Archive for October, 2007

Robert Goulet dead at 73 from IPF

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

I was deeply saddened this evening to learn that Robert Goulet, the big-voiced baritone whose Broadway debut in “Camelot” launched an award-winning stage and recording career, died this morning in Los Angeles while awaiting a lung transplant.

Goulet had been hoping to receive the transplant at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center after being diagnosed only last month with a rapidly advancing form of pulmonary fibrosis.

Such is the insidious and unpredictable nature of this disease; it can whack you in a matter of weeks, and while I feel extremely fortunate that my own pulmonary fibrosis has remained relatively stable for at least the last two years, this is an unsettling reminder that there are no guarantees and that a similar decline could come at any time.

Goulet had remained in good spirits even as he waited for the transplant, joking with friends, family, and hospital staff. However, in the last few days he had been heavily sedated and breathing through a respirator while awaiting a donor organ. Unfortunately, a suitable donor could not be found in time. More information is available here, and on his web site, including links to information on Pulmonary Fibrosis and lung transplantation.

While best known for his singing, Goulet never took himself too seriously. His good-natured ad for Emerald Nuts, in which he would sneak into office cubicles in the afternoon and “mess with your stuff”, was one of the big commercial hits of Super Bowl XLI.

God bless you, Mr. G.

Semi-annual madness

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

Are you finding that your PC, or some other electronic device in your home, is behind by one hour today? If so, thank the U.S. government’s Energy Policy Act of 2005 which helpfully changed the dates which have traditionally marked the beginning and end of Daylight Saving Time. Instead of “falling back” last night on the last Sunday in October as they have done for years, the date was pushed up a week to next Sunday, November 4th. However many electronic devices, oblivious to the pronouncements of politicians, dutifully made the change last night anyway as they had been pre-programmed to do.

If you’re running a computer with Windows XP which does not have Service Pack 2 installed (or certain other operating systems for PC and Mac), you can apply the patch found here to fix the dates.

You may know that the idea of saving daylight first sprang from the nimble mind of Benjamin Franklin some 200 years ago when he suggested that Parisians economize on candles by rising earlier to take advantage of the morning sunlight. Then in 1905, the prominent British outdoorsman William Willett was said to have had “an epiphany” while on an early-morning horseback ride, and proposed the idea of changing the clocks twice a year. The practice was first adopted in wartime Germany in 1916 to keep energy costs low, but has been controversial ever since, with a long history of unintended consequences. When the government tinkered with the dates in 2005 things only became more confusing, and there is little evidence that there has been any significant energy savings which the Policy Act was designed to achieve. Proponents of DST claim it reduces energy use by 1 percent every day it’s in effect, while skeptics contend this is not true and say the extra sunlight spurs more errands and trips to visit friends and family.

I personally think the whole idea is absurd; the hassles far outweigh any benefits, and I propose that DST should be renamed “Daylight Stupid Time”. Maybe I’ll move to Arizona.

Partons au Canada, eh?

Friday, October 26th, 2007

Mrs. Toast is off on another adventure in a foreign land this week, giving a presentation at the International Cultural Heritage Informatics Meetings being held in Toronto. This event, which attracts attendees from as far away as China, examines the relationship between technology and cultural heritage. Mrs. Toast’s recent work in this area during her trip to Mexico got her an invitation to present at this forum; she is on the cutting edge of academic librarians who are performing this sort of research, and will discuss various ways that documents, folklore, artwork and other physical objects representing cultural heritage can be stored, classified, and accessed electronically. According to the organization’s program:

This tenth meeting visits digital culture in the age of Web 2.0, contributed content, open source, broadband services, and ubiquitous computing, and seeks to survey the changing synergies of culture, heritage and informatics. This year we will again examine major trends, novel research frontiers, and possible futures. Best practices, innovative policies, disruptive technologies and radical business plans will be promoted and critiqued. And as always, economics, law, and public policy will be visited afresh.

Pretty exciting stuff, eh? After the conference wraps up, she will have a free day before flying back home and has decided to make a quick side tour to Niagra Falls. I’ve never been there myself, but the postcards sure look nice.

In the meantime, I am eating my own cooking again this week which is even more incentive for my wife to come home as soon as possible. Basically, if it can’t be prepared in a microwave I’m S.O.L, and I’m getting to be pretty good friends with the pizza delivery guy by now. However, it looks like this book might just be right up my alley, and I plan to study it carefully so that I can be a whirling dervish of culinary delight in the kitchen by the time she leaves for Costa Rica, Belgium, or wherever the hell else the library sends her next. These are your tax dollars at work, folks.

I’ve also asked her to bring back a souvenir of Canada for me, but I’m not sure what I’m going to get. Maybe some moose antlers, a hockey puck, or a case of Molson. Or possibly some smoked salmon — as long as I can cook it in the microwave, eh?

Three degrees of separation

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

This may be as close to fame as I get in this stage of my life: I am excited to say that I am related to someone who knows someone who knows George Clooney.

Not only that, but the person I am related to — my nephew Jeff — actually has a screen credit in the new George Clooney movie “Michael Clayton“, which just opened in theaters a few days ago. To say I’m proud of my nephew is an understatement. Last March, I wrote this post about his photography work in New York City, and he’s been keeping quite busy since then. He recently emailed me to let me know that fifteen pieces of his artwork were selected to appear in several locations in the new Clooney film, and he also gets a mention in the end credits. Jeff has not actually met Sir George in person, but has dealt regularly with the film’s production director who no doubt has. Ergo, I am removed from His Handsomeness by only two people, and if I should ever happen to run into him while on a cruise ship in New Hampshire, we will have something in common that I can chat him up about. Don’t laugh, it could happen; I never expected to meet this guy either.

Let’s get cornholed!

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

Considering my typical state of being behind-the-curve on social and cultural trends, it should come as no surprise that I am just now learning about a phenomenon that is sweeping the nation even as I type these words. It is, of course, the great sport of Cornhole.

If Beavis and Butthead happen to be reading this post, please withhold your titters (“Huh huh, he said ‘cornhole’. He said ‘titters’, huh huh.”) as I am referring not to a certain puckered body part but to the game of Cornhole, which involves tossing a one-pound bag of, er, corn into a … well, a hole … from a distance of 30 or so feet. Hence the name. The more easily offended may refer to it by any of several other names including “corn toss”, “the bean bag game”, and the ultra-family-friendly “Baggo”. However, most aficionados of the sport simply call it “Cornhole”, and refer to themselves and other players as “Cornholers”. Perhaps the scatological reference accounts in some part for its popularity, but this sucker has become a huge pastime, especially in the Midwest. (Stephen Colbert recently featured a segment on the game during his show, in which he jokingly referred to it as “a cross between horseshoes and sodomy.”) It is known as somewhat of a redneck sport, possibly due to the fact that it only requires one hand to play, leaving the other hand free to hold a beer. It is very popular at tailgate parties and among college students.

Of course, “beanbag toss” has been around for a very long time, but The Official Cornhole Game — with it’s attendant rules of play, equipment specifications, leagues, etc., is said to have originated on the west side of Cincinnati. From there, it spread to the Chicagoland area and has probably taken over the entire country by now. There are large-scale tournaments, and even an organization called The American Cornhole Association which promotes the game.

For anyone who, like me, has never heard of this before, the basics of the game (although the rules can vary) are as follows: you play either with teams of multiple players per side or simply one-on-one. Each “inning” consists of four bag tosses by each side at a slanted 2 by 4 foot target with a six-inch hole near the top. The two targets are placed 30 feet apart. For each bag that goes into (or hangs over) the hole, the player scores three points. A bag that lands on the board but not in the hole gets one point. Each inning, the team (or player) with the most points subtracts the points scored by the opposing side to determine the inning score. For example; suppose you get six points and your opponent gets four … your net score for the inning is two points. The first team to reach 21 points wins (more specifics here).

One thing that fascinates me about this sport — other than being able to use the word “cornhole” repeatedly in a blog post — is what a grassroots phenomenon it has been. The bags and play boards are by and large home-made, ranging from simple “naked” plywood targets all the way up to elaborately painted, stained, shellacked, and otherwise decorated works of art. Folks apparently take a lot of pride in the quality and appearance of their Cornhole set construction, and drag them around to show them off to other Cornholers. There are not yet, as far as I can tell, any big-name sporting goods manufacturers making Cornhole sets for purchase in stores, (and when they do you can bet they’ll be called something else) but for those lacking even the modest carpentry skills needed to make their own set of targets, plenty of home craftsmen are selling them from their back yards, on eBay, and at web sites like this one.

I think it looks like fun, so I’ll have to try it out and file a report for y’all. And in case Beavis and Butthead are still following along, one of the optional rules provides that the winner of the game is entitled to be referred to as “The Great Cornholio” for the next 24 hours after the match, huh huh.

Serio-comic tragedy

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

It’s not often that events in a newspaper comic strip are reported in the “real” news, but there’s considerable buzz in the media this week about the death of a character in the “Funky Winkerbean” strip. Creator Tom Batiuk has never shied away from tackling “serious” issues such as teen pregnancy, alcoholism and censorship, but the recent storyline concerning Lisa Moore and her battle with breast cancer since 1999 is certainly one of the most ambitious subjects to appear in the “funny pages”. As the end has grown ominously closer in the last month or so (and despite a mountain of letters and emails from readers pleading with Batiuk to spare her), Lisa finally succumbed to the disease in the strip published last Thursday, crossing over the veil of tears hand-in-hand with Masky McDeath (looking strangely like The Phantom of the Opera). An archive of the last month of the series can be found here.

The storyline has generated a surprising amount of controversy; some readers have sent angry letters of complaint to their newspapers, feeling that weighty matters such as disease and death are inappropriate alongside the likes of Garfield, Dagwood, Hagar the Horrible, et. al. Others feel anything that increases cancer awareness is a Good Thing, and anyone who has had to deal with the grief of losing a loved one to the green monster couldn’t help but be touched by the delicate way Batiuk has handled it with his characters. As one commenter on The Comics Curmudgeon put it:

At least FW puts a more human, imperfect face on death and dying, and one that includes struggle, regret, suffering and attempts at closure. It sucks to lose someone from cancer; it’s not easy and it’s not pretty. But there is a certain grace in surviving the struggle, getting through the deep dark emotional stuff, and moving on … not stuff I really want to read in the “funny” papers, but I give FW snaps for dealing with all the imperfect, unfunny aspects of illness and death.

Batiuk has stated that his reasoning for pursuing the plotline was inspired by his own personal battle against prostate cancer, and he has also released a book entitled “Lisa’s Story: The Other Shoe” which contains all the strips from her initial diagnosis up to her passing, along with source material on breast cancer including early detection, information sources, support systems, and health care. Proceeds will be donated to cancer research.

Following this traumatic event, Batiuk will kick off an all-new story line for the strip with the launch of Funky Winkerbean: Generation Next. The flash-forward storyline follows the lives of the characters 10 years into the future, focusing on the sons and daughters of the strip’s original core group. Les Moore, who was an awkward teen when the series began in 1972, will be nearly 50; at the end of this week, his newly-elder character was previewed talking to a psychologist about the events following Lisa’s death.

FW is not the only strip to face “non-funny” issues; For Better Or For Worse is dealing with one of it’s central characters suffering a stroke, and “B.C.” frequently takes on religion. Perhaps we’re seeing the start of a trend; since so many of the funnies are now taking a serious bent, allow me to suggest a few plot lines that the other strips might like to explore:

Dilbert: Fed up with years of abuse by his pointy-headed boss, Dilbert finally “snaps” one day, and brings a semi-automatic rifle to the office where he shoots The Boss, Dogbert, and several other co-workers to death.

Blondie: Dagwood, Blondie, Herb and Tootsie become swingers. They’re engaged in a serious wife-swapping orgy one night when Alexander and Cookie return unexpectedly and catch their parents en flagrante delicto. Years of therapy and marriage counseling follow.

Garfield: Garfield and Odie slip out of the house unnoticed by Jon, who is busily trying to woo his latest girlfriend. The dog and cat are picked up by animal control officers and euthanized after three days of efforts to determine their owner are unsuccessful. (Look carefully at the image on the right: do you see either of them wearing a collar, ID, or rabies tag? I didn’t think so.)

Dennis The Menace: Up until now, Dennis has been frozen in time as a mischievous five-year old. Announcing a “new direction” for the strip, the creators begin aging Dennis in real time; he becomes a juvenile delinquent, starts smoking crack, joins a teen street gang, and is finally shot by police while holding up a liquor store. However, he recovers from his wounds, finds religion, and goes on a mission to show his former gang-mates the Healing Power of Jesus.

Marvin: The cute, rascally, lovable, sagacious babe is unexpectedly and tragically taken by SIDS.

The Lockhorns: This one is almost too obvious. Leroy divorces Loretta so that he can carouse with the shapely young women he is frequently portrayed as flirting with in the strip. Unfortunately however, his new-found freedom doesn’t last long: he has a heart attack and dies while having sex with a 22-year old on a cruise ship, and since he was always too dim-witted to keep up with paperwork, he never bothered to update his will after divorcing Loretta and she gets everything. (At least he doesn’t have to eat her cooking any more.)

Beetle Bailey: Beetle and Sarge are sent to combat duty in Iraq where they are seriously maimed by an improvised explosive device.

Peanuts: Charlie Brown is arrested for illegally downloading mp3′s. The rest of the Peanuts gang attempt to organize a musical show to raise funds for his defense, but in an ironic plot twist, the kids are foiled when they realize they don’t have performance rights for the tunes they want to sing. Chuck is released from the slammer only after paying a $220,000 fine to the RIAA.

The Family Circus (man, you can see this one coming, can’t you?): Since a recurring theme of the series is that seven-year-old Billy often substitutes as cartoonist and draws the Sunday strip in a childish scrawl, authorities decide to investigate the family for possible violation of nepotism and child labor laws. They discover that, not only is little Billy drawing the strip that appears in US papers because Big Bill is frequently too drunk to hold a pen, the child has also been forced by his father to crank out a full-time knock-off comic called (loosely translated) “Carnival of Relatives” in Chinese that appears daily in Peking, Hong Kong, and a variety of other Asian markets. Obtaining a subpoena for the cartoonist’s hard drive, investigators are subsequently shocked to find obscene photographs of 3-year old Jeffy and 5-year old Dolly, and realize that Bill is a major player in the kiddie porn market. Bill claims that the real culprit is an invisible gremlin named “Not Me”, but police arrest him anyway. In the final strip, as he is led off in handcuffs, he tells the audience to “bite me”, and kicks Barfy on his way out the door for good measure while the ghost of Dead Grandpa Al hovers in the background, hanging his head in shame.

This has got to be only the tip of the iceberg, and there must be a ton of other possibilities. Readers?

Spicy!

Monday, October 1st, 2007

Lucky me — I have been randomly selected to be allowed to purchase up to six tickets to see the Spice Girls in concert this coming December 5th and/or 7th at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Wowie zowie!

I’m not certain how I was chosen for this honor, other than I vaguely remember submitting my email address at some website in the chance of winning free tickets to something or other. It might have been the Spice Girls, I don’t know. I get bored sometimes and sign up for a lot of strange crap.

But in any case, according to the message I received:

CONGRATULATIONS!!!

We are so excited to be able to tell you that your registration for a chance to buy tickets to see us live in LOS ANGELES has been SUCCESSFUL!

There have been millions of applications for tickets from ALL over the world, but you can use the special details below to try to buy your tickets!

Use the link below, and you can buy up to 6 tickets to see us live!

But hurry, ticket numbers are very limited indeed!

The message was signed, “Lots of love, Emma, Geri, Mel B, Melanie C and Victoria xxxxx” and contained an exclusive code allowing me to access the Ticketmaster site selling tickets for their worldwide reunion tour.

Just for fun, I checked out how much this rare privilege would cost me: at $119.50 plus a $13.50 “convenience charge” per ticket, plus $14.50 delivery and $25.00 parking, it comes to a total of $305.50 for Mrs. Toast and I to enjoy an evening of spicy entertainment. Throw in airfare to L.A., ground transportation, meals and hotel and we’re easily looking at close to a grand. I’m not sure I’d be willing to spend a thousand bucks to see a returned-from-the-dead Elvis in concert.

Apparently however, for reasons which I fail to understand, demand for these tickets is very high; more than one million people registered for their December 15th London show, which sold out in just 38 seconds today after tickets became available, and Girl Power fans are snapping up tickets for the U.S. dates like hotcakes as well. Since the chances that we will be attending this event are somewhere between slim and none (and being the magnanimous sort of fellow I am), I will be more than happy to send my authorization code to purchase tickets to whomever requests it first. I won’t even charge you a convenience fee.

Anyone interested? Just email me at mrtoast(at)suddenlink(dot)net if you really really really wanna zigazig ha.