybe in the next life...]

For a hockey fan, the draft (last week) and free agent day (today) are the equivalent of Christmas and New Year's, respectively. On draft day, you unwrap shiny new talent that hopefully makes your team better; on free agent day, your GM makes some resolutions public and (hopefully) gives your team an even more tangible sense of renewal.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS 2009 DRAFT

Thirty GMs wanted John Tavares. Only one team--the Leafs--made a point of announcing, weeks ahead, they wanted John Tavares. The Islanders had no intention of dealing the first overall pick, much less to Toronto. Burke's strategy was thus immediately questionable.
Another plan, also trumpeted with some fanfare, was to trade up two or three spots and acquire the services of one Brayden Schenn, brother of Luke "The Human Eraser" Schenn. Burke made no secret of how much he coveted the younger Schenn, and so, quite predictably, other general managers asked for the moon and stars in return for that pick. Burke balked--rightly so. But he has only himself to blame: had he kept a little quieter about his intentions, he probably would have had no trouble advancing the two or three spots necessary.
Burke, stuck in the seven hole, approached Ottawa, who was scheduled to draft immediately after Toronto, and inquired as to whom the Sens were targeting. Informed they were high on Nazem Kadri, Burke said "we're taking him" and proceeded to do this that. This little spike of Ottawa-Toronto rivalry was the only bright spot on an otherwise dismal draft night for Brian Burke.
Oh, nothing against Kadri, who has the potential to be a pretty decent impact player. (The Toronto Star, again predictably, went absolutely nuts over Kadri. Not because the boy can play, but because he's Muslim, don't you know. Multiculturalism will always trump talent--or indeed, anything else--within the boardrooms of the Star.)
But whatever Burke may have said to Duthie on the draft floor, Kadri was at best Plan C for the Leafs, and that C doesn't mean "captain".

After a bit of handwringing on Leafs forums that the team didn't get the first overall pick, or the fourth, things settled down as we all awaited what Burke would do on free agent day.

The team named after Canada's national emblem has, historically, been very active on Canada Day. Trouble is, the free agents the Leafs have historically signed have almost always been on the downslope of their careers, and have brought the team absolutely nowhere.

Well, I'm here to tell you that today we can start planning the Cup parade. For Burke has boldly reached out to nab that preeminent talent named Colton Orr.

As Howard Berger rightly notes, Bobby Orr, even at 62, has more of a hockey skillset than Colton. But the one thing Colton does is fight, and by God he does that one thing well.
We can beat around the fistic bush again if you like: for the record, I'm in Don Cherry's corner (and Burke's) in believing that fighting does have a place in the game. As such, and until they outlaw it, I feel each team needs a...how shall we say it...presence. The Leafs especially: last year was painful to watch. The fighting was divided between Hollweg (at first) and Mayers, both of whom were basically punching bags. There's no point having a fight if you can't win the damned thing, and so most of the Leafs (Luke Schenn aside...man, I love that guy) folded like a cheap tent when the going got rough. Orr will change that, which is a good thing in my books. And $1M per over four years is cheap for the new fan favourite.

Next move: Kubina and Tim Stapleton to Atlanta for Garnet Exelby and Colin Stuart.

Definitely a theme going here. Exelby is tough as nails, and dirty as, well, dirty nails. Scores all of a point every ten games, and got, wow, two whole goals last year. But mean. Real mean. Only to be expected when you name your male child after a friggin' gemstone. One thing I'll say right now: the Leafs better improve their penalty kill next season, because so far they've added a good 200 PIMs, not to mention sacrificing a bunch of scoring off their back end. Stuart, incidentally, is very much incidental. Put it this way: Atlanta got all the skill in this deal.

Oh! Mike Komisarek is a Leaf! Okay, he's actually one of the people I'd hoped Burke would target, and he got him at $4.5M/year--a bargain, considering other teams were offering $6M+. Komisarek is also pretty tough, but his best assets are his defensive awareness and shot blocking capability.

Not a bad first day's work for a man determined to put his bloody stamp on a team. But it's only a first day. Consider: the Leafs now have no fewer than nine legitimate NHL defensemen. Only six are strictly necessary, and I have to wonder where the surplus guys are going to go. In fact, I have to wonder who the "surplus" guys even are.

More, obviously, to come. I'd sure like to see a little skill, now...