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.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

An amazing act of kindness

A few days ago, my dad was in a serious car accident, and sadly, he did not survive.  The family rallied around my mom, who was already surrounded by dear, dear friends.  We tried to make the best of things, but there were so many unanswered questions.  My dad had been alone in the car and he passed away before mom could get to the hospital.  Questions included things like - was he conscious? Did he know what had happened? Did he realize his condition?  And did he suffer... was he in pain?   I can't begin to tell you how many times one of us would voice one of these questions out loud, and then conclude "We'll never know."

Today, a young woman called the house.  She had been a witness, she said, and she had talked to my dad while waiting for the emergency team.  She wanted to know if she could stop by, and talk to us for a bit.

It turns out this young woman was on the scene scant moments after the accident happened.  She crawled in through the passenger side window and sat there with my dad over the next hour, talking to him and comforting him, waiting first for the emergency team to arrive, and then waiting while they worked on extracting him from the vehicle so they could airlift him to the hospital.
We are truly and eternally grateful to this woman.
Not everyone would have stopped at an accident scene.  Of those who would, not all would have climbed in through a window to comfort someone.  And she didn't just stop at this unusual act of kindness, but she stayed with him until he was taken to the hospital.  

And even that, was not enough for this extraordinary woman.  

When she found out the following day that this man she had sat with had not survived, she was devastated.  And she determined that she would find this man's family.

She did find us, and she was kind enough to share with us the details of the hour she spent with my dad. She was able to answer a great many of our questions, and as difficult as it was for us to hear her recount her story, she most certainly provided us with a tremendous peace of mind.  It clearly was not an easy task for her to relate this tragic event, but she felt it was something she had to do.  And we're so very glad that she did.

Before this....  I'd like to think that if I'd come upon an accident, I would have acted as nobly as this woman did.  But I'm fairly certain that I would have balked at the mere thought of the difficult task of tracking down the family and talking to them about the tragic event.

Now, I'll have to reconsider. 

The kindness this woman exhibited is absolutely indescribable.  We tried to express our thanks, but we feel like our efforts were woefully inadequate.  This woman will forever be in our thoughts and prayers. She didn't bring my dad back.... No one can do that. The pain of losing him is beyond belief, and nearly unbearable.  But, somehow, we feel just a little bit better after having heard her story.

And now, I need a cup of tea.