Monday, June 28, 2010

Dead Antennae and Terrible Weather

Since I spend my time these days back and forth between the city and the lake, I can't help but notice that we've been having... less than ideal weather conditions so far this summer.

You know how Environment Canada, and similar weather forecast agencies, maintain a standard set of visual icons to help the viewer quickly identify the conditions outside? A sun represents "sunny", clouds represent "cloudy", snowflakes represent "snowy" -- you know, pretty straightforward indicators. So with that said, I can't say that I've seen this icon very often --

-- but Environment Canada knows how to get your attention, if nothing else. (BRB, tornado.)

Seeing that report pop up last week was something of an anomaly, of course. Funnel clouds don't just fall out of the sky -- or, okay, they kind of do, but you get what I'm getting at -- so I was willing to dismiss the whole thing as a temporary blip on the way to the clear skies and warm temperatures that characterize another great summer in our fair province.

And sure enough, the very next day, the city celebrated as--

--wait, what? No, no, wait. Hang on.

This is my fault, really, for even being surprised; I was just kind of expecting more along the lines of "partly cloudy", not "shit on fire".

But, hey, stuff can only burn for so long, right? So as we headed into the weekend, conditions improved to--, uh... wow, that's nearly a day and a half of lighting stuff on fire. Did they sneak the G20 summit into Winnipeg, and I just missed the memo about it?

Fortunately, this was still an improvement from the previous report, as it had the courtesy to chill off somewhat. You hear newcomers and visitors complaining about Winnipeg being on fire all the time, but it's really more of a cool fire. Trust me, once you get used to it, it's actually quite invigorating.

And hey! Once the fire is extinguished and we go into the weekend proper, with countless Manitobans packing up the car for a getaway to their favourite cottage countries, it's time for sunny beaches galore and the relaxing enjoyment of a mild Manitoba June.

Well, screw you too, then. Fine! Let's all stay inside for the rest of the summer and read things on our computers instead. (Segue!)

I ran a column in the most recent edition of Uptown Magazine -- normally I'd mirror the cover here, but the image is busted -- and you can read it here. To lay the credit where credit is due, I was partially motivated to write this column by this recent post at Kevin McDougald's The View From Seven; the other part of the motivation stems from my current setup, even as we speak, holed up in the Interlake watching the World Cup via a fuzzy analog antenna feed.

I know we technologically advanced, high-minded internet types don't tend to think about such things, but those numbers I mention in the article are correct: there are still one out of every ten households in Canada watching television through the ol' rabbit-ears, and when the mandatory digital switchover hits fourteen months from now those one out of ten households are going to be quite righteously grumpy. And, yes, perhaps under normal circumstances one out of ten doesn't sound that impressive -- but when you've got a minority-government deadlock on the federal stage, believe me, that ten percent starts to loom pretty large.

Don't be surprised if (or, if my suspicions are correct, when) this story begins to draw disproportionately high airplay within the year. And hope for everybody's sakes that our fair region is less rainy, smoky and swirly next year; when this debate starts to dominate, you're going to want to spend more time outside just to get away from it. I'm calling it now!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Damage was Already Done, Looking at the Sun

Pursuant to the previous post, and about a case and a half of local brews later, let me conclude the earlier matter by saying that my reaction to my data loss was about as calm and collected as the reaction of Stephan Lichtsteiner to the officiating in the Switzerland-Chile World Cup game.

Sometimes you feel like a Lichtsteiner, sometimes you don't. What is there to do, sometimes, but scream to the heavens and flap your arms like the most majestic of furious penguins?

So, we move on. I had been working on a humdinger of a post about that upcoming SUN TV News -- the capitalization is either "Sun" or "SUN", depending on who's being paid to write about it at the time -- and it was really close to completion before, well, you know. So humour me as I try to reconstruct the main points for consideration from memory, presenting them for my own sake as an itemized list.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Pain in My Ass, I Tell You What

What has two thumbs and lost a really interesting blog post, plus a collection of fine lake pictures and a smattering of other items, when a USB stick arbitrarily stopped working?


You can't see it, but I'm pointing to myself.

Clever for me that I'd backed the whole drive up a week or two ago, but that was a week or two ago. Everything since then -- and there had to be a good couple thousand words in that article by now -- is lost to the metaphorical winds, and I am going to understate the matter dramatically by saying that I am somewhat less than pleased.

So if you were wondering what I've been up to since I dropped by last week, the answer is: apparently nothing, now. I'll give myself a day or two to drink it off, and then get back to business.

Friday, June 11, 2010

James Hope Howard Liveblogs the 2010 FIFA World Cup Opening Ceremony

6:45 AM

Good morning, everyone! It's soccer time! Yeah!

It's been a while since I posted, yes, I know; I'm currently squirreled away up in the Interlake, getting rained on every few hours, and pulling in today's World Cup festivities on a snowy antenna signal that gets maybe three-and-a-half television channels. But I did manage to hook up some internet, as you can tell from reading these words on your screen right now, so here's to the joys of modern technology.

And what have I been up to since my last post? I put out an Uptown column, have a look, it's pretty good; I also popped up in (and on) a somewhat controversial article in the Uniter, which you should remind me to elaborate on later because it's a pretty interesting topic. Then I rooted for the Flyers, watched them lose, and drank a lot. Chicago had a pretty awesome team this year, though, so no worries.

Anyway! That's all in the past now. (Well, not the part about the rain; that'll continue to be current until about Sunday evening, because the weekends in this province are hateful creatures.) We're gathered here today, way too early in the morning, to witness and enjoy the kickoff -- I hope you like that pun, because you're probably going to see it a lot in the news coverage -- the kickoff of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the single biggest sports event in the world. Hope you're looking forward to thirty straight days of vuvuzelas!

6:50 AM

The CBC has a customized graphic just counting down the minutes until the ceremony begins, to give you an idea how invested they are in this. They're also helpfully explaining all of the ways you can watch the World Cup through the CBC; apparently all sixty-four games will be broadcast on the main network, so the one person I know who still watches Coronation Street is probably going to be pissed off this whole month. And the final two matches of the World Cup will be broadcast... in 3-D! Maybe your TV gets 3D, I don't know. Mine sure doesn't! Hell, mine is barely getting 2D right now.

6:55 AM

The CBC, apparently out of things to talk about, gives us the weather map and satellite imagery of South Africa. Spoiler alert, it's hot over there.

Part of the fun of the World Cup, every four years, is reading the goofy news stories that arise around it. I haven't seen them mention this story yet on this feed, but this is kind of what I'm talking about: non-Anglophone World Cup officials have been given lessons in British curses, so they'll know when to card England star Wayne Rooney. No, seriously.

7:00 AM

The CBC Sports intro graphic for the tournament isn't too bad, at first glance, but let's see how well I like it a couple weeks from now.

Scott Russell, who always reminds me of the Muppet Guy Smiley, is accompanied at the desk by Dick Howard (no relation, but sweet 'stache). They throw it to Brenda Irving, standing outside the stadium in Johannesburg, and she already looks tired of hearing the vuvuzela. You can hear them in the background from outside the stadium, which Russell makes a point of mentioning -- then a flyover from a squad of jets ends the interview prematurely, so Russell has to throw it to a video package about the host nation to fill some time. Dangers of live TV, folks!

They did mention beforehand that Nelson Mandela has pulled out of the opening festivities following the death of his great-granddaughter yesterday, which puts a bit of a damper on the whole thing.

Opening Ceremony, coming up! For real this time!

7:10 AM

The World Cup Adidas commercials use Ennio Morricone's theme from Once Upon a Time in the West, which -- as much as I love the arrangement -- seems like a weird choice when everybody else is busting out something at least vaguely African.

Bullet trains! Children twirling in circles! A cheetah running! The opening montage, which seems to be titled "Africa's Time Has Come", shows us a variety of tourism images but not any actual soccer or balls or anything. Then we go live to the centre of the stadium and a dude wearing some very interesting robes, who yells at us in at least three languages to announce the arrival of a few hundred festively-clad dancers.

"People of the world! Welcome to Soccer City Stadium!" The jumbo screen gives us a rundown of all the other venues across the country, as well, each one represented by one of the seven lines of dancers.

Scott Russell informs us via voice-over that this next segment is called "The Calling", representing the call for the rest of Africa to come to the Games. What we immediately get from this is a group of children driving a GIGANTIC BEETLE, which then raises its hind legs and begins rolling an equally gigantic soccer ball. Everybody who had "giant beetle" in the pool, please collect your winnings at the front.

7:25 AM

A patchwork Africa is assembled from giant cloth squares as an impressive singer sings an unimpressive song -- it sounds like an opera tenor covering a Luther Vandross song -- and feet are superimposed on the cloth Africa to represent mankind's first steps.

I didn't catch the name of this next group -- something-10, it sounded like -- but they're rapping over a sample of Europe's The Final Countdown so they're alright by me. Was that a shot of Desmond Tutu boogieing down just now? Ha ha, it was! Dude's got some dance moves for a guy his age, wow.

Now we get a giant cauldron shuffling in to represent the melting pot of African culture, with hundreds of dancers arranging themselves in a gigantic star around it. The bowl design kind of looks like they stole it from one of the Zelda games, but it comes apart to reveal African hip-hop star DoubleHP and he gets to rap for maybe thirty seconds before they walk him off the field again.

Then a whole bunch of countries are represented in quick succession, as they roll out one musician from each nation to perform briefly; I'd kill for the CBC to throw some chyron up there to tell us who they are and how to spell their names, but no such luck.



Okay, so I recognize the representative of Nigeria, but that's about it. Following him is R. Kelly (wait, what) and the Soweto Spiritual Singers; their segment consists mostly of the choir swaying or clapping while R. Kelly (seriously, what?) wears a Scott Steiner headdress and performs a song that sounds like something Phil Collins threw away.

Black Power fists end the musical segment, the flags of the thirty-two participant countries are spun around on giant cards, and we get a roll call for each one.

Scott Russell cuts in to note that Canada is not one of the final thirty-two, as though somebody somewhere is surprised by this; Dick Howard sounds confident that they'll qualify in 2014, but I'll believe it when I see it. The commentators also note that the stadium isn't full for this opening ceremony, which they blame on the traffic. I think the stadium announcer was about to introduce the next segment, but the CBC throws us to an ad break instead. Welp! If they insist.

7:45 AM

We go back to CBC's main stadium and they run down today's matches, South Africa versus Mexico and Uruguay versus France; Dick Howard brings up the handball literally the second that Thierry Henry is mentioned, which is pretty funny. And the video screen behind them seems to indicate that the opening ceremony is over, because they have to tear everything back off the field and get ready for the actual match.

Then they throw it to commercial again. Oh, COME ON

7:50 AM

Oh, god, the CBC stadium is set up like a miniature soccer field. Russell and Howard have to stand in front of a fake soccer net, on a fake soccer field, underneath a scoreboard on the jumbo screens. I don't think they could have made this set look any dorkier, for real.

They throw it to Brenda Irving, who notes that today's games might not be sellouts simply because most of the people in South Africa can't afford the tickets, and then we get a profile of South African player Matthew Booth and his wife. He's the lone white dude on the South African team, and at 6'6'' he's kind of hard to miss, so I guess they figure they'll explain that one to us ahead of time. (The crowds aren't booing, they're saying "Booth".)

They give us a quick shot of the team buses carrying in the squads for our first game before throwing us to commercial again. The Rogers spot helpfully reminds everybody that you can stream the games at work, so I hope nobody was expecting productivity this month or anything.

8:00 AM

Well, here's their World Cup intro again. A video package gives us a brief introduction to the South African and Mexican squads, and then we get footage of both teams coming off their respective buses. (They wear very nice suits.)

We meet our new three-man broadcast team -- Mitch Peacock, Bob Lenarduzzi, and a third guy whose name I didn't catch (give me a break, it's freaking eight in the morning) -- and they yammer a bit about a couple of upcoming CBC segments that nobody is actually going to want to watch. Would it kill you guys to talk about the upcoming match? Even a little?

They do mention how staggeringly low the host country is in the actual rankings -- there's seriously no way they would have qualified if they weren't hosting, so they make for great underdogs -- but then they try to chatter about Canada's connection to soccer, and they interview some Mexico fans in Toronto, and urgghhhh

They call these street segments "Soccer Nation" and promise more of them to come, which I'm sure we're all just thrilled by, and... back to commercial? Sure, I've only seen this Canon commercial three times now, why not.

8:10 AM

Okay, I get that they have an elephant in that intro because everybody loves elephants, but is the accompanying elephant noise really necessary? Really?

To fill some more time doing anything except talking about today's match, they give us a feature on the soccer prisoners played on Robben Island. They enjoyed it, is the gist of it. Gave them something to do with themselves. The network captions the English of a fellow who really didn't need his English captioned at all, which is always kind of an awkward decision.

Immediately after that they send it to Kim Brunhuber, at the stadium in Cape Town, who describes the vuvuzelas as "calling to each other, like moose". He notes that he was in this town a couple of years ago and nobody gave half of a crap about football at the time; it's more of a cricket and rugby area, so the locals have to get caught up now that the excitement about the World Cup has blown in. (A rugby fan apparently asked Brunhuber "Why do they fall down and cry so much?", which I have to admit is a question that comes up a lot when you're trying to explain the game to neophytes.)

8:20 AM

I'm being told now that my spoiler alert earlier was incorrect; it's cold in South Africa, CBC meteorologist Kalen Mitchell announces. It's only about 16C in Johannesburg right now, and 14C in Cape Town -- "only" being completely relative, of course. Remember, I'm up at the lake right now, and if it hits 16C out here today I'll consider it a lucky break.

A bit more patter about altitude, and then about nothing in particular, leads us into the teams taking the field and warming up. Back to commercial? Yes, back to commercial. I do believe I've now seen the full roster of the network's World Cup advertisements, so expect me to be pretty salty about them by the time the first round is done.

8:27 AM

We come back from break to see that starting lineups are now scrolling across a ticker at the bottom of the screen, which is at least progress. The announcers note that the Mexicans are going to be completely unfazed by the relative altitude, which kind of pooches that angle, and talk a bit more about how weak the host team actually is. Irving, at ground level outside the stadium, points out the obvious -- the South African fans are expecting no less than the World Cup itself, and the players are nervous about the expectations.

Oh, remember how I'd mentioned the video package they put together for Matthew Booth? Well, they just checked the lineup, and he's not starting in today's game. DERP

8:37 AM

We're back from commercial -- again (gotta pay them bills!) -- and they give us another hard look at that ridiculous soccer-pitch set, including somebody throwing a ball into the net from offscreen. Pretty goofy.

We finally get a bit of strategy discussion, covering a couple of key player matchups, and then they throw it to commercial again. Okay, that segment was two minutes long, I quit.

A countdown graphic in the bottom-right corner, which only popped up right at the end of that segment, indicated that there are still twenty minutes to kickoff. And if they're obligated to air the actual game without commercials, as is the convention, than I suspect at least fifteen of these twenty remaining minutes are going to be ad time.

I'll conclude the post here and go fix myself some breakfast; the actual opening ceremony ended an hour ago, so my stated mandate was completed a while back. (The ceremony itself wasn't particularly great, but hey, I've seen worse.) And I don't intend to be the idiot who misses a critical play because of a bowl of cereal, so I'm going to fuel up and get ready to enjoy the game.

World Cup, baby! Whoo!