Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Canada Votes 2011 #2

Einstein is often attributed with coming up with the following definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

I had a post all queued up on Canada's first-past-the-post voting system, and some of the options available for Canadians who don't think the current system provides a proportional representative result.  I intended on drawing a parallel between Einstein's definition and Canadian political history.

Then this happened: May not welcome in leaders' debates: networks

Elizabeth May is the leader of the Green Party. Ms. May is a card carrying member of a federal party that received almost 10% of the popular vote in the last election. Further to that, the Greens run candidates in EVERY single riding. Further to further to that, the Greens actually promote what they think are in the best interests of the entire country, not just a subset or niche element of it, all the while considering the fragile ecosystem Canadians are known for and call home.

Now I'm not saying that every party running needs to be represented at the leadership debates, there has to be some reasonable criteria. The networks have decided that their criteria is that the party must be represented in the house of commons. In the last election, the Greens had a candidate in the house - by way of a defection from another party (they weren't elected as a Green). This time, not so much, so out they go.

Doesn't that just seem, I don't know, WRONG? Getting almost 10% of the vote across the nation and running candidates in every single riding is a big deal. I think that cutting them off at the knees by imposing such a restriction is not in the interests of Canadians. In fact, I would argue that it's incredibly UNdemocratic.

So instead of Elizabeth May it would seem that we will have a leadership debate in which one of the featured candidates represents only a single province in the confederation and whose party's main purpose is to separate from the country.

I think we might just have a new definition of insanity.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Canada Votes 2011 #1

A vote of non confidence in Canadian parliament has resulted in the Prime Minister dissolving government and an election date has been set for May 2. 

I have many thoughts on the upcoming election, many opinions to express, and many reservations about sharing them with anyone, let alone the general public. 


So rather than even attempt to go down that path I'd prefer that people pay attention, get informed, and VOTE.


So here are some links to get you started, and from time to time I'll be chiming in with some interesting (hopefully non-partisan) thoughts to get you thinking:



Party Websites - In Alphabetical Order
:
Bloc *
Conservative
Green
Liberal
NDP
* Only in Quebec, and even then it's questionable they belong at  the grown up table (OK, sorry... I couldn't resist)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

(Head) Shot Across the Bow

Head shots and player safety are hot topics when it comes to hockey these days. A simple Google search of "nhl headshots" yields 250,000 results. GM's are talking, owners are writing angry letters to the league, and sponsors and fans are talking about it more than ever. I wonder though if the collective bark is worse than the bite.  

What's it going to take?

Let us go back to another point in time when mild mannered Canadians went berserk... When oil prices where on the rise and the price of gas in Canada was creeping towards 70 cents a litre. We all cried, "outrage and collusion!", and demanded an immediate government investigation. People were paying for gas with bags of pennies in protest, perhaps forgetting that your minimum wage gas jockey is probably the furthest person from the problem, and in most cases higher than Charlie Sheen.

So we got our inquiry, and do you know what it uncovered? Nothing! There was no funny business going on, and certainly not any collusion. It was all just a classic example of good ol' fashioned supply and demand. The same supply that also happens to demand that gas prices go up on every long weekend, and go up when current oil prices go up (even though when the oil used to make the gas in the pumps it was bought at the market rates from months before), and go up on days that end in "y", and go slightly down when the market is flat and people are generally more concerned about something else.

You'd expect a bit more outrage. At least I expected it, but you know what happened? Nothing! People kind of grumbled and went on with their day and continued to take abuse in areas where the sun doth not shine. I always thought it was because we all needed to keep spending money on gas (what the hell were we supposed to do, walk?) but there was clearly more at play than simple supply and demand. Canada has a shit-ton of oil, so high oil prices are kind of to our advantage. Plus, the government taxes the living hell out of consumer transportation petroleum so as long as we're buying it they're making money. Lots of money. I mean lots.

Fast forward from that time to the present day and take a closer look at another Canadian controversy, Internet usage based billing (UBB).

There has been much hullabaloo here over a recent decision by the CRTC that would essentially allow the backbone provider of the Internet impose usage based billing, effectively eliminating any unlimited download internet accounts, and allowing them to charge all other Internet providers and individuals exorbitant fees based on per gigabyte use. Funny how at the heart of all this, when people are starting to download and stream more movies and TV shows, the very same company is desperately trying to sell you satellite TV. You see what's going on here? One way or another Canadians are taking it in places they don't want it - and here's a hint - the sun doth not shine there either.

Since all the DSL internet providers must use Ma Bell's infrastructure they are at their mercy when it comes to fees - something the Canadian government and the CRTC is supposed to keep an eye on so that Bell doesn't get out of line (it's what Canadians get for having a single company lay the only wire in the ground 100 years ago). The recent decision meant that all other providers would be charged based on gigabyte usage, effectively allowing Bell Canada to run amok - while still gouging consumers for all their other services. Once this decision was made public Canadians did something for which they're not quite known...

They went bat-shit crazy.

With the exception of the outward display of senseless looting and violence exhibited during the G20, this was a hissy fit of historical proportions. The strange thing about this is that even though there wasn't a massive threat to stop using services or somehow hurt company profits the decision was still overturned by the government and they are being forced to go back and come up with something a bit more palatable. But how? I'll tell you how... 

Canadians went to their politicians and yelled and screamed and put reams and reams of paper and petitions in front of their members of parliament. Two things are important here:
  1. Canada is run by a minority government. There are more opposed to this government than those in support and if only they had a common issue to form their rally cry around they could really make some noise heading into an election. Also, if the ruling government didn't listen to reason they'd be crucified in the media, so they needed to at least feign interest and show that they were in touch with the average Canadian.

  2. Politicians were forced to work. If it's one thing I know about politicians it's they really don't like to do much more work than necessary, and piles of paperwork streaming in, and screaming constituents knocking on their doors were starting to cramp their cushy day jobs.
So, the only way to get everything back to normal was for the government to step in and overturn the decision. Everyone wins in point #1 (or everyone involved at least thinks they've won), and it also makes the headache of #2 go away. Say what you want, but I think a well manipulated minority government can be a great way to get stuff done, and whether it was known at the time or not Canadians found the straw that broke the camel's back. Something they failed to accomplish back when they started taking out second mortgages to put gas in the car.

Now let's go back to the issue of headshots and player safety in the NHL. Historically, it has taken a serious event (death or near death) for any major change in hockey to be adopted. It took a girl in the stands dying from getting hit in the head with the puck before they put in nets above the glass. Magnetic or flexible post holders were introduced only after countless players were seriously injured and/or had careers come to an end after being wrapped around the iron bars of the net.

So short of something tragic happening on the ice, what's it going to take? We've got sponsors (Air Canada and Via Rail) writing letters and tossing around idle threats, owners writing letters and blogging (blogging!), and let's not forget the NHL meetings where there is lots of talk, and committees, and promises to book a meeting about sitting down to possibly discuss something.

It's going to take money, or rather a lack of it. 

Money makes the world go 'round, and that is something that should be a factor in every decision an NHL sponsor or fan makes. Is going to see an NHL hockey game worth it? Is putting up sponsorship dollars worth it? Sponsors dropped Tiger Woods like a bad habit so their images would not be tarnished, and every NHL sponsor should take a long hard look at whether or not the NHL and the game of hockey best represents their image.  The fans in Long Island have been making that value-based decision all season and the Islanders have their ledgers filled with red ink to show for it. 

I want someone to ask Islanders owner Charles Wang and GM Garth Snow, "If the NHL proposed a stiffer headshot penalty and it guaranteed you 2000 more seats were filled every game, would you vote in favour of it?"

The team on the ice has everything to do with business. The team on the ice is put together by General Managers who are at the mercy of fiscally concerned owners trying to maximize ticket sales while minimizing costs. Brian Burke is told by MLSE how much rope he has to work with to build a team. If it results in winning, then great. If not, MLSE has already done the arithmetic and ensured that the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan will see their stock dividends just as promised, and all of this appears to be OK because there seems to be enough sponsorship and corporate support and people content to shell out for tickets and merchandise no matter what.

The only way to get head-shots and player safety addressed any quicker than the existing glacial pace is for:


  • sponsors to stop sponsoring; 
  • companies to stop filling corporate boxes and season seats; and 
  • fans to stay home and read a book instead

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Few Good Posts?

Faced with the challenge of providing semi-interesting content that also balances out my desire to share trivial information with the 8 people that read this blog (I know, my readership is growing!) I have a slew of posts queued up and partially written. The problem is I think they all suck.  They are either too boring, or too disjointed, or have simply not yet reached their full potential.

I'm having a similar problem with my Big Idea as well.

(my wife does not read this blog, but if she picked today to start - thank you - now stop)

I am working every week on the Big Idea and have until my anniversary (November 6) to really pull it together (though myriad opportunities exist beyond that day that would be good reveal choices as well... but I digress...) Almost every day I dedicate some time to working on the Big Idea and some of the early feedback is good but comes with the same comment. I'm too aware of what's going on. I can't JUST BE. As such, the work appears forced, and while technically "not bad", it's not great either. And I really want it to be great.

These not-quite-ready-to-post posts are technically "not bad", but they're not great either (much like this one). Do I need to just let them BE? Do I just let the work take whatever shape it takes, knowing that even my worst is far better than a lot of what's out there now (and getting more attention)? Artists - really true and great creators of amazing works of art - are much better at this than I am. Maybe that's why I have a full time job working for a software company. Maybe I can't handle the truth!

If I wasn't so lazy I'd research some fascinating psychoanalytical bullshit about self doubt and it's negative snowballing affect on something something. It would all just sum up with something like "quit-yer-bitchin" and "suck-it-up-buttercup", and I can't really argue with that.  So maybe I've just had a bad week, and I am tired, and after a glass (or two) of Shriaz and a good night's sleep something takes shape with one of these orphaned posts and it just BECOMES...

...and 9 of us have a good laugh.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Bitter Sweet Symphony

Today marks the 37th anniversary of being brought into this world - kicking and screaming - and looking more yellow than some Bananas in Pyjamas due to a solid case of Jaundice. Overall, I'd say that 36 of them have been varying degrees of great, with the one exception being about as bad as it gets and dragging down the average considerably.

Today also marks the 2nd anniversary of the worst day in my short life to this point.  With my 6 year old daughter in the Dominican with my wife, I got a phone call at home expecting it was a birthday wish, but instead was my father-in-law calling to tell me that my wife's younger brother had passed away. The rest of my day was trying to get in touch with her to deliver the news - a phone call that still rings in my ears almost every waking minute - and find a way to get them back home as quickly as possible.

Last year was not so shit-hot as it re-opened the pretty deep wound from a year before, but it was encouraging as so many people wished me a Happy Birthday which brought to the surface the fact that I am truly fortunate to have so many friends, and to have a big loving family within such a short distance of where I now call home.

So here's to remembering one of the greatest friends and family members a person could ask for, on a day when I get reminded dozens of times just how lucky I am to have completed another lap around the Sun, even if it is a 939,845,775 kilometre road trip that's not nearly as fun without him.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

5 Free Minutes

"I'm not happy to be here. I'm not happy to meet you. I couldn't care about your relatives, no I couldn't give a damn. No I couldn't give a damn. I need five free minutes for myself." 
- Spirit of the West, 5 Free Minutes
So I've asked myself a few times since the enlightening Kevin Smith show back in November... What do I want to do with the time I have for myself? Not free time. ME time.

Initially it was full steam ahead on a screenplay, but then I got this idea for something else. Something for which I have just as much passion as film making. As it turns out, I may have more of a passion for this, if for no other reason than I find myself doing it ALL the time, and I would take great satisfaction in being able to do it really well, or at least way better than I do now.

It's at this point in the piece that I will kindly ask my wife to stop reading. You see, the project I have undertaken is going to be a terrifically timed and wonderfully romantic anniversary present. Jodi, if you are reading this I can guarantee you that it will top the great secret piano lessons (anniversary #5 in 2004), and certainly come in ahead of commissioning a local artist to do a chalk drawing of the first time I set eyes on you (anniversary #1 in 2000, affectionately titled "Love at First Sight"). So please, read no more. I would very much like this to be as big a surprise as possible.

If you are not my wife, then I'll kindly ask that you just scroll down a bit, where I will continue my thoughts.

...

...

...

...

almost there

...

...

...

OK, here we are. Thanks for sticking with me.

After the Kevin Smith show it was all about me wanting to make better use of the time I had available. Then in December I added the anniversary present project and it became a struggle to keep moving both projects forward. With the anniversary present on a firm deadline clearly the screenplay would suffer, but why was this a problem? The two projects were not in obvious conflict. One was being done in secret mostly during the day with a small amount of research in the evenings, and the other I could do whenever I had the inclination to pick up the damn laptop and type something. So was I just being a lazy shit? I started to wonder...

Then today I read THIS, written by fellow Kevin Smith devotee R. Chazz Chute (@RChazzChute on Twitter), and I gotta say that it burnt with the intensity of 1000 suns.
"Are you taking care of yourself and pushing your goals forward?" - R. Chazz Chute
I have asked and answered the question above and many of the questions Chazz asks before, and for me I have boiled the answers down to two things: priorities and deadlines. Most importantly, that I recognize that I thrive on a well placed deadline and the satisfaction of meeting it to my measure of success.

So I asked myself, how important was it to have a finished screenplay sitting on my desk with my name at the bottom of the title page? Is there a deadline can I self impose to move this along? I'm sure there is, but I'm also sure I have a really short attention span and am only capable of doing one thing at a time, and right now I have the other project that's taking up considerable mental energy.  Blah blah blah... if ifs and buts were candy and nuts...

So I took my anniversary project - with my passion to succeed and a firm deadline - and I asked myself what I could do as part of that goal that would get me closer to the other one. I found a couple things, and if I just do them it will make those first words-on-page draft of the screenplay definitely suck less.  Yes, it will take longer to finish writing it, but to be honest I'll get more satisfaction out of finishing the anniversary present.  I'll be a better person for it, and in the end I'll probably be a better writer for it.

So http://potatochipmath.com (which for now will just be this blog, but will expand as the year goes on) will be my playground to practice one thing (writing), while at the same time garnering some public interest in the other (the anniversary present).

Public interest? Really? Full of yourself much?

Yes, there will be public interest in the anniversary present project. Mostly because it's a feel-good story. It really is. Everyone I talk to has nothing but kind words and encouragement and they all genuinely want to see me succeed.

It also has the potential to be a massive train wreck that goes viral on YouTube. So stay tuned...

Monday, March 7, 2011

Kind People DO Exist. Even in Hollywood.

So some more email correspondence with the mystery person who uncovered my long lost Super Dave Osborne clip has uncovered an actual identity, and as it turns out there's more than one person who deserves a call out and some thanks. At the end of the day, there are some genuinely nice people out there, and they're even in the entertainment business!

So a gentleman by the name of Christopher Bay from Woodland Hills, California happens to be the web master and archivist for Shelley Berman.  He happens to be friends with Melissa Byers, who just happens to run the official Bob Einstein web site (for those of you who don't know, Super Dave Osborne is a persona created by Bob Einstein).

So I'm not sure the exact order of operations to all of this but the following events (or something similar) occurred:

  • Christopher comes into possession of a whack load of Super Dave Osborne footage from his friend Melissa (this either occurred sometime in the past or after the following item);
  • Across his RSS feed (for which I now have a new found respect), Christopher sees my post pleading to the masses for a copy of my lost Super Dave clip
  • If Christopher at this point is not in possession of all the Super Dave footage he goes back to the first item in this list and he gets it. Regardless, once he thinks he may have (or have access to) the clip I'm seeking he sends me an email;
  • I give an incorrect description of what I was wearing (based on an old photo of me with Super Dave) and in less than 3 hours he sends me back the screen capture of me standing on stage with Super Dave; 
  • Less than 24 hours after his first contact with me I have in my possession my first (and only) television appearance from almost 22 years ago (man, I feel old all of a sudden).

Now, I know there are hundreds of episodes of Super Dave, and Christopher said he was in possession of at least 90.  So whatever he did to find my 1 minute clip in that amount of data, in that amount of time, with the description I gave him, is nothing short of amazing.

It also happens to likely be the nicest thing a complete stranger has ever done for me, and pretty much made my year so far.
So, I'd like to thank the Academy, and Christopher Bay of Woodland Hills, California, who if not for his kindness and dedication to old slapstick-style variety shows this would not have been possible. I'd also like to thank his friend Melissa Byers for doing such a great job administering the website of the man behind Super Dave Osborne.  Thanks to Shelley Berman and Bob Einstein, and their management team, for hiring such great people to take care of their archives and web sites. Thanks to my friend Jon Goldstein who took me to the show on the first day he was ever allowed to borrow the car, and whose Mom called the police and hospitals all night worried to death while we stayed late to do the taping (strangely enough, it would not be the last time Mrs. Goldstein sent out a search party for us). Thanks to the (presumably lazy) police officer that didn't find us (at the theatre that everyone knew we were at, and had a giant billboard out front with Super Dave Osborne advertised). OK they're starting to play me out here... Thanks to my Mom, my wife, my kids and of course thanks to God [crosses himself, kisses his bling, and points to the sky. Exit, stage left]
I'm really happy I made it through all that without dropping a fucking F-Bomb like Melissa Leo (I hear she's great in Red State).

[and in hindsight, I'm amazed I didn't think to find the Bob Einstein website and just ask on the message board. As my wife will often say, "good thing I'm cute"]

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Super Dave Update!

[2011/03/06]

"C.B." at http://shelleyberman.com has sent me the clip! Now here, in all its glory, is a gangly soft spoken kid wearing running shoes, pants too short and too tight for television, and in dire need of a haircut, speaking the words you all want to hear "Take it away Mike Walden!"



My recollection of the evening's events are a little disjointed but a few things stand out. 

  • It took 4 or 5 takes. 
  • The first one he asked if Montreal was my favourite team (presumably because of my shirt). I froze on answering - because it wasn't really my favourite team (the Leafs were at the time, more on that another day). I was just trying to impress a girl (#FAIL). 
  • The second take he asked about my favourite hockey player. When I said Wayne Gretzky he cut the take because he didn't think anyone in the U.S. (where this aired) would know who that was (this was right after Gretzky was traded). 
  • Then I burned a couple of takes trying to come up with a stunt I liked without repeating "um" or "uh" every 2 seconds (still uh, a problem, um, sometimes). 
  • I remember after the second last take Super Dave threatened he'd pick someone else if I screwed up the next one. As always, when pressed with a deadline I pulled through (at least adequately) at the last second.
I have to say, that was probably the beginning of me and stage fright. Once you see that camera pointed right at you, with all the people in the audience, and that red light on top of the camera mocking you with it's calm brilliance... more than a bit terrifying!



So in my last post I put a call out to The World to see if anyone out there would be able to find my lost 15 minutes (seconds) of fame: footage of me on stage at the Super Dave Osborne show.

Some incredibly kind person apparently has a ton of Super Dave stuff and sent me a message asking for some details and within a few minutes, they emailed me a screen capture:


Yes, that is a 15 year old me, looking like he could use a nap, a haircut, a tan, puberty, and a serious smack in the chops for ever wearing a Montreal Canadiens shirt.

[As an aside, my father worked with the aunt of one of the players on the team at the time. So getting signed stuff happened from time to time. There was also this really cute girl a year behind me in high school (little sister of a guy in my class) and she was a HUGE Canadiens fan. So, teenage boys being what teenage boys are I donned the "CH" in an attempt to woo her. I did not. Never actually got the nerve to tell her I liked her.]

So now I have asked the wonderful person who found The Lost Super Dave Footage if there is any way I could get a video capture of my "performance". I haven't heard back yet, but suffice it to say I'm extremely excited over this new development.

Next up:

Seeing if Penn & Teller have any of their old shows recorded and if somewhere in their archives there's video of me on stage at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto (1991) assisting with the trick "Mofo the Psychic Gorilla". It's true!