Wednesday, December 07, 2011

My Inbox is Trying to Kill Me: Email Lists Gone Horribly Wrong

I am unsubscribing from every possible email list. My inbox is currently a wasteland of promotional offers, political pleas/warnings/dire predictions of the future, and probably some chain emails.

It seems harmless at the time; you sign a petition for some cause you believe in, but then in return you get approximately 7000 emails.

At one point I had close to 30,000 unread emails, dating back to 2008. Yeah, I should have just deleted them, and I actually did delete some, but I guess maybe guilt (if the email was about an important cause)and/or some deluded plan to read the things later kept me from deleting a huge amount of them.

Here is a partial list of, Obama for America, Radio Shack, Tri-City Herald, Huffington Post, ACLU, webfetti, Friendly Planet Travel, Travel Ticker, Michael Moore, The Nation, Ticket Master, The Nation, Credo Action, meetup,, Live Nation, Democratic Senate Campaign Committee . . . and I am by no means done.

Note that I haven't changed my political affiliation or how I feel about any of the causes or retail outlets or news organizations, for that matter. In many cases I am following the entity in question on Facebook and/or Twitter. I just don't want any more email! I have become like a cyber extreme hoarder and it must stop!

Monday, July 05, 2010

Sitting on Cold Porcelain, by Rose A. Valenta (Book Review)

Have you ever tried to do a good deed that just spiralled totally out of control? Do you have a minor obsession about which your kids harass you? Do Christmas carols drive you crazy? Have you ever tried to duplicate a pie or cake recipe and given up and gotten something from a bakery instead? Or even if none of the above applies, do you just want to read some funny stories? If so, then Sitting on Cold Porcelain, Rose Valenta's collection of humorous essays, is for you.

Valenta takes on such diverse topics as politics, holiday craziness, current events, the possible truth behind Mona Lisa's enigmatic appearance, and the general nuttiness of daily life. Essay titles include "'Frosty the Inappropriate Snowman'" or Mushroom Syndrome?", "Thanksgiving Plans--Remember the Titanic!", "Mountain Gorillas Vie to Get Looted in Facebook Mafia Wars", and "Is There a Common Sense Particle?". Fun, quirky, and relatable, with an intelligent social commentary beneath the humor, these essays will keep you laughing and also make you think. So have some fun, feed your mind, and check out Rose Valenta's Sitting on Cold Porcelain. It's available in book or Kindle format.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Red River Flood News Brings Back Bad Memories

I turned on CNN a couple of nights ago just in time to hear news of major flooding in the Upper Midwest. The Red River is carving out a path of destruction in Eastern North Dakota similar to--or worse than--that of 1997. I was going to grad school at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks at that time and thus had to evacuate. It sounds like Grand Forks is in decent shape this time even though the predicted flood crest is similar to that in 1997, due to several measures the city has taken such as building permanent dikes that can withstand such a crest. Other places in North Dakota, such as Fargo, Mott, and some other places, not so much.

This flood is earlier than the one in 1997. As I told my mother, I thought April 19 was the day the dike broke then.

I remembered the date exactly. Actually, the three worst days were over a three-day span, April 18-20, but April 19 is the day UND classes were canceled for the rest of the semester and the day I drove to Montana to stay with my family until it was safe to come back.

In 1997, I already knew I didn't much care for the weather in the Upper Midwest nor the conservatism of the area and planned to get out as soon as possible. This was before that winter's EIGHT blizzards. Before having to evacuate due to a 500-year-flood (has it been 500 years already, by the way?). Even before evacuating, we had to get used to life being constantly disrupted--not being able to do what you wanted because of a blizzard, power outages, school closures. It takes a lot to close UND. Like, serious wind speeds in a blizzard. Temperatures so cold your skin will freeze in seconds. A 500-year-flood. These types of things. I have a tendency to become seriously annoyed by weather inconveniences, rather than taking it with a hearty pioneer spirit or whatever. I am opposed to character building through weather.

But anyway. The week leading up to the evacuation, I had been helping out with sandbagging when I could. Normally I worked at the psychology clinic on Thursday nights, but on April 17, 1997, the day clerk called to tell me that all the night clients had canceled, and if I wanted to help sandbag, one of the professors could use some help. So I went over there; half the psych department was already there. He was scared to death he'd lose his house, but he was one of the lucky ones--he just had water in his basement.

On April 18, I helped sandbag during the day. Watching the news, I saw the newscasters fighting back tears as they showed footage of water up to the roofs of many houses. Just as the 10:00 news was ending I got a call from a payphone. I wondered who it could possibly be. It was two friends of mine. They'd been bussed over to East Grand Forks earlier to help sandbag but had missed the ride back. I supposed they called me because they knew I'd still be up. They asked if I could come and get them.

"Can I even get over there?" I asked. It required crossing a bridge, and I thought they might all be flooded. I was surprised they were even over there. They thought I could and told me what bridge to take. So I set out to get them, figuring if I were stopped I'd just have to explain where they were so someone--even if it had to be the National Guard or someone--could get them somewhere safe.

No one was in the streets at all, except for service trucks. I hadn't heard anything about it being illegal to be out in the streets though (I think a curfew was imposed later; also selling alcohol in Grand Forks was banned for awhile). But I was able to get over the bridge without incident. My friends were waiting by the payphone. Normally they would have been able to hang out in the nearby McDonald's or someplace while they were waiting, but now nothing was open. These same friends had been living in the first area to totally flood, so they had already been evacuated from their apartment and I dropped them off in their temporary accommodations.

On Saturday, I turned on the news. It was a nice sunny day; I remember that. No cable. Just flood news. Classes at UND (two weeks of classes plus finals) were canceled. Students were to go home. I got a call from the same friends I'd driven home the night before and they asked if I wanted to go to Nebraska with them. One of them had family there. I thanked them for their generous offer, but I realized in that instant that, instead of staring blankly at the TV, I could just go home too.

Once I'd made the decision, I couldn't wait to get out of there. I started throwing things in suitcases. The last thing I grabbed before leaving was a stuffed graduation bear I had gotten for my brother. I wasn't sure when I'd be back.

I also wasn't sure how to get out of town. I made several false starts before finally figuring it out. Another slight problem was gas. Most of the service stations weren't open, but when I found one that was, it was out of unleaded gasoline. So I just had to hope I had enough to last me for awhile. Complicating things was the fact that you couldn't get down to Fargo in the usual way on the I-29 due to flooding, so I had to take what was essentially a parade route, with all the people leaving town, while I was worried about running out of gas. But, I was lucky and made it to a gas station.

I was lucky in general. I lived in a university apartment that didn't flood. I had been worried about break-ins and looting, but that didn't happen. I had a place to go where I could wait things out and come back to a completely undamaged apartment. So when I think of the negative memories this brings up for me--fear, loss of security, having my life turned upside down--what must it be like for someone who lost everything? My thoughts and prayers are with all flood and other natural disaster victims, past and present.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Fantasy Fishing

In these tough economic times, it's good to know there are still places where easy money can be had. Time magazine clued me in to just such a place in their February 16 edition, where I read an article about Fantasy Fishing. I had heard of fantasy football, baseball, etc., but I'd been completely in the dark about fantasy fishing. Apparently there are all these fishing tournaments, and all you have to do is go to and register for free. They give you a team, and you pick the order in which you think they will finish. The better your picks do, the more points you get. The player with the most points at the end of the tournament wins $100,000. If you have the most points over all six tournaments, you win one million dollars. There are lots of other prizes too--cars, boats, gift cards. It's totally free to play, but you can pay $10 and get Player's Advantage, which provides information which helps you make your picks. Not that you need to be a skilled angler to play--as the Time article noted, 50% of fantasy players don't fish (this would include me). Apparently the reason for all the incentives is to attract more people to the sport.

You can also earn money as an affiliate--for everyone who clicks on one of my banners and then orders Player's Advantage, I get $2. You can also earn by referring people just by providing their email addresses, if you don't have a website (the people you refer do have to buy the Player's Advantage for you to earn anything).

The first tournament started just a few days ago, and my team didn't do that well, looking at the unofficial results, but there's another tournament in a few weeks. It's definitely a low-risk (you're out $10 at most, if you buy the Player's Advantage), low-energy expenditure way to possibly win some cash or prizes.

Play Fantasy Fishing for Millions

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Shack, by William Paul Young (Book Review)

What an amazing book! I had resisted reading it initially, seeing that it was religious. I finally broke down and read it based on my mother's recommendation, actually. Neither of us is what anyone would consider religious, but I suppose we both have a spiritual side.

The book is one man's view of God, though it is presented through a fictional story, and I have never read anything like it.

The story is that of Mack, whose youngest child, Missy, is abducted on a family vacation. In a shack in the Oregon wilderness, there is evidence that she was brutally murdered. The four years that follow are time of great torment for Mack. He blames himself for what happened, and the killer was never found and brought to justice, nor was Missy's body found so they could give it a proper burial at least.

Then one day he receives a note in his mailbox that is supposedly from God. He is highly suspicious. The note asks him to meet at the shack. What if it's a cruel joke? But even though he is suspicious, he goes to the shack, where he has an unbelievable religious experience.

I don't want to give away too much of the plot, and it's hard to say more without doing that. I will say that I really liked Young's view of God. It's not like any other Christian writing I've seen. God appeared to Mack as a female for part of the time, because, as it was explained, God is a spirit and has no gender, but could take any form. Race lines were also crossed--the "father", son, and holy spirit all appeared as non-white individuals. God (whom Mac called "Papa" even when she appeared as a female) explained how relationships between men and women should be equal. Probably the best thing, though, was how absolutely nonjudgmental and loving Papa was. It's just a very comforting view of God, which is pretty much in exact opposition to a fire-and brimstone view. It's a book that people of all religions could get something out of, because it doesn't demand that you believe certain things. I didn't agree with all the beliefs in it, but that didn't matter.

It made me think that instead of worrying about Judgment Day, which I think many of us do on some level even if we aren't religious, we should have a Non-Judgment Day on earth. Well, more than a day, but we could start with a day. Instead of judging each other, we would try to understand each other and work on improving our relationships.

If everyone read this, I think at the very least we would be a more peaceful, accepting people. It's also a great book for people going through hard times or who have suffered a great loss.

There's a possibility that this book will be made into a movie. At the end of the book, there was a note that said that this would be pursued after a sufficient number of these books were in circulation. I got my copy at Target, so I don't think that will be a problem. Anyway, for more information, or to order a copy, visit

Friday, January 23, 2009

Capitol Conspiracy, by William Bernhardt (Book Review)

In some horrible alternate universe in which there is no President Obama (still love saying that), another Republican president is elected after Bush. No, not McCain, but someone rather like Bush. This president barely escapes an assassination attempt at an Oklahoma City Memorial. In response, President Blake wants to amend the constitution so that a three-person committee in the Department of Homeland Security can declare a state of emergency and suspend most of the Bill of Rights until they decide the emergency is over. Pretty scary.

Recurring character Ben Kincaid is a freshman senator, a Democrat, and the president wants him to help get the support to make the amendment a reality. For those unfamiliar with Kincaid, he was a defense attorney before becoming a senator, but not a sleazy type. He was a true champion of the underdog, and he is hardly the type to support something like this amendment--usually. But he was at the memorial service when the president was nearly assassinated. Ben's best friend was injured in that same incident and now lies in a coma. The first lady was killed and so were several other people. Ben starts to believe the amendment might not be a bad idea. But is the threat really from a foreign source?

This book is full of interesting subplots and twists and turns. It's not predictable. So if you're in the mood for more politics, check this out.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Carpool Diem, by Nancy Star (Book Review)

This is a light, fun novel, as the name implies. It pokes fun at the disturbing social trend of certain types of upper-middle class parents who push their kids too hard over things that really don't matter all that much.

Annie Fleming is the workaholic mother of a twelve-year-old daughter. Annie is under the mistaken impression that her life is totally under control under she finds herself suddenly without a job. Annie is the type of person who never settles for second best. She is not the type of person who, for example, will decide she wants a cat and pick up a cute one from the animal shelter. No. She is the type of person who would exhaustively research cats on the internet to ensure that she gets the best possible cat. And she is like that about everything. Annie might be in need of some medication.

So you can imagine Annie's angst when her daughter, Charlotte, earns a spot on a second-rate soccer team. She vows that she will teach Charlotte the importance of not settling, and that Charlotte will make the elite team.

It turns out that Charlotte has some talent, enough to get noticed by Winslow, the coach of the very best local team. Too bad Winslow is crazy. He schedules something every day--during the summer--for his team. If they aren't in a tournament, they are having practice twice a day or a scrimmage. He subjects them to training better reserved for Olympic athletes, and the only excuse for missing anything is death. He puts out newsletters for the team and parents that are quite hilarious, as is this glimpse into the world of "soccer parents" in general.

It would be good if parents like these could read this and see themselves in it and maybe back off a little (and learn to laugh at themselves). I'm not sure, though, if such parents would allow themselves to do anything so frivolous as read a novel. I mean, encouragement is great, but when you're forcing your kid to practice soccer in a thunderstorm, it's time to reassess your priorities.