As not seen in The Globe & Mail
Dec 2010 10

I wrote this a couple of months ago, hopeful it would be published as the daily essay on the G&M Facts & Arguments page. Guess they thought it was tripe.
Well, their loss is your gain.

It’s about my colon. You have been warned.

The 40-year warranty.

It’s not unusual to dread turning 40 for the entire year you’re 39. I did, but not for the reasons you might think. I wasn’t particularly concerned about being called ‘sir’ by some kid working at Timmy’s or deciding to buy a Camaro and go cruising, blasting a band from the Casino Rama concert lineup.

No, I was trying to hold off my birthday because of something even more dark and sinister: a colonscopy.

Due to family history, my doctor advised that I should have one regularly starting when I turned 40. Every time the topic of my birthday came up, an image would flash into my mind – not of a party or gifts but of a long tube with a camera. Up there.

Sigh. Look, I don’t think I’m overly squeamish about my bodily functions. As a book my niece has reminds me: Everybody Poos! However, I do feel that what happens back there is between me and whatever I happen to be reading at the time. It’s sort of the last truly private area a person has.

My birthday passed and I reluctantly went for a physical last month. I admit I was hoping the doctor would forget all about it. Maybe just snap on a glove and take care of business right there. But no such luck. The sadist. I was booked in for the scope.

When you know you’re going to see the dentist in a couple of weeks, you can prepare: Buy a whitening toothpaste. Maybe a few extra strokes with the toothbrush. Floss more. But how does one prepare for a colonscopy? How do you pay more attention to the area in question? A vow to avoid certain spicy foods for a couple of weeks was the best I could do.

T-minus two days and I stopped at the pharmacy to pick up the ‘preparation materials’ – laxatives and a beverage marketed under different names, all variations of ‘colon dredger’. The Pharmacist advised me not to make plans the night I’m taking this, I’d want to be close to home. At least he didn’t call me ‘sir’.

It was a long evening. I’ll spare the details but let’s just say that after three litres of ‘Kleen Chute’ and a few hours, I felt substantially lighter. Surprisingly, I slept well other than a couple of trips to the bathroom to clear out the final resistance down there – things trying to be heroes. Maybe I was getting old. Ten years ago my colon would’ve put up a much better fight.

When does our warranty expire and things start to systematically go, like on a car? Just how old is ‘old’? I guess I really was worried that the downhill slide started at 40. I recall an 89 year-old relative who, while examining her own wrinkled arms said, “I saw other people getting old, but I never thought it would happen to me”.  Perhaps it’s human nature to be in denial of our own mortality.

Just to prove to myself that I was still under warranty, I decided to ride my bike to the colonoscopy.

“I’ll decline the sedative, thank you”.

The nurse looks impressed. Or she thinks I’m an idiot. It’s so hard to read expressions when you’re naked from the waist down, wearing a gown of 1-ply tissue. Yes, it’s game day and I’m on the examination table, stripped to the waist and being prepped by a young lady whom, I hope, will not be present for what is about to happen.

I didn’t know about the sedative beforehand but if I take it I won’t be able to bike home, and then I’ll have to stagger out and cab home like some old guy. No way.

This is going to be easy, I tell myself. The machine in the corner doesn’t look too menacing and there’s even a big TV on the wall for me to enjoy a cartoon. Fantastic.

“You don’t want the sedative?”

This is how Dr. Colonoscopy introduces himself to me. He’s a pleasant looking man in his 60s with the beginnings of Einstein hair. I tell him I want to bike home.

“Okay, we can start that way…”

Dr. C gives me the rundown. Basically all that real estate I cleared out is going to be filled with air that he’ll pump in, making it easier for a long, snaking camera to get through. If my colon isn’t twisted, like some people’s, I won’t need the sedative and we’ll be done in about ten minutes, assuming there are no polyps – growths that could signal cancer. Awesome. I’m at ease until I realize what the TV is for. It’s for a show entitled ‘LIVE from My Colon’.

I won’t lie, at times it hurt. Not the camera, but all that air being pumped in gets very uncomfortable. I felt like I had eaten a really bad burrito and I couldn’t relieve myself. Dr. C said that things were going great and I tried to avert my eyes from the TV which seemed to be showing a home movie of a trip through a waterslide tunnel – made of flesh. Ew. I was just determined to keep things moving so I wouldn’t need the sedative.

I could’ve done without the small talk from Dr. C, like hearing about the book he was writing or when he started to play the role of tour guide – over on your right, the appendix! And then suddenly, we were done. About ten minutes as promised. All clear. “You have a nice, straight colon, Andrew”. Definitely not something you wake up expecting to hear.

I got dressed and Dr. C shook my hand saying he’d see me in five years for my next one. Five years? I’ll be 45 then. An old man! Today however, I was a kid riding his bicycle home, triumphant – hovering over the bike seat all the way home to expel a lot of air but nonetheless, triumphant. A 40 year-old kid.

For Mark Dailey
Dec 2010 07

Thinking about Mark Dailey of CityTV today, who died yesterday after a battle with colon cancer.

I’ve always thought it dangerous to put our media personalities on a pedestal, cause let’s face it — we don’t know if they’re actually nice people or complete jerks in real life. But in Mark’s case, anyone who watched CityTV got the feeling that you really knew him. That he was a nice guy. And his love for this city and its people was genuine. His voice was the ‘voice’ of Toronto, whether he was saying his (shoulda been) trademarked ‘CityTV… EVERYWHERE’, introducing a Late Great Movie or delivering a crime story from the mean streets of Queen West (and hopefully scooping Jojo Chintoh in the process!), it was distinctively ‘him’ and became kind of the persona that I attributed to Toronto itself while growing up in the early 80s. Because of him, Toronto was smart, a bit sarcastic, good-natured, friendly, politically and socially aware and open to multicultural ideas and faiths.

The city has changed a lot the last 10 years and CityTV has changed with it. Maybe neither for the better but a little bit of my Toronto disappeared when CityTV moved from Queen West earlier this year and took up shop at Dundas Square. It seemed odd to tune into CityPulse at 6 (I shall always call it that) and see Mark Dailey anchoring the news from a new studio across from the Eaton Centre. He, and City, really belonged on Queen West, where the ‘real’ city was and not in the tourist ghetto. I guess personalities from City agreed and over the last years we’ve seen the departure (their doing, or the stations) of Jojo Chintoh, Peter Gross (twice!), Jim McKenny, Harold Hosein, Ben Chin, Anne Mroczkowski, Laura DiBatista, Lorne Honickman and of course the late Brian Linehan and Colin Vaughn. And whatever happened to Peter Silverman? Silverman Helps, you know! But even with all that change, you could always count on seeing Mark Dailey as the City anchor — literally. I never thought about it until now, but it was actually comforting to see that no matter how much our city or that channel transformed, Mark Dailey and ‘the voice’ were constant and unchanging. We were going to be all right. Toronto was still the same. The station moved, but maybe its heart was still in the right place?

Well, he and a bit of that naivety about the city are gone today. Only time will tell whether it’s fitting that he died the day before Rob Ford was to be sworn in officially as the Mayor. Some of the things Mayor Ford is threatening to do may have gone completely against what Mark Dailey’s (and mine and any other person who remembers that time in the early 80s) Toronto is all about. As an aside, I personally like to think of the Parachute Club’s ‘Rise Up’ video as a real time capsule of what that era was about. Seeing that from the suburbs of Toronto as a geeky 13 year-old in Rexdale, it represented a city I wanted to be in: safe streets, the grit of Queen West and Spadina, people embracing who they really were — whether it was sexual orientation, religious faith or their heritage from a far away place. Will Rob Ford put the final nails in the coffin of that, albeit idealistic and unrealistic, Toronto that Mark Dailey represented?

Well again, who knows how he would’ve felt? It really is dangerous to project an image onto a stranger on TV. They could be raging alcoholics, wife beaters, mean to old people and animals and who knows what else… But with Mark, I’m willing to bet that what you saw, was what you got.

Anyhow, so long Mark. Late Great Movies and Toronto will never be the same.

You will always represent Toronto, circa-1983 for me. The Parachute Club video is on for the umpteenth time on Toronto Rocks with JD Roberts. I’m stuck in boring Rexdale but imagining that under the CN Tower — which I can see teeny tiny out my bedroom window — Toronto is alive, vibrant, and full of hope. Soon I’ll be down there, riding the Spadina Bus that the Shuffle Demons made famous. Exploring Sam the Record Man, Rockwell Jeans, and the seedy arcades of Yonge Street which I’d lie to my mom about hanging out in. Watching Tony Fernandez turn two, unassisted, while enjoying a hot dog at Exhibition Stadium. Kensington Market. Church Street. Hoofing it on foot to some out of the way record store. Summer, summer, in perpetual summer. And reporting about it all, anchoring the city at 299 Queen West, are CityTV and the CityPulse crew including Mark Dailey.

Is that Toronto gone forever? I fear it is. But my rare, hopeful side says it’s just changing. Maybe as Mark said, and he will always be now, it truly is EVERYWHERE.

Looking for a new clock radio… unit
Dec 2010 05

We went looking for a new clock radio a couple of weeks ago.

Now, normally I wouldn’t feel this warrants a post but I have to rave about the product we ended up with and throw darts at at least one that we ended up returning. And if this will help anyone from making the same mistake we did, then it’s worth it.

What warranted this search was that my four-year-old iHome iH5 was starting to show its age. A lot of the top buttons were a bit win-gey – probably from years of bashing them to hit the snoozebar – it stopped charging my devices cause the dock/cradle got wonky, and frankly the, as iHome calls it ‘gradual volume’ alarm never worked at all. Instead of the alarm (to music) coming on at a low volume and increasing slowly to ease you out of sleep, it would just come on full blast and it was a terrible way to wake up. But a clock radio was pretty low on the priority list so I lived with it for the last couple of years. Until a few weeks ago when we had houseguests – the perfect excuse to get something new.

Anyhow, while doing research I quickly fell in love with Geneva Soundlabs S model. Great design and the reports were that it sounded amazing. But the pricetag was really hefty, so it was deemed a non-contender.

Enter the Eton Sound100 with iPod dock. I really liked the design but initially I was turned off because the specs said it only charged recent model iPods and not iPhones. But I was willing to take the chance because I know some iHome products say the same thing but they work just fine with both. At the register at The Bay, the 50% off was a nice surprise. Took it home for just $74.99.

Great styling – clean, simple looking. Nice digital AM/FM tuner. I like Eton’s products as I have an ‘End of the World’ radio with a crank, solar panels and emergency bands that works great for camping and cottages. The Sound100 has good sound quality with decent full warm basses and crisp highs. Even at high volumes with no distortion. One speaker, so no stereo sound though. The alarm was easy to set up and the digits were easy to read – backlit LCD. The iPod dock is connected by a cable so the unit (Yes, I said ‘unit’) looks a bit awkward if you like a clean nighttable. Anyhow, it had to be returned because, as was feared, it did not charge late model iPods or iPhones. They are playable but not charge-supported.

Enter the next contender, the new iHome iA100. Billed as the flagship of the iHome lineup, it boasts iPad and full iPod/iPhone support going back many generations of models.

Now, initially I swore that I would never, ever give iHome another cent of my money after my first iHome wore out after just a few years – I had clock radios that lasted eons and were unbreakable, so that’s what I was used to. I’m still fond of a Sony Dream Machine I once owned. But this product really enticed me…

Nice styling. Big backlit LCD. 4 speaker stereo system that boasted something called ‘BonGiovi’ (Bon Jovi — ?) acoustics. Bluetooth support so you could actually stream music without your iDevice being physically in the dock. This latter feature also lets you answer and make phone calls through the radio too – just like a car phone hookup for hands-free calling. Neat-o. No AM radio (I like it for news and weather), but the BT once again comes to rescue with streamable internet radio from your iDevice. It was a bit pricey at $199 but after looking at a few dozen radios and already returning one, I was ready to go that high. Besides, it had just come out and I like having something current with all the bells and whistles. What can I say? I’m a gadget guy.

Took it home, unpacked it. Looked great. The sound was decent. Maybe the Eton had better bass, but this sounded fuller at high volumes and was stereo. Then the problems started…

iHome asks you to upload two apps to make the iA100 work to its full capability. The first one is free and controls everything remotely. Everything. Which is pretty cool. You can be in another room and turn the radio on, adjust volume, scan the dial and set the alarm. The other one is $1.99 and is a cash grab. It’s basically a RadioTime app that was already available and is the approved iHome way of tuning in internet radio. You also need to create a RadioTime account. So I didn’t bother cause I already have an app that lets me stream internet radio without signing up for anything. But it took me $1.99 to find that out.

The biggest problem turned out to be setting the alarm. You can set the alarm through the aforementioned app that controls EVERYTHING, but if you haven’t got your iPhone handy, you’re in for a headache. The button to set the alarm on the actual unit (yes, snicker snicker) is on the back and very hard to reach. So if you’re like us, and the time you wake up might vary day-to-day so you have set the alarm a few times a week, it’s a pain in the ass to always reach around the back and push this tiny button that’s the size of most ‘reset’ buttons on digital devices. Real fail there. Why iHome won’t put this button on the top where it’s reachable and instead favours putting junk like ‘BonGiovi’ acoustics ON/OFF or the confusing ‘BEDTIME’/’WAKEUP’ buttons up there. No, the ‘WAKEUP’ button is not for setting the alarm. And you’ll always want that ‘BonGiovi’ acoustics thing on anyhow. The sound is kind of thin and tinny without it.

Too hard to set the alarm. A big strike one.

Then, the iA100 decided that despite setting the alarm to come on to 94.1FM, it was going to arbitrarily decide that 92.1FM was a much better frequency to wake up to – which in Toronto is actually static. So for a few mornings, we were expecting to wake up to CBC and got… static. I did my best to reset this for three straight days and although the clock always said it was set properly, it always came on to 92.1FM.

Strike two. Big strike two.

What was strike three? I think realizing that since I was in for $199, I’d rather just spend a little more and get the coveted Geneva Soundlab S. Why settle for something that ‘kind of’ fits your needs? So that’s what we did. The iHome iA100 went back to Future Shop and we picked up a spanky red Geneva S from Bay Bloor Radio.

Incidentally, the return process at The Bay was much easier and friendlier than Future Shop. I guess there’s no commissions in actually being friendly.

The Geneva Soundlab S is the smallest in a line of rectangular box-shaped hi-fi pieces that Geneva makes. They range from this clock radio one all the way up to ones that can act as a full stereo system for a huge room. A bit north of $300 CDN but as I said, we were already in for $200 for something that sucked royally so it didn’t seem that big a jump.

The styling is top-notch. But the real draw is the sound – it’s killer. Kill-er. Deep, booming bass (even on the pedestal included so you know it’s not the table that’s providing it) and really crisp highs. Very clear, ‘true’ sounds. Adjustable separate bass and treble. And the grille hides a four-speaker system back there. I’m not sure I believe it, but it apparently works like reverse-engineered microphone and projects separated stereo sound out from the unit (hahahah). It comes with the mentioned pedestal so it actually has a smaller footprint than any clock radio I’ve ever owned. The iPod dock (which charges EVERYTHING we’ve put in it so far) rotates open when you select iPod mode. Otherwise, the cabinet looks flush. The best part is the remote has a ‘SET ALARM’ button on it and you just adjust the time with simple up and down buttons on the remote after that. FM radio (no AM, guess that’s a trend). Very visible red LED digital readout. Snooze is activated by hitting any button on the top of the unit (snicker, snicker). Oh, by the way, those buttons are all just like an iPod – touch sensitive and with a clicker/scroll wheel. Very neat.

So, the only reason I’m posting this is for anyone that’s thinking of investing in the new iHome iA100. I would say stay away. Yes, it’s got a tonne of bells and whistles but it really failed when it came to basic functionality of being a clock radio – which is the whole point, isn’t it? If you want to make phone calls while lying in bed or really need a radio that will charge your iPad, I’m sure this is the unit (It NEVER gets old!) for you.
But personally, I really don’t want to have to set my clock radio alarm using my iPhone App. If I wanted to do that, I’d just use the alarm on my iPhone every night before going to bed. It works great too.

Anyhow, I’ll say it again – iHome will never get another cent from me. They kind of wrote the book on the clock radio/iPod dock but I think they’re getting by-passed by other manufacturers now. My humble advice is they should just focus on what the thing is for – make it a great clock radio with killer sound. Then add the other stuff. But sacrificing the latter for the former sucks, at least for me.

For the three people reading this, you have been warned.

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