Friday, December 28, 2012

High-tech resolutions for the New Year

I resolve to be self-reliant enough to conjure my own resolutions. 

Yes, it’s come to this:  For those bereft of all sense of self, the terminally lame and commitment averse, we now have New Year’s Resolution generators.  

I hope you didn’t already know that.  

I only stumbled across this abomination myself in my research as I reflected on the status of my being, took note of possible areas of growth and assessed my own personal cosmos before setting a path toward universal oneness in the New Year.   

That’s right.  I take the resolution business seriously.  No casual promises.  If I say I’m going to do something, I’m going to take an earnest run at it.  Full tilt.  Head on.  Right up until the end at least.  That’s when the new “no helmet to helmet contact” rule kicks in.  Prevents self-improvement concussions.  Thank God.  

I figured these generators would be something like  You know, that really profound dating site that plumbs the depths of your soul and ferrets out the plums of your essence, helping you know your true self and find your yin if you’re a yang?  Yeah.  That one.  I could hardly wait to go through the process, answer the questions, cry at the revelations and resolve my guts out.  

But it wasn’t like that. 

Anticipating a high-tech tool that would take me to the next echelon of internal evolution, I inched toward the edge of my seat and clicked the link to find Monina Velarde’s 2013 New Year’s Resolution Generator.   

But to my dismay, Monina, clearly a shallow non-believer, delivers only pre-packaged resolutions in a most cavalier manner.  “In 2013 I resolve to make friends.”  “In 2013 I resolve to dress up.”  “In 2013 I resolve to watch an episode of Oprah.”   

What the what?  I could only imagine the poor mope who might subscribe to such goals.  Could it be Monina herself?  Is she an agoraphobic in sweatpants whose TiVo is so full of Real Housewives as to necessitate a promise to watch daytime TV?! 

After a faint attempt at cosmic consciousness, “I resolve to accept,” Monina lapsed into “In 2013 I resolve to get jiggy wit it.”  So 1998. 

Unwilling to be deterred in my quest I tried the Laughing Squid’s generator to find his solo offering, the fantastic – “I resolve to be a rock star.”  OK.  Following that, the Squid presented a link to Monina! 

People!  Where is the introspection?  The creative thinking?  Not to mention the self-respect. 

By the way, did you know the top reason people cite for failing to accomplish their resolutions is poor time management?  Interesting since improving time management is also among the top resolutions made. 

But making resolutions is a valuable use of one’s time, right? 

Therefore, with firm resolve (!)  I pressed on to The Network Geek who tendered a generator based on The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Holiday edition.  At least it’ll be pragmatic, I thought. 

Eager resolvers begin with a sentence starter and a blank to fill in from among choices either to start something or to give something up.  But the convoluted wording of the fillers came straight out of Trivial Pursuit.  You remember those stupid questions - Which of these 1970’s soap opera stalwarts did not begin his career as a shoeshine boy in Des Moines? 

To wit:  I resolve not to complain more each day.  I resolve to begin giving advice less often. 

Still, the Geek was at least interesting with:  “I resolve to take a risk each week.”  “I resolve to start day trading right now.”  (See previous resolution.)  “I resolve to start fasting every day.”  (But…Isn’t that foregone?)  And, “I resolve to give up wearing underwear every day.”  (A struggle so many face.) 

I liked best the choice to “speak with the dead less often,” though I could never give it up.  No one else really listens. 

Then, just as I was about to retreat into self-righteousness, there it was.  A real, good idea for a resolution that could improve me and make the world a better place.  From the Network Geek no less.  A computer generated-something to strive for: 

I resolve to pray every day. 

I’ve already started:  Thank you.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Who's counting anyway? The Mayans?

By the time you read this, we may all be flying through space wondering why we didn’t go ahead and invest in that “survival pod” touted by doomsday preppers.  It would have been $48K well spent, given the circumstances of unprotected space travel. 

Of course, if we were hurtling toward oblivion you wouldn’t be reading this - so, thanks for your loyalty.   

You have to hand it to the Mayans, don’t you, even though they can be a downer.  I mean, way to go with the foreshadowing and suspense.  They’ve had the whole country leaning forward, tense, anticipating nothing.  Kind of like those “fiscal cliff” negotiators in Washington D.C.   

Thanks for keeping things in perspective too.  It’s never been clearer to me why it’s unimportant to run that dust mop down the hall again. 

But what better time than now (my deadline precedes the catastrophic demise of the planet), two days before the Grand Finale, to have one’s life glide past her field of vision?  

Let’s start with recent history and have a look at those 2012 resolutions.  Play along with a review of your own New Year’s promises, if you dare.  

First, I resolved to make a pie.  How did that go?  

Here we need a flourish - Ta dah!   

I made two pies!  That’s right, TWO pies!  I exceeded my resolution to make a pie by 100%!  (We’re going to gloss right over the fact that it took two years to complete this resolution.) 

The first pie was pretty darn good if I do say so myself.  Crust flakiness.  Fresh fruit.  Nummy num num num.  

And it wasn’t that hard to do…Hmmm!  I immediately told myself this could be my signature piece!  What I become known for!  Everyone will talk about my flaky-crusted fresh fruit pies!  When I’m invited to a potluck brunch they’ll say, “Oh Carolyn!  Please bring one of your beautiful and delicious pies!” 

So I made another one.  But the second pie exposed an internal flaw - my already waning commitment to the pie-making proposition (begging the question of why I set the goal to begin with).  It felt like doing a remake of “Casablanca.”  You cannot top the original.  

So, instead of measuring, sifting, blending and kneading, I bought a Pillsbury ready-made piecrust.  So ashamed. 

But the bigger mistake was telling my husband about the store-bought crust.  He said it wasn’t as good as my made-from-scratch crust.  That’s supposed to be a compliment, but it just adds pressure leading to a mathematically proportional decrease in the likelihood that I’ll make another pie.   

Oh all right!  I’ll make another beautiful and delicious flaky-crusted fresh fruit pie!  Sheesh!  But I will not reveal the origin of the crust. 

Second, I resolved to have an Elvis party. 

And oh yes, we partied with the King!  That party lives on.  Even now, weeks after he left the building, our guests continue to reminisce about the jumpsuits and capes, the wigs and sunglasses, the peanut butter and bananas and the Kentucky Fried Chicken.  We partied like it was the end of the 13th cycle of the 400 year revolution of the Mayan calendar.   

(You may refer to your “Think Dream Play” archives to relive the details – October 19, 2012.  What?!  You don’t save my columns?!  Well trust me, it was a lot of fun to dress up and sing.  You should come next time – if there’s a world, that is.)
So, two for two on the resolutionizing.  Extremely effective I must say.  How about you?  Are you keeping score? 

Now might be a good time to jump in since I have to fess up to a resolution that has eluded me through various permutations, compromises, rewrites and gnashing of teeth.  It’s in the category of hair shirts and self-flagellation – you know, “personal fitness.”  

My incremental progress in this arena led me to the wimpiest of all my 2012 resolutions – to keep better records of my radius and circumference in the faint hope that the other part of the resolution, to stick with my trainer, would produce measurable muscles and reduction in flab.  Oh well!  

I guess I’ll just have to adopt the Mayan attitude, “It’s not the end of the world.”

Friday, December 14, 2012

Wash your hands and play fair!

Here’s some good news:  The President and the Speaker of the House have agreed not to speak publicly about their negotiations toward resolving the great, fear-laden, nightmare-inducing “fiscal cliff.”  You know, the most recent thing we’re supposed to be in a lather about.

 But maybe we shouldn’t take this precipice too lightly.  After all, the deadline for averting that lulu of a last step falls on the date of the Mayan calendar’s end of days.  Who knows?  It could be that a Senate page pointed this out to our elected officials; hence their retreat into actual conversation and compromise.

 In point of fact, as much as I have clinched my teeth in preparation for the fall, I have dreaded more each new day’s reporting of the posturing and role-playing of the parties of both parts. 

 So, news of their silence is most welcome.  They are to be commended for their shutting up.

 Seriously, I know how hard it can be.  Sometimes, a person can’t stop herself from turning that clever phrase.  I just love a last word, a well-placed bon mot!
Why just the other day, I was one-upping a 2-year-old about the proper method for eating an artichoke.  I had him too!  He couldn’t overcome my lifetime of artichoke eating experience or my superior finger strength. 
But then, in a stunning turn of events, an ambush!  He reached up and touched my face! 
OK!  That was totally unexpected!  Dumbfounded, I had to concede.  You win, Little Buddy.  You win.
Of course I doubt that the President will touch the Speaker’s face.  For one thing, it’s unclear that they’ve been in the same room with each other since the last looming catastrophe.  Let’s see, what was that one?  Oh yeah, the budget deficit.  (In spiritual circles we call this recurring phenomenon “deja` poo”:  The creepy feeling we’ve heard this crap-ola before.)    

 On the other hand, if there were to be touching, the President would get first dibs.  Executive privilege.  Protocol.  Pulling rank.  Whatever you call it, in terms of debate strategy, it wouldn’t leave the Speaker any ground for recovery.  Everything’s second best after the first touch.  Mr. Boehner would likely burst into tears; pick up his toys and go.

 I don’t think a touch would be out of line, and it is disarming.  But the President’s a classy guy.  Even though you know that at the very least he wants to throw a pie, considering the Speaker’s propensities, he would probably extrapolate Robert Fulghum’s Rule #3 – “Don’t hit people,” and keep his hands to himself.   

Fulghum’s sweet and simple maxims to live by, found in his book All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten might well benefit our hapless representatives whose only stated motivation for resolving the nation’s financial debacle is getting home for the holidays. 

 God love ‘em.  If they would only follow Rule #13 – “Hold hands and stick together!”  That’s how compromises are made.

 Depending on your point of view, and on the outcome of this latest squabble in the Capitol, we might end up asserting that Rule #1 prevailed:  “Share everything.”  Or maybe we’ll get a true miracle of planning and execution following Rule #5 – “Clean up your own mess.” 

Fulghum got wordier as he went along, averaging only 4.8 words each in the first ten rules, then 26 words in Rule #11 alone.  Given that he allowed himself to go on and on, it’s surprising he stopped at sixteen rules.   

In these times of politicians needing guidance in the workplace, his Rule #17 might read something like this: “When you’re negotiating with your colleagues to resolve the complex finances of the United States of America, allow them to share the fruits of their hard work and acknowledge their ideas before your take your turn sharing yours.  

Or for their sake, we could speak simply: Rule #17 – Shut up.  Rule #18 – Listen to each other.  Rule #19 – Use the best of everyone’s ideas. 

Of course Fulghum never would be so crass or so terse.   

And since those guys in Washington so often behave like 2-year-olds, we may wind up with another punt of deal that delays disaster, but solves nothing.    

That’s when we can resort to Rule #9 – “Flush.”

Thursday, December 13, 2012

This grid makes me itch!

OK, that does it.  Who do I talk to about getting off the grid?

 Oh wait.  No action needed.  Now that I’ve written the phrase, “getting off the grid,” someone will contact me!  Men in Black tapping on my windows with smart phones and flashy thingies in their hands ready to scan me, diagnose my disgruntlement, prescribe and deliver just the right thing to make me feel all better.
Most certainly I’ll be seeing ads alongside my Facebook newsfeed touting log cabins, the joys of solitude, composting, and raising worms for pleasure and profit. 

That’s right.  Before long now we won’t have to say much of anything to prompt the newest savvy search engines hovering in “the cloud” overhead to send down a lightning bolt of customized ads catering to our every divergent thought. 

Here’s the deepest darkest news:  If Verizon has its way, your TV’s about to become a two-way mirror.  

That’s right; soon what has been a joyously stress-free passive experience, an evening transfixed in front of the flat screen complete with bad posture and dribble spots on the fronts of our shirts, will be transformed into a self-conscious job interview with Big Brother:  As we gaze in, the plasma will peer back out at us.  Sizing us up.  Playing that game.  You remember the game that used to be innocent whereby you sit in the mall and make up lives and professions for the people you see.   

Technology exists now that enables our TVs to look back at us and say, for example, “butcher,” then send you an ad for an apron with that chart showing shoulders and rump roasts and loins.  You know the one.   

Oh yes.  Verizon, jointly with Comcast, Time-Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, has applied to patent technology that will enable TVs to see directly through into people's homes in order to sell them stuff.  It’s listed under “Dangerous Ideas” on Big Think. 

Get this:  Verizon wants to create a "detection zone" around your TV.  In that zone, sensors built into the TV would catch "ambient actions" taking place in the room and use that information to display relevant advertising on the screen.   

Oh.  My.  God.  If that isn’t the creepiest idea ever to slither its way into the baskets of the snake charmers.  It makes MarkZuckerberg look like Casper the Friendly Ghost. 

FYI – under the watchful eye of your service provider your unguarded behavior is defined in the patent application as “a wide range of activities, from eating to arguing to playing with a pet.”   

If that’s not a hacker’s field day!  You know you’re going to wind up in a video set to music on YouTube, struggling with your Schnauzer over that last bit of strudel. 

The area around the Plath TV encompasses an array cat toys in various stages of mutilation and dismemberment.  It might actually be interesting to see what the commercial response would be to such a crime scene.  Would they alert authorities, or send me my own CSI amateur mystery detective crime-solving kit? 

And what might happen if two people are observed to be “snuggling together” with the TV on?  Included in the patent application is an example of how the technology would work in such a situation:  Ads could appear on screen showing a romantic getaway, a commercial for flowers, [or] a commercial for a contraceptive.  They actually said that.  Like it’s a good idea.  Something people might be glad about.  

In the same vein, Google’s trying to discover our “unmet needs for information” via GPS chips and “other sensors” built into our mobile devices.  Google Now already offers unsolicited directions, weather forecasts, flight updates, and other information when it thinks you need them.   

Contextual data can provide clues about a person and his situation, allowing Google to guess what that person wants.  “We’ve often said the perfect search engine will provide you with exactly what you need to know at exactly the right moment…without your even having to ask for it,” says Jon Wiley, electronic stalker, er, User Experience Designer for Google.  

Ha ha ha!  Thanks Jon!   

Psst!  Rather than getmyself off the grid, I want to get the grid off me!