Thursday, December 1, 2022

Subtitled


            The other night, while trying to go to sleep, I started thinking about what someone needed to invent next.

 

            I recall reading in a science fiction work about computer screens being somehow embedded on our eyeballs and wired into our brains, eliminating the need to go to a phone or computer for a google search, or even to ask Alexa. We may actually be headed that way, but I decline. Think about driving a car with that going on! Of course, all cars may be self-driving by then – or you can “go” someplace just by using your eyeball computer, so you don’t really have to go. Whatever – I don’t want it.

 

            Then there is another computer device that I believe folks are actually working on: You speak your message into your phone, it translates your spoken words into text, that text is sent to your recipient, which translates it back into spoken words. Pretty cool, huh? I think they should call it a “telephone.”

 

            Here’s another one: Kim and I watch a lot of stuff that we stream with the help of subtitles. We started doing this with some of the British programs, where they speak fast, with (believe it or not) English accents, and they move their mouths like ventriloquists. We soon found it helpful to use subtitles for everything we watch, except, of course, live television. One of my small pleasures is watching a foreign film that is both dubbed and subtitled, for occasionally the dubber and subtitler don’t agree. Usually it’s minor, but one time the foreign word was dubbed “No” while the subtitle read “Yes.”

 

            So, here’s my idea: We should use subtitles for our everyday conversations. Most of the subtitles are done using some sort of voice-recognition software, so why not have people wear little screens so we can actually see what each of us is saying? This would be especially useful as some of us are getting older and have hearing issues. (This might help someone like me who can hear just fine, but I have listening issues – not the same thing.)

 

            And let’s take it one step further. Why not have our wearable subtitles state not just what we said, but also what we really mean? This would eliminate all the guesswork and interpretation that are so much part of conversations, especially within families, but also in the workplace. I’ve heard that there now exists software that can take the part of psychotherapists, so why not use that software to help with subtitles? It might even be possible to have what you are saying dubbed into what you really mean but can’t quite say. I know some people who have the ability to hear those subtitles already, without the software.

 

            And from what I understand, cars now have the ability to communicate with one another. I assume that those “conversations” involve safety issues, but I can’t help but think that they may be commenting on our driving abilities. I know my car is capable of judging me, as the occasional warning beeps indicate. My previous Toyota would suggest that I pull over and take a break after I veered from my lane too often. But maybe our personal subtitling software might communicate with another person’s – possibly without my knowing about it, possibly commenting on us! Maybe . . ..

 

            I recall a 1966 Woody Allen film called “What’s Up, Tiger Lily.” Woody took a Japanese James Bond type film and totally redubbed it. I remember that it was hilarious (though probably not worth seeing again), but I only recall one specific example. The main character gets up after getting smashed in the head, rubs his injured skull, and says, “Ow! My knee!” Perhaps we could make our self-captions amusing, even creative.

 

            But it’s not all positive. I’m sure that as soon as the self-caption technology is available, someone will be busy devising a means to hack into our captions, so it will appear that we are saying whatever the Bad Guys want us to appear to be saying.

 

            Inventors – there is work to be done . . ..

Thursday, November 24, 2022

3 Feet

HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO ALL OUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY.        

            We had about three feet of snow over the weekend. We are thankful for the gifts:



American Goldfinches


Dark-eyed Junco


White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch scaring competitors from our feeders.


Northern Cardinal


Remember who these are?


Gray Squirrel. We named him Chester.


Northern Cardinal


Mourning Dove

The lake as seen from our house.


Black Squirrel - a morph of the Gray Squirrel. We have some squirrelly neighbors.


Thursday, November 17, 2022

Scammed Again


            Several months ago, I published a piece detailing how I became victim of a scam, and fortunately the payment for the article restored the money I had lost. My editor asked if I had learned anything from what happened, and my smart-ass response was “probably not.”

 

            As it turns out, I was right. Last week I was victim of two scams, though only one of them was a result of my foolishness.

 

            I received a second notice from a debt collection company, claiming that I owed $1,200 to AT&T, whose phone service I discontinued about eight years ago. I ignored the first letter, but when Experian, the credit security company I use, contacted me about the debt, I made a few calls, waited on hold for a combined total of well over an hour, and learned that someone had purchased an iPhone 12 in my name. The debt collectors sent me a bundle of forms to fill out, including a police report, which I dutifully mailed in. The sheriff suggested I put a freeze on my accounts with the three major credit reporting companies, so nobody could open an account in my name without my giving permission. I think that has solved my problem.

 

            While I was dealing with this I received an email, purportedly from PayPal – the letterhead looked real – saying that I had paid a charge of $500, but they thought it might be fraudulent. I called the number on the email, and “Mike Wilson” told me he would help restore my loss. Through an embarrassing series of stupid mistakes, he set up a process where the $500 would be deposited back into my checking account. But whoops! By mistake he deposited $5,000! Must have been my typo (he said) on a form I filled out! But he would help me send mistaken $4,500 from my bank to his – but I only had two hours to do this, or he would be fired, he tearfully explained. Good guy that I am, I agreed to help. Fool that I am, I granted him access to my computer, including my online banking, so I could get my $500 back, and he could be refunded his $4,500. I also agreed to drive to a PayPal “office” located in a Target store in Traverse City. Fine. Kim and I immediately hopped in the car and were on our way. “Mike” had told me, for some unknown reason, to leave on my cell phone. He also said to be sure I brought my checkbook and debit card with me. He also said that if we got disconnected, to phone him from the Target parking lot, but don’t go into the store. Anything suspicious so far?

 

            I’m glad the drive to Target would take an hour, for that gave me a little time to think, and we decided to stop at our PNC bank along the way. Kim and I had to whisper that plan, as the phone was on, and Kim announced she had to stop and go to the bathroom, and I said I needed to stop for gas. We spoke with a banker for about ten seconds before we realized we were being scammed by “Mike.” I hung up the phone. He tried to call me twice, and my phone told me that the call was coming from Hawaii.

 

            We spent the next six hours at our PNC bank – freezing our accounts, opening a new checking and saving account, and moving some money into them. And surprise! – there was no extra $5,000 in my checking account. “Mike” had moved $3,000 from my savings to my checking, as he could access that account using my debit card, whose numbers I would no doubt give him from his “office” in the Target parking lot.

 

            No harm done, except for the wasted day and the load of stress I was carrying. And Kim and I were both pleased that the PNC bankers who helped us through the process, especially T.J. and Scott, were so personable – they became, in a short period of time, something like friends. T.J. even gave us a sponge version of a piggy bank for me to squeeze for stress relief. And Kim gave him some healthy treats as a thank-you. It’s easy to think of banks as cold and impersonal institutions, but our experience helped us realize banks, and the people who work there, can be more than that. With so much done online or through impersonal call centers, it’s good to sit down with real people, even though the nearest PNC branch is an hour away.

 

            Have I learned anything? I have learned to take my security more seriously, and I’m better off with the steps I have taken. I have also learned to consult with Kim more frequently, as she has a much better Bullshit Detector than I do. (But if you learn the same thing a second time, did you really learn it the first time – or the second?) The scammers are everywhere.

 

A few of my foolish mistakes:

·      Not calling PayPal directly to check transactions.

·      Not checking with my bank to see if I’d been charged the $500 that I was supposedly getting back.

·      Agreeing to leave on my cell phone and in touch with him for an hour or so – what f…ing sense does that make?

·      Drive to Target? Really?

·      Most importantly, granting someone access to my computer. I’ve done this before, always successfully, when getting help from Apple or Adobe, but these are calls that I initiated.

 

            Kim and I are also trying to simplify our lives, where possible. So far, that means getting rid of old credit cards and reward cards, most of which have expired from disuse. Buy less stuff online, especially clothes, which rarely fit and often are not well made. Use cash, provided the person at the register knows how to count change. I’d remove myself from social media, except I’m not on any.

 

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Thumb


            Last week I injured my thumb. Specifically, the area where my right thumb joins my wrist. After a few days of non-improvement despite rest (sort of), ice, Aleve, and an Ace bandage, I went to my doctor, who diagnosed it as tendonitis and said keep doing what I was doing and it would be better in a week. If not, it might be gout, so I should see him again. I rejected gout as too old-fashioned – something one of my professors called “a literary disease” because it occurred in novels written centuries ago.

 

            It was not a bad injury, especially when compared to Kim’s chronic pain or what’s happening to the people in Ukraine when Russian soldiers invade. It was more like “discomfort” than real pain. Kim asked me to rate it from 1 – 10, and I gave it a 5 or 6. Knowing me, she probably adjusted my number to a 2 or 3.

 

            But still, I decided that I needed to rest my thumb, which means not use it, and suddenly I became aware of how often I use it.

 

·      buttoning a shirt or my jeans

·      opening a bottle

·      using a pen

·      eating with a knife, fork, or spoon

·      applying my thumb to my Mac so I don’t need to remember and type passwords

·      opening my iPhone

·      giving Kim a back massage

·      turning the key to start my car or open the front door

·      brushing my teeth

·      tying my shoes

 

            Don’t get me wrong – I’m not really complaining, and my thumb is improving daily. No, I’m just newly appreciative of all that I/we can do with our opposable thumbs. Whoever or Whatever came up with this idea deserves a lot of credit. No wonder we have evolved so successfully (though recent events make me question that last statement). I give the Creator two thumbs up!

 

            My semi-disabled thumb makes me appreciate some of the other physical things we have going on. Think about the little hormone that tells our bodies to stop salivating when we go to sleep. Think about how seldom we actually bite our tongue. Or cuts that turn into scabs. Or directional hearing, where the minute time differential between a sound’s reaching the right and left ear indicates the direction the sound came from! This is amazing enough, without even mentioning the eye, or childbirth. Being alive and reasonably healthy is miraculous – nothing to thumb your nose at.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Color

            What is it about color that makes it so attractive to us? I haven’t a clue, so I will leave it to evolutionary biologists to come up with theories. Probably something to do with the survival value of noticing what’s going on in our environment, but that does not explain the attraction.

 

            Nevertheless, it’s been an outstanding fall for colors. We have not been traveling much to see them, even missing the wonderfully-named “Deadman’s Hill,” which several people recommended. Instead, we have been appreciating what our own back yard has been providing us. The photos below were all taken from our property, looking east across Torch Lake as sunset approaches. Some say you have to look west to see a sunset, but we disagree.






The shot above was taken mid-October, with reds appearing.


The reflection adds another dimension:




More reds:



The sunrise also has its charm:




Toward the end of October many of the reds are gone, but the yellows and browns have an appeal of their own. The image below shows our road, looking west toward US 31:


And here, our birdhouse surrounded by yellow:





Even faded colors appeal to us:


    So, why is color so attractive to us? 

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Palimpsest


            I’m guessing that this is a new word for many of us. It literally refers to a manuscript page where the manuscript has been scraped or washed off so it can be reused for another document. Parchment was expensive, and before that, the Ancient Greeks used wax-coated tablets that could be smoothed and reused.


The Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus, a Greek manuscript of the Bible from the 5th century, is a palimpsest.


            Palimpsest also refers to artwork where the surface of one painting has been painted over – you know, the Rembrandt covered by the work of someone inferior, and you bought it for $10 in a garage sale, and an X-Ray reveals the treasure beneath. What I like to imagine is a work, either written or painted, where we can see the secret peeking out. The “final product” contains both layers, playing off against each other. I’m guessing that some artists do this, or a version of this perhaps painted on one level, without knowing the word “palimpsest.”

 

            Below is “Trees,” a piece Kim made by creating levels involving a dirty scrap of paper she found on a sidewalk, the jacket of an old book, some birch bark, and paint. The photo below does not do it justice, but it appears that the background is emerging from beneath the surface, as in a palimpsest.

 

 

 

            Some writers are aware that what they write is a kind of palimpsest, with other writing making noise in the background. I hear Robert Benchley in my work, along with David Sedaris, Billy Collins and Garrison Keillor – my writing, at best, a B+ version of theirs – on a good day. Whatever! My point is that language that we read or hear is often pressing out through our own use of language. (Not to be confused, of course, with plagiarism.)

 

            I’d like to take it a step further. Aren’t many of us walking palimpsests, with hidden layers, laid down on us in the past, peeking out through the surface? How could we not be? Didn’t get enough love from Mommy? It’s showing through. Bullied in elementary school? Praised extravagantly for your work ethic? Ridiculed by family for being clumsy? Had an easy path because of wealth or good looks? At this point you might want to think about your friends or family members – or even yourself – in terms of what old story is peeking through the person’s surface. Kim recently questioned me about some of my behavior, and we reached a conclusion about the not-quite-hidden old manuscript on which my present self is painted/written. Peeking out beneath my surface is the sense of distance I experienced with my parents, anxiety when I witnessed family arguments, along with praise for being clever and, in a limited way, non-conformist. It’s all there – and more.

 

            So, with the holiday season approaching and family gatherings to look forward to, you might want to sit around analyzing the voices whispering behind family and friends when you scrape away some of the surface. 

 

  

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Used


            Remember that cool Jeep Wrangler I leased a few months ago? Remember how I announced that I have become a “Jeep Guy,” complete with my Jeep sweatshirt, prepared for off-road adventures? Well, I just turned my Jeep in early and instead bought a 2018 Toyota RAV4 with over 46,000 miles on it, complete with a low-level trim package – no GPS, no automatic push-button key, no leather seats.

 

            Why the change? The simplest answer is that I did not like driving a car that’s cooler than I am. I felt like a bit of an imposter. I did go to 4-wheel drive once, while pursuing butterflies in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but that’s it. The roof could be removed so I could be a cool guy cruising about, but I can’t even imagine doing that, especially with our winters. Ditto with the removable doors. The height of the seats off the road might come in handy for spotting caribou or driving through snowdrifts, and I hope whoever gets the car next will enjoy those adventures, but for us the high seats mean difficulties getting in and out of the car, even with all the extra grab bars and steps we added.

 

            Don’t get me wrong – there were some positives. The main one was that the tall boxy shape made it easy to spot in a parking lot, a real benefit as I’m getting older and, you know . . .. The Jeep also has a great back-up viewing system, with a picture comparable to our television. Along with that is a good warning beeper when I’m backing into traffic, a device I used from time to time. (My RAV4 doesn’t have a beeper, or I haven’t figured out how to turn it on.) And the leather seats were comfortable, once we managed to climb up into them.

 

            You might be wondering – probably not – what was the process that led us to the purchase of the Toyota? First off, we have driven a lot of Toyotas in the past, so I felt I would be comfortable with the controls. I never did figure out the sophisticated and expensive GPS on the Jeep, but this will not be a problem with our Toyota, as our Miser’s Trim Package does not include GPS. I also did a check in Consumer Reports – no contest.

 

            But what really made it happen was our experience at the Toyota dealership. It was far from perfect – we were there for over four hours, mainly just sitting there waiting. But we connected with the sales people we met. We were greeted by Nolan, who we asked to see a hybrid, but of course there weren’t any. We asked to see a used Highlander, but the one he showed us was too nice and too expensive. Kim told him that we didn’t really care what it looked like, “just a jalopy to use for a while – an interim car.” (Yes, my Kim said that.) He said he had just what we wanted and brought it out. After a two-minute test drive, we said Yes. We were pleased that there was no dickering about the price. Though Kim is great at negotiation, she dislikes game-playing and bullshit. Kim said Nolan is “real,” which is high praise from her. We spent maybe an hour with him, which included 3 minutes of paperwork and the rest just chatting. We went to lunch, then chatted with Cory – another salesperson, and Jim, co-owner of the dealership – as we waited for multiple credit and identity checks. They built relationships with us, and we trusted them, and this trust somehow transferred to the car. But still, I was careful to dispose of our coffee cups in a distant wastebasket so they could not collect our DNA.

 

            All of this is unimportant, as is the car I am driving. When I still had the Jeep, I took an online survey about my experience, and one of the things I was asked was how much I see the car I drive as an expression of my identity. “Not at all,” I answered. So, it’s ironic that the car I’m now driving shares some qualities with my identity: used, good in snow, a few years old with a few miles on it, but reliable. I did spring for an Extended Warrantee – for the car, but there was not one available for me. I will try to rotate my tires every 6 months.