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.