Friday, April 28, 2006

"Sheep's End" 2.0

I finished the next draft of "Sheep's End". It's 108 pages, 16 pages longer than the previous.

The new scenes that start off this draft are more active than the last revision. There's also an extra battle scene at the end.

Most of the additional pages are character development. I find Hawthorn an difficult character to communicate in words. He's terse, stoic, subtle. His dialogue and actions remain guarded, so I tried to get his emotions across in motif. I hope this draft makes that more apparent. I also tried to etch the jeopardy more starkly.

Here's the first scene, one page long.


In the hallway of a medieval manor house, HAWTHORN races out of a sumptuous, feminine bedchamber. He pulls the door closed after him, holds it shut.

He's a man whose strength grows more from a hard, wiry frame and experience than sheer bulk. His hair is cut short in a practical military style. This is not a man who spends time in front of mirrors.

He wears simple linen and wool, out of place in a luxurious nobleman's home like this one. Fine tapestries line the hall.

Hawthorn winces as he hears something porcelain smash to bits against the other side of the door.

He braces to keep the door tightly shut.

Muffled by the stone wall and thick wood, an angry young woman shrieks incomprehensibly.

The yelling stops. Hawthorn relaxes... until another delicate object breaks against the far side of the door.


You asked me to be honest!

His comment ignites another angry feminine rant.

As the yelling continues, Hawthorn cautiously withdraws. He knows how to retreat.

He tiptoes backward, while facing the door. He periodically glances back at the stairway he's moving toward.

Just before he makes the stairway, the bedchamber door opens. Out steps ISABEL, a smoldering girl in her late teens. She's disheveled, and angry. She wears an unflattering high-waisted dress, and she holds a small ceramic pitcher.


Hawthorn? Hawthorn!

Hawthorn backs to the first step down.



Isabel shrieks, heaves the pitcher at him. He ducks down the stairs. The pitcher explodes right where he stood.

Isabel storms back into her room.

I admit it's a bit cliche, but it works in the context of what follows.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Bad news comes in fives

Nearmiss and I received an update from Marior, who is directing the short we wrote, "Time and Space". He's not pleased with his work. For technical reasons, he wasn't able to watch the dailies until recently and he doesn't like what he sees. He doesn't think the product should be submitted to film festivals. He won't reshoot, but he will finish.

The news disturbed Nearmiss. I'm disappointed, but I did my job well and what happened after it passed out of my hands doesn't bother me. It's a resume stuffer at worst. Like I told Nearmiss, maybe the next director will have access to a roof.

What does bother me is that I won't be teaching JOUR 428 next year. I'm part-time faculty in the Journalism Department (at Concordia University, for you latecomers to the blog), and full-timers get to teach what they choose before the department calls for part-time applications.

Before the department released its list of courses this week, a kind insider had already tipped me off that a full-timer had snatched up JOUR 428, Online Publication.

That pisses me off. From a technical standpoint, nobody in the department knows HTML/XHTML or CSS as well as I do. From a practical standpoint, nobody has run an e-zine for a dozen years, like I did. I've had students come up to me this year to tell me they had registered for next year's course because I was teaching it. Now they'll be stuck with a less qualified instructor.

Although students provided me with mostly positive feedback, I'd have graded my work on 428 this year as a B. It was my first year with it, and I only had the syllabi of past teachers on which to base my lesson plans. I learned a lot, and next year's course was going to be better.

This isn't a demotion or a critique of my work in the course. It's simply a case of greed or ego or both by whoever took over the course, and worst of all it's not in the best interests of the students.

Yesterday, while I was pecking away at "Sheep's End" (good news interlude: I'm up to page 98 and will finish tomorrow), a Videotron rep called me to tell me that we had exceeded our allotted bandwidth over the last two months and racked up extra fees.

We pay an annual bill, so I wouldn't see these charges unless I looked up the usage - but I was downstairs on the laptop and my links were upstairs on my desktop. We have exceeded our allotment in the past, when we'd leave aMule/eMule running. It's possible that a malware infection could have turned a Windows box or two into a zombie, which is what I assumed when the rep said we spilled over our cap.

The rep offered to covert us from Videotron's High-Speed plan to the unlimited Extreme High-Speed for a reduced price for two months. I agreed.

Upstairs, I checked our usage. We've been nowhere near our bandwidth limit.

I got in touch with Videotron customer support through the online chat function (it didn't work in Safari, so I fired up Firefox). The support rep reverted our plan and left a complaint for the first rep's manager. I gotta say, every time I've had to deal with Videotron's tech or customer support, I've been pleased with the outcome. Sales reps, on the other hand....

Another bit of bad news is that Elvi wasn't selected for a two-week intensive course in transmission electron microscopy this summer - er, winter, since the course was in Chile. The course had 200 applications for 48 places, so it's not a kick in the teeth, but Elvi was hoping to go.

Lastly, I am mildly perturbed that my Irrational League fantasy team has fallen out of first place. Thanks, Odalis Perez. Worse, it's Frank Cavallaro who's now in first. My rankings:

.305 batting average (1st, and a phenomenal number, 2nd place is .282)
42 HR (2nd)
146 RBI (3rd)
13 SB (tied 9th)
3.65 ERA (2nd)
1.18 WHIP (1st)
13 wins (tied 2nd)
10 saves (3rd)

My team is 4 HR, 2 RBI, 0.12 ERA, and 0.5 total points behind Frank's. His pitching can't sustain what it's done so far, but I'm still looking for stolen bases.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

I have 25 free minutes

And I can't do anything productive in 25 minutes, so I might as well blog while I wait for people to return my calls.

I spent the morning at a Holocaust remembrance ceremony in which Child One took part. The ceremony took place in the synagogue to which my grandfather belonged. His name is on a donors plaque on the wall. I didn't lose any close family in the Holocaust. All my grandparents were born in North America except my father's father, and he moved to Montreal with his father, mother, and brother in the 1920s.

Trace back along my brother's family tree, and you can see the Holocaust fatalities among the family that stayed in Europe.

I didn't mean to blog about this when I started. I was going to ask for help finding a shirt. It occurs to me that I could title this post "Hey Jude", but that's tacky, even for me.

On to business....

In Houston, I bought a beautiful new black suit and a beautiful new tie. I know which beautiful new shirt would go with them, but the store (K&G) didn't have my size. Neither K&G nor Geoffrey Beene sell any selection at all online, so I have to look in the retail channel.

Specifically, I need a Geoffrey Beene Wrinkle Free Solid Dress Shirt - Point Collar (style A30B0862) in kiwi (colour 329), in a size 17.5 collar/32-33 sleeve. That kiwi is the perfect shade of green. I looked for other green shirts but they all lacked this shirt's subtle brightness.

If you happen to see one like that, let me know, please.

Oh, and I'm up to page 89 of the draft. I only really have one more battle sequence to write - the rest is polish.

Bonus shout-out:

Happy birthday, Child Three!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Recursive blogging

I submitted all grades for my courses and I'm spending the day on Alex. He asked me to look into a problem with Technorati. It was not updating his blog all that promptly. I discovered that Technorati wasn't updating this one regularly either.

Technorati works on a ping system. Every time a blogger posts, the blog will automatically notify Technorati - if the notification has been embedded or turned on. With Blogger, that's a simple setting.

But Technorati's Ping Us page indicated that 101 had last been updated 16 days ago. Something is broken.

Alex and I are not the only ones having a problem. Not many people have discussed this, but Technorati has had such problems for months. Here's a sophisticated complaint from ProBlogger. A Consuming Experience received a reply from Technorati head honcho Dave Sifry in March. Technorati is working on it. Yippee.

Neither Alex nor I use Technorati tags, but that shouldn't make a difference. We've both claimed our blogs with Technorati accounts.

I question how important this is for me. Of traffic that search engines deliver to 101, nearly all comes from Google. Technorati just isn't bringing in the visitors. That's why I don't bother tagging. isn't much help either. On my next template update, I'll probably remove the facility from my posts.

How about y'all out there in the scribosphere? Is Technorati a help or does it just lay there like lox? Do you even bother with it?

Bonus shoulder update:

Something's working. The pain is reduced, although I'm not leaping to block soccer balls or anything. I've moved to the stronger tension band for my exercises already.

The Celebrex is toying with my GI system a bit, but it's nothing major. I also notice that it seems to suppress my appetite. I could lose 10 pounds, so that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Speaking of anatomy...

We all went to see the Body Worlds exhibition Wednesday night. That was cool.

I'm up to page 82 of the "Sheep's End" draft, with 20 to 25 pages to go. That's also cool.

I fly home tomorrow to an extremely busy week: taxes; "Sheep's End"; starting some Reader's Digest (Canada) work; grading; and lotsa work for Alex. I also want to get in touch with Philippe to see if he wants to read a sample and offer me work.

Don't worry. I'll keep in touch.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Everything ties in at the shoulder

I've never been the most flexible person. I strained the MCL in my left knee a few years ago. The first time I met Dev, my physiotherapist for that injury, he took a look at me on the table and asked, twice, if I had ever injured my right knee. I can't straighten my leg so that the back of my knee lies flat. Heck, I can't sit cross-legged without toppling over.

My right shoulder has been slightly painful in certain motions for a long time, but over the last six months, the pain has been worsening, and lingering. My mom runs an orthopedics office, so I figured I'd get it looked at while I was visiting.

The doc diagnosed an impingement, which is a common cause of shoulder pain. The problem tends to enter a cycle of reinforcement if not corrected to the point where the shoulder locks up. The cure is shoulder exercise to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles, along with treatment for the inflammation, so the exercise isn't painful.

If I had to guess, I'd say my years of softball did my shoulder in. I've never been the most mechanically sound thrower, and even playing second base I bet I did my shoulder in. It's not hockey - there's not much overhand motion in hockey.

The doctor offered me a shot for the inflammation, which is standard for worse cases. Since the shot won't solve the underlying problem and is only a panacea for the pain, and my shoulder stills moves pretty well, he was ambivalent. I declined the shot. My mom, who was in the examination room, called me a chicken shit.

I'm on Celebrex and exercise and we'll see how that goes. That's my shoulder in that X-ray.

To tie in softball/baseball, my brother treated my family to the Astros game last night. Even the outs the Astros made on Doug Davis's pitches were hit hard. The game went long, so we had to leave after the seventh. I didn't mind. Lance Berkman was out of the game by that point and the Astros had a 12-6 lead.

(I set a personal record at the Juicebox: closest I've ever been to a President. We sat inside of 100 yards up and left of George H.W. and Barbara Bush, in section 116.)

Child Three received a ball from Carlos Lee after batting practice, who would go on to homer twice after we left the ball park to help the Brewers make it a 13-12 final score. Shades of the last baseball game I left early.

We left before the end of the game to go meet Target and Bombshell (a.k.a. Mrs Target). My brother took the kids back to my mom's and Elvi and I went out for drinks with them. Target is the project manager of WarBirds; I've met him before. We talked surprisingly little about airplanes - much, I'm sure, to Elvi's dismay - but during what little airplane talk did fly across the table, Bombshell and I had to remind Target that the name for the complicated aeronautical concept he was discussing is "thrust".

I put in my obligate request for the Avia S-199 in the game and described how the Israelis and the RAF came to blows. Target also asked me what Sheep's End was - he's a friend of the blog, apparently. For all those wondering, Sheep's End is the village in which "Sheep's End" the story takes place. And the rewrite has leapt a stumbling block and is moving forward, thank you very much.

How does Target tie in to my shoulder? Do you have any idea how much my shoulder aches when I push my Thrustmaster Cougar around? The springs in that thing are robust.

Bonus Irrational League update:

.299 batting average (1st)
32 HR (2nd)
113 RBI (1st)
8 SB (tied 8th)
4.30 ERA (4th)
1.17 WHIP (1st)
10 wins (tied 2nd)
7 saves (tied 3rd)

That gives me first place with 64.5 points and an 8 point lead over two teams tied in second. I could use some stolen bases, but I don't think I need them if I can stay in the middle of that category.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Met with Brett

Brett and I sat for close to two hours in Starbucks this morning, swapping war stories from the trenches, and the airfields.

Last night, I got to page 60 or so in the "Sheep's End" rewrite. I've been thinking of adding a battle, and that's next on that particular plate.

Elvi, the kids, and I spent the afternoon in the traveling dinosaur exhibit currently parked at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. I still feel a little funny when I see Mark Norell and Kirk Johnson in the video presentations, in the "I got naked and went polar-bear swimming with that guy" kind of way.

I hope a get a chance to work more this evening, but it has been a good day so far. I also owe Alex some deeper thinking on storyboards. He liked some of the ones I've come up with so far.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Tap, tap, tap

Well, I didn't expect to get much done Wednesday or yesterday, but I had planned to work most of today. But it's past noon here in Texas, and no luck so far.

My wife and kids and mom were supposed to leave the house to go horseback riding, and I was going to have the house to myself. I want to try to get "Sheep's End" ready for the Nicholl Fellowships, and I have some thinking to do for Alex. Oh, and I need to call Brett to arrange a meeting.

So far, this house has been too busy. My wife and kids are here, eating lunch. My mom is home. Her husband is home. Two of my mom's friends are over, with a grandchild in tow. My brother just walked in.

Why can't everyone be anti-social like me? I could get a lot more done.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Happy Passover

The image comes from my dad. I can't vouch for its authenticity, but no matter.

I'm grading and packing and folding laundry and working on "Sheep's End", all of which is progressing nicely.

Don't expect a new post from me until later in the week.

Let me leave you with a Passover recipe tip: add some fresh lemon zest to your charoset. It really brightens the flavour.

Bonus Irrational League update:

I end the first week in first place with 57.5 points. Frank is second, three points back. Surprisingly, I'm tied for second place in saves. That won't last, but neither will my seventh-place ranking in ERA or even my fifth place in WHIP.

The roster is looking good, if a bit short on stolen bases.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Ten verbs, an ensemble, and a hello to Brett

Brett, who writes the A Bucket of Love screenwriting blog, decided to list the first ten verbs of his script to test it for action. It's a WWII airplane drama. Interesting....

To get this meme underway, Brett tagged Scott the Reader, but instead of propagating through the scribosphere, it seems to have rooted in the comments to his blog.

Having just written a new beginning to "Sheep's End", I thought I would compare the two versions. You know, there just might be something to this. Some readers had commented that the older version started too slowly. Here's the list for it:


And the rewrite:


I anticipated criticism about all those uses of "is", but I'm OK with it. Here's the paragraph that contains them:

"He's a strong man, whose strength grows more from his hard wiry frame and experience than sheer bulk. His hair is cut short in a practical military style. This is not a man who spends time in front of mirrors."

It's not too passive, merely economical. One intentionally funny commenter said I should have written "Quarter-inch hairs explode from his shorn scalp." That makes me giggle.

Back to the point.... The first verbs in the rewrite are certainly more exciting. It's a good sign.

I 'm taping "Canada Russia ’72". If you don't know what that's about, you're not Canadian - click the link.

I'm taping it because I want to dissect it. It is a dramatic interpretation of a real event that involved an ensemble. It will hold lessons for me in my attempts to grasp and mold the story of 101 Squadron. Both stories have natural dramatic paths, with different individuals playing the "lead" as the stories progress. If I could only get my hands on the script....

Speaking of airplane dramas, Brett lives in Katy, Texas, which is about five minutes from my mom's place in western Houston. I'm going to be spending most of the next two weeks at my mom's. Brett, if you read this and you want to get together to compare airplane stories and talk screenwriting, please e-mail me (my e-mail address is on my profile page). My mom is off the Barker-Cypress exit on I-10.

Anybody else in Houston? (Besides you, Mitch.)

Friday, April 07, 2006

Montreal Pillow Fight Club

I attended with Children Two and Three. Child Two had a blast. Child Three left the park and waited in the minivan.

Photos are starting to show up Flickr. You can see me in this one. I have my back turned to the interviewee, right in front of her - I have short hair and the worn black leather jacket. You can see Child Two's arm in there, too, but more of her shows up as a purple flowered blur to the left in this photo.

Bonus update:

Here's a decent pic of all three of us. Child Three is trailing me with his camouflage pillow ready to strike. Child Two has her back turned to this camera, too. l look like I'm about to bop somebody.

And there's a video in which I appear to do nothing more than softly beat on my daughter's head. Alex (in the New York Yankees cap) gets a face full of pillow almost halfway in.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Good science, bad decisions

I have nothing about writing today, but work proceeds on the new "Sheep's End". I also have some of Alex and Lisa's work to mull over.

As a one-time future scientist, current journalist, and really just a guy who thinks he knows best, I was drawn to two science stories this week. Let's start with the good science.

What makes evolutionary biology a science? It's what makes anything a science: predictive power. Physics predicts a ball caught in the Earth's gravitational field will drop toward the Earth's center of mass. Chemistry predicts that under specific conditions of temperature and pressure, water at its triple point will exist as three states of matter.

Evolutionary science is harder to understand, because much of its predictive power can only apply in thought experiments based on the conclusions already in hand. Once in a while, however, nature provides a field test - for example, the last 100 years worth of discovery of whale ancestry, completely unknown when Charles Darwin postulated the origin of species.

A recent paleontological discovery qualifies as a brilliant piece of science, not only for the actual fossil, but for how it was discovered.

Paleontologists knew fish with robust fins existed in sediments dated to 385 million years ago (MYA). They also know of creatures with unquestionably terrestrial limbs dated to 365 MYA. What they didn't have was a fossil from that 20-million-year gap that displayed a "hand" form between the two morphologies.

Enter science. Edward Daeschler and Neil Shubin knew that Ellesmere Island had outcrops that geologists date to 375 MYA in age. They also knew that geological science puts this region in the tropics of the time. The formations on Ellesmere had not yet been explored for fossils.

Daeschler and Shubin decided to look in the formation for fossils of that age. If the geology that dated the rocks and predicted a warm climate held true, then, they predicted, they would find fossils of the proper age and morphology to help bridge that 20-million-year gap. If their scientific analysis of the rock or evolutionary theory itself were wrong, well, they'd find a horse or a person or a pterodactyl in the formation they went to study.

As Nature and the BBC report, they found what they were looking for. Welcome to our world, Tiktaalik roseae.

Now, the bad decisions.... CNN reported Monday on an outbreak of mumps in Iowa. Mumps, you ask? Aren't children vaccinated against mumps?

They should be. The vaccine for mumps is part of the standard MMR shots each child should receive. Should receive. Parents are free to refuse or omit vaccinations. Of the 245 Iowans to contract mumps in the recent outbreak, 66% (168) had taken the two MMR vaccinations required for immunization. Another 14% (34) had received only one MMR vaccine (insufficient for immunization) and 20% (43) had not been vaccinated at all. Iowa normally reports five cases of mumps per year.

If Iowa is an average state, MMR vaccination rate hovers around 91%. Let's call Iowa's population 2.9 million. Of the 91% of that 2.9 million who had proper MMR shots, 168 got the disease, for an infection rate of 0.00637%. The unvaccinated 9% caught the disease at a rate of 0.0295%.

Those are both small numbers, but keep in mind that the Iowa mumps outbreak was confined to a small subset of the population. The rate of infection for the improperly or not-at-all vaccinated is 4.6 times higher than it is for the properly vaccinated.

There's no cure for mumps once you catch it, and if you do, you stand a chance of becoming infertile or losing your hearing.

If you're concerned about thiomerosal and its mercury, be aware that the only vaccine that still contains thiomerosal is the influenza vaccine.

Get your kids vaccinated, OK?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


Yesterday, I had a good day. I slammed out six pages of the new beginning to "Sheep's End". I need to refine them and weave them and their implications into the rest of the script, but I went to bed with the feeling that I'd accomplished something. That's an important feeling. It's the lack of that feeling that played a large part in my decision to leave grad school.

Today, I wake up, answer the overnight e-mail, read the paper, and sit to work. A half-hour later, Child Two calls me from school. Today is her class seder and she didn't bring her required seder plate. She needs it by 2:15 in the afternoon.

The school note that she needed that stuff for today is on the fridge. I spend more than two hours boiling eggs, gathering ingredients and making charoset. (The charoset needs to be nut-free for school, so I used a dollop of tahini instead. I don't recommend that substitution as the tahini adds a touch of bitterness, which is unpleasant in taste and ceremonial meaning. I sweetened it to acceptability with brown sugar.)

I had to go shopping for some of the items, and then drop the package off for her at school. The operation consumed three hours of my day in total.

So I sit here, back home, at 1:00. I have some assignments to correct, which should take an hour. I have to leave to pick up the kids at 3:30. Tonight, I play hockey.

I get 120 minutes to work today, figure 90 minutes after I write this blog entry.

I'm not a sprint writer. I'm a marathoner. I can't sit and write in half-hour bursts. I need to get in the mood and let it go, for hours at a time. I'm feeling stressed, put upon. It's manifesting as a roiling sickening in the pit of my stomach.

And outside, it's snowing. It was 20 degrees (Centigrade) Friday, and today it's snowing. The snow is melting, not accumulating, but still.... Welcome to spring in Montreal.

Bonus first rule of Pillow Fight Club:

It is to talk about Pillow Fight Club (but privately).

London had hundreds of people bashing each other with pillows outside St. Paul's. San Francisco had thousands of people in Golden Gate Park bashing each other with pillows on Valentine's Day. For more information on Pillow Fight Club, check out Wikipedia.

For more information on Montreal's impending flash-mob pillow fight, e-mail me for time and place. I think I'll bring the kids.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

A bit more ball

I love when I look up from my keyboard and realize that I've been teaching, or ranting, in e-mail or forum/blog comments. If I get going, it usually translates well into a post on 101.

What follows is an elaboration on what I posted to fellow baseball aficionado Ken Levine's blog this morning, on baseball predictions.

The NL East is a tight division. Philly has the best team on the field, but has no bench, although Dellucci will help. The team may suffer at 3B. The Philly starters are mostly young and talented. The Braves are also solid. There's no hole to be seen. The Mets need a middle infield that can contribute more than speed, and the back of the rotation is shoddy, and would be even with Heilman starting. I'll go with the Braves.

Houston has the hitting, but needs Clemens for the team to squeak its way into the playoffs. The Astro starters are Oswalt and Pettitte and then forget it, although the bullpen is a good one. Chicago has adequate pitching even without Prior and Woods, and any innings those two can contribute only help. The Cubs line-up is solid, especially with Walker as the primary man at 2B. If Dusty Baker can avoid using his weak bench too much, I smell a pennant. Milwaukee is a dark horse, but pople overrate their starting pitching. St Louis will struggle to dominate ther division, but will be near the top. The Cardinals are in decline. Aaron Miles, Sidney Ponson, and Larry Bigbie do not a pennant make. I'm going to pick the Cubs for the NL Central.

The Giants just plain stink. Two thirds of the outfield won't last the season as senility and/or rage sets in, and then primary back-up Finley will join the others in the home. Todd Linden will be starting by October, and that's not a plus. The Giants don't have even an average first-baseman. Todd Greene is the fresh young face. Jason Schmidt is the only decent pitcher on the team. Noah Lowry is slightly above average. Matt Morris is a nice pick-up, in 2001. The Rockies still haven't figured out what that earthen bump between home and second base is. I want to like the Padres as the best of a bad lot, but I can't pick a team that's relying on Vinny Castilla, Mike Cameron, and Shawn Estes to improve. The Dodgers need another outfielder, or a rejuvenated Jose Cruz Jr., but for now they are the best of a bad lot in the west.

The Blue Jays are better, but they're not better enough to top both the Yanks and Sox. The two traditional powers will spend another summer banging heads. Damon and Millar are great characters, but their skills are replaceable. The Yanks have Chacon in the rotation and Bubba Crosby is the top bat on the bench. I'll take the Red Sox, who are again solid, top to bottom.

The AL Central is stacked. You could pick any of the big three (Cleveland, Minnesota, Chicago) and make a case. I'll go with the White Sox on a gut feeling that Thome will have a big year. I like their pitching more than the Indians', too.

The Rangers are the sexy pick, but they are doomed by half their starters in a close division. The Angels have too many guys with good fantasy stats and poor baseball contributions. I have to go with the A's. They nearly took the division last year, and they cut out the deawood and improved at all weak points for this year. Offensively, they don't have room for a bat like Bobby Kielty's. (The Cubs or Dodgers could use him.) Pitching-wise, the A's led the league in ERA last year and are better this year. They... could... go... all... the... way!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The morning after

I spent the hours between 8:00 p.m. and 1:30 a.m. at CFCF studios (Montreal's CTV affiliate) last night. I had my laptop and stacks of notes, for this was the annual fantasy baseball draft of the Irrational League.

The ten teams in the league draft only NL players, 15 position players and ten pitchers, along with four reserves. Scoring is 4x4, for those that know the jargon.

We met at CFCF because several media types manage teams. From CFCF, we have Frank Cavallaro and Randy Tieman. Jeremy Zafran from 940 News is league commissioner. CJAD's Rick Moffat also participates, allegedly - he's an absentee landlord most of the time. Some owners live out of town: Darryl Henry from Toronto's EZ Rock, for example.

So once a year, we spend six hours at CFCF and the non-locals join us on MSN chat. We kibbitz, we trashtalk, and we all make fun of Frank. It's a blast. Frank deserves it. He calls three times a week with ridiculous trade offers, and some owners succumb to the pressure.

I won the league in 2004 with a powerhouse team. Frank finished second that year. Last year, I was seventh, and Frank was last. Both years were successes - as long as I finish higher than Frank, a season is a success. I think that's a consensus. We all won last year.

Our league mandates four keepers. I went into last night with Carlos Beltran, Miguel Cabrera, Lance Berkman (go Owls!), and Andruw Jones. Good hitting for sure, but only second-best among the teams. Eight of the other teams kept pitchers.

As is my usual weakness, I overdrafted pitching. I don't think I have quite enough power despite my keeper boost, and speed is adequate for middle of the pack. I have far and away the best starting pitching, but the relief is shaky with the two weakest closers in the league and no back-up.

I have much positional flexibility to compensate for injuries, and several outfielders and middle infielders who may be primed for bigger years than expected, like Corey Hart or Victor Diaz.

Here's what I'm starting with:

C Brian McCann ATL (the best catcher in the league, I think, and chosen fifth or sixth in the position)
C Miguel Olivo FLA (always nice to get two starting catchers)
1B Lance Berkman HOU
2B Todd Walker CHI (a late pick; no one knew he was annointed the Cubs' starter)
SS Edgar Renteria ATL
3B Miguel Cabrera FLA
CI Scott Hatteberg CIN (a rebound year would be nice)
MI Luis A. Gonzalez COL
OF Carlos Beltran NYM (a better year is expected)
OF Andruw Jones ATL (I'll settle for 40 HRs)
OF Eric Byrnes ARI
OF Cory Sullivan COL
OF Brad Hawpe COL (a monster of a man who could explode for 30+ HRs)
UT Anderson Hernandez NYM (let's hope he swipes some bags with painless batting average)
UT Corey Hart MIL (great potential)

SP John Smoltz ATL (my first pick)
SP Ben Sheets MIL
SP Odalis Perez LAD
SP Brad Penny LAD
SP Greg Maddux CHI (amazing how far he fell in the draft)
SP Woody Williams (I'm hoping he'll throw some relief this week and quallify as a reliever)
RP Chris Reitsma (sketchy saves)
RP David Weathers (sketchier saves)
RP Matt Wise (solid ability, if few wins or saves)
RP Joey Eischen (my last pick)

My reserves:
2B Kaz Matsui NYM
OF Victor Diaz NYM
OF Jeff DaVanon ARI
SS Damian Jackson WAS

It's not easy deciding who gets to play each week among my reserves. Until somebody wins a full-time job, it will be tough to rotate folks in and out of the lineup each week. And are the steals and power languishing in my reserves more valuable than Scott Hatteberg's mediocre contributions? Hard to say at this point, but Hatteberg at least plays every day, so he's in.

Bonus advice from the "Ask Webs" consumer column:

If you put a Kingston USB memory stick through the laundry cycle, it will still work. Plus, it comes out nice and shiny.