Best of Toronto Mike

I'm Cancelling The Season

I'm Cancelling The SeasonDriving the snow lined streets of Toronto this afternoon, I started thinking about hockey. I realized it was Christmas Eve and the 2004/2005 NHL hockey season has yet to begin. With the NHL and NHLPA deeply entrenched in a pissing contest, everybody is looking at January 14th, 2005, the day the NHL board of governors are set to meet, as the day the season is likely cancelled.

This hockey fan has no interest in waiting three weeks for the NHL to confirm the worst. I'm taking action today. I'm cancelling the entire 2004/2005 NHL season.

It's a damn shame, but life will go on. We have the junior tournament kicking off tomorrow and I'll continue to follow the AHL Maple Leafs. There's NFL playoff action right around the corner, hopefully improved play from the Raptors and, before you know it, spring training will open in Dunedin.

The last thing I wanted to do when I awoke this morning was cancel this season, but it's a virtual inevitability and I've grown sick and tired of this entire selfish debacle. I've cut the cord enabling us to make other plans to get us deep into the spring. I will not suffer another week with the Sword of Damocles dangling above. We, the fans, are taking the power back.

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Looking Back At Vince and I

Looking Back At Vince and INow that it's happened, I thought I'd delve into the vault and reexamine the entries I wrote about Vince Carter. They say a great deal about my conflicted feelings about him and what he brings brought to my Toronto Raptors. Lets take a look, shall we? Fittingly, there are fifteen.

  1. The EA Sports Jinx - October 2, 2003 / 12:53 EST: I'm concerned that Carter is on the cover of EA's NBA Live 2004. There is that jinx and I want Carter to stay healthy.
  2. Mike's Mailbag - October 29, 2003 / 15:03 EST: I inaccurately predict the Raptors will make the playoffs in 2003/2004. I add a caveat that Carter must remain healthy for this to happen.
  3. Vintage Vincent - November 27, 2003 / 08:04 EST: I'm gushing over the great Vince Carter after he scores 43 and carries the Raps on his back. I also reminisce about the 51 point game of his I attended.
  4. Not In-Vince-able - January 17, 2004 / 14:00 EST: Carter injures himself once again and I brace for the worst. I even compare him to Wendel Clark.
  5. Mr. Popular - January 30, 2003 / 11:09 EST: Carter leads the league in all-star votes for the fourth time and I try to figure out why he's so damn popular.
  6. Guest Blog Entry - January 30, 2004 / 15:45 EST: For the first time, I publicly admit in this space that Vince could be traded. I also admit that he's not the second coming of Michael Jordon. "If you had brought up the subject of trading Vince Carter a couple of years ago, I would have laughed in your face."
  7. It. Is. Over. - March 27, 2004 / 11:04 EST: I was pissed when I wrote this entry. The Raptors were going to miss the playoffs yet again and I knew something had to give.
  8. Vin-sane - July 2, 2004 / 09:04 EST: ESPN reports that Carter wants to be traded and I try to digest the news. "Vince is our star and it will hurt to watch him suit up for another team."
  9. The End of an Era? - July 14, 2004 / 10:55 EST: Rumours were swirling that Carter was on his way out and I thought we were in the final hours of the Vince Carter era in Toronto. "The writing's on the wall and we have to accept it."
  10. Carlos and Vince - July 16, 2004 / 21:37 EST: I found it interesting that it was becoming incredibly likely that both Carlos Delgado and Vince Carter would be leaving Toronto. Still, I held on to a semblance of hope that Carter could stay. "It's entirely possible we're cheering Carter's name on opening night as he stays with the Raps. I'm hoping he does because players with his talent are few and far between."
  11. Guest Blog Entry - July 20, 2004 / 14:48 EST: I admit I'm completely torn about the whole Vince Carter saga. "I'd like him to stay, play hard and lead us back to the playoffs where he can shine on a bigger stage."
  12. My Sports Wishlist - September 22, 2004 / 08:23 EST: Carter makes my sports wishlist as I wish he'd stop being such a suck, rescind his trade demand and play his ass off.
  13. 41 Reasons to Kick Ass - November 3, 2004 / 13:11 EST: The Sporting News ranks Carter the 41st best player in the NBA and I see this as a positive, potentially lighting a much needed fire under Carter's butt. "This gives Carter 41 reasons to kick ass this season."
  14. More Than 41 - November 23, 2004 / 07:56 EST: It didn't take long to realize that Vince Carter wasn't going to perform for the Raptors the way Vince Carter can. "When we finally do trade this major disappointment, we'll likely get little of value in return. Then, without a doubt, Carter will kick it up a notch and shoot the lights out for his new team."
  15. The Vince Carter Era Ends - December 17, 2004 / 17:36 EST: Vince Carter is traded to the New Jersey Nets. "It's time to move on my friends."

That last line of #14 says it all. I have no doubt that Carter will be awesome for the Nets. He lost all motivation here in Toronto and put it in auto pilot a long, long time ago. It's a damn shame because he had so much upside and could have been the man to lead us to the championship. Could have been, should have been, would have been...

Farewell #15. Thanks for the memories. 51 against the Suns, baby.

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The Definitive Christmas Mix: Done...and Done!

The Definitive Christmas MixI've finally fulfilled my pledge to put together the definitive Christmas mix. I've slightly tweaked my initial draft and decided to restrict each artist to one song. I made some slight exceptions by allowing Bing to fly solo and perform a duet with David Bowie, but the inclusion of Ziggy Stardust gave him a loop hole in this instance.

If you're wondering where the Pearl Jam tune "Let Me Sleep" came from, it's an obscure gem I've had on an Acoustic Set bootleg that was also part of their Lost Dogs collection of B-sides they released last year. "Oh please, let me sleep, it's Christmas time."

Remember, nobody is going to agree with all 23 tracks/80 minutes of music on this Christmas Mix. Some of these tracks were selected for nostalgic reasons, some of them were selected because I can't imagine a Christmas mix without them and some of them are here because my ears demanded it. There are three Wednesdays between now and Christmas, so I'll be sharing an MP3 from the list below as my Weekly MP3. And because I'm already in the Christmas spirit, I'll even take requests as to which three it will be.

And now, without further adieu, the definitive Christmas mix is...

  1. John & Yoko And Plastic Ono Band And The Harlem Community Choir - Happy Xmas (War Is Over)
  2. Nat King Cole - The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas To You)
  3. Bing Crosby - White Christmas
  4. Dean Martin - Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
  5. Eartha Kitt - Santa Baby
  6. Brenda Lee - Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree
  7. Band Aid - Do They Know It's Christmas
  8. Coldplay - Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
  9. The Pretenders - 2000 Miles
  10. Paul McCartney - Wonderful Christmastime
  11. Bruce Springsteen - Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
  12. The Whos of Whoville - Welcome Christmas
  13. John McDermott - O Holy Night
  14. Louis Armstrong & His All Stars - Christmas Night in Harlem
  15. Pearl Jam - Let Me Sleep
  16. Sarah McLachlan - Song For A Winter's Night
  17. Trans-Siberian Orchestra & Metallica - Carol of the Bells
  18. Bruce Cockburn - Mary Had A Baby
  19. U2 - It's Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
  20. Vince Guaraldi - O Tannenbaum
  21. Alvin and the Chipmunks - Christmas Don't Be Late
  22. Boris Karloff - You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch
  23. David Bowie & Bing Crosby - Peace On Earth & Little Drummer Boy

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How To Rip Your CD Collection To MP3 Like Me

How My MP3 Collection Came To BeI've been getting a lot of questions lately from people wondering exactly what I use to rip my CDs to MP3s and what steps are involved in the process. Below is a step-by-step guide for a newbie who wants to assemble an MP3 collection based on CDs they already possess.

  1. Download Audiograbber - I realize there are various applications that will convert your CDs to MP3s, but I use Audiograbber. It's free and I've been quite pleased with its performance. Visit the download page and download Audiograbber 1.83 build 1 from one of the listed locations...perhaps this one.

    Now that you've downloaded Audiograbber, open the .exe file and install it.
  2. Download the LAME MP3 Encoder - Although Audiograbber will enable you to rip your CDs to MP3s by itself, you'll want to increase the quality of your MP3 and that's where the LAME MP3 encoder comes in. Visit the download page and download lame-3.96.1 from one of the listed mirrors...perhaps this one.

    It's a compressed zip folder, so you'll have to unzip it. Windows XP comes with a utility that will do this automatically when you open the file, but other Windows users will need to use Winzip to unzip the dll. Once you've unzipped this file, simply put the contents into your Audiograbber directory. You now have an internal MP3 encoder.
  3. Configure Audiograbber - On the Audiograbber toolbar under "Settings", select "General Settings". I'm comfortable with all the defaults here, but everyone will want the folders and songs named differently. I personally like a folder for each artist and within that folder a folder for each album name and then within that folder an MP3 for each track in the format 01 - Artist Name - Song Name. There's also an option on this tab to select the directory you want your files to write to. I've found it's easier for me to organize everything if Audiograbber places the folders in my Audiograbber directory until I'm ready to copy them over to my music folder. View this screen cap of how my General Settings are configured and mimic it if you want the same results.

    Next, on the Audiograbber toolbar under "Settings", select "MP3 Settings". Here you determine how you want Audiograbber to rip your CDs and at what bitrate. This is a very important step in configuring Audiograbber. I've chosen to grab to "MP3 file via intermediate wav file. Delete the wav file". Also, I've selected "Internal Encoder" and used the drop down arrow to select the LameEnc DLL I downloaded and dropped in the Audiograbber directory in step #2. Finally, I've dragged the selector under "Constant Bitrate" to 192 Kbit/s. I like the quality of sound I get from ripping to a 192 bitrate, but feel free to bump this up as high as you wish, if you can afford the hard drive space. View this screen cap to see how my MP3 Settings are configured and mimic it if you want the same results.
  4. Get Album Details and Rip to MP3 - Now that Audiograbber has been downloaded and installed, your LAME MP3 Encoder has been downloaded, unzipped and copied to your Audiograbber directory and Audiograbber is configured to rip to your specifications, you're ready to rock. Place your CD in your CD Rom drive and open Audiograbber. You'll see one of the menu options on the top reads "Freedb" and is accompanied by a penguin icon. If you're connected to the Internet, click this icon and artist, album and song details will be automatically downloaded to Audiograbber. There's no need to ever type in song names or any such detail. View this screen cap to see what happens when I click the penguin after placing the Almost Famous soundtrack in my CD rom.

    If you're happy with what you see, click "Grab!" which is the option accompanied by a hand. Audiograbber will begin converting the tracks on your CD to MP3 as you specified in step #3. It's that easy. Once Audiograbber is finished, you'll find the folders in the directory you set in that step. If you've chosen to have everything terminate to your Audiograbber directory, navigate there, cut the Artist folder containing the CD title folder and subsequent tracks, and copy it to your permanent music folder. Follow these steps for every CD in your collection and your music folder will resemble my music folder.
  5. Tips and Tricks - Depending on how the information comes back from the Freedb, the artist name may be listed as "The Beatles" or "Beatles" or even "Beatles, The". You'll want to keep this consistent throughout your collection so pick a format and stick to it. That way, all of your Beatles albums will remain under the same folder instead of having some filed under "The Beatles" and others filed under "Beatles".

    In a similar vein, you'll most likely have numerous compilation CDs in your collections that won't be filed under a particular artists name. The details coming back from the Freedb may have the album listed under a directory entitled "Various Artists", "Various", "Compilation" or some variant thereof. Again, pick a format and stick to it so everything remains nicely organized on your PC.

    The speed at which this ripping takes place depends upon the resources available to you. If your machine isn't up to snuff, it would probably be best that you don't do anything else while Audiograbber is doing its thing. And speaking of resources available to you, hosting your entire CD collection on MP3 requires a good chunk of hard drive space. Ripping at a 192 bitrate, Eminem's Encore takes up 105 MB of space. Do the math and ensure you have sufficient space.

    And finally, if you've got a good sized CD collection, ripping it all to MP3 will take up a great deal of your time. You'll be popping discs in and out of your PC for hours and hours on end. I started my digitization project back in December 2003 and I didn't finish it until this past spring. It's a massive job and you don't want to do it more than once if you can help it. Do yourself a favour and back up your music. Hard drive failures happen, computers can get stolen or destroyed, shit happens, so burn your files to CD or DVD and sleep well knowing they're there when you need them. I know I do.

That's it in a nutshell. If you have any further questions, feel free to contact me. I can tell you from experience, once your collection is digitized into MP3s you'll truly be able to access your music, your way. You'll feel liberated, listening to tracks you haven't heard in years, creating eclectic playlists in Winamp, burning massive MP3 mixes and burning audio CDs when MP3 mixes are insufficient. It will be glorious.

Enjoy the music.

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The Grey CupI'm part of the CFL's lost generation. Coming of age in the 80s, we were sold the glitz and glamour of the NFL, primarily from the Buffalo television stations we received. The Bills propaganda machine rolled on through the 90s when they went to four Super Bowls in a row. The CFL came across like a minor league farming system for the big league to the South.

I rarely paid any attention to the CFL, displaying only a casual interest when Rocket Ismail came to town and again when Doug Flutie signed with the double blue. On Sundays, I'd sit and watch 10 hours of NFL ball, but I'd rarely tune in for Canadian football. The CFL was beneath me. I was an NFL fan.

I remember the moment my interest in the NFL began to wane. It was the day the Bills cut Doug Flutie and decided Rob Johnson was their starting quarterback. All Doug Flutie did for the Bills was play his heart out and win games. All Rob Johnson did was infuriate me. This decision hurt the very core of my being. I loved Flutie and I loved Flutie in a Bills uniform. Cutting him made absolutely no sense to me at the time and history would prove me right. Throughout the following years, I found myself watching less and less NFL football although I continued to watch the Bills until this year. Conversely, I found myself watching more and more CFL football and following that league closer. I grew to appreciate the game and discovered it was thoroughly entertaining. Part of the charm is the lack of schmaltzy glitz that accompanies everything associated with the NFL. This NFL season I've come to realize that of the four major sports, football ranks a definite fourth in my books and I actually prefer Argonaut football to Bills football. In my thirtieth year of life I learned that the wholly Canadian league I grew up thinking was amateurish is, in fact, a more organic, entertaining and satisfying product.

The culmination of this new-found respect for the CFL was witnessing a great Grey Cup and championship for my Argos last night. It was a brilliant contest, exciting to the very end, with a performance from The Tragically Hip at half-time to boot. It was a great game on a great day to celebrate this Canadian institution in our nation's capital. I'm proud to call myself an Argonaut fan and a fan of the Canadian Football League.

Screw the NFL. I've got other priorities now.

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The True Confessions of a Flip-Flopper

Confessions of a Flip-FlopperThe Boston Red Sox are World Series Champions for the first time since 1918. The curse is no more. Never again will Red Sox fans be haunted by the four numbers 1-9-1-8.

I must confess, I started the post season wanting any team but the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees to win it all. Towards the end, I was more than okay with it. Here is a chronicle of my flip-flopping on this issue, exposed for the entire world to see.

  • October 12, 2004 / 10:54 EST - I wrote about the curse and explicitly predicted the Yankees would beat the Red Sox in their series. I had no doubts.
  • October 14, 2004 / 10:31 EST - I wrote about former Blue Jays in the playoffs. I stated how nice it would be for John Olerud to play for another title and how likely that was considering the curse.
  • October 17, 2004 / 12:44 EST - With the Red Sox down three games to none, I laughed at those who didn't believe in the curse. "There is a curse and Boston will never again win another World Series. Mark my words."
  • October 20, 2004 / 07:56 EST - Prior to the seventh game between the Yankees and Red Sox, I was looking forward to seeing "what new creative way Boston finds to cough it up". I thought the three game winning streak was "a giant tease to make Red Sox fans believe again."
  • October 21, 2004 / 15:12 EST - Shocked by the Red Sox victory the night before, I start to believe in the impossible. I start to believe the Red Sox could win it all. "Everyone suddenly has warm-fuzzy feelings about all things New England and if they manage to reverse the curse and win the World Series Kerry may ride that Boston high to victory on November 4th."
  • October 22, 2004 / 08:17 EST - I throw my support behind Larry Walker and the Cardinals referring to my "hate on" for the Red Sox and the fact history repeats.
  • October 22, 2004 / 18:11 EST - A Guest Blog by my brother Steve accuses me of brushing the Boston victory under the blogging carpet. In response, I write "I must be the only one who hasn't embraced them."
  • October 27, 2004 / 16:09 EST - Just yesterday I stumble upon a message on a Red Sox fan bulletin board that brings a tear to my eye. "Win it for Ted, who once said, "If they ever won it, I would feel so @#%$ warm inside."" At this point, I'm rooting for the Red Sox as I relate their fans' woes to mine as a die hard Leafs supporter.

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James' First Jays Game

James' First GameToday I had the pleasure of bringing James to his very first Blue Jays game at Skydome. I'm not sure when I saw my first game, but I recall the first game in my memory and I can still see Damaso Garcia hitting that long bases loaded triple in a big win at Exhibition Stadium. Today I was passing the torch to the next generation.

It was a perfect afternoon for a ball game, Skydome was open and James was excited. A most amazing thing happened before we even had a chance to get to our seats. On our way to section 124, the first batter of the game, Mark Kotsay of the Oakland Athletics, hit a foul ball that careemed off the stairs and somehow found it's way to us. I came up with it and secured my first ever game ball from a major league baseball game. I had caught a couple of batting practice balls before, but never an actual ball from a game. One batter at the plate and it was shaping up to be a fantastic day.

James must be a good luck charm because the Blue Jays bats were alive and kicking. Rookie Gabe Gross hit a grand slam, rookie Russ Adams hit his first career home run and Carlos Delgado went deep in a 12-5 victory. The seats were amazing and Brian Burke himself was sitting only a couple of rows ahead of us. As first games go this was a keeper.

The game went a little over three hours and James was great the whole time. He got up and cheered at the right time, periodically hollered at the ball players and sat contently in his seat the entire time except for one potty break in the 8th. Today couldn't have gone any better than it did. I think we have another Jays fan on our hands.

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The Storm Centre Guy Speaks

Storm CentreOn a blistery day back on January 27, I wrote about the 680News Storm Centre. I wondered what setting up their Storm Centre entailed exactly. As far as I could tell, it was business as usual with more time devoted to the top story of the morning, our little snow storm.

That post was read by the 680News Storm Centre man himself, Scott Simpson. Scott Simpson took the time to write me a lengthy email in which he spilled the beans on life as the Storm Centre guy. It might be career suicide but he's given me permission to post his email here in its entirety. This is a exclusive...

Hey! I'm the Storm Centre guy, Scott Simpson. (see the bio page for more.)

Setting up the storm centre basically entails somebody telling me, "Simpson, you're on standby for Storm Centre tomorrow." That means I try to get to bed early, but end up tossing and turning until 4:15am when I call the newsroom ... I say, "It's not even snowing. The Weather Network says we're only getting 5cm." They say "Well, it's hit Chicago and they've cancelled a ton of flights. Come on in, you're our man."

That's about it. I get in, I see if any schools are closed, I find out what's up at the airport, maybe call Gary Welsh from Toronto Transportation to see what gear they're sending out, load up the admin side of the web site, and climb on the news wheel ... There's no time to run back and forth into and out of the control room, so I sit at a desk (the proverbial "Storm Centre" which, internally, is dialed up as CHFINEWS, even though they haven't done CHFI news from the newsroom in ... erm ... well, I don't think they ever did. Legacy tech, natch.) and broadcast from there, getting up now and then for fluid management.

So I sit there at the desk, and every half hour they throw to me, I read a sponsor or two, and try to tell it like it is .... sometimes it's a brain-bending five-hour whirlwind of bus cancellations and school closures (how many Montessori schools *are* there in the GTA, and why can't they get their kids to class when it snows?!) though, thankfully, most days I end up saying "Well, there's no big storm here ... but if you're travelling by air, you're screwed." I would rather be the voice of "everything's fine, get out and live your lives!" than the voice of doom and gloom when there's nothing to freak out about. I don't want to get a reputation as Chicken Little. If anything, I downplay the severity of what's going on out of the fact that I don't drive.

I saw Bowling For Columbine and some other stuff that has convinced me that keeping listeners "in a state of fear" is a terrible thing to do. I also don't like "neighbourhoods in a state of shock" or "outraged residents" or such things. I have two rules: tell the truth, and never be boring. They rarely clash, because the truth well told is usually a really interesting story.

Thanks for listening! I'm trying to enjoy the summer, 'cuz there's no Storm Centre.

Awesome insider info!

Check more information about taxi Toronto.

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MSG in TOI was driving along Bay Street at about 03:30 in the morning on Thursday when I was stopped at Richmond Street West. A movie crew was shooting a scene and there were automobiles from the 1930s driving along Richmond Street while people walked about dressed in outfits from that era. When I looked East from this vantage point, I saw something I never expected to see in Toronto. I saw Madison Square Gardens.

The complete exterior of Madison Square Gardens has been duplicated, complete with a marquee that indicates there's a scheduled hockey game between the New York Americans and Ottawa Senators. I've investigated further to see what's being filmed there and it turns out it's no small potatoes. It's a major motion picture starring A-list celebrities. Ron Howard is directing Russell Crowe and Renee Zellweger in The Cinderella Man, the story of Depression-era fighter and folk hero Jim Braddock, who defeated heavyweight champ Max Baer in a 15-round slugfest in 1935.

I'm rooting for this flick to be great. Not just because it's being filmed in my fair city, but because it brought me back to 1935 in the wee hours following the birth of my daughter. Start spreading the news...

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The Story Of...

The Story Of...Taryn and I watched Canadian Idol last night. I know, it's cheesy, but we all need a guilty pleasure or two. Ben Mulroney made one final corny joke and it was 21:00 EST. All was well...

At some point between 21:00 EST and 21:30 EST, Taryn started having contractions. She had contractions the other night, so I figured this was another round of false labour. The doctor told us to come in when they were five minutes apart so I began recording their frequency and length. By 22:00 EST, it was clear that was most likely the real deal and that's when I wrote this entry.

Babysitting had to be arranged for James and we drove off to the hospital with contractions between four and five minutes apart. We parked the car and began the short walk to the emergency entrance and that's when Taryn's water broke. This was a surreal moment, buckets of liquid were spilling out of my wife and we were just laughing. I was trying to hurry her up and she was worried about her soaked clothes.

In the Triage room, Taryn was assessed and it was noted Michelle was breeched. An emergency c-section was in order and it was deja-vu all over again. James came into this world under similar circumstances two and a half years ago.

It was show time. I put on my smock and watched the entire procedure while holding Taryn's hand. Michelle had the cutest little cry and I got to cut the cord. While they stitched Taryn back up I held my girl and felt all too blessed. We weren't expecting her until Tuesday, but we're damn glad she's here. It's all good.

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