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.


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.


# # #

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.


# # #



‘Staring at the phone’ takes on new meaning

line drawing of smartphone
My smartphone looks almost like this now.

My smartphone croaked yesterday.

I know. What am I gonna do, right?

For one who was such a late adopter into the mobile scene, I’ve sure made up for lost time. I do just about everything with that phone:

  • Check my news.
  • Keep in touch with clients.
  • Read my email.
  • Post weird thoughts on Twitter.
  • Read ebooks.
  • Take pictures.
  • Make voice recordings.
  • Maintain my daily calendars.
  • Listen to music.
  • Handle my finances.
  • Even post to my blogs from the phone.

Oh, yes. I’ll sometimes make phone calls. But that’s the least important function. As far as voice calls go, that smartphone isn’t worth a lick.

But I’m scrambling.

Voice calls and text are no problem. I have another so-called “feature phone” (translation: dumbphone) kicking around, and it works very well. I can do some cool things like checking bank balances with a text. But I can’t really go online and do really heavy stuff with it.

How people use their phones

I read in SocialTimes that the average adult American uses his smartphone 58 minutes a day. The only real surprise is that you’d think it’s much more than that. But these numbers may also include those who don’t even have a smartphone, so there’s that. But still, I’m obviously not your typical American adult.

What’s interesting is the usage according to SocialTimes:

  • Using social networks: Nine minutes.
  • Sending and receiving text messages: 12 minutes.
  • Browsing the Web: Eight minutes
  • Sending and reading email: Five minutes.
  • Playing games: A tick under five minutes.
  • Actually talking on the phone: 15 minutes.

IPhone users spend a lot more time on smartphones than Android users, and will text more than the average. But they’ll talk less; I understand the quality of the phone might have something to do with that.

I’ve never timed my smartphone usage and never wanted to because I’m afraid of seeing the results. But my Web browsing and email are considerably higher than the average. I’m probably solid average with text messaging and social media — in my case it’s Twitter and Linkedin. Phone calls? Not so much; I’ve made nine phone calls in the last 30 days. Some were long; a couple of hour-long teleconferences, but that’s about all.

But reading the news is where I blow up the scale. I love RSS news feeds, and of course they’re sent directly to my phone. That’s my biggest time sink.

But here’s the funny thing. I chose not to have an Internet connection at home because I get distracted easily, and can spend a lot of time chasing online squirrels when I should be working. But with a smartphone there’s really no difference except maybe I’m staring at a smaller screen. It’s still a distraction.

Because of that, I’m not in any hurry to replace my smartphone. I can still do some things on it, at least for a while before it completely bonks out.

OK, so I’m making some adjustments. I can still use my smartphone some, but I can’t leave it on all the time. Puts too much strain on the innards.

I can still read ebooks, take pictures and listen to music from the smartphone — all that cool online stuff, so it ain’t dead. But it’s more like that old Palm Pilot I wore out several years ago.

# # #


Despite the rumors, the desktop computer refuses to die

I’ve been hearing the scuttlebutt for years. The desktop computer is supposed to be on the way out. Deader than the newspaper industry, deader than … well, it’s supposed to be dead.

Each new innovation seems to be toward throwing as much computing power as possible into smaller and smaller packages. The laptop of two years ago became the iPad last year, and it’s this year’s phone.

Or something.

My first computer had 512 kilobytes worth of RAM, a 42-megabyte hard drive, and a Hercules graphics card. The modem was one of those screamers; use it to dial your phone and you hear those unearthly sounds as it negotiated a connection. At 2,400 bytes per second, it took a few minutes to upload a text file the size of this blog entry.

Hate to say it, but that early-90s vintage Leading Edge computer didn’t have near the computing power of my phone now. My smartphone — and it’s a cheap workingman’s model — stores 200 megabytes of stuff on the internal memory and another 16 gigabytes on the micro SD card. I can send text files quickly and noiselessly, and check it. The display’s even got color.

I’ve always loved big, bulky desktop computers. The big freestanding towers with every kind of drive, the big display screen, those dust-collecting pieces of furniture we’ve used in offices and homes for so many years. Now we’re talking about a computer, baby.

Nothing quite beats the thrill of leaning back in the chair, feet up on the desk, the keyboard in my lap as I pound out a story or three. I could do that without looking at the screen or clicking the mouse until I’m done writing.

I still have my desktop, and though it’s in a dignified semiretirement, I’m not ready to give that up yet. In fact, I wouldn’t mind upgrading it.

For most of my home-office use I have a laptop with a ridiculously huge screen. I love it. It’s a couple of years old but blisteringly fast. It’s on a platform on my desk, about waist high when I stand up at the desk. It’s my main office rig.

I still have the Acer Aspire One netbook I bought several years ago, and it’s my weapon of choice when I’m writing on the road. Most of my Internet work is done with that machine, because it’s a breeze to carry in a backpack.

The phone has a slideout keyboard and a decent text editor, so that’s my extremely portable writing terminal. I’ve written blog posts on that and uploaded them right away, and it keeps my organizational tools.

The desktop? It’s got all my music on it, and it’s plugged into my stereo to give me the baddest jukebox in the world. But before I got the portable toys
the desktop was my workhorse. For a 15-year-old computer it does all right, if I’m careful to use lightweight software. About the only limitation it has is that it can’t handle any kind of high-speed Internet.

I must have me some Raspberry Pi.

Being a closet geek, I definitely have my eye on one of those Raspberry Pi computers. They’re little more than a mini-motherboard with flash memory, two USB ports and a place to put your power. As far as a case for that thing you’re on your own.

I want one.

Scratch that. I need one.

I’m also intrigued by those LiveScribes or whatever they are. A computer shoved into a pen. Scratch out a note and upload it via wifi into your Evernote account, now how cool is that?

It’s not nearly as cool as a Raspberry Pi. I’m getting me one.

But portability or not, I still love desktops.

Have you ever tried to replace a hard drive in your laptop? Or upgrade the memory? Shoot, you’d need to take it to the professionals. I swear it takes tweezers to do any kind of work on them.

That big desktop has the hard drive I transplanted from an older, long-dead computer. It took about five minutes and four screws, plug in two things, and I’m all set up. The desktop originally had 256 megabytes of RAM, but I snagged a couple of odd-sized memory cards from another old dead computer and bumped it up to 383M. Ain’t pretty, but it works.

On my older desktops I’ve replaced motherboards, CPU chips, heat sinks, CPU fans, power supplies, CD-ROM drives and … did I leave anything out?

But you get the point. Try doing any of those things with a laptop, and don’t even consider that with your Android phone.

It’s kind of like that Saturn an old girlfriend drove. It was a great car, fun to drive, but if you have to work on it you’re straight outta luck. When her alternator went out she suggested having it towed to the dealer to have a new one put in.

“Later with that,” I told her. “Let me have a look at it.”

Now, I’ve replaced alternators. It’s pretty easy. The part is right there where you can see it and wrap both hands around it. One bolt to hold it in place, a second bolt to anchor it and to adjust tension on the belt; that’s all there is to it. I once replaced my alternator in a dark parking lot in some neighborhood I can’t recommend, so you know this wasn’t my first rodeo.

So I popped open the hood of her Saturn to take a look, and everything went downhill from there.

Once I located the alternator, I think I managed to get my pinky around it. What’s up with that?

“Babe,” I told the girlfriend when I went back inside. “Give me the number to your dealer, would you please?”

The new portable computers are like that Saturn. Forget about working on them. Your favorite shade-tree computer technician can’t save your butt either.

Maybe the desktop is on its way out. People are more into small-form-factor computers these days. Something that takes up half your desk and can’t be shoved into a briefcase, well, people don’t want it.

Except experimenters. Except people who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty a bit. People like me.


Writers, editors really need their coffee

Never mind the cup, I'll slam it down just like that.

Ya think?

Got this from MediaBistro, who in turn got it from CareerBuilder … well, you know how this Internet thing works. Anyway, writers and media types are among the occupational groups who need coffee the most.

What a surprise!

Here are the top 10 coffee-loving occupational groups, according to a study commissioned by Career Builder and Dunkin’ Donuts:

1) Food Preparation/Service Workers

2) Scientists

3) Sales Representatives

4) Marketing/Public Relations Professionals

5) Nurses (Nurse, Nurse Practitioner or Physician Assistant)

6) Editors/Writers/Media Workers

7) Business Executives

8) Teachers/ Instructors (K-12)

9) Engineering Technicians/Support

10) IT Managers/Network Administrators

All's right at the editor's desk.

Not surprised at the food and beverage workers, either. Those folks have to go go go an awful lot, and I’m amazed the F&B employees aren’t holding out for something stronger.

Kind of surprised that police and other first-responders didn’t make the cut. A badge-wearing motorcycle-riding buddy of mine works traffic in a town near me, and we’d arm wrestle over that last cup.

I do have a few friends who are teachers, and yes, they’ll make repeated trips to the coffee urn.

But writers? No surprise whatsoever.



Gettin’ snarky about writing ‘for exposure’

If you’re a writer or artist of any kind, you already know the drill: Someone wants you to work “for exposure.”

Or as we call it in our language, “for free.”

And it happened again …

“I won’t mention the name of the guy, his company or his website, because that’s not important. I don’t want to send more Web traffic his way because that’s his game and I don’t want to encourage him. But he approached my writer’s group with his proposition.

“Basically his company — a media outfit from some big city Up North — owns a bunch of really choice Web domain names and he needs some content to fill his pages. Preferably quality stuff that fills a niche and brings eyeballs to his Web pages so people can then click on some ads and make his company a pantload of money. Or something like that.

“In return, the writers get “exposure.” Their stuff gets out there where it can be read.

“I don’t know what y’all call it, but I call it a scam”.

Truth be told, I had fun writing it.

Check it out in its entirety at



Ouch! Baseball Fan Drilled With Foul Ball While Checking Facebook

I wonder if this interrupted him any while posting his status messages? That would have been just too cool. Seriously, though, there are some times/places where you should just leave the social media alone. Driving on the freeway, piloting a jumbo jet, breaking into someone’s house … now add ballgames to that list. Here’s the story, from Mashable:

Do people still write? British study says not so much

You might be a dinosaur if ... you still write things down on paper. (Photo by Eric Pulsifer)

When was the last time you scratched a note out in longhand? I mean take a pen, pencil or pocketknife and wrote something on paper, your hand or a bathroom wall.

If some of the pundits are to be believed, handwriting is a lost art. Another casualty of the digital age. According to an article on the Daily Mail (yeah, British press), the average adult hasn’t handwritten anything in more than 40 days. Anything. And if you take away what used to be the day-to-day jottings of adults — I’m thinking of those notes to yourself, grocery lists, phone numbers on a matchbook cover — only a third of adults actually sat down to write something in the past six months.

Now there’s scuttlebutt that the schools may at some point stop teaching young people how to write. Well, it’d been a while since they stopped teaching youngsters how to think … (Eric, just shut up; you’re going to get in trouble again!)

As I recall it in grade school (and my folks would be glad to fill in any gaps in my memory), my handwriting was beyond horrible. I seemed to lack the coordination (or the interest) to form my letters well, and things did not improve much when we learned the Palmer method of handwriting in third grade. By sixth grade I largely abandoned the Palmer teachings and reverted back to printing, which by then was a lot more readable. To this day I employ a half-printed, half-cursive hand, readable in most instances and instinctive enough that I can take notes without looking at the paper and still be able to understand it later. My penmanship (another wonderfully descriptive word that no one hears any more) is far from elegant, but it’s functional.

As far as my legal signature, forget it. You can’t read it. I got that honestly; Dad’s signature looks a lot like mine, like a Volkswagen that had been hit by a train. But you’re not supposed to read it. Years ago I knew this guy from the Middle East; he spoke fluent English without an accent, was thoroughly westernized. But he signed his checks in Arabic, starting in the middle and working outward. You don’t see anyone trying to forge that, he told me.

But now, there’s little call to write anything down. Pens and pencils may soon go the way of clocks with hands and landline telephones — cool to have, but some training may be required.

Think about it. We haven’t had to write long things out if there was a computer (or before that, a typewriter) handy.

Now we have smartphones. Just tap your note on that, save it to something like Evernote. Don’t need any pen. Or paper. Or pockets, for that matter.

Don’t even need to do much scribbling when you’re dealing with a bank or signing a contract any more. An e-signature takes care of the latter (just type your name), and nearly all bank transactions are electronic these days. The only check I write each month is to my landlord, and that’s only because he’s a Luddite.

I find I’m more of an anomaly these days because I do some of my writing in longhand. Notes are taken on index cards. First drafts go on yellow lined paper. Journal entries go in a leather-bound book, written with a fountain pen.

But more and more, the tech bug creeps into my life and I’m going more to the digital tools. Can’t remember when I last wrote a real letter, and I used to write some great ones. But everything’s by email now. If it wasn’t for my rent check and a few publishers who prefer hard copy when I’m pitching a story, I wouldn’t use the postal service at all.

I can’t rightly say I keep a paperless office, though I’m moving more that direction. A blessing, considering how I am with clutter. But the stacks of index cards and 5×8 legal-pad sheets lying around my desk bear proof that I still use paper and pen.

Reckon if you still write, you just might be a dinosaur.


Some other tidbits, from a study by Docmail, a British stationer. Read ’em and weep:


  • Four in ten Brits rely on predictive text and increasingly rely on it for their spelling, with one in four regularly using abbreviations or ‘text talk.’
  • LOL (laugh out loud), U (you) and FYI (for your information) are the most regularly used abbreviations.
  • Today, creating a shopping list, taking notes in a meeting or even wishing someone a happy birthday are more often done via electronic means.
  • One third said when they do write something down, they often struggle to read their own writing when coming back to it later on.
  • And nearly half (44 per cent) said that their scribing is neither nice nor easy to read.
  • One sixth of Brits don’t even think handwriting should still be taught in schools.
  • One in three Brits describe handwriting as ‘nice’ but not something they would want to do every day.

Do tell. When was the last time you wrote something out? Let me know in the comments.