Saturday, October 27, 2007

Only 77 shopping days left...

I wonder who the first person was to figure out that you could eat oysters? Something so disgusting, you'd figure that the shell was more useful than the innards, but there ya go. Somebody had to be the first person to try. The crap they give out Nobel Prizes for now is nothing compared to what those people must have done.
It's been raining like Hell around here lately. That Forrest Gump rain:
"We been through every kind of rain there is. Little bitty stingin' rain... and big ol' fat rain. Rain that flew in sideways. And sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath."
Friday night, coming home in some big ol' fat rain (the kind they advertise in those SUV commercials) which was a coincidence because that's where i found myself - behind a big ol' fat SUV. Doing 30 miles per hour. That kind of defeats the purpose, I thought. America has been sold a bill of goods that these huge vehicles are safer, yet people will always drive like they don't know. The 30-thousand dollar SUV and me, in the compact American car were doing the same rate of speed on the road, and both of us arrived safely. How many SUV's could you sell if you said, "Just drive cautiously based on the conditions, and you'll be fine"? Not as many as you could if you scare people into buying them.
I stopped in The Home Depot today and as soon as I got through the door, the most disgusting thing greeted me - Christmas decorations. Christmas decorations for sale. Trees, lights, giant lawn snow globes and inflatable Tony Stewart cars that somehow scream, "It's Christmas!" Right next to them were a few Hallowe'en decorations, with Hallowe'en 4 days away and Christmas...
Say it with screwdrivers.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The good news and the bad news

Usually, people take days off work to de-stress or take a little vacation someplace. Me, not so much.
As you know, the two major events in my generall non-eventful life revolve around my burgeoning Ebola business and my daily caretaking of my aging cat. Today, I had to take the kitty for some more bloodwork to find out about his kidney condition. The poor thing is traumatized by car trips, probably because it always ends up in the same place - Raccoon Valley Animal Hospital. They've taken good care of the guy since 1991, and at this point, he knows what's going on before it happens. Generally, it means dragging him out from under the bed to put him in his cat carrier box for the trip.
This visit was decidedly more upbeat. Since he wouldn't eat the prescribed diet food, I've been feeding him a paste with potassium and vitamins that the vet congratulated me for finding, and encouraged me to give him more. His weight is back close to normal (thanks, Fancy Feast!) and my idea of feeding him as much fish with Omega3 oils (like salmon and trout) turned out to be well received too. It's good to know that I'm doing the right thing, and as the Vet said, "You don't know if you're buying him a day, ten or another year, but the one thing we know is that it can't hurt." He'll turn 17 in February, and she agreed that we can't medicate him to the point that he's miserable because, after all, would we want to be fed food we don't like or forced to take medication we don't want? There are 'quality of life' issues to address, and at this point, she agrees that we should just make him as happy as possible. That's why I like this Vet.
Meanwhile, he has developed a minor heart murmur. If I want, I can bring him back for an ultrasound that will pinpoint the problem. Heart murmurs in cats are similar to humans, so it may be practical to find out the problem. The trouble is, the test costs $400 and will ultimately result in more medication. I'll have to make another decision soon, I guess.
His blood pressure and temperature was normal, and the bloodwork results are going to come back tomorrow, so stay tuned. She told me that he wasn't that far along in his kidney disease, and that with some of the things I've been doing, it's possible that his numbers will have stabilized.
Over on Ebola, I had put my Axim handheld computer up for bids, which was to be one of the big-ticket items on the auction block. Last night, I flipped it on to take out all my personal info and re-set the password. I should say, I tried to flip it on. I had it on the charger for hours, and still nothing. I had to go on the Ebola site and pull the listing, since I didn't want to sell a non-working handheld PC. With the pending vet visit, I put off goofing with it until I got home.
I figured I'd have to ship it back to Dell for service, but - check this out. I bought it on October 24, 2006; and it carries a one-year warranty. How f'ed up is that? I wondered if they programmed in a system failure for a year and a day after the warranty expires?
I'm like a dog with a bone when it comes to these things. I'll figure it out if it kills me. So, after much wrangling and button-pushing, I finally got it to fire up and put it back on the charger, re-listed it and sat down to try to relax and enjoy the rest of my day. I hope it sells before I have to turn it back on!
Computers and cats. Sooner or later, they'll both kill you.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

An apple a day keeps the squirrels away.

Here's an interesting idea - I think. Newspapers hire all sorts of columnists: Economists, advice counselors, experts in various fields and people from both sides of the political fence. There is one group that is underrepresented that has a significant voice in America.
The lunatic fringe.
Hire a deranged street person with typing skills to do a weekly column. Literally, the man on the street. Screw Steve Allen, he had a nice suit and a TV show. Real men on the street have an intersting perspective and I think we need to hear it. I'm not talking about the violent ones who go back to grammar school and strangle their 4th grade teacher, I mean those just plain goofballs who are there because they think it's a real home. I think it would be very entertaining.
I'll even start the first column for you as kind of a sample:
Today, the squirrels stole my corn. The bastards tricked me. And where are my oatmeal cookies? I'm checking your poop for that corn. I'll get it back one way or another. Then, when that Goddamned kid with the fake quarters comes back, I'm throwing a squirrel at him. I think that little prick took my cookies.
Or ... maybe they could just re-print some of my old blog posts.
This next one, I had to read twice, because at first I thought they were talking about something else altogether:
LA PAZ (Reuters) - Prostitutes in the Bolivian city of El Alto sewed their lips together on Wednesday as part of a hunger strike to demand that the mayor reopen brothels and bars ordered closed after violent protests by residents last week.

Oh ... a hunger strike.

Remember last week when I said that there's a new diet craze every week? This week, it's apples. People who eat an apple a half hour before lunch consume 187 fewer calories during their regular meal, "they" say. So now, the latest thing is to eat an apple before lunch so you'll - um - eat less. That's right. You know me, and you know that I can't take that on face value.

Certainly, apples are a great food, and we're probably better off eating one than some of the crap we throw down at lunch - that's a given.

However ...

... a medium apple has 125 calories, so you're really only "saving" 80 calories. Why didn't the article mention that part? ...

... I wonder quietly to myself.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

What's in between all that space up there?

I'm an American, so I'm supposed to be watching the World Series. Instead, I'm writing this after putting some more junk on Ebola. With 3 to 6 days left on the crap that's up there now, I've got $60 in bids, and they don't end for 3 more days - so that's looking good. I wonder how long I can continue to do this? I should probably be keeping track of this so I can write How I Became an eBay Millionaire. Oh, I am keeping track.
Mostly, I'm saving the money because things are really starting to suck at work and I might need some fallback cash. Unless my co-workers are reading, in which case [thumb in the air] everything is swell!
Kitty goes for more bloodwork on Friday for his kidney disease. I'm not expecting any good news, but the good news is that he looks and seems healthy. I don't notice all that extra peeing that the doc said he'd do, so maybe it's not that far along? I can lie to myself until the bloodwork comes back.
I feel badly for those people in Southern California, having to go through those wildfires, but I think in some ways it puts things in the same perspective as do tornadoes, snow storms, earthquakes and hurricanes. That is, we're sort of like a fungus, clinging onto this host planet that gives us life. However, whenever it wants, it can kick us out - and these are not-so-subtle ways of reminding us of that.
Just like when you forget your wife's birthday, and she screams at you. She really wants to hit you with a chair, but screaming will work. She can kick you out, but she just screams. The screaming is supposed to make us remember and care a little more about what is important. The earth screams sometimes, but we aren't listening.
We will, though - once we're kicked out and it's too late.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

From trash to cash

I have a level of admiration for those people I see wandering the streets with all of their worldly possessions in a shopping cart. It must be nice to be able to hold everything that is important to you in a 3 by 5 foot container with little wheels, convenient for travel.
I have no such luxury. My worldly possessions are scattered. Some are still at my mother’s house, some in my subterranean condo storage area, some in my automobile and even more in my domicile, which is neither well suited for piles of stuff nor fitted with little wheels.
The thing that never occurred to me as I was accumulating all of these things was, “What am I ever going to do with all of this crap?” At one point – usually while I was amassing it – I figured that I would either continue to enjoy looking at it or listening to it or I would leave it to some close relation in a big estate transaction.
Now that I have determined that I will not have any close relations to burden them with, nor do I particularly enjoy listening to or looking at them, the collected possessions have become more of an encumbrance than an enchantment.
I’d like to have back all of the money I spent on these things – CDs, records, books, photographic equipment and [egad] boxes upon boxes of sports cards – but my Delorian is in the shop, so the time travel bit is up in the air right now. That’s where eBay comes in.

The online auction web site was founded in San Jose, California on September 3, 1995 by computer programmer Pierre Omidyar as AuctionWeb, part of a larger personal site that included, among other things, Omidyar's own tongue-in-cheek tribute to the Ebola virus.
So, that’s it. I’m going to call it Ebola from now on.
I have bought from eBay before, but for whatever reason, I’ve seldom sold anything there. I have a Staples store nearby and a regional USPS distribution center 5 miles away that is open 24/7 with one of those automated machines, so there really isn’t any practical excuse.
Over the past month or so, I’ve listed about 20 items a week. Most of them sell, some for more than I would have thought and others for less. Sales are quickly approaching four-digit territory and I still have closets full of stuff remaining.
So far, it’s been more profitable than a part-time job (which was "Plan B") and since I can do it from home, I get to hang with the cat, listen to the radio and drink beer while I’m “working.” It’s a bit time-consuming, but once I get into a rhythm, I can scan or photograph items and have a dozen things listed on the site in a couple of hours.
Setting the start price is the tough part. I don’t see tons of bidders, so I don’t want someone walking away with a ’65 Topps Brooks Robinson card for 99 cents. Somewhere, there falls a happy medium between what it’s worth and what people will pay. I think that’s the hardest part.
Eventually, I’ll be motivated enough to start one of those “one cent” auctions for the sheer pleasure of ridding myself of yet another box of 700 baseball cards. Better to sell cheap than to burn, which is a pity.
My goal is to get down to shopping cart size. Then, I’ll sell the cart.

Monday, October 22, 2007

I'm going to call my lawyer as soon as he gets out of law school.

Regardless of what the jackasses at CNN or Travel & Leisure Magazine would tell you, even though I'm from Philadelphia, I like to think of myself as worldly (if not cynical) about things, especially things that come in the postal mail or the electronic mail. That's why I'm a little miffed at using my time and energy opening this piece of crap that arrived at the home on Monday.
The object is for it to look like a recall notice, including the "Your Vehicle" part. I haven't received a recall notice in a while, but I'd be willing to bet it comes from "Program Headquarters" or something like that. What should have tipped me off to the envelope's contents was the 31 cents postage - the sure sign of bulk mail - another name for crap mail.
But I opened it anyway, because I figured, if my engine is about to catch fire or my seat belts won't work, I should know about it.
As you can see, and I did too, this letter says nothing about my vehicle, nor does it contain any important information. It does, however, contain the name of the person whose desk this came from. That's a handy piece of information to have. At the bottom is his stylized facsimile signature. Nice.
It should come as no surprise to anyone (least of all me) that car dealers and the people who work for them are the textbook definition of weasel. It isn't enough that the vehicles they sell are obscenely overpriced, they have to make it as difficult a process as possible. In my dream world, we'd be able to buy a new vehicle the same way we buy a CD or a shirt. Find it, click on it and wait for someone to drop it off at our house. There are places, I know, but I won't be satisfied until the world is rid of car dealerships altogether. I believe there is an unimaginable savings waiting for the first manufacturer who opens a store where people can come to look and drive without buying. They go home, find the car they want and buy it like a pair of shoes. It can be done. The best part would be not having to deal with the jackasses who think they're doing us a favor by allowing us to buy one of their cars.
What this letter does indirectly, is insure that I will never buy a vehicle from Country Ford Mercury Jeep (can't make up their minds).
I contacted the local Better Business Bureau and filed a complaint about their deceitful business practices. [Your complaint number is: 5639701].
Today, I received in the postal mail, a letter. On the envelope, it said, "IMPORTANT: INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR VEHICLE ENCLOSED. PLEASE READ THE ENCLOSED INFORMATION CAREFULLY". Since my vehicle is only 2 years old, I wondered if it was a recall notice or some other bit of information about my car. The envelope had only 31 cents postage, which should have been a tip-off, but I felt that I should open it, since it seemed to contain something important. What was inside was a sales pitch from Country Ford Mercury Jeep in Elmer, NJ. There was nothing about my vehicle, only an offer (personally addressed to me) to attend a "Test Market Program" between October 24 and 27, 2007.
This practice is deceitful in two ways. One, the return address on the envelope read: Program Headquarters, 391 Roberts Rd., Oldsmar, FL 34677. There was no indication that it was from Elmer, NJ.
Second, the blatant lie on the front of the envelope using the words "your vehicle" are clearly deceptive. Even though this is a minor nuisance in the grand scheme, I still feel strongly that such advertising and business practices should be against the law - if they aren't already - and some action should be brought against anyone who participates in such a program.
You might get a letter too, Ivan. It will say, IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR UPCOMING LEGAL ACTION or From the desk of the New Jersey Attorney General ... something like that.
It'll have a 42-cent stamp on it too.
You betcha.

Does this blog make me look ugly?

Have I told you lately how much I love Philadelphia and how proud I am to have been born there and still live a ladder's view away from the city? I'm about to.

PHILADELPHIA, PA (Reuters) - Philadelphia is home to the least attractive people in the United States, a survey of visitors and residents showed on Friday. The city of more than 1.5 million people was also found to be among the least stylish, least active, least friendly and least worldly, according to the "America's Favorite Cities" survey by Travel & Leisure magazine and CNN Headline News.

Screw you, CNN. It takes a lot of guts to sit there in Atlanta, of all places, and tell us that we are not stylish or worldly.

But T & L magazine editor Amy Farley pointed out the results don't mean people in Philadelphia are ugly or the city is a bad place to visit.
"We were asking people to vote on attractiveness, not unattractiveness. Travel & Leisure editors believe there are a lot of attractive people in Philadelphia," she said. "The relative attractiveness of its residents is only a minuscule factor in evaluating a city's merit."

So, why bring it up at all? And boy, isn't it great to hear that the editors believe that there are a lot of attractive people here. My life is complete.
I've never figured out what all those "most attractive" resident surveys were all about. Who is judging this and how can they possibly rank cities? Here's a news flash: There are ugly people everywhere and attractive people everywhere. There's no point in a list saying that one city is more attractive than another, and I'll put Philadelphia up against any other city on your list for arts, culture, sports, entertainment or food.
Visitors have no perspective on anything after spending a vacation here, and residents have no perspective because they only know Philadelphia.
Your survey is judged as being irrelevant.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A zero tolerance policy on tolerance

For those of you who think that those of us in the Northeast are progressive blue-staters who have a firm grasp on the concept of reality ... I submit this:

DENNIS TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) ― A hard lesson for a second-grader in Cape May County.
Seven-year-old Kyle Walker was suspended for one day this month because he drew a stick figure shooting a gun. His mother, Shirley McDevitt, says officials at the Dennis Township Primary School told her the drawing violated a zero-tolerance policy for guns.
McDevitt says her son told her the drawing showed a water gun and not a firearm. But school officials won't comment on the matter.
This isn't the first time a New Jersey students has been suspended for depictions of weapons. Four kindergarten boys were suspended in 2000 for playing cops and robbers, even though they were using their fingers as guns.
To be fair, Dennis Township is about as hickville as we get around here, outside of lower Cumberland County, but still.
I know I'm old now, but I remember playing with those little green Army men when I was a kid. It seems stupid, but I used to set them up and move them around. How easily entertained could I be?
I also had a bazooka that fired plastic mortar shells. Two you could load in and another spare one sat on top. It was spring-loaded, and the things went about twenty feet. You'll put an eye out.
I had little plastic guns that all the kids in the neighborhood had, and we'd run around with them playing God knows what and making that stupid ka-pow sound or the one where it sounds like you're spitting. I was a pacifist when I was a kid, and I grew up to be a disgusting pacifist.
The point is, that all this school violence didn't happen because a kid drew a gun or played with plastic Army men. It happened because kids are screwed up. They've always been screwed up, only now it seems like the stuff they use to wreak their havoc is a million times easier to get when we were kids. Everything is.
It seems like a little more of being a kid is taken away from kids every time some anti-social wacko decides to act out. Even if it's 10 a year, the percentage is so low that even if you thought you knew who the oddballs were, chances are they're smart enough to disguise their behavior until they make good on their wishes.
It makes sense to have a zero tolerance policy for guns, but when you start having zero tolerance policies on imagination and expression, you're crossing the line.

Then the butterflies appeared, and all hope seemed lost.

If you get outdoors between now and Monday, cast a gaze in the general direction of Philadelphia. You'll see something that looks like a cross between a tornado and a nuclear blast. Is it global warming? A shift in the tectonic plates? No, the Eagles lost today.
Not only did they lose, but they lost in such an ignominious way that fans were seen in the stands, gazing dumfoundedly at the sky and wondering, "How did that just happen?" A team with one of the worst offenses in the NFL - the Bears - drove the ball 97 yards with less than two minutes to go and scored the winning touchdown.
A team with one of the worst defenses in the NFL - the Bears - held the Eagles to 3 field goals and a touchdown, and followed that with some questionable offensive and defensive calls that Eagles fans are probably filling out weapons permits right now. They're serious.
When that hazy cloud hovers over the greater Delaware Valley tomorrow, you know what's going on. Fans around here get overly excited when the Eagles win and overly down when the team loses. They're as manic as they come. It's great when they're winning, but it gets ugly when they lose.
They're grumpy, open to ridicule by transplanted fans of other teams, angry and generally mopey for days, until the next loss or win.
I'm not willing to give that much emotional power to something that I neither control nor profit from. It's also the reason I don't get all that excited about work, either. Because, when you add it all up I really don't "profit" from work. It creates more problems than it solves. But that's beside the point.
Judging from what I could see on the TV, the football field at Lincoln Financial Field appears to be painted dirt. From the ground-level shots it looked like they were running on the beach. What's interesting is that it hasn't been that cold here, so I wonder why they can't grow grass.
But the dirt field didn't gross me out as much as analyst Brian Baldinger's crooked right pinky finger. It isn't just kind of crooked. It's crooked to the extent that it is L-shaped. A real L made out of a person's finger. Out and to the right. I noticed it when they had that little booth shot before the start of the second half. I couldn't stop looking at it and I couldn't have been more repulsed. That's a strange combination.
Of course, I watched the entire Eagles game, too, and that was equally repulsive.