On the sixth Date of Christmas, my true love – and a few others – saw with me: Rocketman

Happy Father’s Day to me! My three sons were persuaded that if we all went to see Rocketman, that that would be a great Father’s Day gift, so off we went to the aptly-domain-named Film.Ca cinemas, and the on-again off-again 12 Dates of Christmas gift was on again.

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I think it was the first time we’d had that combination of the lads and me and Cathy all out to the movies in quite a while.

do i have any amusing anecdotes about the actual theatre going experience this time?

no.

Well, on the way there, Nick announced he would be singing along to the chorus in Crocodile Rock – you know, the part that goes La, la-la-la-la-la
La-la-la-la-laa, La-la-la-la-la….

so I made sure I wasn’t sitting right next to him.

did I like the movie?

Well, the first part, sure. The big Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting production number had me leaning over to Cathy to whisper something along the lines of “I’m quite enjoying this so far.”

But the movie took a pretty dark turn. Admittedly, I am a casual Elton John fan but not up on his whole family story, and his family story could be described as: dark. Sad. Unfortunate. Elton, I’m sorry, I didn’t know. I’m glad that things seem to be better for you now. Especially after you married your Canadian husband!

what about the guy?

Taron Egerton, who I knew nothing about, was great, there wasn’t a single moment when I didn’t believe I was actually watching Elton John. He’s a very convincing singer.

did elton john really take a cab from Madison Square Garden directly to what appears to be a rehab center in the UK?

I dunno. Go check Wikipedia, maybe it says something there.

did they do that song about candles in the wind?

No

did they do that frequent hollywood bit where the end of the movie shows a variety of self-congratulatory scenes showing something in the movie and a similar real-life shot to prove that they got it right?

of course.

how many of these movies you’ve seen with Cathy have been about rocket men?

Hmm. About a third. This one, and this one too.

is there another Elton John biography film that you like, preferably one that’s nice and short albeit running in reverse chronological order?

Funny you should ask. This commercial from John Lewis is pretty great. And not nearly as sad.

Rejoining the Breakpoints after 17 years

So I played in a band at the legendary Ritz in San Jose, California last night.

(below are some of the many great photos of the event by Adam Tow)

The Band
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The whole event reminded me that it’s not really important how good a musician you are; you should just get together with your friends and play some music.
(And maybe people will come! And they did, in this case; the event was a fundraiser for App Camp for Girls )

Wait, whaaat? What band are you in NOW? I thought the whole football band thing was over. Well, yeah it still is. This time I sat in with James Jdbp square logo 512Dempsey and the Breakpoints at their 8th annual Live Near WWDC concert.

This is an annual concert put on by people attending Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference, and it’s spearheaded by my friend James who has written an entire chart-topping album of funny songs celebrating various technical aspects of programming and you can of course listen to the whole album here.

The band featured a whole group of people who are stars in the Mac world – including Daniel Jalkut, author of MarsEdit, the blogging software I am typing in right now – and many other luminaries that I bet most of my friends outside the Mac world have never heard of. But I don’t care! It was great fun to be invited!

for instance

Here’s one of my favourite numbers – The Liki Song (Minawana Meika La’a Likiko)

It’s a little Hawaiian number with James on ukulele – and it’s about memory management. I have to admit, the first time I listened to it – while walking through an airport – I had no idea what the heck James was singing about. “Liki” ? “Mina wana meika la’a likiko”? What the heck? What is he talking about?

And finally it dawned on me – “Me no want to make a lot of leaky code.” That stopped me in my tracks in the airport; I had to sit down, I was laughing so hard. And this was the big closing number at the show, with 24 musicians on stage and the entire crowd singing along. What a treat. So many songs, so many different styles.

how’d this start?

James and I both worked at Apple ages ago – I still do – and both presented at WWDC many times. I distinctly remember one year when I was getting ready for my talk and Matt Firlik announced to me that James had written an original song about Fetch Specifications for his talk, and right then, I knew the best any of the rest of us could hope for was to give the 2nd best presentation.

For years afterwards, the word would get out that James’s WWDC session was almost over and, regardless of topic, people would suddenly arrive for the last 5 minutes to hear his latest song about localization or the perils of designated initializers or whatever else struck his fancy.

A year or two later in 2002, he wrote another song at the developer conference about memory management called Hold Me, Use Me, Release Me – and I knew I had to up my game, and brought my trombone on stage for my own session on WebObjects and I told the crowd that I’d written an original trombone solo about Key-Value Coding, which I hoped I’d have time to perform.

To the great relief of everyone, including me, I did not have time to perform this (nonexistent) solo. But there was some sort of community event that night and James was asked to reprise the Hold Me song, and, well I happened to be around and happened to have a trombone on hand and my arm was twisted ever so slightly so I played along on stage with James.

And that was the last time I did, until 17 years later.

(Ten years later, I was visiting Cathy’s mom at her home in a tiny community in northern New Brunswick and tweeted something about it, and about five minutes later, the phone rang – it was James. “Are you really in Jacquet River, New Brunswick?” he asked in amazement – because it turns out his wonderful father Wilbur lived there too! Small world.)

the breakpoints

James eventually struck out on his own and formed a band of various other members of the geek-Apple community – all very talented musicians – and called the group the Breakpoints. (A breakpoint is a term in software debugging for a location where you want the program to stop so you can see what’s going on.)

He actually wound up with enough material to release an entire album of funny programming songs songs which actually was the #1 comedy album on iTunes for a while (and, if I remember correctly, #1 overall album in Bulgaria).

I was lucky enough to be dubbed a “conditional breakpoint”, i.e. someone who played with the band only rarely.

For years James and his band did these wildly popular fundraisers called “Live Near WWDC”, and I always went, and always enjoyed it, and always secretly wanted to be up there on stage too.

the show

Last night was my chance.
17 years after first playing with James, I was invited back to play trombone on a couple of numbers, including a rockin’ round of trading licks with awesome guitarist Jim Dalrymple, in a song which could only have been improved if I had not forgotten what key it was in part way through. (note: it was in “A”.)

I am saving this tweet –

Wow, was it fun. Over 20 different muisicians in the band – singers, guitarists, drummers, a violin! a cello! And a guy with a blue trombone having the time of his life.

Thank you James. And thanks for the selfie below which you actually took during the middle of my solo, which perhaps caused me to forget the key signature (note, again: “A”)

I hope I can do it again in 2036. Maybe sooner!

Mid Solo

On the fifth Date of Christmas, my true love saw with me: “Aladdin”

[Recap: My wonderful spouse gave me an awesome Christmas gift of agreeing to go to one movie every month. Those of you following along might wonder what happened to April’s movie? Did we see one or not? I have decided that the gift actually means “an AVERAGE of one movie a month” so I’m looking forward to seeing two in June. Or perhaps seven in November.]

Last night we went to see ‘Aladdin’ with our great friends – and fellow extreme Disney cruisers – Ron and Linda, at the lovely “Wow, Did We Ever Get A Great Domain Name” Film.ca Cinema, which advertises itself proudly as “Oakville’s Favourite Cinema.”

Aladdin poster

Things got off to a less then auspicious beginning when this dialogue happened:

Me: “Two tickets to Aladdin please.”

Cashier, sincerely attempting to be helpful: “Will that be a General Admission ticket or …”

… awkward pause …

Me: “NO I DO NOT NEED A SENIORS TICKET THANK YOU VERY MUCH”

Helpful spouse: “Well it won’t be much longer.”

IMG 0305

Anyway. The movie is gorgeous to look at, and it was interesting to see credits acknowledging both governments of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and the Canadian Province of British Columbia. Try and guess which parts were filmed where.

But I am left with a few questions …

  • Why even make this movie? Didn’t we already have a perfectly good ‘Aladdin’ (Well, if you don’t know the answer to a question, the answer is usually “Money.”)

Disney certainly enjoys pounding good ideas into the ground. The Lion King started out animated, turned into a Broadway show, and is returning as a – well, not exactly “live action” movie, but a different kind of animated movie with CGI animals on real backgrounds or something and it’s getting hard to know how to name these things. Maybe Disney should do it the way Apple names laptops. “Lion King Late 2019”.

I remember when we saw the Broadway production of “The Lion King” at the Princess of Wales theatre and my niece announced that she preferred the original Lion King animated film over the Broadway show because it had, and I quote, “real lions.”

  • Is it possible that somebody can actually make me long for the singing talents of Robin Williams? (Yes. Will Smith really can’t sing.)

  • Why did they cut that “A Whole New World” song out of the movie? (Note: It’s possible that they didn’t, and that the song may have happened while I excused myself to go to the mens room.)

Maybe I’m getting old – perhaps the cashier is on to something – but I didn’t particularly like this movie. There are a lot of very clever lyrics in the songs, some of which go by way too fast for anybody to decipher, and this Aladdin guy is a pickpocket and why are we exactly are they celebrating that, but on the other hand, Disney loves celebrating pirates on their cruises and pirates are actually thieves and criminals, and isn’t there some sort of time travel loop going on here because by the end of the film, the genie turns out to be the guy telling the story about the genie at the beginning of the film, but anyway ⭑⭑⭑⭑ because it was, as always, fun going to the movies with friends and my wonderful and still much younger than me ⭑⭑⭑⭑⭑ wife.

Quest for the Holy Autograph

In which I try to get John Cleese’s autograph.

flashback, waterloo, 1985

In 1985 or so, I went with some friends to a lecture in the Humanities Theatre at the University of Waterloo by Monty Python’s Graham Chapman. (King Arthur, from the Holy Grail, as if you needed a reminder.) Graham Chapman Portrait

I remember Chapman came out and said “I’d like to start this lecture with two minutes of abuse. Go on. Let me have it!” and we all started yelling silly insults at him. It was a fun talk – he told stories, talked about his involvement with the Dangerous Sports Club, and after the talk a few of my friends and I decided we’d get an autograph, and met him in the green room at the theatre.

He was gracious, and charming, and kindly signed my copy of the script of Monty Python and the Holy Grail which I just happened to have with me. “To Steve, with best wishes, from Graham Chapman” and he drew a giant arrow pointing to his own name just in case it wasn’t clear which one he was. I loved that flourish.

Autographed Script

Of course he then went and died a few years later, so this remains one of my most prized possessions, stored in a place of honour on my office bookshelf (right next to my autographed copy of K&R, “The C Programming Language”.)

Autographed copy of The C Programming Language

Incidentally the Kernighan and Ritchie autographs happened about 8 years apart. I saw Kernighan give a lecture on Software Tools in 1981 in London just as I’d started my first job, and that really got me hooked on Unix. Happened to meet Dennis Ritchie many years later at a USENIX conference and, naturally, I just happened to have my copy of the book on hand in the elevator. Two of my technical heroes, and I got to meet them and say hi.

more time passes

For years I have been meaning to get a few more autographs on the Python script. Terry Jones. Terry Gilliam. Michael Palin. Eric Idle. John Cleese. They are all comedy legends – and some of them occasionally wind up in Toronto for one reason or another.

Terry Jones, alas, is not well, suffering from dementia and has withdrawn from public life.

Michael Palin was here a few months ago promoting his wonderful book “Erebus” on the Franklin Expeditions, and I found out about it too late (like, five minutes before the show) to get a ticket. (My brother in law went, thanks for not telling me about this.)

But wait, what’s this? John Cleese will be speaking at Roy Thomson Hall in May 2019? How cool would it be to get a 2nd autograph on the script, 34 years after the first one? And how many more chances will I ever get?

I dropped a serious hint with Cathy that this would be an awesome surprise present for me, and she got us some great seats WAY ahead of time, and accompanied me to the show last night.

Naturally I was pretty excited, and brought the book and a pen with me in the hopes I might be able to get an autograph. To my dismay I discovered that there was an official Meet and Greet reception after the show – for another $275 – and I would gladly have paid to get in there, but it was sold out.

I took a shot in Twitter in the chance that somebody – maybe the event’s host, John Moore of CFRB 1010 radio – would have an idea about getting an autograph.

John Moore graciously replied and of course he had other priorities than worrying about me –

but we went anyway and hoped for the best.

the show

The lecture was great fun. Cleese spoke for an hour about how there is no Hope, and nobody knows what to do about anything, and that it is perhaps better if we just accept that and enjoy life. He then took (emailed) questions from the audience for another 45 minutes.

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Cathy urged me to email a question. “You’ll regret it for the rest of your life if you don’t.”
I did send one in – “Can you tell us a good Graham Chapman story?” – but they didn’t get to it.

after the show

A reception took place for people who had the foresight to buy a meet-and-greet ticket, and I wandered around to the Roy Thomson Hall stage door in the hopes of getting a last minute autograph. I could see into the reception room. People were lining up to get a picture, people were getting memorabilia autographed, I was standing outside in the rain, hoping against hope that I might be able to show John Cleese this autograph of his friend Graham Chapman and get him to add one more. I was imagining the witty repartee we’d engage in.

Then a few things happened.

  • A professional autograph seeker was also hanging around. One of the sort of people who have just turned autographs into a business and probably ruined it for normal people. We talked for a bit. He was obviously interested in getting signatures he could sell. He told me he’d got Christopher Plummer to sign something from this exact spot a few months ago. I guess he’s only after the 80 year old celebrities. Maybe that makes sense.
  • Big security guy came out and shooed us away. You can’t stand here. Go stand over there 200 feet away if you like.
  • Pro autograph guy says “See that white volvo? That’s the car he’ll be getting into.”
  • We wait, far away from the white volvo
  • The lights flash on the volvo! Someone has opened the door! Someone’s coming out!
  • We scurry back. One professional autograph reseller, and me, someone who I think is just a genuine fan wanting to say hello to one of his comedy heroes.
  • Several security guards step out and shoo us both away. But but but but ….
  • Cleese comes out, bundled up against the cold and rain, heads straight into the car and is driven away.

Sigh.

I guess I could have been more assertive there and yelled something but the guy is 80 years old and it’s cold and raining and I’m sure he would just like to get to the hotel and if I was a REAL fan I would have ponied up for the expensive meet and greet somehow, along with all the other people who I’m sure are not real fans.

The script remains bereft of any additional autographs.

It’s certainly uncontaminated by Cleese.

But … he’s speaking again in Buffalo next Tuesday, hmm…..

Or maybe this can just remain a fond memory of a chance I had to actually see and enjoy John Cleese, even if I didn’t get the autograph. I can tell the story of the near miss for years, just like my other annoying story of the Time I Almost Met Marvin Hamlisch (blog post on THAT to come.)

Fond memories of Joe Badali’s Restaurant

Joe Badali’s restaurant – sadly, now closed – was a great friend of Argonotes. It was the closest thing to a sponsor we ever had.

Badali's web site screenshot. Now closed.

Nick and I went to the Jays home opener yesterday, which I think was the first time I’d been back to Skydome since the Argo era there ended. This triggered lots of fond Argonotes memories of course. Especially the old tradition of emptying the spit valves on the statue of Ted Rogers.

The Final Emptying of the Spit Valves

But I was sad after the game as we walked back to Union Station to see that Joe Badali’s Restaurant (at Front and Simcoe) has closed, and the building it’s in is being gutted, and the adjacent parking lot is now fenced off. Yet another office tower is going up.

Badali’s holds a special spot in Argonotes history. Before our very first game in 1995, we barged in there to play “Argos Rule the CFL” – to a reaction of befuddlement and confusion. But it got better.

For over 20 years, it was where we started and ended every performance. “Meet at Front and Simcoe 90 minutes before kickoff” was the usual rule. We’d gather in the adjacent parking lot for a warmup – where we’d make sure nobody had tuned their instruments, ever – and play for the crowd there, and then head over to Skydome, crashing other restaurants along the way. And we’d always wind up at Badali’s after the game too, for drinks and conversation.

Warming up in the Badali's parking lot

For a few years, it was the official post game Argo bash spot, and everybody would gather there – players, dance team, fans, band – and former manager Mike O’Connor always made sure there was a reserved table for the band. And free beer and appetizers too. I couldn’t believe it. What had we ever done to deserve this grand treatment? A packed restaurant full of people celebrating an Argo victory – and there’s a reserved table for 30 people for the band? This is great, but why? IMG 0327

(Well, I always thought it was part of an unspoken arrangement: we’ll buy you a beer so long as you don’t ever barge in here and play “Argos Rule the CFL” ever again. go crash the Lone Star and Boston Pizza and East Side Mario’s all you want though.)

Doug Flutie came and sat at the band table once. Doug Flutie! The greatest quarterback in CFL history! And he came and sat at OUR table! I can’t imagine that happening in the NFL. Players mingling with ordinary people. (Naturally we asked him if his Flutie Brothers Band needed another 40 members, and he pointed out “I already have horns in the band.” Well OK then.)

Even after it was no longer the official spot – for one awkward year, the official post game restaurant was Frank D’Angelo’s “Forget About It” Supper Club – fans and players continued to celebrate or commiserate after the games at Badali’s.

Badali’s was also the gathering spot for several CFL Pep Band Summits – wonderful Grey Cup get-togethers with Argonotes and our great friends, the Saskatchewan Roughrider Pep band.
This is the 2012 Summit, possibly history’s largest gathering of CFL Musicians. And there’s Bob Mossing, Member of the Order of Canada, Founder of the Roughrider Pep Band –

CFL Band Summit 2012

(Note, former BC Lions band leader Dal Richards is also a member of the Order of Canada. I presume they eventually give this to all CFL band leaders. I will keep an eye on my email.)

Hanging out with the Rider band provided some of my greatest Argonotes memories – and we kicked off the 2007 “Not The Grey Cup Parade” from the Badali’s parking lot!

I celebrated both my 40th and 50th birthday parties at Badali’s, surrounded by all my band friends and family. I was looking forward to celebrating the next big birthday there too … But the Argos moved to BMO Field, the band got ignored to death, and I hadn’t been back to Front and Simcoe until yesterday.

Thank you to Mike, who’s moved on, and all the wonderful staff at Badali’s over the years who treated us so well. We miss you.

On the fourth Date of Christmas, my true love saw with me: “Apollo 11”

PosterTicket

Cathy and I saw Apollo 11 last night as part of the ongoing 12 Dates of Christmas gift, wherein she agrees to see a movie with me once a month. It won’t surprise you that I loved this amazing documentary. She did too. I regret I did not wear my MOON SHOT 1969: I WAS THERE shirt. Next time for sure.

You should totally go see it. It’s fantastic, and even though I like to think I know everything about the Space Program, there were dozens of scenes I’d never seen before. Apparently the director stumbled across a collection of 65mm film that had been shot in 1969 for a documentary that was abandoned – now I want to know more about that.

Some of the scenes are just breathtaking. The elevator ride up to the capsule. The launch itself. Tracking shots of Apollo 11 hurtling through the atmosphere. I was wowed by these, and caught myself thinking “well, the scenes on the moon will be a bit of a letdown since those were shot with relatively lame cameras”, but even those were gripping. Director Todd Douglas has done a fantastic job putting all this footage together – including excerpts from 11,000 hours of uncatalogued audio recordings.

Watch the trailers. Then go see it. I truly regret that we missed the chance to see this in IMAX; I hope it comes around again in that format closer to the actual 50th anniversary this coming July.

Here’s a neat bit of trivia. The film’s score adds a lot of heart-pounding tension to a plot where you already know the outcome, which is pretty great, but apparently it was all done on instruments and technology actually available in 1969.

Several friends who already saw it told me, half in jest, “Well, I looked but I didn’t see you.” But – you sort of can. As you’ve all heard me mention constantly for the past 49.5 years, Mom and Dad took Michael and me to see the launch in 1969, and I have a very distinct memory of a helicopter flying along the crowd gathered on the beach to see the launch with a cameraman hanging out the door. Sure enough, we see what I think is that helicopter in the movie, and some good footage from it of the million people who’d gathered to watch the launch. I like to think we’re in those scenes, although I cannot exactly say “THERE: THAT PIXEL IS ME.”

Helicopter

Watch for the helicopter above if you see the movie – this is a frame from Dad’s Super 8 film of our 1969 vacation, although it’s certainly not quite the quality of the Apollo 11 film I saw last night, but they both stir fantastic memories. Thank you, Mom and Dad.

Here’s the actual launch from our viewpoint in Parish Park, Titusville, Florida, July 16, 1969. (Fast forward to 6:00 for the launch, and you can skip a lot of completely dark film that Dad optimistically called “The Rocket At Night”)

I hope my children and grandchildren get to experience something this breathtaking and awe-inspiring in their lifetimes. But if they don’t, I’m glad we have this movie.

Pi Day

It’s Pi Day. March 14. 14th day of the third month. And if – for some reason – you insist on writing the date as “3/14”, it kind of looks like π, except that 3/14 = 0.2142857….

We might all be better off celebrating Pi Approximation Day – July 22, which some would write as 22/7, which is 3.142857… That is much closer to the true value, which is, of course

3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841971693993751058209749445923078164062862089986280348253421170679….

I typed that from memory. Trust me.

So anyway, math lovers will temporarily put aside their advocacy for the one true ISO8601 style of writing the date, which is

DO NOT ARGUE WITH ME ON THIS
WRITE THE DATE THIS WAY
ALWAYS
2019-03-14

for one day, in the interests of the greater good of society. We will write the date wrong, just this once.

Sidebar: The 2000 version of the ISO8601 standard allowed for writing dates with “reduced accuracy”, and allowed you to use the notation “–MM-DD” for a date without a year, so you COULD write “–03-14” and be within the standard. But for reasons I don’t know, mainly because it costs money to download a copy of the standard, the 2004 version of ISO8601 apparently disallows writing the month without also writing the year.

Every –03-14 I always wind up thinking about Pi. I can’t help it. Everybody at work is sending me pi jokes and links to pi T-shirts and this is what happens when you make the mistake of standing up in a large team meeting 20 years ago and reciting Pi to 100 decimal places in order to make some point about Applescript programming; you are now “the pi guy” and every year, it never stops.

do you know a lot of random facts about pi?

yes

are they interesting to lots of other people?

no

are you going to write a blog post about them anyway?

eventually

ok just for now, why do you know π to 100 places?

well I memorized it to 200 places in grade 10, but I’m getting older.

why did you memorize it to 200 places in grade 10?

Because I thought it would impress girls

did it?

It took a while. Cathy married me several decades later. It was worth it.

bilateral laser retinopexy

Let me start by saying it is amazing what they can do with lasers these days, including shooting them into your eyes on purpose to fix things, and if this has anything to do with the work that Waterloo’s Dr. Donna Strickland did to earn the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics, then I will take a bold stand in favour of it.

the word of the day is ‘retinopexy’

So … a few months ago I had a Bilateral (both eyes) Laser (Light Amplification Something Something Radiation) Retinopexy (treatment for a detached or torn retina.) and today I had a followup check

This is a picture of one of my (two) eyes earlier today. Doesn’t it look great? Especially with the pupil all dilated like that?

NewImage

(Incidentally if anybody ever asks you “Have your eyes ever been checked?” you should say “No, they’ve always been brown.” Trust me. Nobody in the eye care business has ever heard this or any other joke.)

Here’s what you can’t see. At the back of the eye, your retina is attached to what we lay people would call “the back part of your eye”. (The doctor described the anatomy of the eye to me in technical terms: “Picture a basketball filled with a water balloon.” ) For a while it was coming apart, but now, my retina (water balloon) part is still attached to the back (basketball) part, thanks to the awesome power of LASERS.

wait, back up

Here’s what happened.

Last spring while sailing on one of them cruise ships in the middle of the Atlantic, it occurred to me that my right eye was bothering me, especially when looking at bright objects like, for instance, “the Atlantic.” Blurry, seeing lots of “floaters”. Had noticed it for months, I thought, like an idiot, I was just “tired” and attempted the home remedy of “rubbing my eyes”.

At the urging of my cruisemates because this was quite the topic of dinner conversation for several nights during which time everyone discussed their theories of what it could be along with a list of possibly similar problems that had happened to them, I made an appointment to see my optometrist – another fine Waterloo person incidentally – for when we got back, and she took a look-see and announced, “Hmmm. Good thing you came in. You’re right, something is wrong. I’m referring you to a specialist.”

the specialist

Off we went to the fine ophthalmology clinic at St. Mike’s. After a round of incredibly powerful eye drops, the doctor did an exam – a procedure since repeated several times, and I will never get used to this – where he basically presses his big eye examining headset thing RIGHT ONTO YOUR EYE and shines a light with approximately the power of the sun into it, instructing you to look left, left and up, up, up and right, right, and I’ll say that it’s not painful but it is just incredibly annoying and you naturally want to shut your eyes, but they (the doctors) would rather you didn’t do that, and you just want it to be OVER, and eventually it is.

“Hmmm.” the doctor said. “Now let’s look at your other eye.”

But wait! The problem is in my right eye! My left eye is fine.

“Let’s look anyway.”

Well, OK, knock yourself out, I guess, but you’re wasting your time looking in the other eye except maybe for reference but … what’s that?

So, surprise! I had two torn retinas.

Visions of complicated processes had been racing through my head; I had been researching things on Google and discovered there was a surgical process that involved doing something to your eye that required you to lie face down for several weeks of recovery. Well wouldn’t that be fun. I could put my laptop on the floor, I could get one of those massage table things so you can stare straight down … You know what, not only might it get me out of travelling to a meeting I didn’t want to do, but there would be great comedy potential in this. I can make this work.

I assume I come back for some complicated surgical thing in a few weeks, then right?

“No, we’re not doing that – we’ll fix it today. Go wait outside for a bit.”

the immediate procedure

30 minutes later I was lying on my back in a dark room, with my eyes numbed by various magic drops, and the doctor performed a Laser Retinopexy in each eye – a procedure where he wears a head-mounted laser thing that I never really did get a good look at it, and leans right in on your eye and shoots lasers at the retina, which if I’m understanding this right, deliberately creates some scar tissue at the back of your eye to hold the retina in place.

During this procedure, you feel tremendous annoyance and desire for it to be over, but not really any pain; you DO see an incredible imaginary purple fireworks show as the laser does its thing.

Afterwards, thank goodness I had Cathy with me to drive as I had no interest in looking at any bright light sources, such as “outside.”

the aftermath

I’ve now returned a few times for followup checks. Everything seems to be fine. My vision isn’t getting better – this is nothing like the procedure they do to correct your eyesight; in this case they’re shooting a laser at a totally different part of your eye. But it’s not getting any worse either. Back to the optometrist for a new prescription and some new glasses – horribly overpriced, due to an eyeglasses cartel you probably know nothing about – but things are better.

I’ve since learned quite a few of my friends and neighbours have undergone something similar. Isn’t science amazing? It makes getting old tolerable.

Many thanks to Dr. Muni and Dr. Paterson, and my cruisemates for urging me to do something.

what did this all cost?

Nothing. Other than parking. Thank you, Ontario health care system.

To check or not to check

Should you check your bag? Here’s the thing, you can never be sure ahead of time if it’s a good idea.

I’m in the middle of a travel snafu. I spent all day yesterday hanging around the airport, trying hard to get to West Virginia but it was so windy that flights kept getting cancelled, and my backup plane was cancelled, and then the backup backup was cancelled, and then my ticket for the backup backup backup was issued too late to actually board.

At one point or another I was booked on all these flights. And I went 0 for 8! A new one-day personal best.

Flight Routes

And it was all made way more complicated because I CHECKED A BAG. I know what you’re thinking. Steve, hasn’t your slogan for years been

One Of Steve’s Travel Slogans (collect the whole set)

The only way the airline can lose your bag is if you GIVE IT TO THEM.

Well, yeah, I used to think that. But lately as I get older, I’m starting to value Convenience, and checking a bag is certainly Convenient. Why?

I usually travel with a backpack with my laptop in it – no, I am not checking that – and a small carryon-size fits-in-the-overhead no-I’m-sure-it-will-fit rollaboard bag.
I’ve always loved this 1996 Toshiba commercial –

So anyway, about checking a bag.

Reasons To Check A Bag

  • Convenience. Less junk to carry through the airport
  • If you’re only carrying on one bag, you can put it in the overhead rather than under the seat in front of you. I hate it when the airline announces “Your primary storage space is under the seat in front of you.” No, that is the primary space for my GIANT FEET thank you very much. But if you’re carrying on two items, then you really ought to put one into this spot. And you’ll be cranky.

Reasons NOT to Check A Bag

  • You have to wait and pick it up at your destination. Sometimes it’s quick, sometimes it isn’t.
  • They might lose it. See slogan above.
  • You are Boarding Group 37 on some airline you never fly, and you know the overhead will be full.
  • You feel guilty about slowing everybody down as you bring all your earthly possessions onto the plane.

Reasons Why I Personally Might Check A Bag Despite The Slogan Above

I have modified my NEVER CHECK rules slightly. Now I would say there are situations where I will check a bag.

  1. In my professional opinion, is it a tight connection where the airline could screw this up and lose my bag? A tight connection through Denver? => Don’t Check. They’ve lost my bag multiple times on that route, one time telling me that it was actually headed to Istanbul.
  2. Is it a very full flight where they are already begging people at the gate to check something because the overheads are going to be full? => Check. (Especially if it’s a gate-check situation where you retrieve the bag on the jetway at the destination, not the baggage claim.) But not if it’s a screwup situation like situation #1.
  3. Is it a long flight where I have a crummy seat with limited legroom and would really like some room for my size 13 feet underneath the seat ahead of me? => Check.
  4. Am I heading home, and a misdirected bag wouldn’t be the end of the world, because they’ll deliver it to my house the next day, and anyway I have a spare toothbrush at home? => Check.

I have a Tile bluetooth tracker in my bag too which gives me a slight sense of security that if my bag is misdirected, I might be able to figure out roughly where it is.

Where This Can All Go Wrong

If you checked a bag, and something goes wrong, you are in a bad state. Airlines require you to travel on the same flight as your bag, so if you want to switch to another flight, your options are now limited. Can the airline get your bag off of flight A and onto flight B? Maybe. But it’s sure easier if you have all your bags with you.

Yesterday I checked a bag, and the travel snafus started piling up even before leaving Toronto. I wound up heading home without travelling, which adds a whole new layer of confusion – you have to retrieve your bag somehow, and for a transborder flight, this involves heading down some strange corridors, filling out forms, being escorted back into the baggage area, going through Canada Customs again even though you never left the country. It probably took me 90 minutes to get my bag back yesterday.

What Airlines SHOULD DO

Really, the process of checking a bag is better than it used to be; they’ve improved the ability to track bags, and, soon, airlines will be giving you active bag tags that broadcast their location and letting you check on the app and see where your bag is. (With my Tile tracker, I can often tell if the bag is actually on the plane with me; that’s cool.)

But … The idea that airlines charge money to check bags is the main problem. People are cheap and don’t want to pay those fees, so they drag everything they own along as carryon, slowing everything down.

If airlines made checked baggage FREE it would speed boarding, and make everybody happy, so of course it will never happen

My friend Brad Templeton has some interesting ideas. Let passengers reserve specific space in the overhead. Hmm.

So what are you doing today?

I’m back at the airport again today, still trying to get to Charleston. And today, I didn’t check. Don’t want to tempt the gods of travel again.

My Erdős-Bacon-Sabbath Number: 11

Paul Erdős received an honourary degree at my University of Waterloo B.Math. convocation ceremony. Don’t know the name? You should; he was one of the great mathematicians of the 20th century. And highly quotable! One of my favourites –

A mathematician is a machine for turning coffee into theorems.

— Paul Erdős

He had no fixed address, and travelled the world doing math research, staying in the homes of other mathematicians along the way, and publishing more mathematical papers than any other mathematician in history. He was a superb choice for an honourary degree.

I was a bit of a slacker in my undergrad days and only vaguely knew of Erdős, but to this day, I can remember a professor telling us about the Erdős-Feller-Pollard correspondence. I can’t tell you what that correspondence is, but I definitely remember the term “Erdős-Feller-Pollard correspondence.”

I remember he led off his convocation speech like this (approximately)

I travelled from Hungary to Waterloo for this event, and then I am going to Los Angeles, and after that to Australia and then back to Hungary. So I am travelling 360 degrees around the world to receive one degree. A total of 361 degrees.

polite laughter from audience, Erdős continues

Now, 361, that’s an interesting number. It’s 19 squared. I remember when I was 19 …

Erdős numbers

Everybody has an Erdős story as he kept constantly travelling and collaborating, and in the math world, there’s an idea called the Erdős number. You could define it recursively.

  • Paul Erdős is Erdős 0.
  • If you collaborate with someone whose Erdős number is N, then your Erdős number is N + 1.

So, if you co-wrote a paper with Erdős, your Erdős number is 1 (and you have exalted status in the math world). If you collaborated on a paper with someone who was Erdős 1, you are Erdős 2, and so on. There are 511 people with an Erdős number of 1, and there can be no more, since Erdős passed away in 1996.

People take this fun idea very seriously, and compile huge databases of Erdős numbering. See the Wikipedia article for starters. All 56 winners of the Fields Medal, the most prestigious prize in math (since there is no Nobel in math) have a finite Erdős number. 159 of the 200 Nobel Physics prize winners have an Erdős number, all ranging from 2 to 12. (I should check and see what the number is for Waterloo’s Donna Strickland, recent Nobel Physics winner hmm. It’s probably pretty low; there are several people connected to Waterloo with an Erdős number of 2 or less.)

Someone even wrote a paper analyzing the Collaboration Graph from a graph-theoretical perspective with the observation that it would have some interesting property if only two specific authors had collaborated on something; those two quickly whipped up a math paper on some trivial topic to ensure the graph stayed interesting.

famous people with Erdős numbers

And Erdős received another honourary degree from Emory University on the same day that baseball legend Hank Aaron also received one. Someone thoughtfully arranged to have a baseball autographed by both Erdős and Aaron; thus, Hank Aaron has an Erdős number of 1.

Lots more info at the Erdős Number Project web site. I’ve always loved this math silliness. Einstein was Erdős 2. Marie Curie, Erdős 7. (thus, Pierre Curie, Erdős 8.) Bill Gates is Erdős 4! (During his brief stay at Harvard, Gates came up with an algorithm in a combinatorics class that was later formalized in a paper by Harvard computer scientist Christos Papadimitriou, who is Erdős 3.)

so what is MY Erdős number?

Charlie Colbourn taught at Waterloo and was Erdős 1, as a result of a 1985 paper – which I’m sure you read – “A conjecture on dominating cycles”, B.N. Clark, C.J. Colbourn, and P. Erdös, Proceedings of the Sixteenth Southeastern Conference on Combinatorics, Graph Theory, and Computing, February 1985, pp. 189-198. Looking through his c.v. I recognize a few people I remember from grad school who wrote with him, and who are thus Erdős 2, and I am very jealous.

He collaborated on at least one paper with Kellogg S. Booth, who was the director of Waterloo’s computer graphics lab where I hung out as a grad student. Booth is Erdős 2.

Booth and John Beatty co-directed the graphics lab and published various things. Beatty is Erdős 3.

Beatty was my master’s supervisor and about the only scholarly thing I ever wrote was my master’s dissertation, “Software for the Tektronix Geometry Processor”, and he heavily critiqued and edited it. So I can claim a tenuous link to being Erdős 4.

kevin bacon

This probably reminds you of the whole “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” thing where people compute a distance between actors and Kevin Bacon. Bacon is 0, people in any movie with Bacon are Bacon 1, etc. The definitive source for this info is the Oracle of Bacon.

This of course, leads to the idea of the “Erdős-Bacon Number”, which is the sum of your Erdős and Bacon numbers.

black sabbath

Taking this idea to another extreme, music has the Sabbath Number. How close are you to collaborating with Black Sabbath. Naturally this leads to the greatest of all numbers…

Erdős-Bacon-Sabbath Number

I kid you not. People track the combined Erdős-Bacon-Sabbath number. No, seriously.
Stephen Hawking owns the lowest known Erdős Bacon Sabbath number – 8.

  • Erdős Four. (I’m surprised it’s that high.)
  • Bacon Two. According to the Oracle of Bacon, Hawking appeared in “Queer Duck: The Movie” with Camryn Manheim; she appeared in “Cop Car” with Kevin Bacon.
  • Sabbath Two. Stephen Hawking made a guest appearance on Pink Floyd’s album “The Division Bell”. Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd played one number on the “Rock Aid Armenia” album which also featured Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath. Therefore, Hawking’s Erdős-Bacon-Sabbath number is an amazing EIGHT.

Brian May – guitarist of Queen, Ph.D. in astrophysics – is Erdős-Bacon-Sabbath 9. Also amazing. There’s an interesting list of celebrities with small E-B-S numbers.

ok ok ok what’s mine

This is going to be a stretch. I can very tenuously claim to be Erdős 4.

my bacon number

Bacon? Hmm. Let’s see. back at Waterloo I was the musical director for the annual 1987 FASS show. That year, the star of the show was John Watson, a student at the time who went on to an acting career. You might remember him from the classic commercial for Maple Leaf Foods. Back Off. Get Your Own Sandwich.

John, who I hope might vaguely remember me, has done a few things – here’s his demo reel

John appeared in “Haven” with the late Natasha Richardson. She was in “The Favour, The Watch and the Very Big Fish” with Bob Hoskins. Hoskins was in “Balto” with Kevin Bacon. So John is Bacon 3, and I can stake a very weak claim to being Bacon 4.

my sabbath number

Sabbath, hmm. This will be tricky.

Let’s start here –
930 Saxophones

  • In 2004 (and again in 2009) I played with the Shuffle Demons in their Saxophone World Record Attempt. 930 saxophones in Yonge-Dundas Square! (Playing the theme from “Hockey Night in Canada.”) (I don’t exactly play the sax but I have an alto, and learned just enough notes to play along on the ‘easy’ part.)
  • Richard Underhill of the Shuffle Demons has played with the Neville Brothers.
  • The Neville Brothers song “Voodoo” on their album “Yellow Moon” was co-written by Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath.

Neville Brothers: Sabbath 1

Richard Underhill: Sabbath 2

Me: Sabbath 3

my grand total

I am proud to claim the Erdős-Bacon-Sabbath number of 4 + 4 + 3 = 11.

So what’s yours?