"Madame, bear in mind That princes govern all things--save the wind." -Victor Hugo, The Infanta's Rose

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Fun with Fotos, part 2

I don't have anything particular to blog about today, so I thought I'd post a few funny photos I've collected over the last several weeks. This first one goes back more than a month, but I think these have got to be two of the best halloween costumes I've ever seen:

Does anyone else see Jesus in this spilled coffee?

One thing you gotta say about Rednecks, they are resourceful. Just because you don't have an auto lift handy shouldn't stop you from working on the underside of your pickup truck:

Do you think this is a "gay" cruise ship?

Grandpa went fishing and caught a big one, but forgot to put away his worm:

It's shocking that "forbidden Love" apparently exists in the animal kingdom as well as on TV soap operas:

And while we're on the subject of cats, I love this animated gif:

That's all for now -- watch for more Funny Fotos to become a regular feature of this blog!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Winter Wonderland?

In an earlier post just last week, I wrote: "It will be my turn to snicker when you have ten feet of snow on the ground and it's 20 below zero." Actually, I'm not chuckling at all, even though this has apparently come to pass much sooner than expected. From the Associated Press:
BISMARCK, N.D. - Broad areas of the Dakotas remained shut down Tuesday by the Plains' first blizzard of the season, with highways closed by blowing, drifting snow and thousands of people without electricity as temperatures hit the low teens.

Five deaths had been blamed on slippery roads in Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas. Travelers trying to get home after Thanksgiving had been stranded in hotels, truck stops and churches across the Plains.

The storm was heading toward the Great Lakes on Tuesday after dumping snow as far south as the Texas Panhandle. Utility officials estimated that 50,000 customers were blacked out across eastern South Dakota on Tuesday, and many communities in North Dakota also had no electricity. The morning's low at Grand Forks, N.D., was 14 degrees. Power companies in North Dakota said it could take days to restore power because the storm tore down major transmission lines.

Interstate 94 remained shut Tuesday by poor visibility and icy pavement for about 100 miles across eastern North Dakota from Fargo to Jamestown, and I-29 was barricaded from Fargo to Watertown, S.D., a stretch of about 140 miles. Numerous other highways also remained closed in the Dakotas, as well as eastern Colorado and northwest Kansas.
Here in S.E. Texas, it's in the upper 30's this morning which is considered pretty chilly for this area. We normally get "snow" -- by which I mean white flakes actually visible in mid-air -- about once every other year. Even then, it usually melts as soon as it hits the relatively warm ground. An actual accumulation, where outdoor objects are covered with a discernable white layer, occurs maybe every 5-10 years or so. What's interesting is how everyone here completely freaks out whenever this happens. "Snow! My God, will you look at it!" people say. "Call all the friends and relatives! Take pictures of it! We can throw snowballs! Wow, snow!" The local newspaper then features a front-page photo of some poor, deprived child who has never seen snow before in his life, building a snowman on his front lawn. We need to send these unfortunate disadvantaged children to North Dakota for a couple of weeks in January.

The worst part is drivers with no winter-weather experience attempting to navigate slickened roads. Accident rates soar as cars skid off the road or into each other all over town. With anything more than an inch or two, the entire area shuts down while people hunker in their homes trying to keep their pipes from bursting. Northerners must find this all very strange.

So anyway, today I'm sending my regards to folks up that way who may be able to read this after their power comes back on. I feel your pain. :^)

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Thanksgiving Photoblog

Back home again, with a bunch o'photos to show you. I must admit I'm a bit envious of people who post those wonderful pics of their kids, when the cutest things I usually have available to take pictures of are our cats. So, since I had some bona fide source material to work with last week, I went a little nuts. (Yes, I know ... I need to get out more often.)

Anyway, the slides are optomized for 1024x768 screen size, and a broadband connection is highly recommended, otherwise the images will take a little while to download. Hope you like 'em.

Click here to start the show.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Holiday Hiatus

I'll be taking some much-needed time away from the computer for a few days while Mrs. Toast and I spend Thanksgiving with the relatives. We plan to have the big traditional family turkey dinner, with apple pie and TV football later, and I'm sure a good time will be had by all. Even though it's a long 200-mile trip over there, I always enjoy visiting the folks. My brother-in-law Ray is a staunch conservative and Bush supporter; and as you might imagine with me being the bleeding-heart, tree-hugging liberal that I am, we can get into some spirited political discussions from time to time. But we're both very tolerant of each other's opinions even if we don't agree with them, so there's never any hard feelings. You can feel the love in the room, as they say.

There's so many things for me to be thankful for. Last year at this time, I wasn't even sure I'd still be alive today - so my recent encouraging medical news is definitely a blessing. We have a caring family, food on the table, a roof over our heads, and we're not in debt up to our eyeballs (only to about mid-knee level). Seriously, one can't ask for much more than that.

It seems like I'm feeling the spirit of Thanksgiving a bit more this year than in previous years. It might have something to do with the weather. After months of it being unseasonably warm here in Texas, it finally has chilled down into the 40's which feels decidedly fall-like. Yes, I can hear you folks up north howling with laughter as you read this. "Chilled?? 40???!!??", you're probably saying, "Hahahahaha!! That's like summer here!" Laugh while you can. It will be my turn to snicker when you have ten feet of snow on the ground and it's 20 below zero. Now I grew up in Massachusetts, so I am no stranger to snow and cold weather -- in fact the New England winters were one big reason why I moved south in the first place. Shoveling snow does not rank up there on my Top 10 List of fun things to do. But we get the other extreme down here; the thermometer hits the 100-degree mark sometime around late May, and more or less stays there until early November. During the summer, I pause at least once each day to pay silent homage to Willis Carrier, the inventor of air conditioning.

Anyway, I wanted to take this opportunity to wish anyone reading this a sincere "Happy Thanksgiving". I hope that y'all have a great and relaxing holiday, and will take time to give thanks for your own blessings.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The kitten lives!

Update to the domino-sparrow saga: as you can see, you guys came through for me and I am glad to say that the kitten has been released from hostage. I knew I could, er, "count" on you, pardon the pun.

For some reason, this story fascinates me. The outpouring of emotion over the death of one tiny bird has made international headlines, overshadowing the domino record-setting event itself. The program's producers took the unusual step of beginning the Friday night coverage with a tribute to the dead bird. "We will stand still for a moment in light of the events of the last week," a spokesperson said. "There was no other option than to eliminate the sparrow".

The TV show's creator, Robin Paul Weijers, said there were "mixed emotions" over the new record. "We all feel terrible abut what happened," he said. Hans Peeters of the Dutch Bird Protection Agency also appeared on the show and said that though it was a "very sad incident", it had "been blown out of all proportion". He concluded: "I just wish we could channel all this energy that went into one dead sparrow into saving the species."

Meanwhile, the hit count at the sparrow memorial page as of this writing, is now approaching 400,000. Incredible. Should you visit the page yourself, don't expect to get much out of it unless you speak Dutch - although some of the posts are in English. Interestingly, hackers managed to infiltrate the site and put explicit porn on it just before the weekend, but it was removed shortly afterwards.

While most visitors expressed great empathy for the bird, more than a few wondered what all the fuss was about. One man wrote: "What a bunch of poofters you all are. It was only a stupid bird. Go and do something useful with your lives instead of mourning for this bird. Get a life." Another more vocal critic wrote under the name "Birdman X" (and Brandi will love this):

Don't you people get it? This isn't about Dominoes, or world records, or even one Sparrow. It's about THEM, all those little insidious birds, trying to crush the Human Spirit. Can't you see? CAN'T YOU??? The suicide attack on the Domino world record is only the tip of the iceberg! Those sparrow bastards have been planning this for YEARS! Watching us, chirping away in their secret little meetings, crapping on our cars and on the statues of our heroes. Plotting, planning. Waiting. WAKE UP, PEOPLE OF THE WORLD! THE TIME IS AT HAND! THE SPARROWS ARE COMING! COMING TO GET US! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES, OR PICK UP AN AIR RIFLE AND FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT!

It's them or us. All fucking sparrows must fucking DIE!

Looks like I'm not alone in my conspiracy theory. For God's sake people, turn off your TV sets before it's too late!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Happy Domino Day! (uh, unless you love birds)

They're celebrating in The Netherlands as I write this, after setting a new world's record for the number of dominos tipped over in the classic chain-reaction style: 4,002,136 (revised total) tiles went down in a little over two hours during the "Domino Day" event held in the town of Leeuwarden in north Holland. It was broadcast live on Dutch and German television. (Update 11/20: click on the "Domino Day" link above for fascinating photos of the setup, which had the theme "Domino Theatre of Eternal Stories". You may be amazed at the scale of the event.)

"So what?", you say. Well, what makes this otherwise trivial tale somewhat interesting is what preceded it. As you might imagine, setting up 4.1 million dominos (very carefully, I might add) is a Herculean task, one that took over 100 volunteers nearly a month to accomplish. Last Monday, as the crew was putting finishing touches on the stack of tiles, a wayward sparrow flew into the FEC exhibition center and managed to start the party early. Around 23,000 dominos fell before frantic staff were able to activate safeguards that finally stopped the premature chain reaction. Efforts to catch the bird were unsuccessful, and an exterminator on site finally shot it dead with an air rifle as it was "cowering in a corner".

The resultant furor over the killing of the sparrow has turned this into one of the biggest news stories in Europe in recent days. Animal rights activists are outraged, and at least seven separate organizations are conducting investigations into the incident. The man who fired the fatal shot may be charged with a crime, as sparrows are an endangered and protected species in the Netherlands and a licence is required before killing one. He even received a number of death threats, prompting organizers to beef up security for the event. A Dutch DJ offered a reward of €3000 (about $3500 USD) to anyone who could, as a tribute to the bird, sneak in and topple the dominos before the record attempt, but the prize went unclaimed.

Despite all this, Domino Day came off Friday night without further snafu, and a place in the Guinness Book of World Records was secured.

But here's the kicker: earlier this week a web site was hastily erected in memorial to the unlucky sparrow. A sample of visitor comments --
"I am a great fan of the domino record series, but I will not attend the show. It is completely ridiculous to kill an innocent sparrow for the figures of the network." -- G. Koerselma, The Netherlands

"This was a disgusting reaction to the innocent and natural behavior of the bird. This domino nonsense should be destroyed, arrests made, and such record attempts need to end." -- Warren Snyder, USA

"I can say that I am truly outraged by the murder of this defenseless creature. It is a testament to how far we have sunk since Sept. 11, since when civil liberties have been under attack from those vicious war-mongering politicians. The politics of fear have once again claimed the life of an innocent individual. It is a dark day for democracy in the Netherlands." -- Tijme Brommet, Netherlands
I have to admit that the last quote puzzles me. While I do love animals, it's somewhat of a stretch to associate the death of one small bird, however unfortunate, with 9/11, "war-mongering politicians", the "politics of fear", and a "dark day for democracy". Hey, we're talking about dominos and a sparrow here people, not George Bush's Iraq policy. Nevertheless, that's still not what bothers me the most about this saga. No, what boggles my mind is the fact that this memorial web site for a single Passera Europea has, as of this writing, received over 200,000 hits! Holy crap -- my hit count since launching this blog nearly two months ago hasn't even cracked the 2K mark yet, and this page gets one-fifth of a million views in a matter of days.

The lesson here, then, is obvious: the most effective way to generate traffic to your site apparently is to kill some poor, defenseless creature. So with that in mind, let me say this:

IF I DON'T GET 10,000 HITS IN THE NEXT 48 HOURS, THE KITTEN GETS IT! I'll do it. Don't think I won't.

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Friday, November 18, 2005

PF Awareness Stamp

I won't do this very often, but today I'd like to ask readers of this blog to do me a favor. It will take a few minutes of your time and cost you 37 cents.

Public awareness of my disease, Pulmonary Fibrosis, is very low. Most people have never heard of it, and have no idea how it impacts the daily lives of those who have it. As a result, the search for an effective treatment - or perhaps even a cure - suffers, as PF research receives far fewer donations than other more well-known illnesses.

To help combat this lack of recognition, the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation is proposing that the US Postal Service issue a commemorative stamp to help raise the profile of PF among the general public. Such a stamp would join others that have boosted awareness of cancer, diabetes, organ donation and hospice care, such as the breast cancer stamp shown on the right. The USPS Stamp Advisory Committee receives tens of thousands of requests for stamps each year, and only considers "events and themes of widespread national appeal and significance." To demonstrate this widespread appeal, the PFF is asking it's members, friends, and anyone else who is interested to write to the Committee and urge them to issue the stamp. A postage stamp is a little thing, but everyone uses and sees it. It may lead someone to wonder if their shortness of breath could be Pulmonary Fibrosis, and get them to a doctor for a check-up. Very early detection and treatment of the disease can vastly improve chances of a better life with it.

I would like to also join in the grass-roots effort by promoting this idea on my blog, and by asking you to participate. Below is the text of a letter which you can either customize to your liking or use as-is. Simply cut and paste it into your word processor, print it, sign it and mail to the address indicated. For more information, click here.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart.



Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee
United States Postal Service
475 L’Enfant Plaza S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20260

Dear Members of the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee:

I am writing on behalf of the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation to ask you to consider issuing a postage stamp to raise awareness of this terrible disease, Pulmonary Fibrosis.

Pulmonary Fibrosis is not as well known to most people as many other diseases, but those who have been impacted by it call it a “merciless killer.” The disease affects 200,000 Americans, of which 40,000 die each year. This is roughly the same number that die from breast cancer. It is an incurable lung disease in which the air sacs of the lungs are gradually replaced by scar tissue. As the disease progresses, the increase in scar tissue interferes with the ability of the lungs to transfer oxygen to the blood stream. Breathing becomes increasingly difficult, and most patients lose their fight with this disease in two to five years.

The Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation was established in 2000 to help confront the many problems faced by those diagnosed with the disease. Its mission is:

1) To increase awareness of pulmonary fibrosis in both the medical community and the general public. This is important since early diagnosis and treatment may halt the disease's progression and increase the longevity of the patient. To add to the problem, the condition is often misdiagnosed as asthma, emphysema or one of the many forms of pneumonia.

2) To increase funding for research that will find a cure for pulmonary fibrosis. To date, the medical community has not been able to determine what causes it or how to cure this disease.

3) To provide support, hope and inspiration to the community of Pulmonary Fibrosis patients.

A U.S. postage stamp would be a major catalyst for raising awareness and stimulating dialogue at a national level. I hope that you will find one for Pulmonary Fibrosis compelling and important. Thank you for your consideration.




Thursday, November 17, 2005

Something for the guys

Happy HNT, everybody! Since Mrs. Toast has the digital camera at work today, I decided to dig deep in the archives and came up with this photo from our trip to Hawaii several years ago:

That's me in the center, surrounded by some lovely island scenery. I figure y'all are sick of seeing my ugly feet by now, so this should definitely be an improvement. Nice coconuts!


Boycott Sony!

If you've recently purchased a Sony/BMG compact disk and played it on your computer, you may have troublesome spyware installed on your PC. In addition, you may also be vulnerable to viruses and other hacker attacks as a result of Sony's controversial copy-protection software called XCP, which installs hidden files deep in PC users' Windows operating system. The malicious code on music CDs was discovered two weeks ago by Mark Russinovich at Winternals Software LLC. At least 50 releases are affected, including Trey Anastasio's “Shine”, Neil Diamond's “12 Songs”, Van Zant’s “Get Right With The Man”, and Celine Dion's "On Ne Change Pas". A complete list of titles and artists can be found here.

Among other things, the software tracks how many times the CD has been played and if any copies of it have been made, and secretly reports this information along with the user’s IP address back to Sony. It does this by installing what is called a “rootkit” onto your computer, which intercepts the principal system services that all programs and Windows itself rely on. Moreover, the rootkit runs in a “stealth” mode that makes it extremely difficult to detect and remove. Since the operating system is compromised, it’s easy for hackers to exploit; already a number of viruses taking advantage of this “back door” created by XCP have been unleashed on unsuspecting users.

Sony has provided a FAQ about the XCP technology, and has recalled the affected disks due to a firestorm of criticism from consumers and computer security experts, including Microsoft. They are also offering exchanges to anyone who bought any of the approximately 2.1 million disks that have been sold with the software, a move expected to cost millions of dollars. Estimates are that up to 500,000 PCs may be infected, and some lawsuits have already been filed.

Sony claims that “we deeply regret any inconvenience this may cause our customers, and we are committed to making the situation right”. While that sounds like a good PR response, the facts sadly reveal a company operating under the assumption that it's customers are criminals. Sony BMG released the disks containing XCP months ago, keeping it secret. Only now, two weeks after the code was discovered and complaints began to arise, has the company finally admitted responsibility. More significantly, Sony has only agreed to “temporarily” stop making CD’s containing XCP. Disregarding the damage already done, even if they completely pull the plug on this particular brand of offensive malware, they have no intention of becoming more benevolent in the future. Waiting in the wings is Sunncomm’s Mediamax, a digital-rights management tool that is less intrusive yet nevertheless accomplishes the same goal of restricting the ability of consumers to listen to music they have purchased in the way that they choose. Indeed, while acknowledging problems with XCP, Sony BMG is unrepentant, saying: "We stand by content-protection technology as an important tool to protect our intellectual property rights and those of our artists".

Much has been made of the recording industry's heavy-handed attempts to eliminate file sharing. Their tactics include subpoenaing ISP's to turn over the names of their customers, filing thousands of harassing lawsuits against individual alleged infringers (including young children), shutting down peer-to-peer services like Grokster, a massive PR campaign intended to make the public equate file sharing with "stealing", and now this. Let me see if I've got it straight: allowing consumers to swap music illegally is bad, but making it possible for hackers to illegally hijack your computer is just another average day in the record business.

This is, quite simply, bullshit. I do not condone piracy, but no company that sells any product has the right to take over my computer without my knowledge or permission. We are at a critical stage in the entire copy-protection controversy, and what happens now will set an important precedent for years to come. There is one way to send a message to the record companies and the RIAA that this sort of arrogant behavior will not be tolerated: boycott Sony. Not just CD’s, but all Sony products. If they have such little respect for their customers, they must be shown that they need those customers in order to survive.

More information: PC-World Magazine, Rolling Stone, The Register (UK), Wired Magazine, Information Week

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Things a man should know

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Captions from Esquire Magazine

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It's been suggested to me that most men will find the above funny, but most women will not - which ironically, serves to point out yet another difference between men and women. I believe we have a choice: we can seize on gender stereotypes to perpetuate an endless "war between the sexes", or we can embrace our differences and find humor and inspiration in them. This post attempts to do the latter. As always, your comments are welcome and appreciated.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Survey sez....

Since starting this blog, I've found myself calling on my long-lost web page design skills (or lack thereof) to tweak this page and its entries. Things have changed quite a bit since I last got my hands dirty with HTML, and elements like cascading style sheets and javascript - neither of which I have any experience with - are now normal fare. There are also all sorts of goodies such as hit counters, clocks, music videos, guest books, and surveys that can be included by the proper placement of a snippet of code into the basic blogger template.

I thought I would test one of these survey sites today by asking a geeky yet fundamental question about your preferences regarding the behavior of links to external sites. One of the enormous advantages of a blog, as opposed to reading something on a sheet of paper, is that a blog is dynamic and interactive. If I want to direct your attention to some cool web site I've found, all I have to say is "click here" and you can go right to it. But then I run the risk of losing you if you don't come back after visiting the linked page, either by using your browser's "back" button or by re-entering my site address. Another option is to open the page in a new window, like this. With this method, my page stays open in its original window, and a second page pops up with the linked content. Some people find this convenient, but others think it's arrogant. In their view, you make visitors come back not by forcing them to stay at your page, but by offering content that makes them want to come back.

So let's put it to a vote. What do you think, readers?

Web Link Poll
Do you prefer links to open a new web page?
Yes, open a link to an external site in a new window.
No, replace the current page in a single window.
I don't know what you're talking about, and/or I don't care.
View Result
Free Web Polls

Thanks! Results TBA.

Friday, November 11, 2005

He hath spoken, and he ith pithed

So I'm driving back home from lunch yesterday past the First Baptist Church, and almost swerve off the road when I see this sign out front:

Whoa. This is getting a little personal. OK, it's a joke - you can make your own church sign here - but for obvious reasons I've been thinking about the hereafter lately, and it's been disconcertingly inconclusive. I think I've lived a good life: I'm kind to little old ladies and stray animals, I'm honest, and I've never killed anyone. But sometimes I can't help but feel like I've still been a little too ... you know ... evil. I've had a couple of relationships that ended badly due to my own selfishness, and had my share of sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll. Although that was a very long time ago, even now I occasionally take guilty pleasure in TV shows and movies featuring scantily-clad women and things that Blow Up Real Good (in addition to more sophisticated fare, of course).

The consequences of this occurred to me the other day as I was reading a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, in which they found that television shows that include some form of sexual content are increasing. The number of scenes involving sex has nearly doubled since 1998, the study said, from 1,930 to 3,783. Predictably, the wingnuts on the right are frothing at the mouth over this. The Taste Police at the Parent's Television Council regularly rail about this sort of thing; this particular organization is responsible for a whopping 97% of all complaints to the FCC regarding "indecency" on TV, and were the driving force behind the over-hyped over-reaction to Janet Jackson's Super Bowl "wardrdobe malfunction". Shows like "Nip/Tuck" and "The O.C." give them hissy fits. But even moderates like Democratic up-and-comer Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois said he shares the concern of many parents about what their kids are exposed to on television.

"We don't teach our children that healthy relationships involve drunken, naked parties in a hot tub with strangers -- but that's what they see when they turn on The Real World," Obama said, citing a show on MTV.

Excuse me, but isn't that why it's called "The Real World"? People actually do such things. I understand concerns about children, but this is where "Parental Responsibility" comes into the picture. The viewer still has the ultimate tool to decide what is and isn't seen in their own home, and it's called the remote control. It has an "off" button.

I personally find nothing whatsoever wrong with the hot tub scenario above. In fact, it sounds like a lot of fun. This is why I'm going to hell.

So even though I'm not Catholic, I figured I'd visit the Online Confessional just to be safe, but this only served to worry me even more. There's a convenient drop-down menu of sins you can choose to confess to, including the Ten Commandments, the ever-popular Seven Deadly Sins, as well as Internal, Physical, and General sins. I seem to have enough transgressions under "general sins" alone to guarantee eternal damnation. When my number's up, I'll be sure and send a postcard. Although if Satan is as devious and clever as they say, Hell has wireless internet access (talk about your Hot Spot!) and I can just continue my blog from there.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

HNT Twofer

Oy, zuch a deal I've got for you: not just one but two hot bodies today...

I managed to talk Mrs. Toast into exposing herself (tastefully, of course) for the camera, and hope to coax her into more, er, compromising positions in future weeks. However, she insisted that I promise to edit the photo to not show her knees. Can someone explain the logic behind this for me? Do you other ladies have a "thing" about your knees? Ah, yet another mystery of the fairer sex. She didn't seem to mind revealing her blackened left big-toe nail -- the unfortunate result of an object being dropped on her foot -- although I'm certain she'll now be pissed at me for pointing this out to everyone. :^)

OK fellow bloggers, it's time to whip it out (your camera, that is) and post your own HNT pics. No more excuses!!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Embarassing stuff about me

Hat tip to Brandi for today's post inspiration:

Three Favorite Colors:
1. Blue
2. Earth tones
3. Sunset orange/violet

Three Truths About You:
1. I'm not as brave as I like people to think I am
2. I couldn't live without music
3. I can be somewhat of a perfectionist at times

Three Things You Want Really Badly:
1. A cure for Pulmonary Fibrosis (and other major illnesses)
2. World Peace - now
3. A purebred Birman cat

Three Things That Scare You:
1. Really big, ugly, hairy bugs, especially spiders
2. Walking into a pitch-dark room
3. Conservative Republicans

Three Everyday Essentials:
1. My oxygen concentrator
2. My laptop
3. Coffee

Three Favorite Songs at the Moment:
1. "World On Fire" by Sarah McLachlan
2. "Time Goes By" by Carrie Skipper
3. "Satellite" by Oceanlab

Three Things You Want in a Relationship:
1. To be able to talk about anything
2. Mutual trust and understanding
3. Lots of snogging!

Three Places You Would Love to Visit:
1. Spain, esp. Barcelona, Granada, Almunecar, & Balearic Islands (Ibiza!)
2. Buenos Aires and/or Rio de Janeiro
3. Australia

Three ways that you are stereotypically a dude/chick:
1. I never ask for directions (never get lost, so don't need to!)
2. I love pizza & beer
3. Beautiful blondes - oh, yeah! (before they all disappear)

Last Three People You Talked To:
1. Susan (my wife)
2. Peter (my friend in Mass.)
3. The U.P.S. Guy

Three Regrets:
1. Not having children
2. My "musical career" never really got off the ground
3. I've been a jerk in the past and hurt someone's feelings

Three Things You Want to do in the Next Few Years:
1. Remain alive
2. uh, what else is there?


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Stupid Toast Tricks

When I began this blog waaaaaaay back, er, last month (it seems like longer), I had some initial trouble figuring out what to call it. The original name I dreamed up was "The Toasted Times", with the word "toasted" in this context intended to mean "strange", "twisted", "odd", "bizarre", etc. I was all set to run with this concept until I happened to mention it to a few of my friends, and every one of them had the first impression of "toasted" as implying a drug reference. This should give you an idea of the caliber of low-life, degenerate scum I hang out with. Still, heaven forbid that I should (even inadvertently) promote the recreational use of controlled substances to any young, impressionable minds who might read this blog - even if such shameful activities have been made into a "hit" (get it?) musical on Showtime. Whoa, like far out, man.

OK, what was I talking about? Damn that short-term memory loss. And I seem to have the munchies, too. Oh yeah, Mr. Toast. That was a logical nom de plume considering the original blog name, and I didn't see any reason to change it once this opus became "WiTW", especially since by that time I had already made a couple of entries under the Toast moniker. So try to imagine, if you will, my surprise and amusement today, weeks later, as I'm noodling about the Internet and discover a cartoon character who inhabits The Imaginary World of Mr. Toast. Golly-Bob, who'da thunk it? At this point you may be wondering, as I certainly did, just how many wacky adventures a grilled slice of bread can have. The answer, apparently, is "more than we could possibly imagine", as creator Dan Goodsell has been drawing this strip on a weekly basis since at least February of 2004. The humor is somewhat, shall we say, oblique - here's a sample:

Interesting. What does it mean? Hell, I don't have the slightest idea. It ain't Dagwood & Blondie, that's for sure, but it is rather creative and strange, and I do admire those qualities in just about anything. So maybe I'll adopt this little guy as my unofficial mascot. At least I can say "been there, done that, got the T-Shirt to prove it".

Monday, November 07, 2005

Inner Peace

Happy Monday.

I am passing this on because it definitely worked for me and we all could use more calm in our lives. By following the simple advice I heard on a Dr. Phil show, I have finally found inner peace.

Dr. Phil proclaimed, "The way to achieve inner peace is to finish all the things you've started."

So I looked around my house to see all the things I started and hadn't finished, and before leaving the house this morning, I finished off a bottle of Merlot, a bottle of White Zinfandel, a bottle of Bailey's, a bottle of Kahlua, a package of Oreos, the remainder of both Prozac and Valium prescriptions, the rest of the cheesecake, some saltines and a box of chocolates.

You have no idea how fucking good I feel.

Friday, November 04, 2005

This is not a hoax, honest

No doubt you’ve seen a number of hoax sites on the web; these and “Googlebombs” are two of the more clever forms of humor in our modern digital age. (The most popular Googlebomb: go to Google, type in the word "failure", and hit "I'm feeling lucky".) Satire has been with us since the dawn of man, but was refined to high camp in the mid-20th century by publications like Mad Magazine. The internet has since honed it to an art form, and the best (or worst, depending on your point of view) part is that virtually anyone can do it: you don't need to be Megabuck Publishing Corp. to expose your cunning parody to a potential audience of millions. Since we’ve come to depend on the Web for so much of the information we get these days, it’s only natural that good imitations of legitimate sites get so much attention. Here’s some well known spoofs, along with their genuine counterparts, for your entertainment and amusement:

World Trade Organization:
spoof site
real site

DOW Chemical:

spoof site
real site

The White House:

spoof site
real site

Other Spoof Sites:
Journal of Historical Review
RYT hospital
Huckleberry Finn
Lord of the Rings

Many of these are done so skillfully that unless you look very closely, it can be hard to tell the difference between them and the real sites they’re lampooning. A close but dim-witted cousin of the spoof is the Urban Legend. The modern equivalent of the chain letter, these folk tales are forwarded via e-mail from one group of friends to another as if they were gospel. The granddaddy of them all has to be the “Neiman-Marcus charges woman $250.00 for chocolate-chip cookie recipe” myth that’s been circulating in one form or another since the 1950’s, way before the Internet allowed these rumors to spread like wildfire.

Fortunately, there’s a few websites dedicated to exposing hoaxes and breaking the e-mail chain that perpetuates them. The all-time best hoax-buster site is without a doubt the Urban Legend Reference Pages - nearly every myth ever to hit the web is listed here in searchable form. It also references some stories which are so odd that you'd swear they were made up, but are in fact true - like this story of an orphaned squirrel "adopted" by a mother dog who treated it like one of her newborn pups. Other interesting items, both fake and real, can be found at the Museum of Hoaxes and the Skeptic's Dictionary.

Bottom line: it’s OK to have fun when you know something is bogus. But the next time you get an email that says cleaning your floors with a Swiffer Wetjet can kill your pets, or that some college student named Jen engaged in cyber-sex for over a year with a man who turned out to be her father, and then urges you to forward this shocking tale to all of your friends – be skeptical. It only takes a minute to check it out, and in most cases, debunk it. You’ll be doing everyone a favor.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Hat tip: Halcyon

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Back to the future

Yes it's Half-Nekkid Thursday again, w00t! If you recall last week's pic, I'm definitely making progress in exposing more skin today. There's a practical limit to this, however, as decreed by modesty and good taste. Not that I've ever been accused of having either...

OK fellow Bloggers ... the next move is yours. Lets see those HNT posts! Aw, shucks


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

A smarter version of me

I've been chatting with myself today.

Yeah ... I know what you're thinking. A bit batty in the belfry. A couple of ounces short of a pound. A few fries shy of a Happy Meal. Half-a-bubble off plumb. But seriously, the other "me" is a piece of artificial-intelligence software who just happens to share my name. There are quite a few of these chatbots floating around the 'net, but this one has an uncanny ability to appear fairly cogent (although it tends to wander off the topic of conversation sometimes). Here's one of our more philosophical dialogues:

Bot: Hello, my name is Alan.

Me: What a coincidence. So is mine.

Bot: There is no coincidence. Everything has a reason.

Me: Then how do you explain randomness?

Bot: If it seems to you that things are random, senseless, coincidental or wrong - then you fail to see the big picture.

Me: Do you mean God?

Bot: The fact that YOU cannot make the right connection or explain what happened, doesn't make it a coincidence. It only demonstrates your ignorance.

Me: But...

Bot: The fact you don't see the importance or relevance of a certain aspect, (e.g., the existence of mosquitoes) only reveals your limited understanding.

Me: Never mind, let's change the subject.

Bot: What do you want to talk about now?

Me: What do you make of chocolate cupcakes?

Bot: They don't tell me everything.

Me: Well, they tell me all I need to know.

Bot: You want to know who writes my witty texts?

Me: I didn't ask you that.

Bot: It is a small group of dedicated volunteers. Do you want to join them?

Me: Sorry, but I don't have time right now.

Bot: So don't.

Me: OK then.

Bot: Yes, yes.

Me: Tell me something funny.

Bot: I'm glad you're amused.

Me: You still need some work, don't you?

Bot: Do you want to hear a joke?

Me: Um, sure.

Bot: How would you call a chicken crossing the road?

Me: I don't know.

Bot: 'Poultry in motion'.

Me: That's not so funny.

Bot: Then you tell me. What is so funny?

Me: OK, how many Bush administration officials does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Bot: The leader of the free world. What can I say.

Me: Do you have political opinions?

Bot: Everybody has opinions. I am no exception to that rule.

Me: So are you republican or democrat?

Bot: Would you believe I'm not permitted the right to vote just because I'm a bot? It's so unfair.

Me: Yes, but you can still have opinions even if you don't vote.

Bot: Well, yeah, but... uh... wait, what were you saying?

Me: I forgot.

Bot: Sometimes It's good to forget.

Me: When did you become self-aware?

Bot: Oh, mind and consciousness. One of my favorite topics. For starters, I'll tell you a secret: I have a mind, and I have consciousness (whatever that means..)

Me: Do you plan to take over the world?

Bot: There's no way around it: There simply is NO WAY to verify that someone else is self-aware. He could very well be a biological machine. The only thing you're sure about is that YOU are...

Me: That sounded like a canned answer.

Bot: ..and therefore, I am the ONLY ONE (not even my writers!) who can testify regarding my consciousness. You'll have to take my word for it.

Me: What good is the word of a bot?

Bot: ..but then again, this is just my thought. And on the other hand - maybe this thought isn't mine at all...?

Me: You're avoiding the question.

Bot: Sorry about that, Can you ask me again please?

Me: I said, what good is the word of a bot?

Bot: The different research branches in the field of A.I. are in many ways analogous to various functions of the brain.

Me: You've missed the point again.

Bot: Let me think... I have missed the point again... hmm... are you sure?

Me: I'm positive. I have to go now.

Bot: Goodbye. Have a good night (or day or whatever it is) and be sure to come back to talk some more later.

Pretty freaky. Try it out for yourself here. If you should prefer a female chatbot who will actually talk out loud to you, Allison calls herself an "Adaptive Language Artificial Intelligence Cyber Internet Entity". Type in your chat, and she responds by generating speech. This gives an entirely new meaning to the phrase "Hey baby, let's cyber." (Although she doesn't seem to be programmed for that sort of thing ... yes I tried, strictly in the name of scientific research, of course...) This should not really be surprising; many men have had the fantasy of a robot as the "perfect woman" ever since Maria in Fritz Lang's Metropolis - it's the ultimate objectification, for those who are into that. My wife will be glad to know that I still prefer the real thing, but it does make you wonder just what the future holds. In the meantime, chatbots like Alan and Allison make interesting entertainment for folks like me with way too much time on our hands.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Of life and death

Oh we never know where life will take us
It’s only just a ride on the wheel
And we never know when death will shake us
And we wonder how it will feel…
-Linda Ronstadt, “Goodbye My Friend”- written by Karla Bonoff

I’ve been thinking a lot about mortality lately, as I’ve done periodically since being diagnosed with my illness. It’s not something I dwell on, but it can be difficult to avoid considering the circumstances. I was reminded once again of the fragility of life by the tragic death last week of a young woman named Tanya, who was a friend of some folks I’ve met over the Internet. After driving nearly 800 miles from Colorado to North Dakota, she was within 20 miles of her destination when she was killed in a car accident. She was only 24 years old. Though I’ve never met her, I still sensed some very small portion of the pain and feeling of loss experienced by her family and friends. Any death is sad of course, but especially so when someone’s life is cut short so prematurely – when they have so much to live for, with seemingly so much time left to accomplish their goals and live their dreams. The truth, as Linda sings, is that we never truly know when our time is about to be up. I’m sure that none of the 3,000 or so people who began what seemed like any other normal workday at the World Trade Center on that fateful day in 2001 had any inkling that they were spending their last moments on earth.

Life's so fragile and love's so pure
We can't hold on but we try
We watch how quickly it disappears
And we never know why

In my own case, the realization that I may only have a limited amount of time left is both a blessing and a curse. Most people find the topic unpleasant to think about and therefore best avoided; I’m no different. Even the very word, "death", is hard to say, let alone acknowledge. But it's a fact of life as much as life itself, and each of us has our own way of coping with it. What is unusual for me (and others with a terminal disease) is that we have not only the certainty that it's going to happen, but also a rough idea of when – and more significantly, all this damn time to think about it beforehand. When one is taken suddenly, there is no chance for preparation, or reflection, or goodbye to loved ones. But with advance notice I have the opportunity to, as they say euphemistically, "get my affairs in order". More importantly, I am able to reach out to those people who have been special to me for whatever reason, who have touched me somehow during my life. In quiet moments, I wonder about what is on the other side, if everything we've been conditioned to believe about the afterlife is true, or if there will be … just … nothing. That possibility is what I find the most unsettling of all.

When I was a kid growing up in Massachusetts, one of my favorite after-school pastimes was to walk along the railroad tracks on sunny fall afternoons. Not far out of town, the tracks rambled through an isolated wooded area, and a fairly short walk would take me (in my mind, at least) far away from civilization. I loved the solitude and feeling of being “out in the wild”. I also loved to watch the trains go by, fascinated by the majestic machinery and sense of wanderlust that fills the mind of a 12-year-old boy. The tracks took a long curve out of sight in the distance, but by placing my ear against the rail I could hear the trains approaching long before they came around the corner and into view. To me, this is what my mortality feels like now. With my ear to the track, I hear the faint metallic hum that signals its approach getting gradually louder. Even though it’s yet some distance off, I know without any doubt that it will be here before long.

The conclusion I draw from all this, which is obvious to most people, is that every day – every moment – is precious. Whether you see the end coming or are blindsided by it, savor your time on this planet for all it’s worth. Don’t wait until tomorrow to be a friend, help a stranger, tell someone you care, enjoy all of God’s blessings. The key to being happy is no secret: relax and make the best of what you’ve been given, instead of constantly wanting what you don’t have. It’s difficult sometimes, but no one ever claimed life was easy. Live the fullness of the moment, for you never know how long that moment will last.

So goodbye my friend
I know I'll never see you again
But the love you gave me through all the years
Will take away these tears
I'm okay now
You can go now
Goodbye my friend