Thursday, December 23, 2004

Christmas music revisited

  Last month I mentioned my personal tradition of buying a new Christmas CD every year, and later mentioned four CDs that were on my short list of considerations this year. Here is the result, along with a short review of each of the CDs I chose. Yes, I said CDs (plural). I couldn't decide between them all, so I bought two. On Wednesday I picked up Boogie Woogie Christmas by The Brian Setzer Orchestra, and Verve Presents: The Very Best of Christmas Jazz by Various Artists.
  It was a difficult decision. I really liked all four choices. The cut came down to style rather than quality. I rejected the
Barenaked Ladies and A Canadian Christmas CDs because I had purchased albums of contemporary music the last several years running. I decided to go with something more traditional.
  The Verve disc encompasses recordings made between 1937 and 1997 of such standards as Here Comes Santa Claus, Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! and Winter Wonderland. All the older recordings, and there are several from the fifties and sixties, have been carefully restored and remastered, and for the most part sound really good. Apart from the 1937 recording of Good Morning, Blues by The Count Basie Orchestra which has some scratchiness in the vocals, you would need a really practiced ear to discern the fifty year old recordings from the eight year old ones. Stand out tracks include Silent Night by Dinah Washington, A Child Is Born by Oscar Peterson, and Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer by Ella Fitzgerald. My personal favourite: Merry Christmas, Baby performed by Kenny Burrell with Richard Evans and Orchestra from the 1966 recording Have Yourself A Soulful Little Christmas.
  Boogie Woogie Christmas by The Brian Setzer Orchestra was originally released in 2002. It was re-released this year with several bonus tracks added to the line-up. Only after I got home from the store did I realise that I did not get the re-release, but the original (pout). Nevertheless, Setzer's big band swing arrangements, with nods to Les Brown, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington, cannot help but get your toes tapping, and even your hips swinging. But it is his rockabilly guitar work that adds just the right amount of goofy fun to the mix to ensure you won't be able to sit back down until it's over. On Baby It's Cold Outside, guest vocalist Ann-Margret surprises with a beautifully sweet, yet soulful turn, and on Blue Christmas, Brian himself raises eyebrows with a vocal that would not be out of place alongside Tony Bennett or Frank Sinatra. But what we are really here for are the full out boogie renditions of (Everybody's waiting for) The Man With The Bag, and Boogie Woogie Christmas. It is too bad I am missing out on the extra tracks, which included Run Rudolph Run, and a Setzer original: Santa Drives a Hot Rod. There's always Kazaa. (oops, did I say that out loud?)
  I am very happy with the selections I made this year. Though I wish I could have afforded to buy them all, I know these two were the right choices to make. Just don't ask me to choose between them.

The very next picture...

Le castagne di Shadow

Shadow spent the day at the Vet's office yesterday. Poor fellow will never be a father. Suffice it to say he no longer has a heart on for you.

Merry Christmas

I would like to wish each and every one of you a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year. I hope you are all spending time this coming week with people special to you. May Santa Claus bless you with munificence, and may Old Father Time hand his hourglass to the Baby New Year in the presence of both yourself and your favourite party accompaniment. Behave responsibly, and remember the Golden Rule: do unto others, and then split!

Monday, December 20, 2004

How about that weather?

  OK, so it is officially cold outside. Yesterday, I was talking to my sister on the phone, and she asked me how cold it was here. I told her that I was looking at the thermometer outside my kitchen window. It had full sun beating down on it, and it read -13C (that's about zero for you Fahrenheit folk).
  No, that's not what I was talking about. I took the dog out for a walk at the dog park, and almost froze the tip of my nose off, but that's really not all that cold.
  This morning, that same thermometer reads -27C (again, for you Celsius challenged people, that's almost -20F). Now that, is damn cold! I am not even remotely stupid enough to try and go over to the dog park today. Unfortunately, I do have to go out shopping. This morning may be the only opportunity I have all this week to get out without my son tagging along. I hope my car starts.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

I hate these things

Oh, what the hell...

This is from Rachel. She got it from who IS dangero. Where he got it from, I don't know.

1. What's your main source of music (radio, MTV, CD, Cassette player, etc)?

At home, I'm generally listening to one of the satellite digital music stations. No commercials, no talking, just the music I want to hear. In the car I listen to the radio or play CDs

2. What is currently in that source or what station/channel is it set to?

The Satellite music usually jumps between new rock and classic rock. Right now it's on holiday music a lot.

3. What channel would your TV be set on,  from the night before, when the TV is turned on in the morning?

The night before I was probably either listening to music, or watching a DVD movie, so there wouldn't really be a TV channel to speak of. Maybe Space:The Imagination Station, if we were watching Enterprise, or Firefly.

4. What book(s) are you currently reading right now? .

I just finished A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. It's a short little read, but a lot of fun. I'm currently in the middle of Robert Heinlein's Time Enough For Love (thanks John) and Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling.

5. What TV shows do you always stop on no matter what?

I can't think of one.

6. What TV shows do you never stop on no matter what?

Survivor, or any similar reality show. The only exception would be The Big Break on The Golf Channel.

7. What movies do you always stop to watch no matter what?

How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

8. Whatmovies do you never stop to watch no matter what?

Anything with Madonna in it. No wait, Desperately Seeking Susan wasn't bad.

9. What songs/groups do you always stop for?

Right now, whenever I hear 'Nobody' by Skindred, I crank it up.

10. What songs/groups/music do you always switch off/away from?

Top 40 pop drivel.

11.What song(s) always makes you get misty/cry?

There isn't one. Music doesn't do that to men. It's a chick thing.

12. What TV show episode(s)/movie scene(s) make you get misty/cry?

ET phone home.

13. What TV show episode(s)/movie scene(s) make you laugh no matter how often you've seen it/them?

ET phone home.

14. What's the scariest scene/movie you've ever seen?

The mother and daughter are safe. The movie is over. And then Cujo comes through the kitchen window. I swear I nearly crapped my pants.

15. What movie/scene really offended you?

The Master of Disguise. It was so bad I was offended that it ever got made.

16. What movie that you thought you would dislike/or avoided altogether completely took you by surprise?

Moulin Rouge. I didn't know it was a musical when I rented it. When it started, I thought I would hate it. Halfway through I thought it sucked. By the end I was knocked out. I think it is one of the best movies ever made.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Exclusionary tactics

Where was I?
You had bats in your belfry.
Hey, no comments from the cheap seats!

  Ok. So, I have bats. You can't kill them; for two reasons.
  One, bats are good for the environment. They eat insects; and not just any insects: insects that are commonly referred to as pests. There are two common species of bat in my area: the large brown bat, and the small brown bat. The small brown bat likes to eat mosquitos. Really likes to eat mosquitos.
Individuals can catch up to 1,200 insects in just one hour during peak feeding activity. You can imagine the effect of a colony on the local mosquito population.
  The large brown bats prefer beetles. Not just any beetles.
Not Beauregard the Christmas Beetle. What large brown bats consider to be a particular delicacy are potato beetles and cucumber beetles. In fact, a colony of 150 big brown bats can consume enough adult cucumber beetles in one summer to prevent egg-laying that would produce 33 million of their root-worm larvae, a major pest of corn. Big brown bats clearly rank among America’s most beneficial animals.
  The second reason you can't kill them has to do with the fact that it's really hard to do. Bats are quite resistant to the types of poisons one might use to kill other similarly sized animals, like mice. So you have to use lots of it, or stronger poisons; both things one doesn't want to do in one's own home. It's also against the law. You know, to protect the stupid from themselves.
  So they are good for the environment. You want them around. Why even bother trying to get rid of them? That is a very good question. You don't want them in your home for a couple of reasons, as well. First, they are common carriers of rabies. Outside, in their natural environment, bat bites are virtually unheard of. Inside, if they manage to get into the living areas of your home, they are frightened and confused, and bites can occur. Second, there is an undesirable property to their feces. Yes, their crap. If it builds up enough, it starts to ferment, and a toxic gas is created. Definitely a good reason to get them the heck out of there.
  So, it's the old conundrum: can't live with 'em, can't kill 'em. What to do? Well, you have to perform a bat exclusion. Don't worry, it doesn't involve sitting in a circle, holding hands and chanting. What it does involve is finding a way of letting them get out of the attic without letting them get back in.
  Enter Charles Robertson, bat exclusionist extraordinaire. An exclusionary procedure involves four steps. Step one: locate all points of bat egress. There are always two, and sometimes three or more. Step two: Using high quality caulking, combined with physical barriers if the openings exceed one half inch in width, seal all possible openings into the structure, with the exception of the two primary points of egress. Step three: place exclusion shields over the two remaining openings. wait for all bats to exit premises. Step four: seal remaining openings.
  I know, I was going too fast. I'll go back to step three. An exclusion shield is a device that allows the bats to exit, but not to re-enter. The most common exclusion shields are simply plastic or nylon netting hung down over the holes they use to enter and exit the building. Bats have a somewhat unique way of taking flight. When they take off, they drop for about a foot until they get their wings open. An exclusion shield like the one shown here allows them to "fall" out of their doorway, but when they try to fly back in, following a more direct flight path, they encounter the net and are unable to get to the opening. This wasn't good enough for Mr. Robertson, though. He likes bats. He didn't want any of them getting caught up in the netting and hurting themselves.
  He wanted to determine the exact species of bat living in my attic. If he could identify them, he would know what frequency their sonar-like sounding system worked on. Then, he could pick a netting with holes of a very specific size, that would present itself as solid to the bat's sonar. As the bats approached where they thought their door was, they would not be able to "see" it, and would veer off. Very humane.
  To that end, he clambered up into my attic and started his scouting around. He had a tiny microphone contraption he pointed around and listened for the amplified sound of leathery little wings rustling. Once that pointed him in the right direction, he used a low intensity light to suss out where the creatures were roosting. After several minutes, he climbed back out and announced that we had a small colony of "Big Brown Bats" in our attic; only about 100-150 bats. Yeah. Small. He told us he had worked on some colonies of up to 1500 bats.
  The netting had to stay in place for three days, to be sure that all the bats inside the building had left. Apparently, a bat can go without feeding for as much as 48 hours, but on the third day, they absolutely have to come out and eat. After 72 hours he sealed up the two "bat doors" and presented me with a bill for $1500.00. No that is not a typo. There are the correct number of zeros in that amount. One thousand, five hundred dollars. Expensive, but we felt it was worth it. According to everyone we had talked to, he was the guy to get it right, and he gave us a two year guarantee of bat freedom. It's been ten.
  There was still the question of how the bats had been getting into the house in the first place. "Oh, that's easy," he said. "Through the basement." Our blank stares and drool must have clued him to the fact we didn't understand, so he filled us in.
  Your basement is unfinished, right? Right. They only got into the house in late July, right? Right. And they were only two to three inches long, right? Right. They were babies, he tells us. Here's the deal. The mama bat is taking her youngster out for his early flying lessons outdoors. This usually happens about the third or fourth week of July. She leads him to the edge of the attic, and hops over the space between the inner wall and the brick. The young bat misses the hop, and falls down into the stud bay. Well, bats almost never climb up. To a bat, down is out, so the baby bat climbs down, and down, and down. He can worm his way through openings only 1/4 inch wide. Eventually, he finds his way all the way down to the basement, where the walls are open and he can escape into the house. At some point, in his search for a further escape, he finds his way under the basement door and into the main floor of the house.
  In my expert opinion, I'd say our incredulity showed on our faces, because he led us down into our own basement, where he scouted around for a few seconds and picked up something from the floor.A really small, black something. He held it out on the palm of his hand for us to see. "What's that," I asked. He smiled. Bat dropping. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Bats in my belfry

  I used to have bats in my belfry.

Ok, so I don't really have a belfry. In my attic, though. And they got into the house from there pretty frequently.
  I remember the first time it happened. My wife and I were sound asleep one sultry July night when we were jolted awake by our cat doing the Daytona 500 on our bed. After about 7 circuits she left the bed and careened down the hall into the living room. We could hear her bouncing off various pieces of furniture. This definitely fell into the category of What The Hell
  Stumbling down the hall and flicking a light switch revealed two small bats fluttering around our living room in that remarkably unbirdlike way of flying bats have. A peeping tom, had one been peeping, would have got quite a kick out of watching us, myself with a tennis racquet, my wife with a broom, trying to herd these little creatures towards a propped open front door. It was a good twenty minutes before we could manage to get both of them to escape into the night. A bizarre experience, to be sure.
  The next day we told our neighbour about it, and he informed us that it was not the first time it had happened. The previous occupants of our house had experienced the same nightly visitations on occasion. How they got in was a complete mystery to me. We were worried about it for some time, but the event did not reoccur and we eventually stopped thinking about it.
  Fast forward approximately one year to another late July evening. The wife and I were sitting in the living room enjoying a movie: Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I kid you not. We had just got to the scary part, if that movie can be said to have a scary part, when I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. You guessed it. Two more bats flying around in our living room. We were suitably freaked out. The same broom and racquet dance ensued until we could return to the conclusion of our movie bat free.
  This time around we were renovating our kitchen. We assumed the bats had somehow got into our attic, and come out through the rather largish gaps between the walls and ceiling. Again, it was a one-off incident,and the kitchen was finished in short order to prevent a recurrence.
  You know what's coming, don't you?
  Again, it is one year later, and this time we have a four month old baby sleeping upstairs. Again, it is late on a July evening. Again, we discover that we have bats flying around in our house. One flies up the hallway and into our son's bedroom. Obviously, this is a situation we are no longer able to ignore. We have to call the bat man.
  We said that facetiously, but upon doing some research, we find that there is only one person we can call; and they call him the bat man. You see, bats are protected species. They are not endangered, but due to man's rapid development of our natural areas, they are certainly threatened. And we want bats around. Lots of bats. They eat literally thousands of mosquitos a night. Pest control agencies must be specially licensed to deal with bats, and under no circumstances are they allowed to chemically exterminate the animals.
  The only way to get rid of bats in your home is to do what is called an exclusion. And the only person in the Greater Toronto Area, at the time, who could do a bat exclusion was Charles Robertson. Charles was a research assistant at the University of Toronto, and worked with the Ontario Conservation Authority. He was one of the foremost authorities on bats in Canada, and had worked with them around the world. He even kept one as a pet; one of the big ones they call flying foxes. And everyone who knew him, everyone, called him The Bat Man.

Stay tuned for the next installment: The Exclusion.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Weekend Assignment #38

Well, it's that time again. It is the weekend, and time to play everybody's favourite game: John Scalzi's Weekend Assignment. This week's game makes us all think about our favourite Christmas stories, and then take it a step further.

Weekend Assignment #38: It's the Holidays! Create your own festive Holiday Character and give him, her or it at least one seasonally appropriate magical ability (or use its native traits and skills to save the holiday season).

Extra Credit:
Provide at least one stanza of your Holiday Character's theme song (to help you out, you may borrow the music of any familiar song).

  Before I introduce you to my favourite Christmas story, let me bring you up to date on John's choice. John introduced us to Gerald the Christmas Marmoset, who's gum chewing antics delighted dozens of fans anually in the South American Television Special, Aieee, Papai Noel! Few people know that Gerald later went on to make other Christmas Specials, including the Caribbean themed 
Have An Irie Christmas, Mon. He became known in television industry insider circles as Gerald the product placement Marmoset due to his uncanny ability to always pick up a prop with the label side facing out. Sadly, Gerald's lifestyle led to a rapid decline into cola dependency and chronic gas, and he hasn't worked since 1983. But enough tragic tales. Let's move on to a happier story.
  This is the story of Beauregard the Christmas Beetle. Now Beauregard, as it seems is so common in these yarns, was not like the other Christmas Beetles. It was not that he was a purple beetle when the popular colours were gold and crimson. It was not that he preferred fruit to the more traditional leaves eaten by all the other beetles. He was simply not content to hang on a tree and be the object of a Christmas day beetle hunt by precocious Brisbane or Adelaide youngsters. Beauregard wanted to experience the true meaning of Christmas: getting free stuff. To that end he found his way into a nearby home and made himself comfortable under a discarded sugarplum wrapper. Salvaging threads from clothes piled up in the laundry room, Beauregard fashioned himself a small pillowcase to put out for Father Christmas to fill, just as the young children of the household would do Christmas Eve. Concerned that Father Christmas would not be able to find him on the big night, Beauregard took up residence in the wood hopper beside the fireplace so he would be as close as possible.
  Finally, the night before Christmas arrived, and all the children of the family were tucked into their beds. Mama and Papa, kerchief'd and capped, had settled down as well. The coast was clear. Beauregard began his trek from the wood hopper to the front of the fireplace, dragging his little pillowcase behind him. He arranged it beside the others, and stepped back to wait. 
  Time seemed to have stopped for Beauregard. It seemed he had been sitting in one place forever when he heard a sound. A sound from above. Coming clearly down the chimney was the sound of a clattering as of tiny hoofs on the roof. That sound was then replaced by the scratching and grating of a large object being pushed downwards in the narrow flue. Suddenly, a large canvas sack plopped onto the floor of the fireplace, followed by two sturdy, dusty black boots. In another moment Father Christmas himself stepped over the grate and into the room.
   He was a big man. Of course, every human was big to Beauregard, but even compared to the Papa of the house, Father Christmas was large; tall and solidly built. His rough brown pants and tunic were dirty, almost grimy. His face and beard were black from the soot of a thousand fireplaces. Covered as he was in ash, his boots made no print on the floor, and where the hem of his tunic brushed the sofa, no black mark was left behind. This bearded giant surveyed the living room of the house, and his eyes lit upon the line of pillowcases arrayed neatly on the floor just in front of the hearth.
  Beauregard, fearful of being missed, scuttled forward to be closer to his own tatty cloth bag. He tried to push himself up to his tallest, and spread out his shiny indigo wings. He didn't want Father Christmas to overlook him. Father Christmas, however, had looked away at that very moment. He turned back to the fireplace, hoisted his big bag of toys up and over his shoulder, and then stepped towards the empty, hopeful pillowcases.


  Father Christmas had stepped on Beauregard and his homespun pillowcase. He did not look down, nor even appear to take any notice. And yet... It is my understanding that Santa was heard to exclaim ere he drove out of sight, "oops, I guess I've been the naughty one tonight. Ho ho ho!"
  Like most traditional Christmas stories, there is a song about Beauregard the Christmas Beetle. Some say the song was written first, and the Christmas story was written afterwards, but no evidence can be found to support that claim. I have reproduced the short version of the Beauregard the Christmas Beetle song here. It is sung to the tune of Ave Maria.

Beauregard was a Christmas beetle
Purple and shiny and full of mettle
Wove a pillowcase for Christmas day
Got stepped on as Santa walked away
Oh yeah!

Merry Christmas

'dung beetle' artwork found at

Friday, December 10, 2004

The twelve emergency calls of Christmas

  Mike, AKA rescuesquad93, is an EMT, an Emergency Medical Technician, in an undisclosed US city. He recently posted The Twelve Days of Christmas-EMS style in his journal. It's a hoot, you should check it out. Unless, of course, you don't have a sense of humour about those kinds of things. If you're going to get all wedgied up over members of the essential services making jokes about some of the situations they get into, you should probably go here: The Washington Post. You'll be in good company.

The skunkification of Shadow

  My in-laws are vacationing in Florida. I think I mentioned that before. Yesterday, I went over to their place with Shadow for an hour or so. I had to drop off their van (I had used it to drive them to the airport) and retrieve my car. I also had to do a few little things around the house for them, like feed and water the ducks, turn off the water in the house, etc. When I go over, my father-in-law likes me to hang around for a while, open the garage door, start a fire in the fireplace, make the place look lived in to people driving by.
  I left Shadow to wander around the property while I puttered. When I was ready to go, I couldn't find him. Oh, great, I thought. If I've allowed this dog to run away my wife is going to kill me. I started tromping around the approximately one acre lot whistling and calling. The little putz was nowhere to be found. Finally, as I approached the extreme back end of the property, I let out a particularly shrill whistle and Shadow's head popped up from out of some long grass about 200 yards into the field behind my in-laws' place.
  As soon as he saw me, he started off like a shot in my direction. To encourage him to keep coming, I started to run away from him, back towards the house. With a Border Collie, this is an almost guaranteed way of making sure he keeps coming to you. When I reached my car, I turned and sank into a crouch with my arms out to receive him. As he came barrelling into me I discovered, to my horror, as you may already have deduced, that he had been sprayed by a skunk.


  And I had to drive home with him sitting on the seat beside me. Possibly the most distasteful fifteen minutes of my life. Neither of the preceding two sentences are grammatically correct. One of them isn't even a sentence. But I digress.
  Needless to say, the planned activities for the rest of the day were immediately shelved in response to the sudden emergency that is a skunkified dog in desperate need of a bath.
  Now, if any of you have ever owned an animal that has been sprayed by a skunk, you have been through all this. Simply bathing him in a solution of water containing equal parts mango/papaya dog shampoo and baking soda, while it did manage to blunt the eyestinging sharpness of the odour somewhat, did not do the trick. Everybody has heard about tomato juice, but take my word for it; don't waste good tomato juice on bathing your pet. Use it to make Bloody Marys instead. When our cat was sprayed by a skunk a couple of years ago, we tried that. We bathed her twice in succession with tomato juice, and ended up with a smelly, pink cat. Tomato juice does not work.
  The other thing we discovered during our previous experience is that a wet animal smells exponentially worse than a dry one. If you think the stench of your skunkified animal is almost gone, don't give her another bath. Trust me, you don't want to be proven that wrong.
  Having, as I said before, merely blunted the offensiveness of the odour, I bestowed Shadow in his 'crate' and sallied forth to the pet supply store (I needed kitty litter anyway) to ask for advice. They sold me something called "skunk-off" (an inventive product name to be sure) and told me it was the best thing available.
  The instructions on the bottle said to mix the entire contents with two quarts of water and thoroughly saturate the animal with the resulting solution. Not wanting to simply dump a bucket of the stuff over him and risk missing a spot, I hit upon the plan of filling my wife's plant sprayer with the solution (yes, I washed it out first). That way I could target the specific areas of stinkiness.
  Picture, if you will: A man, a bathtub, a wet, smelly dog. The man clutches the squirming animal to his breast, struggling to hold him still while a ten year old boy sprays the poor thing in the face with a Windex bottle. The dog. He was spraying the dog. I ended up as wet as Shadow, and not having the benefit of skunk smell myself, I now bear the equal and opposite aroma of "skunk-off." Shadow? He just smells like wet dog again. Unless you go up and sniff really close to his face. Thankfully, everybody knows you never put your face up close to a dog.

Monday, December 6, 2004

Invocation revoked!

  I actually have an internet invocation story to tell you about. You all remember John Scalzi's Law Of Internet Invocation. Back in September, I wrote my own Internet Invocation entry (actually two) and I finally have a legitimate success to report. Well, sort of.
My Dad, it seems, has been reading my journal all along. He just never said anything before. I should have known better. He was the one who originally started me reading these silly things when he sent me a link to Jay's blog almost two years ago. He didn't mention it because he was trying to register an AIM account with a clever name in order to leave cryptic comments here. For three months. No word on whether it was the AIM sign-up part or the clever part that eluded him.
  I'm still waiting to hear from Mark Hamill.

Friday, December 3, 2004

Weekend assignment #37

  John Scalzi... You all know John Scalzi, don't you? He's AOL's professional blogger. That's right, he's good enough to get paid for it. Anyway, John's newest Weekend Assignment is a silly little exercise on the surface that, if you spend any time thinking about it, will slowly and surely drive you mad. It is, and I quote: We all know what our best personal quality is. What's your second-best personal quality?
It's that first line that is confounding. Do we really know our own best qualities?Without thinking first, I would  immediately say that my sense of humour is my own best quality. Yet if you asked me to think about it a bit, I would have to admit that most people I know don't get my sense of humour. Things I say that I think should be bitingly funny all too often end up being met with blank stares, or even hostility. At movies, I regularly laugh at things that nobody else in the theater found funny. In the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding I thought the funniest line in the movie, by far, was the Mother trying, and failing, to say the word 'bunt.' My hearty laugh rang out through an otherwise silent theater. People started pointing at me and whispering behind their hands.
  So what, you say. He's not asking for your best quality, he's asking for your second best quality. But, how can one come up with one's second best quality if one does not know what one's best quality is? What if the quality I choose to tell you is my second best quality, isn't really my second best quality? What if it's really my best quality? That would be dishonest. What then? Huh? Huh?
  See, there it is again. The sudden silence. The single blink. The interminable stare.

  I asked my wife what my best quality was. She said it was my moral centre. Well, she said a lot of things that didn't sound anything like that, but that's what I got out of the conversation. I asked her what my second best quality was, and she said it was my ability to communicate ideas to people in ways they could understand. My wife thinks I've wasted my life because I'm not a teacher. Personally, I don't know how teachers do it. I went on a field trip with my son's class this week. An hour and a half in a school bus with 40 kids singing 99 Bottles Of Beer On The Wall at the top of their lungs reminded me why I'm not a teacher. I've had larynx squishing dreams for the rest of the week.
  There was an 'extra credit' question too:
Note a personal quality you wish you had more of. That one I can answer for myself. Self confidence. To illuminate: We've been redecorating the kitchen. One of the tasks has been to replace a section of drywall on the ceiling where there had been some water damage. We ripped down the old drywall (demolition is always the easy part), and replaced it with new. We mudded and primed, and stalled. We now had half a kitchen ceiling that was stuccoed and half that was smooth. What to do? Nobody could give me any advice. We discussed it, and decided to paint it with a textured paint product, and, as long as it was close, not worry about it matching perfectly. It took me almost two weeks to do that because I was afraid of screwing the whole thing up. When I finally forced myself to go ahead and do it, it was dead simple, and turned out almost perfectly. No problem, I thought. But hindsight is easy, and foresight is always my problem. Not having it, just fearing it.
  John didn't ask for it, but my second quality I wish I had more of would be a better work ethic. Procrastination is probably my worst sin. I'm sure you've all heard the procrastinator's oath. If you haven't, it goes like this: Never put off until tomorrow something you can get out of doing all together. Welcome to my life.
  I had a witty closing line planned for this entry from the very start, but suddenly it doesn't seem quite so funny anymore. What the hell, I'll use it anyway...

  I wish there was something I was good enough to get paid for.

Thursday, December 2, 2004

The Politics of Family Christmas Gatherings

SHooser1 (Sheila) wrote on the J-land Bar and Grill message board: When do you celebrate Christmas? I apologise to those of you not on AOL, that is an AOL only link.

  When I was a child, we always celebrated on Christmas morning. We'd get up and go down to the living room to see what Santa had left under the tree for us. In our household, Santa didn't wrap gifts, so there was one gift per child already open, set-up, ready to play with on Christmas morning. I think that was my parents' sleep-in strategy. They generally needed to sleep in because Christmas Eve every year we went to a Christmas party at the home of long time family friends.
  I attended that party every year until my mid twenties when I started getting serious with the woman who is now my wife. Her family is from Italy, and they traditionally celebrated on Christmas Eve, so my personal traditions had to change. It has worked out really well. I remember when I was a child, the political discussions that took place every year revolving around which set of Grandparents we would be visiting when. Both my Father and my Mother's parents wanted to entertain us for Christmas dinner, but only one of them could 'win.' Sometimes there were fireworks. Because of the difference in personal traditions between my family and my wife's family, we never had to worry about those kinds of arguments. It all fell out naturally and everyone was happy. Except that every year I would feel a twinge of regret that I could no longer attend the festivities with my parents on Christmas Eve.
  This year, for the first time in about fifteen years, my parents-in-law will be out of the country for Christmas. They have a relative visiting from Italy, and they have taken him to their Florida condo for several weeks. They'll be back for New Year's Eve, but my wife and I will be left to our own devices for Christmas Eve. I have been avidly looking forward to the opportunity to spend Christmas Eve with my parents and the family friends for the first time in over a decade, and I told my Mother so.
  "Oh," she said. "Well... I haven't spoken to Joanne (her friend) for several months. I don't know if they are even hosting that party this year."


extended pause...

continued uncomfortable extended pause...

"I'll find out and let you know then, shall I?"
  "Thanks, Mom."
  So I don't know exactly when I'm celebrating Christmas this year.

Wednesday, December 1, 2004

Fa la la la la, a wop bam boom

  I felt guilty foisting someone else's content on you and calling it my Christmas entry. So here is my Christmas entry for this week, following up on my earlier entry about Christmas music. Last week I told you about four seasonal albums already in my CD collection. This week I will share with you the short list of CDs I am considering for this year's annual purchase.

The Brian Setzer Orchestra: Boogie Woogie Christmas

  What's not to like about Brian Setzer? Always on the leading edge of trendiness, in the 80s he re-introduced us to rock-a-billy with The Stray Cats. In the 90s he was way ahead of everybody else, leading the way to the swing band revolution. Whatever music Brian Setzer is playing, it is always about fun. Boogie Woogie Christmas was originally released in 2002, but this year it has been re-released with several new tracks. And because I'm in Canada, I don't have to got to Target to get it.

Barenaked Ladies: Barenaked For The Holidays

  A mix of original and traditional holiday songs arranged into familiar BNL harmonies. As usual with The Ladies, we are also treated to a mix of serious and more light-hearted melodies. This CD includes several Hanukkah themed songs, and the New Year's Eve standard Auld Lang Syne. Can anybody tell me what the heck that means?

Various Artists: A Canadian Christmas

  I'm attracted to this one for two reasons: 1) It's Canadian. 2) A portion of the proceeds go to charity. A Canadian Christmas includes songs from Diana Krall, Holly Cole, Jann Arden, Bruce Cockburn, Anne Murray, The Rankin Sisters, Randy Bachman, and Spirit Of The West. As an added bonus, it features The 12 Days Of Christmas by Bob And Doug McKenzie.Take off, eh?

Verve Presents: The Very Best Of Christmas Jazz

  What can I say. I like Jazz. And this album claims to be the very best of it. With Louis Armstrong, Oscar Peterson, Shirly Horn, Ella Fitzgerald, John Coltrane, and Mel Torme, they just might be right. Wait, Mel Torme?

  There you have it, folks. Barring some absolutely unforseen CD jumping off the rack at me, my annual Christmas Cd purchase will be one of the above albums. The choice is going to be a hard one. Any opinions?

Ho Ho Ho? Ha Ha Ha!

  John Scalzi is a very clever boy. The delicious piece of writing linked below made me laugh out loud several times, and I expect to find more funnies I missed the first time upon a second reading. I highly recommend it.
  This post will qualify as my second Christmas themed post this year. (I know, it's a stretch, but it's still early.) I intend to make sure there is always a Christmas themed entry somewhere on the front page from now until the end of December. My previous entry about Christmas music has been pushed off, so I offer you John's witty The Ten Least Successful Holiday Specials Of All Time.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Things Canadian in the News Today

  So US President George Bush visited Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin in Ottawa today. (Did you notice that 78.6% of the words in that sentence are capitalised? I write about important stuff!) It seems he was met by as many as five thousand protesters, most of them university students who won't have an iota of a clue how the real world works for several years to come, but feel the need to impose their hopelessly naive and idealistic views on anybody who will listen. Until the police pulled out the riot gear and tear gas guns. Miraculously, the crowd disappated like a fart on a windy morning. A report I read said that three protesters were arrested. Out of five thousand. Yes, you read that correctly. Six one-hundredths of one percent of the protesters had the intestinal fortitude to truly stand up for what they believe in. The rest of them went for a latte at Starbucks in the Glebe.
  On a more serious note, and one of far more importance to Canadians, Pierre Berton succumbed to old age today. He was eighty-four. If Canadians have any kind of a national identity, it was because of Pierre Berton. His many books on Canadian history, like The National Dream, The Last Spike, and Vimy brought our past to life for people in a way no one else has ever accomplished. Every Canadian is a lesser person today.

Book List

  OK, here's me breaking one of my rules again. I don't usually do these blog 'memes,' but reading is somewhat of a passion for me. I pilfered this list from Elizabeth's journal. She doesn't know where she got it, but I think we can safely say it's been floating around the blogosphere for some time. Liz has surmised that it's a list of classics, and it may have started out that way, but that description no longer applies. I mean, it's got Harry Potter on it, doesn't it? I have simplified it somewhat as I'm not going to separate the titles into favourites, super favourites, and ultimate all time favourites. I'll just mark off the ones I've read. Another twist: I've added several books to the list that weren't previously on it, but that I recommend. If you want to know which ones, you'll have to copy the list off of Elizabeth yourself and compare. On second thought, it may just be obvious.

Bold  = Books I've read

The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
Animal Farm, George Orwell
Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
The BFG, Roald Dahl
Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
Bleak House, Charles Dickens
Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding
Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
Catch 22, Joseph Heller
The Catcher In The Rye, JD Salinger
Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel
Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett
The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas

Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky
David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes
Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
Dune, Frank Herbert
Emma, Jane Austen
Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
The Fionavar Tapestry, Guy Gavriel Kay 
Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson
The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
The Godfather, Mario Puzo
Gone With The Wind, Margaret Mitchell
Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck
Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett
Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling
Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire, JK Rowling
Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone, JK Rowling
Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling
Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix
His Dark Materials trilogy, Philip Pullman
The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, Douglas Adams
The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien
Holes, Louis Sachar
I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer
Katherine, Anya Seton
The Last Light Of The Sun, Guy Gavriel Kay
The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, CS Lewis
The Lions Of Al Rassan, Guy Gavriel Kay

Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
Lord Of The Flies, William Golding
The Lord Of The Rings, JRR Tolkien
Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blighton
Magician, Raymond E Feist
The Magus, John Fowles
Matilda, Roald Dahl
Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden
Middlemarch, George Eliot
Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie
Mort, Terry Pratchett
Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman
Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck
On The Road, Jack Kerouac
One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Perfume, Patrick Suskind
Persuasion, Jane Austen
The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett

A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
Pride And Prejudice, Jane Austen
The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot
The Ragged Trousered Philantrhopists, Robert Tressell
Rebecca, Daphne Du Maurier
The Sarantine Mosaic, Guy Gavriel Kay
The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Secret History, Donna Tartt
The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
A Song For Arbonne, Guy Gavriel Kay
The Stand, Stephen King
The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome
A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
Tess Of The D'urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough
Tigana, Guy Gavriel Kay
To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee

A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
The Twits, Roald Dahl
Ulysses, James Joyce
Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson
War And Peace, Leo Tolstoy
Watership Down, Richard Adams
The Wind In The Willows, Kenneth Grahame
Winnie-the-Pooh, AA Milne

The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins
Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte

  I do not have any body modifications, although I'm trying to lose a few pounds.

Monday, November 29, 2004

More fridge magnet poetry

Sorry, I can't be bothered to go through the painful exercise that is trying to crop a screen capture in MS-Paint. Just click the link:

The Fridge poem (untitled)

That 'revelations' wordset was challenging to work in. And why the heck do they give you 17 instances of the word "and" but only one instance of the word "god?"
Huh? Huh?

Futility thy name is civil service

Government workers survive only through an ironic fault of our species, in that we only demand competency in the most inconsequential aspects of our lives. Put up a headline declaring criminal misuse of our tax dollars and we’ll shake our heads with a knowing, rueful smile; deliver our pizzas fifteen minutes late and we’re making long distance calls to Papa John’s head office to issue the sort of threats that’d make Charles Bronson look at us awkwardly.
Jay Pinkerton

Is this behaviour exclusive to Canadians, or is it more universal? In my second ever entry into this journal, I scribbled a couple of lines about Canada's last federal election, and how we love to stick it to ourselves over and over again. Now, after reading Jay's article about waiting in line in a government office, and nodding to myself the whole time, I have to wonder: are we all saps, or just the Canadians among us?

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Poetry a go go

John Scalzi brings to our attention the Online Fridge Magnet Poetry tool. I bring to your attention my contribution to the world of Online Fridge Magnet Poetry. This is kinda fun. Thanks, John.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Weekend Assignment #36: Scalzi's Mug O' Change

Weekend Assignment #36: I have a mug on my desk with $70.65 in change in it. What should I do with the money? The only unacceptable answer is "give it to me." Honestly. You can do better.

  You should donate it to charity, of course. It's a perfect opportunity. It's basically found money, a windfall of sorts. I mean, you didn't miss it when you tossed it in there sixty-two cents at a time, did you? Now it's a half decent chunk o' change capable of really helping someone. And this is the time of year to help, isn't it. I've got the perfect beneficiary in mind: a fellow AOLer who's been through a horrible illness and could use assistance. Her screen name is MzGoochi, but pretty near everybody knows her as Lahoma, and there is a homegrown drive in the AOL journals community to help her and her son have a Merry Christmas. If you are interested, e-mail me and I will get the pertinent details to you. Won't get you a tax receipt, but the warm fuzzy feeling you get from helping a friend is worth twice that.

Extra Credit: If you've got a picture of your own loose change storage device, show it.

  You shouldn't discount the pennies, you know. They take longer to accumulate, but you miss them less, and when you do count them up, you can get quite a pleasant surprise. When I was single, and living at home with my parents, I dug a couple of two gallon wine jugs out of the cellar, kinda like this one, and stated throwing my pennies into them. Just pennies, no silver. When my wife and I moved into our first apartment, we counted them up. I had one bottle full and capped, and the other one almost there. I can't remember exactly how much was there, but it was more than $100. 

  These days we throw our loose change into a plastic salsa jar in the pantry in our kitchen. It never adds up to much as we dig into it when we need change for a coffee, or a stamp. I counted it up today, and it came to$38.35. Now my hands smell like pennies.
  Why do pennies smell different than every other coin? I remember those big bottles of pennies. The smell of copper pennies is like no other smell in the world. Or maybe it isn't the copper. I understand there isn't actually very much copper in those things anymore. Just like there isn't much in the way of nickel in- Wait! you say. How does the little drib drab of change in that salsa jar add up to over thirty-eight dollars? Remember, I'm in Canada. We haven't used bills for ones and twos in years. All those Loonies and Twonies add up in a hurry.
  Don't know what a Loonie or a Twonie is? That's an entry for another day.

The writing is on the car

  This morning I stood by the side door of the house, coffee in one hand, lunch bag in the other, and herded my ten year old out the door. I then strolled to the front window to watch him walk across the street to the school. He was nowhere to be seen. Maybe he was already across the street and out of sight behind the school? Not my son, sister. He's the only kid I know who takes ten minutes to put on his shoes, and he doesn't even do up the laces. A mystery!
  I trundled over to the kitchen window to see what was holding his attention. He was doing this:


  The trials and tribulations of parenthood are many and daunting. But the rewards, oh the rewards!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Perhaps a calming influence

  Well, folks, it is that time again. Tempers are flaring. Blood is boiling over. Sock puppets are being created at a furious pace. Reverse epithets abound. The message board moderators have been called out of hibernation. I think everybody needs...

...puppy pictures!

  If y'all haven't met Shadow before, he is a (now) five month old cross between a Border collie and an Australian shepherd. This picture of the poor little fellow was taken about a month ago. He is not a fan of the water. When his friends go into the lake after a stick or a ball he runs up and down the shore barking at them. My guess would be he is madly trying to explain to them the danger of their chosen course of action. Or he could just be saying "woof, woof!"
  And for those of you who would like more information about my family, you can clearly see my wife's hands in this picture. They are the ones massaging Mango/Papaya shampoo with conditioner into Shadow's delicate fur. She buys the Sam's Club house brand generic shampoo for me to use.
  Here is the little guy about the same time, or a week or two later, experiencing his first snowfall. He spent a good hour outside catching snowflakes in his mouth. Remember the way we did it as kids, standing there with our tongues out trying to get one of the fluttery little bastards to land on them? Shadow is a little more proactive than that. He snaps them out of the air with a jaw clack that will make you shake.
  One of the snowflakes was caught falling directly past his face by the camera. It kinda looks like he's crying, doesn't it? Or I guess that could be ghost. (shhhh. I didn't really say that out loud did I?)
  This picture shows the spots coming out all over his front legs. When we got him, his legs and underbelly were snow white, but as time has gone on, more and more black spots have shown up. This picture also displays his white chest. I call it his shirt front. I'm looking for a black collar that has a bowtie attached, but I can't seem to find one. I may have to actually buy a real bowtie for him, just because that is the kind of stupid stuff pet owners do that other people roll their eyes at.
  Here he is yesterday, sitting in the November sunlight, wondering why I'm playing with that silver flashy thing instead of throwing the ball for him. He is pretty good with 'sit' and 'lie down' and is learning 'stay.' The problem we run into is with 'come.' Both the Border collie and Australian shepherd  are considered to be among the most intelligent dog breeds available. It means he learns new commands very readily. Many other dog owners have expressed astonishment at how well trained he is for a five month old puppy. Unfortunately, he also thinks he is smart enough to decide when to obey a command and when to not. 
  He'll be lying in the back yard, chewing on a stick, barking at squirrels. (Y'all wondered when I would fit squirrels into a journal entry, didn't you?) I'll stick my head out the side door and holler, "Shadow, come!" He'll look up at me for a second, then go back to his bark dessert. I can almost hear him saying, "I'm busy!" Or maybe that was just "woof, woof" again.
  Now, doesn't everybody feel better. My instuments tell me that the cuteness quotient of this entry has put smiles on 64.8% of all those readers who arrived frowning. As for the other 35.2%, well, some people are just selohssa.

See you.

More puppy pics can be found here, here, and here.

All the news that's fit to print?

Headline: Vanilla Ice In Trouble With Law Again.

Story: Vanilla Ice's pets escaped, and he may have to pay a fine for letting them run free.

  I am getting so sick and tired of this kind of irresponsible journalism. It's not bad enough that the headline is deliberately inflammatory, but the story isn't even remotely newsworthy. The only reason they ran it was so they could use that headline. What happened to the good old days, when the newspapers reported the news?

Saturday, November 20, 2004

F#@& the South

I don't really like blogs that seem to have no other purpose but to post links to other things on the the internet. I much prefer to read, and to be a blog that generates original content. But I absolutely had to pass this on:


Now before you go clicking willy nilly, be aware that there is a significant amount of profanity in the above linked rant. Screw that, it's all profanity. The whole freakin' think is one long curse. If you are easily offended by off-colour language, do not click on that link. Oh, and if you're a republican, just don't bother, OK. I guarantee that you will not enjoy it, so you should probably just go somewhere else right now.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Christmas Music

  A recent discussion turned to Christmas music. It may be too early for many of you, but I love Christmas music. With one caveat. I worked in retail for 20 plus years, and this time of year, retailers are working hard trying to get their customers into a Christmas shopping frame of mind, so the Christmas music tend to come out early. In an effort to maintain sanity in the face of 8-12 hours of Christmas music daily we went looking for more interesting music.
  From the owner's perspective, his customer is only in the store for 15-30 minutes at a time, so any Christmas music will do. My boss tended to put on the local EZ-Rock radio station that played Christmas music 24-7 starting about September, it seemed. Of course, for the employees, the radio station tended to repeat the same songs on about an hourly cycle, and usually the sappiest ones were played most often. After about three days, we were ready to put our heads through the plate glass front window. The solution was a multi-disc CD player, and a wide variety of Christmas CDs. Everybody would bring in their collection, and we would load up a jukebox style CD player with about 30 CDs and put it on random play. That way, you might not hear the same song repeated for three or four days. Of course, by late December we had still heard every song it seemed like 100 or more times, but by then it was so busy we didn't really have time to think about it.
  With thirty Christmas CDs in one place, it's hard not to have some amount of redundancy, so we would try and find Christmas CDs that were a little out of the ordinary. That led to my personal tradition of buying myself a new Christmas CD every year. A new and interesting Christmas CD that is. This year's purchase will be my 20th Christmas CD. Now I didn't buy all of those. A couple were freebies from suppliers. A couple were freebies (with purchase from some store or another), and a couple were gifts. I believe this year will be the twelfth in a row I have purchased one(1) new Christmas CD for the sake of tradition. Here are a few of my favourites.

The Blind Boys Of Alabama-- Go Tell It On The Mountain.
The Blind Boys of Alabama have spread the spirit and energy of pure soul gospel music for over 60 years, ever since the first version of the group formed at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in 1939. Today, founding members Clarence Fountain, Jimmy Carter and George Scott are joined by more recent arrivals Joey Williams, Ricky McKinnie, Bobby Butler, and Tracy Pierce on a mission to expand the audience for traditional soul-gospel singing while incorporating contemporary songs and innovative arrangements into their hallowed style.

Various Artists-- Merry Axemas- A Guitar Christmas.
The world's favorite instrument and its highest holiday come together in a rocking musical celebration. It's an event which highlights the heartwarming sounds of the Christmas season, while dazzling and delighting fans of great guitar music: Merry Axemas features some of the world's finest guitarists putting a bold new stamp on beloved traditional carols. -
-note: While it isn't explicitly stated in the description of the album, they mean electric guitar, and the artists featured include Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Jeff Beck, and Joe Satriani. There's no Segovia here.

Loreena McKennitt-- To Drive The Cold Winter Away
Loreena’s second, self-produced recording presents seasonal music with a fresh and serendipitous approach. This collection of traditional and lesser-known winter and Christmas carols was recorded in 1987 on location at The Church Of Our Lady in Guelph, Ontario, and, in Ireland, a Benedictine monastery and The Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig.

The Vince Guaraldi Trio-- A Charlie Brown Christmas ( The original sound track recording of the CBS television special)
If anything deserves the meme descriptor, it is the jazz arrangements of traditional favourites and original compositions that are immediately recognised by anyone who's ever watched a TV Christmas special. Guaraldi went on to work on several more Charlie Brown televisions specials.

Various Artists- A Very Special Christmas
2004 marks the ninth edition of the Very Special Christmas series, which features pop artists performing both traditional and contemprorary songs. Proceeds from the sale of these discs are donated to The Special Olympics. This year's offering appears to showcase artists like Mary J. Blige, Norah Jones, Tom Petty, Eric Clapton, and others.
I have the original AVSC CD and AVSC3.

Yeah, yeah. I know it's early. Merry Christmas anyway.

Invocation update

  Simon is just too quick. He sent me an e-mail the other day at 9:11am thanking me for pointing out the anonymous blog Corpse Countdown. He sent me another one at 1:40pm, a mere 4-1/2 hours later, telling me he had figured out who it belonged to. Smartypants!

  On the internet invocation front, I have, sadly, to report that I have nothing to report. None of the several personages I mentioned in the two invocation entries have deigned to drop by and read what I wrote about them. Or, they all have, but have not contacted me to let me know through some evil desire to mess up the sample. Just so as to remind everybody who they were, and to put their names back up on the front page for a search engine to find, they are listed below.

Guy Gavriel Kay

Clinton Hammond

Curtis Joseph

Gordon Little

Mark Hamill

Joey DeVilla

Monday, November 15, 2004

Telemarketing folly

  I must say, I love the new phone system most telemarketing firms are using now. In order to maximize the productivity of their operators, these parasitic companies have implemented a very sophisticated computerized connection system. A computer automatically dials telephone numbers, and listens for the phone to be picked up. If it gets no answer, or hears a busy signal, it moves on to the next number. If the phone is answered, it momentarily places the call on hold while it transfers to a live, blood sucking, almost human person. That process takes at least two seconds. Sometimes longer. They are allowed by law for that pause to last as long as ten seconds, but two seconds is plenty of time for my purposes. Most calls go like this:

telephone: ring ring
me: hello?
telemarketing company:
two seconds of silence
me: click

  It's almost poetry. I don't have to listen to any lies, like we're calling because someone in your household completed a survey, or we're working in your area currently and can offer you savings. Just an instant of silence, and it's over. I get a wonderful feeling hanging up on telemarketers normally. Imagine how I feel hanging up on them before they even say a word. It's delightful, it's delovely, it's dewonderful. It defreakin' rocks! Sure, I might occasionally hang up on a friend who was momentarily distracted just as I answered the phone, but they'll call back. I'll explain what happened and we'll both get a chuckle out of it. There's just too much upside to worry about that.
  Like all good things, however, it will come to an end. As more and more people catch on, and start hanging up immediately when their 'hello' is not instantly returned, the telemarketers will have to try something new. But until they do, I'm enjoying not having to actually hear their annoying voices. It's making my days much, much brighter.

Saturday, November 13, 2004


Most onerous malapropism in the blogosphere: meme.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Three things

1) I changed the title of my journal. I'm not sure if I'm gonna stick with it or not. You may see the old name back again next week. Why don't you guys let me know what you think. (edit Nov. 14--I changed it back)

2) I added a couple of new links in the other journals section. The latest one is called Corpse Countdown. It is sub-titled Until that which was me is gone. On the masthead he says, "One day I will die. Here is my blog leading up to that point." Although I am prohibited from naming the author, I recommend you give him a read.

3) Weekend Assignment #33: You can have any person, past or present, sing any song for you that you want. What is the song, and who is singing it for you?

Extra credit: Name a singer you wish you could sing like, but can't. So that means even those of you with excellent voices have to pick someone you can't sing like.

  I skipped last week's assignment for a couple of reasons. First, I'm not an American, and don't have enough of a handle on the important issues facing the nation to comment. Although, come to think of it, neither does the existing President. (OK, that was uncalled for.) And  second, I didn't want to be included in the group of AOL journallers that would leap to complete that particular assignment. I'm a moderate. Live and let live, and all that jazz.
  That being said, last week's assignment has filtered down and coloured my imagination this week. I've never been a president of anything; not even the high school smoking team, or the neighbourhood cat walking club. Nevertheless, I would choose to have Marilyn Monroe sing Happy Birthday Mr. President to me. In private. Hubba Hubba.

  Extra credit question? I can't sing. Not a lick. I do sing; in the shower, in the car. If anybody is ever around, I tend to get hit by flying rubber boots, or cabbages, or the neighbour's cat. It really is that bad. I love music. I love to sing. But I suck at it. So I'm not choosy. I'd just like to be able to sing. However choice is the name of the game here. If I could have any voice I wanted, I'd want Robert Plant's voice.
Lighten up lady I'm in love with you.
photo by Barrie Wentzell

Tuesday, November 9, 2004

Paul's Awards Show

  Several weeks ago, when there was some j-land drama flapping in the breeze regarding various unsanctioned "AOL journals awards" being presented by some AOL members, I started collecting ideas for things that I'd like to present awards to. I was going to write a journal entry full of hilarious parody and biting satire, but I procrastinated, and it all blew over. So here I am, weeks later, with a text file full of silly and irrelevant "best of" type observations, and a sense that they are no longer topical. So why post them now? Because I owe you guys an update, and I have nothing better to say.

So. With no further gilding the lily, and with out any more ado, I now present to you: Paul's Very Important Awards For Outstanding Deeds, Achievements, And Stuff.

Please welcome our award presenter, the lovely and talented Miss Vanna White. ::applause::

Vanna: Smiles and waves.

Our first award of the night comes in the category Best Cover Of A Jimi Hendrix Song By A Now Defunct Canadian Swing Band. And the winner is: Purple Haze by The Jive Kings. ::applause:: Unfortunately, upon notification that they had won this award, none of the members of The Jive Kings returned our e-mails, so this award will be accepted on behalf of The Jive Kings by Rick Mercer.

Rick Mercer: As a former host of the Canadian East Coast Music Awards show, I was once in the same room as The Jive Kings, and I can say without reservations that they are great group of kids. I would just like to thank Paul for this award, and seeing as those no good punks didn't see fit to show up here, this will look great siting on my mantlepiece.

Vanna: Smiles and waves.

Thank you Rick. Our next award is the coveted Best New Ice Cream Marketing Idea That's Making Me Eat Too Much Of The Stuff award. And the winner is: Chocolate Bar Flavours. ::applause:: Well done! As we didn't have a clue who was responsible for this innovation in the marketing of ice cream, this award will be graciously accepted on behalf of Chocolate Bar Flavours by The Committee To Elect Paul Little King Of The World! ::massive applause::

Vanna: Smiles and waves.

Thank you very much. Now ladies and gentlemen we come to our next award: Best AnimeDaytime Cartoon ... Just kidding. It is actually time to take a break and hear from our sponsors. Stay tuned, we'll be right back.

Lack of Drama got you down?
Are your message boards dull and colourless? Do you regularly click "mark all read" because you just have no interest? You need AOL Journals message board. Twice the Drama and three times the pettiness of other message boards. Thrill to pointless political diatribes by both right wing and left wing whack jobs. Delight in baseless accusations of cloning and sockpuppetry. Participate in a lively match of Butcher The English Language. Listen to the Whoosh! as jokes go right over people's heads. AOL Journals message board. Drama, made simple.

Disclaimer: Aurora Walking Vacation makes no guarantees, expressed or implied, that you will find sufficient drama to suit your needs on the AOL Journals message board. You may have to create your own drama.

Welcome back to Paul's Very Important Awards For Outstanding Deeds, Achievements, And Stuff. During the break, several minor technical awards were given out. Let's watch now as those awards are summarized by Callista Flockhart. What's that? Oh, we'll have to go to Callista later, folks. Apparently she turned sideways and now nobody can find her. OK, moving on, let's present the award for The Most Surreal Sports Experience By A Former Neighbour. And the winner of that award is: Jay Kerr at a West Virginia college football game where the crowd broke into a sponataneous rendition of John Denver's Take me home, country road. Later we'll go to our WV analyst, Lahoma Taylor, who will be completely unable to justify that behaviour.

Vanna: Smiles and waves.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, that brings us to the final award of the night: The Bogart Movie I Like Better Than Casablanca. And the winner is: The Maltese Falcon. ::applause:: Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for tuning in to Paul's Very Important Awards For Outstanding Deeds, Achievements, And Stuff. I think I can safely say that the evening has been an unqualified success, even though Dan Quayle did not attend. Have a good night, and we'll see you next year when our Master of Ceremonies will be Billy Idol. ::applause::

Thursday, November 4, 2004

A reply to fv

  In a recent e-mail, a friend ... internet acquaintance? ... friend, Francois Vincent, said:

PS: I'd post to your blog but I can't.

PPS: really, why are you using AOL?? didn't you do any research
beforehand? ;)

Well, there is a story there.

Wait, you say. Why are you replying to a private e-mail in your journal?

Well, if you remember my entry on writing and ideas, you will know. I gotta take the inspiration wherever I find it.

  So. It was about five or six years ago when my wife and I decided to join the information superhighway. OK, so it was more like my wife let me
get the Internet at home. I had virtually no experience online, and didn't know what service to get, and AOL always had those CDs floating around offering a bajillion hours free, so the choice seemed easy. And it was easy. That's one thing that's always true about AOL: it's easy to use. Pop the CD into the computer, and follow the on screen instructions, and bingo; you are online.
  There are many Internet service providers out there, many of them substantially less expensive than AOL, and most of them offer a free one month trial, so I decided to cancel the AOL after a month and try a few others to see how they were. Anyone who has ever tried to cancel AOL before will be smiling right now. What's that, sir? You want to cancel? Well, why don't we give you another free month? In fact, make it two months. If you try, it's possible to milk them for as much as six months of free service. I've heard people boasting of longer terms than that.
  Finally, after I had exhausted AOL's generosity, they let me quit and try out other services. You know, for someone who is only just barely computer literate, going from AOL to almost anything else is a pretty big shock to the system. What do you mean I have to configure my e-mail client? Not only do I not know how to do that, I don't have a clue what the hell that even means. The other thing about the World Wide Web, for someone who cut their teeth on AOL, is that it is a sea of information, with little or no organisation. Learning how to find the kinds of things you are looking for can be a frustrating endeavour. That's another thing AOL does well. They have a lot of content, already well organised for you. And it is reliable content, unlike what you might find casting randomly about the web.
  As all this was going on, another problem developed. I was spending a lot of time online, and my wife kept getting told by people that they were trying to call us, and could never get through. Bell Canada to the rescue! Bell offered us a new service they had developed called Internet Call Display. Whenever a computer user was online, and a telephone call came in, this service would alert you with an on screen message, and allow you to sign off the Internet and take the call. I'm not exactly sure, but I think Bell Canada saved my marriage.
  After several months of alternative ISP service, my wife asked me to go back to AOL. She liked the organised content they provided. She knew how to send and receive e-mail with AOL. No problem. I cancelled whatever service we had been using, and came back to AOL. Problem. The Bell Internet Call Display service did not work very well. According to a technician I spoke to, the AOL software has a way of masking your IP address, and that was causing ICD to have fits. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. We muddled along with it for quite some time, until one day Bell Canada called to offer us a special discounted rate on their Sympatico High Speed service. With DSL service only slightly more expensive than what we were currently paying for AOL dial-up, and the promise of eliminating our telephone problems, we once again bid adieu to AOL. (Actually, I just reduced AOL to a $6.95 a month basic maintenance package until I was sure I wanted to cancel).
  I never cancelled. My wife and son started complaining about the way the new service worked. Sending and receiving e-mail was more complicated. Again, my wife missed the AOL content. As well, my son was getting older, and becoming more adept at computer use. AOL's parental controls were very attractive. I investigated AOL Broadband service, but it wasn't available in my area, so I put them off. And I put them off, until one day I received an e-mail from AOL informing me that AOL-DSL had recently become available in my town. So here I am.
  There are still some things I do not like about AOL. I don't like that non-AOL users cannot leave comments in my journal. (So I put in an e-mail link). I don't like AOL's newsgroup interface. (So I'm not using newsgroups anywhere near as much as I used to anyway). I don't like AOL's built-in web browser. (So I minimise it and use IE).
  There are some things I do like about AOL. I like the e-mail client. I like the parental controls. I like how my wife has stopped bugging me to check her e-mail for her. Why, they have even started to crack down on spam. Will wonders never cease?

Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Post election musings

On the electoral system

  The United States of America has got to come up with a better system of voting for the office of President. The current system is broken, and probably beyond repair. This is another example of progress not necessarily being a good thing. Hanging chads, crashed hard drives, ineligible absentee or provisional ballots, challengers at the polls, two to three hour waits at polling stations, these things should be embarrassing to all Americans.
  One of the biggest problems is the complexity of the ballot. There are so many things to vote for that electronic tabulation is the only feasible method of counting the ballots. In Columbus, Ohio, there were something like 34 different items on the ballot. No wonder there was a three hour wait at some polls. Even if you know exactly how you want to vote on each issue, it still takes three or four minutes just to make all of the selections. And for those who aren't quite sure of some of the issues, or even how to use the balloting equipment... Some poll workers said that the average voting time in Ohio was six to nine minutes. Given the number of polling booths available, and the average time to cast a single ballot, many polling stations were physically unable to process even fifty per cent of the people on their voters lists.
  We are talking about electing the President of the United States of America here, the most powerful man in the entire world. What is at stake, the world over, is far too important for these kinds of problems to be allowed to occur. Need to elect a new county sheriff, or dogcatcher? Need to vote on how funding for the local zoo will be collected? Want to decide whether or not to sell alcohol on a Sunday? Do it another day. Take all the little shit off the ballot. Here in Canada, when we hold a federal election, we are handed a paper ballot with the names of the candidates printed on it in extremely large type, and a big empty circle beside each name. We are given a fat black pencil and explicit instructions: "mark an "X" inside the circle beside one(1) name." That's it. No punch card machines or computer touchscreens. No levers to pull or buttons to press. Make your mark, fold your ballot, and place it in the box. Average time to cast a ballot: about 45 seconds. If we want to elect new city councillors, or new members of provincial parliament, or have a referendum on nationalsovereignty, we hold a different election for that.

On the outcome

   This election was the Democrats' to lose. For that matter, the last election was the Democrats' to lose. For George Bush to have won with barely 50% of the popular vote against John Kerry, or with less than 50% of the popular vote against Al Gore is very telling. All the Democrats had to do was actually field a strong candidate and the election was theirs. It's not going to get any easier. In 2008 Bush will no longer be allowed to run (unless he declares himself emperor) and the Democrats may have to face ::gasp:: Colin Powell. Has there been a bigger American Hero in the last 50 years? Better start thinking about it now. I don't know if Hillary will be good enough.

Tuesday, November 2, 2004


   My son has been studying the Canadian Government in his Grade 5 class at school. He recently brought home a test he had written on the subject. The questions were numbered 1,2,3,3,4,5,5. Yes, these are the people teaching our children. He scored 83% on the test, but I'm not sure what that means coming from a teacher who, apparently, has difficulty counting to seven.

I thought I'd share with you one of Matthew's responses. I think it was to question #5. One of them, anyway.

Q. List the six steps a bill goes through to become a law.

A. 1) first someone decides to make the bill
     2) second it's checked over
     3) it's sent to the house of commons then it's voted on 3 times
     4) if it's passed it goes to the senate for 3 more votes
     5) then it's checked over again
     6) then the governor general sings it

Governor General sings it. And I thought government was boring. I'm going to have to watch CPAC more often.

Monday, November 1, 2004

The Return of Tennis Elbow

   Some of you may remember my entry of several months ago about Tennis Elbow. Due to the affliction in my left elbow, I was forced to forego playing golf for the entire summer this year. I was disappointed about that, but the fact that rehabilitation appeared to be successful prior to the start of the curling season somewhat mitigated my consternation. (I felt better)
   Now, barely four weeks into the 2004/2005 curling season I am being bothered by Lateral Epicondylitis once again; in my right elbow! In keeping with AOL's policy of allowing mild profanity in journals I feel somewhat safe in expostulating: "Drat! Egad! Gee Wiz!" You can see that I'm upset. This game might actually be the death of me. Worse, I might have to go as far as admitting that I'm getting old and have to slow down.
   Never! I will not go gentle into that dark night. I will rage, rage against my body's weakened plight. At least until someone says, "shut up you annoying old man."

   Some of you may also have noticed that I have joined in on the trend of putting a close-up photograph of a part of my face in the about me section of my journal. Rest assured that my participation in this fashion ensures its immediate falling out of favour with the blogging community. Almost certainly, the best bloggers removed their close-up photos several weeks ago, with the trendy quicker picker uppers to follow suit very rapidly. If you are still brandishing such a photo in your blog, you may want to remove it in short order before the cool kids start to point and laugh.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Happy Halloween

OK, first things first. Happy Halloween! Matt and I carved pumpkins today, and I think we were both quite happy with the way they came out. Later, Pat took Matt out with three of his friends to go trick or treating. I stayed home to hand out the loot to all the little kiddies. Boy, was I disappointed. There were very few little kiddies. Most of the kids who came to the door had to be in their teens. I have created a few new rules for future Halloweens:
1) Never give out candy to people with visible piercings.
2) Never give out candy to people who are taller than you.
3) Take a look through the candy first so you don't give out all the good stuff and have nothing but Glosette raisins left over.

Here are the boys: three hobos and a scarecrow. Matt is the only one who shaved today. I'm not sure how we ended up with three hobos. The boys all insist they didn't plan it that way. Later in the night Matt pulled the fake straw out of his sleeves and pantlegs and said he was a hobo too.

Also, a couple of new puppy pictures. Shadow is now four months old, and we have had him for two. He weighs in at over thirty-five pounds. No lap dog here! Here is a picture from August 28th of Shadow with his stuffed toy husky, and a picture from October 28th of the same. Enjoy.