Monday, June 30, 2008

A common thread

There is the common thread of topics that I share with old friends and new. Everyone has a set of their own common interests, while the number and variety is probably directly proportional to the the size and depth of their circle of friends. I'd like to think I have quite a broad selection that allows me to easily strike up a conversation with new acquaintances as well as re-energize and keep old friendships healthy (there's also an overlap here to the In Joke post as well). I'm not saying all my good mates share all these interests, but many can shift quickly and knowledgeably between many common topics of interest. I'm also not saying that I dislike or avoid time spent learning about new subjects or hearing about friend's interesting professions and pursuits, although I'm not exactly certain if I'd call myself a neophile (is there a difference to a neophite?). Taking a small tangent here - perhaps it's a sign of the times and how full people's lives are that I don't seem to come across many neophiles these days. e.g I don't recall the last time someone asked me to explain the difference between computer RAM and disk space. So for me, I know I'm in the company of friends that share similar threads of interest when time just flies by and we're already talking about the next time to get together. My shortlist:

Music: Modern, mostly Brit based with nostalgic historic connections to past rock, new wave and punk years
Sports: football (soccer); Toronto Raptors; F1
Sports activities: ultimate; golf; football (soccer)

Social activities: having a pint or a glass of wine and talking about the topics in this list

Movies: the more the better - a walking imdb

Technology - from IT, thru blogging to HD

Children - note that this topic is highly dependent on the narrow band of age characteristics

Appreciation for the arts - from photography to theatre
International travel - I love listening to peoples views and stories of foreign places and people

This theory was put to the test recently, where I met a neighbour where we instantly hit it off because we both loved football. This week we got together to watch the Euro final and found out we also shared a love of photography. We ended up spending a lovely afternoon and an impromptu pizza dinner with our new friends...and there's another common thread..."the impromptu get-together" - much better than having to schedule visits months in advance.

I don't think my life is that complicated.

Spain victorious in Europe

Just quick post to wrap up Euro 2008. I'm really pleased Spain won it all yesterday. I felt they were fell deserved champions with quality contributions from all their players, entertaining football and the passion and pride for their country. I was a little disappointed with Fabragas' performance (especially after the semi final game), but it was good to see Torres finally make a big statement. I'm also a little bummed and embarassed to say I missed making my final pick in my ESPN fantasy pool - thanks to all that played. The final game was another example of a closely fought battle with lots of scoring chances, high quality touches and a good amount of drama that we've witnessed in many games throughout the tournament. Olé España.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Skateboarding: old passions and new appreciation

I just came across info about a gallery reception (tonight) for a virtual live blog by [skateboarding] photographer Patrick O'Dell. From the blogTO article, I found the embedded video about boarder Andrew Reynolds pretty interesting stuff. Not only is he a great freestyle boarder, but his OCD is a great sub-plot. I used to skateboard a lot when I was a kid, from the early days of polyurethane to pool riding on wider decks. I think I gave it up during the dry spell of the 80's and 90's and since passing the 30 and 40 year old marks, I'm a little hesitant to strap the pads back on, find my old board and hunt out the newer parks (of which there seem to be a lot around these dayz). Although I did a lot of slalom when I was younger, I always had a preference for the snake runs, ramps and pools you'd find in specially designed skateboard parks. (For a little skate down the nostalgia run, check out these vintage Skateboarder magazine covers - I think I had about half of those !). So I haven't been that fond of all the street freestyle boarding that is the modern practice in the sport. This isn't just because I've never mastered a simple kick flip, but because I never found it that attractive (as in elegant, smooth or beautiful). However, I must say the moves from Andrew Reynolds have given me a new appreciation for the art of the street boarder, he simply is a beautiful, natural skater. But you've got to keep in mind that just like other spectacular sports videos, it takes painfully many falls and scraps to perfect the great trick - just hope your buddy catches it on film !

The not so beautiful noises of the city

What a racket this morning. Woke to the jarring crashes of a house demolition 4 doors away. Next up, structural renovation metallic banging from next door. Mix that with summer holiday children already getting the max of TV and Playstation time and more than usual heavy truck traffic in the neighbourhood. Poor Paul Weller was struggling to be heard on my iPod on the walk to the subway. I'm heading to the office for some peace and quiet, wind down quarter end business, and dream of a quiet water's edge somewhere (and maybe that Blu-Ray Hawaii or Serenity sampler will come in handy later tonight).

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Olé España

Great football game. I have been cheering for Spain since the beginning of the Euro and they didn't disappoint with a fantastic win over the Russian's today. I chose to cheer for Spain primarily because a few of their players play in England, incl. Cesc Fabragas who plays for my favourite team, Arsenal and pretty boy Fernando Torres and Xabi Alonso of Liverpool. I really enjoy watching Fabragas' control of the mid field, his precise passing and fantastic thru-balls. Today, he set up two of Spain's goals with creative subtle touches and precision passing. A few days ago, his sure fire penalty kick secured the win over Italy. I just found this brilliant comment on BBC. Way to go amigo.

I must say I've really enjoyed the Euro thus far and Sunday's final between Germany and Spain hopefully will live up to the billing. Beautiful passionate latin tiki-tika touches versus strong, cool German engineering.

As per previous mention, I'm glad to report I didn't see a lot of fake dives and exaggerated injuries in today's game and the referee really let the game flow.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Great gaming experience but fan noise delays ultimate PS3 review

Part 2 of the PS3 story (part 1 was a few weeks ago)...

I've returned the 80GB PS3 MGS4 Bundle.

The console was fantastic, but for one thing - the fan noise. I ran quite a few tests and it looks like the fan kicks in as soon as the console warms up (about 10 minutes). The fan apparently has a number of different speeds (and matching noise levels), but even at it's lowest level the noise is quite distracting when watching quiet scenes in movies and during quiet game scenes. This issue was not a surprise to me as I'd done quite a lot of research and seen
tons of forum discussions on the topic. I don't think the unit was faulty, I just think the extra software onboard (perhaps for PS2 backward compatibility or 1080p upconversion) plus a larger disk and likely different cooling components, make the unit run quite a lot hotter than other models.

Luckily for me, the bundle I purchased was a limited release and quite a "hot" item in the market. So when I mentioned to one of the Best Buy customer service people I was thinking of returning the unit, he said "really, great, I've got a customer waiting for one" ! He also reassured me that there was not going to be any problem returning the bundled, but open, MGS4 game (so I could get a full refund). So, I packed up the unit and returned it the next day and exchanged it for the 40GB version (which reportedly has far fewer issues with fan noise). I just set it up last night (seems quieter for now) and will be testing it out over the next few days.

But there's a funny sidenote to this customer service story. the day previous to when I returned the console
(when I had the convo the customer service person), I returned a PS3 Blu-Ray remote control (game controller works just fine) and the Sony PS3 packaged HDMI (and USB) cable, $70. In my head, was the thought that if this machine wasn't my ideal Blu-Ray player, then I could probably get away with a cheaper HDMI cable. So when I did the console exchange the next day, another sales person overheard my conversation and asked if I needed an HDMI cable, I said sure, but I was looking for a cheaper one, at which point he says "I've got an opened package in the back I can sell you at a discount". Of course, I'm thinking - I bet it's the one I returned yesterday. Sure enough it was. I actually explained the situation because I found it quite comical, but they were fine with following store policy and I bought the package back that I had returned for half the price. Nice loop hole eh ?

So I'm missing out on the great bundle price of the 80GB version, but hoping a quieter console will be just what I'm looking for. That MGS4 game was quite addictive and looked spectacular, so I may have to buy it again (now I've invested over 4 hours playing time).

What all the fuss was about

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Repaired ankle gets to chase young punks at BMO Field

The ankle has been feeling pretty good over the last few weeks and I'm almost back at full speed. The only big restriction is jumping off my right foot, still need some work there. Our [ultimate] team Oxygen Hazard had a match-up last night at BMO Field (yeeha) against the hot, cocky junior team D.I.R.T. These kids (max age 18) have all the moves, fast legs, great athletism and some oversized egos. However, they don't have the experience and can easily get a little flustered when the defensive pressure is on or a quick turnover occurs. We've picked up some solid players this year and it all came together last night for a classic game of veteren experience versus young guns. We won 15-11 on the Toronto FC football pitch (sweet). Yours truly had some memorable plays including a zippy break-force hammer into the end zone for a score. I love this game, too bad I'm missing the next 5-6 games with all kinds of summer vacation and weekend plans. Looking forward to joining back up with the team in August and the run to September playoffs.

Sidenote: I'm proud to say I was the co-designer of the TUC logo above many years ago - the colouring keeps changing, but I'm just happy my artwork is still being used, I should have copyrighted it !

Monday, June 23, 2008

Are these football players just a bunch of big pansies ?

What I'm referring to is the constant grounding of a football player caused by:
  1. An overly aggressive tackle from an opposing player - a foul
  2. A minor touch from an opposing player that causes the "victim" to exaggerate impact and dive acrobatically to the ground
  3. No contact whatsoever, but one which may be close enough to fool the referee with a fake dive.
However, it's not just the fall, it's the level of pain and agony expressed by the fallen player that comes into play, such as:
  1. Player grips ankle, leg or foot and writhes around in surely the worst pain of the lives
  2. Player's neck snaps back as if Mohamed Ali has just delivered a right hook and broken the player's nose - what, no blood ?
  3. The player legitimately looks like he's in some pain from a twist and severe impact with hard parts of another player.
  4. The player knocks heads with another player - ouch that hurts !
There are of course lots of permutations and combinations of the examples above and the issue is rather complex, but the majority of incidents do appear to be grossly exaggerated by today's professional football players. I've heard some explain the phenomena as like fighting in hockey, it's an unfortunate part of the game, but one that's perhaps rather tricky to eliminate and one we unfortunately tolerate. I know, I know hockey fans, the two phenomena are very different, but as a sports fan, I can see how the basic comparison may be valid. That is, we don't like to see a player dive or a fight break out, but we tolerate it because we love the sport so much and we can overlook their imperfections. As the old saying goes, I'm not going to cut my nose off to spite my face. I love football, so I'll put up with the silliness.

I would like to say however, that having played a little footy in my time and been involved with a few other contact sports, if you're kicked or kneed or otherwise poked by an 'ard body part, it bloody hurts. Keep in mind that there is very little protection worn by a football player. With the slow motion, close-up replays these days, you can tell that some of the hits are quite severe and perhaps warrant the victim's reaction. On the other hand, the same replay shows just how ridiculous some of the faking and exaggeration is as well.

So, the fans have just finished watching the Euro quarter finals and are eagerly awaiting the mid week semis. I would say the refereeing has been quite good and I believe a fair number of yellow cards have been issued for diving. This seems to be a good practice these days and if used more regularly could help reduce the problem.

As for the quality of the footy when players are on their feet - I think it's been marvellous. I think there's really only been a few dull games and most have been close contests with action right up to the last seconds of play. There have been a fair number of upsets, but you can't argue that the 4 teams remaining are worthy contestants.

Well who's it going to be:

The solid, strong and well organized Germans with lots of finishing fire power.

The passionate and driven Turks who never give up.
The fast and powerful finishing of the Russians.
The delightfully skilled possession game of the Spanish.

And let's hope that the players show us their real skills rather than their play acting.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Black Watch

Theatre review from the subway: I just saw Black Watch at the Luminato festival. It is the tragic tale of the noble causes of a powerful military regiment brought to humble and worthless ends. It lived up to the hype but was a little different to what I expected. It was a tremendous blend of drama, political commentary, history lesson, humour, music and dance. Yes the language was very profane (I don't think I've heard the C word said that many times in my whole life). But the violence was not as much as I anticipated and offset with lots of lad's laffs. Wonderful, energetic performances from the whole cast. Passionate and personal acting. Fantastic. Thanks to Jessica for the great recommendation.

He's just a big kid

Currently waiting for Best Buy to open to buy a PS3.

I guess I'm a little embarrassed to say this is a luxury purchase for me, nothing to do with the kids and one with no solid educational, environmental, or social worth. Its just a new toy for a big kid. A tech treat just in time for Father's Day.

As some may know I value top notch quality and strive for a rich existence. This includes my AV entertainment and to some degree the new world (for me) of video gaming.

So when I bought my Sony Bravia 1080p LCD last spring I was hoping it wouldn't be too long a wait to experience the very best in home video quality - high definition movies. Luckily since then, the HD DVD vs Blu-ray war has been settled. So what's brought me to this latest purchase decision ?

As it turns out, the Sony Playstation 3 (PS3) is not only (arguably) the best video game console on the market, but its also a very good Blu-ray disc (BD) player. I've actually been asking a lot of Sony experts and sure enough the BD technology in the PS3 is exactly the same as Sony's standalone BD players. Furthermore, the PS3 is priced very close to entry level, single purpose BD players on the market today. But why today ?

Today is the world release of an exclusive PS3 game called MetalGearSolid 4 (which definitely looks cool). The clever clogs have bundled this game with the hard to find 80gb version of the PS3. Hold on, it now gets a bit complicated...the dirty secret is that to be backwardly compatible with PS2 games (which my son has many) you need the 80gb version not the cheaper 40gb version. Plus this version will upconvert the video quality of those games to 1080p. One extra small bonus is the bundle comes with new version of the controller.

So now there's about 10 of of us in line and rumour has it there's somewhere between 5 and 30 in stock.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Ankle update

Its been 5 months today since my surgery to repair my broken ankle. Last night I played ultimate and it felt the best in has in 5 months. I was actually able to sprint and make a few decent cuts in the second half (although I was still a big defensive liability in the first half). On the hottest June on record (33.1 c, 41 c humidex) we ended up losing 17-15 as the steam / fog was drifting onto the field around 9pm. Maybe the heat loosened me up ! It was very soar afterwards and bugging me a little this morning, but it's put me in a great mood ! Now if only the subway was only running this morning (reporting live from Starbucks with latte in hand waiting for the situation to clear).

Friday, June 06, 2008

Euro 2008

For footballs fans - in case I didn't get to all of you on the invite, and you're not too late...I set up a fantasy pool on ESPN. If you're interested, go to and create an account and then join my group "castlefield", password is "phil".

New music finds - something for everyone

For the eclectic move and groove fan - Yaov
Sultry jazz vocals -
Melody Gardot
For some smooth down home R&B -
Lizz Wright
Singer songwriter soulman -
Jamie Lidell
Moving to some urban hip hop -
Platinum Pied Pipers (aka PPP)

I just found these last night (NOW and HMV sources) and downloaded 2-4 tracks per artist, so repeat airplay hasn't pushed them all right --> to the PJMixer Hot Music List yet.

The one trick I use when exploring a new artist is to use iTunes to see which tracks are the most popular - it's usually a good starting point.

New music finds - something for everyone

For the eclectic move and groove fan - Yaov
Sultry jazz vocals -
Melody Gardot
For some smooth down home R&B -
Lizz Wright
Singer songwriter soulman -
Jamie Lidell
Moving to some urban hip hop -
Platinum Pied Pipers (aka PPP)

I just found these last night (NOW and HMV sources) and downloaded 2-4 tracks per artist, so repeat airplay hasn't pushed them all right --> to the PJMixer Hot Music List yet.

The one trick I use when exploring a new artist is to use iTunes to see which tracks are the most popular - it's usually a good starting point.

Dream Lyrics

While out with friends the other night we got talking about favourite songs. Specifically what is your favourite song of all time?

This seems like an easy answer at first, but the closer I get to an answer, the harder I think it is. My all-time top 10 or top 100 I could answer more easily. There would be some songs for happy times and sad times. Songs I love for the melody, others for the lyrics. Some songs that speak to me or put a smile on my face. Songs that bring me back to a specific place, time or people.

So to pick just one song from all the songs that I love? I'm going to take some time with this one and report back next week.

So for now, I will share more of my favourite lyrics. Lyrics about dreaming always speak to I am a dreamer and my friends tell me I live in a rose-coloured world. Even back in high school, my entry in my yearbook was: "Usually Found... daydreaming". I haven't changed much.

You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
and the world will be as one.
(Imagine by John Lennon)

J'rêve les yeux ouverts
Ça m'fait du bien
(Les Yeux Ouverts by Beautiful South from French Kiss soundtrack)

and the English version of the song:
Sweet dreams that leave all worries behind you.
But in your dreams whatever they be, dream a little dream of me.

I am a dreamer but when I wake
You can't break my spirit -- it's my dreams you take
(Goodbye My Lover by James Blunt)

I used to be a dreamer
Couldn't fall asleep
Trying to find an answer
A reason to believe
(Live by Ben's Brother)

I want to change the world...instead I sleep.
(Keep Breathing by Ingrid Michaelson)

Got my dreams, got my life, got my love
Got my friends, got the sunshine above
(Happy by Natasha Bedingfield)

And while I can think, while I can talk
While I can stand, while I can walk
While I can dream, please let my dream
Come true, right now.
(If I Can Dream by Elvis Presley)

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Big money in sports

I do like sports, but I'm not certain how I feel about the big money the players make.

On one had, professional sportsmen and women are some of the best athletes in the world. The best of the best are those that have very few rivals who can seriously match their abilities in their particular sports. I do also believe that most professional athletes work hard to maintain their game, and the top players have a extremely hard work ethic that probably puts most of us to shame. For the most part, these are exceptional and gifted individuals that deserve to be paid very well. Some of them even put the lives on the line. How well should they be paid is perhaps the question ? With professional sports, the money is not just for the individual abilities, but more and more the commercial draw of the sport and the star players. This is where the math gets a little silly, but I can see how Tiger Woods is perhaps worth $100M over 5 years to Nike, but Gatorade ? That's a lot of liquid !

On the other hand, some players don't appear to deserve it. Certain players are very good at sports and enjoy the chance to get paid to play their game. However, a bad season, a bad play or off-field personal events raise fan blood pressures and inflammatory accusations are often justified. Although not directly their fault, these players are in the public spotlight, which makes their compensation a public matter
(I was going to say "unfortunately", but as I've already suggested, without the public, their performance and their sports would not exist). I'm not certain if the comparison is valid, but I'm sure there are big money brokers on Bay Street that would be very embarrassed if we knew what they were making ! So, players need to learn that they are truly lucky individuals and should make every effort to show they are worth the millions they are paid. Whether this is by bringing home the trophies or being the hardest working bench player, supporting their team mates or doing community charity work as a recognized star. They should also try and be true role models for the young fans. Seeing Tiger's poor losing attitude or hearing about drunken Portsmouth soccer players leaves a bad taste.

So on that note, and to bring this around to what prompted this post, here are the current list of highest paid US and International sport people in the world today. Are they worth it ?