Smarter Than The Average Fridge

Recently I came downstairs in the morning, opened the refrigerator to get my customary glass of orange juice, and noticed that the juice was warmer than usual.  My internal sensors started sounding, and after a little checking I realized that the refrigerator didn’t seem to be cooling anything — or for that matter, working at all.

So, how to try to fix the problem?  The refrigerator is one of those big, multi-section units that was installed by the people who lived in this house before we bought it three years ago.  Given the constant advances in “smart appliance” technology, our refrigerator therefore isn’t at the head of the class, but it’s not like the simple old Norges or Amanas of my childhood, either.

It was a situation that called for some careful analysis.  After an initial examination of the device, I realized that the front display screen, which allows you to set the desired temperatures for the different sections, select cubed ice or crushed ice, and use a “power cool” feature, was illuminated.  I reasoned that that meant that the refrigerator was connected to a power source — which was a good thing because the refrigerator is much too heavy to actually move to visually check whether it was plugged in.  After feeling an initial flush of pride at my deductive powers, I then realized that the “0” in one temperature monitor part of the screen and the “FF” in an adjacent part of the screen were together spelling “0FF,” and I felt like an idiot.

I shook off the embarrassment.  A thorough examination of the interior and exterior of the refrigerator did not identify any switch or other method for turning the refrigerator back on, so the next step involved calling customer service — which was unavailable because it was a Saturday, and who would need to have a working refrigerator on the weekend?  Then it was on to the manufacturer’s website to see if it had any useful information.  There were dozens of tips on the website, but of course none that addressed our problem.  The best guess was to try to cut power to the unit, restart it a few minutes later, and see if it cycled back to the “on” position.  This allowed me to become better acquainted with the circuit breaker in the basement, but it didn’t work either.  At that point, we decided the best course was to just accept that the refrigerator wasn’t working, remove the food that was now at room temperature, and just wait until Monday to call for servicing.

On Monday, Kish called customer service, and was told that there probably had been some unnoticed overnight power surge or brief cutoff that caused the refrigerator to cycle to “off” mode, and she could restart the unit by pushing two of the buttons on the front panel simultaneously.  It worked, and we were back to having a functional refrigerator again.  I was a bit miffed, however.  Would it really have been so hard to have the two buttons to be pushed illuminated and blinking in some fashion, so we would have some clue about how to restart the device, or to have a message flash on the panel that gave us useful instruction?  Or, have clear guidance on the website advising what to do if your refrigerator is showing “0” and “FF” on the panel?  Shouldn’t a “smart” appliance provide such information under the circumstances?

Maybe I’m just mad because my refrigerator apparently is smarter than I am.

 

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A Little Christmas Goes A Long Way

I like Christmas.  I really do.  But when you’re at a conference, a little Christmas goes a long way.

Thursday night I found myself at a reception in the obligatory open atrium space at one of those colossal hotel-conference complexes.  I was having a perfectly pleasant time, chatting with other attendees, when suddenly there was a blast of music, strobe lights, and fog machine effects, and some kind of Christmas-themed program starting playing, at bellowing volume, over the sound system.  I think it may have been called “A Christmas Wish,” or something along those lines, and it seemed to involve a boy beseeching his Grinch-like grandfather to do something for the holidays.  People who love The Hallmark Channel Christmas movies no doubt would have appreciated its saccharine sappiness.  Me?  I found the kid’s voice incredibly annoying as I was trying to carry on a conversation, and I sympathized with the beleaguered granddad who had to put up with the irritating rugrat.

Eventually the program ended, and everyone at the reception breathed a sigh of relief at the very welcome silence.  Before we knew it, however, the program started again, and we realized with grim despair that it apparently was going to be broadcast every half hour.  I wasn’t the only attendee who then decided that it was time to exit the reception and get as far away from the imploring kid’s voice as possible.

Lights, trees, other festive decorations, and a little Christmas music in the background are just fine.  But forced exposure to some maudlin tale that is supposed to illustrate “the meaning of Christmas” is where I draw the line.

Conference Room Music

Yesterday I was at a conference at one of those ginormous conference centers you find across America.  That means that, during breaks and when waiting for the meetings to start, I’ve been exposed to conference room music.

wasgn_meetings_breakout01There’s a spectrum of music played in public places in America.  At one end of the spectrum — and unfortunately, very rare in my experience — are actual, recognizable songs, whether it’s classical pieces, or rock music performed by the artists who made the songs a hit, or jazz from John Coltrane or Dave Brubeck.  As you move away from that end of the spectrum, generic elements are introduced — for example, by having a song that you know covered by some unknown band whose rendition sucks the life out of the tune and renders it inert, so that it takes a while before you recognize what you’re hearing as a dim, distant version of Foreigner’s Hot Blooded.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is elevator music and telephone hold music — music that is specifically calculated to do nothing except provide soft and low background noise while you are unfortunately waiting to move on to your day.  Conference room music is a notch up from elevator music.  It’s never a recognizable song from a recognizable artist, because the music may have to cut off at any minute when the meeting starts, and they don’t want the meeting participants to be disappointed that they didn’t get to hear the guitar solo on Pink Floyd’s Mother.  So it’s inevitably some random piece, usually jazzy in nature with keyboard and horns, but more upbeat than elevator or hold music.  It’s designed to keep you awake and alert while you sip your generic coffee and glance around at the generic conference room fixtures and decorations, but leave no lasting impression whatsoever.

No one leaves a conference room humming a few bars of conference room music or asking the concierge what was playing before the meetings started.  You’ve utterly forgotten the music the instant the meeting begins, just like you immediately and irretrievably forget the wisps of the dream you were having when you wake up in the morning.

When you think about it, there’s some talent involved in being able to create music that is so consciously bland.  You have to wonder:  do musicians deliberately set out to write conference room music, and do they think with satisfaction that their creation will be the perfect complement to the metal coffee urn, the spread of breakfast pastries, and the always uncomfortable conference room chairs?

Smart Dogs, Dumb Dogs

Occasionally you’ll hear someone talk about how smart their dog is.  The Brown Bear, for example, will rave about the intellectual abilities of standard poodles.  The Soccer Goalie will brook no argument that border collies are the smartest breed around.  And Russell argues that his dog Betty, who is not a purebred, is as quick-witted as they come.

hvrzriwAs for us — well, our Lab Dusty was well trained and seemed reasonably bright, and Kasey, our poodle, was clever.  Our Lab Penny?  Well, she was generally amiable if sometimes stubborn, and always hungry.

Those of you who are convinced your dog is the next animal Einstein might be disappointed to learn the results of a study published recently in Learning and Behavior.  It determined that “[t]here is no current case for canine exceptionalism” and, in reality, dogs are pretty ordinary compared to other “carnivores, domestic animals, and social hunters” like wolves, chimpanzees, and cats.  What’s more, dogs aren’t at the top of the charts when it comes to sensing human emotions.  The article linked above notes:

“Even more surprising, dogs do not appear to be exceptional in their ability to perceive and use communicative signals from humans. According to the domestication hypothesis, dogs have been bred to be especially sensitive to human cues such as hand signals. As Lea and Osthaus note, dogs can indeed use human cues. However, contrary to the domestication hypothesis, they are far from unique in this ability. For example, the reigning champions of the ability to follow human hand signals are the bottlenose dolphin and the grey seal.”

So why does everybody other than Lab owners think their dog is intellectually gifted?  It’s called the Lake Woebegon Effect.  Everybody thinks that they — and their pets, too — are above average.  The article notes:  “In a study published in Basic and Applied Social Psychology, researchers had 137 pet owners rate both their own pet and the average pet on a range of traits, including intelligence. The results revealed that the people rated their pets as above average on desirable traits and below average on undesirable traits.”

So, in all likelihood your dog isn’t a wunderkind.  So what?  They’re good company, they willingly will sport funny hats, and scientific studies also show that people who have dogs may enjoy health benefits from the companionship they provide.  Our canine pals may not be geniuses, but they’re good to have around.

There’s A Sucker Shoed Every Minute

Payless Shoe Stores, a low-cost shoe outlet found in many American cities, recently conducted an interesting social experiment testing the utter gullibility of American consumers.  In an effort to see just how much people would pay for its shoes, Payless created a new website and Instagram account and opened a pop-up store called Palessi — get it? — in a Los Angeles mall.  It then invited “influencers” to attend a grand opening of the store in exchange for receipt of a small stipend.

screen-shot-2018-11-29-at-11-36-09-amOf course, there really was no new store called “Palessi,” and the shoes being sold at the pop-up were just standard Payless shoes.  But guess what?  The “influencers” were suckers who apparently fell for the ruse and were willing to spend many multiples above the standard prices charged by Payless for its footwear.  One woman said she would pay $400 or $500 for tennis shoes that retail for $19.99.  Another sap paid $640 — 1800% above the normal cost — for a pair of boots.  Apparently, if you want to up the price of shoes you just create an Italianized name, throw in some glitz, and make the sales clerks wear black, and some hapless “influencer” will fall for it and presumably get others to do so, too.  Payless will use the experiment to advertise the fact that its shoes are fashionable and are valued by some people at far above their actual price.

I’m not surprised that Americans are willing to overpay for shoes, but what the article linked above doesn’t say is who the “influencers” were, or how they were selected.  If you’ve ever read Malcolm Gladwell’s interesting book The Tipping Point you know that there are people who are at ground zero of the creation of trends — by, for example, starting to wear Hush Puppies shoes — and there are others who introduce the new trends to a wider audience, and then finally the mass of followers who start buying Hush Puppies after the creators have already moved on to the next trend.  I’m sure there are many people who consciously strive to be “influencers,” and it would be nice to know how Payless identified the credulous group who were willing to grossly overpay just to be the first in the area to wear “Palessi” shoes.

For the rest of us, the Palessi experiment should teach a valuable lesson.  Who, exactly, are the “influencers” who are starting and promoting the stupid trends that often sweep America, and how easily duped are they?  Why should anyone pay attention to them or their “influence”?  I’m no trendsetter, but I’m reasonably confident I’ll never pay hundreds of dollars for a pair of sneakers, either.

The Sleepless Years

Here’s a conclusion from a scientific study that will shock anyone who has ever been a parent:  most babies don’t sleep through the night.  And the study also reaches another, equally startling determination:  most parents pay a lot of attention to trying to get their infants to sleep through the night.

Thank goodness we’ve got scientists around to confirm the obvious!

newborn baby cryingThe study found that 38 percent of babies that were six months old were not getting even six uninterrupted hours of sleep at night, and more than half weren’t sleeping for eight hours straight.  One-year-olds were only marginally better, on average, with 28 percent not yet sleeping for six hours and 43 percent not sleeping for a solid 8 hours at night.  The study also found that many parents worry about their baby’s sleeping habits, with mothers reporting feeling tense and depressed about trying to get their child to sleep through the night.   The researchers offered this reassurance for anxious parents, however:  after following babies from birth until the age of three, they found no material developmental difference between kids who slept through the night at a young age and those who took longer.

The study’s authors seem to attribute parental focus on their new baby’s sleep habits solely to developmental concerns.  I’m sure that some of the attention to infant sleep is attributable to reading the “baby books” about what is normal and what isn’t, but my personal experience teaches that at least some of it is naked parental self-interest.  When our boys got to the point of getting a good night’s sleep — which incidentally meant that Kish and I got a good night’s sleep, too — we felt like we had crossed the Rubicon and should be popping the cork on a bottle of champagne.  When a baby finally starts eating simple solid food (if you can call baby food “solid”) and falls into a sound sleep with a full belly, the mood around the house takes a decided turn for the better.

What’s up next for the scientific researchers trying to confirm what every parent knows?  A careful examination of the joys of changing baby diapers?

 

British Swear Words

Do our polite and refined friends from across the pond curse?  I know they use words like “bloody” when they want to up the emphasis a notch and demonstrate that they are really miffed, but do they ever actually swear?

Apparently they do!  Ofcom, the United Kingdom’s communications regulator — who even knew they had one! — interviewed more than 200 people to determine how they reacted to an array of rude and offensive terms and swear words, and then ranked them in order of offensiveness.  In order to be sure that they covered every form of communication, they threw in a few well-known hand gestures, too.  Words in the mild category include “bloody,” “bugger,” “damn” and “arse,” as well as “crap.”  (It’s hard to imagine someone with a British accent ever saying “crap,” isn’t it?)  “Ginger” and “minger” — which means an unpleasant or unattractive person — were also placed in the mild category.

The medium category then includes words like “bitch,” “bollocks” (which Americans of my age know because of the Sex Pistols) and “pissed,” as well as words I’ve never heard used, like “munter” (an ugly or excessively drunk person) and “feck” (a milder substitute for you-know-what).  From there we move up to the strong category, which curiously has “bastard” in it — suggesting that the Brits find “bastard” a lot more offensive than we do, perhaps of the connotations of the word in a land that still has royalty and nobility — and “fanny,” which seems pretty mild to me.  The strong category also includes a bunch of British slang I’ve not heard of before.  From there, the list moves up to the strongest category, where the queen mother of curses sits, as expected, atop the swear list pyramid.

The list apparently is to be used by the Brits in their communications, with words rated as mild considered to be okay to use around children, whereas most people thought the “medium” and “strong” words shouldn’t be used until after 9 p.m.  The study also found, encouragingly, that the Brits are increasingly offended by words involving race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality.

I’m still finding it hard to believe that the Brits ever say “crap.”