Thursday, May 26, 2016

Is There an App for That?

     The time: last night, about 9:30 p.m. B, the librarian, is doing something in the kitchen when she calls out to me, "Is it about time to walk the dog?"

     I am sitting comfortably in my recliner reading a book. My shoes are off. I'm getting toward the end of The Oregon Trial by Rinker Buck, who a few years ago bought three mules and a wagon and set out with his brother and his brother's terrier, Olive Oyl, to recreate a 19th-century pioneer voyage from Missouri to Oregon.

     I look up from the page, then back down, where Buck is skidding precariously down the side of a cliff in Wyoming, about to tip the wagon over into a gulch.

     "Come on, Tom," the librarian calls out again.

     I'd think a librarian would be more understanding of my need to at least finish this chapter. So, thinking myself clever, I call out to my librarian, the proud owner of a new smartphone: "Hey, isn't there an app for that?"

     Needless to say, about 30 seconds later I was off the Oregon Trail and out the door, leash in hand, taking the dog down the driveway.

     But as I walked the dog in the chilly night I began to wonder: How much has technology actually improved our lives? After all, there's no app for walking the dog.

     Okay, I could have been reading The Oregon Trail on a kindle or other electronic device. But it would have been the same story. And besides, I wasn't using my kindle. I'd gotten the book the old-fashioned way. I'd borrowed it from our local library.

     Later, getting ready for bed, I made my usual ablutions in the bathroom. And I recognized that the typical middle class bathroom has not changed a bit in my entire lifetime. The same toilet, the same toilet paper, the same faucet and sink and medicine cabinet. The style might be slightly different; but otherwise these items are no different from those found in the bathroom when I was a little kid in the 1950s.

     So how much has technology really changed out lives? How much progress have we really made?

     Granted, we carry around a smartphone and can text and email and access the internet at a moment's notice. But when we actually do make a phone call, the connection was really better on our old land line. And what do most people do with their smartphone when they're waiting in line or sitting on the bus or train? They are playing Candy Crush or Words with Friends. Other than being electronic, these games are not all that much different from the Chutes and Ladders and Scrabble we played as kids.

     My car has air bags and other safety features. But other than that, is it much different from the car I drove 50 years ago? You still fill up the gas tank at the service station, get in, start the car, and use the steering wheel to roll four petro-tires down the road at 60 mph. Well, there's one difference. There's no service at the service station. Oh, and another. The traffic is worse!

     Admittedly, when I was a teenager our car did not even have a radio. But we hung a small transistor on the little handle of the front vent window (remember those?). And boy, I recall having a lot more fun listening to The Rolling Stones belt out "Satisfaction" back in 1965 than I do today sedately listening to Sara Bareilles warbling on my fancy new XM radio.

     I don't want to sound like an old curmudgeon. I do love my laptop, and I love email, and I love google. I'm just not completely enamored with the smartphone. If only there was an app to walk the dog . . .

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Setting Our Priorities

     The theme for boomer blogging this week seems to center on how to spend your time in retirement, how to focus your energies, how to prioritize your activities. And in true form, I have saved the best for last.

     But first, Laura Lee Carter has been thinking about blogging. In How Do We Choose What to Write About? she wonders why we find some topics worth exploring while others never catch our interest. She concludes, somewhat mordantly I think, that a midlife crisis is the gift that keeps on giving.

     On the Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide, Rita R. Robison, consumer journalist, turns her attention to financial priorities. In her post Most Americans Have Financial Regrets she cites a survey showing that older people regret not starting to save soon enough for retirement, while Millennials have the most regrets about student loan debt.

     It raises the question: How much time and effort are we willing to devote to saving money, planning for the future, and organizing our financial lives? That's a question everyone has to answer for themselves, as well as a similar question: How much time do we spend to organize the rest of our lives?

     Meryl Baer of Six Decades and Counting reveals that she has attempted throughout her life to be neat and organized. She now reports that she has made some progress ... but only temporarily. It's a losing battle, she avers, and in Organized Life, Organized Body, Organized Mind? she finally admits that she is now willing to accept the consequences of a messy lifestyle.

     All I know is that there are two kinds of people in the world. The messy ones. And the people who are married to them.

     Anyway, speaking of time -- and time wasters -- according to Carol Cassara at Heart-Mind-Soul, everyone loves those quizzes that periodically make the rounds on Facebook. In her post My Baby Boomer Test she offers one of her own.

     Okay I admit it, I'm a sucker. I took the test and scored "Your memory is a bit lacking -- you might have smoked too much weed back then." I deny smoking too much weed back then -- I smoked a little, but not so much that it friend my brain. However, I also confess that age has done what weed did not, and I now admit to a memory that sometimes skips and falters.

     Still, as I said, I'm a sucker for quizzes. If you share my weakness you can try several of them over in the right-hand column of this blog, including my own Are You a Baby Boomer?

     But if you want to make more serious use of your time you might be inspired by Kathy Gottberg, who has gone on a real vacation which includes a mini-vacation from her blog. In her absence she has signed up guest Lizzie Lau to fill in for her. Gottberg introduces Lau as a part-time resident of La Quinta, CA, who knows how to live the “rightsized” life. This week’s post The Costa Rica Version of Rightsizing presents us with the concept of “pura vida” which is a vibe, an approach to life, a way to show gratitude.

     If you want more of Lizzie, you can find the self-described former adrenaline junkie and ex-skydiver blogging on the Lizzielau website.

     Finally, some of you might recall a post I did in March called You've Got a Friend, in which I featured the Happiness Project, a startup that aims to provide emotional support for everyday people, from everyday people, all by way of telephone. The project is now dedicating itself to recruiting "happiness givers" -- compassionate listeners who want to make other people happy, and earn a little income in the process.

     Anyone who thinks they fit that description can arrange an interview with the project. The top 100 candidates will comprise the project's foundational group of happiness givers. If you're interested, click over to Happy the App and sign up for an interview. Who knows ... you might just be happy you did. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Harbinger of Summer

     I was in the grocery store yesterday and saw my first container of blueberries. The blueberry season is upon us, and it brings back memories.

     I remember when I was a kid, for several years our family rented a cabin on Crystal Lake in New Hampshire. We'd go in July for two weeks. My older brother set a goal of swimming across the lake, about three miles, and by the end of our first summer he made it, with my dad and me accompanying him in a rowboat.

     I also remember picking off the blood suckers that would sometimes attach themselves to our arms and legs, and private parts too, like the scene in Stand By Me. I also recall that each time we went to New Hampshire we'd spend a day or two scrambling over the rocks and scratching through the bushes to pick blueberries, which we gorged on until our tongues turned blue. Then my mother, who was not a particularly enthusiastic cook, was nevertheless inspired to bake blueberry muffins, make blueberry pancakes, and cook up a shelf full of blueberry pies.

     In New Hampshire the blueberry season comes in July and August. But these days Georgia produces more blueberries than new Hampshire ever did, and so the blueberry season begins in May. After that, blueberries start coming in from Oregon and Washington, Maryland and Michigan. Surprisingly, New Jersey is a big producer of blueberries, and Hammonton, NJ, makes a claim to be the "blueberry capital of the world."

     My parents lived relatively long and healthy lives -- my mother died at age 89, my dad at 91 -- and if I ever make it past 90, I will attribute it to all those blueberries I ate as a kid, and still consume as an adult. I don't know what it is -- maybe it brings me back to my youth? -- but I love blueberries. I eat them plain, or in a bowl with milk. I sprinkle them on vanilla ice cream, and pretty much every morning from May through August I top off my cereal with a few tablespoons of blueberries.

     Blueberries are credited with containing lots of antioxidants, including a class of flavonoids known as anthocyanins, which are responsible for giving foods like blueberries (as well as cranberries, red cabbage and eggplant) their purple, bluish color. All these foods are associated with lower rates of cancer, diabetes and heart disease. According to a recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health, regular consumption of anthocyanins can reduce the risk of heart attack by 32% in young and middle-aged women.

     Another study from the University of Cincinnati suggests that blueberries also help improve memory and brain function in older adults. Researchers monitored 47 Americans over age 68 who had shown minor cognitive impairment. Participants in the study were given either dried blueberry powder, or a placebo, every day. The people who took the blueberry extract saw their memory improve, performing better on tests asking them to retrieve words and concepts. The improvements were confirmed in MRI brain scans that showed more intense brain activity in the blueberry group compared to the placebo group.

     Of course, we all know that sometimes researchers and the media exaggerate the health benefits of various foods. But get this: Blueberries have been shown to prevent skin damage caused by the sun, pollution and smoke. In other words, blueberries prevent wrinkles and improve your skin tone.

     Regardless of whether all this is true or not . . . blueberries sure do taste good, and for me at least, are a welcome harbinger of summer.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Does a Smartphone Make You Smart?

     B finally got a smartphone yesterday. She spent about an hour on the (land line) phone with Verizon setting it up. This exercise made me appreciate two things about my lovely partner. First, I wasn't aware that she commanded such an extensive vocabulary of four letter words.

     However, I'm not so sure of her aptitude in biology. I'm pretty sure that a few of the things she was suggesting, quite urgently and vociferously, are illegal in some states. Others are just downright anatomically impossible. For example, a head is way to large to fit ... up there.

     However, she persevered and is now a member of the smartphone-carrying public. I have to admire her persistence. I also have to give credit to the woman on the other end of the phone. Whatever you say about Verizon, it has good, level-headed, patient phone representatives.

     I don't want to brag, but I've had a smartphone for several years now. My only problem is that I thought a smartphone would make me smart. Instead, it seems, you have to be smart to use a smartphone. And I'm not so smart.

     For example, I do use my smartphone to make telephone calls. But I have to admit, I like our land line better. You get a better connection and can actually understand what the other person is saying. I hope that, whoever is elected president this year, they keep that red phone connected to a land line, rather than switching to over to a smartphone. Otherwise, the new president might call up Putin and say, "Obama is gone!" And Putin will think he or she said, "We're dropping the bomb!"

     I also sometimes use my smartphone to take pictures. But I much prefer my Canon digital camera. True, it's yet another thing to carry around. But I find it's easier to use, has more features, and takes clearer, brighter photographs.

     Of course, the big benefit of a smartphone is that you can access the internet. So you're in the car, or out to dinner, and someone mentions Muldova, and quick ... you can look up and see exactly what and where Muldova is. But again, I personally find that behavior kind of superfluous ... people constantly interrupting a pleasant conversation to check their smartphone to answer a trivia question. When I access the internet, it's usually in the service of an article or email or something like that and I use my desktop or my laptop to google whatever it is I need to know.

     I have used my smartphone to download and listen to podcasts. But I just don't have the time to do a lot of that. I do use the smartphone to text -- not because I'm particularly fond of texting, but because it's pretty much the only way my Millennial children will talk to me. But, actually, B could text on her old phone. You don't need a smartphone to text.

     I also have a problem keeping my phone charged; and I don't always carry it with me. I simply have not developed the lifestyle where a smartphone is attached to my body all the time. As I tell my kids: if they text me or leave me a message on my smartphone, I guarantee a 48-hour turnaround.

     They smile at me indulgently when I say this, confirming in their minds that they are cool, hip Millennials and I'm just an old fogey baby boomer. That's okay with me. It makes them feel good, and as their father I like to help my kids feel good.

     Anyway, B and I went to dinner last night. We both ordered a salad. I asked her, casually, peering over my menu, "What's the difference between ice cream and gelato?" A minute later I looked up again. There she was on her smartphone ... ready with the answer.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Are We Making Progress?

     Into every retiree's life comes a little decluttering. As I mentioned in my April 29 post, we have put our house on the market with the idea of moving on to smaller digs and perhaps sunnier climes. The real-estate market must be pretty hot these days, because we've already received a solid offer.

     That's good news, right? Except now we're in a panic. Did we really mean to do this? Where are we going to relocate? Everything is moving too fast for us old stick-in-the-muds.

     But we have started to pack. Here's what our basement used to look like:

From this

     And this is what it looks like this morning:

To this

     Tell me we've made some progress, please. Here's a view of my so-called tool room from a few weeks ago:

From this

     And this is what it looks like now. We've made some headway, don't you think? Although, as you can see, for some reason we've still got a baby gate from 20-odd years ago.

To this

     I might show you pictures of the upstairs, except B won't let me because she says it's too messy. Um ... I'm not sure I'll ever be able to show a picture of the upstairs, because I have a feeling it's always too messy.

To this
From this
     On another completely different subject, did you hear that they want to change the name of Budweiser beer? They're renaming it America. Does that seem as boneheaded a move to you as it does to me and B? They've been building this brand for a century, and now they're going to throw it all away?

     On the other hand, maybe it's just a plot by the great public-relations/media/advertising complex to get us talking about the product. And we are talking about it. The way they got us talking about Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. But ... are we really making progress?