Thursday, May 31, 2007

Books you will not see on anytime soon

  1. "Hockey - A Gentleman's Game" by Todd Bertuzzi
  2. "A Comprehensive Analysis of U.S. Foreign Policy in the 20th Century" by Paris Hilton
  3. "How I Made Millions Playing Professional Lacrosse" by anyone
  4. "Feeding Your Family on only $17 Million a Year" by Latrell Sprewell
  5. "My Favorite Hanukkah Traditions" by Mel Gibson
  6. "An Actor's Guide to Avoiding Typecasting" by Joe Pesci
  7. "Burying the Hatchet: How to Resolve Personal Differences And Just Get Along" by Roger Clemens and Mike Piazza
  8. "Building a Successful Long-term Career in the Entertainment Industry" by that kid who played "Webster" on TV (foreword by Leif Garrett)
  9. "High on Life: Why You Don't Need Alcohol To Have Fun" by Lindsay Lohan
  10. "Being a Sports Celebrity Without Becoming a Jerk" by Kobe Bryant, Barry Bonds, Latrell Sprewell, Roger Clemens, and numerous others

Honourary mention: "George Foreman's Big Book of Baby Names" (I saw that on some web site somewhere and got a good laugh)

Monday, May 28, 2007

Enough ripping already

One of the TV shows Gail and I have liked to watch for years is Law & Order. In more recent years, we've also enjoyed its cousins, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Law & Order: Criminal Intent. For those of you who don't watch them, each of these shows occasionally has an episode they describe as being "Ripped from the headlines", where they take a real-life high-profile news story, and write an episode about it. Of course, they change the names and some details and stuff, but it's usually pretty obvious what story they're talking about. For example, a few years ago, they did one about a man who was arrested and tried for several murders, including that of his wife's sister. Later on, it was revealed that his wife was directly involved in the killings, and was just as evil as he was, if not more. This was the story of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka. There was another one about a six-year-old beauty pageant winner who was murdered. For the most part, the stories had some obvious connections to the real-life stories, but diverged in some way as the story went on.

I think these "ripped from the headlines" episodes were fairly popular, since they began becoming more and more frequent, and then I think the writers just started getting lazy. In the last month or so, there was a L&O story about a female astronaut who suffered a mental breakdown, and drove across several states (wearing adult-sized diapers to avoid having to stop) to confront her lover and his wife. The other day, we started watching one (this was L&O:CI) involving a pudgy bleach-blonde former stripper who had become famous by marrying a 90-year-old billionaire and inheriting his estate on his death. Her 20-something son died of a drug overdose shortly after the birth of her daughter, and then she died mysteriously shortly after that. When the story started to deal with paternity issues, we got bored and turned it off.

Note to the L&O writers: enough of the "ripped from the headlines" stuff already. It's been done. To death. Drop it. It's one thing to write a story that vaguely resembles a news item, but when you take the news item, modify the names of the people involved, and that's it, well, that's hardly even worthy of the term "writing", is it?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Stanley Cup Final pick

OK, after going 4-for-4 in the second round, I went 0-for-2 in the third round. What's more, I predicted Buffalo would beat Ottawa in 6 or 7, and Ottawa took out Buffalo in 5 — couldn't get much more wrong. Oh well, I'm still 11-for-14 overall. Only one pick left!

This one is tough. So far, I've tried to keep emotions out of it, picking teams that I thought would win, rather than teams I hoped would win. But now that the Senators (my second favourite team) are in the finals, I'm finding it hard not to root for them. I'm really hoping they can pull this off. A friend of mine grew up near Toronto but now lives near Ottawa, and he's abandoned the blue-and-white to become a die-hard Sens fan. He told me last year that in Ottawa, the regular season almost doesn't matter anymore, all that matters is what happens in the playoffs. Obviously no Leaf fan would think that way, because (a) it's never a guarantee that the Leafs will even get to the playoffs (they didn't this year or last), and (b) it seems that for some Leafs fans (not me), any season where they do make the playoffs can be considered a success, regardless of when they get knocked out.

Any (non-Leafs) team might be a serious contender for a couple of years, maybe more, and then they usually start to suck. Edmonton was great in the early-mid 80's, and sucked in the early 90's. The Islanders were great in the early 80's, then have pretty much sucked ever since. Calgary, Montreal, the Rangers, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Dallas, they've all had periods of time where they were serious contenders, and then a few years later they were at the bottom of the heap. A few teams like Detroit and New Jersey may not be contenders every year, but rarely seem to have really crappy teams. Anyway, near the beginning of this season, when the Sens were losing (and the Leafs were winning), I started to wonder if this was the end of the Sens run, if their window of opportunity was closing. Then they turned their season around and began winning, and suddenly, making the playoffs wasn't an issue, the question was (as usual over the past several seasons), how far would they go. I think their reputation as playoff chokers is now gone. Alfredsson seems to be the leader in Ottawa that Mats Sundin has never quite become in Toronto, he, Heatley and Spezza are firing on all cylinders, and I think this is the year.

Ottawa over Anaheim in 6.

You hit a what?

Heard on the traffic report on a Toronto radio station this morning:

...and if you're north of the city, on Highway 10 just south of Highway 89, there's a dead kangaroo in the left lane...

I just hope that whoever hit the animal didn't have any car damage:

Insurance company: You hit a what?
Driver: A kangaroo.
Insurance company: Rrrrrriiiiiight. Let me just check your policy...

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Third Round Picks

Just call me Mr. Prognisticator. I'm now 11 for 12 in my NHL playoff picks, after a perfect second round. I expected the Ottawa series to go longer, but I did get the winner right. Now for my third round picks...

  • Buffalo over Ottawa — this is a hard one. I am a closet Senators fan (Shhhhh.... I don't think you're allowed to be both a Leafs fan and a Sens fan, so don't tell anyone), so I'd love to be wrong here, but I think Buffalo is just too strong. However, I fully expect this series to go at least six games.
  • Detroit over Anaheim — this is a hard one as well, but I think Hasek will come up big for Detroit. I suspect that the winner of this series will take the Cup.

Monday, May 07, 2007

By the way, didn't I break your heart?

I am a big fan of Marillion's first four albums — the ones they recorded with Fish as their lead singer. In the late '80's, (right about the time I got into the band), Fish left and was replaced by a guy named Steve Hogarth, and for whatever reason, I never picked up any new Marillion albums after that. Last week, I was buying the new Rush album from, and decided to pick up the first Marillion album with the "new" (almost 20 years ago) singer, "Season's End", as well as another newer one, "Afraid of Sunlight". I listened to them for the first time today at work, and, well, I'm not sure yet. The music is unmistakeably Marillion (moreso with Season's End), but it really sounds weird with someone other than Fish singing.

Changing lead singers is far more significant a change than any other band member, and this is magnified when the singer has as distinctive a voice as Fish. This was evident when David Lee Roth left Van Halen, but Van Halen's music wasn't terribly different from other hard rock bands at the time, so Van Halen's first album with Sammy Hagar just sounded like another new band with a great guitar player. In this case, Marillion's musical sound is so distinctive, changing singers is even more significant, possibly similar to AC/DC replacing Bon Scott with Brian Johnson, though that happened before I really paid much attention to popular music. In that case, both Scott and Johnson had distinctive voices — Johnson's is similar to Scott's, but different enough that it was obvious that he was a good fit with the band without being a Bon Scott clone. When I Mother Earth replaced Edwin with, um, whoever they replaced him with, the result was a pretty good band with a fairly average lead singer. The newer stuff is still great musically, but I'm not as thrilled with the vocals, and that's what I've found so far with the "new" Marillion. Steve Hogarth's voice is not very distinctive, and I'm not sure it fits with the band as well as Fish's voice did. In fact, every now and again Hogarth sounds like he's doing a bad Fish imitation.

I've learned in the past that immediately writing off an album after a single listen is frequently a bad idea — I didn't like Dream Theater's Scenes From A Memory when I first heard it, but it grew on me, and is now one of my favourite Dream Theater albums; same with The Tragically Hip's Trouble at the Henhouse. I'm very glad to be listening to new Marillion music, for the first time in almost twenty years, and I hope I really start to get into it, because they have eight more albums that I don't have, plus a new one coming next year. I get very excited about new music!

Note: The title of this post is a lyric from "Kayleigh", a song from Marillion's amazing 1985 concept album "Misplaced Childhood". According to Wikipedia, the success of this song has significantly increased the number of girls given the name Kayleigh in the UK. I know a woman (here in Canada) who would have named a daughter Kayleigh because of that song. She ended up having two sons, neither of which, thankfully, is named Kayleigh.

Gas Boycott

I read an article from MSNBC today about a proposed "gas boycott" on May 15. The organizers want people to refrain from buying gas on that day to "stick it to Big Oil" — they think that if enough people don't buy gas that day, the oil companies will lose millions and will be forced to reduce gas prices. Yeah, right.

The article explains why a "gas boycott" will will have exactly no impact on long-term gas prices. I've been saying this for years; I even had a letter to the editor published in the local paper a few years ago when one of their columnists suggested it. I didn't do all the math that the author of the article did, but it seemed obvious to me that it was hogwash. First off, if you didn't need gas on the 15th anyway, then your refusal to buy gas that day is meaningless, so only the participation of those who would have filled up that day will have any effect. For those who do need gas on the 15th, refusing to buy gas that day just means that you'd fill up on the 14th or the 16th instead, so the total revenue of the gas companies would be even over that three day period. Gas prices would fall on the 15th, but would come back up again on the 16th as demand returned to normal — they might even go higher.

The only way to permanently reduce gas prices is to permanently reduce demand for gas, which means permanently reducing consumption. Making gas guzzlers more expensive and hybrids cheaper would be a good step — when I bought my Sunfire a couple of years ago, I would love to have bought a hybrid, but even given the lower gas costs over the life of the car, I couldn't afford the initial cost. My Sunfire was about $21,000 including all taxes and fees and such; hybrids started around $32-35,000 (they might be a little cheaper now, but I don't think they've come down all that much). If you assume that the car uses $40 of gas per week, and the hybrid uses half, or $20 a week, then it would take eleven years before the cheaper gas offsets the $11,000 extra cost. Now, I don't know exactly what kind of mileage a hybrid gets compared to a standard car (is it half? More? Less?), but until the prices come down significantly, or I get a big bonus at work, I won't be looking hybrid.

Aside: I know this is an unfair comparison because my car is pretty cheap, and they don't make hybrid Sunfires, so I'd have to upgrade to a Camry or something like that, which is more expensive to begin with. I'm comparing apples to oranges, but the fact remains that I would like to have bought a hybrid but couldn't afford one.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Mysteries of Modern Life

Here are a few things to ponder over your first glass of frozen concentrated substitute for artificial morning breakfast beverage (with or without pulp-like substances added):

Why is is that people will not shut off a car's engine if the windshield wipers are part-way through a cycle? I do it myself, and I've seen others do it as well — they either turn off the wipers first, or if they are on an intermittent setting, simply wait until the wipers have stopped before shutting the car off. Why do we do this?

Why do Americans talk about ice hockey? As opposed to what? Sure, there's field hockey, but very few people play it or talk about it. If I just say "hockey", what are the odds that I'm actually talking about field hockey? Couldn't you just assume I mean ice hockey? If I talk about "bowling" and I don't specifically say the word "lawn", you can assume I mean "standard" bowling — I don't need to add an adjective.

And why do they talk about hot tea? If I wanted iced tea, I'd have said iced tea, but if I didn't say "iced", can you not assume I meant hot? This even penetrated the American-made show Star Trek: The Next Generation, where Captain Picard's favourite drink order was "Tea. Earl Grey. Hot". I've never heard of iced Earl Grey tea, so it should be obvious he meant hot. They did address this in the final episode "All Good Things...", where an elderly Picard (in the future) was asked by a British woman if he wanted tea, and he answered "Tea? Earl Grey. Hot", to which she replied "Of course it's 'ot!"

Why do smokers (many of which wouldn't otherwise think of tossing garbage out the window of their car) not think twice about tossing cigarette butts out the window? Why not use the ashtray in the car?

Why do North American cars with power windows have an "express-down" feature (i.e. press the down button once and release it, and the window goes all the way down) on the driver's window but not the others? European and Japanese cars have it on all the windows. And why isn't there an "express-up" feature?