Category Archives: technology

Turn Off the Phone Spam

Snapchat Betting On Bitstrips Appeal.  Firm reportedly plans to pay $100 million for app that puts avatars into emojis.

     —Los Angeles Times March 26, 2016

I take false pride in reading the daily newspaper cover to cover (by cracky).  In truth I gloss over articles that do not re-enforce my increasingly shaky world view.  I also give short shrift to subjects I do not understand. I read the LA Times business section story by Paresh Dave with my head cocked liked a large dog unsure whether he is about to go for a walk or to the vet’s office.  Emojis, which are an annoyance I have a superficial understanding of, are being customized and the resultant bitmojis will provide the user a unique way to pass on greetings, get well wishes, and eviction notices.  Somewhere bitmojis’ great grandfather (a circle with two dots and a dash) known as Smiley Face is looking on with pride and no doubt an insipid grin.

*                 *                  *                   *                   *                   *                  *fixit

A few years ago I was in a lengthy, pleasant, but ultimately futile discussion with Eddie, a service rep for an unnamed long distance carrier (all right, it begins with a V).  Eddie and I were laughing it up, talking about customizing and re-bundling my package so my monthly bill would not be mistaken for the national debt projections. We were being recorded for training purposes but I really thought we had a good rapport.  Since he was laughing at my jokes I never mentioned cord cutting or threatened to install aluminum foil wrapped rabbit ears on my roof. I offered to give up the Gardening Channel and 50 Croatian-Filipino stations in exchange for Showtime (so I could watch Homeland). This was a nonstarter. Looking for things to cut, Eddie mentioned offhandedly that I was paying two dollars a month to have an unlisted land line.  More on principle than actual cash savings, we decided to axe it.

Did I mention that JoAnne (the editor) was not home when Eddie and I were doing our business?  When she found out a few days later, you would have thought I had unleashed the Hounds from Hell.  The unlisted number keeps the telemarketers at bay!  As she was near tears, it didn’t seem the time to bring up the two dollars.  We redoubled our efforts to get on Do Not Call lists.  At first I answered the phone and implored the solicitor not to call again.  Some I even told how my wife was becoming unbalanced and inexplicably agitated by the sound of a ringing telephone.

There must have been something in my voice that suggested I really do want aluminum siding, solar panels, or an interest free zirconium (plated) text activated debit credit card which if held under a strontium 90 light (sold separately) will correctly predict eight of the next ten winners of the Kentucky Derby.  Finally JoAnne and I stopped answering the land line and began relying on our cell phones.  Unfortunately solicitation calls are even beginning to creep onto our cells. I suggested we get “burners” and discard them regularly like on Homeland.  I believe JoAnne has forgiven me but is reluctant to take this large a step.  Besides, what would I tell Eddie?

Tom H. Cook is still laughing over a line on the radio: “Looking back on my life, I realize that quicksand has not been as big a problem as I thought it would be when I was a child.”     

Autocorrect

There’s a fine line between fishing and just standing on the shore like an idiot.
—Steven Wright

There is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak.
—Simon Sinek

Tommy, how many times do I have to tell you? Do not interrupt when someone is talking!
—Mildred Cook (mother)

The no-longer-new technology can be flattering. After a few key strokes Amazon and their like are ready to make rather heavy-handed suggestions. One of the goals of living is to be understood, and they know me! Like a very solicitous butler, their educated guesses can be eerily insightful. Their memory is long and persistent. If you have ever, even in passing, considered a move to Buenos Aires to become a gaucho, or be in a gaucho-related field (rustling, branding or pampas real estate), beware. Years later, despite switching computers, changing passwords and altering my name, there are still sites convinced I need a bolo tie.

Autocorrect can sometimes produce strange results. A humorous example in “Damn You Auto Correct” is between brothers. One is asking to borrow $300 dollars for Mott’s Apple Juice. His sibling is ready to lend the money, but is concerned that there is an apple juice problem. Alas, the money was for a mortgage payment. Be very careful if you are writing about Swedish cars or pencils.

But this is not an anti-technology rant about privacy lines being crossed and trampled in the name of expediency and commerce.

After being presumptively bullied by my computer as if herded by a border collie (if you have one, you know the feeling), I began thinking about how I often steer conversations with friends. The more I reflected on it, the more uncomfortable I became. I often interrupt, under the guise of empathy and identifying with the story or emotion. I try to be an active listener. (“Wow I would have been terrified if I’d been there!”) Sometimes I am viewed as a true friend, someone who understands a fear of rodents or lavender soap. Too often, however, I have acted like a rabid autocorrect, finishing sentences for others and leaping to conclusions the speaker was fully capable of reaching without my help.

I am likely to volunteer the name of the actress, restaurant, or song before my friends can come up with it. It is a bad habit to presume where a story is going and beat the teller to the punch to show off under the guise of being helpful. I have made progress in letting others finish their own ideas and anecdotes. In a group setting it has been interesting to purposely step back and let the conversation go in a different direction. I still step over the line and become a nudge now and then, but any progress I have made is attributable to the example set by the bossy people at Amazon.

by Tom Cassidy

Earby owl by Tom Cassidy

Tom H. Cook has two border collies and has not had to make an independent decision in four years.

Sand Upon the Waters is on the Web

I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work…I want to achieve immortality through not dying                                   —Woody Allen

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.                     —Eleanor Roosevelt

 

Walking with a much younger friend the other day, I shared the news that I am developing a web presence.  My sister Nanci, a web designer visiting from British Columbia, was organizing my HLP columns and composing a website.  “I never thought of you as narcissistic” was my friend’s response.  It gave me pause.  

Granted, I subject old friends and former neighbors to my struggles and missteps on a monthly basis, but my portrayals rarely cast me in a positive light.  Of the seven deadly sins I mostly exhibit sloth, impulsivity, and a tenuous relationship between cause and effect.  I do not crave attention, but rather serve as a cautionary tale. I hope for, if not universality, at least  a faint recognition. My goal is to write about the important issues of the day, like garage sales, the conspiracy of objects, and what happens if you have nine dogs over for Christmas dinner.  Heady stuff.

Do my columns merely serve as a buffer between real estate ads in a community newspaper, or are they, as one reader suggested, a desperate cry for help?  The real question is Are they worth preserving?  I am not talking Smithsonian, but JoAnne is tired of the boxes of newspapers that I seem incapable of discarding or organizing.  (An aside: the word fire hazard is tossed around entirely too blithely in contemporary culture.) 

I have written more than three hundred columns since 1980 and a compromise seems to be storing them in “The Cloud,” not in the basement, which we don’t have.  Nanci to the rescue.  She has searched for themes, added photos, and put together through wizardry and hard work a web site.  Might a book publisher or Hollywood literary type decide that my collected columns would make a best seller and a vehicle for Ben Stiller? I am more likely to attract a bored actuary from Dayton. 

As to the original charge of self absorption, I fear my motives are even more grandiose.  I do not paint, sculpt, or create in any meaningful way.  My website may be more like a futile grasp for immortality.  I get no money for clicks or visitors, but humor me and check it out at sanduponthewaters.net.

Tom H. Cook is grateful to The Hill and Lake Press for untold patience and friendship.

 

 

Electronic Devices

 “A mother is only as happy as her unhappiest child.”

Whether the origin is an old Russian proverb or a Hint from Heloise, the poignancy of the unending love and concern for a child even after the kid retires and moves to Boca Raton is heartwarming.  To my knowledge I am the first to be so materialistic, self-absorbed, and gadget obsessed to apply it to a relationship with electronic devices.  I have real children, now adults, but they do not need me the way my iPod, iPad, and Kindle do.  A crackling in my earphone or a slow podcast download is as unnerving as a CROUPY COUGH low battery signal.

The little scamps frequently need downloads, uploads, updates, operating system upgrades, and a new app, not to mention battery charging and screen windexing.  It takes considerable work, but the rewards!   I can walk down the street to “Saturday Night Fever”, play Words With Friends, or watch a short video of a duck mother and a baby kitten, all while waiting to have my teeth cleaned. I have no idea how I stumbled through life without these necessities.

A toaster makes toast (or in my case melts plastic bread bags left in its path) but it is (no offense) an appliance.  My little Kindle and Apple friends grow and learn.  Whether it is a stimulating new podcast, or a bug fix for a favorite app, it is as if they go off to school in a Wi-Fi cloud and come home bursting with new information, just like human children.

What, no iPhone?  As crazy as it sounds, I gathered my little electronic family and we discussed having podcasts, music, Internet, e-mail, photos, and video on a telephone.  My trusty iPod was strangely silent. Intimidated? Jealous?  We, I mean I, am so used to my iPod and earbuds that a new device would jeopardize our bond.

My usually reliable iPad II froze when I attempted to download articles about the new iPad Air.  In my defense I never used the phrase “relatively clunky;” that was a reviewer.  I admit I was curious about the retinal display, impressed by the weight, and momentarily seduced by the pixels.  As I said to Mona, I mean my iPad II, hadn’t I stood in line for five hours in the bitter cold the first week she/it was available?  She said we met in Manhattan Beach, it was 60 degrees and the wait was more like four hours.  I replied that I am loyal and never even considered the iPad mini.  Still, my downloads were slow for a week.

There were no objections to the Kindle joining our family.  It is interesting to browse Kindle Buffet for free e-books, although most are categorized as Bulgarian Women/ Christian Fiction/Romance/Adventure/Amish/Coming of Age.  The Kindle is lightweight and backlit, making it possible to read even heavy books in bed with the light off.  I have borrowed some e-books from local libraries and I may even buy a few to help support the fledgling company Amazon.

My editor (JoAnne) is often in Atlanta with our granddaughter Charlotte (HLP 10/13).   A great night for me is not networking at Chateau Marmont with industry types or doing shots with my bros in Hermosa Beach, but early bed with dogs for warmth and my Kindle and Apple buddies for entertainment.  In The Usual Suspects, the phantom world of Keyser Soze, the devil’s greatest feat is convincing people that he doesn’t exist.  My electronic friends have us believing they are not real.

Tom H. Cook a former local has moved far west of Hennepin Avenue.  He has come a long way from his acerbic suggestion that computers make the unnecessary possible.       

 

 

So How About That Twitter!

It would be convenient to blame age for my initial wariness and reluctance to try new things.  Unfortunately it is more a lifetime pattern.  A local fast food restaurant nearly ground to a halt because as a seven year old I would not abide even the hint of a condiment on my hamburger.  In those days special orders did upset them, as well as my parents who were less than pleased when I, years later, not only saw the light but became a ketchup pusher, extolling its virtue at nearly every meal.  Not only am I late getting into the pool, but once I am wet I become a secular Billy Graham urging others to join me.

So how about that Twitter!  Now that there are over 500 million users I have decided to tweet.  Previously the few social media comments I read were hopelessly banal: “I just had a peach, yum!”  T.S. Eliot mused about daring to eat a peach in “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock”; everyone else need not bother.  If someone had told me that Twitter is a way to make snarky irreverent comments about fools in high places without getting punched in the arm I would have joined years ago.  The haymaker came from a self righteous classmate at Pennsauken High.  The PA had come on in homeroom and the office secretary began, “May I have your attention please…Mr. P___ has an important announcement.”  “Yeah,” I said, “if he doesn’t spill it.”

It was fairly well known that our principal liked to drink, and this was before the era of political correctness.  Most of the class broke up which helped ease the pain of Donnie Cutler’s fist on my bird-like bicep, and the detention I received.  My career of slipping banana peels under the feet of jack booted lock-stepped conformists was born.

I am a long time commentator on the wardrobe of various emperors.  Having worn out most of my friends and family I am delighted to have a new vehicle and hopefully an audience for smart-aleck remarks, wry witticisms, petty digs, and wrong-headed yet trenchant observations.  I will of course save my scurrilous and borderline libelous remarks for The Hill and Lake Press.  If you are willing to indulge me, I am untethered, but my twitter handle is  @tomhowardcook.

Tom H. Cook is (despite the continued presence of Michelle Bachmann) a proud Minnesotan stationed in Southern California.  He hopes that you will friend, follow, or at least attempt to understand him.

 

Ethics Make My Head Hurt

You did what?  You’ll probably get someone fired or gum up a machine!!!               — JoAnne Cook

Ethics make my head hurt.  I read the horror stories about Foxconn, the Chinese conglomerate that manufactures and assembles Apple products.  Their management style would need to improve greatly to become merely draconian.  Corporate response to disenchanted workers subjected to mind-numbing routinized labor and claustrophobic dormitory living has been to thwart further suicides by installing more suicide nets!  (The flogging will continue until morale improves.)  Still I am writing this on my Apple computer, which I prize nearly as much as my iPad (see HLP 10/11) and my iPod, rationalizing that China is another culture, and very far away.

Ohio and Pennsylvania are not that far away.  Mac McClellan, writing in the March-April issue of Mother Jones, and Spencer Soper in The Morning Call, an Allentown (PA) newspaper, chronicle the working conditions at online retail facilities.   Before you stop reading, shake your head at the nonsense that passes itself off as community news, harrumph loudly, and turn to the real estate ads, give me just a few paragraphs.

Amazon began shipping books in 1994. Expanding to a limitless array of products and riding the wave of the Internet, the company has become the 21st century rebuttal to the quaint notion of shopping by driving, finding parking, dealing with surly, barely conscious, retail clerks in a too air-conditioned, insipid music-blasting, brick and mortar retail store that is out of what you need despite calling ahead to make sure they have it.  Amazon stock (which I neglected to buy) has grown eight fold, and the company made $34,000,000,000 in 2010.  With 33,700 employees and free shipping, what’s not to like?

 

As it turns out, quite a lot.  I never really questioned how a point and click brought anything I wanted to my front door so quickly and tax free.  Amazon is the biggest, but almost all online retailers ship from vast warehouses, with several companies often sharing space.  Located in rural areas on vast tracts of land with tax incentives, near rail lines and major highways, they are often the only game in town for employment.  Ma and Pa stores, Woolworth’s, and a recognizable downtown are long gone, driven out in part by low Internet prices.  This is the future going forward, fast, cheap, and barely in control.  I do not believe many of us connected the dots between a displaced, desperate workforce and an Internet industry that is not yet twenty years old.

Mac McClelland is a 31 year old journalist, who went “underground” like Barbara Ehrenreich in Nickle and Dimed in America. The Secret Hell of Online Shopping chronicles her employment at a vast online warehouse, probably in Ohio.  She describes the workplace as cavernous and silent despite the thousands of people filling orders or standing at conveyor belts.  Temperatures range seasonally from 60 to over 95 degrees. Ten hour days are standard, longer near the holidays.  Most employees are pickers or packers.  As a picker she walked 12-15 miles per day on  concrete.  Armed with a scanner and an impossibly high quota of orders to fill, she and thousands more were continually “counseled,” prodded, and demeaned by supervisors to work harder, faster and error-free to please the customer.  Failure is met with demerits which are also accrued by being even seconds late returning from one of the two 15 minute daily breaks, perhaps because the bathroom line was too long.

The pace is intense and workers are disposable, fired at will because there are 15 people in line for every job.  Conversation is not forbidden, but there is simply no time. It is a joyless Orwellian world with everyone being watched and every second needing to be accounted for.  McClelland writes poignantly about the “workampers,” people who drive RV’s around the country from temporary job to temporary job, docking in trailer camps.  Many are retired couples not able to make it on their savings.

What I did not realize is that Amazon, Netflix, Staples, Office Depot and the other giant companies do not commonly employ entry level warehouse workers directly.  They contract with a 3PL or third party logistics staffing agency.  One of the biggest is Integrity Staffing Solutions (ISS). A 3PL sounds benign, but the competition between “temp agencies” for multimillion dollar contracts is brutal.  This filters down to the employees.  Just enough workers are hired at the lowest wage allowable (between 8 and 11 dollars an hour).  Asked to perform at maximum efficiency like robots, human problems like sick kids and car trouble are not factored into the equation. Workers are barely able keep up with the ever-increasing demand.  This is how companies are able to slash prices and deliver products super fast and offer free shipping and still post profits in the billions.  It comes at the expense of employees pushed to their breaking point.  McClelland asks if the workplace has to be this bleak and stressful to make a profit.

The 3PLs play the bad cop, the heavy, the wicked stepmother, shielding Amazon and other household names from lawsuits and negative publicity about their labor practices.  The retailer retains plausible deniability, avoids paying benefits, and discourages unions, as the workers are only temps, no matter how many years they are employed.  A carrot held out to new hires is the promise of a full-time job with the parent company.  Most are either fired or quit before that happens.  There is no regulation or licensure of these contracted companies.  If the first step toward change is public awareness, then the second is accountability from the online retailer and their responsibility for the policies of their 3PL.

Would you pay more for a free range chicken, or grapes picked by a union-protected field worker?  Scrolling the various Internet sites for the lowest price is just modern shopping.  How about paying a little more to ensure the picker and shipper in charge of your order are treated in a humane manner, given occasional time off and healthcare benefits?  Perhaps you would say it is the responsibility of Jeffrey Bezos, founder of Amazon and #30 on the worlds wealthiest list at 18.1 billion.

A desperately unhappy person in China may have assembled my computer.  A seven year old in Malaysia likely stitched my sneakers, and a pregnant woman in Allentown, Pennsylvania who cannot afford to be on bed rest shipped them to me.  How am I supposed to feel?  Someday, the robots will take over.  For now many workers eek out a living in warehouses that bear little resemblance to the places you and I may have worked to get money for college decades ago.

I am hoping that someone younger and smarter will blog, tweet, or twitter about the conditions and hardships of warehouse workers today.  I’ ll provide the slogan, There is no such thing as free shipping!

 

Tom H. Cook lacks the energy to lead a boycott.  He is such a bleeding heart, he enclosed a dollar bill in his red Netflix envelope. That is why JoAnne was so alarmed.

 

 

Podcasts

We have met the enemy and he is us.                    —Walt Kelly

For a long time I have been railing at friends, and even total strangers trapped in slow moving bank or grocery checkout lines, about the nearly universal use of ear buds.  Without sounding too much like the late Andy Rooney, I was against them, almost to the point of producing spittle.  I viewed the ubiquitous ivory colored plugs as more than a minor distraction or fashion statement, but an antisocial act.  By choosing to seal ourselves in an audio bubble, we not only erect additional barriers with others, but we may stifle our own thoughts.  A brimming haiku, a stinging letter to the editor, a snappy retort for the next tailgating yahoo in a monster truck…snuffed out by a medley of The Grass Roots Greatest Hits.

When I really got going I could verbally Evil Knievel the Snake River Canyon of logic and extrapolate a world of isolated Bee Gees listening zombies, anesthetized and ripe for totalitarian picking.  We walk the lakes and hike the wilderness for the quiet and ambient sounds.  Nature does not require a soundtrack.  Thoreau cruising around Walden with an iPod?  Blasphemy!

Profound alienation, a diss to the environment, issues of safety (distractibility and what that can entail), and the risk of hearing loss to the wearer.  That was my platform, shared with anyone who would listen, and a few that merely turned up the volume to mute my diatribe.  I now see these views as more than a tad extreme, but not without merit.  Nonetheless I have done almost a complete 180 degree turn.  I still do not know what others were listening to, but I always assumed it was music.  I enjoy music, but I do not need it piped over a loudspeaker in a mega mall (another topic) or in my ears.

Podcasts are another story.  I can go for a walk with Ira Glass (This American Life) and not need to hold up my end of the conversation.  I do not watch sports very often, but I am hooked on the soap opera which is Peyton Manning, Jeremy Lin, and Ryan Braun.  Dan Patrick, Colin Cowherd, Mike and Mike, are my podcast pals that make going to the post office or to buying gas (ouch) more interesting.

I have the zeal of a convert.  Do I want to invite a friend on a walk or for tea, and risk a possibly tearful/angst ridden/ intimate/messy/galvanizing/soul-baring/cathartic/breakthrough/bonding/heartfelt exploration of the preciousness of life, the impossible pain of unrequited love, the existential barrenness of possessions, and the hollowness of unfulfilled dreams? Or do I want to go out alone, but with the voice of Keith Olbermann updating me on the latest hijinks of fools in high places?

Tom H. Cook is a very longtime writer for this paper, which is not an excuse, but perhaps an explanation.  He will probably return next month unless someone tells him to stop.

 

Words With Friends

Playing “bop” is like playing Scrabble with all the vowels missing.      –Duke Ellington

I was peacefully enjoying the prime of my senility.  Content to watch the carnival of politicians wreathe, contort, and embarrass themselves, turning into figures of pity and scorn as they shamelessly pander and grovel for the highest office in the land.  A friend, perhaps concerned about my increasing interest in my other hobby (looking for two identical salt crystals), challenged me to play WORDS WITH FRIENDS, a bastardized form of Scrabble.  WWF is an app for those who find talking on the phone, shaving, and making breakfast, all while driving, not challenging enough.  Young Type A multi-taskers may squeeze in games with up to twenty opponents during spare seconds of their busy days,or at night as a way to unwind during the slow parts of action movies, or romantic dinners.

For me it is all I am able to do.  I have become frustrated, enthralled, and addicted to this silly exercise.  I live in a world where vice ((11 points) is better than nice (9 points). and a quarter (17 points) is worth almost twice as much as a dollar (9 points).  You can play with strangers of all skill levels to sharpen your game.  I prefer to be humiliated by those closest to me.  I am not being modest when I say I am not very good.  “The Scrabble Book” by Derryn Hinch states that the game is only 12 percent luck, I prefer to believe that I have just been slow to adjust to the bare knuckles reality of WWF.

Hinch suggests there are two approaches.  With thinly veiled disdain, he describes expansive play, laying down long words that may impress your partner but produce few points.  The rest of the chapter is devoted to playing tight which sadly does not involve drinking.  A tight strategy focuses on hooks (like plumbers’ elbow joints) that redirect the game to triple letter and triple word squares.  The point total of a well placed pluralizing “S” or a prefix or suffix can dwarf the original offering.  Just yesterday my cleverly arranged CAVORT (13 pts.) was eclipsed by my opponent’s added “S” in a triple word square.  The skillful player then sandwiched my word with parallel two and three letter words. I am not sure if “words” like (EF, TA, XU, EFS, PFT, SUQ) are vocabulary building, but 93 points later I was in no mood to cavort.

The tight approach is more than making words/points; it features a defensive plan of attack.  Like the game Stalingrad (which I have never played but witnessed a roommate’s two year battle in college), WWF requires blocking your opponent with words that cannot be added to, and capturing the triple letter and triple word squares. It is also imperative to memorize small obscure words that do not come up in polite conversation like crwth (an ancient stringed instrument), phpht (an alternative form of pht), and cwm (Welsh for valley).  I have yet to use glycls (a residue present in a polypeptide), or thymy (fragrant smell of thyme) but I am ready.

WWF also records when moves are made.  I know more of the sleep and work habits of my friends than I care to.  The game is something of a Rorschach test.  Liberal arts majors lay down different words than engineers.  I play with my son Ben, whose final scores almost double mine.  This is fine with me as he will someday be providing my care.  I watch the window for my neighbor.  She and her kids are blithely unloading their Costco run, not realizing I have the drawn the “Z” to make the word SYZYGY!  One friend called to make sure our relationship would survive our fervent long distance war of words.

Besides working my brain a little, playing has helped exorcise some negative feelings I had buried about competition.  Scrabble games of my youth began with harmless bluffing and degenerated into loud altercations.  Some boor would think that if you slowly enunciated the word but in a sufficiently loud and menacing tone it would jog the memory of the other players.  Invariably Noah Webster’s name would be impugned, and the dictionary thrown across the room. A pleasant element of WWF is the immediate (no appeal) scoring feature.  This is not Scrabble, there are word discrepancies, omissions and head scratching inclusions, but the resulting peace, as the commercial says, is priceless.

Tom H. Cook currently holds a record of 5-12 (single play high score of 76 points) since devoting most of his waking hours to Words With Friends.  He is beginning to like non-Scrabble playing people better.

How About Them Apps?

Isn’t it irritating when a vapid acquaintance breathlessly and with great flourish presents as new, information you have been aware of for quite some time?  It may be a shortcut through town, a new Bulgarian restaurant, or a television show you have been watching for years.  They expect you to share their zeal and congratulate them on being “with it” and ahead of the curve

On another topic, how ‘bout them apps?  In my defense, I knew there was something going on with iPhones, but with no interest in watching full length feature films on a “2X”3 telephone, or a game on any screen.  I ignored the buzz, and missed Apple’s iPad 1 entirely.  The ads for iPad 2 created in me and millions of other lemmings a fervent desire to acquire one immediately. I catapulted from oblivious to obsessed without stopping at rational or reasonable.

My fanaticism was poorly timed.  The first days after the release, demand for the iPad 2  far exceeded supply.  Despite the $500 price tag and me having no idea what I would do with it just served to whet my appetite.  Arriving a mere three hours before the Apple store opens gets you nothing but scorn from the hundred plus faithful already in line.  I slunk away consoled that while others may be more tech savvy, they could not out crazy me.  The next “day” (4:30 AM) I was eighth in line.  Five hours later I was clutching my purchase and comprehending almost nothing of the mini-orientation the “Apple Genius” was patiently walking me through.

I am not interested in taking infrared pictures of the dogs, playing guitar, or making a movie on my iPad.  I have become fascinated by all the free or 99 cent apps (short for applications) available for download.  Because I missed the iPhone boat, the world of apps caught me off guard.  There are between 65,000 and 250,000 iPhone/iPad, Apple sanctioned and rogue apps.  Most of my waking hours are spent strategizing how to procure interesting apps.  Alas this leaves little time to enjoy my new little friends as hundreds of apps are being minted every day.

Staying away from the superb but well known apps (Netflix, Pandora, Wikipanion, Kindle, Movies by Flixer) here are a few of my new favorites.  Crackle (free movies and TV, History of Jazz, Politico, The Hill HD (inside the Beltway politics), Pulse (news and videos),60 Minutes (huge archive of full shows), The Young Turks (politics/lifestyle), Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, TuneIn Radio (50,000 stations), 3D Brain, The Huffington Post, Slate, (new/culture), Taptu (news), ESPN (sports in many incarnations), Zite Personalities (news), Qwiki (reference), Brainshark (business) and TED education/future trends).

Tom in Miata

Let’s Be Careful Out There!

Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?
—Jack Kerouac from “On The Road”

Road rage is the expression of the amateur sociopath in all of us, cured by running into a professional.
—Robert Brault

The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status or ethnic background, is that deep down inside, we ALL believe that we are above average drivers
 —Dave Barry

Hey! Let’s be careful out there!
  –Sargent Phil Esterhaus (Hill Street Blues)

Could the fault lay in our Google-driven need for immediate (though incomplete) answers and instant gratification?  Maybe we can saddle the blame on the coming of age graduates of a sabotaged public education system.  Perhaps the anomie and stark realization that we are a polarized, hopelessly divided nation facing a grim future of diminished expectations is getting to all of us.  Some suggest it is the powerless grasping for any semblance of control.  Whatever the reason, whether inane or tragically poignant, the roads are becoming more dangerous, and our fellow motorists less civil.  Rather than attempt to understand or make a citizen’s arrest, here are my “fab five” of least favorite transgressors.

Right turn tinted window guy.    You are approaching an intersection at the posted speed with a green light beckoning.  At the crossroads is an impatient cretin who remembers something from driver training class about being able to make a right hand turn on a red light.  Forgotten is the part about proceeding only if no one coming.  The light is green and there will not be a better or more legal time for you to cross, and besides, the driver in the car behind you seems to have his heart set on both of you making the light.  Right turn guy is a sphinx with his tinted windows.  The front third of his car is directly in your path as he decides whether to jack rabbit before you get there, or watch you frantically navigate oncoming traffic.  Neither he nor his car have a reverse gear.  He will not retreat; failure is not an option!  Either way, your rigid adherence to the law is a terrible inconvenience to him.

The tailgater/weaver.  Put simply, their life and time is more important than yours.  Every second counts, and they are losing valuable billable hours marooned behind you on a one lane road.  Their design of an information retrieval system that will render the Internet obsolete is behind schedule.  Some are on the med/surg. team at the Mayo Clinic doing groundbreaking research on the use of hamster bile to treat post myocardial infarctions.  One can feel the telegraphed shaming vibe and aggravating vitriol emanating as they race ahead like Pac Man in search of their next morsel.  If they are so important, why do they tend to drive rusty Dodge Chargers?  (I believe when they get to their destination they scratch themselves, turn on the tube and grab a “brewski.”)

The four way non-stopper  It doesn’t matter who goes first — perhaps it’s the car closest to the equator — but once begun there is a natural and legal order: counterclockwise.  I suspect the same rapscallions who budged the lunch line in grade school are still doing it today.  Perhaps they are unaware or scornful of the corollary to the counterclockwise rule which states “something before nothing.”  In our social contract, we pass to the right but a late arriver must wait for a full rotation to go.  The egregious will “me too” or “piggy back” behind a crossing vehicle.

The “It’s like barely red” dude/dudette  Red is stop; green is go.  Wrong!  After the light turns from red to green, do not proceed with caution but with trepidation.  You may even consider getting out of the car or at least taking a long look to your left and right.  The odds are good that a barreling “entitlement express” will be trying to make the light that has already passed through the autumn colors of yellow and red.  Since it was only yellow/orange the last time they peeked, it seems reasonable that accelerating will get them through the pesky intersection.  Fortunately there is often the sound of a pounding bass guitar to signal their arrival.  Their logic (using the term loosely) seems to be, “I came through this light yesterday at this time and it was green, so I should be able to go, and besides, if I am late again, my manager will kill me.”  The same applies for long left turns across four lanes of traffic.

The “What’s it to you?” non-turn signaler    You would like to make a left turn before all the traffic on your right is unleashed, but there is a vehicle approaching from your left at a speed that would make crossing in front dicey.  Waiting patiently you hope the car will pass before the onslaught.  Oh wait, they are turning right just in front of you.  Miffed or a bit stronger, you look at the driver as he/she completes the turn.  You are feet away, close enough to read their look.  Between arrogance and cluelessness, implied is Where and when I choose to turn is none of your business.”  There is ample time to mull this affront as the window for a left turn has closed and the gaggle of autos, ox carts and rickshaws streaming past right to left now appears to be unending.

Tom H. Cook is aware that he sounds like an old crank.  His defense is that he has always been like this.  He remains an above average driver and vehicular parliamentarian.