PINING FOR THE FJORDS

TODAY’S WORRY

I am pining for the fjords. That’s a Monty Python reference. It doesn’t mean I’m Scandinavian. Anyway, I’ve been away from home for almost 5 weeks now and I am definitely ready to go home. You know how it is, you love being away on vacation but at the end you are so ready to return to your routine and be among your familiar things.

This vacation has had its ups and downs. The biggest down being John falling down and breaking his collarbone. But I think I’ve complained enough about that. I will never make a very good nurse. On the up side, the weather here in Marco has been really nice. We played some tennis, went to the beach, swam in the pool, made friends at the wine shop and visited with both my sisters. We went to see John’s dad in Pompano Beach. He’ll be 93 in April. Setting aside that there are too many people with too much time on their hands driving around, this is a pretty nice place to be.

But after being away for all this time, I miss Ryan, Jon and Sarah very, very much. I’m really looking forward to Little Bruno’s arrival at the end of the month. On a smaller scale, I miss the mountains and the greenness of winter in California. I miss the wonderful produce and the stores not jammed with senior citizens endlessly debating over what to buy. I’m just like Dorothy, Oz is a great place to visit but there’s no place like home. I’m pining for the fjords.

SISTER-MARY-MARGARITA

TODAY’S WORRY

My sister, Peggy, came to visit. You know, the one who fell up the steps in A Fable in Two Parts: The Accidents. Anyhow, we were celebrating the visit and having margaritas that John made to the specifications of the Earl Gilmore Memorial Margarita (recipe here.) So they were quite tasty and my sister suggested we have another. One thing I know is that I can only drink one of these but I was pulled in by the dark side of the force and told John to go ahead and make another round. So today I have been feeling under par and didn’t get around to writing a thoughtful blog entry. Tomorrow for sure.

CHINESE CHECKERS

TODAY’S WORRY

According to a NASA official, researchers have calculated that 2005 produced the highest annual average surface temperature worldwide since they began keeping records in the late 1800s. Now this may be due to normal flucuations, global warming or, perhaps, so many baby boomer women reaching menopause. Whatever you think, the Chinese have found an innovative way of checking the recent temperature increases.

Researchers, writing in this month’s edition of Geophysical Research Letters, found that the amount of solar radiation measured at more than 500 stations in China fell from 1954 to 2001 despite a decrease in cloud cover. Usually more sunny days means an increase in temperature. But the amount of pollution over Chinese skies has deflected and absorbed some of the sun’s rays and the temperatures in China have actually declined.

Recent administration backed legislation in Congress supports a new “Clear Skies Act.” Environmentalists are up in arms about the new act because they feel it is a sweetheart deal for industry polluters, weakening and eliminating numerous sections of the Clean Air Act. However, and I am saying this tongue-in-cheek, the new standards are a logical response to the cutting edge technology that the Chinese are using to combat global warming.

A FABLE IN TWO PARTS: THE ACCIDENTS

TODAY’S MODERN FABLE

For other modern fables see The Bird and the Fry and The Stump and Two Determined Men.

THE HUSBAND AND THE CLAY COURT

Once upon a time there was a husband who was named John. John was tall and athletic. He liked to compete. By chance, two people asked John if he and his wife would like to play mixed doubles at the tennis courts at the YMCA.

“Oh no,” his wife said. “I have a terrible serve and do not play well.”

“Nonsense,” he said.

So they went to play. Back and forth they hit the ball, John taking most of the shots because of his superior ability. They lost the first set even though he tried hard. They switched partners. This time John won because he was not playing with his wife. But there was unhappiness. Finally they played together again.

“We will do better this time, now that we are warmed up,” John declared.

All over the court he sprinted taking as many shots as possible. Finally a ball came flying over and he went to retrieve it with his very showy running forehand. But his feet slipped.

“Uh oh”, he said to himself, “I am falling. I must execute my famous tuck and roll which I learned as a young lad.”

But alas, the tuck did not quite happen. What did happen was much blood and a broken bone.

(Moral to follow Part Two)

THE SISTER AND THE PILASTER

Once upon a time there was a sister named Peggy. On a cold and windy day in Maryland, Peggy went out to fetch the mail.

“Br-r-r-r,” she said. “It is mightily cold out here. I should have worn my coat!”

But, alas , she had not worn her coat and wanted to get back into the house as quickly as possible.

Up the driveway at a jog, she ran. Onto the sidewalk and to the steps leading up to the front door.

“I shall just run up these steps and get into the warm house,” she said.

There were only two steps. She jogged up the first one with her right foot. When she lifted her left foot, she did not lift it quite high enough.

“Uh oh,” she thought, “I am tripping!”

Headlong into the pilaster by the front door she went. She hit the top of her head solidly into it.

THE MORALS OF THESE STORIES

1) Hard things are no match for soft human tissues and bone.
2) It is better not to try too hard to do something than suffer the consequences.
3) Even though your brain still thinks you are young, sometimes your body just doesn’t believe it.

REDUX DOCS

I think I’ve found the perfect way to watch television. A way that gives you immediate gratification and never leaves you hanging. The answer is simply don’t watch anything that’s on currently, especially anything that looks like it may be a big hit. I’ve already told you how you must have a TiVo and the perfect way to watch television calls for one.

Let me give you an example – in our contrary way, we never watched “er.” So there are seasons of “er” going back to 1995. On TNT’s Primetime in the Daytime, two episodes of “er” are on every weekday in the morning. Every day our TiVo records these two programs and then that evening or maybe some other evening we watch. Sometimes when we have other things to do, we let them build up and then we have an “er” festival. Want to know who George Clooney’s dating in the next episode or whether Dr. Greene will get back with his wife? No need to wait. You can watch them all in a row. We’ve just started on the 1996 season. There’s so much more to see.

In addition, we’re watching CSI, the one from Las Vegas, that’s another one that’s syndicated. And the Amazing Race is just as amazing when you can watch all the episodes one after another. So was I sad when I heard that West Wing has been cancelled after 7 seasons? Not at all. I haven’t watched it yet. But I have to finish “er” first.

SEARCH ME?

Last month I wrote a blog entry suggesting that Americans ought to think a little harder before they let the government invade their privacy with wiretaps. I had some responses that took the position that if I was against government wiretapping without warrants then perhaps I was for the terrorists. Today I am going to suggest that issuing a subpeona to Google to turn over its searches on a random basis is another step down the slippery invasion-of-privacy slope. No doubt this time I’ll be accused of being pro child pornography.

I don’t want the government to know what sites I am looking at even though my searches are perfectly innocent, or at least they appear that way to me. Sometimes I’ve been searching for a specific thing, maybe as a fact for a blog entry, and I’ve ended up in some odd places. It’s not always easy to tell what you’re going to get. The government claims that it’s not going to connect individuals to their searches. But given the recent trend, I’d rather not test that assertion.

CAR TALK

TODAY’S WORRY

When I was kid (oh no, not one of those “when I was kid” blog entries!) one of the exciting times of the year was when the new car models were debuted. For weeks ahead of the debut date, teaser commercials would show the cars under sheets or whizzing by with a close-up of just a tail light. Every year it was an anticipated event. Every year there was some design change – a bigger fin, a different shape of headlight, a new color. Ah, American cars! All form, little substance.

Down here in Marco Island the cars are like a throwback to another era. You see lots of Ford Crown Victorias, Cadillac DeVilles and the like. It must be all the retirees who are still into the big American cars. But if you look out on the highways, and I’ve done this, there are probably at least 10 foreign built cars to every 1 American car. There are still a lot of American trucks but I hear that Toyota is making a big push in that direction. It’s the marketplace at work. Unless American manufacturers can turn out a better product and convince the American people to give them another try, it may be that American cars will end up going the same way as American televisions.

DOODLING THE CHEESE

TODAY’S FOOD

This is actually more of an expose’ on a type of food. While we sitting around at lunch today, my brother-in-law, Gary, explained how cheese doodles are made. Have you ever even thought about what the basic ingredient in a cheese doodle is? I guess I always thought it was rice if I thought about it at all. But no, it’s potato! As the potatoes come down the production line some are shunted off for potato chips and other are destined for doodleland. The doodle potatoes are pulverized, shot through with air to puff them up and then either deep fried for a hearty crunch or baked for a delicate crunch. Then they are coated with the orange stuff which I am sure is not cheese. I am a fan of the hearty crunch and my sister is more of a delicate cruncher. So there’s your snack info for the day.

Note: No actual doodles were harmed during the investigation for this blog.

UPDATE
In an effort to make sure my facts were right, we shopped for Cheez Doodles (the actual correct spelling.) Cheez Doodles are a Wise product. These were not available in our local stores. We bought Cheetos instead. Cheetos are made out of corn! So I am not sure about the composition of Cheez Doodles. Gary said he saw the potato ingredient on Food Network. Does anyone out there have a package of Cheez Doodles to verify the ingredients?

OLIO

TODAY’S WORRY

There’s a couple of things happening here. One is that I am now getting all these comments on my website from poker and mortgage places. Just junk. Today there were probably three hundred comments I had to delete. This is really annoying and I wish I knew how to block it.

Second thing. The vacation is not going too well right now. John fell playing tennis and broke his collarbone as well as tearing up his elbow and knee. We spent several hours at Naples Community Hospital on Monday night. He will have to keep his right arm in a sling for at least three weeks with healing taking six to eight weeks. It is really too bad. He is hurting and I am not a good nurse. So I am feeling guilty for feeling grumpy and he is feeling guilty because he is taking responsibility for my grumpiness. I need an attitude transplant. Sorry John.

On a bright note, my younger sister and her husband are visiting this weekend. I am looking forward to seeing them and having a raucous few days. Perhaps she will bring the transplant I need.

Oh, and the people from Zales never called.

CONVERGENCE

TODAY’S WORRY

I was listening to a piece on NPR this morning about the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The buzz word is convergence. The idea behind convergence is to take all your gizmos and incorporate them into one uber-gizmo. That way, in the palm of your hand, you can watch TV and videos, play interactive games, access the internet, keep your appointments straight, make a phone call, take pictures, play all your favorite tunes and make telephone calls. Probably other stuff as well. I have to admit that once I remarked that I’d like a phone that was a PDA as well. There is limited space in my purse for all this stuff. However, according to polls, most people just want a phone that makes a phone call. And does it well. In fact, one of the reasons that iPods have been so spectacularly successful is that they are simple to use, do the job they were designed to do well and look good doing it.

I’m not sure how I feel about the uber-gizmo. Would I use all the features? Would it be too complex for my over 50 brain to figure out? Would I be able to see all the tiny buttons? Would I have to have short fingernails to use it? I guess if this is the way technology is headed then I’ll have to adapt. A lot of people in the generation ahead of mine haven’t learned to use computers and other electronics. I always find it annoying that John’s dad doesn’t have an answering machine and I can’t send him email. I think we all need to make an effort to stay current with the latest technology or, like the typewriter, we’ll be destined to become antiquated ourselves.

NOT FOR ZALE(S)

TODAY’S WORRY

For Christmas John gave me a very beautiful wedding band. I love it very much. He bought it at Zales. As part of their promotional material at the time of the sale, they gave him a gift certificate for $100 to be used between 1/1/06 and 1/16/06. The certificate stated that it could be used on any jewelry, regularly priced or on sale. So today we went to Zales in Naples, Florida. I picked out a lovely necklace and earrings that went with the ring that he had bought me. Outside the store there was a sign that said they were having a big sale. We asked the salesman how much the items were and he gave us a price. We asked if the price was the regular or sale price. He said that it was the sale price and that he only quotes customers what they would pay.

Okay, so we say we want the items and would like to use our gift certicate on the necklace. Oh no, he says, you can’t use that on either of these items. It can only be used off the regular price. We say, no, look at the certificate. It can be used on regular or sale items. He says he can’t do it. Zales has put him in a difficult position but it can’t be used. We suggest he try harder to make it work. He calls his manager. He says no. This is even though we have the gift certificate in our hand and it says regular or sale price merchandise. We suggest that this is fraud and give him back the jewelry and walk out.

Next John calls Zales. The customer sales representative listens politely and then says no they will not honor the gift certificate. We explain once again that we were quoted a price, we asked that it be clarified as to whether it was the regular or the sale price. We have a gift certificate for an item that is either regular or sale price. Still no. Reason? It’s not really a sale price, it’s a discounted price. It doesn’t make any difference what we were told at the store or what our certificate says.

Now what? We are waiting for the district manager to call us. This is supposed to happen in the next 2-3 business days. If we are not called back or if they do not resolve the issue to our satisfaction, then we will return the original gift, report them at least to the Better Business Bureau and never, ever shop there again. I would suggest that you think twice before shopping there as well. It is unethical to promote a sale by offering a future benefit that you will not honor.

PRIME TIME

TODAY’S INTERESTING AND COOL FACT

Feeling in your prime? Obviously the researchers at Central Missouri State University are. They have identified the largest known prime number. In case you don’t know, a prime number is a number that can only be divided by itself and one – like 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, etc. This number is 9.1 million digits long. The number is 2 to the 30,402,457th power minus 1.

Okay, so why all the hoopla? What possible uses are there for prime numbers anyway? To find out the answer I went to my best source for finding out useless stuff, John. Here are four of his reasons for why it is good to find new prime numbers:

1. They are cool and interesting. (a very nerdy answer)
2. They are used in encryption. (an actual useful reason)
3. They gave Eratosthenes a reason for inventing the Sieve of Eratosthenes. (wha?)
4. They keep math professors employed. (what I figured)

Not familiar with the Sieve of Eratosthenes? Since I had to go through the humiliation of not knowing either, here it is.

Imagine a giant (actually infinitely big) piece of paper. On this paper is a grid of all numbers. Circle the number 1 and then starting with 2, circle it, and then cross out all the multiples of 2. Go to the next number that is not crossed out, 3. Circle it. Then cross out all the multiples of 3. Go to the next number that is not crossed out, 5. (You crossed out 4 when you were getting rid of multiples of 2.) Circle 5 and then cross out all of the multiples of 5. (Some numbers will be crossed out multiple times.) Then the next uncrossed out number, 7, and cross out its multiples. And so on. Now when you have gone as far as you’d like to go, take a hole punch and punch out all the numbers that are circled. They are the prime numbers and what you’ve got left is what looked like a sieve to Eratosthenes.

It’s so fun being married to John.

P.S. After I wrote and published this I had the opportunity to have explained to me “more than I wanted to know.” This is a familiar event in our house when you ask John a question. Sarah and Jon were often the recipients of this when they asked for some simple explanation on a homework problem. Anyway, I am now the possessor of great prime number knowledge. I know all about encryption and also why you can prove that there can always be another larger prime number. sigh

NHLS

TODAY’S DETERMINATION

Five years ago John and I started what would ultimately be called “the long diet.” The long diet was very successful with John losing about 45 pounds and me losing about 70. We became fit and healthy and it was all good. The bad thing about being on a long diet or any kind of diet is that you are either on it or you are off. So at the end of the long diet we celebrated for three years enjoying the old unhealthy way we used to eat. Of course we gained back all the weight we had lost. But we did keep exercising so that’s a plus.

So now we are starting the NHLS. That is, the new healthy life style. See, not a diet. And although this is exactly the same thing we did last time, because it is a lifestyle and not a diet when we are slim and healthy again we will just continue to do it. “Yeah, sure,” I can hear you saying. But if you can’t trick yourself into believing that this is the last, last time you will have to deprive yourself of all the things you love to eat, how will you ever accomplish it?

In preparation for the NHLS we have eaten everything that we will never eat again. Well, at least not in the quantities that we would like to eat it. There’s been pizza, margaritas, all kinds of chips, dips, hot dogs, cheese, crackers, potstickers, platesful of spaghetti, just a surfeit of yummy goodies. (As an aside, truly the best potato chips ever are the Cape Cod russets.) It is amazing we have not killed ourselves getting ready.

So how’s it going? This is only day 2 but we are off to a good start. We ate lobster tails last night with snow peas and some rice. We had a little wine at cocktail time with some popcorn. We rode bikes and played tennis. Took a nap. Drank gallons of water. This NHLS is not too bad! And here’s a helpful hint for anyone who starting out on their NHLS, a pickle is like a treat that doesn’t count.