Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Chocolate Teapots

Yes, I know this is the last day of 2014.  Yes, I realize people are generally writing 'Year in Review' posts, or 'My Resolutions' posts.  But this is Teapot Musings, so I'm writing about teapots.  Specifically, chocolate teapots.

You see - not long ago, a friend of mine mentioned the phrase "as useful as a chocolate teapot".  It was not a phrase I'd ever heard before, but I couldn't even consider the phrase as a whole, I was stuck on the notion of a chocolate teapot.  Wow.  Just imagine.  A Chocolate  Teapot.  Kind of takes your breath away, doesn't it!

But as I considered the phrase, I realized that it wasn't intended to be a good thing.  As I thought about it, I realized the phrase was most likely intended to describe something that was worthless.

So once I caught my breath, I decided to look into this a bit further.  It appears that the phrase originated in the United Kingdom -- which is not a surprise.  The UK is the home of many teapots, as well as many teas.  To begin with, the phrase referred to a useless or pointless item.  However, over time, it was used in the military as an insult to describe someone who was clumsy and accident prone.

Back in 2001, some group ( decided to have a bit of fun and test just how useful a chocolate teapot might be.  They pretended to set up their experiment in a very scientific manner and included lots of measurements and photos in their report.  They concluded that not only was a chocolate teapot of no use with regard to tea brewing, but it provided an "excellent baseline of uselessness against which to compare other, similarly dysfunctional items."

So while I now had my breath back, I was very sad.  There's not much that I enjoy more than a good cup of tea, but I also enjoy chocolate, and I'd always considered chocolate and tea to be an outstanding combination.  And now, someone was putting chocolate and tea in the same category as useless and dysfunctional.

But AHA!!!!  Vindication!!

The 2001 report was meant as a joke, in the same category as the study of just how dead is a doornail, or the study of woodchucks eating wood.  But a few months ago, a group of scientists and engineers did a real test with a real chocolate teapot, and concluded that if you  put in the tea and add boiling water, and just let everything sit for two minutes while the tea brews, you can indeed brew tea in a chocolate teapot.  You see, while the inner layer of chocolate melts, it actually serves to insulate the rest of the chocolate from damage from the boiling water.

So what does all of this mean?  Well, it means a few things.  First, don't assume that something is useless, until you've given it a test - a fair and proper test.  Next, we could all use a bit of insulation against the bad and harmful things out there.  And finally, chocolate can be a good insulator.

So with the old year winding down, and the new year approaching, and the weather outside being a typical cold New Year's Eve day, I think I'll make a cup of tea, and perhaps enjoy a bit of chocolate with it as well.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Vote Letter

Today is the first Tuesday in November, also known as election day.  We learn from a very young age that the right to vote is a very important right, and one that we should cherish.  People have fought for this right - they've fought hard, and it's something that shouldn't be taken for granted.
In 1870,  Congress passed the 15th Amendment to the US Constitution, providing that one could not be denied the right to vote, based on color or race.
In 1920, Congress passed the 23rd Amendment to the US Constitution, providing that one could not be denied the right to vote, based on sex.
Women  in Europe began to acquire the right to vote  in the early - mid 1900s,  but it didn't happen quickly, it didn't happen all at once.  Women in France couldn't vote until 1944; women in Switzerland couldn't vote until 1971.

Note that we are talking about the RIGHT to vote, not the OBLIGATION to vote.  For those who aren't clear on the distinction, an obligation is something you MUST do; a right is something you CAN do - but you don't have to do.

Over the past week or so, I've been seeing a growing number of reports of a letter being received by registered voters in a number of states.   For simplicity, I'll call it the Vote letter.  The last time I checked, some registered voters in at least parts of Virginia, North Carolina, New York and Alabama have received this letter.

In case you haven't heard about it, I'll explain.  The Vote letter tells the recipient that their voting record is public.  In some cases, the letter even lists the voting history of the recipient.  But it's not the history of their actual votes, merely the history of when they appeared at a polling location and either received/turned in a ballot, or completed a transaction at a polling machine, or submitted an absentee voter ballot.

So what? you say.  And you're right.  I think that most of us are aware that whether or not we show up to vote is public record.  The letter isn't saying anything that hasn't been true for many years.

The letter then goes on to say something to the effect of  'If you don't vote, we'd like to know why.'

Again, so what?  I would expect that every single politician would like to know why people who didn't vote.. didn't vote.  Over the years, laws have been put in place requiring employers to give employees time off to vote, and I would imagine we're all in support of the programs that provide transportation to those who have transportation issues.  The only reason why those laws and programs are in effect, is because someone figured out that some people who wanted to vote, weren't able to get to the polling areas because of their work schedule, and some people who wanted to vote had transportation or mobility issues and needed assistance to get to the polls.

So there's nothing wrong with the Vote letter.


The tone of the Vote letter could be viewed as somewhat threatening, especially if you didn't realize that anyone could find out who voted.  Perhaps whoever wrote the letter should have said something like - 'as everyone knows, cities and towns keep records of who votes.'  Maybe the letter should have emphasized that HOW you vote, is private. Maybe the letter should have said 'if you don't vote but you would like to, we'd like to know why'.  It could even say something like - 'we would like to encourage everyone to vote, and if you choose not to vote, we would be interested in hearing why you made that choice'.

I always show up on election day -- that's no secret, you can check the town records.  I show up, not because I have to, but because I want to.  But I'll be honest with you, I don't always vote for every office or position that is on the ballot; I don't always vote on every issue that is on the ballot.  There are a variety of reasons -- but none of them matter here.  For that matter, the fact that I show up doesn't matter; the right to vote includes the right to not vote.

Having said that, I like the idea of political parties and other entities encouraging people to vote.  But come on, you have to be smart about it.  I'm no happier with the idea of people showing up out of fear, than I am with the idea of people staying away from the polls out of fear.  What could/should have been a positive, educational, encouraging communication, has ended up sounding like a threat.  I'm even seeing reports of people announcing that - although they were going to vote, now they're not going to.... Although I fail to see whatever point they're trying to make.

No, this is not a case of Big Brother watching you, it's just a matter of poor choice of words.

I hope you either voted today, or you made a specific decision to not vote.   You don't have to exercise your right to vote, but I hope you appreciate your right to vote.

And of course you don't have to drink tea.  But if you don't mind, I will.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The importance of dates

Dates are not one of the most common or popular fruits, but perhaps they should be.  They're loaded with vitamins and minerals, they're low in fat and high in protein and fiber.  They aid in digestion, they improve heart health, and they're rich in antioxidents.  But mostly, they have this wonderful sweetness to them.  It feels like you're eating candy, except it's healthier.

Every now and then.. you get a hankering for a certain food.  That happened to me last week, and I brought home a small container of dates.  As I unpacked the groceries, hubby noticed the dates and his eyes lit up. (Well, not literally - it's not as if he's a jack-o-lantern... I just mean he looked happy)  "I've been thinking about dates," he said.  "I'm glad you got them."  Hmmm... maybe it's something in the air.

Dates are used for lots of purposes... they're eaten plain, dried, chopped, used in cooking, added to salads, and used to make syrup, vinegar, and even alcohol.   In Spain, they're traditionally stuffed with almonds, wrapped in bacon, and then shallow fried.  In some parts of the world, they make a thick viscous syrup from dates and use it to coat leather bags to prevent leaking.  Hmmmm --  I think I'll still stick to eating them plain.
But the bottom line is that this little piece of fruit packs a tremendous amount of nutritional value, and is something that all of us should consider adding to our diets.

Oh? What's that you say?  You didn't think I meant that kind of date?
Ahh, I see your point. 
Well, I don't like to disappoint, so I'll shift gears.

Dates are a very important form of socializing.  Although I've been married over 30 years  (and have therefore not gone on a date in a very long time), I always like to hear about my nieces and nephews going on dates - especially when they first start dating.  It's exciting, it's scary, it's wonderful, it's torture... all at the same time!  It's a wonderful opportunity to learn how to interact with people in a setting that's not family, and that's not a large group.  

Dating came about around the early 1700s.  Arranged marriages were out, courtship and dating were in.  But at least today, dating is far more than finding a suitable mate, dating is often an informal social activity which can lead to platonic friendships.

Well, there you go.  Dating might not be my usual sort of topic for Teapot Musings, but you asked for it, so there you are.

And now, to my tea.

What?  You say that's STILL not what you expected?
You thought I was going to talk about calendar dates?  Well that's a bit silly, isn't it.  In the past I've  posted some things about specific dates  (Middle Child DayHot Tea MonthMother's Day), and I've previously posted that It's just a date, pointing out why the specific date doesn't matter.  I assumed you'd had enough of that.  But hey, if that's what you want, that's what you'll get.  

Today, October 24th, is National Bologna Day.  

Nope, not very important.  But I hope you're happy.

And finally, my tea.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The value of an opinion

We all know that part of the value of an opinion lies in the holder of that opinion.   After all, if your tone-deaf neighbor loves your singing - well, that really says nothing about your singing, and only says a little about your neighbor.  Your neighbor might just be trying to be polite, or maybe your neighbor does love your singing.  As for your singing -- who knows?  It might be absolutely horrible, breathtakingly beautiful, or anything in between.  And frankly, it wouldn't be any different if your tone-deaf neighbor hated your singing.

So that's the unskilled opinion-holder, the opinion holder with no ability.  These opinion holders may be wonderful people, and their opinion might have value in that it makes you feel good, but they will never be able to render a truly valuable opinion on the topic at hand.

Then you have your biased opinion holders.  Your mother loves absolutely everything you wear, while your ex-boyfriend thinks you may as well put on an old potato sack, because nothing you wear looks good. And in all likelihood, the truth is somewhere in between.  While it may be true that beauty (and lack of beauty) is in the eyes of the beholder, that doesn't do much good when you're trying to determine whether or not that dress really does make you look fat - or fabulous.

By definition, if you are seeking someone's opinion, the issue is subjective.  I don't need your opinion to know whether I'm taller than my sister, I just need a tape measure.  I don't need your opinion to know if I weigh more now than I did a year ago, I just need a scale.  These aren't opinions, they are facts.

And of course there are many things that are hybrids.  Is Tiger Woods a better golfer than I am?  Absolutely.  That's not an opinion, it's not subjective, it's a fact.  But is Tiger a better golfer than Rory McIlroy?   That depends... which year, which particular game, and what criteria are you using to determine 'better'?  There's your hybrid situation.

But let's get back to the purely subjective.  For any book that you like, song that you like, even food that you like, you can be certain that - somewhere out there, there's someone who does not like it.  And vice versa.

So how do you determine the value of an opinion on something that's truly just a matter of opinion? You look at your opinion-holder, of course  (which is the same as saying 'consider the source').. and you gather opinions from multiple sources.    And you try to weed out the unskilled, and the biased.  And sometimes... just sometimes...  the opinion holder  has an opinion that does not match their previous history of opinions on similar issues.  This - THIS - is an opinion with tremendous value.  And it's not just this stray, 'contrary-to-previous-opinions' opinion that suddenly has value....  This contrary opinion renders value to ALL previous opinions of that opinion holder.. this opinion holder is not as biased as you might have believed.

Yes, I know.  Your mother always told you 'if you can't say something nice, then don't say anything at all'.  But sometimes, saying something that is less than nice, can be the nicest gift of all.

I know that there are many out there who like Lipton, or Twinings, or PG Tips, but in my opinion, the best tea is Typhoo.  Of course, I also like Bewleys a lot, which adds value to my opinion about Typhoo. Having said that, I think I'll have a cup of tea -- no, make that two.. one of Typhoo, and one of Bewleys -- while I consider which one I like better.  Or at least which one I like better, today.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Knowing when to apologize

Some people just don't get it.

By now I would have thought that we were all aware of the importance of taking a moment to consider, before posting something to our Facebook page.  But apparently, I'm wrong.  

Recently, a woman who has not only written books, but actually has a publisher, posted something on her FB page.  An everyday occurrence.  Authors often take advantage of FB and other social media to communicate with their fans and promote their books.  But what she posted -- well, while it communicated with her fans, it certainly did not promote her books.  This author posted something to the effect of  
Hey, quit bothering me with stupid questions.  I don't have time to tell you the order of my books, or when my next one is coming out.  I have more important things to do.
Yes, I'm paraphrasing, but she truly did use the phrase 'stupid questions'.

As you might imagine, quite a firestorm erupted, with people pointing out things such as the fact that the requested information did not appear on her website, and that as an author she should be nice to her fans and potential fans.  And in an ideal world, Ms. Author would have made changes to her website, and perhaps made a note to herself to be a bit more positive in her FB postings, and maybe even apologized.  At a minimum, Ms. Author should have just let the matter drop.  

But she didn't.

She responded to those who said she should be nice, and told them that she didn't have to be nice because she was a good author, and then they got nasty, and she got nasty, and they got nastier, and she got nastier.... and among other things, there seemed to be a growing number of people who said 'I've never read your books before, but after this, I'm not going to.'


Not long after, Ms. Author put up a new post on her FB page.  She said her publisher had told her to remove that earlier post that began with her telling people to quit bothering her with stupid questions. I'm pretty sure she called that post an Apology... but I might be wrong.  Whether she called it an apology or not, it most certainly was not.  Instead, Ms. Author went on at length about how unfair it was that she wasn't allowed to vent .. and how unfair it was that people wouldn't buy her books if they didn't like what she said. People who knew her, knew that she was nice and it wasn't her fault that people were stupid and didn't realize how precious her time was and how important it was that she be free from distractions so she could write more books.  And yes, she truly did say 'stupid questions' and 'stupid people'.

Double ouch.

And....  as you might imagine, that post turned into a nasty mess of name calling, until her publisher insisted she take down that post as well.  (Which is why I can't be certain she called the second post an apology.)

Now this is not someone who I follow.  I heard about the initial post from someone else, and decided to check it out. I had never heard of Ms. Author before, and I've never read anything she's written.  And after reading her initial post and her responses, and then her follow-up post and her responses, I don't intend to read anything she's written.  

Perhaps Ms. Author thought that making a scene would get her a lot of attention, and that attention would result in people becoming curious and buying her books.  But I'm pretty sure that's not what she accomplished.  You see, there is such a thing as bad publicity.  And while I don't take the view that an author has an obligation to 'connect' with the reading public, I do think that if an author chooses to be 'out there', they need to show a modicum of  respect to their readers and potential readers.  And from the responses she received to her posts, there are a lot of people who feel the way that I do.

It's unfortunate.  We all have bad days... and I suspect the initial post was not a planned marketing strategy, but was merely the consequence of a bad day.  Had Ms. Author then apologized,  and moved on, I suspect she might have actually acquired some additional readers.  But she didn't know when to apologize.  

While (unsuccessfully) looking for some images for this post, I found the following quote:
Apologizing does not always mean that you're wrong.  It just means that you value your relationship more than your ego. * It's very easy to become defensive, but it's more important to know when to apologize.  And it's equally important to think about those Facebook posts before you hit the 'enter' key.

And of course it's most important to not let the kettle boil dry.  So I'm off for a cup of tea, and perhaps a good book.  But not one written by Ms. Author.

*My apologies to the author of this quote... I found the quote in a lot of different locations, but was never able to determine who the author was, to give credit.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Cupboards, Cabinets and Closets

I was talking to someone recently, and the word 'cupboard' was used.  This wasn't a big deal, as cupboard is one of those words that many people use.  But it was suggested to me that the distinction between cupboards and cabinets was a regional one...  with those of a British background being more likely to use 'cupboard', while the word 'cabinet' was the more common word in the U.S.

Hmmm...  That came as a surprise to me, so I decided to look it up - and of course share my findings!

My initial search for 'cupboard' revealed that there is a kitchen store in Fort Collins known as The Cupboard.  I found this amusing because ...  well, the person I was talking to will know why it was amusing, and I'll just leave the rest of you guessing!!!

Continuing my search, I found that a cupboard is a closet with doors on the front, and shelves inside.
But wait -- I found something else that said a cupboard is a piece of furniture and a cabinet is more like a closet.
So -- is a cupboard a closet, or is a cabinet a closet?

Oh dear... now I have to look up cupboards, cabinets AND closets!  Well at least they're near each other alphabetically, although it turns out that they're near each other in meaning, as well.  Digging a bit deeper, I found the following:

Cabinets are typically considered general-purpose storage, while cupboards are more for food and dishes.  

All right, that makes sense to me.  Except that now I see that:

A cupboard is the more general-purpose receptacle, whereas a cabinet is more specific (e.g. medicine cabinet)

So -- is a cabinet general purpose, or is a cupboard general purpose???

Well.  This is getting worse and worse.  I decided that perhaps I needed to attack this from a different angle, so I decided to explore this from the regional/US/British standpoint.  And I found an article online that discussed British and American English... and focused on the words 'cupboards' and 'closets'.  Just what I was looking for... surely there will be answers here.

Sadly, this wasn't very helpful, as the article mostly talked about closets - which in England were initially private rooms, and then morphed into small rooms...  and so you have water closets (ie bathrooms).. and besides, the British most commonly used wardrobes to hang their clothes, and so closets are rarely discussed.. and then of course you have broom cupboards and broom closets, which are the same thing.. which gets me absolutely nowhere.

So I checked out Wikipedia... and according to whoever wrote the page I was looking at (you do know that those are mostly ordinary people, right?  They're not experts or anything) said that originally cupboards were open shelved storage cabinets, but now the word refers to a closed piece of furniture.

Ok...  so a cupboard is a type of cabinet....  what does Wiki say a cabinet is?
According to Wiki, a cabinet is a body of high-ranking officials.
Actually, this makes more sense than anything else I've read today.  Let's call the governmental bodies Cabinets.  At a quick count, there are over 100 countries that have a Cabinet as part of their government.

All right.. We've got that settled... now, what about Closets?  Oops... Wiki says closets are cabinets or cupboards.
And I'm back where I started.

So, just for the record...  anytime I use the word Closet.. I mean the thing with a rod where I hang my clothes.

A Cabinet is a governmental body.

And of course the Cupboard is where I keep my tea!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Taking the time to send a note

We all know that we're supposed to say thank you when we get presents.  Depending on the circumstances, a verbal 'Thank you' might be appropriate... at other times a written thank you might be called for.  Not only does the thank you reflect your appreciation of the gift, but it lets the sender know that the gift was received.
In the old days, we labored over thank you cards, trying to think of something different and unique to say to each sender; today, thank you's are just as likely to arrive by email, as by post office delivery. There are some who insist that an emailed thank you is rude, but frankly I love receiving little emails from nieces and nephews, recent newlyweds, new parents, etc.  The email doesn't take much effort, and I like the idea that for at least a moment, the person was thinking about me as they typed the email, and then hit Send.   So -- for me - an email is more than enough.

.. which is why I was so touched the other day, to receive a note from one of my neighbors.

You see - when we moved into our house, nearly two decades ago, the lawn was beautifully manicured, and the property was full of large, mature trees.  There were evergreens, and oak trees, and even a few birch trees. Unfortunately, these large mature trees continued to grow, as trees often do... and we found ourselves with nary a ray of sunshine coming through our windows, and even our roof was growing mold from a lack of sunshine.  So a couple years ago we had a vast number of trees cut down.  This increased our sunshine factor, but did nothing for the look of the house.  Yet none of the neighbors complained, and when we'd apologize, they'd politely respond that they knew it was a lengthy process.

(where IS Laurie going with this, you wonder.... have patience... it's a hot Friday afternoon.  Have a sip of iced tea and relax a moment, while I get to my point.)

This year, we finally had all the old stumps removed, we did some major landscaping, we built a couple of stone walls -- well, you get the idea -- and at last, we felt like we were no longer the neighborhood eyesore that we had been.  Yessiree, we were feeling pretty darned pleased with ourselves.

And then the other day, we received a notecard in the mail.

Not a postcard, not a folded slip of paper -- although those would have been fine - but a notecard.  The notecard was from a neighbor.  The message was brief...just a sentence or two... they just wanted to let us know how much they liked the work we'd done on the house, and how wonderful it looked.

Wow.  We'd been feeling pretty good anyway.  But the fact that a neighbor noticed... well, that was silly, of course the neighbors had noticed.. the work was fairly extensive.  But the fact that a neighbor took it upon themselves to write us a little note and leave it in our mailbox...  Well.  That was really something, and it made us feel REALLY good.

Sometimes I think it's pretty easy to focus on the effort it takes for us to do things, and we don't think about the impact that even just a little bit of effort can have on someone else.  And it's ok for the effort to indeed be 'just a little bit'... it doesn't have to take a huge amount of effort in order for it to count.

Just like tea.  It doesn't have to take a huge amount of effort to make a really good cup of tea.  Even just a small effort is well worth the result.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Happy Middle Child Day...

....   a day late!

Yesterday (August 12) was National Middle Child Day... and I missed it.  I'm one of three children, and I'm not the middle child, so by definition one of my siblings is.  And I'm afraid I didn't call, or send a card, or even an email.

But that's not because I didn't care, it's merely that I didn't realize it was National Middle Child Day. That designation did not appear on any of my calendars, I didn't see any adds on TV, and I didn't see any special sections in the card aisle at the drugstore.

Today -- the day after National Middle Child Day -- I'm seeing all sorts of postings that people have ignored Middle Child Day, just as they ignore middle children.

Wait -- WHAT???

Talk about being ignored -- there is no such thing as an Oldest Child Day... or a Youngest Child Day. And what of the families with more than 3 children??? Are they considered to have multiple middle children?  Well as it happens, this situation is covered by Siblings Day - which is April 10.

Oh.  Darn.  Siblings Day.   Looks like I missed that one as well.  But so did my siblings, so I guess that's ok.

And before you ask .. I looked it up, and yes, there is an Only Child Day.  Only Child Day is April 12, and I guess you have to count on your parents to remember that one.

I've commented on this before -- I'm not sure who establishes all of these different day, or why, or even how...and with regard to National Middle Child's Day I wasn't even able to determine when it was established.  And as long as people don't take them seriously, I guess it doesn't matter.

But just in case it does matter, I noticed that today is International Left-Handers' Day.  And it just so happens that both of my siblings are lefties.. so to the two of you (you know who you are!)... and to all other lefties out there -- I say.......uhm.....   Happy International Left-Handers' Day!

Whew... having dodged that bullet, I think it's time for a cup of tea!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The demise of the toot-toot?

When I was a child, my siblings and I always looked forward to the
end of the roll of toilet paper.  At the end of the roll .. or more accurately inside the roll, was the wonderful thing we called a toot-toot. This cardboard tube was the perfect size for small hands.  You could hold it up to your mouth and say 'toot-toot'... not only did it sound all cool and echo-y, but you could feel the vibration of the tube in your hand.

Don't get me wrong, we had plenty of books, and toys and things to play with... this isn't one of those 'we were so poor that ...' stories, it was just that we saw tremendous potential in that little cardboard tube. You might think that the tubes inside rolls of paper towels would be even better -- but they came in a distant second in our minds.  There was just something magical about the short little tube from the rolls of toilet paper.

And apparently we weren't unique in our fascination with this item.  A quick search online comes up with "101 Things to do With Toilet Paper Rolls", "Cool Kids Crafts you can make from Toilet Paper Tubes", "17 Ideas for Recycling Toilet Paper Rolls"... you get the idea.  And while my memories of the toot-toot go back 50 years or so, these websites and blog posts I've listed are recent, and the projects range from arts and crafts projects for kids, to more complex arts and crafts projects for adults, to utilitarian organizational projects.

So when I saw a commercial a couple days ago advertising toilet paper rolls without the cardboard tube...

well, I wasn't devastated, but I was indeed a little sad.

But I didn't really catch the whole commercial, I wasn't even sure what brand was being advertised --- perhaps I'd misheard.  So of course I went online to find out what was going on.

And to my surprise, I discovered that this news was first announced  in 2010.. nearly 4 years ago!   So why would someone want to take away this wonderful little item?  When the company first made their announcement, they were asked that very question, and the response was that "The tube doesn't really serve any consumer purpose."  Really?  Were you not aware of those websites and blog posts talking about all the things that a toilet paper tube could be use for?  But as I explored a bit further, I discovered the justification that tubeless toilet paper rolls are environmentally friendly.

Oh.  Well, that's a good reason.

But wait.  In the almost-four years since the first tubeless toilet paper rolls came out... No Other Company has shifted to tubeless toilet paper rolls.  Not the name brand companies, not the generic toilet paper companies.  And think about it...  those tubes are cardboard.  Have you ever taken one of them apart?  They're pretty biodegradable.

I'm not sure why this is the first I've heard of this, but I do find it telling that no one else has jumped on the bandwagon.  For the moment, it would appear that the toot-toot is safe.

Whew.. one more tragedy averted.  That certainly warrants a cup of tea!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Thoughts on Bookstores

A little over a year ago, I blogged about bookstores in On Libraries and Bookstores.  I expressed sadness at the fact that Barnes and Noble had announced a long range plan of a significant number of store closings... but I also said I could understand.  I go into the my local library, and I see that the computer section is getting larger and larger, as is the video game section, the movie section, and the music section.  I've never used a computer at the library, nor have I rented a video or a movie..  but I'm delighted to see these sections. The computer section was enlarged because there was a growing demand for access, and the video and movie sections always have a lot of people using them.  The library still has a lot of books, and continues to add to the collection on a regular basis, but it's important to add these other sections, to keep the library alive.

Yes, yes, I know.  The title of this post is Thoughts on Bookstores, not Thoughts on Libraries... I'm getting to it.

Over the years, Barnes and Noble and other major bookstores, have taken action similar to what my library is doing...  you can buy games, toys, music, videos, and even coffee and pastries at many bookstores.  But clearly, that's not enough.  After all, if I want to buy games and toys, there are specialty stores I could go to.
Similarly, there are store devoted to music and videos, and coffee.  In a sense, for big bookstores to try to sell these non-book items only increases the number of stores they're competing with.    

But I've already posted about the big bookstores.. so why am I writing about this now?

Last week, a friend told me she had bought a small independent bookstore.  She's still keeping her regular job; she sees this as a hobby for the moment, and ultimately something to do in her retirement.  I enthusiastically congratulated her, and wished her well --- I sincerely wish her well, but I'm a bit dubious.  I don't know any of her specific plans, other than the location and the new name.  I will acknowledge that she's in a good area for a bookstore.  And perhaps her plans include some unique and different things that will attract people away from the library, and from online stores, and into her bookstore.  But again, I'm dubious.

You see, not long before this friend told me about her acquisition, Michael Holley put up the following blog post Patterson Beats His Bookshop Drum.  It's not long, and it's worth reading.  Michael - like me - likes bookstores,  has many fond memories of bookstores, and regrets their demise.  But he points out that - if bookstores want to survive, they need to change.  And they need to get creative about it.  And I think he's right.  I also think that the small, local, independent bookstores have a better chance at surviving, than the large one-size-fits-all bookstores.

So while I'm dubious about my friend's new venture, she does have an advantage over a place like Barnes and Noble.  As the owner of an independent bookstore, she can make decisions and implement new measures far easier and far faster than a big corporation.  And perhaps that's the secret, and perhaps it will lead to her success.  She's got a tough road ahead of her.  Not only can she not match the prices of online book sources, but she can't even match the prices of big corporate-owned bookstores.  However there are things she can do...  perhaps she'll have a special section for local authors, or for books set in this region... or something else that the big chain bookstores can't do.  There's something to be said for having specific customers in mind, and catering to them.

Hmmm..  I wonder if she serves tea in her bookstore?  Probably not.  But that's ok, because I have plenty of tea at home.  Yes, it's hot outside, that's all the more reason to drink a cup of hot tea.  Confused?  That's ok... I'll explain it a little later.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The importance of asking the right question

I've just finished reading a Neil Gaiman book - The Ocean at the End of the Lane.  It's a bit different and offbeat... although perhaps that's the same thing as saying 'it's a Neil Gaiman book'.  In any event, the main character said something that really has me thinking.

In part of the story, the main character is a child.  He's speaking to someone, and begins to think she must be older than he thought, so he asks her "How old are you?"  And she replies "Eleven".  Now, initially, he'd assumed she was about eleven, but as I said, some things had happened that made him think she must be older than that.  He considers her response for a moment, and then asks "And how long have you been eleven?"

Wow.  Now that's a question.  A good question.  And a terrific lesson.

You have to ask the right question, if you want the right answer.

This isn't anything new.  I've annoyed more than a few people over the years, because if someone asks me if I know what time it is, I typically say 'yes'.  If you want me to tell you what time it is, you need to ask me what time it is.  When people get annoyed, I point out that I answered the question they asked.

Then I got to thinking.... what would Siri do?  Well, interestingly enough, when I asked Siri if she knew what time it was, she told me the time.  Hmmm... a bit disappointing, actually.  You see -- I already knew what time it was... I just wondered if she knew.  In this case, I asked the right question, but Siri answered the question she thought I intended.

So maybe the problem is that people don't necessarily answer the question you asked, instead they answer the question they thought you should have asked.

Kind of feels like a chicken and an egg sort of problem.  Which came first, the bad question, or the bad answer? While I don't know the answer to that question,  I do know that I just received a new shipment of tea... and I always think better after having a cup of tea.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Oh deer

I live out in the country.. and I like it out here.  There are a lot of good things about living out in the country -- it's quiet,  houses are not on top of each other, and the streets are wide enough that it's ok if someone has stopped in the middle of the road to talk to someone... you just go around them.

I don't mind the lack of sidewalks.. after all, the streets are wide enough that it's just not a problem.  I don't mind the lack of streetlights... in fact their absence makes it much easier to see the stars.

And not only do I not mind the critters... I actually like them.  The sounds of the coyotes in the evening are kind of cool.  When we first moved here, the sounds of the frogs at night would keep me awake... now, they lull me to sleep.  Sure, we have mosquitos -- but that's what screens are for.  Yes, occasionally a mouse will make its way into the house, but that's ok -- I think of them as free cat toys! The rabbits are cute and the chipmunks are amusing.

But then there are the deer.  Now don't get me wrong, I like deer.  Even just standing there, they have a certain grace, and when they run, they simultaneously exude power and vulnerability.  And I don't even mind the deer droppings.  It doesn't smell, the lawn mower chops it up, and I understand it's good fertilizer.

But I have a problem with the deer.  You see, we have hosta plants.  We like hosta plants.  We intentionally planted them, and we have several varieties.  You don't know what a hosta plant looks like?  Well they have great big broad leaves, and in mid summer they send up shoots at the end of which are little flowers.  Here, take a look.

Pretty, isn't it??

The only problem is that in the eyes of a deer, these hosta plants, especially once they get the shoots and the flowers...  actually look like this...

and so, in very short order, my hosta plants turn from that lovely picture you see above, to something like this...

Yeah, I can hear you laughing.. and that's ok.. I chuckle too.. at least a little bit ---  although I don't understand why my hosta plants get devoured, while the hostas in the rest of the neighborhood remain untouched. 

But now... now those deer have just gone too far.  You see, I've planted a vegetable garden out back. I've had such gardens before, and it's never been a problem.  At least, not until now.  A couple weeks ago, I put in a garden.  It's just a small garden.  I planted a few varieties of tomatoes, some green peppers, a summer squash, and some cucumbers.  Six cucumber hills, to be exact.  A few days later I wandered over to the garden, to see how things were doing... and immediately realized that something was wrong. I looked closer, and to my dismay, I found that each of my cucumber plants now looked like this...

And my summer squash and some of my tomato plants had also been munched on.  So now this is war. I've replanted, replacing the sad victims.. and I've sprayed everything with this special spray I found.

Yes, people have told me I'm wasting my time.. that I'd be better off throwing the spray bottle at the deer, or even just posting signs like this...

.. but so far, it's been 6 days, and my plants are still intact.

So I'm sitting here on my porch, drinking my tea, with my special spray bottle in my hand, hoping to change Oh Deer, to No Deer.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

My apologies to Lubna

According to a recent report, nearly 160 million people own smartphones.  I just went back to double check that figure... yep... 159.8 million.  Android and Apple share 93% of that total, nearly equally, with the remaining 7% being ... well, others.  I have an iPhone, so I talk to Siri... those who have Android phones have a number of  options, but it seems that these days, most of them talk to Google. And notwithstanding the funny jokes out there about misunderstandings on the part of these phones, there's no question that for the most part the smart phones are - well, smart.

But some days.... you have to wonder.

Yes, I know that there is not a real person at the other end of my phone... or more realistically a whole staff of real people, each of whom is sitting at a computer terminal, listening and responding to the latest request of Google or Siri.

But some days... you have to wonder.

I have my mother listed in my contacts as "Mom".  Now, Siri is pretty smart.  The first time you ask Siri to "Send a text to my husband" she'll ask you who your husband is... but from then on, she knows who you mean.  I've told her who my brother is, and who my sister is.  But with mom, I have always had her in my contacts as "mom", which means I can tell Siri "Call mom".  If I forget to specify home phone, or cell phone she'll ask which number, but I'm pretty good at remembering to say "Call mom, home"... and Siri is pretty good at following through.

This afternoon,  I had a break in my schedule, and decided it would be nice to chat with mom for a moment.  I picked up my phone, and said "Call mom, home".  And Siri responded with  "Calling Lubna Jahangiri".  WHAT???

Well I quickly disconnected that call, repeated my instruction, and this time Siri got it right.  After I concluded the call, I checked my contacts and to my surprise I discovered that, indeed, I have a Lubna Jahangiri in my contact list.  I checked online, and discovered that Lubna is an elder law attorney in California.  I don't know Lubna, I've never spoken with Lubna, and I have to assume that she's a member of one of the listservs I belong to and her contact information was automatically entered in my contact list on one of the occasions when I synced my google account with my phone.

Oh.  Wait.  NOW I get it... it's not just Siri playing with my head.. it's Siri AND Google, playing together.  I can just see them at work, sitting around their cups of tea in the breakroom, sharing funny 'you'll never believe what I did to the customer' stories.  I mean, come on.  Even if you take a large bite of peanut butter before you talk, and you're in the middle of a really bad cold, and you whisper so that you won't be overheard... there is no way that Call Mom, Home  sounds like Call Lubna Jahangiri.

And in the meantime, I realize that Lubna's phone rang once, and then I hung up on her.  Oops.
Sorry, Lubna.

By the way, I was going to withhold Lubna's name... but it's not as if she did anything wrong.  And who knows, maybe someone reading this will decide that they need an elder law attorney in California, and they'll call her - for real.  Hey, it's the least I can do, after needlessly bothering her.

I wonder what kind of tea Siri and Google drink?  As for me, I've been trying some other brands, but I'm back to Typhoo.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Chicken Zombies

I'm not into zombies... but recently I thought I heard a story about Chicken Zombies.  I was somewhat amused, as I imagined that this must be about zombies who eat chickens.  I, myself, eat a lot of chicken, and I was a bit worried that one of my favorite foods might quickly be in short supply.

So I decided to investigate .. and upon investigation, I discovered that there was indeed a current news story about a government report that mentioned chicken zombies.   I'm sure by now you've heard the story I'm talking about --  the government  (the US  government, to be clear) has developed a plan called CONPLAN-8888-11 which provides for "counter dominance zombie operations".  Within the report, this plan is described as one that establishes a strategy to "preserve "non-zombie humans" from the threats posed by a zombie horde".

Now -- I have no problem accepting the notion that the government did this purely as a planning exercise and that our government does not truly believe we are at risk of being attacked by zombie hordes.  In fact, if you read the plan you will see that it states that the basic premise of a zombie attack is 'ridiculous', and the plan is purely fictional... the plan is an attempt to take what could be a necessary, but rather dry subject (a strategy in the event of an attack), and make it entertaining.

I've now read Conplan-8888-11, and indeed, it does have many entertaining bits and pieces, including the breakdown of zombies into 8 different classes - one of which is Evil Magic Zombies, as well as the warning that each human casualty will make the zombie forces stronger, as each casualty turns into a zombie  (well duh!  everyone knows that!).

But I have to tell you boys and girls, Conplan-8888-11 is NOT all fun and games.  Hidden in the middle of the report as the last class of zombies, is the (now) dreaded Chicken Zombies.  The report states "Although it sounds ridiculous, this is actually the only proven class of zombie that actually exists."

Yeah, right.  This is more of the hyperbole that appears throughout the report.  At least that's what I assumed.  Sadly, I was quite mistaken.

The plan goes on to refer to a document describing Chicken Zombies... a document that appeared online over 7 years ago.  WHAT???  Chicken zombies have been around for over 7 years and I'm just now hearing about it?  But wait... I can't find that online document.  Hmmm... must still be part of the joke.

But it's not a joke, my friends.

Apparently, it's a common practice to euthanize old hens that can no longer lay eggs. (yuk)  This is accomplished by gassing the chickens with carbon monoxide. (double yuk)  The apparently-dead, gassed hens are put into large piles to decompose. (triple yuk)  EXCEPT that certain hens are only apparently dead, they're not truly dead.. and after they revive from their gassing, they dig themselves out from the piles of dead chickens, and STAGGER ABOUT.  (quadruple YUK!)  However, these zombie chickens, or chicken zombies, or whatever.. have indeed been gassed, and after a period of time, they do become truly dead.  (thank goodness)
And this practice of euthanizing birds with carbon monoxide is apparently an accepted practice in other countries as well as ours, and is even considered humane.

Well.  This is a lot to think about.  This might take two, or even three cups of tea.  I'm really disturbed by this.  What people are referring to as Chicken Zombies, are actually Zombie Chickens.  I might have to reconsider my dietary preferences.  Fortunately, we're having fish for dinner tonight.  And maybe tomorrow night.  And perhaps the next night as well.

Friday, May 16, 2014


In the 'olden' days, people often carried around an ID card in their purse or billfold, listing an emergency contact.  This wasn't bad, although over time people forgot to update the card and cards got damaged or destroyed and the contact listed changed his or her phone number.

Then, in 2005, a global campaign started in the United Kingdom to encourage people to program an I.C.E. contact into their cell phone, and the program spread to the United States.  I.C.E. stands for In Case of Emergency, of course.  At that time, few if any phones had the built in capability for that, but there was a lot of information telling you how to indicate which individuals you wanted someone to contact, in the event of an emergency.

And it didn't take very long before cell phones started adding a feature so that it was quite easy to designate a contact as your I.C.E.  We all have our contacts listed in our phones, so designating one or two as an emergency contact was simple, and logical.  And of course as our contacts changed their information, we updated them in our phones anyway, so the I.C.E. was automatically updated.

However due to 'butt calling', and theft, cell phones added the ability to lock the phone so that you weren't accidentally calling someone when you sat down, and it was more difficult for thieves to use your phone.   Oops... there went the effectiveness of the I.C.E. designation.

So cell phones  added a feature so that it was possible to access the I.C.E., even if the cell phone was locked.

Sounds great, right?
Well, not so great.

First, different cell phones have different ways of accessing I.C.E. information on a locked phone. Unless the person looking for the info is familiar with your particular phone, they may not know how to access the info.

Next, if you and your cell phone become separated and you're in need of assistance, the person trying to assist you has no access to that beautifully designed I.C.E. program on your phone.

But the biggest and most important problem is that cell phones are not indestructible.  I don't know about you, but I have seen a number of phones with screens that are unreadable.  Most of the stories that accompany those damaged screen are rather amusing, but the point is a serious one.

So here's my public service announcement to all of you -- and just as all of you spread the word about the importance of designating an I.C.E. contact, I would urge you to pass this information on as well ---

It is CRITICAL... I mean CRITICAL that you carry emergency contact information in your wallet or in your purse.  If you often just grab your debit card and driver's license and tuck them and your phone in your pocket before you head out... then tape your emergency contact info to the back of your driver's license.   I.C.E. is a terrific idea, it's a great program, but it's an adjunct to the old fashioned ID/emergency card,  not a substitute.

And now, for some tea.  Yes, it's getting warm outside, but there's nothing like a cup of hot tea, even in the summer.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Eek, a mouse

We've all heard of lab rats, or lab mice... and it's common knowledge that rodents are used in laboratory testing for everything from sacharine, to cosmetics, to drugs and other medical research. They don't take up much room, they reproduce quickly, and their genetic, biological and behavior characteristics closely resemble those same characteristics in humans.   Over the years, there has been a lot of protesting about the testing done on rodents, but the bottom line is that - especially for medical research, it's necessary to do testing on something other than humans.

I'm sure none of this is news to any of you, and I suspect you're sitting there with a quizzical look on your face wondering if this is really the best that I can do.

Well never fear... because I have more!

In ancient times in Egypt, the mouse was considered to be protected by the sun, and capable of fending off death.  So a common remedy for a toothache was to apply half of the body of a dead mouse to the aching tooth, while the body was still warm.  Of course, I might have this wrong, because another source I found said that the thing to do was mash the dead mouse and mix it with spices, and then apply it to the tooth.  Either way, I have a number of issues with these remedies, beginning with the fact that obviously the mouse in question had NOT been capable of fending off death!

So let's head over to the early Roman Empire, around the year 50 A.D.  Pliny the Elder recommended kissing the fuzzy muzzle of a mouse as a cure for headaches.  Hmm.  I doubt that the mouse-kissing cured the problem... but I can certainly see how that cure would cut down on complaints about headaches.  (I just can't resist pointing out the opportunity for a whole slew of jokes along the lines of 'not tonight dear, I already kissed a mouse')  

Lest you think that only the ancients held these odd beliefs, let's take a peak at Elizabethan England (1558-1603).  The Elizabethans commonly ate fried mice, and baked mice in pies.  I suppose that makes sense, because there was such a surplus of rodents, but frankly, that practice would have quickly converted me to vegetarianism.  And yet, there's still more!  In addition to eating mice fried, or baked in pies, the Elizabethans used mice in a number of medical remedies.  Do you have a wart?  Cut a mouse in half and apply the cut end to the wart.  Does your child wet the bed?  Burn a mouse to cinders, mix it with jam, and feed it to the bedwetter.  Does your neighbor have tuberculosis?  Bring them some mice to cook.  

Let's finish up with some more modern information.  A mouse has a soft skull, which is why they seem to be able to fit through the tiniest of holes.  If you can fit a ballpoint pen into the opening, it's big enough for a mouse to crawl through.  Mice don't really care much for cheese, which is why it's more common these days to put peanut butter on the mousetrap.  But mice do like to be warm, which is why they seek out those ballpoint-pen-sized holes in the fall, in an effort to move into your home.

And then we get to the most important question of all.  Why is the computer accessory called a mouse? When the item was first invented in 1963, the team just called it a 'bug'.  When a patent application was submitted seven years later, the device was called an  'X-Y Position Indicator for a Display System'. Hmmm, I can see why that name never caught on.  So why a mouse?  Even the inventor can't remember, but I'm sure it had to do with the fact that the cord looked a bit like a mouse tail. And of course today, mice.. or mouses.. or whatever..  are often tail-less... I mean cordless.  Yet the name 'mouse' still sticks.

And there you have it, my friends... everything you wanted to know about a mouse...  from the ugh, to the eek, to the non-fuzzy thing you're resting your hand on right now.  

And now, for some tea.  Although I'm having tea by myself so it's not really a party, and unlike Alice's Wonderland, I have no dormouse.  It's just me, and my tea.