August 29, 2016

Peeing Into The Digital Wind

I'm beginning to think that the internet, especially the social media aspect of it, is probably the most intricate and fascinating social experiment in the history of the world. There's an old saying that goes, "Opinions are like assholes. Everybody's got one and everyone thinks everyone else's stinks." This is what the internet has become. Hundreds of millions of people with their own special opinion on EVERYTHING and a whole bunch of them chomping at the bit to point out what's wrong with everyone else's, especially yours.

I get it. I really do. It's so hard to resist. You know you're right. You are right! You must let all the people know you're right. I've been there a thousand times. Hell, I've been there as recently as this weekend. Try as I might, I would not bite my tongue and had to chime in on something that, had I left well enough alone, would have left me in a perfectly calm state. As it was, I was left frustrated and disappointed and all I accomplished was completely wasting half an hour of an otherwise wonderful day.

That's all fine and dandy when it's average folk arguing with each other over average things. What really makes my head turn is when there's a company + customer dust up. When I see this happen the first thing I try to do is determine which party is batshit crazy, then I typically root for the other one. If both parties involved are off their rockers then that's even better. Without a horse in the race, I can just sit back and enjoy the show.

I am left wondering what the ever loving hell is there to be gained - on either side - by engaging in these shenanigans? In many cases, it's the company that ends up looking the fool. The old adage, "The customer is always right," seems to ring true, at least in the court of public opinion (even though it's really bullshit). Occasionally, though, a company will come out on top and boy-oh-boy is that fun to watch. There is something thoroughly satisfying about watching an internet asshat get their just desserts.

For an example of this, we need to look no further than The White Moose Café in Ireland. Café owner/manager, Paul Stenson, took exception one day to some vegans who frequented his café and slagged him in a review. For the record, Paul had no problem with vegans frequenting his restaurant but expected a little heads up beforehand. Instead, their expectation was that he would be able to cater to their very specific dietary needs on a whim. What Paul did next was nothing short of genius.

He fought back and he fought back hard.

Have you ever heard of the joke "The Aristocrats"? It's a go-to amongst comedians, often told in the company of other comedians. The whole point of it is to take it as far as you can in terms of obscenity and offensiveness. Gilbert Gottfried is renowned for using this joke to turn around a crowd of comedians that were gathered for a roast of Hugh Hefner shortly after 9/11. Gilbert told an offside joke that could be easily categorized as being "too soon". He got boos. He got heads shaking. He got finger wags of shame. Then he busted into The Aristocrats. By the time he was done all was (mostly) right with the room again. More people were laughing compared to the moments before he took the mic so it's safe to say he pulled off one of the greatest comedic recoveries ever.

Well, our friend Paul, the owner/manager of The White Moose Café in Ireland, after getting his crappy review from the angry vegans, he launched into his very own rendition of The Aristocrats. He went full-blown five-alarm batshit crazy with his responses at one point [sarcastically] posting, "Any vegans attempting to enter our café will be shot dead at point blank range." Buzzfeed chronicles the whole sordid affair and it is pure gold.

The end result? The White Moose Café is now one the busiest establishments in Ireland, likely giving the Blarney Stone a run for its money. If I ever go to Ireland I'm stopping by to give Paul some business. I just hope I can get a table and don't have to step over too many dead vegans while standing in line.

Used with permission from The White Moose Café

On the other side of the coin, we have M. R. (Michael Robb) Mathias and the website Fantasy Faction. It should be a really simple relationship. The writer writes and publishes (in this case self-publishes) and the readers read, review, and discuss the writer's work (utilizing the comments section on sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble as well as the handy dandy Fantasy Faction forum).

Now, I once had the good fortune of meeting Chuck Wendig at a writer's workshop and the writer/reader relationship was briefly discussed. In a nutshell, once that book leaves the writer's hands, it's no longer about them. Reviews are for readers, not writers. At no point should a writer inject themselves into a conversation about their work - at least not in a public forum like a review site or forum and certainly not unless they were invited. Full stop.

It would appear that Michael wasn't in attendance that day because he took his own "Aristocrats" approach and it failed miserably. Michael posts some self-promoting thing to a forum. Forum moderators move it to the self-published and small press section. Michael takes exception to this and, in the public forum, unleashes an egotistic rant that will go down in infamy as "Mathias’s Meltdown".

You can read a summary of the meltdown here, or you can take a gander at the original forum discussion or peruse what twitter was saying in real time. I have read them all end-to-end and all I can say is, wow! Of course, to a certain extent "any press is good press" applies here (I'm sure he got a few sales out of the whole exchange) but when forum posters (not just the mods) are calling you out for being a twatwaffle, the right play here is not to double down on being a twatwaffle. There were at least half a dozen ways Michael could have navigated those waters and not drowned. As it is, he has the distinction of out batshit crazying Anne Rice.

Image released to the public domain by Anne Rice

All things considered, if Google search results are any indication and you have an online presence as a company (or brand or content creator etc...) you are more than likely going to end up like M.R. Mathias and not Paul Stenson from the White Moose Café.

In summary, be careful out there. Online engagements are a lot like peeing into the wind. It may provide you with some measure of relief but all you really do is end up smelling foul and having to explain to everyone why you're such an idiot.

~ Andrew

August 22, 2016

Grace, too

In December 1991, Canadian rock legends RUSH started their Presto tour in Hamilton, Ontario with Jeff Healey as the opening act. It was thought that a couple nights later in Toronto, that Healey would open as well. Ticket sales were slow, or so the story goes. A friend of mine scored us a pair of tickets in the sixth row, just off center, and on the day of the concert my high school walls were buzzing. At least, the dozen RUSH fans in the two thousand student body were buzzing. A rumor was circulating that Jeff Healey wasn't going to open, instead, it was going to be The Tragically Hip.

I was a counselor in training back in the summer of 1990 when The Hip's first full album, Up To Here, was making waves on the shores of Sparrow Lake - and Lake Ontario, and pretty much any other lake, small town, city, or metropolis in The Great White North. At the time it was one of my favourite albums. The album that outdid it, though, was their next one. The 1991 gem, Road Apples. So, by the time December of that year rolled around The Tragically Hip had become Canada's band, and I was going to get a front row seat (okay, it was the sixth row, but who's counting) to see them open for the band that previously held the title.

That concert was everything it promised to be, and then some. I watched Gord Downie belt out hit after hit of hard hitting, good old fashioned rock-n-roll married with lyrics that were pure genius. When he lay down with half his body hanging over the stage and screamed the lyrics to New Orleans Is Sinking while pretending to do the front crawl I knew I was witnessing something truly unique. Part man, part machine, part poem, Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip were rewriting the national anthem.

Twenty-five years later an entire country was collectively winded from the gut-punch news that Gord was suffering from an inoperable brain tumor. Doing what I can imagine only a few people in the world could do, Gord and the band decided they would go out the way they came in. That is, with a bang, and they set out do play a series of gigs - exclusively in Canada - with their magnum opus to come in a six-thousand-seat venue in their band's birth city of Kingston, Ontario.

The Hip could have sold a hundred thousand tickets to that show. Hell, they could have filled Downsview Park in Toronto and close to a million people would have shown up. Interest was so high in tickets for these concerts that, after the debacle with getting seats (tickets going up on Stub Hub for thousands of dollars within seconds of going on sale), the national broadcaster, CBC, committed to airing the concert free of editing and commercials as well as streaming it live on their website, YouTube, and Facebook. Over four million people watched the entire broadcast and almost twelve million tuned into it at some point.

Let that sink in.

A rock band from Kingston, Ontario, population roughly 120,000, had one-third of the entire population of Canada tune in to watch a portion of their final concert.

Several politicians from several levels of government and all party affiliations were in attendance but the one that stood out the most was none other than Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who in addition to clapping and cheering in a concert t-shirt, showed his love and appreciation for Gord and the band in a series of tweets:

Praise, well wishes, prayers, and thoughts came from all over the world but I think former Saturday Night Live cast member and king of late night television, Jimmy Fallon, said it best:

And Pearl Jam took a moment out of their concert at Wrigley Field to say a few words:

Articles much better than this one were written and I have got to tell you, the list of news outlets covering this event blew my mind. A partial list (each linking to the article):

Personal stories were in abundance. So what is mine? Aside from the above introduction, I don't really have one except to say that The Hip went from being the best-kept secret in Ontario to having throngs of loyal fans. I described it to a coworker today as having this feeling that in 1990 they were this obscure band that had a few good songs I liked and in 1991 it was as if they had always been playing on the soundtrack of my life.

After that night in Toronto, I only managed to see them a few more times but their music was everywhere to be found. My good friend and former physics lab partner is a big fan and when we shared an apartment not many hours would pass without a Hip song being played, or strummed on the guitar, or sang poorly over Kraft Dinner being eaten straight out of the pot. I remember listening to their album Phantom Power on the radio in the car on the way up to the cottage with my then girlfriend now wife. There's a lyric in the song Fireworks that goes, "She said she didn't give a fuck about hockey and I never saw someone say that before," and that pretty much summed up our relationship right there. She always sings that part loud and proud when we're together and we hear that song.

The stories, they go on and on and on and on. Throw a rock at a group of Canadians and you'll hit someone with a story about the Tragically Hip. So what is it about them that brings together millions of people to say goodbye?

For starters, the lyrics are masterfully woven from the threads of Canadiana, set to guitar, drums, and bass that make you want to sing along and move, and delivered with the rawest of emotions. For a good number of Canadians, the band speaks directly to them using tools and talent a rarified few possess.

The online Canadian encyclopedia gives us a glimpse into the poetic genius of Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip with an exhibit outlining the stories behind of a handful of the band's most popular songs. For people who have never heard of the Tragically Hip to people that have committed every lyric to memory, this is a must see. They lifted the name of the exhibit from a song off the album Fully Completely.

What sums it up most aptly for me is lifted from two lyrics from one of my favourite Hip songs off the album Day For Night (which, in a sick and twisted bit of coincidence features the song titled Inevitability of Death):
"Armed with will and determination, and grace, too."
"Armed with skill and its frustration, and grace, too." 
Gord Downie did it all. He did it with will and determination and even with all his skill, he showed us his frustration. And he did it with grace, too.

~ Andrew

August 06, 2016

I Am a Writer Because...

*Blows dust off blog*


*Checks date of last post*

June 9, 2016. Yikes, it's been almost two months. What happened? I used to do this all the time. Well, not all the time, but at least once a week. Hell, at one point I used to do this every Sunday. Life happened. Laziness happened. Fatigue happened. Self-doubt happened. Excuses happened. Too many of them to count and enough to feel shame and embarrassed over.

So why is now any different? Well, for starters I am alone. Not forever alone or anything dramatic like that, but temporarily a bachelor. For the next seven days, my wife has the kids (plus one exchange student) on a road trip and I am left home alone to work. The first evening was eventful, having eaten a dinner of ramen noodles and a chocolate milkshake. Hey, I walked the 2.5km to the store and back to get the shake so cut me some slack. I then watched the Blue Jays win in fine fashion over the reigning World Series Champions.

Today I rolled out of bed whenever and sat in front of the TV to watch the Olympics. I did manage to make a respectable omelet for brunch and even managed to shower and get dressed before 2pm. Realizing that I needed to get off my ass and do some walking (gotta get my 10,000 steps!) I decided that I'd do something different. With my mobile data plan in the shitter this month, I didn't feel like paying premium overage charges to catch Pokémon. So, I put on my running shoes and I grabbed a book. I am currently reading Stephen King's On Writing.

I walked out the door with my cheap giveaway sunglasses, and King's book, and I started walking. I was in the section of the book titled "C.V." It's where King walks us through how he got to where he was; as a person and as a writer. If the subtitle to the book is "A memoir of the craft," then this section of the book is the memoir of the man. As I am reading I get this feeling, this sense of awe and inspiration mixed with panic and self-doubt, that's hard to describe. It consisted of two simultaneous and conflicting thoughts.

The first one came as I decided to stop along this quiet multi-purpose path. I was about halfway through my walk and I sat down on a park bench donated in the memory of someone long since departed. The thought went like this: I am not worthy of calling myself a writer because I have not suffered enough. Which I think is total bullshit, but in that moment it did cross my mind. Some truly great writers have suffered and there are definitely schools of thought out there that would assert that the greatness came from the suffering. King suffered. He had two kids, a shitty apartment in an asshole - sorry, armpit - of a town, a low paying job, and no telephone. He then sold the paperback rights to Carrie and, poof! It was like winning the lottery.

I mean, King has lived through some serious shit, man, but from an early age he wanted to be a writer and throughout all the tumultuous times he experienced he kept at it. Even when he thought there was no hope of ever "making it" he kept at it. Then, in the same heartbeat the first thought came, so did the second. King isn't a writer because he suffered. King is a writer because he writes.

Stephen King is a writer because he writes.

By the time I got home inspiration struck and I needed to put this down on "paper". I am a writer. Sure, I have a job that pays me a nice salary and gives me twenty days of paid vacation every year. Sure, I'm also a bevy of other things: a husband, father, brother, uncle, cousin, and friend. All these come with familial and social commitments as well. Sure, I'm middle aged and in desperate need of at least 10,000 steps a day to avoid catastrophic health problems. But... BUT... when I'm not fulfilling any of those obligations I do the only thing that I've ever felt compelled to do: I write.

It's not always a lot. It's not always shared. It's not always submitted for publication. It's almost always not done for money. But I do it. I write. And it doesn't matter which way you look at it. Whether you say, "I write, therefore I am a writer," or, "I am a writer, therefore I write," it does not matter. There is no chicken and egg in this scenario. There is only breakfast.

~ Andrew

June 09, 2016

Stanley Butters

I grew up playing hockey as the son of a man who grew up playing hockey. My dad has two signed letters from the then General Manager of the Detroit Red Wings, Jack Adams, inviting him to come to training camp. My young father declined both invitations and went on to have a 34-year career as a public educator in Toronto. The Maple Leafs are his team but he holds the Red Wings in high regard after the interest they showed in my father and his hockey abilities.

So, to me, it seemed entirely fitting in 2002 that the day after the Stanley Cup was awarded  to the Detroit Red Wings that my first child, my daughter Avery, was born. I've told this story before but I'll sum it up for everyone again.

It was June 13, 2002, and my wife was 37-weeks pregnant. With it being her first child and everything progressing normally we weren't planning on her giving birth quite yet. We were lying in bed watching the hockey game, well, I was watching and my wife was doing a good job of not being too annoyed with my talking to the television as I watched. Detroit won and Steve Yzerman skated over to The Cup with his daughter at his side. As soon as he lifted the cup and handed it to coach Scotty Bowman I leaned over and patted her belly and said, "Okay, you can give birth now." Well, wouldn't you know it? The next morning she woke me up at some ungodly hour and told me that her water broke. At 17:17 on June 14, 2002, our daughter came into the world. I finally had my very own little Stanley Cup.

Last year was the first time since 2002 that the Stanley Cup was handed out on June 13. Tonight, the Pittsburgh Penguins could win it if they beat the San Jose Sharks on home ice. If not, game six will go on Sunday night. If San Jose wins that one then game seven will be on June 15. So, there's no chance for a repeat of my special moment. In that case, I'd rather Pittsburgh end it quickly. That way I still stand a chance to win a hundred bucks in a hockey pool.

Still, I'll be watching the Cup deciding games to the very end regardless of how late they run. It's something I've been doing for as long as I can remember. There's something about seeing that trophy get hoisted in the air that gives me chills. I got to touch it at the Hockey Hall of Fame once and I was in complete awe. It's the greatest trophy in all of sport and I will forever associate it with one of the greatest moments in my life.

~ Andrew

May 16, 2016

The Sound of Music - Ranking Revealed

Over the last while, in an homage to High Fidelity I've been writing about my Top 5 Albums of All Time. I used some basic criteria to make the list:
  • Number of songs I like on the album (i.e. the fewer songs I skip over, the better)
  • Emotional impact of the album (i.e. how does listening to it make me feel?)
  • Composition of the album (i.e. are the songs arranged in an order I find pleasing?)
Truthfully, though, I went with my gut. I tried to pretend someone asked me, "What's your favourite album of all time?" and then answered as quickly as possible. Lather, rinse, repeat four more times. I spat them out in five blog posts with some detailed explanations and stories behind each one. What I didn't do was put them in order. This post is designed to remedy that.

The first one was easy. The next four? Not so much.

Number 5: Shakespeare My Butt - Lowest of the Low
This is a really fun album with some really happy memories attached to it. If you haven't listened to this one (and a lot of people won't have) you should add it to your collection.

Number 4: Ten - Pearl Jam
I saw these guys play shows twenty years apart and the songs they played off this album still held up. This album will never grow old. 

Number 3: Dark Side of the Moon - Pink Floyd
Turn out the lights, close your eyes, maybe have a sandwich, and play this album start to finish. Best destresser ever. 

Number 2: In The Trees - The Watchmen
Another Canadian gem. Such great lyrics and the vocals are truly a gift to your ears.

Number 1: The Joshua Tree - U2
I could listen to this album every day and not tire of it. It's the reason it's #1 and my always answer to the question, "If you were stranded on a desert island and only had one album, which one would you want it to be?"

Of course, no Top X list wold be complete without some honourable mentions! Give these a look-see. I know you won't be disappointed. I'll add more as I get around to it. For now, these will do the trick.

  • The Watchmen - McLaren Furnace Room
  • RUSH - Moving Pictures
  • Led Zeppelin - IV
  • The Beatles - The White Album
  • Nirvana - Nevermind
  • Pink Floyd - The Wall
  • The Tragically Hip - Road Apples

Happy listening!


May 03, 2016

May The McFourth Be With You

May 4 is a big day for Star Wars nerds. Fans all over the globe run around greeting each other with, "May the fourth be with you!" My son's class is encouraging the kids to come dressed up as Star Wars characters and is allowing light sabers in the classroom. My wife, out of town tonight and most of the day tomorrow, left a note with the greeting on the fridge. It's going to be a good day, as it is every year.

What's going to make this year's May 4th even better is the fact that it's also McHappy Day. For those who aren't aware, this is the day that McDonald's donates proceeds from every Big Mac, hot beverage, or Happy Meal sale to Ronald McDonald House

I know, I know, McDonald's isn't the greatest food in the world, but they do some really great things with the money. My wife and I saw it first hand when we were at McMaster Children's hospital last year. Our daughter had spinal surgery to correct severe scoliosis and my wife and I qualified to stay at Ronald McDonald House in Hamilton, across the street from the hospital. Avery spent 11 hours in surgery, 18 hours in the pediatric ICU and then 7 days in the hospital ward. Since we only qualified in distance by a couple kilometers, had a great support system between family, friends, and very understanding employers, and the ability to drive back and forth without issue we decided to not take up a room at Ronald McDonald House so that people who were truly out of options could take advantage of the facilities. 

What we didn't know until a couple days at the hospital was that there was a Ronald McDonald House room on our floor. It was a complete and total savior. While our situation and support network didn't have us feeling like we should have used RMcD House we completely underestimated what kind of toll it would take on us. Knowing that there was a retreat in the middle of the hospital where we could go and get home cooked food, muffins, coffee, and beverages, watch TV, read a newspaper, lounge on the couch, take a nap, or just plain interact with other people was a godsend. 

When you're going through the worst experience that you can imagine, when you're filled to the brim with worry, it's little gestures of kindness that make the difference, that keep you hopeful, that let you know that you're not alone and that there's at least one thing that you don't have to worry about. 

So please, from a parent who has seen the true value of the services that Ronald McDonald House offers, take your kids to McDonald's tomorrow. Let them have a Happy Meal. Get yourself a coffee. You can just plain old fashioned donate cash if you want. They're giving away fancy socks if you donate five bucks!

~ Andrew

April 30, 2016

You Have Until May 31 To Buy Their Books

I'll do everything I can to support my friends with Booktrope, who announced yesterday that they are shuttering the windows and closing its doors. I whipped up a quick link to "Booktrope" over at Amazon but I thought that I could do better.

With that in mind, here is a more comprehensive list of authors you should buy books from before May 31, 2016.

I've started to add others who can provide services and I'll update the links when I have new websites for authors that are republishing.

If you know of someone who should be on the list, just send me an email and I'll happily add them.

April 29, 2016

Support Booktrope Authors

So as of May 31 Booktrope will be no more. 

This means very little for me professionally, but it means a lot to the hybrid publishing industry, 

and it means a whole hell of a lot to a large number of my friends. I’m not sure what I can do to help aside from supporting them and helping promote their work, so that’s precisely what I’ll do.

I’ve set up this handy little shortcut that you can click and find a whole whack of talented authors to buy

books from:

To all my friends wondering what the hell is going to happen now I say stay strong and keep writing. 

You got this.

March 26, 2016

The Sound of Music - Part 5

Welcome to the fifth and final installment of the Sound of Music - My Top Five Albums Of All Time. 

My "deserted island" list of albums I'd want to have with me if I were stranded is almost complete. Thus far I've presented the following (in no particular order): 
As a reminder, I present my main decision-making criteria:
  • Number of songs I like on the album (the fewer songs I skip over, the better)
  • Composition of the album (are the songs arranged in an order I find pleasing)
  • Memories invoked when I hear a song from the album
  • Emotional impact of the album (how does listening to it make me feel?)
Today, we complete the list with an album that literally helped define a generation. By many it is not viewed in the same regard as, say, Nevermind by Nirvana, but in my opinion, this album was more complex, richer experience that touched a much broader audience. 

Without further ado, I present ...

Source: Wikipedia
Released 1991
Track Listing: 
  1. "Once"  (9/10)
  2. "Even Flow" (9/10)
  3. "Alive" (10/10)
  4. "Why Go" (9/10)
  5. "Black" (9/10)
  6. "Jeremy"  (10/10)
  7. "Oceans"  (8/10)
  8. "Porch" (8/10)
  9. "Garden"  (8/10)
  10. "Deep" (9/10)
  11. "Release" (10/10)
I like every song on this album. In fact, I've liked every song on this album since the moment it was released. If I were to rank each song from one to eleven the songs at the bottom, Oceans, Porch, and Garden end up bouncing around in my head for hours after hearing them.

I completely understand why the producer decided to open with the song "Once". It's a powerful song and within the first minute of the song the lyrics, "Once upon a time I could control myself / Once upon a time I could lose myself" tell us that we're about to embark on a fairytale journey like none other. Followed by "Even Flow" these two tracks make you feel like all you've been doing is climbing, then, without warning like the first big drop on a roller coaster we hear "Alive", a song just as powerful as any of the others but slightly down tempo. Not to have us get lulled into a false sense of security the album hits back with a 1-2 punch with "Why Go" and then "Black" only to follow up with probably the most iconic opening bass line in the band's catalog on "Jeremy". The album continues with songs that alternate between laying low a little and jumping right up in your face until we get to the last song on the track. As far as album endings go "Release" is a formidable choice for the end of this wild ride, though I have to admit that it's just as fitting to have it as a live show opener. All in all, the songs on Ten are perfectly arranged and are a pleasure to listen to on their own, in order as they are on the album, or randomized on an iPod with a thousand other songs. 

This album makes me feel like jumping around and yelling. Occassionally, a song will come on that's one of the slower ones and instead of jumping around and yelling it will just magnify whatever feeling I am having in that moment. The themes of the album are dark and uncomfortable and complex, and the feelings it invokes are the same. But most of all, it makes me feel like jumping around and yelling. 

There are too many memories involving this album to list them all here. I remember one of my longest standing childhood friends driving us to a party and saying, "I'm feeling kind of grunge tonight" and putting PJ on in the car. I remember countless days and nights "studying" with Riaz; half written physics equations haphazardly scribbled on scrap paper and Riaz with his guitar in hand and Pearl Jam on the CD player. They are the go-to concert for another friend of mine and I've had the pleasure of seeing them a couple times with him. I should have seen PJ in New Orleans with him back in 1995 but this girl I worked with wouldn't switch shifts with me (which was a total jerk move, if you ask me). 

Probably the coolest memory I have involves the pop/ska band The English Beat. I was in Ottawa, Ontario, standing a few rows from the stage with my Pearl Jam tour buddy and Pearl Jam launched into their hit song "Betterman". They extended the ending and out of nowhere started singing the English Beat's "Save It For Later". Fast forward five years and I'm in Waterloo, Ontario (a solid six-hour drive from Ottawa) and I'm in a small club watching the English Beat with my wife when right in the middle of their song "Save It For Later" they start playing a few bars of Pearl Jam's "Betterman". I figure I was the only person there who had that experience and every time either of those songs come on my iPod I think of those two concert moments. Also, if you've never experienced the crowd participation at a Pearl Jam concert, you are truly missing out. I only need to speak two words on this topic: Baba O'Riley. Look it up on YouTube

So there you have it, my top five albums of all time. Next time, I'll put the songs in order and give you a list of great albums that didn't quite make the top five cut but are worth checking out nonetheless. 

~ Andrew

March 11, 2016

You Have Memories To Look Back On Today

Chuck Wendig has issued a flash fiction challenge. Write a story in five sentences and fewer than 100 words. Seeing as I write a little something to commemorate the passing of my brother-in-law, Ryan, on my birthday (March 13) I decided I'd use this flash fiction challenge as a means to do that.

Here's what I came up with:

Seven years ago we lost him. Recently, Facebook introduced a memories feature that recaps your day from years past. I've been wondering what those memories would look like from the day he died and how I would deal with them. Turning memories off altogether, or for a specific day, is an option but that day is also my birthday. I will leave the feature on and try to create more good memories so I will be reminded of how much I am loved as I scroll ... scroll ... scroll towards the bottom and remember how much he is missed.

~ Andrew

January 31, 2016

Hurry Hard and Get Me Some Ibuprofen

Weeks ago I decided that in preparation for an annual curling event I would do some daily stretches and lunges to prepare myself. You see, contrary to popular opinion curling can be taxing physically, especially if you're out of shape and on the other side of forty - which is the exact situation I'm in. Of course, I did my stretches exactly zero times and after going sledding with my kids on Friday and noticing that I was tired and sore, I realized that I was going be in for a world of hurt the next day at the bonspiel and even more on Sunday.

Ready to play the roaring game! Chess on ice! 

A brief explanation of Curling:

Curling is played on a flat sheet of ice between two teams comprised of four players each filling a particular role. The Lead is the first player to throw rocks. The Second is the second player to go, the Third or Vice goes second to last, and the Skip typically throws last rocks. Each player gets to throw two rocks per end - the teams alternate - and games are typically eight ends for club games and ten ends for professionals and other elite events.

The skip calls the game from the opposite end of the ice and the players not throwing rocks sweep it as it travels down the sheet (this helps the rock travel farther and also affects how much it curls). When it's the Skip's turn to throw, the Vice will go down to the other end of the ice. As such, the Lead and Second end up sweeping for three turns out of four in addition to throwing their own rocks.

Points are awarded to the team with a rock closest to the center of the concentric circles called the "house". A team will score a point for each rock in the house that's closer than the opponent's closest rock to the center (so if you have three rocks closest to the center and the opposing team has the fourth closest rock you will score three).

An end typically takes 15 minutes to play with two hours being a typical eight-end club league match. It is considered good sportsmanship to concede a match before all the ends are played if you feel your team has no chance of winning (the Skip on the team who is behind gets to make that decision, usually with consultation with the rest of the team). It is also customary for the winning team to buy the first round of drinks for the losing team.

Wikipedia has a great explanation of the history and rules of curling. If you're at all interested, I'd recommend reading it.

The Bonspiel:

This was the second year that I played on a team that entered The Elmira Striploin Classic, a one-day, adult men's, three game tournament involving eight teams. All the prizes are meat, with the top two teams winning a six-pack of beer and four striploin steaks. Places three through eight get their choice of an assortment of meats as their prize (the eighth place team usually is left with a package of bacon).

I don't have a regular curling team but we cobbled together four guys that went to university together and spent some time hanging out at the on-campus pub The Bombshelter (affectionately known to students and alumni as "The Bomber"). Our Skip and Vice (Sean and Tony) were provincial junior mixed champions back in the day, our Second (Mike) curls regularly, and I was the Lead as the least experienced player (curled for four years in Ottawa from 2006-2009 then took some time off and curled for one year in 2013). You have to represent a curling club when you register and since we were cobbled together we said we were from the Bombshelter Curling Club.

Playing three games of curling in one day is a bit of a challenge but we were ready in spite of our pre-game team selfie indicating otherwise:

Left to Right:
Andrew "Confused" Butters - Lead
Tony "Smily" Rowlandson - Skip
Mike "Surly" Venhuis - Second
Sean "Skeptical" Follis - Vice 
I decided I would wear my Samsung Gear smartwatch and use the pedometer feature as well as the wrist camera to get a few photos. The day started out playing against a team skipped by a gentleman named Franco and the first end finished with a couple rocks near the button (the center of the house) that needed a measurement! In the end, we were up 1-0 after one.

Vice Sean measures at the completion of the first end

We held our own against Franco's much more experienced team but after a few ends our team suffered a bad break with our Skip's last rock picking (that's where the rock picks up a bit of debris or dirt on the ice and deviates drastically off course as a result). What would have been our team scoring two resulted in Franco's team scoring two. With a few ends to go, we were down by four points instead of being tied and things were looking pretty grim. We had even got to throw what I called the "Happy Little Rock", but it was to no avail and we shook hands after seven ends. The good news is I managed over 4,000 steps and was over 5,000 for the day!

Robert "Bob" Ross donated the money for the handle on this rock

Of course, curling advertising is always a fun distraction when you're at the rink. This gentleman was sporting a t-shirt from a curling broom head company.

It reads: A good head is hard to find (yes, there's a wee little
letter "a" at the top there)
After a couple drinks and a hearty lunch of sandwiches and homemade soup (creamy potato with bacon) we hit the ice again, this time against a group of non-curlers who we also happened to know from our university days. Team Sindall has a short, but storied, history at this tournament of bringing home the bacon. Since we knew the other team and were just there to have a good time we decided that the Leads would Skip this game! The upside was I got to skip and didn't have to sweep and the downside was I had no clue what I was doing and I was going to get a lot fewer steps. It was a lot of fun, and in the end, teams that actually curl (or have curled) regularly tend to win over teams that curl only once a year, regardless of who their Skip is. When it was all said and done, I ended up winning (keeping my undefeated streak as Skip alive at three wins) as Team Sindall shook hands after seven ends.

How to read the scoreboard. We were playing blue rocks, the other team yellow:
In the first end, we got one.
In the second end, they got one.
In the third end we got one (total of two).
In the fourth and fifth ends we got three and two respectively (totalling 5 and then 7).
In the sixth end, they got two (total of three).
In the seventh end, we got three (total of ten).
At the end of the game as I was getting my camera out I fell. Thankfully I didn't hit my head on the ice (as someone with a long history of concussions this would have been really bad). I did, however, manage to wrench my back. As such, I decided to stay away from alcohol for the rest of the night (I was also DD so I needed to be responsible anyway). It was also an opportunity for me to brush up on one of the first rules to remember when curling: never walk backwards on the ice! With the hack and all the rocks and other people around holding brooms, there are myriad opportunities to trip and fall.

We ate dinner (steak, potatoes, salad, pie and ice cream) and I noticed that I was starting to get sore. Not just from the tumble but sore all over from curling. So many aches and pains and still another game to play. Ibuprofen to the rescue. I had the forethought to pack a bottle in my bag and started popping those suckers like candy.

The End Result:

The third game was a close back-and-forth affair for a few ends and then our relative youth seemed to take over and we pulled ahead. After six ends we had amassed a five-point lead and with only two ends remaining the other team decided to shake hands. We finished the day with two wins and one loss (in the first game) and improved our standing in the tournament by one spot by finishing fourth. Our prize, a five pack of pork chops.

Pork, the one you love.

After all the games ended and celebratory drinks were consumed I looked down and checked the ol' pedometer. I had a preset goal of 10,000 steps and my little reward medal was proudly displayed on the front of my watch:

Would have cracked 15k if I didn't skip that one game.

My reward for a good long day's activity (aside from free pork)? Everything hurts. I mean everything. My toes on my right foot hurt from pushing out of the hack. My left ankle hurts from sliding. My left leg, hip, and butt cheek hurt from the lunge position while sliding. My shoulders, neck, and arms hurt from sweeping like a crazy person; and my ribs hurt (though that's a product of my poor form sweeping as my broom kept rubbed against them).

Was it worth it? Yes.

Will I do it again next year? Yes.

Will I prepare better for next year? Sure, let's just say that will happen.

For those of you who may not have seen curling before here are two of the best shots I've ever seen. Man, when the planets align and "Plan A" works out the way you want it, it's a beautiful thing:

~ Andrew

January 10, 2016

Who Wants to Be a Billionaire?

It's time to play everyone's favourite game, Who Wants to Be a MBillionaire?

Yes, that's correct. Billionaire. With a "B". Billion. If you're the Koch brothers it might just be enough money to buy an election. It's enough money to give 999 people you know a million dollars and still have a million left for yourself.

It's a lot of money.

Of course, I'm talking about the upcoming Powerball lottery jackpot of $1.3 Billion. That's annuitized, though, which means that you would receive thirty equal payments starting with one this year and then for the next twenty-nine consecutive years. I did the math. The day you cashed in your ticket you would receive a cheque for $43,333,333.33. The last space tourist paid $40,000,000 for a trip to space. This means you could buy a spot on a Russian rocket and spend a week on the International Space Station once a year every year from now until 2044 and still have more than three million dollars a year left over to have some actual fun with, you know, in case a week in space every year isn't rocking your socks.

NASA took this photo

But is it worth it to buy a ticket?

Well, the odds are what the odds are and every draw they're the same, whether you play every week or once every ten years. In the case of Powerball, the odds are astronomical. I don't throw that word around lightly, either. I studied a lot of astrophysics when I was in university, so I understand the concept of astronomical. Time and space are mind-bogglingly huge, and the Powerball odds meet the definition of astronomical. To put it the simplest terms possible, you're not going to win.

But someone is going to win it eventually, right?

Yes. Someone is going to win, eventually, and they will be the luckiest son of a bitch since Billy Joel married Christie Brinkley.

AP Photo/Ron Frehm

I use a bit of simplified poker math to help me make my decision. In poker, there are a couple ratios that you factor in when you're playing: pot odds and pot equity.

Pot odds are easy because you simply figure out how much you put in and compare it to how much you get out if you win. If I need to call a bet of $10 and the pot I'll win is $1000 then my pot odds are 1:100 (winning a hundred times more than I'm betting). In the case of Powerball, you put in $2 and you stand a chance at winning $1,300,000,000. So your "pot odds" are 1:675,000,000. These are great pot odds. Matthew McConaughey would love this much pot.

Now in poker, pot equity gets a little more complicated. It's simply defined as how much you "own" the pot based on the cards you have and the cards that are still available. For the Powerball lottery simple probably math gives us our chances. In every Powerball draw, a single ticket has a 1 in 292,201,338 chance of winning. This is terrible pot equity.

To put that in perspective a lot of people like to use the "hit by lightning" analogy. I prefer to use something a little more personal, so to put this into perspective let me say that your chances of becoming President of the United States (assuming you are actually American and not someone like Ted Cruz) are one in ten million. Which means you are 29 times more likely to hold the Twitter handle @POTUS at some point in your life than you are to win the Powerball lottery.

POTUS on Twitter

Anyhoo... now that you've got your two numbers you can figure out if you should play or not. In poker, this helps determine if you should fold, or chase that card you need for a winning hand. You decide by comparing your pot odds with your pot equity. If your pot odds are better than your pot equity, then go for it.

So, for Powerball, our pot odds are better than our equity (by 3 to 1) and I'll be buying a single ticket (and not holding my breath). It's a small price to pay for a potentially massive return. I treat it as entertainment. It's fun, for however short a time, to have a non-zero chance at winning a billion dollars.

Plus, if you don't play your chances of winning are guaranteed to be zero, and that pot equity is as bad as it gets.

~ Andrew

P.S. I'm Canadian, so I'm going to have to get one of my friends in MA, RI, or CT to buy me a ticket before Wednesday's draw. I'll see you next week when I'm in town and give you 1% of my winnings ;)

January 03, 2016

The Sound of Music - Part 4

Welcome to the fourth installment of the Sound of Music - My Top Five Albums Of All Time. 

Think of this as a "deserted island" list of albums I'd want to have with me if I were stranded and these were the only albums I had on my iPod at the time (assume a solar charger and necessary waterproofing).

As a reminder, I present my main decision-making criteria:
  • Number of songs I like on the album (the fewer songs I skip over, the better)
  • Composition of the album (are the songs arranged in an order I find pleasing?)
  • Memories invoked when I hear a song from the album
  • Emotional impact of the album (how does listening to it make me feel?)

In no particular order thus far we have:

Today we will add a fourth album to the list:

Source: Wikipedia
Released 1973
Track Listing:
  1. "Speak to Me" - (Intro-Instrumental)
  2. "Breathe" (8/10)
  3. "On the Run" (Instrumental, 8/10)
  4. "Time" (8/10)
  5. "The Great Gig in the Sky" ("Instrumental", 9/10)
  6. "Money" (8/10)
  7. "Us and Them" (8/10)
  8. "Any Colour You Like" (Instrumental, 8/10)
  9. "Brain Damage" (9/10)
  10. "Eclipse" (9/10)
While the sixties were a time of peace, love, music, and marijuana (and acid, and whatever else those crazy kids could get their hands on). If they were giving out awards for whose fans were the highest it's no secret that Pink Floyd was likely the first band to hold the title across the Atlantic. With the Grateful Dead having formed around the same time they were leading the way by a country mile in the United States.

The only track I'll skip on this album is the opening instrumental intro. Quite frankly, the composition is nothing short of perfection. Opening with a psychedelic instrumental reminiscent of something Monty Python would have written, the album sets the tone with "Breathe" and then moves seamlessly into an instrumental that finishes with a resounding "boom" before we get a jolt of surprise with the sounding of dozens of alarm clocks in "Time", one of many instances where Floyd makes use of samples to augment their musical stylings. "The Great Gig in the Sky" was the first song where I noticed and really began to understand that a person's voice was an instrument. The woman singing on this track doesn't use a single word from the dictionary as she winds her voice up and down with "ooooohhhhhhh" and "ahhhhhhhhh" and "ooooooooooo" and it's positively hypnotic. "Money" brings more distinctive sound bites and "Us and Them" sits in a natural spot as track seven, leading into another instrumental. The final two tracks, especially when played back to back without interruption, might be the greatest ending of all the albums in my library.

This album cover is probably one of the most iconic pieces of musical artwork ever created. Every kid who has heard of this album has tried to recreate this effect the first time they got their hands on a prism in science class.

For years growing up in Thornhill, I would drive past the "Becker's" convenience store on Aileen Road and there was this big green electrical box with the Dark Side of the Moon album cover spray painted in white on the side. The box has long since been replaced and is now obscured by a collection of overgrown trees but thanks to the fine folks at Google Maps and Microsoft Paint I've been able to recreate the image forever burned into my memory (that graffiti stayed on the side of that electrical box for years):

Aileen Road Electrical Box with Modified Graffiti Courtesy of Andrew

In 1994, I was fortunate enough to see Pink Floyd play at Exhibition Place with a lifelong friend, Jon, as well as a newly formed friend, Riaz (and a bunch of his buddies). As part of their Division Bell tour, Floyd played the entire Dark Side of the Moon album and to this day that remains one of my most memorable live concert performances. 

How does hearing this album make me feel? Nostalgic, calm, peaceful, relaxed, poetic, introspective, and blissful. Which, I suspect, is just what Pink Floyd was going for. 

Hey, since you've read this far if you're looking to learn how to play guitar like one of the greats, I came across this website that gives you some free tips and tricks. They happen to have a section on none other than David Gilmour. Check it out over at Beginner Guitar HQ.

~ Andrew

Coming Soon: 
The fifth addition to round out the list and then a post where I put them in order, explain why, and list a bunch of honourable mentions.