Monday, March 31, 2008

The American League 2008

AL East

Every year, pundits across the world consider either the Red Sox or the Yankees. Who am I to break with tradition?

Boston isn't perfect. Manny Ramirez has lost some power - I think that's a real drop-off at age 35. The brain trust was right to try to trade him last winter.... Drew has good numbers for a middle infielder. Ellsbury played over his head last year. On the other hand, Pedroia's for real and Lugo will recoup some lost value. The weakness here is the starting pitching. With Schilling out, the Sox look to Kyle Snyder, Tim Wakefield, and/or Jon Lester, who's a better story than a hurler. This is the team that really needed Dan Haren or Johan Santana or Erik Bedard.

The Yankees pitching is better than Boston's. Their young arms are legitimately positive assets - which is a good thing because Mussina's done. Hitting wise, the team could use a better bat in LF/DH, but Mastui and Damon aren't without hope. If managed properly, these Yankees could take the division. Think back to those Florida teams with all that great young pitching: Beckett, Clement, etc. Now put them in pinstripes.

Some corners play up hope for the Blue Jays, but I don't think they'll crack the 81-win barrier. You need more than Lyle Overbay as your first baseman if you're going to do anything. The rest of the hitting is non-descript save Frank Thomas, Matt Stairs, and Alex Rios, who only looks like he deserves a big contract compared to the rest of these guys. The starting pitching is generally crafty - a word often used for "hoping for luck" - and the bullpen is, um, er... - who's in the bullpen, again?

Last year I said the Devil Rays were going to be fun. This year, the Rays are going to be winners. Yes, they'll finish above .500, above the Blue Jays. Shields, Kazmir, and Sonnanstine bring the goods to the mound. The bullpen is decent, and the young hitters are developing. Once Evan Longoria comes up to take third base, watch out. If ownership pays to keep this team together, there's a title here within five years.

Kudos to Baltimore for their off-season moves to get rid of aging or fragile talent and bring in prospects. Buck up, boys.

The Yankees take the division. In fact, they meet the Mets in another Subway Series in October.

AL Central

The Tigers, with new acquisitions Edgar Renteria, Miguel Cabrera, and Dontrelle Willis, are the sexy pick to win the division and sometimes the league. Cabrera is monster good. Willis, I think, can be counted on for league-average contributions at best. Renteria replaces Sean Casey, essentially, as former shortstop Carlos Guillen moves to first. The problem is the pitching. One Tiger starter with more than a dozen starts last year had an ERA under 4.70. One! The team's prospects remind me of the Braves'. Both are slugging teams who will go as far as the arms take them. In Detroit's case, not far enough. (And one last thought: if I were running the Tigers, Cabrera would be at first and Guillen at third.)

Cleveland will win the division again. The Indians have the pitching. Don't underestimate the boost the team's offense will get from the move from Barfield to a Cabrera of their own at 2B. Hafner will move back up a notch, too. He's only 30. Look for a big year from Ryan Garko. The bullpen is a plus. The only weakness on the team is left field, but that's the easiest position to upgrade in-season. Cleveland will top the Tigers.

The remaining three teams are also-rans, but only the White Sox don't know it. These Sox aren't bad, they're just not good enough - say 85-89 wins. The Twins traded Santana and signed a young core to long contracts. They need to blow away the fluff and start building. The return of Liriano will be a benchmark for the future. Kansas City is a physics problem: the team is stuck in the middle of a frozen lake with a perfectly frictionless surface. How do they make it to shore?

AL West

Once again, the Angels will be good... enough. This is a boring division, so let me get through it in a few lines.

Even with the loss of Escobar, the Angels have enough to win. The A's still have arms, but little bat. Quick, name a pitcher on the Rangers. Now, name another besides Millwood. I did like the move to snag Josh Hamilton, but last year's Teixeira trade isn't looking so good. And Seattle, somehow convinced that last year's record was not a statistical fluke, is trading the young talent the team should be hoarding. Bedard is a boon, but fragile. Defense needs to be a priority here because Seattle's was atrocious. The hitting is bound to drop off, as the position players are relatively old and coming off peak years. Seattle will be lucky to keep pace with last year's 88 wins.

There we go. See you in New York in six months.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The National League 2008

NL East

The big off-season acquisition in this division - strike that, in this league is Johan Santana's move to the Mets. The team's strength is its pitching: Santana and Martinez might be the best pair of starters in baseball; Oliver Perez is a good #3 even if he slips a little; Maine will contribute; and anything Hernandez adds is luscious, luscious gravy. There's not much depth after that, but there's more depth in those five than on any other team. The bullpen is another strength. The team fields well and but has a few holes at the plate. They have no real catcher (but who does?), no good option at second base, and Delgado is aging into an average first baseman. The left infield is all-star quality. The outfield may not improve on last year's, but it has more potential. Pagan is a capable back-up, although I bet there's at least one day that the Mets will send out an all ex-Expo outfield of Alou, Chavez, and Church. It's a great team, but one with holes.

Can the Phillies squeak through those holes, again? Last year, the Phillies had the worst third-base production in the NL. Second worst was the Giants, whose third baseman, Pedro Feliz, moves in. to suck a tiny bit less. A platoon of Jenkins/Werth capably replaces Aaron Rowand's fluke year, but Shane Victorino is a below average bat masked by the park. The team continues to run on the rest of the infield, which is stupendous. The big problem is the pitching. Cole Hamels is a legit ace and Brett Myers should adjust well to the move back to the rotation, but after that the cupboard is bare. Kendrick had a fluke year and won't come near a sub-4.00 ERA ever again. I like the Brad Lidge pick-up, but he won't throw 400 innings. Someone has to.

Atlanta is an enigma. The team can absolutely mash the ball everywhere but SS and CF. The bullpen is solid. The questions lie in the rotation. Hudson is a good pitcher, but he's no longer automatic money. Smoltz is, if he's healthy. James gives the team enough, if he's healthy. Glavine will eat innings and usually give the Braves a chance to win. Hampton and Jurrjens are unknown values. If they help, the Braves can take the division - but I wouldn't bet on that.

The Nationals move to a new park, and the hitters will look better while the pitchers will look more like what they are: a collection of rejects. The team is a collection of young prospects and old spare parts, with Ryan Zimmerman poised for a break-out year. I'll be following Lastings Milledge as well. The Nationals should finish ahead of the Marlins, who inexplicably dealt possibly the hottest baseball property over the off-season. Miguel Cabrera has a lifetime average of .313 and he's hit 138 home runs - before the age of 24!

As you can tell, I'm going with the Mets.

NL Central

I told you Milwaukee was going to be good. They'll be good again. The acquisition of Mike Cameron moves Bill Hall to third and sticks Ryan Braun where his glove can do the least damage, in left field. Weeks should bounce back to semi-stardom. It's possible that every regular except catcher hits 20 homers - Harvey's Wallbangers live! But where's Pete Vuckovich when you need him? Sheets is money, as long as he can pitch, and Gallardo looks good, but the rest of the pitchers are pedestrian. How many leads will Gagne get to protect?

The Cubs, on the other hand, are so deep in pitching that they have potential fourth starters in the bullpen. Zambrano won't win 18, but you know he'll give an ERA south of 4.00. Hill and Lilly are both tremendous assets. Dempster and Marquis are not, but Lieber and Marshall can step in and, well, do pretty much the same thing. The bullpen is a plus. DeRosa at second is average, which is better than half the teams out there. Soto, the new guy at catcher, isn't that good, but he's above average. Shortstop is weak. I do like the outfield. Fukudome, Pie, and Murton could join Soriano and take this team to first. And I think they will.

Cincinnati is the third team with a chance - with a different manager. If the team ran out Jay Bruce in CF every day... but he's in AAA for now. Joey Votto will split time at first base with veteran Scott Hatteberg. Yes, folks, Dusty Baker's at the wheel. He has no choice but to send out young starting pitching. A lot of scouts and prognosticators like Bailey, Cueto, and Volquez, but I'm not convinced. Harang and Arroyo can't win a division without help. I like the hitters, but it's just not enough - it's Milwaukee light.

Take Houston's hitters and Pittsburgh's pitching and you'd have at least a .500 ball club. Combine Houston's pitchers and the Pirate hitters and you have 100 losses easy.

Excepting the Mets, the Astros made the biggest moves this off-season. They snagged Miguel Tejada, which could have been a coup. But instead of sticking him at third so that glove-man extraordinaire Adam Everett could keep the score down, the team traded Everett away and kept Tejada at SS. Who would you rather have out there every day: Everett or Wigginton? The pitching is terrible. Oswalt is no longer elite and the other starters wouldn't smell elite if you shove funnels in their nostrils and poured in new and improved elite powder now with extra elite scent. They'd still smell crap.

PIttsburgh's Snell and Gorzelanny can sniff goodness, maybe greatness. Maholm and Duke aren't too terrible. But the hitting? It's a collection of cast-offs. The career stats at 2B, 3B, and SS are 70 HRs in about 6,500 ABs. There's no one on this team who can hit average stats for their position except Paulino (or Doumit) at catcher.

I nearly forgot about the Cardinals. So will you, although I expect them to top the Astros and Pirates. I get a bit excited over Pujols, Wainwright, and Ankiel (there's going to be a movie about him some day) but, at the end of the day, there's no bigness to that whup.

Pitching leads me to take the Cubs over the Brewers.

NL West

This is going to be a great division to follow. The D'backs should improve. How do you improve over first place? Well, you can score more runs than you give up, for a start. They will. Chris Young will take a big step up. The pitching got even better with the departure of Livan Hernandez and the appearance of Dan Haren. That's a nice exchange, although Haren is merely good, not Cy Young quality. I love the Valverde trade and Chad Qualls should slot into the bullpen nicely. The big question is Randy Johnson. Does he have another good and reasonably full season in him or is he hanging on with false hope?

The Dodgers are moving up to the high-rent district. Juan Pierre and Luis Gonzalez are out, Matt Kemp and Andruw Jones are in - and that's good for a few wins all by itself. The front end of the excellent starting pitching stays the same and the back end gets an upgrade with the imported Kuroda replacing Tomko and Hendrickson. Although injuries have hurt the Dodgers at 3B for now, these are the sorts of moves that should have been made before last year. Jason Schmidt remains a potential boon - but I doubt that will happen. Look for league-average returns from him.

San Diego, a team I've appreciated for a few years, seems to have lost its way. Jim Edmonds? McAnulty? Randy Wolf? Scott Hairston is a handy part, but the home field won't help his strengths. The Padres remind me of last year's Dodgers and I think they will take a step back from the finish line.

Colorado was in the World Series last year. Remember that when you watch them bounce back to .500 this year. There's a great core of players: Atkins, Tulowitzki, Holliday, Hawpe, and sometimes Helton, but the rest of the position players are below average. Same for the pitching. Francis and Corpas, and to a lesser extent Cook and Fuentes, make up a good base of pitching, but the rest of it leaves room for improvement. The two hot rookies, Morales and Jimenez, will not match their rate-based stats from last year.

Allow me to mix quotes. The coldest winter of discontent will be this summer in San Francisco. Wow, is this team bad. These hitters will make the Pirates look like winners. At least the Giants can play defense, which will help relieve the strain on the young arms upon which any hope of victory rests. Lincecum and Cain, then prepare for pain. Zito won't be as bad as he was last year. Or maybe he will be. I warned you, didn't I? Giants fans, plan to spend another summer buoyed only by Dodger hatred.

I'm going to have to choose Arizona for the division win here, but the Mets will go to the World Series.

Friday, March 28, 2008

And one more

Helicopter pilots from the NZAF deflate the macho fighter pilot persona. Unlike similar military videos, this one seems to use an original song, and it's brilliant.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Random amusements

Desmond Warzel's unconventional short story adopts the format of a forum thread, were that forum devoted to time travel - the real thing, not the fictional. Warzel nails the tone brilliantly, from the clueless noobs to the exasperated mods. I only wish it went on longer.

Equally fun, but much harder for most people to experience, is the Bear Creek Saloon in the Montana wilderness. I've been there, twice, I think. The food and drink are adequate, the room engagingly antiqued, but none of that is why you go. Out back, the place has a dirt racetrack where it races piglets upon which you may wager. If you're ever driving between Billings and Bozeman, it may be worth a detour.

Speaking of words that start with "ra" and end in "e" ("race" and "rate", in case you were wondering), the Compare People application on Facebook lets friends - well, Facebook friends - rate each other in various skills and characteristics. It also sends out periodic e-mails to let you know how you rank. Here's one I recently received:

Here is what your friends think about...

... your strengths:

best dancer
most dateable
most helpful

... your weaknesses:

most talkative

I'm talkative?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Annual opening-day retrospective

How did I do in predicting the pennant races last year?

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 are the better team - but not quite good enough. It's the Mets again, folks - a bit weak in starting pitching, but this team can rake.

The Mets lost the division with a collapse of historic proportion. Other than that, I was bang on. If the Mets had been able to get a bit more out of starter Pedro Martinez, they'd have held on.

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.

Milwaukee did replace Graffanino, with Ryan "the Hebrew Hammer" Braun, who played so well at third base that he's a left fielder now, but the Cubs' pitching brought them to first. Chris Duncan did better than I expected, but so what? Cincinnati players had some good seasons, much better than I predicted, and I'm perplexed that the team's record was as bad as it was. The pitching wasn't that terrible, considering the park. Regardless, I hit oracle level on this call as the Cubs pitchers led the way.

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 team has pitching. Despite Matt Holliday, the Rockies' offense was average overall. Pitching took this team to the World Series. Who'da thunk? The Padres lost because the Giles brothers stunk and Clay Hensley made me look like a fool. Maddux couldn't pick up all the slack as he turned in a merely average performance.

The D'backs and Padres did battle at the top, but it wasn't the hitting that did it. The D'backs were a below average hitting team once the park is taken into account. Both teams had stupendous bullpens, but Brandon Webb could have been MVP. I pretty much called the Dodgers (Way to get Juan Pierre in there for 668 ABs!) and the free-falling Giants, who have, at least, above average starting pitching.

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....

I hate this division. Can I call this a win? The Yankees didn't go shopping, but stayed with 33-year-old Johnny Damon after awarding him that $52-million contract. Oops - but there's only two years to go. Mike Mussina and Kei Igawa were worse, but the Yanks didn't buy any pitching, either. Meanwhile, the Red Sox had the best pitching in baseball, and good hitting to go with it. The Jays had a nice season on the backs of their starting pitching, but Vernon Wells was Johnny Damon. The Orioles took my advice, once the season ended. And weren't the Devil Rays fun?

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.

I shoulda gone with Cleveland, eh? The Twins gave 500+ plate appearances to Nick Punto. Their best hitter? Johan Santana, with an OPS of 1089. Cleveland tried to keep pace by running Josh Barfield out there, but the other hitters compensated to produce an overall average offense. Cleveland's pitching took first, not the bats.

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.

Ding! Another winner. The Angels weren't that good a team, but look who they played. The Rangers didn't sock as hard as maybe could have. The Harden, Chavez, and Crosby injuries took Oakland down a peg, but otherwise the team didn't perform too poorly. I'm still trying to figure out how Seattle finished seven games above .500.

Look for the 2008 prognostications to come within a week. I'm money in the bank, baby - though this is for entertainment purposes only.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Beat reporting

Here's some advice on becoming a beat reporter from Mitch Wagner, tech journalist and fellow member of the Internet Press Guild.

I was a beat tech reporter for 12 years, and a beat reporter on community newspapers for four years before then. I changed beats a lot. Changing beats a lot is great because it makes you a generalist. You need to be a generalist to survive in tech journalism, because technologies become obsolete fast, and dominant companies become unimportant dinosaurs in a few years.

You also need to *specialize* to survive in journalism, but there's really no contradiction here. Your specialization is technology, and you should strive to become as much of a generalist within that field as possible.

So congratulations! You just started your first day as a beat reporter! You don't have anybody to show you the ropes, because your predecessor was fired summarily after an unfortunate incident involving the publisher's niece which nobody's willing to talk about. Nobody on the publication knows anything about this new beat - including you - but you're now expected to be an expert! Here's how to get yourself up to speed.

1) Write a lot. That's about 90% of it right there. Keep interviewing people for stories, write a lot of stories, and that'll get you up to speed. When you are doing interviews for your stories, keep asking questions about anything you don't understand.

1a) If you're talking to marketing people, they probably don't understand the issues either, but they'll pretend you do. If someone keeps talking and talking and you *still* don't understand what they're saying, it's probably because they don't know what they're talking about but are pretending they do. Try to talk to product managers instead of marketing managers.

2) Get yourself on every press release distribution list within your specialty that you can. Contact MediaMap and Barrons to let them know your beat. Sign up for PRNewswire and BusinessWire to receive press releases on your beat. This will be a great source of stories at first. You'll quickly outgrow it, but you can - and should - just write e-mail filters to shunt the press releases off into a folder somewhere and check that folder once or twice a day.

2a) It's easier to write filters to whitelist good e-mail, and let everything that's not on the whitelist go into a folder that you check once or twice a day.

2b) You are signing up to receive a ton of spam forever. Alas, that can't be helped.

3) Learn who the competition is, and read them religiously. Your editors can tell you who the competition to the publication is - read them. Read CNET, InformationWeek, Computerworld, and eWeek. Read the New York Times and Wall Street Journal technology sections. Let Google tell you which are the niche publications in your beat area - type in the name of the technology and beat you cover and see what floats to the surface in blogs and publications. Occasionally ask your sources which publications they read and which conferences to attend. Which brings us to:

4) Get out of the office and meet people face-to-face. I live in San Diego, which is not Silicon Valley or New York but it ain't Bismarck, North Dakota, neither. I get out for a few days every couple of months to conferences and to meet people who happen to be local. It's great for developing sources and getting new story ideas, but it's also exhausting. I'm a freaking Internet hermit, it's a beautiful Saturday today and I'm still sitting here at my desk on the damn internets. But it's necessary to get out and meet face-to-face.

5) Here in the 21st Century, it's also necessary to be on the internets. Participate in discussion on blogs and forums and mailing lists in your beat area. Get on LinkedIn and Facebook and Twitter. It's a form of networking - just like getting out of the office.

6) Several people on this group have suggested off-the-record background conversations with analysts and vendors to discover what are the big issues. I'm not a big fan of that. To the best of your ability, every conversation should be on the record. You're not serving your readers if you can't put it in print.

6a) Casual conversations at conferences - over lunch or drinks - are in sort of a gray area between on the record and off the record. When I hear something juicy during a casual conversation, I run it by the source to see if it's ok to print it. I'm not asking permission when I do this, but I am listening to what they have to say in response. Possible responses: "Yeah, sure, go ahead and print it," or "I don't remember saying that. Did I really say it? Why on Earth did I say a stupid thing like that? They must have put something in my coffee."

7) See tip #1. Write a lot.

That's all I can think of for now.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

So sleepy

My schedule has been really screwy lately. I go to bed around midnight and wake up at 6:30 to take care of the kids and drive them to school. I get home a bit after 8:00 and I'm exhausted. That's unusual for me in the morning. I tend to crash around 4:00 p.m.

I've been so tired after morning carpool that I can't concentrate, so I head back to bed - but I've been waking up well into the double digits in number of sleep hours.

Is it this cold (now in its final, sickly stages)? That I'm only sporadically drinking coffee? I'm not sure.

With all those sleep hours and tending to the kids while Elvi's out of town, I haven't had much time for writing. I have had time to mull over the disappointment of losing so early in the novice playoffs. I'm taking it harder than any of the kids and it bothers me that I can't pin our second loss on anything other than the kids' lack of motivation.

Bonus hockey hullabaloo:

I was talking with some other NDG coaches about the strengths and weaknesses of teams in our league and I mentioned that one defenceman on one of the NDG teams was the heart of his team - remove him and that team is ordinary and in trouble. The wife of a coach on that team - whose kid is a pretty good hockey player, I admit, but who is not crucial - went off on me. She was calling me a sore loser, essentially, which is completely wrong. Her husband tried to defend me, but this woman just wouldn't shut up. I even started agreeing with her, but she kept at it. I'm not proud, but the only way for me to stop the verbal assault was to put my hands over my ears like a three-year-old.

Anyway, the kid I had been praising is missing. Let's see how the team does this weekend without him.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The daily show

6:30: Wake up; make lunches for Children Two and Three; put dogs in yard and make sure they don't run away; feed and water dogs; clean up dishes from bedroom, living room, and dining room that the wife and her moving party left before they departed at the crack of dawn.

7:30: Leave with kids for school; ask kids if they have their lunches and get firm affirmatives.

7:45: Drop kids off at school; silently grumble that the wife left me a van with an empty gas tank.

8:05: Make it home; discover Child Two's lunch box in the middle of the floor.

8:15: Heat up some leftover coffee and two pancakes left over from the weekend; read the paper; finish reading some online threads I started last night.

9:15: Start this diary; wonder why I'm so exhausted; remember that I only fell asleep around 3:30 because of this cold and a nice, crackly coating of insomnia; wonder whether to take a nap or bring Child Two's snacks to her (it's a hot-lunch day at school so she won't starve, she'll just miss out on a granola bar and an apple, pretty much).

9:20: Offer to take a novice hockey player to our game this evening; remember that part of Child Two's lunch is "Mishlo'ach Manot", a Purim tradition of gifts of food and she'd be disappointed to not take part; put pants back on, get in car, and drive the lunch box to the school.

9:35: Start filling the car with gas at 115.4 cents per liter; stop filling when I notice that the price has dropped to 114.4 cents down the street; drop off lunch box.

10:00: Get back home; start grading assignments.

10:45: Wonder if drawing cartoons of drunks on my students' report is appropriate; decide it's too late to worry about that.

11:30: Watch trailer for "Jewno" and marvel that J.K. Simmons willingly took part in a spoof of his own movie.

11:45: Learn that the Montrealer who died in a Florida car accident caused by a car that drove the wrong way on a highway was the father of one of Child One's classmates.

11:54: A machine from Primus calls about an urgent matter concerning our account.

12:05: Eyes glaze over while assessing a less than stellar Web page assignment. Time for a Coke Zero. Why do they even still make Diet Coke?

12:06: And maybe it's time for some leftover pizza, too.

12:40: Back to work, starting with two pieces of e-mail from Alex.

1:35: Alex needs some research done immediately, so I set aside my grading to work on that.

2:11: Done. I have an hour left before I need to leave to pick up the two children from school. Child Three has a playoff game at 6:00, halfway across town. Their school only finishes at 4:00. Given traffic, I will pick the kids up and head east directly. We'll stop for fast food on the way.

2:40: Hockey equipment gathered and lines set; dogs put out in yard and collected. That leaves just enough time for a shower. My work is done here, for now.

7:41: Return home, vanquished. The Jaguars beat us 3-1. Each team had about four shots. Child Three played hard as a forward. There are more practices, but that's it for games. Surprisingly, no dog poop in evidence.

7:42: Notice that the door to the chinchilla cage is open. Either it fell open or, as I suspect happened, our dog guest clawed or bit it open. I have no idea where the two chinchillas are. They may be inside the guest dog, although I see no loose fur or blood.

8:11: Locate August, the wilier of the two escapees; put the guest dog in the basement.

8:19: Catch August because he ran into the downstairs bathroom. I hypnotize him with a green towel and snatch him from the lip of he bathtub. In the past, he's taken hours to recapture.

8:25: We catch the second fugitive, June. She ran into the vestibule where Child Two cornered her.

8:29: Get Child Three some ice cream. It's his bedtime, but I had no chance to get this for him earlier. We picked up MacDonald's for supper on the way to the game.

8:33: Learn that Arthur C. Clarke has died.

8:45: Put Child Three to bed; help Child Two analyze a story in for Hebrew class.

8:59: Put Child Two to bed; watch rest of Habs game.

10:17: Write a response to a fellow writer who's suffering a crisis of confidence.

11:24: Done kicking that writer's ass - and I think, my own - it's time for bed. Oh, goodie! I might get seven hours of sleep out of this.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The playoff train will be delayed

Our Novice B team lost three games all year, once to the Rosemount Bombardiers, 2-1, and twice to our fellow NDGians on the Cougars.

Well, the Bombardiers took it to us Sunday. Child Three was in net and he made his stop. And another on a shot that had been whistled offside. He didn't stop seven others and we lost 7-3 in a game we otherwise dominated. Two of our goals came in the last five minutes as the team finally decided to take to heart the advice I gave them before the game. I kept notes through the season so I knew that this goalie was amazing. He could cover the ice post to post and he got down quickly. I told my boys to shoot high. I'm guessing that three of our 30 or so shots were high. 7-3.

We are now in the losers' bracket and one loss from elimination. We hope to eliminate the other NDG team, the Jaguars, tomorrow. If we keep wining, we'll wind up with three more games to play than we would have had we won straight through.

The wife and Child One will be spending the next week in PEI helping some friends move. I have the moving friends' dog, a voracious, oversized black Lab (I think he has some Great Dane or something in him) who only runs when he sees "another dog or a person or something interesting." We no longer have a fence around our yard. (It is completely covered in snow. Didn't I mention that? Pay attention.) Letting the dog(s) out in back to run and play and poop doesn't seem to be an option unless I want to go looking for them afterward - although, it depends who takes the lead here. Crash trots to the front yard and rests on the snowbank until someone opens the front door.

I'll stop bitching now before I get myself in trouble.

Bonus fanboy:

B. Glen.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Making the world go round

Most of this week, I've been having a fascinating conversation with a friend of the blog, who found it because I mentioned her in item 16 of my list of 50 things you don't know about me. She signed up to Facebook to get in touch with me. I thought I had my e-mail available on thsi blog somewhere, but it had disappeared. It's available again at the Blogger profile page.

Our ensuing e-mail conversation is objectively odd. I only met Babs for an hour at most, nearly 25 years ago. I remember her because she had a memorable name and, a couple of years later, I saw naked pictures of her - and this was before the Web. (I've joked that the reason I went to Rice was that I thought all the female students looked like her. If you do an image search on her name, all you see is her merchandise and my kindly but idiot dog.) She doesn't remember me at all (she claims). Isn't it odd that we've tossed a dozen reasonably lengthy e-mails back and forth?

Yes, it's odd - but maybe it's not unexpected. We both went to Rice and we both adore the mountain state she lives in. She knew of and appreciated Netsurfer Digest. I'm fascinated by her family history.

So we chat. And get along well. She even offered me a new tour if I ever get out where she lives.

The title of this post derives from my work today. I submitted an invoice for my work in Alex's room. Brilliance pays, I suppose. I also submitted claims for expenses. I still have to write a letter to a lawyer to get $1,200. The lawyer wrote a letter to tell me he should give me the money back, so I'm not worried about getting it.

In the financial outbox, I have checks to send out for the Irrational League 2008 and for summer hockey. Yes, I found a league to play steadily in, if only half-time and out in the West Island. Small steps....

In the near future, I have room notes to summarize from Thursday and Friday. Thursdays I put off because we had a poker night, followed by a morning fighting off a cold. Last night, I tippled a bit too much at our end-of-the-room visit to Café Méliès. I'll get to those tomorrow. I have kid business this afternoon and a party to hit if I feel up to it tonight.

Bonus idea:

Le Social, a club on Bishop, has an open-DJ night on Tuesdays. Hmmm.... (I used to DJ parties at Wiess College that Babs never went to.)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Maybe not ten feet

But it certainly peaks at five. That's like ten feet to me.

This is after a day and a half of melt, too. It's that high on the entire front yard.

When we let the dog out into the back, he trots over the fence and waits in the front yard to be let in. I tried to get a photo of him, but he saw me in the walk/trench, barked and ran back to the back door. Idiot. Instead, here's a photo of two nuts in a tree.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I wish I had a camera

One that worked, anyway. Our front yard has a lot of snow. I think it peaks at about ten feet, all shoveled by hand.

I remember huge mountains of snow when I was a kid, but those were helped by the snowblowers that used to blow the snow onto our lawn. Those were the days. Now it takes a crew of six to clear half a road.

We got another 30 centimeters of snow Saturday and Sunday. Child Three and I braved the leading edge of the storm to watch a Novice B playoff game, the winner of which would play us Sunday morning. The NDG team lost in what may have been the most exciting game I've ever seen. The Ahuntsic Bruins went into the third period up 1-0, but the NDG Jaguars scored quickly and then added more, going up up 3-1 with about five minutes left in the game.

But the Bruins came back with a goal a minute later, then scored again to tie it. Overtime solved nothing. A Bruin player put in the first of the shootout attempts and no one scored in the other five.

Our game was 9:30 Sunday and the roads were an absolute mess. We'd parked one van on the street but the plow packed it in good. Digging out the driveway was easier. I picked up a player and his family on the way and made it to the rink a half-hour before game time.

We played a tight game against the Bruins. Our third and fourth leading scorers didn't show, which is worse than it sounds because those two kids are two of our most reliable backcheckers. They were our two skaters at the Hockey Montreal all-star game.

We had nine skaters and a goalie in total. The three defencemen we had played their best game all year. We had fewer than six shots on offense, but we took a squeaker 2-1 to advance in the winners' bracket.

Elsewhere in my life, I continue to put in long hours for showbiz. I have a day off tomorrow, which will let me correct assignments, teach a class (sorta - it's mostly a workshop now), scan and send expense receipts, find a place to get Alex more business cards, and write a letter to my lawyer so that he can give me some money he owes me (and is quite willing to send me).

Now, I have some notes from today to coalesce into my usual brilliant synopsis.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

A return to young adulthood

One of the bonuses of working on this TV project is that it gets me out of the house and into my old stomping grounds. I lived in the Plateau neighbourhood from 1990 to 1993.

I found out yesterday that one of the writers I've been working with worked on "Sweating Bullets", a show I watched when I lived there, beside the old location of Coupe Bizzarre and above what used to be a Portuguese pastry shop.

"Sweating Bullets" was popcorn TV about a couple of private eyes in Florida - sort of a less expensive "Moonlighting" with more bikinis. The show was saved by fun writing and a determination not to reach further than it could provide. It stayed light-hearted, funny, and warm amid the tropical shirts, drug-runners, and cliches. It embraced the cliches, which was helped by the Mexican and Israeli actors hired where the production shot. At a time when few shows made me sit down and watch ("Seinfeld", "Mad about You", "Cheers", "Star Trek: The Next Generation", "The Kids in the Hall", are the others I can remember without looking them up), "Sweating Bullets" drew me in, occasionally with an actual bowl of popcorn.

Here's the first sixth of the pilot. The show was called "Tropical Heat" in some markets for reasons I don't know. You can watch the rest at YouTube as well.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Snow problem

I had to dig my van out of two snowbanks today, one because I was plowed in and the second because I was running out of time to find a safe place to park before my class. The second time, I left my front hanging a little too close to the drivable portion of the road. Had I driven by a van parked like I was, I would have thought the driver was a lazy jackass.

I'm sure having knowledge of the other side of this will teach me tolerance and empathy for my fellow humans.

The best part was getting four of my students to push me out of the snowbank after class. Heh. It's good to be the king.

Unusually, the city was horrible at cleaning the roads today. It seemed like workers laid neither sand nor ice, and I was driving on highways and major arteries. There was some plowing, but the snow fell steadily and the plowing didn't keep up. It seemed like one pass in the morning and that was it.

I noticed this morning that my windshield had a small crack running horizontally from the driver's edge a few inches above the bottom. By the end of the day, it had grown all the way across the windshield. I'll be getting a new one, which isn't terrible, since it means I finally get rid of the abrasions left when the car's previous owner tried to use his wipers to get rid of sand that had fallen out of a truck. I'm surprised I haven't killed somebody while driving into the sun.

Now, if I can only finagle new body panels to get rid of the rust. Every time I close my rear hatch, chunks fall out.

As Alex, the man who pushed me out of the first snowbank, writes, the room takes a lot out of you. So this is short. And thank goodness for my Wednesdays.

Bonus photo of a goalie for a first-place team:

He'll need bigger pads next year.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

A view with a room

We're a week into Alex's writer's room, which he has mentioned in his blog. I'm in there. Officially my title is writer assistant and it's a paying gig. I've done some paid research in show biz in the past, but this is my first paid writing-related job.

What's it like? Gosh....

We we're working in a borrowed and viciously cold Plateau row house. We share it with some guests of the homeowners, who are off somewhere else.

We start at 10:00 a.m., but I have to get there earlier to warm the place up. That's not a bother - Elvi does morning carpool and drops me off on her way to work, which half the time is nearby McGill University. I take my laptop and deal with whatever I need to deal with before Alex and the two other writers show up. We work until and sometimes through lunch and finish when we're mentally exhausted, around 4:00 or 5:00.

It's a great gig for me. My primary responsibility is taking notes - the journalism experience helps immensely. Although we all have laptops, we tend to work in longhand. It's each individual's choice and I am much faster with pen than keyboard. The tapping on keys would drive me nuts anyway.

I'm not only a stenographer; the writers accept and appreciate my story input. I've contributed to the solutions of a couple of problems already. In fact, last week each of the four of us took an episode to break as homework and come back with the next day, and I was included in that. My pitching skills need honing, but I think I came up with something presentable. I need to learn to kill my journalism skills. I put in too much backstory and explanation rather than just telling the story.

Our group works well, I think. (How would I know?) What's fascinating is the interplay between analysis and lack of ego. the writers are willing to stand up for story points, but only to serve their story. It's not a matter of defending their own ideas.

After the day ends, I come home and spend a few hours with the family or go coach hockey, and then I get to work again. I take my notes and condense them into narrative format. I could take the easy way out and simply transcribe written notes to note format in a text document, but that's not all that useful. Our discussions in the room wander and we may revisit a particular point several times in a day. What I do is go through the notes, divide them by subject, and produce a narrative of the room's conclusions. Once we reach agreement on a story point, that conclusion is what the writers need to read. The process we took to get there isn't as important. That's where the journalism experience shines. I'm skilled at turning interview notes into narrative and this is the same thing.

Of course, it takes an hour or two more than it would to just transcribe notes, but I think it's useful to my own story-building skills as well.

On top of this, there's the assistant part of my job. I take care of expense receipts, go shopping for snacks and other groceries, and pick up inspirational literature at comic book stores. It makes for some long days, 12 hours one day last week, for example (split up by a few hours of family time). Hourly, the pay sucks, but the experience is enriching me.

Now, I have some notes from Friday to take care of....