Thursday, July 31, 2008
Naslund was 35 when he left the Canucks, so his production had been suffering since his 30th year. Some players, such as Chris Chelios or Joe Sakic manage to be elite-level players well past the 35-year mark, but it is hugely dependent on the style of game played. Naslund relies on his speed and agility whilst Chelios and Sakic are great thinkers of the game, whereas Naslund's playmaking ability, whilst nothing to be sneezed at, left something to be desired. Likewise, his leadership abilities have been called into question time and time again. It wasn't so much that Naslund was a bad influence, more that his manner was not commanding enough to stand out as a leadership force.
In steps Pavol Demitra, signed from the rival Minnesota Wild. Demitra is a more versatile, grittier, slightly younger replacement who likely will not be burdened with any official leadership responsibilities. As such, he has the playmaking ability Naslund lacked as well as a mindset that allows him to step away from finesse plays, whereas Demitra has no bones about winding up for a slapshot. Essentially, Demitra's style is much better suited to the Canucks, so to suggest that the Canucks only came out even in this loss of Naslund and acquisition of Demitra is purely a mathematical recognition. In Demitra, we have a player who wanted to play here and whose game should better stand the test of time.
From there on, people bemoan the fact that we let Brendan Morrison walk whilst only acquiring Steve Bernier as a top-six replacement. Morrison, whilst a durable two-way player had little else to offer. Indeed, he was something of a third wheel on the West Coast Express bicycle. It wasn't clear where he'd fit with the acquisition of another top-six centre such as Mats Sundin, so Morrison was allowed to sign in Anaheim. Moreover, Bernier is young, strong and right-handed, the holy grail linemate for the Sedin brothers.
Moreover, GM Mike Gillis has been saying that he'll leave some roster spots open to young guns such as Michael Grabner or Jannick Hansen. Both Morrison and Naslund were into their 30s, so neither fit the moneyball descriptors of talent, youth, speed, size and character that Gillis wants to build his team around. Admittedly Demitra is 33+ and Sundin, if he signs, would add 37 years to the age tally but both play timeless games and no-one doubts Sundin's leadership qualities. Furthermore, both would be on short-term contracts, more evidence to suggest that a youth movement is underway. As Barack Obama says, "Change we can believe in."
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
First off, there are some basic fundamentals. The larger the headsize, the greater the sweetspot and thus the easier it is to hit an effective shot. However, large-faced rackets throw caution to the wind regarding control so more advanced players, with the exception of the Williams sisters, tend to go for something a little more conservative as they will have the ability to consistently strike with the centre of the racket.
Likewise, rackets with a thicker beam allow for more power on shorter swings but again put a compromise on control. Therefore, recreational/beginning players tend to go for thick-beamed, large-headed fare whilst players with developed strokes go in the opposite direction.
But there's more to it than that. Rec rackets tend to have more open string patterns to allow for more spin potential, whereas once more a denser pattern allows more control.
This all makes sense, but behind racket specs, a player must have confidence in his or her racket. This allows them to take proper swings, thus having a fluidity to their game. There's no such thing as a holy grail racket, but all the same, trust in one's racket can make or break a match.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
Anyhow, I woke up properly to the bright sunshine of the Irish south coast and from there on in, it was an uneventful flight, just like the breakfast. Nothing bad, but the coffee was lacking in taste and the croissant tasted as though it had been fashioned cookie-cutter style from a loaf of white bread.
Still, we managed to make it in to Heathrow with the minimum of fuss and the frequent smuggle-runs from my grandmother, snuggled up in business class, helped ease the pain of a seat that could barely get past 50 degrees. Speaking of which, it felt like 50 celsius when we disembarked and I could almost feel the humidity forming water droplets on the back of my throat. Sure enough, by the time we reached immigration a thin mist of sweat was forming where the sun don’t shine. However, we considered ourselves home and dry at last after reaching the fast track line (business comes in handy!) but the passport control officer had other plans.
Being Dutch, American and English, we’re used to breezing through security and don’t make a habit of preparing properly, so when we handed our US passports to the officer, the Big Guy in the Sky dumped a bucket of red tape over our heads. According to the officer, owner of a tortuously pitched voice, we had no proof of residency. As I should have known by now, when a man in a dead end job has an opportunity to cause some pain, he will. Thankfully after this perverse toying session and a warning, we were allowed to scurry over to baggage claim. After that, it was a prolonged walk to the car but as they say, all’s well that ends well.
Personally, I blame the airline’s dire need to avoid the red, but according to the captain, it is the fault of the auxiliary power system. Apparently, we were “dispatched” with said part to test mid-flight, and if all went well, we would be to continue onwards and upwards over the Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunately, the part failed, meaning that due to FAA redtape regulations, we can’t fly over water, which is pretty much a necessity when flying between the Americas and Europe.
Oh well, at least I get to add Chicago to my Facebook Cities list. Not much of a tonic for arriving home at least 2.5 hours later than planned, but it’s a start. Still, it seems that so far this year airline travel has not been kind to me. In seven flights, I’ve endured 4 mid-air medical emergencies (all on Finnair…), one missed flight and one forced landing. Things do not bode well for me and airplanes. But hey, let’s keep it in perspective. There is no gaping hole where the luggage bay was meant to be and I’m E27 richer. It just blows to be stuck on the ground, not allowed to leave the plane just to keep a struggling airline in the black.
As Palisades Tennis Center are aware, I’m committed to keeping my local businesses in operation, but if we’re calling American Airlines a local business, we may as well refer to Costco as a front yard vegetable stand. What’s more, I’m stuck in one of SeatGuru.com’s red seats for the second flight in a row. For the uninitiated, a red seat is one you should avoid at all costs. It’s not like I didn’t try. On the way over, I tried getting different seats, but my brother – bless his heart – was desperate to sit together, so we did. However, on this sector, we had the opportunity to share some quality bonding time once more, in Business Class, but the indifferent guy he is, those seats were quickly warmer the prosteriors of my Grandmother and her “Special Friend.”
Anyhow, end rant perhaps? The captain just came in over the PA and announced that the repairs had been completed and the paperwork was nearing completion, so with a smidgen of luck, we’ll pushback in 15 minutes and be on our way. So long as it doesn’t interfere with American Airline’s profit margin.
To the outsider, California is synonymous with Hollywood and beach-living, both facets which bring many visitors in search of this deceptive “reality.” True, Hollywood exists, but the associated lifestyle is unheard of. The beaches are there, and they are certainly frequented by the locals. Essentially, the producers of the aforementioned programs did what they are famous for doing, twisting the truth. From what I can tell, it hasn’t had the greatest result on the state-wide psyche.
Cast as a flip-flopping no-brainers, Californians must feel insulted. There is a reason that 7 Top-50 universities reside in the state. Indeed, at UCLA, Berkeley and UCSD, well over 75% students come from California. Moreover, I had never come across the supposed stereotypical Californian until last Christmas, and whilst I’m not exactly Mr Popular, I’m no wallflower either.
Point is, California is so much more than beach and sun, love and lust. There is a strong intellectual tradition and a rich Spanish culture, whose roots can be seen state-wide today. Indeed, California is also one of the US’s most diverse states – in Los Angeles alone, 47% of the population is Hispanic. There are also considerable quantities of East Asians, African-Americans and of course Whites.
All this combines to form a melting pot of peoples and cultures so rich that it would put Hollywood bank accounts to shame. But its about more than wealth, right?
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Anyway, the Claremont Colleges are located on the Northeastern fringe of LA County, in the town of Claremont (surprise, surprise,) nicknamed the "Town of Trees and PhDs." From the drive through the town to campus, it seemed like a well-serviced town with a pleasant, relaxing ambiance. As my grandmother put it, "a little bit of Midwest within easy reach of Hollywood." To summarize, this is a safe, comfortable town where it seems everyone knows someone, if not everyone. In a region known for its inherrent lack of community, this little town provides a pleasant respite.
The actual campus area is on the fringe of town, with the five undergraduate colleges, two grad schools and amalgamated buildings packed tightly together. Given this, the difference between the five colleges is amazing. Pomona College strikes a similar pose to Stanford - grand, Spanish architecture and tall trees and an unquestionable academic reputation. Claremont McKenna is essentially the same, just with 400 less students and a Republican slant. Scripps and Harvey Mudd Colleges did not apply to my interests so it would be unfair to make any assertions about them, but I can tell you than Pitzer was also very impressive. Once the proverbial plastic wrap wears away, the place will feel great. The architecture was much more blocky than its partners but that helped it feel less precious. Although the college seems to be somewhat lost in translation due to a cycle of redevelopment, the place should make a worthy safety college for any high school whiz. I only had two concerns - the prefab feel that will hopefully wear away, as well as the quality of faculty - why should the college rank so much lower than its partners? Given that most classes can be taken at other colleges, all this shouldn't be too much of a concern, and there were plenty of positives, especially the emphasis placed on the school's extensive Study Abroad Program.
However, it seemed like the school didn't take itself too seriously. I can't help but cringe when I see a professor in shorts and flip-flops, so I think I'll let Pitzer play second fiddle to Pomona. Still, I did figure out a lot during my 3 hours exploring the Claremont Colleges. My ideal school size lies between 5000 and 15000 students. Big enough for all the resources you could possibly need yet small enough so that professors --might--- know your name or so that you should get into your desired classes. Essentially, schools like JHU and Stanford have become a lot more attractive to me on this trip, as well as UC San Diego, although that will require further investigation given that I barely got out of the car in the La Jolla campus.
In any case, I can happily say that only one school was knocked firmly off the list by this trip, and that would be UC Santa Cruz. Just too quiet for a kid in search of the big time.
Monday, July 21, 2008
Granted, "An Inconvenient Truth" was a powerful piece of cinematography, but at the same time, hypocrisy was more rampant than the Plague was in the Middle Ages. Other than in the auditorium, a lot of scenes were shot in airplanes or cars. What kind of message does that send out? I know I'm being a cynic, but if Jesus was an Infidel, his words and actions would have carried a lot less clout. I congratulate Gore for drawing together a posse determined on negating the Greenhouse Effect, but now is the time for action, so we need a role model who can show us the next step. Preferably not one who accumulates more airmiles in a year than most will in a lifetime. Sure, integrity and charisma are different things but it would be nice if in Gore's case there was some correlation.
Still, I understand his messiah-like status. In the years following the release of “An Inconvenient Truth,” global understanding and appreciation of the problems that could wreak havoc on mankind has increased tenfold. The Toyota Prius is one of the hottest-selling cars there is, thanks in no small part to celebrity endorsements from stars such as Leonardo Di Caprio and NHL defenseman, Scott Niedermayer. Likewise, hydrogen cars are now a reality. Recycling schemes are sprouting up everywhere. Gore has got the message through. Now time for direct action and deliverance of the gospel.
Point is, Al Gore said during a recent C-SPAN press conference that 100% of America’s energy needs could be derived from solar installations. I wasn’t listening very closely, but I didn’t hear any supplementary, hard fact. That amount of solar paneling would set the Treasury back quite some distance, probably well into the billions and so whilst there is potential, there are other important considerations to be made. More over, why such reluctance to adopt nuclear power? No current power source is as efficient, so if we are in the dire straits illustrated by Gore, urgent action is required. What should we do? Go Nuclear. No greenhouse emissions is all we need to know. Sure, nuclear waste is hazardous, but it’s not like a little vitrification can’t sort things out.
Modern humanity relies on power to live and simply couldn’t go cold turkey. Pollution of some form is a given, and we can control things, but at the same time, its about time we stopped hypothesizing and actually did something about this "impending disaster".
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Low and behold, Trattoria Mollie, the pride and joy of Ethopian-born owner Mollie Ahlstrand has been cooking up quite a storm. The clientele includes Catherine Zeta-Jones, Oprah Winfrey and Mikhail Gorbachev. After some well-placed chit-chat from my grandmother, we all got to talking and Mollie graciously took care of our bill (3 triple espressos). She inquired in Italian-accented English what we doing in town After explaining that we were looking at colleges in the Bay Area and were on our way back south (with us, the “English Grandsons” in tow), Mollie seemed to be under the impression that I had been accepted to Stanford, which is my personal hypothesis as to why she fathered the bill.
However, like all good scientific debates, there was an alternative hypothesis. My grandmother argued that Ahlstrand’s kindness was due to Gran recognizing her Ethiopian, which would probably be a rare occurrence in a sleepy California town. Whatever the reason, Mollie’s generosity is greatly appreciated. Maybe, next time, the coffee could be a little stronger.
Anyhow, we got back to the Palisades several hours later and sat down for dinner, our fifth consecutive night at a restaurant. So, in preparation to break the streak, we went to the Farmer’s Market the following morning and stocked up on everything from Hummus to Salsa.
We arrived back home in the late morning to shrieks from Maria “Mother” Theresa and barks from the golden retriever, Louie. Then it struck us. The commotion was thanks to a large rattlesnake coiled up near the back door. Keeping my distance, I attempted to reconnoiter the situation but shortly the mustached local firemen arrived on the scene, clad in thick boots and armed with what appeared to be shovels and hoes.
Several brazen minutes later and the snake was captured, a drawstring pole (???) around its neck and a rattle shaking violently. To think it took me 16 years to catch a glimpse of a snake in an area known for them seems weird, but shortly you can share that experience, or rather just as soon as I find the camera transfer cable.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
My hopes were rising as I read how the potatos were peeled and cubed onsite, that the beef was never frozen (is that really such a good thing?), but alas I looked at my lunch. And then touched it. And then tried to remove the paper wrapper from the burger. It...wouldn't...come...free, or at least not until I severed the umbilical chain of orange plastic (cheese?) that was busy smothering an already patty-shaped cow.
Shaking, I put the burger to my mouth, all the while grease and hollandaise sauce dripping onto my fries. I was surprised. In-N-Out burgers taste good. Really good. Apparently, there is a purpose behind the alleged freshness of the food. Sure, my fingers were inch-deep in a healthy layer of grease, by my tongue was thanking me for withstanding such an experience. All in all, if you can imagine a McDonalds meal with multi-faceted substance, you have in your hands an In-N-Out Burger. Clearly, the owners are confident enough in this selling point to offer fanware for dedicated customers. For just $15, you can have yourself a replica uniform. As to whether such an option if attractive to the somewhat country Atascadera clientele, I don't know, but considering that the mean weight of the restaurant hovered around 200lbs, I was in the presence of awesome dedication.
So Mr. Big Guy, here you have it, the secret behind the success of the "Hokepoke" Burger is this: McDonalds without the guilt is an attractive meal choice for many Californians. Apparently.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Heck, it even appears that the recently mentioned Big Guy in the Sky wants me to swing the axe and favour Berkeley over Cal, even though his methodology seems to be a bit perverse. For starters, he only granted me 1.5 hours on campus, possibly paying off the guide to chuck in some lethargy. The rest of the day was spent meandering around Oakland and Piedmont, so my ability to suss out what Berkeley is really like was somewhat blurred, compared to my 4.5 hour initiation at Stanford. Likewise, I could almost feel the Holy Beam of Light encase me in Chinatown when a boiling cup of tea somehow wiggled free from my grip and deposited itself on every inch of my body, the food and the floor. Point is, the Big Guy wanted to chisel an ominous sensation into my head, but I will not be deterred. So long as the tumultuous dice that is residency lands in my favor, Berkeley remains Numero Uno, although I would feel happy on either side of the Big Game.
Anyway, Mr Big Guy, you've had your fun, but please, go easy on me.
Friday, July 11, 2008
The campus itself is on an aesthetic par with UCLA, my benchmark for beautiful, relatively urban schools, so that made for an ideal first impression. Then consider the fact that weather is great (not far off 250 days of sun a year), big cities like San Jose (with entailing NHL franchise) and San Francisco are under an hour away and the urbanish feel of campus and you can see why I'm so smitten with Stanford. Then figure in big-time sports and the academics don't even need to be that great for the school to strike a very marked impression.
But wait a minute. Stanford has fantastic academics, a great library and the financial capabilities to make it work for any admitted student. Academic flexibility is emphasized, there is a strong international focus and...prices on campus generally don't correspond to its private status.
The old-boy stigma was perhaps my biggest stumbling block in thinking about Stanford, but hearing that it a source of great agony to students, faculty and alumni alike, I felt reassured that, whilst no Berserkeley, Stanford is not a pure republican haven.
Point is, if the Big Guy in the Sky has mercy on my sinful ways and lets me come to this palace of education, I am sure I will become one of those 86% who are happy they came to The Farm.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Note: Whilst in
After a bright and early 11am start, we reached
Indeed, along with the pine scent, there is a refreshing ambiance around the university known for its tree-hugging, hippy students. Even the school’s mascot, the Banana Slug represents the laidback attitude with which they treat themselves, and that relaxed attitude is just what some kids need to establish their potential. Me? I’m looking for the buzz and energy of a big city, smitten with the electric air of
Musings from Meldreth is back by popular demand. Those random thoughts on random things (well, mostly my beloved Canucks these days) were withering like
What to write about? Hmm…let’s start with some reflections from a long day on the road. Heck, I might even throw in some revelations.
For starters, McDonald’s milkshakes contain a lot more sugar in the stateside version in comparison to its relatively suave, somewhat subtle European brother-in-law.
But hey, I guess that fits the brash American stereotype. However, the combination of staling milk and existing thirst is not a good combination when the water bottles sit empty whilst slogging through the 100-degree-plus highs of
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean things started well. Our departure from the Palisades was an hour behind schedule, but that pales in comparison to what the people of
Similarly, my hands are also knotted in prayer for those aforementioned Canucks. The foundations of the team have been rocked as captain and all-time leading scoring leader Markus Naslund jumped ship and signed with Mike’s hated New York Rangers. My adoration and sympathy for a long-suffering hero will continue, but the fabled West Coast Express line of the enigmatic Burke-Crawford era has only caused problems since the decline of its heyday and now that Morrison and Naslund look to be on their way out of
Likewise, I could do with a whole hearted sleep right about….now.
Thursday, July 3, 2008
Sign Andrei Kostitsyn and Steve Bernier to offer sheets, (4 million per)
Trade Bieksa and a 1st rounder to Chicago (who currently sit over the cap) for Martin Havlat and Kyle Beach, (2 mill increase in salary.)
Sign Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi and Brendan Morrison for 7 million total.
Dunno what you guys think, but being an armchair GM sure is fun.
Gillis promised that we would see an entirely different makeup come training camp. In not going off the board with Vancouver’s five entry draft selections, he bucked a trend, and may even have made a steal, drafting two highly regarded players past the first round: man-child defenseman Yann Sauve was taken in the 2nd Round whilst high-flying Norwegian center Mats Froshaug was snatched 4 rounds later.
However, it its unlikely one, let alone any, prospects will see ice-time with the big club this year, so whilst the future is bright, we live in the present. Unfortunately, Gillis was on the other side of the negotiating table from his new colleagues, so he enjoys frosty relationships with a number of counterparts. Indeed, the package Vancouver put together for talented Kings center, Mike Cammalleri was rumoured to be the best one going, but due to Gillis’s role in helping take the player to salary arbitration last summer, Kings GM Dean Lombardi sacrificed the future and sent the playmaker to Calgary in a move that saw Los Angeles wind up with a 17th overall pick, seven selections lower than the one Gillis offered.
Still, it works both ways. Mike Gillis enjoys significantly more cordial relationships with his ex-clients, and rumours abound that versatile forward Pavol Demitra is set to land in Vancouver in the next few days. The Canucks have also been heavily linked with Marian Hossa, who has reportedly expressed a desire to play along fellow Slovak, Demitra. Likewise, rumour has it that Gillis also extended a $10 million offer to future Hall of Famer Mats Sundin, widely regarded as one of the league’s finest leaders.
But this is what worries me: 36 hours after the free agency period started and Gillis has just stocked the fourth line with more plugs: renowned fighter Darcy Hordichuk and PKer, Ryan Johnson, all the while letting perfectly achievable (and reasonably cheap) targets such as Nik Hagman, Radim Vrbata and Michael Ryder slip through his fingers. Admittedly, the Canucks have signed Kyle Wellwood, a 5”10 center from Windsor, Ontario who proved his ability as a top-two centerman a few years ago whilst the aforementioned Sundin was out injured. Still, nothing radical. Man, those words look tasty.
Still, I’m uncomfortable with the brash yet cushy American way of things yet also feel lost with the meek, gritty, direct (how’s that for paradoxical?) scheme of things back in Europe. As you can see, I’m just about lost for plausible reasons to this indecision. I have one theory.
See, I live in the UK, but have never gained any real appreciation for say, the Scouse or Geordies, but likewise the formulation for my interpretation of America is more or less reliant on the white upper-class avenues of Southern California. Point is, my grassroots knowledge of the UK, US and Holland is so lacking that it is nigh impossible to translate my experiences to myself. Effectively, that little section of the fatty, watery mass that constitutes my brain is like a ticket to Wimbledon’s Centre Court for today’s (yesterday by now) match up between Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal: Non-transferable, no matter what the holder does.
However, neither love nor money can help solve my identity “crisis,” to toss in an overused catchphrase. Pure, damned hard work. Speaking of which, a belated good luck to you, Andy.