Archive for the 'random crap' Category

Worst album cover, ever?

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

If only the human race could be so lucky. Oh noooooooooo, there’s more.

This little piggie went to market

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Hope everyone had a great Easter weekend! We visited the brother-and-sister-in-law, who live on sixty acres of pasture land out in the country near Austin. As is the case with many Texas farmers, ranchers, and other landowners, wild hogs are a big problem for them. The population of feral pigs has exploded in the Lone Star State in the last few years and is now estimated at between two and four million. Once a sow reaches breeding age at 7 or 8 months, she can produce up to one thousand piglets during her lifetime. At full growth they average 100 to 150 pounds, but in certain regions can reach up to 500-600 pounds. Among many forms of destructive behavior, feral pigs tear up fences, destroy crops with their rooting and wallowing, compete with native deer for food sources, carry disease and parasites, and some even kill lambs and other livestock.

To try and get rid of them, my brother-in-law has contracted with a local trapper who will catch and haul them off for free in exchange for their meat, which is supposedly even tastier than domestic pork. While we were there, they nabbed two adult swine and several piglets. Easter Ham, anyone?

Dear New England Patriots:

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

I wasn’t going to write this letter to you, I swear. I’m not usually the sort of person to put their heart on their sleeve like this, but ….

How could you?

How could you have let me down this way, after we’ve been together for so long? I mean, not only have we been with each other for years, we practically grew up together! I was there for you when you needed me; remember those nights we spent in Fenway Park, way back in the good old days, before you moved to Foxborough? They were so very special for me, but I know now they must not have been for you. Even when things got tough, I made excuses for you to all my friends. “You know how guys are,” I told them after that recent nasty videotaping incident. “They must have just been shooting the Jet’s cheerleaders or something, and got the coach’s signals by accident.” How could I have been such a fool to let you use me like that? My God, I was so blind.

But today was the worst ever; you knew it was supposed to be our big day together. I had such great expectations, and was in such a good mood earlier this afternoon. Everything was ready at home, the food, the drinks, and my friends and I were all prepared to celebrate with you … but then … it was almost like you hardly bothered to show up. When you did, you seemed like, all defensive and stuff, and just didn’t show me that magic “spark” that I’d seen so often before. Oh sure, you finally made an effort, but by then it was just way too little, too late.

I have to tell you how disappointed I am. You’ve hurt me so badly, and I’ve decided I just can’t go on like this any more. So I’m sorry, but it’s over between us. I may not have anyone else in my life right now, but I’ve got lots of time, and maybe by next season I’ll find someone who knows how to treat me right and won’t crush my dreams into the ground like a used cigarette butt, the way you did today.

I wish you luck, seriously. Even though we’re through, I’ll always remember the good times we had. In the meantime, I think you should know:

I’m fucking Matt Damon.

A heartwarming winter poem

Monday, January 28th, 2008

Dearest readers…

As I sit by my cozy fire this weekend writing the blog and answering emails, I thought I would forward on to you an inspirational message I received from a close friend on this cold winters day.

I found this beautiful winter poem and thought it might be a comfort to you.

It was to me. It’s very well written and I hope that you enjoy it too.


by Abigail Elizabeth McIntyre

It’s Cold!!

The End

Make Money Fa$t!!

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

Today I’m going to tell you how to make a million bucks.

I have an idea for a product, and if you’re the first one to patent this thing and get it to market, I guarantee that it will sell like hotcakes. Yes, I see you’re skeptical my friends, but let me explain and it will all make perfect sense:

Remember back in the good old days before fever thermometers went digital? They had a thin strip of mercury inside them which you had to “shake down” before taking a reading, and then struggle to hold the damn thing just right so you could read the result? You’d try turning it a little bit each way to catch the light, finally if you were lucky you could see the bar. Of course, then you’d have to figure out what each little mark represented to determine if your temperature was 99.1, 99.2 or 99.4, etc. Of course, stick thermometers like this have almost disappeared from drugstore shelves, and not just because they’re hard to read. The glass can break if they’re dropped, and the tiny amount of mercury they contain could be hazardous.

Today, thermometer technology has advanced considerably. When I was in the hospital for my procedure recently, I was amazed that they took my temperature simply by waving some sort of a wand across my forehead, giving an instant reading without ever physically coming in contact with my body. At home, it’s also fairly common to use “in the ear” thermometers to get a reading within a few seconds, which is great for small kids who can’t hold still long enough, or have trouble getting a conventional thermometer under their tongue. But while these devices are very convenient, they’re still relatively expensive, in the $30-50 price range. By and large, the glass stick thermometer has been replaced in the home by the plastic digital thermometer; they’re cheap ($5-10), accurate, and quick — generally giving a readout in under a minute. They also have a design flaw, and this is where somebody stands to make some big bucks.

As the boomer population ages, they become more health-conscious and for various reasons, may need to monitor their body temperature more often. But having spent a lifetime listening to loud rock and roll music, often the first bodily function to go south (alas, among many) is the hearing — especially at high frequencies.

Are you beginning to see where I’m going with this?

All of the digital fever thermometers on the market these days signal that they have achieved a stable maximum reading by beeping at you. If your high-frequency hearing ain’t what it used to be, there is no freaking way you are able to hear this sound. You must wait until you think the damn thing has been in there long enough, and hope you have guessed correctly. Most often, you wait way longer than necessary. What the world needs is a digital fever thermometer with a bright red LED on the very end of it that will blink at you to signal that it is ready. There is currently no such device on the market.

I know, because I have spent the better part of two days looking for one.

So, I present this idea publicly in the hope that someone will take the ball and run with it. I guarantee that you will make a fortune from all the old codgers like me whose hearing has gone to hell, and who will snap these things up like candy. I ask for nothing in return, except this: when you finally make this product, please send me one. I want to take my damn temperature.

Mr. Gadget Guy

Friday, June 15th, 2007

Yes, yes … I have been shirking my blogging duties of late, sorry folks. Sometimes RL (Real Life) does intrude on the cyber world; don’t you just hate it when that happens?

In fact, I’ve been so out of touch that apparently I’m the last person on Earth with Internet access to discover the very bizarre “Shoes” video, or even worse, Gary Brolsma the Numa Numa guy. I mean seriously, ten million freaking people have seen this video since he released it in 2004, and I’m just now hearing about it? Damn, my “hip quotient” has got to be in negative numbers here.

But wait, there may be some hope for me yet. In the photo on the left, I hold in my hand the latest toy I acquired this week, an iPod clone made by Sansa and sporting the decidedly un-sexy name of the “e-250″. (Sansa also nicknames the device “The Li’l Monsta”, a tag I like even less; I think instead I will simply call it my “Faux-Pod.”) With two gigabytes of memory, it will hold oodles of choice tuneage and also plays FM Radio, photos, and videos … although I suspect I might go blind trying to watch them on its tiny screen. Despite a few very minor but occasionally frustrating quirks in the interface, I give it an enthusiastic thumbs up. Unlike some other lightweight plastic MP3 players I looked at, the Sansa has a rugged “liquid metal” back panel which gives it a nice, solid heft. Battery life is excellent: I’ve been using it all week for at least an hour or two a day and have yet to need a recharge. Best of all, I got it for a mere $89, which is a great deal compared to $149 for a 2-gig iPod Nano.

Techno-nerd that I am, I confess that I’ve always been a bit of a gadget freak. I do loves me my digital toys, so it’s a bit surprising that I have yet to decide on a new camera. In the last installment of this thrilling saga posted here more than two months ago, you may recall that I was torn between the Canon S3-IS long-zoom P&S and the well-respected Nikon D-40 Digital SLR. Since then I’ve been able to put my hands on both models at my local Big Discount Store, which unfortunately did little to help me decide between them. I liked the D-40 for its solid feel and excellent quality, and according to my nephew the professional photographer, Nikon is the only brand on the planet worthy of serious consideration. But given how few photos I take, I have a hard time getting past the $549 price tag, and also thought the 27-82 mm zoom range was a bit limiting. I also was hesitant about its proprietary battery pack, lack of image stabilization, and the fact that the 2.5″ LCD screen can’t be used as a viewfinder when composing shots (which, to be fair, is the case with any DSLR). The Canon, on the other hand, uses common AA batteries, has a more flexible 36-432 mm zoom range, and also shoots video — which the Nikon does not. But when I actually held the S3-IS, it didn’t have the same “pro” feel as the Nikon, in fact it seemed more fragile and almost toy-like. And to muddy the waters even further, Canon has just announced that this model is being discontinued, to be replaced with the S5-IS which ups the megapixel count from 6 to 8 and increases the size of the LCD screen from 2″ to 2.5″ along with a host of other upgrades. The downside is that the S5 will not be available until July, and for at least the first couple of months is likely to command a price close to its suggested retail of $499. However, the introduction of this new model could cause some dealers to discount the S3 even further in the next few weeks.

Now, to confuse me even more (if such a thing is possible at this stage), I’ve been reading glowing reviews of a new Fuji superzoom comparable to Canon’s, the Fuji Finepix S700 (right). With seven megapixels, a 10X optical zoom giving an effective range of 38-380 mm, picture stabilization, a big bright 2.5″ LCD screen, and full VGA movie mode, this camera seems to be one heck of a deal at only $215. At that price, I might go ahead and get this thing just for grins, and if for some reason I really don’t like it, at least I haven’t blown a big wad of cash. But to be honest, I can’t see what’s not to like. If anyone has any personal knowledge about this model, please drop me a line. At the moment it’s looking like this camera could very well be my next gadget.

Only in Texas…

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

…would a cow skull — and a fake one at that — be considered something to “beautify your yard or garden”.

Words just fail me.

Social commentary

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

Like a lot of other folks, I have a YouTube account. I haven’t logged in to it for a while, so when I did today I wasn’t too surprised to see these messages:

OK, that’s understandable. But what really hurt was this:

Ouch. I guess I need to get out more.

Wrapping up the weekend

Sunday, April 15th, 2007

We made it safely back from San Antonio yesterday, fortunately with no speeding tickets; thanks to Chandira for the good karma. Included in our Saturday travel was a lengthy stop at the San Marcos Outlet Mall and Prime Outlets, which together rank as “the third best place to shop in the world” by ABC-TV’s “The View”. With architecture designed after the Piazza San Marco, it seemed like a fitting place for Mrs. Toast to shop for chic clothing and comfy shoes in preparation for her Venice trip — now only four weeks away (I was content to browse through Pottery Barn myself).

Following this shopping marathon, we ate dinner at an authentic Irish Pub that we serendipitously discovered in downtown San Marcos. I had originally thought of having an ordinary steak, but after checking out the fare I just had to try the local specialty instead. Really, it’s not every restaurant on this side of the pond that features bangers and mash on the menu. It was delicious, served with rich onion gravy and a traditional pint o’ dark Guinness Stout. Maybe next time I’ll order the Shepherd’s Pie.

Today’s been spent unpacking, and joining millions of other Americans who have been putting off a particularly unpleasant task until the last moment: “And it came to pass that in those days there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.” –Luke 2.1

This guy has been dead for 2,000 years and we’re still being taxed. No wonder he was such a great leader: when he gives an order, it sticks. With that in mind, I dedicate today’s episode of “The Buckets” comic strip to those of you who will be joining me in rendering, according to the IRS, approximately $2.7 trillion this year to Caesar’s successor, Uncle Sam.

Happy rendering!

Credit: by Greg Cravens and Scott Stantis, ©2007 United Features Syndicate

One for the record books

Sunday, April 8th, 2007

I don’t often blog about that most mundane of topics — the weather — but today was unusual. We’ve had nice spring-like temperatures during most of the past week, with highs in the 70′s and low 80′s, which is pretty typical for this time of year in East Texas. So imagine my surprise when I glanced out the window to see this:

The local TV weatherman confirmed it – this is a first, ever. In the entire history of meteorological record-keeping, it has never snowed before in April here. We might occasionally see a flurry once every five or six years or so, but it’s always been during the coldest months of December, January, or February.

Today’s mini-blizzard is just bizarre, and could perhaps be seen as further evidence of a disruption of global weather patterns. While the popularly-used phrase “global warming” makes most people think of climate change as a uniform temperature increase all over the planet, the reality is much more complex. Coincidentally, just this Friday the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, meeting in Brussels, released its report detailing how species, water supplies, polar ice sheets, and regional climate conditions were already responding to human emissions in the atmosphere. The panel’s co-chairman, Dr. Martin Parry, said that widespread effects were already measurable, with much more to come.

“We’re no longer arm-waving with models,” he stated. “This is empirical information on the ground.”

And today, the information on the ground here in Texas was about an inch deep.

PS: This post also marks another historic milestone — my very first video appearance on the blog. Now you will clearly understand why I got into radio instead of TV.

Camera conundrum

Friday, April 6th, 2007

Calling all shutterbugs!

I’m about to buy a new camera; I’ve narrowed the field of choices down to two, and could use some help deciding between them. I’ve had an early-generation 2-megapixel Canon Powershot for the last couple of years, and while it takes decent photos in good light, it doesn’t do very well under less-than-optimal conditions, especially when the lighting is poor or there’s motion in the shot. For this reason I’m leaning towards the Canon S3-IS, mainly due to its image stabilization feature — not to mention the fact that it’s almost half the price of the Nikon. However, the Nikon D-40 is a true through-the-lens digital SLR (the Canon’s lens is fixed) and has received rave reviews. Take a look at this table which compares the major features of the two:

Model Canon S3-IS Nikon D-40
Type Digital Point & Shoot (“SLR-Like”) Digital SLR
Megapixels 6.0 6.1
Lens Fixed, 12X optical zoom (equiv. to 36-432 mm) Interchangeable, pkg. lens equiv. to 27-82.5 mm
Digital Zoom 4X No
Image Stabilization Yes No
Records Video Yes No
Records Audio Yes No
Auto-ISO setting No Yes
Viewfinder 2.0″ tilt & swivel LCD 2.5″ fixed LCD
Max Resolution 2816 x 2112 3008 x 2000
Battery Type AA (x4) Proprietary Li-Io battery pack
Memory SD Card SD Card
Price (delivered) $323.70 $547.70

Nikon’s prior models in the D-line (the D-50, D-80, and high-end D-100) with their legendary Nikkor lenses have set the bar for digital photography, and the D-40 is their entry into the lower end of the DSLR market. It’s intended for people exactly like me, who have used a point & shoot camera up till now and might be ready to move up, but aren’t keen to drop the really big bucks ($700-$1200+) that these models have been selling for in the past. Nikon’s real competition to the D-40 has been Canon’s Digital Rebel line, which revolutionized the market as the first sub-$1000 DSLR when it came out a couple of years ago. But at $599 for the 6-mP Digital Rebel XT and $799 for the upgraded 10-mP XTi, these models are just out of my price range. If I were a “pro” or even “semi-pro” photographer, I’d probably get the Nikon in a heartbeat — but the measly photos I take (both in quality and quantity) just don’t justify spending that kind of money.

So that’s why I keep coming back to the S3-IS. Even though it’s still technically a point-and-shooter, it’s received excellent user reviews and is quite “SLR-like” in its look, feel, and operation. In addition to the image stabilizer, it also has a much higher zoom level, and will shoot video and stereo audio — which the D-40 does not. Not only that, but the main advantage of a DSLR is its interchangeable lenses, and to be honest, the chances that I will be wanting to spend a couple of hundred extra bucks on more glass for the Nikon are not that great.

Well I seem to have talked myself out of the D-40, but damn, it’s still awfully appealing. It’s kinda like buying a Chevy will get you where you want to go just fine, but wouldn’t you really rather have a Porsche? Anyone with thoughts, opinions or — hopefully — actual experience as an owner of either of these two models, please leave a comment. Thanks.

Right now

Monday, February 26th, 2007

Testing out a couple of blog widgets from my ISP:

Take my survey here.

Peter Pan Syndrome

Friday, February 16th, 2007

For anyone who may not have heard:

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning consumers not to eat certain jars of Peter Pan peanut butter or Great Value peanut butter due to risk of contamination with Salmonella Tennessee (a bacterium that causes foodborne illness). The affected jars of Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter have a product code located on the lid of the jar that begins with the number “2111.” Both the Peter Pan and Great Value (Wal-Mart) brands are manufactured in a single facility in Georgia by ConAgra. Great Value peanut butter made by other manufacturers is not affected. If consumers have any of this Peter Pan or Great Value brand peanut butter in their home that has been purchased since May 2006, they should discard it.

FDA warning
ConAgra Foods press release and update
More news here.

I am a confirmed Peanut Butter addict, and Peter Pan Extra Crunchy is my favorite. So, we were a bit surprised to find three jars of the stuff with this product code in our pantry, especially considering that I just had a PB sandwich this afternoon. However, it’s now several hours later and I feel fine, so I’m not too worried. Nevertheless, our local grocery store is offering refunds on any product brought back to them, so I guess we’ll take them up on it just to be safe. I should also probably drink lots of alcohol this evening, strictly for medicinal purposes of course, to kill any possible germs that might be lurking in my system. Hey, why take any chances?

Shit, it’s always something.

Controversy For All

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007

Perhaps you’ve heard that the Mars Corporation, makers of Snickers®, have responded to protests by several Gay and Lesbian groups over its Super Bowl commercial (featuring two “manly men” who accidentally kiss while enjoying the candy bar) by yanking all further replays of the spot. The company also pulled the plug on a planned extensive follow-up campaign around the ad, which had been on the web at Protesters called the theme of the ad “violent” and “homophobic”, and in a statement announcing the cancellation, a spokesman for the candy maker said “We know that humor is highly subjective and understand that some people may have found the ad offensive. Clearly that was not our intent.”

You probably know as well that the American Association of Fast Food Workers also complained about the Kevin Federline Nationwide ad, saying it demeaned employees in that industry. Apparently, this means it is no longer politically correct to say “you want fries with that?” in a jocular manner. Remember that the next time you’re trying to be funny at a party.

But most amazing to me is that just when you thought it was again safe to watch the half-time show, religious conservatives and some journalists are complaining about Sunday’s acclaimed performance by Prince. It was not enough for them to decry the thousands of children who would forever be doomed to a life of crime and moral depravity by their 9/16-of-a-second exposure to Janet Jackson’s right breast in 2004, they are now upset that Prince’s silhouette, projected on a flowing curtain during his rendition of “Purple Rain”, contained (gasp!) phallic imagery. New York Daily News TV critic David Bianculli called it “a rude-looking shadow show,” and “embarrassingly rude, crude and unfortunately placed.” A spokesman for the NFL countered, “We respect other opinions, but it takes quite a leap of the imagination to make a controversy of his performance. It’s a guitar.”

Look at the photo and see what you think. All I can say is if the image is meant to be anatomically correct, the man must have a hard time picking out a pair of pants at Wal-Mart. (Not that Prince would shop there anyway.)

Anyway, I think what we’re seeing here is just the tip of the iceberg. If controversy can be sparked by this somewhat overzealous interpretation of Prince’s act, then a lot of other special-interest groups are missing the boat and should jump on the bandwagon of criticism as well. For example:

  • Atheists should be upset that Prince sang a portion of Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” during his show, a direct reference to the official publication and website of The Jehovah’s Witnesses. Has no one else picked up on this? Prince became a Witness in the 1990′s, and obviously used his halftime appearance to deliver thinly-veiled religious propaganda to millions of Bowl viewers.
  • The National Association for Mental Health and Mental Retardation should be all over Prince for his song selection as well: his opening number, “Let’s Go Crazy”, is clearly a derogatory term and a stereotypical slur to the mentally handicapped. At the very least, they could force the Purple One to change the lyrics of the song from “Let’s go crazy/let’s get nuts” to “Let’s exhibit situationally inappropriate behavior/let’s have a learning disability.”
  • The NAACP can complain that Prince wasn’t a “black” enough choice for the Super Bowl crowd, while the Aryan Nation can be offended that he wasn’t “white” enough. Every other ethnic group could follow suit, including Asians, Hispanics, etc. NOW could protest that he’s not female, and the Anti-Defamation League could protest that he’s not Barbra Streisand.
  • Any person of British descent should be appalled by Prince’s choice of his own name, an obvious slap in the face of The Royal Family. Unfortunately, this is a no-win situation for the entertainer, as when he changed his name back to Prince some years ago, he received howls of protest from The Association of Artists Named After Unpronounceable Symbols at his defection from their ranks.
  • The Fashion Designers Guild must protest Prince’s choice of his outfit. I mean, a light orange umber shirt under a light-aqua-blue jacket? What was he thinking with that abominable color scheme? What horrible message does this send to our esthetically-challenged youth?
  • Finally, a newly-formed group, the Association of All Recording Artists On The Planet Except For Prince must no doubt find it highly discriminatory that sales of Prince’s album catalog jumped by an astonishing average of 653% after his Super Bowl gig. “The Very Best of Prince” moved from No. 710 to No. 71 on’s Top Sellers list, and following his soaking-wet rendition of the song, “Music from the Motion Picture ‘Purple Rain’” moved from No. 432 to No. 53 on the chart, an increase of 715 percent.

In a related story, the NFL announced today that due to the controversy over Prince’s halftime performance, there were only three “safe” acts left in the world being considered for future shows. Viewers of the 2008 Super Bowl will see either (a) Pat Boone, (b) Michael Bolton, or (c) The Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

I feel safer from depravity already.

Reversing the call

Sunday, February 4th, 2007

Just like the ref who has to own up to a bad call after reviewing the incontrovertible video evidence of the instant replay, on closer examination I must admit that I blew it with yesterday’s post.

This was one of the best football games, ever.

From the moment the Bears ran back the first opening-kick touchdown in Super Bowl history, this was one exciting show. I decided since the Colts were underdogs going in to the match, that I was going to root for them, and for once my chosen team rewarded me. (This is a totally unknown feeling to any former fan of the Houston Oilers.) The Bears defense struggled, worn down by having to be on the field for most of the game, while their offense simply never kicked into gear despite the opening TD strike. The wet and slippery conditions made for fascinating watching, and also made me extremely appreciative of my warm, dry seat in front of the TV. World-class event or not, I was just as glad not to have spent $4,000 to sit in the pouring rain for five hours (that’s about thirteen bucks per minute, a really expensive shower).

The commercials were creatively entertaining as expected; I especially liked this elaborately animated Coca-Cola spot, and the clever Robert Goulet parody for Emerald Nuts. If you missed any or care to see them again, you’ll find them online at numerous web sites including AOL Sports, where the video quality is excellent and the ads are conveniently grouped by quarter. You can also vote for your favorite.

And Prince’s halftime show? Wow. Talk about your “Purple Rain”, indeed; he couldn’t have picked a more appropriate tune for the soaked crowd. His guitar pyrotechnics were topped only by those exploding above the stands, and made McCartney and The Stones look like old (albeit respectable) geezers. The Purple One — no spring chicken himself at the age of 48 — has certainly come a long way since the 80s, when he sported a thong and sang about “Darling Nikki” getting herself off to a magazine in a hotel lobby; hard to believe that Prince is now considered “family-friendly”, but I guess that’s what becoming a Jehovah’s Witness will do for you. Born-again or not, he rocked the house.

So after further review, the official Toast Superbowl ruling? Kicked. Ass.

Letters, we get letters

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

From the Toasted Mail Bag: somewhere in the Northeast, a “Pete M.” writes:

“A thought came to my head that you may concur on. In 1976 the US launched Voyager, the first craft from earth that was to leave the solar system. On the outside of the craft they had a picture of a man and a woman sans clothes, a picture of DNA, and a gold phonograph record of the sounds of earth. As in 2007 here on earth there is a diminishing stockpile of equipment and phonograph records, it is likely that in a few years if Voyager appeared here anybody would know what a phonograph record was let alone figure out how to play it at 33 rpm. A minute is earth time no less. I wonder if the aliens will use the RIAA equalization to get the proper playback. They should have included a sound system and turntable for the aliens out there. Perhaps a universal power supply would have been in order. Perhaps they jumped to lasers from mechanical/electrical phono systems, and the phonograph record from earth would be the great alien mystery. Just a thought.”

Pete, you raise some interesting and thought-provoking questions, and the first thought that provoked me when I read your letter was, “is this guy on drugs? If not, then perhaps he should be.” You have clearly put a lot of time and effort into researching these issues, and in response I would have to say that I think you really need to get out more. Seriously, man.

But I also must admit that you’re right: the heck with aliens, already on our very own planet there is an entire generation of Young People who, if you were to tell them that their parents used to listen to music by rotating a slab of colored vinyl on a platter while simultaneously dragging a sharp needle across it, will look at you like you are crazy, mainly because they will be listening to their iPods and won’t have heard a word you said. If you’re lucky, however, you may be able to get their attention for roughly two seconds, after which time they will shake their heads sadly and return to playing their Nintendo or X-Box.

This is exactly why the current generation of Young People is going to hell in a handbasket. These young whippersnappers do not appreciate the sacrifices their elders had to make in the name of aural gratification! We couldn’t just “point and click” to hear our music, oh no, Young People. We had to work for it, dammit, and without phonograph records, there would never have been that wonderful 80′s phenomenon known as “disco”, and … hmmm, come to think of it, maybe these Young People have a good point after all.

But the Voyager space probe was a noble effort to help distant civilizations understand the human race, and it should not be overlooked that we are fortunate in one very important regard: if Voyager had been sent into space using today’s technology and music, it is hypothetically possible that NASA technicians might have included a Celine Dion CD on board the craft. Were aliens to discover and hear this, it would very likely guarantee the complete and total annihilation of our planet.

Keep those letters coming!

Tilting at windmills

Sunday, January 21st, 2007

curmudgeon (kər-mŭj’ən), noun. A crusty, difficult, irascible, cantankerous, ill-tempered old person full of resentment and stubborn ideas. (Origin unknown.) Synonyms: grouch, grump, crank, bear, bellyacher, sourpuss, crosspatch, malcontent, sorehead, complainer.
(From the Random House® Unabridged Dictionary)

One of the things I am most proud of from my restless youth is that during my college years, I had a girlfriend at another University in a nearby town who was active in the student protest movement of the day. One week I visited her at her school and while there, helped to organize busses to take people to a demonstration which was being held at the state capitol. The local newspaper got wind of this upcoming event and wrote a story about it in which I, personally, was referred to as an “outside agitator”. I was thrilled beyond words.

Fast-forward to the present, and you’ll find that over the years, this mindset hasn’t changed much. You could charitably say that I sometimes have a tendency to stand up and buck the prevailing winds, an attitude that occasionally gets me in trouble. No matter how noble your goals, being the gad-fly in the ointment will often win you more detractors than it will friends. Take Ralph Nader for example, a (arguably) well-meaning yet crusty old crank if ever there was one. Don’t get me wrong, I would hardly place myself anywhere near on a par with such a notable malcontent, however, one thing I do share with other such activists is that I particularly chafe when I perceive that “the little guy” is being screwed over by some soulless MegaMcCorporation. And these days, if I can’t actually do anything about it, I can at least complain about it, which, you may note if you’re a regular reader of this blog, I do. Often.

It seems that my curmudgeonly tendencies have been on particular display lately, and while I make a conscious effort not to “sweat the small stuff”, it still seems that sometimes I get my shorts in a wad over relatively trivial issues more often than should be necessary. For example, our cable TV and Internet service provider has recently changed, and the quality of service from the new company has plummeted. Attempts to resolve the problems have so far been fruitless…and that irritates me.

However, nobody likes a grumpy old coot, and I really do try to stay serene and keep things in perspective. I’ve already got enough legitimate stuff to worry about, and even though I may have some serious health concerns, at the same time I recognize that I’m very fortunate in so many other ways; all it takes is a scan of the headlines to make me count my blessings daily. So then, it’s with a sense of humor and good nature that today I’m going to rant about two giants of the corporate world who have recently been jerking my chain: Bank of America, and Staples. On the former I can claim victory after a six-month-long battle; with the latter, the skirmish has just begun and the outcome is by no means yet clear.

Last August during the final day of the Toasted Tour 2006 Road Trip, I spent the night in Jackson Mississippi at a little hole-in-the-wall motel. As the result of a snafu caused by an inexperienced desk clerk, I was charged twice for the room, which I did not realize until I received my credit card bill a month later. Calls to the motel went unanswered, so I disputed the amount with Bank of America. The resulting six-month foray into Customer Service Hell, including impenetrable circular voice-mail systems, rude and clueless agents (often located in offshore call centers), letters requesting documents that had been sent weeks earlier, charges, credits, faxes and re-presentments, is something that the U.S. military should seriously look into as a way of extracting confessions from Guantanamo Bay detainees. It can’t be any less torture than what they’re doing to them now.

I’ll admit that a couple of times I got so frustrated that I was tempted to just give up and write it off to experience, but finally this weekend, a credit of $66.24 appeared on my charge card account. Whoopee! I figure if I divide this figure by the amount of time I’ve wasted on the phone and writing letters trying to settle this matter, I’ve earned approximately 36 cents per hour on the deal. But I eventually got what was rightfully owed me, so I’m a happy camper. Justice has prevailed.

On to Staples. Three weeks ago, the office supply superstore (company slogan: “That was easy!”) ran a flyer in our Sunday newspaper which featured a Toshiba notebook computer on sale for $849. This machine was configured with Intel’s latest Core 2 Duo processor, a huge hard drive, and a 15″ widescreen. Best of all, the advertised sale price was a GREAT DEAL, beating any other price I’d seen on this same model by at least $200. (I’ve been in the market for a new laptop since before Christmas, and have had my eye on Toshiba in particular.) So I decided this must be fate: the time was right, the deal was right — let’s do it! Let’s buy that sucker!!

Not so fast, Geek Boy.

First I try my local Staples store, but they don’t have any available. I check the web site and find that the computer is in fact listed there, but when I try to place the order, it says “out of stock”. So I call Staples 800 number and the cheery sales representative tells me she’s sorry, they don’t have any in stock right now, but they should be getting more soon so would I like to put it on back order? I do, and she takes my credit card info (note: this time not my Bank of America card) and phone number.

Two days later I get a call and it’s Ms. Cheery Staples again to say the item is available now and would I like to go ahead and place that order? “Hell, yes,” says I, and even get a confirmation number and expected delivery date. I’m pleased as punch: oh boy, a shiny new computer is on its way!

In the meantime, Sunday rolls around again to bring another Staples newspaper flyer, and lo and behold, the exact same model Toshiba laptop is in there again, only now the price has been marked down to $799!! Although I’m just a little bit cheesed to think I could have saved another fifty bucks if I had waited a few days, I don’t get too concerned about it until my “scheduled delivery date” comes … and goes … and no package arrives at the door. So I call Ms. Cheery Staples back to see what happened, only by now she is not so cheery.

“That item has been out of stock for weeks,” she tells me, sounding tired and irritated, adding, “It’s not going to be restocked, either.” I get the distinct feeling she’s had this exact same conversation with other customers many times today. So why was I told it was available, and my order placed, I ask?

“It must have been a computer error,” she replies flatly, clearly ignoring the irony of that statement.

She then sends me an email cancelling the order which contains the classic “we apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you” line that corporations spout when they can’t say what they really mean, which is “tough shit, pal”.

toshiba.jpgAlthough I was disappointed and a little pissed, I probably would have let it go there — until a new sales flyer came out in today’s paper, and guess what, folks? It’s freaking still there! They are continuing to advertise this product when, apparently, not a single one of these machines is available for purchase anywhere in the entire Staples system!

I realize that these flyers are printed well in advance, and that they must have grossly underestimated the demand the low sale price would generate for this item. The ad does say “while supplies last”, which gives them a back door to weasel out through. Still, while I wouldn’t exactly call this false advertising or “bait and switch”, the fact of the matter is that somebody screwed up here, and I think they should take responsibility for it.

So, Professional Curmudgeon that I am, I intend to write a letter to Staple’s president and CEO at their company headquarters in Framingham, MA, politely yet firmly expressing my frustration. I don’t think anything will come of it other than I’ll get it off my chest, and might get another “we apologize for the inconvenience” form letter in reply — but who knows? Maybe a nice shiny new laptop will show up on my doorstep after all. We’ll see; sometimes the squeaky wheel does get the grease.

Thank you for allowing me to rant; the cranky bear is now going back into hibernation.

Creative Spam

Friday, January 12th, 2007

I get lots of junk mail, a common problem for anyone with an e-mail account these days. Because most service providers and email clients have filters that will intercept the more obvious crap (e.g., any message containing the word “Viagra”), bulk mailers have had to be craftier in coming up with messages that will appear to the filtering algorithms as “genuine” email from a real person. A common ploy is to include blocks of random text in the body of the email, generated by software developed especially for this purpose (what a waste of programming talent!). Most of this psuedo-text is complete gibberish, but every now and then it makes just enough sense to be entertaining. For example, along with a link to a paid web site where I could “get the most wanted chart tunes and albums”, this bit of spam I received today also included the following gem of wisdom:

“Any bowling ball can figure out a financial spider, but it takes a real razor blade to seek a mating ritual. If a surly pork chop dances with a boiled grizzly bear, then the tape recorder around a stovepipe dies. Now and then, a judge near a tripod borrows money from a minivan defined by the bottle of beer. Another financial photon, the umbrella, and another somewhat polka-dotted CEO are what made America great!”

What a hoot. This almost makes me want more spam. But not quite.

Happy New Year

Monday, January 1st, 2007

Well, Mrs. Toast and I sure had one hell of a rip-roaring New Year’s Eve party last night, as you can see from the photo of us below:

I’m not quite sure if we stayed awake past midnight or not, all I can remember is at some point during the evening we started watching a DVD, which turned out to be quite possibly the dumbest movie I’ve ever seen in 2006, if not in my life. I’m not the only one who thinks so, either; check out a few random reviews from Rotten Tomatoes:

  • “Not everyone agrees on Shyamalan’s talent as a filmmaker, but few, up till now, have questioned his sanity.”
  • “A tedious, astonishingly irritating march through scene after scene of quasi-Jungian horse flop.”
  • “Ludicrous, drowning in its astonishing premise and irritating by its failure to connect on any level.”
  • “A gaping psychic wound, a blood-spattered, pulsating tumor ripped violently from both its creator’s head and, more fascinatingly, his heart, then planted onscreen, raw and unfettered, for all to come and see.”
  • “You won’t see anything else like it this year, and you’ll be really glad about that.”

Mind you, these were some of the kinder quotes.

Anyway, everything got kind of foggy after that, and the next thing I remember the Rose Bowl Parade was on. WTF? I hope your own celebration last night was way more exciting than ours (really, how could it not have been?), and here’s wishing everyone a great 2007!!

Holiday Greetings

Sunday, December 24th, 2006
From the House of Toast to you and yours…

Peace on Earth
Good Will To All