Monday, April 30, 2012

I don't understand why you don't understand

"How do I use Apps? Is there an App for that?"
Is technology making us all dumber–or has it just passed some of us by?  

We've all seen it. You know, when someone seems lost or clueless over the latest technology. It's the first step to fossilization, the first sign of extinction. When technology baffles you and you begin to question it's purpose or value – CONGRATULATIONS! Your place has now been officially reserved at the international museum of the obsolete.

Once you start asking the fatal line of questions; "what the hell does that App do?" or "What in the world do I need THAT for?", just plan to start throwing yourself into the nearest tar pit. When you start rolling your eyes at new social networking Apps, muttering "whatever" at TV ads promoting new gadgets and electronics or when you sigh audibly when a new web site rises in popularity that everyone else knows and loves–and you've never heard of it, that's when you'll know the end is near.

Last fall, I went to visit my Mom and I got her a new digital telephone. I programmed it and got it up and running in no time. While I was there, she wanted me to "take a look" at the combo VCR/DVD Player I got her three years earlier. She said 'it's never worked right' so I went to take a look at it. I soon discovered the problem.

It wasn't even plugged in.

"That smiley-face emoticon is mocking me!!"
I'm not kidding, it felt like I was living the punchline to a bad joke. Once we figured out this bout of rocket science, I then I tried to review with her the details of her multiple remote controls. It took more time than I care to mention and I know she absorbed approximately .08 % of what I showed her.

I won't lie, my brain is still reeling.

How about the people who have iPhones, Droids and other advanced tablets and Smartphones that are continuously amazed at the device's most basic functions. "Wow, it tells you the weather?" Really? Or one of my favorites; "I really don't even use my iPhone/Droid." Why? Why did you even get it? Get off the network and let the rest of us cruise through. We got stuff to do–!

How does one function in a our world where technology is so ingrained? I mean, every event in human history and every ounce of information you could ever need is available to us via the web. We build, maintain and establish relationships with people across the globe right from the palm of our hands and every year the means to do so are better, stronger, faster.
"Now where is the 'ANY' key?"

You can't even apply for better-than-minimum-wage jobs without an emailed PDF of your resume. One-in-four relationships now starts online and you can buy everything from shoes to groceries on your laptop, tablet or iPhone. How can you function in the world without these tools but then turn around and complain bitterly about them? I'm at a loss. Seems like there are three classic choices here; lead, follow or get out of the way.

The conclusion? Bleeding-edge technology is not for everyone. I'm an avid Apple product enthusiast, always have been–there are none better. Yet, every time I visit the Apple store, I see and hear people complaining about how "this stupid thing doesn't work right" and how "nothing happens when I try to go online…" or "I can't get this thing to see my printer!" and always–ALWAYS–the problem is user error.

Every time.

You aren't expected to be a technology genius, but there is Google, YouTube, even (gulp!) the instruction manual. Heck, Apple even provides FREE on-site user sessions on how to use their products. I just don't understand why so many people are so confused when there's so much information available to them. If you don't understand how to learn, please just–just step away.

So here's my take, if you are not plugged in–just stay that way. Seriously, it's okay. Technology is not for everyone. The rest of us have happily moved on without you. Today's tech is more robust, easier to access and more (comparatively) affordable than ever. But if you can't bother reading a 'quick-start' guide or attend a FREE usability class or even bother to plug the damn thing in–please, stop complaining to the rest of us about how worthless the technology is.

Because the rest of us are convinced that the pointless, confused and lost part of this conversation does NOT concern the technology.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Dumber & Dumber

"OMG! Like–No waaaayyy! OMG! LOL! Like, Fo' Sho!"
As far as I can tell, today's teenagers are exactly the same teenagers we were. So much for progress.

"All of this has happened before, all of this will happen again."

Every geeky sci-fi nut knows these famous words from the hugely popular ScyFy series, Battlestar Galactica (2004–2008)–and how much those words can resonate with our present-day lives. Nowhere is this more evident than in the modern lives of America's 21st century adolescents and teenagers.

Spaceman Spiff gets pawned by–Mom?
Like every generation before it, today's 11-19 year-olds believe they are the first to attempt to 'get away' with things that are against their parents wishes. You know the usual suspects; sneaking alcohol, breaking something and hiding it, stealing candy from a local drug store or super market. Or the holy grail of sneakiness; surfing porn.

Look gang, we were smart back in the day. And we were cool. We went out did stuff and got caught. Eventually. Every last one of us.

Every. Last. One.

You see, to my reckoning, approximately zero people get away with breaking the rules. Sure, sure, you can Google "unsolved mysteries" or criminals that have gotten away, blah, blah, blah. Thanks for missing the point. The point isn't to do a head count of all the sneaky, under-handed stuff we and others have gotten away with–no, dear reader, the lesson is that you will get caught. Period. Someone, somewhere knows something is wrong, I promise you.

Even if that someone is you.

An open note to America's youth. Since I know my kids and several of their friends (and teachers) read some of these posts, I thought I would take this moment to remind you all of a few things you may either not have learned or have already forgotten. Feel free to take notes (that would be copy and paste for most of you), as you review, reflect on how ANY of these thoughts might apply to you. Ready? Let's begin.

Aren't they all?
1. Naughty, naughty. Porn is is the ultimate online temptation. But did you know, today's ISP's allows parents (you know the ones that pay for and manage the internet access) to see your computer's activity online by ID number, so erasing the history in your browser does not stop us from knowing what you're up to. Also, the house's dwindling lotion supply is often another hint.

2. Busted! Store surveillance–it's been a retail fixture since the dark ages (for most of you, that means before 1985) and if you are using a five-finger discount on acquiring things like gum, candy and magazines, they know what you're doing–and soon, so will the police.

3. Whoa–go and let your light shine down. Hiding stuff under your bed? Really? You do realize this is one of the FIRST places we (parents) look when we are looking for something that's missing, right?

4. You are NOT the first ANYTHING. You are not the first child to smoke pot. You are not the first kid to steal a sip from your parent's liquor supply. You are not the first kid to watch internet porn. Speaking on behalf of all parents, we all did it–and we all got caught. You'll get caught, too.

5. Riddle me this.
Every teenager over the course of human history, believes he or she knows everything, or is at least smarter than their parents/guardians/chaperones/authority figures. It's genetic. We were smarter than our folks, too. We didn't get away with anything either.

Today, teenagers have so much more to contend with then teenagers from just 20 years ago. Texting, sexting, porn, 500-channels, YouTube, Twitter, FaceBook, Pintrest and home-made drugs on top of acne, self-image concerns and raging hormones. It can be managed. Remember that your focus and your behavior determine your life.

And the choices you make have a tendency of following you for a long, long time. I know it sounds dumb but trust me.

Been there, done that.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

"Hey, you gonna finish that?"

An awe-struck single Dad witnesses the horror of three bottomless food pits known as adolescent and teenage boys. Oh the humanity!

I should post a sign over my dinning room table that reads "Abandon all hope, ye who dine here." Our home supplies regular meals to an infantry brigade of one 14-year-old and two 12-year-old boys. At dinner time, one must watch one's hands and fingers, if one is to retain them.

While no stranger to food consumption myself, my daughter and I often sit wide-eyed and bewildered at the sheer carnage of food-letting at my nightly dinner table. Ever see those National Geographic shows where they chronicle the hunt, take down and carnage of the lion pride shredding a wildebeest or zebra in the Savannah?

That comes close.

I have long believed that there is no such thing as too much food in my freezer. Twin 12-year-old boys and a 14-year old man-child can dent ANY stockpile of food. One of the twins, Antonio, shreds his way through burgers and pizza and chicken and pasta and vegetables like they are the last on Earth. And then he looks to my plate or his brother and asks; ".. hey, are you gonna finish that?" Because the first three helpings weren't enough.

"Hey Dad, we're out of Ketchup..."
Now don't get me wrong, I can chow down with the best of them, but I have recently embarked on a personal slimming down initiative and just don't eat what and how much I used to. I also try to have a balance of foods that both fulfill and nourish this ravenous army of three. However, with the cost of today's food, eating healthy (and continuously) is a tall order. What to do a fun exercise?

There are essentially (for all intents and purposes anyway) five adults that need to eat three times a day. That's 35 meals a week. Not including snacks and desserts and, well, more snacks.

In all fairness, I do split this food bill with the children's Mom. But the tally stands. And even though I have a food bill that could rival the GDP of most small nations, I have some tips I would like to share for any parent interested in cutting corners at the checkout counter:

1. The Dollar Store is Your Friend!
I find many parents are too proud/particular/prude to truly shop at the local Dollar General. They have all your brand-name staples; ketchup, relish, aluminum foil, toothpaste, Cup-o-noodle soups, soda, boxed rice, cans of vegetables and so on. It's a treasure chest of necessities. Lose the pride and save a bundle.

2. The Incredible Bulk. I LOVE Costco, with all my heart. Especially since all my boys are carnivores, the deals on meats are unbeaten–so buy in bulk. Meats, cereals, dairy like Milk, butter and cheese. You pay more once but save tremendously over the long haul. Remember, shop for quantity.

3. Mr. Freeze. Invest in second, stand alone chest freezer. Buying foods in bulk is great  but you will need someplace to put it. A second Freezer (or refrigerator) makes all the sense in the world. A definite must for any family of three or more. You can pick them up new for between $150 to –  $200 – worth every penny!

4. Plan to eat—then eat according to plan.
I try my best to stick to a balanced eating plan. Some meat or fish, some veggies, some fruits, grains or breads couple with pastas. The variations come via  spices, flavoring and different ways to look at things. Children are a certified pain the royal sit down when it comes to eating diversity. I try to plan each meal with a variety that appeases everyone.

5. No food left behind.
There is no greater waste of money and time than tossing out unused, uneaten leftovers. After a decade and a half of this, I know my kid's intake volume and likes. Any leftovers are tomorrow's lunches or after-school snacks. Period.

Eating is an important part of life and having a good, healthy (and effective!) plan is the best way to instill a healthy relationship with food for your kids.

But until the day comes when they either move out, or the near pandemic levels of food consumption end, I will be sitting silently in the corner in awestruck disbelief... with an empty wallet.

Friday, April 6, 2012

So, not a Holiday

"It's Green Day–!"
We seem to be confused about the meaning of the word "Holiday".
Let's chat, shall we?

Ever hear people talk about their favorite holiday? It's sad. Most don't even qualify; Halloween, St. Patrick's Day, April Fool's, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day.  Folks, these are NOT holidays. They are days of observance. They are ALL relevant and important but if banks, schools and businesses are open–it's not a holiday.

I know, Mother's Day is sacred, Valentine's Day is for lovers, blah, blah, blah. I get it.
"That nice man in the big white van gave me lots of candy!"

Halloween is fun, but no matter how cool my costume is, if it's on a weekday, I still have to be to work by 8 o'clock. So, it's not a holiday. On St. Patrick's day I can wear green, eat green smell green and pee green but I still do NOT have the day off (although I know for some northern American cities like Boston, Chicago and New York– this one does come close!).

My laptop's dictionary sums it up nicely; "A holiday is a day of celebration and remembrance in when no work is done". I won't debate that many don't work on some of these days by choice but on most, you are required to show up to work. Even if your job has you working on Easter or Mother's day, they will be expecting you to show up (again, whether or not you do is your call).
Well said, Frankie–now back to work.

I really feel like the American mandate to avoid work (a sentiment I don't share) drives our love of 'a day off.' Why is that? Do so many of us hate our jobs that we look for every excuse in the book to get away from it?

I think it goes deeper than that.

I believe it is because Americans don't cherish their time off. Look at the weekends of people you know, or even your own. Are they spent reflecting, sleeping, doing fun things and relaxing? Mostly not. We squeeze in food shopping, laundry, kid's practices and recitals, trips to the dry cleaners and super markets and visiting with relatives we frantically scurry to get face time with.

Or even worse, we tackle chores and home improvement projects we've been putting off. The reason we put them off is because we didn't want to do them in the first place – and probably for good reason.  We identify the need, sometimes down to our core, that there is value of "me" time. Mental (NOT physical) downtime is essential and can be hugely valuable for our sanity, state of mental well-being and not to mention good for our relationships with friends, family spouses and co-workers.

Personally, I get shopping and laundry done throughout the week and I try desperately to keep the weekend chore-agenda to a minimum on the weekends. I wouldn't give up my me-time for anything–barring emergencies or the needs of those close to me–and I KNOW it makes me a better, happier person. After all, life is for the living, right?
So let's stop calling days of observance "holidays" and call them what they really are, mental time-outs. 

To be honest, I rather like the term "Me-days".