Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Volume 5, Number 23: On to the Finals!

Remember that Tigers road jersey concept I made up for the Uni Watch Design-A-Jersey contest? Well, it was evidently impressed the contest's lone judge (Alain Nina-Sinkham, the owner of Classic Old School, a company that makes custom jerseys) enough to make it to the final round of the contest, in which anyone can pick their favorite out of eighteen designs. (Alain had planned to winnow the entries down to 9 out of the 94 entries received, but decided to go with 9 for each league.)

The 18 finalists are shown in this Uni Watch blog entry. Feel free to check them all out. There are a lot of great ideas in those other 17 entries. There's a poll on that web page--please vote (the same poll can also be found at http://polldaddy.com/poll/3688854/).

The feedback I have received so far is, above all, greatly appreciated.
  • Some people like how the uniform number on the right sleeve is a "tip of the cap" to the '61-'71 Tigers; others think sleeve numbers don't belong in baseball. I will stand by the sleeve numbers unless, say, 90% of the feedback I got was against it (in which case I would move it back to the left side of the front, as in the current Tigers' road jersey).
  • Some like the logo I derived from the 2005 All-Star Game logo; others say "it's nothing special" and would just as soon do without it. I'm sticking with that (I like it so much better than the one they introduced in '94, which has a Tiger going through the "bars" of the Old English D--since the only way a tiger can do so is if it's paper-thin, I derisively call the '94 logo the "paper tiger logo").
  • As for the "Detroit" in Old English, some people wish it was arched instead of tilted (I didn't arch it because arching only works when all of the letters in the word being arched are capitalized, and Old English doesn't look good when capitalized; hence, no arching).
  • There is one thing everyone agrees on: The white outlining on the Tigers' current road jerseys, which has been in use since 1994, has got to go.
This contest has been exciting for me, from the design process to waiting for my design to be "unveiled" (last Thursday) to waiting to find out if I had made the finals (today, obviously). I have plenty of other ideas for uniform changes/tweaks/etc. in the four major pro sports, and someday I will reveal those, one at a time.

To those who have voted and those who have given me feedback, thank you.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Volume 5, Number 22: My Concept for a Detroit Tigers Road Jersey

Back in the early '90s, when the Tigers were still wearing the same road uniforms they had been using since 1972, I began developing my own ideas for what their road uniforms should look like. Not long afterwards, the Tigers did replace those outdated uniforms--but they were not like I envisioned.

So last month, When UniWatch, an online community of sports fans dedicated to all things related to sports logos and uniforms, announced a baseball jersey design contest, I went ahead and submitted what I had in mind as an entry for the contest. This entry (shown below) will appear on the UniWatch blog on Thursday:

There are four major differences between my concept and the current Tigers' road jerseys:

  • The number one thing I wanted is to have was "Detroit" in Old English. Last time I checked, one of the most distinctive things about the Tigers throughout their history is the Old English D. Not the cursive D. The Old English D is basically the Tigers' primary logo now. So why not have "Detroit" in Old English as well?

  • I also wanted "Detroit" and the numbers to be outlined in orange, and only orange (as they were on the 1972-1993 road jerseys). I've always considered the white outlining you see on today's Tigers road jerseys to be unnecessary and excessive.

  • The feature I put on the jerseys that I imagine would bring about the most debate from fans is the uniform number on the right sleeve. Let me explain why I put it there instead of on the front. Looking at Tiger uniforms of the past, I noticed that the road jerseys of the 1961-1971 Tigers teams had numbers on the right sleeve. During those years, the Tigers produced two 100-win seasons, four second-place finishes, one World Series title and seven seasons in which they won 88 games or more. I brought that feature back back as a tribute to those teams, which featured such notably players as Hall of Famer Al Kaline, Willie Horton, Bill Freehan and Mickey Lolich. Also, sleeve numbers are such an unusual quirk for a baseball jersey (indeed, only one Major League team, the Philadelphia Phillies, uses sleeve numbers today).

  • I added a logo on the left sleeve. It's not my creation--it's derived from this logo the Tigers used in 2005 to promote that year's MLB All-Star Game. When I first saw it five years ago, I thought, why not use that super-fierce-looking tiger in a new logo (instead of let it fade into obscurity)? It doesn't have to be the primary logo per se (the Old English D works just fine in that regard), but you have to admit, it is an eye-popping modernization of this logo the Tigers used from 1961 to 1993. Heck, they're both bold blue circles with tigers in them--below is a side-by-side comparison.
Bottom line, I really like how my design turned out, and I hope you do as well. I invite you to take this survey I put together so you can tell me what you think about it. I thank you in advance for your time.

As it happens, two other guys submitted their own Tiger road jersey concepts (thankfully, no one dared mess with the home uniforms).

  • Harry Mathews submitted this, which looks like the home uniform dunked in gray dye; it's simple but dull (the road jersey really needs the orange outlining and this version doesn't have any of it).
  • "RC" created one that takes design elements from the uniforms of Detroit's Negro League team, the Stars. The "Detroit" with the star over the "i" comes from the Stars' road jersey; the pinstripes and the blue part in the middle from the Stars' home jersey. The Tiger head comes from the Tigers' 1927 road jerseys. The idea of using a Negro League team jersey as the basis for an MLB jersey is intriguing (no MLB team has ever done so to my knowledge). But there's just too much stuff on the front, especially with the tiger's head (I would have moved that to one of the sleeves). Also, no Tiger jersey has had pinstripes on it since 1927, and since I hate the Yankees, pinstripes go about as well on a Tiger uniform as bacon does on ice cream.

P.S. For the record, I would never mess with the Tigers' home jersey.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Volume 5, Number 21: Insidious (or, Diet Soda Reviews, Part II)

I've figured out which diet sodas to buy without resorting to taste-testing every one in a lengthy, relatively expensive trial-and-error process, as I thought I would have to. Further review of the ingredients on the ones I already reviewed in Volume 5, Number 19 revealed a key finding that previously had not occurred to me.

Evidently, over the last decade or so, most diet sodas have been using a blend of two sweeteners--aspartame is still the primary sweetener, but acesulfame potassium (also known as Ace-K) is added as a secondary sweetener. The Wikipedia article on Ace-K says that this blend supposedly allows each sweetener to mask the other's aftertaste.

"Supposedly"? Based on my recent experiences with diet sodas, I believe it, regardless of whether's it's really true or not. All the diet sodas I rated at three or more stars used the aspartame/Ace-K blend (although I don't know if Fresca had switched to that blend before or after the last time I drank it--if I liked it without the Ace-K, I'll like it even more now). All the ones I rated at less than three stars used only aspartame. (All of Faygo's diet sodas use only aspartame--a total shame because one thing I love about Faygo is its variety of flavors.)

Moral of the story: I need to read the ingredients first before I buy any diet soda.

Diet Canada Dry Ginger Ale, Diet Sunkist Orange, Cherry Coke Zero, Pepsi Max and Diet Pepsi with Lime have all gained the "thumbs up" from me as the result of using the aspartame/Ace-K blend instead of just the aspartame. I would buy any of those again, but out of this group, I liked Diet Sunkist Orange the best, perhaps because the orange flavor in it was the strongest (and thus mitigated the aftertaste better than the others). (But just in case you wanted to know, Diet A&W Root Beer is still the Diet Soda Federation World Champion.)

It was after drinking the Diet Sunkist that I got to thinking, Could I be getting used to the aftertaste? My mother told me that she could never switch back to the regular stuff because she found that it tasted too "syrupy." So I asked my Facebook friends about it, and two of them said that yes, they got used to it and couldn't drink regular soda again afterwards. Maybe that's happening to me as well.

It all reminded me of a scene from a 1995 episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in which one alien (Quark, the Ferengi bartender) introduces another alien (Garak, the Cardassian tailor/spy) to a human drink (root beer). Garak reluctantly takes a sip and says, "It's vile!" Quark says, "I know... But do you know what's really frightening? If you drink enough of it, you begin to like it." Garak responds, "It's insidious."

You can find an MP3 file of the root beer scene here.
Video can be found on YouTube as well here. (The root beer scene starts at the 1:50 mark of the video.)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Volume 5, Number 20: What You Leave Behind

In light of the terrible events that unfolded on the night of August 17, 2010 in West Bloomfield, I thought I should revisit two themes: The want to appear richer and more successful than one really is, and the reality of how people will be remembered.

There are people in this small world who want to establish and maintain the appearance of being richer and more successful than their peers. Ellery Bennett was one of them. A pharmaceutical sales representative for 15 years--and that's got to be a very good job considering how well pills sell themselves these days--Bennett gave up that job to pursue a handful of "get-rich-quick" ventures. His Facebook wall includes photos from a trip he took to this year's Kentucky Derby; his YouTube account has videos of him vacationing in Hawaii and the Bahamas.

Or, rather, he appeared to be able to afford those trips and that McMansion in West Bloomfield.

What he really did, starting in 2007, was take out a huge (reportedly $400,000) loan to finance those trips and those failed pipe dreams. His wife filed for divorce on August 11; less than a week later, he stabbed her four times, stabbed himself in an apparent suicide attempt, then left behind her body and a suicide note as he drove off to the hospital in her car.

In an April 2008 blog entry, I mentioned two other people who felt that they were under pressure to at least appear to be doing well: Steven Sueppel, the Iowa City bank executive who resorted to embezzling money from his own employer; and Michael Waleskowski, the Waterford, Michigan cop who had repeatedly paid off his credit card debt by rolling it into his mortgage, then found himself short of money to pay a tax bill so he tried to steal some money from a drunken driving suspect. Both cases resulted in multiple murder-suicides as both men killed their families, then themselves. I said at that time, "Greed, ego-centrism and 'status anxiety' led to the destruction of the Seuppel and Waleskowski families," and it has led to the death of woman and the scarring of yet another family.

We as a people are so compelled to measure ourselves against each other, and compete against each other, and decide, this guy's got a McMansion, he must be more successful; that guy's got a Lexus or a BMW, he must be better off. But there comes a time when we need to leave well enough alone. Impressing our friends shouldn't come from material gain or wealth, and it especially shouldn't come at the expense of one's future.

Besides, nobody at a funeral ever says of a rich, successful person, "He got to take all those trips and drive all those expensive cars and had this huge house."

Instead, we need to remember that we never get a second chance to leave a good final impression. Ellery Bennett, a Northwestern-educated man who had a very good job and could have left well enough alone, will not be remembered that way. He will be remembered as a usurer, a liar and a murderer, and (in all likelihood) he will spend the rest of his life in prison.

Now, if you have that BMW or that nice, big house, that's great. Congratulations. But no matter what, you will be remembered, not by what you have, but what you leave behind.

My April 2008 blog entry also references a column by Mitch Albom. That column was published in the Detroit Free Press on January 14, 1990, and it appears below in its entirety.


I never got much out of reading Thoreau. Maybe because I read him in high school. An urban teenager doesn't exactly fall for a guy who moves to the woods and talks to squirrels.

I do, however, remember one line he wrote. It struck me when I read it and it has stayed with me all these years: "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."

What did he mean by that, I wondered? Did grown-ups really have it so tough? Quiet desperation? Such contrasting words. Like "dying hope." Or "deafening silence."

Or "I didn't mean to hurt my babies."

That last sentence has been in my brain since I read it in the police statement of a 29-year-old tire store manager named Lawrence DeLisle. Five months ago, on a warm summer night, DeLisle allegedly slammed his foot on the gas pedal and drove his station wagon - with his wife and four children inside - smack into the Detroit River. The adults escaped; they swam to the surface, gasping for air. The children drowned.

It was originally deemed a tragic accident. But a week later, in a rambling and confused conversation with a police investigator, DeLisle suggested he might have been trying to kill everyone in that car - including himself. The reasons he gave were 1) the suicide of his father, something few of us have had to endure, and 2) the pressure from work, bills, children and a wife - things many of us endure every day.

It is the latter that haunts me. Could life become so intolerable that you might think of ending it like that, in a river, the water rising, no way out?

"I didn't mean to hurt my babies."

Quiet desperation.

Chances are you read the transcriptions of the Delisle tapes. Were you shocked? How could you not be? The horror. The senseless death. Here were four beautiful kids - they had just stopped at McDonald's - and now they were at the bottom of a river.

We may never know the true story. Even DeLisle's statements - in which he said, "I don't even want to go to trial. Just lock me away" - were ruled inadmissible in his trial because of the interrogation methods used by police. (That ruling has been appealed.) Just the same, what disturbed me most was not DeLisle's gruesome account of the incident, or his alleged attempt to kill his family by leaving a candle near a leaking gas pipe.

What got me were exchanges such as these:

Police: What were you thinking about?
DeLisle: Peace ...
Police: What were you thinking about?
DeLisle: Not having to pay bills every week ...
Police: At the time you wanted to be rid of everybody, didn't you?
DeLisle: I just want it to be over ... the constant repetition. Same thing day after day.

Is it possible that everyday pressures - a thankless job, credit card debts, sexual friction with a spouse - could push a man to such an unforgivable act? Can "normal" life be so awful? We distance ourselves from killers by believing they are sick creatures, out of the ordinary. What frightens me is how ordinary some of DeLisle's pressures were.

And not just him. We read today of how a man in Boston may have murdered his pregnant wife, in part because the baby would have interfered with his career. We hear of children murdering parents for inheritance money, because their jobs don't pay their bills. Horrifying. DeLisle said he loved his wife, he loved his children. He also said he sometimes wanted to escape them all.

Quiet desperation.

How many more Lawrence DeLisles are out there? Who knows? He could be a lone troubled man or one of an army of walking time bombs. In eight years of reporting, I have learned this much: We never know what is going on inside the heads of the people next to us. Not even if we live with them, eat with them, work with them.

We never know. People bury their darkest thoughts; they appear perfectly normal. But inside, private demons - such as DeLisle's memory of his suicidal father - can chew at the heart, making the most simple parts of life seem too burdensome, and the most unthinkable solutions somehow appealing.

So we have men driving into rivers and parents selling babies and husbands injecting wives with poison to rid themselves of things such as debt or marital problems.

And we can only draw this conclusion: Perhaps surviving everyday life is more noble than we think. Perhaps we should ignore sports stars and actors and celebrate instead the husband or wife with two jobs and no bank account who still has time to hug the kids.

God knows not everyone is making out that well. "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." OK, Thoreau. I get it now.

It scares the hell out of me.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Volume 5, Number 19: Diet Soda Reviews, Part 1

I started drinking diet sodas earlier this week after 28 years of drinking regular soda, the main reason being that I had been consuming way too many carbohydrates (which apparently can only be burned with exercise, which I don't do enough of; and/or a faster metabolism, which I no longer have).

I had dreaded the switch to diet because the artificial sweetener used in many diet sodas for the last 30 years, aspartame (aka NutraSweet), leaves an aftertaste that I don't like.

Another reason I would have called such a change unthinkable in 1982: At that time, diet sodas were generally marketed to women (examples: Tab, the Coca-Cola Company's first diet cola, came in a PINK can; also check out this Diet Pepsi commercial). My father was still drinking regular sodas even though he was diagnosed with Type II diabetes in 1980 and may have had the disease even before then (he did switch to diet a few years later). My mother did drink diet colas and she was the only woman in the family (I have no sisters). Between all that, I managed to hardwire it into my mind that since women tend to be more diet-conscious and appearance-conscious than men, that diet sodas were NOT for men (it might also help explain why my father continued to drink regular sodas even after learning he had diabetes).

Some 28 years later, however, I saw a picture a friend took of me as I was on July 31, and I finally saw what I refused to see in my own mirror: An overweight, out-of-shape man at risk of getting Type II diabetes himself. As the result of that experience, I've hardwired totally different thoughts into my mind:
  • I can't expect to lose weight while still drinking regular soda
  • I shouldn't be taking on empty calories every time I'm thirsty
  • I'd rather drink diet soda than ever have to inject insulin.
In case there's anyone else like me who is about to switch to diet sodas, I'm going to publish a series of super-short reviews of such sodas. The first two in this blog entry, I bought this past week:

Diet A&W Root Beer: ⋆⋆⋆⋆ The aftertaste of the aspartame seems to blend well with the aftertaste of the root beer. I'll buy this one again.

Faygo Diet Redpop: ⋆⋆½ Faygo is a Michigan-based company that produces sodas in a number of flavors I like, one of which is Redpop (a strawberry-flavored soda). Diet Redpop, however, I'm not so crazy about--the more I drank it, the less I liked its aftertaste.

These next three, I've had in the past whenever there was no regular soda, and I haven't had them since so I don't know if they've improved, but since they still use aspartame, I doubt that they have:

Fresca: ⋆⋆⋆ I love grapefruit-flavored sodas and Fresca is a big reason why. I remember having a can of it back in the late '70s. But I stop short of giving Fresca four stars because today's formula has gosh-forsaken aspartame (it tasted better back in the '70s because it had saccharin at that time). Darnit, someone at the Coca-Cola Company has got to bring back the old one and call it "Fresca Throwback" or "Fresca '77" or "Disco Fresca" or something like that!

Diet Pepsi (I can't get that jingle from that late '70s/early '80s commercial out of my head): ⋆⋆ The taste is all right but the aftertaste means I'm unlikely to buy it in the near future. I'll try Pepsi One and Pepsi Max before I try Diet Pepsi again.

Diet Coke: ⋆ Diet Coke is vile. Given that I prefer regular Coke over regular Pepsi, it may initially surprise you that I said that. But Diet Coke's formula has never been based on regular Coke. In fact, it's more closely related to the "new Coke" that came out in the spring of 1985 (and bombed so badly that the Coca-Cola Company brought back the "classic Coke" less than three months later); that "new Coke" was essentially a high fructose corn syrup-sweetened version of Diet Coke.

Coming soon in a future blog entry: Diet Canada Dry Ginger Ale, Diet Sunkist, Pepsi One and Pepsi Max

Update on that healthy foods fund: It's now up to $7.30 (that's the money I've avoided spending on roody poo junk food so far). I haven't spent any of it yet.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Volume 5, Number 18: Introducing Mark's Healthy Foods Fund

I have come up with a new idea that I hope will help improve my health.

You see, for ten years now, I freely bought all sorts of junk food (chips, cookies, ice cream, candy bars, pre-sweetened cereals, Pop-Tarts and so on), and that's on top of the soda I drink. During those ten years, I have put a higher priority on keeping my food bill low (read: buy foods that are on sale and for which I have a coupon, regardless of how good for me those foods really are). Ten years ago, I was relatively skinny and thought I could get away with it.

But I didn't.

The end result is that my weight has ballooned to 191 pounds.

That wouldn't be such a problem if I was 6 feet tall, but I'm just 5'7".

And it dawned on me, every time I bought junk food, yeah, I satisfied my inner child; unfortunately, my metabolism doesn't work like it does when I was a child. Not even close.

To that end, here's my idea, in three steps:
  • First, I will stop buying regular soda, junk food, and pre-sweetened cereals. I'll still use what I bought last month--looks like the last regular soda I ever bought is a 2-liter bottle of Pepsi Throwback--but after I'm done with it, THAT'S IT. All I've been doing by buying that stuff is basically turn money into flab (like this poor guy in this New York City Department of Health TV ad) and I've become sick of it.
  • Second, begin keeping a log of junk food purchases I will not make so I know just how much money I am saving by not buying them. (For example, under my old ways, I was going to spend $1.19 on a bag of those new Pretzel M&M's this week--but now I'm NOT going to do that so now that's $1.19 I've saved. Next time I see a kick-butt special on ice cream, instead of buying it, I will make a note of how much I would have spent on it and put that in the log. The money saved will hereby be called Mark's Healthy Foods Fund.
  • Third, spend the money saved in the second step on healthy foods I've previously been not buying enough of--fruits and vegetables I like (apples, oranges, grapefruit), meats (beef, pork, chicken), fish, maybe a bottle of multi-vitamins... That $1.19 alone can go a long way towards that end.
Well, that's the strategy. My plan is to lose some weight in time for my high school class' 20-year reunion (it's less than four months away), and hopefully after that, I will have developed enough good habits to make me feel better and extend my life.