Saturday, December 23, 2006

New England Youth Theater Triumphantly Parades to New Location

When the NEYT presented its first performance in March 1999, the show took place in a rented room in a school in Brattleboro, VT. The next year they found a permanent home in a former Chinese restaurant in the Latchis Theater Complex in downtown Brattleboro. Last week they performed the last of their two week run of Oliver!, they bid farewell to the old Chinese restaurant and more than 300 actors, students, kids, parents, and supporters marched a few blocks to a new facility being built just for the NEYT. Founder and artistic director Stephen Stearns addressed the group in the partially constructed theater, and flipped on a giant light switch to symbolize the forthcoming completion of the theater as the gathered fans cheered. Stearns also led the group in singing a few songs including "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "The Impossible Dream."

The new theater will open in January to present productions by other theater groups. The first NEYT production is set to be presented in February.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Secrets for Not Gaining Weight During the Holidays

It's said that calm comes before a storm, but for people wanting to lose weight or get into better shape, the last few weeks of the year are the storm before the calm. The period from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day can be one long binge of parties and family dinners, followed by the obligatory pledges of healthy living including promises to start eating right and join a gym.

Trying to lose weight during the holidays is insanity, most nutrition and fitness gurus would admit, but some are taking a more moderate position: enjoying the holiday cheer but making a point of trying to maintain one's weight during the holidays. For me, traveling to visit family means plenty of downtime in airports, which I take advantage of by walking from terminal to terminal. It doesn't give you the same benefits of running a race or playing raquetball, but walkng at a moderate pace can burn about 120 calories in 20 minutes.

As many trainers and fitness experts agree, the best way to get in shape is to combine aerobic exercise with weight training . Even though you may not be able to make it to the gym during the busy holiday season, you can certainly find the time to do a few sets of strength training with a set of dumbells or a barbell. Weight training builds greater muscle strength and mass, which require more energy to maintain than less-developed muscles. So your newly strengthened body will actually burn more calories even as rest than it did before.

So forget about trying to lose weight during the holidays, or going in the opposite direction and just letting yourself give in to the orgy of overindulgence. Try to maintain your weight and then, come the new year, you can make good on those resolutions to improve your diet, exercise more, and join a gym or fitness program.

(This post sponsored by

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Harmonica Workout--America's Latest Fitness Craze?

Americans love fitness trends. Not that they love actually getting in shape, but they eagerly try out every new workout plan and diet theme that comes down the road. Willingly accepting the bizarre, they seem to hold the contrarian belief that the more offbeat the plan sounds, the greater the possibility that it works.

One of the latest workouts to come down the crowded road could be called "The Harmonica Workout," as mentioned in an article in the Wall Street Journal. Promoted by the Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica (yes, this is a real organization), it seeks to show that all the blowing in and out of playing the mouth harp is good for the mouth, throat, and lungs. Who knew?

Terry Rand, a 71-year-old member of the Society and a harmonica evangelist who travels around his hometown of Naples, Florida giving our harmonicas, has been actively promotion the idea that playing the harp can play a role in strengthening the lungs. He and other harmonica society members have been passing out the instruments at senior centers, hospitals, and other gathering places.

If you're really into harmonicas, you can join the organization and even attend their annual four-day convention. In 2007 it will be held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. No word on if harmonica workouts will be featured in the year's annual convention.

Monday, December 18, 2006

How to Make Your Rooms Look Like a Million, Without Spending a Lot

As someone who's always had a limited budget for making my apartment look good, I long ago learned a simple trick for making my home look classy without spending much money. Instead of shelling out big bucks outfitting a room with a lot of fancy furniture and other items, I go for a straightforward look using inexpensive furnishings that have a high-quality appearance, then add a few choice accessories that add a touch of class and luxury (without paying luxury prices, of course!)

There are many items that can fill the bill and make a room look rich. Wall sconces are a classy way to light walls and hallways, and they come in a range of materials, from bronze and stainless steel to genuine wrought iron, for an old Parisian feel. Wrought iron can also add a distinctive European touch in other accessories--a wall vase draws attention to the walls while allowing you to add a festive floral touch, and shelf brackets and door toppers made of the same material will complete the look and give the room a consistent theme.

If you're unsure of how to use these and other decorative items, pick up a copy of your favorite shelter magazines and scan the photos for a look that you like. Choose a look that will be appropriate for the room you're decorating, your style preference, and your type of furniture. Then go shopping for more reasonably priced versions of the expensive fixtures and accessories you see in those photos.

Making your home look expensive doesn't have to be expensive, if you know how to make smart use of quality decor items.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Is $3 Million Too Much for Vodka?! Nyet, My Friend!

OK, it's not actually the drink itself that sold for that price, but rather the domain name. A billionaire Russian entrepreneur who heads the country's biggest vodka maker has paid $3 million to buy the domain to smooth its path to expand into the U.S. market, the broker handling the transaction announced on Thursday, December 14.

Roustam Tariko controls the Russian Standard Co. conglomerate, which entered the crowded U.S. premium vodka market in September 2005 with its Imperia brand. According to Russian Standard, Imperia's recipe was discovered by 19th century Russian scientist Dimitri Mendeleev, known for inventing the periodic table of elements which, as we all learned in school, is the road map for the science of chemistry.

Russian Standard Co. controls two-thirds of Russia's sales of premium vodka, and it also owns Russian Standard Bank, the largest private bank in the country.

While expensive, the $3 million cost for isn't the highest for a generic Web domain. Reports have said that in May 2006 reportedly sold for $7.5 million to, a jewelry retailer. Other high-prifile domain sales that are publicly known are said to be ($7.5 million, 1999) and (allegedly about $12 million, though the precise sum hasn't been disclosed).

Free Christmas Ecards, Great for Last-Minute Gifts

With Christmas fast approaching, are you wondering how you're going to get your greetings out in time to friends, family, and colleagues? Ecards have become more popular than ever, and they make a great option for greetings during the holidays or anytime. If you're looking for some laugh-out-loud cards to send to your cynical hipster friends and smart-aleck relatives, check out how to get a free Christmas card from

These certainly aren't your father's Christmas cards (unless your father is Dave Chappelle or Robin Williams). These are cards that offer a risque, off-color brand of humor that nevertheless will effectively convey your holiday wishes. If you go to this ecards blog you can get a free Christmas card and check out the author's top 10 funny cards list.

What's more, Egreetings customers can get a free 30-day trial to send unlimited ecards. A one-year ecards subscription is only $13.99--a lot cheaper than sending traditional paper cards to everyone on your Christmas list (if you've got a good-sized list of people, the yearly subscription is cheaper than the postage alone). And, of course, ecards are ideal for last-minute Christmas wishes.

Among my favorites in the Christmas offerings are the Double Dare card (yes, from the movie A Christmas Story) and Personalized Christmas Hits, which parodies those famous (and famously repetitive) K-Tel rock hits collections on late night TV.

And what says "Christmas cheer" better than a card with a farting reindeer?

Friday, December 15, 2006

Read the Magazine, Smell the Cheesecake

We've all heard of viral marketing--but is America ready for nasal marketing? Kraft Foods has sponsored a holiday issue of People magazine that will feature five different ads that allow readers to scratch a spot and smell a Kraft product being advertised.

Scratch and sniff is nothing new for the perfume and cosmetic trades, but for snack foods? Apparently the products to be given the olfactory treatment are Chips Ahoy! cookies and Philadelphia Cream Cheese. It's said that a full-page ad for the cream cheese shows a photo of a strawberry cheesecake and, when sniffed, will yield the smell of the dessert. The other scratch and sniff products are said to include cinnamon coffee, cherry Jello-O, and white chocolate. Besides the special ads, one of the articles has been said to include pictures of food items that release a scent when rubbed or scratched.

So what's the thinking behind the scented ads? As often is the case with unusual marketing techniques, the idea is to make the product or company stand out in an increasingly crowded product field and marketing environment. Whether the smell of strawberry cheesecake mixed in with that of the magazine's paper and ink is another question.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Leaving Las Vegas? No, Just the Opposite

Contrary to the Nicholas Cage film (and Sheryl Crow song) of that title, very few people are Leaving Las Vegas. To the contrary, Vegas is the nation's fastest growing city, with some estimates saying it's adding 5,000 new residents each month.

Business is booming in Vegas, and it's not just casinos. Many companies are starting up in or moving to Las Vegas, and Californians frustrated with congestion or high home prices are moving east to places such as Vegas that are still within striking distance of the Los Angeles area. Though Las Vegas can be a competitive environment, there are plenty of opportunities for making money, including startups and entrepreneurial ventures.

So how to test the waters? Many new arrivals start out by renting a home and getting a feel for the area, then buying later on when they are more established and have a better sense of the neighborhood where they'd like to settle.

There are all types of housing options in the city, from existing single-family homes to apartments to new construction to Las Vegas Highrise Condos. And buyers of new homes will find a number of incentives, including paid closing costs, free appliance upgrades, assistance with downpayments, and more.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Record Companies Turn the Tables on Downloaders

Facing slumping sales and increased online piracy, record companies have decided to turn lemons into lemonade. Companies have started planting advertiser-sponsored video clips of their artists on video sharing sites--the exact same kind of sites they've been battling for years.

The Wall Street Journal noted in October, for example, that rapper Jay-Z authorized a video clip from one of his summer concerts in New York to be placed on a variety of illegal music-sharing cites. The action occurred at the request of Coca-Cola, the Journal said, and the clip included promotions for Coke.

While record companies have usually battled file-sharing sites by planting fake "decoy" files to thwart and frustrate downloaders, this new tack by Jay-Z recognizes that the people who download files are also some of the biggest music fans and buyers, and that it may be more in their interest to market to them rather than sue them. So the decoy files being planted on leading file-sharing sites contain promotional materials, which are then seen by eager fans. So when fans turn to the file networks for purposes of piracy, they're getting a marketing message instead.

The article notes that other artists including Audioslave and Ice Cube have also benefited from decoy files, putting bits of a song into the files and promising that the user and this companions will be able to stream the entire song once the file is forwarded to a certain number of people.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

How to Save Money on Holiday Shopping

Online shopping isn't just convenient, it can save you a lot of money. You can save even more with the many coupons that online stores offer, and the good news is that you don't need to go hunting all over the stores' Web sites to find these deals.

Web sites such as CouponChief do all the digging around for coupons, so you don't have to. And you'll find coupons for leading retailers you probably already use. For example, the site has coupons that will help you save money on gifts for everybody, from CDs and DVDs to digital cameras, flat-screen TVs, and MP3 players.

If you want the great savings of coupons without hunting all over the Web or signing up on countless merchants' Web sites, give CouponChief a try.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Pimping the Crib (the Baby's Crib, That Is)

Today's tech-loving parents know it's never too early to pamper their little bundle of joy. And since everyone has an iPod these day, why should the smallest consumers be deprived of listening to some kickin' tunes just because they can't walk, talk, or even use the toilet?

A company called Munchkin has come out with a product called iCrib and, you guessed it, it's an iPod holder/player designed to be installed on the side railing of baby's crib. The idea is to play some music that will lull the little one to sleep, though it could also be used to introduce Little Ozzie to Black Sabbath or Metallica. Or give junior a leg up on getting into that exclusive French nursery school camp by playing French lessons.

The iCrib dock lets parents play custom tracks for kids, set volume limits to avoid waking the little one, use a timer, and avoid tripping in the dark with a nightlight feature that even can be set to different colors. It goes for about $30 at and other retailers.

Now if they could just design some massive subwoofers to go with iCrib, baby could really rock out...

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Fine Optics Make a Fine Holiday Gift

Before PCs and the Internet, lots of people would explore the heavens through a telescope or peer into the natural world through a microscope. I had both of these instruments when I was a kid, but people of all ages can find enjoyment today through the use of high-quality optics. I often attend concerts and sporting events, and find that a good pair of compact binoculars is an essential item to have.

Fine optics can be hard to find in stores, but you can get all kinds of useful instruments and fun items online at Optics can make a unique holiday gift, and this site has a huge selection of the best brand name telescopes, microscopes, binoculars, spotting scopes, and digital camera scopes, as well as rifle scopes, red dot sights, pocket monoculars, and rangefinders. They also carry many related products including radar guns, sunglasses, goggles, and flashlights, and offer free UPS shipping on orders over $29.95.

Taco Bell: Drop the Chalupa and Head for the Border!

In the New York City metro area, the big story this week has been an E. coli outbreak that's sickened upward of three hundred people. What's the culprit? Turns out that all these folks have eaten at one of several Taco Bell restaurants.

The source of the bacteria has been identified as green onions that came from a supplier not in the Eastern U.S., but in California. Taco Bell has pulled green onions from all their restaurants in the area; some public officials are calling for more urgent measures. New Jersey health officials are asking all Taco Bell restaurants in the state to throw out all their food. They're not asking them to shut down restaurants, but does anyone really go to Taco Bell just to buy a Coke?

I don't know where all this is going to end up, but I'm not taking any chances. I'm gonna drop the chalupa and think inside the bun.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Travel Sites from Off the Beaten Track

I love to travel and have a number of popular travel Web sites bookmarked on my Web browser. But I often want to find some different Web sites for locating travel information. And, off course, I'd rather spend my time body surfing on a beach than surfing the Web for new travel sites.

Fortunately there are now Web sites that collect information on some of these lesser-known sites and put them all in one place. In particular there's one I've found– 50 Travel Sites - courtesy of Luggage Online –that covers dozens of different travel sites you may not know about.

If offers details on everything from flights and booking to specialty travel, luxury and budget travel, even travel blogs and social-travel networks. I'm always interested in discovering new places to travel, and in finding travel information that not everybody knows about. Sites like this one make it quick and easy to do just that.

Flaming Farts Force Flight's Fizzle

Should Homeland Security monitor people who are munching down bean burritos at the local airport Taco Bell? An American Airlines flight was forced to make an emergency landing on December 4th after a passenger lit a match to cover up the smell of her flatulence.

The Washington-to-Dallas flight landed in Nashville after a female passenger lit the match and passengers noted the smell of burning sulfur. The 99 passengers and five crew members left the plane and were screened, but the woman who lit the match was not allowed back on board.

The unidentified passenger was questioned and admitted to striking the match or matches. She was said to have an undisclosed medical condition that may have caused the flatulence. She was released by the FBI and will not be charged.

Passengers are allowed to bring a limited number of matchbooks on board planes, but it is illegal to strike a match in an airplane, a transportation official said.

As far as I know, Homeland Security is not considering naming flaming flatulence as an imminent terrorist threat. But they'll clearly not allow lighting fires on aircraft to get rid of that stinky-poo smell. So if you've got someone with bad gas on your flight, well, you'll just have to grin and bear it. Or hold your breath until you land.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Now with the Weather Report, Here's Mr. Coffee...

Have you heard the term that tech companies love to use, "convergence"? It means combining several functions into one device. Sometimes it's a good idea, but I recently read about one that sounds just plain dumb.

There's a new coffeemaker coming out (in time for the holidays, coincidentally!) that will display real-time weather data. This Robocop version of what used to be a simple appliance uses a "smart objects" technology that Microsoft has been pushing for a number of years.

Apparently this Mr. Coffee on steroids (though actually it's made by Salton) uses a wireless data system that will automatically show your current weather conditions and forecasts. Oh yes, by the way, this weather station may rain on your budget parade: The coffeemaker will list for $200.

Bill Gates talked up the technology behind this coffeemaker as far back as 2002, and said it would have a big impact. But the technology has been slow to be adopted (I wonder why).

Do we really need a coffeemaker to tell us the weather, since so many other gizmos can do the same thing? For $200, does the thing even make good coffee? Just because engineers can put an electronic gizmo in everything, does that mean they should? And what if you go for that all-important first cuppa joe in the morning and the coffeemaker crashes, giving you the message "Abort, retry, fail"?

There's a marvelous invention called the window (not made by Microsoft) that lets a person visually capture weather data in a real time, fast-refresh format, including cloud formations, precipitation details, and more. And it never needs an upgrade (unless a kid hits a baseball through it).

I'll let the gadget freaks and early adopters buy this high-tech weather station/coffee machine. I'll stick with my current model, the one that does nothing but make good coffee.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Borat: Make Glorious Lawsuit for Benefit My Accountant

A central theme of Sacha Baron Cohen's comedy "Borat" involves Cohen duping people into making believe he's a real journalist making a real documentary. Naturally, many of the participants come out looking like fools and are not happy about it. Two fraternity brothers from a South Carolina university are suing the film over racist and sexist comments they made on camera. They claim a production crew for the film took them to a bar and got them liquored up before filming them for what they were told would be a documentary to be shown outside the U.S. They also claim that the name of their univserity and fraternity would not be used.

Frat boys being induced to drink alcohol in excess and behave like idiots? Hmmm,,, something tells me they don't have much of a case. That and those release forms that they signed.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Honey, I Poked the Picasso

Casino owner Steve Wynn made a very artistic statement a few weeks back when he accidentally poked a hole in the world's most expensive painting. The Picasso work is one that Wynn owns–and that he had just agreed to sell to for $139 million. Wynn was showing the painting at his office in the plush Las Vegas hotel when he accidentally poked it with his elbow, creating two three-inch tears in it.

Hollywood screenwriter Nora Ephron recounted the incident in her blog at the Huffington Post , noting that Wynn has an eye disease that can cause him to misjudge distances. Wynn was pretty casual about the whole incident; no one got hurt, he said, and he took the incident as an omen that he shouldn't sell the painting after all.

My take: And I thought it was bad when the cat peed on the rug...

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Kevin Federline is Ex'ed by Text

Say it ain't so, Britney! Or at least say it ain't so, well, tacky. Britney Spears dumped husband Kevin Federline via text message–and he read the message while he was in Canada being filmed for a reality TV show. A Web video of Federline reading the text message–which happened right after he said Spears was his biggest fan–become the most-viewed video on YouTube on Thursday, receiving more than a million hits. Now that's a celebrity breakup with so many media/technology angles that it makes your head spin. With fans like Britney, who needs enemies?

OK, so K-Fed has dubious musical talents and has a habit of mooching off of women with money. But c'mon, we're not talking about blowing off a casual boyfriend, K-Fed is her husband, for God's sake–and the father of her two children. Wouldn't you think that would at least warrant a phone call? Does Britney's baby need to text Mommy when she needs a diaper change?

NEWS FLASH: A Burrito is Not a Sandwich, Judge Rules

You'll no longer have to get into those lengthy philosophical arguments with your friends over whether a burrito is a sandwich or not. A Massachusetts judge has ruled that the Mexican specialty is NOT a sandwich after all.

The subject came up when the Panera bakery/cafe chain sued to prevent Qdoba Mexican Grill from opening a restaurant in a shopping center in Shrewsbury, Mass. Panera has a clause in its lease that prevents the shopping center from renting space to another sandwich shop, and it tried to invoke the clause to stop Qdoba.

Superior court judge Jeffrey Locke relied on sources including Webster's Dictionary and testimony from a chef and a former federal agriculture official to rule that burritos and other Qdoba menu items are not sandwiches. He noted that sandwiches are commonly understood to include two slices of bread and not items such as burritos, tacos, quesadillas, and other foods made from a single tortilla stuffed with filling.

Glad that's been cleared up so I can go out to lunch with a clear conscience about what I'm eating.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Dr. McDreamy on-set smackdown!

A truce has been reached this week... no, not in Sudan, or Iraq, or North Korea, or any of those other real-world hot spots. No, there has been a ceasefire in the conflict that has consumed America for two weeks: the heated confrontation that occurred on the set of Grey's Anatomy between two of the show's hunky co-stars, Isaiah Washington and Patrick ("Dr. McDreamy") Dempsey.

Washington has now issued an apology for reportedly grabbing Dempsey by the throat and shoving him, as well as using a homophobic slur, on the set. It was said that the incident stemmed from rising tension due to a scene shot in close quarters, and from the lateness of one of the show's actors, T.R. Knight, who plays the intern George O'Malley. It's assumed that the homophobic remark was referring to Knight, who recently told People magazine that he is gay.

The two stars involved in the spat have confirmed that an incident occurred but are naturally trying to downplay it, as are other actors on the show. Washington issued a statement saying there had been a "difference of opinions" but noted that no punches were thrown; "our faces are too beautiful for that!" Glad to hear he's at least got a sense of humor about it... though he was the one grabbing and shoving.

Actress Katherine ("Izzie") Heigl also played down the incident on the Ellen DeGeneres Show this week, referring to it as "something silly and manly...there was a little burst of testosterone in the room and then within five minutes everything was totally fine." Hmmm.... that makes it sound like the two actors were in the locker room comparing the size of their members or something...

Just when you think you've seen everything possible that's silly and moronic in celebrityland, two actors have to get into in on the set. I wouldn't be surprised if it boosts the show's already stratospheric ratings.

Brad Pitt, the Wedgie King

Ever wonder how big-name movie stars cut the tension on a pressure-packed set? For Brad Pitt, the answer seems to be simple: he gives himself a wedgie.

According to an interview scheduled to appear in the 10/30 Entertainment Weekly, the A-list hunk is keeping things loose on the set of "Babel" by pulling up his pants to give himself a wedgie, then sticking out his rear end and waddling like a duck. "Babel" co-star supposedly calls the maneuver the "hungry bum." As Pitt elaborates, it's "when your bum's so hungry it's trying to eat your pants."

I can tell that Pitt's kids are going to grow up with some interesting habits... does Angelina know that her beloved is a self-wedgie king?

In other news from CPN (the Celebrity Pants Network), the High Court in Ireland has put off a decision on the ownership of a pair of pants and other items that were owned by U2 singer Bono.

Turns out that Lola Cashman, a former stylist for the band, was in possession of the pants, a Stetson hat, and other items and was trying to sell them at auction in 2002. She claims the items were given to her by the band when she worked for them in the 1980s. She wrote an unauthorized bio of the band called "Inside the Zoo with U2."

Bono told the court he would not have given away the items, which he said had "iconic" status.

Hmmm, if Bono's trousers have iconic status, then perhaps his male member is a veritable diety?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Who put this cheeseburger on my cat?

Wacky Web sites are nothing new. If they're lucky they'll get lots of hits and maybe even some coverage in the mainstream media. But the oddball photo site called "Stuff on My Cat" has taken on a life of its own (or would that be nine lives?)

The name says it all: the site contains photos of cats with all kinds of, well, *stuff* on them. I first heard of the site about a year ago when I saw a photo on the Internet of a cat sitting on all fours with one of those clear plastic salad-bar trays on its back–full of salad, of course. The Web site's owner started the site by putting things on his own cat, from office supplies to spare PC parts. Then the viewer-submitted photos started rolling in.

The Web site has featured all manner of cat-stuff photos since then, from cats wearing cutesy outfits like pirate get-up and baby clothes, to Christmas lights, a cheeseburger, and helmets made from an orange and an eggplant. According to Publisher's Weekly, the site has received more than 17 million hits since its launch less than a year and a half ago, and it was named one of the coolest sites of the year by Yahoo and GQ

The "Stuff on My Cat" juggernaut has now moved into the publishing industry with a book of the same name featuring photos from the Web site. Publisher Chronicle Books supposedly went through the first printing of 45,000 copies faster than a cat running from a garden hose, and another 15,000 copies are on the way. For its next act the publisher is now asking for booksellers to submit their best photo of a stuff-laden cat, with judging taking into account three categories, says Publisher's Weekly: "(1) funniest/cutest; (2) most literary and (3) the most shamelessly promoting Chronicle Books."

And there's more "Stuff" besides the book: the Stuff on My Cat Page-a-Day Calendar (and wall calendar), as well as a box of postcard featuring "Stuff" photos. What's next, Stuff: the TV Series?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

North Korea is muchly appreciating your harmonious commentings

Mr. Lunchpad, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is authorized to offer a heartful thankings for your welcome comments of our press office. Peace among all the world's people is foremost our scheme. Perhaps ones day you can explicate for us the meanings of your Web's name, "Coffee is for Closers"?

It may be intriguing to you this news from the site of our Web:
"General Secretary Kim Jong Il's famous work "Let Us Carry Out the Great Leader Comrade Kim Il Sung's Instructions for National Reunification" was brought out in booklet on October 5 by the Publishing House of the Workers' Party of Mexico."

We wish no destruction of Americans, despite the bloodsuckling propaganda unleashed by your imperious leaders. In factual, I can say privately that manys party officials respect much the book "Sex" of the famous USA whoremistress Madonna Louise Ciccone, where she places her naked form adjacent in simulated carnal acts with various color peoples and animals. Such publishings lift the party members spirits and making them feel strong and hard.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Pleasing Give Me Extra-Large Crime, Much-Flailed

If you enjoy the fractured English of Borat, the make-believe Kazhak character created by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen (of "Da Ali G Show"), you'll love the real-life mangling of our language by the official North Korean news agency. After hearing some amusing, oddly worded statements from the North Koreans about their recent nuclear test, I gave up my job-hunting duties for an afternoon to seek out more of the creative verbal stylings of our comrades in Pyongyang.

Being almost totally isolated from the rest of the world, North Korea doesn't let too many English teachers from the West visit the country. As one of the few communist countries of the 20th century to actually stay true to communism, North Korea is full of revolutionary bluster and anti-imperialist claptrap. The North Korean news agency's (KCNA) official Web site heaps plenty of abuse on the U.S., South Korea, and Japan. And it has the odd tendency to use the word "flail" to mean criticize or assail, as in "U.S. Violation of Human Rights Flailed" and "Fascist Crackdown on Trade Union in S. Korea Flailed." Go figure.

Explaining the country's withdrawal from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the North Koreans argued "the USA is creating an energetic crisis." Regarding NK's recent nuclear explosion, the agency said, "The nuclear test was conducted with indigenous wisdom and technology 100 percent."

Another news release called Japan "'a political dwarf,' which refuses even to honestly repent of its past crimes including extra-large crimes of human rights abuses." But those venti or grande abuses are apparently not all those naughty Japanese are up to: "Japan is getting all the more unscrupulous in its inborn bad habit of trying to feather its own nest by hurling calumny at others."

South Korea also regularly gets whipped with the rhetorical wet noodle, with the North Koreans calling a leading South Korean political party "a group of man-killers." And referring to a recent South Korean arms test, the leaders from the north "bitterly denounce the South Korean bellicose forces for developing a latest type dangerous weapon in pursuance of confrontation and war between fellow countrymen to serve the U.S. in its moves for a war against the north." If that wasn't enough of a mouthful, the article continues, "Only stern judgment and merciless punishment of history and the nation await the traitorous forces which bring only misfortune and disasters to the nation, toeing outside forces' policy of aggression."

Of course, no communist country's news service would be complete without heaping breathless praise and adoration upon the nation's fearless leaders. A recent celebration of the Korean communist party's 61st anniversary was apparently quite the joyous occasion nationwide, with events including an art exhibit, no less. "On display at the venues," a press release notes, "were famous works of the peerlessly great persons and photographs showing the 60-odd-year history of the WPK shinning with victory and glory." North Korean youth "also celebrated the day with songs and dances overflowing with revolutionary mettle and optimism." Shinn on, all you heavy mettle dudes...

You can find all this great and happy news at the Web site for the Korea News Service in Japan. I feel I should mention this because, as the site notes, "Re-use of any material on this home page without credit to Korea News Service (KNS) is prohibited." And I don't want these guys coming to my home and doing anything like flailing me with a most merciless beating of the glorious anti-imperialist wet noodle.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Major pollution source discovered: animal poop

There are plenty of man-made causes of pollution, from car exhaust to smokestack emissions to factory waste dumped in streams. But scientists have discovered an unexpected force in despoiling our environment: animal waste from all kinds of critters, including those cutesy ones that add that homey touch to our lakes and fields.

As reported recently in the Washington Post, states including Virginia and Maryland have come to the realization that animal waste plays a significant role in water pollution. That local pond you love, for example, is made more beautiful by the geese that frolic in and around it. But those beautiful geese are also constantly taking a dump in the water, contributing to high levels of harmful bacteria.

Another problem is that runoff from manure in pastures and farms ends up in nearby waterways. In some of the studies wildlife was a bigger contributor to water pollution than humans.

And that's not all. Scientists noted years ago that one of the major sources of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is what they technically call "bovine flatulence"––yep, that would be cows farting! Think about how many cows and steers there are in the world and you can see (if not smell) the magnitude of the problem. Makes sense to me: I've met some humans who were practically farting machines and, unlike cows, they only had one stomach, as opposed to the five a cow has.

So what's the answer––specially made Pampers for geese and cows? Gasmask-style filtering devices to be placed on cows' posteriors? Pooper-scooper laws to make ducks clean up after themselves? Or maybe we can get Robert DeNiro to toilet-train animals as he did with that cat in Meet the Parents...

Paris punched, Madonna baby-shopping, T.O. for kids

Spanning the globe to find only the most absurd celebrity news, here are the latest bizarre goings-on with those oh-so-special Beautiful People, along with your correspondent's quick-take on the topic.

* PARIS POPPED: Paris Hilton claims Shanna Moakler punched her in the face. Moakler, a former Miss USA and contestant on "Dancing With the Stars" this season, claims she was attacked by Hilton's ex-beau Stavros Niarchos. He supposedly twisted her wrist, doused her with a drink, and pushed her down some stairs. Hilton complains that Moakler swore at her, then gave Hilton a fist to the jaw. Hilton has been linked with Moakler's ex-husband Travis Barker, drummer forBlink 182, but Hilton's publicist says they are "just friends." You almost need a scorecard to keep it all straight.

My take: With "friends" like these, who needs enemies? Maybe Paris has a future as a professional wrestler... she must have talent at something, right?

* MADONNA KEEPING UP WITH THE JOLIES?: Madge visited an orphanage in the poor African country of Malawi, but denied she was looking to adopt a child. Is she looking to latch onto a celebrity trend by adopting from developing countries, a la Angelina Jolie?

My take: If Madonna is adopting, she's got a long way to go to catch Mia Farrow, who's adopted about a dozen kids from different countries. And when Madge's daughters get older, will she give them those pointy boob-cones instead of training bras?

* TERRELL OWENS'S SOFT SIDE: NFL bad boy T.O. has joined the overcrowded list of celebs (see Madonna above) who has written a book for children. Entitled "Little T Learns to Share," the book "depicts the travails of Owens as a boy learning to share his new football with friends," according to Publishers Weekly.

My take: Haven't seen an advance copy, but am wondering if the book will have chapters like "Don't be afraid to criticize your classmates if they're jerks," "How not to O.D. on candy," and "Demand a trade if your teacher sucks."

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Club Gitmo? Terror detainees get fat on hi-cal diet

The U.S. detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba are getting fat. Part of it is the fact that they are kept in their cells virtually all the time, with limited chance for exercise. But the other factor is that they are given the chance to consume a high-calorie diet that surpasses what low-income Americans have to live on, and is certainly more than what these prisoners ate before they were captured.

The prisoners are getting meals totaling 4,200 calories brought to their cells every day, according to an Associated Press article posted today. U.S. dietary guidelines range from 2,000 to 3,000 calories a day for men to maintain their weight. Prisoners are not forced to eat so much, but rather they are offered a wide selection of foods and some detainees are apparently eating everything put in front of them. (The article notes that prisoners in Federal jails get an average of 2,900 calories.)

The Navy commander in charge of Gitmo notes that the detainees are offered a wide choice of foods for the sake of variety, and certain foods are included so the detainees can comply with Muslim dietary guidelines. The commander also says that prisoners are told that eating all the food offered to them will cause weight gain, but that doesn't stop some from going overboard. Gitmo detainees have gained an average of 20 pounds, and one man has ballooned to over 400 pounds, almost double his pre-Gitmo weight.

As in American prisons, detainees who comply with regulations and don't cause trouble get more exercise time. According to the commander, detainees who are very compliant get up to 12 hours of exercise time a week and have access to treadmills, stationary bikes, and other equipment.

Is this high-calorie diet a plot to make the detainees as overweight and sluggish as the average American? Maybe once they get really heavy they'll adopt the common American mindset and start asking for things like Frappuccinos, Sony VAIO notebook computers, free wi-fi, Blackberrys, and HBO? And if they're forced to live without these American staples maybe they'll start to feel so deprived they'll begin to offer more valuable information to interrogators for the chance to get these goodies.

Or maybe the idea is to clog the detainees' arteries so badly that angioplasty will be held out as a premium benefit, given only to those who offer the most high-value intel.

Now, I wouldn't argue for a minute that being a prisoner in a cage, even in a climate as balmy as Cuba's, is a vacation, or that getting a lot of good food compensates for having one's freedom taken away. But I have to think that at least some of these prisoners might be thinking that they're better off now that before they were captured. They're no longer marching to the orders of Bin Laden's harsh jihadi regimen, they aren't having to living in too-close quarters with a bunch of men who haven't bathed in weeks, and they can breathe deeply without choking on the smell of stale camel piss.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Just give me the %&$*@# beer!!

There can be endless arguments over which beer is best. But the owner of a Bavarian-style bar in Glasgow, Scotland is running afoul of the law over the proper glassware in which he must serve his beverages.

As reported by German radio network Deutsche Welle, this pub owner sells his beer--which meets stringent German beer purity standards--in traditional half-liter and liter sized German steins and glasses. But in Britain it's actually a criminal offense to serve draft beer in those quantities. Although Britain is part of the European Union and must use the metric system for almost all measures, the UK has managed to get an exception from the EU to use the pint measure for beer, milk, and cider, because of the pint's longstanding, integral in the British Isles.

I'm not sure which is sillier--England's law that beer must be sold in pint measures, or the EU's rule that demands that make it illegal to sell most goods in traditional British Imperial measures such as pounds, pints, and feet. In 2001, an English grocer was actually prosecuted for selling a pound of bananas, instead of whatever was the equivalent number of grams.

I'm glad to know that in the U.S. I can order a cold one in a pint, glass, or even a dirty Mason jar if I want. I'm heading to the fridge right now for a frosty brew... all this talk about laws and measurements is making me thirsty.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Monopoly game pieces go commercial!

Put this in the "Is nothing sacred?" file. The board game Monopoly is due to come out with a new "Here and Now" edition which, according to the New York Times, replaces some traditional game pieces with ones representing McDonald's French fries and Starbucks coffee. Also to be included are a New Balance running shoe, a Motorola Razr phone, a Toyota Prius hybrid car, and a laptop computer (no brand mentioned; maybe manufacturers are still bidding for the rights?).

Other changes in the "Here and Now" version: players will get $2 million instead of $200 for passing Go. And the squares for railroads in the original edition are replaced by airports (no word on whether you have to take your shoes off if you land on them). The article says that the companies featured did not pay to be included in the new version of Monopoly, instead, game maker Hasbro approached the companies, seeking to update the game's image.

Although Monopoly has created many different specialized versions over the years based on cities, sports teams, and even The Simpsons, "Here and Now" is designed to be a mass-market version.

Besides the generic laptop, the Times article says the other nonbranded new items are a jet (to replace the battleship) and something called a "Labradoodle," in place of the Scottish terrier. And the new version will feature properties in Boston, New York, and other cities instead of Atlantic City hotels.

I can see replacing some of the pieces for more up-to-date versions–how many young people even know what the old iron and the thimble are–but I find the commercialization to be kind of tacky. Not outrageous, not earth-shattering or worthy of a congressional investigation, but tacky.

But don't fret, Hasbro insists that the old-fashioned version of Monopoly–with all the traditional game pieces, properties, and names–will still be available alongside the new one.

If the commercialization the game pieces doesn't bug you, this just might: the Times reports that the new "Here and Now" version will have a price tag of $30, versus the $12 to $20 charge for the traditional edition. For a markup of 50% or more over the old version, you'd think they could at least include some coupons for Starbucks or McDonalds.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

New product: Body spray for stinky Fido?

I often wonder whether commercials are intended to be funny, or are just totally clueless to how they come off. Take a recent one for Febreze, a product that you spray on fabrics to eliminate odors (like if you were at a smoky party, or your pet racoon peed while sitting on your lap). A housewife sees her dog rolling around on her couch, and then sprays Febreze on the couch to eliminate the dog odor.

In comes the narrator: "But wait, here's the rub: Fido doesn't just stink up the couch," followed by a montage where the dog rolls around in a bed under the covers, and drags its butt across the carpet. Ms. Housewife dutifully sprays the whole house with the product, probably using up the entire bottle of Febreze. But this is all after the fact, no? Why not just go to the source: spray that turd-dropping canine to get rid of the stench in the first place!

Some company could really clean up (no pun intended) by making and selling body deodorant for dogs, like that Axe stuff I see advertised (for humans). Or how about a doggy diaper to keep Fido from dragging his sorry, stinky butt all over creation.

Coke is it in Kabul

Afghanistan lacks security, a functioning economy, good roadways, and a lot more... but soon it it will be able to teach the whole world to sing in Arabic. A blind cleric has given the blessing to a $25 million bottling plant in the capital city of Kabul, reportedly the first major business to open in the country in more than 10 years.

Displaying the boundless optimism of the marketing pro that he is, Coke's Pakistan and Afghanistan manager, said, "Afghanistan is a country promising a lot of growth opportunity for our company."

Maybe this is where the company can send all those millions of extra cans of stale New Coke.

Can I get anchovies on that blog?

If you needed proof that there is indeed a blog for every subject under the sun, look no further: there is now a blog devoted to pizza. Check out and you'll find the latest news in pizza, in NY City and beyond. Among the news items now on the site: news that a Florida university wants to start a program in pizza research, and plans in Russia to celebrate Moscow's anniversary by creating a map of the city on a pizza nearly 20 feet in diameter.

Gamin' Granny Hardcore

Video games aren't just for teens. 70-year-old Barbara St. Hilaire of Cleveland has been playing video games for over 30 years, and is said to spend 10 hours a day giving the game console a workout. No wonder she's called "Old Grandma Hardcore," which is also the name of her blog, which is run by her 23-year-old grandson, Timothy St. Hilaire.

She's been profiled by CNN, the Washington Post, and countless other media outlets, and is also "senior" video game correspondent for the "G-Hole" gaming program on MTV's Overdrive. Since her blog has gone up she's gained fans from around the world, and she gives a shoutout to her blogosphere admirers in a section of the Web site called "OGHC's Ultimate Kickass Blogroll."

It's not just the time St. Hilaire spends playing games that makes her hardcore; it's her enthusiasm and intensity. As her grandson notes, Grandma Hardcore can be heard shouting obscenities at the TV screen when she comes up against some enemy zombie who just ... won't ... die!! Her all-time favorite game is "Final Fantasy VII," according to her blog, and "her current task is reaching completing God Mode in 'God of War.'"

"She will beat any PS2, XBox, GameCube, etc., console game put in front of her," Timothy notes on the Web site, "just like she always has."

To some it may seem strange that a senior citizen is so into video gaming, but hey, it's more stimulating than playing bingo. And probably more fun than standing in line at the corner store to buy hundreds of lottery tickets.

Pimp My Cubicle

You knew it had to happen, right? "Pimp My Cubicle" is a product lets you turn your hum-drum cubicle into a hip and happening workplace crib. It includes a dollar-sign paperweight, a "bling" mousepad, and even a disco ball!
You knew it had to happen, right? "Pimp My Cubicle" is a product lets you turn your hum-drum cubicle into a hip and happening workplace crib. It includes a dollar-sign paperweight, a "bling" mousepad, and even a disco ball.

If the hip-hop style isn't your taste, the book Cube Chic describes how you can deck out your cube in countless themes. Go for the rustic look with bamboo lookalike wall coverings. Set up a soothing Zen garden. Head for the jungle with mosquito netting and animal prints. There's even one called "The Nap Cube," with a cereal-dispensing mahcine and a nook for napping. Some of these ideas might be best for those of us with, well, a fair amount of job security.

If you're more interested in securing your cubicle than pimping it, there's "Trip Wire," a kit that features a set of infrared beams that you can set up in your workplace. The product sets off an alarm when the signal is tripped.

At close to $400, the Babble Voice Privacy Machine isn't cheap, but it solves a problem all of us cube monkeys have: toning down the voices that drift all over open-office environments. It supposedly helps tone down the voice of the blabbering idiot in the next cube, turning the voices into wordless sounds. And it makes what you say difficult to for eavesdroppers to hear.

I'm not sure whether I should be laughing at the absurdity of products like these, or bemoaning the fact that I didn't come up with them first. But if they really work as advertised, and make your work life more pleasant, the manufacturers will have the last laugh.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Shut off those &%#! loud MySpace tunes... and more

If you're like me, you've probably come close to losing all sense of hearing after browsing to someone's MySpace page and getting blasted out of your chair by the page's chosen song. I don't know why these tunes have to play so damn loud, but I do know a way to shut them off.

First off, get the Firefox browser (, Mac and Windows), if you don't already have it. Once you have Firefox you can customize it with any number of add-ons that tweak the browser's action in some specific way. You can find add-on headquarters here..

Once you're at the add-ons home page, search for a program called Greasemonkey, which uses scripts (small pieces of code) to let you customize the way Web pages look and behave. You'll see a list of tags with a number beside each; this number shows how many scripts are available for that tag.

There are over 150 scripts devoted to MySpace alone, from how to download and play its media features to how to avoid them altogether. Beside each script's name is a description of what it does and a rating from people who've used it. The script I downloaded (unfortunately I can't find its name) disables the media player on MySpace pages so the tunes or videos won't play, but you can easily turn them on at any time.

There are Greasemonkey scripts for dozens of other MySpace features, such as removing the "Cool New People" box, stripping out the ads, and much more. There are also more than 270 scripts for tweaking various aspects of Google (and this doesn't even include the 72 covering Gmail), as well as scripts for, Flickr, and various design and color themes.

If you've ever wished that you could make one of your favorite Web sites work a bit better, you probably can do just that. Check out the Firefox add-ons page for Greasemonkey and other ways to customize and improve your Web experience.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

42 year old outlasts Agassi at U.S. Open

After 21 years playing at the U.S. Open, Andre Agassi has lost and is retiring. Rick Spitz has been on the same court for 26 years and has no plans to stop.

Spitz is a ballboy, and has been one since he was a teen in 1980. If you live in the NYC area, you've probably seen a story about him in the local media. The U.S. Open uses more than 250 ballboys and ballgirls during the two-week tournament. You have to pass a tryout, but the great thing is that there are no age restrictions––if you succeed at the tryout, you have a chance of being on one of the biggest and most famous stages in sport.

Spitz is a lawyer by day and each summer manages to cram in his work duties around his love for tennis and being a ballboy. When he started, Bjorn Borg was one of the stars. Now he's seen luminaries like Agassi, Sampras, and Steffi Graf come and go.

I was surprised to learn that the ball-persons actually get some pay for their duty––$10 an hour, in fact. Not much, I know, but beats a lot of other jobs people get these days. And if you like sports it's great because of the chance to see countless matches from the best seat in the house. Hey, you also get a free Ralph Lauren uniform and a pair of shoes, too!

Maybe I'll try out for ballboy next year. I'm about the same age as Rick Spitz, and it's never too late to start, right?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Maine Coast Diary, 2: The Lobster Conundrum

Lobsters are a big part of the economy and image here in Maine, and it seems every time I come up here to visit there's some hot controversy over everyone's favorite crustacean. This year is no exception.

Of course, there's always the ongoing debate over whether the way lobsters are raised and killed, particularly the tradition means of dropping a live animal into a pot of boiling water. Lobsterman and others have long argued that the lobster dies immediately, as evidenced by their lack of movement soon after being submerged into the pot.

Opponents claim that the animals are merely immobilized by the hot water, and in fact can live for some number of seconds in pain before succumbing. The pro-boiling advocates counter that it's incorrect to talk of lobsters feeling "pain" as humans and other animals do, since lobsters have a much less developed nervous system.

I don't know who's right, but this season the debate has taken on a high-stakes intensity with recent decisions by organic food giant Whole Foods Market. According to the Maine publication Working Waterfront (, Whole Foods will discontinue having live lobster tanks in its retail stores. Lobsterman and Mainers of all stripes are crying foul, citing the above-mentioned argument that it's unclear what pain lobsters experience, if any.

What's gotten Mainers even more riled up is that Whole Foods has apparently decided that, in the future, it will carry frozen lobster products only from one processor in Canada, unless other processors and their suppliers start using handling techniques used by that one processor. But Mainers question whether this company's techniques are any more humane than those practiced by the average consumer.

Whole Foods says its decisions were driven by the desire to buy processed lobster from companies that meet standards to "ensure the quality and health of the animal," but the article raises the question of whether the decisions are actually the result of economic considerations, since frozen lobster can be stored and transported more easily.

The lobster controversy is sure to continue for a long time. It's food for thought, to be sure, but something tells me the average seafood lover is going to be more concerned with price, convenience, and taste when choosing a lobster for their meals.

Maine Coast Diary, 1: What's in a Name?

For the last week and a half I've been on vacation in a small village on the Maine coast, a couple of hours north of Portland. I've been coming here with my family most summers for 20 years, and one thing I like most about this place is that it is not a touristy town but an authentic working waterfront, with fishermen and women plying their trade daily. The local names aptly reflect this history.

Every year when I tell people I'm going to Maine, they ask me where I'm going. They look at me quizzically when I tell them the name of the town--Port Clyde. When they respond that that doesn't exactly sound like the name of a vacation town, I point out that the previous name of the town was even less tourist-like: Herring Gut. A bit direct, to be sure, but as I said, this has been a fishing village for over 200 years, and it was named thusly. The name change occurred a few decades ago when the town fathers decided that their harbor town could benefit from tourism, if only a more appealing title were chosen to put on signs and maps.

Other names in the area reflect the same disregard for puffery and euphemisms. A small but quite pleasant sandy beach a few miles up the road bears the unappealing name Mosquito Harbor. Sure, there are mosquitoes there, but no more than you'd find elsewhere along the coast on a warm August night. And a small island off the coast of Port Clyde is now marked on nautical maps as Blubber Island, but in my early years of coming here the locals called it by the less polite name of Blubber Butt.

While fishing in Port Clyde is today restricted to small operators pulling in lobster and fish, at one time the village was home to a large fish processing plant that shipped its products far and wide. In the Northeast U.S. (and maybe beyond) you can still find little tins of sardines bearing the brand "Port Clyde." Sadly, the name is the only connection with the village; when I looked at a package a few years back I noticed that the product was produced in Canada.

Friday, September 01, 2006

How to make big money blogging

Apparently you really can make a lot of money using your own blog or other Web site. I saw a recent article on the Washington Post's Web site that profiled several people in the D.C. area who did just that, and what the secrets were to their success. One man was able to make $40,000 a year from his blogging efforts.

How did he do it? He started a search engine devoted to finding podcasts, and as his site became more popular the hits piled up, and enough people clicked on his AdSense ads to earn a cool $40K. Of course, we're talking about a lot of hits here–this guy's site gets close to a million hits a month these days, according to the Washington Post article.

Other people profiled in the article earn cash through Web sites on topics ranging from hobbies to free layouts for MySpace (great, somebody is actually making lots of cash designing those ugly layouts that hurt my eyes so much every time I visit MySpace!) Of course, to make real money you'd need many thousands of visits to a site, and to do that your best bet is a Web site devoted to a topic that a large number of people will be drawn to.

UPDATED-- Here are some specific things you can do to get more eyeballs (and clicks) on your Web site:
* Write about what you know and love. Some of the big money-making bloggers mentioned in the Washington Post article were writing about their hobbies and interests--podcasts, crocheting, travel, and the like. One of the biggest money-makers, the article notes, describes how to find the most comfortable and well-appointed airline seats. The Web lets millions of people around the world share your passion for a subject; if you write about a topic and let as many people as possible know about it, you'll get lots of traffic to your site.
* Drive lots of people to your site. Let people know about your site as much as possible: put the URL in your e-mail signature, in postings you make to bulletin boards and online groups, get other people to link to your Web site on theirs, etc. (this last point can also help move your site higher in Google search results)
* Experiment with the ads on your site. Read Google's AdSense tips; they're full of details on ad placement, color, use of search boxes, and more (you don't have control of these on Xomba, but you do on your own Web site). Also read the Xomba Admin tips on how to drive people to your Xombytes.
* Keep it fresh. Update the content of your site often with new material to keep visitors coming back. Some sites I go to nearly every day because I know I'll find new and interesting content; this gives the site more visits and more potential ad clicks. Other sites I visit less often because the same material is there week after week.
* Try different subjects. Most of us have several interests, so feel free to set up more than one blog. I stumbled upon one very funny humor blog. It turns out the writer is a real-estate agent by day and also has an interesting blog on home buying. Her two separate blogs attract different readerships and different ads.

Try these tips and look for others (after all, anything you want to know about anything is only a Google search away!)

The good news is that it really is possible to make real money by writing on the Web.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Lake Atitlan: shining jewel of Guatemala

Combine volcanoes, a beautiful crater lake, a fascinating mix of cultures and experiences, and you have Lake Atitlan, a breathtaking lake in the highlands of southwestern Guatemala. Lago de Atitlan was formed thousands of years ago after volcanic explosions formed a huge hole known as a caldera, and has a rightly deserved reputation as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.

Spending a week in this gorgeous but very affordable spot a few years ago made for of the most memorable vacations of my life. The lake features no less than three volcanoes—Atitlan (on the north rim of the caldera) and San Pedro and Toliman, both of which lie within the caldera itself.

A number of different villages can be found ringing the lake, each with its own unique personality. The native Maya culture is alive and well in these villages, and you can see many people living much as their ancestors did, and wearing traditional Mayan dress. Roads around the lake are few and primitive, so to get from one town to another you'll be taking one of the many boats that ply their trade ferrying passengers around the lakeside communities.

Panajachel is the biggest tourist destination in the lake area. Since the 1960s it has been a popular destination for expatriates from the U.S. and other countries, and it still is a haven for hippies (both old and new). In Panajachel you can also find vendors selling native crafts, souvenirs, and food from throughout Guatemala, and the town is known for its active nightlife. What's more, Panajachel features boats to take you to nearly every other town on the lakeside, making it ideal place to start your exploration of Lake Atitlan.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Getting great free music from the Web (legally)!

With all the hubbub about music being downloaded illegally from the Internet, podcasting has opened up a great way for artists, radio stations, and record companies to share their music legally. And since commercial radio is so bland and repetitive, podcasts have become the best way for me to discover new (and not-so-new) music.

I'm hoping artists and labels keep participating in podcasting. It's a good deal for them, since it has enticed me to buy the recordings and concert tickets of many artists I wouldn't have heard of otherwise. Here are some of my favorite music podcasts, covering different types of music. All can be found in Apple's iTunes. This public radio station from Santa Monica, California offers several music podcasts. The Morning Becomes Eclectic podcast presents live in-studio performance from the station's acclaimed show of the same name. Two sets of music enveloped by conversation. There have been performances from everyone from indie rockers to alt-country bands, from Spanish-language pop bands to electronica artists.

KCRW also features a Today's Top Tune podcast that features one song daily.

CBC Radio 3: Who'd have thought so much of today's innovative rock and pop music would come out of Canada? This one-hour (give or take) podcast from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation features full-length versions of songs from rock, pop, folk, and hip-hop artists from the well known to the unknown.

The Roadhouse: An hour of "the finest blues you've never heard"–old-style, contemporary, and everthing in between–comes your way in this podcast from Iowa City, Iowa. Host Tony Steidler-Dennison knows his stuff and plays a wide range of blues styles and artists. And with his deep voice and informal approach you'll feel like you're sitting next to a buddy on a barstool in a honky-tonk with a great blues jukebox.

Ritmo Latino: Like The Roadhouse, this podcast covers all styles and genres of its chosen form–Latin music, in this case. The host, an American living in Micronesia, spins tunes ranging from old-school music from Tito Puente and Carmen Miranda to modern Spanish-language rock and pop stars including Mana, Cafe Tacuba, and Shakira to reggaeton superstars Daddy Yankee.

The Tartanpodcast: Host Mark Hunter claims that Scotland is one of the leading centers of great music in Europe and, after listening to a few shows, it's hard to disagree with him. Singer-songwriters, pop bands, rock outfits, and more are all featured here, and while Hunter doesn't work in the music business, he nevertheless has a good ear for talented musicians.

All Songs Considered: Despite the clunky name, this podcast from National Public Radio offers a great wealth of pop and rock music in several forms. The weekly ASC podcast covers songs from about a half-dozen artists with snippets of each tune (you can hear full versions at the show's Web site). What I really enjoy are the archived live concerts that ASC Webcasts monthly from a Washington, D.C., also at the show's Web home. You can hear the full concerts from artists such as Sleater-Kinney, The New Pornographers, Toots and the Maytals, James Brown, and many more. For some you can even download the entire concert in MP3 form; the others you can stream to your computer.

Protecting yourself from the sun

With the virtually limitless array of sunscreens available today, you'd think that people are better protected from sunburn and skin cancer than ever before. Ironically, though, the American Cancer Society reported last year that more and more people under 40 are getting nonmelanoma skin cancer, the most common type of skin cancer.

Sunscreen products can provide a false sense of security and actually lead to overexposure to the sun's harsh rays, even if sunscreens are used properly (which they often aren't). Here are some tips to get the best protection from the sun.

Play the numbers game. Use sunscreen (and lip balm) rated SPF 15 or higher.

Better sooner than later. Lots of folks don't start applying the sunscreen until they're already outside at the beach or the tennis court. But since it takes 15 - 20 minutes for the chemicals in sunscreen to react with your skin, this means the skin is unprotected during that time. Remember to apply sunscreen before you go outside.

Don't use it lightly. A thin film of sunscreen won't be enough to protect you. Experts recommend using a shot-glass full (1 1/2 ounces ) for the entire body.

Reapply often. Despite manufacturer's claims of being waterproof, sweat-resistant, or offering all-day protection, you definitely need to reapply sunscreen every two hours that you're out in the sun, or after you've been swimming or sweating. And don't forget that the sun's dangerous rays are still reaching you even on overcast days.

Sunscreen is only part of a sound sun-protection strategy. Wearing a long-sleeve shirt and long pants also help, as does wearing a hat with a brim. The American Cancer Society is using an easy-to-remember slogan to promote sun safety--slip, slop, slap (which the Australian government has also been using). It's simple: slip on a shirt, slop on the sunscreen, and slap on a hat.

No matter what you call it or how you remember it, this is a sound strategy for protecting yourself from sunburn and the potentially deadly effects of skin cancer.