Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Next Big Thing

Back in November, when I was knee deep in NaNoWriMo, Sydney Aaliyah tagged me for a blog hop. I promised I'd get to it once NaNo was over but then December turned into writing for the Orange Karen anthology and then the holiday season around my house (and a few billion other households around the world). 

With all that craziness behind me now, I am pleased to be able to answer a few questions about my upcoming book:

What is the title of your Work in Progress?

I have been writing this story in one form or another for close to a decade. It's finally taking proper shape as a novel that has gone from being untitled, to having several crappy titles, back to being untitled, and finally landing on "No Known Cure". 


Where did the idea come from for the book?

The Darwin Awards! No, I'm serious. Back in 2002 I submitted a "Personal Account" to the Darwin Awards website that garnered Top 20 status in votes the following year.  Once I saw those 450 words in print I knew I had to tell a bigger story. What started out as a film about a subtle plea for gun control as told through the eyes of God has, ironically, evolved into a novel about a few people playing God in an effort to control humanity.


What genre does your book fall under?

Mystery Suspense 


Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
  • Peter (first half MC) - Jay Baruchel
  • Roger (Peter's father) - Dan Aykroyd 
  • Sandra (Peter's girlfriend) - Zooey Deschanel 
  • Dana (Peter's co-worker) - Ellen Page
  • Jim (second half MC) - Tim Roth (minus the accent)
  • Sherri (Jims wife) - Lea Thompson

What is a one-sentence synopsis of the book?

My story is about a government agency searching for a man with an astonishing secret whose only goal in life is to remain anonymous and what happens when the two worlds finally collide. 


Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I am going to try taking the "conventional" route first and see how it goes. I'm actually looking forward to writing my first of many query letters :)


How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

A decade! :) Having a full time nine-to-five job, plus two kids who each take on two activities every week, plus a loving wife that deserves attention, plus a couple other hobbies/businesses (my band and my photography), and time left for writing is pretty slim. The bulk of the novel was written during NaNoWriMo this year. It was supposed to be two books, the second of which I started last year but haven't completed. I switched gears and now that former WIP will be some later chapters of this book (possibly, we'll see. There are months of edits ahead for this novel). All told, this book will take about 90 days of actual writing to complete the first draft.


What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?

Think of  Robert Ludlum's "Bourne" trilogy ,with a hint of Steve Berry, and a little Dan Brown's "Digital Fortress" thrown in for shits 'n giggles. I can only dream to be in the same ballpark as these guys some day. For now I'd be thrilled if anyone suggested we were even playing the same sport!


Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Being able to give my parents a copy of my novel is definitely a driving factor. My Dad was an English major and a school principal and my Mom was a teacher, so being able hand them a copy of a published work of mine would be a big deal. Ultimately, I just need to create. For as long as I can remember I have been following a pretty standard path: I got a degree, got a job, got married, bought a house... Everything was all very "normal"... and then my wife and I had children. Everything changes once you have children and for me it brought forward this passion to create. I take such great inspiration from how my kids view the world - and behave within it - that I feel compelled to create and give something back; and show them that they should follow their own inspirations with dedication and passion, and if they do they can be truly happy.


What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

  • 1 cup: Conspiracy
  • 1 cup: Likeable geek gets girl
  • 3/4 cup: Good people setting good examples
  • 1/2 cup: Quiet, introverted genius sticking it to The Man
  • 1/2 cup: Cat & mouse 
  • 1/2 cup: Cloak & dagger 
  • 1/4 cup: Psychological drama
  • 1/4 cup: Bad guys getting away with it 
  • A pinch of torture 
  • A dash of murder

Next up on the blog hop:
~

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Night Was Poorly Lit and Tumultuous


I am what could be classified as a ‘new writer’. Aside from a two page anecdote in the humorous collection "The Darwin Awards III: Survival of the Fittest" I have never been published. I write this blog, of course, but these posts are mostly just random thoughts that eject from my head like the Oort cloud spitting out a comet. Many have come, but only a few have ever been considered wonderful. 

I have a full time job, and a family, and several other interests outside of writing, but for some reason I am drawn to the art of dreaming up a fabulous story in my head, and translating those thoughts into words, and organizing them in such a way that they transport the reader to a world that is not their own.

I had this idea to write a screenplay, so I could see my story come to life, but a friend suggested I write it as a book first. He knows me well, and though I fought the idea for some time I eventually came to the same conclusion. So off I went; to write a book. I wasn't really concerned that I've read exactly zero books on how to write, or that I haven't studied English, literature, or anything remotely related to writing in almost two decades. I've read Lynne Truss' "Eats, Shoots and Leaves", insist on a single space after a full stop, and will fight to the death over the Oxford comma. That should be good enough, right?

There are many schools of thought on how to begin writing a book. There are thousands of books/websites/classes/opinionated snobs that will tell you this but in my opinion Kurt Vonnegut sums it up better than anyone else: 

"You cannot edit a blank page."

So, I'm writing a novel and a trilogy of short stories and both are marching along slowly but surely. Then, I heard about the Orange Karen Anthology. Writing communities are close-knit and when one person in this community suffers they all suffer. They also all rally behind each other providing the support necessary to help people through tough times. When a friend of ours was struck by a terrible illness, and racked up ridiculous medical bills in the process, her community rallied to create an anthology with all proceeds going to help her out with the financial costs that have come with surviving.

In awe of her courage and determination, and proud of the support from her community, I was inspired to submit a story for consideration in the book. Taking a page from Mr. Vonnegut I just wrote it down. It was a story based on real-life events, and it was an emotional one to tell. I had mentioned I was writing it in a Facebook group  and another group member, a friend who wrote alongside me during NaNoWriMo this year, offered her assistance with editing. I happily accepted her offer.

At first she had some reservations. The topic was very close to me and she didn't know how I would accept her feedback. But, we both plugged through those uncertainties, fears, and doubts and several versions and emotionally gut wrenching re-writes later we had a finished story to be proud of. It was exhausting, and it was completely worth it. 

Jennifer Gracen was my editor and she guided me through this process gently, but with expert precision. I am beginning to think it's no accident that you can find the word "grace" in her last name and the fact that she is a compassionate mother of two beautiful children served her well on this project. From her initial suggestion to write in the third person (I stared by writing it in first person) to her final "I like how you re-worked this"; every bit of red ink on that manuscript was a learning opportunity and it would have been a tragic waste of time for both of us if I would have considered it anything less.

Jennifer’s job was to tighten my sentence structure, fix my grammar (and my god forsaken tense mix ups), suggest alternate wording, prevent orphaned or complex dialog, and otherwise tease, coax, persuade, charm, lure, sweet-talk, or cajole the right words out of me using whatever methods she felt would work best. Looking back at that first brain dump of words and comparing it with the final version you wouldn't know that it was written by the same person. 

My editor made me a better writer.

I am beyond thankful for all the effort she put into this and I sincerely hope that I will get to work with her again. My only concern now is that she will read this post and notice that I have ignored a lot of what she just taught me. Don't worry, Jen, not every comet gets to be wonderful.




It is with all my heart and the utmost compassion that I extend a thank you to my dear wife. The story is more hers than it is mine and she didn't just let me write it - she gave me the strength to write it and for this I am eternally grateful.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

NaNoWriMovember

The month of November is a busy one for me. First, it's my anniversary on the 6th. This year would mark 13 years of marriage to my wonderful (and wonderfully patient) wife. 

Then, there is Movember. Movember is an annual charity fundraiser in which men from all over the world shave their face clean on November 1st and then grow a moustache for the entire month, the whole time raising awareness and money for men's health. This is my 3rd year participating in this event and while not even the cats will come near me for the last half of the month, it's for a great cause and I'm glad I participate. 

Finally, November is National Novel Writing Month as defined by The Office of Letters and Light. Every year they issue a challenge to writers everywhere, experienced or aspiring, published or not, good or bad: Write a novel (50,000 words or more) in 30 days. Their tag line for the challenge is "Thirty days and nights of literary abandon," and is referred to on The Internets simply as NaNoWriMo and this was my 2nd year participating.

Over the course of the month I experienced many highs and a few lows but when it was all said and done I have to say that it was one of the more successful Novembers I've had in a long while. I am not talking about the milestones or experiences either. It would be all fine and dandy if that was all there was to it, but it just so happens that I've learned a few things along the way. It is because of this that I can truly say the month was successful.

A few things I have learned:
  • My kids do not like daddy with a moustache
  • I have a very beautiful, intelligent, and supportive wife
  • I can grow a very creepy looking moustache in 30 days 
  • I can write a novel in 30 days
  • There are millions of people who want to raise awareness and money for men's health
  • There are millions of people who write, many of them are writers, and a very large number of those people are awesome
It doesn't stop with just those items either. Oh no, there is more. In fact, I could go on for several blog posts, but I'll spare you the time to read all that and just give you the highlights here.

A few other things I have learned:
  • Writing is hard
  • Writing is easier if you have awesome people around you  
    • This is true for more than just writing. ANYTHING is easier if you have awesome people around you
      • This is where I have to point out that my wife, my friend Susan, everyone in The Lounge on Facebook, and my core word sprint team of Janelle, Amy, Jennifer, and Karen, really helped me out. I can't thank them enough for their support (but I will try)
  • It is possible to do everything you want if you manage your time properly
    • I suck at managing my time
      • NaNoWriMo helped with this more than I would have thought
Last year I had an event derail my NaNo efforts mid-month and I never got back on track. I could have, the thing only upset my flow for a day or two, but I didn't. I cut bait on the whole thing and spent the next 11 months kicking myself and in a rut (writing wise).

This year's NaNoWriMo experience challenged me in ways I never thought possible. For starters, let's take time management. Here are a list of all the things I managed to do in November and approximately the number of times or hours I did them:
  • Eat (1.5 hours/day)
  • Sleep (8 hours/day)
  • Commute (1 hour/day)
  • Work (8 hours/day)
  • Prepare food for family (1 hour/day)
  • Practice guitar with the kids (20 minutes/day)
  • Swimming lessons (1.5 hours/week)
  • Guitar lessons (1 hour/week)
  • Watch movies (2.5 hours/week)
  • Watch TV (2 hours/week)
  • Put up the Christmas lights (once ~3 hours)
  • Attend concerts (Stars & Metric: ~5 hours to get there, watch, and get back)
  • Hockey games! (2 of them: each about 4 hours to get there, watch, and get back)
  • Anniversary dinner (~4 hours to get there, eat, and get back)
  • Snow tire appointment (~1 hour)
  • Dinner out with wife and kids (~1 hour)
  • Dinner at in-laws + Santa Claus Parade (~5 hours total)
  • Take kid to dentist (~ 1.5 hours once)
  • Parent/Teacher interviews (~ 1 hour once)
  • Lydia Herrle's homecoming (~1 hour once)
  • Social events (~5 hours over two events)
  • Quiet time alone or with my wife (none of your damn business)
Even with all of that, if you do the math (and trust me, I did the math) I end up with more than an average of 5 hours per day of available time. I wrote an average of 2 hours a day on weekdays and 4 hours a day on weekends and I still have a couple hours a day unaccounted for. Even if I low-balled the math on the above items that means I still had some free time.

So there you have it. It is possible to do everything you want and still do a lot of things - and not be selfish about it (if you're like me and my friend Tess you're not shellfish about it either). The key is in managing your time. With a little forethought, discipline, and help from your friends... the world is your oyster (or non-oyster substitute for those with allergies).

NaNoWriMovember: The Video!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Take Off, Eh?


I have quite a few new writer friends on Twitter and Facebook and as we interacted over the past few days it became abundantly clear that, while I was no walking encyclopedia on American culture, that there were quite a few things that my friends south of the border were oblivious to when it came to my home and native land. So, on the day in which the CFL will award the 100th Grey Cup I present to you...

Canadian Stuff! (Eh?)

There are tons of better links for this stuff, but for simplicity I'm pointing to Wikipedia. I've skimmed each article at a minimum for authenticity and it's all more or less right. We're not handing this in to be marked so we'll call it good enough.

National Anthem,
Canada's national anthem is O Canada, from which I pilfered a line for my intro:
O Canada!
Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.
You can hear this anthem played most often at the Winter Olympics (the most gold medals won by any Winter Olympics host country ever) and before just about every sporting event played across the country. It's also played every morning in schools and before other ceremonies and events.

The Grey Cup
This beauty is being handed out for the 100th time today and is the trophy awarded to the championship team of the Canadian Football League (CFL). Along with the Stanley Cup it is made of silver and has engravings of all the teams and player names to whom it has been awarded. At one time there were American teams in the CFL but this lasted only a few years. It was long enough for the Baltimore Stallions to become the only non-Canadian team to every win the trophy. Interestingly enough, the front page of Wikipedia has the Grey Cup as its featured article today.
Wikipedia Main Page on November 25, 2012
Provinces
Canada is the 2nd largest country in the world as measured by area and is home to the longest shoreline of any country in the world, in addition to accounting for about 20% of the world's fresh water. We do not have states, we have provinces and territories, all together 13 of them. Many are quite large (you can easily drive for more than 20 hours to get from southern Ontario to northern Ontario) and to say you've driven to all of the provinces is certainly quite an accomplishment. 
Canada and Its Provinces & Territories

Terry Fox
Speaking of crossing our country, there was a young man named Terry Fox who lost his leg to cancer and decided that to raise awareness for the disease and raise money that he would run across the country - coast to coast. Just outside of Thunder Bay, Ontario, his run stopped and he succumbed to the disease shortly thereafter. He ran for a total of 143 days and covered 5,373 km (3,339 mi) and the year after his death in 1981 the Terry Fox Run started as an annual event in which children from schools all over the country (and now in 60 other countries) would run in his memory and raise funds to donate to cancer research. 

If you have a few bucks and a few minutes Douglas Coupland wrote an absolutely wonderful coffee table book on Terry Fox. Buy it. Read it yourself then read it to your children. It's an amazing story that everyone must know.
Terry Fox

Tuques
These are knit or otherwise warm hats to wear on your head, mostly because from November to March many parts of Canada are freaking cold. In what has become an iconic image, Jose Theodore of the Montreal Canadiens donned a tuque during an outdoor NHL game.
Hockey Player Wearing a Tuque During and Outdoor NHL Game

Serviettes & Chesterfields & Verandas
I just like to use these words to screw with my American friends. They are less common now and likely have  British etymology but you can still hear them when you're out and about (oot and aboot) on the mean (i.e. cold) streets of Canada (for the record these things are napkins, couches, and porches).
Serviette

Poutine
There's not much to be said about poutine that hasn't already been said. It's a traditional Quebec fast food made with french fries and cheese curds and topped with brown gravy. It's a heart attack on a plate and it's freaking amazing.
Poutine
Hosers
A "hoser" is a derogatory term coined by the comedy duo of Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas during their segment "Great White North" on SCTV. Another common stereotypical catch phrase they used was "Take off, eh?" Bob & Doug Mackenzie were the personas on the show and the two made a full length feature film in 1983 called Strange Brew. They have also recorded several songs, most notably "Take Off" featuring Geddy Lee of RUSH and "The 12 Days of Christmas".



So there you have it, some good old fashioned Canadiana to get you ready for the Grey Cup. For some more really interesting tidbits of information our good man Coupland did a couple coffee table books on the subject: Souviner of Canada and Souvineer of Canada 2.

Oh, and speaking of tidbits, that reminds me of Timbits and our (unofficial) national coffee shop Tim Horton's. You can find these scattered all across the country in more than locations than any other food services company, more than doubling McDonald's. A coffee with two sugars and two cream is affectionately referred to as a "Double Double".
Tim Horton's in Stratford, Ontario (home of Justin Bieber)

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to sit on my chesterfield eating poutine and drinking a double double, after which I will wipe my face with my serviette, sweep off my veranda (located in Ontario) while wearing a tuque and singing O Canada, before I watch the Grey Cup with a bunch of hosers I met during the Terry Fox Run, eh?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Lydia's Homecoming

On November 1st Lydia Herrle walked the 250 meters from her family market across the parking lot and up the lane way to her home. It had been almost 6 months since the day she was struck by a truck, knocked out of her shoes, and into a coma. Hundreds of people from the community here in Waterloo Region showed up to show their support, and triumphantly waved their worn and tattered green ribbons that they have been displaying on their cars, trees, sign posts, and mailboxes since the day after the accident.

This outpouring of support and amazing display of community solidarity is a testament to the people that live and work in the region. Almost half a million people live within 20 minutes of the Herrle farm, yet in that moment it felt as though we were a small village, where every face is familiar and everyone comes to help when someone is in need.

To have seen so many people of all backgrounds, occupations, and religions in one place showing their support and rejoicing Lydia's amazing recovery, and in admiration of the strength of the Herrle family, was a sight that will forever be in my memory. I fought through the tears and managed to take some photographs of the event, though the images hardly do it justice.

The Herrle family has been chronicling their journey here: http://prayforlydia2012.blogspot.ca Please take a few minutes to read their blog.

Welcome home Lydia. Welcome home.
~
Cars line Erb Street as hundreds of people converge on the Herrle farm to wave their green ribbons.

Panoramic view of the parking lot and lane way, lined with people 3 or 4 deep on both sides.

CTV News van setup in the parking lot. Excellent coverage by the local affiliate of this national network.

The start of the line at the edge of the parking lot. By the time Lydia came out to see us it had grown by 40 or 50 feet.

Another shot of the lined lane way from the other side of the field.

People patiently wait in the rain on the muddy lane way of the Herrle farm.

A young girl makes her way across the parking lot of the Herrle farm, green ribbon in tow.

Lydia makes her appearance!

The Lydiamobile followed her throughout the 250 meter journey. She did not need to sit down for the entire walk.

Lydia waves to all the people lined up and cheering.

Lydia spots a friend from school, her smile widening and her eyes brightening. The two friends embrace, emotion overcoming Lydia's friend as they hug.


Monday, October 15, 2012

An Untitled Post About Bullying


With bullying front and center in the news after Amanda Todd's tragic suicide I found myself reflecting on my personal experiences on the subject. I certainly wasn't the victim of persistent bullying, but there are a few incidents that have stuck in my mind:

  • In grade 4 an older kid (a grade 5) kicked my lunch box down the street. My dad took me over to his house and had a chat with his father and he apologized. I'm now friends with him on Facebook and he's since apologized for real.
  • In grade 8, I had a disagreement with a girl in my class and she got excessively angry with me and starting slapping me and punching me and what-have-you. Having been raised to never, under any circumstances, ever hit a girl, I just took it. Later that afternoon my teacher made a snide remark about me getting beat up by a girl in front of the whole class. To this day I don't know if I said it or if it was something I thought I ought to have said, but the phrase "What would you have done if had I hit her back?" keeps popping into my head. The girl and I became friends days later and today we chat occasionally on Facebook.
  • In grade 9 the older brother of a girl in my grade (and who was on my paper route) shoved me in a locker. Well, he tried. I pulled the old cat trying to avoid a bath trick and never made it in. That didn't stop word from spreading that I actually had been shoved in though. Who were people going to believe, a grade 9 geek or a grade 12 punk? Facebook status for her: not friends but would friend. As for her brother, we're not Facebook friends now and not ever likely to be.
  • One of my friends in high school dated a bully for a couple years. He liked to assert his masculinity by pushing me around and threatening me. I suspect it was because he was insecure in his relationship, and as a person in general. I'm still friends with the girl (yes, on Facebook too). I don't care to ever be Facebook friends with the guy.
And then there was the time I was walking into a hockey rink and was punched by someone for allegedly "smiling at him". Turns out a local gang was hanging out there and were looking for trouble. Before I knew it a pack of them had shoved me into an empty change room and were laying the boots to me. Boots and fists... and elbows... and knees, though I remember only one knee - the one that, as my head was being pushed down, came up and caught me right in the face. After that, it was all a blur of Doc Martin's and Air Jordan's and the taste of blood. They say you can't actually remember the feeling of pain, but I sure remember what I was feeling.

Despite the arena manager and first responding officer telling me that I shouldn't pursue action for fear of retribution, I pursued action. They caught 3 of the guys and two plead out and got something like 6 months probation. The "ring leader" got 2 years probation and a whole lot of other conditions like curfew and restraining order limiting his distance from me and so forth. After what I went through, let's just say I wasn't the biggest fan of the Young Offenders Act.

Today, even as I typed that last paragraph, my teeth clenched and I felt panic in my chest - and this all happened over 20 years ago.

Twenty years is a long time to be carrying around that memory, but it's impossible to forget. Trust me, I've tried, but then something happens and I hear about it in the news and there it is again. Sometimes, and this is one that I'm having a hard time explaining, sometimes the reminder comes in a much less subtle way and hits me like a knee to the face.

Yesterday I found myself in Toronto helping out an old high school acquaintance by doing a bit of work as an unpaid extra in a music video he's producing. A couple other guys from the old neighborhood were there too:

  1. The step son of my grade 8 teacher. 
  2. A guy who was there that night I was attacked.
The step son of my grade 8 teacher is a year older than me but we went to the same high school and know a lot of the same people. It was nice talking to him and he and I actually made quite an impression on the crew during the shoot. We're friends on Facebook now.

The other guy, I had been talking to him for a couple hours as we waited for our scene to come up and when talk turned to other people from the neighborhood I mentioned the names of the "ring leader" and two other guys - only I got the name wrong. He looked at me and confessed that he was there that night and knew those involved.

I have picked through my thesaurus and still can't come up with a single word that adequately describes what I was feeling. 

Today he's an everyday guy living a life anyone of us could have had. He went to shoot his scene and I never really saw him after that. The producer posted that pic above on Facebook and he "liked" it. I'm currently undecided if I would accept his friend request should he ever send me one, though I'm leaning towards no.

The stylist overheard some of the conversation at one point as the other guy and I were talking with the producer and she asked me how I felt, what I was thinking... I'll be honest with you, I am not at all proud about what I said and even less proud about what I thought. The rest of the day, the drive home, most of last night, many hours in bed, and a good part of today I have been trying to reconcile my feelings on all this. Thankfully, I think I have.

You see, I am a firm believer that the world would be a better place if more people were happy. I genuinely want the people around me, in my community, to be happy. On a very basic level, it would make the simple act of leaving the house that much more enjoyable. As such, I have put myself on a path that includes finding ways to be happy, and have those around me be happy as well. In collaboration with, and never at the expense of others.

For 20 years I have felt that my attackers took something from me, and that they should pay. For as long as I felt pain, they should feel misery, hurt, and despair 100 times over. This is just a taste of some of the thoughts that have gone through my head as recently as this morning, and I'm ashamed for having them. Just sticking to the path I have chosen should be enough. 

It is enough.

If the people that kicked the crap out of me for no reason have put themselves on a similar path then I am pleased. If they haven't, well then they're going to reap what they sow eventually. The Universe has a way of balancing itself out, and karma has a way of kicking your ass worse than any human ever could.

Today I have two hopes and one wish.

My first hope is that a kid being bullied reads this and talks to someone about what they're going through, and talks to as many people as they have to until someone listens. My second hope is that they won't have to talk to more than one. I was 0 for 2 on help that night, but the next person listened, and so did the person after that, and the person after that. 

You are not alone.

My wish is that at least one bully reads this and decides to choose a different path. The world can always use one more happy person and if they choose the right path the world will get at least two.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Controversy? Just Sweep it Over There Under the Rug

Well, after a bit of noise on this topic this summer things pretty much quieted down - until yesterday. FIFA announced yesterday that Canadian team captain Christine Sinclair would receive and undisclosed fine and a 4 international game suspension for her comments after the Canadian semi-final loss at the Olympics this summer.

I for one think that this punishment [if you can call it that] sends the following message: "We are not going to let you get away with lobbing accusations at our officials, however, since we're not prepared to discuss if there was any truth to your allegations here's your slap on the wrist. Now everyone just stop talking about it."


I know of at least one person who feels that Ms. Sinclair should be banished from soccer for life. He calls what was said "defamation". Well, sir, it's only defamation if what was said was untrue and in this case the waters appear cloudy enough that you're going to have a hard rime proving that Christine's comments were completely unfounded.


The official had been making questionable calls throughout the game and the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back - the call that referee Christiana Pedersen made that resulted in the kick that led to the tying goal - was so out of place that soccer fans and commentators had to struggle to find a case of that particular infraction having been called before. That's an inconsistency that happened to occur at a crucial moment in a game, and Ms. Sinclair knew it. Everyone playing knew it, and everyone watching knew it. FIFA and the IOC knew it. The Americans definitely knew it. 


In fact, one American player admitted afterwards she had been attempting to influence the referee the whole game. All Christine Sinclair - and many of the other Canadian players - did was call bullshit (and rightly so, in this writer's opinion).

One thing I do know is that having played a number of officiated team sports at various levels there has always been a saying that, when found to be true, seemed to result in optimal results for both competing teams:


You know you had good referees when you can't remember if they were there.

There are also a few other applicable phrases that come to mind:

Just let 'em play
Commonly used in hockey to indicate that it would be best if the teams were left to their own devices to decide an outcome. This usually results in minor infractions on both sides being ignored and the pace of the game being unusually high. This approach runs the risk that one side will attempt to take advantage of the loose rules, but more often than not it just creates an atmosphere where the players truly decide the outcome.


A strike in the 1st inning should be a strike in the bottom of the 9th
A baseball reference indicating that an umpire sets the tone for the game by calling balls and strikes a certain way - and remains consistent. Upsetting this consistency results in controversy later in the game when something that's been called a strike all game suddenly becomes a ball. The manager's punishment for arguing this usually results in an ejection ("getting tossed") and lots and lots of yelling.


A penalty in the 1st period is a penalty in overtime
A corollary to the aforementioned baseball saying. If a hockey referee calls a penalty early in the game, but doesn't maintain consistency, this results in confusion among the players as to what is acceptable and what is not, and in both my examples ultimately allows the official to have more control over the outcome.


There's a hierarchy for all officials in all sports at all levels. You'll often hear sportscasters talk about it before important games. "This is so-and-so's 5th Stanley Cup Final appearance" or "So-and-so has worked hard for the last few years and deserves to be officiating in his first playoff game". Officials work their way up the ladder and the best ones get the important games. Referees at that level, for those games, should simply be better than the rest. Not infallible, but certainly the cream of the crop. 


An official should never decide a game, especially one of magnitude, and that's exactly what happened this past summer.


Now, I wouldn't say that this controversy is anything close to what the NHL had to deal with back in 1999 with the whole toe-in-the-crease incident, but it's in the same ballpark and I'm afraid that the comments and decisions that have come down are as good as it is going to get for either side. 


~afb~

Monday, September 17, 2012

NHL Who?

I'm a big hockey fan and I have been for as long as I can remember. Yes, I cried when my parents told me I was playing hockey that one fateful September day back in 1982, but I loved the game - I just didn't want to play it. Now, almost exactly 30 years later I can honestly say that I still really love hockey - its the people that run the teams and don the uniforms that bring tears to my eyes. Okay, it's not so much tears as it is pure unadulterated rage and loathing... but enough about me. If there's one thing this latest NHL work stoppage has shown me is that it's not about me. Or you. Or anyone else that makes NHL hockey possible for that matter.

It's about players who think they're bigger than the game - entitled to more than half the daily take simply because they worked up a sweat, and it's about owners who think that they can mismanage their lemonade stand and still be entitled to profit. Make no mistake though, it's definitely not about the paying customer. They'll get their watered down, over priced, sour beverage - and they'll love every drop and come back for more. 

We only have ourselves to blame.

NHL hockey is the only professional league in the world to have lost an entire season due to a work stoppage, and do you know what happened when they came back? Seven years of record record revenues. Now we're on the verge of another collapse, for pretty much the exact same reasons that caused the last stoppage and fans are taking sides. Seriously? We are actually divided on who is to blame? Even Bob McKenzie, who has probably the greatest hockey mind the business has ever seen, won't pick a side on this one.

Fool me once, shame on you...

There should only be one side that matters in all of this: the one that pays the bills. In case you didn't catch on, it's our side. Us. The fans. The only way the spoiled elite and the out-of-touch beyond wealthy will ever understand is if we hit them where it hurts he most:

  • For the players you go after their ego, and the tactic is simple:
    You stop watching!
    Adore and revere someone else. Pay no attention to the spoiled brat in the corner, he'll find someone else to carry his books to class.

  • For the owners you go after their pocketbooks, and the tactic is simple:
    You stop paying!
    You give someone else your hard earned dollar. Pay no dividends to the greedy, fiscally irresponsible jerks in the ivory tower, they'll move on and try to find another sucker to con.
A very reasonable and wise man by the name of Neil Hedley wrote an article a couple days ago in a less scathing and vitriolic tone, but the message was essentially the same. Unless enough people say it, and enough people commit to it, we'll just be right back here again eight years from now and another eight years from then. 

Fool me twice, shame on me.

So it's time for hockey fans to step up and do something worthwhile. Sell out the junior rink around the corner, up the road, or in the next town over. Simply because you can, head out to a high school or college game - and buy a giant foam finger. Read a damn book (I recommend Neil's) or get behind another sport (Lyndon Johnson has one that seems to be catching on).

Just do something, anything, that keeps the NHL and its players from fooling you again.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Making a List...

If you're like me you're on Twitter. If you're one of the few dozen million Twitter users following more than a few dozen people you may have noticed your Twitter feed fills up pretty quickly. One thing I have discovered is that Twitter is all about interactions. It's not about how many people follow you, it's about who you follow, and most importantly the people with whom you choose to engage.

Twitter = Engagement.

How some people following thousands and thousands of accounts can keep up and actually engage is beyond me. I love seeing celebs or "experts" following 50,000 people. There's absolutely no way that's practical for anything and I suspect that those accounts are at best a person (or team of people) just scanning the @ mentions for something worth replying to or at worst just self promoting pseudo spam churning out links or 140 character insight in a robotic "look at me!" sort of way.

As someone who is reasonably compulsive about keeping things in order, as soon as I started following more than a couple hundred people I knew I needed a system. Maybe you don't need a system, maybe you have one of your own, but in order for me to maximize my Twitter interactions and engage as effectively as I can I have come up with something that plays out like this:

First things first - I almost always use the Twitter app for my iPhone when I'm mobile and just want to check something quickly (mentions, direct messages, trends, searches, etc...). At home, I'm almost always on my laptop and I'm using Hootsuite (free). I have a system for how and what I tweet as well, but that's a separate post altogether, for now we'll focus on organizing the 486 people I'm following.

Lists.

One thing Twitter has done that's a great idea is lists. Their implementation of lists is clumsy and getting at them from the web or iPhone app takes too many clicks but fortunately there are other apps out there that help with this. Now on to the system...

It's really quite simple. Everyone I follow goes into a list. Heck, even if I don't want to follow someone I can add them into a list (they won't clog up my main feed and they'll still show up when I look at my list). One follow, one list. How many lists do I have? Good question. I have 13, and here they are (along with what each one is):

  1. Friends (self explanatory)
  2. Tweeps (these people interact with me on Twitter most often)
  3. Tweeple (I like what these people have to say)
  4. Community (people in my community or other local communities)
  5. Writing (people who write)
  6. Personalities (famous people, celebs, and personas)
  7. Sports (athletes and sports journalists)
  8. News (traffic, weather, headlines)
  9. Music (musicians, music journalists)
  10. Visual Arts (photography, painting, other forms of visual art)
  11. Geek Stuff (social media "experts", science, geeks and nerds)
  12. Businesses (twitter accounts for businesses I support/recommend)
  13. Causes (charitable organizations I support or generally agree with)
Now, this is where Hootsuite comes in really handy. I can display dozens of tabs at once and up to 4 streams on a single tab. A stream can be anything I want, including searches, hashtags, and lists. I order my lists in terms of how much I want to see those tweets and put them on tabs, and voila!

Yes, it means I'm effectively putting the people I follow on Twitter into a hierarchy, but that's just the way it is. Sometimes I'm not in the mood to listen to what my writer friends are up to. Many times I'm not concerned with what a celebrity is doing. Quite often I want to know what's going on with my friends and in my community. Here's how my tabs are broken down:

  • Tab 0 - mentions, direct messages, my re-tweeted (yes, I'm narcissistic so that's why it's first)
  • Tab 1 - friends, tweeps, tweeple, community
  • Tab 2 - writing, personalities, sports, news
  • Tab 3 - music, visual arts, geek stuff
  • Tab 4 - businesses, causes
  • Tab 5 - hashtags (trends and topics I like to follow)
Here's what it looks like on my laptop and on my phone (click to enlarge):



But what about maintenance? Another good question. There are a bunch of non-Twitter apps and websites that will help you manage your lists but the one I like to use is found at http://tweetbe.at. It's free and does a pretty good job of managing lists, list members, and other twitter followers/following. The only downside is it will only load 500 of the people you're following on any given screen. Once a month or so I go through my followers/following and start to clean things up. I get rid of the spam-bots and unfollow people and shuffle the list participants based on recent interactions.

So there you have it. My Twitter system in 1000 words or less. I'd be interested in knowing what you're doing to manage your Twitter environment. Use the comments below to share or post links to other systems that work.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Reach for the Stars

I haven't written in a while, and with thoughts and ideas bouncing around my head like a beam of light reflected by a million mirrors it seemed a good time to put pen to paper... er.... fingers to keys and let some words out into the world.

This was supposed to be a post about Lance Armstrong, doping, the spirit of competition, and inspiration. This was supposed to be a post asking questions and challenging my perceptions - and hopefully yours - about athletes, sports, and the fans that support them. 

Then another Armstrong died.

I grew up a big sports fan, not just of hockey (ice hockey for those who require the clarification) but sports in general. I was blessed with above average, but not noteworthy, skills in a few areas and to watch elite athletes perform at such a high level left me in awe. However, equally inspiring were the people that understood (or wanted to know) how our world and the universe around it behaved, as well as the people that were were not afraid to go out and explore it.

Galileo, Curie, Bohr, Darwin, Feynman, ... 

Yeager, Gagarin, Sheppard, Glenn, ... 

Armstrong.

Say what you want about the moon landings (insert conspiracy theory here) and the fact that there was a list that stretched from here to the moon of people who would have accepted the offer to be the first one to set foot on it, the fact is that Neil Armstrong was the man that was chosen, and Neil Armstrong will forever be the man who made history, and inspired billions.

He was the first person to set foot on the moon. Think about that for a second. Only a precious few had even ventured that far into space before, and exactly zero had left the "comfort" of a spacecraft, donned what had to have felt like the thinnest piece of clothing ever, and set foot on the closest extra terrestrial object we could find - a mere 384,400 km away. Most people cannot truly comprehend exactly how far away that is. Walk around the Earth's equator 9 times and you won't have traveled as far.

By stepping off that ladder and onto the cold, grey, desolate expanse of Earth's only satellite, Neil Armstrong forever changed the way people would view the universe. You want to talk about inspiration? I'm not going  suggest you take a look at his Wikipedia page or check out his A&E Biography. I'm going to ask you to go outside when there's a full moon, look up, and think about the fact that there's a boot print up there left behind by a guy from Ohio.

The instant Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon the phrase "reach for the stars" was no longer a metaphor.



Wednesday, June 20, 2012

It's a Good Thing I'm Cute

So lately I've been obsessed with my backyard. Specifically my one corner where I put the kids' pool. Over the last several weekends I've been slogging away in the backyard trying to make it a little more functional, and a little more aesthetically pleasing to stare at whist I'm barbecuing.

Here, in all its glory, minus some grass seed (going down this weekend after the heat wave) is what I ended up with:

Ta da!
Click to enlarge.
















So, a brief explanation before I get to the reason for sharing this post. The pool sits where a shed used to sit (I moved it to the corner by the house & out of the way to free up backyard, but leaving behind a dirt pile). So I cut out a bit more, dropped a retaining wall down and a tarp and some anti-slip mats. Tossed some rock in the back (not pretty, just rocks) with a couple urns with tall grass in them (hard to see, but they're there). Put a small bush/tree thing and some wood chips beside the rocks (also hard to see the bush/tree) then some peas, some pumpkins, some peas, more wood chips and another one of those bush/tree things (I dig rectangles and symmetry). Add a box for toys, the pool, the pump, and voila! Oh yes, can't forget the GIANT tennis ball. Water logged 6 year old optional.

The pool is an 8 foot round, self inflating thingamabob. It comes with this shitty pump and some chemicals to keep it from getting algae and some chlorine to keep it from infecting the kids with bacteria or something. It holds 2300L of high quality H20 and takes a bugger of a long time to fill up - at least in the kids' minds it did.

That black contraption on the fence just by the skimmer? Oh yes, that's my "heater". We affectionately refer to it as "the contraption". It's a black garden hose with some plumbing parts chemically bonded to each end so they fit into the hose for the pool. I used "The fucking strongest adhesive we sell. Don't get it on your hands". This is precisely what the 15 year old at Rona said to me when I asked him for "Something like caulking that I can get wet that holds like a sonofabitch".

The water is supposed to snake its way through the black hose cable tied to a lattice piece also painted black, get heated by the sun, and output to the pool. A couple problems with this setup were clear from the first minute:

  1. The pump was screaming like its ass was on fire
  2. The water was not moving very quickly through anything and the pool was getting stagnant
  3. The filter in the pump works better if the water is moving through it at its designed speed
After a couple weeks what I appeared to have was a not-so-awesome looking 2300L of brownish water that was a fraction of a degree warmer than without the contraption. Plus, I'm not exactly sure the contraption's super caulking wasn't slowly leaking chemicals into the pool.

So, tonight I lay the contraption to rest and decided to check the water quality with the strips they give you. A bit too much chlorine (overcompensation is the likely culprit) and a little alkaline. Easy fix. Add more anti-algae stuff (couldn't hurt, right?), lay off the chlorine for a bit, and add more water. Wait a couple days and see what happens.

I put the hose in the pool and turn on the water. I had a few inches of wiggle room before I hit the "do not fill past this line" line. I left the hose to do its thing and went upstairs to read my daughter her book.

Lo and behold, I completely forgot about it.

When I did finally remember what I had done I ran outside and the pool was about to crest. Quite the meniscus on the damn thing even. It was awesome. I didn't take a picture, but I should have. It was a freaking thing of beauty. Could't help but think, "now what?"

Well, I'll tell you what. I decided to drain some water. There had to be a reason to not go beyond the "do not fill past this line" line. I then had a flash of brilliance. I would use one of the hoses from the pump to drain some water. Not wanting water to pour out of the spot where the hose used to be connected I did what any backyard level genius would do: I lifted the pump up above the water level. I was totally using science! [mumble] years of university have never felt so worth it.

So far so good.

Only, I needed another set of hands and my wife would most certainly not come out and help me. She already was ticked I forgot about leaving the hose on. So I did what any backyard level moron would do. I put the pump down.

On the edge of the pool.

Not so gently.

Well wouldn't you know it, the top of the pool caved quicker than it took me to yell out an expletive and a complete shit-ton of water poured out of the pool at breakneck speed (assuming the neck being broken was some sort of small rodent or large insect).

The mats were swept away. The "decorative" rocks that were holding the basketball net in place were washed halfway down my lawn, and was briefly standing in several inches of water, as the pool continued to pour out a steady stream beside me.

It took way longer than it should have to un-collapse the side of the pool, but when I did I took a look and the water was just slightly below the "do not fill past this line" line.

Genius.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Helmets Help. Period.

Well the coroner's report came out with a recommendation to mandate helmets for all people riding bikes. As soon as I read the article I knew all the crazies would come out of the woodwork. You're stomping on our rights! It's more dangerous walking down the street - mandate helmets for that!

Well, having suffered quite a few brain traumas in my lifetime I tend to take an interest in these "discussions". I put the word in quotes because the way I see it there's really no argument. A bike helmet likely saved my life. It absolutely prevented a serious injury. Not having one on while riding a bike seems like a ridiculous notion. But that's just me - and a few hospitals few of other people.

I had a grand idea for a blog post about my position on this so I could share it with those of you who don't have me as a friend on Facebook (where it was written in several comments to a FB friend with vastly different opinions on the matter). Then, his last comment sealed the fate of this post. Regarding a law that requires helmets for cyclists: "I've got a beef with helmet legislation without data to back it up."

That got me thinking, and I asked him point blank: what's the magic number? What data has to exist for it to be OK? Who gets to set that threshold? I would argue that the fine doctors who get to see all the patients (dead and alive) would have a pretty good idea, and they seem to think it's the way to go. I'm sure it's all just a clever rouse though, you know, to get more people into the ER and funding their research. Oh wait... they're recommending helmets and suggesting that FEWER people will pass through their walls, freeing up valuable resources and people for other less preventable injuries? Their data is bullshit and they must be up to no good.

All sarcasm aside I only have one point to say and that is this:
A cyclist wearing a helmet is safer than one without.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Stanley Cup is in the Building


So last year I had the first chance to have a repeat of the night before one of the greatest moments of my life - and it didn't happen. You see, on June 13, 2002 with my wife three weeks away from her due date, Detroit won the Stanley Cup. 

I was watching Steve Yzerman kiss The Cup and I turn to my wife (she was pretending not to watch the game) and pat her on the tummy and say, "OK, you can give birth now". Well, at 05:00 the next morning she wakes me up with, "Andrew, we're going to have a baby". More than half asleep I reply, "I know" and roll over to go back to sleep. She replies with, "No. We're going to have a baby TODAY. My water just broke" and at 17:17 on June 14, 2002, weighing in at 7lbs 7oz, our daughter Avery was born.

Fast forward 9 years ago from then, and go back almost one year from now, and on June 13, 2011 a team had a chance to win the cup (Vancouver). It would have been a great moment for me. Not that I'm a fan of the Canucks, but since that night back in 2002 I haven't seen The Cup handed out the night before my daughter's birthday. 

For almost a decade I've been referring to Avery as "My Stanley Cup", and the presentation of The Cup the night before her birthday as "My Halley's Comet". This year it looked promising with Game 7 happening on June 13 and what promised to be a gritty low scoring duel. Alas, with LA up 3 games to none on New Jersey it's not looking good for an Avery's Birthday Eve Cup presentation. 

It's OK though, as just watching the Stanley Cup get lifted into the air is one of my favourite moments of the year, and it will hereinafter happen within a handful of days of my little girl's birthday. So this year, like every year since 2003, I'll record the last few moments of the game and The Cup presentation - whether that happens tonight or not - and I'll watch them in the morning with my own little Stanley Cup and her little Drive Through Baby brother (which is a story for another day). 

Wednesday, June 6:
  • Update 1: At the time of posting there is no score in Game 4 with 14:04 left in the 3rd period.
  • Update 2: Jersey scored with 12 minutes left and LA just tied it up a minute later.
  • Update 3: Jersey goes up 2-1 with 4:29 to go. 
  • Update 4: Game over.  No Cup tonight. LA up 3-1 in the series. Game 5 goes Saturday night.
Saturday, June 9:
  • Update 1: Jersey up 1-0 15 minutes into the first. LA better start looking better soon. I really don't want to have to watch past my bedtime during the week.
  • Update 2: Three minutes into the second period and LA ties it up. Excellent, my sleep regiment may not be thrown out of whack after all.
  • Update 3: Dang. Jersey goes up 2-1 halfway through the second. Looks like that goal went in of someone's butt too.
  • Update 4: LA has a goal waved off as it went in off a high stick. Sure, it doesn't count but it was impressive nonetheless.
  • Update 5: End of two and Jersey is up by a goal. It's far from over, but I'd really like this thing to wrap up tonight. Going 7 games would bring my Halley's Comet around again though, so I'm a bit torn.
  • Update 6: Six minutes to go in the third. Still 2-1 Jersey and Glen Healey on Hockey Night in Canada just used a rodeo reference when talking about Martin Brodeur for the 973rd time.
  • Update 7: Well, it looks like New Jersey is hanging in there. Since I'm watching this thing wrap during the week anyway, might as well be a game 7 on Wednesday. Could this sequence of events have a 10 year cycle?
Monday, June 11:
  • Update 1: Jersey just gets nailed for a 5 minute penalty. Let's see if LA can capitalize. As much as it would be cool to repeat the sequence of events of 10 years ago (minus Detroit winning the cup, and a baby) I kind of want LA to win this thing.
  • Update 2: No sooner did I post Update 1 and we have Update 2. LA scores and are still on the PP for another 3 and a half minutes. Could this be the night La La Land gets a Cup?
  • Update 3: Wow, another goal for LA. Up 2-0 with still 2 minutes to go in the PP.
  • Update 4: Holy crap. A third power play goal by LA - on the same power play! LA is on a roll!
  • Update 5: Well Jersey has their work cut out for them. 4-0 for the Kings of Los Angeles just two minutes into the 2nd period. 
  • Update 6: Jersey shows signs of live. One minute left in the 2nd period. Is it too little too late?
  • Update 7: Looks like LA is going to pull off the win on home ice. Going to watch The Cup get lifted tonight, and then I'll watch it again with my kids in the morning.