Archive for 2009
Last week was not a good one for the integrity of my integument. Yes, that’s an overwrought phrase but I don’t care.
When it finally snowed for good on December 7, we (by which I mean Elvi) felt it was finally time to remove the awfully heavy air conditioner from my office window.
Because it is so heavy, it takes two people to move it. I’ve been having a crappy December (can it really still be the mono?) and wasn’t up to helping to carry the thing downstairs so we left it in the middle of the office.
Late Wednesday afternoon, I pulled myself out of bed in pitch darkness. I stumbled out of the bedroom into the equally dark office and temporarily oblivious to the air conditioner, I stumbled over it.
Elvi was home at the time and she ran up the stairs, thinking part of the house had collapsed. She found me moaning, and pulling myself off the metal box. Its sharp ridges had scraped my left shin, and sliced my right thigh. I also scraped my left forearm as I landed. All my weight had been supported by the right thigh and it was sore. It looked like this the next day:
Still, I had one healthy limb – until the next morning.
I was sweeping bagel sesame seeds off our butcher block with my right hand when my pinky caught a splinter. Four for four! That looked like this:
Back in the ’90s, I created a virtual version of 101 Squadron in Warbirds. One of my recruits, Flyboy, was a 12-year-old Israeli boy who under my tutelage went from turn-and-burner to a master tactician who more often than not bested me in a fair fight (but why fight fair?).
The squadron died out as WarBirds players left for other games and I haven’t kept in touch with most of my squaddies. I knew Flyboy wanted to try for flight school when it came time for his military service.
I recently received this e-mail from him (quoted with permission, and cleaned up a bit):
Hello, Mr. Webs,
It’s been a few years since i last heard from you. A few days ago, I had a chat with Viff and your name came up, so I decided to pop up and say hi.
A lot has happened since we last talked. After I left Warbirds, I played Aces High for a few years. Several Israelis played it and the 101 lived and became a powerful force but, same as WarBirds, people started leaving Aces High and eventually I found myself alone.
That was around five years ago, and several months later I got drafted and started the IAF flight course. I did quite well and was selected to attend fighter-pilot school. After a year and a half, the air force kicked me out of the course but left a window open if I ever wanted to come back.
I decided to leave the air force and went to infantry. I joined one of the elite reconnaissance regiments and in May 2007 finished my training and became operational. After about half a year, I went to the officer academy and I’ve served as an officer in my unit for more than a year.
I havent given up on my flight obsession. I started doing paragliding and kept my account open in Aces High. A few months ago, I contacted the IAF and told them I want to come back and finish what I started. This week I got an answer: they said OK! If all goes as planned, I’ll be back there in January.
There are a lot of great guys I’ve met in the virtual skies I regret I haven’t kept contact with. I guess the intensity of the army and lack of free time contributed to it. I must say I think that you have some responsibility for my choices. I still remember my first days in the virtual world when you taught me the basics of everything. I was 12 years old then (I turned 23 on Nov. 5) and that experience still lives in me. I remember sitting in the tower and listening – well, reading the text – and not understanding how a plane can both climb and accelerate at the same time. I remember learning flying in wing formation for the first time, working as a group and as a squad.
I must say I feel like I’m closing a circle here, and in a way this is my way of saying thank you. I hope my message finds you well and in a good shape.
Waiting to hear back from you,
101 “Red” Squadron, Israel
I wrote back:
Great to hear from you. Thanks so much for the warm letter.
It’s strange to think that you’re now, like, a man. It seems not that long ago that we were dueling at O’s house. I remember you kept beating me by blowing your Spitfire flaps at the top of a loop – I was pissed off at you. LOL
I still fly WarBirds once in a while but like you wrote, life gets in the way.
I’m glad things are working out for you and I’m jealous that you’ll be getting to fly a real airplane. I get to fly my dad’s Cessna 182 once every two years or so but he doesn’t like when I pull G on the turns.
Do you have to start over from the beginning or do you pick up near where you left?
I keep in touch with Viff every once in a while – we’re Facebook friends.
Keep in touch. I’d love to hear what happens.
The reply, with photos:
I’m restarting the third phase of the course, which takes place just after the first year of three. It’s where all the basic flying is done: aerobatic; low-level navigation (300 ft); instrument flying; night flying; soloing; formation flying; and basic air combat. I’m really looking forward to getting inside a plane again. although I barely remember anything.
I own two domains, 101squadron.com and the as yet unused shitcafe.com.
I passively renewed the latter with Go Daddy’s automatic renewal and I thought that was that, but yesterday, a customer service rep from Go Daddy called me to confirm that everything had gone according to plan. At least, I think that’s why she was supposed to call but as the call developed, I became less sure of that.
Go Daddy charges $10 or so per year of registration, so calls to all customers for each renewal would cut into profits. THe woman who called me asked if I had Web sites set up, so maybe it was a sales call for Go Daddy hosting.
She was. however, laughing at Shitcafe. She thought it was hilarious. She just about begged me to do something with it, at the very least to create an e-mail address. I told her the story of how it came about and she laughed even harder. Maybe she called because she saw it and thought it was so funny.
I still don’t know what to do with that domain name. Any ideas?
My cough’s still here. So is the mono, at least the fatigue.
Quebec’s flu shot program is well underway, far more painlessly than most thought.
I went to the depressing Cavendish Mall to see if I needed to pre-register the kids for a time slot, but the nice volunteers told me that they don’t do that, at least not at the Mall.
As you may know by the first line of this post, I still have symptoms of mono and a cough that’s about a month old. I call that bronchitis although that’s a self-diagnosis – my GP moved offices without informing me, thus cancelling my October appointment at which I had hoped to discuss my overall state of being. I have an appointment scheduled for next Tuesday, so don’t nag me.
Where was I? Oh, yes. I was at the Mall and as there was no line I asked if bronchitis was one of the conditions that would put me in a priority category for a flu shot. The volunteer told me it was (I knew that before I asked).
So I passed the first checkpoint in the eight-step flu-shot process. Step two was watching an informative film about the flu shot’s advantages and side-effects. I skipped that and went to step three: registration. The prim middle-aged mustachioed man there triaged me slightly by asking what I was sick with. I said bronchitis and he asked, “Is that all?” as only a prim middle-aged mustachioed man can. He explained that that was his way of getting people to reveal their deepest health secrets. Uh huh.
Step four is ticking off the answers to six yes/no questions on your form. Step five is waiting for a nurse’s consultation.
My nurse asked me what medication I was taking for the bronchitis and I said I was taking none. She disdainfully got up to ask another nurse for advice, and together they decided that because I wasn’t taking medication, I was not a priority patient.
They barred me from step seven – the shot – and I had no need for step eight, which is a 15-minute wait to make sure you don’t die from an allergy. They show “Bambi” on a widescreen TV to help pass the time.
Tonight, I took the three kids to get vaccinated. We sailed through steps one to five, and I tried again to get my own shot at step six, the nurse.
This nurse was more reasonable and, again in consultation with another nurse, agreed to let me have the shot. This time, though, I also mentioned that I had had mono. The mono ruled me out because the mono is still active in my system. That’s a shame, but the nurses and I did have a pleasant conversation about my illness and my time spent in solitary confinement and subsequent diagnosis.
While we were chatting with the nurses, we saw a chubby 11-year-old boy screaming his head off. He was afraid of getting a shot and the fact that his dad was carrying/dragging him toward the vaccination chamber, comfortingly ringed in black curtains and chains, couldn’t have helped soothe him. My kids took that in stride, at least externally.
By the time we reached the black curtain of doom, that screaming kid was snuffling and on his way out.
Child Three volunteered to go first. At the moment he sat down, the nurse across the table injected her patient, a man in his 20s with Down’s syndrome. He shrieked so suddenly that it made me jump. The piercing yelp melted into a moan, then a whimper. Still, my kids seemed non-plussed.
All three took their shots with less difficulty than chewable cold tablets. We spent 45 minutes at the Mall, and that counts step eight, 15 minutes of “Bambi”.
I’ll see what my doctor says before I make another attempt to get the shot.
Bonus hockey news:
We’ve played some good hockey, improving each game. We’re at 3-1-2, having tied the first-place Ahuntsic team thanks to some spectacular goaltending. After that game, the opposing coach sought out Child Three to express his admiration. I hope he gets to go to another all-star game because he is the best goalie in the league, but our team has to be in the top three by mid-December to assure that.
Anyone want to film a big game for us on Saturday afternoon? I have the equipment….
September was slow. I had little work, lots of sleep at unnatural times, and little motivation to write.
I’m back, baby.
I’m not sure if it’s coincidence or cause, but at the same time jobs are falling out of the sky. I nearly pulled an all-nighter Tuesday night to get my work done.
It started with computer-consulting work for a new client, converting his (very) small office from Windows XP to Macs. That’s technically not work I’ve ever done before, but I carried it out smoothly, only losing iTunes playlists and the attachments from the curs-ed Outlook to Mail.
That’s a huge pain, that Outlook. In order to overcome Microsoft’s proprietary e-mail-storage format, you have to first use Thunderbird in Windows to import te Outlook mailboxes, then export, transfer those exported files to the Mac, and import in Mail. Wheee.
My client loved his Mac so much after one day with it that he bought another for his wife.
A second job I caught involves research for a publisher. This publisher, as publisher s are wont to do, published a self-help book along with a marketing brochure. The book is fine, but the consumer affairs division of a first-world country is suing the publisher because whoever write the brochure was careless with paraphrasing and accuracy. That’s fun work, trying to rationalize with research the claims of the brochure.
There’s more potential work on the horizon – Web copywriting for a tech product. We’ll see if that pans out.
The best of all news is that I hung on to win my second consecutive Irrational League title. It was close, and with the benched pitching staff I had, I wasn’t going to hang on much longer. I won by half a point with a total of 57.5.
.286 batting average (1st)
188 HR (9th thanks to off years by all my sluggers)
974 RBI (2nd)
137 SB (4th)
4.12 ERA (6th)
1.30 WHIP (4th)
96 wins (1st)
74 saves (tied for 3rd)
My preseason estimates can be seen here. I topped my expected batting average but fell short by 75 home runs. On a team with Beltran, Ludwick, Berkman, and Zimmerman/Wright, Matt Kemp lead the team in home runs with 26. That says it all.
My starters’ health did not hold up, yet I finished first in wins, which surprises me. I did trade a closer (Chad Qualls) for a starter (Javy Vazquez, who nabbed 12 wins for me) early on, which is part of that. Chris Coghlan was a nice mid-season pick-up and the Matt Holiday gamble paid off handsomely.
So that’s me at this time. Happy Thanksgiving.
August has not been kind. Oh, heck. It’s September already, isn’t it?
Maybe I pushed myself too hard in July, but August was a month of fatigue, possible a relapse of my mono. As if taking a clue from their general manager, my Angels with Crystal Balls have also been lagging, so much so that the team now sits in a tie for first place and occasionally dips to second.
As of this morning:
.289 batting average (1st by .008)
160 HR (10th but only 5 HR out of eighth)
819 RBI (2nd by 3 RBI)
116 SB (5th, 4 SB out of third)
4.14 ERA (6th)
1.29 WHIP (3rd)
81 wins (2nd, 1 win out of first)
65 saves (2nd and falling)
The league champion will be decided by whether or not the team I’m battling with can keep its batting average above the three teams on its heels.
Bonus van story for Naila:
I went to an ELAN schmoozer a week and a half ago, held at the St. Sulpice on St. Denis. I parked on de Maisonneuve (that’s not important, but it helps place the story for locals) and walked down to my van at 9:00 p.m.
As I started my engine, a red Volkswagen Jetta parallel-parked into the empty spot in front of me. He stopped and I turned on my lights. The passenger in the rear left seat opened his door but then shut it again. I took that as a cue that he say me and I pulled out to go on my merry way.
My merriment was interrupted by a thump. As I passed the Jetta, that rear passenger opened his door right into the side of the van, denting everything from my front door handle back to the rear panel. I had a series of nice red racing stripes, too. The Jetta door was twisted in a way that looked like its edge had melted.
The insurance companies properly deemed the other car to be 100% at fault. The poor driver was just a kid from the boonies, maybe 18, maybe with his first car. I bet the kid in the back seat never opens his door into traffic again, though.
The van’s in the garage, but we have a loaner car.
Monday, I came home early from our three-day multi-family camping trip (briefly: heat, beach, heat, food, and heat at the Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary) to coach our minor baseball A’s in the extra innings of a tie game called on account of darkness Thursday. The other team could not field enough players and had to forfeit, putting us in the final losers’ bracket game against a team that beat us 8-5 previously.
We had a bit of infield practice instead of our game in anticipation of yesterday’s losers’ final.
Wow, did it pay off. Our team played the best defensive game of baseball I’ve seen and that includes the B-level tournament select members participated in a few weeks ago. Our pitchers threw strikes. Our two pitchers got through the six innings in 80 pitches.
Our shortstop, who had never played baseball before mid-summer, played a flawless game. Our third baseman likewise. Our outfielders got the ball back to the infield quickly. I don’t want to dwell on errors, but on defense we made only two: a misguided throw home instead of to the cutoff man that allowed a runner to advance to third and a ground ball that our second baseman should have grabbed. Every other ball in play was either a solid hit or, more often, turned into an out. It was a spectacular game to watch.
We need to work on our hitting, though. We won only 2-1. Part of that was poor baserunning. We handed over three crucial outs on the basepaths. One was our first batter of the game, who walked and took a step off first base to be tagged by the first baseman. I’ve seen better sportsmanship, but not better gamesmanship. Another out was a foolish attempt to steal third on the runner’s own initiative, and another was a baserunner who took off for third, stopped, and returned to second as the runner from first slid in to that base. Those outs may have cost us runs; regardless, we still need better hitting.
We play in the championship Saturday and we’ll need to win twice to be champions. We can do it.
If you want to see photos of our boys, go to this page and scroll through. That’s Child Three with the wide stance at the plate. Here he is catching. In this one, you can see me with mono coaching third base and scoring.
Followers of 101 know what I think newspapers have to do to succeed, never mind survive. It boils down to one word: local.
Newswire filler, sports scores, general interest – all that is available on the Web earlier, in larger amounts, and often plain old better. Newspapers need to focus on the local issues. They need to use the paid resources – researchers and reporters – to dig and do some work instead of producing pap like syndicated veterinary advice or – in Montreal’s case – baseball.
Bill Wyman, in “Five Key Reasons Why Newspapers Are Failing” on Splicetoday, has a far more detailed look at the thesis. Read it all, but I want to point out two of his nine conclusions, the first because it agrees with me and the second (his sixth) because one of my former students is sort of doing that in a blog.
1) Go hyper local; devote all resources, from reporting to front-page space, to local news. No one cares what the Pittsburgh Post-Dispatch has to say about Iraq.
6) Create local listings second to none. Create them from the users’ point of view. Don’t use abbreviations. Overwhelm users with insider information that only locals know; where to park, where to sit, when to go, etc. Get rid of all the site navigation levels no one cares about. Put the information people want front and center.
Fiona O’Connor’s work on her Montreal for Insiders blog isn’t detailed enough to please Wyman, and the layout could use some tweaks, but it’s a good start. I’m not sure if one person could do all that work as a sideline endeavour.
Bonus health report:
I seem to be over my latest bout with exhaustion.
Elvi and Child One volunteered to help with the recently concluded World Science Fiction Convention that passed through Montreal. Don’t let the generic name fool you; this is the big one, where deserving recipients receive their Hugo Awards. The guest of honour this year was Neil Gaiman, a favourite author of all three ladies in my house and millions more across the world.
Elvi thought that volunteering would get her a taste of the con, tickets to which cost $250 and I think those are American dollars. It did, but a friend of hers had to cancel and sold her a ticket for $100. Awesome! She asked People In Charge if Child One’s service could count toward a reduced rate but unfortunately it couldn’t. Wires crossed at just the right time, however, because a person in northern California had just anonymously donated her ticket to be used by a student in need. Child One gratefully accepted it. By gratefully, I mean she even wrote a gracious thank-you note to the anonymous benefactor.
Child Two took advantage of the $60 conference rate for kids so in the end, my family spent $160 for $560 worth of registration and – not to sound too much like a MasterCard commercial – priceless memories that will last a lifetime.
I’ve been trying to pin the ladies down so I could detail their fantasies come true (hey, I like that pun) but in the end I decided they could write about it themselves – I’ll post the pictures, though. I will say that by the end of the convention, Neil Gaiman recognized my girls by face and name. Child Two was in the front row of every one of his talks/events. At a kids’ workshop she constructed a fabric image that Gaiman pronounced “a brilliant version of Coraline” (at left, in progress).
Child Two’s stardom took another little step forward during a panel discussion of Studio Ghibli anime features. Her insightful comments led the moderator to invite her up to join the panelists after one had to leave early. Yes, my 12-year-old daughter was a panelist at the largest science-fiction show on Earth.
That would have been enough for a memorable few days, but it doesn’t stop there. Kyle Cassidy, a photographer friend of Gaiman’s, lugged his equipment to Montreal to photograph Gaiman fans. Yes, he took photos of my ladies. I don’t want to post his photo here, for copyright reasons and because you really ought to go to his site and read the flattering comments. I will post a photo of them that Cassidy took with our camera so you can compare the difference a few thousand dollars’ worth of equipment makes.