Thursday, December 23, 2010

Beauty and the Beast

We went to see the Ross Petty production of Beauty and the Beast last weekend. (Thanks Kerri for getting on the phone as soon as tickets were available and getting us third row seats!) Ross Petty has produced (and starred in) a pantomime at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto every Christmas for 15 years, and this is our third (or fourth?) year going to see them. It's always a lot of fun, and this year was no different. Petty always gets some fairly big name people in the show: In past years, he's gotten Kurt Browning, Alan Frew, Patty Sullivan (if you have young kids and live in Canada you will likely recognize her), Don Harron, Jessica Holmes, and even Bret "The Hitman" Hart. This year it was former Canadian Idol winner Melissa O'Neill and Kids In The Hall alumnus Scott Thompson. Petty himself always stars as the villain, and loves to be booed - so much so that if he appears on the stage and doesn't get booed, he stops, looks at the audience, and waits until they start booing him, grinning all the while. Then he inevitably tells everyone to shut up, though of course he wants nothing of the sort. He likes to get some topical humour in there as well; last year he talked about Tiger Woods, and this year he called the audience a bunch of left-wing pinkos.

The shows are aimed at kids (and there are a zillion of 'em there), but there are enough "grown-up" jokes that we parents always get a good laugh as well. The best one this year was by Scott Thompson, who was dressed in drag as Aunt Plinky. (There's always someone in drag in these shows.) At one point, they bring three kids from the audience (Nicky was chosen last year!) up on stage and talk to them a little. Scott was dressed as Queen Elizabeth at this point, and asked one of the kids "Have you ever been this close to a queen before?", and gave a knowing look to the audience. This was funny enough for most of the kids but for the adults, knowing that Thompson is gay made it even funnier. After the little girl said no, Thompson replied "Well, you probably have but you didn't know it."

I love all the little unexpected things they throw in there – things that aren't necessary, don't advance the plot or anything like that, they're just funny. Near the end of the play, when the problem has been solved and the bad guy defeated, the main characters come together and sing the "We Did It!" song from Dora the Explorer. Or when the main two characters (Bella and Prince Zack) are singing a romantic love song to each other, Aunt Plinky shows up with his her bubble gun and dances around silently blowing bubbles all over the stage. Every year, Petty picks a particularly silly dance sequence and says afterward "You won't see that at the Nutcracker!", which is not only funny because it's absolutely true, but also because he is married to Canada's most famous ballerina, Karen Kain.

Petty has a clever way of mentioning the sponsors – they take two "commercial breaks" and show very funny commercials featuring the actors and/or characters from the play. This year we had "Queen Elizabeth" (Thompson again) staying at the Royal York, Bella trying on dresses and Aunt Plinky getting drunk and passing out at The Bay, and "Busking Beaver" (Justin Bieber with buck teeth and a flat tail) buying wood at Lowe's, among others.

If you get a chance to see one of Ross Petty's plays near Christmas some year, definitely check it out, especially if you have kids. Just don't get tickets too early, or you may get the ones that we should be getting. And if you're going the same night as us, definitely do not go to Baton Rouge across the street for dinner beforehand. I'm sure the Popeye's Chicken across the street is just as good.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

At least they made the playoffs

Nicky's soccer team played in the consolation final yesterday, since they lost their semi-final game last week. The game was tied so they went to penalty shots and ended up losing. (Note that there are only four teams in this league, so fourth place is the same as last.) Nicky's teammate's mother and little sister (I think she's six) were sitting next to me, and this conversation occurred after the game:

Little Girl: Did we win the first place cup?
Mom: No, honey, we didn't.
Little Girl: Did we win second place?
Mom: No.
Little Girl: Third place?
Mom: No, not third either.
Little Girl: Fourth place?
Mom: Yes.
Little Girl: Oh. That's the Stinker Cup.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Stability in the NLL

Note: this is a "recycled" article from my blog from a few years ago. I've updated and posted it to the NLL blog.

Most NLL fans know that every year, teams appear, disappear, or move. But here's a sobering fact: the last time an NLL season began with exactly the same teams as the previous year (in the same cities) was 1993. That's eighteen straight seasons with some kind of team movement. Here's what's happened since then:

  • 1994: Removed Pittsburgh
  • 1995: Added Rochester, removed Detroit
  • 1996: Added Charlotte
  • 1997: Removed Charlotte
  • 1998: Added Ontario and Syracuse, removed Boston
  • 1999: Ontario moved to Toronto
  • 2000: Added Albany, Baltimore moved to Pittsburgh
  • 2001: Pittsburgh moved to Washington, Syracuse moved to Ottawa, added Columbus
  • 2002: Added New Jersey, Montreal, Calgary, Vancouver
  • 2003: Washington moved to Colorado, removed Montreal
  • 2004: New Jersey moved to Anaheim, Albany moved to San Jose, Columbus moved to Arizona, removed New York and Ottawa
  • 2005: Added Minnesota, removed Vancouver
  • 2006: Added Edmonton and Portland, removed Anaheim
  • 2007: Added New York and Chicago
  • 2008: Removed Arizona
  • 2009: Added Boston, removed Chicago
  • 2010: New York moved to Orlando, San Jose moved to Washington, removed Portland
  • 2011: Removed Orlando

Sometimes franchises fail because lacrosse just didn't sell in that city (Ottawa, Anaheim, Orlando, San Jose). Occasionally they fail because of corrupt or incompetent ownership (Vancouver). In the case of Arizona in 2008, it was some mystery reason that made no sense. This was the year that the NLL season was temporarily cancelled due to a labour dispute. The Sting shut down operations because of the cancellation, but then the season was resurrected two weeks later. Arizona management announced that they had already shut everything down and couldn't restart it in time (though every other team managed it), so they'd just sit out 2008 and return in 2009. Of course they didn't return at all, so it sounded to me like they used the season cancellation as an excuse to fold up operations since they weren't making much money. This is too bad for Arizona fans, since they had a very good team that made the finals twice in three years. The Chicago thing was another mystery reason — their owners said that it was just too difficult to manage the team in Chicago from their offices in Atlanta and LA. Mmmmmmkay. Never heard of phones? Email? Video conferencing? Hell, hire someone who lives in Chicago that can run things.

Whatever happened to due diligence, not only on the part of NLL ownership groups, but on the part of the NLL itself?

Apparently the Chicago owner announced that he wanted to sell the team during the middle of the 2008 season, which means that less than two seasons after he bought an expansion franchise, he was trying to sell it. Did he not consider the "difficulty" of running a team from a thousand miles away before spending $3 million to buy an expansion franchise? Did the NLL not ask him how he intended to run the team from a thousand miles away?

Twenty-six NLL teams have folded or moved since the league was formed in 1987. Of those, four (Ontario, Charlotte, Montreal, Orlando) only lasted a single season. Compare that to the NHL, where a total of eighteen teams have folded or moved since 1917. Four cities (Pittsburgh, Washington, New York, and New Jersey) have had NLL teams fail twice. Does this sound like a good league to purchase a franchise in?

Having said that, the Toronto, Colorado, Calgary, Philadelphia, Buffalo, and Rochester franchises are all healthy. I don't know about Edmonton or Minnesota, but I haven't heard any negative rumours about those. Boston and Washington are probably too new to really have a good grasp, but 2011 will be Boston's third season in the league, so that bodes well for them. I really hope that the late 90's and early 2000's were a kind of experimental phase for the NLL, where they tried lots of new markets, many of which failed. Now that they have a core of seven or eight franchises that are doing well and are unlikely to fold, perhaps we'll see a little more stability.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Slacktivism

A week or two ago, a meme went around facebook where people would change their picture to that of a cartoon character and set their status to something urging others to do the same. This was supposed to be some sort of campaign against child abuse. But not once in any of the statuses that I saw was there any explanation of exactly how changing your facebook picture would have the slightest impact on this problem. Is some scumbag out there going to see all these pictures of cartoon characters on facebook and decide not to beat their child that evening because of it? Call me pessimistic, but I don't think so. Some may say that it was to "raise awareness". Who doesn't already know about child abuse? Other than the abusers themselves, who doesn't already think it's a terrible thing? Whose awareness are you trying to raise?

I'm not trying to be negative here and say that this is a problem that we can't solve so let's just do nothing. I'm not saying that people who do this are idiots. And there's certainly no harm in changing your facebook picture. But anyone who believes that this type of "campaign" will have any effect on anything is delusional. This is just another form of slacktivism, where people think they can cause real change in the world without actually doing any work.

This has come up on both facebook and twitter many times over the last few years: Copy this line to your facebook status if you know anyone who's died from cancer. Black out your twitter picture to protest a proposed copyright law in New Zealand. Join this group to protest <cause of the day>. Sign this internet petition to protest high taxes. Could the government look at an internet petition with several thousand "signatures" on it and rethink their budget because of it? Not bloody likely, but I guess it's theoretically possible. But how is changing your facebook status to "I know someone who died of cancer" going to change anything? And quite frankly, who doesn't know someone who's died of cancer?

magneticribbon

Every couple of years there's the "gas-out" where everyone is supposed to not buy gas on a particular day (sometimes from a particular gas company) to protest high gas prices. This is not quite the same thing, in that people are doing something real, but nobody considers the fact that if Wednesday is the gas-out day and you were going to buy gas that day, then you'd have to buy it on Tuesday or Thursday instead. Even if they sold no gas on the gas-out day, the total demand over the course of the week would be the same as usual, and so there might be some momentary blip in gas prices but nothing long-term. This is proven by the past few gas-outs, where gas prices drop by a few cents on the day of, only to rise back to normal a day or two later.

Another form of slacktivism is the "ribbon" magnets people put on their cars. Many of them are for some medical condition or another (again, "let's raise awareness for cancer" – who doesn't know about cancer?), but some simply say "support the troops". These ones confuse me too. Originally I assumed they meant that the person was in favour of the fighting in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, etc., i.e. they support the war and agree with those who decided to send the soldiers overseas. But later I heard that even if you don't support the reason the American and Canadian troops are fighting, you should display these magnets to say you support the soldiers themselves. This makes no sense. Saying that you support the war is a political statement that many agree with and many do not, and some may feel strongly enough about their position that they want to broadcast it to the world. But agree or disagree with the war itself, who doesn't support the soldiers? What's the alternative – hope they die? Why do you need to put something on your car that says "I hope the soldiers overseas are not killed!"

Now as I talk about ribbon magnets, I should say for the record that I do have a magnet on my car. It's shaped like a banner and it says "Transplants save lives". I've written before about a little girl we know who had four organs transplanted in 1997 at the age of six months. This surgery saved her life, and she will be 14 years old in a couple of months. This magnet could be considered slacktivism as well, but I argue that it's not. In order to do something real to help cure cancer, you'd have to be a doctor or scientist or both. You can certainly give money to the Cancer Society (or the CNIB or the Diabetes Association or whatever); I do it myself and I will never argue that it's a bad thing. But all you need to do to support organ donation is sign your organ donor card, which takes almost no effort and costs nothing. I've done it, my wife has done it, many of my friends have done it, and if something terrible should happen to one of us and the organs are needed, just signing the card has saved someone's life. Not to take anything away from donating money, but donating organs can have a much more direct impact. If the magnet on my car reminds someone to sign their organ donor card, it will have served its purpose.

If you want to effect real change, get off your ass and get out there and do something real, or at least donate money to someone else who's doing something real. There are lots of charity walks, runs, and bike races, not to mention car washes, barbecues, and even 50-50 draws and raffles. Hell, I grew a moustache in Movember, which took almost no effort on my part, but it raised a coupla hundred bucks for prostate cancer research. That's about as close as you can get to doing something good with no work and no cost. Though come to think of it, I did change my facebook picture as part of it.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Five things you didn't know about Qatar

FIFA has chosen the tiny desert country of Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup of soccer. Qatar beat out the United States, South Korea, Japan, and Australia for this honour. Here are some facts about this surprising choice, thanks to Wikipedia.

  1. The Qatari soccer team is ranked 113th in the world. They have never even qualified for the World Cup before. Neither has Canada, and we're ranked 28 spots higher than Qatar. Correction: Canada did qualify for the World Cup in 1986. They finished 0-3 and didn't score a single goal. Thanks Ryan!
  2. The average high in July is 115°F or 46°C. That's really freakin' hot. But it's a desert, so it's a dry heat, right? Wrong! Qatar is bordered on three sides by the Persian Gulf, so it's really freakin' hot and humid. Perfect weather for playing soccer! Maybe the Qatari team does stand a good chance in 2022 because all the players from the other countries will be dropping like flies from heat exhaustion and dehydration.
  3. There are only three stadia in Qatar that are even close to big enough to host this event. They plan on adding 18,000-23,000 seats to each one, and building another nine stadia, each of which will hold at least 43,000 people. They've managed to get by with three stadia up to now, so what the hell are they going to do with twelve of them after 2022?
  4. The entire population of Qatar is about 1.7 million. Attendance at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa was double that. There are four cities and thirty five metropolitan areas in the United States (1 and 4 respectively in Canada) bigger than that. South Africa has a population of just under 50 million.

If you're still not sure why FIFA chose Qatar, point number 5 should clear it up:

  1. 70% of all government revenues come from oil and gas. Qatar has 14% of the world's total reserves of natural gas. This is a very small and sparsely populated but extremely rich country.

Update: According to this article, after the World Cup, Qatar plans to dismantle the new stadia they are building and give them to poorer countries. I applaud this gesture.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

All Things Being Equal

When fans discuss a league for a period of time, something that inevitably comes up is parity. This seems to be the goal of any league – the idea that all of the teams in the league are similar enough talent-wise that it's highly possible for any team to beat any other team on any given night. This also implies that any team has a reasonable shot at winning a championship. The idea certainly has merit. If you're a fan, you know that the chances of your team winning it all or at least being competitive are pretty good.

But if you listen to Bob McCown, one of Canada's most knowledgeable sports broadcasters (both loved and despised by many), he'll tell you point blank that parity is the worst thing that could possibly happen to a league. When you look back over the history of pro sports in North America, what kinds of team-related things do you remember? The Yankees' dominance in the 50's, the Islanders in the early 80's and the Oilers immediately after that, the Red Wings in the late 90's, and the Rock of the late 90's/early 2000's. Do you look back fondly on the years of parity? Do you even know when they occurred? No, you don't. You remember the dynasties.

With the dynasties come the, well, anti-dynasties, I suppose. We also remember the teams that were really bad for long periods of time – the Senators of the mid-90s, the lowly Nordiques before Eric Lindros turned them into the powerhouse Avalanche, the Maple Leafs for most of the last 40 years, and the Clippers, Pirates, and Cubs seemingly forever. Again, do you remember the years when all the teams were pretty good, but nobody was awesome and nobody was terrible?

So parity isn't so good for the history books, but is it good for the fans? That depends. I've been a Maple Leafs fan all my life, and apart from a few good years in the 80's and a few more in the 90's, they've been mediocre at best for the majority of that time, and downright awful for quite a bit of it. A little parity sounds like a pretty damned good idea there. The Jays were terrible from 1977 until about 1984, then good for the rest of the 80's, awesome in the early 90's, then dropped off and have been no better than pretty good for the last fifteen years. The Raptors were terrible for a while, then pretty good for a few years, and now they're terrible again. The aforementioned Cup-winning Islanders and Oilers are both pretty bad these days. It's a terrible feeling watching your favourite team lose, and know that they're going to have a lousy season and are not likely to improve for at least a couple of years. That feeling is made even worse knowing that some other teams are likely to be awesome for that entire period. I'm sure parity would be welcome to fans of those teams as well.

But I've also lived the other side of the equation, thanks to the NLL. I became a Rock fan in 2001, when they had already won two championships. The total number of home games they lost was in single digits for several years. In their first seven seasons, they won five championships and lost a total of two playoff games. The Wings stole the 2001 championship away (don't get me wrong, they earned that victory), but the Rock stormed back and won the next three of the next four. I can tell you that parity in the NLL was the last thing that Rock fans wanted around 2005.

So for the fans the conclusion is hardly surprising – when your team is winning, parity is something you want to avoid. When your team is losing, parity is something to strive for. How about for the league as a whole?

Obviously most leagues think that parity is ideal. They want fans from all of their teams to continue to pay money to come out to the games as much as possible. This is easier when all the games are meaningful because each team still has a chance to make the playoffs and win it all. This is at least part of the reason we have salary caps and luxury taxes and such, so that some teams can't outspend the rest of the teams by 200% and buy themselves a stacked team. Of course that wouldn't happen in a league without a salary cap, would it? Well, the pre-cap Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers tried it for a number of years, but just ended up with some very expensive losing teams. But this strategy has worked very well for the New York Yankees, and has made the Yankees one of the most hated teams in all of North American sports, outside of New York anyway. It has also turned the Yankees into one of the biggest draws at MLB stadiums all over North America, and has made them one of the most valuable sports franchises in the world. And at the same time, MLB is doing very well financially, thank you very much, with no salary cap. Parity shmarity. How's that salary cap working for your owners, Mr. Bettman?

The NLL east has been pretty even for a couple of years. Only 2 games separated 2nd from 5th last year. In 2009, the top 3 teams had the same record 10-6 record, and in 2008, the top four were 10-6. The west has been kind of weird for a few years. Minnesota's 5-11 regular season record (.313) in 2010 is the second worst ever to make the playoffs in the NLL, and the third worst ever in any sport*. Calgary ran away with the west in 2009, and in 2008 San Jose and Colorado tied for the division lead with records just above .500.

In 2011, you've got a couple of strong teams (Washington and Boston) but nobody that's unbeatable. You've got some weak teams (Philly, Colorado, Minnesota), but nobody who's really terrible. And everybody else could easily find themselves in the playoffs or fighting for a spot. Could Washington repeat? Sure they could. It's way too early to say "dynasty", but they could easily be in the running again this year. But could I predict a Rush championship without looking like an idiot? Sure I could. Or the Blazers. Or the Rock. Or the Bandits. Could the Roughnecks win without Sanderson or Kelusky? Well, the Oilers won without Gretzky, so anything's possible.

* In the 1993 and 1994 NLL (called the MILL at the time) seasons, three different teams made the playoffs with 2-6 (.250) records. In the other major sports, only the 1952-53 Baltimore Bullets of the NBA were worse: 16-54 (.229). No NFL team has ever made the playoffs with a record under .500. In baseball, the 1981 KC Royals made the playoffs at 50-53 (.485), though that was a strike-shortened season. And my beloved Leafs made the playoffs in 1987-88 with a 21-49-10 record, which is .263 in wins (21 wins in 80 games) but ties screw things up. They got 52 out of a maximum of 160 points, which is .325.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Meme: Books I have read

Have you read more than 6 of these books? The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books here. How do your reading habits stack up?

Instructions: Copy this entire document. Look at the list and put an 'Yes' after those you have read [I bolded them too]. (Watching the movie DOES NOT COUNT)

Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen - Yes
The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien - Yes
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte - No
Harry Potter series - JK Rowling - Yes
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee - Yes
The Bible - No
Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte - No
1984 - George Orwell - No
His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman - No (only the first one "The Golden Compass")
Great Expectations - Charles Dickens - No
Little Women - Louisa M Alcott - No
Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy - No
Catch 22 - Joseph Heller - No
Complete Works of Shakespeare - No, just a few in high school
Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier - No
The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien - Yes
Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk - No
Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger - Yes
The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger - No
Middlemarch - George Eliot - No
Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell - No
The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald - Yes
Bleak House - Charles Dickens - No
War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy - No
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams - Yes
Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh - No
Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky - No
Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck - No
Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll - No
The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame - Yes
Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy - No
David Copperfield - Charles Dickens - No
Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis - No (3 of the 7)
Emma - Jane Austen - No
Persuasion - Jane Austen - No
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis - Yes (Um... part of the Chronicles or Narnia above)
The Kite Runner - Khaled Hossein - No
Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres - No
Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden - No
Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne - No
Animal Farm - George Orwell - Yes
The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown - Yes
One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez - No
A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving - No
The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins - No
Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery - No
Far From The Madding Crowd -Thomas Hardy - No
The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood - No
Lord of the Flies - William Golding - No
Atonement - Ian McEwan - No
Life of Pi - Yann Martel - Yes
Dune - Frank Herbert - No
Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons - No
Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen - No
A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth - No
The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon - No
A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens - No
Brave New World - Aldous Huxley - No
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night - Mark Haddon - No
Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez - No
Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck - No
Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov - No
The Secret History - Donna Tartt - No
The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold - No
Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas - No
On The Road - Jack Kerouac - No
Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy - No
Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding - No
Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie - No
Moby Dick - Herman Melville - No
Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens - No
Dracula - Bram Stoker - Yes
The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett - No
Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson - No
Ulysses - James Joyce - No
The Inferno - Dante - No
Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome - No
Germinal - Emile Zola - No
Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray - No
Possession - AS Byatt - No
A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens - No
Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell - No
The Color Purple - Alice Walker - No
The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro - No
Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert - No
A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry - No
Charlotte's Web - EB White - No
The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom - No
Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - No
The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton - No
Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad - No
The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery - No
The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks - No
Watership Down - Richard Adams - No
A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole - No
A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute - No
The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas - Yes
Hamlet - William Shakespeare - Yes
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Yes
Les Miserables - Victor Hugo - Yes

So I've read 18 of the 100 books. But the Harry Potter series is seven books, and Lord of the Rings is three more! That should count for something. And the entire works of Shakespeare shouldn't be listed as a single book.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Get over it

Your team has just traded for a player who is one of the best players in his sport, and has been for much of the last decade. We're talking about a lacrosse player who has the following credentials:

  • NLL MVP
  • NLL Championship (Rochester Knighthawks)
  • NLL Championship game MVP
  • MLL Offensive Player of the Year
  • MLL MVP
  • World Indoor Lacrosse Championship (Team Canada)
  • Mann Cup (Peterborough Lakers)
  • Mann Cup MVP

That's a pretty impressive list for any career. But consider this: those are John Grant, Jr.'s accomplishments in 2007 alone. Not listed here are his accomplishments in other years: rookie of the year awards (2), other championships (2 MLL, 2 Mann Cup, one World Indoor Lacrosse, one World Outdoor Lacrosse, one Heritage Cup), other MVP awards (2 more), and MLL Offensive Player of the Year awards (2 more). Guy's got more hardware than Home Depot.

So now this guy is on your team, and all you had to give up for him was a guy who has never played for your team in the first place, and you got for free anyway. Great news, right? Why would any fan be upset about acquiring such a player? Well, just ask Colorado fans how they feel about acquiring Grant last week. Not all of them think this was a great idea, in fact some are quite unhappy with the deal. Why? Because they don't think he's that good? Absolutely not. Nobody is arguing Grant's talent. It's because of a split second decision that Grant made back in December of 2006. Grant cross-checked Colorado defender John Gallant in the back of the head, knocking him out and getting himself a one-game suspension. Gallant was likely concussed – he was out six weeks and suffered headaches for a while – but luckily returned to the Mammoth. For Mammoth fans, this brought back a painful memory of the last game of Steve Moore's NHL career, before Todd Bertuzzi ended it.

Was Grant's hit a cheap shot? I personally didn't see it, but I can't imagine how a cross-check to the back of someone's head while they're walking away from you wouldn't be. Is Grant a goon? Not by a long shot, but I can't say he's the most sportsmanlike player I've ever seen either. We all know that lacrosse is an intense game played by passionate people, and passionate people sometimes make errors in judgement in the heat of the moment. John Gallant himself has said that he and Grant are friends and he's very much looking forward to playing together on the Mammoth, so he's forgiven Grant. It's easy to just say "Yo Colorado fans, it's been six years. Gallant only missed a few weeks and he himself is good with it, so just get over it." But that's much easier said than done.

Back in the early-mid 2000's (I can't remember exactly when it happened), the Philadelphia Wings were in Toronto to play the Rock. At some point in the game, the Wings' Dave Stilley and Toronto's Steve Toll started pushing and shoving each other and the gloves dropped. No more than a couple of punches were thrown before Stilley did something I had never seen before on a lacrosse floor and haven't seen since – he head-butted Toll, who instantly dropped to the floor. Stilley was booed relentlessly, and was tossed from the game. I don't remember if there was a suspension involved. Toll was out the rest of that game, but returned for the next game uninjured. To this day, I remember seeing Toll drop like he'd been shot. I remember the jaws of everybody in our row dropping open as we watched Stilley being dragged away. I remember the defiant look on Stilley's face, as if to say "Yeah, I went there, so don't fuck with me!" Ever since that game, the name Dave Stilley has represented to me the worst of violence in pro sports (well, up until Todd Bertuzzi grabbed it and hasn't let go). A couple of years ago I saw a picture of Stilley raising the 2001 Champions Cup in Toronto as a member of the Wings. The fact that you could see me in the background of the picture was pretty cool, but I couldn't stop staring at the C on his chest, stunned that he had at one point been chosen as captain of the Wings. As I read the tweets, blog posts, and message board postings about how ticked off some Mammoth fans were about the Grant trade, I immediately thought "Get over it, Mammoth fans". But then I wondered how I would have felt if the Rock had traded for Dave Stilley.

My first thought was "Well, that was different, because..." but then I couldn't think of how to finish that sentence. Both were cheap shots. Both could have caused devastating injuries or even been career-ending, but they weren't. Both players returned after a relatively short absence, and both continue to play well – interestingly, Toll played with Grant for five years on the Knighthawks and Gallant is now captain of the Mammoth and Grant's teammate. Both offenders were penalized and the incident subsequently considered closed by the league, the teams, and likely the players involved. But not the fans. The only real difference I can think of is that if Stilley were acquired by the Rock, it would have been a fairly minor deal, as Stilley was never a superstar. We could have still followed the Rock but hated Stilley, and it wouldn't have been that big a deal. Nobody would have cancelled their season tickets over it. But Grant is a superstar, and is expected to singlehandedly bring the Mammoth back to glory. If he succeeds and the Mammoth contend this year, it will be very difficult to cheer for a team led by a man you hate. Of course the other option would be to give up your lacrosse tickets. I cannot imagine doing this myself – I wouldn't give up my season tickets even if the Rock traded Colin Doyle for Dave Stilley straight-up. (Excuse me while I go and scrub my brain with steel wool for even thinking such a thing.) The only advice I can give Mammoth fans is to give it time and try to forgive, even if you can't forget.

Friday, November 05, 2010

NLL Scheduling

Scheduling in pro sports leagues is hard. I cannot imagine the complexity of the software that does scheduling for a league of 30 teams and 82 games (NHL, NBA) or 162 games (MLB). Even 16-game seasons like the NFL or NLL are pretty complex. You have to take into account arena availability (though many NBA, NHL, MLB, or NFL teams have first priority on the arena / stadium), how many games against division / conference opponents should there be, other league-imposed rules like the Maple Leafs must always play at 7pm on Saturday nights, and travel time (you can't have a home game in New York on Saturday and a road game in Vancouver on Sunday). In the NHL, you're talking about 30 teams and 82 games each, or 1230 games. That's gotta be a nightmare to schedule. I'm not sure if scheduling baseball would be easier or harder, since all their games are in groups of 3 or 4. So before I talk about the problems in the NLL scheduling, I want to say that I realize that this is a hard problem.

Having said that, the software that does the scheduling for the NLL has some flaws. Either that, or some of the league-imposed rules are a little silly. In the six seasons from 2005 to 2010 inclusive, here are some things I noticed:

  • Rochester played in Colorado four times but Colorado only played in Rochester once.
  • Colorado has had a weird schedule hosting teams from the East. Rochester has played there four times, Buffalo and Philly two, Toronto zero.
  • Toronto never played in San Jose or Colorado, and the Stealth and Mammoth only played in Toronto once each. (Toronto did play the Washington Stealth once in 2010, but only in the Championship Game.)
  • Buffalo and San Jose each hosted the other only once.
  • San Jose hosted the Rock, the Bandits, and the Knighthawks once each, but Philly three times.
  • Cal-Edm games in Calgary: ten. Cal-Edm games in Edmonton: six.
  • Edm-Col games in Colorado: eight. Edm-Col games in Edmonton: five.
  • Buf-Min games in Buffalo: eight. Buf-Min games in Minnesota: five.
  • Neither Edmonton nor Calgary have ever played in Buffalo or Philadelphia, but they've played in Toronto four and six times respectively. The Bandits have played in Calgary once (plus one Championship game) and Edmonton twice, and Philly has played twice in Calgary and twice in Edmonton. Toronto has played five times in Edmonton and six in Calgary.

I get that the NLL wants teams from the same division to play each other more often, and I have no problem with that. But the Stealth were in San Jose for six seasons, and the only time they played the Rock was the last game of the sixth season in Toronto. In a league with this few teams, does it make sense to have two teams go almost six full seasons without meeting at all? And for the love of Jim Veltman, can we please do away with this supposed Canadian rivalry that doesn't exist? I think Calgary and Edmonton could have a good rivalry with each other because they're so close together (and already have rivalries in the NHL and CFL), but Toronto's main NLL rivals are the Bandits. A rivalry that's forced on the fans doesn't work, and it makes the scheduling problems even worse.

I'd love to see a system that allowed every team to play every other team at least once per season, but I understand that this may cause scheduling difficulties. But every other year should be doable. Now that there's five teams in each division (not that that is likely to last long – article on NLL stability coming soon), the scheduling could go something like:

  • three games against other each team in the same division = twelve games (alternate 2 home + 1 away or 1 home + 2 away from year to year)
  • one game against four of the five teams in the other division. That's four more games, totalling sixteen. The team that gets skipped changes from year to year, so you won't go more than one season without seeing any one team. Alternate home and away as well so you don't have a discrepancy that way.

Maybe this is just too difficult a problem for a simplistic solution like this to work. But the Toronto Rock and the Washington Power / Colorado Mammoth had a pretty good rivalry going back in the day, when they played each other in the semifinals three years in a row (2001 and 2002 as the Power and 2003 as the Mammoth). In the seven seasons since then, the Rock and the Mammoth have only played each other in the regular season once. Obviously, something is wrong with the current scheduling system.

Pattern matching

Here is another list of bands that have something in common, but this time I'm going to let you, dear reader, attempt to figure out what that is. These are all bands that have been active in the past ten years.

  1. Matchbox Twenty
  2. Blink 182
  3. Sum 41
  4. Eve 6
  5. Maroon 5
  6. Finger 11

If you're in a band and you can't come up with a name, just do what these guys all did: pick a random word and a random number and put them together. That's called creativity.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween Pumpkins 2010

We had a good crop of pumpkins this year. Each of us did one and then I did a second one. Ryan actually stuck his hand inside the pumpkin and pulled the guts out! First time ever! Nicky was not so brave – he didn't want to get his hands messy, so Gail had to clean his out. We do not have mud-pie kids.

Halloween was dead this year! I've written this entire blog entry without being interrupted once by kids at the door – and it's currently 8:45. We bought a box of 95 mini chocolate bars and still have about 1/4 left – and I was giving two out to each kid. Didn't even open the second box. Our first year in this house, we went through almost three boxes @ 1 per kid.

RockPumpkin

My Toronto Rock pumpkin. I printed out an image of the logo and Gail and I (mainly Gail) figured out how I could carve it into the pumpkin.
SmileyPumpkin Yes, I'm a geek. ;-)
GailsKitty Gail did the kitty cat from a template, but added the stars herself.
RyansWelcome Ryan carved this one himself from a template. Pretty tricky.
NickysSkull This was from a template as well, but once his pumpkin was cleaned out, Nicky carved it himself.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Smokers' so-called rights

There was a letter to the editor in the Hamilton Spectator today, in response to another letter from yesterday regarding the "rights" of smokers vs. non-smokers. Today's letter read:

We can debate this issue until the cows come home.

What I find intriguing is that non-smokers scream about their rights and their liberties, and how I as a smoker infringe upon them.

I say “ditto.” I, too, have a right to eat, shop and walk in an environment that is comfortable to me and not feel segregated or put down or looked down upon.

If I, as the letter writer says, wish to put as much nicotine and tar into my body as I like, let me do it when and where I wish.

Terri Hamm, Hamilton

I immediately wrote a reply and sent it in to the Spec:

You are obviously informed about the dangers of smoking and yet have chosen to smoke anyway. That's your right and I will not argue it with you. If you want to put that crap into your body, go ahead. You've made that decision. But while you are putting that crap into your body, you're putting that crap into the body of everyone around you as well, without their consent. Many others have made the decision NOT to put that crap into their bodies, and yet they're subjected to it anyway. This will happen if I simply stand near you - I don't need to interact with you or even know who you are. And you're arguing that you should have the RIGHT to subject others to your smoke?

If I want to drink myself into oblivion, that's my decision. But it's ludicrous for me to argue that I have the right to pour alcohol down the throats of everyone around me just so that I don't feel "looked down upon".

It is absolutely stunning to me that we actually have to have this argument. If you want to foul up your body with cigarettes, that's your decision and your right. But when your habit negatively affects my health, that's where your rights end. If I get drunk and harass people at the door of the local grocery store, I will be asked to leave and arrested if I don't. Nobody's health is in jeopardy here, customers are just being annoyed. But if I smoke near the door and compromise everyone's health, nobody cares and if they do, the smoker argues about "smokers' rights". I don't get it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Yet another blockbuster

First Josh Sanderson was sent from Calgary to Boston for a buncha kids. Then just a couple of weeks ago, the Roughies sent Tracy Kelusky to Buffalo for a draft pick. And now in the third major trade of the offseason, John Grant Jr. leaves Rochester for Colorado in exchange for Matt Vinc. Combine this with some other trades (Snider, Paul Dawson, Conn, Moleski) and the Orlando Titans dispersal draft, and I can't remember an offseason when so many big name players were moved around.

I have to say I'm confused about one part of the trade, as reported by NLLInsider.com:

The Colorado Mammoth have confirmed the deal Insider reported on earlier today, the Mammoth sending Matt Vinc, Matt Zash, Brad Self and their first & third round picks in the 2012 entry draft to the Rochester Knighthawks in exchange for John Grant, Brad Self and Rochester’s first round picks in the 2011 and 2013 draft.

Odd that Brad Self finds himSelf (har) on both sides of the same trade. The second Brad Self there (the one going to Colorado) should actually be Mac Allen.

I found this trade a bit odd at first. One of Colorado's biggest problems over the last few years is the lack of a solid #1 goalie. They picked up the reigning Goaltender of the Year in the Titans dispersal draft, so problem solved, right? Wrong. Instead they improve their office by getting Grant. But then later in the day, they grabbed Matt King from Calgary. King is no Vinc, but he's an improvement over the committee the Mammoth had in goal last year (Levis, Leyshon, Palidwor, Tyacke). The Mammoth definitely needed a bump in the offense department – they scored more than 12 goals only four times last year. Adding Junior will help there, no question.

Being a Rock fan, I've seen Grant play a bunch of times and when he's on, there's arguably nobody better in the game today. (I'd be interested to know if anyone has scored more than Grant over the last ten years. Likely Tavares and maybe Doyle or Sanderson, but that's about it.) More often than I can count, I've seen him walking around the offensive zone, looking for someone to pass to, when he seems to just decide "I think I'll score now" and does. His behind-the-back goals are legendary, and I always laugh when I see some rookie run out in front of the net and try one, missing the net by three feet. Not only can he score, but he'll deal the ball as well – of course, when you play with guys like Gary Gait, Shawn Williams, Cory Bomberry, Craig Point, and the Evans boys, you've got some talented people to pass to. But just having Grant on the floor will help you. He's a big strong guy that pretty much requires double-teaming by two very capable defensemen, thereby leaving only three defenders to cover your remaining four forwards. This makes Grant deadly on the power play.

Now, this is not to say that Grant doesn't have his weaknesses. Here's a tip for all you western division defenders that haven't played against Grant often. (Aside: Write this date down in your calendars. It's not every day you see a man who's never played a lacrosse game in his life giving lacrosse advice to pros 20 years younger than him.) Here's how you reduce John Grant's effectiveness: PISS HIM OFF. Surely by now Grant is used to being double-teamed and hacked relentlessly by defenders, but now and again something makes him angry and he takes a dumb retaliatory penalty. Mission accomplished. More often than not after this happens, he's just not the same John Grant anymore. He loses his scoring touch (to some extent – you can't completely shut him down) and sometimes takes even more dumb penalties. This is what makes John Tavares so great – piss him off and he'll just score on you. I've seen Tavares take his share of dumb penalties as well, but not as often as Grant, and it doesn't seem to affect his scoring touch afterwards.

Rochester gives up some offense, but now has one of the most enviable goaltender tandems in the league. O'Toole was Goaltender of the Year in 2003 and has been at the top of anyone's goalie list for most of his career. Now with Vinc as the likely #1, O'Toole becomes the best backup goalie in the league.

But assuming Colorado doesn't make any more moves, they have King and either Palidwor or Levis as their goalies this season. This is an improvement over last year, even if it isn't as big an improvement as Vinc would have been. They've also improved their offense substantially, so when combined with the King deal, I'd say Colorado wins this trade.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Two blogs for the price of one

Not only will I be writing on my own blog (this here one), but this season I will also be writing for "the official un-official fan blog of the NLL" at nllblog.tumblr.com. I will be one of at least four writers on that site; the other three are based out of Edmonton but we hope to cover the entire league, not just the Rock and Rush. This is a new site, so I'm not sure what kind of readership we will have but regardless, it'll be fun. I will likely post any new lacrosse articles I write both here and there.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Damn Yankees

Ryan and I watched an inning or two of the Yankees-Rangers ALCS game tonight. Since we just went to New York City, Ryan said "Go Yankees!", at which point I sternly told him that we don't say things like that in this house. He seemed surprised when I told him that I wanted Texas to win. I told him that I've always hated the Yankees. My whole life (well, ever since 1977 when the Jays came into existence and I started paying attention to baseball), my two favourite teams on any given night were (1) the Jays, and (2) whoever is playing the Yankees. Ryan asked why, and I was a bit surprised to find that I had a hard time answering him.

I tried to think about Yankees players that might cause these strong feelings. Before my time, there was Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Maris. You can't hate any of them. Back in the 70's there was Reggie Jackson, but everyone loved Reggie. In the 80s they had players like Dave Winfield and Don Mattingly and Ron Guidry and Dave Righetti, all of whom I liked. Even non-Yankee Yankees like Wade Boggs - in my mind he never left Boston and he certainly never played for Tampa. I mean that would be like George Brett not playing for Kansas City or Paul Molitor not playing for Milwaukee. Oh yeah, um, never mind about Molitor. From the 90's until now there's been Derek Jeter, who I have all kinds of respect for, Mariano Rivera, one of the best closers of all time, and Andy Pettitte, a great pitcher and a classy guy. I have no problems with them or Posada, Teixeira, Cano, Swisher, or Sabathia.

Of course, there are Yankees players who I don't like. Alex Rodriguez is one of the best players in the game, but a bit of a jerk. I have less of a problem with his taking steroids than others do; in fact I think it took some serious stones to come out and say "Yes I did them and I regret it", knowing it might cost him the Hall of Fame. He has pulled a few dick moves though (and I'm not talking about his relationship with Madonna – heyo!), so I can't say I really admire him. Similarly, I liked Roger Clemens when he was with the Jays, but he turned out to be a jerk as well. I don't remember the details of the circumstances under which A.J. Burnett left Toronto (I hate getting old), but whatever they were, they made me not like him. David Wells was not the most popular player around, though I never really hated him. I think he fit in on the Yankees better than on the Jays, and after he was traded to the Jays from the Yankees in the Clemens deal, he publicly stated that he wasn't happy with that trade and would have preferred to remain a Yankee. Way to make new friends in Toronto, Boomer. But I hated the Yankees long before any of those four donned the pinstripes.

I never really liked George Steinbrenner (did anybody?), but you gotta admit that what he did with the team was pretty damned impressive. He bought the Yankees for dirt in the 70's and not only turned them into a baseball powerhouse (they've only missed the playoffs once since 1994) but more importantly for him, he turned the team into a multi-billion dollar enterprise and one of the most valuable franchises in any sport in the world. I found it amusing how often he changed managers, up until Joe Torre I guess. I believe he hired and fired Billy Martin five times. Martin himself was entertaining. I liked Lou Piniella and Joe Torre. I don't particularly like Joe Girardi, but I can't say that I hate him.

But because of Steinbrenner, it's gotten increasingly easier to hate the Yankees over the last ten or fifteen years. Because the team rakes in so much money and because there's no salary cap in baseball (just a "luxury tax" that the Yankees are only too happy to pay), they've been able to sign just about every big-name free agent out there. Whenever any star player becomes a free agent, it's assumed that the Yankees are going to talk to him. What other team would have even considered signing ARod to a multi-gazillion dollar deal when they already had a superstar shortstop? There's already talk of Cliff Lee signing with the Yankees in the off season, and that he has increased the amount that New York will have to pay him next year by beating them this year. But again, I hated the Yankees even before they started to outspend everyone.

So it's not the players, ownership, or managers that makes me hate the Yankees. It's not that they play in the same division as my favourite team, since I don't hate the Red Sox or Devil Rays. It's not the city of New York, since I don't hate the Rangers or Mets. So the answer to the original question "Why do you hate the Yankees?" would have to be: "I dunno. I just do."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Weekend in the Big Apple

On October 14, Gail and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary. We knew that we wouldn't be going anywhere overseas this summer (after UK last year and France the year before), but we love to travel, so for our anniversary we decided to go to New York City. I had been there twice before, once in 1992 and once in about 1996. Both times were for work, and both times I flew down in the morning and back in the evening so I didn't get to do much sightseeing. Gail and the boys had never been at all. We knew there would be lots to see and do, but it's driving distance so the only travel costs were gas and time. Google Maps said it was between 7 and 8 hours, which turned out to be fairly accurate discounting gas/lunch/bathroom stops, construction, and traffic. I'm not going to go through each day and describe what we did. That would just take too long. I'll just comment on stuff I feel like commenting on.

We stayed at the Affinia Manhattan at 31st and 7th, kitty-corner to Penn Station and Madison Square Garden. For a studio room, it was actually quite spacious and the beds were comfortable. The bathroom was tiny but for three days, it was fine. It was pretty expensive compared to hotels almost anywhere else, but for mid-town Manhattan it was pretty reasonable. We would have preferred a hotel further north (in between Times Square and Central Park would have been perfect) but the location wasn't bad.

We visited the Sony Wonder Technology Lab on Friday. It was pretty cool – lots of hands-on stuff so the boys were happy. There was a timeline of technology showing the earliest cell phones, Walkmans (Walkmen?), radios, and stuff like that, even a Commodore PET computer, which is what I started programming on in high school lo these many years ago. (I'm not sure I used "lo" properly there, but whatever. I just hope this person doesn't get a hold of my blog and rip it to shreds. But I digress. Oops, began a sentence with "But" there. Sorry, digressing again.) Anyway, the lab was cool and tickets were free, so it was a nice way to spend a couple of hours.

We drove instead of flying but I really had no interest in driving in Manhattan. I can be an aggressive driver if I have to, but Manhattan is just another story altogether. Every block would take forever, there are thousands of taxis driving wherever the hell they want ("lanes? We don't need no stinking lanes!"), and pedestrians cross against the lights and in the middle of the block all over the place. No thanks. Not to mention that parking is about a million dollars an hour – and that's US dollars! On the advice of a friend of Gail's, we drove to Newark airport and parked in a long-term lot there. The parking lot had a shuttle that took us to the airport itself and then we took a New Jersey Transit subway directly to Penn Station. The parking turned out to be more expensive than we wanted ($12/day for 3 days comes to $64? WTF?) but by the time we were paying for it, we had a nine-hour drive ahead of us and we couldn't be bothered arguing about it so we just paid and left. Other than that, the Newark airport solution worked quite well. The subway into Manhattan on Friday morning was pretty full but even with our suitcases it was pretty painless.

Times Square is unbelievable. Billboards on top of billboards, each five stories tall. Neon and flashing lights everywhere. Several large screens, one of which must have been hi-def since it was unbelievably clear, even from a hundred feet away. Normally it was pretty busy and kind of fun, but we happened to walk through around 9:00 on Saturday night, and there must have been several thousand people milling about. That night, it was a little scary to walk through with the kids, especially after seeing the homeless guy drinking Listerine and having some random guy come up and take a picture of Ryan. This was no picture of the crowd where Ryan happened to be at the front – he stopped, pointed his SLR camera directly at Ryan's face from under ten feet away and snapped a picture. He didn't say a word and then vanished into the crowd. To say that this was a little creepy would be the understatement of the century.

American stuff that used to be in Canada that we (that is to say I) miss: The Olive Garden. Snapple. Cherry Coke. Dear Coca-Cola Canada, three words: Cherry Coke Zero. KTHXBYE.

Drivers honk their horns a lot in New York. A lot. No, seriously, a lot. Most drivers in New York use their horns more often than their turn signals. I'm sure that New York is the only city in the world where it's commonplace to take your car to the garage to have its horn replaced because it's worn out. After witnessing the driving in New York for a few days, I've come to realize why. Here are some things a New York driver might say as he honks his horn:

  • I would appreciate it if you wouldn't change lanes right in front of me, my friend!
  • Perhaps you haven't yet noticed that the light turned from red to green at least ten milliseconds ago.
  • I am turning left/right soon (instead of signals)
  • I am moving into the lane to my left/right (instead of signals)
  • Pardon me sir, but might I trouble you to move a tad forward or back so that I may join you in that lane?
  • Hey! Get the fuck out my fucking way you fucking fuck! (This is the most popular reason)
  • The Yankees/Mets/Rangers/Islanders/Knicks/Giants/Jets/Titans won last night! Woo hoo!
  • The Yankees won the World Series last year! Woo hoo!
  • The Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994! Woo hoo!
  • Look! When I press the middle of the steering wheel, it makes a noise! Cool!
  • DRVNG THRU TIMES SQR LOTS OF PPL OMG BRB I HIT SOME 1
  • I am a taxi driver
  • I am an ambulance / police car / fire truck driver - I was amazed at how few people moved over to let emergency vehicles through even with lights a-blazing and sirens a-wailing.

Funniest business sign: "Sienna the Psychic" above the address, and "Clairvoint" below. Using my own powers (from the spiritual and mystical world of logic), I can see that she does not get visited by a lot of teachers or English majors.

A few times on Friday night and Saturday we saw people dressed up as superheroes. We thought maybe these people were going to a costume party at a club or something, but then we saw a whole family dressed up – mom, dad, and two kids. Turns out that New York Comic-Con was on in the city that weekend. You know, because there weren't enough weird people in New York City already.

Part of 5th Avenue was closed on Sunday for a parade celebrating "Hispanic day". This, according to our tour bus driver, is a different parade than the one for Mexico. And the one for Cuba. And the Dominican Republic. And several for Puerto Rico. Those parades are for specific Hispanic countries – this one was for Hispanics in general. There are also parades for New Yorkers from Poland, Hungary, Turkey, Norway, India, Pakistan, China, and a bunch of other countries (though not Canada), as well as for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas, Columbus Day, Presidents Day, Veterans Day, and extras like the New York City Marathon and the gay pride parade. Apparently there are parades in New York City every week or two.

Just as we did in Paris and London (and Boston many years ago), we took a double-decker hop-on-hop-off bus tour. This one was from CitySightsNY and the package we got included the uptown tour, downtown tour, and Brooklyn tour (which we didn't do) for 48 hours, and also included a night tour (which included some of Brooklyn) and even a boat tour down the Hudson River near the Statue of Liberty (the Statue isn't terribly big, but damn is that thing impressive). The busses were fewer and further between than in London or Paris, but it only really caused us a problem once – there were a zillion people in line for stop #1, so we walked over to the last stop on the tour and got on there, and then just stayed on the bus when we reached stop #1. A little more walking, but we didn't have to wait in line for an hour. The busses didn't have prerecorded messages and headphones line the European ones, but there was a tour guide pointing out what we were seeing. They told stories and even some jokes – we heard the same New Jersey joke ("What's the difference between New Jersey and a jar of yogurt? The yogurt has an active culture.") from two different tour guides. The bus tours alone were worth the price, but we really enjoyed the boat tour and the night tour as well, other than the fact that photography at night from a moving bus doesn't always result in the greatest pictures.

I thought that Tim Hortons was a Canadian thing – that there were locations all over Canada but not in the US at all, except maybe for some border towns (Niagara Falls NY, Buffalo, maybe Detroit, that sort of thing). There are at least twelve Tim Hortons in Manhattan (no I didn't count them, there was a list), including one a block from our hotel. No steeped tea though.

We visited Ground Zero, though there really isn't much to see since the place is a huge construction zone now. You can see the new tower that's going up and a bunch of cranes above the fences but that's it. There is a 9/11 Memorial Preview Site, which is a tiny little place around the corner from the building site. There are pictures, videos, and a timeline of events on that horrible day, as well as a 3D model of what the new WTC complex is going to look like. Considering the number of people in there when we were there, it was pretty quiet and very emotional. There were also videos, pictures, lots of NYPD and FDNY shirts and hats and stuff for sale. These were more expensive than at the souvenir shops around the city, but the money goes towards the 9/11 Memorial.

We went to Ellen's Stardust Diner (warning: web site plays music with no STFU button) for dinner on Saturday. One waiter grabbed a microphone and the first thing he said was that all the waiters and waitresses wanted to quit. They're all singers trying to make it on Broadway, so between taking orders and delivering food, they would sing show tunes – this is one of the staples of this restaurant. They even passed around a "collection bucket" for us to donate – the money goes towards singing, dancing, or acting lessons for each member of the wait staff. They were all good singers and it was very entertaining, but I'm not sure I can recommend eating there. The food wasn't bad but quite expensive. Gail's had a $16 Cobb salad and my Philly cheesesteak was good but had far more onions and peppers than meat. Ryan had $14 "macaroni and cheese" which turned out to be pasta shells with Velveeta. Ick. Have to say that Nicky's burger was really good and the fries were excellent. This was by far the most expensive meal we had in New York. But that wasn't the worst part. We ate downstairs, which turns from a restaurant into a jazz club around 7:30. We didn't know this when we arrived for dinner around 6:30. Partway into our meal, we noticed that most of the tables near us were empty and nobody was coming in anymore. Waiters began covering up the diner-type decor by closing curtains and putting tablecloths and candles on the empty tables. At another table nearby, more staff started pulling out papers and envelopes and stuff – looked like they were counting up the day's income. Pretty soon there were only two occupied tables in the whole place. We asked our waitress if they were closing soon, and she told us about the jazz club metamorphosis, but that there was no rush, we could stay as long as we wanted. With a $90-something bill for dinner we weren't likely to have ordered dessert anyway, but we felt rushed despite her reassurance so we quickly finished and left.

One thing that was a little disappointing was the amount of scaffolding everywhere. I couldn't begin to count the number of buildings that had scaffolding around them, including the American Museum of Natural History and the immense New York Public Library. There were some pretty impressive old buildings in New York, and obviously they're going to need maintenance now and again, but it's too bad we couldn't see a lot of them because of the scaffolding.

We had a great mini-vacation. By the time we arrived home, we had driven 1501 km, travelled on several busses around Manhattan and Brooklyn, a subway from Newark airport to Penn Station and back, a tram around Newark airport, and a boat down the Hudson River. And my pedometer registered almost 44 km (72012 steps, 27 miles) of walking on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. We walked a marathon in three days.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Guild

While listening to Wil Wheaton's podcast a few months ago, he played an interview he did with Felicia Day, creator, writer, and star of The Guild, a web comedy series (a TV show but only available on the web). I had never heard of The Guild, but Wil did a number of guest appearances on it and kept talking about how great it was, so I thought I'd give it a try. The Guild is undoubtedly one of the funniest shows I've ever seen, on or off TV. The writing is brilliant, the characters are hilarious, and there are even shocking plot twists and cliffhanger moments that make you look forward to Tuesdays. Each episode is only 6-8 minutes long, and a new episode is released every Tuesday. A "season" lasts for about 12 weeks and season four just finished last week. I started watching The Guild when I was off work, so I managed to catch up with all of seasons 1 through 3 in a couple of days, and during season 4 I tried to watch it every Tuesday night.

The Guild is about a group of six people who play some kind of online game, similar to World of Warcraft (which I've never played). Note that you don't need to know anything about gaming (I don't) to enjoy the show. The game has taken over their lives and they even use each other's game character names when talking in real life. In fact, of the six of them, I only know the real name of one of them – Clara, because her character name is also Clara. Oh wait, Bladezz's name is Simon but even his sister calls him Bladezz. The other characters (except Tink, I believe) have had their real names mentioned, but only a couple of times. The main six characters are part of a guild known as The Knights of Good, meaning that they play together as a group and fight against other guilds. The guild members are:

  • Codex is the main character, played by Felicia Day. She's a single woman who's very insecure and always concerned with what the other guild members think of her.
  • Zaboo is a young man of Indian descent who is good with computers but has no social skills whatsoever. (When he moves in with Vork, Vork tells him, "Men only shower together when there's more than one shower.") He lived with his very controlling mother until season 3 when he moved in with Vork.
  • Vork is a 40-something balding guy who is extremely cheap and follows rules to the letter. He's the leader of the guild.
  • Tinkerballa (known as Tink) is a bit of a mystery. I believe she's a med or pre-med student, though her personal life is pretty much off-limits to the other guild members. I don't think they even know her real name. Tink is beautiful and not only is she well aware of this, she uses it to her advantage whenever possible.
  • Clara is a stay-at-home mother of three (or two, depending on the season – one seems to have vanished) very young children, who she routinely ignores while playing the game. Her husband, George aka Mr. Wiggly (named after.... um, never mind) once joined the guild temporarily but was completely inept at the game.
  • Bladezz is a high school student who works at a local burger joint, "Cheesybeards". Bladezz is always making off-colour sexual comments and was described in a recent episode as "skeevey". Good word.

The Axis of Anarchy is another guild that the Knights of Good are constantly battling with. Their leader is Fawkes, who has a strange love/hate relationship with Codex. Fawkes always has this little "I'm smarter than you but I suppose I can bring myself down to your level" smirk on his face when he's talking to someone. Fawkes is played by Wil Wheaton, who does a great job of playing an evil yet oddly charming douchebag.

When I first started watching it, I assumed that it was done as a web series because it wasn't good enough to be picked up by one of the big networks. <sarcasm>Because you know, the sitcoms that are shown on the big networks are all really good. cough $#*! My Dad Says cough</sarcasm> But it looks as "professional" as any network sitcom, the actors are all really good, and as I said before it's very funny. If it were a network show, they'd have to expand it to 22 minutes per episode, and tripling the length of each episode would likely water it down too much. Having a "live studio audience" watching the taping of each episode would not make the show any better, and God help Felicia Day if she were to add a laugh-track.

Being an internet-based show aimed at geeks, it is a little surprising that the website for The Guild is so confusing. If I were to design it, I'd have a page for each season and links to each episode in that season all in one place, so it's easy to find episodes. There is a blog that has a page for each episode, but that bumps you off to Bing where the episodes are hosted. Once you're there it's not easy to find other episodes – the "related videos" on the right seems to be a random assortment of episodes from all the seasons. One page I went to (season 4 episode 10) had a link to season 4 episode 5 instead so I had to start poking around until I found the right episode. From the time I started looking to the time I was actually watching the right episode was at least five minutes – should be a matter of seconds.

But being an internet-based show aimed at geeks, it is not particularly surprising that there is a fan podcast for The Guild. It's called Knights of the Guild and features a guy named Kenny who is a member of the crew, though he hasn't mentioned (in the few podcasts I've listened to) exactly what he does. After every episode, he does a "companioncast" during which he interviews many cast and crew members and talks about that episode. This is recorded right after the episode was filmed, which is months before it actually airs. Most of these interviews are pretty interesting, though some are kind of Chris Farley-esque. "Remember when <event> happened? That was soooooo funny" isn't much of an interview question. It does seem a little weird to have a 90+ minute podcast about a 7-minute episode, but whatever, it's fun.

I suppose The Guild is not for everybody, but I think a lot of internet geeks like myself (I have a blog, I use twitter, and I use terms like "epic FAIL") would love it. As I said, you don't need to be a gamer (or even a geek) to like the show, but if you're a gamer or a geek, give it a try at watchtheguild.com.

Friday, October 01, 2010

America is the new China

If you are an American citizen, you should be very frightened at the direction your government is heading. Last week's Security Now podcast talked about two different but related issues regarding privacy and censorship of the internet. Both issues involved the US government attempting to legislate away some problem that they don't know how else to solve, and in both cases the legislation will accomplish precisely nothing.

The first is COICA, the "Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act". The idea of this bill is to allow the government to force the delisting of particular web address from DNS servers around the country, so if you tried to go to www.copyrightinfringer.com, the browser would fail to look up the IP address for that name, so you wouldn't be able to get there. There is no due process here – the US Attorney General could order a web address added to the blacklist (which all ISPs would be required by law to respect) even without any kind of trial. This is obviously at the request demand of the RIAA and MPAA to catch people pirating music and movies, but the bill is worded vaguely enough that the AG can take down any site he wants. As the EFF puts it, "had this law been passed five or ten years ago, YouTube may not exist today". The idea that the US government is considering censoring which web sites its citizens can visit is more than a little scary. There are millions of Americans who are thankful that they don't live in China because the internet is so heavily censored there, and now their own government is considering the same thing. The really dumb thing about this legislation is that it's going to make it slightly more difficult to get to web sites on the blacklist, but not impossible. You can still use the IP address directly to get there, and all the legislation does is make the translation from name to IP address unavailable from US ISPs. I guarantee you that within hours of this bill being passed, there will be people outside the US creating open DNS servers and web sites listing the IP addresses of blacklisted web sites. There will be Firefox plugins that automatically check one of these other servers and retrieve the IP addresses that way. There already exist legal means to take down web sites that contain illegally copyrighted data. So what will this law accomplish?

The second one is even more frightening. The FBI wants the government to legislate that all cryptographic systems have back doors that the FBI can use to decrypt anything. Law enforcement agencies have been complaining for years that they can't do the internet equivalent of wiretapping because the encryption that is used is unbreakable. And they're right: the encryption in use nowadays is unbreakable, despite what you might see on TV. If something is properly encrypted using a modern encryption algorithm, the only way to decrypt it is to correctly guess the key that was used to encrypt it. This is called the "brute force" method, but because keys can be any characters and any length, the number of possible keys they have to check is essentially infinite. And the only way to know if your decryption attempt has worked is to look at the resulting data and see if you recognize it as something useful. Encrypted data just looks like random noise, and it's not even possible to detect that it's encrypted. If you were to encrypt a file twice, even brute force becomes impossible. Even if the bad guys guess the correct key the first time, they wouldn't know that they got it right because the decrypted result looks like more noise. So when they say "unbreakable", they mean it – without the key, the data is simply inaccessible. By anyone. Ever.

I understand that this ties their hands, but I'm afraid it's too late to complain about that. This legislation is doomed to failure because strong encryption routines are already out there. Does the FBI honestly think that terrorists will continue to use Skype if they know the US government can listen in on any conversation (which they currently cannot do)? No, they'll just write their own version of Skype using the existing unbreakable algorithms. Or they'll send email and attach encrypted files. The terrorists are not going to stop using unbreakable encryption just because the government tells them to stop.

Not to mention the obvious – if all encryption has a back door that the FBI can use to break it, how long until the bad guys figure out how?

In my job at Sybase, I am responsible for the encryption aspects of the SQL Anywhere client and server. If this legislation goes through, we will have to:

  • immediately stop sales of our existing products in the US
  • remove the existing encryption algorithms from our products for sale in the US (we'd likely keep the existing stuff for sales outside the US)
  • obtain a specification of the new encryption algorithms that the US government will allow us to use
  • implement them, test our product with them
  • implement some kind of tool that will allow our customers to decrypt data that was encrypted with the old algorithm and re-encrypt it with the new one
  • ship the new software and politely ask our customers to stop using the software they already have and install the new stuff

This is a significant amount of work that we'll have to do in order to comply with this law, and thousands of other software and hardware companies will be similarly affected. Some, like Skype, will likely need to redesign their entire product. The only impact will be that people that were already law-abiding will know that the FBI can get into their data if they want to. If there are any terrorists or criminals using encryption software, they just won't bother upgrading so they'll know that the FBI cannot see their data. And none of the above even addresses the civil liberties issues with the government being able to spy on its any of its citizens' private data.

Not a single terrorist or criminal is worried about these bills being passed. But American citizens should be.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

So long, Cito. And thanks.

Today is Cito Gason's last home game as Blue Jays manager. I don't really have a lot to say here, but I wanted to acknowledge what Mr. Gaston has done for the Blue Jays. He was the hitting instructor in the mid-80's, when the Jays went to the post-season for the first time. He became the manager in 1989, and the Jays returned to the playoffs. They won the AL East three more times, and of course won the World Series in 1992 and 1993. If the 1994 season hadn't been cut short, who knows what might have happened (Jays vs. Expos in the World Series? It wasn't out of the realm of possibilities...) Gaston helped to take a team that was on the way up and bring them all the way to the top.

Cito announced earlier this year that he would be retiring after this season, so I wanted to write this as my way of saying thanks. Thanks for the pennants, the championships, and the All-Star games. Thanks for the slow trips to the mound and the arguments with umpires. Thanks for being a quiet but commanding leader. Thanks for letting Todd Stottlemyre do his own baserunning. But most of all, thanks for the greatest moment in Blue Jays history:

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Hospital: Recovery at home

This article is the third of a three-part series on my hospital experiences. Part one is called A day in the life, and part two is Surgery and post-surgery. At the end of our last instalment, I had just been discharged from the hospital after eight weeks.

Coming Home

I was discharged on Good Friday (which my then-7-year-old son Nicky called "Awesome Friday" because daddy came home). The Easter weekend was the warmest of the year to that point, and may have been the warmest Easter weekend in many years. I sat out on my deck with my dad for a little while – no jacket, no sweater, no long pants, just a t-shirt and shorts. We left the windows open all weekend. It was the most amazing weekend I can remember.

Both my energy level and my appetite were very low when I came home. I spent a lot of time lying down on the couch over the next several weeks. My weight was 151 pounds when I was discharged, 27 pounds less than I was before this all started. I hadn't eaten solid food in eight weeks, so my stomach shrunk quite a bit. My normal sized meals were way too much food, and there were plenty of meals when Nicky would eat more than I would. Trying to get enough calories into me to give me more energy (and stop my weight loss) was quite difficult. I had to eat every hour or two because the meals I was eating were so small. We bought things like Boost drink boxes, some meal replacement bars, and Ensure Plus. Boost was OK but I got tired of the taste pretty quickly. The meal replacement bars were pretty good, but were so filling that it took me an hour just to eat one. The Ensure was pretty good and has about 350 calories per bottle. One of those by itself would fill me up – and I mean fill. After finishing one, I felt like I'd just eaten a 20-oz steak in ten minutes. I kept a little journal of everything I ate along with how many calories it had. For at least a couple of weeks, I was eating between 1100 and 1500 calories a day, but there were days where I ate less than 1000 calories. Just for comparison, a Big Mac and a medium fries (with no drink!) is 920 calories. We went to McDonalds for dinner a week or two after I was home and bought three happy meals (with a boy toy!) instead of the usual two – and I couldn't finish mine. I was told I needed to bump my intake up to about 2300 calories a day just to maintain, and more if I wanted to gain. This seemed like a completely insurmountable task at the time, and I became quite frustrated. I was eating at least six meals and snacks a day and was totally (sometimes uncomfortably) full after every one, and then I was told that I had to more or less double my food intake.

I lost about ten pounds in two weeks at home, down to a low of 141.5 pounds. I was looking pretty gaunt. My arms and legs were like sticks and my face was sunken in as well. I went to see a nutritionist and she gave me a pamphlet on increasing your caloric intake. The crux of this document was "do everything Weight Watchers tells you not to do." Put real whipped cream on your dessert, hot chocolate, or milkshakes. Use cream instead of milk. Drink homogenized milk instead of 1% or skim. Use sour cream or mayonnaise. Add sugar to stuff. Add butter to stuff. Avoid foods labelled "light", "calorie-reduced", or "low calorie". This is many people's idea of "heaven" and I thought it was pretty cool as well. A couple of times I stopped at Tim Horton's on my way somewhere to get an Iced Capp, which I really like but generally try to avoid because they're filled with calories (unlike the donuts that I don't make so much of an effort to avoid). I managed to convince myself that I needed the Iced Capps for medicinal purposes, as part of my recovery. Even given my free reign to eat whatever I wanted (she even told me to avoid fruits and vegetables because they were filling but had minimal calories – I called them "empty nutrition"), it took me ten weeks to gain back the ten pounds – and then I only had another fifteen to go before I was at my goal weight. Before this all started, I could have gained the ten pounds in five days at Fern. I was a little concerned that once I started gaining weight I wouldn't be able to stop. Luckily this has proven not to be the case – I've gained back all the weight I want to and I've maintained roughly the same weight (low 170's) for a month or so now.

Some days I ate fairly normal meals, although much smaller than normal – a typical day might have looked like cereal for breakfast, yogurt as a mid-morning snack, a chicken wrap for lunch, a fruit cup for afternoon snack, chicken or beef casserole for dinner, and an Ensure before bed. That would have been about 1100-1200 calories. But there were other days where I just didn't feel like eating so I basically forced myself to have an Ensure in order to get calories. There was one day where my entire food intake was a bowl of cereal in the morning and four Ensure's the rest of the day. Some of my favourite meals at the time included bruschetta pizza (a tortilla with bruschetta on top and maybe some chicken (no cheese), broiled in the oven for a few minutes), satay noodles (Gail made a big batch and it would last me several days), and toast with peanut butter because it had lots of protein. Gail really pushed the protein hard because it helps to rebuild muscle. Besides the handy pamphlet I mentioned before, the nutritionist gave me some more specific ideas for increasing my caloric intake too. I started eating lots of Quaker Harvest Crunch (which I've always loved) and I bought a big Costco-sized jar of mixed nuts – a quarter-cup of nuts has 200 calories so that was a good snack option.

I knew I needed to keep moving to try to build up my stamina, energy levels, and muscles but it wasn't always easy. For a while my exercise regimen was to get up off the couch, walk one lap around the main floor of the house, and then go lie back down again. After a few days I felt a little stronger, so I would walk up and down the stairs five times (sometimes four if I was extra tired) and then go lie back down. My goal was to get up and do this every hour, but that didn't happen – I was lucky if I did it three times in a day. After another week or so, I wanted to get outside so I started walking down the sidewalk a couple of houses and back (and then go lie back down). Each day I tried to walk a house or two further until after a couple of weeks I was able to walk all the way around the block (most of 1 km), and then go lie back down. (Are you seeing a common theme here? I spent a lot of time on the couch.) Most of the walking I did was hunched over because of the pressure on my incision. It was mostly healed on the outside, but took at least another month or two before the pressure and pain stopped inside. I had to make a conscious effort to stand up straight, and sometimes I just couldn't do it.

I was exceptionally weak as well. I drank a lot of Gatorade and a couple of times, I had to get Ryan to open the bottle for me. I remember Gail deciding to mow the lawn for the first time in the spring (a job she absolutely hated). We have a battery-powered mower, and the (very heavy) battery was downstairs in the workshop all winter. I went to get it for her and couldn't lift it – she had to come down and get it. She mowed the lawn for about a month before I was strong enough to do it. Even trying to do things like put clean dishes away was a far bigger chore than it used to be – I would usually pile all the plates up on the counter and then lift the whole pile into the cupboard at once, but I found to my surprise that you need stomach muscles to do that. I had to put the plates and bowls away one or maybe two at a time for a while.

Despite the fact that my weight was the lowest it had been in probably twenty years, my stomach was quite distended and even now, months later, it still is somewhat. When I went to see my family doctor, I mentioned that I was starting to gain weight, but it looked like it was all collecting in one place. With the rest of my body being so thin, the protruding stomach made me look several months pregnant. She said that it was distension and that I didn't have enough body fat to have a beer gut. She assured me that it would likely go away in time. A friend of mine who's had a C-section told me from experience that "the shelf" may never go away. It does seem smaller now, but I'm not sure if that's because it's shrinking or if the rest of my body has grown and made it seem smaller.

False Alarms

In the middle of May, I started feeling some pain in my right pelvis area. Sitting or lying down was fine, but I started walking with a limp because putting weight on my right leg was painful. I called the doctor and he had me come in for a CT scan, which found some fluid build-up in my pelvis. The pseudo-cyst that they drained back in March was so big (had to be, to hold four litres of stuff) that it extended from my upper abdominal area all the way down into my pelvis, and I guess the rest of the fluid that they couldn't drain during surgery, along with some all-new fluid, had collected in the lower part of the pseudo-cyst. The doctor was hoping it would just drain away naturally or be re-absorbed, but that wasn't happening so he said I needed another drain put in. It was a simple procedure though – I'd go in Friday morning (May 28th) and then be home Friday afternoon. Of course, I assumed that he meant the same Friday but that's not the way it worked out. They did a routine blood test before the procedure and found that my blood clotting numbers were too high for them to put the drain in. They wanted the number to be 1.2 or below, but they could probably be convinced to do the procedure at 1.3. My number was 1.5 so they re-admitted me and started giving me fresh frozen plasma to try to bring that number down. After 3 units, the number was down to 1.4. They gave me some vitamin K and two more units, but the number went back up to 1.5. After two more units, I was up to 1.6. They were as puzzled as I was, but they gave me more vitamin K, four more units of plasma, and at least three units of blood as well (type A+ if you're curious). All of these units were on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and by Monday, Dr. Pace had had enough. He told the radiologist to just go ahead and do the procedure, which he did with no problems or complications. They kept me in until the next Friday (June 4) just to be sure everything was OK, and then I went home again. I had a nurse come in every other day to check the drain and change the dressings, and she taught me how to do most of it myself. I had to disconnect the drain bag, attach a syringe pre-filled with saline to the drain and inject it, then pull up on the syringe plunger to pull out as much fluid as I could. This helped to keep the drain from getting clogged. Once I did that two or three times (depending on how much I pulled out), I would reattach the bag.

A week or so after getting this drain, I hit yet another complication – the valve that connected to the bag cracked and was leaking. I called the nurse but she didn't have any parts that fit and suggested I go to the ER at St. Joseph's in Hamilton, to avoid driving to Kitchener. I did that but St. Joe's uses a different supplier for these types of things, so the ones they had didn't fit. I ended up getting Gail to drive me to Kitchener where we explained the situation to a radiology nurse. She went and got me a replacement bag and connecting hose and we were good to go once again.

Dr. Pace took the drain out on Wednesday June 16th and everything seemed fine – for about three days. On the Saturday I started feeling some pain in my pelvis again and on Sunday morning it was worse, so we spent the bulk of Father's Day in the ER at Grand River. After five and a half hours, I was sent home with an appointment to come back the next day for an ultrasound. The ultrasound showed nothing unusual so they just chalked it up to residual pain and fluid build-up from the drain removal, and I should come back if it didn't get better. After another couple of days it did start to feel better, so that was a false alarm. But a month later, I had another. In mid-to-late July I started feeling pain in my abdomen, just above the scar, on the right side. Back to the ER I went, this time to St. Joe's. I was there all day and had another ultrasound, which again showed nothing. They didn't know what to tell me, but I was scheduled for a CT scan in Kitchener the next day so I figured they'd find the problem. The CT also showed nothing unusual, but Dr. Pace said that many of my internal organs had hardened as a result of the pancreatitis and the surgery. As they soften up again some of them can stick together temporarily so I can have phantom aches and pains all over the place, and that's probably what this was. Sure enough, the pain went away a day or two later and never came back.

Back To The Grind

Sybase was great throughout this whole thing. I got emails from HR and my boss asking about my status and when I would be returning, but there was never any pressure to come back quickly. I asked about setting up a return-to-work schedule and they said that whatever schedule my doctor is OK with is fine with them, including working part-time to begin with and working from home whenever I needed to. They were very flexible. My boss Mark and the VP of Engineering Dave were both very supportive as well, and both said that they wanted me back as soon as I was ready, but again, with no pressure. My co-workers were fantastic. I had hospital visits from a number of people, phone calls, and countless emails offering support. When I returned home, they sent me a gift box containing a bunch of stuff donated by the team including a Wii game and two Wii Motion Plus adaptors (to help me stay active and get my energy back), gift cards from both Tim Horton's and Subway, and a get well soon card signed by a whole bunch of people. When I returned to work part time (June 21), I found my office packed with balloons and a big welcome back "card" taped to my door with at least 30 signatures on it. Not only do we have a bunch of really talented engineers, writers, and managers, but they're just great people as well.

I worked part time (M-F mornings) for two weeks before returning full-time on July 5. I went into the office only once that first week, and worked from home the other 4 days. The next few weeks were split 3-2 or 2-3, and by mid-August I was back to my regular 4 days in the office and one at home.

Nurses are Good People

I can't count the number of nurses that I dealt with over this whole thing but if this experience taught me anything it's that nurses have one hell of a tough job. Twelve hour shifts (sometimes overnight), giving patients needles, drawing blood, inserting IVs, dealing with zillions of different types of medications, bathing and cleaning up after patients, inserting things into places many people don't generally like having things inserted, changing unbelievably smelly colostomy bags (one of my roommates had one – I tried to time going for a walk when the nurse came to visit him just in case she had to change it), and that's just the medical stuff. I'm sure most patients are fine but some take nurses for granted, think of them as personal servants, are rude and surly, and some even get verbally and physically abusive. I know there were a number of nurses that were yelled at by patients (at least a couple of my roommates) for doing nothing more than their job. Sometimes it's not the patient that's the problem, it's the patient's family, particularly if the patient is elderly. I'm sure there are many nurses who have been yelled at by someone's wife or son because they think the nurse isn't doing their job properly – and it ain't the wife or son that's there changing a soiled bed at 3:30am. And of course the nurses aren't allowed to tell their patients off when they get this way, though I'm sure they'd like to now and again. Maybe nurses should get one STFU per month with no repercussions. More than that and they'll get in trouble, but they should get one freebie. Of course, nurses are dealing with people during a very difficult time in their lives, so it's not unlikely that they're going to get treated badly by some of them and I'm sure they realize that. That doesn't make it right, nor does it make it easier to deal with for the nurses.

I imagine the worst part of being a nurse is treating a patient with a terminal illness or injury. When you've dedicated your life to helping sick people, and spent years in school and on the job learning how, it must be especially frustrating when you have a patient that you know will not survive and all you can do is try to minimize their pain until the end.

I had a bunch of great nurses, but I think nurses can sometimes be like system administrators - if you have a great one, you don't always notice them. They do what they need to do and don't get in your way. But when you have a bad one, you will definitely notice. I remember a few names of nurses I liked: Terri, Monika, Brenda, Andrea, and Sarah. I had one nurse (Nebo) from Zimbabwe who spoke Zulu, and I asked her how to say "thank you" in Zulu. Luckily she wrote it in my book: Ngiyabonga. Another nurse (Andrea) was a friend of a co-worker of mine which we discovered when she came to visit me. Another (Grace) knew I was a "computer guy" so when she saw me playing around on the internet, she told me that she was planning a vacation to Poland and asked if I could find cheap flights for her from Toronto to either Warsaw or Szczecin. I had nothing better to do, so I went on expedia.ca and found her one through Frankfurt to Warsaw, and then a commuter flight from Warsaw to Szczecin. I didn't ask why she figured I would get better search results than she could.

Of all the nurses I had, I only had one that I was really unhappy with. She was only assigned to me a couple of times, but she wasn't overly friendly and did a few things that weren't very sensitive to her patients, and she was downright rude to one of my roommates. The "not very sensitive" thing was kind of silly but annoying – she came into my room at 7:00am, right at shift change, to introduce herself and give me shots. The first thing she did was turn my overhead light on, so I was awakened rather suddenly to a very bright room. She wrote her name and the date on the whiteboard on my wall and then remembered that she hadn't done that in the previous couple of rooms so she immediately left to do that – leaving my overhead light on and not coming back for at least five minutes. Like I said, not a terrible crime but not very sensitive. But the thing with my roommate was way worse and inexcusable. He was elderly and obviously had some form of dementia. He had made a mess in his bed but wouldn't let her clean it up. He was clearly not in his right mind, but she was yelling at him the way you might yell at a belligerent child. Everyone in the hallway could hear "You're lying in your own feces! Why would you want to do that? That's disgusting! I need to clean you up! You're lying in feces!" over and over. Trying to use logic with someone who couldn't understand it is bad enough, but there was no need to humiliate the guy. I only had to deal with her once or twice after that, but I was happy when they moved me to a room on a different part of the floor away from her.

An article talking about the great people from Grand River wouldn't be complete without a mention of Ruth. I never caught her last name, but she was a porter who took me to and from various procedures throughout the hospital. I had many procedures done that required a porter to take me there and back, and it was kind of strange how often it ended up being Ruth. She was very friendly and went out of her way to make sure I was comfortable. And not just me – she and Gail hit it off too. The CT scan waiting room was always cold, and so whenever she took me there she got me a warm blanket (kept in this little oven-like thing, so when I say warm, it was warm), and she'd always get one for Gail as well. A couple of times, she'd bring me down for a procedure and then go off to do something else. Then she'd come back a little while later, usually bringing someone else down, and notice me still waiting. Without a word from me, she'd go and find out how much longer I'd have to wait and sometimes even manage to bump me up in the queue somehow. She was always asking how I was doing and seemed genuinely concerned. After I was discharged, I returned to the hospital for a follow-up CT scan and saw Ruth again. She came over and hugged both me and Gail and said she had been wondering how I was doing. She is a wonderful person and I feel really bad that the letter I've been meaning to write to the Grand River Hospital executive praising her has not yet been written.

I went to see Dr. Pace again a few times after discharge, and during one such meeting he said something that has stuck with me. We were talking about my return to work and he was telling me not to rush back, to make sure I was really ready before I went back. He told me "You've just been through a life-threatening illness and major surgery, and..." but I don't remember the rest of the sentence. I was stuck on "life-threatening". He confirmed that yes, this was indeed life-threatening, and Gail admitted that doctors had told her right from the beginning that there was the possibility of things like multiple organ failure. I didn't know any of this. I'm not sure if I was optimistic or just na├»ve, but I somehow managed to survive eight weeks in the hospital without seriously considering that this illness might kill me. I'm pretty sure the thought did occur to me a few times, but I always managed to push it away without really thinking about it. Perhaps the really dangerous part was at the beginning when I was doped up on painkillers 24/7, and by the time I was coherent enough to really think about such things, I was already on the mend. I'm actually glad that I didn't know how serious it was at the time – that kind of anxiety would not have helped my recovery in any way. Every time I saw Dr. Pace after that, he mentioned in some way that this had been life-threatening – Gail and I figured he was exaggerating just a little bit and it almost became a running joke. Once I told her that I couldn't wash the dishes or do some other minor task because I'd just been through a life-threatening illness. But part of me was always a little nervous making a joke of such a thing, because what if Dr. Pace wasn't exaggerating about that? What if I had been close to death? Then again, it doesn't really matter now since I'm pretty much recovered, and because I no longer have a gall bladder, I don't have to worry about it happening again. It occurred to me the other day though – am I more likely because of this to suffer some from related kind of gastrointestinal problem when I get older? Is my pancreas working OK for now but damaged enough that it could just fail sometime in the future? Did this shave ten years off of my life expectancy? I'm sure there's no way to know and honestly, it doesn't much matter. I've always been a "live life to the fullest" kind of guy, and worrying about it won't change anything. I'm going to enjoy the time I have as long as I have it, whether that's five years or fifty. But I'm kinda hoping for fifty.

 

Parts of these three articles were a little weird to write, since my life is pretty much back to normal at this point. I've been working full-time since the beginning of July, taken the boys to soccer games and practices, gone on family vacations, played golf, tennis, and volleyball and walked many kilometres, even driven from Sundridge to Sudbury, back to Sundridge and then to Baysville in one day (total about 475 km). My abs are still quite weak compared to before, and there are parts of my belly that are completely numb (the nerves were cut during surgery). The numbness is really disconcerting (bumping into things or leaning against things without knowing it) and feels a little creepy, and the doctor says it may last a long time. My leg muscles also get really sore after sitting for long periods of time. But I haven't been in a hospital since the end of July (it's currently late September), I rarely feel significant pain or discomfort related to my surgery, and other than a few minor issues related to the aforementioned ab and leg muscles, there's nothing I could do before that I can't do now. 

top-inception

I left the hospital less than six months ago, but thinking about all this stuff already seems surreal. Everything I've written about here is so different from normal that it almost seems like a dream. A long, painful, frustrating, terrible dream. Was it just a dream, or did all that crazy stuff really happen? <looks at fourteen-inch scar across tummy> Holy crap, it did.