Archive for November, 2006

Thank you, NaBloPoMo

Thursday, November 30th, 2006

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”.

Survey results

Wednesday, November 29th, 2006

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.

Toasted Gift Guide, Part Deux

Tuesday, November 28th, 2006

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 (left). 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!

Toasted Gift Guide, Part 1

Monday, November 27th, 2006

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!

Secret agents wanted

Sunday, November 26th, 2006

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.

Rampant consumerism

Saturday, November 25th, 2006

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!

Remembering Cotton

Friday, November 24th, 2006

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 23rd, 2006

Holiday Greetings

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

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

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

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.”

A light at the end of the tunnel

Monday, November 20th, 2006

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:

Can you see me now?

Sunday, November 19th, 2006

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.

What disease cannot do

Saturday, November 18th, 2006

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.

Random Friday bits

Friday, November 17th, 2006

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!

Rant o’the Day

Thursday, November 16th, 2006

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.

Yo, NaBloPoMo! Whatup, mofo?

Wednesday, November 15th, 2006

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 14th, 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.

Regional identity crisis

Monday, November 13th, 2006

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.

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

Sunday, November 12th, 2006

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.

Word Art

Saturday, November 11th, 2006

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.