Text messaging changes as I get older

oldschool-textSo I was sending a text blast to a few friends the other day. Most of these people are around my age, and I did get responses back from most. I think the only non-responses were from texts I sent to … office phones.

So yes, people my age do text. Don’t look so surprised, huh?

But as I get older I discover the nomenclature has changed a lot. I’m having to relearn the whole text-abbreviation thing. A lot of those I used to use no longer apply.

I found these abbreviations online, and it looks like I’m gonna have to start using some of them. Like, real soon:

  • FWIW: Forgot Where I Was
  • BTW: Bring The Wheelchair
  • ROFL… CGU: Rolling On The Floor Laughing … And Can’t Get Up
  • DWI: Driving While Incontinent
  • LOL: Living On Lipitor
  • IMHO: Is My Hearing-Aid On?
  • IMHMO: In My HMO…
  • BYOT: Bring Your Own Teeth
  • GTG: Gotta Groan
  • FYI: For Your Indigestion…
  • JK: Just Kvetching
  • TTYL: Talk To You Louder
  • MILF: Meal I’d Like To Forget
  • LMDO: Laughing My Dentures Out
  • GOML: Get Off My Lawn

I’m sure there are more. Any others I might use, please share.


Glen Campbell’s Grammy gets personal

I didn’t hear about it until a couple of days later, but the news that Glen Campbell won a Grammy for best country song of the year really hit home.

You’d have to be a serious baby boomer to have the whole lowdown on Campbell’s career. An in-demand sideman and session guy, he filled in with the Beach Boys for a while before going out on his own. Songs like Wichita Lineman, By the Time I Get To Phoenix, Galveston and Rhinestone Cowboy were among his biggest songs.

But his latest Grammy winner is really personal. He played I’m Not Gonna Miss You for a documentary on his battle with Alzheimers. He was diagnosed a few years ago, and he continued to perform as long as he could while the disease took over more of his brain.

I have to include a clip of the song here. If you’re close to someone who’s going through the same thing, I’ll bet you can’t watch the video without blubbering like a baby:

Alzheimers — like the other forms of dementia — is an insidious disease. Often the person who has it is the last one to know, and just the thought of it is scary stuff. The things that a person used to do almost instinctively, he has to think about long and hard now. Journalist Greg O’Brien describes it first-hand in his book On Pluto: A guy could be standing in the back yard holding a garden hose and wonder how he’s supposed to work the stupid thing. And feel this rage because he used to know all this stuff.

I saw a video clip of Campbell on his last tour, and there were times he looked really lost. He had a TelePrompter on stage so he could remember the lyrics. At one point he finished Galveston, talked with the audience for a few seconds, and started his intro to his next song: Galveston. His daughter Ashley, who played banjo and keyboards in his last band, had to remind him that they just did that song.

Here’s a clip from that tour, with bio and interviews from 2012:

I like my music edgy, served up in your face with a side of danger. To me, Glen Campbell’s music veered too much into pop territory. Just not my style. Let the record reflect, though, that he was one of the great underrated guitarists. The man could really pick:

In his farewell tour he certainly lost a lot off his chops, but that’s no surprise. I’m amazed he was able to remember chord patterns and fingering at all as he got deeper into the disease. His kids say he would forget a solo to a song and improvise his way through it, somehow making it work.

Maybe continuing to play was his way of fighting the disease? His wife Kim seems to think so.

“It’s been an amazing journey,” she said at the awards presentation. “He’s been so courageous in bringing awareness to Alzheimer’s and caregiving. Music, I really believe, kept him healthy for a longer period of time and enabled him to enjoy life while living with a debilitating brain disease.”

To me, this is kind of personal because in the last few months I’ve been watching the effects of dementia close up. Since May I’ve been down in the pit with it, seeing the wreckage it leaves.

Where it gets personal
I’m currently in California serving as a family caregiver. Both my parents developed forms of dementia, and it became obvious to me when I came out for a visit last April. I just wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into when I moved back out here to help them out. But in these past few months I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can. How to transfer someone from bed to wheelchair. How to clean up after the person who used to do the same for me. How to keep things at ease when the disease is scaring the parent. I became half nurse, half physical therapist, half legal advocate and half financial counselor, knowing none of this adds up.

And all actor. Forget about reasoning with a brain taken over by dementia. Often I just have to play along.

Mom passed away in late October, and I’m now keeping an eye on Dad. He’s relatively low maintenance, but I know that will change.

Caregiving’s a tough business. So demanding. Physically and mentally draining, and you’re usually flying blind. Forget the two-week crash course, it’s time to start as soon as you arrive. You learn as you go, praying you get it right.

But that’s the easy part. Emotionally, it’s hell.

That amazing person you once knew? Not exactly gone, but you probably won’t recognize him or her. The person you’re taking care of is just a shadow of the one you once looked up to. When you’re seeing this process at such close range, if it doesn’t break your heart it means you probably don’t have one.

The progression
All is not well with Glen Campbell. The song was recorded in 2013 and released in the middle of last year. Since then he’s been in a long-term care facility. Forget about performing now; I understand he’s lost the ability to speak. Although the number varies depending on whose scale you use, he’s at late stage six of a seven-stage progression.

Did he realize the impact his song has on those of us in the trenches? Even the fact he won this award? Probably not.

“We told him about the Grammy,” Kim told Entertainment Tonight. “He might have forgotten it immediately. He knew something good happened.”


For further reading:

Disclaimer: I do get a commission on this book through Amazon Associates. But that doesn’t matter. I read this book and recommend it highly even without the commission. If you want to know what the dementia patient deals with, this is the best guide I’ve found.

Customer loyalty cards: Permission to get creepy?

These loyalty cards save me a lot of money, but there's a dark side to them.
These loyalty cards save me a lot of money, but there’s a dark side to them.

Like many other people, I keep loyalty cards to my favorite stores on my key ring. They save me a metric pantload of money, but I ran into the darker side the other day.

I got a phone call from the New Orleans-based Reily food company telling me that a chili mix I bought at such-and-such a store has been recalled. Seems it has traces of peanuts and/or almonds and can bring me a nasty allergic reaction.


Then I went shopping and saw another warning on my sales slip from that grocery store. I later checked and I still have that chili mix on hand waiting for my kitchen magic. No mention of peanuts in the ingredients. Reily Foods said in a statement that at least one of the spices the company gets from a third-party supplier contains undeclared nut allergens. Undeclared meaning, it was thrown in there without telling them.

I understand the peanut risk. I have a few friends who have this allergy, and I guess a reaction can be fatal. I don’t have that problem, so I’m going to use the chili mix anyway. I appreciate the fact the grocer and food manufacturer are looking out for me.

But still … how do they know?

Ahh, yes. That loyalty card.

Basically, when you get one of those cards you give the store permission  to track your purchases and tailor their advertising to your known buying patterns in exchange for deep discounts. That’s nice. I like deep discounts, and I like getting dollars-off coupons for products I actually use.

I shop for Dad and myself, and the receipt will tell me how much I’ve saved on my purchases by using the card: Usually around $20 for a purchase of a little less than $100. Not half bad.

But let’s flip this on its head, shall we? If I opt out of the loyalty program, I give the store permission to overcharge me by about $20. That’s the story once you strip away the gee-whiz you’re-saving-money verbiage.

Tracking, tracking everywhere!

But the tracking part is interesting. Of course you can forget about privacy in the Internet age. Somebody, somewhere sees every Website you visit, every Google search and every purchase you make.

None of this is new. Casinos have been tracking customers for years, again via a loyalty card. You get all sorts of swag, comps and maybe some bonus payouts when you win. The casino then knows how much you bet, how much you lose and which games are your favorites. Get right down to it, the casino knows way too much about you.

As if the phone call wasn't enough ... I appreciate it, but it still creeps me out.
As if the phone call wasn’t enough … I appreciate it, but it still creeps me out.

Amazon’s like that too. I love Amazon. They’re my #1 publisher (which gets me a monthly royalty from them), and I buy a lot from that company. Of course I’m gonna get targeted advertising based on what I’ve purchased. That’s just plain smart marketing even if it is creepy.

Noted whistleblower Edward Snowden recently aired his Amazon fears via video link at a Cato Institute symposium. Here’s a highlight:

“Wherever you’re at, wherever that jurisdiction is, they can see what books you’re looking at. This is morally irresponsible, and as a business it’s problematic to allow this to continue when we know for a fact that they have the capability to provide for secure communications because as soon as you go to purchase that book, as soon as money’s involved, they turn it over to encryption.”

Got that? According to a story in The Passive Voice, Amazon encrypts the really vital stuff like your credit card numbers. But your searches are in plain text, readable by anyone.

Okay. I sound like one of those off-the-road paranoid conspiracy types, a candidate for increased medication and maybe one of those canvas blazers with wraparound arms. But bear with me as I offer some evidence:

Tres creepy, no?

Now, let’s get back to customer loyalty cards. This extracted information is good for the company. The consumer (hopefully) knows it’s a trade for lower prices or some good swag. But does the information stay in-house? That’s where things get messy. There’s just no guarantee.

How do you know that customer list or mailing list your on doesn’t get sold to someone else? How do you know a real bad criminal organization, like say, the federal government, won’t get its hands on the data?

All it takes is a little suspicion and a subpoena for Big Brother to peek at your buying/searching habits. And that’s if everything is done above board. What guarantee is there that Uncle Sam observes even these rules?

So what’s a guy to do?

I’m torn. I like the savings and bonuses that come with a loyalty card. Long as I don’t go out of my head when buying — like case lots of whatever it is that they use to make bombs or street drugs — I’m probably all right. Right now the only really telling information one can get from my buying habits is my raging addiction to Cafe Bustelo coffee.

But to live a totally invasion-free life I’ll have to throw my computer out the window, get bound books at a used bookstore, pay cash for everything, stay off all public streets, communicate via carrier pigeon and/or tin cans with string, pay the higher price at the grocery store and wrap my head in tinfoil before going out.

Welcome to the modern world. Dont’cha love it?


Live without my cell phone? Forget about it

What would happen if I threw this one against the wall?
What would happen if I threw this one against the wall?

Sometimes I want to throw my phone against the nearest cinderblock wall and send it to the digital hell where it belongs. It goes off when I’m working. It annoys me. It can befoul my mood in a split second.

But I feel I can’t function without the stupid thing. Ever since I got my first cell phone in 2000, life has not been the same. I could run but forget about hiding.

I never go anywhere without my phone. Never. Anywhere. I’m not the only one either. If you have a cell phone — who doesn’t these days? — you probably have it with you right now. Even if you’re in the head. I’ll bet it’s even on.

Smartphones upped the ante even more. Now you have many reasons to frequently check it — someone could be talking about you on Twitter or trying to contact you on Facebook. Or you need to know the weather right now, even though poking your head out the window is still more reliable.

My smartphone recently bonked out on me, and I’m still going through withdrawals. I’m using one of those feature phones (read: dumb phone) and it does everything I expect a telephone to do. But I miss that anytime-I-want-it Internet connection. I can get ball scores, bank balances and the weather through a text message and it’s faster, but it’s still not the same.

See, here’s the part I don’t understand. I didn’t always have a phone, landline or otherwise. For a long time I just used a pager. Someone would call, punch in his call back number and I’ll get back whenever I felt like it. There were always phones around anyway; I could use one at work or even a pay phone to return the call.

(Hey, remember pay phones? If you do, you’re probably an old person like me. Now you can’t find one anywhere.)

But I functioned quite well without a phone. Really really well. And I was able to separate my home life from my work life, which isn’t always easy to do. I worked as a newsman for years and never had a cell phone the entire time I was in that trade. Never missed a good story either.

Today? Don’t ask. I don’t go anywhere without it. Someone important may call.


Cop a squat? Or should I rephrase that?

My knees scream just thinking about it.
My knees scream just thinking about it.

I’ve heard of standing desks and treadmill desks, but a squatting desk?

Not kidding. According to an article in Fast Company, squatting allows us to rest while on our feet. It’s a Zenlike thing, or is it Yogalike? Anyway, it evokes images of green tea and all that good stuff.

Here’s what blogger Feyyaz Alingan (figures) said about squatting:

“It’s a posture that most of the West has lost its ability to do–tight hips and tight achilles due to spending our days in desk chairs might be the culprit–whereas folks in East and South Asia do it on the regular.”

Supposedly, squatting opens my hips, which prevents lower back pain. Or something.

I didn’t know I had a problem with closed hips. I wouldn’t know the difference between an open or closed one anyway.

But I do know this. Just squatting to get to the lower shelf at the supermarket hurts. My knees give me trouble. My Achilles tendons start hurting. It takes me at least a week to get back up. Maybe it’s part of being in my late 50s, but I am in shape.

About the only part of my body that doesn’t hurt is my hips. So maybe there’s something to this squatting thing.

My hiking buddy is in his late 40s, also in shape and a medical professional besides. We discussed this article on a seven-mile training hike the other day, and he says he can’t see the benefits either.  Maybe it helps you give birth, he suggested

That’s not something I plan to do anytime soon. I’m too old for that anyway.

So the squatting desk, you can have it. I’m not going to put my laptop on a bench and squat at it. Forget that. I’d rather sit in a chair, and I’m not the sitting-down type.

Now, give me a standing desk any time. I have one, or at least it’s modified for that. A wine crate, a sheet of particle board nailed to the top to accommodate the mouse, and the extension keyboard is on another platform about waist high to me. Perfect. Ergonomically sound. It worked for Hemingway, and it’ll work for me too.

When I do my work at a McDonalds or Starbucks, I’ll shove the chair aside and set up shop on the counter. I’ll pull two-hour work sessions and stand up the whole time. Keeps me focused and gives me the feeling I’m going somewhere.

Standing desks are red hot right now. I see one from GeekDesk that looks pretty bare-bones to me. Looks like a glorified folding table, and it’s all yours for $525. For the frame. As far as a top, you’re on your own.

(H’mmm … about that squat again?…)

There are some DIY versions shown in Make Use Of, starting at around $40. Depending on which one you build, you’re using sawhorses or anything else. (Hey, sawhorses … now that’s an idea.) Here are a few more if you don’t mind the hipster look.

A treadmill desk, though, is a different matter. Trying to keep fingers on keyboard is dicey enough anyway, but it’s worse at a treadmill. Plus trying to watch the screen while my eyeballs are going up and down doesn’t sound very effective to me, exercise or not.

Squatting, forget it. I’ll stand, thank you.



Why don’t the cool places offer senior discounts?

Can I get one with flames painted on the side?
Can I get one with flames painted on the side?

It was a chilly night, so I decided to take the bus from my office (read: the library) to my home. Not really that much of a trip; it’s just a touch over two miles. Under most circumstances, a nice bike ride.

So I threw the bike on the rack on the nose of the bus and clambered inside. Started going through my change to pay the usual fare ($1.75) when the driver said it was 85 cents to me.

Oh, really? How’s that work?

“Senior citizen’s discount,” he told me.

I’ll take it, but I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.

It’s not so much the senior thing that bugs me. I’m 56 now, and that status is a reward for not croaking just yet despite my occasional efforts to hasten the process. I don’t mind that, but the fact the driver picked out my senior-ness so quickly was just a little much.

I’m not one of those vain types who tries to look forever young. I learned to cope with pattern baldness 30 years ago, and I finally decided to force the action by shaving the whole thing off. Just got tired of messing with it. I never minded going gray either; it looks sharp on a man.

I’m still trying to get used to bifocals, and my glasses spend more time parked on my head than on my nose. They’re useless at middle distances, like where the computer screen usually is. Plus I have a little cataract action going on, another aging thing.

My face has a few more lines and a little more sag than it used to, but that’s not an issue either.

But I make it a point to keep in shape physically and my mind from losing its edge. I love hanging around young people because I can learn a lot from them, and my energy level (fueled by espresso and bipolar disorder) remains off the charts.

I still think young, am still tech savvy, can still rock around the clock, can still leave ’em laughing, can still jam out 3,000 words standing up, and still keep a good attitude about things.

But some reminders.

A buddy told me I was in good shape for my age, and my (cantankerous) response was “for any age, pal.” Had to whip his young butt on the Palmetto Trail just to get his head straight.

But for some bus driver to pick me out so quickly …

When I turned 55 my older brother — now firmly in geezer territory at 60 — reminded me I was eligible for senior discounts at Denny’s. Gee, Rick. Thanks a pantload.

Besides Denny’s I’m eligible for these discounts at pharmacies and, yeah, the bus. And maybe a plethora of good prices through AARP, though I haven’t got around to membership yet.

But do any of the cool places offer senior discounts? Noooo.

Like, where’s my golden-age special at Guitar Center?

Why doesn’t my Web hosting company offer price breaks for people of my vintage?

Can my age get me a discount when I shop for outdoors gear at Half Moon Outfitters? Doubt it.

But I can get a good price for a walker. Just the thing for hiking the Appalachian Trail.

# # #

Tales of shooters, gray cards and photo fixer

Remember that knob?
Remember that knob?

The first time I saw a digital camera was in 1994, and I wasn’t terribly impressed.

Mt old warhorse was a Canon AT1, built like a tank and nothing on it was automatic. Adjust the shutter speed, adjust the aperture (we called it the f-stop), focus by hand and shoot.

Using real film, developed by myself in some bathroom somewhere if it was in black and white.

I learned how to turbocharge the film and to cut down my processing time. I could burn a roll of film and get a halftone suitable for newspaper publication within 20 minutes of tearing the film out of the camera. I used to be able to look at a print and tell you what kind of film was used, what the film speed was and what light settings the photographer used.

Which camera produced this photo?
Which camera produced this photo?

So this digital camera, well, it was a nice but expensive toy. The camera looked like one of those you used to get with a subscription to Sports Illustrated, and the quality was almost as good.

What intrigued me, though, was the thought I could come back from a photo shoot and have a print within seconds instead of 20 minutes. Too bad the quality wasn’t there.

Listen, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I finally consented to having my pictures go on disk instead of good ol’ Kodak paper. I do remember I still wanted the negatives, and the person developing the pictures looked at me kinda funny.

Now you can shoot pictures with your phone — what kind of Communist foolery is that? But look at the two photos with this blog and tell me which one came from the old Canon and which one was shot by a phone. I double-dawg dare you.

Film junkie tries to adapt

I’ll admit, although I love all manner of tech toys I’m sometimes slow to adopt. But making the transition was inevitable, I think. You’d have to hunt around in pawnshops or thrift stores to find an old film-burner. I know WalMart doesn’t have those.

Okay, smart guy. Camera phone or film burner?
Okay, smart guy. Camera phone or film burner?

Honestly, I’m amazed there are still places where you can process your film. But that’s by machine. No little guys hanging your wet prints on a clothesline under the glow of a red light. No comforting smell of D-76 developer and fixer.

The only reason these photo-processing places exist today is for us old geezers who refuse to die.

Last I looked, Eastman Kodak was going belly up. Too bad. That was the best company for all your photographic needs. Forget Fuji, Kodak was the real deal.

I used to drive by the old Eastman Kodak plant in Kingsport, Tennessee and I always had to roll the windows down to catch that wonderfully acrid smell of processing chemicals. It really transported me. In a nostalgic way, of course. It’s not like sniffing glue or anything.

Have to admit, there are advantages to going digital. The photo is ready right now and I can paste it into this blog without a lot of extra work.

(Note: No trees were harmed in the making of this publication, but a lot of perfectly good electrons went to waste. But I digress.)

Some glitches with digital photography. My Android phone has about a full-second delay between hitting the shutter release (a.k.a. “pushing the button”) and the camera actually taking the picture. Any good shooter will tell you how useless that is with moving subjects; a lot can happen in one second.

My Android doesn’t take very good pictures. For that I use an old retired phone, one with much faster responses and better color saturation.

Okay. I admit it. I still miss my Canon. Had it for more than 25 years and it still took great pictures.

But now there’s at least two generations of photographers who don’t know what a shooter is. Don’t know what a gray card is for. Wouldn’t know how to load exposed film into a developing tank using just your jacket to protect the film. Never used Ansel Adams’ zone system. Don’t know how to set a camera so you can take pictures of a moving car — while driving.

I miss those things. But I’m getting along pretty well with my camera phone even with the inherent glitches.

Quiz answer: I took the top photo (of the ocean and land mass with my old AT-1. The bottom photo (with the flowers) was with a smartphone camera.

What say you? Are you an old shooter? Do you remember your first time with a digital camera? Where can a guy get a film-burner around here? Please share.


I told you about those Oreos now … they’re addictive!

Whoa, big guy. Simmer down.

Most of these studies I see coming out, especially those subsidized by public funds or put together by universities, bring more yawns, waste and confusion per dollar than anything I can think of.

But then, I see some findings that totally make my day.

Just recently, I saw that Oreo cookies are more addictive than cocaine. This is according to a study by Connecticut College and reported by CBS.

College psych professor Joseph Schroeder and four other students fed a bunch of Oreos to some lab rats or something like that to get their findings.

Lucky rats.

“We found that the behavior they exhibited was equally strong for Oreo cookies as it was for cocaine or morphine,” Schroeder, the director of the Behavioral Neuroscience program at Connecticut College, told WCBS 880. “When we looked in the pleasure center of the brain, we found that the Oreo cookies activated the pleasure center more so than cocaine would activate the same center.”

Now, cocaine has been the benchmark in addiction measurement for years. In the late 1980s it came out that cigarettes were also more addictive than cocaine.

I’ve never played around with cocaine, probably because I was afraid I’d like it, so don’t count me as an authority there. But I do know about Oreos.

Can’t remember my first. Maybe I was too young to make the connection, unlike my first kiss or my first time driving. But that first Oreo, boom boom, out go the lights.

I’m not the only one who has the Oreo addiction going on. CBS readers were asked to speak on the subject during an informal poll. I could only see the results after I voted, but you can only guess how mine went.

Anyway, the poll:


Total Votes: 2,829


Am I surprised?


I’ll tell you what, though. Those things are good. Which is amazing because the creme filling defies all chemical analysis. A friend of mine was able to whip up something close to that, missing only a little on the taste.

Still not the same, though. Oreo filling by itself, well, meh. You still need the cookie halves — which also defy chemical analysis — to complete the package.

My health-conscious friends get that horrified look when you mention Oreos. Something about being the worst stuff you can put in your body and still live. But how do I know these health-nut friends don’t have a secret stash, or at least reward themselves with a couple when they choose a fruit smoothie instead of a Mountain Dew?

There’s no right or wrong way to eat an Oreo. Some will just bite down on it (like I do) while others dismantle the cookie. Yeah, take the top off, suck the filling out and then eat the two halves. I really don’t understand that one myself because all those components belong together.

Then there are those who take the cookie in the package, open it, eat the filling and put the cookie back in the package. But obviously they’re Neanderthals.

That homemade Oreo filling this friend puts together also lacks those feelgood components that rival strong drugs, Prozac or even the endorphins that kick in after a long hike.

Take two Oreos and call me in the morning.

No wonder these researchers claim they’re so addictive. If I didn’t know any better they’re made with just a touch of dopamine.

I kind of hope these researchers take their experiments further. I’m curious how Thin Mints fit into the whole addiction spectrum. I know I start jonesin’ waiting for the local Girl Scout troop to make their rounds. I’d lay in a huge stockpile except I know I’ll eat half of them as soon as I get them home.

# # #


Let the bad jokes begin: 1 in 10 mix phones, sex

no cellphone sign
If you start seeing this sign on headboards everywhere, you know things are getting real bad.

As if we have enough surveys kicking around in the name of pseudoscience, another one came to my attention.

I’ve already seen numbers on how many people use their cell phones at the dinner table (just plain rude) or in the head (wrong at multiple levels), but we’re getting into ridiculous territory here. Now the L.A. Times reports that one in 10 Americans use their smartphones during sex.

Already the numbers are suspect. Slice ‘em up and you’ll find that 1 in 10 admit to using their smartphones while doing the horizontal mambo. Of those, you might have a fraction who are just trying to be funny, and of course you’ll find plenty who won’t admit to such phone use. You’ll catch a few who say that’s how they talk to their spouses during sex, too (drummer does rimshot). It’s like asking a sample of Americans how many pour Jack Daniels over their Wheaties or something — one in 10 do, and another 2 in 10 ask what that tastes like.

Of course, 83.7 percent of statistics are made up on the spot. Just so you know.

It’s not like social scientists are out on the field observing this phenomenon, and they certainly won’t ask the person in flagrante dilecto if that’s Facebook, Twitter or the latest phone app he’s using. I mean, there are some limits to gathering information.

Have to admit, those smartphones are addictive. What you’re basically doing is playing with a computer you can take with you anywhere. You can check the weather, find out how many calories and trans fats are in that sweet roll you’re eating at work, catch up on the latest news or see how those Angels are doing (lost again, Pujols went hitless, bullpen puked it up, per usual). Anything you can do on a computer you can do on a smartphone.

Even back in the days when your regular flip phones roamed the earth, they were everywhere. People used them while driving. While at work when they were supposed to be waiting on customers (which always elicited very sharp words from me). At the theater, in a restaurant, wherever.

Or texting while walking. Every once in a while you catch a news story (on your phone, of course) about some guy who falls down an open manhole, texting all the way down.

Here in laid-back genteel Charleston, cell phones turned everybody into New Yorkers. That’s bad.

During my cab-driving days I often had a carload of passengers, each one talking on the phone in the back and shotgun seats. Place would sound like a call center. It’s even funnier when I got passengers from one of the container ships at Charleston’s ports; each would converse in their own languages.

At the truck yard where I once worked I saw more near-collisions in the checkout lanes because the drivers were on the phone. Many’s the time I had to walk up to the stopped truck in my lane, tap on the window and tell the driver to come out. Without the phone. Ebventually he’d come out with one of those Bluetooth receivers in his ear, with the eerie blue power light glowing as if he’s an alien. Naturally, I suspected many of the truckers were aliens.

As ugly as civilization got with cell phones, it got worse when smartphones entered the mix.

Now you can go inside any church and see the folks in their pews, smartphones out. Many are are likely following along with Scripture (you know there’s an app for that) but others are probably tweeting.

But smartphones during sex?

OK, call me a fossil, a relic right out of the old school. You’re probably right. I was once told I was 30 years behind the times (my response was that 30 years was still way too close for comfort), so despite my own love of smartphones and tech toys there are just some situations where they don’t belong.

Put sex at the top of the list. There’s nothing casual about the act, although many people seem to think it is. Something like that deserves one’s undivided attention. It’s like your partner is counting ceiling tiles, only she’s much more obvious about it. It’s like he’s talking to another girlfriend — or his spouse — or posting pictures on Facebook.


People like that are just begging to be slapped. To be snatched bald. To be insulted within an inch of their lives.

If, as I suspect, smartphone use during sex is just another signal that our civiliaztion is headed on a fast train to nowhere, at least there’s an upside to this. Really.

If this smartphone use cuts into their ability to procreate, so much the better.

Here’s the breakdown of where people use their cell phones. Still trying to figure out how to use one in the shower without destroying it.


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You tell me: Well, never mind. Just. Never. Mind. I’d ask for the usual comments, but it’ll be seriously into TMI territory for me.


If you love your books, that phone may be your future

random person with phone
So what’s next? Reading books on your phone or something?

While bemoaning the fact printed books are going the way of the record album and landline telephones, I’ve come to like the convenience of digital books. You can read them just about anywhere.

Like on your phone.

Smartphones are the big thing now. They’ve got more processing power than that desktop computer you had 10 years ago, and it’s amazing all the things they can do. Including reading your books.

Well, kinda sorta.

The one-and-a-half big entities in the ebook world, Kindle and Nook (since that one’s dying it only accounts for half a company), have apps you can load onto your smartphone. So rather than putting your entire library on something that’s not much larger than a single paperback, you can carry thee books on your telephone. Shove it in your pocket or clip it onto your belt, no backpack, no hands, just whip it out when you want to read something.

Margaret Atwood, an accomplished novelist, is heavily involved with a Web site and app for the growing legion of phone readers. It’s called Wattpad, and you can download freebies from authors seeking a little exposure. From what I see most of the writers are young. Genres like YA (Young Adult) fiction and fantasy/horror/gothic novels with the requisite number of vampires and/or zombies predominate here. But it seems the younger folks prefer to read on the phone. It helps if you have young eyeballs.

Like it or not, Atwood’s site is a real bellwether in the publishing industry. That phone is your future.


The old man and the e-reader

Futuristic or not, you can’t beat the convenience of reading from your phone. Unless you’re 55. That’s when things get a little goofy.

There’s just not a whole bunch of space on a 4+-inch smartphone screen. There isn’t. To keep things at a size that I can still comfortably read with or without my old-man bifocals, my screen holds 20 lines of about four or five words each. Do the math. That’s about 80 to 100 words per screen. The standard paperback book has about 30 lines of nine or 10 words each — around 270 to 300 words. That’s a lot of page flipping on your phone.

Plus when you go to anything large enough for me to read, my phone-based Kindle renders its pages poorly. I’m stuck with justified margins, and automatic hyphenation doesn’t exist. Therefore I’ll have some lines where the words are jammed fairly tight, and other lines where the words have lots of space between them. Maybe it’s just because I’m a print geek, but I find this oddball spacing unattractive, even disconcerting. A quad-left format looks much better, but the Kindle phone app won’t let me go there.

Now if my eyesight gets worse than it is now I can bump the type size from 10-point to 12 or 18. Cuts down the number of lines, cuts down the words per line, and the onscreen page gets real ugly in a hurry.

I had a Nook some time ago. It was given to me by a friend (an avid reader; the kind who has three books going at a time) when he upgraded his equipment. I’m also an avid reader (three books going at a time), and I think between two high-mileage owners and one tragic accident the Nook finally gave up the ghost. I loved it, though. The e-ink display is easy to read, and it doesn’t matter if the sun is shining directly overhead. I can still read it. With a clip-on lamp I can read in the back of a darkened van, like I did on a road trip to North Carolina.


Kindle or Nook? Yes …

But now my go-to reader is my phone. Unlike a proprietary e-reader, I’m not chained to Amazon or Barnes & Noble. I can comparison shop, get the best price, download my book and read it. The only thing I can’t really read on my phone is the older-style .pdf file because, well, the screen isn’t big enough.

To get geeky for a minute, Kindle uses a proprietary .mobi format. Nook uses the more universal .epub format. Even if you hand-loaded Kindle titles into your Nook, you’re out of luck. Ditto if the book has copy protection limiting it to just the device you loaded the book on. There is software that handles both .mobi and .epub formats (I have one, FBReader on my phone), but I’m straight outta luck if I wish to read a copy-protected book with that app.

Further mixing up the equation, many self-published authors stick with Amazon (read: Kindle) for their work. There’s a good reason for this. If you give Amazon exclusive rights to your ebook your royalty is 70 percent of the retail price. If you want to spread the love among several outlets, your royalty drops to 35 percent. Now that’s still a lot better than the approximately 10 percent you get if you go through a big publishing house (before your agent gets his 15 percent cut), but it’s still a significant difference. Amazon is the big gorilla in publishing, and the sales through Barnes & Noble and others aren’t enough to justify the reduced royalty.

(Full disclosure: All of my ebooks are available only through Amazon/Kindle, for the reason noted.)

About the only other drawback I can see with the old e-ink reader is that the screen’s not touch sensitive. Most of the time that’s not a problem, but if you like to highlight or annotate text (raises hand) the process couldn’t be any more unintuitive if they tried to make it that way. It’s ridiculously involved and easy to screw up.

Hint to hardware developers everywhere: Howzabout an e-ink reader that can handle both Kindle and Nook? With smoother highlighting? I’ll be glad to beta-test it for you.


E-readers and pads and phones, oh my!

Reckon I could get an Android pad (those Nexus 7’s sure look good to me) or I can get all brand-name-conscious and pick up an iPad, but the only real difference is the screen size.

And convenience. Did I mention convenience yet?

And the knowledge that ol’ Stonefingers can drop the phone a couple of times before it craps out. Just try that with a Nexus 7 or iPad. (C’mon, I dare you!)

Forget about reading from a phone or ‘pad before you go to bed, though. Since the phone emits its own light, it’ll allegedly do a number on your sleep cycles. That’s why your so-called sleep experts advocate shutting off all computers and turning off some lights a couple of hours before you go to bed. Besides, taking the phone to bed is just plain weird.

The older Kindle and Nook e-ink readers were great for that. Just attach that reading lamp to the unit (available as an accessory and well worth it), and you can read until you fall asleep. It’s just like reading a real book.

Whatever you do, though, don’t roll on your e-reader during the night or you’ll crack the screen. I state this with authority.


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