Friday, November 30, 2012

Just Google your clutter away!

I’ve just learned Google’s lofty corporate mission statement is “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

Hey!  That’s MY mission statement! 

Well, at the very least I’d like to know what’s in these stacks o’ stuff on my desk.  There may be something important in there!  Something universally useful.

And I must sort through those piles of historic pictures of my family in stoic poses from Dust Bowl Oklahoma.  (My husband says I have the same stern look as my great-great grandfather, James Ledford.  Piercing eyes.  Pretty sure Grandpa got his way.  It worked for me too, in the public schools, that look.  But not so much with the husband and son.)

I have begun a preliminary assessment and laid out the pictures on our pool table in piles by generation and side of the family.  But people had to go and get married and then pose with each other across branches of family trees in many orchards, muddling up my system. 

If I ever achieve the mission of getting those pics organized and “universally accessible,” we’ll celebrate with a game of 8-ball.  How do you like that, Googlemeister?

Then there’s that cache of Tupperware containers in the closet in the guest bedroom that no one but the cats and I ever put noses on.  While I have no firm memories of precisely what’s in there, I’m sure as shootin’ not going to throw it away!  That closet has a door!

The utensil drawer in the kitchen reflects my ardent search for a perfect egg-flipping spatula.  Variations of imperfection are myriad, impressive and all present.  They don’t leave the drawer; they just work their way down, lower and lower in the spatula hierarchy, like items on pages 2 through 22 of a Google search.  No one’s ever going to look there, click on those links, or flip another egg with any of those rejects. 

That’s the utensil drawer.  If not organized, at least “useful” by definition.

But the most telling in the constellation of stuff needing a firm organizational hand in the Plath household is the de facto surrender of logic and incomprehensible attachment to the obsolete and unidentifiable jumble of the Junk Drawer. 

Chock full of paper clips, nearly spent note pads, rumpled recipes that sound really good, pens with a little ink, mechanical pencils without lead, and leads that don’t fit those pencils.  Oh we have crunkled cylinders of epoxy, a bent nail, an assortment push pins and that magnet with the vet’s name and phone number on it.  All of it filling the wells and straddling the dividing partitions of a drawer organizer.

Don’t judge until you eliminate your own Junk Drawer!

Google and I have this in common:  We provide the illusion of organization and accessibility.  We make our paraphernalia appear orderly.  I do it with closed doors and drawers, and squared-up corners on piles of papers.  I can find most of what I remember I have.  I can still get the car in the garage! 

I’m not worried about it.  I’ll get excited when our extraneous possessions come life at night and dance to the light of the moon.

But Google winks at us with instant access to colorful lists extending to the virtual horizon.  Answers to any query at any time.  Google’s actually at work now developing software that will anticipate our questions and provide us with what we “need to know” before we even think to ask.  Yikes.

This much is clear:  We both have too much crap-ola.  (Excuse me please.  I was overcome by an impulse of truth telling.)  

Ironically, you can find self-help sites dealing with disorder, confusion and chaos by Googling “clutter control.”  That search produces no fewer than 308 websites offering tips for putting a leash on your burgeoning bailiwick.  A person could argue that the list itself constitutes useless, disorganized clutter!  But it is accessible!

I didn’t see a single site that sorted out how to sort out too many options available on information searches. And I’m beginning to think Google is the one with the problem, highfalutin mission statement or not!

Meanwhile, I’m pondering Google’s Code of Conduct.

Really.  Honestly.  This is it:  “Don’t be evil.” 

Go ahead.  Google it.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Hi-tech holiday advances

Every year I start my holiday shopping with a few “to me, from me” items.  Just to prime the pump, you understand.  I eventually get around to the rest of the folks on the list! 

This year, to kick off the season I’m getting myself an invisibilitycloak.  I will wear it in my magic world.  It’ll be long and flowing and ride the currents when I stride toward my enemies like Darth Vader. 

That in itself will be off-putting, as you can imagine.  But I can’t wait to see the looks on their faces when suddenly I swirl the cloak around me, not unlike Dracula, and simply disappear from their baffled view.  Then I’ll be free to torment them at will, poking and tripping, tweaking and tussling.  Oh yes!  I will have my amusement. 

Actually, it’s on order, the cloak.  I saw it in the Christmas catalog from Duke University’s Center for Metamaterials and Integrated Plasmonics.  Yeah.   

I’m not sure how I got on their mailing list.  But those guys are always coming up with something clever for the holidays.   

I know.  I probably should wait for the next generation of cloaks.  After all, this one will only deflect microwaves around solid objects.  You’ll still almost certainly be able see most things if you squint your eyes.  But being first with the latest is half the fun.  And I’m betting they’ll offer the full trade-in value when the new light-deflecting model comes out. 

Too bad, but the cloak will most likely be used for evil.  I don’t think I can resist abusing its powers.  After taunting my nemeses, I’ll swoop around the neighborhood and put an unseen sock in that barking dog’s mouth, right in front of his clueless and inconsiderate owners.   

As an accessory to the cloak, an “obliviousness blaster” would have a market.  In its absence, my stealthy self might just have to administer a wedgy or two to make a point. 

Those high-tech/low-tech solutions will have to suffice until the next scientific breakthrough I’m anticipating - the “inaudibilty hat.”  When inaudibility technology is perfected we can simply lower the flaps to tune out Bowser along with garbage trucks, alarm clocks and all those people with whom we disagree. 

Advances in space travel brought us Tang and Tempur-pedic, but, aside from the prankster, I can’t help wondering who will benefit from the actual, practical application of such a thing as an invisibility cloak. 
No, the commercial value of invisibility won’t truly be known until we get the cream.  That’s right.  There will be a huckster with his business acumen tuned to the American masses (pun intended) and at last “concealer” will accomplish what it’s claimed to do since teenagers got pimples.  It’ll be a perfect stocking stuffer. 

 I for one would rub that stuff on my thighs faster than you can say Spanx. 

 But the logistics remain problematic.  I mean, consider the Incredible Hulk for example.  As you know, when he got mad he swelled to many times his wimpy day-job size.  And when he did, his clothes ripped and fell apart strategically, so as to highlight his newly buffed and chiseled, if green, anatomy. 
But will vanishing cream work that way with ladies’ apparel?  Will our clothes shrink to fit our newly sculpted sinewy selves, or at least appear to do so?  Or will our clothes stand out against the actual flesh that still exists though imperceptible to the untrained eye?
Those things will have to be worked out, of course.  But no need for concern, there will be plenty of willing guinea pigs camped out around the perimeter of Duke’s campus, living in tents and working in shifts to insure their places in the line, offering themselves for scientific experimentation.  I’d take a dip in that pool. 

Oh yeah.  There’s a buck to be made with 21st century vanishing cream.
And that’s the reason for the season after all, isn’t it?  Share the science!  Sneak around and surprise the ones you love!  Get them something practical, but extravagant.  Something they wouldn’t get for themselves:  An invisibility cloak.  Vanishing cream.  Love potions.  Magic mirrors. 

Treat yourself!  And make Santa proud.


Friday, November 16, 2012

At Your Service

In my selfless and never-ending efforts to be of service to my community, I subscribe to all varieties of newsfeeds.  My inbox is replenished hourly with cutting-edge data.  You may rest comfortably in the knowledge that I am on the vanguard of useful and relevant information.  And I am here to serve you.   

In that spirit, I bring this round up of crucial alerts and updates from NewsWise, MedWire and the brain trusts of scientists and top researchers in their fields:  

Wake Forest Baptist Physicians just published their immediately applicable research titled, “Is Housework a Health Hazard?”  In it they ponder the oft-repeated riddle:  What do a tight fitting bed sheet and a blood clot in the wrist have in common?  Answer:  They are part and parcel of a condition called “sheet fitting palsy.”  Really.   

True to its name, the palsy surfaces in those who spend long periods of time trying to pull a fitted bed sheet over the corner of a mattress.  

I had the palsy myself as a teenager.   

Not to be trifled with, sheet fitting palsy has also been reported among those who do push-ups as exercise.  More valid reasons to avoid calisthenics.  

You’re welcome. 

The University of California, San Francisco, recently presented their comprehensive survey of adult visits to emergency rooms entitled, “Painful Truths about Genital Injuries.”  UCSF researchers reviewed 10 years of mishaps with consumer products like clothing, furniture, toys and tools, (their pun, not mine) and found that such injuries are common and may be preventable.   

The write up is listed as “media embedded” but I didn’t click the link.  Didn’t want to risk that wince-inducing side effect, TMI.  I’m satisfied to learn that - like fitted sheets - many household items and even articles of clothing are fraught with peril, especially when used outside the manufacturers’ recommendation.  Beware of pliers, step ladders and skinny jeans.   

In the category of feeling underwhelmed, from the 116th annual meeting of the American Academyof Ophthalmology: “…Vision loss may increase the risk of auto accidents.” 

They didn’t put an exclamation point at the end of their title, yet somehow found their findings noteworthy.  We can only wish we had been there to hear the presentation.   

It put me in mind of my family back home.  My great uncle Earl used to pick up my grandma each week in Pawnee, Oklahoma, and take her grocery shopping.  She complained about his driving, but he insisted on being behind the wheel.  Then, one hot afternoon his oxidized green 1949 Plymouth coupe overheated, and they pulled off the road.   

They both got out of the car and Uncle Earl opened the hood.  They stood side by side, staring down.  Uncle Earl leaned forward and squinted.  “Harrumph,” he said. 

He twisted his torso left and right, thrust out his chin peering this way and that.  At last my grandma lost her temper.  “Here’s your problem Earl!” she said pointing to a black rubber hose, brittle and split open like a haggis.   

“What?  Where?”   

Grandma said she thrust her fist fully into the gaping wound, but Uncle Earl still could not see it.   

Grandma applied her astute observational skills, and from that day forward, she drove, thus obviating the need to conduct formal research studies into such things.  Evidently, the Academy never got the memo.  

Rounding out the classification of money spent to confirm the obvious, the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance informs us that “Screening for lung cancer saves lives.”  UCSF steps up again with “Chernobyl cleanup workers have a greater risk of cancer.”  And from the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology we learn that “Double pollen doubles allergies.” 

The University of Alabama issued a redundant piece of nagging called, “Women and Exercise: It may not be fun, but it’s beneficial.” 

And not to be outdone in the realm of implausible applications, Loyola University Health Systems released their treatise, “Stay in bed or feel the burn?” with tips for exercising when you’re sick.  Like that’s going to happen. 

In summary, excessive movement around the house is dangerous and ill-advised.  Exercise is not fun and can hurt you.  Plutonium causes cancer and pollen triggers sneezing. 

No thanks necessary.  I remain humbly yours.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Barnyard Wrestling ~ A Cautionary Tale

It’s finally happened.  I’ve learned too much about a “friend” through Facebook.   

I never thought I’d have to “unfriend” somebody I’ve known for such a long time.   

She’s always sort of lorded it over me, patted me on the head and dismissed me as na├»ve or maybe cute.   

OK, I thought.  She’s older.  Since my mom’s not around, I’ll let her think she’s the boss of me.   

Mostly she sent me sappy sayings about “liking this” if you love your children and how it’s a shame more people won’t “share” to show their support for our troops. 

But over time, she started sending anxious emails about how I might already be showing symptoms of Alzheimer’s, or throw up frantic posts like those urban legends that circulate saying “don’t flash your high beams at night or gangsters will turn around and shoot you.”  Or “be careful in movie theatres because people are putting needles in the seats.”   

In retrospect it’s uncertain, but I’d like to think in the beginning I responded out of an altruistic intent to allay her fears.  I’d go to Snopes and send her the link to debunk the scare.   

But she didn’t seem to like that.  She just wanted everyone to be informed, she’d say.  She wanted everyone to be safe.  So, if she posted something that sounded a little whacky, she advised me just to delete it and go on. 

But I couldn’t do that.   

I don’t like being scared unnecessarily, I told her.  So, if her posts seemed a little whacky, I’d be happy to check them out for her and let her know. 

She didn’t post that stuff for a good long while, but I don’t think she started doing her own fact checking.  She told me Snopes was unreliable.  I checked it out, and found information to the contrary.  Still I went on to citing Politico and Annenberg’s FactCheck instead.  Let her try to argue with their credibility! 

Maybe she quit caring if I was in danger. 

At last, we got into a tussle over the presidential campaign.  I kept insisting on running those fact checks on her wildly improbable assertions.  Then, and this is where I took a stroll with Rod Serling myself: I’d post what I learned.  That was my obstinate and oft-repeated error.  I guess I was trying to convince her of something.  Anything. 

I’m confessing.  I took the book of cardinal rules and ran it through the shredder.  Perhaps foremost among those rules is the one against trying to overcome the irrational with logic.  I used to coach debaters, so maybe my behavior is understandable to a degree.  But why Miss Manners didn’t step in eludes me. 

Oh we’d lay off for a while.  But the campaign wore on and neither of us could stop ourselves.  Out of patriotic concern for the ignorant, or maybe a hen’s worry for her chicks, she had to let me know the sinister motives of those truly in control and the newest catastrophe on the horizon. 

In the thick of our prolonged and pointless post and counter-post I guess my relentless insistence on reliable sources of information pushed her too far.  So she played her trump card; she said she has a friend in a position to know what’s really going on behind the scenes in foreign policy:  Government infiltration and puppets at the helm, bent on the destruction of the US of A.  


Oh.  Tina.  This crystalized the issue. 

How could I argue with Tina? 

Or, more importantly, why would I argue with Tina? 

What the heck have I been doing?  I’ve been arguing with Tina.  Trying to educate Tina.  Sharing facts with Tina.   

Ridiculous.  I know.  But here’s the weird truth I learned about myself:  I have the capacity to cast off perspective and wade into the swamp just like the rest of the whackos I mock.  In the most beautiful of ironies, I didn’t get a chance to unfriend my friend.  She unfriended me. 

Don’t wrestle with a pig, my grandma would say.  You’ll only get muddy. 

And I might add, whatever you do, don’t argue with Tina.  You’re going to get that mud on your face.  And you’re going to lose.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Princess Alice and the Beets


There Smarty Pants.  Admit it.  The very word is tantalizing.  See if you can resist the real thing.  

I know, I know.  You’re not supposed to buy your favorite candy for the Trick or Treaters.  You’re supposed to buy something you yourself, the self-possessed adult, won’t eat.  Like liver.  Or beets.   

Because honestly, I’d have eaten candy corn if I’d bought it instead, even though it has plummeted from one of the happiest Halloween acquisitions of my early youth – so fun for precision consumption, from white cap to orange body to yellow tip – all the way to the pit of disdain, in the misguided “strategic” thinking of one trying to delay the inevitable.  

These are the consequences of severe, self-imposed restrictions:  One will binge when in the possession of Halloween gold.  So I bought the Butterfingers.  As a mature adult, I refuse to over-eat bad candy. 

Halloween’s a once-a-year holiday after all and the Trick or Treaters will never miss the fun-sized bites I snarfed down in batches of three or five over the very few days between my ill-fated trip to Raley’s and All Hallows Eve! 

And what’s the fun in giving out candy that even I don’t like?  Kids assess things pretty quickly and when they’re disappointed, they can be vengeful.  Especially the little ones.  One pouty faced Tinker Bell can ruin your whole happy time. 

I don’t want to be known as the neighborhood health nut either, though currently that scenario seems remote. 

This whole Halloween thing puts me in mind of a troubling tendency among adults for trying to explain themselves by conducting investigative studies with children as the subjects.  Consider the “Marshmallow Experiment”:  A test supposedly created to measure youngsters’ ability to delay their gratification.   

Making the research rounds for over 40 years, I call it a classic method for shaking off the doldrums when life slows down in the torture chamber.  Hey watch this!  Will this hungry little kid eat one Sta-Puft now or hold out for two later?  

Another experiment shown on CBS Sunday Morning recently demonstrates how a child’s inclination to cheat can be ameliorated by an invisible being.  Oh yeah.  That’s some sick scientific shenanigans. 

First a group of six-year-olds are shown a Velcro dartboard and given little Velcro balls to toss at it.  The rules of the game are that they must stay behind a line on the floor, turn their backs and throw the balls onto the target over their shoulders.  An almost impossible task designed by fiendish “scientists” to thwart and torment the innocent.  

The “researchers” then observe through a one-way mirror as one-by-one the kids become frustrated and cheat.  Almost to a sweet tiny person, they face the target, step across the line, and in some cases walk right up to the dartboard to plant those sticky orbs, creating a perfect bull’s-eye. 

Then, and here’s where it gets really interesting, the lab geeks change the scenario.  They place a chair in the room and tell their next group of torment-ees that Princess Alice is seated there.  She’s invisible, you understand.  You can’t see her.  But she’s going to watch the game.   

Now the kids are skeptical, bless their cheating little hearts.  They immediately approach the chair, inspect the air around it, run their hands over it and tell their captors that as citizens of a democracy they owe no allegiance to royalty.  Yes I know, says He in Control.  But she’s there. 

Then, the kids each have their turn alone in the room with the dartboard, the balls and the chair.  And guess what?  They don’t cheat anymore.  

Weird, huh?  But cool in a way.  

I like it except as it applies to me and my pagan holiday.  Why do I feel guilty about my Butterfinger transgression?  It’s Princess Alice! 

She sees me when I’m sleeping.  She knows when I’m awake.  She knows if I’ve bought Butterfingers or beets, so get beets for heaven’s sake. 

There it is.  A grown person can’t even enjoy her own personal bull’s-eye of an evening without Princess Alice shaking her head and saying “tsk, tsk.” 

Fine.  My husband will spirit the remainder of the chocolate-coated flaky peanut butter morsels away to his office.  We’ll see if the Princess has gone corporate.