Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year from South Philadelphia!

Channel 10's news van is outside the church already. I trust that the other local TV stations will soon make an appearance as well.

Mark went to buy ink for our printer. He said he was going to try BJ's, since he was picking up some other items there.

He came home with an immense box, prompting me to wonder, "Just how much ink did he BUY?" I mean, BJ's sells in bulk quantities, but my gosh that'd be a lot of ink in a box that size.

Well, it's not just ink. There is a new printer in there, too. Seems that the ink cartridges for our old printer are being phased out. This one will have what printers should have had all along, IMO: separate cartridges for each color. No more wasting ink in two other colors because only the magenta, cyan, or yellow ink is exhausted.

That was how it worked in the late 80s with the first ink-jet printer I ever had. That's how it should have worked all along, IMO.

So we'll start the new year by being able to print again. Good. :o)
OK, all. Today is the final day to order an XO laptop. If you're pondering taking part in the Give One, Get One program, the order must be placed by December 31.

If you're interested in supporting this immensely worthy cause, don't hesitate -- go for it. You'll be glad you did. :o)

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Incredibly, the world is still spinning on its axis even as I type.

Why is this miraculous? Because I FINALLY got to eat at the Moshulu, the tall-ship-turned-restaurant on the Philadelphia waterfront.

I've been trying to eat there for years, and something always came up. In the late 80s, a fellow and fellow commuter whom I'd been chatting with on the bus for several days invited me to dinner there. The pinhead stood me up.

Twice. After that second time, I didn't see him on the bus again. Just as well, I suppose, except I'm mystified to this day as to why HE struck up conversations, and eventually asked me out, in the first freaking place if he wasn't planning to actually follow through. File it under "People are weird".

A few years later, the Moshulu had a fire which rendered it incapable of being used as a restaurant. It wound up towed to the NJ side of the river, where it languished for several years. I thought, when I saw that it'd been damaged by fire, "Well, so much for my ever getting to eat there NOW."

Eventually, after a few plans fell through that involved refurbing the restaurant and either a) leaving it in NJ or b) moving it out of the tri-state area entirely, the Moshulu was repaired went back into operation on the Philly waterfront, not far from Penn's Landing. "Good", I thought. "Maybe I'll get to eat there one of these eons after all".

More years passed. Mark and I decided to celebrate our first wedding anniversary in 2000 by going to the Moshulu. It wasn't meant to be. Unfortunately, a few days prior to the anniversary, a tragic accident happened at a nightclub on a pier adjacent to the Moshulu. The same people owned and operated both the nightclub and the Moshulu, so their entire operation was closed down in the aftermath of the accident, a pier collapse that resulted in four fatalities.

Obviously, we had to rearrange our anniversary plans, a miniscule inconvenience compared to the ordeal that the nightclub patrons went through, not to mention the experience of the employees of the club and restaurant whose jobs were impacted by the closures. Still, I couldn't help but think, in passing, "Boy, I am really not meant to eat at this place. Every time I try to go there, something happens to foul up the plans."

More years passed. Then, as I know I posted on here about a year ago, our Group of Friends (tm) decided to have our annual Christmas Brunch there. Every year, we all go out to brunch some time between Christmas and New Year's. In lieu of buying one another gifts, we go to a nice restaurant together and celebrate being friends. Last year, Joe M. suggested that we should try going to the Moshulu for our brunch. I regaled him with my tale of woe of my failed attempts to eat there, and said, "Finally, I'll get the chance to go to the Moshulu. Provided some natural disaster doesn't occur first; which, given my prior experiences, can't be entirely ruled out."

Sure enough, the plans fell through. Our brunch was slated for New Year's Eve, the only day that we could all get together for brunch. It turns out that we were the ONLY people with a reservation for the brunch, so the Moshulu regretfully cancelled our reservations and said that they were going to be closed to prepare for the New Year's Eve crowd that would be coming in that night. We wound up eating somewhere else for our annual brunch.

This year, being either brave, foolhardy, or both, we tried once again to have our brunch at the Moshulu. Incredibly, despite all odds, we actually managed to eat there. Nothing happened to prevent our going -- the boat didn't sink, the river didn't flood, we didn't have a blizzard or an earthquake or a swarm of locusts or anything else hitting the city. And the food was terrific. :o) Which is good, since I've been trying for about 20 years to have a meal there. I've heard of "good things come to those who wait", but I didn't expect to have to wait quite THAT long.

So the jinx is broken and the mal occhio appears to have been dispelled. Nice. Nothing like a bit of positive mojo, just in time for the new year. ;o)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

I got a bit of sad news on Christmas Eve night. The large, friendly tabby Saturn, who I referred to as my Cat-in-law because he belonged to my sister-in-law's family, has taken up residence in Kitty Heaven. :o( He wandered into my in-laws' lives as an adult cat, and so we couldn't pinpoint his age. However, he was already a few years old when I met Mark in 1995, so I'm thinking he was approximately 16-18 years of age by now. I loved that big old loud-motored stripey guy, so I was very sorry to hear the news.

My in-laws' home must have a sign on it, written in Feline, that says "Come get spoiled here". Because their OTHER cat, a large white-with-black-spots young adult cat named Snickers, came to them a couple years or so ago in the same way Saturn did: he just showed up and stayed. :o) He's another big, friendly, loud-motored sort. I hope we get to spoil him rotten for nine long lives, like we did for his adopted brother.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Here's a nice story for Christmas. It's the REAL reason the OLPC exists: helping kids get educated. And, as this story from Peru shows. the kids' parents are learning, too.

Merry Christmas.

P.S. There's still a week left to take part in the Give One, Get One program.
A safe, blessed, and (of course) Merry Christmas to you all!

I have spent the past week getting my Geek on with the OLPC XO laptop. A server has been set up so that OLPC computers (or non-OLPC computers running an emulation program that makes it act like an XO laptop) who log in can all "see" each other on what's called the Neighborhood screen:


The above is an actual screenshot from my Neighborhood screen, taken a day or two ago. All the little people icons (the ones that look like an XO turned sideways, hence the name of the computer is XO) represent XO users who are logged on to the server. The purple-outline, orange-fill-color icon in the center is mine. No one who knows me should be surprised that I picked Phantoms colors for my icon, right? Of course. Actually, I did ponder whether to choose Flyers colors (orange and black) or Phantoms colors. I'm glad I went with Phantoms colors, because already I've run into one other user with a black outline and orange fill color, and one with an orange outline/black fill color. I haven't run into anybody else using my particular color scheme yet, and that is a Good Thing.

Notice also that on the Neighborhood screen there are a couple of icons that look like a "talk" balloon in the comics. Those are chat sessions. The color scheme of the icon matches the color scheme of the user who started the session. You can click on those chat icons and chat with anyone else who's in the session at the time.

This morning, I spent a good chunk of time debugging some software with about eight other users. I don't have the actual code handy, but a few of the people in the chat room ARE software developers for the XO, so I was among the users reporting how things were working on my end and what quirks I had run across.

Given that I used to both test software, and do customer phone support for software, for a living, I was able to give a lot of specifics about what I was reporting. Someone in the chat explained the procedure for how to open a problem ticket, so I'm going to do that after Christmas is over. Hey, I'm a Geek, but I'm a Geek who has family and friends and wants to spend quality time with them during the Christmas holiday. There'll be plenty of time, after Christmas is over, to go into Full Geek Mode with the XO.

Speaking of which, I'm trying to help a new local XO Users Group get off the ground. I started a discussion thread on an OLPCNews online forum, several people responded, and now we're working on the best time/place for everyone to meet. Stay tuned.

OK, have a great Christmas! Later, all!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

During our drive to bring Joey D home from an evenng at Joe M's, I could think of only one thing I would like to tell the people who've adorned their lawns with various lighted Christmas displays:

Would you PLEASE pick a theme and stick with it? If you want to go with a religious/Nativity scene, fine; please put up ONLY Nativity figures, angels, and the Star of Bethlehem. If you want to have a more secular theme, fine; there are plenty of North-Pole-related or generically winter-oriented decorations to choose from. But please make the two motifs mutually exclusive; to do otherwise just looks silly. To wit: there were no snowmen in the Little Town of Bethlehem, there were no reindeer in the stable where the Holy Infant lay wrapped in swaddling clothes, and the Three Magi did not bring the baby Jesus candy canes, toy soldiers, etc.

Sorry, but the lighted Nativity scene I saw, that was immediately adjacent to a big lighted red octagon proclaiming SANTA STOP HERE" in bold white letters... that was just over the top. Mary and Joseph did not, repeat, DID NOT put out a sign inviting the Jolly Old Elf to pay them a visit.

So remember, religious ornaments are fine, and secular ornaments are fine. But please see that the twain are kept separated. Thank you.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Bless Mark, he's really trying hard to get the item I originally asked for as a Christmas gift. The doggone company that he ordered it from originally, after I sent him the link online, notified him on December 20 that they had cancelled his order because the item was out of stock.

It's actually been discontinued by the manufacturer, which I knew, but I was aware that this was a recent development and some places might have some remaining stock. Apparently, the place we ordered it from isn't one of them.

There's a report online that some Radio Shacks might possibly have remaining stock, if you show up in person at the stores. (It's been removed from their online site.) Mark has gone out to check a couple nearby Radio Shacks to see if we can strike gold that way.

If not, I gave him a couple of book ideas as a backup plan, and he reported that he was able to find one of those in Center City. So that's good. If Radio Shack has the other item, too, that will utterly rock. :o) If not, I'll be disappointed, but I'll keep looking online for somethng comparable to the discontinued gadget. Something's bound to appear eventually.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Miserable cheapskate corporations. They give me ulcers.

The insurers got what they wanted, IMO -- they delayed this kid's expensive treatment so long, she passed away hours after they finally reversed their decision. (Which only happened after protesters gathered around their office buildings and groups of doctors signed a letter urging them to reconsider their refusal to pay for the transplant surgery.)

From the article:
Geri Jenkins of the California Nurses Association said the teen had insurance, and medical providers felt comfortable performing the medical procedure. In that situation, the the insurer should defer to medical experts, she said.

"They have insurance, and there's no reason that the doctors' judgment should be overrided by a bean counter sitting there in an insurance office," Jenkins said.

(Emphasis added by me.)

NO KIDDING. That's precisely what I went through when I was trying to get physical therapy for my knee, years ago. Some freaking bean counter in some office declared that I'd had "enough" treatment, and meanwhile I couldn't walk without a cane *and* there was a very visible difference in the amount of muscle tissue in my left vs. right leg. Enough treatment? WTH? I was brought up with the admonition, "Never raise your voice on the telephone", but I raised it THAT day when I called to find out why they were stopping my treatments. The wheels got put in motion for them to talk to my orthopedist and physical therapist, and extend the treatment. But that's a conference call that never should have been necessary, nor WOULD it have taken up everyone's afternoon if the insurance company had relied on the actual medical staff who were treating my injury for an evaluation. (Incidentally, this was a DIFFERENT cheapskate corporation than the one spotlighted in the news article. They all have the same philosophy.)

Anyway, if I was furious over something as non-life-threatening as treating a knee injury, how must this poor bereaved family feel right now? I hope the family sues, and I hope the cheapskate corporation pays out more in damages than they EVER would have paid in medical expenses if the girl had received the treatment and survived.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Here is a solution for the people who have criticized the OLPC project because they would rather send food donations than educational tools to developing countries. (Even though the places where the OLPC project will be adopted are not the regions where the population is in imminent danger of starvation. But I digress.)

Get an OLPC device via the Give 1, Get 1" program, which runs until December 31. Then use it to go to freerice.com, the site where rice is donated via the United Nations to relieve world hunger. Play the vocabulary game, and for every word you get correct, 20 grains of rice will be donated. There you go: the best of both worlds.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Twelve years ago today. It's hard to believe it's been that long. I was in the same hospital lobby last Wednesday, when I went for the x-rays, that I waited in until Joe M. and Joey D. arrived, so we could all go up to ICU and see Joan together. The memory of that night came back so vividly, it might as well have happened yesterday. On the way to the elevators, I had to walk past the hospital chapel, the sight of which brought back even more memories of that night.

We still love and miss you, Joan. But where you are now is where we all hope to be someday. Enjoy Heaven. We'll see you when we get there.
RIP Dan Fogelberg. What sad news... he was only 56. :o(

Saturday, December 15, 2007

What a neat little machine the XO is! The keyboard is kid-sized, but that's OK, You should see some of the tiny PDA keyboards that I have learned to touch-type on over the years.

We got home from having dinner with my parents, in honor of my mom's birthday (which is today); we went to Rexy's again. It's close by, the food is great, and it's not a zoo at this time of year, which some places that cater holiday parties are.

As I type, the Phantoms just won their game in Norfolk 1-0. Great job, boys!

I am going to enjoy getting to know this machine. :o)
WHEEEE! It's here!

The XO arrived a little while ago! I can't unbox it now, because we're about to have dinner with my parents. It's my mom's birthday.

More later.

Friday, December 14, 2007

***CRASH!!!***

The second I heard that, coming from the vicinity of the Christmas tree, I feared the worst.

The tree was still standing. However, the cats were under the table where the tree resides, along with four ornaments. Next to the tree, we have the TV, cable box, DVD/VCR, and stereo plugged in. I'm not sure what the cats did, but somehow it involved landing on the TV and cable box power cords so hard, both of them came unplugged AND the prongs on the plugs were bent into the bargain.

"Basement. NOW. Go." I glared at the Resident Felines. Captain made a beeline for the cellar door and went right down. Stanley followed, but then sat in front of the cellarway giving me Big Sad Eyes and trying to convince me he was framed.

"You, too. Downstairs. Now."

Stanley went. I closed the door.

I let them have their timeout while I sorted out the fouled-up plugs, replaced Mark's wireless-headphone transmitter (which was somehow deposited on the floor behind the TV stand), and re-hung the ornaments. Then I went about my business for a while longer.

When I eventually decided to end the timeout, an hour or so later, two polite little kitties came tiptoeing out when I opened the cellar door. It's been unusually quiet around here since then. Well, OK, at this hour the Stripe Committee normally schedules their Afternoon Nap, but the only way I can describe them is "they're sleeping even more quietly than usual".

And I didn't even have to raise my voice this morning to get my point across. I didn't do anything other than Look Mad and Withhold Doting. Who says cats are untrainable?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

BTW, this afternoon, I was running the Roomba. It was vacuuming the dining room, which is where Captain likes to curl up in front of one of the heating registers.

I was in the living room, so I didn't see exactly what happened. However, I suspect that the Roomba must have either run into Captain or made him THINK it was about to run into him. Either way, suddenly I saw an orange blur speeding out of the dining room, through the entire length of the living room and then halfway up the steps to the second floor. (The cats figured out long ago that jumping onto the furniture or up a few steps on the stairs gives them a good vantage point to spy on the Roomba from above, and that it can't climb up after them.)

Not long afterward, I had reason to go to the second floor. Captain followed me up and complained to me the entire time. What makes this noteworthy is that he wasn't making his normal "Mrrrrp" vocalization; he was telling me his tale of woe with full-fledged "Meow! Mew! Meowww!" utterances, a sound he rarely makes. I presumed he was telling me all about the mean old Roomba and how it scared him.

Silly kitty. That'll teach him to sleep on the floor next to the heating register when the Roomba is running.
Surprise! Al couldn't attend tonight's Flyers game, nor could Karla, so he called to offer me the ticket. I was able to go to the season ticket holders' Will Call window, verify the seat info and his contact info. Then they called his cell phone and confirmed that I could use the seat, they printed me a replacement ticket, and here I am.

I hope the Flyers win the second and third periods, because at the end of the first, we trail 1-0.

Go Flyers!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Here's yet another example of "thinking outside the box" when it comes to uses for the OLPC:

Census of India is responsible for generating data on population. Sources said the organisation is considering doing a pilot project where its field force would use these XO laptops and based on the success of the pilot look at whether these could be used for collecting information for the Census 2011.


They looked at this ruggedized, moisture-proof, low-power-consumption device with a screen that's readable in bright sunlight, and realized that it would be useful for its workers who have to go out on location to compile data.

I see things like this and it makes me think all the more that the XO is well-suited to be a take-along communication device for a deaf-blind user. I can envision it doing the job of the silicon keyboard and PDA in this image, which I took during the AADB convention in 2006:



In this image, one of the men from HumanWare, the company that developed the BrailleNote that my deaf-blind friend is using, shows the PDA display to a newspaper reporter (left). The sighted, hearing person would type on the silicon, roll-up keyboard that's plugged into the back of the BrailleNote. What they type will come up on the PDA screen, as well as on the BrailleNote's braille display for the deaf-blind person to read. Then the deaf-blind person can type a response, which will appear on the PDA screen, as the PDA is wirelessly connected to the BrailleNote.

Now imagine if an XO were to be set up with a wireless or wired connection to the BrailleNote or similar device (as there are some other companies offering competing braille note-taking devices). It would be easier to read the XO screen than any PDA screen, and easier to set up just anywhere instead of needing a tabletop. The two conversing parties could set the devices up on their respective laps, if no table space is available.

Someone had to write the software to get the BrailleNote talking to the PDA. If that could be done, then software can be created to get a BrailleNote to talk to an XO. Sounds pretty darn straightforward to me, and as I posted before, I'd be glad to have a hand in developing whatever software doesn't already exist.

P.S. See the black case on the table? That's the BrailleNote that belongs to the hearing, blind gentleman on the right. (He also works for HumanWare.) Where my friend has a BrailleNote with a QWERTY keyboard, the man's BrailleNote is the model with a Braille Keyboard. Check it out here. The keyboards are different, but the "brains" inside the two machines are the same.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

BTW, since in the past few weeks I've been getting hits to my blog via technorati.com, I decided to create a profile there. My profile is at:

Technorati Profile
Dagnab it. Somehow the content on my Zune hard drive seems to have gotten fouled up.

So, I renamed the two folders on my PC where I store my Zune music. Then I cleared the contents off the Zune (with the Zune software). Then I changed the two folders back to their original names, and I'm re-syncing everything.

It's taking a while, given the number of songs I had on there, but when I'm done I hope all will be as it should.
My foot is officially x-rayed, so now we await the results in "a few days".

I'm surprised they didn't give me the lead apron to put over my abdominal area. The dentist always does, prior to an x-ray.

I'm meeting Joe @ Starbucks prior to going home. I got Us a table since I arrived first.

Monday, December 10, 2007

'Tis the Season, and all that good stuff. So I like to tune in to "Sounds of the Season" on the digital cable music channels. At this time of year, it's all Christmas music, all the time, including some tunes that don't tend to make it onto the radio stations' playlists.

Many times, the songs I haven't heard much on the radio are some older songs that have been shunted aside in favor of 999 cover versions of White Christmas. The song 'Zat You, Santa Claus? springs to mind. But I digress.

Other old classics, which one might or might not hear on the radio, and the radio stations tend to lean toward "not", are some songs where kids announce what they want for Christmas. Older songs, for the most part, strike me as quaint and charming. "All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth, so I can wish you Merry Christmas", says one. "I want a hippopotamus for Christmas", says another.

Well, I heard a much more modern "kid giving his wishes to Santa" song this morning. "I'm gonna email Santa... send my list to Santa dot com". Er, what? I don't know... it doesn't seem all that quaint or charming to email a Christmas list to the Jolly Old Elf.

Then again, maybe in a few decades, some other technology will have supplanted email. Maybe by then, it WILL seem quaint and charming. I don't know. We'll have to see. Refer back to this blog in 2037 or so, and we'll see what we think of emailing Santa then.
How's this for good news? The OLPCs begin shipping today! That means that they might begin to arrive a few days earlier than originally scheduled. For example, people who ordered them on the first day were originally slated to start receiving the devices on December 14-24. People who ordered them on the fourth day (raises hand) could have expected to receive the devices from December 17-31. If the first-day orders might arrive earlier than planned, maybe the other orders will be following fast on their heels. In any event, sometime this month, I hope to have an unboxing ceremony in this house. The sooner, the better.

I've joined the mailing list for the first OLPC user's group that I've seen, even though it's based in Washington, DC. I figured that it's not all THAT far to DC, and anyway with the internet I don't HAVE to be in the same room with people in order to share information with them. I even posted on their site, mentioning that one of my primary interests in the OLPC is seeing what can be done to make it an assistive-tech device for deaf-blind users. I got a response almost right off the bat from someone else who sees its potential as assistive-tech for learning-disabled users. I figure that if we get enough heads working on the OLPC/assistive-technology possibilities, we'll get usable results that much sooner.

It's like we're thinking outside the box regarding a device whose very existence was brought about by a LOT of people thinking outside the box. It's all good.

P.S. It occurs to me that Gallaudet University is based in the DC area, and because of this, there's a large Deaf and Deaf-blind population in the region. I'm thinking that hooking up with MWADB (Metro Washington Association of the Deaf-Blind) would be a big help. It would enable us to have direct input from consumers, as well as maybe connecting us with people who would be willing to help people test the software by bringing along their various braille devices for the OLPCs to (attempt to) interface with. Did I mention "It's all good"?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Phantoms win, 3-2! :o)

Welcome to the GIANT Center, home of the Hershey Bears!

And... we're off! The Phantoms Season Ticket Holder road trip is this afternoon. Karla and Al arrived first and saved us seats on the third bus (of three).

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

As I posted earlier today, I read a lot of techie sites. Hence, I ran across a link to a video that I don't intend to click on.

It's in this article describing the lifelike behavior of a toy baby dinosaur named Pleo. The reviewer's two little daughters are crazy about it. But when he followed the recommendation of the accompanying press materials, to see how it reacted when he picked it up by its tail, he made the mistake of doing so in front of his 4-year-old daughter. The Pleo screamed and thrashed, and the 4-year-old got upset and cried. (And the reviewer got in hot water with his wife, lol -- he had to promise never to do that in front of his daughter again.)

But the link that the reviewer referred to was a video of some engineers "torturing" a Pleo. I *hope* they were doing it with the intention of stress testing, and/or testing its reactions to being abused (struck, kicked, whatever). I'll never know, unless someone else writes about their rationale, because once I saw the commentary that the Pleo cries, whimpers, cowers, etc., I knew I couldn't stand to watch the video. Yes, it's a toy. Yes, it's programmed to react that way, and it's not actually experiencing pain or fear. I don't care. Even reading the description of the video is enough to make my blood run cold, so I don't intend to watch it.

You'll recall that posted a few months ago how I wigged out on Mark when he was trying to remove the batteries in the Furby when it wouldn't shut down properly. The problem was that he held it upside down for too long while it was "awake". The Furby complained that it was scared, and eventually started crying. At that point, I threatened Mark with mayhem if he didn't either turn the Furby right-side-up or give it to me. What I didn't post was that the next day, he tried inverting the Furby again as a joke, but I got so mad that he hasn't played that prank since.

I couldn't stand to see the Furby "suffer", and I have no desire to witness the Pleo being abused to electronic death.

However, if you want to read the interesting article, and the even more interesting comments that it spurred, do click on the link I provided above. The video itself isn't in the article, so you won't see it if you don't want to. But the LINK to the video IS in the article, so if you do want to watch it (for some sadistic reason), you have the option of doing so.
I read a lot of techie sites. One common theme that runs through them all is the "unboxing" ritual whereby someone documents, by photo or video, the act of opening the box of a new device. I'm not sure where this trend began, but apparently it's the Next Best Thing to Being There for those of us who'd like to be the person unboxing said device.

Well, if this sort of pictorial essay floats your boat, you're in luck. I found a link to the unboxing of an OLPC XO-1 laptop.

Enjoy the photos, and remember that from now through December 31, you, too, can arrange to unbox an XO-1.
This morning was my doctor's appointment. Recap: I'm extremely pleased with my blood pressure numbers. Yes, it took meds to get the numbers into the right range, but the dose is obviously the right one because the BP has been pretty much stable (and in the desired range) for the past few years.

I got prescriptions, and referrals, for X-Rays and for a podiatrist. The X-Rays were a no-brainer; I pretty much expected that would be part of the outcome of the visit. The recommendation that I go to a podiatrist surprised me a bit. But frankly, with the medical history this ankle has, what SHOULD surprise me is that I didn't wind up in a podiatrist's office *years* ago. If I hadn't toughed out some of the worst sprains (note: plural, not singular) Back in the Day, and had seen an MD after any one of them, I'd probably already have been to a specialist by now.

Bless the doctor's heart, he even faxed a prescription for ibuprofen to my neighborhood pharmacy, so I wouldn't have to haul myself there in deteriorating weather and drop a paper Rx off to be filled.

And the weather IS deteriorating. I saw an isolated snowflake or two during my drive to the doctor's, but at that point it was really just cloudy, not snowing. Not so by the time my appointment was over a couple hours later; it's currently snowing merrily away. Fortunately, it's the big wet snowflakes that tend to melt on contact with the pavement or street. But it IS sticking on cars and lawns, and if the temps drop or the snowflakes change consistency, we might end up with a dusting or more on the ground when all is said and done. (And with this funky ankle, I want to walk around on any amount of snow like I want a hole in the head. Freaking weather.)

Anyway, that's the latest news from these parts. That, plus I think I only have one more present to buy and then I'm done Christmas shopping. Hooray for point-and-click shopping.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Got a cough? Take honey for it. It scored better than dextromethorphan in a test involving honey, dextromethorphan, and a placebo. (The placebo came in last.)

Good. I'd rather take honey anyway, ten out of ten times. It's so nice when GOOD news comes out of health studies.

Now if they'd come up with a study that says "chocolate cures ankle pain", I'd be in business.
The soonest I could get an appointment with my doctor, to have this ankle looked at, is Wednesday morning. I really do want a medical opinion on this since the ankle pretty much stopped improving about a week ago. I have more prior experience with ankle sprains than any sane person would want to have, and I think it should feel better than this two weeks after being sprained.

I'm also not too fond of the fact that there's an area on the top of my foot that I can touch, that causes a pins-and-needles effect down the top of my foot to my toes. That's not a symptom I've ever had after any of my (myriad) prior sprains, and that's another thing that doesn't seem to be improving.

Phooey. The moral of this story: don't freakin' sprain things. It's not worth the aggravation.
Here's some more information about the Nigerian-character keyboard patent that LANCOR is suing OLPC about. It seems to be a "registered design", meaning that it protects the device's appearance rather than its function. So they're claiming that the OLPC keyboard LOOKS too much like their keyboard. But the OLPC keyboard places some characters, and in particular the function key that allows the user to type special characters, in a different place from LANCOR's keyboard. Even if the patent were for the device's function, rather than appearance, the two keyboards are designed to work differently. (The article goes into some techie details that I won't reproduce here.)

From what I've been able to track down online over the past two days, I can't see where this suit has a legal leg to stand on.

In other news, we had a nice group get-together at Karla and Al's for turkey dinner on Sunday. Joe M. and Joey D. went with Mark and me. Good food and cartoons -- can you beat that combination for a great day?

(OK, the Phantoms and the Eagles could have won, too, but we can't have EVERYthing. Like I said a few posts ago, sometimes there's a need for a lot more mojo than one person's pregame ritual can provide. ;o) )

When the leftovers were divided up, we got some turkey and fruit salad. The cats escorted me all the way to the kitchen, meowing the entire time, when I transported the bag with the food in it to the refrigerator. The Stripe Committee loves turkey, so we'll have to make sure they get a little snack when we eat the turkey.

OK, it's time to attempt to sleep. I'm so aggravated -- I had my sleeping patterns close to normal for a few days, and over the past couple days they've gotten all goofed up again. Grrrrrr! Back to square one in the "straightening out the sleep patterns" department.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Interesting things are coming to light regarding the company that filed the patent-infringement suit against OLPC, for the way their multilingual keyboards handle Nigerian characters.

First of all, the company that filed the suit is run by a man who spent time in a US prison for bank fraud.

Second of all, the patent appears to have expired in August, 2006. Last time I looked at a calendar, that's more than a year ago. How can someone file suit over an expired patent? (View the entire 7-page patent by tweaking the URL; the individual pages can be found on URLs ranging from ADE_OYEGBOLA1.pdf through ADE_OYEGBOLA7.pdf .)

Personally, I'm unconvinced of the merit of this suit. It strikes me as someone who's trying to pry some money out of the pocket of a company that they perceive as a rival (since they've designed another keyboard to handle Nigerian characters). Way to go, rocket surgeon... filing suit on an expired patent against a non-profit organization. Yeah, there's a ton of free money to be made there. :rolleyes:
Whew... Saturday was a tough day for Philly hockey. The Flyers lost to Dallas 4-1, the Phantoms lost to Lake Erie (Cleveland) 2-1, and the Flyers alumni lost to a visiting Russian team 7-1. Ouch. My normal pregame routine, such as it is, is to have a bagel for breakfast on game days. It normally works. (Then again, the Flyers and Phantoms are normally good teams. Ya think that might have something to do with it? Nah. It's me and my bagel for breakfast giving them all good luck. )

I guess some days, there just aren't enough bagels in the world to give the mojo a boost. It looks like Saturday was one of those days.

Anyway, here's some GOOD news: the OLPC project is starting to get more orders in from countries' education ministers. Excellent. I had a feeling that with the popularity of Give One, Get One, there'd be additional interest coming from official channels. After all, now it's not just a little unknown computer that's being offered for sale, at inexpensive prices, to third-world educational systems and nowhere else. Now it's a little computer that first-world countries' private citizens have been ordering (and therefore donating) like crazy. IMO, that casts the device in a whole different light, since it's not just "for developing countries" anymore. It's going to be in wider use than that.

I've been doing some homework on the accessibility issues with the OLPC computer. Some software, like a Text to (synthesized) Speech reader, is already in place. However, I haven't tracked down anything that tells me there's full-blown screen reader software out there. That makes the difference between a blind person's being able to have the machine read a document's contents aloud, or being able to have the machine tell them aloud what they've just typed, what program they've opened up, what menu item they're on, etc. I'm giving a bit of an inelegant description, mind you, but the long and short of it is that a screen reader tells a blind user what's going on while they're using the machine. The screen reader software is also able to send its info to a braille device. For examples of these, see my June 2006 blog archives for photos I took at the AADB (American Association of the Deaf-Blind) convention.

Besides the idea of getting the XO PC to work with a screen reader program and a braille device, I keep thinking of another way that a deaf-blind person might be able to use an XO to communicate. I remember my deaf-blind friend KC's setup that allowed her to communicate with the medical staff when she was in the hospital. It involved her BrailleNote, a roll-up silicon keyboard, and a Palm Tungsten. The keyboard was plugged into her BrailleNote, and the Palm device was set up to pair with the BrailleNote via bluetooth. Then she ran a program on the BrailleNote, that allowed whatever was typed on the silicon keyboard to show up on the Palm, so the sighted person could see what they were typing, and also to show up on the braille display so KC could read it. Then she could either type a response back (if she were communicating with someone deaf) and it would show on the Palm screen, or speak her response (to a hearing person). You can see most of the hardware I described in the June 2006 archive photo where I posted about the newspaper interview. (The Palm was acting up, and in fact the people who designed the software were going to have a look at it during the convention, so it might not be in the photograph I took. But the BrailleNote and the keyboard were used throughout the interview.)

As much as I liked seeing how this worked, it's still three separate pieces of equipment that need to be set up. I keep thinking, "What if the XO computer could be set up to serve the same function as KC's silicon keyboard and Palm device? It's made to wirelessly communicate; what if it can be convinced to talk to the BrailleNote? Would it be easier to haul around an XO and the BrailleNote, instead of a keyboard and a Palm and a BrailleNote? All I can say is, "Let me get my hands on the device, let me see what software is already out there, and let me run these thoughts by some blind and deaf-blind friends, and see what comes of it." Things could get Very Interesting around here if this proves to be a viable idea. And that's a Good Thing.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Ya know those FREAKING indestructible plastic blister packages, the ones that you practically need a bomb to open so you can get at the product inside?

Well, my hands have seen better days, so I ordered a device called the Package Shark Pro to deal with them. I ordered two, in fact, since my mom's hands are in even worse shape than mine. They're supposed to cut right through the FREAKING indestructible plastic blister packaging like it's nothing. When your hands hurt all the time, which mine usually do, things like this are a tremendous help.

The order arrived today. As you can see, the Package Shark is enclosed in the same FREAKING indestructible plastic blister packaging that the Package Shark was designed to cope with. Whose bright idea was THAT? I need a Package Shark in order to open the package FOR the Package Shark!

Arrrrrrgh...!

Monday, November 26, 2007

I found a post from someone who's discussing the use of the OLPC XO laptop as assistive technology for disabled persons in developing countries. I had to look up the term AAC, which I hadn't encountered before -- it's "augmentive and alternative communication".

OLPC + assistive tech for disabled persons = an idea whose time has come. I already have been thinking about the uses of a ruggedized, spillproof, portable device like the XO for persons like my friend Joe J, whose fine motor control is limited and who frequently needs to replace computer keyboards as a result of the additional wear-and-tear his condition causes. But for him to be able to use it, the XO would need a screen reader capable of interfacing with his braille display. XO-compatible screen-reading software isn't in existence yet, but if there's a demand for it, I'm certain that it soon WILL be.

I'm bookmarking the assistive-tech blog. I'm glad to see that there are others, who WORK in the assistive-tech field, who've been thinking along the same lines as me.
I nearly forgot to post an amusing thing that happened at Friday night's Phantoms game. Mark doesn't have a season ticket seat anymore, but he's usually been able to get the seat adjacent to mine when he comes to games. Not so on Friday night; the closest seat he could get was the one about two rows behind me.

A woman and her senior-citizen dad were sitting immediately to Mark's left. She saw that Mark wears hearing aids and mentioned, prior to the game, that he might want to turn the volume down on the left hearing aid since she tends to yell a lot at games. Mark thought this was hilarious, got my attention, and then the three of us wound up chatting. It turns out that the lady's dad is deaf and that her sister and brother sign. Oddly enough, she didn't specify whether SHE or her DAD can sign, but it sounded from the way she phrased herself during the conversation that she knows at least some signs.

So Mark helpfully ;o) mentioned my tendency to insult the referee in ASL when I disagree vehemently with a call. I offered up one or two of the milder signs like tiny blockhead. (Look for that sign in Children of a Lesser God, where the tweaked-for-network-TV version utilized the translation of "peabrain".) The lady appeared to know that sign, so I figured she'd know some of the, er, more colorful signs as well. I promptly made a mental note not to cuss the ref in ASL at any point during the game. Or at least to make the grouchiest signs down around the area of my lap, where no one would easily be able to see them. ;o)

In the long run, I just left that particular portion of my vocabulary arsenal unused during Friday's game. And believe me, the way the first half of the game was officiated, refraining from offering some candid opinions took no small amount of conscious effort. But I managed it.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

If you were thinking about getting involved in the OLPC's "Give One, Get One" program, there's good news. The program has been extended until December 31 due to the enthusiastic response that the program has received.

Personally, I have a feeling that governments of some developing countries that haven't bought into the idea yet, literally or figuratively, will get on board once the XO laptop becomes a commodity among the consumers of the developed countries who take part in G1G1. Then, instead of being a proving ground for a new device that's just getting off the ground, they'll be purchasing devices that are already in use in the developed world. That will be a stronger selling point both for the OLPC officials, *and* for government officials who have to make a case for setting aside funds for this kind of investment.

(I realize that I'm writing as though it's an ideal world, where there's no such thing as corruption and bribery. But those two issues would be an obstacle to any new educational program in the countries where they're rampant, not just the OLPC initiative. on the crooks of the world, in any case.)

In other news, I've done a significant amount of Christmas shopping already via online. (I think I posted a few days ago that that was my goal, but I'll have to review recent posts to be sure.) However, I still have a few more things I need to get. Mark's gift, I held off ordering online because I think I can get that one in person at a local store. If they're out of it, however, my goal will be to order it online as soon as I get home from the shopping expedition.

My parents' present will be a little trickier. I hate to spoil the surprise, but I might have to talk to them about it in order to avoid getting a gift that they'll no longer need. They have an older-model cell phone whose battery is on its last legs. It's old enough of a model that the brick-and-mortar cell phone stores don't supply the battery anymore. My parents have been debating for the past few months whether to order a replacement battery (by phone, since they don't have internet access) or just get a new phone. I can easily order a battery online, but I have some reservations about that. I don't want to order them a battery for Christmas and then find out that SURPRISE! While I was procuring a replacement battery for their old phone, they went and upgraded to a new telephone at some point between now and Christmas. To avoid running into that situation, I'll probably have to chat with them and find out what their intentions are regarding the phone-battery issue. Then I'll know whether it's safe to order the battery, or if I'll need to resort to a Plan B.

Besides those items, there's one other thing that I might end up buying in person instead of online. We shall see. But if I decide to go the online route, I'm going to do it within the next few days to avoid the mail delays that are sure to happen as the holiday approaches.

Thank God for point-and-click ordering. It's tons easier on my nerves than running around to malls, dealing with throngs of people and long lines, and either hauling a bunch of shopping bags around on SEPTA or spending a fortune on gasoline in the commute to and from shopping.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Note to self: when you are recovering from a sprain, don't let the freaking Ibuprofen wear off.

I skipped taking ibuprofen for most of yesterday, and boy, do I regret it this morning. Whew. File THAT under "Big mistake". Never again.
Happy Thanksgiving + 1, everyone! I hope you had a nice holiday. Mark, Joe M. and I went to the parade yesterday morning, after Joe received some tickets to sit in the bleachers at City Hall. The weather couldn't have been more cooperative, and the parade was nice. There was a bit of a holdup when one of the floats, a pirate ship, had to pause until they could figure out a way to get it and its tall masts past the two traffic lights at 16th and Market, both of which are on horizontal bars that extend far out over the street. I thought, "If that were a REAL ship, they'd be able to lower the masts to get it under the obstacle, but I doubt a parade float is built with that sort of consideration in mind".

They weren't able to lower the masts, but they did determine, after several minutes, how to loosen one of the horizontal booms on the mast. Once they got that rotated to a near-vertical position, the float fit between the traffic lights with no difficulty, and the parade was able to continue.

I wish that some of the groups would perform at least an abbreviated version of their routine when they reach City Hall. The way things are done now, the only performances that they do are at the endpoint of the parade, which is the Art Museum. Of course, the good news is that if you watch the entire parade at City Hall, then take SEPTA home to South Philly, there's still plenty of parade left to watch on live TV once you reach your living room. The way they pace themselves, it takes an hour or more for them to travel from City Hall to the Art Museum. So if you're willing to haul yourself out of bed at the crack of dawn, and arrive by 7:30 at your City Hall vantage point, you can have the best of both worlds if you live less than an hour's worth of travel from City Hall.

We had Thanksgiving dinner at my sister-in-law's yesterday. She did a great job, as usual, bless her. I can't even imagine having dinner for 13 people. (And BTW, it would have been 14 if my younger nephew's girlfriend hadn't had family obligations of her own.) Never mind that I wouldn't have any place to PUT them all in a house this size - even if I could fit that many people, I can't imagine actually doing it. My nieces and nephews were all there, and I got a kick out of the fact that the eldest two of them baked the pies for dessert. And OMG did we ever have pies. I think the final total was two pumpkin pies and four apple pies. They inherited their mother's, and grandmother's, baking talent, which is a Very Good Thing.

This morning, even as I type, my dad is getting a nuclear stress test. He flunked a regular stress test a few weeks ago :o(, so they're sending him for this other test so they can get some clearer answers regarding what's going on. I hope that this provides answers regarding why his blood pressure has gotten high and STAYED high regardless of which meds they're using to try and control it, and also helps to determine how much of his shortness of breath is from emphysema and whether there is any (previously undiagnosed) heart trouble contributing to the problem. Argh. So send up a few prayers, if you don't mind, that all goes well with this test. Hopefully, the only issues that exist are treatable/manageable ones.

OK, those are the main things for now. Today should be fun -- there's a Flyers/Phantoms doubleheader at the Wach Center. Count me in for both of those! :o)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

When Phishers Don't Proofread...

I got the attached email this morning:

Dear Beneficial Savings Bank Client,

This is an official notification from Beneficial Savings Bank that the service listed below will be deactivated and deleted if not renewed immediately. Previous notifications have been sent to Billing Contact assigned to this account. As the primary contact, you must renew the service listed below or it will be deactivated and deleted.

Renew Now your Beneficial Savings Bank Bill Pay Services.

If you are not enrolled to Web Branch, please enter your checking account number as User ID and Social Security Number as Password.

SERVICE: Beneficial Savings Bank Bill Pay Services.
EXPIRATION: November 31, 2007

At Beneficial Savings Bank we are dedicated to providing you with exceptional service and to ensuring your trust. If you have any questions regarding our services, please check the website or call our customer service.

Thank you, sincerely,
Beneficial Savings Bank Customer Center


First of all, the fact that they used a generic "dear client" greeting, instead of my name, would be a tipoff that something's not right.

Second of all, the fact that I haven't GOT an account with them is a pretty big red flag.

Third, while they're saying "your service will be deactivated and deleted if not renewed immediately" in one paragraph, in the next paragraph they're telling me what to do if I'm not enrolled in Web Branch. (Just enter some personal identifying information. Yeah, right.) Um, if I'm not enrolled in Web Branch, there's nothing to for me to renew, nor is there anything for them to deactivate or delete.

Fourth, get a load of that expiration date. Thirty days hath September, April, June... and apparently November has a Leap Day this year. I'll mark my calendar accordingly.

Last, "Thank you, sincerely," is not the sort of closing I'd expect to see from a REAL official notice from a bank.

Fargin' crooks. I hope their computers blow up.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Wanna see what music I've been playing lately? Now you can. Scroll ALL the way to the bottom of this blog page, and you'll see that I've inserted my Zune Card.

I'd have put it near the top, but it's a little too large of a graphic and I thought it'd be a bit too visually obtrusive. So I inserted it at the bottom, and I'll decide on some way to point out to people, via text at the top of the page, that the card is down there at the bottom of the page. Give me time.
So I'm here at the hairdresser's, waiting the requisite 30 minutes that the hair color needs to accomplish its mission. Yes, I assist my hair in retaining the hue it originally came with, as a few too many of the pigment-producing cells have abandoned their genetic assignment. Ageism is alive and well in the job-search universe, and I don't need to appear any older than I actually am.

Anyway, this is the most aggravating part of the whole process. Why? Because if you itch anywhere in the treated area, you can't scratch it, not unless you like having a brunette fingertip.

One of these appointments, I'm going to remember to carry either a toothpick, or some other thing I can safely apply to the random itches that crop up as I sit with semi-wet hair for half-an-hour.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Yay!

I just took another look on the Zune.net site. I'm the top listener for the group Rockapella, too. :o) Good. Consider it my way of giving them a "Thumbs up". I like that group.
Since I started to rip CDs for the Zune, I've had the opportunity to play some music that I just hadn't gotten around to playing in eons. Hence, I can offer occasional installments of the Album Rediscovery Project.

My latest: Tonin' by The Manhattan Transfer. I'm thoroughly enjoying it. If you've got that album, haul it out and give it a listen. If you haven't got it, I recommend borrowing it from someone who has. :o)
Ya know that superstition that it's bad luck for black cats to cross your path?

Don't buy it.

The only time I ever had issues with black cats crossing my path was when I was on crutches. Then my two cats at the time, Melody and Harmony, wanted to "help" Meowmy navigate the stairs by doing purring figure-eights and rubbing against the crutches and my legs. I kept trying to convince them that this was a Certifiably Bad Idea, as unlike them I only had one life and couldn't afford to take a header down the entire flight of stairs. They never quite "got it". They meant well, though, bless their fuzzy little hearts. Fortunately, I recovered to the point where I no longer needed crutches, and I did so without having a second, stair-related, helpful-kitty-induced spill in the interim.

And, as I have discovered over the past few days, the cats don't have to be BLACK cats in order to create this same sort of issue while crossing your path. Captain and Stanley appear to have an endless fascination with my navigating the stairs while using a cane. I'm constantly being escorted by one or both members of The Stripe Committee any time I have to go up or down the steps. With luck, my ankle will improve quickly, and we won't have to deal for long with the risk of a feline/Meowmy pileup at the foot of the stairs.

So, let's recap the reasons why that black-cats-crossing-your-path-is-unlucky superstition is false:

  • It's only a problem if you're already having difficulty maneuvering on foot from Point A to Point B
  • If the above case is true, it doesn't have to be BLACK cats creating the hazard

Now, get out there and navigate safely, and be careful not to trip on the Helpful Kitties. Their intentions are good.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Last night, I figured I would know for sure how fouled up the sprained ankle is when I stood up for the first time this morning. If I'd had to rate the sprain at the time it happened, I'd have given it a 7 out of 10 (where 1=mild and 10=severe). (And, unfortunately, I've got a wealth of prior experience to measure a new sprain against.)

Anyway, the verdict came in this morning with a thumbs-down. It feels nasty and it's not something that can be readily "walked off". Phooey. I was hoping that after a day, "7 out of 10" would prove to be an over-estimation, but it sounds about right.

Fortunately, I already own a cane. Anything that reduces wear-and-tear is a Good Thing. And now I'm heading back to continue with Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation, and anti-inflammatories.

Saturday, November 17, 2007



Yay, I rock! :o) Click the above image and you'll see that I made the Top Listener for Barry Manilow on Zune.net!


For however long THAT lasts until someone else sees it and makes a run at taking over the top spot, that is. Of course, if THAT happens, I'll just have to have a(nother) Manilowthon of my own and try to regain the lead. ;o)

The above image is a screenshot that I saved. For current Top Listener info, you can click this link.

On to other news, of which there's some good and some not-so-good. The not-so-good news: I sprained my ankle this afternoon while walking with Joe M. to have lunch at Marra's. I usually can tell what it is that I turned my ankle on, when I look at the area I was walking when the ankle gave out. Not this time. Crud. Both my ankles are goofed-up anyway, from prior injuries, but the one that was involved in today's mishap is the one that's been injured worse/more times. Life goes on. I know all about RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) and I've been doing those when I can. Rest and Compression, I've been taking care of pretty much since I got hurt. Ice and elevation, I've been a little less consistent with but now that I'm home, I can take care of those without inconveniencing anyone. Oh, and anti-inflammatory meds... I have some prescription-strength ibuprofen left over from when I was having intermittent back spasms a while ago, so I've been taking that. FWIW, when I went to the ER with a dislocated kneecap several years ago, it was the ER staff that told me that if it's at all possible, I should take anti-inflammatories of any kind after an injury, as it really helps reduce the pain and swelling. So I've tried to follow that advice whenever possible. Fortunately, there haven't been many significant injuries since then, but Life Happens and when you're me, so does the occasional mishap. So there'll be ibuprofen and RICE in my immediate future.

The reason I was NOT home earlier in the evening is the good news: Joe M. threw a birthday dinner party for me. So we were all over there tonight. He made his chocolate cake from scratch -- I forget the name of the recipe, something along the lines of Perfect Chocolate Cake or Ultimate Chocolate Cake. Whatever it's called, DOGGONE but it's to freaking die for. :o)

OK, time for me to go collapse and get some sleep.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Birmingham, AL has purchased 15,000 OLPC devices for use in its school system.

I love the idea. I realize that the original intent was for the OLPC to be distributed to children in developing countries. But if distributing it to US students provides the funding needed to promote the distribution of the OLPC is developing countries, so be it. I'm for anything that promotes education, in any country and for any students.

I've been following the "One Laptop Per Child" project since it was first announced a couple years ago. I am an avid fan of the idea, and have been since Day One.

Oh, and there are only 11 days left in the "Give One, Get One" program. If you're interested in taking part, don't postpone your decision for long.

P.S. Here's the latest hands-on review of the device.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

I just found instructions for an interesting little Easter Egg that's on Windows XP.

Check it out here: C:\WINDOWS\system32\oobe\images\title.wma .

Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Today was a departure from my regular schedule, to say the least. The Phantoms had their annual Schoolday Game, meaning that the first puck was dropped at 11:00 AM.

It seems that both Karla and I have to be at a home game this year or the Phantoms' mojo is fouled up. I missed the game on October 20, and the Phantoms suffered their first loss of the season. Karla missed today's game, and we lost again. Those are the only two regulation-time losses we've had so far this year (we're 13-2-1-0), so it's obvious that Karla's and my presence at the home games are what made the difference there. ;o)

Well, that and the fact that this was the team's fourth game in six days... five and a half days, if you want to count the fact that it started at 11 AM instead of 7 PM. We're a tired, banged-up team and this morning, we played like it. We can also add a couple more guys to the injured-scratches list, as Jared Ross and Oskars Bartulis both left Sunday's game hurt. Dang it...

Anyway, here's to seeing Our Heroes rest up and come out with guns blazing on Friday night (another home game that both Karla and I are karmically required to attend). The opponent will be Binghamton, the team we shut out on Saturday night. Bingo hasn't played since then, but they also have got a franchise-record three-game scoreless drought in progress. I'm positive they're going to come charging out of the gate on Friday to try and break that goalless streak. We'll have to be ready for them, particularly early in the game when their energy level will be at its highest.

On to other news: I have my profile set up on the Zune Social network. Now I can export what songs I play on the device, or on my computer via the Zune software. I have my sights set on being a top player of GOOD music. Maybe it'll skew the demographics in favor of music that actually took some talent to create, as opposed to some of the vapid offerings that are being put forth for public consumption in recent days. Hey, I'm only one person, but if ALL the people who like actual music (as opposed to noise) get together, we can make a statement to the record companies about what kinds of acts they SHOULD be signing to contracts. (JFM, this means you -- you're the one person I know personally who meets both the requirements: someone who's got a Zune AND whose musical tastes are similar to mine. :o) )

So if anyone's looking for me, I'll be busy playing Manilow on my Zune software. I've looked at the people who've got him listed as one of their top artists on Zune network. I can see the number of times I've played his songs vs. the number of times they've played his music, and I can easily get myself included in the top few Manilow-listeners. All I have to do is play, play, and play his music for a while... certainly NOT a hardship to me. :o)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

BWAHAHA!

I read a while ago that laughing is a better workout for the abdominal muscles than situps. If that's the case, then read this Beet Pulp Warning and give your abs the best workout they've had all week.
Aha. Note to Self: If you're going to have your Zune (or other CD-ripping) software set to automatically rip music CDs as soon as you insert them into the computer, DON'T LEAVE A MUSIC CD in the freakin' drive.

Because every time you start the software, it's going to start ripping the CD for you, and that's only going to screw up anything else you're trying to do. Plus, you could end up with a corrupted folder, where some of the albums' titles don't match their content. (For example, I had what was, ostensibly, a Due South soundtrack album, but when I clicked on it, I saw Mama Cass's greatest hits. Mama Cass's alleged album, meanwhile, contained music by Sarah McLachlan. And so on.

Only some of the albums were fouled up in this way, so I was able to delete them and I'm now ripping them again. It shouldn't take long, now that I realize that for a while there, I had music CDs in BOTH drives and the software was getting a headache trying to deal with it.
Happy happy joy joy, the Zune upgrade software became available today!

All first-gen Zunes can now upgrade their firmware and gain the new capabilities that are offered in the second-generation Zunes, which will go on sale today.

Three cheers for wireless synchronization of files and podcast handling. (Well, the Zunes could always play back podcasts, but now the Zune software will actually manage your subscriptions for you.

I'm posting this as the final stages of the upgrade proceed. When everything's done, I'll be Very Pleased.

Here, have a meerkat. :o) I took this photo on Thursday, but didn't get around to sending it until now.

P.S. Click the image to see the full-sized version of the photo.
Click the following link to find your blind spot. This is the strangest thing I've seen in a while. I didn't realize that our eyes worked this way.

BTW, you can find your left eye's blind spot, too. Just reverse the instructions: close your right eye, stare at the spot on the right with your left eye, and adjust the distance between your eyes and the screen until the star on the left seems to disappear. But the site only has the fancy-shmancy animated examples for experimenting with the blind spot on your right eye. I guess to get animated examples for the blind spot on the left eye, you have to turn your monitor upside-down or stand on your head. ;o)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Flyers win! And promptly have a scrum behind our net.

Hat Trick thinks they're the best seats in the house. :o)

We're eye level with the banners.

Ya know those Flyers tix we won in the trivia contest? The balcony suite rocks! :)
The OLPC's "Give One, Get One" program began today. I've already posted about why I think this is a super idea. If this kind of philanthropic activity falls within your budget, I recommend taking part. I can't think of anything more important, in the communities where these devices will be employed, than making education available to as many children as possible.

In other, more down-to-earth news, the Phantoms won all three of their games over the weekend. The most dramatic victory came on Friday night, which I posted about earlier. But last night's victory was also of the come-from-behind variety. I love how this team never stops giving 100% until the game is over. It's the reason why we're off to the best start in franchise history.

Yesterday was a day where I interpreted Mass at the church where I grew up. To my pleasant surprise, there was a wedding that took place during the Liturgy. It was a man whom I've known for a whole lot of years, who has sung in the choir forever. He and his new wife were both widowed, and they are past retirement age. It's nice to see good things happen for good people, and I'm particularly pleased that I was able to be on hand at the Mass when the wedding took place. I wish them both every wonderful thing. :o)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

[singing]
*WHY* do ads have Christmas music, fa la la la la la la la la
It's still two weeks 'till Thanksgiving, fa la la la la la la la la
[/singing]

I just saw the Overstock.com ad with "Deck the Halls" playing in the background. GRRRR... 'Tis NOT the season yet, not for another two weeks! Simmer down, advertisers!

Anyway, in other news, the Flyers and Phantoms have had a great couple of days. Last night, the Phantoms trailed 2-0 until the final two minutes of the game. Then Ryan Potulny, who just came back to the lineup after being injured, opened up a can of goal-scoring on our opponent, scoring two goals in the final two minutes and sending the game into overtime. He then proceeded to score yet another goal in OT, winning the game for us and basically bringing the house down. I'm so glad I don't have to sing THIS week, because I think I'm going to have laryngitis for a month after that crazy last-minute victory! :o)

Tonight, the Flyers beat the Pittsburgh Penguins at home, AND the Phantoms shut out the Binghamton Senators on the road. Outstanding work, guys!

Now all we need is to see the Phantoms perform as well during tomorrow's home game as we've already done on Friday and Saturday. That'd be a great b-day gift to me from the boys in Purple, Orange, and Black. :o)

My parents, Mark, and I went to Rexy's on the Black Horse Pike for my birthday tonight. OMG, I love that place. The food was absolutely great! They're the only restaurant I know that has bracciole on the menu, which I love. My mom used to make that when I was a kid, but then the price of it skyrocketed and the butchers in the neighborhood stopped carrying it, so bye-bye bracciole. So any time I eat at Rexy's, I make sure and order it. In fact, I raved about the bracciole so much that Mark AND my parents also ordered it, LOL. :o) Anyway, Rexy's rules. Go try them.

It's funny -- I had a long nap this afternoon, but I'm STILL ready to keel over and fall asleep. Though in this case, it's probably because I had a big dinner and now all I want to do is sleep it off. Good night!

Friday, November 09, 2007

The people whom I know offline who read this blog are all avid readers. Therefore, this sort of surfing-for-charity should be right up everyone's alley.

Check out the site freerice.com, where for every vocabulary item you get right, ten grains of rice will be donated through the United Nations to help end world hunger.

Go ahead and start clicking. :o)

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Well, today was a great b-day. It started with Mark's giving me Due South seasons 1, 2, and 3 on DVD. Then we went to the Philadelphia Zoo, which we're members of. I got to see the Zoo's two meerkats. (See: all my posts about Meerkat Manor to know why I dote on these little fuzzballs.) Darn, but they're cute! As well as alert, and bright, and responsive to the human voice. Any time I looked at one of them to tell her how adorable she was, the meerkat in question would stand up and look directly at me, with keen interest. I even saw them hunt, such as it was. I'm not sure if the black beetle that suddenly broke cover and scooted through the exhibit was something that was Provided For Their Enrichment, as the Zoo frequently puts food items around the enclosures of animals that normally forage for food all day in the wild. Then they can spend their day searching the enclosure for bits of food, which keeps them alert and active and staves off boredom. Anyway, this beetle could have been placed into the enclosure by keepers, or it could have come in from outside, as the building's exit was only a few yards away. But in either case, meerkats are insectivores and they quickly made the beetle into an ex-beetle. Or at least one of them did. The one that arrived a moment sooner and actually caught it made little rasping growly noises at her companion, who was trying to nose in and maybe mooch the snack for herself. I was amused, as it's a vocalization that's heard on a regular basis on Meerkat Manor. In this context, it didn't seem especially hostile. It seemed to be more along the lines of, "Go 'way. This bug's mine."

We also got to see them interact with their keeper, at which point I found out WHY they're so willing to give their undivided attention to talking humans. The daily schedule said "Meerkat Training", and it turns out that it was a session lasting a few minutes that ensures that the meerkats are willing to go into and out of pet carriers on command. The keeper kept on instructing them "In" and "Out", and providing them with little treats for executing the commands properly. She also closed the doors to the carriers and handled the carriers a bit (picking up, turning around, etc), providing treats all the while. The meerkats were loving all this. Note to self: if you want to make a meerkat your friend for life, give it snacks. When the training was done, they kept looking at the keeper with expectant faces, as if to say, "That's not ALL, is it? Surely there's more?"

From the keeper, I found out that these two meerkats are both female, and that they're 8 years old. It's probably just as well that they're not a breeding pair... if the Zoo had a pair of meerkats as prolific as the late, great Flower of the Whiskers mob, the Zoo would have wall-to-wall meerkats in no time flat. I didn't ask their names, as I've noticed a reluctance at the Zoo to tell guests the animals' names in the past. That's because the animals' names are normally only used as part of a command, and they don't want the animals getting desensitized to the sound of their names by having guests calling it out morning, noon, and night.

Anyway, just seeing the meerkats would have made my day all by itself. But there was more. In no particular order, other fascinating critters included the pygmy marmoset (talk about a creature that's too cute to be legal), golden lion tamarind, gorillas, orangutans, all the various big cats including the mama tiger and her three 6-month-old cubs, our remaining three elephants (which I thought were going to Pittsburgh in October -- I guess Pittsburgh's zoo wasn't ready for them yet), and the red panda (another case of cuteness beyond what's legally allowed).

OK, so we got to see tons of fuzz and stripeyness and spots and cuteness all day long. Were we done? Not even close. Our next stop was at Dave and Buster's, where there was an appearance of Flyers alumni Bernie Parent (my childhood idol) and Bob Kelly, in conjunction with the telecast of a Flyers road game. So Mark and I had dinner at Dave and Buster's, met, spoke with and took a picture with Bernie Parent and Bob Kelly, and won a Flyers trivia contest with 25 questions out of 30 right. :o) The prize? Flyers tickets for this coming Monday. How cool is that?

Now, had the Flyers WON tonight, it would have been a perfect day. Unfortunately, no such luck. But we can just use it as fodder to avenge the loss the next time we see the Devils.

So, after a day of fuzz, cuteness, food, Hall of Fame goalies, and winning hockey tickets, I'm ready to turn in. I'm exhausted. But it's a GOOD exhausted. :o)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

ARRRRRGH... it seems that one of my pet peeves is getting triggered earlier every year. I don't like taking my holidays "out of order", and so it drives me up the walls when I start seeing Santas, candy canes, and so on appearing in stores before Thanksgiving. Or in some cases, even before Halloween.

Late last week, Joe M., who shares my pet peeve, called to commiserate with me when he found that the "Sounds of the Season" music channel on the local digital cable network was playing Christmas music. They skipped right from Halloween-themed music and went directly to Christmas, ignoring any potential for music that could be connected to Thanksgiving or the season of Fall. OK, remind me to stay off the Sounds of the Seasons channel until the day after Thanksgiving.

But now the ads are starting. I don't mind (much, grrr) seeing ads that make reference to buying gifts at this time of year. But now, Overstock.com has a radio ad that's got a lot of "Ho, ho, ho"-ing all through it. They also have a TV ad which has an instrumental version of "Deck the Halls" playing in the background.

GAAH! I shouldn't be hearing "HO HO HO" or "FA LA LA" for another couple of weeks yet. When will these stores realize that it doesn't matter how early they start reminding us that Christmas is coming -- we still have the same number of people to purchase gifts for, and we still have the same amount of money to purchase gifts with?

BTW, last year I did about 90% of my shopping online. I plan to do the same this year, as it was infinitely less stressful and time-consuming than running around in crowded malls. Then there was the time and energy saved by NOT taking long drives to get TO said malls, or riding jam-packed buses with armloads of packages. You can bet I'll be avoiding a lot of agita this year, and doing my shopping online again.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Mark and I just came back from voting.

If it's Election Day where you live, and you haven't voted yet, GO VOTE. If you love this country, there's no excuse for apathy or refusing to head to the polling place to have your say in government. If you're not registered to vote, but you are eligible to register, then what are you waiting for? Go fill out that form so you'll be ready in time for the NEXT Election Day. How many of our soldiers have died in order to ensure that we continue to have a government that's "of the people, by the people, and for the people"? Honor their sacrifice, and don't ever pass up an opportunity to get thee to a voting booth.
The suspect in the killing of the police officer has been arrested in a Miami homeless shelter. Thank God.

Monday, November 05, 2007

There is now a suspect being sought in the killing of the police officer a few days ago. Now that they have a name and a face of someone who is being sought, I hope that it helps them track him down ASAP. Or, even better, I hope that he heeds the public statements of his family and turns himself in. The sooner the suspect is in custody, the better, and preferably this will happen without anyone else being injured or killed.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Putting the Zune on "shuffle all" leads to interesting juxtapositions of songs... such as when there's a selection from Messiah, followed closely by one from Jesus Christ Superstar. Same story, different presentation. Maybe the trifecta will be completed by something from Godspell, since I have that soundtrack on here, too.
Poor Joe M. He's on vacation even as I type, and I had to leave a cranky message on his voice mail about this morning's Mass.

I hated to do it, but I really didn't have a choice. It's not my place to reprimand the organist (who works at that parish regularly) nor the other fill-in cantor (who was slated to sing the Mass after mine, but arrived early) for their behavior during the Communion hymn and Recessional hymn of the Mass I was singing.

The long and short of it: I did the Communion hymn at the speed that I know it. The organist, apparently, knows it at a faster rate. That's fine. But in that case, the organist is supposed to follow the cantor, not the other way around.

Instead, the organist had the other singer (the one for the next Mass), who was in the choir loft with her, turn on a microphone and start singing at the speed SHE wanted to go.

Understand, this is an organist who has been known to play the wrong song during Mass, whom Joe M. gripes about for never giving the same intro twice, who can be key-signature challenged at times, and who has a history of losing her place in the liturgy because she's sitting in the choir loft writing out her bills between songs.

I can't say much for the other cantor, whom I've never met before today nor heard sing. But I have issues with BOTH of their idea of good manners if they thought that what they did was something constructive... for that matter, if they don't even realize how stupendously rude it was of them to do that. If it had been a rehearsal and not a Mass, I'd have stepped away from the microphone and left them to their own devices. But last time I checked, it's inappropriate to have a hissy fit right in the midst of a Liturgy, so I continued as though nothing untoward was going on.

I didn't have a hissy fit at either of them after Mass, either. It's not my place. I'm not their boss and I didn't hire them. But Joe M. *is* their boss. I already said my piece on his voice mail. If he does anything, or nothing, it's all one to me. I did the job I was there to do. I did, however, have to retrieve my belongings from the choir loft after Mass, at which point I said, "That was unexpected", which was when the organist said that she wanted the song to go faster.

And if he brings me on board as a fill-in some other time, fine. If not, I'll be disappointed but our friendship won't be affected by it one way or the other. But if he does have me fill in, and it's during the summer when this regular organist is on vacation, even better. ;o) I prefer working with P.M. (one of the substitute organists) anyway -- I've known him for years, was in a music ministry with him for years as well, and he's one of the most talented musicians I've ever encountered. We wouldn't have had this issue if he'd been up there... too bad he can't be cloned and a copy given to EVERY parish in need of an organist. Oh, well.

OK, Rant Over. I'm now going to spoil the cats and forget about stress-inducing stuff. A good session of Purr Therapy will work wonders.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Good news -- one of my pet players, whom I've posted about before, has got a new contract.

Maxime Ouellet has signed a one-month tryout contract with the Salzburg Red Bulls in the Austrian League.



Go get 'em, Max! Your ever-present posse of online fans is right behind you to cheer you on!
I just got a call from Joe M. He's on vacation this week, and he found out that the cantor who was going to fill in for him at Mass tomorrow morning won't be able to come in to Philly. She had knee surgery a few days ago, and she fell. (UGH -- having done the knee-injury thing, she has my empathy.) So I'll be filling in for her tomorrow and singing the 10 AM Mass.

I like this weekend -- it's the one where we gain an hour. :o) If it were up to me, we'd have a few more 25-hour days scattered into the year here and there. How often do we say "There aren't enough hours in a day", right? Well, today, we get an extra one. Hey, it's a start. ;o)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

I feel sick. The police officer who was shot in the head yesterday morning passed away today.

I hope to God that they catch the murderer. He needs to be off the streets ASAP. It's the same guy that is suspected of having robbed the same Dunkin' Donuts two months ago; since then, Officer Cassidy stopped by their premises once or twice a day. They showed the security camera videos from both robberies on TV this morning, as well as some video taken by a security camera on the outside of the store, which showed the murderer picking up the fallen officer's gun and fleeing.

Someone needs to turn this guy in before anyone else gets killed. If he'd shoot a uniformed police officer, he'd shoot anybody.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

You know, after reading the news over the past few days, I feel nauseous. We've had three Philly cops shot between the wee hours of Sunday morning and now. The first shooting happened when a night club was letting out. Some nutjob started firing a gun. A police officer who was on hand, due to previous disturbances connected to this particular club, was shot in the leg. One suspect in this case was fatally shot, and another was arrested.

Last night, someone shot three people in an SUV, and the police officer who pursued the suspect was shot in the shoulder. This particular suspect tried to flee by jumping into the Schuylkill river; a body was recovered from the river so this suspect might not be at large anymore.

This morning, a cop walked into a robbery at a Dunkin Donuts, and was shot in the head. The most recent headline I saw said that the officer is out of surgery. The gunman is at large. I hope he's caught and put away forever.

The entire city is NOT a war zone. The neighborhoods vary, sometimes block by block. Around here, the biggest issue was last year when some stupid kids tipped over birdbaths on several people's front lawns. But we have a large, very active civic association in this neighborhood, residents here show up en masse when there is something afoot that impacts the neighborhood (ie, the Vet Stadium implosion), and we have access to numbers to call for the police liaison if there's any kind of problem. Unfortunately, EVERY neighborhood is not so well organized, or we wouldn't see a lot of the hideous headlines that appear in the local papers on a regular basis.

However, if you don't "know" the city, and you don't recognize just what localities a lot of the hideous headlines are occurring in, you won't realize that the entire city is not a disaster area. Hence, the reason why my (suburban resident) father-in-law repeatedly asks Mark about the crime rate in the city.

Personally, I am sick of the hideous headlines, and I don't care WHAT neighborhood(s) the worst episodes are concentrated in. It ALL needs to stop. The GOOD people of the city are in *every* neighborhood, and none of us deserves to put up with the vermin anymore. Mayoral candidate Nutter wants to institute a "stop and frisk" policy. GOOD. If it gets a few more thugs off the streets, stop-and-frisk away. And I don't know who the new police commissioner will be, as our current one will be retiring... but I hope it's someone who's hard-nosed on crime. It's time to take out the trash so the decent people in EVERY neighborhood can live in peace.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

I saw Meerkat Manor's next-to-last episode of Season 3. All I can say is that I knew this was coming, from having read the "Spoilers" discussion forum on Animal Planet's site, but it was still a tough episode. We've lost several "main characters" already this season, and tonight we saw the passing of yet another meerkat whom we've followed for all three seasons. Poor little Mozart. :o( She was part of a small splinter group of meerkats that had left other, larger neighboring families. Unfortunately, drought, food shortage, and illness took its toll on their little mob of seven. By the end of last week's episode, Mozart was the last survivor of the Starsky group. By the end of tonight's episode, battling the desert solo had proven to be too much for her. According to the program, she was most likely killed by a jackal. However, the fact that her little body was lying in the sand :o(, not injured in any obvious way, makes me think that illness and/or starvation were more likely explanations. Either way, although I knew in advance that we were going to lose Mozart before the season was over, it still saddened me to see that she's gone.

Mother Nature is one tough cookie and she doesn't cut her charges any slack whatsoever. Which is why the nature programs that actually follow real-life happenings in the wild don't always have happy endings to every plotline. They can't. The real world doesn't work that way.

But just because I understand that this is the way the world works doesn't mean I have to LIKE it. I wish I could send some happily-ever-after Disney-like endings over to the little furball critters living in the Kalahari Desert. It's been a rough year for a lot of them.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Federal Emergency Management Agency continues to prove that there's no IQ in FEMA. They scheduled a news conference in such haste, no reporters showed up. Apparently the concept of rescheduling the news conference to a date/time/place when reporters could actually attend, or just issuing a news release, crossed no one's mind. Here's what they did instead.

US agency apologizes for news conference on fires



Fri Oct 26, 2007 3:35pm EDT By Randall Mikkelsen

WASHINGTON, Oct 26 (Reuters) - The U.S. government's main disaster-response agency apologized on Friday for having its employees pose as reporters in a hastily called news conference on California's wildfires that no news organizations attended.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, still struggling to restore its image after the bungled handling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, issued the apology after The Washington Post published details of the Tuesday briefing.

"We can and must do better, and apologize for this error in judgment," FEMA deputy administrator Harvey Johnson, who conducted the briefing, said in a statement. "Our intent was to provide useful information and be responsive to the many questions we have received."

No actual reporter attended the news conference in person, agency spokesman Aaron Walker said.

A spokeswoman for Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who has authority over FEMA, called the incident "inexcusable and offensive to the secretary."

"We have made it clear that stunts such as this will not be tolerated or repeated," spokeswoman Laura Keehner said. She said the department was looking at the possibility of reprimanding those responsible.

The agency had called the briefing with about 15 minutes notice as federal officials headed for southern California to oversee and assist in firefighting and rescue efforts. Reporters were also given a telephone number to listen in on but could not ask questions.

But with no reporters on hand and an agency video camera providing a feed carried live by some television networks, FEMA press employees posed the questions for Johnson that included: "Are you happy with FEMA's response so far?"

According to Friday's Post account, which Walker confirmed, Johnson replied that he was "very happy with FEMA's response so far."

He also said the agency had the benefit of "good leadership" and other factors, "none of which were present at Katrina." Chertoff was head of the Homeland Security Department during Katrina.

FEMA's administrator during Katrina, Michael Brown, resigned amid widespread criticism over his handling of the disaster, despite U.S. President George W. Bush's initial declaration that he was doing a "heck of a job."

E-mails between Brown and his colleagues over the course of the storm revealed a preoccupation with his media image, including his declaration, "I am a fashion god."

FEMA is reviewing its press procedures and will make changes to ensure they are "straightforward and transparent," Johnson said on Friday.

© Reuters2007All rights reserved


As an ex of mine would say, "Our tax dollars at rest".