Thursday, July 30, 2009

That Took A While

Tomorrow I'm off to Atlantic City!

I get into Newark around 12:45, pick up the car, and head south.

Probably swing by a few camera stores on the way in search of a monopod. There's a couple on Elizabeth in Newark, and one more on the way that may be worthwhile. Or not. What do I know? Not much.

Check in, head out, meet up with Dawn and Mary, grab some grub, and then gamble it up.

Taj midnight seems to be the first call. Since dinner is at 7, I think I could squeeze some craps in there too. "Squeeze some craps" should never be said again.

That's about it as far as planning goes. Saturday's looking like it could actually be dry and sunny out, which lends itself to me grabbing the camera and heading to the boardwalk. Maybe there will be mini-golf. There should be salt water taffy and fudge. The type made with chocolate and sugar and stuff, not the dirty kind. Freak.

Of course, there will be more gambling, eating, and I might have a beverage or two.

Sunday? Well, looks like LJ may make an appearance, assuming she isn't arrested for going on a killing spree at her local Sears first. The continuation of nebulous "plans" will proceed with some combination of hanging out, gambling, eating, and drinking. We also move to Caesar's from the Slodge that night. Yay Total Rewards card.

Then Monday we grab grub and head home. This should be a long, fun, and ultimately refreshing (in an exhausting, body-killing way) long weekend. I'm looking forward to it.

I still think you should be there. Whoever you are.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ice Cream

As anyone who reads here regulary knows, I make ice cream from time to time. Occasionally I serve it to bloggers.

I had a hankering to make some interesting stuff a couple months ago, and ended up making a bunch of delicious strawberry sorbet. I haven't made anything since, but have picked up a few pints of Baskin Robbins or a cone or three of Maypole's Polar Paws. Yah, lazy I guess. Also, running out of containers.

But there's apparently some sort of ice cream craze going on. I think it has to do with it being... summer.

My friend has gone and kicked off a itch in me to make some more. But my craving is different than last time. I'm thinking rich flavours.

So - Chocolate malt ice cream? Maybe. I love the flavour of malt in ice cream. But today I had another idea.

Dark chocolate and hot red chili ice cream. There are obviously many a bar of this stuff out there, but I feel the need to put it in ice cream form. Why not an ice cream that makes your tongue burn a little bit?

That's the project when I get back. Then the malt.

I can think of at least one person who may knock down my door for a bowl if it's any good.

Seems Promising

This is all about fixing a computer. Skip it if that isn't your thing (I now expect about 4 people to actually read this).

About a month ago, my computer up and died. Lucky for me, we live in a world where I have access to 3 more. Still, this is my main machine, one I've built, upgraded, reformated, rebuilt, pulled from the brink, and generally treated like every other machine I've owned.

This was a new one for me - no POST. For those who are lost already - no starting beep. No memory test, no "press DEL to setup BIOS", no anything. Blank screen. Little monitor message box letting me know it's going into powersave because the video card ain't sending a signal.

Harder to diagnose the problem when you lose the visual interface.

I spent a couple days on it. I disassembled the beast, removed everything but the CPU, and still wasn't sure what the problem was. As usual, the Internet was mostly useless, with plenty of people having an IDENTICAL setup to mine, and the same problem, but nobody having a solution.

Then I threw out my back and decided being hunched over a computer wasn't the best idea. Back's mostly better now, and I revisted my aluminum friend the other night.

The CPU came out this time too, but this had little effect. It was time to play with component combinations. The RAM came out and the wee PC speaker started beeping maniacally. Okay, so it knows if the RAM is there or not. The RAM was replaced and the video card was removed - nothing. The video card was replaced - nothing.

This tells me the hangup is in the RAM. It knows when it's missing, but can't get past it to the video card test. Since the PCI-E LEDs still light up when the card isn't seated properly, I doubt it's a port issue.

RAM comes out. I have no other boxes that take DDR2. I don't have any spare DDR2 around. I call my brother, who I long ago taught everything I know when it comes to fixing these beasties. He does it for a living now, and still hasn't learned the cardinal rule of saying "no" to your friends when they ask you to fix their machine. At least he charges them a nominal fee these days. This all means he has spare parts and access to tests I don't... at least without a viable machine handy. I dropped off the RAM yesterday, and he couldn't get the closest machine to boot with it. Of course, there are other possible reasons - my RAM is 1066, the motherboard he was testing on is 533, so it might not downscale the RAM automatically. He took it home to test in my other brother's machine - no boot.

Sooooo... 3 machines that don't like my memory. Seems promising for my "must be the RAM" hypothesis. Which is waaaay better than my original "must be the motherboard" one. Why? RAM is $60. Motherboards are $200.

So now, he'll bring me another stick of RAM to test on my machine. If it comes alive, then the problem is solved and I just have to drop 3 score on some new RAM and the my baby can come back to life.

Because although my little Macbook is fine for web surfing and playing two tables of poker, it really blows when it comes to screen real estate for multitasking, and the processor just doesn't have the juice for CS4 to do it's thing. Which means my little photography hobby has slowed down in the interim. Not to mention the lack of games.

I, of course, fully expect that once it's back up and running, my RAID array will have been borked by my fiddling and I'll have the fun task of recovering the data I didn't have backed up (lucky for me - that's only a couple weeks worth of pictures and downloads). If this isn't the case? Double win for me.

Now let's see if there's any way I can get this done before I head southeast this weekend.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Pete Rose that is. You know, the guy who is seemingly ALWAYS at that card shop in Caesars? Largely because he owns it if I recall.

Word is Bud Selig is considering ending the guy's lifetime ban from baseball so he can get into the hall of fame.

Good on him if he does.

Rose made one mistake - he got caught.

The Hall is full of degenerates of the worst sort. There are the drunks of course, but so what? Then there are the drug addicts. The ones who slid into second head-first so they wouldn't break the vials in their back pocket. The cheaters of course, who did roids before people knew what they were. The guys who injected monkey testosterone in the 20's. Then there's the abusers who beat their wives and girlfriends and kids. If there aren't at least a dozen rapists in the hall, I'd be shocked.

Gambling? Ha. Small-time stuff. Take the peccadillos of the poker world and add millions of dollars more, bigger egos, better lawyers and PR, and more fans.

Charlie Hustle is still the all-time leader in hits, games played and at bats. He has 3 World Series rings, 3 batting titles, two gold gloves, was rookie of the year, and was in 17 all-star games in FIVE different positions.

Dude deserves to be in the Hall more than most of the guys that are in there. Being kept out for gambling? I think Bonds, McGwire, Clemens, and Canseco have managed to outshine him in the disgrace department these days... let them be the scapegoats for a while.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

When You Don't Need It

Good ol' Helicopter Ben Bernanke is sitting in front of the Senate Banking Committee and spinning his usual bullshit.

But I want to focus on one thing that's been consistent throughout this whole debacle - the constant pressure for banks to lend to "creditworthy" customers.

What's the old saying? Banks only lend you money if you can prove you don't need them to.

The people who have good credit are those who have shown that they have the ability to spend within their means. Mortgages used to only go to people who could show that they'd EVENTUALLY have the money for the house anyway - after all, that's what you're doing with a mortgage, slowly buying your house - but only had a percentage of that money on hand. Same with business loans - you've proven that your business can pay off the loan, and if you'd just save the money now, you could eventually pay for it yourself.

But loans exist because of time. Sure, a business owner could put $1000 a month in the bank for 5 years and have $60,000 to renovate or expand the business. But in 5 years, that $60k won't buy as much, and it's 5 years of the business getting by without the changes. So the owner goes to the bank, shows that he has an extra $1000 a month, and the bank exchanges him $60k for that $1000 every month. This way, the owner can make the changes now, reap the rewards, and he eventually has paid off that $60k, plus some interest, which is for the convenience of having the money now.

That all changed during the credit bubble.

Rates got so low, that the interest became inconsequential. Banks weren't going to earn much on the loans, so they needed to make more of them. They loosened the standards because the collateral being used - largely real estate - was going up, up, up in value.

And then it collapsed, and everybody who should never have seen a loan in the first place defaulted on them.

The banks tightened the purse strings, and were responsible again for the first time in nearly a decade. They're getting berated for being financially sound in their decisions now, because the world has become so used to living on borrowed money that they can't remember fundamental economics - if you don't have the money, don't buy it.

And now the pressure is being reapplied - lend to the creditworthy! It used to just be "lend!" now they've added a qualifier so as to not piss people off. The problem is this: The creditworthy are too smart to borrow money.

They've saved. They've taken note of what they can and can't afford. They look at investments and determine what is actually a value play instead of just a dream and crying call of a purchase in hopes of positive return. And they're patient.

The business owners who have solid credit scores are biding their time. The addition on the building can wait. The expansion plans aren't necessary right now when business has dropped. The upgraded equipment will still be available in six months. The money can be saved with minimal concern at this point, because it's better to have a cushion of cash than a black hole of debt. Those that DO want loans will shop around for the best rate, and they'll minimize that loan by finding opportunities that offer the best value. If they need $20,000, they'll ask for $20,000. They won't take the $100,000 they'll be offered, because they don't need it.

The point being - you can't lend to customers that don't exist. The pool of borrowers has dried up to a puddle, and the fish aren't jumping. Turning up the heat on the banks to lend to the creditworthy at this point means redefining "creditworthy", and that's what go us into this mess in the first place.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Lottery Switch

Let's see... I play poker (badly), craps (not so badly), and slots (far too well to be comfortable with it). I also, on occasion, drop a couple bucks on the lottery.

A sucker's game? Sure. Remember how I said I play the slots too? Shut up.

Canadian lotteries suck a little bit. I think the biggest prize ever was around $54 million. Compared to the hundreds of millions in the US multi-state lotteries, this looks like chump change.

Except we get to keep it all. No taxes on it. No annuity payouts. Just, "here's your cheque for $54 million sir." So there's that going for it.

There are two major lotteries. 6/49 and Super 7. Super 7 being a "choose 7 of 47" lotto.

6/49 is $2 for 1 pick of 6. Super 7 is $2 for 1 pick of 7 + 2 quick pick lines, for 3 sets of numbers total.

6/49 odds? 1:13.9 million
Super 7 odds? 1:20.9 million

Meaning that anything under $27.8 million in 6/49 isn't really mathematically worth it if you think only of the jackpot. Super 7 has a higher goal of $41.8 million, which it seldom reaches.

Still better odds than Powerball.

But the lottery corp is dropping Super 7 for something called Lotto Max, which sounds like a terrible name that was invented so it wouldn't have to be translated into French.

It smells even more scammy than most lotteries.

$5 per play. 3 set of numbers. 7/49. That would be 1:28.6 million odds.

Or a $143 million EV to be worthwhile.

Jackpots start at $10 million. And continue to rise until won or hitting $50 million. At $50 million, they start a series of secondary prizes of $1 million each, with seperate draws and winners. It's not clear if they keep rolling unwon money into the next week's total jackpot, or if there's a $50 million cap.

If there's a cap, then it will NEVER be worth the $5.

Plus, $5 doesn't strike me as a good number. People complained when 6/49 went up to $2 from $1, even though they increased the jackpots accordingly. People don't mind dropping a $2 coin on the counter for a lotter ticket. A $5 bill has a different attachment, and in these times, it's pretty strong for the prime lottery players.

The desperate, the retired savers, the spur-of-the-moment buyers, the "we play the same numbers every week" groups - that's a 150% increase in cost to them. The groups at work that pool their toonies together? They just cut the number of tickets they'll buy to keep the cost the same.

So the potential is there that the odds, which are worse, never line up for proper EV, the cost is higher, and the payouts are more confusing.

I think we have a loser of a game on our hands here folks. Layering bonuses and confusing extras on a game only works when people think it's affordable. The grandmas pushing "max bet" on the penny slots don't realize they're spending the same as me pushing "max bet" on the $1 slots. But they think they're only paying pennies, and winning dollars. I know how much I'm flushing down the drain.

A $5 lottery that nobody really understands the payouts of? I expect a boost in 6/49 sales.

Poor Roy

I've got to feel a bit bad for Roy Halladay.

The guy likes playing in Toronto. This is the team that raised him from a pup, and he's done nothing but perform here. He lives out of the spotlight that a place like Boston, New York, or even Philadelphia would shine on him, and he's stated a few times that he likes that. He's got a solid contract, a no-trade clause, and a fan base that loves him. Hell, if it wasn't for Halladay, there'd probably be 10,000 less fans in the stadium.

The only gripe he can have? The team hasn't won anything in the 11 seasons he's been here. But not for lack of trying.

Yah. 11. Okay, so 1998 only had one game, the last of the season, where he pitched a no-hitter until the last out of the 9th inning.

And J.P. Ricciardi pulls yet another... interesting... move when talking to the media. He states the obvious in a way that misleads. He says that of course he'd listen to any trade proposals for Doc. No shit. He's a GM. He did, at least, stipulate it would have to blow him out of the water.

And this is what everyone's missing. A couple minor league prospects for the proven best damned pitcher in baseball for the last 7 seasons, who still has years ahead of him? A couple nobodies who could never see the majors for the team's only real cash cow? This is the team leader. This is the guy who drags the pitching staff up by showing them how to be a pro and a machine. This is a guy who comes out every 5 days and does his job. Consistently. Amazingly.

And you think your top pitching PROSPECT is going to do it? HA!

Ricciardi is stringing the whole league along. He knows that barring a 15-20 game winning streak, the Jays aren't making the playoffs this year. He knows that Halladay is THE guy in the league that can take any top-tier team and almost guarantee them a Series appearance. And he knows the deadline is 10 days away.

Halladay isn't going anywhere unless the trade results in the "winning" team having a bunch of fans bitching about the trade. 4-5 TOP prospects at least, probably at least 1 or 2 already in the majors. Ricciardi isn't looking to rebuild the team, he's looking to make sure that if we have to go through TWELVE starting pitchers halfway through the season again, that there's some depth on the team to cover their asses.

You think we need pitching? We have a glut of young talent, and they're all getting a taste of the big leagues this year.

No... what JP is doing is testing the waters. Maybe he gets the blockbuster offer that he can't say no to. Maybe Halladay waives his no movement clause to help the team. But I doubt it. I expect that the day after the season ends, Roy gets a call from the GM and President, and contract negotiations start. They'll know what he's worth to the rest of the league from the offers made. They'll hand him the keys to the team - "What do you want us to do Roy? Who do you want us to get? How much do you want?"

It also doesn't hurt the fan base. Suddenly they start showing up again for Roy's games to make sure he knows they appreciate him. They want him to stay, but are saying goodbye... every start. And the team is finally getting behind him, because they want Roy to stay. They want to win for him. Maybe this was JP's plan all along to kick them in the ass after a dismal June.

But all this posturing has dumped a load of pressure on Roy's shoulders. Every game has announcers saying "this could be Halladay's last game as a Blue Jay." and following up with the post-game interview with suggestions of never seeing him again. What's the guy do? He comes out and pitches complete games and does his job.

I still maintain he's not going anywhere. This is showmanship from the GM. This is a precursor to the off-season and next year if Roy doesn't want to sign with the Jays again. This is for the phone calls in May that start with, "Hey, it's JP. So you offered us these 3 guys last July..."

Why? Because JP and the rest of the front office still think they have a contender. And they do. Just not this season. There's plenty of hope that Marcum, McGowan, and Litsch all come back and show the same stuff they had before. That Romero keeps up the pace. That Janssen stays healthy for more than a month and lives up to his potential. That Tallett keeps pitching 6 strong. That they'll have the best starting rotation in the league again, and that Halladay will lead the charge. But they know that if he isn't willing, that if he thinks he'll win elsewhere, that they can live without him when the rest have come back and proven themselves hale and hearty.

And if I'm Roy Halladay? I sit there with my wife and kids and think about a few things. I think that nobody in the Toronto media has ever dug into my personal life like they will in the bigger baseball markets. I think that on a team that can't scrape together 30,000 fans regularly, I'm known by the whole city of 3 million. I think that none of these teams that are so doggedly trying to get me, who send their scouts and GMs to my games, who talk to their newspapers and magazines about how great I am... I think that none of them could spell my name right for the last 11 years, and NOW they notice me. I think - screw 'em. This is being done on my terms, not theirs.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sometimes, My City Annoys Me

Well, it's not really the city's fault. After all, the city is a collection of land and buildings. They can't really be held responsible. Even if you extend it to the people, they're doing their best. In fact, the thought crossed my mind the other day that Toronto succeeds despite itself.

No, it's the bureaucrats. Shocker, I know. When they're not busy doing nothing, they're usually busy screwing good ideas up.

Case in point Toronto a la Cart. A long-overdue idea that was presented around two years ago - Toronto should have more street food options than hot dogs.

It's an old law - the only food you're allowed to sell from a cart in the city is sausage in a bun. This has led to no small amount of hot dog carts throughout the streets of town. Some are good, some are terrible, most are standard. A similar law exists in Vancouver, but some entrepreneurial people started Japandog there and made the most of it. Here? It doesn't get more exciting than a German sausage with some condiments more interesting than pickles if you're lucky.

It was a bit of a joke that a city that has over a dozen ethnic neighbourhoods side-by-side-by-side only served hot dogs on the street. You couldn't even find roasted chestnuts or a pretzel cart. But some terrified councillor decades back made sure things were standardized.

So a well-meaning councillor proposed that some variety might be nice. That a souvlaki cart or some roti or dim sum wouldn't be a bad idea. Word got out to the people, and the people cheered. Okay, it's Toronto -- we nodded politely in agreement and grinned a little while talking about it over a beer.

Then it hit city council. There were safety concerns! So it had to be regulated until it was boring. Someone thought it should be unified under a city-wide banner, so "Toronto a la Cart" was born. It had to be healthy! Approval must be given!




Healthy street food? Who the fuck cares? We've been eating reconstituted lips and sphincters for decades off the hot dog carts, and you say the food has to be healthy now?

Give me a break.

Sooooo, in the interest of the public good - and the detriment of public enjoyment - it was all combined into a monolith of bureaucratic excess. Specially ordered and made carts were commissioned by the CITY. A specific size. Refrigeration. Specific layout. Black banner overhead with the not-as-clever-as-they-think pun of a name. A small fortune in licensing fees for interested parties. An approval process for the food being offered and the people offering it. Finally, the location was dictated by the city, not by the vendor.

In their final stroke of wisdom, the city, or perhaps more specifically the committee now in charge of the project, decided it should be seperate from the already existing hot dog cart businesses. This meant anyone running a hot dog cart was shut out of submitting an application.

Think about that - the people who have worked selling food to people walking by for DECADES were told they couldn't partake in expanding their offerings. Most of these men and women would jump at the opportunity to sell something other than sausage on a bun. There are as many ethnicities behind those grills are there are corners for them to operate on, and many of them would LOVE to skewer some lamb for you, or boil up some dumplings, or bread some pork, or put a schnitzel on kaiser. And they ALREADY HAVE THE EQUIPMENT, LICENSE, AND LOCATIONS.

But no... they were shut out. People who had no idea how to run a business, but could put together a mean spice rub, were being asked for their life savings in licensing and rental fees and then stuck in idiotic locations. A dust-cloud of a construction site in a condo-heavy neighbourhood (ie.- no business during the day). In front of a war memorial at Queen's Park (only businesses there to offer clients? Government offices). In line with 2 hot dog carts, 2 hot dog and chip trucks, and ANOTHER Toronto a la Cart vendor at City Hall? Yah, that's not overload.

19 applications from a city of 3 million people. 8 carts approved.

The options are interesting enough - souvlaki, injera, roti, etc.. So there's diversity there. The problem is - you can't get to most of them. I'm not going to drive to a food cart. I'm going to pass one on my way home, or to somewhere else. I believe there are currently 2 that I could do that with. There were 2 more (the one at Queen's Park, and one of the ones at City Hall), but they've both shut down until new sites are okayed for them. This means my options are limited to what those two carts have. If I want to try the roti? I need to travel 20 minutes north... by subway. I could walk to the best roti shops in town in less time.

And you know what? I haven't been to any. The whole botched process annoys me too much. I don't blame the poor saps who are behind the cart. I'm sure they're honest people trying to do their best.

Which is hard, because the carts are too small, run on gas-powered generators that have to be topped off regularly throughout the day, and the owners usually have to travel not-insignificant distances to their sites. Oh, and the owner has to man the station at least 70% of the time. You can't hand it off to your son or wife or husband or friend or business partner or an employee for a couple days while you try and rest your feet.

Idiocy from top to bottom. All tracked back to the morons who decided they needed to be attached to the project. The original councillor? After the final plans for the thing came out, he publically stated that he regretting bringing it up. That if he'd known it would become the bureaucratic power and money-grab that it did, he'd have kept his mouth shut.

I imagine the project will fail. It's a 3 year pilot project to see if it can be expanded. Two months in and a handful of the vendors have all but given up. The geniuses in charge will claim that we didn't support the project. We'll say that they fucked it up. In the end, everyone will shrug and move on, and we'll still be stuck with sausages on a bun.

Or they'll let it fall through the cracks and let the market truly decide. Maybe they'll realize they over-regulated and allow the hot dog guys to offer a few other options. Maybe they'll let restaurant owners open a cart within a few blocks of their establishment. Maybe I'll be able to buy a crêpe near the water like you can in Paris (still the best crêpes I've ever had). Or gelato from a bike-cart like in Rome (ditto). Or dim sum from a steamer cart like in Beijing (once again, the best). Or big salty pretzels like in New York (okay, those were dry and terrible).

Or maybe not.

Maybe I should start with smaller ambitions, and just become the benevolent dictator of Toronto, and then move my way up the ladder. I know I'd have your vote.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Poker, No Poker?

Hmm... I've had a bit of a bad run online of late. BR is once again approaching uncomfortably low levels. I've managed to extend the reload through some timely wins to the point where a reload doesn't sting as much though. Do I ever suck at poker. The 2 bubbly finishes in the nightly $5k didn't help. Need to work on my PLO aggression in the middle-late stages.

But I don't think I'll play tonight. Instead, I think I'll pop in a movie or two and find some way to lie comfortably without my back killing me. Maybe I'll finally get around to that new batch of chocolate chip cookie dough, to be turned into cookies 24-36 hours after I make it.

Yah, Friday night with no plans. It's a welcome respite. No real plans at all this weekend in fact. Which is fine by me, as next weekend is a housewarming and maybe a Niagara craps trip. The weekend after that is Atlantic City.... which is looking pricey. What the fuck is with those hotel prices? Harrah's is offering me my choice of hotels on the Vegas strip for free, and Caesar's for a pittance, but AC is asking for $350/night? Hey, Atlantic City - you're in FUCKING NEW JERSEY, get over yourself.

Whatever, Key West was free accomodations. Whistler was free rentals and lift passes. I can afford to pay a bit more for a middle-of-summer weekend getaway. Besides, I'll just pay for it with my winnings of course. Right?

You know what I'm looking forward to? Breakfast. I've got a hankering to make some waffles, which I haven't done in forever. I also crave real oatmeal. And fruit.

Pie wouldn't be bad either. I blame Kat for that one.

Strangely, I've gained weight the past couple weeks. I wonder why. Oh yah... the shitty back. It's dropped my activity level to zero, and increased my snacking due to a whole bunch of lying around being bored and in pain. Yup, I'll blame the back, and not the lack of willpower.

Perhaps I'll cease the rambling.... now.

Bigger and Badder

This is about hockey.

There, now that 70% of you have stopped reading, I can continue.

It's about the Leafs.

That should drop it to 10% of the original readership.

That most beloved of teams is rebuilding. This is known. But the whole "rebuilding" concept is very foreign to Toronto fans. We're generally used to our teams sucking for extended periods of time, and then some new money coming in and buying high-priced free agents.

Which is why I think the upcoming season could be interesting.

Yes, it's July.

See, we had Cliff Fletcher as GM for a brief period. His job was simply to hold the fort until Brian Burke came to town. He did an admirable job. He knew that Burke would be rebuilding, so he cleared out some space, salary, and dead weight. He avoided sentimentality in his decisions, something that less experienced GMs in Toronto have often failed to do. And he tried to build a halfway decent value-priced defence so that the team wouldn't be completely embarrassed.

And then Burke came in and spent the remainder of the season evaluation what he had. He wasn't pleased. He saw a team that was small, timid, and weak. He saw a team getting pushed around the ice. He saw a team with just enough talent to not completely suck, but not enough to make a difference.

And he made sure everyone knew it. He proclaimed that the team would get tougher. He brought in Brad May of all people to toughen up the team. May made a minor impact, throwing his weight around and dropping the gloves when needed. But May isn't young.

Then the off-season came. Burke's living up to his promise.

The draft brought in a "potential" player in Kadri. This is a kid who may never see the big leagues, or may be a superstar one day. It all depends how he grows and develops. He's no Crosby, Malkin, Staal, or even a Schenn. The skills are there, but he's not ready for prime time yet.

But the draft was minor in the grand scheme of things.

He got bigger and tougher. Colton Orr - one of the toughest fighters in the league. Mike Komisarek - a huge defenceman. Garnet Exelby and Francois Beauchemin, two more sizeable d-men were added. Jonas Gustavsson, dubbed "The Monster" is now backing up Vesa Toskala in net (and could take over the starting job depending how Toskala is post-surgery). Throw in Christian Hanson (yes, he's a real Hanson - son of Dave) at the end of last season, and Burke has reshaped the team. Only 4 players under 6'0" tall makes The Leafs a sizeable force.

But they aren't really any better. Most of the size has come on the back end. The defence is bigger, badder, and much more stay-at-home. But this is what's needed for a rebuilding team. A big defensive squad that doesn't venture deep into enemy territory will only help the goalies. It won't make for exciting hockey, but it will make for some confidence on the front end. It should allow for more creative plays, and give coach Ron Wilson the chance to... coach.

Rebuilding takes years. It's generally accepted to take around 5 years from start to finish. You need to wipe the slate clean - and The Leafs don't have much left from the Ferguson years. Then you need to see what you've got in the system. A couple years of high draft picks that you hope turn out, and player development follow. By year 3, you should be showing marked improvement and a solid direction.

This is usually where the surprises happen - grit and chemistry come together to put together a stronger playoff drive than expected, or a big surge at some point in the regular season. This is usually where the plan falls apart too. The fans get a taste of success. Front office gets a taste of playoff and merchandaising revenue (the latter is never lacking in Toronto). These combine to force rash decisions - high priced free agents, big trades, and eventually a complete collapse over a couple seasons as you destroy the foundations you built. If a team can make it past this point and hold onto the original plan, they have a chance.

Year 4 is when the team is taken seriously. Those draft picks and young guys are now established players. The team it top-heavy with guys that can be traded to fill in the depth chart elsewhere or let promising rookies into the system. A strong playoff showing is expected, and there's even the chance at going all the way.

Year 5 is when the final pieces are put in place. The veteran leader is brought in. The blockbuster trade is made. The big name free agent is brought in to fill a hole. Individual, yet big, pieces are moved into place.

Right now, the Leafs are entering year 2. The team is laying the groundwork to be a bigger, tougher team. The size brought in will create an image for the team. It will up the aggression of the more timid players on the roster. The defence will allow mistakes to be made up front without serious consequences destroying young egos. The highly-touted backup goaltender should light a fire under the starter, or make Toskala a tradeable commodity.

But they still won't achieve much. If they make the playoffs, they'll squeak in, get a taste, and slink out quietly. This is part of rebuilding, and the fans need to get used to it. With a little luck, their patience will finally be rewarded. And Leafs fans have been nothing if not patient for the last 42 years.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Tunnel Vision

Aside from the various "poker" blogs running along the side there, I also read a handful of financial blogs. The majority of them are of the personal finance variety.

Sadly, most PF blogs tend to focus on frugality. I've always been a proponent of spending less than you make, but sometimes you can take saving too far.

Today saw a post from one person coming to the realization that their hyperfrugal ways were impacting their family - specifically their children. They had a goal in mind for retirement, and a dollar amount they wanted to reach. This meant things like making table syrup instead of buying maple syrup, or going to the movies OR dinner, but not both. They talked to their kids and discovered the kids felt they weren't doing any "fun" stuff like going skating or swimming or spending a whole night out as a family.

This has hit home and they now budget for "fun" stuff with the kids.

Others advocate buying a Costco kit to make your own wine in a plastic bucket because it works out to $1.25/bottle instead of spending ridiculous amounts like $10/bottle. This led to some lengthy comments from yours truly about the quality difference between a Costco grape concentrate vs locally grown grapes that are turned into something sublime by an experienced vinter with real equipment. I mean, if all you want is alcoholic grape juice, buy a frozen can for $0.70 and add the cheapest grain alcohol you can find.

Some count the number of squares of toilet paper they use, or make their own dish detergent to save a few cents per load, or buy the no-name brand stuff no matter what the quality is like.

And I sit here and wonder - what's the point? These aren't people who are struggling to make ends meet. They aren't mired in tens of thousands of dollars in debt. They just set a goal and are gunning for it with all their might, ignoring the scenery they're passing on the way. Is it really worth it to have a retirement fund you're happy with at 65 when you forgot to live a little on the way there? Do you really want to spend the last 20+ years of your life, which will be accompanied by aches, pains, illness, and the other ailments of old age looking back and wishing you were able to do the things you'd planned on?

The universal theme among the superfrugal seems to be - save at all costs. But I can't possibly see the value in that. What's the point if you can't enjoy life a little bit?

I'm not saying live beyond your means. Or even live at your means. But save a little less, and live a little more in the now, not the future.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Atlantic City - Fo' Reals This Time

Okay, it's been talked about in the past, and while there's always a small percentage chance it won't happen until I buy the plane tickets (which will happen by Thursday), this time it's for real.

Heading to Atlantic City for the first weekend of August. Probably getting in Friday afternoon, and leaving Monday morning. The joy of a long weekend in these parts.

Flying into Newark, because the hour saved in driving from Philly isn't worth the hour in driving to the big airport here instead of the small one that has flights to Newark. And 10 hours of driving each way ain't gonna happen.

It's looking like it'll be me and my buddy N, unless we can scrounge up some other degenerates who have the cash for the trip. (flights run around $460 CAD round trip at the moment, then there's the rental, and the hotel... oh, and the gambling money).

So, anybody want to head on down to AC and help us fish? Lord knows enough of you head there regularly anyway, and can't really need much of an excuse. Hell, some people are visiting the east coast that week anyway, and will have to be tired of NYC by then, right? Some big winners regret not playing more live poker, and should take the opportunity. Did I mention the Borgata $500,000 Deep Stack is that weekend? Not that I'll be playing in it necessarily, but it should mean a higher population of tilted players or those desperate to scrape together a satellite buy-in at the cash tables.

Or, if you can't make it, I'll take any AC advice you have. There's got to be a worthwhile restaurant or two there, right? Hotel/casino suggestions? Best places to not get shived? I'm going in blind after all, and I'm far too pretty for Jersey.

Monday, July 13, 2009

How Do Two Days Go So Fast?

It was the weekend. It was a good weekend too. I just, as often, wish it felt longer.

Friday went off-plan when my friend and I gave up on the idea of catching a Rocky-Horror-esque movie/play thing due to the rush line being around the corner over TWO hours before showtime. Instead we wandered to Little Italy, found a solid restaurant with a great drink selection and nice back patio, and spent a few hours eating and drinking and generally having more fun than standing in line. I capped off the night with a pricing error in my favour at a local music store, leaving with a little Stevie Wonder and a mispriced Simon & Garfunkel Old Friends tour DVD, which is still one of the best shows I've seen.

Saturday was restocking the pantry. Costco, farmers market, and then back home. 2 litres (8 cups) of raspberry jam, a couple mojitos, marinated (barolo vinegar, bourbon, dijon, oil, and spices) bone-in ribeyes on the grill, bad red wine (trying to work through the cheap old stock - this might be a mistake), kebobs, and grilled mashed potatoes later (best friend's idea - mash 'em, wrap 'em in foil with garlic and butter, put on grill - very good) and it could be called a filling and satisfying day.

Sunday involved poker. Naturally, I was running late, and arrived 35 minutes after "start" time... to a table with 3 other people around it. The turnout has been suffering at the home game. The bigger issue is that the host is getting 9-15 affirmatives up to the night before, and then 50% of the people actually show. Last game only had 6. I finished 2nd, which was good for... well, points. Winner-take-all for only 4 people. It wasn't the most satisfying live poker I've played by a long-shot.

The route back home takes me past the folks', so I stopped in to say hi and eat their food. In return I took home more food, kitchen supplies, astronomical binoculars from my grandparents' place and the HUGE tripod that came with them (nearly 6' extended, probably 6'6" with the centre column raised). The tripod could come in handy photography-wise, except it's heavy and gigantic, so not exactly easy transport. What it really does is swing my monopod or tripod decision firmly over to the monopod side for travel purposes. I mean, if it's good enough for Flipchip, who am I to question?

Saying hi and staying for dinner also means dessert, tea, and hanging around chatting for a bit. I pulled myself away, got home, and decided the bunches of mint in my fridge needed to be used immediately. There's a pitcher of julep iced tea in my fridge now, along with a jar of mint simple syrup.

And tonight? I should probably have some more of the roasted tomato cream soup I made last week, and use at least one of the fantastic sausages I picked up on Saturday before tossing the rest in the freezer. Chipotle with beer and onions (that would all be in the sausage) or red hot chorizo with red wine? Any bets on how long before I buy a meat grinder and sausage casings?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Meet the New Boss, Same as the old Boss

GM's out of bankruptcy.

Yah, it was 16-year old boy fast.

Well, it's not REALLY out of bankruptcy. See, the "new" GM is out of bankruptcy. Because the "old" GM sold all it's "good" stuff to a company it created that's owned by the US gubmint, the Canadian and Ontarian (really? we're seperating? sweet!) gubmints, the "old" GM bondholders, and the unions. So the brands they're keeping (Chevy, Buick, Cadillac, GMC), and they stuff that still works is in the new company. All the crap? The shuttered factories? The debts? That's with Motors Liquidation Co., or the "old" GM, which will probably never be out of bankruptcy.

How awesome a shell game is that?

You go bankrupt, shove all the bad crap into a generic company and leave it in bankruptcy, and sell all the good stuff to the government and come out with the same name looking all sparkly.

Management will be cut by 20%, and executives tiers by 35%. Around 40% of the dealers are gone, and health care and pension obligations are down $48 billion too.

The promises of fuel-efficient and hybrid vehicles will come to fruition, honest! They'll make cars people want, fo reals! No more executive bloat! Labour costs down! Rainbows and puppies and lollipops for everyone!

Bull. Shit.

There's been a lot of shuffling at the top, there's a new boss, and a whole whack of debt to the American and Canadian taxpayers. The union will sell their share as quickly as possible because they just want the cash, not the responsibility. That way, they can also start holding GM over a barrel again if times get good. Their labour costs may be in line with Toyota and Nissan and the like now, but that will change over a couple decades. If they last that long.

It all smells like crap to me. There will be token gestures. Designs won't be innovative, because that would involve taking a risk, and risks are scary to suits. Expect more cars that look the same as every other car on the market. Expect minor improvement being sold as the second coming. Expect deals and cuts and a million other incentives to buy overpriced vehicles. Expect that eventually, it will be bloated again with focus not on car quality or consumer happiness, but the bottom line and exterior businesses that make more money for them. Why? Because building a fuel efficient car that is fully-loaded and will work for 10 years without needing major service means less sales, less secondary money from the GM service shops, less loans, and more need to keep improving enough that people WANT to upgrade.

GM is floundering. Every commercial, every press release, every piece of news stinks of bullshit and death to me.

The silence from Chrysler is deafening.

Ford, oddly enough, is actually sounding honest. As honest as an American car company can at least. They've had an extra year to get their shit together, having gone bankrupt before the credit crisis. They've jumped on the opening made by their competition's problems and the fact they didn't need taxpayer money to surivive (thanks to the loans they secured when they went under). I don't think they're being revolutionary, but they're playing to their strengths - trucks, the Mustang, and small fuel-efficient cars that have already worked in Europe. All they're doing now is talking about them, and juicing them up a bit. Are they the "new Ford"? I don't think so, but they're newer than the "new GM".

PLO is Scary

Played the $5k again last night. Notice a pattern?

Out 82nd I think when this hand happened:

I've got JJ3K, with I think a J and 3 suited.

Flop comes JT2 rainbow.

I bet, get repopped, and I push for 4k more than the 7k bet that's out there.

Bad guy flips over 89QK... double wraparound, yay.

Turn was a blank, river 7 ended it for me.

Any 7,A,8,9,Q, or K would have given him the straight. That's 20 outs, twice.

Lesson learned, Omaha, lesson learned. Today, I hate you a little bit.

Flopped sets never win.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Man, I Suck

Mookie, 45 man NLHE SnG, and $5k last night. No cash in any. No brilliant plays. A couple fantastic catches to save my ass, but more completely expected screw-jobs by the board to kick it.

I need some live play.

Oh, that's right... I'll be doing that on Sunday.

If I didn't have plans already, I might have done it drunkenly on Saturday in NY, but alas, someone only notified me 4 days beforehand.

Actually, it's a weekend I'm looking forward to. Rocky Horror-esque movie-watching for Toronto's Fringe (*IF* rush tix can be got... stupid nobody telling me about this stuff beforehand. What, I'm supposed to look it up myself?), restocking the ol' pantry (hey, when you cook as much as I do, that qualifies as enjoyable), more jam (raspberry this time - much easier), grilling some meat, drinking some wine (that can't be a problem with muscle relaxants, can it?), live poker, and general merriment. All with a fucked back.

Right, the back. Anyone following me on Twitter (link's up to the left) is well-versed in my whining the past few days. Whatever I did to my back two weeks ago is back with a vengeance after pretty much fading away. Standing up, be it from a chair or bed, is excrutiatingly painful. Bending over? Really depends how much moving around I've been doing beforehand. In short - being still leads to extreme lower back pain when I decide to move. Constantly moving seems to ease it. Go figure. Naturally, my doctor is on vacation, so my appointment with him is in 2 weeks. In the meantime? Robaxacet, ice, and various pillows in various places. But not there... those aren't pillows.

Monday, July 06, 2009


Well, that barely felt like a weekend.

Great Indian food on Friday night, and general vegging afterwards. Saturday saw an easy day followed up with a multi-birthday party that will likely cap off the annual early summer birthday rush.

Who throws a party and doesn't put the booze out? It resulted in many of the gifted bottles of wine being opened as options were still in a cabinet in the corner. If you don't want people drinking your booze, four little letters let people prepare appropriately. It's better than being passive-aggressive or lazy, whichever it was.

Sunday was a late wakeup (let's say 3ish, with me finally decided to walk at 4ish). I opted to fire up some poker for the first time in a few days. $25k NLHE guarantee was fun, with me bouncing all over the place for a while before settling down with a well-above average stack. I like my play, but in the end went out with 60 or so to the money. Out in the 200's with 1800 starting. Ah well.

Latest RNG lesson learned? I will win a race as the odds dictate when someone is playing their ace aggressively (ie.- QQ vs AK, and the AK is re-raising, betting the all-under flop, etc.). I will lose a race if I put A-rag-off all-in and they make the crying call pre-flop from the blinds... every time.

Also played the $2 rebuy satellite to the 50-50, won a seat easily, and unregistered for the T$, since I was tired of HE for the day, and another multi-hour flipfest wasn't appealing. Instead, I used half the T$ to buy into the $5k PLO nightly game.

Which I spent most of in the top 10, regularly showing up in 1st on the list, and ALWAYS being at the table of whoever the chipleader was when I wasn't. I really liked my play in the game, but once the bubble burst, I saw my stack disappear rapidly to donks who suddenly didn't care. 2nd pair would hold against my multiple draws. AAxx DS would fall to KQJ5 with 3 of one suit. I quickly found myself on the rail in the 20's or 30's without a decision I regretted. It was mildly frustrating, but on the flipside, I got to go to sleep and realized how mentally tired I was from 3 donk-filled games in a row (yah, there's a reason I don't do crazy multitabling).

Which doesn't mean I won't be back.

A side note, farewell to the The Donkament. I'm sad to see it go, but understand the reason why. Another bloggerment bites the dust.

Not that I don't expect it to show up again on Kat's birthdays though.

GL to the donkeys bloggers in the ME. LJ's in Day 2 if I recall. I think Lucko plays today. Not sure who else is out there playing, but if you go deep, I'm sure we'll all hear about it.

And GL to Pauly, Change100, Otis, F-Train, Al, and everyone else walking through the Amazon rivers of donkey blood in their efforts to provide us weaklings with coverage. The end of the tunnel is near guys... just keep dodging the trains.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Time to Return to NLHE?

Played the nightly 5k PLO guarantee again last night. Damned Jordan. Anyway, out in the 130's when a nut flush didn't get there against top set and an overpair. Probably not the best spot to go for it, but the play is so terrible before you get to the 50's that it seemed worthwhile.

So I decided to fire up a $10 45-man SnG. Taking 1st in that was fun. The quad 9's helped. The set of kings followed immediately by the set of queens didn't hurt either. The big helper though was after those chipped me up from last to 3rd - when I saw cowboys again (let's say an orbit after the back-to-back sets) and called the 3 all-ins before me. AT, QQ, TT... the kings, amazingly, held, giving me around 3x the chips of second place and knocking out 3 players at once.

From there, 3rd fell quickly, and a back-and-forth HU match took place, with me finally finishing it off with QQ hitting a set on the flop followed by 45h flopping two pair on the next hand vs K5.

What? You expected me to win because of skill? HA! Luck is where it's at baby!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Day Off

Well, as much as it has thrown off my internal calendar (still not getting a hang of this Thursday), the mid-week holiday was nice. Up at 2pm to the whines of Dawn Summers lamenting my absence on Twitter so far that day. I decided to crawl out of bed an hour later, do those things one does when one wakes up, and then eat an english muffin whilst firing up some PLO.

$5 rebuy and 4k guarantee. Small cash in the rebuy, and a push-and-pray ouster in the 4k with around 20 to go before the cash. I decided that then was a good time to shower, get dressed, do some laundry, and get started on dinner. Double elk burger with feta, parmesan, and Cape Vessey goat cheese on a sesame bun with some hashbrown-sized taters was quite good, especially when chased by an Innis & Gunn pale.

Then I fired up the 5k PLO and went out halfway through the pack when I flopped the nut straight, only to see the board pair on the turn and an Ace fall on the river. I tracked it the whole way. I checked the flop, bet the turn and got called, and knew without a doubt in my mind that the rivered A gave some guy with AA the boat. That guy checked, and I pushed, because despite knowing I was beat with no information to indicate that, I still figured maybe I was wrong. Silly me, I should know I read online like your cards are up. Sure enough, he snap-called with the rivered boat and I was done.

Then I forgot about The Mookie. See what a holiday does. Totally messes you up.

WSOP ME starts tomorrow. My heart goes out to our bloggers in the field. That donkey reek ain't going to come out of your clothes for months.

GL to the bloggers who are playing the ME. I think the power couple of Lucko and LJ are in there, did Iggy ever decide if he was ponying up for a repeat run? What about the BBT4 TOC winners?