31 December, 2007

New Year's Resolutions for 2008

I really don't know what all the fuss is about. I think that if one is going to make a resolution, one shouldn't have to wait until the New Year to do so. But as is custom and tradition, far be it from me to go against the grain (actually, it wouldn't be far from me to do so but, I digress....).

So keeping in mind that I find the entire notion of resolutions for the coming New Year to be ridiculous and out of place, especially considering the abysmal failure rate in keeping one's new year's resolutions (maybe more people should read some articles on how to keep your new year's resolutions), here are my resolutions for the coming 2008 New Year:
  1. Eat more and Weigh less
  2. Shop more and Spend less
  3. Earn more and Work less
  4. Compute more and use less Energy
  5. Be more tolerant of Intolerance
  6. Start, then Quit Smoking
  7. Stop to Smell The Roses, then Cut and Sell them
  8. Get Drunk but don't get a hangover
  9. Help Others more but Give Less to them
  10. Keep Everything but Throw Out the Clutter
  11. Pay Off Debt with less income
  12. Get an education with no money (down)
That's all I can think of for now but I'll add more as I can think of them.

[Update 1 2007-12-31-5:14pm EDT] Leave it to the folks at The New York Times to be just as cynical about New Year's Resolutions as I am; the title of their article, Will Your Resolutions Last to February, speaks for itself. But just in case you don't quite get it, here's a little preview:
Four out of five people who make New Year’s resolutions tonight will eventually break them. In fact, a third won’t even make it to the end of January.
Oh, and for your amusement (especially if you're planning on getting as sloshed as some of my friends are), here's a little video humour to welcome in the New Year (I think one of these girls might be one of my cousins....)

Enjoy!



For my Gather friends, return here to post comments.

24 December, 2007

Little Love Among Matchmakers - New York Times

Little Love Among Matchmakers - New York Times

It's amazing the sort of news that one can find in those "non-essential news sections" of the newspaper, e.g., Lifestyles, Culture, Theatre, Travel, Technology, Business, etc. I usually tend to avoid the "regular" sections of the newspaper, e.g., local, national, and world news, as all too often these days, the stories are just too depressing.

For instance, the last time I dared venture a look at the regular news section, the first article I came across was about the teenager who shot and killed nine people and then himself at a mall in Omaha, Nebraska. I mean, who can deal with this kind of information shoved into your face when all you're trying to do is keep abreast of current world events? It just makes my depression dovetail.

So with that in mind, I pretty much stick to the relatively less sensational and more boring sections of the paper, such as the Business, Technology, Life, Culture, Travel, and other such sections. And it is there that I came across this wonderful gem:

The online dating service Chemistry.com plans to unleash a new campaign that seeks to depict its older and larger competitor, eHarmony.com, as out of touch with mainstream American values. The ads, which will appear in weekly newspapers and magazines starting Monday, attack eHarmony for refusing to match people of the same gender and for the evangelical Christian beliefs of its founder, Dr. Neil Clark Warren.

Ah, how sweet the melody of this musical reporting. I've always held that eHarmony.com's refusal to match couples of the same gender, e.g., gay/lesbian couples, was a choice they made on their part. I've lost my records on this via theft but when they first came out and I contacted them as to why they didn't offer gay/lesbian matching, their response was that the research of their founder, Dr. Warren, was targeted specifically at heterosexual couples and he had done no research as to homosexual couples and therefore they couldn't offer such services, or something along those lines.

Well, what a load of malarkey if ever one were to be had! As if what gay/lesbian couples seek in a relationship is so different from that which hetero couples seek. If one is seeking a relationship, I believe that the aspects of one's personality that these sites use to match users with others will basically be the same.

The eHarmony.com's response as to why they don't match couples has changed over time. Now, according to the article, this is what they're saying:

“EHarmony’s matching system is based on psychological data collected from heterosexual married couples, and we have not offered a service for those seeking same-sex matches. Nothing precludes us from offering a same-sex service in the future, but it’s not a service we offer now.”

Bingo, bango, mingo, mango (or however that goes)! They've basically come out and said it now. It's not that they can't do it, it's that they choose not to do it. And why do they choose not to offer their services to gays and lesbians? Probably because of the evangelical religious beliefs held by their founder (this is my opinion, in any event).

So way to go, chemistry.com; I'm hoping that you'll draw tons of eHarmony's subscribers away from them. I recently had a friend disclose to me that she subscribed to eHarmony's services. When I told her that they refused to offer their matching services to gay/lesbian individuals, she told me that she would drop her membership in protest and demand a full refund.

Now, with chemistry.com's aggressive advertising campaign to set it as the leader in matching services for all individuals who desire a relationship, she has another route to follow. And so, hopefully, does everybody else who doesn't feel like being chastised for not adhering to the evangelical christian beliefs to which eHarmony.com subscribes.

18 December, 2007

The NYTimes on Google v. Microsoft (a brief overview)

The New York Times just sent an interesting article to my Inbox. Here's a paragraph from the article that, I believe, explains fairly well its gravamen:

The growing confrontation between Google and Microsoft promises to be an epic business battle. It is likely to shape the prosperity and progress of both companies, and also inform how consumers and corporations work, shop, communicate and go about their digital lives. Google sees all of this happening on remote servers in faraway data centers, accessible over the Web by an array of wired and wireless devices — a setup known as cloud computing. Microsoft sees a Web future as well, but one whose center of gravity remains firmly tethered to its desktop PC software. Therein lies the conflict.

There have been a number of articles online about the growing battle between Microsoft and Google--David (Google) taking on Goliath Microsoft). One of the odd things about this analogy is that Google is described as being a David when it is anything BUT. Granted, they're not the evil corporate empire that Microsoft has become, and hopefully they never will get there.

What is interesting to me is the manner in which Google is battling Microsoft. They're not exactly using what most would consider to be "white gloves" tactics; they're playing just as down and dirty as the rest of corporate America. The difference here, however, is in the goals that Google seeks to reach, and that they haven't to date gotten too "down and dirty."

Considering that Microsoft and Google both offer a number of competitive, comparative products, and that people tend to have preferences, which do you prefer, and why?

I believe my preference is fairly obvious but in case it isn't: I'm definitely a fan of Google, in large part because Google has--again, to date--used its clout and resources in order to comply with its corporate philosophy to "Don't Do Evil" and not only have they managed to not do evil, but they're aiding and abetting others in who battle evil. For instance,

The fact that Google's actions have traditional analysts, such as Scott Cleland, all up in stitches is, to me, definitely a good sign. It seems that American corporations have become all too obsessed with the almighty dollar, with turning profit, and have all but forgotten the basis (and most important part) of their business in the first place: the customer. Thankfully, that fate has not yet befallen Google, and I hope that Google's Corporate Philosophy (which is rumoured to have been incorporated into their by-laws) will enable them never to fall prey to that trap.

Google provides services that the customer wants, and for a reasonable price. In doing so, they have become one of the largest and most successful global companies in the history of business. Even though they charge pennies to the dollar that other corporations, such as Microsoft, charge their customers, Google is experiencing exponential revenue growth. And I firmly believe that it all has to do with their corporate philosophy. This is something that people want and, as more and more people around the world come to terms with technology and are better able to access it, I believe (and hope) that Google will be the winner of this battle.

For another take (or perhaps a similar one; I just spotted the article) take on this battle of the giants, take a look at this C|Net article.

[Updated 18 December 2007, 5:45am]:

I had to put this update in, I just found on the web, because this further exemplifies why Google is, by far, my company of choice for all things Web. David Berlind, Executive Editor of ZDNet, recently blogged about some of the recent changes that have occurred with Gmail, Google's (primarily) web-based email service, and when you read his blog post, you'll find out why I have "primarily" in parenthesis. Here are some excerpts from his post:


One of Google’s core philosophies is that user data should never be held hostage. We want people to be able to take their data and do whatever it is they want with it. This isn’t something that’s really standard for e-mail services. Particularly Web mail services that rely on ad revenue. There’s a risk if you let people get their mail in Outlook or some other client that they’ll stop using the Web interface and they’ll end up just reading their mail in a desktop client. We believe that if we give users the best possible product and if we create a good Web interface, and let them use their data in these clients like Outlook or like their BlackBerry, that they’ll overall have a better experience and be happier with the product. So, we’ve made a point throughout Gmail’s history to give people this freedom with their data.

. . .

Regarding the updates to the underlying Javascript engine, Coleman talks about how, as a result of those changes, not only has the Gmail team been able to add eight new features in as many weeks (colored labels [mentioned above], keyboard shortcuts, instantly opening e-mails [via prefetching], integration of AOL Instant Messaging, group chat, etc.), but about how the pace of change will be very fast which means a great many more enhancements (barring foldering capabilities, none of which Coleman would let slip in the interview) are coming Gmail’s way (some experimental, some not). However, one feature that’s here now, that Coleman did slip-in, is that the storage limit for users of Gmail currently exceeds 5 gigabytes. [emphasis supplied]

I just checked my Gmail account and, sure enough, I have nearly 6GB of storage space that's being provided for me. How neat is this?

17 December, 2007

AIM and Gmail Integration

Gmail (Google's free web-based email service that offers tons of storage) has just introduced AIM integration into its chat feature. Provided that you're able to access Gmail with chat enabled (at the bottom of your Gmail screen, make sure you're using the Standard view), users can now sign into AOL Instant Messenger and chat with all of their AIM buddies right from within their Gmail window.

This is totally awesome news for me. I no longer have to launch AIM just to chat with a few people who I haven't convinced to use Gmail (stubborn, they are at that!). And this means that I'll basically havce another 75kb or so of free memory to run other applicatoins on my system.

The only hitch, and it's a very small one at that, is that you'll need to have an AIM account separately from Gmail in order to use this new feature. If you're an old AOL user or you have an AIM account, that's great; if not, just go over to AOL Instant Messenger and create one--it's totally free!

Here's a the announcement from Google's Press Release:

Announcement

December 4, 2007


Now chat with your AIM buddies inside Gmail

In February 2006, we integrated real-time chat into the GmailTM email service. Our goal was to let users switch between email and instant messaging without having to think about which they were using -- we even kept a history of chats and emails together in conversation threads so you could view and search both without worrying about whether your conversation happened as an email or a chat session.

But we know many of our users also have friends who use other chat services such as AIM.

So today we're rolling out a new feature to make it even more convenient and useful to chat from Gmail: you can now chat with all your AIM buddies right inside Gmail. Just click on the upside-down triangle next to "set status here" in your Gmail chat and select "Sign into AIM" from the drop down menu. Once you've entered your AIM log-in information, your AIM contacts will appear intermingled among your Gmail contacts, and you can select an AIM contact and chat with them directly.

This is just one of the first new features we're able to launch using Gmail's new code structure. This is rolling out in the newest English version of Gmail first and will be available in other languages soon. We're always looking for new and useful ways to help our users connect with friends, family, and coworkers, and we look forward to your feedback.

For more information or to start chatting, just log in to Gmail at www.gmail.com.

And be sure to check the Gmail Help Center for assistance with this great new feature, including instructions on logging into and out of AIM via Gmail.

Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered this ability this morning. :)

16 December, 2007

Pandora radio from the Music Genome Project

It is said that music truly is the universal language; perhaps there is truth to this statement because music is both mathematical (and we all know math to be a universal language) and emotional at the same time.

Case in point: I was listening a new station on Pandora.com (clicking on this link brings you to my profile page on Pandora). Pandora is the free Internet radio service where

  • you can create your own station by naming just one/song artist, and Pandora will use the Music Genome Project to discover related works that it think you might like,
  • you can vote individuals songs and artists into/out of your stations,
  • you can create an unlimited number of stations,
  • you can share your stations with your friends and the rest of the world,
  • you can see who else is listening to any particular song/artist at the moment,
  • you can get information about the currently playing song/artist/album with one simple click,
  • while Pandora goes about playing new content it thinks you might like, you can purchase the song from iTunes or Amazon.com, as it's playing, right from the Pandora interface), and
  • where you can do all of the above completely free of charge (except for purchasing the music from iTunes or Amazon)

I called my new station "The Crooners Station." As you may have guessed, I set up the station to play all of the great oldies from the greatest Crooners--both male and female--that America had to offer: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Billie Holiday, and Bette Midler.

So I was pleasantly surprised when my new station played Barbra Streisand's People. I haven't heard this song in such a long time and, as always is the case with Babs, it was sung with such flawless execution and heartfelt emotion that I'm glad I wasn't in public because I was basically falling apart at the seams, overwrought with emotion. And how great is a radio station where you tell it that you like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Billie Holiday, and Bette Midler, and it's able to determine that there's a good chance you'll like Barbra Streisand, Fred Astaire, Perry Como, Ella Fitzgerald, and Peggy Lee?

This is one of the many songs that's able to do this to me and it got me to thinking: are there any songs out there that hold a significant emotional value for you? Over songs do you end up coming apart at the seams? Post a comment and let me know which music takes you on that emotional rollercoaster we all so desperately want to avoid 99% of the time.

And as I'm writing this, another of Babs' songs is coming on that's bringing tears to my ears (I just made that up--whaddya think, tears for your ears?): Somewhere (Live from her The Concert - Act 1 double- CD set. And what was just as moving as Babs' singing was the statement that she made reflecting her views on diversity and equality (how the world would be such a boring place if we were all the same, how we should all embrace each otehr's differences but be treated equally, etc.), before she blossomed into song.

So head on over and give Pandora a listen; if you enjoy listening to music, I'm confident that you'll find something to suit your tastes there. And while you're there, check out my profile and see the stations I've created. And let me know if you create any stations so I can check out your musical tastes, as well!

14 December, 2007

Identity Theft Protection Support Corporation at 1-866-575-0260

I'm really about to blow my gasket. I mean, after everything that I've gone through over the past month with having to straighten out my financial accounts (which, to this date, still aren't straightened out but at least they're on the way toward getting there now), I almost had a stroke when I received an email alert from my bank, letting me know that my account had gone below zero.

WHAT???????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This is getting to be quite ridiculous. My bank account is less than two weeks old, as I had to open a new account with my bank (which, thankfully, they were able to do for me even though I have no identification because they had all of my ID on file already and were able to confirm my identity through my ID on file and also by asking me questions that only I would be able to answer) as my old account has been frozen due to fraudulent activity on it that Louie Rivera committed while I was in the hospital this past October/November and all of my possession were left in his care (it's a long story, and I've pretty much run through it in a few posts on Gather.com).

Now what's really weird about this is that the only entity I'd given my new banking account information to is Social Security, so they could re-send my SSD payment for last month to me, as last month's payment was returned to them by my bank as my accounts had been completely frozen. And if you've been reading my blog for some time now, you know that I know my way around computers pretty darned well and am not like most people who don't know what they're doing, and my computer is locked down almost to be almost bullet-proof against unauthorized usage and access.

Now here's the thing: the reason my bank account went into the negatives is because an ACH Withdrawal in the amount of $31.98 was made to my account. I called my bank to find out which entity made this illegal transaction on my account and, get this: the only information provided with the ACH transaction was a phone number: 866-575-0260. So I did a reverse lookup on the phone number and nothing came up. I then decided to Google the number and bingo bango! A bunch of web sites popped up, all of which basically were complaints about a company withdrawing money from individuals' bank accounts without their permission.

So as I'm waiting on hold for someone to answer the damned phone, I'm reading more and more accounts of what's happened to these poor saps and my blood pressure is just rising and rising. So finally, after about a half hour of being on hold, someone answers the phone and the first words out of his mouth are that he's asking me for my social security number.

Hold the phone, motherfucker! You just illegally took money out of my checking account and you think I'm going to give you a piece of information like that? What the hell kind of crystal meth are you smoking?

So then he asks for my checking account number and, since they already had that, I figured it couldn't do any more harm. He spends about ten minutes typing into the computer, without saying anything, perhaps thinking that I would hang up or something but my Scorpio was out and looking for some nice flesh to sink its poisonous stinger into.

So then this guy tells me that I submitted and online application on 13 December 2007 for identity theft protection services. I ask him for the name and address and time of submission and whether or not he has the IP address used to make the application. There were a number of inconsistencies:
  1. The name turned out to have a hitch in it, although I didn't tell him that. The way it was listed is not the way that I would ever use my name in a formal document, contract, application for services, etc.
  2. The address used was that of my bank account, not the address I use as my mailing address (since I still don't have an address of my own, I use other peoples' addresses, with their permission, instead).
  3. The application was submitted at 9:54am. At 9:54am yesterday I was, essentially, comatose. The sun, after all, out and I had retired to the comfort and safety of my coffin. My computer was safely locked down with multiple passwords that no one has ever been able to breach, and these passwords are changed on a random basis, at random intervals.
  4. If you're truly a firm established to protect the identity, and prevent identity theft, of your customers, why would you ask for their social security number as the first words out of your mouth?
  5. Even though they gave me the IP address that my computer currently was using, it had been reissued a few hours prior thereto as the cable connecting my laptop to the cablemodem keeps falling out and it had fallen out while I was taking a nap.
Keep in mind, folks, that at no point in time did I fill out any application for identity protection services or any such thing. I know how to protect my identity and I also know of groups that will take certain actions on your behalf, free of charge. Additionally, I knew that I only had a few dollars left in my checking account, so why would I allow my account to be overdrawn for something that I so was not in need of (I mean, I could understand if I wrote a check to the grocery store b/c I was hungry and had no food but identity theft protection services? it's all bogus....).

So long story short, I asked if they were going to refund the money that they illegal took from my account and was told that they wouldn't do that since they had a valid application in their possession and suggested that I go to the police if I wanted to have this matter investigated. So now I know that this is definitely not Kosher.

Now, as far as these other complaints that I'd found on the Internet, well....here's some of what they've said:
This number has charged my account! I didn't authorize the charge and when searching through the web and found this:

"The first flag that went up was the phone number given to me by the bank (charter one) for the company that charged my account. When calling the number given me i.e. 866-585-0620 a gentleman immediately explained that the number i am trying to reach is 866-575-0260 not 0620, so it lead me to believe that there was fraud envolved immediately, then when you call the correct number you get a long message about credit card theft and idenity theft and then you get several minutes of music that fades in and out leading you to belive you are losing the signal. If you are persistent, then finally a telemarketer who explained to me that he was sitting in a suite with several other minimum paid workers manning phones and trying to sound professional until questioned. He gave me much information. He told me the owner of the company is jay thomas who is conviently on vacation but didnt know where. He gave me his complete address where he was speaking to me from which i have included with this report including his fax number. He told me to report the fradulant charge to my card that was not authorized by myself to the police department and then fax this to him and once this was done they would take the charge off.
It would seem to me that charter one seems to be the target whether they are lax in their security or otherwise, it seems that most fraudulant charges stem from their banks."

This is almost exactly what happened to me!
...
I didn't receive a call but, phone# 866-575-0260 appeared on my bank statement with a withdrawal for $31.98 IDINS. I have called twice and listened to the recording that a representative will be with me shortly. Hold time 20-30minutes. I want my account credited immediately. My bank has been alerted of fraudulent charges.
So I've already filed a fraud complaint with my bank but it's a pain in the ass for me to have to keep doing this! And, of course, let's not forget about the overdraft fees that my bank is going to charge me, which will push me further into the negative balance.

So I'm writing this as a warning to people out there. I don't know what company it is that's doing this but if you see the phone number 866-575-0260, run, run away as if the devil is hot on your tail and get as far away from them as possible!

12 December, 2007

Jodie Foster comes out... finally - Times Online

Wow, this is something I really wasn't expecting, nor did I know about. My good friend, Stacey, must be totally wet by now. I'm going to have to get her a bib for all the drooling she's done over Jodi in her life. But I would like to respond to some of the comments in the article:

Jodie Foster comes out... finally - Times Online
“It is her life to live as she pleases. Why do so many gays worry about who is and who is not gay?” asked one reader.
The reasons that so many gars worry about who is and who is not gay are, I believe,
  • We like to know that we might have a chance withe the people we're fantasizing about
  • When people come out, it helps erode the hatred and prejudice in the form of homophobia. Most people who are homophobic either themselves are gay or they just don't know any better. For those who don't know any better, and I know I'm making sweeping generalizations here but for the most part, they're accurate, these are the types of people who watch Oprah and are influenced by celebrities. So when a famous celebrity comes out, it sometimes gives these people pause and they might just rethink their feelings/beliefs toward us gay folk.
  • I can't think of anything else right now but if you can, just leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail and I'll update this post!

Another Hospitalization, A New Notebook Computer, Social Networking

OK, a bunch of things for this post. And I know it's been a while, except for those few posts that I was able to send from my mobile phone. And why, one might ask, was I posted text to my blog from my mobile phone instead of my computer? Well, this three-part article that I just posted on the social networking site Gather.com might explain things.

I'm really beginning to like Gather. It's a social networking site that combines the functions and features of blogging into the more traditional social networking sites, like Google's own Orkut (view my profile there), all the while incorporating a rewards program similar to that of MyPoints.com. Essentially, You can find out all about Gather, and how it rewards users for participating, from their FAQ page.

And if you think Gather sounds interesting and you'd like to check it out, please use my personal invitation link to join; I get points when people sign up to Gather using my invite link. And points can be turned into rewards, once enough points are accumulated. Pretty nifty, eh?

So now that I'm back and I have a working computer again, hopefully I'll be making some updates to my blog here. I've got to get the template into something that the new Blogger can deal with, so expect a redesign at some point in the near future.

In the meantime, check out that article on Gather as to why I was hospitalized, and hopefully this will be the last time.

02 December, 2007

My Brother

[Updated 13 December 2007 to clean up some of the crap that my mobile phone sent when I published this]

I'm sending this from my phone and can't tell if the link to the
article i just posted on gather.com is showing up but i'm working
under the assumption that it's there. if you can't get to the article
please let me know. thanks.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Hi there,

Peter (needs a new laptop) C. Frank sent you an article.

My Brother, by Peter (needs a new laptop) C. Frank
Ok i'm kind of freaking out right now. my mom called and left me a
message that my brother was in an accident and someone died and i
tracked him down to the right hospital but they're not releasing .
. .

View this article here:
http://www.gather.com/viewArticle.jsp?articleId=281474977192733

--
Gather is a place to connect with people who share your passions. Let
your unique voice shine through the articles, images, reviews, or
audio you publish. We'll even compensate you with Gather Points(TM).
Being rewarded for something you'd do for free? Now that's a pretty
good deal. Interested? Sign up here!

--
Sent from Gmail for mobile | mobile.google.com

PCF
http://petercfrank.blogspot.com

"People are stupid; given proper motivation, almost anyone will
believe almost anything. Because people are stupid, they will believe
a lie because they want to believe it's true, or because they are
afraid it might be true." ~Wizard's First Rule, axiom by Terry
Goodkind (US Author, 1948-)

26 November, 2007

My Resume

I posted my resume to my Google page the last time I had access to a
computer. Basically, I stuck a PDF file of my resume to the page. I
don't know when I'll get my laptop back, if at all, so until I can
save up enough for a new, used one, I'm only online through my mobile
phone. But take a look and let me know what you think of my resume:
http://pcfrank73.googlepages.com/

--
Sent from Gmail for mobile | mobile.google.com

PCF
http://petercfrank.blogspot.com

"People are stupid; given proper motivation, almost anyone will
believe almost anything. Because people are stupid, they will believe
a lie because they want to believe it's true, or because they are
afraid it might be true." ~Wizard's First Rule, axiom by Terry
Goodkind (US Author, 1948-)

22 November, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

On this US holiday, we are instructed by tradition to give thanks for
the things in our lives for which, as the holiday's name suggests, we
are thankful, all the while stuffing ourselves full of food, family,
and football (or some such other merriment). While there's not much in
my own life for me to be thankful for these days, especially over
these past few years, there is one thing that I am thankful for:
having you in my life and the positive ways that you have impacted my
life through your friendship and love. As such, I wish to dedicate
this Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 2007 to you, my friends. I thank
you for your continued support, friendship, and love, and wish all of
you my very, very best during this year's holiday season. Oh, I guess
that I should also be thankful for my anti-depressants, so I give
thanks to the American pharmaceutical companies who manufacture my
medications, as well. ;-) -PCF

--
Sent from Gmail for mobile | mobile.google.com

PCF
http://petercfrank.blogspot.com

"People are stupid; given proper motivation, almost anyone will
believe almost anything. Because people are stupid, they will believe
a lie because they want to believe it's true, or because they are
afraid it might be true." ~Wizard's First Rule, axiom by Terry
Goodkind (US Author, 1948-)

13 November, 2007

Therapeutic Rejuvenation (or, what I did this past weekend)

This past weekend, I went to Montauk, NY. It was a very interesting experience for me. It wasn't the first time I'd been there, but it was the first time that I'd been there since my car accident, nearly six years ago. After my accident, I've always felt that a part of me had been missing. It's kind of strange, but I've thought, at times, that the crash jolted some of my energy out of my body and has been stranded out in Montauk. Driving past the same spot where the accident occurred (one must drive through that spot to reach Montauk), I felt very .. weird. But now, I feel better, and more whole. I don't know if I picked up some of that missing energy, but I know that I'm feeling just a little bit better.

All in all, I'd say that it was very healing for me, and a good experience. It was great to be back out by the ocean. One of the things that I love about Montauk is going out to the beach and just sitting there and watching the waves roll in, crashing into the dunes. It's very relaxing. Plus, I really only go to Montauk in the off-season, which means that the beaches are pretty desolate, so it's very peaceful. No screaming kids and people running around to get in the way on one's serenity.

I didn't bring any books with me to read (which I usually do at the beach), I very much enjoyed just going out to the beach and becoming mesmerized by the waves crashing into the sand and the rocks. Additionally, I went to a part of the beach out there that I'd never been to before: Ditch Plains. That's where all the surfers go. And, even though it's pretty much off-season for Montauk, the surfers were out there in force, (yes, even though it was a very windy and somewhat balmy day).

So enjoy some of the scenes I took from my camera phone (I know, I need a better quality camera in my phone!). Sit back, relax, and enjoy the therapeutic rejuvenation that I experienced this past weekend, not from a spa but from our very own Mother Nature. :)



Serenity in Montauk

12 November, 2007

Adding a picture to your Orkut profile

There's apparently a bug in Orkut at the moment where it's not giving you the option to add your picture to your profile. It's hard to find the work-around solution while searching their help section (you actually have to go into the Google Groups for Orkut to find it, and even there it's a bit hidden), so I thought I'd post the instructions for adding a photo to your profile here, to make it easier for people to find.

So if you'd like to add your photo (which I think you should have), do the following:

  1. Make sure you're using a compatible web browser. FireFox is definitely the recommended choice.
  2. Make sure that Javascript is enabled in your web browser (it is in FireFox, by default)
  3. Log into Orkut
  4. Click on the edit profile link
  5. Make sure you're in the "General" tab, and then enter (type or copy&paste) the following line into the location bar of your web browser and then hit ENTER or click the GO button:
javascript: showUploadPhoto();

(make sure you include the semi-colon at the end of the line, and put a space after the colon after "javascript:")

After entering the above line, you should get a pop-up window where you can then modify the image in your profile or, if you don't have one, upload an image to be your Orkut profile image.

Enjoy!

03 October, 2007

What the Buck?

OK I know I haven't posted in what seems like forever. But summers are difficult for me. Not to mention, my depression has been heading downhill, oh so slowly but ever so surely, that it kind of crept up on me. I'm probably on the verge of another hospitalization. How sad is that? I know, it's like I can't even make it four months now without being in the hospital. I think playing with trains as a kid might have given me a few too many ideas with respect to the difficulties I have with my thoughts these days. Don't go there.

Anyway, I just had to post about something that's been keeping me going. I'm not a big YouTube person. I mean, I get the whole thing; I just never found much that was really, truly interesting on there. But lo and behold, and I don't know how I managed to find it (oh yes, I do, but I can't tell, or the Jewish Mafia will give me a second bris!) but I've finally found something that has me coming back to YouTube, again and again, and again and again. And that is, The What The Buck Show.

For those of you who haven't caught this YouTube star, he is, without a doubt, the gay male version of my favourite comedienne diva, Kathy Griffin. Only we get to see him more than 1/2 hour a week (or do we?).

He's even started a daily vlog now, and apparently has been vlogging on YouTube for a few years.

In any event, go, visit, subscribe, and pee your pants laughing. Or, if you're like me and majorly depressed, crack a smile. Here's one of my favourites:

16 August, 2007

QOTD

"Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy."
2nd Baronet (1875-1954), British publicist

12 June, 2007

40 Years of Loving

Today is an important day in the annals of the struggle to obtain equality in matters of love: forty years ago, to this day, the Supreme Court of the United States of America ruled that two consenting adults, who are in love with each other, have a fundamental right to marry each other, regardless of their respective race.

I've previously blogged about the struggle same-sex couples face in their struggle to achieve "marriage equality." I've written letters to my congressional representatives in support of extending this fundamental right of marriage to same-sex couples. I've even blogged about the various levels of judicial review that guide courts' decisions in determining the constitutionality (or unconstitutionality) of particular laws passed by various legislatures in our great nation. Finally, we are able to look back a mere ten years to see that little, if any, has changed in the fight to achieve marriage equality.

Today, however, a voice from the past speaks out: the lead plaintiff in Loving v. Virginia has issued a statement in support of the right of same-sex couples to enter into civil marriage contracts. I say contract because that's exactly what marriage is, as far as the government is concerned.

There are many sites that will explain the separation between church and state but what is of paramount concern is that marriage has, and should always be, a contract between two persons. In most instances, this contract is a verbal agreement administered by a government official, witnessed by at least two persons not a party to the marriage contract. But enough about history -- for now.

In her statement, Mildred Loving puts it as no other could:

I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard's and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That's what Loving, and loving, are all about.
A number of other sites on the Internet have picked up on the anniversary of the landmark Loving case; however, to the best of my knowledge, no major news organization has picked up on Mrs. Loving's statement in supprt of marriage equality for same-sex couples (and all couples, regardless of whom they might be). I'm fairly certain that, given the loving nature of the Lovings' relations, if Mr. Lovings were still around (he was killed by a drunk driver back in 1975), he would share in her sentiments.

[Updated 2 November 2008] I've just re-read Ms. Loving's statement and, especially considering that she recently passed away, I feel that it is important enough, and moving enough, that her entire statement should be posted and shared with as many as possible. So here goes, the entire statement by Mildred Loving on the 40th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia:
Loving for All

By Mildred Loving*

Prepared for Delivery on June 12, 2007,
The 40th Anniversary of the Loving vs. Virginia Announcement

When my late husband, Richard, and I got married in Washington, DC in 1958, it wasn’t to make a political statement or start a fight. We were in love, and we wanted to be married.

We didn’t get married in Washington because we wanted to marry there. We did it there because the government wouldn’t allow us to marry back home in Virginia where we grew up, where we met, where we fell in love, and where we wanted to be together and build our family. You see, I am a woman of color and Richard was white, and at that time people believed it was okay to keep us from marrying because of their ideas of who should marry whom.

When Richard and I came back to our home in Virginia, happily married, we had no intention of battling over the law. We made a commitment to each other in our love and lives, and now had the legal commitment, called marriage, to match. Isn’t that what marriage is?

Not long after our wedding, we were awakened in the middle of the night in our own bedroom by deputy sheriffs and actually arrested for the “crime” of marrying the wrong kind of person. Our marriage certificate was hanging on the wall above the bed. The state prosecuted Richard and me, and after we were found guilty, the judge declared: “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” He sentenced us to a year in prison, but offered to suspend the sentence if we left our home in Virginia for 25 years exile.

We left, and got a lawyer. Richard and I had to fight, but still were not fighting for a cause. We were fighting for our love.

Though it turned out we had to fight, happily Richard and I didn’t have to fight alone. Thanks to groups like the ACLU and the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, and so many good people around the country willing to speak up, we took our case for the freedom to marry all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And on June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that, “The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men,” a “basic civil right.”

My generation was bitterly divided over something that should have been so clear and right. The majority believed that what the judge said, that it was God’s plan to keep people apart, and that government should discriminate against people in love. But I have lived long enough now to see big changes. The older generation’s fears and prejudices have given way, and today’s young people realize that if someone loves someone they have a right to marry.

Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the “wrong kind of person” for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.

I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.


09 June, 2007

Some questions about blogging

I recently sent the following questionnaire to a group of friends and associates. How would you answer these questions? Feel free to e-mail your responses to me, or leave a comment:
  1. What do the terms blog(s), blogger(s), and blogging/to blog mean to you (it's okay if you don't know--just say so)?
  2. Do you consider blogs to be part of the press?
  3. Regardless of whether or not you think blogs to be part of the press, do you think they should be considered part of the press?
  4. Do you consider blogs to be part of the media?
  5. Regardless of whether or not you think blogs to be part of the media, do you think they should be considered part of the media?
  6. Do you think there is a difference between the press and the media? If so, what is it?
  7. Do you think anyone can create and maintain a blog or are there certain qualifications/skills one must possess in order to do so?
  8. Regardless of whether or not you think there are any such qualifications/skills one must possess in order to set up and maintain a blog, should there be certain qualifications/skills one must possess in order to blog? Why do you feel this way?
  9. If you answered in the affirmative to the last question, what qualifications/skills do you think one should possess in order to blog?
  10. Do you consider bloggers (those who write blogs) to be reporters?
  11. Regardless of whether or not you consider them to be reporters, do you think bloggers should be considered to be reporters?
  12. Do you think bloggers have any special legal standing/legal rights?
  13. Regardless of whether or not you think bloggers have any special legal standing/rights, should they have any such legal standing0/rights?
  14. Do you think there are any guidelines that bloggers should follow in their blogs?
  15. Regardless of whether or not you think there are any guidelines for bloggers, should there exist such guidelines? If so, what should they be?
  16. Do you think bloggers are under any moral and/or legal obligations in their blogs?
  17. Regardless of whether or not you think bloggers are under any moral and/or legal obligations, should they be under any moral and/or legal obligations? If so, what should they be?
  18. Do you think there is a difference between anonymous and non-anonymous bloggers/blogging?
  19. Do you think bloggers need to reveal who they are? Why?
  20. How would it affect your opinion if they don't reveal who they are (the blogger(s) remain(s) anonymous)?
  21. How much do you think a blogger should reveal about her/himself to his/her readers?
  22. Finally, may I quote your responses in my article? If so, may I use your name, part of your name, or would you prefer to remain anonymous? :-)
Keep an eye on this space to see when I complete my article, and what I've found out. It should be quite interesting, don't you think?

[Updated 13 June 2007]

Finally, some general demographic questions:
  1. About how long have you been using computers?
  2. About how long have you been using the Internet/have you been online?
  3. Do you read blogs on a regular basis? If so, approximately how many do you read?
  4. How did you come across this questionnaire?
  5. Can you give me a little background about yourself (e.g., are you a fellow blogger, a journalist, a lawyer, etc.)?
  6. What is your gender (male/female/MTF/FTM/other)?
  7. Where do you reside?
  8. In what field do you work (e.g., legal, journalism, IT, etc.)?
  9. Approximately how old are you (e.g., teens, 20s, 30s, 40s, etc.)?
  10. Are there any questions you'd like to see covered on this questionnaire?
  11. Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer these questions!

[For my Gather.com friends, here's a link back to the article that may have referred you here, so you can leave your comments/ratings, etc.]

08 June, 2007

Google Gears

Google (GOOG -- don't you wish you had bought their stock during their IPO?) recently announced a developer release of a new service called Google Gears.

Gears is a browser extension (mini-programs that extend the functionality of one's web browser), which allows one to access web-based applications off-line (which may sound like a paradox). While this is a developer release (which means it's in the very early testing stages), Google Gears has the potential for becoming a very useful and routine tool for people who use mobile computers to access the Internet when an Internet connection isn't available (Ms. Berger provides a great web-site that explains, in pretty simple English, a lot of common computer jargon).

For instance, one of the uses of Google Gears is to enable one to read off-line up to 2,000 entries that have been set up in Google Reader, even if one isn't able to get on-line. This is because the entries will be stored locally, on one's own computer.

This service will also benefit those individuals who still use dial-up to access the Internet, as they will be able to download the latest entries in their Google Reader accounts, go off-line, and read them at their leisure.

What most interests me about this new service, however, is that Google has released this as an open-source project. As an advocate of open source myself, I applaud them for doing so. Of course, the bread-and-butter of Google's revenue (search) is a very, very closed-source company secret. I'd love to see Google go open-source with many more of their secondary (and tertiary) applications.

While it would be nice for them to open-source their proprietary, closed-source search engine methodology (one can dream, can one not?), I do understand that this is, essentially, their primary asset. Additionally, unlike Microsoft, I don't see Google as being in danger of many of the risks that most other closed-source software faces, given the hundreds or thousands of programmers that they have devoted to fine-tuning their search engine algorithms.

[Updated 13 June 2007]PC Magazine online wrote about a recent review of Google Gears by eWeek.

03 June, 2007

Jumping Back Onto the Political Bandwagon

Not too long ago, I had blogged about being out of the political landscape for far too long. To recap, this realization came to me when I discovered that Bill Schmidt -- someone I consider to be a good friend -- had lost his bid for re-election to the City of Peekskill's Common Council. As it turns out, Bill recently announced that he'll be running for Mayor of Peekskill. I've since offered to help him on his campaign, in ways that will probably become clearer to me as the campaign gets off the ground.

Over the past few months, I can now admit that Bill confided in me that he was interested in seeking office again although, at the time, he wasn't certain which position he would seek. The conversations that I've had with him energized me, and as I've alluded to in other posts, I believe that these conversations and the cursory involvement I've had in launching his campaign have helped to bring me out of an indescribable depression (although I've attempted to describe it on numerous occasions in the past; just check out my blog posts under "mental health" for a sampling).

This will be, really, the first foray back into politics that I'll be attempting since my automobile accident in 2002, and I'm looking forward to it. Bill's opponent for Mayor, Peekskill City Councilwoman Mary F. Foster, is an interesting person, to say the least. She (and/or her cohorts) have already attacked Bill in some slightly underhanded ways: for example, she might have some problems with being truthful, and there are a number of other instances of web chatter (here, here, and here, for example) indicative of Ms. Foster's antics and power-hungry machinations. Another example of her issues with the truth can be found with her page hosted by her party's web site, wherein she states that she is a partner of the Big Four accounting firm, "Deloitte & Touche"; however, on her city council web page, she states that she retired from Deloitte in January 2007. So which is it?

Not to mention, I have it on very good authority that Ms. Foster recently was heard telling others that there was too much "camaraderie" on the city council. Heaven forbid! As one blogger (who happened to come across my blog by chance, and whose blog has impressed me with its intelligent and well-written posts) has so eloquently put it, polarization between political parties is a fairly recent phenomena and we must stick to the guidelines set forth by the high political powers of such phenomena, and banish such cozy feelings among political opponents. Why, such camaraderie could actually lead to something being accomplished! As an example, just take a look at the polarization rampant in Congress nowadays. Surely, we must stick to that political model and admonish against any such camaraderie going forward.

I'll definitely have to be on my toes for this race. It should prove interesting. At the very least, it will give me something to do with much of the free time that I tend have -- free time which is not beneficial to recovering from depression. I know that a great many people will take interest in this race. In fact, some have already done so.

I've missed being involved in politics. I know that I have a lot of catching up to do. But for the time being, I think I'm going to just focus on this one race and see how I do with that. Bill is a dear friend, and I want to help him out however possible. And since this is really my first foray back into politics in quite some time, I want to start small, and build upon what hopefully will be a great success. And if you happen to be registered to vote in the City of Peekskill, please vote for my friend Bill and the rest of the "GO Peekskill" Team!

So that's it. I'm back in politics. First, Bill. Next, who knows? Look out, world!

31 May, 2007

Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher

One of the last books that I read during my most recent hospitalization at Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher. I read a paperback version of the novel, which was 505 pages. I began reading Friday evening, but only got through about 15 pages or so. On Saturday afternoon , I began reading in earnest as I was drawn into the story, and then I didn't put the book down until I had finished with it on Sunday evening, a sign to me that my depression was improving as the pace with which I read was more reminiscent of my childhood days, when I wouldn't put a book down until I was finished with it, especially if the story held my interest, which, for some reason, Winter Solstice definitely did.

If you're interested in reading the book (which I highly recommend), you can find reviews about it all over the net. There are three pages that I had photocopied, as those passages spoke to me in that certain way that other books have been doing -- therapeutically. Once you get past the first fifteen or twenty pages or so, I dare you to put the book down. There's nothing bizarre, outlandish, or radical about the plot, which is one of the best things about this book; it's just a beautifully written story.
"What does the poor child do all day?"
"Most of the time, she's at school. She's got a nice little room of her own in the flat, and a friend called Emma. . . ."
"I suppose she never sees a man. Or a boy."
"The school is all-girls, and if she does visit her father, the dreaded Marilyn is always much in evidence. Jealous, probably, stupid cow."
"I think she was rather taken by Rory Kennedy. Quite apart from being immensely brave and rescuing Horace, he has dyed hair. And an earring."
"Too exciting."
"We've all been asked up to the Manse tomorrow evening for a drink with the Kennedys. I'd love you to be able to come, because I want you to meet Tabitha Kennedy, but perhaps you aren't feeling up to such wild sociality."
"I'll see."
"And then, apparently, there's some shindig on in the school hall, all the children are going to dance reels. Rory asked Lucy if she'd go with him and his sister, and she's all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about this, and says she's going to wash her hair tonight."
Carrie drank her tea, which was scalding-hot and smoky tasting because Elfrida had made it with Lapsang Souchong tea-bags. She said rather sadly, "I have an awful feeling that when the time comes to go back to London, we're going to have terrible sadness and tears."
"Don't say it. I can't bear to think about it."
"I've been thinking about this job with the travel company. In London. I've decided I'll take it. Maybe just for a year. Then I can be around for Lucy, try to brighten things up for her a bit. I'll bludgeon Dodie into submission, force her to let me take Lucy to Cornwall to stay with Jeffrey and Serena. You know, she's never seen Jeffrey. She was just a baby when they divorced, and Dodie's resentment and grudges show no signs of abating."
"Poor woman."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because she has nothing else to think about. More tea?" Carrie held out her empty cup and Elfrida refilled it.
"Did Nicola ring today?"
"Nicola? Were you expecting a call?"
"No. But tomorrow she's flying to Florida. I thought she might have called to say goodbye to Lucy. But she obviously hasn't."
"Lucy never spoke about it. To be truthful, I think she's too preoccupied with doggy adventures, Rory Kennedy, and buying Christmas tree decorations with Oscar."
"Good for Lucy."
They fell silent, sipping tea, companionable. The house was very quiet. Elfrida said, as casually as she could, "Is this a good time to talk?"
Carrie raised her head, and her beautiful dark eyes gazed into Elfrida's face.
"Talk?""
"You said you would tell me. Some time. Later. Why you left Austria. Why you came home so precipitantly. Why you are taking this job in London. Perhaps now, with no person to interrupt, is as good as any. I'm not prying. I just want to know. Not so much about Austria, as why you are so worn out and sad-looking."
"Is that how I look?"
"But no less beautiful."
"Oh, Elfrida, what a star you are. I don't feel beautiful. I feel old and finished. I'm nearly thirty now. It's like a watershed. And I don't know what's waiting for me on the other side of the hill. Since I last saw you, the years have gone so fast. Thirty once seemed an age away. Now, before I know it, I shall be forty and then fifty and I have to make something of my life. But the simple prospect of decisions and meeting new people and finding old friends drains me of all energy."
"That's probably why you caught this horrible cold. Why a small virus has laid you so low."
This penultimate paragraph describes very well how I've felt for the past fie years of my life, and a great deal of how I currently feel about life. I know that I've done things with my life -- accomplishments of which I should be very proud. But in the grand scheme of things, they don't seem all that important. I don't feel as though I've accomplished much, even though I know that I have. And this is what depression does to a person. It makes them feel worthless -- it makes me feel worthless. I know that, intellectually, that I can do more with my life, and that I have many years ahead. But I don't feel that way. I'm just now beginning to feel that I can live again, that I might be able to make something more of my life. Options are opening up for me. But again, like Carrie, when I begin to think about it, I just feel drained of all energy, especially when I think of what I'm going to have to do to get anything done.

As the nutritionist -- who happens to be a very sympathetic ear and great therapist -- said to me, "How do you eat an elephant, Peter?"

The answer: one bite at a time. I know that I have to do things in steps, and baby steps at that. Yet -- still -- I feel so drained when I think about it all. Anyway, you can see how beautifully this book is written, and how it can describe life in its many stages. On to more ....
"My dad and I used to do that. When I was little and we were all still together. We read The Borrowers. And when he wanted to tease, he called me Arietty. And he put Babedas in his bath and made the whole house smell piny. What else did Francesca like doing?"
"Everything. She had a little phony, and an old bicycle, and a guinea pig in a hutch, and a bedroom full of books. On wet days, she used to go into the kitchen and make biscuits. They were always either burned or raw, and I used to have to eat them and sweat they were delicious. And we listened to music together, and played duets on the piano. . . ."
"Was she good at the piano?"
"Not very."
"Was she good at lessons?"
"Not very."
"What was she really good at?"
"Living."
"That's important, isn't it?"

I don't know that I've ever been good at living. I think that when we were children, and innocent, we were all good at living. We didn't know any better. But as we age and grow supposedly wiser, we lose in ourselves our own ability to live. At least, it seems to be such as the case to me. What secrets -- other than innocence from the cruelty of reality in the world -- do children possess that allow them to live and not merely exist? This is a question in search of an answer in this day of enlightenment and wonderment -- quite pitiful that we can exist so well and live so poorly.

How does one not become overwhelmed with the realities of life such that one is prevented from living it? This, gentle readers, is perhaps the billion dollar question of our century.

The passage continues,
Their eyes met, and they gazed at each other, both silenced by the enormity of what Oscar had just said. It was as though he had spoken without thought, and the word hung between them like a lie. Francesca had been good at living, but now she was dead, her young life ended with the brutal finality of a fatal car crash.
Lucy did not know what to say. To her horror she saw Oscar's eyes fill with tears, his mouth tremble. Then, in an abrupt movement, he covered his eyes with his hand. He tried to speak, but words did not come; instead, a sound was torn from deep in his chest, a sob of utter despair.
She had never before seen a grown-up weep, rendered incapable by an almost overwhelming grief. She stared at him, wondering what she could do to comfort, and saw him shake his head, denying his own weakness, somehow struggling for control of his unbearable emotion. After a bit, to her huge relief, he took his hand from his face and reached into his breast pocket for his handkerchief. Then he blew his nose, made an effort to smile at her, reassuring her. He said, "Sorry."

Who hasn't had a moment such as this in their life, when unbearable emotions overwhelm one's self-control amidst a witness or two? This writing is real -- it is three-dimensional; it is felt. Continuing on,
"It doesn't matter, Oscar. I don't mind. Really I understand."
"Yes, I think you do. Death is part of living. I have to remember that, but from time to time the truth eludes me."
"Living is important, isn't it? And remembering?"
"More important than anything else." He stowed his handkerchief away once more. "That first day, the day you arrived, you and I sat in the church and talked about Christmas and the Winter Solstice. It was then that I remembered Francesca, for the first time, without total desolation. I remembered having exactly the same conversation with her a year or so ago. Trying to explain about the Christmas star and the scientists' theory of time. And she listened but was not convinced. She didn't want to be convinced. She liked the story just as it was."

"In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone.

"That was the way she wanted Christmas to be, and for Francesca it wouldn't have been magic any other way. Because the carols and the darkness and the presents were all part of a time when life took flight, and the whole world soared to the stars."
Lucy said, "That's how this Christmas is going to be."
"Stay with us."
"I do love you, Oscar."
"There's a lot of love around. Don't ever forget that."
"I won't."
"Do you want to come downstairs now, and join the others, and have some supper? If they've left any for us. . . ."
"I have to comb my hair and wash my face."
"In that case." He relinquished her hand with a little pat, got off the bed, and went to the door. She watched him go. As he left the room, he turned back for a final reassuring smile.
"Don't be too long, my duck."
This type of writing evokes imagery in one's mind, does it not? It's just beautiful, beautiful writing filled with wondrous characters and a not-so-far-fetched plot. And remembering is important, as it's what keeps the dead alive. To me, a person is defined by his or her own actions. (I've been told that this is an extremely existentialist viewpoint) Thus, remembrance of those actions -- expending energy by keeping such thoughts in the present -- in essence keeps that person in the present, at least in part. But enough of my spiritual beliefs, and on to more great writing. This last passage is more toward the beginning of the book (I've not presented these passages in the order in which they appear in the book):
... A split second. And Gloria's car was destroyed, unrecognizable, and Gloria and Francesca were both dead.
"The news was broken to me by the police. A nice young sergeant. Poor boy, I cannot describe my reaction, because I felt nothing. Numb. Empty. Devoid of any emotion. And then, gradually, the void filled with a bitter rage and resentment, against whoever, or whatever, had allowed this thing to happen to me. The world, I know, is filled with horror, and one becomes hardened. Horrified, but hardened. Watching television images of destroyed villages, starving children, monumental natural disasters. But this was
me. This was my life, my being. My wife. My child! If a God was there . . . and I had never been totally certain that he was . . . I didn't want to have any part of him.
The past almost five and one-half years of my life have been an existed devoid of any emotion. I'm just now beginning to reach the stage where I'm gradually beginning to feel again -- to live again. I take that back a minute. I've actually been able to feel certain things in the past five years or so -- sad things. Things that make one depressed. Things that rob the sound from one's throats in utter gasps of horror and sadness. But now, I'm able to feel just a tiny bit of joy, which I think originates from a number of sources, about which I'll blog later. But for now, on with the rest of this passage:
"Out cleric in Dibton called to comfort. He told me that God sends people only what they are strong enough to bear. And I rounded on him, and said that I wished I were as weak as water, and still had my child. And then I sent him away. We never got around to the guilt. I knew Gloria's weakness. I should have been with them. I should have been behind the wheel of the car. If only. If only is my nightmare."
"If only is like hindsight. A useless exercise. The accident seemed to me to have been one composed of several tragic circumstances. Who knows? Perhaps you would have died, too, Oscar, and then an even larger hole would have been left in the lives of those who knew and loved you all. . . . As for God, I frankly admit that I find it easier to live with the age-old questions about suffering than with many of the easy or pious explanations offered from time to time. Some of which seem to verge on blasphemy. I hope so much that no one has sought to try and comfort you by saying that God must have needed Francesca more than you. I would find it impossible to worship a God who deliberately stole my child from me. Such a God would be a moral monster."
With my anxiety disorder, if only, what if, what about, I should have, and other such thoughts become an all-consuming part of life. I literally get trapped in these thoughts -- in cycles of these types of thoughts -- and can't function in the outside world. Some scientists posit that there are an infinite number of multiple realities (a/k/a multiple universes), and getting caught up in all of these "if" questions is like being caught up in an infinite programming loop, effectively shutting me down. Interaction with the outside world becomes nearly impossible, as the "what if" questions just keep flying out of my mind. This loss of functionality, of course, affects my chronic depression, sending me further into the bowels of what some might deem hell-like conditions. Everything -- evening going to the bathroom -- becomes a laborious task to be completed and there simply is no energy left to complete any of these tasks, as it is being expended on the infinite loop-causing "what if" questions. But on with our story:
Oscar was astounded. "Is that," he asked at last, "what you really believe?"
Peter nodded. "It is what I truly believe. Thirty years in the ministry has taught me that the one thing we should never say when a young person dies is 'It is the will of God.' We simply don't know enough to say that. I am in fact convinced that when Francesca died in that terrible accident, God's was the first heart to break."
"I want to move on, to go on living, to be able to accept; to be able to give again. I don't like taking all the time. I've never been that sort of person."

I have to stop here, because here exists a striking similarity between the character of Henry and who I believe I used to be. I believe that prior to my accident, I was a very giving person, and almost never took from others -- in any sense of the word. One of the things that's been most difficult for me to face, I believe, since my accident, is that I now must rely on others for a great many number of things, especially given the events that have occurred since my accident took place. I'm not used to taking; I'm not used to being on the receiving end of the gift, and it's been extremely difficult for me to even accept what is being offered.

But slowly, I'm coming around to doing just that -- to beginning to accept help from others. To realizing that I need to rely on others, and must take from others. Hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, I'll be able to give again. But right now, I must receive. It's been a difficult realization, and I still have difficulty with the notion and action of receiving (even before the accident, I would always blush and not know what to do when someone thanked me for something). I believe that giving is a part of who I am, who I need to be in order for me to feel whole again.

And slowly -- ever so slowly -- I think I'm starting down the path of beginning to feel like a whole person again.
"Oh, Oscar. It will be all right. Because of your profession, the Church has been so much part of your life for so many years that you will be as familiar as I am with the great biblical promises about life and death. The problem is that traumatic grief can often render them unreal. For a while, what you are probably going to need most is not people who will quote the Bible to you, but close friends who will continue to hold your hand, and lend you a listening ear when you want to speak about Francesca."
Oscar thought about Elfrida, and Peter paused for a moment, as though to give him time to argue this new conception. But Oscar did not say anything.
"Life is sweet," Peter went on. "Beyond the pain, life continues to be sweet. The basics are still there, Beauty, food, and friendship, reservoirs of love and understanding. Later, possibly not yet, you are going to need others who will encourage you to make new beginnings. Welcome them. They will help you move on, to cherish happy memories and confront the painful ones with more than bitterness and anger."
Oscar remembered the dark night, and the image of Francesca, and how, for the first time, it had not reduced him to the painful tears of loss, but had filled his being with a peaceful comfort. Perhaps that had been the start of his recovery. Perhaps this conversation, this interview, whatever one called it, was the continuance.
He did not know. He only knew that he felt better, stronger, not so useless. Perhaps, after all, he hadn't done so badly.
He said, "Thank you."
"Oh, my friend, I wish I could give you so much more."
"No. Don't wish that. You have given me enough."

What more need be said?

27 May, 2007

A fun game

Leave it to the folks at Google to come up with a way that gets people to help develope one of their core technologies free of charge, all the while letting people have fun at the same time. And they make you feel good about wasting away the hours into the middle of the night, by calling it something benign and innocuous, like, "Google Image Labeler."

The premise for this game is quite simple:
You'll be randomly paired with a partner who's online and using the feature. Over a two-minute period, you and your partner will be shown the same set of images and asked to provide as many labels as possible to describe each image you see. When your label matches your partner's label, you'll earn points depending on how specific your label is. You'll be shown more images until time runs out. After time expires, you can explore the images you've seen and the websites where those images were found. And we'll show you the points you've earned throughout the session.
So what does the average Internet surfer get out of it? A fun, amusing way to waste some time in moments of boredom. And what does Google get out of it? Well, according to their thank-you message (which is displayed at the end of each two-minute round):
It will help us improve the relevance of image search results so that you and other Google users can quickly and easily find the results you're looking for.
So give it a whirl. You just might find it entertaining. And try to beat my currect best: 1,740 points. :-)


20 May, 2007

Another Hospitalization

Well, as some of my friends inferred from my absence, I was in hospital again for my chronic major depression. This time, against my better judgment, I went to St. Vincent's Hospital Westchester. The last time I was an inpatient there, I had a therapist basically tell me to go ahead and kill myself, when I told her that I was suicidal. Additionally, their partial hospital program (outpatient services) violated my privacy rights by divulging information about my treatment to family members, without my permission (and the disclosure did not fall within a permissible exception to HIPAA's privacy rights guarantees).

This hospitalization, however, was actually one of my better hospitalizations, and was productive. I think I have a better handle on my depression now, and for whatever reasons the universe has come up with, I've managed to make some progress in dealing with some of the issues that have been weighing me down over the past few years. And, I'm not thinking about suicide anymore as an option.

As you'll recall, I was involved in a horrendous automobile accident in January 2002. I'm re-posting the picture here, because it's something that I've been looking at from time to time:


The worst injury to my body happened to my lower right leg (I sustained a broken sternum, lacerations, sprains, some other broken bones, and the usual bumps and bruises associated with a head-on collision). My ankle, in essence, was destroyed and had to be re-constructed, using bone from both of my knees:


One of the things about this accident is that I basically stopped living. I kind of became suspended in time, and lived on January 31, 2002. During this most recent hospitalization, I had some periods of enlightenment, moments of clarity that came to me. There's been a disconnect between how I've felt about things, and what I've known about things. That disconnect is closing, and allowing me to move on from the fateful day of my accident. I'm now picking life back up again, and living it.

I know that there are forces in the universe that, at our current level of technology, we cannot begin even to understand or know about. I believe that some of these forces may have helped me to move on by directing me in certain directions over the past few years -- years that have been immensely difficult for me on many different levels: personal, professional, social, psychological, financial, and political. As I've been blogging about on many occasions, one of the things that has been therapeutic for me is reading. Over the past two years or so, when I began reading for pleasure again, I've found a number of books that have spoken to me, and that have helped me put into words certain feelings and thoughts that I've had floating around in the back of my mind, in most cases in more clarity than I could have provided had I not come across these works.

Before I went into the hospital, I picked up a book in the small library of a friend's reading room. It was The Summer I Dared, by Barbara Delinsky. In short form, the book is about how the survivor of an accident pieces her life back together. This book was extremely therapeutic for me, and I drew a number of parallels from it to my own life:
Sandi could never understand that. She could never understand that concept of communicative silence. She could never understand that when you were with the right people, you didn't need words in order to know what they felt.
This is something that I feel quite often. I know that, with the average person, words are necessary, but there are certain people for whom words do no justice, and certain feelings that cannot be described by words; they can only be felt.
As she moved slowly forward over the grass bordering the granite headstones, she thought about the quiet words that had been words that had been said about Hutch. A loyal man, one friend said. An independent man, another said. An able man, said a third.

She found herself wondering what would have been said about her, had she been the one who died. Loyal wife, surely. Loving mother. Able homemaker. Obedient woman.

Obedient woman. She didn't know whether being called "obedient" was a compliment, but it was true. Obedient she was. She had been an obedient daughter to her parents and an obedient sister to her brothers. She had been an obedient student -- always obedient in school -- and an obedient bride. Oh yes, she was that. Ten years her senior, Monte wanted babies, and Julia accommodated him. Miscarriages followed their initial success, though, and by the time it became clear that there would be no other children, he was successful enough in the world of high finance that he needed Julia as his hostess. Which she was. Obediently.

It could be said, she realized as she neared the front of the line, that taking this two-week trip to Big Sawyer without Monte was the most independent thing she had done in her life. Not that he appeared to mind. As promised, he had sent a package containing everything she would need to prolong her stay -- money, credit cards, a set of car keys, and a new cell phone.

Loyal. Loving. Able. Obedient. Running through the list, she stopped short at the end.

Loyal. Loving. Able. Obedient. And . . . what else? She felt there ought to be something. But she couldn't come up with a word.
This passage led me to ask myself, "Who am I now?" and "What would be said about me at my funeral?" In response, I wrote down that I don't know who I am now. Some of the basics from my prior life (which is what I've begun calling the period of my life prior to my auto accident) remain with me: intelligent, educated, technologically-inclined. Beyond that, I don't know what else. I wouldn't know how people would describe me. As to the second question, I wrote down that I didn't care, that I would be free again. While this is true, I think my answer to this question has changed; I do care, to a certain extent, as to what some people would say about me after I leave this corporeal existence.
"I'm saying that the accident was about as traumatic an experience as I've ever had in my life. I don't know why you and Mom are having so much trouble understanding that. I could easily have been one of the ones who died."

Molly cried, "Don't
say that!"

"Don't say that," her grandfather said with the greater gravity of his age. "You didn't die. That's all that counts."

"No. You see, it isn't," Julia went on, struggling now to express herself. "I didn't die. But I could have. So why didn't I? There has to be a reason."

"No reason. Just sheer luck."

"There's a reason," she said with conviction. "I just haven't figured out what it is. And anyway, even aside from that, I'm looking at things differently now."
It's interesting to read my notes as I wrote them, and examine how I feel now. Mind you, we're talking about a period of only about five weeks, if that. I was in hospital for just under that amount of time. It took me slightly longer than one week to get through this book; the depression really took a toll on my ability to concentrate this go-around. I wrote "The first part exactly. The second part, it's just about the opposite." in response to the above passage. But now, I would tend to agree with Julia. I am looking at things differently now, and yet I still question why I was spared.

The conversation continues,
"Differently how?"

"Differently . . . like, who I am and what I am doing with my life and what people will say when I die."

"Mom!" Molly squealed.

Julia angled the phone away from her mouth. "Someday, Molly, I'm not planning on doing it any time soon. That's the whole point."

"What's the whole point?" George asked when she returned to the phone.

"I'm forty," she said, holding Molly's gaze. "God willing, I'll have another forty years. I need to make the most of them."

"Are you doubting the first forty?" George said over more background murmuring and aimed an impatient "Shhh" away from the phone.

"No," Julia said, but caught herself. If the point was to be honest -- saying what she felt, rather than saying what the listener wanted to hear -- she had to change that. "Make that yes. Some parts. I wouldn't change a thing about others."

Y'know, this is the kind of thing that people discuss with their therapists. But here I am, reading it in a book while I'm in the friggin nut house, for crying out loud. For some reason -- I can't explain it -- as I was browsing through the books in my friend's reading room, I came across this one and was drawn to it. It took me quite a while to get through it, because there were so many more passages, such as this, that made me stop and think. Really think. About my life, where I've been, what direction I've taken, and what direction it's going in. And yes, things do need to change. Because evidently, it looks like I'm going to be sticking around. So I've go to do something with my life, even thought I don't feel as though I can't. I have to take action now; I can't continue living as I am.

Something has to change.

Well, as you can see from what I've posted so far, the book was very intense for me. But at the same time, I believe it served as a catalyst in allowing me to move beyond living in one day. I think I've finally come to terms with what happened to me on January 31, 2002, and am ready now to move on and get on with life. I have a lot of catching up to do, as I've literally missed out on almost five and one-half years of life. But as one of the workers at the hospital (who, if she's reading this, should know how much I appreciated her time and compassion for me) asked me, "Do you know how to eat an elephant, Peter?"

I responded in the negative.

Her response: "One bite at a time."

This is something that I have to keep in mind. For me, I tend to do want to do everything all at once, all at the same time. I would eat the elephant in one bite, which isn't humanly possible. I need to break things down into smaller pieces, and accomplish the smaller goals and, by doing so, will eventually reach the larger goals in life.

And for the first time in a very long time -- probably since my accident -- I can say (with some trepidation, of course), that I'm looking forward to it.