Archive | Computers RSS feed for this section

How the Interwebs ‘Mowed Down’ the Postal Service

10 May

by Roger White

 

My old friend Gary, whom I’ve been best buds with since the early days of the LBJ Administration, recently retired after almost 40 years with the US Postal Service. Forty years of doing just about anything is admirable in my book, but working 40 years for the post office—and staying as sane, calm, and level-headed as Gary’s always been—is cause for a bit of hoopla and commemoration. So I sent my pal a celebratory retirement package: a 1/24 scale Three Stooges work truck model ready for assembly. Gary always did like working on car models.

 

postman dudeThrough the years, Gary has been the consistent yin to my yang. I’m a bit of a prone-to-histrionics type. When I’d be crying my 12-year-old eyes out because the Cowboys lost in the playoffs, Gary would be the one to remind me that it was just a game, that we’d get ’em next year, and, hey, isn’t a good time to get on our bikes and ride to the DQ for a couple of ice cream cones. That’s surely one of the reasons we remained such good friends over the years. I was the wild-eyed schemer; Gary was the voice of reason. Gary’s even-handed demeanor, I would bet, is also one of the reasons he never “went postal” working 40 years for the postal people.

 

I bring up my friend because I was thinking the other day how Gary timed his retirement just about perfectly. The USPS, like so many other entities, has been dealt a real body blow by the internet. The number of people conducting their business by hand-delivered mail has declined precipitously in the era of e-mails, texts, and Facebook. Then again, the list of industries and career paths adversely affected by the rise of the interwebs is a long one. Think about it: jounaughty magrnalists, photographers, newspaper and magazine owners, authors, publishers, literary agents, press workers, encyclopedia salespeople, recording artists, record album designers, music store owners, phone book companies, map makers, taxi drivers, camera makers, processed film manufacturers, travel agents—and let’s not forget the print porn industry. OK, never mind about the print porn. Young men now have more closet and bottom drawer space. But anyway, the list goes on. We’re in the midst of an economic revolution of sorts. And we all can’t work as Walmart greeters.

 

So back to Gary. The notion that my friend retired at just the right moment came to me when I read an article the other day that the postal service of Finland—financially in dire straits as are postal services of just about every country around—has gone to drastic measures to try to stay afloat. Posti Group, which is what the state-owned Finnish mail service is called, has decided that to help make ends meet, they will, in addition to delivering the Finnish mail, offer to mow people’s lawns once a week for a tax-deductible fee of about $148.

 

“The idea for the lawn-mowing service came from mail delivery employees themselves,” said Anu Punola, the service’s director. “We believe many customers will be happy to outsource lawn mowing when we make it convenient for them to do so.”

 

Mmmyeah. That’s thinking way, way outside the post office box. Somehow, I just don’t see it flying here in the good ol’ US of A. My postal delivery guy is friendly enough, but I can’t picture him at my door like so:

 

“Hello, Mr. White, you need to sign for this package.”

 

“Oh, thankspostal mow.”

 

“And by the way, your driveway shrubs are looking really shabby. You want a trim and an edge for an extra fifty bucks?”

 

I could see them delivering pizza, though. That just might work. “Here you are, Mr. White, jury summons, five credit card offers, Victoria’s Secret catalog, utility bill, Pottery Barn flier, and double pepperoni with mushroom, hold the anchovy.”

 

In order to survive, I envision other such services embracing the concept of double duty. For example, I edit a magazine (yes, the print kind), and I write for a newspaper (yes, the print kind). How much longer these publications will remain the print kind is anyone’s guess, but I figure it might help keep subscriptions coming in if we could figure out a way for these periodicals to be made from material with the consistency of toilet paper. Talk about double dooty. That’s something that e-magazines and e-newspapers just couldn’t match, I do believe.

 

Yep, Gar, you retired at just the right time, old friend.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely spouse, two precocious offspring units, a morbidly obese dachshund, and a cat with Epstein-Barr Syndrome. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com. Or not.

 

 

Prine Was Right: Blow Up Your TV

4 Jan

by Roger White

 

“Blow up your TV, throw away your paper,

Go to the country, build you a home…”

—from “Spanish Pipedream,” by John Prine

 

I work for an education association, whose ebb and flow of timelines, lull seasons, and get-it-done-yesterday crunch times generally follows the public schools calendar. This does not mean I get the whole summer off or that I have to take some sort of final exams every semester. But it does mean I get a nice chunk of time off during the Christmas break. Or should I say Holiday Break, or Winter Break, to be properly PC. But if I say “Winter Break,” then I’m accused of waging war on Christmas—whatever that is—by the anti-war-on-Christmas people, whoever they are. Seems there are an inordinate number of highly sensitive, easily offended, extremely angry subgroups of people out there these days, and almost any topic—from eating a hamburger to wearing a headscarf to saying “bless you” when somebody sneezes—is now an emotional mine field of potential hurt feelings and mob-mentality retribution.

reallyFor example, overheard at a local Wal-Mart recently:

“Dammit, Zebulon, these friggin’ Moslems is takin’ over the place. Look over thar, in home improvement. Dang scarf-wearin’ terrurist jee-haddys…”

“Yeah, I here ya, Jebediah. Hey, Zeke! Lee Roy! We got us a … wait, that’s my mom in the scarf. She didn’t want nobody to see her curlers.”

“Oh. Well. That’s awright, I guess.”

But while we’re on the subject, wouldn’t the term “Winter Break” be considered offensive to those folks who deem autumn as their favorite season? We have Spring Break; we have Summer Break; and now with the newly christened “Winter Break” we are kicking poor, unloved autumn to the curb, aren’t we? We have no “Fall Break.” I’m pissed off! This is War on Fall! Anti-Autumn Armageddon! I’m organizing a protest! Where’s Fox News?

OK, wait. Once again, I digress. Anyway, yes, so this lovely fortnight of vacation I get every, uh, late December allows me the blessed opportunity to back away from the grind. To sit in the backyard with a fire in the fire pit, a warm drink in hand, and nothing on my mind but determining how to get the (insert your preferred holiday here) boxes down from the attic without upsetting the raccoon family that has taken up permanent residence up there.

I have found that during this heavenly lull I tend to watch less news on TV and scarcely come near the computer, which is where I usually receive my daily dose of terror, misery, innuendo, and fear-mongering via CNN and other websites.

And despite the season’s family dramas, gift-hunting mayhem, and traffic gridlock gnashing of teeth—not to mention the annual overdose of turkey, libations, and too much party silliness—I find that my anxiety level and blood pressure go way down. Two weeks without Trump, Cruz, Clinton, terrorist plots for world overthrow, Planned Parenthood bombings, Dow Jones doom and gloom, the affluenza teen, Bill Cosby revelations, and viral cat-in-the-microwave stories tend to hit me like a soft pillow in the face. The crap the media spews at us 24/7 isn’t our world.

And all you have to do is turn it off. You can blow it up, if you’ve a mind, but just hitting the “off” button will suffice. Aaah. That’s nice.

So why take only a (insert your preferred holiday here) break from the muck and the madness? I was never much on New Year’s resolutions, but I believe I have one for 2016: Less CNN, Trump, Hannity, msnbc, Fox, and all those “World’s Most Extreme Terrible Things” shows—and more backyard reflection. More walks, more friends, more board games. If you still have the old Aggravation board game gathering cobwebs in the closet, pull it out, dust it off, and get the kids around. It’s fun.

Don’t have Aggravation? OK, Monopoly then. Just try to ignore the fact that Monopoly is based on properties in Atlantic City, New Jersey, a town practically owned by…you know who. I’m tellin’ ya, if that candy-haired blowhard gets anywhere near the White House, I’m moving the family to…

Time out. Breathe. Forget Monopoly. Stick with Aggravation. Or the backyard fire pit. Aaah, there we go.

aggravation

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious offspring, a very obese but mannerful dachshund, and a cat with Epstein-Barr. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com. Or not.

 

I Give You Sniglets for the New Age

2 Nov

by Roger White

 

Remember sniglets? You have to be at least kind of ancient if you do. Sniglets, the brainchild of 1980s comedian Rich Hall, were simply described as “words that don’t appear in the dictionary but should.” They’re concocted terms used to define everyday phenomena—usually petty annoyances or ridiculous inanities of life that we all experience but don’t think about enough to actually attach a real word or phrase to them. Like backspackle, which is, of course, the ah the spacklemarkings and smudges on the back of one’s shirt from riding a fenderless bicycle. Or giraffiti, which is vandalism spray-painted very, very high. Or one of my personal faves: slopweaver, which is someone who has mastered the art of repositioning the food on his or her plate to give the appearance of having consumed a good portion of it. Teens are marvelously adept slopweavers.

I started pondering sniglets the other day at work when, for the umpteenth time (is “umpteenth” a sniglet?), one of the little protective rubber coverings on my stereo’s earbuds came off in my ear and I didn’t notice—until a coworker pointed out to me that it looked like I had a cockroach nesting in my left ear.

Ah ha. There should be a word for that, I thought. And then, as I pondered sniglet possibilities for my plight, it hit me that we need a whole new crop of sniglets for the 21st century. So, herewith, I give you a jumping-off point of Sniglets for the New Age. These are just sniglet proposals, mind you. I think Rich Hall or somebody has to officially bless them in a ritualistic sneremony or something for them to become official. And as always, I welcome your snig-gestions:

  • Burst Responder: a person who blurts out a response to someone who’s talking on their cellphone because the responder thought the person was talking to them.
  • Adcenta Previa: those frustrating ads placed in front of the youtube video you want to watch.
  • Spellhole: the maddening state you find yourself in when your mobile device keeps insisting on correcting your text spelling when you don’t want it to.
  • Asdfjkrunge: the collection of food crumbs, bits of dust, cuticle washy washytrimmings, and other tiny specks of detritus you have to empty out of your computer keyboard from time to time.
  • Coughartle: the noise made, particularly by cube-environment workers, when trying to mask the sound of passing gas.
  • Tootretort: snarky comment or question posed by annoyed coworker who knows damn good and well that somebody just coughartled. Example: “Is there a gas leak?” or “Did somebody burn the popcorn again?”
  • Textnesia: that troublesome realization that you forgot who or what you were texting in the middle of text conversation.
  • Cell Squeenge: when two people in a cellphone conversation attempt to talk at the same time and end up hearing nothing and saying, “Hello? Hello? Are you still there?”
  • Vinylstalgia: a baby boomer’s angst at the lack of albums and old-fashioned record stores in today’s world.
  • Illoleracy: the absolute dearth of language skills shown by today’s teens and young adults who have been raised on “lol, ur kiddin, rofl, brb…” etc.
  • Faceplant: when you share a post on Facebook that your friend received 102 likes on, and you end up with three likes—and two of those are from you and your mom.
  • Proselyposting: the annoying habit of some Facebookers to hallelujahcontinually post how much they love Jesus/God/Yaweh/Allah/The Dude/Eric Clapton and that if you love Him/Her/Them also you must “like” and “share” or you’re going to Hell/Lake of Fire/Perdition/The Abyss/Cleveland.
  • Screenscramble: that moment when your boss suddenly pops into your cubie, and you have to frantically pull up a document on your computer screen to make it appear as if you’re working and not farting around on youtube.
  • Budplug: I almost forgot. This is what I came up with for that tiny rubber earbud covering that gets stubbornly stuck in your ear without your knowledge.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious offspring, a very obese but mannerful dachshund, and a cat with Epstein-Barr. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com. Or not.

 

This Year, Santa’s from the Seventies, Like, Man

16 Dec

by Roger White

I must have fallen and hit my head again. Do you hear those mountains? Listen to all that purple. Ding! Ooh, time for cocoa! I swear, from looking at the little calendar icon on my computer, that it is December 2014. That’s what it says, right there on my screen. Yes? No? But as I run down the list of Christmas presents requested by our two offspring types I realize that it must be approximately December 1974, give or take a decade.

Do you know what our oldest daughter, a college freshman, wants for Christmas? A record player. That’s right. An actual turntable with an actual needle that plays actual albums. I had to ask her again to make sure I was hearing correctly. I didn’t think she grasped what a record player was. Or a record, for that matter. Apparently, they’re all the rage with the college kids now. Who knew? I never crank itshould have gotten rid of my old Magnavox solid state stereophonic hi-fi phonograph with diamond stylus. Ah, those were the days. Put on a little “Seasons in the Sun” by Terry Jacks, slap on some Hai Karate cologne, slide on my polyester bell botto—OK, never mind.

Our oldest kiddo, who has Pink Floyd and Hendrix posters in her room by the way, also requested headphones. Not those microscopic little earbuds that can get lost in the inner canals of your cranium, mind you. No, she wants the mammoth vintage-style phones that cover half your head, like those awesome KLH monsters that looked more like heart defibrillators than musical accessories. Remember those things? Your mom could be screaming at you not two feet away that the house was on fire, and all you could hear was Edgar Winter. Yeah, man. Rock on.

awe. some.

Anyway, those giant ear-suffocating mufflers are back, too. Retro is in, apparently. Going down the list, I see that our youngest daughter—she of the Smartphone Taylor Swift Maroon 5 Instagram generation—wants, get this, a Polaroid Land Camera. Seriously. If you need a memory jog, the Polaroid Land Camera was that behemoth box of an instant camera that would spit the photo out right then and there immediately after you snapped it. You stood there and shook and waved and shimmied the photo as it developed in front of your eyes. Remember that? A technological marvel! Instead of waiting a week and having to run to your pharmacy to see that your thumb was over the lens, you got to see your stupid mistake instantly. By the way, Polaroid didn’t call it the Land Camera because you could use it only on land. The guy who invented it was named Edwin Land, who was cofounder of the Polaroid Company. Just so you’ll know.

Oh, and let’s not forget about shoes. Sneakers, to be more precise. Do you know what sneakers our youngest runs around in nowadays? Keds. Old-style, high-top, Johnny Unitas-looking Keds! Except they don’t call them Keds now. And they dang sure don’t sell them for $10 anymore, to be certain. Holy mother of johnny umackerel, they’re high fashion now, produced by hoity-toity outfits with names like Maison Martin Margiela or Steve Madden or some Nordstrom-sounding company called Giuseppe Zanotti—and for only $759.99 they come in gold lamé or day-glo lace or faux snakeskin. I’m thinking if I snag a pair of original Keds from Goodwill and spray-paint them gold leaf, she’ll never know the diff.

So all this retro rage got me thinking about my Christmas list. I might as well go with the flow, I reasoned. Why not? OK, Santa, this year I’d like: 1. Soap on a rope (preferably English Leather or Irish Spring); 2. A Sony Walkman (in lemon yellow or groovy grape color); 3. A Rock ’em Sock ’em Robot set; and 4. A Man from U.N.C.L.E. lunchbox with thermos. If you don’t have Man from U.N.C.L.E., I’ll take Green Hornet, but please try. Thanks, Santa dude.

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

Suburban Worldsick Blues

27 May

by Roger White

 

With a tip of the hat to a master chronicler of the American age, it must be noted that Bob Dylan never lived in a 3/2/2 with central heat/air and two and a half mortgages during a time when, by all appearances, our society is on the verge of utter decay—all viewable with the click of a mouse or touch of a pad.

 

So I give you “Suburban Worldsick Blues.”

 

Perry’s in the Capitol, railin’ against abortion,

I’m lookin’ at my taxes thinkin’ it’s extortion,

The man in the trench coat shootin’ up the school halls

Says he got bullied so everybody must fall.

 

Look out, dad, the economy is bad,

God knows what we did, but the country’s on the skids.

 

You better duck down, turn page, watch out for road rage,

Another mass swhyhooting, another senseless rampage,

Sterling’s on his cell phone reminiscin’ ’bout slavery,

Miley’s twerkin’ onstage, scandalous behavery.

 

Look out, mom, Gotta stay calm,

Soldiers in Kabul dodging roadside bombs.

 

Get sick, get well, they’re laying off again at Dell,

Are we winnin’ whatever war, it’s gettin’ kinda hard to tell,

Presidenidiotst says our healthcare system’s unfit,

All Congress says is where’s your birth certificate?

 

Well, Hormel, GM organizin’ recalls,

Bad meat, bad brakes, pickets down at town hall,

Daughter’s college fees call for medical sedation,

Building border walls to stifle immigration.

 

Look out, pop, no tellin’ where it stops,

Younger daughter’s boyfriend working at a head shop.

 

Mortgage underwater, excess beer consumption,

Viagra wants to help with that erectile dysfunction,

The factonoworkry just made a Chapter 11 declaration,

School board says it’s gonna teach divine creation.

 

Text tweet online, your selfie looking so fine,

Kids in Bosnia steppin’ on old land mines.

Icebergs meltin’, droughts killin’ all the wheat,

Just global warmin’ lies of the liberal elite.

 

Well, get dressed, get stressed, face the day’s traffic mess,

Oops, your job’s just been outsourced to Bangladesh.

Don’t follow leaders, take pills for all the cedars,

Find yourself a new position as a Walmart greeter.

 

Look out, mama, you’re dyin’ from the trauma,

Increase yer Prozac dosage, tune in the dalai lama.

 

Well, jump down a manhole, filibuster gun control,

thebardThink I saw a shadow up there beyond the grassy knoll,

Headin’ to the car, another day in the loony ward,

Shakin’ yer head ’cause the vandals keyed yer new Ford.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

143a.

 

Hey, You! Get Off My Cloud.

29 Apr

by Roger White

 

Our eldest offspring graduates high school this spring, and as we help her gear up for her college adventure, we find ourselves dealing with periodic outbreaks of sanguine eagerness and heartrending nostalgia. Not from Lindsey, mind you; steady girl she, this one can’t wait to hit the road. Nooy, these schizophrenic episodes of brilliant, optimistic sunshine followed by immense black clouds of wistful despair emanate from her mother and me. One minute we see our dazzling world-changer bound for an abundant horizon, and the next we cover our heads with ash lamenting lost childhood. Oh, where is that little girl we carried? If I were a rich man, yadda deeba deeba...

 

But that’s for another episode.

 

Hang with me here, however. The point I’m meandering to involves clouds and horizons and atmospheric disturbances. Kinda sorta. You see, one of the many things on the higher ed checklist for daughter numero uno is the purchase of a new laptop for our bright, shiny grad. For middle-aged, big-pink-eraser-loving boomers such as ourselves, attempting to pinpoint the optimal laptop computer amid the chrome and plastic jungle of touchpads and notebooks and ultrabooks and RAM capacity is a daunting task.

 

For example, one such high-tech, high-priced gizmatron we’ve been considering is something called the Chromebook. Have you seen this thing? From my limited understanding, a Chromebook is a laptop computer—and it isn’t. Apparently, the Chromebook doesn’t have any actual real things in its innards, such as word-processing programs and photo-editing da cloudfunctions and the like. Nope, the Chromebook points its user to the web for all that stuff. If you want to create a document, you have to access the internet to find the appropriate program, and if you want to save said document, you have to store it on the internet, too—in some nebulous realm called the Cloud.

 

I have several issues with this concept, not the least of which is understanding just what the hell it is. So I’m buying a slick, sleek, razor-thin, state-of-the-art laptop that has nothing in it? Whenever I hit any function key, do I simply get shuffled off to the interwebs?

 

Me: “Let’s see. Let’s try the calculator.” Click, clack, clack.

Chromebook: “See Cloud.”

 

Me: “Hmm. Create Word file.” Clack click.

Chromebook: “See Cloud.”

 

Me: “Well, f*#@! Chromebook, see wall.” Throw.

Chromebook: “See8 Cloj j4j. Sorry, Dave. Don’t, Dave. 601.”

 

Now, you should note that Chromebook didn’t invent this odd paradigm; it’s just the most visible example. This setup is known in the geek world as a thin client. Thin clients, to use the vernacular, “only provide a web browser and rely on web applications to provide general-purpose computing functionality and storage facilitation.” So if I crack open this here thin client, I imagine I’ll find nothing but a tiny modem and a sticker that reads, “For repair or maintenance assistance, you guessed it, pal: See Cloud.”

 

So what is this Cloud? Is it the interwebs its own self? Does it hover above the interwebs? And who runs the Cloud? God? Bill Gates? Is there one great big Cloud or 650 million tiny little head cloud guyClouds? How do I know that you’re not poking around in my Cloud? Hey, you, get off my Cloud.

 

And why the Cloud? Clouds are so ephemeral. Clouds tend to disappear or drift away. Or turn into messy storms. The idea of storing my vital documents, such as my personal collection of cats-playing-the-piano videos, on something called the Cloud doesn’t fill me with confidence. How about calling it the Vault? Or the Core? Even the Big Weenie, for crying out loud. But the Cloud?

 

Aha. I looked into this a bit more, and in my research I found this unsettling piece of info. And I quote: “Network-based services, which appear to be provided by real server hardware but are in fact served up by virtual hardware simulated by software, are often called cloud computing. Such virtual servers do not physically exist and can therefore be moved around and scaled up or down, somewhat like a cloud becoming larger or smaller without being a physical object.”

 

Hence, the Cloud. So the Cloud doesn’t physically exist? Is this like the tree falling in the forest? If a writer’s soon-to-be-blockbuster novel was stored in the Cloud, and the Cloud drifted away, did the writer actually write a novel at all? Where the hell is my dark and stormy night? And what if a college student’s term paper is due tomorrow and a dark and stormy night knocks out internet access? Is she up the creek, in the forest, with the trees falling, in the night, under the Cloud, with no paddle, in the thing, with the deal?

 

Upshot of all these lamentations: The whole idea feels like a hoodwink. A scam. A fiddle faddle. state of artThe reality may be that we just aren’t tech-savvy enough to get it, but we’re taking no chances. In the meantime, dear daughter o’ ours, here’s a spit-shined, reconditioned Smith-Corona with new ribbon. The “n” sticks, but you’ll get the hang of it.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

 

It Takes a Village to Save the Squirrels

18 Nov

by Roger White                                                                              

It dawned on me the other day, as I was returning yet another socket wrench and assorted metric sockets to my neighbor Jim, that regarding many things about life and the cosmos I’m mostly talking out of my, uh, hat.

This particular moment of clarity came to me as I realized, watching my long-suffering and patient neighbor reseat his tools into their precise positions in his immaculate garage workshop, that as vociferously as I rail against modern society and pine for the days of yore, I would have lasted maybe a week and a half in the a slow squirrelolden times. My family would have lived under one of those quaint covered bridges. We would have subsisted on wild turnips and slow squirrels. Oh, who am I kidding? I wouldn’t even know how to trap a squirrel, much less cook the thing and eat it.

You see, I have no skills. Zero. Nada. Bupkiss. Save helping you proofread your short story or guiding you through the distinctions between the possessive apostrophe and the contraction apostrophe, I’m about as useful and handy as excess nose hair. I don’t build things. My attempts at simple home repair often conclude at the minor emergency clinic. I don’t use a miter box. I’m not even sure what a miter box is.

woopusThe point is, I understand now that I should be thankful to the Large Kahuna that I live in a time and place where hammering nouns and verbs into place can actually put food on the table for me and mine. I’m sure the squirrels are thankful, too. Especially the slow ones. Life in the era of barter and wampum and manual dexterity would have been a tad severe for yours truly. As Quint said to Richard Dreyfuss’s character in Jaws, “You have city hands, Mr. Hooper.” City hands, indeed. And a city brain.

And thus, with this dawning, came the glow of appreciation for guys like Jim. This may also be a Large Kahuna type of thing, but is it mere happy circumstance that so many of my family’s friends and neighbors are people who can really do things? I mean, criminy, there’s Jim next door, who can fashion anything from an acoustic guitar to a backyard deck from a piece of tree bark; there’s Matt across the street, who’s fixed our computer so many times that when I call him now, instead of saying hello, he simply says, “I’m coming.” There’s our friend Rodney the homebuilder, who put our bedroom ceiling back together that time I fell through the attic. And there’s neighbor Glen, whose truck has saved us so many delivery fees through the years that we’ve been able to buy a new dryer. Oh, about that truck this weekend, Glen…

You get the picture. Sans our friends and neighbors, we’d be out several grand a month just keeping the place running. Ya ever try to bargain with a refrigerator repairman by offering to conjugate his verbs?

I’m astounded at the amazing people around me—not just because they can actually accomplish the things they do with their minds and hands, but because they have such generosity of spirit. I think sometimes if I were Jim, and the clod next door rang my bell yet again beseeching me to diagnose his ailing garbage disposal, I’d seriously consider feigning a communicable disease. Or keeping the lights off until my nettlesome neighbor went away. Not Jim. Not Matt or Glen or Rodney. They answer every time.

i build sentencesSo yeah. Color me humbly mindful that it takes a village. It takes a village of wonderful folks to keep me from having to wear “Will Edit for Food” signs on the streetcorner. I’m earnestly thankful. As are the squirrels, I’m sure.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

Rise of the Planet of the Apps

2 Oct

by Roger White

 

The other day I was reading, with mild interest, a story about an 11-year-old girl who beat all these teams of professional computer whizzes in a contest to see who could design and market the best app to reduce distracted driving. Sixth-grader Victoria Walker won this AT&T-sponsored contest held in Los Angeles by creating something she calls Rode Dog. Just from the name, I liked the idea right off the bat. It seems that Rode Dog allows users to create mini-social networks of family and friends—or “packs.” Each pack member is tracked by GPS at all times, and members are alerted whenever someone in the pack is using a phone and driving at the same time.

 

And here’s where it gets fun. When other pack members are made aware that one of their own is texting while driving, they then send barking sounds to the offending “dog” to make them knock it off. The app makes money by enabling users to download the sounds of different breeds for 99 cents. So you can be a yappy, obnoxious chihuahua; or you can scare the bejeezus out of the errant pack member with a deep basset hound woooof.

 

Second place went to an app called Safe Car Key, which shuts the car down if the user’s phone is removed from a loading dock built into the car. Drive Pledge, designed to reward drivers with points, games, and songs for miles accumulated without texting or using their phone, won third place.

 

Now, I noted that I read this story with mild interest, but that interest turned instantly keen when we caught our oldest daughter DWI recently. No, no, alcohol wasn’t involved. This was a case of Driving While Intexticated. Yep, she came home the other day with the right side of the car scraped and creased and looking not at all well. After a little interrogation, she confessed to fiddling with her phone while the car was in gear and moving. She says she thought she was stopped, but the big, metal bike rack at the neighborhood park where she was driving didn’t just jump out and attack our Honda.

 

I’m thinking now we should become Rode Dogs.

 

This new app idea also got me pondering about what folks might consider their ideal, fantasy app. So I conducted a highly unscientific poll of our family—er, pack—and came up with the following (allow plus or minus 3 percentage points of standard deviation in Iowa and Tennessee; not valid in New Jersey; 10 cent deposit in Michigan; void where prohibited):

 

Parents (that’s me and Mom): How about an app designed to prevent our offspring from secretly texting until their homework is done? This would require some linking with teachers through the Gradespeed service, whereby any of our kids’ texts to their friends during homework hours would be intercepted by the appropriate teacher. A sample:

Jamie (our youngest): “Yo yo yo GF wadup? Dont u h8 Span?”

Señor Moya: “Yo, yo, yo, yourself, Señorita Jamie. Have you conjugated your Spanish verb infinitives yet? And by the way, I love Spanish.”

Jamie: “O me2 adios!”

Mom: I would appreciate an app on Dad’s phone that monitors sound coming from the nearest TV set. If the app detects dialogue matching that from Top Gun, Casino, or Animal House, the app immediately shuts off the television and calls Dad with a friendly reminder about the catbox and the lawn.

 

Lindsey (our oldest): An app that taps into the long, long history of Dad’s driving record and displays on all family members’ phones all of Dad’s, um, lapses of judgment he’s experienced over the years behind the wheel. DAD!

 

Jamie (our youngest): An app that links to all the phones of my friends when they’re over at my house and, through this network, is able to pick up sour notes and off-key singing by Dad. The app then makes him cut it out with high-pitched sirens or electric shocks or something.

 

Dad: Well. In light of all the other apps requested by my loving pack, I envision a nuclear app that overrides all other apps in a 50-foot radius of Dad and gently beeps Dad when the mountains are blue on the side of his cans. Nyah.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

Welcome to the ER, 21st-Century Style

20 Mar

by Roger White

 

I get nervous simply approaching the building. The bright lights, the important sounds of rushing people and vehicles—the very feel of emergencies in progress—unsettle my stomach and quicken my pulse.

The evening air is cool, excited by gusts and breezes swirling from the north. A front is moving in, but circumstances give me the impression that even the night is stirred by these critical moments. I’m suddenly covered in goose bumps as I usher my wife and daughter into the reception area.

We accompany our daughter to sign in, and it’s obvious from first glance that our situation is not nearly as serious as some of those around us. We are only a minor emergency, so we’ll have to wait.

The waiting is interminable. Our daughter bravely holds back the tears.

“It happened to me, too, honey,” my wife says, putting a reassuring hand on our daughter’s shoulder. “Don’t worry. They’ll fix it up.”

Inside the inner sanctum now, the hushed urgency of myriad conversations and vital tone of learned, caring consult and somber consideration of options and ramifications, mixed with a few cries of desperate pleading against the inevitable, impress upon me that I am without a doubt in a place where decisions, skills, timing, and training mean everything.

We comfort our daughter in the interim, soothing her, trying our best to let her know that everything will be all right. Most of the conversations around us we can’t help but hear, picked up only in snippets and instances of outburst and intervals of silence.

“Tell me again what happened exactly.”

“He fell, and something just cracked…”

“This is pretty bad.”

One solemn couple in the corner is told frankly that there was nothing that could be done. They are escorted into another room. My wife and I exchange glances, slowly shaking our heads.

“Dad…” my daughter begins.

“It’s OK, honey, it’s not as bad as it looks. I’m sure it’s going to be just fine.”

One man ahead of us reacts angrily to his diagnosis. He doesn’t seem to care who hears him.

“This can’t be! There’s no way to fix it?!”

“I’m sorry, sir, there’s just too much damage.”

And finally it’s our turn.

“What happened here?”

Our daughter is too caught up in her emotions to speak, so I do it for her.

“She…dropped her baby.”

“I see.”

Our daughter holds out her shattered, lifeless iPhone, its little face disfigured into a spider web of cracks.

“You can repair that, right?” I ask, suggesting with my optimistic expression that all is well.

“Unfortunately, no, sir. When the screen is cracked like this, there’s really nothing you can do.”

“It was so young,” I offer, gazing wistfully at the dead doohickey.

“It’s a phone, dear,” my wife says flatly, and I’m suddenly pulled out of my living analogy.

You think I’m joking, you who haven’t dropped your baby yet. Just you wait. The Sprint Store (or insert your brand here store) is the new ER, the trauma center of the New Age. Specialists and technicians here are the new doctors and surgeons, making life-and-death decisions on your dropped, drowned, squashed, mashed, or chicken-fried doodad. It’s serious business.

I thought my daughter was going to suffer a nervous breakdown while we waited the—oh, God, three days!!—for the replacement doohickey to arrive.

I will admit, I eventually did get a cell phone myself, at my wife’s insistence. But I use it as a phone. Imagine that? I have never texted. I don’t know how to text, and if it rings while I’m driving, I just let it rumble away in my pants. There is some satisfaction in that.

It is beyond me, and will likely remain far beyond me until I’m a dead doohickey myself, how our kids live and breathe life through their iPhones. I was at a concert not long ago, and I actually saw a girl in the audience watching the concert on her doodad, streaming on the internet. You following me here? The band is RIGHT THERE, live and in spitting distance—and she’s looking down at her doodad!

I was tempted to pluck the foul thing from her hands and stomp it into the ground. But then I would have had to accompany her to the ER and start the process all over again.

“What happened here?”

“I squashed her baby.”

“I see…”

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

 

Why Civility Matters

9 Mar

Editor’s Note: I rarely if ever post other authors’ material here. The many interesting voices in my head provide enough material to keep me sending missives to you, my demented following, for many years to come.

However, I couldn’t resist on this one. This is a topic vitally important, in my humble opinion. It’s quite serious, and I couldn’t have said it better than one Sara Hacala, so I sought her permission and the permission of AARP Bulletin to reprint it here.

It’s about how we have lost all sense of civility in public discourse today. I wholeheartedly agree, and I hope you’ll help me spread the word. I don’t care if you’re Republican, Democrat, Independent, Marxist, Atheist, Roman Catholic, Southern Baptist, Jewish, Pagan, Tree-Hugger Party, Ted Nugent Bow-and-Arrow Party–whatever. We need to stop shouting at each other. When, for example, did it become OK to scream out “You lie!” to the president during his address? And remember when the word “sucks” was not an acceptable catch-all for something that is less than par? My eighth-grade teacher sent us to the principal’s office whenever she heard that vulgar word. (This was 1972, mind you.) But you get the idea. Today’s social milieu sucks! oop… well, here’s Sara’s column:

by Sara Hacala

“Whatever happened to civility?” is an oft-heard lament, particularly among those of us over 50 who recognize civility’s increasing absence in a world changing at warp speed. Technology has forever altered the style, speed, and reach of our decidedly less personal communication. Escalating vulgarity, lax standards, sensational media, and polarized politics reign. Society today is far different than it was when we were young.

While rudeness is pervasive and rising (one recent report concluded that bad behavior may be the “new normal”), the societal and financial costs of incivility are astronomical–impacting our homes and relationships, schools, economy, health care, and government.

Civility is more than polite courtesies. Derived from the Old French and Latin term for “good citizen,” civility enables us to live respectfully in communities; it is the glue that binds our society. It can be the difference between life and death–as, for example, when health care professionals bully subordinates, cover mistakes, and create mistrust. It is an essential component of our human sustainability, enabling us not only to survive but thrive.

Reversing the current course of incivility is a challenge for our times. Until a rudeness vaccine is developed, we must dig into our civility tool kit. There are compelling reasons why we should. A life is not defined by a single act, and few of us will ever achieve national acclaim or perform deeds that change the course of history. However, there is a “greatness” in treating others with respect, compassion, kindness, and generosity. With this, we can make a difference in the lives of many.

Here are five tools:

1. Regardless of your age, make a habit of practicing kindness, generosity, and gratitude. Substantial research shows that people who regularly engage in those acts live longer, healthier, and happier lives. It’s never too late to start.

2. Nurture your social relationships, which, scientists say, have the capacity to generate our greatest happiness. Enrich your connections by balancing Internet contact with phone calls and face-to-face visits, which are more personal forms of communication.

3. Establish meaningful dialogue with medical providers, asserting your right to respectful and compassionate treatment. As a patient, you have the opportunity to evaluate hospital care; hospitals with extensive negative evaluations can lose Medicare subsidies.

4. Seize “teachable moments” with your children and grandchildren if you love them but not their behavior. Child development experts say we’re no longer teaching our kids manners–or respect and empathy for others. By contrast, a major study reported that social skills are a more accurate predictor of future success than test scores. So step up your game with your children and grandchildren. Enlighten your progeny about the importance of developing interpersonal skills and relationships by engaging them in conversations without small screens and buttons. That may be your enduring legacy.

5. Promote decency and decorum among elected officials. Hold them accountable for behavior during campaigns and, more importantly, once they’re in office. Urge civil discourse and bipartisanship to avoid gridlock. You and your country’s livelihood are at stake.

Given our sheer numbers as older people, we can have an impact on transformation. At the very least, we can set an example. It may take a generation to create a positive cultural shift, but we have to start somewhere. These are the seeds we can all plant. One at a time.

Reprinted with permission from the March 2012 AARP Bulletin. Copyright (c) 2012 AARP. All rights reserved. For more information, visit www.savingcivility.com.