Sunday, April 29, 2007


Just finished doing taxes. It's easy with UFile (the online version), even enjoyable. As a self-employed taxpayer, I actually have until June to do my taxes, but we need to submit school financial-aid forms in the next week or so. The schools don't take self-employment deadlines into account.

One element of tax time always rankles me. Quebec maintains a separate tax form from Canada. All other provinces have integrated the taxation process so that taxpayers only have to fill in and submit one form. Not Quebec. Oh, no. We couldn't have that, could we? It would humiliate the nation - and no, that doesn't mean Canada.

This weekend, the downtown Delta - er, excuse me, the Delta Centreville is hosting the Blue Metropolis literary festival. Yesterday I attended a short seminar with Brian Leith, documentary filmmaker at the BBC. He had some valuable tidbits to offer, but most of it is common-sense storytelling.

One intriguing paradox was how he held the transfer of opinion and emotion from filmmaker to audience to be a positive, while manipulation of the audience was a negative. He freely admitted that there was a massive gray area there.

The attendees varied from older ladies there for kicks, to a few novelists, to budding filmmakers/researchers (I count myself among these) to younger guys who might actually have a chance at it.

Tomorrow, I turn in my Afghanistan report, scout for plain, windowless offices (if you have one in Montreal, leave me a comment/e-mail), and try to beg for camera equipment.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Pangs, part III: conscience

I've been lucky enough in my professional life that I've been able to choose assignments that I could support. I suppose that may not be all that unusual. How many writers work against themselves? But I feel lucky about it, and that's enough for me.

It helps to keep an open mind. I'm very much a rationalist, and James Randi is a hero of mine. I've met him twice, once when he spoke at Rice University and a second time at the Ig Nobel ceremony in 1998. I don't believe in the supernatural, ESP, or that aliens are flying around Earth. Last summer, Reader's Digest (Canada) gave me a book section on poltergeists to check. My first impulse was to tell them there's no way that I'd do that, but like I said, I try to keep an open mind.

I went through the excerpt and verified the anecdotes. I spoke to eyewitnesses - all of whom didn't actually see the event, but the results of the event. It's one thing to see a bowl fly across the room; it's quite another to see whether it flies off spontaneously, after the table rocks, or by hand. Some of the "evidence" could not be tracked down except in 200-year-old books or in obscure Polish publications. My favourite was the mention of Nina Kulagina, the alleged Russian telekinetic. This (downloading) video shows her using an invisible thread or hair to pull objects toward her (note that none of the objects ever moves away from her). This video shows what I like to call the magnetic bra trick.

The magazine killed the story upon my preliminary report.

Boy, that was long-winded. I had no intention of writing about that when I started. The point was supposed to be that I find myself with a dilemma. I noted last week that I have a new editing contract. A Web site that is trying to grab its piece of the Web 2.0 pie has outsourced the writing of personal essays to central Asia. My job is to take these amateur efforts and edit them into the voice of American baby boomers, then post them under fake American names.

The site doesn't claim that it contains no fiction, but it certainly cultivates that impression. I thought a bit about doing this, but I figured there's nothing really wrong with it, and somebody's got to do it, so it might as well be me. Work's work, and nobody's harmed by this masquerade. Plus, it helps hone my fiction tool set. Oh my gosh, am I going to be able to get back to screenwriting soon?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Pangs, part II: nostalgia

One of my Netsurfer Digest (NSD) writers asked to use me as a reference (hi, R!), and a man from the company called me Friday afternoon. I gave her a glowing recommendation, because she deserved it - she needed relatively little editing and was always willing to take on more work so that I could carry on with my life of leisure - and in the process explained a little about the way NSD operated.

"Yeah, I remember Netsurfer Digest. That was a lot of fun," the guy on the phone told me. He remembered it! It was a lot of fun, and I do miss it. Now, when I stumble across nifty and/or important Web sites, I have a much smaller audience, usually only my wife. I always wrote NSD for her anyway, so I keep sending her stuff I find.

I've found a couple over the last week or so, and in a fit of nostalgia, I decided to post them here in NSD style.

Manny being Manny

Most baseball fans outside Boston and Cleveland, and perhaps New York City, know Manny Ramirez as a line of fearsome numbers in boxscores and stats compilations. But in a recent New Yorker article, teammate David Ortiz tells the writer that he should write "David Ortiz says Manny is a crazy motherfucker." Ramirez, you see, has a reputation as... - well, as a huggable man-child from another dimension whose brain hasn't quite yet reached our own coordinates in space-time. Ben McGrath's profile of Ramirez relies primarily on the interpretation of Ramirez's actions by those around him, but he does get some face-time with the player himself. Aside from the implication that Ramirez smokes up inside Fenway Park's green monster during games - or did we misinterpret that part? - it's a strong profile of Boston's latest oddball. Full disclosure: Manny Ramirez's lawyers threatened my brother and forced him to surrender his fan site in 1994.

Grade your Web site

Sure, you think your Web site's esoteric, eclectic, and easy on the eyes. You know who you're writing for, but are you hitting the mark? Website Grader will help you find out. Put in your URL and Website Grader will analyze the text at your Web site. Once done, it spits out an assessment of the readability of your site, gauged by school year. If you're writing for Grade Six, you don't want a Grade Three writing level or you'll bore your audience. Exceed your target and you'll wind up with the same result. We hope Web sites lose points for misused apostrophes, but we aren't holding our breath. The rank of 101 blog? Freshman year in university.

I can't believe I used to get paid to write like that. What a blast.

Another nostalgium occasionally rears its head and did so this weekend. Montrealers of a certain age and time and entertainment inclination remember Thunderdome, a club that was next door to Chez Paree on Stanley. In October 2005, I posted about recognizing a face from there. The post shows up on the first page if anyone Googles "Montreal" and "Thunderdome", and a few people have left comments about that period of our lives. Somebody should throw a party. A good time was had by all.

Oddly, or maybe not, I didn't know the wife back then but we both hung out there.

I can has bonus?:

I created a submission for I Can Has Cheezburger? Cheezburger himself rejected it with this note:

LOL... thx u for ur spirit. that kitteh is so cute I would put him in my pocket if i could.

i think we has posted him tho :(...

plz be sendin new one maybe?

chz = ^ _ O =

I don't remember seeing mah kitteh pixtur there, but so be it. I will post it here instead.

Together, we can fite teh powr! U can has teh pixtur but plz dont steal mah bandwidth k thx bye.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Pangs, part I: pride

One of the things I do once in a while is build aircraft skins for WarBirds. I've posted two of them, but I recently came across a photo that adds a little meaning to this little hobby. On this computer screen, you can see a skin I created. It's the Tomahawk Mk IIB (P-40C for you Yanks) flown by Neville Duke when he was shot down over North. Duke had scored three kills in this aircraft and would become the highest scoring Allied ace in the Mediterranean theatre.

That's him in the photograph below, approving my work.

Here is a better view of my skin, followed by a photo of the real thing.

Duke passed away a week ago.

Bonus video:

Speaking of that generation of British pensioners, here's a song.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Promised pix

Here's an action shot of Child Three. I have no idea where the puck is - the kids are looking in four different directions.

Here's Bodie after another goal. Get your autograph requests in now.

I've been keeping busy. I'm finishing up that Afghanistan research, preparing the ground for Alex's shoot in late May, and about to start on a new contract to edit semi-pro fiction and whip it into shape then lay it out.

My neurotic dog won't let me brush his shedding coat, not even for a piece of rib steak.

"House" was great this week.

Well, that about does it for pithy screenwriting commentary this month....

Monday, April 16, 2007

Child Three shellacked

While I was drafting my seventh-place Irrational League team, Child Three played the first game of another hockey tournament. His team won 12-7, and his play earned kudos from the other parents. I took him to yesterday's game, and as he got dressed some parents continued to remark how well he played the day before.

Well, no one said anything after yesterday's game.

The NDG team was outplayed, even with Bodie. (If in 12 years time, you hear that an NHL team drafted a Montrealer named Bodie, it will be this kid.) I kept track of the shots: 35-21 in favour of Chambly. Final score was 16-15, also in favour of Chambly.

Child Three was definitely the better of the two goalies, and he did make some good saves. But he wasn't concentrating or working hard enough. he spent half the game standing inside the net and he didn't pay attention to his stick work. It's a shame, because almost all the goals he let in were easily stoppable. There's not much point in making the hard stops if the easy ones get by.

(I took photos, but the wife seems to have absconded with the camera so I'll post them later.)

Bonus fantasy baseball update:

I was all set last night to watch Chris Young shred the Dodgers. That game did not help me out a whole lot. Here are my stats post-draft:

.244 batting average (10th)
16 HR (2nd tie)
61 RBI (5th)
7 SB (6th)
3.90 ERA (8th)
1.474 WHIP (10th)
7 wins (5th)
7 saves (2nd)

I won't stay in seventh place overall for long, but more importantly, Frank is dead last in tenth place.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The draft of aught-seven

We drew lots to determine the draft order of the three first-place finishers. I drew the last spot, so I drafted tenth, and then eleventh is a serpentine draft.

I'm reasonably happy with the outcome. I'm short on steals, but not so short that can't get a few points out of the category. I expect to win home runs and RBIs, and to finish top-three in batting average.

I think my pitching is strong, especially my starting pitching. I had my heart set on Jake Peavey or Billy Wagner for my first pick, but they'd been snatched up. I took John Smoltz - and then I made a mistake. Somehow, my eye overlooked the available Trevor Hoffman and I took Bob Wickman instead. Luck will play a larger role than talent in deciding which of those closers will produce better numbers, but Hoffman does have the edge, and I should have had that edge on my roster.

By picking the next available closer, I set of a chain reaction. Other teams started picking closers, and leaving more on the table. I wound up with two closers who are reasonably safe and should help me to five points or so in saves. I think my starting staff is a force of nature. I have seven starters, two of them fairly dubious, but most teams have four or five dubious starters. With seven, I can sub in and out of the line-up depending on weekly match-ups. I didn't draft with much eye to the two weeks of accumulated statistics, but in the long run, these arms will win out. I expect to finish near the top in wins, ERA, and WHIP.

I was disappointed to lose Greg Maddux, but I made up for it with a very late grab of Ken Griffey. Jr. I hate my middle infield, but you have to hate something in a league this deep - and at least I have all full-time players. Well, except for Matt Murton, who was my second mistake. He has the talent to hit near 20 HR and 10 SB in 400 at-bats, but he may not have the opportunity. I took him a bit early, I think.

My last pick was cheap: Jeremy Affeldt, for his five good innings and one win. He goes to the reserve list tomorrow.

Here's what I wound up with:

C Josh Bard SD
C Miguel Montero ARI
1B Lance Berkman HOU
2B Mark DeRosa CHC
SS Jack Wilson PIT
3B Miguel Cabrera FLA
CI Edwin Encarnacion CIN
MI Adam Everett HOU
OF Carlos Beltran NYM
OF Andruw Jones ATL
OF Willy Taveras COL
OF Matt Murton CHC
OF Ken Griffey Jr. CIN
UT Kevin Kouzmanoff SD
UT Preston Wilson STL

SP John Smoltz ATL
SP Chris Young SD
SP Chuck James ATL
SP Clay Hensley SD
SP Anthony Reyes STL
SP Orlando Hernandez NYM
RP Bob Wickman ATL
RP Salomon Torres PIT
RP Russ Springer STL
RP Jeremy Affeldt COL

My reserves are Tony Graffanino MIL, Woody Williams HOU, Jorge Julio FLA, and Matt Wise MIL. Wise will replace Affeldt on the active list tout de suite. Springer's the one who should have been reserved, but I didn't know he'd been so crap so far.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Screw-up of my life

I am an idiot. Today I learned that I pulled off the biggest screw up in my life, at least of you calculate in dollars.

The Journalism Department hires part-time faculty on temporary full-time contracts called Limited Term Appointments, which can be renewed annually for a total length of three years maximum.

Leo, the other computer-savvy part-timer, is in his third year of his computer-assisted-reporting LTA and the department had invited me - with metaphorical frilly paper and lipstick kisses - to apply for the job next year. I hesitated at first, but decided I couldn't really afford to pass it up.

As a part-timer, I can teach up to four courses a year and earn about $5,500 per course. The LTA pay is slightly better per course and requires the professor to teach six courses a year.

I got my recommendation letters in and on deadline day went to the department to turn in my application. The receptionist offered to put it in the department head's mailbox but since I was going back there to check my mail anyway, I said I'd do it myself. The receptionist gave me an internal mail envelope for my letters.

I went to the back room, got my mail, and left the envelope.

I did not know the timing of the process, and I've had a busy month, so I forgot to worry about it.

Today, at the faculty meeting, we were told that the LTAs for next year were chosen and awaiting approval from the dean. I was surprised that I hadn't been interviewed, which is normally a part of the process.

After the meeting, I checked my mailbox again.

I had put my application into my own pigeonhole, not the one belonging to the department head.

As said head commiserated with me once I realized what I'd done, "It might take more than one drink, but I'm sure at some point you'll be able to have a laugh about this."

That's a $15,000 mistake at best, somewhat mitigated if I can hustle enough paid work to replace those hours. If the person who takes the LTA takes the courses I'm capable of teaching, it could be a $35,000 mistake. If the LTA takes my courses for the next three years, it's a $100,000 mistake.

That's a lot of rum.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Goodbye, Mr. Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut died late today.

If you're a creative type and you haven't read his "Bluebeard", shame on you.

So it goes.


I've returned from the islands to discover that my blog traffic has inexplicably doubled.

Last night, a student in a green dress told me that another student wrote an article on this year's Online Publication course for the Link, a student newspaper at Concordia. I'm quoted in it - can you guess where?

I spoke to one other student in the class, and she told me the class was a waste of time and that she wanted a more mechanical approach to design rather than what she got. Ah, well. I should teach it next year.

Back to work. I suspect the next post I'll have time for is a post-draft analysis Saturday.

Bonus befuddlement:

If you type the name I usually use among friends and family into Google, this blog is the top search result - bizarre, because my real name, and my more more official professional name, have never appeared on it. Kinda spooky, actually.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Last day

Child Two, Child Three, and I leave for home tomorrow.

I've spent the last four days working on the Afghanistan piece with shortish breaks to eat, sleep, watch, and do crossword puzzles.

My father, enamored as always of surprises, didn't tell us he was building a pool. He'd planned to have it ready when we arrived - in fact, before my brother spent a week here earlier in March - but it's not the sort of thing you can keep a surprise when we're here.

Yesterday, the workers finished enough of it to allow us to fill it. Child Two, my father, and Marion (father's Wife Two who I don't call a step-mother because they got together long after I'd moved out) splashed around in about two feet of water yesterday. This morning, it's almost full and the Child Two is again swimming while Child Three walks in the hot tub annex.

I'm not much for swimming, but I have to admit that this is one cool pool. It's built into what has become a mound on the back yard that slopes down to the canal, with a small concrete patio. It's surrounded by real and faux limestone boulders, as is the higher hot tub. A pre-existing limestone wall and waterfall have been incorporated into the design at the deep end.

A bit of the blue paint/sealant has come off as the pool filled. You can't see it floating in the water, but it turned Child Two's neck blue.

Other than the work, I've fried about 68 helpings of matzah brei. I suppose I could give you my recipe.

I can tell it's time to go home, because my father has started acting less mature than my son. Child Three left his sandals in the middle of the dining room, so my father in a hissy fit kicked them across the room and out the door.

After arriving home tomorrow, I'm zipping off to a Journalism Students Association dinner. I have a faculty meeting Friday and the Irrational League draft Saturday.

Bonus recipe for matzah brei:

5 pieces of matzah broken into thirds or quarters
3 eggs
boiling water

Put water on to boil. While it heats, scramble the eggs. To the eggs, mix in about half as much milk.

Put the matzah in a baking dish and pour boiling water to cover. When the matzah is soft but before it gets mushy - a minute or two - pour out the water.

Pour the egg/milk mixture over the soggy matzah. Turn the matzah so that it all gets coated.

Melt enough butter in a frying pan to coat the bottom. When pan is hot, dump the contents of the baking dish (matzah, eggs, milk) into the pan. Spread it into an even layer and let it sit until the bottom turns golden brown. At that point, flip as well as you can. Stir the matzah occasionally so that it all cooks.

Serve with maple syrup.

The first night of Passover was also Child Two's tenth birthday. We made her an almond sponge cake with candied lemon on top. One of the by-products was a lemon syrup, which I kept. It is fantastic on the matzah brei - sweet, with bright notes from the lemon.

Friday, April 06, 2007

My eyes are bugging out

With a combination of grandparents who are doing their best to occupy my kids and my own poor parenting, I've spent the better part of two days working on this Afghanistan research for Reader's Digest (Canada). It's taking forever. Four pages of 20 in, I have accumulated 50 sources. Many stories require only 30 or so. This is on pace to exceed that tenfold.

As part of the work, I did something cool this morning - something that may be unique in world history. I made a phone call from Freeport, Bahamas to Kabul, Afghanistan. Really, how many people would have ever done that before? Granted, we used Skype, but still....

Child Two just told she read my account of her birth on my wife's site. I married a plagiarist, apparently.

Bonus premature trash-talking:

Since the beginning of the baseball season, my four-man Irrational League team has owned first place (with the exception of one inconsequential day). Wire to wire, baby! We'll see where I stand after the draft. I'm not going to go in for - well, I'll talk draft strategy after our draft on April 14.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


I'm with Children Two and Three at my dad's in Freeport, Bahamas and not a whole lot is going on. The kids and I spent much of today finding species names for the shells they harvested from Gold Rock Beach on Sunday. Or was it Saturday? I got a bit of a sunburn on my back there. It doesn't hurt but it itches like crazy.

That beach is where they filmed significant parts of the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Maybe the first, too. There use to be a ship (set) or two out there, but there's no sign of Hollywood anymore.

The casino treated me very rudely this year. I think I won three hands before I reached my limit. This is the only place I gamble, probably because there's so little to do here.

There should be stuff to do, at least for me. Alex Y. spent the last two months cautioniong me not to write too much for the S-199 book without actually defining how much space I had. I got down roughly 22,000 words, and now we discover that that amount of text took us to page 56 of 92. And here I sit a few thousand miles from my references and tapes. I also have that Reader's Digest piece to fact-check. I got it in December and I think I'm on page two. Shhhh. Don't tell them.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Play ball 2007! Part 2

AL East

Another year, another Yankee/Red Sox showdown. The Sox have improved everywhere they could. This is one solid team - but so are the Yankees. I think that at the start of the season, the Sox have the best team in the division. The Yanks are weak at 1B (DOUG MIENTKIEWICZ????!!???) and a little weak on the bench and a notch below the Sox in starting pitching. Last year I was burned by underestimating the Yankees' ability to shop for repairs. I'll pick them, but I still think Boston is better. The Blue Jays are good, but Vernon Wells will take a step down and as much as I adore the Big Hurt, he's a big-hurt risk. The Jays' pitching is not a selling point, either. What's Royce Clayton doing in uniform? The Jays will be lucky to get ten homers from the middle infield. The Orioles are OK - no real weakness, but fewer strengths. It's a losing team. Time to sell. The Devil Rays are fun. Not good, but fun. Small steps....

AL Central

The Tigers spent the season in the limelight before fading and taking the wild card. Too many things went right last year. It won't happen again. The Tigers are not a bad team, they're just not good enough. The White Sox are leaking talent and not filling the holes. Podsednik is not an asset. Neither is Buehrle. Uribe needs to hit 30 homers to add value. Again, this team's just not good enough. Cleveland or Minnesota. Minnesota or Cleveland. Nope. It's the Royals' division to lose. April Fool's! Cleveland and Minnesota are both very good. Either can win the division. I'm going with Minnesota on the edge in defense and pitching depth.

AL West

This one isn't close. The Angels might be the only team over .500 in the division. Oakland might threaten if they get the good Esteban Loaiza and the less-recent versions of Crosby and Chavez. Still, they have more pitching than the Rangers, which is a pity because that's another team that can sock.

I don't want to choose the Yankees to win it all, but what else can I do? If Clemens goes to Boston, that might seal the deal the other way.

Play ball 2007! Part 1

Here are my guesses:

NL East

Washington would have trouble winning a AAA championship. Last year, Florida's rookies performed far beyond expectations. Are they that good or did they, on the whole, luck out? I don't see Dan Uggla or Miguel Olivo repeating their performances, they still don't have a center fielder, and the pitching is below average on average. I wouldn't be surprised by an Atlanta pennant, but I think they have to rely on a few too many lucky breaks with the starting pitching and in LF, 2B, and 1B - and 3B if you count Chipper Jones's health as lucky. The Phillies have the starting pitching, but still haven't addressed the hole at third, and have an outfield with two journeymen. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Braves finish higher, but I do think the Phillies ar ethe better team - but not quite good enough. It's the Mets again, folks - a bit weak in starting pitching, but this team can rake.

NL Central

I picked the Cubs last year, and God help me, I'm doing it again this year, with no Dusty Baker in the way. I'd prefer a stronger middle infield, but the starting pitching blows great to middling, which is enough to set the pace in this division. Milwaukee is a team on the rise, and will rule this division in a year or three, but until they replace Graffanino, they won't win the division. Sheets may be the best pitcher in the league and Capuano is good (Milwaukee plays in a bandbox, remember), but bottom of the Cubs' rotation is better than the Brewers' bottom three. The Cardinals continue to age, but rejuvenated their starting pitching with good talent. On the other hand, Chris Duncan is not going to do that ever again. I can't see them winning over the rebuilt Cubs. Cincinnati? I can't pick any team relying on Eric Milton, Adam Dunn, and a pack of singles hitters. David Ross is for real, though. Houston continues to try to prove it can win with a rotation of Oswalt, a decent #2, and three batting practice machines. If only Clemens would join earlier. Houston might surprise, but they'll need Jason Jennings to pull a rabbit out of his hat. Coors wasn't responsible for his inability to strike people out.

NL West

This is becoming my favourite division in baseball. The Rockies are the Rockies. Helton is now Sean Casey, masked by the park. Coors is no place for a side-armer, so expect Kim to do nothing. The team still has no pitching. I love to watch the Giants lose, maybe because I get the Bay Area feed of DirecTV and the homerism sickens me. I'll be doing a lot of loving this summer. Last year's acquisition of Matt Morris is followed up with Zito this year. Way to go! Last place for the Giants. The Dodger starters are a strength. I like the team, but Luis Gonzalez was not the answer to any question that needed asking. Nor was Juan Pierre. Matt Kemp and Brady Clark should start. I predict the Dodger season goes down the tube with injuries. The D-backs and the Padres will battle for the crown. Both teams have a ton of ability at the plate. The Padres in particular are solid 2 to 9 in the field and plate. What blows me away are the Padres pitchers. Peavy, Young, and Hensley are all potential all-stars. Then there's Maddux and Wells, who still contribute. Wow. Padres take the division and go to the World Series.

The AL will have to come later. Gotta go eat.