Saturday, February 26, 2011

Spam. A Lot.

I don't know that I've ever posted about spam before. It's one of those annoying facts of life that we've all had to accept in today's world of emails. I get emails every other day from companies like 'Western Union' and the 'Guiness Company' informing me I have won lump sums of money. On the in between days, I get emails from barristers and federal ministries informing me that Mr. Biggumby in a certain foreign country has died and left me his scab collection  personal fortune. Luckily the spam filter catches most of it.

Early last week, however, we received an email at our home inbox from our Yahoo mail account (one we have kept for 10 years...a constant place we keep despite all our moving). seemed convincing enough and said to click on a link which apparently led the clickee to an advertisement for Viagra. We began getting email from people saying our email had been hijacked. It seemed to be sending out these ads to about 15 people at a time. Sadly, a number of people (strangely, teachers at the boy's school) clicked on the link and opened themselves up to having themselves 'hijacked' as well. A friend suggested changing the password to access the email and that seems to have solved the problem. We sent out a form email to everyone in our Yahoo address book explaining the situation and apologizing for any inconvenience it may have caused, blah, blah, blah...On the plus side, a few people got back to us that we hadn't communicated with in ages.

I received another odd email during the week on my gmail inbox. It was from a certain Sarah Miller from a certain 'Article Writing Services' who had a client who wished to pay me to allow them to post some of their content on my blog. Below is the text from the email. I deleted her return email address from her signature as it lit up as a link and I didn't want anyone to accidentally click on it.

Dear Alan ,

My name is Sarah from Article Writing Services. We have a client who would like to pay you for the opportunity to post some of their content on your website. All of the content is professionally produced and you can select from pieces relevant to your audience.

The result is you get some free, interesting content for your readers while getting paid.

In return our client is asking for one link that they specify at the bottom of the content (no porn or gambling). Feel free to contact me with any concerns or clarifications you may have.

If you would like to see some examples of our content, please email me at so we can begin.


Sarah Miller
Outreach Manager - Article Writing Services

It seems convincing as it started off 'Dear Alan' and mentioned the blog name in the title, which leads one to think that it's NOT a mass mail out to the public. I did a search with the words 'Sarah Miller', 'Article Writing Services' and 'blog' and came up with piles of blogs who had received the exact email worded the same way. One in particular was to the blog There is Grandeur in This View of Life where the blog host, Goofy Girl, posted about receiving this very email and questioned its validity.

Anyway, the point is that the spammers and virus peddlers are getting smarter and more resourceful by the day. They now charm you and make you feel special. Loved. I'm reminded the eighth grade when two girls fought over me during square dancing lessons in gym class. It's not that I was such a catch, but really the other boy remaining was prone to nose bleeds, had severe acne and a wicked limp.

For those of you who made it to the end of this rambling, whiny post...I reward you NOT with spam, but with Spamalot. Enjoy the YouTube video (er, I would guess not from an official source) of Tim Curry and Michael McGrath singing an uplifting little Broadway number. Remember, don't let spam get you down.

Always look on the bright side of life.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Cheesecake Overdose

Those of you who have followed this blog for a long time may recall that we attend a cheesecake party every February. This was my commentary from last year that includes many of the rules and whatnot, so I won't bore you with it again. There were 13 entries (see photo above) and this year's theme was "True and False".  This meant that either your cheesecake title or your statement of rationale had to contain an element that was both true and false. I know, it all sounds a bit confusing...I only go for the fine dining (I bet that you're all picturing me wearing a bib and wielding my own silverware).

The gentleman who hosts the event...the same professor Larry that hosts 'Bad Movie Night' an academic, and many other eggheads academic associates of his were in attendance. One aspect of the evening was that everyone competing must make a small speech explaining how their cheesecake met the requirements of the theme. One gentleman, a professor of philosophy, stole the show by going on a Shakespearean rant explaining why he thought the theme was bogus because something can not be 'true and false', it can only be 'true or false'. Everyone was relieved that he cut his presentation down to two pages from it's original 50 pages...

Shown above is Sean's entry, Area 51, that  contained such odd ingredients as: honey, dates, lemon rind and the ever-popular tofu. In fact, it contained NO cheese at all. It didn't taste too bad either. He called it Area 51 because while he and his mother were making it, he exclaimed, "You'd have to be from another world to want to eat this!" 'V' and I went with the same Chocolate Almond Cheesecake that we have entered the past two years. Predictable yet yummy. If anyone wants the recipe for either of these just send me an email and I'll be happy to pass them along.

There were three newcomers to the event this year and I had a chance to chat with each of them. One man is from Houston and has been living here for five years. He works for one of the larger oil companies and has enjoyed his time on The Rock. He is an avid golfer and was disappointed to discover that you can only golf for about 7 months of the year. He was also a bit baffled as to how people here golfed in 40km/h winds.

Another young man attended with his wife and 6 month old daughter (I figured the baby should have been entered in the contest because she was a real cutie-pie...sadly, only cakes could be entered). This man is from Nigeria and has also been living here for five years. He has another year and a half to go until he completes his PhD in chemistry.

The third man was there with his two children. His name is Pete Stanbridge and he has his own company that manufactures drums. Wooden ones that you play, not the steel ones that you store stuff in. He hand makes them from exotic woods and ships them all over the world. Check out his web site if you get a chance, especially if you're in the market for a cool looking drum.

I think that it's really great that you can go to something like a cheesecake party and meet such a diverse bunch of folks from all over the place doing such different things. And here I thought we were living in such a remote location with little influence from the outside world (like an indigenous tribe in the Amazon--that would be the one in South America, not the one that sells stuff online).

Professor Larry brought the event to a close with the presentation of the prizes: all hand-picked from the bargain bin at Princess Auto. He was stunning in his tie-dyed shirt and pilgrim hat (I really should get him something more suitable, such as a fez, for next years festivities). We were not able to repeat our 'Best Overall Cheesecake' but Sean won a prize for Best Presentation and Ginny won a door prize. Sadly, I did not win the 'Most Cheesecake Consumed' award. This honour went to Professor Larry's 11 year old son. All I got was a sugar rush and a sore tummy.

 I'll close with a few photos from the evening. Notice the orange one on the right of the first photo. The mice on top are made from eggshells.  I thought that the Gold 'Boolean' Cake was kind of clever. The third photo has a tall, round cake in the foreground. That's actually two wheels of brie cheese stacked to top of one another, cemented together with a layer of Kraft Cheese Whiz. Interesting and effective.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Today, I Will Post Something Sane and Useful

I looked back on my posts since the start of the year and have discovered that I haven't posted a #fridayflash story since before Christmas  *hangs head in shame*  I also noticed a disturbing trend away from writerly topics. Recent posts have varied from the mundane (the weather and snow shovelling) to the bizarre (athletic supporters and flower bearing hamsters). I have also delved into the world of culinary pursuits, with posts about haggis and soylent green (note- tastes like chicken) and even the a post about my son's artistic endeavours that always seem a, phallic.

I thought it high time to get on track with a writerly topic...especially since we are attending the annual 'cheese cake' party this weekend and I'll HAVE to post about THAT.

The surviving members of our writing group recently attended a 'one-of' writing class at the university. It was called 'Writer's Bootcamp' and was taught by local author Chad Pelley. There was a ton of information to take in regarding publishing, agents, self-publishing, local contests and a lot of writing tips. I'm sure that Chad wouldn't mind if I paraphrased a bit from his page on getting published from "The Slushpile".

The first thing to know about unsolicited submissions to publishers: No publisher will read your full manuscript right off the bat. They don't have the time.

As a rule, what they want from you at first is a one-page cover letter about you (as a writer, NOT where you live and how many children you have, but your writing credits, etc), a brief summary on your book, and a ten-to-fifteen page sample from your manuscript. If they like this, they'll request the full manuscript.

Despite the nasty name, people DO get published from a slushpile. Many people. There are plenty of examples of wildly successful books having been plucked from the masses. This can't be stressed enough:
your submission package is more important than your manuscript. You get one chance to impress the reader into wanting to read you manuscript.*  Don't get lazy about the cover letter your book will speak for itself. Make the book summary an engaging read. The publishers who do accept submissions get hundreds of submissions every year, but, can only publish 10-20 books a year. The grim reality is that less than 10% of what get submitted to a publisher gets published.

The ultimate goal of a query letter to a publisher (or agent) is to get them to ask for you book.

Sound like a writer and keep focused and convincing.

* As a side note-- I had another night school instructor who had worked for a publisher reading submissions from the slushpile. How HE decided if a manuscript submission went on? He would flip through the pages looking for dialogue. If care was given to ensuring crisp, engaging dialogue then the same care was likely given to the rest of the book and it would be given further consideration. Something to think about.

All sounds like good advise to me. Now I've just gotta write the damn book. I'll be back this weekend with highlights from the cheesecake party. I's not quite the same as being there. I'd send you all a piece through the mail, but those darn posties would probably sniff out the sample and it would be deemed 'undeliverable'. Do not fear. I'll be getting back to my usual silly posts. Topics being considered for the near future are--

  • leather fashions for chinchillas
  • Is alcohol REALLY a good sleep medicine?
  • care and cleaning of your winter fez
  • Daily living with guidance from Tarot cards
  • fine dining in the Newfoundland out ports

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentines

I just thought that I'd send out a quick Valentines greeting to my girl-fans. If you are a guy-fan, pretend the creatures are a more manly rodent...perhaps rats or weasels. And that the one beastie is handing the other a 6-pack of Molsons Canadian. I'd like to assure you that no animals were harmed during this photo session, but I can't be sure that they haven't been handled recently by a taxidermist.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I'm Just Joking Around...

I'm not a big fan of perpetuating jokes via the email. I'll get them on occasion, but they will go no farther. I received a joke sheet from a former co-worker back at corporate HQ that displayed a lot of merit. There was a nice mix poking fun at 'maleness', sex, death and just a touch of political incorrectness.

I've edited out half the jokes so only the ones that really appealed to me appear below. Now that's a scary peek into my psyche. If you've read them before...apologies and quickly move on to the next blog in your surfing. For those interested, I've included a video at the bottom pertinent to #12...

1. Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you're wrong.

2. There is great need for a sarcasm font.

3. Was learning cursive really necessary?

4. Obituaries would be a lot more interesting if they told you how the person died.

5. Bad decisions make good stories.

6. You never know when it will strike, but there comes a moment at work when you know that you just aren't going to do anything productive for the rest of the day.

7. I'm always slightly terrified when I exit out of Word and it asks me if I want to save any changes to my ten-page technical report that I swear I did not make any changes to.

8. I think part of a best friend's job should be to immediately clear your computer history if you die.

9. I wish Google Maps had an "Avoid Ghetto" routing option.

10. How many times is it appropriate to say "What?" before you just nod and smile because you still didn't hear or understand a word they said?

11. I love the sense of camaraderie when an entire line of cars team up to prevent a jerk from cutting in at the front. Stay strong, brothers and sisters!

12. An athletic ‘cup’, or testicular guard, was used in Hockey in 1874. The first helmet was used in 1974. That means it only took 100 years for men to realize that their brain is also important.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Pimpage Galore (a James Bond Character?)

I had fully intended to post yesterday but got distracted by something or another. Perhaps a pretty girl smiled at me a bird flew by or somebody flashed something shiny at me. I was going to call the post Shout-out Sunday, advertising good stuff on the go. Maybe today can be 'Make a Pitch Monday'. Problem with that is the title may mislead some into thinking the post was about baseball or cricket or pitching fits.

Anyway, there IS good stuff out writing buddy, good friend and fellow islander Laurita Miller is the featured writer today at Lily Childs' Feardom blog. February is Femmes Fatales month over at Lily's place and Laurita's story Red is a tasty, bite-sized feature that you don't want to miss out on.

And speaking of may recall an earlier post about her 'donating' her hair next month at the 'Shave for the Brave' fundraiser to benefit young adults dealing with cancer. If you haven't done so, please take a moment and drop by her blog Brain Droppings and read her musings, short stories and, once in a while, a touch of poetry. You can connect to her 'Shave for the Brave' fundraising page here.

But wait...the goodness is not done...the horror anthology 52 Stitches, edited by Aaron Polson is still available for purchase. For those of you who follow #fridayflash, Laura Eno's story Dangerous Premonitions and Karen Schindler's sultry tale Aftertaste can be found lurking in its depths. And I almost dark story Thor's Hammer can also be found in this anthology. Just a little tale about kids misbehaving...

It should be noted that this year's edition of 52 Stitches is dedicated to writer Jamie Eyberg who died tragically, along with his wife, last August. All profits from the sale of 52 Stitches will go to a trust fund set up for their children. The book can be purchased through Amazon and you can link to that here. Isn't that one creepy, little cover...

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Work and Play in Canada

We've had our second large-ish dumping of snow for the season, finally putting us into a 'we are finally into winter' mindset. The schools were shut for today and many businesses were closed for the morning. We got the snow that many in Ontario were forecasting for Wednesday. 'Snowmagedon' was advertised, but really it was more of a 'minor social occassion'. They expected so much more...'Snowtorious B.I.G.' was advertised, but really it was Justin Bieber who showed up for the show. The photo above is of Sean using the snow machine, its wicked-sharp blades chopping up the snow, with his eyes closed. He's that good...

This photo is of me using a sharp, snow-poking thingy to threatening the boy to work harder. I want the most from the $1 that I am paying him. You're probably wondering about the bungee cord around my neck...that's to tie him off the the handlebars of the snow blower so he can't sneak off from the job.

We in the northern climes have learned to embrace our wintry 5 month respite from the warm temps. Some here stay warm by shovelling the driveway others by lifting a pint or three of brew. Some prefer to spend hours each winter participating in activities such as ice hockey, snowshoeing and waiting in drive-through line ups at Tim Horton's donut shops. A few days ago, I heard of a new and strange activity here in Canada.

Apparently the first officially sanctioned Yukigassen tournament in North America was held last weekend in Saskatoon. It is a winter sport that originated in Japan and translates as 'snow battle'. Teams of seven try to win the game by eliminating their opponents by hitting them with a snow ball or by stealing the other team's flag. I heard that the temperatures in Saskatoon were in the -20's and I think that all of those young people chucking lumps of hardened snow at each other are either really brave or really crazy. I watched this video produced by Tourism Saskatchewan a couple of times and am  reasonably sure that there was no drinking involved during its making. Maybe. I think that it would be a fun thing to try at least once.

I missed that aspect of my childhood as I grew up in Victoria which is probably the warmest spot in Canada in the winter. All we had was slush and it would melt really quickly due to the heat from our hands. Mittens? Didn't have 'em. We were too poor for mittens. Did I ever tell you about the time...