Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Baseball is awesome too

A while ago I wrote an article listing some awesome things about lacrosse. I love baseball too, so here are some things that make baseball awesome. Some of these are about playing, some are about watching, and some are just about the game in general.

The opposing team has the bases loaded and nobody out and you get out of the inning without giving up any runs.

When playing the outfield, that feeling you get after thinking "Oh crap, I'm not going to get to this fly ball" and then realizing that you can.

Watching one of your favourite players hit a walk-off 3-run home run to left field to win the World Series. (Note: may not be awesome to Phillies fans.)

An outfield assist.

Weird scoring plays. The best are the ones that involve a rundown. Combine this with the outfield assist, and you could have a 7-6-5-4-5-4 double play.

Seeing a ball game in a park you've never been to before. Places I've seen baseball games: Skydome Rogers Centre, Exhibition Stadium (RIP), Fenway, (New) Comiskey, Alameda County Coliseum (Oakland), The Kingdome (formerly in Seattle - RIP), plus one spring training game in Fort Myers, Florida.

No lead is safe. If you're down 5-0 with 5 minutes left to play in a hockey game, it's technically possible that you could come back and win, but I doubt it's ever happened in the NHL. In baseball, there's no time limits, so as long as you keep getting on base, you can do it. I've seen the Jays come back and win after being down 10-0. The other night I saw them lose 5-4 after going into the bottom of the 9th up 4-0.

Again when playing the outfield, running in on a short pop fly that nobody thinks you can get to, making the catch, and then doubling a runner off. (This has only happened to me a couple of times but is especially awesome since I don't have a strong throwing arm, so baserunners who test my arm generally win.)

When a pitcher strikes out the last batter of a complete game victory. I love complete games in general, but when the last out is a strikeout, you can tell that the pitcher is still in command after nine innings.

A perfectly executed double steal.

When the ball is hit so sharply to the right fielder that he throws the batter out at first. I'm not sure I've ever seen this in an MLB game, but it's happened a couple of times in games I've played in.

Watching a milestone happen live. Doesn't need to be a huge milestone, but when the PA announcer comes on and tells you that you've just seen the first-ever <something>, that's awesome. My wife was in attendance at Dave Steib's no-hitter in Cleveland, but those kinds of milestones are few and far between. Milestones I have seen live:

  • The Blue Jays' first triple play in 1977
  • Manny Lee's first major league hit (a single)
  • Dave Steib's first one-hitter
  • Pat Hentgen's last start as a Blue Jay
  • Roger Clemens' first start as a Blue Jay (and his opening day start the next year too)
  • Cal Ripken's first game after ending his 17-year streak

Seeing a kid bring his glove to an MLB game. It's the only sport where nobody thinks twice if they see you bring your own equipment to a game you're watching. Nobody brings a hockey stick to an NHL game or their own tennis racquet to Wimbledon. I must say I have seen lacrosse sticks at NLL games, but it's generally young kids bringing little plastic sticks, not adults bringing full-sized ones.

A straight steal of home. You gotta have cojones.

When a batter watches strike three go by and then smiles because he knows it was a great pitch.

Watching the last out of the last game of the World Series. I love watching the players celebrate, even if it's not my team. Though it's better if it is.

Did I miss any?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tara the Medium

I was perusing a article recently (see also my review of the Skeptoid podcast), and Google's ad selection algorithm decided that since the article was about the paranormal, I would probably like to see ads for paranormal services. Logical to some extent, since the Google algorithm couldn't easily detect that the article was debunking the particular paranormal event it was discussing. Anyway, one of the ads was for Tara the Medium, which, as it turns out, was not a Queen of England who was not particularly tall or short. Tara is a psychic (at www dot tara dash medium dot com1) and offered a free psychic reading, and I'm not one to turn down something valuable that I can get for free.

1 - I'm listing the URL but intentionally not including a link to the site so she gains no pagerank from this article.

Tara is apparently a "special case, even in the occult field". She is a "pure psychic", unlike other types of hybrid psychics I suppose. Her bio page says that she was born on August 8, though no year is given. She also talked about another event, her first "vision", which happened on February 27, but again no year. How does knowing these dates with no years give me any information at all, other than the ability to send her a birthday card? She was trained by an unnamed "Western Spirit Master", and is now so powerful that she can do reading of people she's never met or even seen, as long as she knows their date and time of birth and their email address. I was not aware that my email address was somehow connected to me spiritually, but who am I to argue with the spirits? (Yes, I know the email address is only necessary so she can contact me. But that's not as funny.)

Despite this being a free reading, there are some terms and conditions. Here are some of the more interesting ones. Note that "The Company" refers to "the company selling the offers found on the website".

  • "The Company offers no commitment regarding the actual unfolding of the events mentioned on the website or affiliated emails."
  • "The texts provided by the website and affiliated contents cannot be regarded as advice provided by recognized regulated professions like legal, medical or psychological advice."
  • "If the User is suffering from a specific illness or problem (legal or juridical), he or she should consult a professional suited to that problem as soon as possible."
  • "The Company may not be held liable for any breach of contract in case of force majeure, including but not limited to: war, catastrophe, fire hazard, strikes, power failure or breakdown, and more generally any event that would not allow for the proper processing of the orders." – Why not? Surely a pure psychic like Tara can see these things coming.

"The Company" is called Astroway, based in Hong Kong. I did a search on them and found a complaint on (This by itself means nothing – regardless of how great your company is, someone is going to complain.) This guy had dumped in more than £750 (over $1100 Cdn as of mid-July 2011) before deciding that Tara wasn't giving him anything except "a load of false predictions and plausible stories". There was a comment on the posting from someone saying that Tara was running a psychic scam (note that "psychic scam" is redundant). The commenter gave some suggestions on who to complain to, although "the appropriate bodies in you [sic] relevant country" is not very helpful. But his credibility went right out the window when he tried to be more helpful by saying "I found a really good psychic at [some other site]".

I sent in my request for a free reading on Friday evening, June 24th 2011. I received my reading (via an email link to a web page) two days later on June 26th. (I received another email the next day saying that she was surprised that I hadn't looked at it yet, which was strange since I had.) The reading was far longer than I expected, and rather than include the entire thing in this article, I've copied it here and added some comments. As I said the reading is quite long so you may not want to read the whole thing but just skim it for my comments, which are easy to find in blue boxes throughout. Same goes for the subsequent emails she sent me later – more details on those below.

Here are the main points of my reading:

  • She spent 13 hours on my reading
  • There will be a decisive turning point in my life on July 25, 2011 (give or take a couple of days). This is one month from when I received the reading.
  • The three months after this date will be the most important of my life, followed by three more very good months.
  • She detects in me "unbounded magnetic power, along with extraordinary strength and exuberance".  
  • She says "You radiate your amazing magnetism with so much force that people perceive it even long after you’ve left". [I'm sure that those of you who know me personally are nodding right now.]
  • I have "often violent and destructive anger". [Again, those of you who know me personally are nodding. But don't let me catch you nodding, or I'll kick your ass.]
  • I have remarkable "energy, vitality, endurance, and resistance".
  • I am "too egocentric to be able to love someone absolutely".
  • I should "learn to take things easier and not be too aggressive" or it will spark my violent anger.
  • My lucky numbers are 1, 9, and 10.
  • I have a huge potential for luck and unexpected money, and yet bad luck is unjustly affecting me.
  • The sun is my dominant planet (despite it not being a planet at all). It has provided me with numerous lucky occasions but I couldn't take advantage of them because no one was there to help me. [Thankfully, now I have Tara!]
  • I have Unlimited Inner Power [note proper capitalization] that I "totally ignore and make no use of at all".
  • A person who is envious of me may try to direct harmful unlucky vibrations at me. [This person is obviously unaware of my "violent and destructive anger".]
  • I will be getting enough money over the three month period starting July 25 that I will never need to worry about money ever again.
  • She can tell me all the decisions I will have to make and what to do, which games to play to maximize my winnings, and what "interesting encounters" I will have, with whom and where, and if they will be favourable or if I should avoid them.
  • She has helped many famous people to be more successful, but she's not naming names (for their privacy, you know).
  • She's willing to give me "the most complete, detailed and precise astral reading of [my] entire life".
  • If I'm not completely satisfied, I can send her an email and she'll refund my money, no questions asked.
  • As a free gift, I'll receive a "magic wish-fulfilling pentacle", which "seems to be impregnated with a mysterious secret that contains  powerful astral forces" and "is reputed to trigger the rapid  realization of your secret wishes".

To get my complete astral reading, all I have to do is fill out a questionnaire. Oh, and send some money to cover her costs. The questionnaire contains 14 yes/no questions such as "Do you tend to regret your past?", "Are you sometimes afraid of your future?", and "Do you sometimes doubt your abilities?" These are utterly useless questions since anyone who doesn't answer "yes" is a liar. She asks for "a small contribution of only $CAD99.00 (instead of the usual $CAD178)" though she gives no reason for the discount. I would love to continue down this road and see how accurate my personal DATED ASTRAL READING OF LUCK AND MONEY is, but sorry dear reader, I'm not paying $99 for it. If anyone would like to send me $99 via Paypal, I will use it to pay for my reading, but otherwise I'm afraid my professional relationship with Tara the Medium is at an end. But if you're thinking of sending me the $99, please, read on first.

Now, someone who believes in psychics is likely to look at their reading and focus on things that are correct, ignoring statements that are wrong, and then manage to convince themselves that the psychic who got two right guesses out of twenty "nailed it", at which point I would point out the error of their ways. As a skeptic, it's likely that I'm doing exactly the opposite: focussing on things that she got wrong and dismissing what she got right as coincidence. Perhaps the truth, as it so often is, is somewhere in the middle. But Tara did say that she "can see the future of someone accurately, 97% of the time", so I would have expected a lot more hits and very few misses. As it happens, there was a bunch of stuff that's true about me but it was all vague enough that it could be said about anyone.

There wasn't one single thing in my reading that made me think "wow, how did she know that?", and certainly nothing compelling enough to warrant spending $99 for another reading.

Tara Follows Up

On July 2nd, six days after receiving the reading, I received another email with a link to a different page, which I have copied here, again with comments. On July 6, another one, copied here. There aren't that many comments in the third one, because it doesn't contain any information that wasn't in the second one, and the second didn't contain much that wasn't in the first. On July 12th, I got yet another email (which she resent again on the 14th), in which she offers me my DATED ASTRAL READING OF LUCK AND MONEY for only $CAD79.00 instead of $99, though again she doesn't state why she's giving me this discount. To those of you who were considering giving me the $99 via paypal, great news! I just saved you $20! You're welcome.

But wait, there's more! On July 18th (shortly after I was considering posting this article), I got another email. Not only did this one reduce the price again to $69 (another $10 in your pocket, dear reader!) but there was no mention of the July 25th date. This time, she knows the exact amount of money I'm going to win ($9600), and the date is now August 24th. And the cheque will come in a yellow envelope. I'm no psychic, but I could have predicted that as we approached July 25th and I still hadn't paid anything, the date would change.

I'm assuming that she'll give up on me at some point because it will eventually become obvious that I'm not going to partake. Watch my twitter feed and facebook page on July 25th and August 24th to see what kinds of wonderful things happen to me. But if nothing spectacular happens on those days, you gotta know that it's entirely my own fault, for not having given Tara the opportunity to help me. I will also update this article periodically if I continue to get more emails from Tara.

Let's get serious

I've had a good laugh with this whole thing but just underneath the surface, I'm quite angry. I keep referring to Tara as a she, but I doubt anyone named Tara is actually involved here. It's probably a whole staff of writers who have experience with human psychology and how to manipulate people. The thing that makes me angry is how much work went into my "reading" and the subsequent emails. Granted, they are very likely form pages with "insert name here" and "choose random planet" and stuff like that. But nobody is going to put all of that together to make a few hundred bucks off a handful of gullible people, which tells me that they are likely making tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. All they have to do is provide people with meaningless drivel about the astral plane and positive energy and negative vibrations and all of that bullshit, and they will find people who believe it and are willing to part with their money just so they can be told exactly what they want to hear. "You've had bad luck and problems with money (or you wouldn't be on this web site), but it's not your fault – someone else is to blame and if you give me some money, I can prevent them from getting in the way of your rightful happiness." Some people will pay the money, receive the fake readings, and be quite happy. Others will realize that they're being scammed, but by the time they realize that she is not telling them anything actually meaningful, she already has their money.

Dear Tara: You can shove your DATED ASTRAL READING OF LUCK AND MONEY right up your astral plane.

Update - July 25: Got another email from Tara, and the price was reduced again to $59.

Update - August 3: Got two more. One on my birthday and another on August 1. The price is now $49.

Update - August 5: Another one - this time with a 3-day deadline. Down to $29. The price is low enough now that I'm actually considering paying it just to see what happens next, but I know better.

Update - August 11: Another one, this time with an offer for a "Great Magical Intervention" for only $39.

Update - September 2: Another offer from Tara, this time she's promising $100,000 or more, if I pay $29.95 for a Active Magic Thought ritual. This will likely be the last offer from Tara, since I have finally clicked on the "if you don't want to receive further offers, click here" link.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Bleacher Report's dumbest list ever

The other day I read an article on Bleacher Report by a guy named Shawn McPartlin about the 50 most overrated baseball players of all time. Now, I understand that different people are going to have different opinions on a player's value and whether he's overrated or not. People's definition of "overrated" may also differ. But some of these choices are either misguided or just plain wrong and the whole article ends up as a complete joke.

Some of the choices for this list are a little weird. For example, everyone knows about Brady Anderson's 50-HR season but nobody thinks that was normal for him, so I wouldn't call him overrated. Nobody except the most die-hard (and delusional) Yankees or A's fan thinks of Scott Brosius as anything other than a pretty decent 3rd baseman. McPartlin specifically says that Lou Brock "belongs in the Hall of Fame", so how can he be overrated? In addition, we all know that Brock is in there primarily because of his outstanding base stealing ability – nobody thinks it was because of the hundreds of home runs he didn't hit. Who thinks of Omar Vizquel or Ozzie Smith as anything other than excellent defensive shortstops? Joe Carter was a good player, a good hitter, and a good guy who had one outstanding and unforgettable at-bat, but nobody would list him among the greats, so calling him overrated is unfair – and I'm a Blue Jay fan, the most likely to put Carter on a pedestal.

Dave Stewart won 20 games four years in a row (from 1987 to 1990), and then never won more than 12 in a season after that. McPartlin says of Stewart, "Consistency makes you a great player. Glimpses of greatness makes you overrated." Nonsense. Glimpses of greatness makes you a good player who had, well, glimpses of greatness. If people latch onto those glimpses and think your whole career was like that, that is overrated. Overrated refers to how you are rated, i.e. how people remember you. If people were to think about Dave Stewart as the most dominant pitcher of the 80's and 90's, then yes, he would be overrated. He was very good, and maybe one of the most dominant pitchers of those four years, but anything more than that is a stretch. But who thinks of Stewart as anything more than that? Nobody I know.

The listing of Nolan Ryan as the most overrated player of all time is just funny. If you get to 3,000 strikeouts in your career, you're almost a lock for the hall of fame, and here's a guy with well over 5,000, almost 1,000 more than second place. He won over 300 games, was an All-Star 8 times, and threw seven no-hitters. He was a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He averaged better than a strikeout per inning over his 27-year career. He struck out 301 batters in 1989 when he was 42 – only three pitchers have beaten that total in the 21 years since (Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, and Randy Johnson). And McPartlin's argument that he's the most overrated player of all time is that he only won 20 games twice? He's not known for being the best pitcher ever, he's known for being the best strikeout pitcher ever.

We need to decide what "overrated" really means. The way I think about it is as follows: if you asked someone to list the best baseball players of all time in order of overall greatness and a player that you deem to be around #50 is on their list as #30, they they have overrated that player in your opinion. For a player to be generally considered overrated, he would have to show up on most people's lists higher than he really deserves. But who decides where he deserves to be? You also need to ask why a particular player is where he is on someone's list. If someone lists Lou Brock high because he had 3,000 hits and a zillion stolen bases, then the fact that he didn't hit 500 home runs is irrelevant.

Obviously nobody keeps an ordered list of the best baseball players and there isn't a canonical list to compare with, so you can't decide whether someone's overrated based solely on a numerical comparison. You have to look at how people in general think about a particular player in general and subjective terms. McPartlin says:

Some players reach greatness, while others fall short of the hype.

Some players have mediocre careers, but are talked about for decades because of their postseason exploits. 

Some players were so gifted in one facet of the game that their shortcomings are overlooked.

Whatever the reason is, all sports have these players—the overrated ones.

The first one I completely agree with. The kid who comes up from the majors and is touted as "the next great shortstop / catcher / base stealer / home run hitter" and turns into a decent player but not a star is definitely overrated (or more accurately, was overrated). The second and third cases are more iffy and depend on who you're talking to and how the player is described. Wade Boggs comes to mind – he was an incredible hitter, one of the best hitters ever to play the game. He was a good defensive third baseman, had a bit of power, and no base speed to speak of, and if everyone remembered him as "one of the best players ever" or even "one of the best third basemen ever", then yes, he would be overrated. But nobody does. Anyone who saw Boggs play remembers him as one of the best hitters ever. Nobody has ever called him a five-tool player. Does his batting average make up for his lack of power and speed? That's a matter of opinion, but I think it does.

He also lists a number of players who have tested positive for (or admitted to using) steroids, as if that immediately makes the player overrated. I'm no fan of steroids or steroid users either, but let's be fair. Would Jose Canseco have hit 40 HRs three times if he had never taken steroids? We'll never know but assuming he wouldn't is unfair. Similarly, to simply dismiss Ken Caminiti, Jason Giambi, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGwire as overrated solely because they took PEDs is unfair. And considering this obvious bias, it's odd that neither Roger Clemens nor Barry Bonds shows up on his list. Perhaps that's because he decided (correctly) that they were two of the best players in the history of the game and were Hall-of-Famers before they ever touched steroids. The fact that the last number of years of their careers were chemically-enhanced doesn't take away from the first decade or so when they were clean.

The take-home message, Mr. McPartlin, is that you can't call someone "overrated" just because he wasn't a five-tool player. Yes, some players are well known for being great at only one facet of the game, and the other facets weren't that great. Some players are well known for a single season or even a single event, and the rest of their career wasn't any big deal. Whether or not they are "overrated" depends on how people remember them. If people thought of Joe Carter as the greatest outfielder the Jays ever had simply because of that one home run, then I'd agree that he's overrated. But even Jays fans don't think of him that way – they rate him as a pretty good power-hitting outfielder / 1st baseman who happened to hit the most important home run in Jays history. That doesn't make him overrated.

Having said all that, I can't disagree with including Vernon Wells on the list.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

The night Blue Rodeo saved my life

I have lived in or near the largest city in Canada, Toronto, pretty much all my life. But in my 42 years, I have only been to Canada's second-largest city, Montreal, twice. Once was in 1980 when my family travelled east to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and I remember bits of that trip (I remember it was 1980 because we saw The Empire Strikes Back in Halifax) but nothing about Montreal. The other time was shortly after I moved to Ottawa after graduating from the University of Waterloo in 1992. That one was more memorable.

I started listening to Metallica in about second-year university and by the time I graduated in 1992, I was a big fan. Faith No More's album The Real Thing was one of my favourites during my university years, and while not a huge Guns 'n Roses fan, I liked most of their music. So when I heard during the summer of 1992 that all three bands would soon be coming to Montreal, I was very excited. The radio ads said "seven hours of heavy metal!" I had moved to Ottawa in June to work at Corel, and Ottawa is only about an hour and a half away from Montreal. I called my girlfriend Gail (now my wife of fifteen years) and asked if she wanted to go. She's not the metal fan that I am, but she liked Enter Sandman and a few GnR songs, so she agreed. Plus we decided to get a hotel room and stay over, so it was a mini-vacation.

We drove to Montreal the morning of the concert, which was on a Saturday. A friend of Gail's lived in Montreal so we visited with her in the afternoon, and then walked down from our hotel to Olympic Stadium for the concert. I remember seeing an Expos souvenir shop near the door where we came in. The concert started right on time, with Faith No More opening. We were at the far end of the stadium, on the left side. I think we were on the lower level. The first thing I noticed when the show started was that the sound was terrible. Forget deciphering the lyrics, I couldn't even figure out what half the songs were. Faith No More played for about 45 minutes, then they were done and we waited for Metallica. The tour was a "co-headlining" tour, and I don't know if the order of the bands changed from night to night, but on this night Metallica was second and GnR third.

I don't remember how long a delay there was before Metallica came on but I don't think it was outrageous, maybe 30-45 minutes. I hoped that someone had fixed the sound problems, but alas, it was not to be. The first song they played was my favourite Metallica song ever, Creeping Death, and it was half over before I even realized what song it was. Sound problems aside, they put on a great show for about 45 minutes before it all went to hell. They started into Fade To Black, and about a minute into the song, after some pyrotechnics at the front of the stage went off, the music just... stopped. Dead air. Nothing. The smoke from the pyro cleared and we could see that the stage was empty. What the hell happened? Where's the band? There was a lot of talking in the crowd, but the house lights didn't come on, and nobody knew what was going on. It was several minutes before bassist Jason Newsted came out onto the stage and grabbed a microphone. He said that James (lead singer Hetfield) had been hurt by some pyrotechnics and he couldn't continue, so they'd have to cut their show short. He apologized on behalf of the band but said that they would come back to Montreal and they hoped we'd come out and see them then. (Apparently they did come back the next year, with tickets under $20 each as a sort of apology.) On came the house lights, and a disappointed crowd waited for Guns 'n Roses.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

I'm guessing that the show was scheduled such that Faith No More and Metallica would each play for a pre-determined length of time, and enough time was set aside for two stage switches, so Guns 'n Roses knew when their show was scheduled to start. GnR singer Axl Rose is not known for being flexible and... well, let's just call a spade a spade. Axl Rose is known for being an asshole. I have no proof, but I have assumed since that day that Axl decided it was too bad Metallica's show ended early, but GnR were scheduled to go on at whatever time, and that's when they would go on. Those fifty-odd thousand people out there would just have to wait.

Two and a half hours after Metallica's show abruptly ended, Guns 'n Roses finally took the stage. After the high-energy Metallica show, we found that Guns 'n Roses just didn't have any energy. I have no memory of what songs they played, but Gail and I quickly got bored. Our feeling was "They made us wait 2½ hours and this is what they're giving us?" After only about twenty minutes, I was bored enough to suggest that we take off. I was there to see Metallica anyway, Gail didn't much care one way or the other, and we had discovered earlier that night that Blue Rodeo was playing a free concert across the street from our hotel. We were both big Blue Rodeo fans as well, so we left and took a cab from the Big O back to the hotel. We walked across the street and enjoyed the second half of the Blue Rodeo show.

While driving back to Ottawa the next morning, we listened to a Montreal radio station for a while. The DJs were taking phone calls from listeners who were all answering the question "If you could talk to Axl Rose right now, what would you say?" All of the callers had very negative things to say and we assumed that the majority of fans were as disappointed with the GnR show as we were, though maybe not enough to leave early as we did. After a while we lost the radio signal and turned it off, still blissfully unaware of what had actually happened. I didn't find out until the next day, when I returned to work and my co-workers asked about the riot.

My response was "The what?"

As it turned out, Guns 'n Roses played for a total of about 55 minutes before simply leaving the stage. Axl Rose later claimed that his throat hurt, and indeed a few shows had been cancelled over the previous couple of weeks for that reason. But on this night, to my knowledge, there was no announcement of any kind. The band just left the stage and the lights came on. The remaining crowd were less than impressed with this. The promised "seven hours of heavy metal" turned into maybe 2½ hours of music and over 3 hours of waiting. This displeasure resulted in people going down to the floor and throwing chairs, and then destroying whatever they could on the way out of the stadium. I saw pictures on the news of the very same Expos shop we had seen on the way in, which had been smashed and looted. When the crowd got outside the bad behaviour turned into a full-fledged riot, with the rioters looting stores and using Guns 'n Roses T-shirts to set several fires including at least one car. The Montreal police had to use tear gas and shut down several subway stations. It even made the New York Times. This was the reason for the questions about Axl Rose on the radio the next morning, and it was big news in Ottawa as well, so everyone knew about it – except us.

Aside: According to an interview eighteen years later with GnR drummer Matt Sorum, the reason for the delay was that Guns 'n Roses wasn't even in the building. Actually they had not even arrived in Montreal yet. They were on their way from Toronto and were well over an hour away before they heard about the problems. (The text of the interview says that it had been 4½ hours, not 2½, but I don't remember it being that long.) I'm not sure I buy this argument though. Opening act 1 was done and opening act 2 was on stage, and not only was the band not at the stadium, they weren't even in the city? Good planning, people. Apparently the unexpected scheduling change caused other audio problems that contributed to the GnR show being cut short, but I'm not sure I buy this either. Sure the sound for the previous two bands sucked, but I have since heard from a number of people that concerts at the Big O always had bad sound. Plus, instead of the normal 45-60 minutes to switch stages, they had somewhere between 2½ and 4½ hours and still couldn't it working properly?

The Montreal riot wasn't the insanity that was downtown Vancouver after the Stanley Cup final, but I'm still very glad that Gail and I weren't part of it. And we have two bands to thank: Blue Rodeo for being free, and Guns 'n Roses for being boring.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

If the coffee machine breaks, just drink water

At work, we have a fancy coffee machine in the kitchen which is similar to the Tassimo thing that's all the rage these days. (A friend of mine who didn't drink coffee bought one for his wife, and now he drinks at least a cup a day. You can judge for yourself whether that's a good thing or not.) The one at work takes little pouches (called "pods") of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate, pushes hot water through them at high pressure, and gives you a steaming mug within about 30 seconds. I don't drink coffee but I like the tea and hot chocolate it makes, and the fact that it's ready so quickly is very convenient.

When it's done making your beverage, it automatically drops the used pod out the bottom into a big bin that gets emptied regularly. Now and again a used pod will get stuck, but the people who supply us with the coffee pouches have posted a helpful (hand-written) list of instructions on how to clear it:

The order is VERY specific!!

Turn off, unplug. Open big door, then put your hand under silver packet door, pull off, set aside. Look inside. If you see a pod give 1/4 turn, GENTLY slide out the back (DON'T FORCE).

Plug in, turn on, close big door IN THAT ORDER.

Next, put silver packet door on by putting top into place, smack bottom with your hand. PACKET DOOR  MUST BE PUT ON LAST OR ELSE IT WILL NOT RESET! Good luck.

Good luck indeed. Sorry, but if your product needs this level of detailed instructions (complete with UPPERCASE COMMANDS) to fix a basic problem, you need to revisit your design. Luckily this has never happened to me but if it did, Tim Horton's is only a 3 minute drive away.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Oh Canada! Ribfest 2011

Waterdown held its second annual Oh Canada! Ribfest this past weekend. I wrote about last year's ribfest and I'm very glad I did, since 5 of the 6 ribbers that were there last year were there again this year, and none of us could remember which ones we liked. Again this year, we tried ribs from each of the six ribbers. We had a half rack from two of them on Thursday, two on Saturday, and two on Sunday. This year's ribbers were:

Boss Hog – Sauce was nice and smoky, and the ribs were excellent. My favourite, and Ryan's too. They even had the best beans.

Fire Island – Our favourite sauce last year, but not this year. Last year, their sauce was smoky and had some bite, while this year it was much sweeter. The ribs we had were big but mostly bone, so they weren't very meaty.

Silver Bullet – Great ribs and nice tangy sauce. Gail's and Nicky's favourite and me and Ryan put them at a solid #2.

Camp 31 – Ribs were good and meaty, sauce was sweeter than most of the others.

Bone Daddy – Great ribs with a nice spicy sauce. Challenged the Silver Bullet guys for #2.

Ribs Royale – New to the Waterdown ribfest this year. We weren't that impressed with the newcomers, since most of our ribs were tough and dry. We even left one uneaten – a sacrilege. The sauce wasn't bad. A few other people I talked to said they really liked these guys, so perhaps the half-rack we got was an anomaly.

All of the ribbers also sold BBQ chicken and pulled pork, though it never occurred to me to try anything other than the ribs. They had the same non-rib food vendors as last year – Tiny Tom's donuts, corn on the cob and yams, hot dogs, burgers, fries, bloomin' onions, fresh lemonade, and an ice cream van. Unfortunately, the spiral spuds that we enjoyed last year weren't available this year.

Helping Out

Gail helped out by volunteering last year, and this year all four of us did. On Thursday from 3:00 to 7:00pm, we were stationed in one of the recycling tents, which was somewhat misnamed since all waste (garbage and recycling and everything else) was brought there and we sorted it. Unfortunately, Thursday afternoon was the least busy and so for most of our four hour shift, we just sat. Occasionally we would grab a blue box and walk around the tables picking up garbage that lazy people had left behind, and the boys played with a beach ball for a while. The worst part was that there were twelve people in this tent – the four of us, a friend of Ryan's, and a bunch of mostly grumpy high school students trying to get some volunteer hours in – so the place was seriously overstaffed.

While sitting in the recycling tent, we got to listen to a few local bands who were performing. The first one had the odd name of Science Ninja Big Ten, and they sounded like a B-52's cover band, except that they played (AFAIK) originals. They were OK, but not my cup of tea. The second was a trio called Trees and I really enjoyed these guys. They had a Wide Mouth Mason thing happening and did an assortment of originals and covers, though their covers were quite different from the originals - sort of funky and bluesy at the same time. Next was a duo, Ria and Bill, who played "standards" – everything from Petula Clark's "Downtown" to Van Morrison's "Moondance" to Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots are Made For Walkin'". Again, not bad but not my thing.

We volunteered again on Saturday afternoon, and this time there were just six (the four of us, one grumpy teenager and another teenager who was quiet but not that grumpy) in the tent, and it was much busier. We certainly had some idle times, but other times the table was piling up with stuff just as fast as we could get rid of it. We got to listen to some different bands too. The Freeltones (who are presumably from the nearby town of Freelton, get it?) played first, and they played mostly 70's classic rock. They were pretty good, though it's unfortunate that the singer had his feet glued to the floor. I realize that nobody in the crowd came specifically to see you, and I'm not expecting Mick Jagger kind of energy, but dude, you're allowed to move. Next was a Dixieland jazz band with the cool name of Subourbon Street. They even had a sousaphone. I'm not a huge fan of jazz, and I have to say that Dixieland isn't my favourite – at one point they started a new song, and Nicky asked me "didn't they already play this?" I responded that I couldn't tell – it sounded to me like they'd played the same song a number of times. After they were done, a band called Straight Cut came out. They played heavier rock and even though there was a half-hour or so between bands, the juxtaposition was a little jarring – from oom-pah-pah to Judas Priest. They played some classic rock (Doobie Brothers, Cream, and both these guys and the Freeltones played Takin' Care of Business – more on that particular ditty later), but also some heavier stuff – Machinehead by Bush, Whiskey in the Jar (originally by Thin Lizzy I think but these guys did the Metallica version), and the aforementioned Priest. This is my kind of music, so I enjoyed this band.

The Record

On Sunday, the organizers put together an attempt to get into the Guinness Book of World Records – they asked everyone to gather in the baseball diamond to sing BTO's Takin' Care of Business, and the performance would be broadcast live on the radio. The world's record for most people singing simultaneously on the radio was 622, and we packed over 650 people in the ball diamond. If this seems like an odd record to try for, consider some other records that were set and recorded recently – "Most people dressed as Smurfs within 24 hours" and "Most people applying sunscreen at once". Those Guinness people take their records seriously – we had to close off all the entrances to the baseball diamond except one, and have a couple of people counting everyone who went in. There were a bunch of volunteers whose job it was to watch a small portion of the crowd, making sure everyone was actually singing and not just lip syncing, and count the number of people not singing. Those volunteers had to report their numbers later and sign affidavits to legally swear to the numbers.

Kudos once again to the Waterdown Rotary Club for putting this great event together and to our fellow volunteers. I saw people from my baseball team, people I know on twitter, people from Nicky's school, people from Scouting, some neighbours and other friends of ours in the area, plus the editor of the local paper and our local MPP. We all had a great time with some great music, a world record, and of course, good eatin'.

Friday, July 01, 2011

What a drag it is getting old

Gail volunteered in the beer tent at the Waterdown Ribfest last night. One of her duties was to ask people for ID if they looked like they were under 25. Step one: figure out what year one would have to be born in order to be able to buy alcohol legally. Some quick math, and the answer is 1992.

The same year Gail and I graduated from university.

Oh, God.