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.


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

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 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!
  • 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

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, 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.