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

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Thank you, NaBloPoMo

We made it!

Thirty-one posts later (one a day, plus a spare), this blog has successfully reached the end of National Blog Posting Month, more affectionately known as "NaBloPoMo". Even better than that, not all of my entries sucked. I'm not sure what the final statistics are regarding the percentage of original participants who managed to complete the month without missing a single post; I suspect I am in the minority. But that's not really important.

When I began this particular post this morning, somewhere in the back of my mind I had thought I would write about how difficult it had been to come up with fresh material every day, and whine about how tired I was and how much I was looking forward to a day of not having to post. Then I stopped and realized I was missing the point entirely. NaBloPoMo is about stimulating creativity, sharing, and building community; it's not supposed to be a forced death march (the "post or die" logo notwithstanding). Yes, there has to be a focus, and the post-a-day mandate is a tangible way of encouraging folks to update their blogs regularly without merely saying "you know, you ought to write more often". But even if we didn't post every single day, it doesn't mean we failed. We made the effort; we contributed, and had fun with it, and if we missed a day here and there because it stopped being fun, then that is as it should be.

I began to realize something about halfway through the month: for a while I was struggling with writing (as I often do), not knowing what to say or thinking that it wasn't "good" enough. But at some point I said to myself "what the hell, just do it", and when I did, I found that the words started to flow more easily, sometimes becoming a stream of consciousness that bounced nearly effortlessly out of my head, off my fingers, and onto the keyboard as fast as I could type them. To any writer, amateur or professional, this is a feeling of pure, ultimate joy ... the writer's reason d'etre. I believe this is what NaBloPoMo celebrates as much as anything, and I am grateful to have had that experience.

I also want to thank all the new folks who have stopped by here this month; you may notice I have added a number of new sites to my Blogrolling list, and I feel like I've made some cool new friends as well. I've also enjoyed visiting the other participants and reading what they have to say. There are a lot of talented, interesting people out there that I probably would never have discovered had it not been for NaBloPoMo. I hope the Randomizer sticks around, as I'd like to continue to keep up with those on the list after this month is over. Finally, let me express my appreciation to M. Kennedy and all the other folks who put the considerable effort into organizing this affair; you guys have done a great job. (Hey, I started this thing off with a grovel, and by Grabthar's hammer, I'm gonna end it with one too.)

So Thank You NaBloPoMo, and I hope everyone reading Wind In The Wire has a great holiday season and will come back and visit me again soon.

By the way: in case you're wondering, this does not mean that tomorrow I won't totally be observing "NaNoMoFoBloPo".

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Survey results

For those who cast their vote in my straw poll of potential presidential candidates earlier this month, I thought you might like to see the results:
A total of 132 people voted -- which I thought was a fairly respectable number. Considering that readers of this blog are likely to be, on average, a bit more liberal than the general public, the results are not unexpected: Al Gore and Barack Obama top the list by a sizeable margin. Senator Clinton's distant third-place showing did come as somewhat of a surprise to me, however, given my poll's largely female constituency. Hillary is currently the top-ranked democrat nationally, although you must admit that she is a very polarizing individual; you either love her or hate her with a passion.

Interestingly, Colin Powell did just as well in my survey as Senator Clinton. I think this reflects the considerable bipartisan respect for Mr. Powell among voters-at-large for being virtually the only moderate and diplomatic voice among the rabid choir of the Bush administration. However, the chances of him running are virtually nonexistent. He has stated on several occasions that he doesn't have the "fire in the belly" for a shot at the White House, and I believe that a serious, in-depth scrutiny of every minute detail of his life which would result from his candidacy might possibly reveal things that could hurt his standing in the public eye. Let's face it, everyone has a few skeletons in their closet.

As the poll indicates, Barack Obama has a high buzz factor right now but I don't believe he will ultimately get the nod for the top job. He just doesn't have the experience, especially in foreign policy, that voters will feel comfortable with during these uncertain times, although it's worth noting that John F. Kennedy had just as little experience and was two years younger than Obama at the time of his election. Obama is intelligent, articulate, and a dynamic speaker, but my prediction is that he will become the vice-presidential nominee on the democratic ticket. Should the dems win the general election, that "on-the-job" experience will put him on a solid track to be America's first black president in 2012 or 2016.

As for Al Gore, his passionate stance on the environment, along with a sympathy factor from the 2000 fiasco in Florida which many still feel robbed him of the presidency, make him what has been described as "a still-rumbling volcano". In addition to winning this informal survey, he is my personal choice as well, as his stand on the issues most closely matches my own. However, I am afraid he is perceived among the general public as being "old news", a relic of the past with little real chance to win in 2008. In a recent CNN poll of possible democratic candidates, Gore came in tied for third place with John Edwards, far behind Senators Clinton and Obama.

Thanks to everyone who voted. Somehow, I have a feeling we'll be hearing more about this whole "election thing" in the months ahead.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Toasted Gift Guide, Part Deux

We're back!

After hours of meticulous research which proves, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that I have way too much time on my hands, Wind In The Wire once again comes to your rescue with another round of gift suggestions which are sure to cause surprise and delight on Christmas morning, not to mention shock, disbelief, and possible bodily injury. Happy holidays!

Let's save the truly gross and disgusting items for later, and start off with a cultural icon that seems to have come out of nowhere this year. In the unlikely event that there is a single person left on the planet who has not seen the beloved heart-warming 1983 family classic film "A Christmas Story", the plot features a young boy named Ralphie who is obsessed with getting the Christmas present of his dreams: a Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle (OK, I've updated the story a bit for the modern times we live in). Meanwhile, Dad becomes positively orgasmic over this Leg Lamp, replicas of which have now suddenly appeared in many catalog and novelty stores. Seriously, I don't ever remember seeing this item available before this season, and now there will be thousands, perhaps millions, of these things being as given as gifts this year, to spend one solitary day of incandescent glory in living rooms all across America before the Head of the Household (aka "Mom") banishes them to the attic or garage. Somehow, I expect to see lots of these on eBay after the holidays.

Speaking of fake body parts, do you know someone who will be lonely this season? Perhaps they've just broken up with their significant other and are in need of some comfort. Well have we got just the thing for them ... a bottle of Xanax! No seriously, how about The Boyfriend Pillow (which features an arm which wraps reassuringly around you) for the ladies, and The Girlfriend Pillow for the guys, complete with red miniskirt and a plush lap they can rest their head in, or do other perverted stuff, you know, with. (Feel free to switch genders if your forlorn friend happens to swing that way.)

As "A Christmas Story" proves, nothing celebrates the blessed birth of Jesus quite like the gift of firearms. But if you're worried that someone will put an eye out with a Red Ryder BB gun, how about The Marshmallow Shooter? This plastic, pump-action device "sends fluffy marshmallows flying over 30 feet!" Imagine the fun as you set up cups of hot chocolate and try to dunk marshmallows in them from across the room (tip: a rebound shot off the wall works best). Alas, if only we could get all those fighting in the middle east to use these instead. Marshmallows not included.

Another update to a classic gift item, not to mention a personal favorite of mine, is The Sarcastic Ball, a different take on the old "Magic 8-Ball". Instead of the boring, stock 8-Ball answers to your questions, the Sarcastic Ball will repeatedly amuse and abuse you with replies like "As If", "Ask Me If I Care", "Get A Clue", "Whatever", Who Cares?", and "Yeah And I'm The Pope", among others. You love it, you know you do. This is sure to keep your friends and co-workers in stitches, providing it doesn't get you fired.

A favorite gift sure to cause merriment around the tree is the Fart Machine, and you can find more variations on this high concept than you ever knew existed here. If you have any doubts as to just how much wacky fun flatulence can be on Christmas morning, read this tale of hilarity from a fellow blogger friend about her adventures with such a machine (a top of the line model, with remote control!) that her mom gave her uncle and cousin two years ago. This is the true spirit of Christmas, folks.

While we're on the subject, have you ever wanted to have your very own, custom-printed toilet paper? Of course! What red-blooded American wouldn't? Send in any photo and it will be reproduced on every sheet, for only $12 a roll. Think of the possibilities ... or maybe it would be better not to think about it, actually. Still, as novelty items go #2 is still #1. I especially like the "Paris Hilton" motif pictured (right). Speaking of the dear girl, another friend and fellow blogger Curly McDimple reports that she was shopping around New York's East Village a few weeks ago at a shop that featured incense. Among the typical Patchouli, Passionflower and Sandalwood scents was this curious fragrance, which she naturally had to take a picture of:

Which begs the question: what does Paris Hilton incense smell like? I guess if you've ever wanted to infuse your home with the odor of ignorant, low class, stage-puking skank-ho, then by all means fire up a stick of this stuff. Personally, I'd prefer the fart machine.

Oops, kinda got off track there! Sorry. Back to the gift suggestions; these last two items are actually very cool. Did you know that you can legally purchase an acre of land on the moon? According to the Lunar Land site, "Give the top rated gift that is loved by over 250 very well known celebrities, more than 30 past and present members of NASA, 2 former US Presidents and over 2 million average everyday people from around the world. What could be more unique than giving someone an acre on the Moon? For the average person, an acre on the Moon is an excellent gift and great conversation piece." Acreage starts at just $29.95 ... although you may have a little trouble getting there to inspect your property and build that weekend getaway cabin.

Finally, I know a lot of bloggers out there are by definition writers, or at least would like to be. Everyone has The Great American Novel in them somewhere, it's said, but few of us get to publish that book we long to author. So if you've dreamed of having your name on the printed page but haven't been able to draw it out of you yet, here's the next best thing: enjoy the adventure of starring in your own personalized romance novel! All you do is supply the basics -- your first and last name, hair and eye color, name of your co-starring hero or heroine, and a few other details of personal information, and this site will crank out a 160 to 180 page novel, complete with a bodice-ripping picture of you on the cover. The "Romance By You" site offers the following plot variations: Medieval Passion, Tropical Treasure, Love's Next Door, Pirates of Desire, Vampire Kisses, Western Rendezvous, and ER Fever are "love stories full of romance, passion and humor." You can even get a preview of the steamy potboiler. For example, here's a sample I generated using my name and that of a Well-Known Public Figure:
   The two nurses prepared for the cardiac patient's arrival and heard the ambulance pull up outside County General's emergency room entrance. As Margaret and Queen Elizabeth walked in the direction of the sliding glass doors, they saw a man in a white lab coat striding toward them.
   “Hi, I’m Dr. Toast,” he said, extending a hand to Margaret. She accepted it and was instantly captivated by his warm touch. His salt and pepper hair looked professionally messy, as if he had just rolled out of bed and into Margaret's ER. She could not help but notice that his body was perfectly proportioned and undeniably sexy.
   “Margaret... Margaret...” she stammered, searching her memory for her surname. She was still shaking Dr. Toast's hand when Queen Elizabeth coughed loudly behind her, breaking her friend's reverie. “Margaret Thatcher,” she finally blurted out. “I’m the charge nurse tonight. Nice to meet you, Dr. Toast.”
   Her friend grinned at Margaret's unusually flustered demeanor. “And I’m Queen Elizabeth, and here’s your first customer, Dr. Toast,” she said hurriedly, as a stretcher wheeled past guided by two paramedics.
   "We're ready in trauma room nine, guys," Margaret shouted over the noise of the ER...
   Later that day, they met and stood facing each other in the hallway, her blue eyes meeting his hazel-eyed gaze. Margaret opened her mouth to speak but before she could, Dr. Toast wrapped his right arm around her waist and pulled her to the left, pushing open a door that led to the janitor’s storage area. They were surrounded by brooms, cleaning supplies and garbage bags were stacked from floor to ceiling. The area was tiny and Dr. Toast held her close.
   “Well, if this isn’t the ultimate cliché. A quickie in the broom closet!”
   “No quickie, Doctor,” Margaret stated firmly.
   “Ah. I see you want it slow and long then,” said Dr. Toast. He put both arms around her waist and pulled her into him. She pushed against his chest trying to break the embrace, but he had already begun kissing the base of her neck, and she was weakened by his touch. He covered her face with soft kisses as he slowly rotated her body so that he stood behind her. His arms were wrapped around her, his hands joined together just below her navel.
   “Dr. Toast, we can’t do this.” it came out as a whisper.
   “Yes we can. It’s more fun if it’s dangerous.”
Whoo! I don't know about you, but ah do believe ah'm gettin' the vapors! That Maggie Thatcher is one hot hoochie-mama! Check out the site to star in your very own novel; they also have children's books (with much tamer plot lines) to make your child a hero as well.

Well, that wraps up the Toasted Gift Guide for this year, I hope you've enjoyed it. Remember, it is better to give than to receive, especially with some of these bizarre items. Have a great holiday!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Toasted Gift Guide, Part 1

I picked out a Christmas present for Mrs. Toast online today which shall remain nameless, as she reads this blog and I don't want to tip my hand. But since I have now been an active participant in both Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I feel not only qualified but, dare I say, compelled to offer -- as a public service -- a few heartfelt gift suggestions for anyone who may be having trouble figuring out exactly what to get that special someone this year. No need to thank me, just remember that this advice is worth every penny you paid for it.

Anyone living in South Florida knows of the recent problems there involving giant Burmese Pythons formerly kept as pets being released into the wild by their owners after the snakes grow too big for them to handle. These critters thrive in the sub-tropical climate, and a number of incidents have been reported involving giant reptiles dining on local yard chickens or house cats. So if you want to give someone the thrill of finding a 12-foot long killer 'Boid in their commode during the holidays, consider this fun item. They're sure to thank you.

Actually, the McPhee site is a gold mine of great ideas. Where else could you find, in addition to your run-of-the-mill rubber chickens, such classic gifts as the "I ♥ Meat" lapel button, Jesus Air Fresheners, as well as a complete selection of Parasite Pals®? The informationologists on your gift list will certainly appreciate the Librarian Action Figure, complete with glasses, bun hair-do, and "amazing shushing action". Yes, for that hard-to-please person, this place has got you covered.

While the holidays are a great joy for most of us, some folks are affected by SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and can get very depressed, perhaps even suicidal, at this time of year. So if someone you know has this problem, consider showing your support by getting them this:

They're sure to appreciate your thoughtfulness. As an alternative, Java lovers and readers of this blog who may not be lethally despondent but only "mildly antisocial" might like this mug instead.

The Daily Calendar, along with the sausage log, has long been a staple of holiday giving; I have gotten Mrs. Toast her "365 Cats" calendar virtually every year since we've been married, and she now pretty much expects it. So this season, just for a change of pace, I'm considering this calendar instead. Hey, do I know how to charm a girl, or what?

For those addicted to burgers and fries, nothing says love like tomato-flavored condiments. And this year Heinz is again offering to print customized labels on an Actual Bottle of Ketchup at its Create-A-Label site. Unfortunately, some suit in the company's legal department has evidently decreed that certain taboo words are not acceptable, so such innocuous phrases as "Don't Touch! Bob's Ketchup", for example, are fine and dandy but even mildly suggestive expressions like "Blood of Dracula" (not to mention the more profanely obvious ones) bring up a stern admonishment that "the message you have entered contains language that violated Heinz's terms and conditions. Please re-enter your message." Personally, for six bucks a bottle, I think you should be able to get any damn thing you want printed on the label. It's a moot point anyway; you need to have ordered by November 3rd for Christmas delivery, but Valentine's Day is right around the corner!

Well, that should get you started down the road to crass commercialism the joy of holiday giving. More Toasted Gift Suggestions tomorrow, not just because I care, but also because it's a shameless way to knock off another NaBloPoMo post. Only three days to go!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Secret agents wanted

Are you a thrillseeker? Fancy yourself as the next James Bond? The C.I.A. would like to talk to you. The agency is actively recruiting new employees, and has hired a PR firm to jazz up its image, including TV ads on the Discovery Channel. It also created this Personality Quiz on the CIA's website, where you can determine for yourself if you're potential spook material. The tongue-in-cheek quiz is designed to encourage job applications while dispelling some of the myths and preconceptions some people might have about working for "The Firm". For example: "Myth #2: Everyone Drives a Sports Car with Machine Guns in the Tailpipes. Car chases through the alleyways of a foreign city are common on TV, but they’re not what a CIA career is about. And, they don’t compare with the reality of being part of worldwide intelligence operations supporting a global mission."

According to my results, I am an "Impressive Mastermind". I have no idea what this means, but it certainly sounds cool, so I may have to consider a second career with the CIA. Maybe I'll get to wear a tuxedo to work while I sip on a dry martini, shaken, not stirred. The name's Toast. Mister Toast.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Rampant consumerism

By all accounts Black Friday was a huge success, and I can proudly report that I did my part yesterday to help kick off the great American orgy of economic gratification known as the "holiday shopping season". Getting out of bed at 5:15 AM, I was standing in line at my nearby Staples office supply store when their doors opened at 6 o'clock, and one hour later I had scored the following goodies that only a fellow geek will truly appreciate:
  • • A 200-gigabyte Maxtor internal hard drive for $19
  • • A one-gigabyte SanDisk USB flash drive for $7
  • • A Brother plain-paper fax machine for $15
And were these presents for the tech-savvy people on my gift list, you might ask? Hell, no. They were all for me. Me! Meeeeeeee! Muawh ha ha ha!! I actually needed these items, and Staple's discount prices were just too good to turn down. I'll shop for other folks later, perhaps on Cyber Monday, when many Americans will get on the web to search for bargains from the high-speed comfort of their office Internet connections. According to this story, nearly half of us will purchase at least one gift item online this season, compared to less than thirty percent three years ago, and for many folks it's going to be a total point & click holiday.

For anyone who may be new to the world of online commerce, I can report to you that I've been shopping online for many years, and have found it to be safe and convenient. In addition to saving time, gas, and money, you also have the advantage of incredible variety. So if you're having trouble finding that Sony Playstation III or Tickle Me Elmo TMX you've been desperately searching for, I'm sure that Captain Danger Stunt Monkey will be a more than worthy substitute.

Let the shopping begin!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Remembering Cotton

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving yesterday. In addition to today being the biggest retail day of the year (Why are you reading this blog? You should be out there shopping. Go support the economy! Go!), it's also CatBlogging Friday, the day of the week when many bloggers post pictures of or stories about their cats. I used to be a regular Friday CatBlogger, but haven't participated in quite a while. However, to honor of the intersection of CatBlogging Friday with the holiday weekend, let me tell you about a very special feline member of our family whom I pause to remember today.


I'll never forget the first time I saw her, a fuzzy ball of gray fur and whiskers not much bigger than a medium-size cantelope. Opening the door of our condo in Southwest Houston to leave for work that morning, I nearly tripped over her as she scampered under my feet into the house from our welcome mat in front of the door, where she had evidently spent the night.

"Hey!" I shouted. "Where do you think you're going? You don't live here."

The logic of this statement appeared to elude her, as she gave me a look that clearly said, "So what? Got anything to eat?" She acted equally nonchalant towards our resident Siamese, Tasha, who arched her back and hissed at this interloper to her domain, and then promptly ran and hid under the bed. Tasha may have acted brave, but she was a sissy when you called her bluff and this new feline wasn't taking any of her crap. I liked her immediately.

She did seem hungry and was quite affectionate, so we fed her some Tender Vittles and played with her for a few minutes. It was then I noticed that she was wearing a collar and tag, which coincidentally bore the name of our own veterinarian. This was not too surprising since he was the closest fur-doc in our neighborhood, and I was somewhat relieved that she was not a stray. I figured she had just wandered in from down the street somewhere and would go back home after I went to work, so I dropped her outside at the foot of the steps as I left for the day.

She was still there when I came home that evening, so I decided it was time to call the vet and see who she belonged to. Maybe she was lost.

Our vet reported that she was owned by a family living near our condo, about three blocks away. He told me that her name was "Cotton", which seemed like a pretty dumb name to me, but that was what was on his records. She was a little over a year old. I asked about her general health and whether she had been "fixed". The vet said that she had been, but had borne one litter of kittens before being spayed; he then made the curious statement that "she wasn't a very good mother." I never found out exactly what he meant by that, as he didn't seem to want to tell me. I could only suspect that perhaps she had killed one of her kittens or something equally horrible. Given her sweet nature, however, that seemed hard to believe.

The next day, I took her to the address the vet gave me for her owner, and knocked on the door. A middle aged woman answered, and scowled at me when I explained how Cotton had shown up on our doorstep. "That damn cat," she said in an irritated tone. "It's always running off." She didn't seem to have been worried about her, or at all glad to have her back. Maybe it was the kitten-eating thing, I don't know. In any case, I didn't think much more about it until I went to leave for work a few days later ... and there she was at the front door again. After feeding her and playing with her for a little while, I took her home again, only to receive the same stony response from her owner. No wonder the cat ran off.

I think you can guess where this is going: she was back on our doorstep again the next day, and when I opened the door this time she scooted in and plopped herself down on the carpet like she owned the place. It was pretty obvious that she had "adopted" us, and she became a beloved member of our family for the next twenty-one years. After a period of adjustment, Tasha accepted her as well, and they eventually became fast friends. Even though we weren't exactly thrilled with the name "Cotton", it stuck anyway. She did have cottony-soft fur, and the sweetest disposition of any cat I've ever had; she was particularly fond of being scratched at the base of her tail, which would make her thrust up her rump like she was in a kitty-porn movie. However, there was one exception to her gentle nature: she loved being petted everywhere except for her tummy. If your hand got too close to that temptingly fuzzy underbelly, the claws and teeth came out and you were likely to end up with bloody fingers. I could only assume this had something to do with her "bad mother" rap; she must not have liked being nursed by her kittens very much.

The years went by; in early 1992 I took a job as an engineer for a state university, and we moved 150 miles from Houston to East Texas. Cotton made the trip comfortably curled in my lap, watching the scenery go by peacefully as Tasha howled like a banshee from her cat carrier the entire way. Then in March of 2002, my 10-year state contract expired. The local TV station offered to hire me, but the position would not be available for a few months; as a result, I found myself with an extended block of free time that I had not had for many years ... and probably would not have for many years to come. A flash of an idea struck me: I had always dreamed of visiting Europe, traveling leisurely by train wherever and whenever the mood struck me, so the next several months could be a golden opportunity to make this dream come true. Unfortunately, Mrs. Toast would not be able to go with me as she still had the same two-weeks-of-vacation-a-year limitation that I always had before this as well. But we decided that this was a chance not to be missed, so I bought a round-trip ticket to Paris (we had a friend living there at the time) and an unlimited Eurail Pass, and got ready for the journey of a lifetime.

Just two days before I was about to leave, Cotton became very, very sick. She would not eat, in fact she could barely move. She just hunkered down, with some sort of goop oozing from her left eye. A visit to the vet revealed that not only did she have an eye infection, but more seriously, her kidneys were failing. This is a common problem faced by older cats, and not much can be done about it. The vet estimated that based on her test results which were, as he put it, "off the chart", she had two weeks, perhaps a month, left to live. As I was going to be gone for the next two months, my departure was bittersweet: I left home with a heavy heart, convinced that I would never see her alive again.

Over the next few weeks, however, she rallied. I received excited e-mails from Mrs. Toast telling me that Cotton was eating again; a few days later her eye had completely healed, and soon she was running around the house with her usual level of energy and curiosity. I was so happy I nearly cried, and when I got home in late May she was there to greet me like always. Much to our surprise and delight, she continued to thrive for the next two and a half years.

Thanksgiving had always been a special time for us, and Cotton seemed to enjoy the holiday almost as much as we did. On this day each year, she would get a rare treat: real turkey! Oddly, Tasha never cared much for turkey, but Cotton would happily devour little scraps of the bird that we shared with her from the dinner table, and especially liked it with a little gravy. Then she'd curl up in my lap while we watched football later in the day, or take a nap with us. Like I said, she was one of the family.

November of 2004 found me again away from home; the TV station had consolidated its operations, and my job's primary responsibilities were in Tyler, about 75 miles away from where we lived. As Mrs. Toast now had an excellent job at the University as a librarian, moving wasn't really an option. At first I tried commuting, but the daily three-hour round trip drive became exhausting ... so I decided to rent a small apartment in town for use during the week and come home on the weekends.

As Thanksgiving approached, Cotton once again became very sick from lack of kidney function, and it was apparent that this time there would be no miraculous recovery. The upcoming holiday was going to be a long weekend for me, as I would be off work from Wednesday afternoon until the following Monday morning, but by early Tuesday of that week Cotton was fading fast. She stopped eating and using the litter box. For some strange reason, the spot she chose as being the most comfortable place for her was the bathtub. Mrs. Toast wasn't sure she would make it until I got there, but Tuesday night and Wednesday morning she kept petting Cotton in the tub and telling her "hang on, baby, Daddy's coming".

I arrived at the house about 7 PM Wednesday night, Thanksgiving eve. As I sat down in my big lounge chair, Mrs. Toast brought Cotton in from the bathroom and put her in my lap. She looked up, and seemed to recognize me; as I gently stroked her fur, she began to purr, according to Mrs. Toast, for the first time in days. She sort of climbed up on my chest a little and buried her head into my armpit. For the next six hours, neither of us barely moved, other than I continued to pet her and talk to her lovingly. Around 1 AM on Thanksgiving morning, I felt her stiffen, and she suddenly kicked forcefully with her hind legs. I held her tightly, and after a few seconds she stopped. Several more minutes passed with no further movement, and I began to realize that she had died in my arms.

I was devastated, but also grateful that I had been given the opportunity to be with her in her final hours. I don't know if such things are possible, but it was almost like she knew I was coming and held on until I got there. She had a good, long, happy life, and the last thing she felt as she left this earth was the touch of the human who loved her most. I had the overwhelming sensation as she passed that I had gently handed her soul up to God for safekeeping, and that brought me much comfort even as I grieved for her.

This Thanksgiving marks the second anniversary of her death, so I especially miss her this time of year. We had her cremated, and placed her ashes in a ceramic urn with her picture on it. It sits on our bookshelf, so in a way she's still with us. Rest in peace, Cotton; we'll see you at the Rainbow Bridge. Maybe you weren't a very good mother, but you were a great companion.

For more CatBlogging posts visit the Carnival of the Cats, being hosted this week by Scribblings.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Holiday Greetings

Hello friends! Not much to blog about today; we're getting ready for the big holiday tomorrow, and plan a traditional celebration of turkey, apple pie, football, and copious napping. Also, Mrs. Toast is warming up her credit cards in anticipation of Black Friday. Unlike last Thanksgiving when we went to visit relatives, this year we're staying at home so there will be lots of leftover turkey for sandwiches. However you spend it, I wish you a safe and blessed holiday.

Turkeys Try to Catch Train Out of NJ

Note: Forget "Snakes on a Plane"; we've got "Turkeys on a Train". This true story, spotted today on the Associated Press, seems appropriate following my previous post where WKRP's Les Nessman says "it was almost as if they were organized". Apparently New Jersey is such a hellhole that even wild turkeys want to leave. The birds are smarter than we think.

RAMSEY, N.J. - Some wild turkeys, it appears, were trying to get out of New Jersey before Thanksgiving Day. A spokesman for the NJ Transit said train officials reported a dozen or so wild turkeys waiting on a station platform in Ramsey, about 20 miles northwest of New York City, on Wednesday afternoon. The line travels to Suffern, N.Y.

"For a moment, it looked like the turkeys were waiting for the next outbound train," said Dan Stessel, a spokesman for NJ Transit. "Clearly, they're trying to catch a train and escape their fate."

Transit workers followed the bird's movements on surveillance cameras. "I have no idea how they got there," Stessel said.

A Ramsey police dispatcher said the department had received three calls about the traveling turkeys who also were blamed for causing morning rush hour traffic problems on a roadway.

"From time to time, I've heard calls that there are turkeys on the loose," said Erik Endress, president of the Ramsey Rescue Squad, a volunteer group. "Maybe they're trying to make a break."

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Talkin' Turkey

One of my favorite TV shows of all time was "WKRP in Cincinnati". I was a radio DJ at the time, and it was as if someone had taken my life and made it into a sitcom. Many people who have watched "WKRP" will agree that "The Great Turkey Drop" episode was probably the best of the series; it concludes with one of the most memorable punch lines in television history. So, to get us in the spirit of Thanksgiving this week, enjoy this YouTube video clip of the episode's pivotal denouement:

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 20, 2006

A light at the end of the tunnel

The final day of November will mark the end of NaBloPoMo, or "National Blog Posting Month". Those who have been posting religiously all month will testify that coming up with fresh content every single day has been more difficult than we first thought it would be. About one-third of the original participants have had to back out due to missing at least one post; some have given up entirely. Therefore, for those of us still running in this marathon, I hereby designate -- in no official capacity whatsoever -- that Friday, December first, shall be known as NaNoMoFoBloPo, or "National No More Forced Blog Posting" day. It will be mandatory for all bloggers not to post anything on this day to finally give our poor overtaxed brains a day off. Here's the countdown ticker to the big day of rest:

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Can you see me now?

I like to think of myself as a fairly tech-savvy guy, as you might expect from someone with a career in broadcast engineering. My "data center" at home has five networked computers, all of which I built from scratch parts (with the exception of my laptop). I maintain two servers that are online 24/7, and love my pocket MP3 player.

This fondness for electronic gadgetry dates back to my childhood, when I would tear apart anything electric from lamps to radios in my dad's basement, just to see how they worked. Then I'd use the parts to build something completely different. I learned to solder when I was 12 years old.

So it might come as a surprise that I am a total Luddite when it comes to today's most modern and versatile gadget, the cell phone. I do not want a phone that is a clock, camera, calendar, web browser, map, walkie-talkie, music player, data center, photo album, video game, toaster oven, secret decoder ring, or whatever the hell else they're building into cell phones now. At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, I only want a device that will make and receive phone calls. Is that asking too much?

Apparently so, because each new generation of phones seems to contain more whizz-bang features than the last, whether we want them or not. I personally think this is a ploy on behalf of the service providers to get us to use more airtime. Anyone remember when wireless phones first came out, and what a novelty they were back then? You could make a telephone call while you were driving down the road! Wow! What a concept! In exchange for this miracle breakthrough in technology, we were willing to accept its limitations: the service was expensive, and call quality was poor, with frequent disconnects. Moreover, you had to be very stingy with your cell phone minutes back then, as airtime was limited and you'd get stuck with "roaming" charges of a dollar or so per minute if you ventured out of your local area.

Of course all that's different now, as wireless networks have added tremendously to their capacity in the last few years. Service costs less than half of what it used to, and most plans allow nearly unlimited nationwide calling with no roaming charges. So as a result, providers have had to come up with added services like custom ring tones, music downloads, photo sharing and the like in order to squeeze more money out of generate more revenue from their customers. Some folks, like me, merely don't care much for this; others think it's the source of all evil.

The latest ploy, which I have been following for a while, is to offer phones with embedded GPS locating devices to track the exact location of the phone's user and their immediate circle of friends. One reason for this trend is regulatory; the government (i.e., The Federal Communications Commission) has demanded that all cellular companies be able to provide 911 operators with the location of anyone calling on a cell phone so help can get to the right place. Companies can already do this to a certain degree by placing the user within the range of the nearest cell tower connecting them to the network. However, GPS provides a much greater level of detail, fixing the user's exact location on the planet within a couple of meters. From an article by Randall Stross in today's New York Times:
Two wireless providers recently made separate announcements about new positioning services. Two weeks ago, Helio -- a wireless service owned jointly by SK Telecom, a South Korean cellphone company, and Earthlink, the American Internet service provider --€” introduced the "Buddy Beacon" in its new phone, the Drift, which costs $225. With the press of a button, the Drift shows on a map the location of up to 25 friends, if each is also carrying a $225 Drift. Last week, Boost Mobile, a unit of Sprint, unveiled "Boost Loopt", a similar offering described as a "social mapping service"

The privacy implications of this are mind-bogglingly enormous. It's one thing for a parent concerned with safety to be able to track the location of their child, but do you want your spouse, boss, the government, or a stalker to know your exact position (both present and past) for every moment of the day? Buddy Beacon addresses this issue by making the user press a button on the phone when they choose to update their location, however Boost Loopt has a feature which automatically updates the user's position:

Boost Loopt's service has offered its first-generation users an option to automatically send current coordinates every 15 to 20 minutes. Anticipating potential security problems, it urges its users to admit only "good and trusted friends" into the closed circle that can follow their movements. Loopt suggests that all prospective invitees pass a number of tests of trustworthiness: Do you have their phone numbers? Do you know where they live and where they grew up? Would you lend them your car? Would you give them your house keys to feed your dog?
Isn't this a little much to ask of someone just to include them in your cell phone's address book?

The public is only vaguely aware of the trend toward these locator services, and legislation to control them is virtually nonexistent. According to the Times article, Dr. David Mark, a professor at SUNY-Buffalo who specializes in this issue, has said recently that it will probably take "a horrific incident involving a celebrity" before lawmakers pay attention. He also notes that when families adopt positioning cellphone services, a new problem will likely emerge: the very act of turning off one's location beacon may itself be seen as suspicious. "œIf you don't want your location known", Dr. Mark asks, "does that mean you intend to do something improper?"

A provocative question, and this is one reason why I'll keep my older cell phone, thank you very much, but want nothing to do with these so-called "advanced features". If you care about privacy and anonymity, this is some pretty scary shit.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

What disease cannot do

A new blogger friend has recently announced that a close member of her family has been diagnosed with the same illness that I have, Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. They are going through a period of shock and adjustment that I know all too well from my own diagnosis nearly three years ago. So it was perhaps more than mere coincidence that today as I was leafing through various Christmas catalogs, I came across a framed print with an eloquent and inspirational message that I'd like to share:

What Cancer Cannot Do
It cannot cripple love.
It cannot shatter hope.
It cannot corrode faith.
It cannot destroy peace.
It cannot kill friendships.
It cannot suppress memories.
It cannot silence courage.
It cannot invade the soul.
It cannot steal eternal life.
It cannot conquer the Spirit.

Medical research shows without any doubt that a healthy and positive mental outlook can translate into actual physical well-being, and I think these words are applicable to those with any serious illness.


Friday, November 17, 2006

Random Friday bits

Happy Friday! The weekend is almost here, and by next week at this time I will be burping the remnants of my Thanksgiving turkey dinner. Of course, that means Christmas is not far behind, as this little countdown page will remind you; 37 days and counting as I write this.

Adding to my usual bout of Holiday Anxiety this year is the fact that I totally wasted a day of my life yesterday by making a 300-mile round trip to Houston and back for ... absolutely nothing. I had been supposed to see the doctor who is administering the clinical trial of the experimental meds I'm taking for my lung condition, but when I got to the clinic for my 1:30 appointment, they had no clue that I was scheduled to be there. It turned out that the trial coordinator totally dropped the ball, scheduling the date with me but forgetting to call the doctor's office. It was a moot point anyway, as the doctor was out of the office on an emergency and wouldn't have been able to see me even if I had been on his schedule. Oh well, we'll try again next month. To be honest, I wasn't all that upset about it; it's not like I had any other big plans yesterday, and it was a beautiful sunny day for a drive, with nice cool temperatures. Plus, I really credit this medication with extending my life ... so giving back one day seems more than fair. My coordinator was very sorry for the mistake, and by way of apology gave me a $50 Wal-Mart gift card, which will help with the Christmas shopping.

Speaking of shopping, are you stumped by what to give that special someone on your list this year? Well here's a suggestion: how about a pocket laser stun gun?

Finally on my list of random thoughts for today: are you one of the millions of people who will be using online search engines this year to find Christmas gift suggestions, or for that matter any other tidbit of information? Sure, Google and the others return good results, but that plain white page can be awfully boring. Are you looking for a search engine that will talk to you? Preen, pout, entertain you, and tell you jokes? Ms. Dewey (played by actress/singer Janina Gavankar) does all this while using the new Microsoft LiveSearch to display the answers to your queries.

She can be a bit annoying after a while, and the site makes extensive use of flash graphics so you better have a fast broadband connection. Infoworld's Robert X. Cringely reports: "As stealth marketing campaigns go, this one may live to haunt its creator. Ms. Dewey is sexy but she’s not fast — at least when it comes to search results — and her shtick wears thin rather quickly. Like many things on the Net, you start out hot and bothered and end up just bothered." Still, this unorthodox search tool from Microsoft is definitely worth checking out.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Rant o'the Day

I really hate it when...

television commercials address me as a geographical area, as in "Hey East Texas, stop by and check this out!" or "Buy our product, America!!". It's lazy advertising, and makes me feel like part of an amorphous glob instead of a unique individual. Speaking of advertising, can someone please tell the owners of car dealerships and furniture stores that insist on using their precocious little son, daughter, niece or nephew to pitch the tag line for their company that viewers outside of the immediate family do not find this cute and appealing? The only reason such advertising might make us want to run in to your place of business is not to buy your product, but to find that annoying kid and bitch-slap the shit out of them.

Thank you, I feel better now.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Yo, NaBloPoMo! Whatup, mofo?

I'd like to send a special hello to any NaBloPoMo readers that may be dropping by, or hitting this page from the Randomizer.* Welcome to my toasted little corner of cyberspace. Those of you who, like me, are trying to post every single day during the month of November can take some solace in the fact that we're half-way there! Whoo hoo! We can do it you guys, let's not stop now! This sort of reminds me of a dance marathon, or one of those crazy contests that auto dealerships have occasionally where they get a bunch of people to put their hands on a new truck, and the last person still touching the truck gets to drive it home. Fortunately for us, we're allowed to eat, sleep and take occasional bathroom breaks during this particular blogathon, but coming up with a post-a-day is more of a challenge than one might think at first. As I've surfed through the list of participants, I've noticed a reoccurring theme: a few folks who have given up, or just forgot to post one day, or are running out of ideas to post about, are stressing about it. For example, To Whom It May Concern says today, "Dear NaBloPoMo: I'm tired. Can we just stop now?"

I understand this. I think I'm getting close to the bottom of the barrel myself, although I still have a few ideas up my sleeve that I'm saving for down the line. But let's remember, this is supposed to be FUN! We're not going to get a public flogging if we skip a day here and there. I think the point of NaBloPoMo is two-fold: first and most obvious, to get the old creative juices flowing ... but just as important seems to be to widen our blogging circle and make some new friends. So those of you who are new here, please let me invite you to visit some of my "regulars" like April, Janelle, Chandira, Meander, Moose, Schnozz, and Dogma. They'd love to have you stop by and visit; please tell 'em Mr. Toast says "hi".

Also, if you are new to Wind In The Wire and by some incredible stretch of the imagination actually like what you see here, let me suggest professional help. Ha ha! No seriously, for a crash-course review of some of the less boring stuff I've written in the last year, see this post. And come to think of it, the professional help, or at least some serious medication, might not be such a bad idea after all.

Incidentally, is it just me or does anyone else notice that maybe 80-90% of all blogs out there are written by women? What's up with that? Do women, by and large, have more time for extracurricular activities like blogging, or are they able to express themselves better than men? I would enjoy hearing your comments on this alleged phenomenon. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?

*I love the randomizer, BTW ... it's just like Blogger's "next blog" button except that it always pops up something interesting and readable. When I use the Blogger button to browse, it seems that at least half the time I either get some 13-year-old girl whose idea of a cool blog is a dewy, wide-eyed cartoon pixie princess and a tag board with messages like "OMG!!! That's so kewwwwel!!!", or a blog in Spanish, Chinese , or Arabic. Not that I have anything against foreign languages, mind you, I just can't freaking read them. But check out the randomizer if you haven't tried it, I guarantee you'll discover a fresh new, enjoyable read.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


I have no rational reason for doing so, but I really want Santa to bring me this for Christmas. I'm not sure why, it's not something I really need. Although sometimes I take pictures, I'm not a "photographer" by any stretch of the imagination. I hardly use the camera I already have, a Canon PowerShot A60. This would be like giving an F-16 to the pilot of a Piper Cub.

The Digital Rebel XT costs as much as some used cars, or, as Mrs. Toast will be quick to point out, a new washer and dryer (which we do, in fact, need). There are so many more sensible ways to spend the big-ticket bucks this thing costs.

You may notice that I am trying to talk myself out of this. It's not working.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Regional identity crisis

A pine tree by any other name would be -- what? Still a pine tree. And therein lies the absurdity of whatever marketing brain-trust has convinced area civic leaders and chambers of commerce of the need to "re-brand" the part of Texas I live in. For many years, our chunk of the state -- roughly bounded by Houston and Beaumont to the south, Tyler to the northwest corner, and the Louisiana state line to the east (see the green shaded area of the map on the right) -- has been simply known as "East Texas", or "The Pineywoods". But apparently that's no longer good enough to lure tourists and new residents, so these geniuses are attempting to come up with a regional moniker that will somehow make more people want to visit and/or relocate to this area. Examples of successful regional names used by other parts of the country might include "The Texas Hill Country", "The Rocky Mountains", "The Golden Triangle", "The North Country", "The Gulf Coast", and "Las Vegas", just to name a few.

For years, "The Pineywoods" has seemed like an appropriate description of this area, because the main topographical feature of East Texas is trees, lots and lots of them. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I'll take a peaceful forest, with secluded lakes and gentle rolling countryside, over a crowded, polluted city any day. (Except, of course, when shopping and dining is involved.) But according to an editorial in the local paper:
"The emphasis on trees might lead those who have never been here to imagine that we're nothing but a giant tangle of trees, and only one kind of tree, at that. Certainly, there's no mistaking that we abound with trees and forests, but we've got much more to offer. We're a region rich in Texas history. Our area abounds with lakes and rivers, national and state parks. Most people who have never been to East Texas have no idea that there is a part of Texas — our part — that more resembles an English countryside than it does a Hollywood version of Texas."
But what to call it? Here are a few ideas from a recent contest soliciting suggestions (somehow I suspect that some of these may be more tongue-in-cheek than others):
  • • Abitibi’s Bitch (Abitibi is a big local lumber/paper company)
  • • Baja Rivercrest
  • • The land north of the Gulf of Mexico, East of Interstate 45, South of the Red River, and West of the Sabine, excluding Houston and Dallas
  • • BeauTylerAna (Beaumont-Tyler-Texarkana)
  • • Angelachia (from a prominent area river, the Angelina)
  • • Hoo-Hooville
  • • Greater Rivercrest
With the possible exception of "Hoo-Hooville", I don't really care for any of these either. Over at The Critical Poet, a Steve Morgan writes:
"As far as I can tell there are about three things in East Texas: mobile homes, Baptist churches, and catfish restaurants. Lord, the catfish restaurants. Crazy Catfish, Ken's Catfish, Catfish Cabin, King Catfish. None of these features of East Texas lend themselves to a catchy moniker, though I suppose the local boosters could go with Catfish Country -- requiring everyone to overlook the the fact that a catfish is a hideous looking, bottom dwelling scavenger."
Hey, there we go: "Land Of The Hideous-Looking Bottom-Dwelling Scavengers". Perfect.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Presidential Opinion Poll - Unfortunate Problem (POP-UP!)

Since some of us are thinking a bit more about elections and the political process this month, it seemed like a good time for me to conduct a little online research. Hence, the "2008 Candidate Survey" over there to your right in my sidebar, where I invite you to register your favorite contender(s) for president in two years. It's received a decent response, with 33 votes so far. However, one unintended consequence is that it also seems to be serving pop-up and pop-under advertising to my blog readers; I personally hate pop-ups, so I want to apologize to anyone who is getting them.

On the Internet (like everywhere else), there is no such thing as a free lunch; many services will claim to offer "free" this or that, whether it's web hosting, music downloads, e-mail, photo albums, or a variety of other things, but nearly all of these contain some sort of advertising in exchange. Marketing professionals realize the opportunity to capitalize on the millions of people who have their own blogs and personal web pages on social networking sites like MySpace. Many of these folks are attracted to tools and widgets that can enhance their pages; in addition to interactive online polls like my presidential survey, one can find hit counters, guestbooks, videos, discussion forums, news tickers, tag boards, maps, calendars, horoscopes, and other doo-dads. The degree to which these services embed advertising into these web tools ranges on a scale from "not at all", through "unobtrusive and tolerable" to "obnoxious", all the way to "virus-laden spam". It's a vast wilderness with new services being added daily, and it can be hard for the average user who just wants to see how many people are viewing their pages to not wind up making their visitors feel like they've been violated.

There are a few well-known and reputable providers who keep advertising to a minimum. The top photo sharing providers, like Photobucket and Flickr, have ads on their sites but don't force them down your throat. Their free services are very useful and functional enough for the average web page; the main focus of their ads is to get you to sign up for their paid services if you require something more robust. Others can be far less ethical. A fellow blogger friend was recently taken in by a UK-based site that offered free web-tracking statistics, even helpfully offering to automatically install the required javascript code into her blog's template. For the next several days visitors to her site were bombarded with the most obnoxious pop-up and pop-under advertising (some of it bordering on pornographic), had their browser home pages hijacked, and suffered other virus-like behavior from the "free" tool. It was not until she was able to track down the changes the site had made to her template and remove them that viewers again felt safe to return to her site.

Bravenet, the site that has supplied my presidential poll, is somewhere in the middle. I chose them at first because they were one of the only ones I could find in the "free web poll" category that allowed multiple answers to a question, as well as offering a high degree of customization to the look and feel of the poll. When I signed up for it, I was under the impression that those who participated in the poll would only see a banner ad displayed on the results page. This seemed fair enough to me, however now that it's been there for a while I've noticed that it also occasionally serves popups when my blog page is loaded. Even though the pop-up blocker feature in the latest versions of Internet Explorer and Firefox will usually stop these, I still don't care much for this behavior and I'll probably take the poll down in the next few days once it appears that everyone who would like to vote has done so. In the meantime, I apologize to anyone who gets an unwanted ad.

All that aside, the poll itself has revealed some interesting results. The two top contenders are Al Gore and Colin Powell, both tied with 30% of the popular vote. John Edwards is third at 21%, and Hillary Clinton (at 6%) is much further behind the rest of the pack than I had expected my readers to put her. The most recent Democratic presidential candidate, John Kerry, has not received a single vote. Colin Powell's popularity is especially interesting, and I have some analysis of why this is so ... but I'll save that for a future post later in the week. (Gotta keep NaBloPoMo going!) So in the meantime, please vote for your favorite if you haven't done so already. The poll won't be there much longer.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Word Art

I recently discovered an interesting web site that creates posters from images and text. First type in a word or phrase; the generator searches the web for random images based on your words and creates a background from them. Then it places the text, applying random effects to the whole thing. The results don't make any real sense, but they do look way cool. Here are a few samples I made from the words "Wind In The Wire":

The site is called "TypoGenerator" - make your own word art here.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Fake News

Rumsfeld Lets Door Hit Him In The Ass On His Way Out

Washington, D.C. - The Bush Administration's hallmark lack of exit strategy has claimed yet another victim, this time Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld himself.

Sources inside the Pentagon confirm Rumsfeld had paused to bestow one last condescending smirk as he exited the building yesterday afternoon. Witnesses say a gigantic reinforced steel door swung closed onto his buttocks, knocking him several feet into the air. He walked with a noticeable limp following the incident, and subsequent medical tests at Bethesda Naval Hospital revealed an injured coccygeal attachment.

The Secretary is said to be recuperating at home, and has received numerous cards and emails encouraging him to "break a leg," "choke on it," "drop dead," and "take a flying leap on a rolling donut you smug incompetent worthless piece of crap."

When asked for comment, President George Bush said only that he felt the former Defense Secretary had done "a heckuva job."

Source: The Specious Report

Thursday, November 09, 2006

ZoHoHo and a Google of rum

I've been playing a bit lately with online tools that can be used for blogging or collaborative document creation, and am very impressed with two of the front-runners in this nascent category: Google Docs (formerly known as "Writely") and ZoHo Writer. Both are free, and allow you to use a full suite of Office-like applications with nothing more than a web browser. This post is being created with ZoHo now.

A buzzword within the computer industry these days is "Software as Service", a sales model where you "subscribe" to an application which is used over an Internet connection, as opposed to buying it outright as a CD (or download) to install on your home computer. Many people, including myself, are justifiably skeptical of this concept, believing that it's one more way for giants like Microsoft to get their hooks into you and ultimately force you to cough up more money. This is a big concern, but there are some advantages as well: you're always using the latest version of the software, and you can use it from any computer anywhere you happen to be. Files and documents are always available, and several people can contribute to a document jointly without the hassle of having to e-mail it back and forth. In certain business situations this makes a lot of sense.

But for the typical home user who uses a word processor and spreadsheet primarily for simple tasks like writing letters and keeping a budget, there may not be the same compelling reasons to use an online suite like ZoHo. For one thing, a broadband connection is mandatory; dialup will make the service so slow and unreliable as to be unusable. And while the online suites have lots of nice features, they're still outclassed by stand-alone applications like Word and Excel.

However, bloggers may find that these tools are very useful for post creation. Most of the major blogging engines such as Blogger and Wordpress have rather featureless post editors, and formatting an entry as anything other than plain-vanilla text can be tricky. Wordpress in particular has a clunky WYSIWYG interface which is fond of inserting paragraphs where you only want a line break, and lacks an easy way to format text without tweaking the html code for your entry. But both Google Docs and ZoHo have a nice selection of rich formatting tools that simplify the task of changing text attributes like size, color, and placement. You can also easily spell-check, add hyperlinks and Technorati tags, and import images. Then, once you set up the service to be able to access your blog's API (the programming interface that allows outside applications to "talk" to your blog) all you have to do is hit the "publish" button from within ZoHo or Google to create or update your post.

After experimenting extensively with both, I have to say I like ZoHo the better of the two. Google may be better integrated, allowing you to switch between spreadsheets, documents, and email service more easily, but ZoHo's word processor just blows Google away. It's intuitive and easy to use, and lets you tweak your post to a finer degree than any of the other text tools can do. Plus, I had trouble getting Google to automatically accept the title of the document as the post title, which ZoHo did seamlessly. If you're tired of your blog's spartan interface, check out ZoHo Writer and Google Docs. I think they're pretty cool.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Election results

No, not those elections.

Oh sure, yesterday was historic, all right -- a day described by NBC's Tim Russert as "seismic" -- in which a wave of voter discontent and backlash against Republican greed and cronysim led to Democratic victories which ended twelve years of GOP domination, and made California Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi the new Speaker of the house. It was nothing less than a stunning rebuke of Bush, Rove and Co., a mandate against this administration's bungling of the Iraq conflict, and a swing of the political pendulum back to reality. Among other landmark decisions, voters in South Dakota rejected a proposed extreme ban on all abortions, which carried no exceptions for rape, incest, or the health of the woman. Florida voters ended the political career of Katherine Harris, the harpy ex-secretary of state whose dubious maneuvering of the Florida recount won the 2000 presidential election for George Bush.

It's true that this morning the dawn broke on a Blue Day in America, bringing a breath of fresh air and hope for a return to political sanity.

But fuggedahbouddit! I'm talking about important stuff here: voters rejected Mr. Toast's beard!

Yes, in a stunning rebuke of facial hair, readers of this blog cast their vote, deciding by a landslide margin of 9 to 4 that the goatee I sported earlier this summer was "not an attractive look for you". There was some bipartisan support for "cool, dapper, and bohemian", but overall the bearded Toast went down in crushing defeat. Therefore, I shall bow to the will of the public and never again allow 5 o'clock shadow to darken my chin.

In other blog election news, with nearly all of the precincts reporting, a similar poll of blog readers revealed that none of them own a pet python named Monty, and a full one-third of all respondents think that "Mr. Toast is an idiot".

The people have spoken. Democracy is safe.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

We the People

Today's the day for us to make, if not hopefully a change, at least a statement. Let me revisit something I wrote in this space two months ago:

It's tempting for us, when we learn of some government policy that we disagree with, to throw up our hands and say "what can I do? I'm only one person, and I have no power to make any difference." But that's not true; our system of government gives each and every one of us a direct voice in the legislative process through our elected representatives in the U.S. House and Senate ... it behooves me to tell them what I think and hope that if enough other people do the same, it might have an impact. What matters most to politicians is votes, and they need to realize how many votes they will lose if they continue to support legislation that destroys our Fourth Amendment and First Amendment protections.

Today could be historic, and it's your chance to put your money where your mouth is. Check the voting records of the incumbent candidates for Congress and Senate in your area, and if they supported warrantless surveillance in the form of S.2453 or H.R.5825, then vote them the hell out of office.

I said it before and I'll say it again: send a message to your elected officials that you are not about to hand over your constitutional rights, which generations of Americans have fought and died for, out of fear.

Today is the day we begin to take back America.

Monday, November 06, 2006

I post, therefore I am

I learned over the weekend that there's an "official list" for NaBloPoMo at fussy.org ... and Wind In The Wire is now on there, babies! In case you missed it, National Blog Posting Month is a group of bloggers who have committed to posting every single day during the month of November. I heard about this informally from someone else's blog, but it's evidently more of an organized affair than I had realized. As a bonus, in addition to the satisfaction of stretching my brain by contributing to the collective Blogosphere on a daily basis, getting on the list also qualifies me to possibly win cash and prizes! w00t! It's all good!

But this achievement did not come without effort. The official deadline to be included in the list was November 1st, and since I did not find out about it until the 3rd, I had to send the following email to the list's administrator begging to be included:
Hello - my name is Mr. Toast and I just found out about NaBloPoMo. I started posting on Nov. 1st, -- honest -- and I am determined to keep sloggin' and bloggin' all month!! However, what I didn't realize until just now is that you have this list of participants on your site, and if it's not too late, I'd like to have my blog at http://windinthewire.blogspot.com included. I don't even care if I'm not eligible to win any of the swag, I'd just like to maybe get a few new visitors. If you could put me on the list I would be eternally grateful. Bless you, your house and children. You are a fine and decent human being. Thank you thank you, thank you ohmygodthankyou. (I can grovel some more if that would help.)
To which she replied:

"Excellent groveling! You're in!"

Anyway, if you're looking for some interesting new blogs to read, check out the list of participants on her site and visit some of the other folks who will be posting every day; you're guaranteed to find some fresh content. Or try out the NaBloPoMo Randomizer. (It's like Blogger's "Next Blog" button, but will display a random blog only from those on the list.) You might even encourage them by leaving a comment -- after all, we bloggers do love us some comments. Please do this. I mean really, I want you to, please, pleasepleaseohmygodplease.

Hey, if there's one thing I can do well, it's grovel.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Mass. Hysteria

Regular readers of this blog may recall that during my summer vacation last August, I wrote of my sartorial adventures in a bastion of over-the-hill hipness in suburban Boston known as "The Village Green". (To refresh your memory, click here.)

Here's an interesting update: I received a phone call today from my friend and co-conspirator in that caper, who due to his love for pickled peppers, I will henceforth refer to simply as "Peter". Peter wanted to let me know that he had been back to the Village Green not just once, but twice this weekend. And to my horror and mortification, he also informed me that on Friday night he had printed a copy of my August blog post and actually given it to the Pants Nazi to read! Apparently things were busy on Friday and she did not have the opportunity to look at it right away. However, he reported that upon his return the following night, as soon as he entered the door she elbowed someone sitting next to her, pointed to Peter and said "that's him". Evidently she found my tongue-in-cheek account of the evening to be extremely amusing, however she did have a problem with one small detail of my report:

"You tell your Toast friend my hair's not blue," she said.

I stand corrected.

Peter has, sad to say, been a regular at The Green in recent months. He's been a widower for the last two and a half years, and a recent breakup with a girl-friend (an informal, less intimate version of "girlfriend") has left him "lookin' for love" once again. At his age, this is not an ideal situation. In addition to haunting geriatric singles bars, Peter has delved into the online dating scene, only to discover that it is a grim world filled with secretive, treacherous individuals who practice strange and aberrant behavior. On the Internet! Who knew?

While trolling this dark underbelly of cyberspace, he had firsthand experience as the target of a "Nigerian Romance Scam", and was played for a while by a scammer whom Peter believed at first to be a genuine person he "met" in an online chat room. Fortunately, he quickly became suspicious and ended the conversation after the person began displaying obvious signs of scam behavior (i.e., asking for money). Nigeria is well-known as a haven for scam perpetrators; the classic 419 fraud or "advance money scheme" has raked in billions of dollars over the years despite widespread public warnings. The "romance" angle is merely the latest addition to Nigeria's scam industry, which contributes sizably to the country's Gross National Product. It uses many of the same tactics as the notorious "Russian Bride" con: one begins corresponding with a woman who has posted attractive photos of herself on a website. Real-time chat follows, frequently on Yahoo! IM which seems to be the scammers venue of choice. In a matter of days, the person begins professing love and referring to you by pet names like "baby" and "hunny". Of course, the next step is to get money from you: most often, they claim they want to come to the USA to be with you, and need cash for passports, visas, tickets, or bribes to officials to get out of the country. Or they may have a sudden "emergency" such as the need for hospitalization for themselves or a close family member which they are unable to pay for, etc. Money is equated with love, as in "if you love me you'll do this for me." They might send their sweetheart in the US their so-called "payroll checks" which they claim to have difficulty cashing, and ask you to deposit it in your account and wire the money back to them. The specifics of the scam are varied and creative, but they have only one goal: to get you to send money. Often groups of scammers work banks of computers in dingy offices or cyber cafes, and are sometimes called "Yahoo Boys" as they tend to be young men who can find no other form of employment. Their victims tend to be lonely older men who are desperate for affection of any kind, and may honestly believe (or delude themselves into thinking) that these are real, beautiful girls who love them and need their help.

Fortunately, Peter was not fooled. Others may not be so lucky.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Random stupid question

Questions, Mr. Toast gets questions:

Q: Of all the ball pythons kept as exotic pets in the USA, what percentage of them are named "Monty"?
A: I have no freaking idea.

However, in an attempt to research the answer to this burning issue, I am asking anyone who stumbles across this page to take the following educational yet statistically meaningless...

Great Python Survey

Yes, I have a pet python and his/her name is "Monty"
Yes, I have a pet python, but it has a different name.
No, I do not have a pet python.
No, I do not have a pet python and Mr. Toast is an idiot.

View Results
Make your own damn poll

Yes friends, NaBloPoMo continues here at Wind In The Wire. Don't say I didn't warn you about the dumbass posts. But by Grabthar's hammer, I put something up today!!

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Bird and the Bush

Inappropriate Behavior or Protected Free Speech?

True story here: It's Friday, June 16th in Seattle, Washington. President Bush is in town visiting Republican Rep. Dave Reichert; the two men are slowly driving along in their motorcade. One of the vehicles stopped so the procession can pass is a school bus, driven by an unidentified 43-year old woman. The driver is taking a group of middle school children back to school after a zoo visit.

As the presidential motorcade passes the bus, the children wave; with the windows down in their car, Bush and Reichert wave back.

That’s when the driver flips off the president with the classic middle-finger salute.

“The congressman hadn’t seen it, but the president turned to him and said, ‘That one’s not a fan,”’ said Reichert spokeswoman Kimberly Cadena.

School officials learned about the incident after the driver boasted to colleagues about it, and the driver was promptly fired. She has since filed a union grievance in an attempt to get her job back; the case is currently pending.

School district spokeswoman Sara Niegowski said the driver has filed a wrongful termination grievance through the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, claiming the firing violates her right to freedom of speech and expression. However, Niegowski said the firing was not politically motivated.

“The bus driver was not terminated for making an obscene gesture at the president. The bus driver was terminated for making an obscene gesture in view of the students,” Niegowski said. “That’s not the role model we need for our students.”

Read the full story here.

The Insubordinate Bumper Sticker

In a similar incident, a San Diego woman is suing her former employer, claiming that she was fired from her job as a sales representative for American Marketing Co. as a result of having a bumper sticker on her car for the liberal-leaning "Air America" progressive talk radio network. According to Linda Laroca, three weeks after she started working for the marketing company, her supervisor called her on a Saturday and requested they meet at a nearby grocery store parking lot so Laroca could pass on some documents her supervisor needed.

During the brief encounter, Laroca charges, the manager pointed to the bumper sticker -- the only one on Laroca's car -- and remarked that it was for "that Al Franken left-wing radical radio station."

Laroca alleges in her suit that her supervisor then said, "The country is on a high state of alert. For all I know, you could be al-Qaida." A stunned Laroca laughed nervously at the statement, the suit alleges, and then was dealt "the final blow" when she was summarily fired on the spot.

Firing a person because you don't like his or her politics runs contrary to just about everything this country stands for, yet it happens all the time. Frequently there are underlying issues, and the company is looking for any excuse it can find to get rid of the person, even though the extracurricular activities that caused offense were entirely unrelated to the fired person's job and were not performed, or even discussed, in the workplace.

In a classic example from 2004, an Alabama woman was fired from her job because her boss demanded that she remove a Kerry/Edwards bumper sticker from her car. She said her boss told her, "I could either work for him or John Kerry."

She refused to remove the sticker and was fired soon afterwards. However, the Democratic candidate, upon hearing of the incident and seeing an opportunity to make political hay out of it, called the woman and personally offered her a job in his campaign office. "He was telling me how proud of me he was for standing up to my boss, and how he had read what my boss had said," the woman stated. Senator Kerry then told her, "Have him know that you're working for me now. You're hired." She accepted the offer.

Next Tuesday will be interesting, but I can't freaking wait for 2008.