Friday, August 29, 2008

ROCK YOU LIKE A HURRICANE!



BY BELINDA M. PASCHAL

As a kid, I often wondered how hurricanes got their names and how I could become an Official Hurricane Namer. As a grown-up kid, my curiosity was re-piqued by Hurricane Fay’s southern onslaught, so I turned to that info-seekers’ Bible known as Wikipedia.

Turns out they’ve been using the same six lists of names since 1979. The lists are recycled every six years, except in the case of exceptionally destructive storms (e.g., 2005’s Katrina), whose names are retired by the National Hurricane Center. What this means is that we could be reading about Fay again in 2014, 2020, 2026, ad infinitum. Bo-ring.

Since this column is as close as I’ll ever get to the real thing, I hereby declare myself DDN’s Official Hurricane Namer. I’m 86’ing unimaginative handles like Larry and Gert, and dubbing these destructive dynamos with names that do them justice. Ladies and gentlemen, I present my answer to the NHC’s rehashed lists, in alphabetical order:

Aniston: Lovely to look at and probably a very nice hurricane, but men still run from it.

Bob Dylan: The answer, my friend – as well as your house and car – is blowin’ in the wind.

Cowell: You call yourself a hurricane? You’re terrible! Just abominable!

Diddy: Name of storm subject to change without notice.

Elvis: Its gyrations have been known to drive women crazy.

Federline: Just an ill wind frontin’ like it’s got mad hurricane skillz.
NOTE: It bears mentioning that when I originally wrote this column for publication in the Dayton Daily News, I was in the throes of sleep-deprived delirium and omitted the letter F. So YOU, dear blog readers, are getting both the P.S. version AND a preview of the "correction" I intend to include in my next column!

Gibson: Speeds along drunkenly, targeting religious minorities and law enforcement officers.

Halle: Considered the most beautiful hurricane by weather geeks in awe of her warm front.

Isaac Hayes: They say this storm is a bad mother … shut yo’ mouth!

Jacko: Tends to lighten up quickly. Meteorologists are puzzled by its inexplicable gravitation toward young boys.

Kutcher: Gale-force wind machine + 3 million gallons of water = Dude, you just got PUNK'D!

Lavigne: Not as tough as it thinks it is; tends to go and makes things so complicated.

Madonna: Starts out vibrant and lusty before deteriorating to a withered, dusty shell.

Napoleon Dynamite: It’s, like, only the sweetest flippin’ hurricane of all time, freakin’ idiot!

Oprah: Characterized by fluctuations in size; a bit ostentatious.

Perez Hilton: Tags along after bigger, more well-known storms, bellowing hot air and leaving a trail of slime in its wake.

Queen: Any way this wind blows, doesn’t really matter to me.

Rihanna: So torrid and tempestuous, you’ll need more protection than an umbrella (ella, ella).

Springer: Deceptively benign fa├žade; its lunar pull causes unsightly simpletons to fight and/or disrobe.

Tony Soprano: Unearths all them stoolies that was sleepin’ wit’ da fishes … unless they’re wearin’ cement shoes.

Uma: Not dangerous unless you’re Ethan Hawke’s ex-nanny-turned-new-wife.

Vanna: Without her, Hurricane Pat would’ve been just another low-grade tropical storm.

Wang Chung: In spite of the wreck and ruin, it ensures everybody will have fun tonight.

Xena: She’ll hit ya hard … and make ya like it.

Yoko: Notorious for emitting a high-pitched screech not unlike a cat undergoing a root canal. Without anesthesia.

Zellweger: Best viewed while cutely squinching up one’s face.

Friday, August 15, 2008

IF YOU CAN’T SAY SOMETHING NICE, EMAIL IT


BY BELINDA M. PASCHAL

Earlier this week, a buddy and I were bemoaning the fact that technology – specifically electronic communication – is turning human interaction into a thing of the past. Fittingly, our conversation took place via email.


Gone are the days of opening my mailbox to find a friend’s kid gap-toothily grinning up from a school picture paper-clipped to a dog-eared letter chronicling the events of the past year in rambling fashion. Nowadays, I receive emails with links to personal pages showcasing 1.3-megapixel photos of baby Jaden’s new tooth or streaming video of little Madison’s debut in the kindergarten production of “High School Musical.”


It’s getting so that couples “date” six months before they even meet in person and “how we met” stories are peppered with phrases like “cyber-dating” and “hookup.com.”


Now, not only can you whisper sweet nothings via email, you can pass along not-so-sweet somethings as well. Got a co-worker who’s a bit, um, “aromatic,” and you don’t know how to tell him? If wearing a gas mask doesn’t clue him in and you’re not comfortable giving him a gift basket from Bath & Body Works, then NiceCritic.com is the way to go.


The site, which launched on July 4, calls itself “the anonymous way to send a helpful message” and allows you to send emails that can’t be traced to you or your computer. In other words, it’s a nice way to say mean things without taking responsibility. Site developer Erik Riesenberg got the idea when a friend who’d had several drinks, informed him that he really needed to trim his nose hair.


While getting liquored up is one way of gaining the courage to speak your mind, it’s bad for your liver and your safety. Plus, it’s frowned upon at most workplaces. Instead, consult NiceCritic.com, where the “helpful messages” fall into several categories, including:


* Personal Hygiene: “A breath mint would be beneficial today” sounds so much nicer than, “Dude, your breath is kickin’ like Jackie Chan!”

* Appearance: “It seems like your thong is showing” is a tip for which any colleague would be grateful. Unless she’s an exotic dancer.

* Office Behavior: If your glazed expression and gaping yawn doesn’t get your point across, try this gentle hint: “Stories about your kids are not as interesting as they used to be.”


* Cubicle Critic: “Please be courteous with the copier” is more discreet than publicly proclaiming, “You left these photocopies of your butt on the Xerox last night, Bob. Nice tattoo.”


* Neighborly Suggestions: “Please remember to close your blinds/curtains in the evening” is infinitely more courteous than, “Man, your wife is NOT aging well!”


Other categories are “Thoughts for Schoolmates,” “Sports Etiquette,” and “General Behavior,” which features my personal favorite, “You don't release your hug in a timely manner.”


If anyone decides to send me a NiceCritic.com message, I can only hope it’s something from the “Anonymous Praise” section rather than a heads-up that, “There seems to be some back-hair poking out of your shirt collar.”

Friday, August 01, 2008

THEY OUGHTA REPLACE AUTO-REPLACE

BY BELINDA M. PASCHAL

Talk about creating headlines!

In late June, the conservative American Family Association shot itself in the collective foot by relying on technology to "clean up" stories on its Web site, OneNewsNow. Instead of simply republishing the Associated Press news feed in its original format, the Web wizards behind ONN first run an automated word filter to nice up the language so it more closely conforms to AFA values and terminology preferences. Apparently, they've never heard of a nifty little practice we in the news biz call "proofreading."

Had they done a final read-through before posting a recent sports article, they wouldn't have had to tidy up the mess made by their own overzealous clean-up efforts. By using auto-replace to enforce its policy of substituting the word "gay" with a more clinical term, AFA/ONN wound up running a story under the headline, "Homosexual eases into 100 final at Olympic trials."

That would be quite a victory — an unabashedly out, loud and proud athlete representing his country in the Olympics ... except the auto-replaced "gay" in question is the runner's last name. As in world-class sprinter Tyson Gay.

OOPS.

In the wake of this glaring goof and the ensuing embarrassment, the AFA has corrected all of its online articles referring to "Tyson Homosexual." But no amount of correcting can fix such a flagrant faux pas 'cause you just can't undo stupid.

Imagine if this practice was implemented in the entertainment world. We'd be listening to the old-school soul of Marvin Homosexual and the gritty blues of John Lee Prostitute. We'd watch James Bond canoodling with Octokitty and bad guys getting head-kicked by martial arts master Jean-Claude Van Darnit. And I don't even wanna think about how auto-replace would deal with the name Dick Van Dyke.

AFA/ONN's blunder is an example of "the clbuttic effect," in which obscenity-filtering software goes all wonky in its quest to find every occurrence of a word deemed offensive and swap it out for a more acceptable synonym. As the anecdote goes, one anti-profanity system substituted "butt" for each instance of a common, one-syllable euphemism that rhymes with "brass." Unfortunately, the software couldn't distinguish between this three-letter word by itself and when it occurred as part of a larger word — hence, "classic" became "clbuttic." As a result, somewhere in the heartland of America is a sweet, very confused little old lady who still can't figure out why John Hinckley tried to "buttbuttinate" President Reagan!

That's why I'm glad my editor doesn't rely solely on technology to catch any errors I might make in my columns. If something as atrocious as the Tyson Gay gaffe were to make it into print, I'd be pretty embarrbutted.