Some of our faithful blog readers have wondered about the group that put together our great trip to Rome and Sicily earlier this year. The group is called Life Beyond The Room (“LBR” for short), and it has prepared a short video about our trip by way of illustrating what it can offer to potentially interested travelers. Since I thought LBR did a fantastic job with our trip, I wanted to share the video with those of you who might be interested in a similar trip. You can click on the video below to see some of the snippets from our trip.
Those of you who know me will see that I pop up twice in the video. All I can say is that while the frontal view is no treat, it’s a thousand times better than being videotaped from behind while doing “gentle stretching” (also known as yoga). Fortunately, I’ve convinced myself that the rear shot must have involved some kind of wide-angle lens or other form of photographic distortion.
Is the art of hugging gender-specific? And I say “art” intentionally, because some people are really good at hugging and go all-in for an entirely natural, smooth, enveloping hug, whether they are the hug-deliverer or the hug-recipient. Others among us, however, haven’t even risen to the paint-by-numbers stage in the art of hugging. When the logical time for a potential hug comes, we’re standing there, as stiff and awkward and bumbling as Richard Nixon in the famous photo with Sammy Davis, Jr. You might as well hug a telephone pole.
A recent study indicates that successful hugging may have gender-specific elements. The study focused on hugs between romantic partners and found that women who hug their partners before a stressful event, like an exam or an important presentation, experience a decrease in anxiety, reflected in a reduction in production of stress-related hormones. Men who got hugged, however, did not experience a similar reduction in those hormones.
I’m wondering if that’s because the guys in the study were experiencing a deep sense of dread about whether they were correctly participating in the hug, or totally botching it in a Nixonian way.
The researchers in this particular study conclude that more research is needed to fully assess the reactions to hugs, including analyzing the effect of hugs between platonic friends and whether a brief hug has the same stress-reducing impact as a prolonged hug. Either way, it looks like more hugging may lie ahead. The hugging-challenged among us should brace ourselves–which we would probably do anyway.
If clickbait is consciously geared to attract the most clicks from the most people–which is what you would expect, right?–it’s become increasingly clear that I am totally out of step with the mainstream of computer users. I say this because not only am I personally not enticed by the vast majority of clickbait, I can’t even understand why anyone would be tempted to click on this stuff. That is a pretty sure sign of “Old Fart” status.
This reality was crystallized for me when I went to the Google search page on my phone, which features an ever-changing roster of clickbait pieces, and the lead item just below the Google search bar was “Tom Brady Opens Up About Parenting: NFL World Reacts.” This article captured two of the leading clickbait concepts that I’ve identified: it involved a leading sports figure, and the notion of “reaction” to some statement that presumably must have been controversial or otherwise worthy of note. In fact, the only clickbait concepts it was lacking was (1) some celebrity who is unknown to me wearing a bikini or body paint, (2) a strange crime or odd random incident, (3) a “weird trick” to address some health issue, and (4) how the story of a celebrity who has dropped out of public view “keeps getting sadder.”
But, really, who would care about Tom Brady’s views on parenting? The guy is a leading contender for Greatest Quarterback of All Time, of course, but is there something about his family life that makes it particularly compelling stuff? And why would we care about how other people associated with the NFL are “reacting” to whatever Tom Brady had to say? For that matter, why does anyone, other than politicians who are up for election, care about how people are “reacting” to anything? The “reactions” typically just consist of tweets, which always seem to strive to be sarcastic and don’t have much to do with real life.
It would be interesting to know whether the piece about Tom Brady’s parenting thoughts (which I didn’t read, of course) has been a successful clickbait effort, or a failure. If it has garnered a sufficient number of clicks, be prepared for a piece about how Tom Brady has bared his soul about being a dutiful son, or the sports world’s reaction to Lebron James’ thoughts about the importance of eating a good breakfast.
This morning was my first really foggy morning since I came up to Stonington a few days ago. As always, I’d forgotten just how blanketing a fog bank can be, and how the ghostly mist and absolute quiet can turn familiar views into interesting, otherworldly landscapes.
I like the fog because it makes for an interesting walk. I also like it because it means that our east-facing bedroom isn’t invaded by blazing sunshine at 5:15 a.m., and it’s actually possible to sleep in until 6 o’clock.
If, like me, you are a fan of Dilbert and The Far Side comic strips, you can join a Facebook group in which fellow fans share vintage strips so you can get your daily laugh at the antics of the pointy-haired boss, Wally, Catbert, mad scientists, women in beehive hairdos, and cows. It’s great–until you notice that what is supposed to be a feed of enjoyable comic strips has also become a free forum for people to vent their political spleens, and those notices of new group postings that you are getting are taking you to purely political rants.
That’s what happened to the Dilbert Facebook group that I originally joined. Very quickly, the political postings overwhelmed the posts that actually had something to do with Dilbert. So I quit the group, reasoning that I get a sufficient diet of different political memes and viewpoints from the group of Facebook friends on my news feed, without needing to add whatever screeds might be posted by strangers who have joined what is supposed to be an innocent cartoon enjoyment forum. Fortunately, I was able to find a group formally titled “Dilbert (no politics)” to give me my Dilbert fix without the political overtones.
I get that, for many people, politics is all-consuming, at whatever point on the political spectrum they are on. Still, it seems weird to me that we need to form specific “no politics” Facebook groups to prevent intrusions into groups dedicated to comic strips, or sports, or cast-iron cooking, or needlepoint. You would think that people would realize that the groups aren’t formed for that purpose, and the audience isn’t really keen to have strident politics injected into their fun. Does anyone really think people might change their political views due to a diatribe posted in a Facebook group focused on some non-political topic? I’m guessing that most people react as I do and just leave the group, shaking their head at the notion that Facebook groups can become political battlegrounds and wondering at the fact that, these days, it seems harder and harder to get away from politics.
We’ve got a transition underway at our workplace. The phones on our desks are being removed, after decades of faithful service, and now we’ll be doing all of our calling through our computers. I’m okay with that. In the modern world, any technology that has been around for decades has done its job but almost certainly can be replaced by an improved approach. And getting rid of the desktop phone also means eliminating the annoying need to constantly untangle the cord connecting the handset to the rest of the phone.
With the elimination of the old phone, we’re being offered options. Apparently the sound qualify if you simply talk into your computer on a phone call isn’t ideal for the person on the other end of the conversation. (And, in any event, you probably don’t want to encourage people to shout at their computers, anyway.) So we need to make a choice: do you go with a headset, or a speakerphone attachment?
Headsets probably make the most sense, but unfortunately I associate them with Ernestine, the snorting, cackling busybody character Lily Tomlin introduced on Laugh-In. There’s also a clear techno vibe to a headset, with a one-ear headset edging out the two-ear headset in the hip, technocool ranking. I frankly question whether I’m well-suited to either. So, I’m going for the speakerphone attachment as my first option, with one of the headsets a distant second in case the supply of speakerphones isn’t sufficient to meet demand.
It will be interesting to see whether speakerphones are a popular option, or whether my colleagues will go all-in on the headsets. I’m guessing that the choices will vary by age group, with the older set being more amenable to speakerphones–if only so they won’t hear “one ringy-dingy, two ringy-dingy” in that sniveling Ernestine voice whenever they use the headset to place a call.
We’re getting ready to do some home decorating in the near future, so we’ve been doing a lot of talking about color palettes and “vision boards” and other decorating-related concepts.
This morning I was greeted by a pre-sunrise scene that had what I considered to be a pretty compelling palette, with lightening shades of blue, a band of coral, warm reds and oranges, and a hint of the yellow to come. The gray clouds and the harbor water would be the “accent colors,” I guess. The only thing that is missing is those evocative paint store names for the colors, like “seashell gray” or “sunflower yellow.” In any case, it’s a palette that goes well together.
I’d love to get a look at Mother Nature’s “vision board” for today., but she is notoriously close to the vest about that.
Recently I boarded a plane flight. As I put my carry-on into the overhead bin and settled into my seat, I focused on the music that was playing during the boarding process and found myself wondering who made the music selection . . . and why.
The music–if you can call it that–was a kind of tinkly, tuneless, ethereal background noise. It was the sort of allegedly “soothing” and “relaxing” (but in reality, kind of annoying) music that you would associate with yoga or a massage, rather than boarding a plane. As music goes, it was worse than the kind of generic offerings you hear on an elevator ride.
Why would you choose this kind of music to facilitate the boarding process? Are airlines worried that passengers these days need to be calmed down as they are grabbing their seats? I would think that the opposite is true, and it would be better for all concerned if we jettisoned the dreamy music and went instead with some sounds calculated to encourage boarders to move with a greater sense of urgency and get their butts in their seats.
I’d like to see some experiments done on this. Which music produces the speediest, most efficient boarding process: the tinkly random crap they were broadcasting on my flight, or, say, some selections from the early Beatles, starting with Twist and Shout? Playing Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos might incentivize passengers to move with the clock-like precision conveyed by baroque music. Or if you really want to get people moving, how about the Bee Gees’ Staying Alive and K.C. and the Sunshine Band’s Get Down Tonight? And, just to make it interesting, why not test Deep Purple’s Smoke On The Water or Led Zeppelin’s Dazed and Confused, just to see how some heavy metal affects passenger movement?
It’s well past time to get a bit more scientific about airplane boarding music, and to make some selections specifically geared toward the ultimate goal: an on-time departure. Dreamy massage music just doesn’t cut it.
And that’s where pickleball comes in. The sport’s broad accessibility, the zeal with which pickleball fans have recruited new participants, and the intrinsically social nature of the game, with players facing each other only a few feet away, raised hopes that pickleball could rekindle the joining spirit that de Tocqueville found and convert a nation of lone bowlers into a more community-minded society. And underlying that notion, I think, is a hope that if more Americans got out and interacted with each other, in settings that don’t involve politics or tweeting, perhaps our politics could become a bit less divisive and a bit more community-oriented, too.
So, can pickleball get us back to the America of yore, or will other, familiar forces like money, professionalism, and branding splinter the pickleball community, and thwart any hopes of the sport saving the country? The New Yorker article suggests that the jury is still out, while the pressure is on. It’s an interesting read. Pickleball has a lot going for it, but the forces at play are powerful ones. Those of us of a certain age remember when people thought the internet would be a tool that would allow for enhanced participation in society through a friendly exchange of ideas. How did that turn out?
I’ve worn glasses since I was a first-grader, so you think I’d know everything there is to know about them—but I don’t. In fact, I don’t even know the proper names of different parts of my glasses.
This became relevant for the first time recently when the little plastic parts of my glasses that hold them against each side of your nose somehow broke off. That’s never happened before, and it’s hard to see how it happened now. It’s not like the act of donning and doffing your glasses applies tremendous torque to the nose bone area that would cause this kind of extraordinary glasses injury. But somehow those pieces sheared off, and I need to get the glasses fixed. And when I call my optometrist to schedule a repair visit, I’d prefer to name names rather than vaguely talking about “those little plastic parts that brace the glasses against both sides of your nose.”
For the record, they are apparently called “nose pads,” and the metal pieces that hold them are called “pad arms.” And here’s something weird- the parts of your glasses that go back over your ears are called “temples,” and the parts that rest on your ears are called “temple tips.”
So now I can tell the eye doctor I’ve had a nose pad failure, and sound like I’ve done my homework. But I wonder: how many other actual names of common household object are unknown to me? Like, what is the proper name for the part of a clothes hangar that loops over the bar in your closet?
China and its economy are notoriously difficult to analyze and evaluate. With its mix of government control and closely held data, China’s true economic performance is a closed book, making third-party analysis often seem like little more than guesswork. Reports on issues in China therefore should be taken with a huge grain of salt.
With that caveat, Bloomberg recently published an interesting story about unpaid mortgages in China that could have significant consequences akin to the subprime mortgage crisis in the U.S. that triggered the Great Recession. The real estate sector is one of the prime drivers of the Chinese economy, with construction projects and home sales being responsible for about a quarter of China’s gross domestic product, so anything that affects that sector is worthy of note.
Lately, the Chinese real estate segment has struggled in the face of a combination of issues. Developers have produced only about 60 percent of the homes they have presold to homebuyers, continuing COVID issues have caused a decline in demand for new projects, property prices in some areas have plunged, and some debt-ridden real estate developers have been unable to complete projects and have begun to default on their debts. Some homebuyers are now refusing to pay on their mortgages, either because developers have not completed the projects, or because the mortgages are for amounts greater than current property values in view of the recent decline in prices, or both. The numbers involved so far aren’t enormous, but the underlying issue is whether such a development is the first sign of a more significant trend.
China watchers are always carefully scrutinizing the meager available data about what is really happening in the world’s most populated country, and this will be an area that commands attention going forward. Our own painful experience from the 2007-2009 time period teaches what can happen when mortgages go unpaid, the real estate market craters, and what banks had considered to be assets turn out not to be assets at all. If that happens in a huge economy like China, it’s going to leave a mark on the world economy, too.
This week the Washington Post ran an article on people renting out their backyard swimming pools by listing them on Swimply, which the article described as the “Airbnb of aquatic recreation.” The article talked about how much families enjoyed frolicking for a few hours in a nearby, rented pool on a hot day, without having to worry about the cost and upkeep and maintenance and hassle of owning their own pool. And, of course, pool owners can make a nice amount of money on the side by renting out their backyard oases.
With swimming pool rentals, we seem to be exploring new frontiers in the “sharing economy.” There have always been rentals of vacation houses; apps like Airbnb just moved the process on-line and made finding and booking the rentals a lot easier. Similarly, Uber and other ride-sharing apps built on the existing taxicab concept. But renting out your backyard swimming pool while you are there seems like a distinctly novel step. Some might say it seems to cross a clear personal privacy line; others presumably just accept it as the logical next step in our increasingly gigged-up economy.
People can do what they will with their houses–within the framework set by zoning codes, homeowners association rules, and the need to keep neighbors from getting out the torches and pitchforks, of course–and if they want to rent out their pool, why should we care? Speaking for myself, I wouldn’t want to rent out my pool for a few hours; I wouldn’t feel comfortable with it, and wouldn’t want to bear the liability risks or the clean-up duties. Nor would I want to rent some stranger’s pool on a hot summer’s day. It seems different from swimming in a hotel or country club pool; those pools are designed to accommodate visitors and are professionally maintained for that purpose, whereas renting somebody’s personal pool means you are going to a residential neighborhood, crossing a stranger’s lawn, and invading their space. The fact that you are doing so with their permission for a fee makes it legal, but it doesn’t make the concept any less weird in my view.
I wonder if there are any limits to the sharing economy. Do people whose homes have high-end kitchens stocked with the best appliances and cookware rent them out to aspiring chefs? Do people with fancy gardens offer their fragrant and flowery comforts for a fee to people looking for a new place to hold a bridal shower or a genteel tea party? Are yard tools, bicycles, lawn tractors, and family pets available for a fee?
Homes used to be viewed as the inviolable sanctum sanctorum. Now they increasingly are seen as a revenue-generating device.
In case you’ve missed it, there’s been some interesting recent news on the space front, in several different areas. It indicates that real progress has been made in “routinizing” spaceflight–that is, getting to the point where spaceflights have become a normal, expected occurrence, rather than a once-ever-six-months national TV phenomenon–as we get ready to tackle the next step in the development of our extraterrestrial neighborhood.
This is good news, and an important platform on which to build as space development moves to the logical next step, when we venture beyond low-Earth orbit into cislunar space, which is the area beyond geosynchronous orbit out to the surface of the Moon. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy recently issued a request for information about developing U.S. strategy for development of cislunar space, and some responses have urged that commercial entities should lead the way. That is, the governmental role shouldn’t be to do everything, as it did in the ’60s space program, but instead should be to clear the way for commercial companies like SpaceX to apply their creativity, engineering prowess, technological savvy, and venture capital to lead the development effort. With many companies focusing on cislunar space, and the government helping to coordinate their efforts, development and further routinizing of spaceflight is much more likely to happen quickly. That will set the stage for an early return to the lunar surface and the Moon bases that were forecast in 2001.
Those of us who are creatures of habit know the value of the routine. That is true for spaceflight as well, and will continue to be true when cislunar space is the focus. What SpaceX has done is impressive, but it also allows us to glimpse the possibilities.
I’ve read articles about the extreme heat they’ve been experiencing in Great Britain, Europe, and parts of the U.S. and was thinking about a time-honored way to beat the heat from my childhood: taking hearty drinks of water from a garden hose (and, most likely, putting my thumb over the water flow and spraying my brother and sisters and some of the other kids lined up for refreshment). For some reason, garden hose water always seemed to be cooler than water from the faucet, and of course it was messier, which was part of the fun.
But then I learned that drinking from the garden hose is no longer seen as a viable way to cool off. Indeed, to read some evaluations of the practice, you would conclude that a simple gulp or two from the hose is courting certain disaster. For example, one website article emphasizes “Do not drink water from the hose” and states that garden hose water contains bacteria and mold and also “typically contains” toxic chemicals like lead, antimony, bromine, organotin, phthalates, and bisphenol A, some of which come from the material used to manufacture the hose. These substances, the article explains, can disrupt the endocrine system and are linked to liver, kidney and organ damage.
Perhaps most significantly, the article notes that the substances can “lower intelligence” and “cause behavioral changes.” That explains a lot, doesn’t it?
It’s hard to imagine that those of us who routinely guzzled water from garden hoses on hot summer days in the ’60s and ’70s survived such risky behavior–but then, it was part of a pattern. Kids in our neighborhood back then did things during the process of what the adults called “playing outside” that would probably be viewed as death-defying now, like climbing trees, playing “demolition derby” on our bikes, damming up dirty creeks and looking for snakes, salamanders, and tadpoles, using hammers and rusty nails to create poorly constructed clubhouses, hurling water balloons at each other’s heads, jumping off rocks, and riding bikes down steep hills at top speeds without a helmet, to name just a few. And yet, somehow we survived them all, and drinking from the garden hose, besides.
It’s sad to think that some kids these days don’t get to experience the simple pleasure of drinking cool water from a garden hose, and the frivolity that inevitably accompanied it.
In January 1972, as I approached my 15th birthday, Don McLean’s American Pie stood at number 1 on the Billboard charts. A long song, even by the extended play standards that prevailed on FM radio at the time, American Pie was the kind of song that you talked about with your friends at school. We all wanted to know what, exactly, the song meant.
Because, if you are not familiar with the song, you need to understand that American Pie was written in a kind of cryptic code, Even by the standards of the time, in the wake of the late Beatles efforts when many songs were dense and mysterious and opaque (like, for example, Procol Harem’s Whiter Shade of Pale), American Pie set new standards in the enigmatic category. The tune was great, and the refrain–“bye, bye, Miss American Pie, drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry, and good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye, singing this’ll be the day that I die”–was killer, but you desperately wanted the key to unlock the true meaning of the lyrics. I remember listening to a program on WCOL-FM, the cool FM station in Columbus at the time) that tried to deconstruct the song. McLean himself didn’t give us much help.
Now, 50 years later, Don McLean is apparently going to share the truth about the meaning of American Pie, in a new documentary called The Day The Music Died. As the accepted views at the time taught, “the day the music died” was the day Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper died in a tragic plane crash , , , but the rest of the prevailing wisdom evidently was misguided. According to the linked story in The Guardian, a lot of what people pontificated about (including the know-it-alls on the WCOL program way back when) may turn out to be wrong. Elvis Presley wasn’t “the King,” and Bob Dylan wasn’t “the Jester,” and Janis Joplin wasn’t the girl who sang the blues. Were the Beatles “the marching band that refused to yield”? And what did “fire is the devil’s only friend” mean? I guess we’ll have to watch the documentary find out.
It’s interesting to think that, 50 years later, the lyrics for American Pie remain tantalizing. That says something about the staying power of the song, doesn’t it?