The Web
Post Categories
Buy my book!
Avia S-199 in Israeli Air Force Service

Archive for April 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.

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?

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.

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.


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….

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.

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.

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.

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.

Every click…
...contributes to world domination.