Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Don't Worry! Gotcha covered!


Here it is, a public service round up of current news items for your edification and financial benefit: 

In the category labeled “Neener!  Neener!  Neener!” more commonly referred to as “I Told You So,” we find today’s headline from the Associated Press:  “Pentagon project aims to strip satellites for their spare parts” or as the AP dubs it: ‘space grave robbery for a cause.’ 

That’s right.  The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), that quirky, fun-loving exploratory wing of the Pentagon, is about to spend $180 million to test technologies that will soar into space and scavenge valuable parts from the orbiting junk yard above our heads.   

(In their kinder, gentler Pentagon vernacular, those inoperable clunkers are denoted by a politically correct euphemism – “retired satellites.”  Being retired myself, I now feel compelled to watch my back, as it were.) 

Here’s the plan:  First, they’ll identify a functional antenna or solar panel from the revolving rubbish overhead and send a robotic mechanic with a toolkit to salvage it.  Then, they’ll launch a bunch of mini-satellites.  THEN, the robot will string together the mini-satellites and hook them up with the old, but perfectly good satellite parts, thereby creating a new communication system right there!  In space!   

It’s recycling!  It’s a time saver!  It’s a money saver!  What could possibly go wrong? 

Here’s the part where I gloat and rub it in:  If you had only listened to me you would already have known this.  You could have invested a wad o’ cash in the project two years ago and be poised right now to rake in the dough.  Oh yeah.  I told you so ‘way back in September, 2011, in my column titled “Your mother doesn’t live in outer space.”   

OK.  Mostly I ranted about the folks at NASA who, like a bunch of sullen teenagers, have to go back into space to clean up after themselves.  But no matter!  DARPA awarded contracts to several companies to develop these new technologies.  And, it is seeking fresh proposals from interested parties now.  Eh?  Eh?!!  

So what do you say?  We could get everyone together, buy a bunch of intergalactic lotto tickets, and chant:  DARPA!  DARPA!!  until our numbers pay off. 

All right.  In other news, Beyonce` lip-synced the national anthem.  

I’ll give you a moment.  I know.  There, there.  

Evidently it was a conspiracy.  She moved her lips and emoted without having to draw a breath (I thought it looked effortless!)  AND the Marine Corps band members pretended to blow into their instruments while the director waved his arms in an impressive display of faux conducting.  

Wow.  They can assemble a transistor radio in outer space, but they can’t master the acoustics on the steps of the Capitol.   

What else?  Lindsay Lohan declined multiple offers topping out at $550,000 to appear on the next season of Dancing with the Stars.  Me too.  Like Lindsay, I like to be selective in my career and lifestyle choices.  Wouldn’t want to lose my credibility. 

OK.  Let’s see.  What’s this?  “Good-cop” brain cells are turning bad and causing Alzheimer’s disease.  Seems these microglia go rogue and prune away necessary synapses causing the cognitive decline so evident in Alzheimer’s patients.  That sucks. Who can you trust anymore if not your own brain cells?   

“Fear of estrogen is needless.”  That’s a relief.  “Ducks and geese can find their own chow.”  Again, relieved. 

Oh, here’s a good one:  Facebook sparks envy and misery, researchers say.”  OMG!  

According to two studies to be reported at a February conference on information systems, one in three Facebook users reports feeling worse about themselves after viewing vacation photos of their friends on the social networking site.  With its 1 billion users, the researchers characterize Facebook as the largest social comparison site.   

Miserable users also reported feeling envy when they didn’t get as many birthday wishes as others.  That’s right.  Facebook has created one billion 12-year-olds.  Or, I guess technically, it’s only 300 million. 

So what do these envious adolescents do to assuage their jealousy?  They exaggerate their own achievements and post more self-promotional content to make themselves look and feel better.  Of course!  That’s what I do. 

That about sums it up for the week.  Rest easy.  I’m on it!  And, as always: you’re welcome!

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Oscars are coming! The Oscars are coming!

Remain calm.   

There’s still time to see all the Academy Award nominated films before February 24th.  So you can make informed decisions on your ballot.  Of course!  Priorities people! 

Some of us are conscientious.  Some of us make a concerted effort.  Even if it requires a marathon.  Or two. 

For these reasons, it’s all the more irritating when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences flings a knuckle ball at those of us who are doing our due diligence.   

We’re paying attention.  Tuned into the buzz.  Faithfully.  Dutifully.      

Then, out of Ursa Minor comes “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”  

I mean really, it’s just not fair.  But that’s OK.  I’ll work it in.  Who am I to say that Quvenzhane` Wallis doesn’t deserve a nod?  At 6 years old, or 11, or 5 and a half, she must have turned in a stunning performance.  Her personal best.  I’ll go.  I’ll go! 

I figure if I see thirteen movies between now and the end of February, I will have seen all the best picture nominees, all the nominated actors and actresses in lead and supporting roles; witnessed the best work of the most esteemed directors and talented screenwriters; laughed; cried; turned away in horror; spent $97.50 in admissions and another $123.50 on small bags of oily popcorn and small cups of watery Coke for a total of $221.00; sat in gloomy and cold theatres for 26 hours and loved every minute.   

My favorite Christmas gift that I thought I’d never use?  My new iPhone5 from Apple. My husband insisted.   

(When the young men behind the counter checked my average usage before recommending a new billing plan, I thought they might laugh at me; but they just looked puzzled.  “Eight minutes?” the first one said.  The other leaned in, squinting at the screen.  “Eight minutes,” he confirmed. 

Then they turned in unison to look at me with expressions of true wonder – like I was a unicorn or the fading image of a do-do bird.  I talked an average of eight minutes a month on my old flip phone.  You can see why I was dubious about the upgrade, but…)  

Best feature on the iPhone5?  The Fandango app.  It’s free and so cool and a must have for the dedicated Oscar aficionado. 

You can sit in the Safeway parking lot and decide right then and there to go to the movies, unless you bought ice cream.  Fandango will tell you that “Argo” is playing close by in 30 minutes and “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Life of Pi” in 3D are within reach after that. 

You can watch trailers, buy your tickets, map your path of travel, and even submit your reviews afterward.  OMG.  I’m a complete convert.   

So not to worry.  Thirteen movies?  It’s doable!  It’s totally doable.  We have 5 weeks!  Are you kidding?  That’s no step for a stepper!  The hardest part is to chase down the films that have already been showing so long that they’re retreating into the nether regions of limited showings.   

And of course, there’s “Amour.”  Gotta find “Amour.”  What?  You’ve never heard of it?  Me neither, but there it is.  First in alpha order of the nominees for Best Picture.  And get this:  it’s also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film!  Those crazy Austrians!  They must have some serious dirt on members of the Academy! 

I know.  By now you’re shaking your head.  “Oh Carolyn,” you might be saying.  “Don’t you know we’ve got to raise the debt ceiling?  What about guns, Carolyn?  Guns!  And how can you enjoy a movie when the bicycling world is reeling with Lance Armstrong’s shocking revelations?” 

My point exactly.  That stuff’s going on.  And what are you going to do?  You can go onto Facebook and express your opinions to those who already agree with you.  Or, you can tangle with those whom you’ll never convince.  You can stress out over the financial security of our beloved country, or get angry with the officials we’ve elected who only pose and play-act when we need them most.  

Or, for a couple of hours, you can sit in the dark with greasy fingers and be carried away by a great story of human struggle, love, honor and redemption.   

Priorities people.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Any nerd can do it

In the more and more frequently visible category of “Geeks with Too Much Time on Their Hands,” we find the HAPIFork.  That’s right.  The HAPIFork is among the new products on display at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. 

HAPIFork’s developers remind us that regulating the speed at which we eat may help with weight loss and blah blah blah blah blah!  

They go on to say that it takes about 20 minutes for our stomachs to alert our brains that we’re full; and eating faster means we consume superfluous calories… before… the message is… delivered…   

Oh!  ‘Scuse me.  I nodded off. 

Responding to the communications standoff between gray matter and the gut, this latest marvel of good intentions gone horribly awry records how often and how quickly it moves from your plate to your mouth.   

Looking like a smaller version of your typical fast-and-furious shoveling device attached to an electronic toothbrush, HAPIFork can track the number of mouthfuls per minute and per meal.  It even times the intervals between each bite. 

Then, and here’s the fun part, it lights up and vibrates to alert the conscientious diner when there are fewer than 10 seconds between forkfuls.  Isn’t that nice?!  And you can carry it in your pocket right into the French Laundry. 

We are not told what the consequences might be if an epicure violates the prescribed meter for healthful consumption:  For example, if you’re too zealous with the mac and cheese, does HAPIFork post a snide remark on your Facebook page, issue a citation or simply deliver an electric shock?   

Skeptics argue that eating slowly with a regular fork can provide the same benefits as HAPIFork.  But regular forks don't come with their own tracking software!  And, at $99, the HAPIFork will reduce your budget for groceries, a proven technique for cutting calories. 

In a related story, Japanese engineers at the Fukuoka Institute ofTechnology are finalizing a safety system for cars that will provide speeding drivers with specific feedback regarding what could happen if they don't slow down.   

“Specific?” you say.  “How so?” 

"You would die if you crashed right now," is a message that could be delivered if you’re hurtling toward the back of the car in front of you in your righteous effort to keep that jerk in the SUV from squeezing into the space.      

In a most delicate manner, the developers of this patent pending “safe driving promotion system" assure us that "a sense of danger will be awakened in drivers that makes them voluntarily refrain from dangerous driving."   

How very kind. 

Their system works by using the different types of sensors already found in a typical modern car or submarine - radar, ultrasound, sonar and laser - to work out the kinetic energy, compute the distance to the vehicle in front and keep watch on its brake lights.  

Then, like a bookmaker in hell, an onboard app that has learned the driver's behavior and reaction time over all their past trips calculates the odds of a collision.  If the driver is careening like a lunatic, it then displays the scale of damage that could result and generates warnings like, “Hey you!  Behind the wheel!  Back off before you sustain a ‘whiplash injury due to a rear-end shunt.’”

A what?!  I’m all about clarity, but I don't want to know about a “rear-end shunt.”  They’re right.  I’d probably slow down.

Anyway, the engineering team believes current warning systems which only show the distance between the driver and the car ahead aren't enough since they don’t “awaken drivers to the real dangers of speeding.”  Hence, their proposed warning of an impending “fatal, car-crushing collision with fire.”  Got it.   

Thank you.  I’m definitely awake now.  And grateful that the thing is display only - no screaming or gnashing of teeth.

Inspired by such technological innovations, I’m working on a hybrid of these two gadgets:  A safe-eating meter that sounds an alarm and displays the disasters that will ensue if a bon vivant gets too happy at the table and burns rubber between her appetizer and dessert.  

“Slow down!” it’ll shout.  “You’re approaching a ‘no-more-zipping your skinny jeans zone!’”   

Las Vegas, here I come!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Marital counseling, Hopalong Cassidy style

Once, I told my husband I cut off my leg.   

It was an experiment.  Let me just see, I said to myself.   

I told him it kept cramping, the leg, so I decided just to cut it off and hop from that point forward.  If I needed to get around, I’d just hop. 

He nodded.   

Uh oh.  Not a good sign. 

I marked the day:  We were in the car on our way to S & J Oyster Co. in South Tulsa.  It was raining.  I never expected it to arrive so soon, the day my husband tuned me out.   

In truth, he’d most likely been on AM to my FM many times before.  But now I had to know.  I couldn’t just leave it there, think about it and come back later.  Oh no.  Not me.  Communications major.  Debate coach.  

Donning my imaginary lab coat and goggles, a pretend clipboard at the ready, pen poised, I turned toward him in my seat and pressed on.     

“Sure,” I said, “it would be an adjustment, the hopping.  But I might learn to love it.  It could be fun even.  Hop, hop, hippity hop hop hop.”   

I think it was right about then that he said, “Um hmm.” 

I blinked, processing.  I must have paused.  He glanced in my direction from the driver’s seat, and said, “What Honey?” then turned back to the road. 

“No, it’s OK,” I said, reeling at the revelation.  “That’s it.  Just the hopping, that’s all.”  I leaned back in the passenger seat and turned my eyes toward the future.   

You can imagine.  Na├»ve astonishment.  The five stages of grief.  A young bride let go her innocence.  Big exhale.  There it is.  Just like spider veins and crow’s feet.  It sneaked up on me.  The inevitability.  The foregone conclusion.   

He’s a regular man.  And He.  Doesn’t.  Listen.  To ME! 

In the ensuing symposium, during which husband and wife reviewed the phenomenon from multiple angles, three conclusions were agreed upon: 

1.       I don’t talk too much.  Really.  I don’t. 

2.      He’s lucky.  That’s right!  He’s lucky because I consciously monitor my patter providing him with only the most scintillating vignettes.  I am very careful in this regard. 

3.      He loves my stories.  

Let me pause here and set the context.   

We were a lot younger then.  He told me I was fascinating and I fell for it.  We ended up laughing that day and after that, if I caught him drifting, I’d punch him good-naturedly and say, “Have I been hopping again!?!”  

Then he’d turn to me and fix a maniacal gaze.  Rubbing his hands together he’d cross his eyes and say, “Go ahead, Honey.  I’m mesmerized!” 

Who could resist that?  All was forgiven. 

But even so, now and then it still bugs me.  Hey!  I’m talkin’ over here! 

So here we are today, 22 years later, reliving the ump-teenth iteration of the post-hop summit during which I tell him it really bothers me when he doesn’t pay attention. 

He said he hops sometimes too and I have to admit it.  I’m not always riveted when he speaks.   

But then, and here’s the kicker, he says the difference is that whenever he notices I’m not listening, he doesn’t really care. 

OMG!  

At first I thought I should be hurt.  My husband, the love of my life, my-grow-old-together, croak-at-the-same-time guy doesn’t even care if I’m listening to him? 

But no.  It wasn’t that.  He said sometimes he realizes he doesn’t even care that much about what he’s saying!  So if I take a trip to the Bahamas in my mind, he’ll just hop ‘til I get back.  No worries. 

“But, but, but…Honey!  What you say is always…”  I couldn’t finish my own shallow half-truth.  

He picked up the thread:  “If it’s so important,” he said, “why are you on the beach in Margarita-Ville while I’m here on my pogo stick?” 

“And that doesn’t bother you?” 

“No.  Not really,” he said. 

Hmmm.  How very interesting.  I made a note of it in the category labeled:  “Women Spend More Time Wondering about What Men Are Thinking than Men Spend Thinking.”   

I’d never considered a no-ulcer approach.  Note to self:  Lighten up.