Monday, April 26, 2010

Mean Streets for Gamers

Because I spent some bad-ass formative years EOA, I walk the dangerous parts of the city core without fear. And by dangerous parts I mean I cut through a parking lot near King and Wellington to get into the Convention Centre underground lot. That's where my rusting, beige minivan waits for me while I earn money.

Between the Convention Center and an adjacent building is a sort-of alley. Just big enough for a person to fit into, it is usually strewn with the detritus of whatever the hell goes on downtown when night falls - as you might notice below.

I make a point of peering down that alley on my twice-daily passing. Usually, there's nothing very interesting, save the occasional bad-ass squirrel (the EOA type) scrounging for whatever bad-ass squirrels need. But today I noticed something new: a cracked DVD case laying open with a shiny DVD inside.

You'll notice the handwritten lettering on the home-burned disk. You'll also notice that 'Dragon Age of Empire' is kind of nonsensical. And since you're looking at pictures here, you'll also notice I picked it up and took it home for investigation.

The disk has no viruses or trojans. The handwritten case insert has instructions for installing what appears to be a software crack. While my ageing PC cannot run this game, nor would I steal something like this, see for yourself below what I found.


Now I can only wonder how that DVD came to rest in a downtown alley frequented street folks and ne'erdowells. My theory: a stolen backpack - useless items ditched in an secluded place. Still, there's a story there, and I'm guessing the squirrels know something, but ain't talkin'.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

I Choose YOU, Pikachu!

The neverending story that my wife Dee refers to as 'Painting a Few Rooms' has, surprisingly, all but come to an end. Today, the Family Room received a final coat of Benjamin Moore and far too many touch-ups before I ceased hostilities with my brush and roller.

My son, JediBoy, strolled by as I admired my handiwork. When asked for an opinion on the choice of colours, he replied without pause, "The room looks like the inside of a Pokeball.". And he's right - it does. So I'd say we're pretty damn pleased that we can now hang out in our very own Pokeball to watch TV or read or whatever it is that Pokemon do when they're not on the clock.

And by the way, the corner of the room shown in both photos will forever hold a special meaning. As I listened to Basecast #5 for painting company, I happened to be running a brush down that very corner when Basecaster Vanessa (at 34:49 into the episode) posed a question for the Ages, "Am I not good enough to masturbate in front of?".

To which my answer must be: Pika! Pika!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Kicking This Old Ass

One of the great questions of our age is whether geekiness can honestly co-exist with sportiness. I think it can and does, of course. While I consider myself pretty geeky in so many ways, I do play a few sports. I generally can't stand to waste time watching sports on TV, but you'll find me playing a bit of pickup hockey, soccer, or baseball when 'tis the season. Lest you think I'm faking it, many of my teammates are the same chaps with whom I've spent countless hours wandering imaginary dungeons or arguing that Madagascar is the key to expanding your armies into Africa.

I like to think that playing these games - often with those unfortunate souls with whom I survived high-school - has been the secret to my relative lack of maturity. Sure, I can hold down a job, wear a tie if I have to, and be passably serious at parent/teacher interviews, but I know in my bones that I'm still a 16 year-old kid with 10 bucks in quarters for the arcade and an old tennis ball perfect for road hockey. I just have never felt old and grown up - at least not before this past weekend.

Almost every Spring my friends and I play in a hockey tournament for charity. It's a lot of fun for a good cause and the food is free. For reasons that don't matter, our team (most of us in our mid-forties or worse) is usually placed in a division where the other players are likely 20 years our junior. We never win very much against those younger legs and quicker hands, but we never embarrass ourselves too much, either.

This year was different. Our skates were caught in molasses. Our sticks were made of rubber. Our lungs became old, cracked leather. Sure we scored some goals and we never quit trying, but we knew from each other's eyes that we were struggling this year. Having a bad game or two doesn't bother us too much. It's just one of those 'on any given day' kind of things.

And then I had this exchange with an opposing player between first and second periods during our last game:

Kid (with a good-natured chuckle): You guys are slowing down! Everything alright? Your bench is quiet!

Me: Ah, we're just pacing ourselves for a kick-ass third period! That what experience teaches you, man!

Kid: Experience?

Me (laughing): Well, you know... most of us have been playing hockey for, like, 30 or 40 years. You learn stuff.

Kid: Holy shit! You must be older than my father!

Me: Well, I guess...

Kid: ... We didn't know! We don't need to be pressing you guys so hard...

And with that - and genuine concern - he reported back to his bench that they were kicking Old Guy Ass. We still lost the game, of course, but they took it easier on us older-than-Dad-guys. My body might have appreciated the break whereas my psyche had no good thoughts for those nice young boys.

Old? Insinuations of feebleness? My roll of quarters and balding tennis ball say, "HA!"

Next year, we'll be ready for them - ready to teach them a life lesson. That is, if my knees hold out.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Because I'm All About Public Service

Definitions are a tricky business. Similar to art, pornography, and Neo-cons, Douchebags are easy to spot, but diffcult to concisely define. In the interest of self-awareness and a desire to leave the World in a better place after I'm dead-and-gone, I offer the following (Beta 1.0) 12-step test that can be used to identify Douchebaggery - male or female, young or old. Only through classification of Douchebags can we offer them the help they need in the internment camps that will keep keep them far away from the rest of us.

Disclaimer: The Innertubes seems to be littered with such quizzes. But I'm having a slow day at the office, so I made my own. Okay?

Instructions: Answer each of the 12 questions honestly - for yourself, someone you know, or someone you want to mock. You can do this silently in your head or do it out loud for the enjoyment of those around you. For each 'true' statement:
  • Score 1 point!
  • Try your luck at the 2 bonus questions for each question
  • Score 1 extra point for each Bonus question you answer 'true'
When you're done, add up your score and see how you rate on the Douchebag Standard Scale.

1. I’ve spent money at a tanning salon.
    a. I have membership.
    b. I use the spray-tan booth.

2. I drive a black SUV that’s large enough to carry 6 adults comfortably.
    a. I have no children.
    b. My spouse drives one, too.

3. I shop for clothes in the same establishments as my teenaged children.
    a. I share clothes with my teenaged children.
    b. They’re not my children.

4. I wear work-out attire to places other than the gym or my home.
    a. I buy my workout attire from lululemon.
    b. I don’t go to the gym.

5. I go to Starbuck’s more than 4 times a week.
    a. I’ve yelled at a ‘barista’ more than once.
    b. The name of my favourite Starbuck’s beverage has more than 4 syllables.

6. I wear a gold chain around my neck.
    a. I like to make sure the chain can be seen at all times.
    b. I bought the chain for myself.

7. I wear golf shirts with the collar turned up.
    a. I use the term ‘popped’ without irony.
    b. I wear more than 1 popped collar at a time.

8. I use some manner of hair gel, paste, etc. regularly.
     a. My hairstyle involves a ‘point’ at the top of my head and/or streaks of alternating colours.
     b. I refer to anything I use on my hair as ‘product’.

9. I actually enjoy having my picture taken while in social situations.
     a. My signature pose includes ‘serious eyes’, pursed lips, and (optionally) some manner of hand signals.
     b. Everyone else in the picture looks like me.

10. Whenever possible and in all situations, I like to wear casual sandals.
    a. When sandals aren’t feasible, I wear Crocs or Uggs.
    b. I own at least one pair of each.

11. All my children are named similarly – e.g. start with the same letter.
    a. I named our purebred Golden Retriever in a similar fashion.
    b. This helps me remember their names since I don’t spend much time with any of them.

12. I live in a big house surrounded by other big houses that look just like mine.
    a. There are no trees within 5km of my house.
    b. There is nothing but the colour beige within 5km of my house.

Douchebag Standard Scale:

0 to 6 - You're a normal, imperfect, self-aware human being. Congrats!

7 to 18 - You have dangerously Douchebag-like tendancies. Substitiute Tim Horton's for Starbuck's for the next 30 days. Ballcaps must not be worn at a jaunty angle any longer.

19 to 26 - You are an acolyte Douchebag and require immediate intervention. The standard course of shock treatment must include a rusted Chevy Cavalier, a Walmart wardrobe makeover, and a punch in the face for every utterance of dude, fo sho, or woot.

27 to 36 - You are a Douchebag - Douchebag. Proceed to the closest Aeropostale for further instructions.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Let Them (Not) Eat Cake

There are two reasons why I seldom write about serious topics here. Number 1: the Innertubes has more than enough people willing to tell you why you've no excuse to smile. Number 2: people who are not capital 'W' Writers (like me!) too often come off like the inside-cover of a 15 year-old Emo kid's notebook.

I'm going to break that tradition for this post because of this Globe and Mail article.

Let me summarize: If you live in Ontario and collect welfare (euphamistically called Ontario Works) or a provincial disability pension (called ODSP to those in-the-know), there is an optional benefit called the Special Diet Allowance (SDA). Got Diabetes? That'll get you an extra $20 a month for fresh produce. Allergic to eggs? You'll get a few bucks a month for egg substitutes. For most folks on OW or ODSP, you could see an extra $50 on top of your standard benefits. The maximum SDA is $250 a month, but you're likely on a first-name basis with the Grim Reaper if you hit that jackpot.

Despite the Province's best plans to keep the SDA a secret, people found about it and used it. According to an audit report, many people abused it, too. There's no surprise there, of course. If you rely on government benefits to survive, you're going to find ways to maximize your income. But that doesn't discount the fact that thousands of Ontarians have a legitimate need for the SDA.

But Dalton & Co. have a different perspective. The SDA costs too much, they say. They claim the program cost has ballooned from $6 million bucks a few years ago to well over $200 million today. This is the same governmental brain trust that finds billions of tax dollars for failing auto manufacturers and guarantees employee pensions for companies that get kicked to the curb in the free-market.

So let's do away with the SDA and replace it with something more manageable, says Dalton. Of course, 'manageable' means that the Province will make damn sure they spend less money on the poor and the disabled. They're an easy target, of course, since they can't scream loud enough or vote often enough to be a problem.

You might wonder why I'm worked up about this? Beyond the simple social injustice, I've been up-close-and-personal with the ODSP racket - and I know how little we do for the needy in the Province of Ontario. A few years back, my mother had a stroke and lost both her physical and financial health. Effectively part of the 'working poor' for many years, she had no private insurance coverage and little in the way of savings when everything in her life changed in August 2006.

Long story short: I spent many months learning the Ins and Outs of the Ontario Disability Support Program in order to find some means of financial support for my mother's 'new life' - a life that would no longer her permit the dignity of working for a living. It's a topic for another post, I suppose, but suffice to say that ODSP is constructed to minimize benefits and built on the tenet that anyone who applies is a crook. As a Systems Analyst by profession, the ODSP labyrinth impresses the Hell out of me. As a human being, it's almost disgusting.

And if you're successful in negotiating the months-long hazing that is the application process, the very best you can expect to receive is about $1,000 a month if you're single. For anyone living on ODSP, that's likely your entire income. Lord help you if you don't have family or friends that can help - but don't tell the Province's ODSP administrators about that (seriously). In short, the ODSP system is the stuff of which Terry Gilliam films are made.

So when you're living on a pittance and Dalton wants to get rid of the SDA, it's a big deal. In my mother's case, this won't matter much. Once she turned 65, the Province took their ODSP and went home - leaving her with a Drug Card and a phone number for the Federal CPP/OAS/GIC hotline (a much more humane world, by the way). But for those not lucky enough (yet) to qualify for an old age pension, Dalton's assault on their disability benefits is a mean-spirited attempt to chip away at Provincial debt on the backs of those who can't afford it and can't fight back. For a Premiere that never met a tax or a user-fee he didn't like, it's disgusting that we cannot afford to take care of a small number of our most vulnerable cititzens.

But, hey, at least we could help out Chrysler, right?