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Reach for the Top

Thirty years ago, I was preparing for my last year of high school (which in Quebec ends after Grade 11). I was also coming off my rookie year as a member of Bialik High School’s Reach for the Top team.

Reach for the Top was a Canada-wide high-school quiz show on CBC. Our school was always a strong contender in Quebec, but I had the misfortune of going to my high school at the same time as Gerry Moschopoulos, who was probably the best player in the province, attended Malcolm Campbell High School. In my first year, Gerry and three other people knocked us out of the competition.

In Grade 11, there was turnover on our team. David Cape and Arnold Cohen graduated. I made the ’82-’83 team again. David Tanenbaum and the futurely infamous Kenny Hechtman joined us. Our star was Lorne Beiles. He was in my class, but I don’t remember if he’d been on the team the year before.

Our coach both years was Bryan Wolofsky, whose son and mine took a bar-mitzvah program together this past year.

One of the things I did while cleaning up my dad’s house was to look through old media. My brother Jeff hoarded all the film but I got to pick through some videotapes. Among the collection was a treasure that I’ve had digitized and I’ve uploaded it to YouTube. It’s about 110 minutes long, so you may want a snack.

May I present Bialik High School’s 1982-83 “Reach for the Top” performance in its entirety.

YouTube Preview Image

Even if you have no interest in my quiz-show history, you’ll love the vintage Canadian commercials.

Homo habilis

Man install new shower doors. Man handy.

My archives

Now that I have a Zip drive in hand and working, I’m going through a box of old Zip disks before I throw them out.

Scoff all you want, but I have found some treasures to hoard. I know have a backup of my CompuServe account (I was member 73144,2466). I found a few documents left over from my time as a sysop in the Dinosaur Forum. Here’s one:

Making Fossils – The Home Game

This recipe has been tested and actually worked. Still, I take no liability if you burn down your kitchen.

Get a thick wax candle and carve it into a bone with a knife. Try to get a bone that does not have wick in it. Get a big foil roasting pan (the size used for turkeys) and carefully cut a hole in the bottom just large enough for a piece of wide-bore heat-resistant tubing. Stick a piece of the tubing in so that about an inch sticks up, seal it in place with some heat resistant sealant and trim off the bottom.

Balance the wax bone on the top of the tube and seal it there with sealant.

Fill the roasting pan with enough plaster or something to cover everything. Be careful not to jostle the wax bone.

When the plaster is dry, stick the whole shebang into a hot oven (check the melting point of candle wax for how hot). Place the contraption over a dripping pan. If this works, the hot wax will run out the tube leaving a bone-shaped hole in the plaster. You might have to shake the thing to get all the wax to run out.

When the wax has run out, let the pan cool. Get a lot of castable resin and pour it in the tubing so that it fills the space where the wax used to be (I guess you can also use molten bronze instead). Let it dry.

After it dries – voila! The plaster is the sediment, the heat is the water leaching out the bone and the resin is rock minerals replacing the lost bone. Kind of.

Good luck.

I also found an archived copy of WarBirds 1.11r3, which measured a tiny 38 MB in size. I’d need a System 9 emulator to run it, but it’s neat to have.

Best of all, I found some photos I don’t have elsewhere, taken in the Bahamas in the winter of 2001-02. Here’s one.

Bonus strange conversation:

Elvi and I went out to a new bar with some of her choir mates last night. (Given its location, I guess the bar will have a lifespan measured in months.) We were the last of our group to leave but Elvi went to the bathroom just before we did.

I half-stood, reaching into my front pocket for my car keys but awkwardly sat down again at our table when I realized it would be a few minutes. A guy was standing there as if he wanted to grab the table for some other group of friends. I told him he was welcome to sit down.

He sat right next to me. A few seconds later he amiably said, “You look like you need to have a giant fucking shit.”

I explained that I’d decided to leave my keys in my pocket until my wife came out of the bathroom. At that, he got up and left.

The only thing that makes sense to me is that he had pitched me some sort of come-on. The bar was very gay-friendly. It’s the only explanation I can think of.


Child Two and I took I took Child Three and some of his friends to paintball today. A grand time was had by all, especially by those of us who escaped without wounds.

I was shot once in the neck (by Child Three!) but recovered quickly. I was shot once in my bad knee by a paintball that didn’t burst and that hurt for a minute.

Child Two and I formed an effective fire team in the latter games. We got ourselves into enfilade positions and ripped through the opposition like the killers we are.

My favourite moment of the day came when one kid crept up to the corner of a building to get a shot at Child Two. I let loose a volley of five shots and all landed. I saw my target dance a little and disappear behind the wall. I learned afterward that four of my shots had hit his hand and made him drop his gun – uh, drop his marker. My trophy:

Child Three got hit three times on the bicep in the last fight:

It look like two hits, but the top welt is two hits stacked. The lower, fainter welt shows up much better this evening than it did when I took the photo.

Here’s a masked “before” photo and one from a break in the action.

Mysteries of the ancient world

I’m back home now, but I still have a few photos to share. It took three full days, but I finally managed to clear out my dad’s office and closet – only to fill the closet again with stuff Brother Two wants to keep but couldn’t fit in his suitcases.

I found a Mac PowerBook 1400C in the closet, deep in the strata. I think in total, my dad had 11 computers, of which two were hooked up. I cleaned up a clamshell iBook and then plugged in and powered up the PowerBook. As you can see if you click on the thumbnail to the left, it booted into System 8.6 as perfectly as possible. I think my dad last used it in early 2003, judging by the dates on the files. Good thing he kept it around.

We also found a brass case. We have no idea what it is. Other than the photos below, here’s what we know…. The “fan” folds open and closed and rotates freely. The axle fits into some sort of plastic apparatus that barely resembles a small electric motor, although there is no resistance to rotation. There is no place for batteries, and since the entire case is made of metal and there are no wires, we doubt it is an electrical device of any kind, or any sort of motor for that matter. But of what use is a manual fan or propellor?

The bottom of the device opens up. Is something supposed to go in there? Take a look, and please guess – or even better, inform.

The inscription on the bottom of the case reads: “PATENTS PENDING / DON QUIXOTE / MADE IN BRITAIN”. Don Quixote is a cigar company and I suspect this has something to do with tobacco, but I’m stumped.

Speaking of mysteries, this video has me, an avowed skeptic, stumped:

Bonus l33t CSS skillz:

I’ve been struggling with getting slideshows to center. I’m using a WordPress plugin called Portfolio Slideshow, which is easy to use and format, but which is inexplicably impossible to center on a page.

Many people have the same predicament, but the developer’s only official response is that the Pro version ($9) has the ability to center the slideshow.

Nine bucks? I didn’t teach myself CSS for nothing! Here’s my custom Portfolio Slideshow CSS code for WordPress. On your Dashboard, open Appearance > Editor. Click on the Stylesheet link at the bottom right. (I ignore the stylesheets for IE6 and IE7. Screw ’em.) Add the following code to your stylesheet and save:

div.portfolio-slideshow {margin-left:auto; margin-right:auto; width:60%; margin-top:20px; border: solid 1px #d4d7ca;}
div.slideshow-nav {text-align:center; margin-bottom:20px;}

You may want to play with that width percentage to get it perfect on your layout. The margin-top and border styles are optional, as is the entire .slideshow-nav class.

This only works for one specific size of slideshow image. In my case, I’m using 400-pixel-wide images.

Dogs and the family

We never knew this story until Tuesday, when we cracked open a scrapbook that once belonged to my grandfather’s brother, Max.

When Jacques (my grandfather, although he went by “Jack”) was a kid in the Netherlands, he owned a small dog. His father, Bernard, thought that a big photo of their boys and the dog to hang on the wall would make a great present for his wife, Josina.

The photograph was taken, blown up, framed, and presented to Josina. She took one look at it and exclaimed that there was no way she could hang that in her house. She pointed out the dog, which had an erection that the males had somehow overlooked.

That’s one well-endowed terrier. Jack is on the left, Max on the right.

The gift was modified by the 1920s’ version of Photoshop – that is, an artist – and the final product, um, hung in their home for 50 years. I don’t know what happened to that, but thank goodness we have a print of the original. Jack was born in 1914, so I estimate that the photo was taken around 1925.

The dog’s name, even before this photograph, was Dickey.

But 1925 wasn’t Max’s last appearance in a photo with a strange dog.

That’s a trained dog, allegedly, but the look on its face says, “If you take my picture, I’m going to kill somebody.” This has meme potential.

Bonus schadenfreude:

That’s a lot of caulk

In a previous blog, we established that my dad hoarded junk. He also hoarded useful items. Elvi was working on the garage, and she came across my dad’s caulk.

She couldn’t believe how big my dad’s caulk collection was. It was massive: enough caulk for three houses.

Here’s a pic of her and my dad’s caulk:

Elvi needs more than two hands to handle my dad's caulk.

I swear this post was her idea.

Fashion and faux pas

Much of Sunday was spent going through Dad’s clothes with Brother Two. Brother One (both are younger than me, by the way) wasn’t yet in Freeport and the clothes wouldn’t fit him regardless.

We found a lot of clothes… – from the ’70s, let’s say to be charitable. And what better way to celebrate the ’70s than with a slide show!

You may have noticed that I put a modern twist on the jeans. I think my favourite bit of these photos is my brother’s hands clasped with glee in the first picture.

That wasn’t all the clothing-related hilarity. After some delicious snapper and cracked conch (best I ever ate) at Billy Joe’s on the beach, Elvi bent over to wash her hands in the ocean. Two ladies and a man walking by in the right place at the wrong time got an eyeful of her underwear as her shorts ripped from stem to stern. The man cracked up – you can’t blame him – but the helpful ladies gave us a towel to keep.

I used the towel to highlight the damage.

Elvi, learning from my father’s poor example, did not keep the shorts.

Bonus observation:

If you think I’m fat, check out this curly-tail lizard.

At least I signed up for flag football this spring and summer.

Dealing with the hoard

Elvi and I landed in the Bahamas yesterday afternoon and immediately started helping my sister, Brother Two, and Marion (the widow Nyveen) to clean up my dad’s house.

While my dad never hoarded enough to make reality TV, he rarely threw anything out. That’s now our job. For example, there are four fax machines, three printers, and an eight-track player (see pic) occupying shelves.

I spent most of Friday emptying the attic while my brother piled the stuff on the patio. A lot of it was Quorum products (a multi-level marketing scheme) left over from the early 1990s. You never know when old electronics will come back into fashion.

We’re throwing them out. The old phones, too (see other pic)- although I wold have kept a rotary-dial phone had there been any. All we found was a dial.

The photo below shows about three quarters of the attic contents on the patio. Unfortnately, you can only barely make out the five different briefcases we found. They are at the back of the pile.

For the first time ever, we have left the children under their own supervision. The girls have checked in.

Child Two:

Everything’s fine. No problems yet.

Child One:

Nothing much has changed since this morning. I made lunches, we all went to school. Child Two is over at a friend’s for some amount of time, so I’m having a drunken orgy. Other than that, all clear.


Tomorrow, I’ll have pics of Brother Two and I getting jiggy with Dad’s wardrobe. Even more awesome.

More family jaw surgery

Not long after I cracked my own tooth, Nibbler suffered his own damage. (Nibbler is my Mazda 3, remember?)

Wife One took Nibbler out of the driveway so she could take the minivan. She parked him across the street. What she didn’t see was the large ice boulder on top of which she parked. You can see the imprint of Nibbler’s fron left tire on it.

This method of parking not only served to keep Nibbler from rolling forward, it cracked his poor plastic jaw.

Like any anyone with a broken jaw, Nibbler suffered some swelling in his cheek.

Nibbler is a trooper and still drivable, but I can’t stand him suffering so. I plan to get him a new jaw soon. It should be $600-$800.

Speaking of cars, even if we do tend to anthropomorphize, there’s news in the lummox category. Our 1999 Grand Voyager finally choked and died. It had been running with a crack and drip in the transmission case, forcing us – OK, Wife One – to keep it topped up with transmission fluid. The key would often refuse to turn until whacked on end with a hammer. Still, it soldiered on. Something has gone wrong with the electrical system, forcing us – yes, really both of us – to boost it every time it had to start.

A week and a half of research into Toyota Siennas and Honda Odysseys let us to a 2006 Odyssey EX-L with a scant 96,000 kilometres on the odometer and a tip-to-tail warranty to 160,000 kilometres. We’re quite happy with the purchase, which also came with summer tires on alloy wheels, although it did not come with the cute Honda hat on the roof rack.

Yes, those are leather, heated seats.

Wife One has no plans to name the van.

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