Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Is It Spring Yet?

Got an e-mail from my dad recently. It read in part:

"I like going to your site map on your blog once in awhile. There is one location that shows Riga, Michigan. It comes up a lot lately. I wonder who that is; I thought maybe they are snowed in and that gives them something to do. Riga is in the Upper Peninsula."

I had to tell him that Riga was me. Verizon had moved my IP address location again, this time from Richmond, Indiana to Riga, Michigan. I know Michigan winters are bad, particularly in the Upper Peninsula, but snow and cold so bad that people are forced to hang out at my blog here? That's an extreme case of cabin fever.

Everyone's already tired of the winter here. We're starting a new maxim: global warming is your friend. Where is this warming anyway? It's been so cold even the animals are suffering.

The other day I saw the feed in my bird feeder was nearly empty on one of the coldest days thus far. So I thought I would do my part to help my feathered friends too stupid to go south for the winter. As I approached the feeder, one lonely sparrow was huddled on a lower rung.

Surprisingly, he didn't move. Usually, birds at my feeder take flight as soon as they spy me on the way. Not this little fellow. I walked right up behind him. If I'd been a cat, he would have been history.

"Excuse me, I'm going to put more feed in the feeder," I said, now just an arm's length away. He turned round, frost glistening from his feathered brow, tiny eyes glassy, seemingly miserable. After regarding me for a second, he turned back around. And continued to sit there.

What? I knocked on the kitchen window to summon my wife to see. She came and observed the stubborn sparrow too cold to fly away. But then he did finally fly on. He was fine. Just cold.

A co-worker who complained to me last week that he didn't know if he could take another month or two of this cold related a story about a lady at some apartment complex whose car had sat for some time in the same spot. When she did finally move her vehicle, it revealed a dead squirrel underneath, frozen in its tracks. Apparently, he had tried to take refuge from the elements, but in the end there was no retreat from the near zero temperatures.

I read a blog from an overseas visitor who recently visited Washington in the Pacific northwest where temperatures there were ONLY around freezing. "How the hell does anyone live in this frozen wasteland?" she asked.

Coincidentally, Hell Michigan is less than hour's drive from where we live. And, yes, it's frozen over.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

You, Robot

When our telephone line developed static so powerful that even the automatic dialers delivering political pitches stopped leaving messages on our answering machine, we knew it was time to call Verizon. I did this past week while on my lunch hour at work, my finger at the ready to "press one" for this option, "two" for that option. Turns out I didn't have to.

I didn't get a real live repairperson on the line. Heavens no. A pleasant "lady" came on the other line, asking me a series of questions about my phone-- the number, if I had called about this problem before, whether I was calling from home, etc. Only she wasn't, uh, real. "She" was a voice recognition system programmed to respond appropriately to my answers. A robot!

She walked me through my problem with the ease of a veteran lawyer methodically plying a friendly witness of the stand . . .

"Do you get a dial tone?" she asked.


"Then what is the problem? I will go through a list of common problems and you repeat the problem you are experiencing."

It didn't take long to get to "noise on the line." Then she asked a question I didn't understand.

"I'm sorry?" I said.

"I'm sorry, I didn't understand what you said," she said politely.

"I'm sorry, I didn't understand what YOU said," I repeated back. I felt an impasse coming.

"I'm sorry. I still didn't understand what you said. Is this happening on ALL phones in the house?"

Ah, she repeated the question. Now I heard it. Smart thinking on her part. Ummm, I guess (This is getting pretty freaky).

Then she said she would test the phone line on her end. While that was running, she walked me through how to do a test at the telephone network interface box attached to the outside of the house. Finally, she said that the line tested fine. We agreed (this is really getting freaky now) to withhold billing for a couple days while I did the test at the phone box.

Anyway, when I got home that day our phone line was clear as a bell. Hmmmmmm, guess that robot DID find a problem on her end. And fixed it! She just didn't tell me about it.

It's like Will Smith found out in the movie I, Robot. Robots--you just can't trust them.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Our Recession Monster

It's primary day here in Michigan. Presidential candidates wanting my vote have been touring our state this past week, touting their plans to bring us out of our one-state recession.

Do it! Recessions are no fun.

At first, I thought a recession might not be so bad. A downturn in business should mean cheaper goods, right? I mean, if things aren't selling well at the posted price, then prices have to drop, right?

Not necessarily. Businesses just work harder to squeeze blood out of a turnip. I learned this after my wife and I went shopping for after-holiday bargains at an Eddie Bauer. Didn't find any "steals", but I bought a couple shirts anyway.

Checking out, the clerk asked me, "Do you want to save ten percent today by applying for an Eddie Bauer Master Card?"

"No." I know those credit cards are just gimmicks to entice you to shop there more or use their credit card.

"Would you like to purchase this multi-purpose tool for $7 more?" she asked, pointing to some plier-like contraption by the register.


Sheesh. Can't you just get what you came for anymore? Apparently not. I found this out again when I stopped by the grocery store to pick up the Sunday newspaper. Before walking away, I checked the paper to make sure the weekly TV guide was included. It wasn't.

I paged through the paper section by section and still no TV guide. I was just about to grab a different copy when I came across a notice from the Ann Arbor News. They don't include the TV guide anymore in the Sunday paper you buy at the store. You have to subscribe to get the daily TV listing now.

Drat! Well, I hate the Ann Arbor News anyway. Now I have one more reason to do so. But that's a clever gimmick to get you to pay more money for something you wanted and depended on. It's like our local Comcast cablevision which is moving our local government news and public service channel to a digital service tier. So you if want to see what's happening in local government and schools, then you have to subscribe to a premier service and pay more money.

It's coming people. I read where the music industry, part of which is in a recession because of declining sales of CDs, wants a cut from internet service providers because of illegal file-sharing of music. So they want to "monetize" (love that word) this file-sharing by bundling some type of legal file-sharing service with the internet people are already paying for, at extra cost, whether they download music or not, whether they want it or not.

It's the recession come hither. People being forced to pay more for what is now free or included in their current bill(s). So what to do about it? I'm going to discuss some solutions at my new website currently under construction which will be available to paid subscribers only.

Heck, if you can't beat 'em, join em.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Proofread This!

Though all my blogging buddies come from a variety of backgrounds, in my mind they all share one trait. Whether they write personally or professionally, in a folksy manner or with a more scholarly tone, they all know their way around the English language.

So a question for all of you--because of your writing skills, have you ever been asked to help write or to proofread something created by someone else?

I know it’s happened to me. Someone will start up, "You’re a writer. Can you take a look at this (fill in the blank) and tell me what you think?" Sometimes I’ll look at a cover letter for a job or some kid's class assignment and think to myself, "Boy, this isn't the way I'd write this."

Once, I proofread something for a friend of mine, suggesting a lot of changes as it seemed quite awkwardly worded. He appeared perturbed and offended. "All I wanted was for you to check for grammar, spelling, punctuation-stuff like that."

Ohhhhhhh! Sorry. Makes me wonder what Shakespeare would have done if his kid asked, "Dad, you’re a good writer, can you write me a note to get me out of school today? I feel sick" . . .

To be at class or not to be at class, that is the question;
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of fever and pain,
Or to take rest against my sea of troubles,
And by staying in bed, end them.
That flesh is heir to learn, to know, to pass - 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd.
But to come and perchance to infect the plague,
Ay, there's the rub

"No, dad. All you have to say is "Please excuse Bill junior from class today. He’s ill."

Nobody can please everyone. And I, of course, am no Shakespeare. In fact, when I used to anonymously haunt on-line discussion groups, offering my humble opinion among minds and scribes both great and ungreat (word?), I was accused of being a noted author. Not because I wrote well, but because they thought this author was trying to disguise himself by deliberately writing badly. Fair ‘nuf.

But it kind of makes me wonder how those of us not shy about scribbling our minds for cyberspace respond when someone starts up-"Hea, you’re a writer, can you take a look at this . . . ."

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Happy Election Year

Happy New Year to all my blogging buddies out there. And any lurkers as well. My beloved University of Michigan Wolverines started out the new year right by scoring an upset win over the Florida Gators in the Capital One Bowl. Hopefully, it means this is going to be a better year.

Anyway, I usually stay away from religion and politics but since this is an election year, and my blogging buddy Nankin tagged me to write a 100-word short story, I thought I would break from tradition with this little creative effort:

What If Jesus Ran?

Most believed it was He. Preaching generosity, forgiveness, peace . . . He campaigned without money or organization. He spoke on street corners, and mingled with rich and poor alike. He accepted no donations, promised no favors. He spoke ill of no one, not even the enemies of the people.

So came the vetting. By TV, phone, mailers, the voices questioned. Would generosity mean higher taxes? Would He be soft on defense, on crime? Would He be weak on the Second Amendment? Would he discriminate against non-believers?

When they tallied the results, He finished seventh in Iowa, behind Ron Paul.