Archive for November, 2006

Fake News

Friday, November 10th, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

Source: The Specious Report

ZoHoHo and a Google of rum

Thursday, November 9th, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

Election results

Wednesday, November 8th, 2006

No, not those elections.

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

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

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

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

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

The people have spoken. Democracy is safe.

We the People

Tuesday, November 7th, 2006

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

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

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

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

Today is the day we begin to take back America.

I post, therefore I am

Monday, November 6th, 2006

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

But this achievement did not come without effort. The official deadline to be included in the list was November 1st, and since I did not find out about it until the 3rd, I had to send the following email to the list’s administrator begging to be included:

Hello – my name is Mr. Toast and I just found out about NaBloPoMo. I started posting on Nov. 1st, — honest — and I am determined to keep sloggin’ and bloggin’ all month!! However, what I didn’t realize until just now is that you have this list of participants on your site, and if it’s not too late, I’d like to have my blog at http://windinthewire.blogspot.com included. I don’t even care if I’m not eligible to win any of the swag, I’d just like to maybe get a few new visitors. If you could put me on the list I would be eternally grateful. Bless you, your house and children. You are a fine and decent human being. Thank you thank you, thank you ohmygodthankyou. (I can grovel some more if that would help.)

To which she replied:

“Excellent groveling! You’re in!”

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

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

Mass. Hysteria

Sunday, November 5th, 2006

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

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

“You tell your Toast friend my hair’s not blue,” she said.

I stand corrected.

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

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

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

Random stupid question

Saturday, November 4th, 2006

Questions, Mr. Toast gets questions:

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

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

Great Python Survey

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

View Results
Make your own damn poll

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

The Bird and the Bush

Friday, November 3rd, 2006

Inappropriate Behavior or Protected Free Speech?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full story here.

The Insubordinate Bumper Sticker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to NaBloPoMo

Thursday, November 2nd, 2006

You are saying … “Huh?”

NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, is a grassroots effort launched by a collective of bloggers to celebrate the month of November by agreeing to post something, anything, every single day during the month … even (gasp!) on weekends. The point is to stimulate one’s writing chops and perhaps kick the blogging butt into gear for those who, like me, have been somewhat less than creative lately. Of course, on the surface it seems to me that it may do just the opposite … that I may wind up posting some throwaway crap that would otherwise never see the light of day just so that I can truthfully state, “yes, I put something up today.”

Like this post.

Nevertheless, I’ve decided to toss my hat into the ring for NaBloPoMo and see what happens. I should mention that I learned of this blog-a-thon from my friend Schnozz, a gifted and extremely prolific writer who will have no trouble posting every day this month, even if she never writes about anything other than her rabbits. My cats are not nearly as cute or entertaining, however I should still find lots of other stuff to write about this month, what with the mid-term elections coming up next week, as well as The Holiday Season bearing down upon us with full force. Plus, I’m always discovering oddball items in the news to blog about, like this one about talking urinals, or this one about sternomancy, the art of telling fortunes by the shape of the female breast. (I stop at nothing to keep my readers informed!) So this could be interesting.

Happy NaBloPoMo, y’all!!

Ghost of Christmas Future

Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

I hope everyone had a happy yet suitably spooky Halloween. We had perhaps fifty or so trick-or-treaters stop by our house last night, and although they laid siege to our stockade of candy, there’s more than enough left over this morning to guarantee that I will gain a minimum of ten pounds unless I exercise extreme self-control. Unfortunately, this has never been one of my strong suits, er … excuse me while I go grab a Snickers.

In the course of wandering the net yesterday, I came across an intriguing article entitled Ghosts In The Machines at the New York Times Op-Ed site by Neil Gaiman, the noted British author of numerous science fiction and fantasy works, including the dark comic-book series The Sandman. It gave me goose bumps; here’s a sample:

There’s a blog I don’t think anyone else reads. I ran across it searching for something else, and something about it, the tone of voice perhaps, so flat and bleak and hopeless, caught my attention. I bookmarked it.

If the girl who kept it knew that anyone was reading it, anybody cared, perhaps she would not have taken her own life. She even wrote about what she was going to do, the pills, the Nembutal and Seconal and the rest, that she had stolen a few at a time over the months from her stepfather’s bathroom, the plastic bag, the loneliness, and wrote about it in a flat, pragmatic way, explaining that while she knew that suicide attempts were cries for help, this really wasn’t, she just didn’t want to live any longer.

She counted down to the big day, and I kept reading, uncertain what to do, if anything. There was not enough identifying information on the Web page even to tell me which continent she lived on. No e-mail address. No way to leave comments. The last message said simply, “Tonight.”

I wondered whom I should tell, if anyone, and then I shrugged, and, best as I could, I swallowed the feeling that I had let the world down.

And then she started to post again. She says she’s cold and she’s lonely.

I think she knows I’m still reading ….

So are there any ghosts living in your computer?

Of course, now that Halloween is over, the holiday countdown has officially begun; Thanksgiving will be just a temporary bump in the road in the headlong rush to Christmas. We’ve already received a ton of Christmas catalogs in the mail, and I expect retail advertising will kick in full-force shortly. My sister-in-law has already put up her Christmas tree.

Bah, humbug. Excuse me while I go grab another Snickers®.