Monday, December 31, 2012

WPBT Trip Report

I suppose I should try and get this up before I end up back in Vegas (that's February).

I've been going to these things since the summer of 2006 (I missed the Winter gathering that year though), and they're always a good time. This year was no exception, although things were a bit different.

These weekends used to be preceded by warnings of how to drink properly and maintaining a buddy system so someone would run a welfare check on you if you disappeared after 29 hours of greyhounds and soco shots. Now people talk about running in marathons and hiking through canyons.

Something something growing up.

For me, it's always about seeing friends I see but once a year, twice if I'm lucky.  It could be a weekend in an empty room with food and bathroom breaks and it'd still be a good time with this group. Of course, we'd undoubtedly come up with new forms of gambling by the end of it.

I arrived, I played slots and craps and poker and the like. I drank, but nowhere near to excess. I ate tasty food, had an ambulance called for me, worried a dozen people, talked hockey with a celebrity, walked through some hills, took a bunch of photos, and lost a few bucks. All-in-all, a good time

The Hike

Dan/Peaker posted an innocent question a month or so before the trip - "I want to go on a hike, is anybody interested?" 14 of us said "YES!" and he now had to herd cats bloggers.

Amazingly, everyone showed up on time. It should be stated that "on time" means "within half an hour of the we're-leaving-without-out deadline". We drove out to the wilderness, where any able-bodied mountain climber turned runner could easily subdue and bury 14 people that would never be found. Surprisingly, that's not foreshadowing.

The hike, despite Dan's claims of it being "at least a class 15, uphill both ways, definitely requiring crampons and years of training" was mostly a nice walk through some rocks and over a creek. I took pictures.

Long Path


Approaching Doom

Getting my Ansel On

Looking Back

The Survivors

There was something like an 80% survival rate, which I think is pretty good.

That was Friday morning. Little did I know that an aquatic creature would nearly kill me that night.

The Ambulance

Post-hike was the usual activities of cleaning up, gambling, having a couple drinks, and patching together plans for diner. It was Friday on the Strip, so options seemed limited. But in today's world of apps, making a reservation for 4 that becomes 7 that becomes 12 is fairly easy. To China Poblano we did go. It's a solid restaurant that I've enjoyed in the past.

We took over our table, ordered a whack of dishes for the table, and generally had a good time. My drink took longer than expected to arrive, but I didn't care. The food arrived, and I dove into the tuna ceviche. With a crunch.

I called over the waitress and asked what was in their ceviche. She ran through the list of ingredients, finishing with "pecans".  Right, that would be the issue. I calmly explained my nut allergy, and she calmly went into an "ohshitohshitohshit" panic.

The thing with my nut allergy - it takes a little bit to kick in, so I'm never sure if I caught it in time. Those around me worried, and I collected my thoughts. I sucked on some lemons, a trick that used to work fairly well, but not so much this time. I felt the anaphylaxis coming on and asked Carol to get me some Benadryl. I'd already asked the hostess for some, but she seemed to have missed that memo.

As the staff was converging on me and asking if I wanted paramedics, or anything, Carol returned with the magic pink knock-out pills. I took a couple, and then left with the nice security man to fill out a report and determine if a hospital visit was in order. Again, Carol was great and stuck with me to make sure I wasn't knocked over the head and buried on a hiking trail to avoid liability and lawsuits.

Form filled out and lip noticeably swelled, I decided paramedics wouldn't suck. My Canadian brain was estimating US hospital costs and trying to remember if I had to let my insurance provider know before or after the trip in order to be paid back. Of course, not knowing my policy # or anything didn't help. I was led through the back halls of the Cosmopolitan, which are pretty boring, and by the time I was downstairs, the paramedics had arrived.

The first two through the door had a stretcher... for the person who had fallen and whacked their head in the elevator.  My guys came afterwards. A bit of discussion and more forms later, we all agreed that the Benadryl was doing its thing and they couldn't do much more for me outside of charging me ridiculous sums of money. I was on the road to recovery.

Back through the casino to my awaiting friends who had polished off what I'm sure was a delicious dinner. People seemed relieved that I was alive, then asked if I was upset they had already started joking about my death. Seeing as how I'd be the first to do the same if it was them, no hard feelings were had.

Of course, the restaurant didn't comp a single damned thing off the menu. But Michelle wielded her mighty might and talked them into taking off all the orders of the offending ceviche of death. Someone forgot to tell the waiter though, who then chased us out of the restaurant for the missing portion of the bill. Then he questioned Michelle's math while Carol stormed back in to grab the hostess. It was incredibly amusing to see the waiter wilt under Michelle's glare while the hostess came out like a scolded pet behind an angry local. Needless to say, all was quickly settled and we continued on our way.

The interesting thing about Benadryl is that it knocks you on your ass. More fun is when you've consumed a high-caffeine mint or two just before dinner and they're fighting it out, swimming in the booze you've consumed between those times.  The best option is of course to play poker on a screwed-up table with wooden posts all over it.

I think I said "it might be the Benadryl talking, but..." more than a few times during that game. I left a winner. "I almost died tonight" also came into play when needed. When did I ever claim to have pride?

Thanks to my two "moms" for the night in Carol and April. Who had various medications spread between the two of them and made sure to ask repeatedly how I was doing. It was appreciated, as I was myself a bit unsure about being alone until I knew I was in the clear.

The Tournament

The centrepiece of these gatherings is the tournament.The whole lot shows up to play bad poker for not insignificant winnings.

This lot:

Motley Crew

I went out relatively early to my lust for Grange's mugs. Two beautiful copper Moscow Mule mugs were his bounty, and I wanted them. I doubled him up, and then gave him the rest of my chips on hands I have since forgotten. What a dick. To get him back, I had dinner with him and PokerVixen and OnAFoldDraw later that night at Herbs and Rye. I may not know what "get him back" means.

As with all tournaments, you want to go out early or in the money. I had plenty of time after my ousting to lose money and have some more drinks. To BrainMC and Chilly - Hey orange! You're up!

The tournament went until 11ish and finished with CJ beating TheWookieWay. I missed the 10th and 9th place finishers I think. But managed to grab a shot of the final 8.

Final Table - 1

The final two looked like this:

Final Table HU (3/3)

It was obvious from early on that CJ would win. Why? Because his flight left at 11:20, so the Poker Gods would make sure he was in the tournament as late as possible. He could have pushed every hand heads-up and he would have won. Maybe he did. I left about 3 minutes before it wrapped up. Congrats to everyone who cashed though.

The Rest

I had some great meals - Carnevino with Fuel, Bayne, and a buddy of Fuel's. Steak aged something like 8 months that tasted great, but fell short of what I expected. I'm happy I did it, I don't need to do it again. Fantastic wine.  Herbs and Rye with Grange, Poker Vixen, and On A Fold Draw meant some good drinks (Mule, and a solid Blood and Sand), and way too much food. Tao was worth doing as well, but like much of the Venetian, the menu is showing its age, trends have moved beyond the trends it was catering to. That said, I wouldn't have passed up dinner with the Penners and Brian if it had been at McDonald's. Carol also introduced me to Bachi Burger on my way out of town, which is on my list of places to return to. Great burgers.

I once again missed the chance to greet the runners as they finished. I tried to make it over there with a Penner and his fiancée, but we severely underestimated the crowds and route and made it too late. I did, however, spend the night post-dinner with a few of those who ran, and many who didn't, around a poker table in the Mirage. I left down cash, but up huge in fun. You haven't played advanced poker until you've called off 2/3 of your stack with K2o on a board that completely missed you. I made the right read on Penner the younger, he just had slightly less nothing than I thought... oops.

I met Wil Wheaton who had made it out for the first time in years, and he came across as a genuinely nice guy who was happy to be among friends.  I also took some of his money with a boat over his pair of 4s, and shot the shit about hockey with him. He's a notorious Leafs-basher, but after a couple shots (we've heard 'em all), he seemed to actually be interested in what the fanbase of the most loved/hated team in the league is like. Regardless of your team, all us hockey fans just want them back on the ice.

I brought contraband across the border in the form of Kinder Eggs for Absinthetics. I do hope his family hasn't choked to death... they seem really nice.

Drinks with the Nassis (wow, you've got to be careful typing that), Marty, Chilly, F-Train and M. Templeton rye at the bar by the sports book (it lives up to the hype. The rye, not the bar). Walking the strip with Alan and Kat (not that one, the one he's engaged to). More poker than I've played in previous trips with various friends. Up all night playing video roulette with Vinnay (bastard wins a bunch, I continue to lose). Learning open-face Chinese poker with Vinnay and Carol in Vinnay's room when we should have really all gone to sleep already. Getting a ride with LVCabChronicles and it being the cheapest airport-to-Aria ride EVER (seriously, $14.50! Everyone else was ripped off). Losing money to friends. Winning money from friends. Watching my MLife points climb at way too terrible an exchange rate. Being mildly insulted by Grange and his fervent anti-Canadianism (aka: jealousy).

Oh, and finding an incredibly hard to get bottle of boubon at a liquor store on the way to the airport. Like needle-in-a-field-full-of-haystacks hard.

All great memories. I'm sure I've missed some, and missed people. I apologize, no slights were intentional.

It was also a year of change. The IP is now no more. It's The Quad now. The Geisha bar was gone before we got there. I didn't even go in the IP this year, and only passed it on my way to dinner in the Venetian. This was our traditional meeting spot. The cheapest rooms on the strip, dealertainers, and $5 Pai Gow and craps. I couldn't tell you what it looks like now. That was a refrain often heard - "I haven't even been near it." The Aria is the new base of operations. The Excalibur made its return as the cheap game and cheap bar venue of choice. This decentralization seemed to help - people had to reach out. Texts and tweets were frequently sent as people sought out the next thing that was going on. I spent more time with more people than previous years. It was a sentiment I heard echoed a few times. In many ways, this diaspora brought the community closer together. I definitely look forward to 2013, where I expect to see at least some of you outside of Vegas before we all reconvene.

And I'll throw in a couple more pictures. These from the walk from the Aria to Venetian during the marathon. All these and more are also over here.

Right to Bear Arms

Woah Horsey


Venetian at Night

Is it next December yet?

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Well, It's a Start

There's a post making the rounds in these parts from someone who voted for Rob Ford (henceforth known as Mayor Laughable Bumblefuck - H/T to Cory Doctorow). In it, the author tries to explain his ignorance at the polling station 2 years ago. How he thought Bumblefuck had more achievable goals, and that the stories of his ineptitude HAD to be overblown, because nobody could be that much of a buffoon, right?

Of course, he now realizes how wrong he was.

It's no excuse. You were a fucking moron.

I'm glad you've seen the error of your ways and are looking to make amends. But because of people who couldn't be bothered to spend about 30 seconds THINKING about the idiot who would be Mayor, we've had 2 years of bumbling idiocy from His Worship Bumblefuck.

Seriously, other than the union negotiations, can anybody tell me something productive he's achieved? And I'm not talking about the increase in civic interest because of his floundering.

Anybody with a brain and 5 minutes of time to read should have been able to see that Ford's "plans" were useless. That his promises held no ground in reality. Sure, we all wanted to believe there was tons of "gravy" at City Hall, but a look at the numbers showed that Toronto was pretty efficient as it was, and that the savings that could be found wouldn't amount to enough without severe cuts to services.

That aside, Bumblefuck's unadulterated aggression towards things like realistic transportation, bikes, urban dwellers, environmental causes, Pride, crime prevention over policing, or any sort of personal responsibility, not to mention his racist comments, legal troubles, and general stubbornness and buffoonery should have been red flags that he wasn't the mayor you wanted.

Sure, Smitherman was no peach himself, but was clearly the lesser of two evils. And when you vote for the lesser of two evils... YOU GET LESS EVIL.

The worst kind of voter is the uninformed one. The one who steps behind the box still debating who they'll vote for because they DON'T UNDERSTAND THE POSITIONS OR THE CANDIDATES. I'd rather you had come out and said "I got Rob Ford, I knew he could be a disaster, but I thought he was the better choice because his politics lined up more with my own." I might disagree with you then, but at least you'd come off as someone who gave a damn.  Instead you sound like you flipped a fucking coin because you got tired of hearing aspiring teachers cheer their union. Mayor Laughable Bumblefuck wasn't some unknown. He wasn't Rossi or Thompson. He had been a Councillor for TEN YEARS. His voting record and NUMEROUS public fuck-ups were well known. To say, " about Ford’s ineptitude seemed not just exaggerated, but made up. Could anyone be so wildly unfit?" just says, "I was too lazy to use Google."

I'm glad you learned a lesson. I'm glad you're telling other people it's okay to be ashamed of their terrible choice. But maybe you should also talk about how you could have avoided looking like such an idiot in the first place.

But you ask for clemency. Fine, now that that's off my chest, you have it. You were young and inexperienced. You actually believed a politician and not your own brain. Never make that mistake again. If something sounds like it's so easy it should have already been done, spend at least a few minutes trying to find out why it hasn't. And for whatever being you choose's sake, don't EVER walk into a polling booth still trying to figure out who gets the X.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Keeping Poker Grey

Yes, a post about poker... here. Who'da thunk it?

I was reading Grange's writeup on the recent court decision on a home game in South Carolina when I got to thinking that poker staying in this grey area of legality creates appeal to the game.

Poker is American as something that is considered really American. It's a game that still brings forth images of saloons and guns and aces up sleeves and flipped tables and smokey back rooms and riverboats and lives being traded on the turn of a card. Yet it's now also associated with sunglasses and hoodies and feature tables and piles of cash being brought out and commentators and hole cams and live blogs and websites and avatars and virtual felt.  It's modernized and gone mainstream while holding onto its outlaw appeal.

Poker has been sitting at a crossroads for a decade now. It's everywhere if you look for it, yet still not accepted or understood by the masses. One still sees poker games portrayed incorrectly in modern media. My favourite version is where someone bets more than their opponent has in front of them, and the only way to see the hand through is for the short-stacked sucker bet something of value - his wedding ring, or watch, or car, or house, or whatever moves the plot forward. In reality, the short-stack is simply all-in, and can lose no more than what they have in front of them. About a half second of thought reveals why this is so: If reality worked that way, I'd just buy-in for more than everybody and go all-in every hand so they could never call without risking their Ferrari vs my extra $5.

But it's that risk that appeals. That feeling that you could lose it all or win a fortune depending how the cards fall. That image is supported by the fact that poker is still illegal in so many places.

Toronto once had a booming underground poker scene. The nearest legal poker rooms are an hour or two away in big casinos. During the summer, a charity poker room opens up at the Canadian National Exhibition, and it's where Daniel Negreanu and Evelyn Ng got their start. But if it was Tuesday evening and you wanted to toss some chips around? You were out of luck unless you knew the right door to buzz.

The media portrayed these clubs as dark dens of iniquity. Fortunes stolen by the owners, illegal drugs and prostitution abounding. The reality, at least for the club I was in, was much more mundane. Well-lit rooms full of 20 & 30-somethings who knew each other by name. A couple TVs with the game on, and a fridge to put your beer in. Sure, a rake was taken, but the lights had to be kept on, and the guy running it needed to get something from the deal. Nobody complained, and everyone had a good time. Outside of the odd joint (brought in by the smoker), the most illegal drug was Red Bull.

But there was something exciting about hitting that buzzer and looking up at the small video camera by the door. There was something SO COOL about walking into that room and having the owner greet you by name and ask how it's going. And there was always the odd butterfly that flitted around wondering if you'd get caught. You loved telling your friends about the "underground poker club" you played at. It made you seem like an even better player at the home games. And if you saw one of the other members on the street, that knowing nod and grin said it all.

Of course, when mine was busted in all its media-reporting glory (an hour after I had left for the night), I stopped going. I thought about it once, then thought better of it. They got busted again, tried re-opening with a different runner, and as far as I know, gave up.

It was the threat of danger that appealed. Once that danger became all-too-real, the allure was lost. I'm no bad-ass rebel. I'm a lazy middle-class white man living in a great big city in a condo in a safe neighbourhood. but poker is one of those vices that feels like it adds a dimension of cool.

Because it's not entirely legal.

Saying "I play softball" or "I like to shoot hoops with my buddies" is pedestrian. Whoopdeedoo. Sure, it's fun, social, and requires some level of skill, but it's also safe. It's accepted. Kids do it in gym class. But poker? Poker gets people raising an eyebrow and saying, "oh?" Saying you go to Vegas or Niagara sometimes to play cards is fun, even though those are places where poker is as accepted as softball in suburbia. Finding a fellow player is like finding another Stonecutter - a member of your secret society.

A home game is a tiny bit of rebellion. The stakes may only be $20 + beer and pizza money, but it means the married folks got permission from their spouse, or found a babysitter. It means the single ones are showing off that they can do this whenever they want. And in some places, like South Carolina apparently, the cops could bust down your door and take your Walmart chip set.

When online poker was all over the States, every single player knew they were, at BEST, in a grey area of legality. It wasn't easy to get money on a site. There were laws out there that weren't entirely understood. Justifications about skill vs chance were used to reassure oneself that everything would be okay. And when the hammer came down, every US player was pissed, but at least secretly thought "well, I knew that could happen."  Let's face it - you felt special when talking to your non-poker friends about how you played online poker. If it had been perfectly legal, it would be as impressive as talking about how you play World of Warcraft.

So yah, busting up a home game isn't cool. Not having a legal poker room in a population centre of over 5 million people seems ridiculous. Keeping people from playing poker from their couch reeks of a nanny-state. If poker ever gets out of the grey and into the domain of accepted pastimes, let's hope it stays at least as cool as pool. But right now? When laws against it are being fought in courts, and when millions of dollars of player money are still being held by law enforcement agencies? Damn, does it ever make us boring-ass nobodys feel a little like outlaws.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Pouring Baseballs

Reports are that the Jays have signed Melky Cabrera to a two-year $16-million contract. Not the Cabrera you necessarily want, but maybe not too shabby.

This feels incredibly un-Jays like though. Not the free-spending, that's happened in the past. No, the signing a performance-enhancing drug user. The Jays have generally been seen as a very clean team during their life. Hell, they've barely even had players with attitude problems, let alone cheating ones.

So why Cabrera? Sure, we needed a left fielder to go along with Bautista and Rasmus, as the consensus seems to be Davis is a late-game speed replacement, not an every-day guy (which I find kind of sad, I like him). But there had to be one with less baggage.

If Cabrera can perform with even his Kansas City numbers, then he's well worth it. A switch-hitter who can hit .300? Hell, anyone hitting .300 is a welcome addition to the Jays. If he drops back to inconsistent Atlanta and New York numbers... well, he's just another Jay, and nothing special.

That said, the team is much stronger already, so if he gets buried in the 6-8 spots, it won't exactly hurt the team as long as he can play left worth a damn.

If he puts up numbers like last season, cleanly, then it's the biggest surprise since Bautista got his swing right.

This opens up more trading possibilities. If Davis is happy being a pinch runner and strategic entry, then he stays on the roster. If not, then he's trade bait. Both Moises Sierra and Anthony Gose can stick around in Buffalo (that's just weird) and be called up as needed, although Gose is just about ready to go every day in the bigs.  If Gose achieves that, then Rasmus could be on the trading block.

Arencibia is still definitely trade bait. For a second baseman? Maybe. Talk of Bonifacio vs Maicer Izturis for the spot is there, but if someone better is available, I'm sure Anthopoulos will jump on it. Or who knows? Maybe Scutaro comes back to the Jays fold. That'd be one hell of a capper to an offseason.

Other holes are starting pitching depth, but that's more minor-league transaction-level at this point, and maybe figuring out 1st base. Encarnacion and Lind platooning 1B and DH is the most likely scenario, and that's not a bad situation really.

Oh, and I guess we still need a manager. Shouldn't be too hard to find interested parties now. I wonder how Farrell likes the view in his rear-view mirror now.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Baseball in November

Yesterday the Blue Jays made a huge trade with the Miami Marlins.

12 players.

Just about anybody making money with the Marlins is now a Blue Jay. A whack of prospects, our backup catcher, and our shortstop who wrote a gay slur in his eye black are heading to Florida.

Helluva trade.

I do love how the ESPN guy asked "Where did Toronto get all that money??" Once again displaying the invisibility of this team to the League at large. The Jays are owned by a multi-BILLION dollar telecom/media company that pulls in over $2Bil in profit annually.  They're probably one of the richest ownerships in the Majors, they just don't like spending on a team that pulls in 20,000 fans when the Yankees or Red Sox aren't in town.

Evidently, the lack of Leafs revenue this year has prompted them to look at their other teams. Yes, Rogers owns half the Leafs and Raptors too.

Miami fans are rightly pissed. Jays fans are generally happy, except that most Jays fans are clueless, so some of them don't actually recognize any of the names.  But the sports media will work to change that, since they actually know who Buerhle, Reyes, and Johnson are.

Local media is calling it the second biggest trade in Jays history. The biggest is known to any Jays fans - McGriff and Fernandez  for Carter and Alomar. But if the Jays can pull off a couple World Series wins and three divisional titles, then this one could beat it.

The big names are the scene stealers here obviously, but I'm more interested in John Buck.

Buck signed with the Marlins after his best year ever, with the Jays. Nobody's expecting 20 HR out of the guy this time around, but with Mathis going to the Marlins, Buck is a $6.5 million backup to J.P. Arencibia. Which seems... odd.

Arencibia is history. He's a top-tier catcher who isn't needed here. The fans love him, but Travis d'Arnaud is ready and is as can't-miss as prospects get. So you trade J.P. for a need (everyday left fielder? First baseman if you don't think Lind can handle it? Second base seems the most pressing), and let Buck mentor d'Arnaud in the majors for one season. Then Buck's gone, D'Arnaud is every-daying it, and you find your next cheap backup.

There was some talk of moving Arencibia to 1st, but that just seems unlikely.

But let's look at this team now.

Starting Pitching: Romero, Morrow, Beurhle, Johnson, Happ. That's one solid lineup assuming Ricky's surgery fixed what ailed him last season.  There's Kyle Drabek on the shelf after Tommy John surgery too, so that's a possible mid-season replacement if someone doesn't work out.

Bullpen: Middle relief is decent, and in many places solid. If Oliver decides to come back for one more season, he'll likely be the setup man to Casey Janssen, who OWNED the closer spot when it was thrust upon him last year. He was dominant, and Janssen has been Mr. Consistency for years now.

Infield: Reyes at short, Lawrie at 3rd are your key points. 2nd is unknown, I just don't see Mike McCoy there every day, 1st has Adam Lind, who everyone hopes can show the power he once did. At catcher is Buck, and as I said earlier, likely d'Arnaud. Some holes in the infield, but Arencibia should bring in some filler.

Outfield: Bautista will be back, Rasmus had a decent year in CF, and left is a bit of a question mark. Rajai Davis had spurts of brilliance, and is too fast not to play regularly. Anthony Gose was in RF during Bautista's absence but will likely be looked at in left, and his second time up with the Jays was stellar. Bonifacio could also find himself in the mix here.

So fielding-wise there might be a few weak spots, but the strong spots are pretty damned solid.

Hitting? Reyes is THE leadoff guy. Lawrie behind him, especially if Brett can learn how to run the bases with a bit of smarts. Then Bautista cranking them all home and Encarnacion batting cleanup to protect Bautista. That's one HELL of a top 4.

If they could find a way to have both Gose and Davis in the lineup regularly, you'd have unbelievable speed in your lineup. Sadly, that looks like it would only happen if one was brought in to run late in a game. Lind and Rasmus both have some pop, d'Arnaud was tearing up the minors before being injured last season. That leaves whoever they hell they get for 2nd base to round it out.

Now they just need that 2nd baseman and a manager.

Jays fans are talking today. The team went from an injury-plagued disaster of a promising season to on-paper contenders in one fell swoop. No hoping for the Yankees to falter, or Tampa to have a bad run. For the first time in a long time, the hype is more than hope.

As long as they stay healthy.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Slow Decline of Apple

There is a thought I've been having since Steve Jobs died -  that the iPhone 5 would be a strong indicator of how Apple's corporate views have changed.

And signs point to where I had feared.

Tim Cook isn't Jobs. He isn't the prodigal son returned.  He lacks a cult of personality and an iron grip on the company. He's no doubt a talented executive, but without being the dictator Jobs reportedly was, the company will revert to a standard corporate structure.

Insular development, eschewing third-party native applications, design by committee, and development based not on quality, but profits.

Jobs seemed to have an understanding of the balance required. Using the iPhone, iPod, and iPad as examples (because laptops and desktops are different beasts), each new generation lacked something. It wasn't something that you needed necessarily, but it was something that would have been nice. Each iteration implied that a direction was being followed. Cries of "why can't it do this?" would fade away, and then the new version would have whatever "this" was. It left the consumer wanting more, but content with what they had.

Because what you had worked well. The touchscreen was responsive, the apps loaded quickly, the experience was seamless. Jobs insisted that "it just work." This was often the reason given for something not being included - "It's not where we want it yet."

And if a number changed in the device from a 3 to 4, or a 1 to a 2, you knew the new one would be envy-worthy.

But the iPhone 5? Meh.

It's taller, thinner, lighter, and it has a different back, and under the hood it's newer and faster. This is called a standard upgrade. There's nothing inspired here. It feels more like "the 4 still looks cool, but we have to do SOMETHING to it for the 5, oh and we have to change the aspect ratio."

But that's only part of it. The maps are getting some wide coverage on how terrible they seem. Bad directions, no streetview, no transit directions, less detailed maps, missing areas, mislabled locations, weird image mapping, etc.. In reality, most of these won't affect people day to day. But it speaks to a slip in quality control. For the sake of not supporting Google apps on their phones, Apple has rushed their own replacement.

This is something that could have been held off until the next iOS upgrade.

And the adapter change reeks of a money grab. It undoubtedly has technological and design benefits, but $30 for an adapter that doesn't actually adapt and won't fit in existing docks? That's exactly the "oh well" sort of thing that loses customers. After all, if I need a new phone and will lose functionality with my stereo either way, then you lose another tether to me. I feel kind of bad for people who integrated docks into their home.

Jobs had a plan. You could see the evolution of the devices as their underlying technology. It was there in how the iPod became a phone which became a tablet which altered the operation of the laptop and had people calling for a television.

Apple now? I fear they'll slowly collapse. Creating devices to compete, instead of creating devices to compete with, will become the norm. Apple has always been behind on specs and tech, but they excelled on taking ideas that had been heretofore poorly implemented and making them accessible and usable. Siri and cloud integration may be the last technologies we see Apple take a lead on. The original phone changed phone design forever. The 4 brought video calling to the masses The 4s brought decent voice interaction and native cloud support. The 5 brings... what? A subpar map replacement, and no native YouTube? An extra row of icons?

Sure, there will always be the fervent followers.  The iPhone 5 is breaking sales records and those sales are living up to the hype even the device isn't.  That doesn't mean it's comparable to the achievements of the past, and I fear it's reinforcement at the beginning of a negative trend.

Under Jobs I was convinced Apple had something up its sleeve. over $100 billion in cash was a strong signal that some big move was coming. My money was on a roll-out of an Apple network. A data-only network without the legacy cell crap.  After all, Facetime is an Internet phone. It's Skype for those who don't know about Skype. Now? I expect the cash will be used to buy up companies with interesting patents and for fighting lawsuits. They've already introduced a dividend instead of investing in the company. In short, there is no grand plan. This is a shame, because love or hate Apple, when it made a move, it changed the board, often to the net benefit of all consumers.

From here on out, I expect the net benefit will be to Apple.

Monday, August 20, 2012

That Bird Has Flown

The Blue Jays 2012 season started full of potential, and was wiped out by injury.

I was at a game a couple weekends ago, and pointed out that only ONE of the starters had been on the opening day roster. In fact, if you added up the RBI count for all the players except Encarnacion, you had less RBIs than he did. Same deal with home runs.  If it wasn't for Rajai Davis, you could probably do the same with at-bats.

The pitcher? J.A. Happ, who we picked up just before the trade deadline.  Oddly enough, my guys won the game in an impressive and entertaining fashion.

We lost 3 starting pitchers within two weeks of each other. None have yet to return.  The starting rotation has been a revolving door of call-ups and relievers in longer roles. There have been some bright spots, but not a single starter has a winning record.

Our closer, who stank, went down early in the season. But lucky us, Casey Janssen turned out to be a hell of a finishing man. It's a shame he doesn't have more games to save.

Our bullpen, even before injuries, had 3 reliable guys in Frasor (currently injured), Oliver (41 years old), and Janssen. That's been improved through trades and call-ups.

The Jays have used more players than any other team in the AL. I think San Diego might beat them in the Majors though.  Toronto's almost definitely near the top in man-games lost.  And as I said, this includes 3/5 of our opening day starting rotation. Leaving one rookie and our ace.  Except Romero obviously can't handle the pressure of being the ONLY experienced starter and being relied on for a win every 5 games. He's performed terribly since the rotation got crushed.

This is a team that was in contention for 1st overall. Then lost that, but was only a few games back of the wild card. That's now long gone too with a 56-65 record, 10 games out of the post-season in any form.

We had the HR leader again in Bautista, now he'd have to go on an epic tear to catch up when he gets back from injury.  Luckily, Encarnacion has done nothing but impress and step up this season, with 31 homers and 82 RBIs and will only look better when more power is back in the lineup.

We have the leader in stolen bases in Rajai Davis, who is practically unstoppable when he gets on base.

Too bad nobody can hit .300, although Lawrie and Encarnacion have come close.

Lawrie, Morrow, and Bautista should all be back this weekend. Which sounds not unlike "unicorns will be farting rainbows across the sky" to Jays fans these days. Lind, Arencibia, and Frasor will hopefully be back by September. Hutchison, Drabek, Santos, McGowan, Litsch, (4 starters and a closer) are all gone for the season.

So let's recap: our 3B, RF, 1B, C, #1 middle-relief, and #2 starter will all be back in the lineup by mid-September. Our 2B, SS and CF JUST got back from less-serious injuries. That's all but 1 position out.

The 2012 season is a write-off. The team needs a mulligan from the fans, and a redo for 2013. The conditioning regimen needs to be seriously looked at, and the coaching staff's methods have to be overhauled. Bad luck is one thing. Losing nearly every single starting player for extended periods of time is unacceptable and a sign of something being rotten in the organization.

And dammit, this team was looking REALLY good. The question marks like Rasmus and Johnson were doing great, Encarnacion has earned every dollar of his contract, Bautista continued to MVP it up, Lawrie was growing into the star he'll be in leaps and bounds, Lind was finally figuring it out, Davis had earned his every day spot, Arencibia was leaving management confused what to do with the mega-prospect D'Arnaud in the minors (now also injured), with no room behind the plate in the bigs for him, Morrow was having a breakout year, Drabek was finally showing maturity, Hutchison and Alvarez were impressing.  Hell, the only hole was in the bullpen, and that could have been fixed if everyone wasn't trying to plug injury hole after injury hole.

I stand by my preseason prediction, this team would have been fighting for the wild card this year. The only bright spot is that they're young enough to put up that fight next year.  Maybe even stronger.  As it is now, with the hope that we do see most of the team healthy, I expect a strong September.  It will be too late, but it should be entertaining.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


Maybe I should have taken pictures. No, that would have scared you off.

Sweetbreads are sometimes called "gateway offal" because they're pretty damned tasty if done right, not from anywhere particularly disgusting on the animal (thymus, which disappears after the animal is around 6 months old), and aren't a particularly weird texture.

I had them for the first time a few years back at a popular joint in these parts - The Black Hoof. The chef, Grant van Gameren, has since moved on to Enoteca Sociale, and brought his sweetbreads with him. This is now one of my favourite restaurants (the fact the rest of the menu is delicious doesn't hurt either). The first time I had sweetbreads, I literally moaned. That "holy shit this is amazing and words can't describe it" ooohmmmm that comes unbidden when tasting something amazing.

I now tend to order them whenever they're on a menu. They never come close to van Gameren's. They're sometimes quite good, but sometimes also quite bland. I was particularly disappointed when I had them at Carnevino in Vegas. A great restaurant, incredibly bland sweetbreads.

The ones I love are smoked. I don't see this done much anywhere else. They're often sautéed, or roasted, and they lack that depth of flavour smoking gives.

Naturally, I had to try to make my own.

I took a shot and tweeted @GrantVanGameren for tips on how to make them amazing. He replied with some helpful tips, all in 140 characters.  I got a little giddy.

Astoundingly, they didn't turn out as a complete mess, despite being previously frozen, and sitting thawed in the fridge for two days.

It's a bit of an involved process, something I didn't know before deciding to make them. Nothing difficult, just lengthy.

First I soaked them in cold water in the fridge for 24 hours, changing the water once (should have been more, but I forgot). This is necessary to draw out blood and other unpalatable bits aparently.

Then I blanched them for a few minutes in chicken stock. Laziness too over here again and I used a cube to make the stock instead of thawing out some of the 15L of real stock in my freezer.

So far, stellar start.

After blanching,  you have to remove the membrane. This was fairly easy at this point. I just used my hands, as tools could result in losing precious meat.

Then the pressing. The sweetbreads were put on a paper towel on a baking sheet, then another towel was put on top, and another baking sheet pressed down with cast iron pan.  This setup sat in my fridge for another 20 hours.

It was Wednesday now, I had bought them to make on Saturday. Whoops.

At this point, it was finally time to finish them off.

Out came the stovetop smoker. It was suggested to me to use light, cold smoke, but I lack the ability to cold smoke in my condo. So to compensate, I didn't cook them all the way through when I blanched (when are you supposed to cook something entirely in a blanching anyway? Isn't that just boiling at that point?). I used 2/3 apple wood and and 1/3 oak, cut up the sweetbreads, and hot smoked them for 15 minutes. Off the heat they came, and I tested one. A bit offaly still, but cooked through with some smoke flavour. I left the lid closed off the heat to get some more smoke in 'em.

While that was going on, I mixed some flour, corn starch, salt, pepper, smoked paprika and a spice blend (Pensey's Northwoods Fire) (1 cup : 1 tsp each) in a bowl. In another bowl went a cup of buttermilk, an egg, and 1/2 a cup of water.

Then I decided on a sauce. Mayo, smoked paprika, chili powder, chipotle chili powder,  cayenne pepper, salt, garlic powder, coriander seed, orange peel powder, a dash of hot sauce, and a squeeze of lime. Tasty southwesterny sauce.

In a cast iron pan I heated about 1/2" of peanut oil to 350 F-ish.

I took out the smoked sweetbreads, ran them through the buttermilk wash, then a quick dredge in the flour, and into the oil 3 or 4 at a time. Since they were already cooked, the goal here was just to get a golden fry on them. So maybe a minute total, turned halfway through.

After a couple minutes to cool on a rack, it was the moment of truth.

They were damned tasty. The texture was excellent, there was no offal taste, and I was happy. The only complaint would be the smoke was bit too strong. Next time, no oak.  All apple, or maybe some maple. I'll probably also avoid letting them continue to smoke after they come off the heat.  Then they'll be awesome.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Sports Report

Jays = 5th place in the AL East, .506, probably 3rd in your division, 4 back of the wild card.

2nd in home runs
5th in RBIs
3rd in runs
17th in batting average... there's a problem. Although 7th in OPS

3 of our 5 starters are injured. Within a 2-week span. 2 of our past starters have been out the whole season so far, so there goes depth. AA pitchers have been rushed up to the bigs.

Our closer? Sucked and is injured. Luckily Janssen has stepped into that role easily and incredibly.

The pressure on the remaining two starters is looking like it may be too much for them. For young Alvarez this isn't a surprise, but Romero should be better than that.

What more can I say? If we don't get some healthy pitching up front, call this season done by August.

Maybe Hutchinson and Morrow are back by then.  Drabek and Litsch are gone for the season. McGowan? Who knows. In Anthopoulos we trust.

At least the games have been largely entertaining.

But the Leafs... oh boy. My Leafs.

Here's the thing - a Nash, or Parise, or Jagr wouldn't help this team. They're not what they need. Also, they do nothing to make the team attractive to other players. We need a centre. Is there one? Not really. If there was, we don't have much to offer for one. Getting Van Riemsdyk is nice, especially at the cost of Schenn. But he's not fixing anything.

We need goaltending. Maybe Reimer comes back healthy and confident. Maybe Scrivens is ready for the bigs. Maybe nobody gets clocked in the head 8 games in and loses their season. That's a lot of maybes.

Luongo. I don't give a rat's ass if he wants to come here. That's the sort of player the team needs - a proven goalie is a sign to other players that Toronto is serious. That they have someone who can win and steal games for them. That they'll at least make the playoffs. It hides defensive deficiencies. He gives the forwards more freedom. He attracts interest. He's not going to win the Cup on his own, but if the Blue and White see more than 82 games, he'll be a hero to the city.

Will he end up here? I doubt it. Gardiner isn't going anywhere, and that's who everyone wants. If Burke can fool Vancouver into taking a Kadri, or some draft picks, or Komisarek, or some other combination of "potential" and crap, then it's a steal. Of course, Luuuuu has to give up on living in Florida for a few more years for that to happen.

Of course, he Bobby does go the Panthers, Theodore wouldn't look too bad in a platoon with Reimer. Not ideal, but at least proven.

No... my prediction for who the Leafs get? Jason Arnott. He's the typical Leafs free agent grab.

Recognizable name, past his prime, and will get paid more for longer by the Leafs than elsewhere (my guess, $4 mil over 2 seasons), and will do very little to help the team on the whole. Will be brought in as a "leader" and role player. But some people will foolishly think he's a 1st line centre. That or Langkow, but he lacks the cachet and probably won't take the pay hit.

What hurts the most is watching our conference get better while we stand mostly still. The piecemeal approach being employed - a winger here, a 3rd line centre there... that's great when you have core players in all your zones. We have wingers, some decent d-men, a second-line centre, and $12.5 million in cap space.

Hopefully we also have a GM with a trick or two up his sleeve... or a rabbit's foot.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Another Poker Tournament?

Shocked! Shocked am I that there is another organized gathering of poker bloggers online for some virtual chip tossing.

Such degeneracy!

Face Up Gaming, tomorrow, 3pm EDT, Bloggers 2, pw: battle2

I shall attempt to remember to sign up myself, and maybe even play for 30 minutes before I have to rush off. More dead chippies!

See, I have some friends who went got hitched (the fools!).  In celebration of this happy occasion, we'll be shooting them with Nerf guns in a city park near major government offices.  Think live-action FPS, with ammo caches and trees and possibly cops. Also, it's Canada Day weekend, and Pride weekend, so I'm sure there will be no other activities occurring in major city parks that could interfere with these plans.

Should be fun. It's also an hour after the tourney begins, but luckily only a 5 minute walk from my place.

But you, yes YOU, who are NOT  shooting your friends with foam darts and suction cups, should totally play free poker vs lots of friendly folks and Waffles.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

One More

I could use a cottage...

End of the Path

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Best Camera...

... is the one you have with you.

A familiar photography adage, often brought up when people are fighting over whether their Canon or Nikon is better than your Nikon or Canon or phone. Funny thing about adages is that they tend to be true.

After my latest course wrapped up, I let my DSLR sit. Life was busy, the weather was erratic, and I was a bit photographically burnt out. I picked it back up for my trip to Montreal, and those pics will get processed and up somewhere eventually.

That's not to say opportunities for a picture didn't pop up though, and my iPhone is pretty much always in my pocket. So it became my default camera.  It's noisy, low-res, not particularly sharp, and in general a technically mediocre camera, but it was what I had with me. With a little in-camera futzing and tinkering, and about 4 different camera apps, some decent results could be turned out.

I figure I'll dump them here, in no particular order.

High Park

Art, I Suppose

To the Cosmo



Suburban Sunset

Desk Cow

Blue Flame

Nice Dress

Melancholy Auto

2 3


Emergency by the Pit

As always, they can be embiggened by clicking.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Up a Political Level

Tiny bit about the beauty of political nannyism from a Provincial level.

A while back, our Provincial government mandated that only healthy food be served in school cafeterias. No more fried crap and other unhealthy options that teenagers devour. Why? Because teens are morons who don't know better obviously. I'd kill for my teenage metabolism.

Seriously, large double Big Mac combo with a double Big Mac on the side with no weight gain. Man, I miss those days. Seems like only 30 lbs ago...

Anyway, since teenagers aren't generally held captive in their schools at lunch time around here, they all went across the road to their local malls and plazas to spend their money at the fast food establishments there instead of in the caf. Oh, yah, because they also pay for their meals.

Result? A few dozen school cafeterias are being shut down in the latest round of school board cuts because they've become money-losers after they couldn't sell cheap crap anymore.

Which means that the healthy option provided by those cafeterias is now gone, leaving... the same (or worse) crap food that they kids had before, except now the money goes to businesses instead of the schools.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

City Swing

I had a fear when Rob Ford was elected as our mayor. The fear was that such a hard-right leaning mayor, who also happens to be an idiot, would result in a hard-left backlash come the next election. Toronto doesn't need a fiscally irresponsible hippie throwing money at every project and idea any more than it needs a mayor who doesn't understand that income is required to run a city.

Last week, the Mayor got his vote to cancel a 5-cent plastic bag fee to Council. The fee was instituted by the previous Mayor and has been incredibly successful in reducing the number of plastic bags being produced and sent to landfills. Some people are annoyed by it, but if you live here, it's not that difficult to get a few reusable bags or pay a nickel or two every once in a while.

To the surprise of many, the repeal of the fee passed. I had figured it would fail, but a motion to better direct these fees would come forward.

Instead, the fee was removed, and immediately afterwards, Council voted to ban plastic bags by next January. This was little more than big "fuck you" to Ford.

And it was a mistake.

I'm not against a plastic bag ban. I am against one that is done as a knee-jerk reaction with no planning, consultation, or plan. Are produce bags banned? Bulk food bags? What replaces the plastic bags? Do I have to buy a reusable bag every time I forget one? Or will paper be available? (Toronto has never really had the "paper or plastic?" option while I've been alive)

The LCBO (liquor store) dropped plastic bags a few years back, and many wept. They had the best plastic bags, those thick fuckers that could hold a ton of stuff and barely stretch, let alone break. They switched to paper only, except... not paper with handles. A big booze shopping trip now results in awkward balancing of bags if you don't bring your own or take a box. It's completely impractical if you want to pick up a couple bottles in the middle of shopping. If grocery stores switch to these type of bags, it could have a serious effect on those of us who walk to the store.

In the grand scheme of things, this is admittedly minor, if inconvenient. It certainly seems that the environmental benefit will be net positive, and people can adapt easily enough. Where my concern lies is that Council so easily passed this. They were annoyed with the Mayor and another of his stupid crusades, and they reacted by essentially saying "sure, here's what you want... and then something worse!" That's just poor governing. I want Council to be a voice of reason and a controlling element versus a terrible leader, not a power-mad organization who ignore what's best for what's most dramatic.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Welcome Back BBT

Well, the indomitable Sir Al Can't Hang has managed to convince a site to let us silly poker bloggers toss some fake chips around again!

Details are at his site, so I imagine anyone reading this has already read that, but that don't mean I can't point you in that direction.

The only issue for me is that it's this Saturday. I will be kicking back with a beer in hand on a gorgeous deck overlooking a beautiful lake in scenic Quebec cottage country at that time. Or I'll be in a hot tub. There's the small possibility I'll be prepping some German Potato Salad or Strawberry-Rhubarb Galettes at the time too, but those will more likely come later.

Point being, I won't be within easy access of a computer. But if I can get this going in some way, I'll be there to play terrible, terrible poker.

Because a cruise wouldn't suck.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Couple More Steps

Saturday. All finished Saturday.

That's the promise. Although if a few small things need to be done on some later date, I won't complain.

More kitchen talk of course. I'm excited, deal with it.

Back splash is up and grouted. Counter tops are down and sealed. Dishwasher awaits installation, and the range needs to be pushed back into place. Hell, the fact I can use ice from my ice maker is cause for celebration.

Naturally, I head out of town for an extended weekend just days after this is finished. So I guess I'll put off major food shopping until I return. Although the deep fryer will be back out soon enough.

But it looks amazing and once everything is in place, I'll know how well it works. Do I have enough counter space (I sacrificed some to fridge, sink, and pantry space)? Will I be able to grab that thing I forgot to grab before I started cooking? Where the hell are the measuring cups again? Why would I put the ancho chili powder on the top shelf behind the Szechuan peppercorns? WHERE THE HELL ARE THE OVEN MITTS?

These, and other questions will be answered soon enough.

Which reminds me that I need to pick up a whole new selection of cleaning products. Ceramic glass? Stainless steel cream? You know, if you get enough fingerprints on something, they don't look like fingerprints any more...

Monday, May 28, 2012

Four Ovens

Four is the count. The count is four. Ovens. In my kitchen.

There's the big boy in the middle of the room - dual oven goodness like you see all over the place now. Giant main convection oven that will do most of the heavy lifting, and drawer oven below, suitable for flatter things like pies or casseroles or cookies.

That's two.

Above that is the microwave. Which sneakily doubles as a second convection oven (it also triples as a fan and quadruples as a light, but that's boring). So three ovens in one vertical section of kitchen.

Then the toaster oven. Saviour of many a Thanksgiving and Christmas. It will mostly be used for toast, but come those holidays of gluttonous gastronomy, I'm sure it will find itself on the "bake" setting.

Four ovens. Not so ridiculous seeming now.

The kitchen nears completion. It wants for a proper counter top, back splash, dishwasher, sink and faucets, and finishing touches, but it definitely can't be mistaken for anything other than a kitchen now. So much so that I cooked a couple meals over the weekend for the first time in weeks.

Herbed pork chops on Saturday, Serrano-wrapped chicken stuffed with feta, red pepper and onion on Sunday.

I'm a bit out of practice. The chops were overcooked to the point of being dry. Part of that may be in the getting used to convection cooking, most of it's from just not trusting my instincts. I'll figure it out, along with the induction stove.

The place will look gorgeous when it's all done. I keep walking in there and smiling. There are a few cosmetic issues I'm having, but I'll hold off any final judgment until the silicone is dry and the trim is painted.  I've been promised that will be by Friday.  Yes, I'll hold off the ranting until after then.

Oh, and there will be pictures of course.

Friday, May 18, 2012

It's The Cup

At no point before the playoffs would I have believed anyone had I been told the LA Kings and Phoenix Coyotes would be fighting for the Western conference finals. Rangers and Devils in the East? That's more believable.

But the Kings? The Coyotes? Amazing. I have to say, LA has impressed me. A whole team effort, tons of scoring, shut-down defence and of course, amazing goaltending. In short, what it takes.

As a Leafs fan, I have an historic reason to not like the Kings. It's hard to overcome, as it was the closest we've come to the finals in my lifetime. But these aren't those Kings. These aren't the Melrose-coached, Gretzky-led Kings of the early 90's. I'll be damned if I'm not finding myself cheering for these guys.

And for the league, I'm kinda cheering for a Rangers-Kings cup.  New York vs Los Angeles? That strikes me as huge. That strikes me as coastal rivalries. Hollywood vs Broadway. I'm hoping it happens. I'm hoping it goes to triple overtime in game seven.

I'm hoping for good hockey.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Gorillas in the Park

In my (slowly moving) efforts to work through my tens of thousands of photos, I have finally finished processing images from my Disney/Universal trip from September of 2010.  Sadly, I'm not working in chronological order, so this is no indication of where I am.  Still, 1600 images whittled to 350 keepers ain't too shabby.

My favourites from the batch are of the Gorillas in Disneys Animal Kingdom. I find primates fascinating, as I'm sure many humans do. How anyone can see apes and think "naw, we're not related" is beyond me.

As is often the case, I suggest checking out the larger versions.

Lick it Clean

Nothing to Do But Think

Think Think Think

Peace and Concern


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Pulpy Braaaains

As I mentioned somewhere here, I opted to go with zombies as my final assignment for the latest photography class.  The original plan was zombigami and papercraft dwellings. This hit a small bump when I realized origami zombies required far more work than I had time for.  Also, the detail folding and my stubby fingers were not a good mix.

So I opted for papercraft everything. Lucky for me, I have a friend who, for some odd reason, was willing to help by cutting out the dozens of paper parts for everything. This made my life immeasurably easier.

After cutting and folding and gluing enough for a decent horde, I threw together a scene, some lighting and shot away.  Upon importing everything to my computer, I realized what I thought had looked moody now looked underexposed and murky.  With little time, I opted to see what some post-processing could do.  Some fiddling and staring at shot after shot of paper zombies and paper houses got me thinking of the campy horror films... and Thunderbirds.  Now I envisioned the scratchy, cheap look à la Monster Chiller Horror Theatre, and set to work to age everything. Some adjustments, scratches, and graininess later, I was happy with the results.

Pulp Zombies

Pulp Zombies

Pulp Zombies

Pulp Zombies

Pulp Zombies

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Play Ball!

Because it has to be said: Leafs can still achieve 3rd worst in the league! C'mon! You can do it!

Okay, Jays again.  Their season kicks off in 15 minutes, and they've gone and brought something to this city we haven't had in a while, sports-wise - hope.

The line last night was "If optimism was all it took to win the World Series, you could have the trophy to Toronto right now."

Of course, optimism doesn't actually get anybody out, or score any runs, so it ain't quite enough to cut it.

And as I've said before - the realist in me knows that we probably aren't seeing much October baseball  this season, but I am looking for some surprises and a bit of a fight for 3rd at the very least. A young team with confidence coming out of spring training can mean a strong start. But more importantly, management and coaching and the players have all realized that they still have to play in June, July, August and September.  Depth is a keyword this year. Depth on the roster, depth on the farm, depth to fill holes created by injuries and under-performance.  Talented guys champing at the bit in AAA, and even AA ball, waiting for their shot.

I've got my ticket for Monday's home opener.  I can't wait.

Because I'll be damned, I'm actually legitimately excited about the Jays again.


A post that has nothing to do with high school mascots or condoms, and only a little to do with dead civilizations.

Last week I was grabbing a whack of zombie papercraft for my final photography assignment. Somewhere in all that I accidentally downloaded a trojan. Specifically the SMART HDD malware.  This insidious piece of software creates the glorious illusion of a hard drive failure by throwing up a bunch of real-sounding error messages, wiping out your desktop, blanking out your start menu, hiding entire drives and making them read-only, preventing anti-malware software from running, and restarting your machine.

Oh, and then it throws up a believable Microsoft-like taskbar bubble that warns you of problems, and launches a legit-looking analytics and recovery program.

It had me fooled for a second.

Except a physical scan of 120GB of space isn't that fast.

And the "failed" drive is a solid-state drive, which wouldn't be subject to typical drive failures. Especially not as epic as was being put forth.

And my data drive is a mirrored RAID, so I know I wouldn't lose everything.

And my Windows is set up to display hidden files, so I could still see them, except they were all faded-like.

And the Intel drive monitor was still running and everything was green.

And after it "scans" it informs you that you only have the trial version of this software you've never seen before and you can upgrade to the full one that fixes things.

In short... no way it was actually a drive failure.

So the search began to figure out how to get this piece of crap off my machine. Luckily, I have a Macbook and phone nearby that both give me access to the Interwebs.

Solutions were long and complicated... do this, then this, run a sub-user cmd prompt, get this program... cripes.

So fuck that. I reset, restarted in Safe Mode, disabled the program startup in the registry (it's a series of random letters), and restarted normally. No more annoying "failed drive!" popups. Run a couple anti-malware programs and remove this crap.

Except my desktop and start menu were still blank, and all my files still hidden and read-only.

Hey wait... system restore is still on.  2 days prior image returned... everything looks normal. Files still marked as hidden and read-only. Damn.

Mass attribute change, knowing it might cause a few minor problems, but I could live with that.

But there are still lingering problems. Thunderbird keeps redownloading mail I've already grabbed. Every 5 minutes.  Some games don't work because Securerom got fucked (there's irony in there somewhere).  So now comes the fun task of reinstalling crap that don't work and hoping that things like config files and saved games are kept.

I don't even know how it was delivered. Since all I was grabbing was PDFs and JPEGs.

Stupid fucking trojan.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Fried Chicken

I can't take any credit for this one, but I made some fried chicken over the weekend... and it was AMAZING.

Recipe can be found over at Bon Appétit. I bought this issue because of the giant picture of a fried chicken leg on the cover and the bold claim of the best fried chicken ever.

A few notes:

1.- Make sure you use kosher salt, regular salt will make it too salty according to the comments.
2.- I substituted half the paprika with smoked paprika, because smoked paprika is awesome.
3.- Use cast iron pan with high sides. I imagine most complaints of splattering are from low-side pans. Remember, hot oil splatters, and Archimedes figured out a few thousand years ago that putting stuff in liquid makes the liquid go higher.
4.- I found the chicken took a couple extra minutes to cook through than claimed.
5.- Thermometers can never be overrated. I had a deep fry thermometer in the pan, but took it out because it wasn't getting an accurate reading. That's why I had my Thermapen out as well, which I used to check oil temp and meat temp for doneness.
6.- I used a full bottle (just under a litre/around a quart) of peanut oil in a 12-14" skillet

Monday, March 26, 2012

Peanut Butter Ice Cream

A side-effect of knowing your kitchen is going to be out of commission for a few weeks is that the drive to use it increases.

This past weekend saw some excellent meals - amazingly simple and delicious pork chops from Julia Child (the secret is butter), tasty potatoes, stuffed chicken thighs, and waffles from Robuchon (these were not all in one meal).

But the unseasonable heat from last week (which I am thrilled has broken) led to some cooler options as well.

Among those was peanut butter ice cream.

A nearby restaurant has some as part of a rather good dessert of chocolate ganache, caramelized banana, and the ice cream.  The ice cream is the best part, although caramelized bananas are always tasty.

Now, knowing a bit about making ice cream, and having settled on a reliable and delicious base recipe, I knew this was something I could make at home with relative ease.

Note: This could destroy any diet plans you have.

Peanut Butter Ice Cream

Ice Cream Maker
Wooden spoon
2 qt pot
2 big mixing bowls
1 medium mixing bowl (that fits inside one of the big ones)
Silicon/rubber spatula for scraping down sides

2 cups whipping/heavy cream
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup + 1 heaping tablespoon peanut butter

Prepare an ice bath - half fill one of the big bowls with water, and dump a whack of ice cubes in it. If you want, you can also add salt, which speeds up the release of the cold.

Combine the cream, milk, sugar, and salt in the pot.  Heat over medium heat, stirring regularly, until just scalded (small bubbles for along the side) - or 175F if you're being precise (I am). Remove from heat.

Whisk the egg yolks in a large bowl until creamy and thickening. 1-2 minutes by hand, or use an electric beater.

SLOWLY ladle about half the hot cream mixture into the eggs, WHISKING THE WHOLE TIME.  If you put the cream in too quickly, or aren't stirring the eggs, you can end up cooking and scrambling the yolks, which makes for breakfast, not ice cream.

Add the egg-cream mixture back into the pot, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.  Cook until thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. The traditional method is to run your finger through the coating on the back of the spoon, and if the line holds, it's good. 185F is the max temp it should be.

STRAIN the mixture into a clean bowl and place the bowl into the ice bath, careful not to let the water into the mixture.  Stir occasionally until the mixture is cold.  You may need to add more ice to the bath, you may not.

Remove from the ice bath.

Combine about 1 cup of the mixture with the peanut butter and stir/whisk until combined. Add the peanut butter mixture back to the rest and stir until combined.

Pour the whole thing in your ice cream maker according to its instructions.  When it's done, transfer to a container and freeze for 3 hours to harden.  Or just eat it soft.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Leafs still suck, our Mayor and his lapdogs are still idiots, and I still have no idea what my final photography project will be.

Leafs - 8-0?? 8-0?????? WHAT. THE. FUCK.

Yah, it's Boston. Yah, they own us. Still 8-0?? You can't throw the whole season in ONE game guys! You have to lose them one at a time! Damned Leafs can't even lose right.


OK Blue Jays!

Brett Lawrie's spring training numbers? 9 games, 23 AB, 5 runs, 14 hits, 6 doubles, 1 triple, 8 RBI, 1 walk, 1 strike out, 5 stolen bases, .609 avg, .625 OBP, .957 SLG!

Out with a groin strain.  Pulled himself from the game. All indications are he's a full-throttle player but a smart kid. Has superstar written all over him.


Hey, let's say you really tied yourself to a failing plan for subways, but your council has all the evidence that supports light rail transit instead, and the citizens of your city are slowly swinging that way because they have brains and can see the evidence.

Do you

A) Provide feasible counter-evidence supporting subways as a better long-term solution, along with at least a bare-bones plan for funding the subway?

B) Enter into an intelligent debate in an attempt to find a workable compromise between the plans.

C) Call the latest commissioned report "hogwash", without any evidence, because it 100% supports LRT development as the best option even when money isn't taken into account. Then have one of your lackey councillors hand out pictures of LRT crashes to the opposition, including pictures of a couple that died in one, considering that some sort of evidence that subways are better.

If you said C, then you may be qualified to be Mayor of Toronto! Actually, no, you aren't qualified, you're an idiot who might get elected by people who were too lazy to spend 5 seconds looking beyond your obviously empty promises.

Remember kids - things crash! You know what crashes more? Cars! Also bikes. And planes. And people running, or walking but not looking where they're going.  Oh, and subways sometimes. Devastatingly so.


Final project is due in a couple weeks for the latest photography class. Subject - whatever the hell I want.  Just make it look purdy.

Except I have no idea what I want to do.  Poker night last semester didn't work as I wanted. So I'm hesitant to set up a whole scene again.

My latest thought was origami.  I have a rather kick-ass Zombiegami book I got for Christmas, with coloured papers and complex designs.  My first attempt from it half worked out, but if I actually started folding when not watching TV, I imagine I could get a nice little paper zombie apocalypse going... a couple set pieces and it could be something interesting.

Yah, I'm liking that more all the time. It's good to type things out.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


Nothing misleading in the title, time once again to talk about my Leafs and my Jays.

Leafs season = dead.  It has been for a couple weeks actually, but now everyone's pretty much admitting it. They've won one game under their new coach, lost their best player for essentially the rest of the season, and have lost all offensive capabilities.

Sure, they're showing improvement defensively, but they can't score. Kessel is struggling, as expected, under Carlyle's direction - the coach has the nerve to try and turn Phil into a two-way player! How dare he try and impose more dimensions on our leading scorer!

Yah, the remaining games are a play-for-your-job exhibition, and try out for a few younger guys.  They also seem to be an acid test for Jonas Gustavsson. He's played all but one game since the coaching change, including back-to-back twice, one of those being a night game followed by an afternoon game. Reimer's one game was a 5-2 loss. The holes are being flagrantly exposed.

So naturally, the fans are giving up here. No, not forever, but between gorgeous weather and terrible play, we're forgetting games are on, or finding better things to do than watch the Buds lose again.  The talk has turned to hopes of a last place finish (although doing worse than Columbus or Edmonton would be incredibly difficult), and a bottom five seems almost assured, so at least we get a shot at the first pick.

Yah, the death rattle of a season that collapsed - playing for last.

Fuck, even Buffalo is ahead of us in the standings. Damn you Vinnay!!

So Jays.

I paid a ton for opening game tickets the other day through StubHub.  Why? Well, because the game's sold out. Opening day always is, especially with Boston in town.

The Jays are a different story than the Leafs, but have parallels.  There are still plenty of question marks on the rebuilding team, but the direction is clear. The team is exciting, and will play fun and entertaining ball this season.  4th place in the AL East is still very likely, but a fight for 3rd is possible.  Or who knows? A few surprises, a bit of maturity, some solid closing relief, and maybe they're fighting for the new wild card spot, which in the AL East usually means fighting for both wild card spots.

Regardless, I'll be sitting with my brother - a huge Jays fan, on opening day and cheering for the boys in blue and white.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Post-Deadline Moves

The Leafs largely stood pat during trade deadline time. A couple small trades that affected the Marlies more than the big team.  I was fine with it. I agree with Burke that you don't dismantle your rebuild to start over.

But with the trade deadline in the rearview, it looks like Burke's got more time on his hands to get other things done.

Like firing Ron Wilson. I was shocked. Not because he didn't deserve it, but because there were only 19 games left and Ron and Brian were BFFs.

In standard Burke fashion, he then brought in another buddy - Randy Carlyle, formerly of the Ducks. I liked the line in one article that said he'd replaced a hard-ass with a harder-ass. Another tough coach, but one with a slightly different gameplan and not much time to implement it.

First game under Carlyle? A win. Whoopee.

17 games, 4 teams to jump, some of them on a hot streak. He has his work cut out for him. The playoffs are still pretty unlikely, but less so than a week ago.  If nothing else, the players should be playing to impress from here out. Look for guys like Komisarek, Steckel, and Schenn to step up their games as they seem to fit into his coaching style more comfortably, and will be rewarded for hard work.

Then, about an hour ago, it was announced that Mikhail Grabovski signed a 5-year contract extension. Our second line centre is now worth $5.5 million a year apparently. On first look my jaw dropped. Figuring him in the $4-4.5 mil range.  But on closer inspection, his stats are right there with Ryan Kesler or Patrice Bergeron, excpet in +/-.  But in this case, a +7 on a -7 club has to be weighed against the much better +/- of Vancouver and Boston.  One could argue he's better than Kesler when you take that into account.  So now $5.5M doesn't seem too out of line, except that he has to prove he's worth it over the next 5 years.

So, $7.6 mil left in cap space next year.  Our only UFA of any interest being Jonas Gustavsson (Joey Crabb is cheap).  Plus a few RFA's that could be worth holding on to.

But what does this do for Lupul's contract? We've got him for one more season at $4.25 mil and he's having a hell of a year. Extend in the off-season? Wait until partway through next to see if he can keep it up? If he can, he's worth $6.5-7M.  Kessel too. Certainly, they're worth more than Dion Phaneuf's $6.5 mil.

Anyway, two big question marks have been removed, providing stability for the remainder of this season. If nothing else, the next dozen and a half games will be used to assess what needs to be addressed in the off-season, and who will be packing their bags. I'd guess that names like Nash and Parise won't be seen on the back of Leafs jerseys though.

Tit for Tat

Yah, yah... Toronto politics.

Okay, quick recap: Toronto had viable transit expansion plan and funding. New Mayor comes in, tries to scuttle plan for some unaffordable less expansive plan that is all underground because he wants that, despite driving everywhere. Council grows a spine and stands up to him, with major help from his hand-picked head of the Transit board., who I can only believe learned something about the city's transit by being in charge of it. Mayor rejects compromise that would make him look like a winner and quasi-decent leader who is learning from mistakes. Council restores old plan, tells Mayor to go fuck himself.  Mayor calls council irrelevant. Mayor's lackeys fire Chief General Manager of TTC, who has worked there 35 years. Why? Because he did his job and told the truth about how dumb the Mayor's plan was.

Mayor and Councillor Stintz (TTC board Chair) both wanted to revamp the board. They reached a compromise, and then something happened on the Mayor's side that derailed the whole thing. Likely that he refused to acknowledge the will of the council. Compromise was 5 Councillors,  4 citizens, current board in place until June.

Yesterday, Council shitcanned all the Mayor's lackeys from the TTC board. The 5 lapdogs who fired the GM are now wondering what board they can sit on now. They also changed the makeup of the board - now 7 councillors, 4 citizens, with the councillors being appointed immediately, citizens coming on in June.

Board, including Chair was dissolved, and then a new one voted on. Stintz was re-elected as chair, and the 6 other members were minus all the Mayoral asskissers from before, replaced with a heavier pro-logic group. In short, Mayor gets his ass handed to him again. This time, the vote in favour of Stintz' plan was even more in her favour than the last big one.

So now there's a TTC board that's aligned with council, meaning yet another avenue of roadblocks from the Mayor has been repaved for smoother driving.

Oddly enough, Mayor Ford has yet to open his mouth yet, likely because his handlers have pointed out it's harder to put his foot in it that way.  He was barely in the meeting yesterday - you know, where he should be as a leader.

Now, some leaders realize that they have to reach a compromise with the representatives they supposedly lead. This can be done either by meeting them partway, bullying, bribing, or convincing.  Ford is not great orator. He's shown that his arguments time and again lack any validity in the world of truth and logic, so convincing is right out. He successfully bullied and bribed for a while, but has since run into issues bigger than his short term threats and promises. He's been offered compromises that are HEAVILY in his favour time and again and rejected them without a second thought.  Most people would realize they're beat at this point and that maybe they're part of the problem. Some people, like our esteemed Mayor, entrench themselves further, bury their head in the sand, and throw tantrums.  He continues to neuter himself in the eyes of the city and the province. He continues to be an embarrassment to those he claims to represent.

And as he continues to lose power and face, he'll continue to lose supporters. Those who still vote unquestioningly with him will drift. Those who have become so embedded with him that they can't escape will seek spin. There's his major ring-kisser who has shifted his rhetoric to include his riding more often now - possibly in an effort to play the "I fought for my riding's best interests!" card when elections roll around again, and hope that's enough to beat the "He stuck to the Mayor like a conjoined twin!" spiel from whoever his opponents will be.

As before, if nothing else, he's made the citizens of Toronto give a damn about their political process.

Monday, March 05, 2012

A Dozen Things Change Before You Start

Kitchen reno.

The room looks no different than a month ago, but swaths of my time have been consumed by working on it.

Things change. A couple weeks ago I had my cabinets picked out, and some idea on appliance. Last week I no longer had those cabinets picked out, but had changed my mind twice on a fridge. Today, new cabinets picked, but with custom modifications (ie.- the drawer fronts are terrible, so different ones must be found), and I'm fighting over the countertop (I want it, my guy is having a hard time getting it). Oh, and the price went up a few grand because I don't want to be breathing urea-formaldehyde while watching my doors warp.

I haven't even looked at tiles yet.

I find it interesting that a kitchen reno (or any reno, but this works better here) mirrors an ad hoc recipe in so many ways.  You have a general idea for the finished product, be it room or roast, and you know what general ingredients are needed. However, as you mix items together, and discover new ones, you keep altering the mix. A change in one spice might mean discarding another. A different fridge model now means you have to run a water line across the room. Luckily, the concrete ceiling has opened up the opportunity for hidden infrastructure in the small dropped drywall that's required.

Meanwhile, pages of "don't ever buy this crap brand" fly by in my search for appliance reviews. Apparently nobody makes anything that doesn't explode. Caveat emptor? Perhaps Caveat lector when it comes to reading reviews. Am I right Latin majors? Yah.

But this is a multi-course meal where timing is key. Cabinets have to be ordered this week. Tiles have to be waiting for installation 2 weeks before the cabinets arrive. Paint a few days after that. Countertops need to be in after the cabinets are installed. Appliances have to arrive at the end, but the old appliances have to be out before demo begins. Oh, and don't forget the sink and faucet in all that.

But hey, mise en place. If all these ingredients are lined up, prepared, and portioned at the start, the whole process goes more smoothly. I've got the cabinets figured out, barring any curve balls (touch wood), I've got my stove, microwave, and brand, I just need a model. Sink? Still some work on that front. Faucet? Not even up to bat. Tiles for the backsplash? An idea for sure. Floor? Need to see what's out there. Some countertop and door samples would be nice for that bit.

Paint? Yah... see everything else first.

If cabinets are ordered this week (they should be), then I have a bit less than a month to get the rest in line, and two months before I'm clumsily chopping garlic while being in awe of my new oven and trying to get used to the sound of ice getting automatically dumped into a bucket. I'll wait a while after that before I look at my bank account.


There's a relatively new restaurant in Toronto called Woodlot. I don't think I can over-recommend it. A small menu of delicious food and excellent drinks.

I went last month and ordered what was essentially a beefed up Gin & Tonic, then ordered another one because it was delicious.

I didn't note all the ingredients, but one that stuck out was orris root. I'd never heard of this before, and ye olde Googles turned up some answers. It's an iris root that's been dried and is commonly used in perfume, although it was once an herbal medicine.

So, not something that shows up in your local grocery store.

But, then I found some store of impossible-to-find herbs and spices not that far from me, and lo they did have this dried root.

Then Absinthetics went and tweeted about ras el hanout, a north African spice mixture that can contain orris root, and this got me thinking back to that drink.

So last night I searched my brain for what else was in that drink of many weeks past, and came up with something, while not the same, still solid, if a bit different.

I put around 1/2 a teaspoon of dried orris root in a tea ball and dropped that in 3.5 oz of good gin (I was running low, so it was a combination of Hendrick's and Tanqueray). The longer you let it steep, the more of a flowery flavour it imparts.  I'd go with lavender, even though the root's been compared to violets (and it's from an iris).  So unless you want to drink a bouquet, don't overdo it.

Along with the teaball of root, I dropped in a slice of lemon, a bay leaf, and a couple dried juniper berries (a la José Andres' gin and tonic, which has caused a not-cheap addiction to buying Fever Tree tonic whenever I pass it). This all sat in the gin while I prepared dinner and the rest of the drink. Perhaps a bit too long.

I put a glass in the freezer for a bit, and when I was ready to finish the drink, I dropped some ice in and poured in a bit of vermouth.  The vermouth as swirled with the ice, and then dumped out, with the ice kept in the glass.

I took out the root, and dumped the rest into the chilled, vermouth-coated glass. I then topped off the glass (about 50%) with some Fentiman's Tonic Water and gave it a quick stir.

The result? A gin and tonic with more depth and complexity. Yes, there was definitely some flowery flavour in there, since I had no idea how well the orris root would work - next time, less time steeping.  But very drinkable, and a nice change of pace.

Friday, March 02, 2012

*I* Found it Amusing

Our last class assignment was to replicate a photo we found. Could be a classic one, an ad, something off the web, whatever.

The teacher asked us to send him a copy of the image first, so he could make sure it was feasible - that it wasn't 90% digital manipulation, or involved impossible lighting/angles, etc..

So we all do our shots and bring them in.  One student puts hers up, the original being strawberry slices spread out in concentric circles, used as an ad by another photographer.  She replicated as best she could, the major difference being that her slices weren't as perfect as the ones in the original. The teacher pointed out that for a shoot like that, he'd probably buy boxes of strawberries in search of the perfect slices.  I imagine he'd use the leftovers to make various desserts.

Anyway, as the class is comparing the photos, someone asks, "isn't that slice there just the other slice rotated?"

The class draws closer, and we soon notice that ALL the slices are the same slice, scaled and rotated. The whole strawberries in the photo are the same strawberry, scaled and rotated. In short, the whole thing was Photoshopped.

One slice, one berry, a whole bunch of copy and paste onto a white background.

The teacher missed it. The student did a decent job of replicating it in the real world. The original photographer? Well, I'd guess that if your ad isn't a real photograph, it speaks to the quality of your work.