Thursday, 30 April 2009

The Moon in All It's Glory

I took images all month of the Moon in its many phases. I love seeing the Moon at all times, but somehow I only take it in its full phase, which is completely unfair. The Moon looks glorious at all times; when it is a sliver hanging low in the crepescular light of the coming day, when it is half-full and waxing towards the most amazing showing, and when its full beacon shines to light the entire night sky. So here it is.

(I will tell you right now that it is very hard to get a good shot of it in its sliver phase! That was the best of several images.)

On 4 April 2009, I took this image. It was easy to get, and the Moon looks gorgeous. It looks kind of like a weird bowl that was rolling about. It was waxing, heading inexorably to its full stage. I've never ridden on a night where we looked at the waxing quarter-stage Moon and said to one another, "Uh-oh... it's gonna be a busy night..."

For some reason, the Moon wasn't really playing nice on 11 April 2009 and it wasn't full - not at that moment or that day. It was cloudy and crappy on the 10th and the Moon hit full at 10:56 - not its visible moment. Despite the disparate amount of overcast viewing moments, I managed to see a lot of the Moon. Yay!

The Moon waning in the morning on 18 April 2009. Sometimes I get the shots just right! The perfect sky, the perfect Moon, the best image. I love this picture.

The Moon is just a breath away from being new, or completely occludded from sight by the sun and daylight. I miss it when it is the before, the day of and the day after new. I was up each morning looking for it, but alas, too close to new is the same as new. Hard to believe that on the 24th this was all that was left to see.

What an Ugy Scene!

Well, Melissa Rivers was fired in the last episode by Donald Trump. She certainly put on quite a show and so did her mother, Joan. Yikes! Annie Duke is a snake, yes, but she maneouvered herself into a position where at least one person she will be trying to beat will be an easy mark. Brande is still an idiot. But boy, did she suddenly grow some fangs in that boardroom!

I can't wait to see next week's show!

Article - John & Kate Plus 8 Bad Judgement

This is a cheesy tidbit, but I was never a fan of this guy anyway.
"Jon & Kate Plus 8 dad Jon Gosselin is admitting he "showed poor judgment" by leaving a bar at 2 a.m. with a mystery woman and without his wedding band -- while his wife Kate was across the country promoting a book."Like most people, I have male and female friends, and I'm not going to end my friendships just because I'm on TV," the dad of 8 tells Extra. "However, being out with them late at night showed poor judgment on my part.

"What makes me sick is that my careless behavior has put my family in this uncomfortable position," he continues. "My family is the most important thing in my life and it kills me that these allegations have hurt them." A clubgoer tells that Jon "could barely walk" after spending nearly three hours with a mystery woman he referred to as "babe." After being spotted by photographers, the two hastily sped off in a car without turning on the headlights.

Jon told a magazine in an emailed statement that he went to Legends Lounge -- near the $1.3 million family home in Wernersville, Pennsylvania -- that night to "speak to the owner. A friend of mine wanted to check out my car, so I let her drive it to her car."

But this isn't the first time Jon has seemingly strayed. In February, the 32-year-old was spotted flirting with -- and even attempting to kiss -- coeds at Juniata College, multiple students confirm. (He denied any wrongdoing.) He told one coed "he was getting divorced." In the May Ladies Home Journal, he says, "I always thought I would be, like, 54 years old and marry a 19-year-old or something."

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Watching Celebrity Apprentice Again!

Yep. It's that time of the week (not really, but that sounds good, right?)

I enjoy this show greatly but at the same time, I sometimes want to slap the celebrities. I love Joan Rivers, I love Clint Black. Jesse James is normally very likeable, but this time, not so much. And the other team, ye gods. Brande Something (I'm sorry, I just can't remember names well) and Annie... Annie... Duke - are snakes. They are imature and whispering to each other and overly ass-kissing. Melissa Rivers may be a little overly sensitive, but as much I am not a big fan of hers, she's completely right about this.

Clint is the one I'm most impressed with. He is managing the team and the project really, really well. He is very aware of what he did wrong the first time. He is making a marked effort to be open and attentive. Clint would ask questions and ask for input and Jesse - surprisingly - was complete unreceptive. He was even unresponsive. He started out negative, and continued that way. Jesse has an unreasonable and to me sudden and strong dislike of Clint, but I give the man a ton of credit. So did Joan.

It was an amazing thing.

The other team... was disfunctional to point of being ludicrous. Brande did not utilize Melissa at all. Is she annoying? Yes! Absolutely. There is no argument on this point. However, she knows a lot about this kind of work. Annie and Brande are absolutely being grabby with the tasks and fake-friendly. I would have actually respected them more had they admitted that they were ousting Melissa. But they both said together and seperately that they weren't at all out to get her.

Please don't lie. It is not admirable.

And Jesse James! My gods, I always hate that people surprise me, but they do. All the time. And he surprised the crap out of me. Now I always have ideas on who should be fired. I would stand up and put Jesse up for termination immediately. He was insubordinate and openly hostile. He called Clint stupid several times. He actually cursed. He spent all season as this quiet, unassuming guy and suddenly we all got to see the monster. I am completely shocked.

Maybe the show works so well because the celebrities all reach a comfort level with the cameras, so much so that the ugly side of everyone appeared.

Melissa was given nothing to do and then when they met with the financial show guy, Annie did nothing but talk herself up; Brande said nothing; and Melissa got in the final zing. I actually have to give her super-high marks for this... When the-- ah, here's his name-- Jim Cramer, asked them, "If each one of ya just had one wish for me to say in yer, eh, for each of you, what would it be?", Brande stuck up one finger and stated, "Good leader - for me." Annie said, "I worked my ass off and did some amazing branding." And Melissa? She said, "And you know what... what word I'd really like to hear? [a comment I couldn't hear] Is that it was equal."

You could see - very visably see - Annie wanting to take umbrage. She even said, "I swear I wanted to punch her in the face." HA! WAY TO GO, MELISSA! And Brande agreed! She's not bright, but she was smart enough to see that. Let's fire both Jesse and Annie, and see what happens. Brande will lead whoever is calling the shots. Annie will take anything over and then throw whoever she can under the bus. She's been doing that all along.

Down to the presentation, Clint does well with this. He has an adorable face. He is warm and friendly. The four-page spread was excellent! They branded it like crazy without it being too much. For the other team, Annie was dry and boring. Unfortunately,so was their advert. The first three pages were terrible. The fourth page was actually quite good. But the other team won this as far as I'm concerned.

Brande played up the confidence well and they all sounded positive. Clint tried to be positive, but really couldn't pull it off with Jesse. And Jesse immediately threw him under the bus. He is the man and he knows all about magazines. He has a magazine. Maybe he does but he has staff that does it.

Poor Joan. She had to say something about the team mates, but really couldn't say anything too clearly about either party. I would have been very clear about the situation.

Clint WON! YES!

Jesse just got spared the bullet. The ensuing bloodbath should be very interesting.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

A Letter to Chadwicks Clothing Catalogue

Dear Chadwicks,

I am writing to you in regards to your catalogue of late April 2009.

Just a few small pointers. When selling clothes to "women", the nice way that the clothing industry sizes "plus-sized" women, you might want to show a plus-sized woman in your ultra slim tummy-control pants (pages 24 and 25). Show us - in this case, your target audience, how it slims and controls the tummy. The size 0 or 2 woman wearing those pants is not a selling point. Take it from a plus-sized woman, this is not convincing.

I will admit that I plan to purchase some. However, if I did not work for a private club I'd never crawl out of my EMT pants or jeans. It is your good fortune that I work for a place that demands I look at least semi-presentable fashion. This is a wonderful job, so I grudgingly agree to it.

These pants come in my size and look more than semi-presentable. But even so, this is a good suggestion. Fat women don't respond to skinny women selling tummy-control pants for the obvious reasons.

We aren't skinny. Heck, we aren't even slender or svelte or anything like that.

I do understand that today's society is built on being OK with yourself. But marketing demands that you sell tummy-controlling pants that actually controls one's tummy. Short of being strapped into a leather waistband, I feel completely positive that your pants will not allow me to appear a couple of sizes smaller. If you have pants like that where I won't have a huge roll above the pant's waistline or a huge problem inhaling in shallow, panting breaths, I really want those.

And this brings us to the preponderance of "gathered"clothing. Shirts/blouses, skirts, dresses, all with gathered necklines, under the breasts, the bottoms, etc. Another thumbs down. I will assuredly not be purchasing those.

On page 26, there are pants with bottoms so big they can be used to smuggle children in/out of places. When did that become fashionable? Yikes!

On the plus side (not size), your clothes are good quality, pleasant and reasonably priced. So you still get my business. But I won't be able to get much - it just is not calling out to me this time.
Kind regards,

Aislinge Kellogg
Plus-Sized Customer

Article - Planets in View 1 May

Oh, sign me up!

"Once again in May, five planets will stretch along the early morning horizon.

On Friday, around 5:30 a.m., Mars stands right in the east, and as you move your gaze toward the south, you will see Venus, Uranus and Neptune (for these two, you'll need binoculars or a telescope), and then Jupiter in the southeast.

At the very end of the month, Mercury joins this array, making an appearance right on the eastern horizon. You also may see Mercury near the Pleiades in the constellation Taurus about 9:15 p.m. during the first week of May.
Venus will be at its brightest this year for the first two weeks of May at magnitude -4.7. If you then spot Saturn in Leo some evening this month, you will have seen all eight planets — after looking down upon the Earth.

The dwarf planet Pluto is also in that lineup, high and to the south of Jupiter, but very hard to find, even with a star chart. You would need the light-gathering power of a 12-inch aperture telescope, and a 9 mm eyepiece, which would give you 182x, and a very dark, clear sky. You would then have to find the faintest object in the exact spot in the sky among 27 brighter points of light in your field of view. That would be Pluto, at magnitude 14. No wonder it wasn't found until 1931.
The waning crescent moon passes through this planetary lineup May 12-21. May 17 at 4:30 a.m. will be a great opportunity to see the last quarter moon, Neptune and Jupiter with a pair of 7x50 binoculars. Look right in the southeast about 20 degrees above the horizon.

May's meteor shower, the Eta Aquarids, rains down over three nights, May 4-6. The peak may be at midnight May 5, with 10 to 15 meteors an hour. This meteor shower is one of two that originate from the debris trail of Halley's Comet, the other being the Orionids in October.

Q: I read where the Mayan calendar will end in 2012, and a lot of Web sites say there are other heavenly signs pointing toward some sort of worldwide cataclysm. Will this happen in three years?
A: Once again, no evidence from any scientific discipline suggests any disaster occurring in 2012. I get this question over and over from my e-mail, phone calls and after almost every planetarium presentation, so I'll answer it one more time.

First of all, in 2012, the Mayan calendar simply starts a new cycle of 7,885 years. It does not end, much in the way that when your car's odometer reaches 100,000 miles, your car does not stop (well, maybe mine will). The odometer just rolls over and begins again at zero. The other ''heavenly signs'' are equally unfounded.

What will happen, at least astronomically, are two partial lunar eclipses, an annular solar eclipse and a total solar eclipse — none of which will be visible from our area."

Saturday, 25 April 2009

For Better or For Worse - Gone!

I received an e-mail from Amazon asking me to rate my purchases - I'm sorry, review my purchases - and I clicked on the first one, for For Better or For Worse - Just a Simple Wedding, the last book in a 30 year series. At least that long. And I began to cry.

Would you like to see my review?

"I will miss the release of new books yearly updating me on Michael, Liz and April Patterson and of course Elly and John. They have been a part of my life since Keep the Home Fries Burning and I was able to find all the books going back. While I've never wanted children I learned about all the aspects - positive and negative, easy and hard, fun and trying - about the process.

Lynn Johnston has brought love, life and dealing with it all to the rest of us with fun, charm, tears, laughter and everything in between. I loved this book but it breaks my heart that it is the last one. But I have the whole collection to read anytime and I will reread all of them the rest of my days.

Thank you, Lynn. You have made the world a much more magic place."

If you have never read the comics or don't like them, well, don't read it. But you'll be missing out. Lynn Johnston took us through life with Michael and Liz when they were little kids - Michael, age four and Lizzie, age two. In this book they are in their 30s. Michael is a successful author, married his grade school sweetheart Deanna whom he found again in college, and has two small children, Meredith and Robin. Liz is marrying her high school boyfriend Anthony who has been married to a very wretched woman and had a wonderful daughter with her of whom he has custody.

And Elly and John had April when Michael was in high school. I think Liz may have been in high school as well. I may not recall that incorrectly, but they were nearly adults or they were just adults. April was born on 1 April 1991.

These people - and they are people - have been a part of my life since 1985 (the first book I got was actually The Last Straw the year before Keep the Home Fries Burning. They have been great friends, as all book characters have in a series that one loves and reads over and over. I have a few families - Menolly from the Dragonsong series; Belgarion from The Belgariad and Malloreon series (David Eddings, bless him, writes trilogies with five books - you gotta love that man); Victoria Austin, in a multitude of Madeliene L'Engle's books, and others.

And I miss the Pattersons already.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Be Good to Your Mother (Earth): Celebrate Earth Day


In some ways, the earth is like a well-meaning mom, providing healthy and important stuff like air, water, and living things. And in return—well, we are often not as grateful as we could be. But Earth Day is our chance to show our appreciation for the planet.

Roots of Earth DayThe very first Earth Day, back in 1970, marked the beginning of the modern environmental movement. Before then, there was public concern about pollution, but no way to show it. According to Kathleen Rogers, head of the Earth Day Network, "It wasn't uncommon in some cities during rush hour to be standing on a street corner and not be able to see across the street." Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin asked Congress to officially declare April 22 Earth Day. That first year, 20 million people participated. Since then, it's gone global, with a billion people in over 180 countries doing something in honor of the earth.

The children really are our futureMaybe not surprisingly, those who stand to lose the most are fueling the most searches around the day. A sizeable quarter of all queries are being conducted by kids 17 and younger. Small friends of the earth are heading online before heading out, to look up all kinds of ways to celebrate the day. Eco-searches are surging on "earth day activities," "earth day crafts," "earth day coloring pages,"and "earth day projects."

Green is goodThose who want Earth Day to last all year long are conscientiously querying "energy saving tips," "reusable bags," and "how to build a compost bin." U.S. News & World Report gives five tips for going green, such as switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs and moving to low-flow shower heads. Yahoo! Green has the scoop on Earth Day deals, so you can save some of your own green. Just don't forget to thank your mother (earth).

Monday, 20 April 2009

Continuing "Back Again with Celebrity Apprentice"

As you recall, I was falling asleep watching the 12 April episode of Celebrity Apprentice and so did finish writing about it. That was past the mid-way point, with about 45 minutes left to go.

The contestants all left the boardroom and Joan talked to Annie about how she did not say what she had told Joan the previous night. She did not. When asked by Donald about what she thought of Brandy, she made some sort of spineless, wishy-washy statement about her not being... it was some kind of poker analogy (I guess) but it was not a strong statement and did not convey any real intent to anyone. I guess I should back track and get that comment...

Oh, yes. The losing team had to explain the loss. At one point, George (I don't remember his last name but he has worked for Donald Trump for years and has been on the show when it was just The Apprentice and was a long, on-air job interview for candidates to prove their worth to take over a building or something of that nature in Mr. Trump's employ. He's really a great guy, and very observant) said to Melissa (after Donald asked her if any of the blame fell on her shoulders and she of course denied it), "No, no, no, you lost focus. If you spent a lot of time on the presentation, you might have ended up with a superior product."

Melissa said, "Wait, can I just defend myself, please, George, completely respectfully?"

(In my line of work I hear statements like that and immediately I know that the person attempting his or her own defense is nervous and leaving lip prints all over my butt. I hate fawning statements like that.)

She continued, "I could not do anything to help Annie and start editing until she gave me something finished. So instead of sitting and doing nothing, I went ahead and got into research mode."

(I hate the use of "mode" that way, too. It is sort of what happened with the word "like", except that "like" gets used 50 times in a five minute conversation...)

George did not let her get away with it but Joan, in the other room with the winners, was watching this on the huge telly there. She clearly wasn't happy with George. She stated that they are "out to get Melissa" and she was so upset, she said she was out of there.

Donald asked each person who he or she thinks should be fired. Annie was asked how she feels about the negative statement Melissa made about Brandy. Whatever Melissa's faults and flaws, I agreed with her that the person who should be fired in this task is Brandy. She was useless and brought nothing to the table. But Annie said in response that Brandy is an incredibly hard worker but due to the low number of contestants, she is not much value now. She said that Brandy "doesn't stick her neck out" and that in poker there are people who "play to last and people who play to win" and that Brandy wasn't playing to win.

It was a strange statement.

Brian picked Brandy and Melissa to return to the boardroom for termination. When he did that, Joan immediately said, "See? They're goin' after Melissa." She got so worked up she picked up her champaigne flute and smashed it on the floor! Champaigne everywhere and broken glass to boot.

Joan had her stuff bagged up and was pissed off. She said she couldn't sit in a room with Annie. Joan ran into her in the outer room and approached her on it. Joan was upset and did not say anything inappropriate, but Annie tried to say that she was strong. Joan did not believe it. It's obvious that Annie and Melissa do not like one another.

Melissa, back in the boardroom, said that they had problems from the outset. Brian told Donald Trump that he can't fire anyone. Brandy did not have to say anything. Donald noticed that Brian was not really all that interested in staying and fired him. On their way out of the boardroom, Melissa shot, "Love you, George." Personally if I were George I would have been pissed off. Employees don't make comments like that where I work.

Then they were all called back in to the boardroom.

They all got a new task: hold a fashion show/jewelry auction with Ivanka Trump's jewelry. They pick the whole nine yards: the clothes, the jewelry and the models. Annie jumped at the chance to be project manager and the other team mentioned maybe Herschel but Donald jumped and said he'd suggest Joan. (I don't know why they - or Joan - was thinking of Herschel for this.) She took it. At that, Annie, smirking, said, "I will crush you, Joan".

Well, that is really stupid and a very obvious way of throwing down the gauntlet. I'd have put a brick in the gauntlet and then hit Annie with it.

The teams dispersed and began working. Annie had Melissa as the person selecting the jewelry, then gave Brandy the task of selecting the clothes. Melissa had thought to do that, too. But Brandy jumped in and said she'd call the agency to get models, as well. She said that Melissa would be really busy with the jewelry.

There was an undercurrent to that as clearly Brandy was pissed off that Melissa tried to (rightfully so) throw her under the bus in the boardroom earlier.

She did call an agency and set up the models, and Annie said to her, "Wow, girl, you are really rockin' out!" and it was the most overdone, almost fake sounding thing. As in she was sucking up to Brandy, her new best friend, and making a dig at Melissa. At least that's how I heard it. And I would imagine anyone watching this season would see it the same way. It was really quite obvious. There was a lot of sucking up between Brandy and Annie. Melissa did not present well in the interview bits put in there - but they all sound like 8-year-olds in the schoolyard.

Joan made one comment that I found completely baffling... she selected Natalie, the professional golfer, to pick the jewelry for the show and gave a multitude of reasons, including that "she's straight, which for a golfer is very unusual" - huh? I am around a ton of golfers. I have not noticed a prevalence of male or female golfers that are homosexuals. What in the world did that come from?!
Annie told her team that should they lose, she will bring in those team members who brought in the least amount of money. Way to motivate!
If I were there, I would work my ass off, but I would wait to start asking my very wealthy friends for huge donations until I was the Project Manager and pull the big favours in then, when it is MY charity that we'll be working for. I would imagine that others (such as Jesse James) felt that way, too.

The jewelry... well... it was silver and diamonds (at least the stones I saw were all clear or diamond-looking). But it was mostly way too big and kinda bulky. Melissa went for all huge, ugly, bulky stuff. I hated that jewelry. Natalie picked all really pretty, delicate pieces that I would want to buy! I loved her taste. But both Melissa and Joan (not anywhere near each other) said they wanted to pick stuff that would "pop". I guess displaying it via a runway show is difficult, due to the size of the pieces and distance of the viewers.

Still... I would not select huge oversized rings and enormous necklaces for this. If it was visible like that from a distance, just imagine how god-awful huge it will be up close!

While they were working on the project, Annie and Brandy were sitting near each other and Brandy leaned over to whisper something into Annie's ear. At this point I was reminded forceably of school and how kids would whisper things just to make another person feel left out. That is exactly what this was. It was very childish and quite obvious. And Melissa found it as insulting as I would have. Two people who had nothing to do with each other all along suddenly acting like children... it was quite appalling.

It kept going on, too.

Natalie at one point came up with a wonderful idea. And since I find Annie rather annoying and childish, I loved the idea that much more. Natalie started calling Annie's biggest rivals on the poker circuit and called them for donations. What a truly amazing idea! And if bringing in big money is the idea, then this is perfect! Right? If anyone else had thought of it, they'd do it, too.

Joan certainly liked it. In fact, Herschel and Clint seemed to find it acceptable, too.

And this will be continued as well...

Sunday, 19 April 2009

A.W.A.D. - French Words Commonly Used in English

with Anu Garg

In Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass", the Red Queen tells Alice, "Speak in French when you can't remember the English for a thing." That's perhaps not bad advice considering that beaucoup words in the English language have arrived via French.

While French is a Romance language and English a Germanic one, the twists and turns of history have led to the two tongues having much in common. The English language borrowed from French, and vice versa. This borrowing often resulted in English having two near-synonyms to describe something (e.g. freedom/liberty, answer/respond). Sometimes the borrowed word is lent back. English budget came via French bougette (little bag), and was then exported back to French with its new sense.

This week we'll look at five French terms that are often used in English.

MEANING: noun:
1. Something, for example a master key, that enables unrestricted access
2. An ornamental mat used to frame a picture
3. An adhesive tape used to attach a picture to a mat, glass, backing, etc.

ETYMOLOGY: From French, literally, passes everywhere, from passer (to pass) + partout (everywhere), from par (through) + tout (all).

MEANING: noun: A portion, especially of money, investment, etc.

ETYMOLOGY: From French tranche (slice), from trancher (to cut).

beau monde
MEANING: noun: The world of fashion; high society

ETYMOLOGY: From French, literally, fine world

PRONUNCIATION: (bee-aN poN-saN [the last three syllables are nasal])
MEANING: adjective:
1. Right-thinking; conservative; conformist
2. Self-righteous

1. A right-thinking person
2. A self-righteous person

ETYMOLOGY: From French, literally well thinking, from bien (well), + penser (to think)

pas de deux
MEANING: noun:
1. A dance for two people
2. A close relationship between two people or things involved in an activity

ETYMOLOGY: From French, literally step of two

Top Ten Volcanoes of All Time

Last year, 72 volcanoes erupted around the world -- that's a lot of fire, and slightly above average. So far 2009 looks like it's off to a fast start, too, with Mount Redoubt letting loose in Alaska, Japan's Mount Asama raining ash on Tokyo and an undersea volcano in Tonga breaching the surface and growing an island. But none of these is likely to break into our list of Top 10 Volcanoes in Geologic History. Most of these come with signs that read "Danger: Keep Back at Least One Continent."
But if this list of past catastrophes teaches us anything, it's that the biggest, baddest volcanoes can erupt anywhere and at any time. And they will again -- it's just a matter of when.
10. Ontong-Java Plateau, South Pacific
This is the biggest volcano you've never heard of.
When it erupted 125 million years ago, it covered a region of the south Pacific Ocean the size of Alaska with basalt, in some places as much as 30 kilometers thick. It was so big, the eruption itself is thought to have lasted 6 million years.

Scientists call this type of volcano a large igneous province (LIP). They are highly mysterious, and appear to form when huge amounts of hot magma well up from thousands of miles deep in the mantle, near Earth's core.
There's a lot of debate as to whether LIPs erupt in huge explosions, or just ooze out in massive sheets of lava. Either way, mass extinctions have a tendency to occur whenever one of these things go off, so it's probably a good thing we've never seen one in action.
9. Mount St. Helens, Washington, USA
May 18, 1980, was a bad day in Washington state.
Silent for over 100 years, the picturesque 9,677-foot peak had by late April grown into a bloated, trembling blister of rock and magma. And like a blister, it popped early on a Sunday morning, rocketing fiery ash out to the north at close to the speed of sound.

The eruption killed 57 people and did almost $3 billion in damage when all was said and done. It also lopped 1,314 feet off the height of the mountain, which was reduced to a smoldering crater. This was the most deadly volcanic eruption in Unites States history -- and it was just a pipsqueak, really.
8. Grimsvotn, Iceland
Nothing says "explosion" quite like the mixing of searing hot magma with ice from a glacier.
It's a common circumstance at Grimsvotn, a volcano buried underneath the Vatnajokull glacier in eastern Iceland that last erupted in 2004. Each time Grimsvotn erupts, huge amounts of liquid build up under the glacier until the pressure becomes so great that the water literally lifts up the glacier and escapes in catastrophic floods, called "jokulhlaups."

You don't want to be around for a jokulhlaup.
The flood that came after the 1996 Grimsvotn eruption discharged 50,000 cubic meters of water per second, making it briefly the second-largest river in the world. But that kind of thing doesn't faze Icelanders – these are the same folks who once sprayed seawater on a lava flow to keep it from engulfing a nearby harbor town.
7. Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA
Given the violent company it's in, Mauna Kea is pretty chill.
Dormant for the last 4,500 years, it was never much of an exploder even in its heyday. That's because the lava that comes out of volcanoes in Hawaii is a low-viscosity basalt -- it tends to ooze and flow like a river.
Shown here with snowy peaks in the foreground, the mountain has erupted a lot of lava over the eons. It is only 13,796 feet above sea level, but from its base at the bottom of the Pacific, it measures 33,476 feet high, making it the tallest mountain in the world. Its upper reaches used to have enough snow for skiing (and further back, glaciers).
6. Krakatau, Indonesia
In 1883, humanity witnessed what scientists call a "caldera-forming eruption" in Indonesia. In plain English, we call that a mountain blowing itself apart.
At 200 megatons of explosive power, the eruption was four times more powerful than the biggest nuclear bomb ever detonated.
Since the volcano and island were one and the same, there wasn't much left after the explosion rocked the Sunda Strait and sent 100-foot-high tsunamis and scalding ash flows ashore up to 25 miles away. In the ruined void the volcano left behind, a new island has been growing back (through a series of much smaller eruptions) and is now around 1,000 feet high.
Note: Krakatau is now called Anak Krakatau, or "Son of Krakatau".

5. Ra Patera, Io, Jupiter's Moon
Thanks to space exploration, the list of greatest volcanoes can no longer be restricted to Earth. In 1979 the Voyager space probe made a shocking discovery -- Jupiter's moon Io was pock-marked with active volcanoes. Voyager's snapshot of Ra Patera was the first discovery of an active extraterrestrial volcano, though the bigger vents Loki and Pele were discovered soon after. But it didn't make sense.
Io is about same the size as Earth's moon, which long ago froze in the vacuum of space. So why was it still active? As scientists soon learned, Jupiter's intense gravity was tugging on Io's innards, creating such heat that the moon was literally disemboweling itself, spewing sulfur-rich lavas all over the surface of the moon, and out into space.
4. Santorini, Greece
Look at the small group of five islands known as Santorini, and it's clear something bad once happened there. In fact, the islands all were one, until an eruption bigger than Krakatau blew the place apart about 3,600 years ago. Ash deposits 100 feet thick have been found 19 miles in all directions from the caldera.
Shown here is a wall of the volcano where you can see layers of ash, lava flows, pyroclastic deposits and other volcanic products. The ancient eruption is thought to have spawned the tales of the "Lost City of Atlantis" and perhaps even hastened the collapse of the Minoan civilization on the nearby island of Crete.
3. Olympus Mons, Mars
The biggest volcano in the solar system is also the quietest.
It's the size of Arizona, and close to 90,000 feet high, but this gentle giant hasn't erupted in millions of years. When it did it was probably a lot like Mauna Kea, leaking rivers of liquid rock rather than exploding into the Martian skies.
2. Tambora, Indonesia
Between dozens of volcanoes, the biggest earthquakes in the world, and devastating tsunamis, Indonesia has a lot of geology to worry about. And Mount Tambora, a huge volcano on the island of Sumbawa, is no exception.
The mountain produced a gargantuan eruption in 1815 that produced an ash cloud so big, it canceled the summer of 1816 in North America and Europe. The eruption also killed between 70,000 and 90,000 people, making it the deadliest in human history.
And the No. 1 volcano in geologic history is ... (you saw this one coming) ...
(I'm thinking Yellowstone, but I may be wrong...)
1. Siberian Traps, Siberia
A LIP just like Ontong-Java, the Siberian Traps supervolcano has one distinct difference: it is by far the deadliest volcano the planet has ever seen.
The traps erupted at the end of the Permian era, 250 million years ago. It was the worst mass extinction the planet has ever seen; 90 percent of all life on Earth was wiped out.

The massive traps basalts appear to be the smoking gun. They seeped into huge coal deposits on their way to the surface, and their enormous heat baked the coal, sending billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The global warming that followed was catastrophic -- it took millions of years for life on Earth to recover.

I have never even heard of that volcanic explosion. I will have to look this up. This explains why Tambora was second. I figured it would be first...!

Friday, 17 April 2009

Back Again with Celebrity Apprentice

As usual, this show brings two hours of weirdness and egos working to further their favourite charity. But while you want to shoot some of the contestants, it is entertaining and interesting to watch.

The main thrust of this show is marketing, not just to watch famous people participate in marketing projects but also the company and product that they are pushing. Last week they crashed and burned trying to sell the All product, but boy, did we all have All's thing pushed down our throats the whole time with family values and such thrown in. So when you look at it this way, this is a two-hour commercial.

At least this week's product is more interesting. All detergent doesn't do anything for me. I buy whatever detergent is liquid and for High Effeciency machines. After that, I'm wholly indifferent.

This week they are selling LifeLock, a company and I am guessing a product that keeps you from becoming the victim of identity theft. I have never heard of it (totally unsurprising) but Luis was familiar with the company, if only because the owner of the company is in the adverts holding up his social security card. Yikes! Must be some product...

Clint Black and Joan Rivers, who had all kinds of bad blood between them, definitely got to a whole different place in their relationship, which was surprising and quite gratifying. As much as I agree that Clint is a terrible project manager, he is an excellent team member. Joan said that he was stubborn as hell but that he really was very funny. I agree completely. He came up with the quotes for each of the team member's faces, over the graphic of a huge safe door. He did a great job!

The other team very early on was very laid back about the concept and ideas for the task and Annie Duke said that they were way ahead of schedule and the moment I heard that I knew they were doomed. You never do that! Complacency and hubris like that will always get your knees cut out from under you.

And I was right. The team KOTU, with Joan Rivers, Clint Black, the golf pro (I think her name is Natalie) and the guy Herschel Walker. I think he's a boxer or something. The materials were amazing. Then Natalie walks in, stands next to the display and says, "I'm Joan Rivers." Clint walks in, says, "I'm Joan Rivers." Same for Herschel. Then Joan walks in and says, "No, I'm Joan Rivers, and thanks to LifeLock, I will be the only Joan Rivers." They gave a great presentation, knocked the executives dead.

The team Athena took a beating. Their display was boring as all get out and while the team leader, some R&B singer, did a good job talking about the product, he was spewing boring facts. OK... so what.

Forty-five minutes into the show they are already showing the product and ready for the boardroom. Huh? How are they going to kill another hour plus?

They went into the boardroom and it was a bloodbath. Natalie was so relieved that Joan and Clint did not only not quarrel but they got along very well. She was worried about the success, but recognised how well they did.

Athena definitely had issues: the Playboy bunny was useless and ineffectual, Jesse was incredibly sick, and there was a lot of tension between Annie Duke, the poker player, and Melissa Rivers. Melissa hid behind doing research on the laptop and let Annie run things but complained bitterly about it.

Oddly enough, the night before the presentation and subsequent boardroom meeting, Joan and Annie went out to dinner together and Annie, according to Joan, stated that the Playboy bunny... what's her name - oh, Brandy... was useless. But then in the boardroom Annie threw Brian (the R&B singer) under the bus and only mentioned the problems with Brandy as an aside. George mentioned that he did not see them doing anything with any sense of urgency, and suddenly according to Joan, it is a conspiracy against Melissa! Huh? I don't care for her at all, but why does her mother jump into a fray that has nothing to do with her.

I can't keep my eyes open. Time for bed... to be continued...

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Set Fire to The Third Bar

I find the map and draw a straight line
Over rivers, farms, and state lines
The distance from here to where you'd be
It's only finger-lengths that I see

I touch the place where I'd find your face
My finger in creases of distant dark places
I hang my coat up in the first bar
There is no peace that I've found so far

The laughter penetrates my silence
As drunken men find flaws in science
Their words mostly noises
Ghosts with just voices

Your words in my memory
Are like music to me
I'm miles from where you are,
I lay down on the cold gound I,
I pray that something picks me up
And sets me down in your warm arms

After I have travelled so far
We'd set the fire to the third bar
We'd share each other like an island
Until exhausted, close our eyelids

And dreaming, pick up from
The last place we left off
Your soft skin is weeping
A joy you can't keep in

I'm miles from where you are
I lay down on the cold gound
And I, I pray that something
picks me up and sets me
down in your warm arms

And miles from where you are
I lay down on the cold gound
and I, I pray that something picks me up
and sets me down in your warm arms

Somewhere a Clock is Ticking

I've got this feeling that there's something that I missed
(I could do most anything to you...)
Don't you breathe, don't you breathe
(I could do most anything to you...)
Something happened, that I never understood
(I could do most anything to you...)
You can't leave, you can't leave
(I could do most anything to you...)

Every second, dripping off my fingertips
(I could do most anything to you...)
Wage your war, wage your war
(I could do most anything to you...)
Another soldier, says he's not afraid to die
(I could do most anything to you...)
Well I am scared, I am scared
(I could do most anything to you...)

In slow motion, the blast is beautiful
(I could do most anything to you...)
Doors slam shut, doors slam shut
(I could do most anything to you...)
A clock is ticking, but it's hidden far away
(I could do most anything to you...)
Safe and sound, safe and sound
(I could do most anything to you...)

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

People are Scary

On my way home from the doctor and pharmacy, I stopped for a yellow light. The Optimum truck behind, fully intending to run that light, did not like my close-to-last-minute decision to stop instead of running it.

When did the laws change?

As I understand it, when the traffic light turns yellow, you are supposed to stop for it. There are police who will, in fact, pull you over and ticket you for running a yellow light. Chances are there no police there when this happened, but how do you know? And is it actually wrong to follow the laws? He could have stopped. He instead opted to pass by me on the left, as close as possible without actually damaging the vehicles (I suspect this show of restraint happened only because the vehicle wasn't his to destroy), then pulled in front (as much as allowable) and presented me with his middle finger.

Quite likely his I.Q.

I know I really pushed him over the edge by smiling and waving under my chin at him. He pulled out ahead when the light turned green. Then he pulled over to the side and maybe three or four vehicles behind me he pulled out again. I have a sneaking suspicion he was following hoping to create a truly unbelievable encounter but I turned off the road quickly and I guess he either couldn't make the turn or decided against it. Never-the-less, there is one pissed off person who happily runs lights.

Well, that narrows the choices to... almost everyone!

The Interview that Will Bag a Job

In recent weeks, recruiters for Consolidated Container Co. have seen job candidates arrive up to an hour early for interviews. Other candidates have alluded to financial hardships while in the hot seat, and one person even distributed bound copies of documents describing projects he completed for past employers.

These sorts of tactics aren't exactly winners.

In today's ultracompetitive job market, even getting an interview is a feat. Yet recruiters and hiring managers say many unemployed candidates blow the opportunity by appearing desperate or bitter about their situations — often without realizing it.

"People are becoming a lot more aggressive," says Julie Loubaton, director of recruiting and talent management for Atlanta-based Consolidated Container. "They often wind up hurting themselves."

At an interview, you want to stand out for the right reasons. To do so, you'll need to leave your baggage and anxiety at the door. For starters, wait until 10 minutes before your scheduled interview time to announce yourself. Arriving any sooner "shows that you're not respectful of the time the hiring manager put aside for you," says Ms. Loubaton, adding that a candidate who arrived an hour early made workers uncomfortable. "Companies really don't want someone camped out in their lobby."

Signal confidence by offering a firm handshake, adds Wendy Alfus Rothman, president of Wenroth Consulting Inc., an executive coaching firm in New York. Focus your attention on the interviewer. Avoid looking around the room, tapping your fingers, or other nervous movements.
No matter how you're feeling, keep your personal woes out of the interview process, asserts Ms. Alfus Rothman. Instead, always exude an upbeat attitude. For example, if you were laid off, instead of lamenting the situation, you might say the experience prompted you to reassess your skills, and that's what led you here. "You want to demonstrate resilience in the face of unpredictable obstacles," she says.

Meanwhile, show you've done your homework on the company by explaining how your background and track record relates to its current needs, adds Deborah Markus, founder of Columbus Advisors LLC, an executive-search firm in New York. This is particularly important if the firm is in a different industry than the one you worked in before. To stand out, you'll need to look up more than just basics on company leadership and core businesses. You'll also need to find out — and understand — how recent changes in the marketplace have affected the firm, its competitors and industry overall. Read recent company press releases, annual reports, media coverage and industry blogs, and consult with trusted members of your network. "Companies that may have been performing well just a few months ago might be in survival mode now," says Ms. Markus. "You want to understand how [they're] positioned today."

Also, be sure to show you're a strong fit for the particular position you're seeking, adds Kathy Marsico, senior vice president of human resources at PDI Inc., a Saddle River, N.J., provider of sales and marketing services for pharmaceutical companies. Offer examples of past accomplishments — not just responsibilities you've held — and describe how they're relevant to the opportunity. "You must differentiate yourself like never before," she says. "You need to customize yourself and make yourself memorable."

Sherry R. Brickman, a partner at executive-search firm Martin Partners LLC, says a candidate recently impressed her with this sort of preparation. "He knew the company's product line and what markets it was already in," she says of the man, who was interviewing for an executive post at a midsize industrial manufacturer. "He clearly and effectively explained how he could cut costs, increase sales and expand market share based on what he'd done in his current job." The candidate was hired.

Be careful not to go too far, though, in your quest to stand out. For example, it may be tempting to offer to work temporarily for free or to take a lesser salary than what a job pays. But experts say such bold moves often backfire on candidates. "Employers want value," says Lee Miller, author of Get More Money on Your Next Job ... In Any Economy. "They don't want cheap."

Your best bet is to wait until you're extended a job offer before talking pay. "In a recession, employers are going to be very price sensitive," says Mr. Miller. "The salary you ask for may impact their decision to move forward." Come prepared having researched the average pay range for a position in case you're pressured to name your price, he adds. You might say, for example, that money isn't a primary concern for you and that you're just looking for something fair, suggests Mr. Miller. You can try turning the tables by asking interviewers what the company has budgeted for the position.

In some cases, you may be looking just for a job to get you through so you might consider a less-than-perfect fit. But if you aren't really excited about an opportunity, keep it to yourself, warns David Gaspin, director of human resources at 5W Public Relations in New York. "I've had times where people come in and it's clear that if they really had their preference, they'd be doing something different," he says. "You don't want to put that out on the table. Nobody wants to hire someone who's going to run for the door when times get better."

After an interview, take caution with your follow-up. If you're in the running for multiple jobs at once, make sure to address thank-yous to the right people, career experts advise. Also look closely for spelling and grammatical errors. In a competitive job market, employers have the luxury of choice, and even a minor faux pas can hurt your chances.

If all has gone well, don't stalk the interviewer. Wait at least a week before checking on your candidacy, adds Jose Tamez, managing partner at Austin-Michael LP, an executive-search firm in Golden, Colo. Call recruiters only at their office, even if their business card lists a home or cell number. Leave a message if you get voicemail. These days, recruiters typically have caller ID and can tell if you've tried reaching them multiple times without leaving a voicemail. "There's a fine line between enthusiasm and overenthusiasm," he says.
I just love that article. Thank you! I just hope anyone I interview in the future actually read this! I had a ton of these faux pas at the end of February and really could not believe what had been said - it was staggering.

Burger King Pulls Ad Campaign - Article

I'm sure Burger King meant it when they said we did not mean to make fun of anyone...

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Fast food giant Burger King apologized Tuesday for an advertisement featuring a squat Mexican draped in his country's flag next to a tall American cowboy and said it would change the campaign.

Mexico's ambassador to Spain said posters released in Europe for Burger King's new Tex-Mex style "Texican whopper," a cheeseburger with chile and spicy mayonnaise, inappropriately displayed the Mexican flag, whose image is protected under national law.
The ambassador wrote a letter complaining to Burger King and requested the ad campaign be discontinued. Burger King said the ads were meant to show a mixture of influences from the southwestern United States and Mexico, not to poke fun at Mexican culture, but said it would replace them "as soon as commercially possible."

"Burger King Corporation has made the decision to revise the Texican Whopper advertising creative out of respect for the Mexican culture and its people," it said in a statement. "The existing campaign falls fully within the legal parameters of the United Kingdom and Spain where the commercials are being aired and were not intended to offend anyone," the company added.

A TV version of the ad shows the strapping cowboy and the pint-sized Mexican wrestler -- nicknamed "Just a Little Bit" -- living together as roommates. At one point, the American lifts up the Mexican to help him put a trophy on a high shelf.

Mexico was involved in another controversial ad campaign last year when Absolut vodka posted billboard ads in Mexico with an early 19th century map showing chunks of the United States as part of Mexico.

The campaign angered many U.S. citizens and was later dropped.

Sunday, 12 April 2009



John is the kind of guy you love to hate. He is always in a good mood and always has something positive to say. When someone would ask him how he was doing,he would reply, "If I were any better, I would be twins!"

He was a natural motivator. If an employee was having a bad day, John was there telling the employee how to look on the positive side of the situation. Seeing this style really made me curious, so one day I went up and asked him, "I don't get it! You can't be a positive person all of the time. How do you do it?"

He replied, "Each morning I wake up and say to myself, you have two choices today. You can choose to be in a good mood or... you can choose to be in a bad mood. I choose to be in a good mood. Each time something bad happens, I can choose to be a victim or... I can choose to learn from it. I choose to learn from it. Every time someone comes to me complaining, I can choose to accept their complaining or... I can point out the positive side of life. I choose the positiveside of life."

"Yeah, right, it's not that easy," I protested.

"Yes, it is," he said. "Life is all about choices. When you cut away all the junk, every situation is a choice. You choose how you react to situations. You choose how people affect your mood. You choose to be in a good mood or bad mood. The bottom line: It's your choice how you live your life."

I reflected on what he said. Soon hereafter, I left the Tower Industry to start my own business. We lost touch, but I often thought about him when I made a choice about life instead of reacting to it.

Several years later, I heard that he was involved in a serious accident, falling some 60 feet from a communications tower. After 18 hours of surgery and weeks of intensive care, he was released from the hospital with rods placed in his back. I saw him about six months after the accident. When I asked him how he was, he replied, "If I were any better, I'd be twins...Wanna see my scars?"

I declined to see his wounds, but I did ask him what had gone through his mind as the accident took place. "The first thing that went through my mind was the well-being of my soon-to-be born daughter," he replied. "Then, as I lay on the ground, I remembered that I had two choices: I could choose to live or... I could choose to die. I chose to live."

"Weren't you scared? Did you lose consciousness? " I asked

He continued, "...the paramedics were great. They kept telling me I was going to be fine. But when they wheeled me into the ER and I saw the expressions on the faces of the doctors and nurses, I got really scared. In their eyes, I read 'he's a dead man'. I knew I needed to take action."

"What did you do?" I asked.

"Well, there was a big burly nurse shouting questions at me," said John. "She asked if I was allergic to anything 'Yes, I replied.' The doctors and nurses stopped working as they waited for my reply. I took a deep breath and yelled, 'Gravity!' Over their laughter, I told them, 'I am choosing to live. Operate on me as if I am alive, not dead.'"

He lived, thanks to the skill of his doctors, but also because of his amazing attitude... I learned from him that every day we have the choice to live fully.

Attitude, after all, is everything.

After all today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.

"Whether you think you can, or think you can't, you are right." --Henry Ford

A.W.A.D. - Words Coined from People Real or Fictitious

with Anu Garg

Winning even one Nobel Prize is a big deal. Marie Curie received two (in physics and chemistry). But then hers was a family of high achievers: her husband, their daughter, and their son-in-law were also Nobel laureates.

Similarly, having one's name turned into a word in the language is a rare feat. Yet there are some, both real and fictional characters, who have accomplished this more than once. This week we feature five such people.

And Marie, well, she too had had two words coined after her: Curie, a unit of radioactivity, and curium, a radioactive element.

PRONUNCIATION: (sis-uh-RO-nee-uhn)
MEANING: adjective: In the style of Cicero, marked by ornate language, expansive flow, forcefulness of expression, etc.

ETYMOLOGY: After Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman statesman, orator, and writer (106-43 BCE). Another eponym derived from Cicero's name is cicerone (a tour guide).

MEANING: adjective: Overly sentimental

ETYMOLOGY: After Mary Magdalene, a Biblical character who was a follower of Jesus. In medieval art she was depicted as a penitent weeping for her sins (she washed the feet of Jesus with her tears) and her name became synonymous with tearful sentimentality.

The name Magdalene means "of Magdala" in Greek and is derived after a town on the Sea of Galilee. The name Magdala, in turn, means tower in Aramaic. So here we have a word coined after a person, who was named after a place, which was named after a thing. In an allusion to her earlier life, Mary Magdalene's name has sprouted another eponym, magdalene, meaning a reformed prostitute.

MEANING: adjective:
1. Airtight
2. Not affected by outside influence
3. Relating to the occult sciences, especially alchemy; magical
4. Obscure or hard to understand

ETYMOLOGY: From the belief that Hermes Trismegistus invented a seal to keep a vessel airtight in alchemy. Who was Hermes Trismegistus? It was the name of a legendary figure that Greek neo-Platonists thought was a blend of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth. Trismegistos is Greek for thrice-greatest, from tris (thrice) + megistos (greatest), ultimately from the Indo-European root meg- (great) that's also the source of words such as magnificent, maharajah, mahatma, master, mayor, maestro, magnate, magistrate, maximum, and magnify. Another word coined after Hermes is hermeneutic meaning interpretive or explanatory.

Cadmean victory
PRONUNCIATION: (kad-MEE-uhn VIK-tuh-ree)
MEANING: noun: A victory won at as great a cost to the victor as to the vanquished

ETYMOLOGY: After Cadmus, a Phoenician prince in Greek mythology who introduced writing to the Greeks and founded the city of Thebes. Near the site where Cadmus was to build Thebes he encountered a dragon. Even though he managed to kill the dragon, only five of his comrades survived, with whom he founded the city. Other words coined after him are calamine (a pink powder used in skin lotions), from Latin calamina, from Greek kadmeia ge (Cadmean earth) and the name of the chemical element cadmium. A similar eponym is Pyrrhic victory.

MEANING: adjective:
1. Marked by generosity, naivete, or innocence
2. Not intended to be taken in a literal sense

ETYMOLOGY: After Samuel Pickwick, a character in the novel Pickwick Papers (serialized 1836-1837) by Charles Dickens. Mr Pickwick is known for his simplicity and kindness. In the novel Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Blotton call each other names and it appears later that they were using the offensive words only in a Pickwickian sense and had the highest regard for each other.

Another term that arose from the book is Pickwickian syndrome, which refers to a combination of interlinked symptoms such as extreme obesity, shallow breathing, tiredness, sleepiness, etc. The character with these symptoms was not Mr. Pickwick, but Fat Joe, so the term is really coined after the book's title. The medical term for the condition is obesity-hypoventilation syndrome.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

A Great Day!

I really needed to have a great day. So far, my time off this week hadn't been too good - well, downright depressing - and I was thinking that today would be more of the same. Happily, it turned out to be quite a bit better!

It was a rainy morning and the day did not get off to a great start as it was (see the earlier post Upset with the Cat, posted this morning). I did not feel good about that. But I finally got dressed and went first to the Montville Pharmacy and then headed to Wayne to put in my time with my parents. I usually find myself dreading this. I love seeing Ray but it is hard to visit with my mother who's sole vocabulary is "yeah" and "no" although (kind of like a parrot or anyone's two-year-old), she mimics words last said by Ray or me. But she is not really saying anything.

But on my way to Wayne from Montville I called Ray and said I was coming over and would he like to make foccasia bread with me? He said that would be fun and I should pick up some unbleached flour. So I went to Shoprite and picked up flour, bacom and bread for him. It was pouring out and perfectly disgusting, which is a downer, too.

I headed to the house and said hi to Ma and then Ray and I spent the day chatting and making bread and also stuffing for the ham roast he had. That looked interesting. I was sort of interested in trying it, but we did not get that far. We had pizza for dinner.

I don't know why, but just hanging out and talking to Ray really helped and cheered me up a lot. It was just a really good day!

I See You Typing - Article

Spying on someone by hacking into his webcam is disturbingly easy. Why don't more people do it?

By Christopher Beam
Posted Monday, April 6, 2009, at 5:09 PM ET

The China-based cyber-spy network known as "GhostNet" is a sophisticated group of hackers capable of logging its victims' keystrokes, stealing their documents, capturing images from their screens—and staring creepily at them through their webcams.

In a report released last month, Canadian researchers concluded that GhostNet has cracked at least 1,295 computers in 103 different countries, specifically targeting the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan activists and officials. Stealing documents and logging keystrokes—that I understand.

You can get all sorts of useful information reading someone's e-mail or looking at their bank records. But peeking at them through their Web cameras? That seems creepy even by the standards of shady cyber-spying rings. It's one thing to read the Dalai Lama's IM conversations. It's another to actually watch him LOL.

GhostNet might be the most prominent example yet of webcam infiltration, but it's certainly not the first. The practice dates back to 1998, when a group of hackers calling itself the Cult of the Dead Cow designed a piece of software that, when downloaded onto a computer, let someone control the machine remotely. Anything you could do sitting at your desk, they could do thousands of miles away, from creating documents to playing MP3s to popping open the disk drive. They dubbed the program Back Orifice—a twist on Microsoft's BackOffice. The authors "were not malicious guys," says Frank Heidt, CEO of Leviathan Security. "They thought it was funny as hell."

Webcam scams do occur, though they're far less common than other types of online extortion. In 2004, four hackers in Spain were arrested after threatening to post candid webcam videos online unless their victims paid up. In 2008, a Canadian man told young girls that he had nude pictures of them and would post them on the Internet unless they posed for him again.

Governments and businesses have adapted. For example, the Department of Defense has regulations about where you can carry a laptop. And unlike the most advanced computer worms, this isn't a threat that's constantly evolving to outpace security measures.

Since Back Orifice hit the market, the basic methods of cyber-peeping haven't changed much: Just get your target to download an e-mail attachment or click a link that triggers an automatic download, activate the camera, then sit back and watch. "Writing the malware is a total triviality" even for middling programmers, Heidt says. Back Orifice is still available for download, and beginners can find instructions on how to write their own programs with a simple Google search. Or you can just take a college course on how to do it.

What's changed is the prevalence of cameras. You can't buy an Apple laptop these days without a built-in camera. Even Sony's smallest notebook has a webcam. Sometimes they're practically invisible: The MacBook Air's built-in camera is "so smartly integrated, you hardly notice it's there," brags Apple. That said, almost all laptops have a light that turns on whenever the camera is on—a feature that hackers can't disable since it's controlled electronically, not programmatically.

Still, webcam espionage isn't very common. Most scammers are interested in money, and video of someone's slack-jawed mug isn't going to yield much cash. "Most stuff you'd capture on a camera, they've already posted on Facebook," says Kevin Haley of Symantec Security Response.* Even if you did have hundreds of hours of video and audio capturing someone's conversations, it's a lot harder to index and search than written information. (Some programs solve this problem by activating the camera only if they sense movement.) If it's profit the hacker wants, the contents of the computer are much more valuable than whatever's happening in front of it.

If someone hacks into a webcam, therefore, it's usually a targeted attack. Pure creepiness is one motivation. A 15-year-old girl in Texas reported in 2004 that a hacker who took over her computer would eject the disk drive and say things like, "I like your shirt."

Then there's spying on people you'd like to keep an eye on, such as, say, your spouse. One could see this being useful for private investigators, though PIs I spoke with say they don't know of anyone hacking into webcams as part of their work. "The technology is there for it to happen," says Charles McLaughlin, a PI in Andover, Mass. "But in the private sector, although there are some characters willing to break the law, most reputable PIs don't." You might get away with it if you install the spyware own your own computer—say, the one in the bedroom—but even that gets into shady legal territory.

More threatening than video is audio. By accessing a computer's microphone, you turn the computer into a bug. It's also more clandestine than video, since the microphone is always on and there's usually no light to tip you off when it's recording. "The mic thing worries me a lot more," says Chris Wysopal of the security firm Veracode. "Unless you can lip-read, [video alone] isn't that useful."

So how do you prevent someone from spying on you? The usual Internet hygiene applies. Don't click the weird attachment your computer-illiterate relatives send you, update your antivirus software regularly, and so forth. If you want to be really cautious, the best solution is the simplest: Put a piece of tape over the camera. It may be the laptop equivalent of the tinfoil hat, but it's the only way to absolutely guarantee privacy. The microphone is trickier, since you can't tape it up. You can disable it, though, by plugging a converter or some other cord into the computer's microphone jack, which turns off the internal mic.

But ultimately, there's only so much you can do. Vulnerability is a fact of cyber life: Anytime you open a portal to the outside world, it makes intrusion possible. The problem is when we don't even know the portal exists, or are only dimly aware of it. There's a general rule that you shouldn't write anything in an e-mail that you wouldn't want shared with the world. Perhaps the same should apply to dancing in your underwear while your laptop is watching.

Upset with the Cat

Don't get me wrong, I do love Siobhan, although she is nothing like Ariel and Chelsea, who were in many ways opposite of each other, but the same in how they treated me. I miss them, and at this moment, I miss them much more.

I was getting ready to get into the shower about a half hour to an hour ago and the kitten jumped off of the edge of the bathtub and suddenly without warning or provocation, she brutally attacked my right foot. She sank her needle-sharp teeth in and wrapped her body around my leg and tried to get all four sets of claws into the action as well. I had to grab her at the nape of her neck to pry her off. She then went for my left foot and after that my right hand/arm and then back to my right foot.

By the time I got her completely disengaged and kicked her out of the bathroom, my legs and feet and right hand and arm were stinging. I examined my extremeties to see how bad the damage was, and other than one long surface scratch on the back of my right ankle snaking up the leg and a couple of new scratches on my right arm, I looked okay. When I got into my nice hot shower I almost yelled from the major stinging of the hot water hitting too many unseen cuts.

I re-examined the damage again after I got out of the shower and gingerly towel-dried my legs and arm. There is one long scratch along my forearm and about seven other nicks and small scratches and a couple of teethmarks on the back of my hand. My left foot and leg appear to have no damage at all. My left hand and arm never entered the fray.

My right foot has myriad scratches and bite marks (the bite marks will fade rapidly from the foot, though), and there are many long gashes and a set of deeper teeth marks on my right ankle, in the back. There is one scratch that is on the deep side (deep in this case is more a matter of how much blood apears on the surface but she never truly puts anything more than a surface scratch on anything. It just is a matter of how much she got out of the scratches), and a couple of lighter, less damaging scratches. But I can feel my pants against the back of my leg, lightly resting against the damaged skin and it doesn't feel good.

Siobhan has been slowly getting less crazy and more affectionate in dealing with me but she is still a playful kitten who loves to get into trouble and stalks us around the house. She does like to attack feet, but is learning to be less ferocious. I usually spray cologne on my ankles and feet and the backs of my hands to keep her from biting, and it works - she hates the taste of any alcohol-type liquid. But this morning I hadn't done it and I had been wearing pants so that even if she did have a playful moment, she would not have injured me.

But this was not her usual playing. This was really a serious attack. I kicked her out of the bathroom and did not open the shower door as I usually do for her to come in and lick the water off my feet or the wall of the shower. She was at the shower door when I came out, but I did not speak to her or dribble water on her or do anything as I normally would when coming out of the shower. Now, she is no where to be seen and that is fine with me.

Ariel and Chelsea were playful as kittens and I loved them, but they never went crazy like this. I know Siobhan is her own cat and is not like my former cats, but I wish she would stop this behaviour.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Yahoo Finance - 7 Misconceptions About the Stimulus

Since President Obama signed the economic-stimulus package into law February 17, I have received many questions about its provisions. And I've noticed that there are a lot of misconceptions about the plan. Here's the lowdown.

Misconception #1: Most people will get their stimulus money as a check this year.
Instead of receiving a check from the government, most single taxpayers will see an adjustment to their tax withholding in their paychecks in 2009 and 2010, giving them about $45 extra per month for the rest of this year (married workers will receive an extra $65). If you're self-employed, you can adjust your quarterly tax payments to benefit from the tax credit. Then you will claim the credit when you file your 2009 tax return next spring, bringing your tax bill in line with your reduced payments.

The stimulus also provides a one-time payment of $250 to recipients of Social Security, Railroad Retirement and Veterans Administration benefits.(People who applied for any of these benefits for the first time after January 31 don't get the money; only those on the rolls in November and December 2008 and January 2009 are eligible.) You'll get the money electronically or by check, depending on how you receive those benefits. Retired government employees who don't receive Social Security will also get a $250 credit when they file their 2009 returns.

Misconception #2: The adjustment to withholding will have to be paid back when you file your tax return next year.
Wrong -- the stimulus is actually a tax credit of 6.2% of taxable wages in 2009 and 2010, to a maximum each year of $400 for single taxpayers and $800 for married couples filing jointly. The credit is refundable, which means that you can still receive the full credit even if it is worth more than your total tax liability.

Paychecks are being adjusted now to get more money into the economy faster. You'll claim the credit when you file your return next year, so your tax bill should adjust in line with the stimulus money (and you might get some extra money at tax time if your withholding wasn't adjusted enough to account for the extra credit during the year, which may happen for some married people in single-earner households).

But not everyone qualifies for the credit. It begins to phase out for single filers with adjusted gross incomes of $75,000 or higher, or $150,000 for married couples filing jointly, and it disappears entirely for single filers with AGIs of $95,000 or more, or $190,000 for joint filers.

Misconception #3: The first-time home buyer's credit needs to be repaid.
You may not have to repay the credit, depending on when you bought the house.

If you buy a house between January 1, 2009, and December 1, 2009, you could receive a credit for 10% of the home's purchase price, up to $8,000. This credit does not have to be repaid as long as you own the home for at least three years.

If you bought a first home between April 9, 2008, and December 31, 2008, you are eligible for a tax credit of 10% of the home's purchase price, up to $7,500 -- but the credit must be repaid over 15 years, starting two years after you claim the credit. If you sell the home before you finish paying back the credit, the balance is due in full the year of the sale.

The 2008 and 2009 credits begin to phase out if your modified adjusted gross income is more than $75,000 (or $150,000 if you're married filing jointly). The credit disappears entirely after your income reaches $95,000 if you're single, or $170,000 if married filing jointly. You are considered a first-time home buyer if you (and your spouse, if you are married) didn't own a primary residence in the past three years. The credit does not apply to rental property and vacation homes.

Misconception #4: You can't get the 2009 first-time home-buyer tax credit until you file your tax return next year.
Actually, taxpayers who buy a first home in 2009 do not need to wait until they file their 2009 return (by April 15, 2010) to benefit from the credit. To get the money into the economy faster, the federal government is giving you a choice of claiming the first-time home-buyer credit on either your 2008 or your 2009 tax return.

There's actually a way to benefit from the credit even before you buy your first home. If you plan to buy by the November 31 deadline, you can reduce your withholding on your paychecks right away. The increased take-home pay could help you with the down payment. File a new W-4 form with your employer to adjust your withholding. (And remember to re-adjust your withholding again next year.)

If you have already filed your 2008 return, you can use Form 1040X to amend it. If you purchase a first home after the 2008 tax-filing deadline of April 15, 2009, you can still claim the credit on your 2008 tax return either by requesting a six-month extension for filing your return (which doesn't extend the deadline for paying any taxes owed) or by filing an amended return.

Misconception #5: You need to apply through the government to get the COBRA health-care subsidy.
Contact your former employer, not the government, to take advantage of the COBRA subsidy. If you were laid off since September 1, 2008, and are already receiving COBRA coverage, then you'll pay 35% of the COBRA health-insurance premiums, and your former employer will pay the remaining 65%. The government will then reimburse your former employer for the subsidy through a payroll tax credit.

If you were laid off on September 1, 2008, or later but didn't sign up for COBRA coverage, you'll get a second chance to elect COBRA and benefit from the subsidy. You should receive a notice from your former employer soon, or contact your former employer to find out about the steps for signing up.

Misconception #6: You can receive the COBRA subsidy the entire time you're covered by COBRA.
Federal law requires most companies with 20 or more employees to let former employees keep group health-insurance coverage for up to 18 months after they leave their jobs. But the 65% COBRA subsidy lasts for only nine months. After that, the premiums will jump back to the full price - and the average employer health-insurance plan costs $12,680 per year for family coverage, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

If you have health issues, COBRA may still be your best bet despite the hefty price tag. But many people can find a better deal by buying their own health insurance. You can get price quotes for individual policies at, or find a local health-insurance agent at the National Association of Health Underwriters Web site. Check out your options at least one month before your COBRA subsidy expires so you'll have plenty of time to find out how much an individual policy would cost.

The subsidy ends if you find a job and your new employer offers health-care coverage or you become eligible for Medicare. And COBRA does not apply if the company stops offering health coverage to current employees or shuts down entirely.

Misconception #7: The number of weeks you can receive emergency unemployment benefits has been extended.
The stimulus does not provide additional weeks of benefits for people who use their 33 weeks of emergency unemployment-compensation benefits; it just expands the dates that the program will be available.

A federal law passed last year provides an extra 20 weeks of emergency unemployment compensation to workers who exhausted their regular unemployment benefits, plus an additional 13 weeks of extended benefits for residents of states with high unemployment rates (contact your state unemployment-benefits office for details about your state's rules).

The emergency unemployment-compensation program was scheduled to expire on August 27, 2009, and the last day to apply for benefits was originally set to be March 31, 2009. As a result of the stimulus law, unemployed people who exhaust their regular state benefits now have until December 31, 2009, to apply for extended benefits and can receive compensation until May 31, 2010.

Thinking of the Future

It's getting me down but it is weighing heavily on my mind. I need to let it go, but at the moment I'm not ready.

I've been watching the second season of The West Wing, which is an amazing show. I would vote for President Josiah Bartlett in a hot second. I wouldn't even need to think about it. Martin Sheen - who knows? But his character of Jed Bartlett? Absolutely.

But that isn't what is dragging my better spirits down. I can completely sympathise with the character that was the President of the United States. He knows his time for running the country is limited. Two reasons: 1. the President can only hold the office for two terms (which in some ways is a relief) and 2. he has multiple schlerosis, which is NOT the same disease I have. Wondering why I said that? Everyone - non-medical and medical people alike - confuses it with MS instead of MD and it is amazing. But it is similar in that we both be disabled earlier than we'd like to be.

I know my time to remain active is limited and I'm not ready for it. The fact is that it won't be tomorrow and I don't think it will happen in the next five years. It may even be longer. The EMS side won't last as long, clearly, as it is a much more physical job.

But I'm still not ready for it.

It's too depressing.

Maybe I Didn't Post It... The Rivers Family

I had thought that there was a lot I posted about but I post far more in my head (and always at the most opportune moments, like in the shower or in the car, you know, driving) than on here. Also, at this time of the year, I don't get to post much.

This weekend I'm catching up.

I made the comment that Melissa Rivers isn't attractive. I'm standing by that. I also feel that honesty is not something to apologise for. And looks are not everything. I'm not attractive, in my eyes, either. Doesn't keep me up nights, however, as I am attractive to Luis and some small group of others and that works for me.

I think what is more amusing is the irony that both Luis and I had the reaction of "Yikes" when looking at Melissa Rivers while she has openly admitted to recieving Botox shots. Even more ironic is that this is a woman who is 6 days older than me and looks quite a bit older and I have had no Botox, no other plastic surgery (I really need to look up why that is called "plastic" surgery...), and I look 35 while she looks 47. Crows feet, lines... personally I don't care for the mouth and the frozen features. But she is still wearing more than her age.

Maybe if she meets an untimely end I will suddenly age like Dorian Grey... wouldn't that suck! Somehow I doubt it, though. I didn't make a deal with the devil or entropy, I just got genetically lucky. On the other hand, I would happy look like Melissa Rivers if I could trade in the DM 2 for a normal body and life!

Joan Rivers I get and I find her funny and admirable. Her daughter is just annoying. But she is, I imagine, accustomed to the ridicule... she was in the PEOPLE Magazine a couple of weeks ago stating openly that she has had Botox shots. I can say that admire their honesty. Most women have it done to not admit they are aging...

Weekly Update on Celebrity Apprentice

How often do I want to blog weekly about a show? So far, though, I think I have had something to say about most of the episodes. And I have never been a fan of Donald Trump - there is no denying his prowess as a business man, however, tycoons rarely appeal to me and his employment practices where the show is concerned bother me.

Yes, I know... it makes better television and apparently the normal employment laws don't quite apply to this sort of thing. Still...

I've posted "Just Fire Dennis Rodman Already" (30 March) and "Celebrity Apprentice 2009" (20 March) - I thought I had said more, but apparently not. I'd thought I had posted about the wedding dress episode but I don't see anything.

Well, onto the last airing (Sunday, 5 April, 2100)... Clint Black and Melissa Rivers faced off as team leaders in the last episode, entitled "Trump Makes a Surprising Decision". They have the rather unenviable task of developing a "viral video", a term I'd never heard and really would not have encountered for a much longer time had I not seen this, for All Detergent's 3-in-1 or whatever it is. (Adverts don't seem to work with me, for the most part... I can't remember the product whether I like the ads or hate them.)

I wouldn't have done well with this, but after seeing the episode, I wonder if I wouldn't have done better than them. The team Athena was working hard and very cohesive, which was surprising - Melissa Rivers doesn't inspire confidence with me and I found her abrasive in the other episodes. She is also quite unpleasant to look at (I'm sure I posted about that). In an earlier episode she took credit for an idea that wasn't hers and that really coloured my perception of her. And in another one, she turned to Joan Rivers (her mother) and asked her to jump in to defend her (I'm sorry, how old are you that you cannot fight your own battles?). But she did well in this task.

The team KOTU was awful. Clint Black did not do well at all. He had shown major tendencies to micromanage and this put him in a position to really go nuts - he lived right up to my expectations with that. I did not expect him to do well as a project manager, given past episodes. He can follow - whatever his opinion of the manager and/or his role - and does everything he is told. But he wants to be involved in every little detail and it is annoying. He wasn't promising as a team leader, but it was obvious he was dying to do this. And then there was the idea...

Neither of the teams had perfect ideas, but Athena's was much better than KOTU's. They both came up with ideas involving little people which both groups referred to as "migdets", a term I would never be comfortable using. Yes, people under a certain height fall into the category of "little people" but to me they are 1. just people, like anyone else and 2. the term midget is not a flattering term. It implies a prejudice. But both teams noticed that within this world of viral videos, the term "midget" was in the top five posted words (you know, with the most hits).

Then Athena developed the idea that Jesse James would be attacked as a mechanic in a dirty clothing by three little people and then he was sparkling clean at the end. In the end, one of the actors pitched a fit about the demeaning nature of the video to little people and cursed and threw his hat and wig off. I think it should have been edited out but the women thought it was funny (!) and kept it in. (Bad idea...)

However, KOTU blew them away for how bad an idea can be... Clint came up with the idea of a man who calls his wife wanting to have sex but using the euphemism "let's do some dirty laundry". I have never heard of this before but we don't have kids and don't have to hide the idea of having sex. (My parents never made it a secret, dirty or otherwise, so I don't understand that attitude, either.) But to expound on the idea, Clint continued to say that the woman comes home, states her readiness to "do the dirty laundry" and the response is something along the lines of "don't worry, honey, I did it by hand; it was a small load". Say WHAT?!

The team all loved it (which is just as appalling as the idea itself) until they met with the executives of the product - all except Clint, who wanted to keep this idea despite the rather cold reception that their questions received from the execs. He was so committed to this folly (which appeared to be purely ego-driven) that he excluded his entire team from the rest of the process and even locked them out of the editing room. He physically locked them out! It was unreal. And while the other two (the golf pro and Khloe) did not say much, Joan Rivers, true to her nature, let him have it. Good for her.

They had some guy named Perez Hilton (which I kept mishearing as Paris Hilton) look over the two videos and give his opinion on them. He's a little flamboyant but he definitely hit the nail on the head with both of them.

They both failed. Had Athena dumped the cursing and obvious anger of the goth little person at the end and change the term "midget" to "little people" they would have won. KOTU did not have a prayer. While Clint seemed to honestly believe that no woman would be offended by the obvious reference to masturbation, he clearly understands nothing of the average woman. (I don't try to get the attitude, but most women are clearly unhappy with the idea of their husbands masturbating even though their sex lives have diminished - usually because of having kids. Men are very physically sexual. They almost need to have the release. But I digress...)

In the boardroom, Clint thought that the experience went "better than expected" and I found that amazing. And when it got a little ugly between Clint and Joan, Melissa jumped into the fray. OK, woman, grow up! They both need to stop that. Joan was perfectly right to jump down his throat but Melissa wasn't there.

At any rate, Clint should have been fired for just being a completely terrible job as project manager. The video was just appalling. It referenced sex, cheating, masturbating (with the product, no less; when is the last time you wanted to use a caustic for a whaddya-call-it?)

Jesse James, on the other hand, was perfectly wonderful! He appeared so completely uncomfortable but genuine on the video and the concept was great! But they screwed it up with the last bit with the cursing unhappy actor. It's too bad. Jesse did a great job.

It wasn't anyone's idea to have that tantrum show up, it just happened. What was the bad idea was that they left that part in it.

The executives did not like either one.

So the Donald had two people to fire, anyone he wanted. He first fired the R&B singer... Oh, what is her name? TJ, Tione, something like that. She offered to return and be put up for termination. Obviously she never watched the show when Donald Trump was looking for an executive to run this or that new venture. He automatically fired a contestant who threw himself under the bus thinking that this was an act of kindness and would ensure he would not be terminated. Had she seen that she'd have known to not do that.

The second person was a total shock. He fired Khloe instead of Clint because she'd gotten a DUI/DWI and had to do classes mandated by the court for rehabilitative measures. I don't agree with that and in my world it is completely illegal to do that. But again, this is television and these people are not really his employees but are rather contestants raising money for their favourite charity.

It was surprising, though.