Saturday, July 31, 2010


Each Saturday morning, I receive an e-mail from one Michael Quinion, who maintains a fascinating website called World Wide Words. Its sub-head tells us what it's all about: "Michael Quinion writes on international English from a British viewpoint." The weekly e-mail is always a fun read, but the department I enjoy most is the one titled Sic!, and I am taking the liberty of quoting it verbatim today. If you get at least one smile from this, then may I suggest you sign up for the newsletter here. Enjoy!
  • The July issue of the British magazine Juke Blues had an article about the soul record producer Willie Mitchell. Its first sentence read, "Born on 1 March 1928, in Ashland, Mississippi, the Mitchell family moved to Memphis, Tennessee when Willie was just two years old." "What an odd family," commented Reinhard Fey. "Parents and children born on the same day."
  • The website of the Courier-Mail of Brisbane on 26 July headlined a story thus: "Motorbike rider killed after hitting 170km/h before slamming into car and crashing through sound barrier." Thanks to Colin Burt for spotting that. Sound must travel slowly in Brisbane.
  • Chuck Crawford, in Louisville, Kentucky, could hardly believe his ears when a weight-loss-regimen company ran an advert on TV for its meals. A supposedly happy woman gushed: "The first meal I tried was delicious, and I found that each one was better than the next!"
  • The International Edition of the New York Times reported on 25 July on a combined South Korea and US naval war game, quoting Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korea analyst: "North Korea will try to fend off the mounting joint pressure from the United States and South Korea by retching up tensions in stages."
Oh wotthehell - these are fun. Here's last week's Sic!:
  • Helen Thursh spotted a headline on 15 July in the News-Gazette of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. Inspections had turned up problems at same-day surgery clinics: "Reused devices, tainted sanity areas among lapses seen at 22 of 29 facilities inspected."
  • A sign, says Ray Neinstein, that's posted conspicuously in three places at Ralph's Ice Cream in Glen Head, New York, announces that "coupons will only be accepted a week after their expiration date."
  • Monday’s Yahoo! News, Gary Christian notes, had an article headed "WWI troops found in mass grave reburied in France". It reported, "The ceremony was attended by Prince Charles, wearing a grey suit hung with military decorations and top Australian officials."
  • Stephanie Stapleton, who lives in Florida, found this AP headline on Thursday: "Georgia man sentenced to life in Maine." She wrote, "The weather's bad there, but is it that bad?"
Thinking about it, I'm going to add the link to the weekly Sic! to my link list on the left, at least for a while. That way you have easy access to it. Have an example to contribute? You know where the comment link is!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Patent stupidity!

And yes, the title of this post is a deliberate pun! The issue in question is that of the ability to patent software and its associated ideas. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office hands these things out like candy, frequently forgetting that a patent is supposed to be an original idea, not just an implementation of one or more existing ideas.

This issue has been bubbling for some time now, and will continue to do so for a long time. Today, however, I discovered that a jury has struck a patent down - specifically, it's Patent #7139761, "Dynamic association of electronically stored information with iterative workflow changes." You don't even have to read the patent itself - thanks to Google Patents, you can read a summary of what is apparently "claimed." Fun stuff, especially for insomniacs. Try reading the "claim" section out loud - after a few seconds it starts to sound pretty hilarious. Pure bafflegab. Enjoy!

Oh, you want more? Not asleep yet? Let's try one unrelated to software - #6179088, "Interlinked watercourses for sushi boats." Yes, that's right - sushi boats!!!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Tracking cookies

This is important - please bear with me! What is a "tracking cookie?" I'll try to be brief...!

You may have wondered how the ads that you see on the vast majority of websites these days (yes, this one included) have the extraordinary ability to "know" just what your interests are. There are a handful of companies that aggregate and collect information about you and your web browsing habits. They, in turn, use this information to figure out what interests you, then select ads they think you will react to, and serve those targeted ads to you. Creepy, huh?

How do they manage this? Well, any ad-bearing site you visit is under the control of at least one of these companies - this behavior is tolerated because ads bring revenue to the sites in question. When you visit a site, connections are made to these companies. They, in turn, read tiny little files on your hard drive called "cookies." (More on cookies in a minute.)

These files are controlled by them, and they can update the cookies with information about your habits. Of course, they also read these files to see where you've been, and what you did at the sites you actually wanted to visit. So: not only do they know what you do at the site you are currently at, they also can see what you've been doing elsewhere in the past. This type of cookie is known as a third-party cookie, because they are 'behind' the sites you consciously visit. How can you avoid this behavior? Fortunately, there is a way, but you have to consciously opt out of the process. (It would be much better if one had to opt in, but the ad industry, of course, has no appetite for that. Short of congressional intervention, I doubt it will ever happen.) Some tips:

First, make sure you visit this page. This site feels the same way as I do, and makes a conscious effort to warn its visitors - even to the point of showing a conspicuous pop-up about this the first time you visit it. They tell you where to go to opt out, as well as some good, free software that will clean the mess you no doubt have already accumulated on your hard drive. Also, check Ed Bott's good article about this. And another good one here. And here! As you can see, there's a lot of help out there!

Another good source is Google. At this page, they will allow you to install a plug-in to Internet Explorer and/or Firefox that will trap third-party cookies and refuse to play the game. Additionally, they provide instructions for achieving the same effect in Chrome (my browser of choice) and Safari. No doubt other browsers can do the same - essentially, what you have to do is select an option that refers to suppression of third-party cookies. So, take a look in your browser's options and see what you can do.

If you use a firewall or anti-virus program (if you don't, you're asking for trouble), there may be ways they can also help. Face it, folks - we need all the tools available to us to fight this scourge.

Note on cookies: Not all cookies are bad. Most of the sites you visit these days will drop a cookie onto your hard drive so that they can make your browsing experience more pleasant. For example, some will "remember" where you left off the last time you visited, and resume at that point. Or, they will be able to recognize you automatically when you go there. Amazon, for example, will say "Hello, Fred" (or whomever) at the top of the page as soon as you get there. The cookie provides a key to their (hopefully secure) database which, in turn, provides info that instigates services like their 1-click ordering (which, btw, is patented - see tomorrow's post). Some websites become unstable or even unusable if you do not accept their cookies. Consequently, while you can refuse all cookies in all browsers, I do not recommend this action. Just don't let the nasty ones live on your hard drive!

One more thing: Supposedly, the companies responsible for third-party cookies do not keep personal, identifiable information about you. But, let's face it, it's their word against ours. Spyware is a constant concern and, in my opinion, a valid one. Who do you trust? While I'm not a conspiracy theorist, I do value my identity and my privacy. I hope you do too. [So much for my promise of brevity!]

Update: I ran Spybot, one of the recommended (and free!) tools to search and destroy these evil third-party cookies. Here's the result. I'm publishing this because I think it highlights the necessity of keeping your system clean. This list shows all the perps, and the quantity of tracking cookies that were discovered. Adviva (2), BlueStreak (1), BurstMedia (6), CasaleMedia (9), Clickbank (1), CoreMetrics (1), DoubleClick (12), FastClick (7), LinkSynergy (3), MediaPlex (2), Omniture (9), Statcounter (8), Tradedoubler (3), WebTrends live (1), Win32.PornPopUp (11), Zedo (9). Grand Total? 85!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

An observation

Of its many products, the U.S. Mint sells quarters in bags - they call them "Quarter Bags." I wonder if they sell dimes the same way?! Or nickels? Just wondering...

Seriously, though - the mint sells some interesting stuff. If you are into coins or have friends and are thinking of gift ideas, check 'em out!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Don't shoot until you see the persons of their eyes!

Douglas R. Hofstadter is one of my favorite mathematicians, magicians, wits (or should that be "whites"?), authors, you name it.

HUH? you say ... whites? OK, fair enough - nobody can grok this until they have read one of his better essays, "A Person Paper on Purity in Language," written under the nom de plume "William Satire." Check it out, and this post will make sense. Coincidentally (and rather oddly), this essay also connects to my earlier posts about racism...

He authored two of my favorite works: "Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid" and "Metamagical Themas." The latter is the title of his column in Scientific American (and, interestingly, is an anagram of Martin Gardner's columns in SciAm, "Mathematical Games"). If you ever come across these books, don't be scared off by their length - instead, please make a point of attacking them. I promise your thoughts will be provoked!

A "learnable" moment?
Wave, particle, whatever!
I also came across some ambigrams - the one on the right is Hofstadter's, while the one on the left is by Scott Kim, "Mr. Ambigram," - another person I admire - but that's another post for another time. Example to the left of me, example to the right of me, here I go again, caught in the middle with you...

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Hands up those who know what a mondegreen is. No takers? OK - it's a mishearing of a phrase, most often in a song, that results in the listener interpreting something unintended. C'mon, 'fess up - we've all been victims of that at some point, often in childhood.

The term comes from a stanza in a poem: Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands, | Oh, where hae ye been? | They hae slain the Earl O' Moray, | And Lady Mondegreen. In fact, the last line is And laid him on the green. Clearly, we needed a word for this phenomenon and, English being what it is, the term "mondegreen" entered the language.

My eternal favorite is Gladly the cross-eyed bear. The actual words are Gladly, the cross I'd bear, a line in a hymn.

But, in reading about mondegreens in Wikipedia (link above), I discovered the genre of "deliberate mondegreens," where the authors have tried to make us mis-hear. To quote from Wikipedia:
"The lyric if you see Kay (F-U-C-K) was employed by blues pianist Memphis Slim in 1963, R. Stevie Moore in 1977, April Wine on its 1982 album Power Play, the Poster Children in 1990, and Turbonegro in 2005, as well as a line from James Joyce's 1922 novel Ulysses. Britney Spears did the same thing with the song "If U Seek Amy", in which the lyric All of the boys and all of the girls are begging to if you seek Amy can easily be misheard as All of the boys and all of the girls are begging to F-U-C-K me."
Fun stuff! If you know of a good one, please add it to the comments for this post.

Sherrod fallout

Well, now that the Shirley Sherrod story has played out (see my earlier post), everyone seems to agree that this ought to be a "teachable moment" about racism. That Americans ought not to shy away from talking about race. That we need to come together as a nation. But how? Where? There is a dearth of concrete suggestions, but here's a modest one.

While focusing on better education about racism in schools is the right thing to do, I don't believe that the youth in this country is the correct demographic to go after - it's those old enough to know better, all the way to the old fogeys that have problems with this stuff. And, since we're always blaming the media for being too gullible, why not enlist them to assist? I'm not talking about documentaries or anything with racism as the primary topic - that's all too easy for the intended audience to ignore. What I'm talking about is the popular media: blockbuster movies, TV sitcoms, heavily-trafficked websites, trashy magazines that are (currently) devoid of actual content, tabloids, comic books, etc. And I'm not suggesting they take a heavy hand by making the topic "in-your-face." Or, as many have suggested, have more sitcoms starring black actors. That's just tokenism. All they need do is become unafraid to, for example, make reference to racial differences, even joke about it where appropriate. Right now, it strikes me, there is a distinct reluctance to even vaguely touch on racism.

We need to make Joe Six-Pack (and the plumber!) able to comfortably talk about this around the proverbial water-cooler. Not difficult, not expensive, not breathtaking, not revolutionary - just a simple way to remove the verboten nature of the topic.

And, while we're at it, how about handling other forms of bigotry the same way? Racism is but one "-ism." Think about it. Please.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Words words words

  • I saw a video game yesterday that, when time was up and the game wasn't finished, it declared that the status was "incompleted."
  • And "pitted cherries" - those are the ones that come with pits, right? Much to my surprise, there wasn't a pit to be found. I wuz duped! What's wrong with "unpitted"? Or, considering the item above, "inpitted"? Yeah, OK...
  • Then there's that expression, peculiarly unique to the U.S.: "Hot water heater." Why, I ask you, would anyone want to heat hot water? Why not just call it a "water heater" and be done with it?
  • This one is patently unfair, because it clearly comes from someone whose native language is not English, but still - it makes me smile. (It's from a porn site which shall remain nameless!)
    What Turns Me On: I wind the leather linen! Adore the humid cheeps and members selecting nectar. Love not much roughnesses. Want to become the slave! Adore the weasels. Love the rols play!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Mars and Venus doing it...

Mars and Venus, um, boinking...
Yes, it's subtle. Story here. Click the pic to enlarge.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Shirley Sherrod story

Shirley Sherrod
I guess this is worth a mention - if only because of the overblown amount of press the story has been receiving.

For those who need to be brought up to speed - briefly: A USDA employee, Shirley Sherrod, made a 43-minute speech to the NAACP in March. In and of itself, no big deal. But a right-wing blogger, Andrew Breitbart, edited the speech down to about four minutes, wherein it made Shirley Sherrod sound like a racist (the truth: hell no - she's black, from the south, her father was killed by the KKK, and her speech was one of redemption - about how she saved a white farmer from losing his farm). The editing of the video was, of course, an unfair extrapolation - but, as we all know, it was just another of the typical dirty tricks that the right wing / Tea Party / Republicans / conservatives / idiots (you pick) love to play in this racially-charged country.

Here's the problem: Based on the edited video (and, it seems, influenced by the fact that Sherrod was scheduled to appear on Glenn Beck's hateful "show" on Fox that night), Tom Vilsack, the head of the USDA, promptly fired her - seems the last part of his name is àpropos! Anyhoo. Clearly, this was a huge boo-boo - you don't fire someone based on evidence that flimsy; it was obviously a politically driven knee-jerk reaction.

Now, it seems, the White House is involved in some way, shape, or form - but nobody seems to know exactly how, why, what, where or when. But of course the right is now blaming Obama and/or his administration for this mess - they're accusing them of "reverse racism." And, it seems, Vilsack is now considering offering to give Sherrod her job back. I've seen interviews with her on TV today (ABC's Good Morning America, and CNN) and she's not taking this lying down. Good for her. She is non-committal about whether she will accept her job back (assuming Vilsack offers it to her), and seems genuinely startled by all the fuss.

Where does the blame lie? In this case, on both sides - the hateful action taken by the right wing, and the knee-jerk reaction from the lefties. You decide which one was worse. I know where my thinking lies and, I suspect, so do you.

There's a lesson here: The media - including Fox News, CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, et al - need to be more responsible about what they put out, and not just blindly parrot what they see on blogs, other networks, etc. Fortunately, there are still a few (few being the operative word here) outlets that behave responsibly; the New York Times and PBS spring to mind.

Here's the really sad part: In case no-one in the U.S. has noticed, it's 2010. That's correct. We are now almost a decade into the 21st century. Why, oh why, are we still talking about race? While racism, as an example of bigotry in general, will always be with us humans (just a fact we must face), it really and truly is not this big a deal outside the U.S. As I remember saying recently: Grow the fuck up, people!

You can read some good commentary about the story here (Paul Krugman in the NYTimes) and here (The Huffington Post).

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Interesting comment

I was going through the items that Google Search picked up on my canned daily keyword search for "sodomy." In a stupid article I found, there was a comment with the following spelling mistake:

"... Pedophilles pray on kids." The two l's in "pedophilles" are bad enough, but the really funny bit is the one about "praying" on kids. I can see it now ... the perv kneeling over the kid, uttering a prayer about ... well, I'll leave that up to your imagination! Why, oh why, don't people learn to use their spell checkers - in most word processors, it's just a matter of hitting F7. And there's my tech tip for the day...!

Monday, July 19, 2010

New pictures here!

Alert! I've (finally) posted some more pictures on my Picture Me page. This time, I'm focusing on advertising, specifically "billboards" - you'll understand the quotation marks when you see 'em. While I only show eight examples, there's a link over there to a website that has hundreds more.

Only one of the examples is from the U.S. - there's a definite paucity of creativity in this country. C'mon, you (supposedly) creative advertising people: get with it!

Smoking update

Well, I had a bit of a setback recently ... have smoked a few. Bummer. But it's OK, they say this happens, so I'm continuing to persevere.

On the upside, I partied hearty with a rather, erm, interesting group of people this weekend. Lotsa fun, but now I'm exhausted, I tell you - exhausted!!!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

New: Bafflegab at the top of my page!

In the babbling spirit of this blog (the Babbling Blog!), I'm adding a silly quotation at the top of the page, which will be changed daily (I hope...). Keep looking for it, and enjoy! I'm going to start with a number of delicious Dan Quayle quotes. While we fondly remember Bushisms, most of us have forgotten about the nonsense that frequently came out of the idiot Quayle's mouth.

Also, please note that I will be posting "used" ones at my Quote Me page.

Palin's popularity

Here's something interesting - maintains graphs like this one. They are "live" in that they are constantly updated.

So let's see how it plays out! Notice how her unfavorable rating has consistently increased since the presidential election...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Who wants to see me?

It's interesting to see where my visitors come from. I think we tend to take the "worldwide" part of WWW for granted; remember that just a few short years ago, communicating with people around the world was a very expensive proposition. Nowadays, we can call most countries for <20¢/minute and, very frequently, a mere 2¢/minute - like most European countries. And, of course, other forms of communication (emails, SMS, photos, video, you name it) are virtually free on the worldwide web!

Why do I bring this up? I just took a look at the stats for my site, which shows where my unique visitors come from, and how many ("unique" means number of different visitors, not the number of times they visit). Besides the U.S. where, of course, I have hundreds of them (not possible to say who, where or when), here's a breakdown of my international* crowd:

South Africa (ZA)3
Canada (CA)3
Germany (DE)2
Netherlands (NL)2
Italy (IT)2
United Kingdom (GB)2
Australia (AU)2
Finland (FI)1
Bulgaria (BG)1
Saudi Arabia (SA)1

I find that impressive. Well, I can understand it's not a big deal for you, but for me it is - so there!

* International - Why, oh why, has this word - at least in the U.S. - come to mean "foreign"? People use it when they talk about someone or something that is foreign, i.e. from outside the U.S. Think about the real meaning: just look at the word. There's inter (between/across two or more things) and national, referring to a country. Thus, it really means something else - like "between two countries." So please don't say "most of my friends are international" when you really mean "most of my friends are foreign." Thanks! (OK, so it's just another pet peeve of mine. I know.)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Now-I've-heard-it-all department

Shock. Horror.
Some morons in Oklahoma apparently believe that kids are now getting high by - get this - listening to sounds on their earphones.

Yes. I kid you not. Apparently, there are these evil (I tell you, evil) websites out there that purport to be purveyors of music. But no-o-o-o. Instead, they are downloading "binaural beat" tones that "alter brainwaves" (like the kids have brainwaves to alter in the first place, but that's another story...).

The so-called "experts" are saying that, while i-dosing (yes, that's the term they use) may be relatively harmless, it could lead to harder stuff like - horrors! - marijuana!!! Oh dear, whatever will we do?

Binaural beating. My ass. I'm sure the kids have more satisfying things to beat...

You must read the article. It done shoulda been published in The Onion. And, if you Google [i-dosing] you'll see some fun putdowns of this shit!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Take my poll - please!

I've temporarily added a multiple-answer poll on the left to gauge reaction to my site. Please let me know what you think - all answers are anonymous. Thanks!

Update: The stupid poll widget piece of crap seems to not be working. I've killed it!

Sodomy - America vs Africa

If you're observant, you will see that I have a gadget way down on the left that highlights news based on keywords I specify. This week one of my keywords is "sodomy" (along with "BBC TV" and "Palin" - it's fun to see what you get day by day). Today, there are two reports next to each other that bear mention.

That elephant trunk is, erm, phallic!
The juxtaposition is very interesting, because this article talks about how the Texas Republican Party is trying to re-criminalize sodomy (oral as well as anal sex) in that state. They also want to jail anyone who issues a same-sex marriage license, and ban strip clubs. (This report also links to an article about a same-sex "crime" in Malawi, with a sentence of 14 years of hard labor.)

The other report comes out of Ghana. This African country was recently in the news because it has decided that gay people should be killed (no joke). The article here talks about a specific case of sodomy with a teenager; it will be interesting to see what punishment the alleged perp faces. The report, understandably, is in somewhat tortured English which, on the surface, is amusing - but the jarring reference to lesbianism is more than amusing, it's confounding!

So why are these two reports interesting? Well, it's kinda obvious - it strikes me that many Texans would be very much at home in Ghana and Malawi. I'm just sayin'...

Amusing sidenote: See this article about the gay McDonalds ad ... the French, as well as the rest of Europe, and many many other countries have a rather more sophisticated view of life. When will the U.S. grow up? For example, see this report about our friend Bill O'Reilly from Fox "News" discussing the ad, wherein he speculates "Do they have an Al-Qaida ad?" (the 'they' he refers to is Mickey D's).

Breaking news: Oil gush stopped ... one hopes

CNN is reporting that BP has finally managed to stop the flow. Sorry, but I'm skeptical. We'll see. Seems they're stopping and starting the flow to conduct tests, but optimism abounds that this newly-installed blowout preventer will do the trick.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A pot-pourri today

There's so much happening today, I don't know what to focus on. Thusly, I present a miscellany:

Comparing Obama to Hitler and Lenin. The billboard, right, speaks for itself (wonder why I put it on the right?!). Of course we can surmise who's responsible for this: our Tea Party friends. Now, the NAACP has become tired of what they are calling racist comments, and are speaking out vehemently against this. Good. The billboard went up yesterday; now there are reports that it has disappeared. Again, good. This shit is gross. And I'm tired of it. Grow up, people. Sure, there are many different opinions in this country. It's deeply divided - hasn't been like this for a long time, probably since Lincoln. We are all entitled to our respective positions, but why, oh why, is it not possible to have a respectful, seemly, intelligent, and honest discourse any more? The art of conversation, it appears, has not just vanished from our living rooms, now it has disappeared from higher institutions, for example, on Capitol Hill. Obama is never going to be able to get anything done when idiots like the Tea Party and - yes - Republicans just sit there wailing like so many crybabies, blocking his every move. It's disgusting. Grow the fuck up - PLEASE.

The oil disaster (not "spill"). BP has now put the new blowout preventer in place, but has not yet turned the valves that are meant to slowly and eventually stop the gusher. [See good info about this.] Why? Well, it turns out that there is fear that the pressure that would (obviously) be created when the valves are closed could cause ruptures deep underground where the well's casing is much thinner and weaker. Should this happen, even greater amounts of oil and gas would be released into rock fissures and - get this - there would be no way to stop it. It would somewhat randomly gush out of the earth deep undersea. Scientists are now saying that the potential for this is high. Now that would be the disaster to top all disasters. What's the solution? Well, ideally, they need the new relief wells to be in place and working. But, of course, that's going to take time. Frankly, I'd rather wait than risk it - but I guess we have to leave the decision up to the "experts" (I use that word reservedly).

Armageddon? An item related to the oil disaster... There are reports on the intertubes claiming there is a strong possibility that the release of methane, a side-effect of this mess, could end up destroying the planet. To be honest, I have not yet taken a hard look at this (I will soon), so am not prepared to opine on the topic. But it's certainly worth mentioning, not to mention exploring. They are saying that the media is deliberately being kept away from the story, so naturally thoughts of conspiracy theories pop up. I'm not a conspiracy theorist so - illogically - I both defer and demur!

IPhone 4 and Consumer Reports. Consumers' Union, who publish the venerable magazine, have given a thumbs-down to the iPhone 4, claiming that the theories about poor reception when you hold the phone a certain way with your left hand are, indeed, true. Consumer Reports, notoriously, hides most of its web content behind a paywall, so I'm not bothering to link them here, but here's another good report from Computerworld. Apple's share price took a beating today because of this, so it's clear that CR still has influence in this rapidly changing world.

Google Dictionary. Yes, I know I continually sing the praises of Google. For good reason - all their shit is pretty amazing. Ever tried Google's dictionary? (Actually, dictionaries.) If, for example, you type "define: marijuana" in Google's search box, you would be taken to definitions of marijuana from multiple dictionaries. But wait, it gets better. If you're one of the happy users of Google's browser, Chrome, there is an extension available that you can install painlessly and quickly. What does it do? If you double-click (or ctrl-double-click, your choice) on any word in any web page, a little balloon will immediately pop up, providing a quick definition of the word, along with a "more..." link. Clicking on the "more..." button will take you to a page containing:
   •   A formal definition of the word,
   •   Synonyms,
   •   A button which will audibly pronounce the word,
   •   Occurrences of the word in other languages,
   •   Usages of the word in recent items from newspapers around the world, and
   •   Definitions from a selection of other dictionaries.
Take the "marijuana" example - click here to see what you would get if you had used the feature on a web page somewhere. Isn't that cool? If you don't have Chrome, get it here - now. If you just want to use the dictionary itself, with all the features I've listed, go here.

MacArthur Park lyrics. Can someone help me understand this? The verse that goes "MacArthur's Park is melting in the dark | All the sweet green icing flowing down | Someone left the cake out in the rain | But I don't think that I can take it | It took so long to bake it | And I'll never have the recipe again, oh no." makes absolutely zero sense to me. Where is the green icing flowing to? Who left the damn cake out in the rain in the first place? Why did it take so long to bake? And why, oh why, is the wretched recipe so important? Just buy some cake mix and follow the recipe on the box, stoopid!

Gay sex in the military? Say no more, say no more ... read all about it!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Perception is everything

My haircut
Yesterday, I got a haircut. Was not happy with the result.

But then: I went to my usual watering hole, and most of my friends commented on it - they unanimously thought it was fabulous - and, better yet, two cutie-pies hit on me (which makes a pleasant change!). Guess I've changed my mind about the haircut...

Update: This was just meant to be a quick "slice-of-life" piece, but then someone asked why I didn't treat y'all to a pic. So here it is - apologies for the blink.

Google does it again!

I'm not even going to bother bafflegabbing about it here. This link describes it, and this one discusses it. Check it out!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Google Voice - try it, you'll love it!

Yes, Google Voice is now open to all takers (in the U.S.). Most important thing: it's free!!! Yes, you read that right: FREE. And - no advertising!

Some history: A couple of years ago, Google bought a company called GrandCentral. Their service allowed you to unify all your phone numbers into a single one, and when people called that number, all your phones would ring. People thought that Google was letting it languish, but recently they unveiled Google Voice, based on the GrandCentral platform. The good news is that they have added a host of new features, to the point where I am stunned, I tell you - stunned! But don't just blindly believe what I have to say; read more about it here (David Pogue is the NYTimes technical expert, and he is thorough and impartial).

What does it do? Let me count the ways (well, some of them):
  • It unifies all your phone numbers - when someone calls you on your Google Voice number (yes, you get your own number - more below), all your phones ring. At that point, you have a number of choices (while the caller keeps hearing a ring tone): you can choose to accept the call, you can send it to voicemail, you can answer and record the call, or you can listen to the voicemail in real time, and pick up while the caller is leaving a message!
  • Your number: When you sign up, Google allows you to select a number. You choose an area code and, optionally, any sequence of letters or digits you want included. It will then do a search of available numbers, and you can select the one you want. You can do this search many times over until you are happy with your choice. If only the telcos would offer that! Note: You don't have to get a number - you can sign up for just the Google Voice features on your existing number(s).
  • You get your own voicemail box of course, but listen to this: If you like, Google will alert you to voicemails at your email address(es), or text you at any of your numbers. But here's the kicker: If you like, Google will transcribe your messages, and turn them into emails for you. It's not perfect of course - voice recognition is still tricky in software, but I've been experimenting with it and it's pretty damn good, even with my pseudo-British accent. This allows you to store your voicemails as textual emails. How cool is that?!?!
  • You can customize who hears what greeting you have recorded - in other words, your friends might hear one greeting, while your business contacts hear another. You can even have one for unknown numbers, telling them that you don't accept calls from strangers - and you can then hang up, automatically!
  • Additionally, you can customize the times when each of your actual phones will ring, as well as whose calls you will accept at certain times - useful if you don't want to be disturbed at 3am by just anyone, but you want to give, for example, your ailing parent 24-hour access.
  • They have apps for smartphones, so that you can control all of this amazing stuff remotely.
  • Cheap international calling. Truly, they are the cheapest I've seen. Example: To call South Africa from the U.S., the rate is typically 10¢ on other services. Google Voice? 5¢!!! Yes, a nickel a minute to call the other side of the world. That's $3.00 an hour. I mean, honestly... what more could you want?
Well, a lot more as it turns out - there are so many options that it's mind-blowing. (One disappointment: Right now, they can only offer the service in the U.S. Given the tight integration with the phone system, I can understand this.)

Interestingly, there's precedent for a service like this. Who remembers the 500 numbers the phone companies tried to sell at one point? C'mon, 'fess up - you never even knew about it, did you?! This was, as I recall, about 20 years ago - I even had my own 500 number. Again, the idea was unification of all one's numbers. But the idea never took off - maybe because, like many things in telco land, they wanted to charge entirely too much for the service. I think the way it worked was signup was free, but there was a charge every time someone dialed your 500 number, and it wasn't an insignificant amount, either.

I highly recommend Google Voice. Have I signed up? Mais oui! My chosen number? [Note: I have substituted the area code and two of the actual digits with question marks, because I don't want my entire number broadcast here! You can still call me by using the gadget at the top of this page, on the left.] +1‑???‑??4‑6429. Why? Well, it spells +1‑???‑??‑IM‑GAY. Say no more.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


First, some background for my readers beyond the Bay Area. Nineteen months ago, a man was shot and killed by a cop during a brawl at a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station in Oakland. The officer (a BART employee, not an Oakland city policeman) says that he reached for his taser, but mistakenly got his gun instead.

In the heat of the moment, he killed a man who was lying face down on the floor. The action was captured by a number of people with cameras (it happened after the 2008/09 New Year's Eve festivities), and was prominently featured in the news. The victim was black, the cop is white - oops. The black community saw this as a racist action, and proceeded to riot in the streets of downtown Oakland, causing a lot of damage.

Fast forward to last week. The trial ended, and the jury returned a verdict of involuntary manslaughter, which carries a 2-4 year sentence. See news item here. Considering the circumstances, I believe this to be the correct verdict, but the victim's family claims it is too light, and proclaimed as much on TV. This led to yet more rioting in the streets of Oakland and, of course, more damage ensued. (Interesting sidenote: Only ¼ of the 78 people arrested are residents of Oakland - some of them even came from other states!)

My question: Why do people find it necessary to damage the storefronts of businesses that had absolutely nothing to do with it? There is no connection to the incident at all. This chain of events is illogical, unnecessary and, well, tragic. Help me understand - please!

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Pink Panther break

Just because I'm not in a writing mood today, and besides, I like The Pink Panther...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

An open letter to the world press about South Africa

This is a rather long post, but worthwhile; sent to me by Bruce, a dear friend of mine in South Africa, it's an open letter addressed primarily to the foreign media visiting that country for the World Cup. Written by one Peter Davies, it addresses many of the misconceptions about South Africa, as well as the dire lack of knowledge about the country.

That's my friend Bruce over yonder on the right - I hope he doesn't mind my posting his handsome face. (Flattery always works, not to mention this free plug...!)
Dear World Cup visitors,

Now that you are safely in our country you are no doubt happily realising you are not in a war zone. This may be in stark contrast to what you have been bracing yourself for should you have listened to Uli Hoeness [i.e. Hoeneß - David] or are an avid reader of English tabloids, which as we all know are only good for wrapping fish 'n chips and advancing the careers of large-chested teens on page three.

As you emerge blinking from your luxury hotel room into our big blue winter skies, you will surely realise you are far more likely to be killed by kindness than by a stray bullet. Remember that most of the media reports you have read, which have informed your views on South Africa, will have been penned by your colleagues. And you know what journos are like, what with their earnest two thousand word opuses on the op-ed pages designed to fix this country's ills in a heartbeat. Based on exhaustive research over a three-day visit.

Funnily enough, we are well aware of the challenges we face as a nation and you will find that 95% of the population is singing from the same song-sheet in order to ensure we can live up to our own exacting expectations.

We are also here to look after you and show you a good time. Prepare to have your preconceived notions well and truly shattered.

For instance, you will find precious few rhinos loitering on street corners, we don't know a guy in Cairo named Dave just because we live in Johannesburg, and our stadiums are magnificent, world-class works of art.

Which is obviously news to the Sky TV sports anchor who this week remarked that Soccer City [now The National Stadium - David] looked 'a bit of a mess'. She didn't realize the gaps in the calabash exterior are to allow in natural light and for illumination at night, and not the result of vandalism or negligence.

The fact that England, the nation which safely delivered Wembley Stadium two years past its due date, is prepared to offer us South Africans advice on stadium-readiness should not be surprising. The steadiest stream of World Cup misinformation has emanated from our mates the Brits over the past couple of years.

If it's not man-eating snakes lurking in Rooney's closet at the team's (allegedly half-built) Royal Bafokeng training base, then it's machete-wielding gangs roaming the suburbs in search of tattooed, overweight Dagenham dole-queuers to ransack and leave gurgling on the pavement.

In fact what you are entering is the world's most fascinating country, in my opinion. I'm pretty sure you will find that it functions far more smoothly, is heaps more friendly and offers plenty more diversions than you could possibly have imagined.

In addition to which, the population actually acts like human beings, and not like they are being controlled by sinister forces from above which turns them into bureaucratically-manipulated robots.

Plus we have world's most beautiful women. The best weather. Eight channels of SuperSport. Food and wine from the gods themselves. Wildlife galore. (Love the Dutch team's bus slogan: "Don't fear the Big 5; fear the Orange 11").

Having said all that, Jo'burg is undoubtedly one of the world's most dangerous cities. Just ask those Taiwanese tourists who got out of their hire car to take close-up snaps of tawny beasts at the Lion Park a few years back. Actually, ask what's left of them. And did you know the chances of being felled by cardiac arrest from devouring a mountain of meat at one of our world class restaurants has been statistically proven to be 33.3% higher in Jozi than in any other major urban centre not built upon a significant waterway? It's true. I swear. I read it in a British tabloid.

Having recently spent two years comfortably cocooned in small town America, I'm only too aware of how little much of the outside world knows about this country [or here or even here - David]. The American channel I used to work for has a massive battalion of employees descending on World Cup country. It has also apparently issued a recommendation to its staff to stay in their hotels when not working.

Given that said corporation is headquartered in a small town which many say is "best viewed through the rear-view mirror", I find the recommendation, if it's true, to be utterly astounding. In fact I don't believe it is true. Contrary to the global stereotype, the best Americans are some of the sharpest people in the world. The fact they have bought most tickets in this World Cup proves the point.

Of course I have only lived in Johannesburg, city of terror and dread, virtually all my life, so don't have the in-depth knowledge of say, an English broadsheet journalist who has been in the country for the weekend, but nevertheless I will share some of my observations gleaned over the years.

Any foreign tourist or media representative who is worried about his safety in South Africa should have a word with the Lions rugby fans from last year, or the Barmy Army cricket supporters (lilywhite hecklers by day, slurring, lager-fuelled lobsters by night). They managed just fine, just like the hundreds of thousands of fans who have streamed into the country over the past fifteen years for various World Cups, Super 14 matches, TriNations tests and other international events. Negligible crime incidents involving said fans over said period of time.

Trivia question: which country has hosted the most global sporting events over the past decade and a half? You don't need me to answer that, do you?

In addition. Don't fret when you see a gaggle of freelance salesmen converge on your car at the traffic lights (or robots as we like to call them) festooned with products. You are not about to be hijacked. Here in Mzansi (nickname for SA) we do a lot of our purchasing at robots. Here you can stock up on flags, coat hangers, batteries, roses for the wife you forgot to kiss goodbye this morning and a whole host of useful merchandise.

Similarly, that guy who runs up as you park the rental car outside the pub intends no malice. He's your car guard. Give him a buck or two and your vehicle will be safe while you refuel for hours on our cheap, splendid beer. Unless someone breaks into it, of course.

We drive on the left in this country. Exercise caution when crossing the road at a jog-trot with 15 kilograms of camera gear on your back. Exercise common sense full stop. Nothing more. Nothing less. If you want to leave wads of cash in your hotel room like our Colombian friends, don't be surprised if it grows wings.

Bottomline. Get out there and breathe in great lusty lungfuls of this amazing nation. Tuck into our world-class food and wines. Disprove the adage that white men can't dance at our throbbing, vibrant night-clubs. Learn to say hello in all eleven official languages. Watch at least one game in a township. You will not be robbed and shot. You will be welcomed like a lost family member and looked after as if you are royalty. Ask those Bulls rugby fans who journeyed to Soweto recently.

With a dollop of the right attitude, this country will change your life.

It's Africa's time. Vacate your hotel room. Join the party.

Waka waka eh eh.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Design note...

To my dismay, I recently discovered that this website may not be rendering properly on your monitor. Here's the deal: I use a widescreen (16:9) monitor, unlike the regular 4:3 size. While, imho, the site looks very good in widescreen, it does not look that good elsewhere! Examples are some of the gadgets on the left side are cutting off, pictures that should be side-to-side are on top of each other, and large type sizes just plain look ugly.

So there you go. I apologize for prior offenses in this regard, and promise that I will do what I can to cater to all monitors. You can assist in this quest - if you see something that looks weird, please post a comment to that effect, telling me exactly what the problem is. Thanks!

Syphilis / Sodomized

This one speaks for itself... Find more like this here.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Circumcision: Just say no

^ Click the pic for animation ^
I've always been firmly against what I consider to be a barbaric practice: male circumcision. (Female circumcision is arguably worse, but that's a separate topic.)

Did you know, for example, that the male foreskin, when laid flat, measures about 3x5 inches - the size of an index card? And that this is where most of the nerve endings are? While most men don't take a strong stand against circumcision, it's mainly because they don't know what they are missing - typically, guys are cut at birth.

It seems the standard reason for fathers to cut their son is because they are afraid their son will worry that his penis "doesn't look the same as dad's" - how ridiculous is that? I mean, think about it - if the kid is old enough to notice the difference, then he is certainly old enough to have the ins and outs (as it were!) explained to him.

There are a number of websites devoted to the topic of circumcision and the harm that it causes. I urge all expectant parents to check them out before allowing the doctors to whack off a significant part of their little boy's anatomy. (I'm proud to say that I have persuaded at least three expectant fathers to avoid having it done at birth and instead let their sons make the decision when they are older.) An excellent place to start is - they have a number of links to other good sites. They also have a link to this scientific study (PDF) which shows, totally objectively, the damage this practice causes. I urge you to research this.

Many cut men nowadays are either thinking seriously about, or actually doing, foreskin restoration - non-surgically. While the process takes time, it seems that the results are worthwhile. Here is an excellent video about this topic. It is heartening to see a major news corporation (Canada) dealing with the topic in an honest, forthright way, without any squeamishness about showing penises. Or is that peni? Penii? Who knows...

Monday, July 5, 2010

Day 5...

Mild setback this weekend, but hanging in. Just dealing with the expected cravings. As you can tell, not in a blogging mood!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Day 2...

...and hangin' in! Cravings not serious. Without thinking, I picked the pack up a couple of times, but caught myself. Not in the mood for blogging today!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

And only one (other) thing on my mind today...

I've done it - today is my first day of not smoking! Thus far, no problems besides a headache from hell. I'm not (yet?) craving nicotine. Time will tell - as it always does!