Earlier this week I found myself at a local community college for a business meeting. I got there early and decided to find a spot in the student center where I could go over my notes. I set up camp at a high top in the snack bar then made a choice. I had all my notes stored electronically on my tablet, but also on printed pages in a folder. Hmm..I’m in a place crawling with college students, sitting among them in a jacket and tie, so I already stuck out like a pastrami sandwich at a vegan restaurant. What the hell, I whipped out my old school file folder, spread the pages out and completed the tableau by scribbling notes with an actual pen.
It was too easy. Not 10 seconds elapsed before creatures in their teens and early 20’s started finding excuses to buzz by me. Some were blatant by craning their necks or lingering just a little too long. Others tried to play it cool straining their peripheral vision to its max as they adjusted their route between the coffee machine and their table to include a recon sortie past me. I loved the looks that telegraphed their quandary and confusion. I imagined them asking themselves, “what the hell’s this dressed up dude doing with actual paper and a ‘analog’ writing thingy doing here? Is he a spy, a narc, terribly lost or just a creep?”
As each one walked by for a closer look at my strange activity I made sure I scribbled some notes because I knew none of them could decode what I wrote in the long-lost form called cursive. That only piqued their interest further because now they would wonder what I wrote…about them? About the school? About the awesome chicken nuggets at the grab and go snack bar? Ha! If only they had developed the skill once taught called “handwriting,” they would know I was writing, “I’ve gotta stop. I might piss my pants.”
The whole exercise was pretty entertaining if not self-serving and put me in just the frame of mind for my meeting. I headed for the conference room with a pretty incandescent smile slapped on my puss. Most of the participants were closer to my age, and as the conference got underway we gave each other inquiring looks, seemed to get the right signals…and whipped out our pads…and pens. I think the meeting went pretty well, but I’ll check my notes.
Are you upset Google can track your every move? I’ve decided I don’t care. Oh, I’m not naiive. I just look at this situation as an opportunity to have some fun. For instance, when I get in my car today to go buy some bagels, I think I’ll take a route through several church parking lots and the nearby Christian book store. Hopefully, someone at Google will catch wind of this curious route and deduce, “That Jew’s got identity issues..let’s make sure he gets ads for both the kosher deli and dating sites to find a shiksa.” I’m already married to one so Google’s already got the algorithm wrong. I wouldn’t mind knowing where I could buy a box of those tasty communion wafers, though..and a matching wine.
I might decide to take circuitous routes to further confuse the nerds in Mountain View, Calif., say, driving to a gun range then directly to a shrink’s office and then Victoria’s Secret. I wonder what conclusions they might draw. Of course, I’m not actually getting out of my car at those places but the little “timeline” map I could call up on my phone would make a nice conversation starter while waiting in line at my ultimate destination..the pharmacy.
As a kid I became fascinated with maps when my uncle sent us a huge atlas of the U.S. that literally weighed 9 pounds. My father was an engineer so we always had pads of tracing paper around and I traced the maps of every state, learned the capitals and major cities and roads. I’m still that way.
When I traveled with my CNN crew they nicknamed me “Rand” as in mapmakers Rand McNally because I’d learn routes and cities I’d been to only once or twice. One time we were going through Findlay, Ohio..a place we hadn’t been to in five or six years, and it was lunch time. Shooter wondered out loud, “where the fuck are we gonna eat in this town?” “Oh,” I chirped. “There’s an Arby’s if you make a left here..about a mile down the road.” “No!” he yelled. “You shouldn’t know that! Why would you?” “Well,” I replied tartly. “In case we were in Findlay during lunchtime some time.” Yes, I believe I may have been the model for Google’s location tracking.
So it makes sense I would embrace Google’s awesome ability to basically make a map out of my life and have fun creating nonsensical itineraries just to screw with them.
To be honest, I wish technology had come along this far way back when I was an aimless teenager. Who knows? Maybe it would have helped me find myself.
Note: no time to read? Link to podcast below
Here’s a riddle? How many brands does it take to screw up a light bulb? Answer: All of them! Here’s the situation. Tried to buy a light bulb lately? I did and my brain blew. Let me, er, illuminate the issue. Old days: Her: “Hey honey, the bulb in the bathroom blew. I need a 60!”
Him: “Sure. Here ya go.”
Today: Him: “Hey honey, the bulb in the bathroom blew. I need a 60!”
Her: “A 60? What kind? An incandescent, LED, squiggly? And what light temperature? 5000K? 2400K” Daylight? Oh..the squiggly doesn’t tell you the watts, but promises 60 watt ‘equivalent.’ So what’ll it be?”
Him: “Uh, never mind. Seeing is overrated.”
Yeah. Like that. We moved about 7 months ago into a house with about a million lights. Some are in the ceiling, some hanging from the ceiling, some are bulbs, some are floodlights, some are fluorescent and none are the same. Some have standard bases, some have candelabra bases, some look like a grown-up bulb, others are little bitty appliance size. I could fill up a footlocker with every permutation of illumination this house requires.
So we go to the nearest big box discount store to score some squigglies, technically known as CFLs. None. Go to another. None. Go to one leading home improvement store. None. WTF! I thought squigglies were supposed to supplant bulbous bulbs..the ones with filaments that sear your fingers..that incandescents were going to be as dead as Edison. Yet, there they were, looking smug on the shelves where squigglies once sat. An online search then revealed it’s lights out for squigglies because they contain mercury, which can kill you, so bulby-bulbs ain’t dead yet. BUT..they’re losing ground to bulby-looking LED bulbs which are supposed to last like a million years and burn cooler, making them better than incandescents, except a dozen of them cost the same as the monthly power bill for all of Akron.
We finally found some squigglies at another home improvement store and thought we were good until, wonder of wonders, all the squigglies available were 2400K and not the 5000K we required.
At this point I’m tempted to boycott bulbs completely and head to Yankee Candle where I can stock up on a couple of cases of Marshmallow Vanilla Madness tapers and pillars and go completely “Little House on the Prairie.” Maybe if enough people did that a bulb would go off in the heads of the manufacturers on how to go back to one standard. For godsakes…make it easier for us humans..to replace our lumens!
It wasn’t the lead story in any newscast, or even an item, but in case you missed it, this week marked the 50th anniversary of the first ATM. Can you imagine a time you couldn’t drive, or walk up to a financial R2-D2 to grab some cash for the weekend…when people actually used folding money?
The occasion sparks one of those memories that helps you remind yourself that you, indeed, paid your professional dues on the way. It was in 1974. I worked at WMBO-AM in Auburn, N.Y., about 25 miles west of Syracuse. Auburn was a town back then of about 35,000 people and home to a giant state prison known as the joint where inmates pounded out the Empire State’s first license plates. It was also a rough place. The prison was so close to the station that when I told a crappy joke on my morning drive time show, which I did often, you could hear the guys inside yell, “you suck!” Nice to be recognized.
One way the station made some money was by selling what they’d call a “program length” commercial…basically a remote, hawking a store or a product. I did one for three hours once at Rondina’s furniture store promoting an upright vacuum cleaner with a bag that looked like a pair of denim jeans.
One this cold day, the Marine Midland Bank coughed up a few grand to have me do my show outside next to its newfangled contraption that would allow customers to drive up and do their banking with no human interaction. The name ATM hadn’t yet come into use. They just called it an “automated teller.” For three hours I stood in the freezing cold yapping about the thing that would not yap back, accosting drivers who stopped to struggle with the new technology. When I attempted to stick my mic in their cars asking them how they enjoyed the new experience, some gave cogent answers, others believed they were being robbed of the cash they just received from what some called “that goddamned money vending machine.” Luckily, no weapons were drawn, or fired, although I had to jump out of the way several times to avoid being run over. Perhaps the most harm I suffered was breathing in carbon monoxide for three hours, which provided me some insight as to the life of a New York State Thruway toll taker. Since there was no delay, whatever the folks said was aired, thus giving the nice people at Marine Midland some rather unfiltered feedback as to their new gizmo.
Fast forward to 1987 when I was employed as a correspondent with CNN. I traveled to Greensboro, North Carolina to catch up on how some folks from Vietnam were settling in to their new lives in the U.S. We followed a gentleman to the bank where a volunteer was demonstrating to him how to use an ATM to make a deposit. You could tell that between the language barrier and the unfamiliar technology this would take some time. Indeed, he filled out the deposit slip and placed it, and a check into the envelope provided. The volunteer then instructed him to slip the envelope into the slot. He gave her a very skeptical look, then did as he was advised. Sure enough he placed the envelope in the slot where it quickly disappeared from sight. The poor man’s face turned red, his lips quivered and I detected a tear from one eye as he turned to the volunteer and quietly pleaded, “where my money go?” Fifty years later, we’re all asking the same question.
Every time this commercial for Comcast/Xfinity’s new voice remote comes on we have to watch. Why? Maybe it’s because it’s campy, a little annoying, but who can fault a spot that spoof’s Rick Springfield’s “Jesse’s Girl”? As it turns out, we upgraded our service the other day, and sure enough it included the voice remote. Oh, it’s a regular remote, but if your fingers or thumbs are too gentle to mash buttons you can hold down the little button with a drawing of a microphone and yell out, “Watch Real Eunuchs of Bombay County!” and the show will magically appear.
Of course, this opened the door to all sorts of mayhem. You can ask the blanket question, “what’s on right now?” A guide will pop up, then it’s up to you to page though hundreds of channels only to realize there’s nothing worthwhile to watch except maybe the Jewish Customs Channel now playing a series called “The Magic Mohel.” Lots of good tips.
Thought I’d challenge the remote’s capabilities by demanding a show featuring politicians that neither grope women nor charge exorbitant fees for telling Wall Street moneymongers what they want to hear. After a moment the message appeared on the screen, “Sorry. That content does not exist.” Some upgrade.
I was really in the mood for a cartoon and verbally requested a classic Bugs Bunny. Deciding it was time to impress me, my TV shot back, “there are only 15,000 Bugs Bunny cartoons. You want one that includes Elmer Fudd, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, or the one where Bugs and Yosemite Sam get stoned and have a great time repeatedly tripping up Road Runner?” No one likes a smartass TV.
The last straw was when I very politely asked to view an episode of “The Voice” featuring mimes.” Exasperated with my unusual requests the curt, but firm message on the screen made it clear we were no longer on speaking terms. It said something like, “Take your thumbs out of your ass and start pressing my buttons.” That’s freakin’ Comcastic.