Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Year in Review

- I didn't post much
- I tweeted a bunch
- I didn't play much poker. When I did, I lost.
- I travelled - Montreal, New York, Buffalo a bunch, Orlando, Montreal again, Vegas.
- In most of those places, I ate some fantastic food. Orlando wasn't anything spectacular on that front.
- I didn't cook nearly as much as I should have. Especially nothing new or exciting.
- I took a ton of pictures. I've so far posted almost none of them.
- I saw Dawn Summers, Mary, and VinNay more than most of my non-blogger friends
- I took some photography classes, and learned that 3 per week is too much for me. Down to 1 per week next semester.
- I lost in Vegas money-wise, but won friends and food-wise.

Come 2011?

Probably more of the same. Already planning another trip to Montreal (they have such good food), and Vegas is permanently in the schedule. The rest is pretty open right now. Maybe I'll try and play more poker and actually work on and post some pics - there are so many I want to share. I also expect to be cooking a whole bunch more soon. Let's start simple with some fondue and egg nog for New Year's. I make awesome nog.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Golden Hammer Thoughts

I had just finished up a solid dinner with my posse, and had some time to kill before we dropped off two of our group at the airport for the Saturday red-eye. There was a call for more gambling, which I was not against, but I informed them that first I wanted to check in on the tournament, now heading into hour 9.

Last year's game finished around 11. The year previous, with a larger field, I bubbled in 10th around the same time. At 9pm, I figured the game was still far from over.

We walked in as a break was winding down and the remaining six were milling about the table waiting to start up again. I was happy to see so many familiar faces still in the game. And even though we were long eliminated thanks to my inability to win a damn hand, seeing teammate MiamiDon with a big stack in front of him was great.

Now, having gone deep the previous two years, I know how much of a grind it can be. I don't know if there was a dinner break this year, but there wasn't the previous. I was hungry, tired, and frankly a little sick of playing poker for so long for both my runs. My friends were out drinking and rolling dice and eating and generally having more fun than me, and the longer the game went, the more I wanted to be out there with them. Hell, both years I missed the chance to see one of my buddies off to the airport.

But I would have never chopped for the trophy.

Al made the offer to JoeSpeaker and myself the previous year when we were three-handed. "Chop, but I get the trophy!" No way. Joe and I looked at each other incredulously. How could Al make that offer? We'd happily chop the cash 3-ways, or even give Al a premium since he was in the lead at the time, but we were playing for the trophy. One a year gets handed out, and the list of champions is still short. Al refused to chop if he didn't get the Golden Hammer handed to him. So I ended it with, "That's the sort of thing someone who doesn't think they can win it on their own would say."

Now, I don't fault Don for offering the chop, or taking it. Hell, if I was in a dominant lead, I'd put it out there, expecting nobody to take it. Negotiating requires you to ask for more than you think you'll get, because what will you lose? Plus, Don had a very healthy stack of orange chips in front of him, and it could be argued that he was the most feared player at the table. But for FIVE other people to say "sure, no problem" without even an ATTEMPT at negotiation? Nobody even tried to talk him down on the cash - why not say, "You get 2nd place money minus whatever puts the rest of us at 3rd place cash?"

Cash aside, only ONE person (and I don't even know who he is) said, "I kinda want the trophy." Which he quickly followed with, "But I'm good with the chop." Don even put it out there that he was happy to play on if ANYBODY didn't like the chop. Nobody spoke up. I get the shortstacks taking the deal, their chances of getting past 5 other players slim, but that leaves 3 other players who had a legitimate shot at the championship who shrugged and went with it.

Poker is a grind, and after 9 hours, I get the desire to stand up and leave with over a grand in your pocket. Bills to pay, losses to cover, people have their reasons for wanting or needing the money. But this wasn't the noon $150 tournament, this was the WPBT Winter Classic, which I THOUGHT was a championship coveted by our little group. I was PROUD to have won the trophy outright, and would have been ashamed if I'd taken the money instead of trying to take the championship. Hell, if even ONE person had spoken up and said "No, I didn't just put most of my Saturday into this to not take a shot at the Hammer," and been talked into the chop by the rest, then someone could have held their head up. Instead, a few hundred extra bucks locked in was enough to toss pride aside.

Don made a big play without a single card and won. He won the trophy and the tournament with one last big bet. Do I think that's a deserving way to win a championship? No. Do I feel it tarnishes the win? Yes. Do I fault him for taking it? No. I probably would have done the same in Don's position, because I would have never expected FIVE of our crew to agree to such a ridiculous offer. Everyone who said yes though? You come off as a sellout.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

WPBT Report

I was there for five days, but I think it can be recapped in one post. Forgive the lack of links, I may add them when I get home.

Let's get the crap out of the way first - down. Down a bunch. Atlantic City levels of down. I don't think I won a damned thing. Craps? Hundos on the table, walking away empty-handed. Pai Gow? Down a couple, but most games were the expected break-even with +EV in drinks. Let it Ride? If not a for a 3-card set of jacks, I'd be swearing off the game. Poker? AA once in the tournament (where I went out in 86th) was the only notable hand in all the poker I played. Although I was up $23 in the MGM mixed game. Slots? Well, I'd better be getting some good offers from the broke-ass casino companies this year after the number of max-bet button presses on my cards without a cash-out.

So, totally negative on the gambling front.

Big deal.

I was still under my loss limit.

And it was more than made up for by the real reason I went - to see you people.

By "you people", I mean you. And you. But not you, because you didn't go.

As has been the case for every winter gathering I've attended (4 and counting), I had a small entourage of local friends in my wake. The regulars - M, N, and E were joined by a couple Vegas virgins - M2 and S. In years past, I've had small regret for having a posse with me, as they haven't necessarily integrated with the larger group well, which has left me torn between groups.

This year, I went where I wanted, and it worked out better. Local friends ditch the $10 table for the $5? Tough, I've got Otis on my right, and Chilly and Bayne on my left. I'm not going anywhere. Drizz, Maigrey, and Gus show up to make it even better.

Hey guys, I'm teaching you Pai Gow. I can't believe that worked considering one of them doesn't drink and another doesn't drink much. Talk about -EV.

You want to stay in the room instead of gamble? Have fun, I have a tournament to rail and a drunken Gus is too much fun to NOT join his craps table.

Got to meet BrainMC (world's worst Pai Gow player), xkm1245 (who I think was stalking me, dude seemed to be everywhere), NumbBono, PokerVixen, 23Skidoo, Josie (who I like because she called me skinny), and more. Probably played with even more people I didn't know without realizing it. Sorry to Wolfshead for not introducing myself at the mixed game - I was full of Robuchon and gambling angst and didn't think to make a formal introduction.

Then of course, there's my fellow Canucks - Katitude and Joanne1111. Only seeing Joanada in Vegas makes sense as Calgary ain't exactly next door. But Kat? We really need to start meeting up somewhere between the 20 minutes between our respective homes - I think 10 minutes is much more reasonable :). Then there's kinda-Canadian BuddyDank who was the first blogger I saw this year, and who I have just now decided I will blame for my early ousting from the tournament, as I spent most of my time chatting with him. Obviously, he drained all my good luck to make it to the 6-way chop.

Speaking of Canadians - OhCaptain's (from South Ontitoba, aka Minnesota) Bourbonators never really came together, but he DID get his group shot before the tournament and a bottle of Bowmore to bring to the next Eh-Vegas! Always good to see the cap'n.

Then there's VinNay and Dawn and Mary, who I've seen more than any other bloggers (and most of my local friends) this year. Amazingly, we still had some stuff to talk about, be it of substance or not. Although Mary and I seemed to be on different schedules and barely crossed paths.

I FINALLY played craps with Bayne after about 6 coincident visits to Vegas. That one's ticked off the list, and replace with "do it again, and win this time."

CK made it out to Robuchon this year! No crappy deals that never got done to keep her away from the best meal in Vegas. And for those who DIDN'T see her at the mixed game after? She cleans up great - who knew she even had a dress and heels? You'd barely know she was a deadly poker machine.

Al, Pauly, Iggy, CJ, Drizz, Falstaff, April, April, Garth, Gnome, MiamiDon, JoeSpeaker and many, many more - it was great to see you, however briefly.

I even managed to make it to Legasse's this year. Later than planned, but there was something great about walking into that suite, packed with people I knew, and some I hadn't even realized were there. Free swag from Full Tilt was icing on the cake. I'll have to start using my pool to justify the sandals...

And the food! I might have lost at the various gambling tables, but the dinner tables were nothing but win.

Sage = fantastic food, and an amazing value for a nice dinner. 3 course tasting menu, wine or beer pairing, and appetizer upgrade all for $140? In Vegas? Worth it. Oh, and our waiter was amazing - he rolled with our jokes (we were in town for a quilting bee) and was great for a laugh or six himself.

Delmonico's = still making the steaks right. Two years in a row now we've been put at the front of the restaurant - which is dark and sucks. Service has dropped off since our first visit 4 years back as well - it's by no means bad, but it used to be above and beyond. But they still know how to cook a solid piece of meat. The $25 corkage fee for our excellent self-brought wine was also very reasonable.

Robuchon - what can I say that I didn't last year? Awesome. With the new experience shine off from last year for half of us, I worried if I'd oversold it to myself. Nope. Still 16 courses of perfect food and impeccable service. Worth every penny. Hell, I'd lost more at craps the first night. Our sommelier being Canadian was a pretty nice touch too. Seriously, if you can afford it, do it at least once.

Julian Serrano - Last minute "well, we're all out of the tournament" dinner. Very nice tapas. Reasonable prices. I've certainly had better tapas in Toronto, but the dishes here ranged from good to "bring us another of those". The waiter was also incredibly friendly, and seemed genuinely happy to have served us. The fact he found a stamp-collector in our group, and he was an active one himself, certainly helped.

Legasse's - You'd be hard-pressed to find better food at a sports bar anywhere. Considering it was the only meal I ate between then and lunch the next day, it was welcome.

The last time I was down this much, N and I left Atlantic City with grumbles and vows to never return. Looking back, I can't believe how much fun I had while flushing cash down the felt toilets in Vegas. A huge thank you to everyone who was there, and a double thanks to Al, April (and her local cohorts), and CJ for taking care of all those logistical things that made it extra special.

Next year? Need to cram in a photowalk, and also get that indoor skydiving thing done. There's also the Jose Andres restaurants opening up this week at the Cosmopolitan. I task the Vegas locals to check those out for me and report back ASAP.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

First Vegas Pic

This year's view - room upgrade failed, but this will do I suppose.

Next time I'm here at sunrise, there'll be a new pic.

Ths Year's View

Friday, December 03, 2010

Gravy (WPBT)

This isn't about politics... just the next paragraph.

It's a word that in my fine city has become a punchline. Our current mayor's cries to "stop the gravy train" have infused connotations onto a word that is usually associated with deliciousness.

But dammit, I loves me my gravy! And you know what? Next week will be full of it!

Because next week is Vegas! A week tomorrow is when I sit my ass down to defend my Golden Hammer Trophy from over 100 challengers. You know what else? The pot just keeps getting more tasty with delicious gravy!

Poker Stars has increased their team last-longer prize from last year! Now Full Tilt has stepped up to grow our prize pool AND cover food at Sunday's football-watching extravaganza. Man, I wish that $100 bubble prize was there two years ago when I was that guy. On top of all that, both Tilt and Stars are putting bounties on people in the tournament! $100 or $50 depending on the sponsor, and hell, that could be $150 depending on overlap of bounties! AND a Hammer Challenge from Stars! $50 for winning post flop with the hammer? They should just throw money at the tables!

Between my inevitable repeating as champ, the 1-2-3 finish of Team "Astin is Awesome" (that's our name, right guys?), and me knocking out EVERYONE, with THE HAMMER, this will be a very profitable tournament for yours truly.

Let's be honest, I'm going home with a copy of Gigli and a hangover.

Plus, poker lessons before the tournament! I mean, let's face it... if I can win this thing everyone else must REALLY suck, and could only benefit from this opportunity.

Thanks to Sir AlCantHang and El Luckbox for putting this delicious topping together for us sorry degenerates.

I am figuratively bursting at the seams with anticipation for this trip. I always look forward to Vegas, but this year, it's also a real vacation from life for a few days. Everything else?


Did I Learn Anything?

My first semester of classes in over a decade are wrapping up in the next couple weeks. I'm actually missing two of the remaining six classes due to a small gathering of (sometimes) like-minded individuals in the desert. It's been a lesson in time management, and reminder that while I can still pull off the last minute cram session, it's not nearly as much fun as when I could sleep the next day away.

But the real question at the end of any period of education is - did I learn anything? The short answer is, "yes," but not necessarily in the way the institution had in mind.

The class that approximately equates to "Digital Photography for Dummies" actually turned out to be "Intro to Lightroom". The Photoshop course pretty much lived up to expectations of being far too rudimentary to be of much use to me. The history course? Completely useless and the most stress-inducing of them all for the least amount of gain.

So what did I learn then? There were snippets of usefulness here and there - try this setting, here's a list of shortcut keys, here's a feature I didn't know about. Largely things I could have learned if I bothered to Google the right questions, or just played around long enough. Of course, the key part is that I wouldn't have - so this is information I wouldn't otherwise have in reality.

But more so has been a massive improvement in my workflow. Having never used Lightroom before, I now see why it's such a beloved tool. It easily covers 80% of what needs to be done to most photos. I still have to switch to Photomatix for HDR, and CS5 for stitching, more advanced work, and actual editing instead of processing, but so much is now encapsulated in one fairly quick program that I may one day get through my massive backlog of photos.

Also, I think the actual pictures I'm taking are getting better. This is through no fault of the courses, and more a result of the sheer volume that I've taken with the specific goal in mind of "take different, good pics for class" instead of my vacation M.O. of "take a ton, sort 'em out later". There are still swaths of near-duplicates, but it has improved.

Perhaps the biggest change, and most recently noticed - keeping the work. I used to edit my photos, flatten the layers, and save it as a high-quality JPEG to save space. This recently bit me in the ass when I went back to edit my bounty picture. The aggravation of not being able to find a TIFF or PSD file with previous changes in place nearly broke me. I finally tracked down a full-sized JPEG and ended up altering it as necessary (sharpening and cropping to a standard print ratio). The whole time, an instructor's voice in my head - "I don't know why you WOULD get rid of your layers and save it as a JPEG or something. Then you can't edit it later." Lesson learned.

So now, with plans for yet another massive desktop upgrade (my 13" Macbook became the powerhouse with a simple memory upgrade, that can't stand), a new camera on the horizon (5D Mk III can't get here fast enough), and a noticeable drop in my bank account accompanying all that, I feel like I'm actually taking that next step in my photographic process. Amazing how even so little actual education can lead to such major progression.

Thursday, December 02, 2010


If mankind minus one were of one opinion, then mankind is no more justified in silencing the one than the one - if he had the power - would be justified in silencing mankind.
- John Stuart Mill

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

So It Begins (local politics)

Rob Ford begins his tenure as our esteemed Mayor today.

Always a wallflower and one who likes to keep his big trap shut, he's already pissing me off. This will be all over the place, with no backing evidence, and also, I'm hungover and tired. Forewarned, you are.

"People do not want streetcars. We're going to start building subways and we're going to start right now."

This one sentence contains so much condensed stupid, I'm surprised it didn't collapse into a black hole of stupid, dragging all surrounding intelligence into its stupid maw.

Toronto has an approved and funded transit plan. Transit City will lay out light rail transit lines across the city (not streetcars), cost a few billion over decades, and should surpass the needs of this city beyond that. Assessments of ridership, growth, cost, and environmental impact have been done. Contracts have been signed with various companies to provide vehicles, lay track, etc.. Higher levels of government have approved the plan and promised funding for it. It's all been budgeted, and the ball is already rolling.

Subways are a pipe dream. They'll cost 3-5x more than the agreed-upon system, create even larger disruptions in traffic and daily life (entire streets completely dug up and exposed, buildings and houses torn down for stations, etc.), and would require a whole new round of assessments that wouldn't be completed until at least the NEXT election has come and gone. Sure, subways would be great, if they were remotely practical.

On top of that, subways would be nearly empty. The proposed routes don't have nearly enough ridership throughout the day to support the capacity of a subway system. An LRT system not only meets current needs, but surpasses them enough that it will take decades of growth to reach a level of saturation.

Then there's the contracts already signed. Bombardier and others aren't going to shrug and say, "oh, you changed your mind... that's okay." Hundreds of millions in cancellation costs would come into play. Years of planning tossed out the window. For something that WILL NOT BE REALIZED. "Start right now?" You're fucking dreaming.

Now, this level of idiocy sets of alarms in my head - he can't be THIS stupid, can he? It's some sort of political ploy. Distract the masses with an outrageous claim. The real goal is to just dismantle transit plans until the next Mayor has to make decisions. Something like that. Except that Ford and his team haven't shown nearly enough acumen to be that smart. This reeks of pure, unadulterated stupid. Our mayor can't see past the end of his nose, let alone any sort of broad picture or consequences.

He wants to cut costs, and the FIRST thing he proposes would add BILLIONS to them.

Maybe he should just set up a model railroad and convince himself he's achieved his goal. He can be mayor of Moronia.

Fuck, it's going to be a long four years.