Monday, January 26, 2009

Almost Time for the Boys - and Girls - of Summer

Summer can't be too far off in the future.

We are already talking baseball, so summer must be close at hand.

Yes, I know we are still two months shy of spring.

Saturday, I took my two little girls Alannah and Ashley-Rae to the infamous Turtle Club clubhouse to register for the 2009 season.

Alannah is excited for ball this year. "This year I get to hit from a pitching machine", she explained. Rookie ball starts the season hitting off a tee, then progresses during the season to taking pitches from a pitching machine.

Ashley-Rae just yawned.

Ashley showed little or no interest in playing ball last year. Her only interest lay in "when do we get juice boxes and hot dogs", and "can we play in the park after the game". Although she did become fairly adept at catching her ball glove in her cap last year.

So when I announced this year that Alannah would play ball and Ashley-Rae would instead try her hand at gymnastics or dance – I was stunned at her response. She cried and cried and demanded that she wanted to play ball too.

So Ashley-Rae is playing Jr. T-Ball.

I expect that during this week, we will get a call or email from each of the girl's new coaches to explain that Winter Clinic's - which take place in the gym of a local elementary school - will be starting in a week or two.

So baseball is practically here.

And then there is the Detroit Tigers. The object of my affection and attention from February spring training until hopefully the first week of November.

Saturday they held Tiger Fest at Comerica Park. I didn't go (although I would have loved to) because I had to sign the girls up for Turtle Club baseball.

Tiger Fest sold out. A new closing pitcher was announced. Old and new faces spoke about what happened last year – a dismal last place showing when they were supposed to break all kinds of records on their way to the World Series ; and what is expected this year – a strong team with slight re-arrangement, who hopefully will rebound – led by the recharged starting pitcher Justin Verlander – to a team in contention for the post season this year.

How will 2009 pan out for the Tigers?

Personally, I think they could be anywhere between great and awful.

It all depends on how they come out of the gate this year. Last year they started the season by losing their first seven games.

It depends on the starting pitching returning back to the form of 2006 and 2007.

It depends most of all the ability for the bullpen to close out the later innings and shut the door on the opposition in the ninth.

It all depends on who stays healthy.

It all depends on whether bats heat up.

It depends.

But if there is one thing positive a summer-loving person like me can possibly say about January, it is that in January there is always hope. This year is still next year.

And I can't wait for next year to get here.

Those bums can't play any worse than they did in 2008.

I would say that the Tigers making the post-season is as likely as Ashley-Rae really enjoying Jr. T-Ball.

It's not likely, but I would sure be thrilled if it happened.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Transcending Race

I read in the paper this last week that Tiger Woods will be speaking at a celebration ceremony Sunday – five days after Barak Obama takes the inaugural oath of office as President of the United States.

And I thought "how incredibly fitting".

But not perhaps for what some shallow minds may think the obvious reason.

Yes, they are both black men.


Actually they are both persons of diverse heritages. Both are children of mixed relationships.

But that's not what I am getting at.

Because I think Tiger Woods transcends all that nonsense.

Tiger is not referred to as 'that black golfer'.

Tiger is referred to as probably the greatest golfer to ever play the game.

Mr. Obama is not immediately thought of as that black politician.

Because I think Mr. Obama – President Obama – transcends all that nonsense.

Mr. Obama is referred to as one of the best orators of our time. A natural leader. A thoughtful man who chooses his words like Tiger chooses his clubs. Carefully, with consideration.

And with confidence.

When Tiger plays in a PGA tour event, an immediate sense of hope and anticipation arises. Tiger has made what many previously thought to be a most boring event to watch on TV incredibly exciting. Hitting long drives to the green, putting from off the green to the edge of steep sloe where the ball falls sideways and rolls to the lip of the cup – and on the final rotation – falls into the hole after dangling on the edge for a few dramatic seconds.

And I think we see the potential in President Obama for the same type of presence. And that same type of clutch performance. We see it in how in what has become a brutally partisan Washington – a President who included as many members who disagree with him as those that do agree. A sense that consideration to all angles of every decision will be equally weighed – like Tiger standing in the fairway determining not which club to hit – but which groove on the clubface to hit it with.

In my lifetime I have never experienced the emergence of a leader with such promise and hope as the entire world seems to see in President Obama.

More so than John F. Kennedy.

More so than Ronald Reagan.

What an incredible time to be alive. The feeling of hope and inspiration is so strong.

And if you ever want to be inspired as a golfer, watch Tiger Woods play in a major event.

And if you ever want to be inspired as to the potential of our world's future, watch Barack Obama take the oath of office tomorrow. And record his inauguration speech.

I am sure it will be a keeper.

With this great event taking place the day after Martin Luther King day, and with the grand historic significance of his being the first black man to be President of the United States Of America– I understand that many will want to focus on the significance of race.

But then maybe we can take another step forward – inspired by President Obama – and Tiger Woods – and we can all transcend our thinking to the point where we are oblivious to race.

How incredibly inspiring.

And how incredibly fitting.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Yet Another Foot Of Snow

Well, we made it halfway through January.

So far, so good.

In Windsor it just keeps snowing. And the temperature has been sub-zero Fahrenheit for the last week.

I pulled an icicle off the Christmas lights on the garage (coincidentally the lights are shaped like icicles too), and the icicle was reaching down to the ground cave-like, like a stalagmite in a Kentucky tourist attraction.

This isn't Windsor weather?

We don't get snow?

We certainly don't get a foot at a time and have it stay around waiting for the next foot-at-a-time snow fall.

Something is wrong with this Global Warming theory.

Because it's freaking cold!

At work we have a smoking shed. All of us contemptible smokers stand in this shed together. By Ontario law, our little shed cannot be totally enclosed. So to ensure our shed meets this law, our company high-priests determined that both the walls at each end – the front and the back – be removed.

So what is left resembles a carport for a motorcycle. And not even big enough for a real bike like a Harley-Davidson. They should just put a bicycle rack at the far end to justify the structure.

It's a wind tunnel to test one's ability to withstand the most miserable weather conditions.

This is a law I have never personally seen and doubt really exists – but instead is a concoction of those anti-smoking fascists right left winged do-gooders who insists we must live healthier lifestyles that do not offend their personal sense of right and wrong.

The point is that it is very cold in our smoking shed. We all huddle together as we smoke to block the wind and to keep warm. A couple of romances have sprung from this practice, or so I have been told.

During one of our huddling exercises, as we looked at the ever increasing level of snow on the ground, we started talking about sledding. Sleds and toboggans. Amazingly the do-gooders I mentioned earlier have not yet banned sledding or tobogganing.

I started to reminisce about my brief childhood life in Apple Valley Minnesota.

I was about eleven or twelve then. We lived on the top of a large hill in a brand new subdivision. And directly across the street, the developers had put in a park. That park had a bicycle path that started right across from my house, went down a steep slope and leveled slightly to run down between the houses and into a little woodland area where the path became very curvy.

In the summer it was mildly fun to ride our bikes on this path.

But in the winter – as the snow hardened and slicked down – it became the perfect raceway for those sleds that have metal runner and you steer with your feet. I think mine was called a "Red Flyer". You could really get a good three minute run off this path – and go like stink.

But we didn't steer with our feet on our sleds. We laid down on our bellies and used our hands. And it seemed like we went ten times faster.

We had no helmets, only wool caps or tuques. We had no padding other than our snowmobile suites. In Minnesota – like Northern Ontario – cool people wear snowmobile suites.

You would start in the middle of the street, and you would run as fast as you could towards the start of the path – holding your sled up in front of you.

You can only run so fast in snowmobile boots.

When you got to the start of the path, you would start your dive – moving the sled under you as you came to the ground – landing on it with head at the front and hands on the steering handles.

The odd kid would miss, landing on his chin. They usually went home when that happened.

When you got down into the woodland stretch of the trail, you had to quickly weave around the trees. That was the fun part. But I don't ever remember any of us getting hurt by slamming into a tree. We were wearing tuques and snowmobile suites, remember?

That was probably the only part I remember liking about Minnesota winters.

The snow in Apple Valley wouldn't melt away until mid-May.

I wish I could show this kind of fun to my little girls. But I haven't seen a Red Flyer sled for many years. They are probably made out of plastic now. In China.

But all of Essex County is very flat. We would have to drive two hours up the 401 to London to actually find a hill we could really sled down.

As I was regaling my huddled smoking buddies with this tale, they looked at me. Only those not born and raised in Windsor knew what I was talking about.

Because Windsor has always been flat. And Windsor rarely gets snow.

Perhaps the world environmentalists are correct that our world is changing.

But it is confusing to see the icebergs melting in the Arctic Circle in the summertime, and stalagmite-style icicles growing down my garage in minus twenty degree temperatures in the Winter.

Right now - at minus twelve degrees Celsius – I am tempted to take two aerosol cans of Pam non-stick cooking spray – the butter tasting kind - and point them up to the ozone. And spray them until they are empty.

And all the while I would yell "Come on Global Warming!!".

Because it's freaking cold outside.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Big Brother Little Brother

The relationship between Canada and The United States is an interesting one.

Perhaps it is more misleading than interesting.

I do not mean politically. Nor foreign policy. Although both those relationships are equally puzzling.

Instead I mean the relationship of the nations peoples. Like national siblings.

I have at this point lived exactly half of my life on both sides of the U.S. – Canada border.

The basic foundation of the relationship is generally that the Canadians think little of Americans and claim they – not the Americans - hold the high moral ground.

Americans – on the other hand – rarely take time to consider Canada's opinion and most often consider Canada an extension of itself with much more liberal and socialist laws.

To most Americans, Canada is a huge wilderness north of the border dominated by polar bears, moose, drunkards and pot-heads. The bad weather comes down from Canada, and the bad guys do their best to escape north to Canada. Other than that – how Canadians feel about Americans is basically not an American's concern.

And I think this point drives the Canadians crazy!

The Canadian on the other hand has no choice but to concern themselves with everything American. Their television is inundated with American shows, news, gossip, movies, and sports. Either by the fact they are watching American networks or that the Canadian networks pick up American content.

And quite often Canadians know more about The States than they do about their own country.

Many Canadians believe that when a police officer arrests someone in Canada – that their Miranda rights – "You have the right to remain silent ... anything you say can and will be used in a court of law…" – when in fact there is no such statement that must be read to you on Canadian soil.

More Canadians know who the first President of the United States was than who the first Prime Minister of Canada was.

Canadians have a low opinion in general terms of the American population. They consider them to be rude, pushy, and just downright obnoxious. Of course this is true of some Americans – some I have known – but it is also true of some Canadians – some I have known.

Now there are exceptions to the American populous ignorance of Canada. Border cities like Detroit, and Buffalo are more keenly aware of their cross-border neighbors. Those areas receive Canadian television content from such networks as the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation).

In fact – a very odd twist I am seeing now in Detroit – amongst hockey fans – is a desire to be more recognized by the Canadians CBC broadcast team of Hockey Night In Canada. Canadians consider hockey to be "their game". And therefore the best players of the game must be Canadians. This point is most poignantly and eloquently proclaimed by the iconic god of Canadian hockey analysts – Don Cherry. Being as flambouyant and significant an influence in Canadian culture as well as The self-proclaimed hockey subject matter expert – he gives little public recognition to the Detroit Red Wings – clearly the best team in the NHL now for its second straight year and a dominant contender for nearly a decade.

But the Red Wings are full of Europeans. Great Europeans. Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Holstram, and Nicklas Nystram – to only name a few. And there has always been a belief by Grapes (as Mr. Cherry is affectionately nicknamed) – that European hockey of finesse is not real "Rock-em-sock-em" hockey. And those players skilled with finesse are not real hockey players.

So Mr. Cherry chooses not to applaud the Red Wings as much as Detroit fans and sports media aficionados may like. Certainly not as much as they really deserve.

And the Detroit sports fans and media are very critical – quite openly – and quite passionately – of Mr. Cherry's attitude towards the Red Wings.

But the point is not whether Don Cherry likes European players – he prefers his good old Canadian boys by far – and promotes them whenever possible – which is his perceived role as a Canadian Ambassador of Hockey – but instead the point is – to me – a person very cognizant of both sides of the border …

This group of Americans care about what this group of Canadians think!

The only other time I have ever seen such American concern for a Canadian opinion was when Canada refused to participate in the war with Iraq – instead continuing its focus on fighting Afghanistan.

I for one watch both sides of the border and I laugh. Because both sides are really so much more similar than different. Both sides hold racists views only the are targeted at different victims. Both hold very similar principles and moral beliefs but where they differ they treat the difference as though they are irreconcilable. Both hold strong patriotic emotions – and both wave their own flags a bit too much.

I find it fascinating. I find it frustrating.

And because I have lived for extensive and equal periods on both sides of the border – I see both sides hypocrisies.

And I find them delightful.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Tis Time For The End Of The Holidays

I know its January fourth.

I am well aware that Christmas has been over for a week and a half. Christmas is last year's news by now.

But we are still in festive holiday spirits at our house.

The Grandmas are both here. The tree is still up and lit. The lights hung on the outside of the house are still up. For us, probably like a good many of you who celebrate Christmas, we are still - for one more day at least – in the holiday spirit.

It's not often we get both Grandmas in the house together. The one Grandma – my Ma lives in Pensacola Florida, and we will be hard pressed to ever drag her up from the sunny south for Christmas again.

Because, like me, Ma is not a winter person.

It should be noted that in late December and early January, Pensacola is not usually a sunny warm place, but instead cool and rainy. I hope I don't get the Pensacola Tourist Board mad at me for sharing this observation.

So both the Grandmas, who enjoy each other's company, are stationed in their positions at the kitchen table, dealing cards, moaning at their defeats, and congratulating each other on their victories.

It's really quite noisy. Now I know where my own two daughters get their boisterous energies from.

Tomorrow, everything changes back.

Tomorrow, I go back to work, and the girls head back to school. And the three of us will have to hit the ground running, because January is a busy time – making up for productivity that was lost to the Holiday Season.

My phone will be ringing. New problems will require solutions, and new deadlines and schedules will have to be defined.

Good grief.

But the Grandmas will still be here tomorrow night when I come home. My Ma's plane leaves Tuesday morning to head back to Pensacola – via which ever stopover at whatever hub city the airline she is flying uses. On Tuesday, my Ma will have her own timelines, schedules, and deadlines to meet, until she finally arrives home safe in her little dwelling on the golf course.

And the other Grandma, my lovely wife Darlene's mother, will head to back to her home – to the Grandpa Nonos and Uncle Glennie.

Things in our house will slowly drift back to normal. The massive amount of decorations inside the house will gradually find their way back into the many boxes and bins. The outside lights will gradually come down, and also be stored into containers. And those containers and boxes and bins will eventually find themselves placed perfectly back into the storeroom in their precise positions, safe until next January sneaks up on surprisingly quickly after Halloween.

But we will be hard pressed to rekindle the same level of festive holiday spirit here next year. Because I know Ma won't want to fight the holiday airport traffic. Or face the deluge of snows and ice we had this season. Or catch the standard holiday's colds and sniffles that we Canadians think little of during the opening days of winter.

So today we are savoring the final holiday moments. The final hours of time together as a complete family. The last lingering experience of togetherness and love before we all kick back into the standard fare that normal daily life doses out on a daily basis.

Quite often through the holidays you hear the sentiment that Christmas should be in our hearts all year long, not only at Christmas. The spirit of giving, of kindness and well wishing. And that would be wonderful. But I could not take three hundred and sixty five days a year of Christmas trees, and colored lights, and banisters wrapped in holly.

And I do not want to hear another Christmas carol or see Rudolf or Frosty on TV until l at least December first.

I'm done with that nonsense.

But I will be sad to see the spirit melt away like that magical Christmas snow.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

My Household Technology Resolution

I have a new year's resolution for 2009.

This year I will somehow hook all these devices in my house together.

Why? Because this holiday season, my role in our family has expanded ten-fold.

I am now even more so the home technical support person.

This is a tiring role. One where my name is called or my cell phone rings at times when I am just not in the mood to answer questions.

And I am starting to rethink my approval of some of our Christmas purchase decisions. Here are some of the additions we have acquired over the holidays.

For well over a year, we have been saving up for a good high definition television. And since my Mother was coming to spend Christmas, and the TV we have researched was on sale in early December – we jumped in and bought it. A forty-two inch LCD Samsung.

So we also had to jump in and get the digital cable service – which on a special deal came with a digital video recording (DVR) function.

Just before Christmas – we got an awful good deal on a trade in for my old Chrysler Sebring to trade up to a Chrysler 300 limited edition. No money down and for the same payments as I was making on the Sebring – and in doing so, we bypass all the service that my Sebring was about to need.

Inside my 300 is a computer screen on the dash with a Serius Satellite radio (the service is free for the first year) and a thirty gigabyte hard drive and a USB port. So I have been loading the car with the MP3 music files my family has collected on our home computer and my lovely wife Darlene's IPod.

We had purchased a Wii last year, just before I had my knee surgery. And it certainly looks great on the forty-two inch Samsung HDTV. But I did have to completely reconfigure the WII settings. And Darlene got her hands on a WII Fit board, with the idea that our two little girls can be even more active when playing.

As well, Santa brought my little girls each a little MP3 player, and a kid's version of a digital camera. So they both now have music to download from the family PC to their MP3 players, and pictures to upload from their cameras to the family PC.

Since our family computer is a Media Center PC, complete with a TV tuner, and USB and Media Ports and an HDMI port, I have been trying to figure a way to connect the digital TV Cable DVR to the PC to share the recoded media on both the PC and the DVR with both the TV and my PC's Media Center.

I have had no luck yet.

As well, I am quite frequently called away from what I am doing, both at home or on the phone, to help my household dwellers switch from the TV to the DVD player to the Wii. Each requires fumbling with at least two remotes. And each conversation results in the family member I am supporting calling one or more of the devices "stupid".

As well, I have set my two little girls up with their own safe user accounts on the PC so they can upload and download music and pictures. But they haven't quite mastered the skills – which I am sure they soon will. But until then I am their customer support hotline person.

As well, even though our house has four televisions, the new HDTV is the one everything is hooked up to. Nobody else will watch the older ones.

No one but me that is.

I do love technology and how it is progressing. But right now my home is a techno-mess.

Even though the Wii connects to my wireless network, it wants nothing to do with my Media Center PC. The PC is downstairs and the HDTV is upstairs so my only way to make those two communicate is by very long cables running through my walls.

I hear the Xbox 360 does remotely work with the Media Center PC. But we didn't want an Xbox. We wanted the Wii.

Bluetooth technology was supposed satisfy this need to locally connect these home devices as long as they are within 30 feet of each other. But none of these devices, except my cell phone and my PDA use Bluetooth?

The Chrysler 300 in the driveway is just but an island to itself. You would think they would have WiFi'd these things by now. But not to my knowledge. Although there is Bluetooth technology available to make them talk to cell phones, my car doesn't have it … yet.

Nor does my car have GPS… yet.

There needs to be a home gadget standard, a common communication protocol that all these things can use to talk to each other in their own way. And the home WiFi 802.11 wireless network seems to me to be the most likely backbone for such a protocol.

My TV should be able to use my wireless network to detect that I have a Media Center TV downstairs – and allow a connection to access the media – like pictures, music, and home video.

My car with the thirty-gig hard drive should know that it is in range of my wireless network and also be able to synch its music collection to Darlene's ITunes collection on the Media Center PC.

But it doesn't.

As well, I should be able to configure all these devices from my Media Center PC – via the wireless network, rather than running around with USB keys and moving stuff around.

I thought this was the promise of the future ten years ago?

I thought we were going to see refrigerators that built shopping lists for you when the milk went bad and the last slice of cheese was eaten, that it would email to the grocery store that would deliver it to your house after automatically debiting the bill from your bank account?

But I still have to run to the bloody store for milk.

In the old days we had floppy disks that we used to copy data from one computer to another.

But then we got smart and we networked these office devices including our printers and even fax machines and photocopiers.

So why hasn't that same level of practicality extended into our homes yet?

And why are the user interfaces – the remote controls – and the setting screens on each of these devices so diverse and inconsistent? Why are they so hard for the novice user to learn to use?

If I had one simple remote control that I could configure on my wireless network to ask smart questions to the person using it:

"Exactly what would you like to do?" it would say. Below would be icons of a person watching TV, a person using an MP3 player, a person using a digital camera.

The person would put their finger on the icon of the TV.

"Would you like to watch Cable TV, Play a DVD?, or Play on the Wii?" it would ask next.

The person would click on the cable TV icon.

"Do you know the channel or would you like to pick a show from the guide?" it would ask.

The person would select the guide.

What's so hard about that?

Every device in my house should meet a standard test.

If a Grandma is babysitting the kids, can she play a DVD and then watch TV afterwards?

If a Grandma can use the technology, then it will be smart enough for my house.

Think of the new employment opportunities for the senior citizens that have outlived their savings.

But as it stands now, none of my gadgets can use or share information with each other unless I run around the house and driveway with a USB key. And I have to leave detailed instructions for babysitters who without the TV would have to actually sit and talk and play with my little girls.

The fact is this new technology is making me work harder. And technology is supposed to ease my stress and free up my time.

But it didn't work that way at the office. Why would I have thought it would do so at home?

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