2008 Year in Photos - Part 1

One way I like to recap the year is a photo review of the events and cool places I got to see in 2008. I'm no globetrotter, but I do my best to participate in a wide variety of industry events. This goes a long way to keep me current and connected to a whole lot of interesting companies that are leading the way in IP communications. I also love photography, and try to live in the moment with whatever camera I've got.

This summarizes my travels in the first half of the year, and tomorrow I'll do the second half.

CBC's Test the Nation, Toronto, January

What a fun way to start the year. Test the Nation is a national quiz show on CBC TV, and is based on teams from various walks of life. I was invited to be on the Blogger team, and we were up against ths likes of Chefs, Pilots, Taxi drivers, and... Celebrity Look Alikes! Definitely the best perk I've had as a blogger.

The celeb look-alikes were better looking than the bloggers, but were the top team in the end. Got more pix like this in my original post.

Not only did we win as a team, but fellow blogger Rick Spence came away with the top personal score among all the contestants. Whoo hoo.

TMC's IT Expo, Miami Beach, January

Can't think of a better place to be in the dead of winter. The big giveaway prize was this red Mustang, and it sure helped bring traffic on to the show floor.

Jeff Pulver's Social Media Breakfast, Toronto, March

Jeff's never-ending world tour of social media breakfasts made a well-received visit to my town at our local deli. Definitely the shortest commute I've had outside of my home office.

eComm 2008, San Jose, March

Probably the most important event I attended all year, and it should be even better in 2009.

Above: Lee Dryburgh, me - moderating the wireless panel, Truphone's James Body helping my son Max unlock his iPhone, just bought that morning from the local Apple store

Dimension Data Analyst Day, Boston, April

Dialogic Analyst Day, New York

Really enjoyed this event, but the camera in my Nokia phone had a major meltdown, and I have no photos from the sessions. The personal highlight for me, though, was the Yankee Stadium tour they gave us. What a fantastic experience, especially for Red Sox fan like me. I was able to salvage a few shots from the tour, and here's one. You can view a bunch more on my original post.

IT360 Conference, Toronto, April

Canadian telecom conferences are few and far between, and generally smaller than U.S. events. This was one of the bigger ones, and I had my hands full chairing the tracks on Unified Communications.

MetaSwitch Forum, New Orleans, April

April was my busiest month in 2008, and the MetaSwitch Forum was the most fun. They always put on a great event, and the setting made it so enjoyable. Got plenty more photos of N'awlins if you're into virtual tourism on my original posts - view them here and here.

Above: Andy Randall, the amazing Mardi Gras World, a taste of the French Quarter

Nortel Analyst Day, Ottawa, May

I was one of only 3 analysts/media attending this event, and we got a very sneak preview at some things that Nortel had not previously shared with the public. It was quite the day, and you can read/see more about it on my original post. Things haven't gone too well for Nortel since, but they do have some cool technology that is going to find its way to your desktop sooner or later.

Above: Project Chainsaw demo, Telepresence demo

Cisco Channel Showcase, Toronto, May

Do You Believe in Miracles?

I do, and I saw one last night.

Either you saw the game or you didn't, so I'm not going re-hash what happened. All I know is that was the greatest comeback game I've ever seen, and that's saying something considering how high the Sox have set the bar with their ever-familiar Lazarus scenarios.

Just as expected, Dice-K was getting touched - and the Rays continued to do absolutely everything right. It's not like they were lucky or catching all the breaks - just like the ChiSox did in their series against the BoSox in 2005. No. They were just flat-out playing and executing better than us in every facet of the game. It really was hard to see how this could be anything but a humiliating sweep at home by a team with incredible potential.

That all changed when Ortiz hit his home run. The big swing we've been missing all series long. Just like Drew's grand slam last year. Finally, after looking so lame and overmatched, it all changed. It's the same team, the same players, but just like that, the momentum has shifted. For the first time in the series, there's a ball that Upton doesn't get to, then Longoria makes a rushed throwing error, keeping the ninth alive. You know the rest of the story, and here we go again.

It's one thing when you win an elimination game that's close all the way through. You know then you have a bit of chance to live another day. It's better when you win a blowout game to totally turn the tables and grab the momentum. But nothing tops a big-time comeback like this, especially after it looked totally over when our stopper, Papelbon, gives up 2 more runs in the 7th. What could we possibly have left with just 9 outs to go? Well, plenty.

We live to play later in the season than Manny did, and more importantly, we've got the mojo, baby. That's what really matters. We took it away from Tampa Bay, if you believe in things like this, you just know Beckett and Lester will do their thing this weekend. The mark of a champion team is coming back to win when you're left for dead, and with the Rays showing signs of weakness and finally making some mistakes, it's ours to win now. Isn't sports great?

This is one of those times where I'm happy to be wrong, and it's a whole new ball game now. Looks like my Boston trip will be more than just attending Avaya's conference. Sox in seven.

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Next Stop Boston - But Not What You Think

Early last night, with a full moon beaming out there, it looked like the stars were lining up nicely. I'm going to be in Boston next week for Avaya's global analyst conference, which is the news item in this post.

I last attended their global analyst event in 2006, but a lot has changed since then. Am not sure why I didn't go last year, but I did attend their Canadian Analyst Day last December here in Toronto.

I'm really looking forward to attending, with two reasons standing out in particular. First, they're a private company now, so these events become more important for staying informed and getting insights as to how they're doing as well as their strategic roadmap.

Second is seeing Charlie Giancarlo at the helm - which a year ago would seem about as improbable as seeing Carl Ford moderating at the IT Expo last month. That sure will be interesting - so will the flip side of things, when I attend Cisco C-Scape in December. Oh, and speaking of improbabilities...

Back to the stars lining up. Going into last night's game, there was reason to believe for the Red Sox. Wakefield would stymie the Rays, the bats would come alive, and they'd put the 9-1 embarrassment behind them. Clean slate - series tied 2-2, good momentum going into Game 5, and a chance to regain control over those "pesky Rays". Quick aside - I promise never to use that term any more. Johnny Pesky's number was just retired, but more troubling is the fact that it simply isnt' true any more. Ugh.

Well, that train of thought got derailed about 10 minutes into the game, and the beating was even worse than Game 3. Boy, do the Rays ever look good - just pick any "team of destiny" moniker from any major sport, and they fit the bill. Pretty hard to see them not going all the way. I love what the Phillies are doing, but how can they possibly match the Rays? They have dominated the Red Sox in every facet of the game, and they sure have youth on their side. In contrast, the Sox sure look tired and broken down. And awfully white. In this day and age, they really look like a throwback to the fifties, when there was hardly any racial diversity in the game. They sure could use a Carl Crawford or B.J. Upton. These guys are g-o-o-d.

I digress. Sure, they could eke out a 2-1 pitcher's duel with Dice-K tomorrow, and go to the Trop with a faint ray of hope. Sure, pull out another miracle like last year with Cleveland or the Yankees in 2004. Not gonna happen - even if Lester and Beckett pitch well. Last year they were clearly the best team in baseball from Day 1. They had home advantage and could win on the road. Gee, that sure sounds like the 2008 Rays to me.

This time the opposite is true. No way they can win 2 big ones on the road against the best team in baseball. Last year they had Manny and Lowell leading the offence. I don't care how good Bay is - he's not Manny. Unless Ortiz, Ellsbury, Drew, Kotsay and Lowrie wake up and take the weight off Youklis and Pedroia, it's over in 5, and Dice-K's luck will run out big time. Of course, you can still believe in miracles, but I think we're seeing a changing of the guard here.

So, had the stars lined up as I was hoping, the Avaya conference would have coincided with the beginning of the World Series. And should the Sox advance, they would open at home thanks to another AL All Star win this summer. Last year I was in Boston when they won the World Series, which was just great. This time around, it sure looks like I'm just going to be attending a conference, and casually watching the Patriots struggle to generate some offence against Denver Monday night. Oh, what could have been...

And just to tie this post up nicely, there are some notable parallels to Avaya and the Red Sox. Though not by design, Avaya's corporate color is a bold red, just like the Sox. They're also a long time team sponsor, and believe it or not, Avaya provides the telephony infrastructure to the Red Sox organization. Bet you didn't think there was a VoIP angle to this story, huh? How's that for convergence? There, I've covered all the bases now, and it's time to get my mind off of baseball...

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Vacation Time - Back August 7

Gotta take a break every so often, and it's time now. We're off on a driving trip for a few days through New York state, with the first stop being Cooperstown. It's just part of the great American sports experience, and we're looking forward to going back.

We went there in 2007, and I did a full posting about that visit here. If you're a baseball fan I think you'll enjoy that. Having done the full treatment then, I don't plan on doing another big post this time around.

That said, I'll be off the blogs, and pretty much off everything until we get back August 7. If you really need to reach me, email is the way to go.

Red Sox: Mid-Season Thoughts - Tampa Who?

Well, it's Canada Day - whoo hoo! Am just getting this post done and then off for the day to enjoy our birthday.

What could be more appropriate than navel-gazing about my Red Sox? I dunno. Well, I planned to post this before the Tampa series in anticipation of a W last night - which would have put us back in first place. That's a much better vantage point for reflecting on the season so far, but come to think of it - now that we're 1.5 games out of first - this is a more appropriate place since 2008 has not been the walk in the park we had in 2007.

So, what's different this year? The team's record is about the same as last year at this point, but in 2007, the Yankees were all but buried and we were miles ahead in first. We were 10.5 games ahead of everyone a year ago today! Hmmm.

A few items from last night's loss go a long way to explaining why the Sox have been losing games they should be winning...

- giving up LOTS of walks and runs with 2 outs

- Chris Smith loading the bases in the 8th on 12 pitches - wow

- the Tampa Bay crowd cheering more loudly for the Rays than the Sox - when was the last time that happened?

- Lugo coming up with tying run at 3rd in the 9th with 2 outs - gee, just the guy you want. Actually Sean Casey was going to pinch hit, but the plans changed. To Lugo's credit, he ran the count full, but, well - clutch hitting isn't quite his thing...

- as a team, they continue to struggle on the road - at this time last year, they actually had more road wins than at home

- the offence waiting too late in the game to wake up - yet again, they almost pulled it out in the dying moments, but those get to be long odds when you're playing with a less-than-full lineup

- losing yet another 1 run game - 3rd loss in a row by a run

Overall, though, the Sox are in pretty good shape, but there's more competition this year. They were so-so for interleague play, compared to last year when they were dominant. As usual, they live and die as a team. When they're all hitting, the Sox are the best team in baseball. But there are lots of nights when they look very ordinary and nobody can hit the ball. Lately, they've been sitting quiet until the late innings, but that's not the way to win over a long season.

Anyhow, there are lots of bright spots to build our hopes for repeating upon....

- Dice K seems to be a bona fide top starter. He's been more effective this year, while Beckett has not gotten run support. Their respective records are basically the reverse of last year, where Beckett was pretty much unbeatbable. Dice K seems to have a knack of pitching poorly but not giving up runs, but in the crunch, I'd still go with Beckett.

- Dustin the Destroyah has been the hottest hitter in baseball lately and is finally hitting a great stride - they really need that

- Manny, Youklis and Lowell are all a bit off from last year, but still being very productive, esp without Ortiz

- JD Drew is no longer JD Who - looks like he's gotten himself together and made the adjustments to AL pitching. No doubt he's been the biggest turnaround for the Sox and that's a must-have with Papi being out of service for the foreseeable future.

- the bench is bit deeper this year - a bit like the Celtics - but still could be stronger. Sean Casey is a great addition, for both his bat and glove.

- starting rotation has great balance between experience and youth as well as types of pitchers. They've adapted very well without Schilling, and I don't think he'll be back. I think the starters were more effective as a group last year, but this battery is only going to get better as the young guys mature. I think Lester is for real, but Bucholz and of course Masterson are still a year away.

- Bartolo Colon is another great dark horse move, and he could turn out to be very valuable down the stretch. I would love to see him be switched out into a middle/late inning reliever - that's where the Sox are weakest and could really use his strong arm.

So, what's not to like? A few things...

- Lugo. Did I say Lugo? In case you missed it - Lugo. Why is it when they acquire NL shortstops they bomb here, but then they blossom again on their next teams? Renteria and Cabrera come to mind here. Lugo - I expected more from him - we all did. We can live with a weak bat in this lineup, but not when his defence is this bad. This would be my #1 priority for making a move. They really have no other notable holes in the lineup.

- Timlin - love the guy, but I really think Mike's time is up. He has been completely ineffective and don't see how this will change. Maybe his DL stint is the answer - we'll see. I'd love to see him pitch well again, but am not optimistic.

- Okijama - not so ok dokey. I can't tell if hitters have finally figured him out, or if he's lacking confidence. He's been a real liability lately, allowing almost all his runners to score. That's been costing us games we would have won last year.

- Ellsbury - a great talent, no doubt. Don't think the Sox have ever had a package like this, and he's definitely earning his keep running the bases. Problem is his lack of hitting and getting on base. Like Johnny Damon, his primary value is being the dangerous leadoff hitter. When he gets on base, things happen and the offence really flows from there. I'll still take him over Crisp any day, and of course he'll only improve with time. But for now, he's not being the leadoff guy they need to have those big innings to blow teams out.

- The Captain has got to be a concern. Defensively, Varitek has no peer in baseball, but his bat speed is gone. He will get the occasional clutch hit, but he's now more like a .240 hitter. Together with Lugo and the light-hitting Crisp, this makes for a fairly weak bottom third of the order. He may only have 2 or 3 decent years left, and replacing him has got to be a top concern for Mr. Epstein.

- Manny - his numbers are respectable, and he's finally got the 500 homer monkey off his back. He's not getting the clutch hits, though, and he's striking out more than he used to. And his behavior lately has been odd and worrisome to say the least. Not sure if Papi's absence is putting more pressure on him to be the Man, but I sense that not all is right in Manny Land. Maybe he's thinking too much about his contract???

- Middle/late relief corps has been the team's Achilles Heel without a doubt. Virtually all the games they're losing are unravelling in the 7th and 8th innings. They just don't have a reliable bridge to hold the lead for Papelbon. This was a real strength last year, esp with Oki being so solid in the 8th as a setup for Pap to close out the 9th. They don't have that 1-2 punch this year, and the guys leading up to Oki have been very inconsistent. Guys like Aardsma, Delcarmen, Lopez - they all have struggled. They'll have good runs, but some real crappy runs. Rarely lights-out. So, unless the Sox have a fat lead - which hasn't been the case very much this year - come the 7th inning, all bets are off.

- Papelbon - last year he was The Guy, but this year he's just elite. I still think he's the best, but the Sox have needed to use him more often this year, and that takes its toll. He has been mortal this year, giving up hits and runs where last year this hardly ever happened at all. Am not sure why, but I'd have to say he's a notch or two below 2007. Still very, very good, but not a sure thing, at least so far.

I think I'll stop now. Wakefield pitches tonight - could go either way with him. They would so love to win these next 2 and leave Tampa Bay back in first place, and then head into Yankee Stadium for what could be a crucial series. This road trip is a huge test for the Sox, and the next 6 games will go a long way to setting the stage for the stretch run. If things go well, they'll return home in first place with the Yankees at a safe distance. If the pitching and hitting collapses and there's another Massacre in NY, we could be looking at a 3 horse race by Monday. Nervous? Uh huh. Papi - please get better soon!

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