Friday, February 29, 2008

Well, that's embarrassing

Page C3 of the Gazette this morning has a large photo of Ottawa's Jason Spezza going in on Boston's goalie, with the cutline: "Bruins goalie Tim Thomas reaches for a rebound as Sens' Jason Spezza fights off defenceman Dennis Wideman last night."

Except the story the photo accompanies is about Boston's victory over Pittsburgh. And the article next to it talks about Ottawa's loss to Philadelphia. Both games were played last night.

Boston beat Ottawa on Tuesday. Whoops.

Meanwhile, I learned at 8:30 last night that our Novice B team is playing a game today at 5:30 instead of the previously scheduled practice. Thank goodness for my team manager, the mother of one of our players. She's a huge help. Despite her, who knows if we'll get a team together?

Thanks to Wife One, Child Three will be at the game on time. Unfortunately (or should that be "fortunately"?), I'm stuck in a writing room downtown until 5:00 or so. I can't do anything but watch our manager try to get the team together.

Oh, I didn't mention I'm working on a TV series? More on that when I have two half-hours to rub together.

Thursday, February 28, 2008


All of us Panther folk had assumed our Novice B hockey rivals had won their game last weekend - but they tied.

That leaves us 15-3, but puts the Cougars at 14-2-2. The other team had lost a Franc-Jeu point (every team with fewer than 8 penalty minutes in a game gets one Franc-Jeu point for that game) for a forfeit they gave up, which gives us 48 points and the Cougars 47. We finish in first at the end of the regular season.

(Even without the Franc-Jeu system, we'd be in first as the first tiebreaker is number of wins.)

Still, the Cougars outplayed our Panthers. Is it unsportsmanlike to wish they get knocked out of the double elimination playoffs before we have to play them?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Hockey talkies

I promised I'd write an analysis of Bob Gainey's moves this week. I love 'em.

Let's start with the trade that happened. The Habs sent Cristobal Huet to be Washington's back-up goalie. What does that tell us?

First, it shows that no one was willing to pay the Canadiens the going rate for a starting goalie and that doesn't surprise me. As I've posted before, Huet's leg injuries - or something - harmed his game. He hasn't been the same since.

The Huet trade also shows that Canadiens management thinks the team has better chance in the playoffs with Price between the pipes. This is a playoff team, and has a good chance to go deep into the playoffs. The team should not and did not sell out. The difference to the team, then, is the difference in level of quality of the back-up goalie over the remaining 20 or so games of the regular season.

Is there a drop-off between Huet and the new back-up, Halak? That's debatable, but let's assume there is one. Is that drop-off worth accepting for a second-round pick? Undoubtedly yes. That yes becomes more emphatic when you realize that not trading Huet would have resulted in no added value. Bravo, Bob Gainey.

What about the trade not made? Marian Hossa went to the Penguins for a two solid NHL players, one highly touted but admittedly risky prospect, and a first-round pick. Had the Canadiens matched that - with three NHL players, he indicated in an interview - the team would have lost an entire line. Is it safe to guess Higgins, Ryder, Grabovski, and a draft pick?

As a result, the Canadiens gain a scorer to play with Koivu and the younger Kostitsyn and goes with two fourth lines. Is that really an improvement? Even if it is, how much does it improve the team enough in this year's playoffs? Hossa is a free agent after this year and there's no guarantee he'd stay, particularly if the team goes out early and the local hockey idiots jump on his back.

Granted, Ryder is likely gone this summer without compensation, but Higgins is at worst a good third-line worker bee and the 20-year-old Grabovski has time to improve. Scouts like him. And what about the pick?

I don't think the lack of a Hossa deal will make a difference between winning a Cup or not this year, but it certainly could have had such consequences in the future. Let someone else overpay. I just hope the Atlanta Thrashers don't become a powerhouse.

Bonus novice hockey update:

In the last regular season game against the second-place team, our kids played an amazing second period. They kept the puck in the opponent's zone nearly the full ten minutes, but couldn't score. Unfortunately, the bulk of the kids lacked hustle in the first period and the defencemen had problems covering the front of the net. We entered the third down 1-0 and were schooled by a more disciplined, harder working team. We were down 4-0 when one of our hardest working players got his first goal of the year in the final minute. He'd led our team in assists because he was on the puck so much, but he panicked a bit when he had his few scoring opportunities. The loss was worth it just to see him finally pot one, and it wasn't a cheap goal either.

Alas, we end the season 15-3-0, in second place to the team we just could not beat, who finished 15-2-1. The playoffs await.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Private note for Sultan Fagstein

That was me playing France. I meant to introduce myself as Webs, but forgot in the heat of battle. Still, you should have recognized me by that profile picture.

Bonus note for all:

The Panthers produced what might have been their most solid effort of the year to gain a 10-0 victory over a team we only beat 3-0 the first time around. Child Three got the shutout by stopping the other team's shot. He did have to make the nice save on a puck headed for the corner.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Geek out!

This morning, I took Child Three and his sleepover friend to the park for some shinny hockey. He had a good workout, with several skill-appropriate players taking shots and breakaways.

He spent the rest of the afternoon at another friend's house while Child Two, the wife, and I attended a Geek Montreal get-together for an afternoon of gaming. I spent six hours playing Diplomacy while the wife picked up Child One, then Child Three, and played Illuminati in between.

Child Two enjoyed her time there, even though every time I saw her she was working on a school project. She wants to officially join the club.

Tomorrow is a busy day, with hockey to coach in the morning, errands to run in the afternoon, and an Oscars party in the evening. Monday, I start work in an actual TV writers' room. I'll be spending the next three weeks as a TV writer('s assistant). The odds we'll actually make it to production are about 50%, but even if that doesn't happen, this will be a valuable, if very moderately lucrative, experience.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Video Vednesday

While I wait for the SPVM to get back to me on a research inquiry before I have a science fair to judge, let's look at some videos.

First, there's a ride in a Spitfire Mk V.

Don't forget part two, linked at the YouTube page.

Next, we have video of our hockey archrivals, the NDG Novice B Cougars. With two games to go, we are in first with a record of 14-2-0 and they are in second at 13-2-1. We both have games this weekend and meet in the last game of the year on Tuesday (6:30 at Bill Durnan arena). Unless the Cougars lose this weekend, that last game will decide first place. Come watch the Brawl of West-End Montreal. (There will be playoffs, which renders this battle for first moot but it will still be an emotional contest.)

Now, the Cougars appear in a number of YouTube films, not because my scouting team has been busy, but because, I think, the Cougars may outclass us in technogeekery. Regardless, I bet our Panther families have more advanced degrees. So there.

Rather than post the numerous Cougars films here, I'll post links to the three YouTube user accounts with the films.

dverret: Three videos, two of them from the all-star game I coached.

jor2good: Eight videos.

JimWyz: Head coach of the Cougars, with one post-tournament-game video.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


I could bore you with tales of research into itinerant youths and Ethiopian lava beds, but is that really what you want to hear about? (That's two different jobs, by the way, although there very well may be itinerant youth roaming the volcanic geology of the Horn of Africa.)

Instead, let's close an open ticket, to use tech-support lingo.

On February 1, 2007, I discovered that the Dell power cords I kept having to replace had been recalled, so I ordered a free replacement.

Dell strung me along for months, tantalizing me with the possibility that I would get a new power cord less likely to burn down my house.

In June, I had to employ another cord, one of the recalled, and in October, I two burned fingers repairing it. Although I didn't blog about it, I made further repairs in December, backed up with some electrical tape in January.

Today, out of the blue, I received two identical packages. The outsides were obscure - the was no indication what inhabited the address they came from but they were sent to CANAM SERVICE - INSPIRON care of me at home. It took me a while to connect that with my Dell Inspiron 8100 but I opened the package et voila: a power adapter and cord that I hope won't fray at the strain releases. In fact, I received two boxes, each containing a power cord and adapter.

The boxes come with instructions. This one's my favourite: "Failure to Return your Defective Part within 10 business days from receipt will result in your being billed for the cost of the replacement!"

Seems fair. I wait 13 months for a quietly hidden recall to be fulfilled and Dell gets their crap back within ten days or else.

I have no explanation why Dell decided to send me two replacements. It wasn't contrition, for Dell wants me to return a second recalled power adapter. Fortunately, I have a few around.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Close one

Boy, that slow week got busy in a hurry. Alex sent me a script to read (I'm halfway through) and Reader's Digest sent me blues (final, laid-out copy) and a map to proof. So I'm blogging.

Our little hockey team stunk tonight. We gave up the first goal two and a half minutes in. Child Three, goalie in this game, admitted later that he hadn't been paying attention. That explains why he didn't move as the shot slid into the corner of the net.

We took the lead less than a minute into the second period and went up 3-1 two minutes into the third. Each team scored three goals in the third period and we won 5-4.

We're lucky that the shots we had went in, because our team was completely outplayed. Child Three played a spectacular game, by far the best of his life. They say you need a goalie to steal a game every once in a while, and he did that tonight despite his early inattentiveness. At one point, he made five close-in saves in a row as our skaters could not clear the puck. (When we did finally control the puck, we got lazy and gave it back and that was the fourth goal against.)

Our first-place boys are starting to believe more in their own hype than in the hard-working hockey that got them there. Another effort like this and there won;t be any hype. As head coach, I tried to prepare them for this game against a team with a mediocre record, but I failed to do that. I'm going to have to work on that. Dale Carnegie? Toastmasters?

While I figure that out, here's another spectacular tiny goalie:

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Curriculum reform

I've been saving this for a slow week. It's a slow week.

The Journalism Department is undergoing a review of its curriculum. It's a drawn out process, going on a year now, and has reached the point where faculty should submit opinions or proposals in writing. here are my thoughts, based on the skills I teach, which entirely relate to the use of computers in one way or another.

Firstly, I tried to determine what skills the students should or need to have. After some thought, I came up with this list:

- basic HTML competency
- awareness of Web 2.0 culture and the online environment
- desktop-publishing (DTP)
- general layout and design
- knowledge of electronic research and communication strategies
- computer-assisted and investigative reporting
- practical experience in an online newsroom
- critical thinking

Not all these can be or even need be mandatory in our three-year program. (In Quebec, high school goes to Grade 11, followed by two years of CEGEP and three years of university - same number of years of schooling as everywhere else, but both more and less flexible.)

At present, the undergrads in computer courses follow this progression of courses:

Year 1:
202 (optional): half a semester of electronic research and how the Net works and half a semester of DTP in Quark.

Year 2:
318 or 319 (students may take both, but at least one is required for the degree)
318: a semester of DTP in Quark
319: a semester of computer-assisted reporting with a taste of HTML at the end

Year 3:
428 (optional): half a semester of HTML and related tech and half a semester of running an online magazine (at least when I teach it...)
398 (optional): blogging and citizen journalism

In theory - and, I suspect, often in practice - we send out into the workforce students with only a semester of DTP. They either independently gain or lack other computer skills.

As a teacher, I have a few problems with the current scheme (I teach 202, 319, and 428). Students in 318 and 319 are a mix of those who have taken 202 and those who have not. As a result, we have to spend several classes covering material for new students that the 202 veterans have already seen. Part of the reason for this is that 202 used to be mandatory and naturally led into the 318/319 couplet. Now, the 300-level courses must compensate for students who may never have been exposed before to the subjects we cover.

The same goes for 319 and 428 - the 319 vets in 428 get a rehash of the HTML they saw at the end of 319. That's not as much of a problem, I suspect, since nearly all students who take both classes have a calendar year between the end of 319 and the start of 428 and tend to need the rehash because they haven't used the HTML in the interim. Still, I end up teaching how to read a URL in three courses because the lesson is valuable in each of them.

As well, there's some overlap in that JOUR 398 Citizen Journalism course with 428. 428 focuses more on the techie code and design with some forays into Web 2.0 and strategies. 398 focuses more on the theoretical aspects of Web approaches with a bit of HTML. They are not quite the same thing, so perhaps the overlap is both unavoidable and desirable.

Nevertheless, a realignment of the computer-based courses would help both the teachers and the students. Here's what I think we can do fairly easily:

Year 1:
202 (mandatory again): How the Internet works, electronic research, intro to Quark XPress

Year 2:
318: Go right into advanced Quark because all students would have taken basic DTP in 202. Cut out the current first two or three classes and replace with classes on layout theory and design such that it applies to Web sites as well as newspapers.
319: Computer-assisted reporting, investigative journalism

And add one or two new courses:

3XX: Web Skills for Journalists; take what is crammed into the first half of 428 now and expand it with currently omitted material to create a more comprehensive course over a single semester.

3YY: Citizen Journalism; this becomes a theory/history course, similiar to Broadcast Public Affairs or Gender and Journalism,
focused on the online world.

Should any of these 300-level courses be mandatory? I don't know. I'm not sure I fully understand why students currently must take either 318 or 319.

I suppose the Web Design course would become a third leg in a skills tripod built of 318, 319, and this one, 3XX. I'm not sure what that means with respect to mandatory courses. Maybe require students to take either 318 or 3XX and relegate 319 to optional status.

Year 3:
428: Online Magazine - this becomes a full semester of putting together an online magazine, like our advanced TV course. In essence, the online curriculum follows our broadcast model, with skills learned at the 300 level applied at the 400 level. A key difference, however, is that an online magazine can function just fine with a core of techies surrounded by content producers who don't need to know all the geekery. As a result, I think either 3XX or 3YY would be an acceptable prerequisite for this course - but that prerequisite should exist.

Other ways to reinforce Web skills in the department would be to allow students to create Web-based projects in some classes to replace reports otherwise handed in. Of course, this can't be a blanket proposal, but surely there are some classes and assignments where this could apply.

The students who choose the online courses would have that leg up in the job market and would also make more capable freelancers.

I haven't touched on graduate students because what we do with with the undergraduate courses then dictates more or less what happens to the graduate curriculum.

One last note: I mentioned critical thinking up top. I'm discouraged by the apparent lack of critical thinking I see in our students, which is symptomatic of the world in general. Maybe I'm just turning into a grumpy old man.... Regardless, I hope we find a way to make PHIL 210 a cross-listed mandatory course. From the undergrad calendar:
PHIL 210 Critical Thinking (3 credits)
This course is an introduction to argumentation and reasoning. It focuses on the kinds of arguments one is likely to encounter in academic work, in the media, and in philosophical, social, and political debate. The course aims to improve students' ability to advance arguments persuasively and their ability to respond critically to the arguments of others. Students will find the skills they gain in this course useful in virtually every area of study.

Bonus tokens of admiration:

They warn against kitchen or housework tools as Valentine's Day gifts for your spouse, but that doesn't apply to foodies. I bought the wife a food mill and a Zyliss pizza slicer for Valentine's Day. She loves them.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A funny

Every time I look at this photo, I crack up.

Every time.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

More hockey talk

I e-mailed my Warsaw Pact suggestion to Mitch Melnick and he liked it enough to mention it on air with an extended drum roll yesterday around 3:30. Once I was playing fanboy, I also sent my analysis to PJ Stock, who agreed with me in an e-mail response.

Of course, with Huet giving up three goals on four shots, we all know the forwards will escape media focus for the next few days.

Child Three gave a slightly better performance in tonight's Novice B game with one fewer goal in four shots. We played same team against which we opened the season and came away with the same result. We opened the scoring, they tied it up, we went ahead, they tied it up, and we took the game in the final minute of play. Tonight, we barely took it, as time expired between our third goal and the subsequent face-off.

But, hey - a win's a win. It will, however, be a week of dedicated practice of technique.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Habs talk

Going into this season, expectations for the Montreal Canadiens peaked at being a borderline playoff team. As recently as 24 hours ago, coming off a win over the depleted Ottawa Senators that put the team a point out of first place in the NHL's Eastern Conference, this city went a little nuts. Last night's loss to the Maple Leafs may have bumped some fans off the bandwagon.

What's fascinated me this year is the way the Habs have been winning. The team's strength over the last few year - heck, over the last few decades - has been its team defence. The team advanced as far as it has on its ability to prevent goals. But not this year.

Look at the stats. The Habs stand second in the conference in goals but only in the middle of the pack in goals allowed. Why?

When Cristobal Huet first came to the team, I thought he was astounding - the most technically perfect goalie I've ever seen. He wasn't necessarily fast like Dominik "Crazy Legs" Hasek and he didn't play big in the net like Roberto Luongo, but he was always square to the shot and was the softest goalie I've ever seen, meaning that he never gave up a rebound. The puck would hit him and drop dead. The rebounds that came off his pads and stick were always directed into the corners. He was a human goalie clinic.

While Huet is still a good goalie, he's no longer so technically perfect. He's not as square as he used to be and he's giving up more rebounds. This wouldn't have happened two years ago.

That goal brings up another weakness of the team. With the departure of Sheldon Souray and the addition of Roman Hamrlik, the team's defence was supposed to improve, and maybe it has, but the defencemen sometimes wander. Too often, the Habs leave opposing players uncovered in front of their net. Although he's improved, Mike Komisarek was particularly bad at that earlier in the year. He would become fixated on a puck carrier at the point and start to drift that way, abandoning the man he should have had in front of the net.

Watch the first two Leaf goals from last night, and check out Latendresse (84) and Bouillon (51) on the first goal and Gorges (26) on the second. I hope they had nice views, because all they were doing was looking. Go watch that Ottawa goal again and follow Brisebois (71), as well.

Let's talk offense, the unexpected strength of the team. You don't hear much about this team's goal-scoring ability and fans and pundits insist that the team needs a 40-goal scorer. But the team lags only the Senators and the Red Wings in goals scored. It goes unnoticed and unappreciated because nobody on the Habs ranks among the league's top goal-scorers or point-getters. Tops on the team is Alex Kovalev, who lands 15th in goals in the league and 21st in points.

The Canadiens' offense is spread across several lines. One or the other will slump now and then, but every line can put the puck in the net. The Habs have two 20-goal scorers, barely. Ottawa has three, almost four, and the team leader has 32. The Red Wings have three with the team leader at 33. The Flyers, with nearly as many goals as the Habs, have three over 20.

But look at the number of double-digit goal scorers: the Habs have seven, the Sens only five, the Wings eight, and the Flyers six. The Canadiens spread the goals around.

That doesn't mean that the team doesn't have a top line for it most certainly does. While Coach Carbonneau plays pick-up sticks with most of the forwards, one line on the team has become untouchable in its success: the Kovalev-Plekanec-A. Kostitsyn line. Some folks think this line may be the most dangerous line in the NHL, but those people haven't watched much Senators or Red Wings hockey this year. The trio is a treat to watch, however, and has spent this week producing four highlight-reel goals (I'll include last night's short-handed goal).

Back in the '70s and earlier, when you had a great line, they'd get a name. That practice has fallen by the wayside, but this line has been together long enough and is successful enough to deserve one. I haven't heard any suggestions, so I'm going to take a crack at it. Kovalev is Russian, Plekanec is Czech, and the Kostitsyns are from Belarus. They were born into Communism behind the Iron Curtain and they wear red uniforms. I dub them the Warsaw Pact. Remember, when it catches on, you heard it here first. (And, Naila, it is your mission to make sure it catches on....)

By the way, Team 990, nothing but nothing makes me change my radio station quicker than those decrepit Habtalk episodes. You better be making buckets of cash off them.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Jews on film

Have you heard about "Defiance"? A trailer came out recently.

Maybe there's hope for a 101 Squadron movie outside of DreamWorks. I've always kept in mind somewhat the potential avenues of failure: who wants to see a(nother) movie about Jews, in a foreign land, in a war, which is expensive to put on film? We'll see how this does next fall, but at least someone is willing to take that chance. A project like this has to warm Brett's cockles as well because it offers some hope for his "Queen of the Sky" (even if I'm seemingly never going to get to read it).

If you're having as much trouble getting words down as I am lately, read 10 Steps to Create the Habit of Writing. Maybe there's hope there, too.

Bonus whine:

BlogLinx won't let me edit or delete links. Maybe it's time to try BlogRolling again, as it displayed a flicker of life in December. Have any other suggestions for automated flagging of new posts? (Just don't tell me to get a feed.)

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Ski photos and video

Courtesy of the wife, here are some photos of Children Two and Three at Mont Gabriel. Love the hat-head.

Bonus great moment in headlines:

"Police: Crack Found in Man's Buttocks"

Monday, February 04, 2008

Journalism dangers

Danger 1) Never assume an article that a reporter researched and wrote in the summer is still up to date in the winter, particularly if the subjects of the piece have been married 67 years. Always double check the facts if the lead time stretches too long.

Danger 2) Newspaper circulation in North America is down in absolute numbers over the last ten years, after decades of steady circulation numbers that masked a decline in per capita readership.

I talk a bit about the future of newspapers in my classes because I do see a future. I don't think they will disappear. The problem is that newspapers have been bought up by profit-seeking conglomerates and in pursuit of the dollar, they have cut newsrooms in favour of wire services and shared resources. CanWest doesn't allow a reporter from the Gazette to cover the Parliament - the Gazette uses copy from CanWest's Ottawa bureau.

(CORRECTION: As indicated in the comments, the Gazette does have a reporter in Ottawa, but my point stands despite the incorrect example.)

The problem is that Gazette readers in Montreal don't get a local take on the news. My MP is Marlene Jennings and I have no idea what she's doing unless I learn it from her own periodic mailings.

The problem is even worse on the international level. The Gazette has no foreign reporters and CanWest barely has any. Almost all my international news comes from AFP, the New York Times, or Reuters. And here's the rub: I can read that news online as soon as it gets published. I don't have to wait a day for the Gazette to deliver it to my house. I can't count the number of times I've read news at only to get the same article word for word in my Gazette a day later.

Newspapers will not survive like that. In order to retain readership, they need to focus on local interests. Maybe that means dropping a huge chunk of international news, unless you can find a local angle.

Why do I bring this up now? Jon Talton has a superb analysis at his blog. Go read it, but come back here once in a while, OK?

Danger 3) Citizen journalism is a tidal wave. Our Journalism Department even has a course by that title (which seems a little odd to me). But there's a problem or two.

How do you know a citizen journalist isn't a citizen marketer? As Mother Jones points out, shouldn't you know that Stacey Getz's company does work for Wal-Mart when she writes about Wal-Mart in the Tallahassee Democrat? And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Bonus hockey update:

This weekend saw our Panthers take a convincing 4-1 victory over the weakest of the three NDG teams Friday night and play a second game Saturday afternoon. I anticipated a blow out as our top offense in the league faced the weakest defensive team. We won 8-1, a score kept down really only because I told the team's scorers to work to get the non-scorers some goals.

Child Three missed the shutout on a good hard shot over his shoulder. Few goalies at this level could have stopped that, but the heartening aspect was that Child Three stayed up for it. He has a habit of going down on all shots, which leaves him vulnerable to high shots as he can barely reach the crossbar while standing, but on this shot, he stayed up. Good for him.

Bonus bonus skiing update:

Children Two and Three went skiing for the first time yesterday. The instructor was amazed at how well they performed and couldn't believe this was their first time on skis. She gave them an extra half hour free.

Ski equipment is cheaper than goalie equipment, right?

Friday, February 01, 2008

Winter 1949

This is a photo of my dad, snapped in early 1949 in St. Lambert, when he was eight-and-a-half years old. I think it was taken with orthochromatic film - that would explain why the red sweater looks black.

The expression reminds me so much of a look Child Three uses.

Bonus measures of repute:

Concordia thinks I'm an expert!

And B. Glen seems to like my wryness.