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

Friday, June 30, 2006

Crazy Cat People of the World, Unite!

Happy CatBlogging Friday once again, and a special welcome to Carnival of the Cats readers! Mrs. Toast is concerned that she is becoming a Crazy Cat Lady. While I think this is a stretch, I can say that she does have a symbiotic relationship with our furbabies, as you can see below:

Fortunately, she's not the only person in this predicament. The people who designed The Crazy Cat Lady Action Figure certainly must know such a person, because this bizarre toy captures the essence of the Cat Lady Phenomenon, complete with bathrobe, checkered pajama bottoms, headband, wild hair, and a fanciful look on her face. And she's surrounded by six cats that own her heart and soul.

Think you could be a Crazy Cat Person? Take this Quiz:
  • Do you get excited when you hear a can opener?
  • Do you think cats are smarter than people?
  • Do you feel Tom is more talented than Jerry?
  • Do you have more cats than ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends?
  • Do you bring new boyfriends/girlfriends home so the cats can meet them?
  • Do you later break up with them because the cats weren't impressed?
  • Do you spend more on doctor bills for your cats than for yourself?
  • Do you buy the ice cream your cats prefer instead the kind you like?
  • Can you tell your cats apart by the roughness of their tongues?
  • Have you ever warned a guest not to sit on a specific piece of furniture because it belongs to the cats?
  • Do you own more than one piece of clothing with a cat on it?
  • Do you have a website devoted to your cats?
  • Is the sheet of instructions for watching your cats while you're on vacation longer than a page?
  • Do you spend more on Christmas presents for your cat than for your family?
  • Do you buy more than one kind of cat food because a few of your cats are picky eaters?
  • Have you ever had to explain to a police officer that the stuff in the bag really is catnip?
  • Do you feel that the ancient Egyptian tradition of cat worship is the one true religion?
If you answered "yes" to 7 or more of these questions, you could be a Crazy Cat Person! Go directly to this site for an immediate feline fix, then proceed as quickly as possible to your nearest animal shelter and seek professional help!

"Cats are intended to teach us that not everything in nature has a purpose." -Garrison Keillor

Thursday, June 29, 2006

People have been telling me this for years

You Are 70% Weird

You're so weird, you think you're *totally* normal. Right?
But you wig out even the biggest of circus freaks!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Dude, your Dell's on fire

I happen to use a Dell Inspiron laptop, and very often while composing these demented ramblings, I have noted that my lap gets very hot. (There's a joke there somewhere, but I'm going to pass on it.) I mean seriously hot, to the point where if the machine were sitting on my bare-skinned leg, unprotected by a layer of denim, we might be talking about some third-degree burns here. So I was somewhat concerned when I read this story today about a similar machine which literally caught on fire and exploded at a business conference in Japan (slightly more technical article here). According to an eyewitness, "The damn thing was on fire and produced several explosions for more than five minutes."

Dell technicians are looking into the matter, according to a statement by the company. "We have captured the notebook and have begun investigating the event," Dell spokeswoman Anne Camden said, confirming the computer was made by Dell but declining to specify the model.

Although no one was hurt in this incident, it is well-known that excessive heat has been a continuing problem with certain Dell machines and batteries. More than 22,000 batteries and over a million AC adapters have been recalled by the company due to concerns over just such an occurance.

It is extremely fortunate that this did not happen on an airplane, although one now must wonder if such an event is just a matter of time. I think I am going to keep a fire extinguisher next to the chair I usually sit in while using my computer, just in case.

Rumor has it that the next model of Dell laptop will be named "The Hindenbook".

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Poetic Justice

How embarrassing is this? Conservative gas-bag Rush Limbaugh was detained for more than three hours Monday at Palm Beach International Airport, after authorities found a bottle of Viagra in his possession without a prescription. The private plane carrying the 55-year-old radio talk-show host had just arrived from the Dominican Republic and was being inspected by U.S. Customs agents, who found the unlabeled bottle of Viagra in Limbaugh's luggage.

The drugs were confiscated, and Limbaugh was released without being charged; however, the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office plans to file a report with the state attorney's office for possible indictment on a second-degree misdemeanor violation.

Limbaugh had reached a deal last month with prosecutors who had accused him of "doctor-shopping" in order to receive illegal overlapping painkiller prescriptions. The charges were to be dismissed after 18 months of good behavior, as long as Limbaugh submitted to random drug tests; however this incident is likely to wreck any such deal.

Now if someone would only please arrest Ann Coulter. Her hate-filled, bigoted, sexist, and lewd speech, if not illegal, is certainly more offensive than El Rushbo getting clipped with a bogus bottle of Poke.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Progress (?)

My neighbors down the block are furious, and I don't blame them one little bit. A week ago, this was the view from their front door across our street:

This is their view today:

A beautiful naturally-wooded area has been clear-cut to make room for another freaking strip mall. Seeing this, a song by Joni Mitchell immediately comes to my mind:

   They took all the trees and put em in a tree museum
   And charged the people a dollar and a half just to see em
   Don't it always seem to go, you don't know what you've got till it's gone
   They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

Fortunately for me, this is at the other far end of my street, so I won't have to look at this eyesore. Here's the view across the street taken from my front porch:

Unless they decide to drain the lake and pave it over, I feel pretty safe. But I'm not taking any bets.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Round Of 16 has begun!

This will not come as news to Word Cup fans, but I can be fairly certain that any true footballers are not reading this blog today anyway. Instead, they are glued to their TV sets watching the first games of the Round of 16 being played in Germany, the winners of which will advance to the quarter-final games beginning June 30th.

Here's a chart showing the matchups, courtesy of Wikipedia (click on the chart for a larger image):

(Update 6/27/06: The second round winners have been determined,
and quarterfinal play will begin June 30th. Revised chart shown above.)

The fever pitch is building as the games wind up to their concluding matches. Expect the entire European continent (and for that matter, most of the world) to freeze in its tracks on Sunday, July 9th, the date of the final match in Berlin where the World Cup winner will be determined. Even though footba...er, soccer, is still not that big here in the States, there is more of an interest this time around than in previous years, now that the U.S. is represented in the competition. The Americans were eliminated fairly early in the knockout matches, but they still played respectably.

If you're new to the sport, check it out and see what the rest of the world is so excited about. You can join in the global spirit by painting your body in the colors of your favorite team, getting rowdy-ass drunk, and beating the crap out of fans of the opposition. Oy, what bloody fun, mate! Hoist a pint and kick it!

Friday, June 23, 2006

Happy CatBlogging Friday

It is all going to be OK.

I want to be in perfect harmony with my surroundings, like this peaceful B. Kliban cat. It's not that easy for a lot of us. We tend to sweat the small stuff, letting things bother us that shouldn't. We get stuck in situations we have very little control over. Sometimes we put our foot in our mouth, and say things that hurt another when that's the absolute last thing we mean to do. We try so hard to make sense of the world around us, yet often come up empty-handed. We feel that if our lives are supposed to have some profound meaning and purpose, those secrets haven't yet been revealed to us; instead, frustration greets us at every turn.

Yet, we go on searching. Some find comfort in religion or meditation, others turn to the old standbys: "sex, drugs, and rock'n roll". Some of us are destined for greatness, others may play parts behind the scenes that are less visible but no less important. In the final analysis, it all comes down to a single word: love. If you have loved someone, or someone has loved you, you've experienced the most precious thing this life has to offer us. When the Beatles sang that memorable final line from Abbey Road -- "and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make" -- they were not the first nor the last ones to realize this simple Karmic truth. Love is, quite simply, the reason why we're here on this planet.

And like someone said, it's all gonna be okay.

We just have to believe it.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

This will drive you freaking nuts

Don't say I didn't warn you.

(Winner is the first to score ten points. To stop or reset the game before it's over, click your browser's "refresh" button.)

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Moving forward

I am in shock and awe over my accomplishments for today:
  1. Actually went to my pulmonary rehab session at the hospital for a change
  2. Dubbed two more of the twenty or so LP records (remember those?) to compact disk for my sister who I will see next month ... a project I have been postponing for over a year
  3. Repaired my broken eyeglasses
  4. Edited digital photos of my house and sent them off to be made into prints for my insurance company -- as they have "requested" (as in, if you don't do this we won't renew your damn policy).
  5. Began plotting the route for our road trip to New England next month
  6. Fixed the AC inverter in the van that hasn't worked since Hurricane Rita, which required re-wiring the DC connections from the battery to the device
  7. Visited not just one but two stores to get quotes on new tires for the van
  8. Sorted through and organized a huge pile of paperwork on my desk
Now this might not sound like much for most of y'all, as you probaby do ten times this much on an average day, but consider that "normal" days for me often consist of not much more than sitting around the house surfing the web and sucking oxygen. My lung condition tends to tire me very quickly upon any kind of physical exertion, so most of the time I would barely have the strength to accomplish any one of the above tasks. To have done all this in one day is reason for me to celebrate!

Countdown to road trip: 24 days. Woo-hoo!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Lewis the cat lives!

Bringing you the continuing saga of alleged serial-scratcher Lewis The Cat (see previous posts here and here), this blog is pleased to report there's been been a final resolution in the case; a Connecticut judge spared his life on Tuesday, but ordered that the Tuxedo Terrorist must remain indoors permanently.

"There are no exceptions. None," said Judge Patrick Carroll, who also granted accelerated rehabilitation to Lewis' owner, Ruth Cisero of Fairfield, Connecticut.

That means her record will be cleared if she successfully completes two years of probation. Previously, Cisero had rejected a similar offer because it also stupulated that she agree to have Lewis euthanized. Tuesday's settlement carries no such condition, but Lewis cannot leave the house, even accidentally. Judge Carroll said the case is not about a cat, but about people having the right to live in safety in their neighborhoods.

Cisero had faced a charge of reckless endangerment. Neighbors complained that the cat's long claws (Lewis is polydactyl, with six on each paw) and stealth allowed him to ambush several people, including an Avon cosmetics lady on her neighborhood rounds. Personally, I think Lewis should be commended for this.

The court proceedings were reported by several major news outlets, including CNN and ABC. (More updates here and here.) "Lewie," as Cisero calls him, has become an international cause célèbre; in addition to his MySpace page and Wikipedia entry, a large photograph of the long-haired feline ran in People magazine last week with the headline "Dead Cat Walking."

But Cisero said she would prefer to have never had the attention. "I never thought it would come to this. It's been an absolute nightmare," she said. "I haven't slept well in months, and now tonight I can finally get a good night's sleep."

Ruth Cisero & Lewis

Monday, June 19, 2006

You don't have to be Jewish...

...to get a laugh out of this joke:

Three Jewish sons left home, went out on their own and prospered. Getting back together, they discussed the gifts that they were able to give to their elderly mother.

The first said, "I built a big house for our mother."

The second said, "I sent her a Mercedes with a driver."

The third said, "I've got you both beat. You know how Mom enjoys reading the Torah and you know she can't see very well? I sent her a large brown parrot that can recite the entire Torah. It took twenty rabbis 12 years to teach him. I had to pledge to contribute $1,000,000 a year for twenty years but it was worth it. Mom just has to name the chapter and verse and the parrot will recite it."

Soon thereafter, Mom sent out her letters of thanks. She wrote to the first son, "Milton, the house you built is so huge. I live in only one room, but I have to clean the whole house."

She wrote to the second son, "Marvin, I am too old to travel. I stay home all the time, so I never use the Mercedes and the driver is SO rude."

She wrote to the third son, "Dearest Melvin, you were the only son to have the good sense to know what your mother likes. The chicken was delicious."

Sunday, June 18, 2006

I knew it!

Your Inner European is Dutch!

Open minded and tolerant.
You're up for just about anything.

And what a coincidence...here I am:

Kom mijn vriend, sluit me aan bij me bij koffeeshop voor één of ander rook, wijn, en goed gesprek. Ja!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Call to arms

"Humanity is sitting on a ticking time bomb. If the vast majority of the world's scientists are right, we have just ten years to avert a major catastrophe that could send our entire planet into a tail-spin of epic destruction involving extreme weather, floods, droughts, epidemics and killer heat waves beyond anything we have ever experienced."

Does this get your attention? If so, see An Inconvenient Truth, coming soon to a theatre near you. Put aside any partisan politics you may have and just consider the reality of global warming. Our future may depend on it.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

That's so hot!

Perhaps you've heard of "Hot Or Not". If you're so inclined, you can subject yourself to the capricious judgment of passing strangers simply by uploading your picture to be rated on an arbitrary "hotness" scale of one-to-ten. The results are best taken with a very large grain of salt; sure, it can be a bit of an ego boost to get a high rating, but also a major blow to your self-esteem if your score is low. Still, most people who visit the site don't take it too seriously, but rather as a fun and modern form of people-watching -- something we all do subconsciously every day anyway. Cynics, however, might see it as a prime example of vanity taken to its superficial extreme; these folks are likely to find the idea of judging someone's worthiness by viewing their picture for a few seconds to be quite offensive. I'm sure Paris Hilton would agree.

No matter what you think of it, though, the site is a huge phenomenon, and is enjoying quite a bit of media attention. Part of the reason is that the owners have largely been successful at keeping out the spam and porn that has infected similar sites. Also, while there are no doubt some fake pictures posted, all photos are screened by a small army of moderators before being made public and most seem genuine.

I am way too insecure and easily embarrassed to post my own picture, however the Hot-or-Not crew is branching out into other endeavors with a new service called "Blog Hot or Not". As the name implies, readers can rate the blogs they visit on the same 1-to-10 scale; BHoN also lets blog writers tag their journal with keywords that can help steer new readers to their sites. So I've decided to take the plunge and give it a try. If you look over in the sidebar underneath my Blogrolling links, you will find a little icon that, when clicked, will allow you to express your opinion about whether you think my blog is "hot", or "not". Of course, I know all my loyal regular readers will give me a "10".

I would do the same for you, honest.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Are you ready for the football?

The University where Mrs. Toast works as a librarian is hosting an international seminar this week on data archival. (Some people take this very seriously - while my idea of "data archival" is opening the closet door long enough to throw something in, and then closing it really fast before a previously-archived object falls on my head.)

Anyway, in connection with this, Mrs. Toast had to drive to the airport and pick up a couple of visiting professors from Mexico City. On the way back here, they stopped at an Applebees restaurant to eat dinner. Like many "casual" restaurants, Applebees has strategically-placed TV sets showing sports -- and to the shock and horror of her foreign colleagues, these televisions were showing a baseball game, and not the biggest sporting event in the world.

Yes, in virtually every corner of the globe other than here, at this very moment sports fans are going nuts over the 2006 World Cup matches being held in Germany. In cities all over Europe, giant screens have been erected in public squares and in the windows of stores and pubs for fans to watch the games. Daily life grinds to a halt when critical matches are played. However, even though the United States participates in the World Cup, and has this year fielded perhaps the strongest team in our history, most of America is totally ambivalent about the games. Here, football is football, played with a ball shaped like -- well, a football -- on a 100-yard field with end zones and goal posts. The games being played in Germany this month are something called "soccer". Across the pond, they refer to our style of play as "American football", and there is always disagreement over which version requires greater skill and physical ability.

World Cup fans are passionately enthusiastic about their chosen team, and it is not uncommon for fights and near-riots to break out at some hotly contested matches. Footballers can be notoriously violent, and thugs and hooligans are sometimes eager to assault fans of opposing clubs. Fortunately, there have been no such incidents so far, likely due to the tight security at the games. An army of police and stadium guards met tens of thousands of partying soccer fans when the event opened; helicopters buzzed above the crowd, officers on horseback patrolled outside the stadium, and others mingled in beer halls.

Speaking of beer, many Germans are quite upset that Budweiser has purchased the rights to be the "official" beer served at World Cup stadiums. Germany practically invented beer, and makes some of the finest brews in the world. To them, Bud tastes like beer-flavored water. "It's Spuelwasser!" (dishwater) cried one fan in a boisterous Munich beer hall. Having myself visited the famous Hofbrauhaus during my travels through Europe in 2002, I can say that the beer there was the best I have tasted in my life, and I understand why some fans are indignant.

Another interesting sidelight to the World Cup is the giant brothel that opened last year in Berlin just steps from the Olympiastadion, in anticipation of heavy traffic from randy football fans. Artemis features plush red curtains, leopard-print cushions, gold fixtures, a champagne bar, a restaurant, gym, swimming pool, two cinemas, and lavish suites that can be rented by the day or hour. Try to imagine a similar facility being built adjacent to a sports stadium in this country for the Super Bowl. And you thought Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction was controversial! (Caution: Above links NSFW.) Ironically, the Greek goddess Artemis was also known as the eternal virgin, making the name a bit odd for a brothel.

Prostitution was legalized in Germany in 2003, and hookers from all over the continent have converged on the country to get in on some World Cup action from the more than ten million fans who are expected to attend. This has prompted concern about human trafficking, and the possibility that some women may be brought in against their will to serve as sex slaves. The German Interior Minister has joined forces with the country's Federal Criminal Bureau in an attempt to stamp out the problem of illegal prostitutes operating in the country during the event. The Ministry for Family Affairs recently wrote to the German Football Association demanding that it "rally behind police and the authorities in their efforts to combat forced prostitution and people trafficking," adding, "the world will be watching Germany and it will judge our integrity on a daily basis." However, the very fact that prostitution is legal and regulated will enable authorities to control such activities to a much greater extent than if it was totally illicit.

According to Artemis spokesman Norman Jacob, "Football and sex go together extremely well." Regardless if the shape of your football is round or oval with points on it, I think many men on both sides of the Atlantic are likely to agree with that statement. Don't forget the beer, either.

Let the games begin!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Toasts On Tour!

Now that I've received official word from my doctor that I won't be requiring surgery for at least the next six months, I can let the cat out of the bag about the road trip we had been hoping to take in anticipation of this event: Mrs. Toast and I will be driving cross-country next month on a fun-filled vacation to visit relatives and friends in New England. While the high price of gasoline will mean that our fuel costs will be at least double what we spent the last time we made this same journey in 2004, commercial air travel is pretty much out of the question for me due to my continued necessity for supplemental oxygen. So, we'll be gettin' down for a street-level view of the great American landscape.

Frankly, I love the allure of a road trip; I get a great feeling of freedom from cruising down the open highway, listening to rockin' road tunes, seeing new sights, and exploring new places. Our route will generally follow the path shown below, which is the shortest calculated distance between here and our destination according to my trusty DeLorme Street Atlas software:

However, because we'll have three weeks this time (compared to only two weeks in '04), we may alter this route -- which mostly tracks I-81 -- to see some places that we missed before; for example, we could take a northern swing to visit Memphis, Nashville, and the Blue Ridge mountains, or cut due east at Birmingham to go through Atlanta. In this latter case, we might also follow I-85 up through Charlotte NC, and eventually hit I-95 and possibly vist Washington DC or New York City. I plan on keeping things flexible, so if we decide to take a detour somewhere along the way, we won't be locked into a set itinerary. And with my GPS-enabled road atlas software running on the laptop in the car, I'll have a readout of our exact position at all times overlaid on a map that can be zoomed from cross-country down to street view, so there's zero chance of getting lost.

If any of y'all have suggestions about what might be cool stops or entertaining diversions along this general path, please leave a comment and let me know. Or better yet, if any of my Bloggin' Buddies will be anywhere in this general vicinity and would like to meet up for drinks and/or dinner, give me a holla as well. It would be nice to see some of you guys in person after becoming virtual friends here on the blog.

Once we arrive at my sister's place in that bastion of Old Hippiedom, Woodstock NY, we won't be done covering ground. I plan to stop by the old homestead and pay my respects at my Mom and Dad's gravesite in Massachusetts. We also have friends in New Hampshire and Maine that we hope to visit as well, so it's shaping up to be a busy three weeks!

Yeah, it's going to be exactly like that.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Here today, gone tomorrow

Statistics showing the expotential expansion of the Blogosphere in the last few years are all over the place. The latest blog count on Technorati currently shows some 44 million sites being monitored. However, what is frequently overlooked is the huge percentage of these that are no longer active. Four years ago, when the Perseus Development Corp. conducted a detailed analysis of blogging trends, it found approximately four million blogs on eight hosting sites. Of these, a whopping sixty-six percent had been abandoned since their creation, meaning that their owners had not updated them in two months or more.

Even more amazing, over one million of them -- a quarter of all blogs created at the time of the 2002 survey -- were "one day wonders", with a single initial post and no subsequent follow-up posts. Apparently, it's easy to create a blog, but harder to think of something to write about afterwards. Only a tiny fraction (less than 2%) were being updated on a daily basis. Although the number of blogs has increased more than tenfold in the four years since the survey was conducted, it's logical to assume today's percentages are not all that different. For more information, including blogger demographics and other interesting statistics, see "The Blogging Iceberg" on the Perseus website.

Quiet Sunday

I'm working on my "Three R's" today -- resting, relaxing, and reading the paper. Hope the rest of y'all are enjoying your weekend as well.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Houston, how I love/hate thee

I've just returned from yet another trip down the road to the 4th largest city in the USA: Houston, Texas. As a former 10-year resident of the Bayou City, I've always had a very bipolar relationship with this town, and each time I go back there again I have these same sort of feelings. In a nutshell:

Top Three Things I Love About Houston

     1. World-class medical facilities
     2. Great restaurants and shopping
     3. Architectural and cultural highlights

Top Three Things I Hate About Houston

     1. Traffic
     2. Traffic!
     3. TRAFFIC!! Grrrrr!!

"Rush hour" is a joke; congestion on the freeways and arterial roads lasts from about 6 AM until 7 PM, with perhaps a brief letup around 10-11 AM and 2-3 PM. This is compounded by the near-constant state of construction on many of the highways, and frequent accidents that block traffic. I suppose Houston drivers are no worse than those in any other big city (Boston and New York come to mind as metro areas with some of the most horrendous traffic conditions) but courtesy and common sense are thrown out the window here as often as used cigarette butts. This becomes especially apparent when it's necessary to merge lanes. Houston drivers absolutely will not budge when merging, but rather develop a steely straight-ahead stare as they hug the bumper of the car in front of them which seems to say "I do not see you attempting to merge from your lane which is ending to mine, and if I refuse to acknowledge your existence, then I do not have to let you in." Even worse, possession of concealed firearms is legal in Texas, so there is always the not-so-remote possibility that road rage can escalate to deadly violence. Flip off another driver at the risk of your life.

There are other disadvantages besides traffic snarls: crowded conditions, expensive housing, pollution, and crime. Of late, Houston has been struggling to cope with the influx of refugees from Hurricane Katrina. Many of them, having nothing to return to, have simply stayed on -- causing a discernable crunch in apartment and job availability. Also, a number of teen gangs from New Orleans have re-formed here, resulting in turf battles with already-established local gangs and a spike in drug-related crime.

Even with all these negatives, however, Houston is still a vibrant and exciting place. I remember quite clearly the feeling of energy I had when I first came to town years ago -- a crackling electric thrill from the crowds, bright lights, jumping night life scene, and the multitude of attractions and opportunities that can only be found in a city of this size. Even to this day, the sight of the Houston skyline still fascinates me.

Of course, the main reason I make the 150-mile drive to "Big H" on a regular basis is for the medical facilities, and the Texas Medical Center is without equal. M.D. Anderson Cancer Center is renowned the world over, and surgeons like Dr.'s Denton Cooley and Michael DeBakey pioneered heart transplantation here. Other institutions such as Texas Children's Hospital, Baylor College of Medicine, St.Luke's, and Methodist Hospital rank among the best in the nation. My transplant pulmonologist at Methodist is world-renowned, and I will feel very comfortable putting my life into his hands when the time comes. But, the good news is that time will not come for at least another six months! More tests and a visit with him last week confirmed that my lung function has continued to improve, and I have added nearly one liter of volume to my lung capacity since last December. Even my doctor, a practical realist who has cautioned me during previous visits not to put too much stock into the numbers as they tend to fluctuate, had to admit last week that this latest increase is, in his words, "significant." In fact, he thinks I'm doing well enough that he said he does not need to see me again for another six months, instead of the usual three month follow-up schedule I have been on since last September. Woo-hoo!

There are other reasons why Houston is dear to me, but I'll save those for another post. For now, my good medical news is reason enough!

Cats in the sun

Friday, June 09, 2006


Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird ... it's a plane ... it's the Wind In The Wire Audioblog! Hot damn! Yes folks, follower of the herd that I am, I've decided to jump on the Audioblogging bandwagon. Unfortunately, I have to go out of town this weekend, so a friend of mine has volunteered to produce the first audioblog and will post it directly to the blog after he records it. As soon as he does so, you should see a flash media player box below this text, and can just click on the "play" button to listen. I can't wait to hear it myself when I return to town on Monday. Have a great weekend, everyone!

[Personal note to Rev. Blair - please insert the audio link right here when you finish it, then remove this comment. Thanks, -Mr. T.]

Three Mouse-kateers

Happy CatBlogging Friday, and a very special welcome to Carnival of the Cats readers. Today I'd like to re-introduce my feline family to you; click the photo for a bigger view.

These guys definitely keep me on my toes! To meet more cute kitties, check out this week's Carnival, which can be found at Gigolo Kitty beginning Sunday evening. G.K. is one of the more creative catblogs out there, and his adventurous life of reaching for "Cheap Love, Tawdry Fame, and Easy Money" is well worth a look -- check it out. Have a great weekend, y'all.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Billy Preston, 1946-2006

Billy Preston died today in Scottsdale, Arizona, following a long battle with kidney disease. After receiving a kidney transplant in 2002, his health continued to deteriorate; he had been in a coma since November 21, 2005.

Born in Houston, Texas, Preston collaborated with some of the greatest names in the music industry, including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Little Richard, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Sam Cooke, Sammy Davis Jr., Sly Stone, and Aretha Franklin. Among many other songs, he wrote the 1963 Joe Cocker classic "You Are So Beautiful". One of only two non-Beatles to receive a credit on a Beatles single, he played electric piano on "Get Back" during the band's rooftop concert in 1969, and is sometimes credited as the "Fifth Beatle". He also played on the albums "Abbey Road" (1969) and "Let It Be" (1970). After the breakup of the Beatles, he continued a close relationship with George Harrison, including a performance at "The Concert for George" after Harrison's death in 2001.

Conquering drug addiction in the early 1990's, he toured with Eric Clapton, and recorded with a wide range of artists including Stevie Winwood and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Preston's final work was playing Gospel-tinged organ on Neil Diamond's 2005 album, "12 Songs".

His contribution to pop music was enormous. Rest in peace, Billy.

Audio tomfoolery

Some of my bloggin' buddies have been experimenting with posting audio clips on their web pages, so today I'm playing around with a service called Odeo. It allows you to upload an mp3 file from your computer to be hosted on their site, where you can then link to it on your blog in the form of an embedded Flash media player. So to test this, I'm using a silly little tune I wrote and recorded a few years back called "Funk Buggy". Mercifully, I don't sing on it, but that is me playing all the instruments.

Let's see how well this works. If nothing else, it should be good for a laugh!

Monday, June 05, 2006

Congratulations, graduates!

Today's post is dedicated to all those who have struggled for the last four years to complete their education, and with diploma in hand, are ready to put their fresh, eager, young faces out there into the job market. I think your local Burger King may be hiring. OK, it's the night shift, but at least you get free food.

Click on the comic for a bigger version so you can, like, you know, actually read the text:

Credit: comic by Brian McFadden, The Big Fat Whale

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Unfortunate ad placement

I was reading the Sunday paper today when I came upon an article about a truly vile sect of American religious whackos. Rev. Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, are a church of hate, and a shameful embarrassment to those of any faith -- especially Baptists whose name this so-called "minister" claims to represent. In addition to the usual garbage condemning Jews and homosexuals, Phelps and his followers (mostly his relatives) are particularly reviled for their habit of picketing the funerals of American soldiers killed in the line of duty in Iraq. They insult the families and other mourners of these victims by showing up with large signs reading "Thank God for Dead Soldiers", and "God Hates Your Tears".

The 76-year old Phelps, a disbarred former attorney, thinks that God hates you and you're a sinner who is going to hell. Period. He and his followers have at least a 15-year history of preaching such hatred and intolerance; they have demonstrated at the memorial service for television's "Mr. Rogers" (claiming he deserved to die for his failure to condemn homosexuality), as well as at services for 9/11 victims and West Virginia miners. Phelps claims that natural disasters are righteous fate visited upon depraved humanity by a vengeful God. "We pray for more tornados," he recently told an Associated Press reporter. "We pray for more hurricanes, that Katrina was just a tiny little preamble."

The man disgusts me, and I find it hard to believe that anyone could spew such venom in the name of God. The only other possible explanation, which I prefer to think, is that he simply is insane. Fortunately, Phelps and his flock of lunatics are out there alone; no other religious group has endorsed their views.

But that is not what amazed me the most about this story, nor the reason I am writing this post. No. This post is a plea for newspaper copywriters and editors to be more careful about page layout and composition. Look at the scan of the article below which features a prominent color photo of Westboro followers holding up their signs outside a Veteran's Administration building in Iowa.

Then look at the paid advertisement directly below the picture.

An unfortunate coincidence for Bro. Clark and First Penecostal Church, and I have a feeling some hell is definitely going to be raised at the newspaper office on Monday morning.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Ask Mister Toast!

Okay folks, it's audience participation time. I'm feeling a bit cheeky so I thought I'd try something different on the blog today: Wind In The Wire presents a new and possibly semi-regular feature (if it doesn't fall flat on its face) entitled "Ask Mr. Toast!" (possible alternate title: "Mr. Toast Answers Them Freakin' Questions!"). As the name implies, this is an invitation for you, the reader, to ask me anything that happens to pop into your head, and I will do my best to answer your question fully and honestly. Sample things you might want to ask could possibly include (but not necessarily be limited to):

• Stuff about me
• Computer technical questions
• Personal advice, ala "Dear Abby"
• Trivia or General Knowledge

Seriously, I will attempt to answer any question to the best of my ability. If I don't know the answer, I'll research it and either find out or provide a link to the relevent information. If you completely stump me, or ask a personal question that's just way too embarrassing, I will say so; however, nothing is off limits and I'm pretty open-minded, so I expect this will be a last resort.

So what's on your mind, peeps? Ask away!

Thursday, June 01, 2006


The college prank is a hallmark of academia.

In this time-honored tradition, a group of students (usually frat guys) get together annually to pull off some "stunt" that is clever, humorous, and very public. The intent is not to leave a permanent mark, but merely to elicit a chuckle from passersby -- although the best pranks leave a lasting impression in the minds of those who witness them. Unfortunately, "the prank" has fallen into disrepute in recent years, and most people these days see them as simply a demonstration of the immaturity of college students. It could be argued as well that all the really good pranks have already been done, and that today's students are too lazy to put the creative effort into anything more original than stealing a rival college's sports mascot or pouring a box of dish detergent into a public campus water fountain.

So it is with some fondness that I recall a prank from my own college days. Let me say up front that I personally played absolutely no part in this, so I can claim no credit (blame?) for the results, but in my mind it still ranks as one of the more creative displays of adolescent humor.

When I went to college, I (or to be more accurate, my parents) had every intention of me becoming an electrical engineer. I had no real idea of what such a person actually did, mind you, however my father convinced me that this occupation would be my ticket to a successful future. I had a vague concept that electrical engineers designed power distribution systems for large office buildings, or worked on high-voltage transmission networks for power companies. What a fun-filled, exciting career! (yawn.) In the greater New England area -- and for that matter, the nation -- one school stands head and shoulders above all others as the place to get the very best education in this field, and that is Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT churns out engineers and scientists of the highest caliber, who go on to win Nobel Prizes and other prestigious accolades by the boatload and make tons of money. Unfortunately, my high school GPA was not quite up to MIT's lofty standards, so I enrolled in a "second-tier" college -- Lowell Technological Institute (LTI). Hey, it had two out of the three letters in MIT's logo, so it must be at least two-thirds as good, right? (This logic should clearly explain why I was not MIT material.)

By my sophomore year at Lowell Tech, I had fully immersed myself in the operation of the campus radio station, "WLTI" (duh!) -- an act which was destined to take over my future life. Playing music on the radio was so much more fun than calculating shear forces and bending moments! As the semester began, a new kid by the name of Steve showed up wanting to work for the station. Steve had transferred to Lowell from (gasp!) MIT, so he had immediate caché, in addition to being a naturally funny and smart guy anyway. One night after a few beers, Steve told me of the most recent prank that he and his friends had pulled off at MIT, and produced a series of pictures as evidence. They had researched the design of traffic signs as specified in manuals published by the Massachusetts Highway Department, to determine the exact size, text font, color, reflectivity and other properties that are the standards for road signs in the state. Then they set to work cloning a fake sign that would be indistinguishable from any "official" highway sign. The finished product was a work of art. Roughly four by eight feet in size, it was an exact replica of any highway sign in the state. In the dead of night, they attached this sign to an overpass above the Boston artery of the Massachusetts Turnpike, where it remained for close to a week until someone responsible for such things realized it was unauthorized, and had it removed.

It said, in letters approximately two feet tall, "Fornicate - Next Exit".

Unfortunately, I do not have any copies of the pictures that Steve took of the sign hanging in its full glory over the Mass Pike, with thousands of cars passing underneath it, but I am sure that wherever Steve is, to this day he pulls them out now and then to share with friends or maybe his grandchildren. "Look what Grampa did back in college," he might tell them proudly. "I was lucky not to be arrested." But using a web site I found called SignMaker, I can recreate for you a fairly realistic approximation of what the sign must have looked like:

One can only imagine the puzzled look on the face of motorists who saw this for a brief moment as they zipped beneath it and thought "What?" Yes, it's a bit juvenile, but still pretty damn clever. If anyone else has any recollection of pranks they either witnessed or participated in, please post a comment. Names may be changed to protect the innocent guilty.