Need Microsoft Office but can’t afford it?

If so, check this out:

OpenOffice is a free office suite that contains the following tools:

  • Writer, a word processor that creates documents compatible with Word
  • Calc, a spreadsheet that creates Excel-compatible workbooks
  • Impress, presentation software that creates slideshows compatible with PowerPoint
  • Base, a database program which can work with Access databases, as well as most other databases through ADO, ODBC, LDAP, etc.
  • Draw, a drawing program which uses vector graphics
  • Math, an equation editor

Looks like it can do most of what Microsoft Office can do at 0% of the price. Might be worth a look if you’re computing on a budget.

Falling gas prices

I’m sure you’ve noticed that gas prices have been falling the past couple of months. From a high of close to three bucks a gallon, prices have now dropped to around $1.98-2.12 a gallon in the Memphis area.

Like a lot of people, I tended to think, “Yeah, right. The oil companies are lowering the gas prices so their buddies the Republicans will win the fall elections and keep on passing favorable legislation.” But today I found this article on It claims that the most important factor in the falling prices is the oil commodity traders, who believe there will continue to be an ample supply, and therefore don’t feel the need to push the price up. Other factors include a drop in the price of crude oil (OPEC doesn’t have as much power to control the price as they used to), and a mild hurricane season. “The GOP may be powerful,” says the article, “but it’s not powerful enough to control the price of a globally traded commodity.”

So at least on this one issue, it looks like the Republicans are getting some blame they don’t deserve.

A response to "Why do all Asians do this?"

Before I get started, let me congratulate the Arkansas Razorbacks on their 38-3 clobbering of Ole Miss this weekend. The Hogs absolutely killed the Rebels. Wonder if Ole Miss fan and fellow blogger Philip saw the game. Hotty Toddy dude! Better luck next year!

Now, down to business. A few days ago, I posted a question – I wanted to know why Asians always make the sign below when they have their pictures taken.

Regular blog reader Carmel, who used to teach in Japan, responded. She too had noticed this behavior, and asked her students why they did it. They couldn’t really give a good answer – they thought it was “cool” and thought Americans did it too. She pointed me to this Wikipedia article about the V sign which claims that the craze was actually started by an American, figure skater Janet Lynn. In the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics, Lynn stumbled on the ice, but continued to smile and her demeanor made her an instant celebrity in Japan. In interviews in the following days, Lynn (a peace activist) repeatedly flashed the sign. The Japanese began to imitate the gesture in photographs, and it later caught on among other Asians.

(Now, keep in mind, that’s what Wikipedia says, not necessarily the truth. I’m annoyed with Wiki for making me look bad over the “pen” thing yesterday. Wiki also used to claim that a tube top can have a single strap around the neck, which is absolutely, positively wrong, but they’ve since corrected it. Just because you read it on the Internet, doesn’t make it true.)

Carmel continues, “I don’t think Asians have much control over the urge to make that sign when being photographed. It really is deeply ingrained behavior.” She also said that she tended to make that sign when being photographed in Japan (she wanted to “do as the Romans do,” an expression the Japanese love). When she came back to the States, she had to work hard to break herself of the habit.

So there ya go. Now ya know.

Nerdy post: ASP.NET 2.0, Blogger templates

I’m in a very excited, creative mood these days, as a result of stuff going on at work. As you know, I work as a contractor for the city schools, developing Web and Intranet applications. We’re in the process of upgrading our development platform to ASP.NET 2.0/Visual Basic.NET 2.0, and it’s the most kickass web application platform I’ve ever seen. I can see all kinds of ways to improve some existing programs I’ve been working on at the city schools, and I also see a lot of potential for taking consulting jobs on the side, once I master ASP.NET 2.0.

A lot of the tools I want to explore fall outside the scope of work, though, so last week I bought an additional hosting account with Windows Server, ASP.NET 2.0, and SQL Server, so I have a sandbox to play in, a place where I can try things out without messing up any of my existing websites. Since then I’ve had a really cool business idea, to be set up on the new hosting account… gonna keep it a secret for now, but I’ll be talking more about it in the coming months.

If there are any programmers who want to learn ASP.NET 2.0, I recommend two resources: First, ASP.NET 2.0 Unleashed by Stephen Walther, a massive 2,000 page hardcover book that threatens to break my back when I carry it around in my backpack. It’s clearly written, thorough, and the examples work well to illustrate the new technologies in 2.0. Examples are in VB.NET, but if you’re a C# person, they have examples in that language on the CD included with the book. I’ve been through the first five chapters and already feel like I’m on my way to mastery. (By the way, I love 40% off the retail price of the book, no sales tax. They estimated a ship date of October 24, but the book was waiting outside my door when I got home October 20.)

Second, I recommend this set of data tutorials on They cover 2.0’s new structures for pulling data from a database and displaying it on a page. There are 35 tutorials in all (with code in both VB.NET and C#); so far I’ve done 10, and again, I feel like I’m on my way to mastery. Take advantage of these two resources, and you’ll be on your way to becoming an expert in ASP.NET 2.0.

I’m also teaching myself to write Blogger templates. By the end of the next month, I’d like to have my own, custom template, rather than relying on ones other people have created. And yes, I promise I’ll use a larger font when I do my template, so this blog will be easier to read.

Sorry for the nerdy post with all the techno-jargon, but that’s the main thing that’s been going on in my life this weekend. I have an answer to the Asian question, but I’ll do that in a separate post since the computer talk has probably chased away 80% of my audience by this point.

MoochNet, and where would the world be without Romania?

(Edited to add: The Romanian who sent me the video link e-mailed responses to my comments. See below.)

Add The Tap Room on Beale to the list of places that don’t officially offer wireless Internet, but where you can mooch off the unsecured network of someone in the neighborhood. Connect to “belkin54g” – should get you two bars out of five, which is perfect for all but hardcore gaming.

One of the Romanians who was here this summer – the itty bitty blonde who worked at the Flying Saucer – was reading my blog this morning and apparently thought some of my posts did not cast Romania in a flattering enough light. So she sent me this YouTube video entitled The World Without Romania. Click the link and see what sad shape we would all be in if Romania had never existed.

Edited to add: Okay, I just watched the video. They claim that we’d all be using pencils if not for Romanians, but I searched the Wikipedia article on “pen” and nowhere does it credit anyone from Romania as having anything to do with the invention. It mentions that a Hungarian invented the ballpoint pen, and perhaps they figure since Hungary is right next door, no one will notice if they take credit. (The Romanian responds: “And by the way,the inventor of the pen IT IS A ROMANIAN,he’s name is Petrache Poenaru.” I looked him up on Wikipedia and she’s right; he invented the fountain pen in 1827. Apologies for the earlier incorrect information.)

The video also claims Romania invented the jet airplane. True, according to Wikipedia, but it also says that the Romanian jet aircraft assembled in 1910 crashed during its first and only demonstration. It does not mention development of a successful jet aircraft (in Germany) until World War II. (The Romanian responds: “and the plain that Henri Coanda built it flu,yes it crashed but because of the lack experience of the builter,because it was THE FIRST jet plain ever built,but it flu.” Fair enough. Me personally, I’d prefer to fly on a plane that doesn’t crash, but to each his own I suppose. Wonder if ValueJet had any Romanians working for them?)

The video goes on to mention that Romania has the hottest women in the world (I won’t dispute that), and then they talk about Romanian beer. However, among the beers they show Pilsner Urquell (which is actually brewed in the Czech Republic) and Peroni (which is an Italian beer). As a former Beer Goddess, you would think the girl who sent me this video would have caught these inconsistencies. (The Romanian responds: “And about the beers,just because your are an alcoholic,doesn’t mean is making you an expert towards beers concern.And I think I know a little bit more about european beers than you,and I know were that beers come from.But nobody said in the video that does are all romanian beer.And in the end who the fuck cares about some beers.” Well, I guess I just assumed that because it was a video about Romania, that the beers pictured would be Romanian beers. My apologies for making such a silly assumption.)

Hands On Memphis and Volunteer Memphis to merge

Hands On Memphis and Volunteer Memphis, two of the very best ways to get plugged into the Memphis volunteer community, are merging. The name of the new organization has not been determined at this time. Hands On’s site has more information on their homepage.

I haven’t worked a whole lot with these organizations, because I’ve been so involved with Mpact the past few years. However, many of my friends volunteer with them regularly, and they have told me it is a great experience, where you meet a lot of cool people and give back to the community at the same time. Check out Hands On’s and Volunteer Memphis’ current projects and see all the ways you can make Memphis a better place. There’s something for everyone.

Cultural question: Why do Asians always do this?

(Edited to add: Bumped back to the top because I now have an answer to this question. Be sure to scroll down if you haven’t checked this weekend’s posts, which include Volunteer Memphis and Hands On Memphis merging, and reasons why Romania is the greatest country EVAR!!!!!!!!!! Scroll down to the end of this post for updated info)

So last night I got bored and started surfing the web… and I came across one of those personals sites, one that claimed it was the best at helping people from all over the world meet. So I clicked their Search button, and you can probably guess which country I searched for first. But there weren’t many Romanians on the site, probably because it’s rather expensive to become a member.

So I picked another country at random… Japan. And I noticed that in about 60-70% of the Japanese women’s profiles, there was at least one picture of them doing this:

Now, I remembered back when I taught at the U of M, I had a Chinese grad assistant, and one time I took a pic of her and she made that hand sign too. So I started searching for Chinese girls on the personals site, and sure enough, most of them had at least one photo of them making that gesture. Next I tried Thai girls. Same thing. Vietnamese. Same thing. Taiwanese. Same thing.

What’s the deal with that? Why do Asians always (or at least, often) make that gesture when they have their picture taken?

Edited to add Sunday night 10/22/06, after about 11 beers at Sleep Out Louie’s, the Tap Room, and the Flying Saucer (from where I’m posting this): Regular blog reader/Asian studies major Carmel, who used to teach in Japan and was also baffled by this behavor, sends the following, from Wikipedia:

“During the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo, figure
skater Janet Lynn stumbled into Japanese pop culture
when she fell during a free-skate period—but continued
to smile even as she sat on the ice. Though she placed
only 3rd in the actual competition, her cheerful
diligence and indefatigability resonated with many
Japanese viewers, making her an overnight celebrity in
Japan. Afterwards, Lynn (a peace activist) was
repeatedly seen flashing the V sign in the Japanese
media. Though the V sign was known of in Japan prior
to Lynn’s use of it there (from the post-WWII Allied
occupation of Japan), she is credited by some Japanese
for having popularized its use in amateur photographs.

Through the 1970s and 1980s in Japan, the V sign was
often accompanied by a vocalization: “piisu!” This
gairaigo exclamation, which stood for “peace”, has
since fallen into disuse, though the V sign itself
remains steadfastly popular.

The V sign is also commonly used in anime and Japanese
live-action shows. When characters show this sign, it
is often accompanied by an exclamation of “Vui!”
(pronounced “vwee!”), an exaggeration, or possible
slurring (see Engrish) of the English pronunciation

Perhaps due to Japanese cultural influence, the V sign
in photographs has become popular with young Koreans,
Hong Kongers, and Taiwanese as well. The sign is
ubiquitous in Taiwan and is closely associated with
the English word, “happy”. Print and television
advertisements read “happy” with hands waving while
displaying the V sign, and the average Taiwanese
person will invariably give that word as the meaning
of the sign.”

Two (unfortunately conflicting) big events Wednesday night

Before we get started with the content of this post, I’m pleased to bring back a semi-regular feature: The ’80s commercial jingle that is currently running through my head.

Sakes alive (sakes alive).
Sakes alive (sakes alive).
Only Mazda’s got a brand new truck
for fifty-eight
ninety-five (ninety-five).

Obviously this jingle is quite old, because if Mazda really had trucks for $5895 I’ll be running out to the dealership about now. All right, with that out of the way, let’s get down to business.

There are two good events to put on your calendar for Wednesday night, October 25. First of all, Mpact Memphis is having its fifth birthday party on the rooftop of The Lofts, at the corner of GE Patterson and Tennessee (one block west of Front). Party will last from 6 to 9 pm and everyone’s invited – you don’t have to be a member to attend. Reasons why this is worth putting on your calendar:

  • Free food
  • They’ll be giving away door prizes, including a Grizzlies opening night game package, an old-school Atari II video game system, Elvis CD, Justin Timberlake CD, BB King CD box set, The Office Season 1 & 2 DVD set, and a Grey’s Anatomy Season 1 & 2 DVD set.
  • They’ll be announcing their “Mpact Makers” awards – come see who in the 21-40 set has been making a difference in the community.
  • Crowd tends to be professional and motivated – so it can be a good opportunity to network and make some business connections.
  • Mpact isn’t a dating service, but the fact is, the majority of Mpact members are single, and judging from the friends list on Mpact’s MySpace page, attractive. So it could be a good chance to meet someone in a different environment than the bar scene.
  • Party will be held on one of the best rooftop decks downtown – views of the river and the city
  • Live music by YOKONO

The Mpact party is where I will be Wednesday night. I wonder if local MySpace legend The Mexican Wolf will show up for this one… last time they had a Lofts rooftop party, he was there.

Now, there’s also another excellent event which will be happening downtown at the same time (6-8 pm), and I hate it that I’m going to have to miss this one… The Reba Russell Band will be playing the closing night of the Court Square Concert Series, which has been moved to Jefferson Davis Park (Riverside at Jefferson).

Friends who attended last week’s event told me that Jefferson Davis park is an idea venue for this kind of show – plenty of room to spread out, lay down picnic blankets, etc. They said that last week’s band (North Mississippi Allstars) drew a huge crowd, probably the largest in the series’ existence. And best of all, they told me that the bums (who had become something of a problem when the series was held at Court Square) were practically nonexistent at Jefferson Davis Park.

So if the Mpact party isn’t your thing, come out to the park and hear some good live music. Thanks to the Center City Commission for putting on the series this year – it’s been a smashing success.

And that’ll do it for now – hold on, I’m getting an alternate version of the commercial.

Sakes alive (sakes alive),
Sakes alive (sakes alive).
Only Mazda’s got a diesel truck
For sixty-seven
Ninety-five (ninety-five).

I’ll update the Halloween list later this weekend.

Drunk post: Blue Moon on St.Louis keep on shinin’, and prejudiced bum

Congratulations to the St.Louis Cardinals on defeating the New York Mets tonight in Game 7 of the playoffs, to make it to the World Series. As long as the Cardinals are alive in the post-season, the Flying Saucer has Blue Moon on sale for $2.50. I’m hoping to see the Cardinals take the World Series in 7 games, with each game going at least 13 innings. The Saucer is going to be seeing a lot of me the rest of this month. Not that they wouldn’t otherwise.

Walking home tonight, I encountered a bum doing his usual schtick. “You all right?” he asked. “Where you from?”

“I’m from Nobummania!” I replied. “I’m from Bumgoawayya!”

Apparently he had heard of those countries and didn’t like them, because he started cussing me out. Can I help my ethnic origins? Prejudice must be eliminated from the bums downtown. Let’s just make it legal to kill them, that’ll do it.

Drunk. Going to bed.

Lotsa stuff: weekend events, wingwomen, Cohen, New Path, liberal radio, beer drinking team

Lots to cover today. This post is going to be all over the frickin’ map, so let’s get rolling.

– If you’re looking for something to do tomorrow night (Friday, October 20), classic country band Papa Top’s West Coast Turnaround will be performing at the Hi-Tone. I’ve never sat through their entire set – only caught a few minutes of them at outdoor festivals – but friends of mine who have been to their shows have said they’re a hell of a good time. If I can’t find anything closer to home to do, I may hop in the car and head out to Midtown to hear them.

– Saturday there’s a big party at Stax Museum, a fundraiser called Staxadelic featuring ’70s costumes and music. I probably won’t make it, because the $100-per-person price tag is a little steep. I’m sure it will be a blast though… I’m half-tempted to go ahead and put on my platform shoes, drop a Ben Franklin on Stax, and boogie down to some funk, soul and disco. I’ve certainly spent that much and more this year on causes not nearly so worthy… Romanians

– Sunday night is the finals of the Miss Gay America 2007 cross-dresser pageant, to be held at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts/Memphis Cook Convention Center at 6:30, tickets $25-30. I remember when this happened last year – I had the typical straight-guy reaction of, “Well, I could never go to something like that, it just isn’t manly, and besides, what will people think?” The next day, I had several people (both gay and straight) tell me that it was one of the funniest, most entertaining events of the year.

Hmm… let me think about this for a second… who’s likely to be there? Lots of gay men, and lots of women. Who’s not likely to be there? Lots of straight men. That means the straight men who possess the balls and the open mind to go to this event have the odds heavily in their favor for meeting women. If I can get a female friend to go with me as a wingwoman, I just may have to give the pageant a chance.

– For those who haven’t heard that term before… a wingman/wingwoman is someone who goes out with you for the purpose of helping each other meet the opposite sex. A good wing helps you infiltrate groups, talks you up, keeps the other people in the group occupied while you talk to the person you’re interested in. And, of course, you provide the same service for your wing in return.

In fact, there’s a site called that provides this service for a fee (currently $75 an hour). It’s based on the notion that it’s easier for a guy to meet attractive women if he’s already with an attractive woman. You can get on their site and sign up to find a wingwoman in your area. I have to admit, this was a pretty smart idea. It’s been around for a couple of years and has been featured on national news magazines.

Good article in the CA on Steve Cohen today. It points out that he supported bills to limit campaign contributions and legislators’ perks from lobbyists. He also sponsored legislation that required public servants to disclose conflicts of interests. Common Cause, a nonpartisan group that pushes for government accountability, has twice given him their “Bird Dog” award. Cohen is exactly the kind of person I want representing me in Washington. Lobbyists, fat-cat corporations, and good-old-boy politicians have a lot to fear if he makes it to Congress.

– This morning I received an e-mail from New Path, a progressive organization that was key in getting Tomeka Hart elected to the Memphis School Board, District 7 two years ago. They are known to support candidates who will put the public’s interest (and in the case of school board candidates, the children’s interest) ahead of their own personal interests, which is a breath of fresh air for this city. They are supporting the following candidates for the school board:

  • Betty Mallott, District 2
  • Martavius Jones, District 4
  • Sharon Webb, District 6

Their site is currently down, but once they get it working again you can visit New Path’s site for more information about these candidates, as well as info about New Path’s mission. In the meantime, if anyone wants the info sheet they e-mailed me about these candidates, shoot me an e-mail and I’ll forward it to you. Let me just say that I know the founders of New Path personally, and their stamp of approval in local races is all I need to see. I know the candidates they support will do right for the community.

– Just days after the Air America radio network filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, its cofounders Anita and Sheldon Drobny have launched a new liberal talk radio network. It will be called Nova M, and will begin broadcasting on October 30 with markets in Phoenix and Little Rock, with more to be added in the future. Former Air America talk show host Mike Malloy will host one of the shows on the new network. The Drobnys sold Air America in 2003 and therefore are not affected by the bankruptcy.

– This morning I saw flyers advertising the U.S. Beer Drinking Team, and figured I’d pass on a link to their website. Their merchandise is available in one of the finest stores in all of the city – Circle K – so they gotta be the real deal. This is a team I’m certainly qualified to be on.

Reminds me – the other day I was talking to regular blog reader Suzy/Susie (not sure of spelling) and she asked, “What’s a triathlon?”

“Running, swimming, and biking, I think.”

“Well, if they got rid of those and instead had a triathlon where you drink three different types of beers, then I could be a triathlete!”

– And that’ll do it for now. I’m learning about even more Halloween parties and will again update the list in a couple of days.