Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Trounced by technology

Carolyn J. Rose    

Don’t get me wrong. I think technology is a good thing. I don’t miss rotary dial phones, cars without power-assist steering, manual typewriters, or black-and-white TV screens the size of cake pans that offered only fuzzy pictures.

But I worry that we’ve become too dependent on slick, fast, and easy. I worry when I come across kids who can’t tell time on a clock and have to check their phones for a digital readout. I worry these same kids aren’t developing skills that could come in handy during a power outage or in the wake of a fire or hurricane. And I worry that all of us are being put in a position where there are no back-up options, where we can be held hostage by technology that should work, but doesn’t.

To explain what I’m talking about, let’s visit a restroom in a modern movie theater or restaurant or airport, a restroom where technology has been harnessed in the interests of sanitation and public health.

We find toilets that sense when you’ve completed your mission and flush themselves automatically.

Except when they don’t.

Then you face the choice of scurrying away—in a nonchalant manner, of course—or hunting for that tiny button on the wall or somewhere at the rear of the toilet. Pushing that button defeats the purpose of the auto-flush feature by exposing you to germs the feature was designed to protect you from.

And then there’s the sink and all that goes with it—the soap, water, paper towels, or hot-air hand-drying apparatus.

Now, I don’t miss those continuous rolls of linen towel that always seemed to be at the end. I don’t miss struggling to pump soap from a nearly empty well, or grappling with a faucet someone put too much force into turning off. And I don’t miss using my fingernails to try to loosen a paper towel jam, or slamming a blower knob with my hand to get it to work.

But sometimes I wish I had those options.

Recently, in an attempt to wash up, I was trounced by technology. Lulled into a false sense of security by my ability to extract soap from a wall-mounted fixture, I attempted to bring water forth by tripping the beam at the base of the faucet. I had no luck. But in the process of moving my hands and arms about, I managed to trigger the paper towel machine on the left and was gifted with two inches of brown towel.

I moved to the second sink and tried again to coax out a stream of water. No luck. But I accidentally got an inch of paper towel from the machine on my right. Back at the left-hand sink, the faucet finally coughed out an anemic stream of water. But neither towel machine would deliver even half an inch more than I’d been presented with by accident.

In disgust, I dried my hands on my shirt. As the door closed behind me, I swear I heard the paper towel dispenser and faucet laughing. Not only that, they were taunting the soap for giving in to my demands so easily.

Monday, September 18, 2017

North to Alaska

Alaska is famous for gold nuggets, but we went seeking something else golden—silence. And, after a brisk walk around the harbor, we found plenty of among the totem poles in Sitka, Alaska.

Well, okay, there were some screaming gulls, a few leaping and splashing salmon, the lick and hiss of waves on rocks, and the sift of wind in the trees. But that’s silence of the natural variety. And we had a glorious hour of it before others from the ship caught up with us.

That’s the thing about cruising on a big ship, unless you’re in your stateroom or off the beaten track of the tourist and shopping area at a port, you’re not likely to be alone. And that’s okay. It’s usually interesting to talk with others on vacation—except when those other people veer from the “Where are you from?” phase of the conversation to accusing us of being part of a conspiracy to take away their guns. That’s when we remind ourselves we’re on a cruise to relax, announce that it’s nap time, and short circuit a lose-lose discussion.

But I digress. Alaska, even the little bit of it we were seeing for a second time, is stunning. Mountains. Fjords. Glaciers. Whales. Eagles. Oh, yeah.
Hubbard Glacier

 We cruised from Seattle up the Stephens Passage to Juneau and spent a few hours in the Alaska State Libraries Archives and Museum. Highly recommended. From there we hit the city library perched on top of a parking garage at the harbor, and then made it to Hangar on the Wharf for a drink with a friend and a close-up view of float planes coming and going. 


Then it was on to Sitka and a stroll through the totem poles in the forest followed by a visit to the thrift store and a stop for coffee at a place called A Little Something recommended by our bus driver. Yum. 

Ketchikan was next and it was fun to revisit Creek Street and other areas of town. 

Salmon were making their way upstream and the sound of rushing water filled the air. And the rain held off.

Out of Ketchikan, dozens of humpback whales swam to starboard and port, making their way to warmer waters, perhaps off Hawaii. We were fortunate to see them flip their tails and surface close enough for a good long look.

  We found some creatures in our cabin, as well. A seal, a squid, a monkey, and even a dinosaur, all crafted from towels by amazing stewards Made and Hendra. Every day they turned chaos and clutter into a clean cabin. And they delivered chocolates!
Made beside his towel art monkey

  And then, sadly, it was on to Victoria and after that back to Seattle and then home again. Home to reality and its many demands, to laundry and grocery shopping and paying bills and, of course, walking the dog.

Are you happy to see us Max, or just cadging a cookie?

We saw a lot of beautiful sights on our Alaska trip, caught up with some old friends, enjoyed some wonderful meals and listened to some good music. We hope you'll be able to jump aboard ship and see the splendor of Alaska for yourself. 


Monday, July 3, 2017

Overhead Overload

Carolyn J. Rose

Confession: I’m an anxious flier.

I tend to view planes—especially jumbo models—as chunks of metal that shouldn’t be able to get off the ground, let alone cross continents and oceans. I worry that the laws of lift might change in the middle of a flight.

I worry about the specific plane I’m on. How old is it? How well maintained?

I worry about the crew. How much training and experience? How much sleep did they get last night? What’s the state of their mental health? Are they easily distracted?

I worry about the airport screening process and what might have been missed. I worry about items that could be weapons—scarves and high heels and heavy objects.

I worry about my fellow passengers. Who is angry? Whose cough is spreading disease? Who will infringe on my personal space and privacy? Who will talk my ear off or try to convert me to their religion or sell me a time share in Duluth?

I worry about whether I’ll make my connection. And I worry about whether my luggage will follow me to my destination in a timely manner.

And that leads to worrying about the weight of the luggage on board. Not so much luggage stowed in the cargo area, but the bags, backpacks, briefcases, and bundles crammed into the overhead bins.

After watching passengers shift and shove and wedge what seems like massive amounts of gear, I worry that the plane will be top heavy and tilt to one side. I worry that stuff sliding in the bins will unbalance the plane during a critical move—like that turn that comes right after takeoff. You know, the maneuver where the plane seems to stand on one wing. The maneuver where the view from the window you’re seated beside is of the ground directly below.

I wonder what’s in those sacks and cases. I wonder what’s so important that passengers have to keep it close. And I worry about a society where the words “you can’t take it with you” don’t seem to mean what they did when I was young, where storage units seem to spring up like mushrooms, and where so many of us seem to travel heavy instead of traveling light.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Ukulele Zen

By Mike Nettleton 

If I was two decades younger it might qualify as a “mid-life crisis.” But since I’m not and it isn’t, let’s just call it a geezerly quirk. Or perhaps mild lunacy.

While some manly male men might express this “phase” in their life by jettisoning the Prius for a red convertible and the comfortable life-long partner for a flashy blonde trophy muffin, I made a choice that is both more and less painful to those who love me and share living quarters with me. I decided to learn how to play the ukulele. 

 Before you smack yourself in the forehead, mumble “doh!” and dredge up memories of Tiny Tim crooning “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” you should know that the humble uke, in the hands of a master is a formidable musical instrument. Don’t believe me? Go to You Tube and enter Jake Shimabukuro. After you’re able to bring your jaw back to the full upright position after hearing him play “Bohemian Rhapsody,” enter the name Tamaine Gardner. You’ll never bad mouth ukulele players again—trust me. 

While I plunk away and learn simple songs on the uke, I hallucinate that someday I'll play even 1/10th as well as those two. Or at least not put the dog to sleep on the futon when I practice downstairs. 

 Recently, I attended a ukulele workshop out in Washougal (a Columbia Gorge community half an hour east of here) sponsored by the Friends of the Library. It was led by Aaron Canwell who in partnership with his son Micah runs a children's entertainment company called Micah and Me. Find them at www.micahandmerocks.com 

He brought a gaggle of ukuleles with him to the meeting room of the 54-40 brewery in Washougal.  Good thinking, since 35 people or so eager-to-learn players showed up and more than half of them hadn’t brought instruments.This fun strum-a-thon not only taught me some technique, it warmed the very cockles of my heart. (The cockles are right next to the left ventricle) Here’s why:

  • There were people of all ages there plunking away together—from seven to seventy and older.
  • There was a real sense of community. For those old enough to remember, it reminded me of the old folk music “hoots” where people would bring instruments and get together and sing. There was a lot of positive energy being passed around the room.
  •  People smiled, laughed and helped each other learn the different chords and songs presented by the teacher. More experienced players shared their knowledge with beginners. 
  •  Nobody even glanced at a telephone or mobile device for the best part of three hours. It was human, person to person communication. You didn’t have to click a “like” button you just had to smile at yourself and others.
Now, I’m not suggesting taking up ukulele will cure or even alleviate your ennui or induce a grin. But finding something to get involved in that puts you shoulder to shoulder with other human beings most certainly will. Give it a try. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Advice I Got in High School

Carolyn J. Rose

To pay homage to Dickens, it was the best of advice; it was the worst of advice. What teachers and adults told me when I was in high school was sometimes sound, sometimes off-the-mark, and sometimes warped by perspective and opinion.

The good advice was mostly about developing skills that would help in years ahead. Since the advice was handed out in the late 50s and early 60s, before growing concerns about self-esteem and PC, most of it came in negative form:

  • Don’t leave projects until the last minute
  • Don’t turn in sloppy work   
  • Don’t make excuses for what you didn’t do 
  • Don’t try to BS an expert
  • Don’t blame others for your faults 
  • Don’t shirk responsibility

But some of what was handed out as “good” advice veered more into the realm of opinion or personal experience:

  • You’ll never learn French because you don’t know how to suffer
  • You’re not serious enough to make it through the first semester of college
  • Don’t waste time in college learning things you won’t need to be a housewife 
  • There’s no reason to take a typing class unless you’re going to be a secretary
  • Stop complaining that you can’t take shop class and concentrate on cooking and sewing

Within a few years, women’s horizons expanded and, as a news producer facing dozens of deadlines for getting a show stacked and written, I was darn glad I’d demanded that typing class. I was also darn glad I hadn’t jettisoned my sense of humor.

If I were pressed to dish out advice to teens today, I’d spiff up the moldy oldy items from the first list. And, along with all that, I’d pass on some advice of my own:

  • Aim high
  • Feel deep
  • Plan wide
  • Try hard
  • Be kind