Thoughts From The Southern Route

Yesterday, when I approached the I-71/I-76 intersection, my inner Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry voice asked if I felt lucky, and I did–so I took the southern route. And sure enough, as I rolled along I-76 in Ohio, I-80 in Pennsylvania, and I-84 in Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut, my luck held up. The weather was perfect for driving–dry and sunny–and I made excellent time. It all changed, unfortunately, when I passed Hartford and entered Massachusetts.

Once I-84 emptied into I-90, and I turned onto I-495 to loop around Boston, the traffic got heavy and moved into the frustrating stop-and-go mode, giving rise to the two eternal questions for drivers. The first is: if there are no accidents and there is no road work, why does stop-and-go traffic, where you actually have to come to a dead halt on an interstate highway, happen at all? Why doesn’t traffic continue to move forward at a steady, if slower, pace? Is it that somebody changed lanes and cut someone off, producing a domino effect of braking that ultimately produced standstills farther back in the line of cars?

I guess that is more than just one question.

And the second question is: why does the lane I pick in stop-and-go traffic always seem to be the slowest lane? I tend to favor the passing lane, reasoning that it will have fewer cars moving back and forth, and no one entering from access ramps, but yesterday the left lane was the worst for stoppages by far. The middle lane was better, and the far right lane seemed to have the smoothest traffic flow, notwithstanding the people coming onto the highway. Is that always true, and if so, why? And why would the left lane ever be anything other than the lane that had the smoothest traffic flow?

Finally, there is the E-ZPass issue. Do you get one, or not? Toll roads, and the use of E-ZPass rather than depositing money to a toll booth attendant, is clearly a northeastern phenomenon, as the above map demonstrates. If you’re driving east, E-ZPass definitely makes things easier, as you can roll past interstate toll booths without stopping, knowing that someone somewhere is logging your movements and charging you electronically, and you don’t have to fume about the person in front of you who moves up to the toll booth without having their payment handy, causing even more delay. I’ve not gotten E-ZPass because I just don’t feel like I would use it much, and there’s something about it that just irks me from a privacy standpoint. But on yesterday’s drive it became clear that we’re being tracked, whether we use E-ZPass or not, because on many of the toll roads there are no booths and the signs announce that if you don’t have an E-ZPass you’ll just be billed–which means your car is being photographed and the license plate information is being used to send you a bill. E-ZPass doesn’t seem any more intrusive than that.

Jack Kerouac wouldn’t be able to drive anonymously on the tollways of the northeast U.S. in the same way he traveled incognito in On The Road. In the western half of the country, where there aren’t nearly as many toll roads, it might still be possible. I do find myself wondering, though, about a question that I don’t think was addressed in On The Road: when Jack Kerouac encountered stop-and-go traffic, which lane did he choose?

Spinning The Shortest Day Ever

When you said–as everyone who is truthful about it must admit they did say–that it seemed like August got here faster than ever this summer. . . well, it turns out you were right. August literally arrived more quickly than ever before because the Earth is spinning faster than ever, producing shorter days. In fact, scientists have determined that June 29, 2022 was the shortest day ever, clocking in at 1.59 millisecond shorter than the average day.

Our planet apparently started to rotate more quickly in 2016, and the quicker spinning seems to be accelerating, with 2022 seeing a speedier spin that 2020 and 2021. Scientists aren’t sure exactly why the quicker cycles began, but think it might have something to do with the tides.

The shorter days may require that atomic clocks and other devices be recalibrated to keep precise time. Because all of those lost milliseconds will add up, scientists have floated the idea of a “negative leap second” to account for the reduction in the length of days, employing the same concept that causes us to add a leap day to the calendar every four years. Engineers hate the idea and raise the possibility that messing with the clocks could have a devastating impact on technology and cause massive outages. Their position may remind some of the dire “Y2K” forecasts of what might happen when we hit the year 2000 that didn’t materialize, but I’m with the engineers on this one: if attempting a “negative leap second” could cause mass failures, panic, and the end of the civilization as we know it, I’d rather live with the fact that our clocks are off by a few milliseconds.

None of this should affect the proud reaction of those who admittedly did say (as I did) that August got here earlier this year. Isn’t it nice to know that your finely honed internal chronometer is working more reliably than our atomic clocks?

Real People, Real Politeness

For the past month or so, I’ve been getting very persistent emails in the same person’s name. The emails say they desperately want to help me to be better at my job. “Please,” they implore, “can’t we just schedule a short call to discuss our fantastic capabilities?” And then, when I delete those emails, I’ll get follow-up emails saying I must have missed the earlier emails, and asking to set up a call all over again. And when I delete those emails, yet another round will hit my inbox. It’s maddening that the putative person just won’t give up.

I’m fairly confident that I’m dealing with a robot here. There’s no way that a real person would be reaching out to some stranger, getting no response, and continuing to beat their head into the proverbial email wall. And yet, all of my upbringing teaches that when I see a person’s name, there’s a real person attached to that name, and the proper thing to do is to treat them with appropriate politeness. In this case, since sending any acknowledgement email is just going to provoke yet another totally unwanted email–and confirm that my email address leads to a real person, besides–“appropriate” politeness means just deleting the repeated emails without sending a fire-breathing response saying that I don’t need or want his help and please, for the love of God, leave me alone and stop clogging up my inbox!

I wonder if this reaction and assumption of a real person who deserves real politeness is due entirely to coming of age before the era of email and the internet. In those days, human beings were, in fact, on the other end of phone calls or mailed solicitations, and there weren’t bots blasting out millions of emails in hopes of getting one or two responses. But if you grew up instead when spam and bots were just part of the landscape, you wouldn’t hear that Mom’s voice in your head reminding you to mind your manners and could respond to unwanted emails as you saw fit, without worry or guilt.

It’s just another way in which Millennials and Generation Z have a leg up on the codgers these days.

Discover Life Beyond The Room

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.

Hugging Anxiety

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.

Tom Brady’s Parenting, And Other Clickbait Curiosities

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.

The Headset Question

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.

This Morning’s Palette

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.

Reconsidering Boarding Music

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.

Naming Names

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?

A Death-Defying Childhood

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.

Used Furniture Stores

We did some furniture shopping recently, and just for the heck of it we hit a used furniture store as part of the due diligence process. Nothing gives you a sense of the enormously wide spectrum of potential furniture styles like going to a used furniture store, where the now disfavored looks of days gone by are on display for all to see.

The first room we entered was filled with ‘60s modern stuff, some of which is shown in the top photo above. It’s the kind of furniture you might see in the tidy living room of Laura and Rob Petrie or your friendly dentist’s office. The next room was filled with gigantic china cabinets, like the hulking, black and gilded monstrosity shown above. Whoever owned that monumental piece must have had a lot of floor space and an impressive dish collection.

The chair room was stuffed to the gills with a riotous collection of styles and colors, with armless Danish modern stuff cheek-by-jowl with armchairs that might have been used at a polite ladies’ tea. The room had every fabric, texture, color, pattern, fringe, and finish you could imagine in your wildest nightmare. My eyes actually hurt when I stumbled to the exit door.

And like every good used furniture store, this one featured some interesting odds and ends. Two of my favorites were the matching silver ram’s head stools with striped fabric and the gold swan white bench that the goddess Hera might have lounged on during a relaxing day on Mt. Olympus.

In all, it was a most impressive display of the styles and tastes of days gone by. And like all good used furniture stores, it very much helped us decide what we didn’t want.

Arizona Gunslinger

When we were ordering breakfast yesterday at the Feedlot Cafe in Marana, our friendly waitress asked if I would like hot sauce with my meal. She rattled off five or six options, then added, with a note of doubt in her voice: “Or would you like to try some Arizona Gunslinger?”

Somewhere a clock chimed, a hot gust of wind blew, and a lonesome piece of sagebrush rolled by.

“Arizona Gunslinger?” I gulped, as a horse in the distance whinnied in alarm, the hinges on the saloon door creaked loudly, and an ominous chord of music sounded in the background. “Sure, I’ll give it a try.” The waitress left and brought back a bottle of deep green chili sauce that promised it was “smokin’ hot.” “Here you go,” she said with a note of trepidation in her voice.

As I examined the bottle, I noticed that mothers were pulling their children indoors and the shopkeeper across the street was closing his doors and shuttering his windows.

When my eggs and sausage and hash browns were delivered, I tried some of the sauce, using deliberate and judicious application rather than a quick draw technique. And I found I liked the Arizona Gunslinger sauce. In fact, I liked it quite a lot. It’s got a kick like a mustang and a nice warm finish in the throat, and definitely added a bullet-like zing to my eggs.

When I finished my food, I ambled out the front door, glad that I had survived my encounter with the Arizona Gunslinger rather than being carted off to Boot Hill.

Reaching New Heights In Sports Programming

Last night I turned on the TV and was doing some channel surfing when I came across this broadcast. I had to rub my eyes and look twice to confirm that I was, in fact, seeing a televised match of performers in the “American Cornhole League.” That’s them, on a screen busy with sports betting information, wearing their jerseys covered with sponsor logos, weighing their respective beanbags before giving them carefully calibrated flight toward the target. The contestants exhibit professional concentration as they toss their beanbags, grimace if they don’t find the corn hole, and then walk down to the target to do it again. I didn’t have the sound on, so I don’t know whether there was a play-by-play guy breathlessly describing the action and a color guy providing detailed analysis.

Cornhole is a fun game to play at a tailgate or cookout, with beer in hand and a willingness to suffers the taunts of your friends if you make a bad throw. As sports TV goes, however, it’s not exactly riveting stuff. Even Howard Cosell couldn’t make it interesting.

If you’re going to have a professional yard game league, why not lawn darts instead? At least that involves the risk of contestants being impaled.

The Last Kingdom

I’ve been watching The Last Kingdom on Netflix. It’s a show that’s worth checking out if you want to feel better about the modern world, because the world of The Last Kingdom–which takes place in England circa 970 A.D.–is not a great place. Everyone is dirty and bloody, and at any given moment marauding Danes might swoop in, kill everyone in your village, torture the priests and monks in the local church, and turn everything upside down in their quest for silver. In short, it’s not really a happy place.

The show tells the story of Uhtred, son of Uhtred (he says this at the beginning of every episode), a Saxon whose family was killed by Danes. That’s him in the middle of the photo above. Uhtred was adopted by the Danes and he in turn adopted their way of life. He’s developed into a formidable fighter who basically beats everyone he goes up against. He’s also a charmer who is irresistible to women and a born leader of fighting men, who are intensely loyal to him. (Uhtred also is apparently ageless, because he’s still an unbeatable stud even as others are growing up and growing old around him.)

Unfortunately, Uhtred hasn’t inspired the same kind of loyalty in King Alfred, the annoying and literally holier-than-thou King of the kingdom of Wessex. (That’s Alfred on the left in the photo above.) Uhtred ended up pledging himself to Alfred and is easily Alfred’s best fighter, best strategist, and only hope against the Danes, but Alfred can’t accept that Uhtred is a pagan who isn’t moved by Alfred’s constant prattling about prayer and God. So even though Uhtred has saved Alfred’s children, Alfred’s life, and Alfred’s kingdom on multiple occasions, Alfred doesn’t trust him, never gives him the credit that is his due, and always ends up sentencing him to death or banishing him, until the Danes invade again and Alfred needs Uhtred to pull his chestnuts from the fire. Simply put, Alfred is just about the biggest ingrate you’ll ever run across. He’s a horrible king, for sure, but he’s the only king they’ve got.

I’m in the middle of season three, and the long and tortured tale of the relationship of Uhtred and Alfred seems to be finally coming to a close. After season three, there are two more seasons to go. I’ve found The Last Kingdom to be an interesting show that casts some light on the Dark Ages period of England, before the Norman Invasion in 1066. And speaking of light, after watching the show I find myself really appreciating electric lights, showers, soap, refrigerators, and other wonders of the modern world.