Books · Culture · Fiction

Is COVID-19 Driving You Nuts?

Me too.

I came across this in a blog I follow and it seemed to be good advice: It’s from The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang.

“Compare the difference between the life of a man who does no reading and that of a man who does. The man who has not the habit of reading is imprisoned in his immediate world, in respect to time and space. His life falls into a set routine; he is limited to contact and conversation with a few friends and acquaintances, and he sees only what happens in his immediate neighborhood. From this prison there is no escape. 

“But the moment he takes up a book, he immediately enters a different world, and if it is a good book, he is immediately put in touch with one of the best talkers of the world. This talker leads him on and carries him into a different country or a different age, or unburdens to him some of his personal regrets, or discusses with him some special line or aspect of life that the reader knows nothing about. An ancient author puts him in communion with a dead spirit of long ago, and as he reads along, he begins to imagine what that ancient author looked like and what type of person he was…. 

“Now to be able to live two hours out of twelve in a different world and take one’s thoughts off the claims of the immediate present is, of course, a privilege to be envied by people shut up in their bodily prison.”

And Closer to Home—from Reading and Rhyming by Herbert Knapp

The text of the poem:
No weed that grows, no chemical men cook
can alter my reality like a book.

Culture · Technology

You’re Fired! Walmart Robots Are Out of a Job

Walmart's robot

Who knew? It seems that the roving robots Walmart has been hiring for the last five years have not been more efficient than the flesh and blood humans they replaced!

When I wrote here about robots two years ago (Why Robots Scare Me), I did not doubt that they would be more efficient. Certainly they have proven to be more efficient than human workers in many areas of factory production.
But that is obviously not always the case, as Walmart has discovered. They thought the robots they hired to replace human workers in 1,000 of their 4,700 stores would reduce labor costs by keeping track of inventory available on the shelves, as well as inventory available for online ordering—which had increased as a result of COVID-19.

But as a former neighbor of mine (an ex-US Army captain) was fond of saying, “‘Assume’ makes an ass of you and me.” As it turns out it is more cost-effective to rely on human workers even though more of them may need to be hired.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Walmart CEO John Furner also wondered if customers might not react negatively to encountering the six-foot-tall machines patrolling the aisles, getting in their way. Well, I guess so!  It’s bad enough having to dodge the automated floor cleaners (which they do not intend to get rid of). My advice to Walmart is to keep the robots in the back room—counting cash, stocking shelves there, whatever else they’re capable of doing. I’d much rather encounter a human worker, who, if politely asked, would gladly hand me that can of taco sauce off the high top shelf.  A human interaction which is, as they say, beyond price.

Culture · Shakespeare

The Time is Out of Joint

“The time is out of joint; O cursed spite, / That ever I was born to set it right!” Hamlet, Act I, Scene ii.

This quotation from Hamlet occurs to me every time we go through this ridiculous exercise of the setting back/forward of the clocks!

Now admittedly Hamlet has a more serious reason to complain than I do. He has, after all, just seen his father’s ghost, who directs him to avenge his murder!  Hamlet likens his situation to a medical emergency. Time has slipped its joint and it’s up to him to reset the bone.

On a personal note, I am nursing just such a shoulder injury. Unbelievable, right? But if it’s true, it doesn’t have to be believable, and this is true.  Now I have to set (reset if you will) the clocks. 

Why do we do this?

 “To save daylight time”

 What??

Everybody knows you cannot “save time”— daylight or otherwise. You can’t decide to save some time on a boring day and then use it on frantic day when there’s too much to do. That’s not the way it works.

Once we operated on solar time

When people lived in villages and towns and travel was by by horse and buggy and barge, each town kept its own official time, based on the sun. A prominently placed clock, perhaps in a church steeple, let people know what time it was. But during the 1840s, railroads began crossing over these local time zones. At mid-nineteenth century there were 144 official times in North America! 

The first transcontinental railroad was finished in 1869 and by then need for standard time was pressing. Railroads were using 50 different time standards. If you think traveling is hard now, imagine what it was like then. The clocks on the wall of a large railroad station displayed the current time for the different railroad lines. If you had to make a connection from one line to another, you needed to calculate the difference between the time where you were and the official time of the railroad line you were going to change to, figure out when your train would be leaving, and hope for the best!

In 1869, the time of the completion of the transcontinental railroad, Charles Dowd, a professor at Skidmore College, proposed five time zones, each varying by an hour, each zone spreading across 15 degrees of longitude leaping westward from the Greenwich meridian—essentially the same system we have today.

However, Dowd was not an expert and those who were diddled and daddled for 14 years, finally adopting the standard time zones we have today. Dowd never received credit for his idea.

IMO, daylight savings time is a bridge too far.

However, since everybody’s doing it and since I don’t want to be late/early whenever I go somewhere (or for the time being join a Zoom event) I reset the clocks. Except for the one on the kitchen stove. I don’t mess with it. Too hard. But it’s always right six months out of the year. Not a bad average.

Culture · Holidays

Why Christmas Cards Matter

Christmases Past: Some cards Herb and I have sent over the years

An old friend sent an email yesterday asking for my address. We moved last year and she had forgotten to enter our new address in her address book. She wanted to send me a Christmas card. That got me to thinking about Christmas cards and why they matter. She could have easily wished me a Merry Christmas in her email, but I am so glad she didn’t and I look forward to receiving her card.

Why, I wondered, do I care? Why is it that Christmas cards are really my favorite Christmas custom?

Here, I think, is the answer: Who we are, after all, depends on all the experiences we have ever had in life and that includes the interactions we have with our friends. Old or new or ongoing, our friends matter—a lot.

In fact we may not see them often; realistically we may know that we will never see many of them again. But we have not forgotten them, and when an envelope with a familiar handwriting appears in our mailbox, we know they have not forgotten us.

There may be a short note—or even a letter, though that is not often the case. But there will certainly be a signature .and we will have the opportunity of holding the hand of a friend in our hand and reflecting on our friendship and the times we have spent together. You can’t hold an email in your hand.

And that’s why Christmas cards matter.

Conservation · Culture

Growing Up Before Smart Phones

Letters home from far away.

In looking through some old posts, I ran across one written in 2012  about finding boxes of letters our girls wrote the first few years they were away from home on their own: Elly at the University of Oregon and Sarah in New York City at the Academy of Dramatic Arts.

In the ensuing seven years since I wrote that post, there has been an enormous change in the attitude and behavior of young people who have left the nest to pursue higher education. For the most part this new breed seems to be too  fragile, too insecure, too frightened to take on the job of becoming thoroughly grown up. We call them “snowflakes” for good reason. I just read that somewhere a professor of literature feels obliged to issue a trigger warning when they are about to read and discuss fairy tales! 

The  collection of letters from our daughters, tell the story of the everyday activities and concerns of teenagers during their first years away from home, learning to be independent during the seventies, when the digital age was just around the corner.

They are already historic documents of a sort

Hardly anyone writes letters like this any more. They were frequent and long— page after page of complete sentences. And almost all of them are written in longhand—very readable and consistent cursive. Sarah had no need for a typewriter since few papers were required at the Academy (her tool of learning was a cassette tape recorder). Elly had a typewriter, but chose to write in longhand instead of typing. The letters are truly charming, often funny, and frequently contemplative.

But I think even more important than that they represent the dying tradition of newsy letter writing is the fact that these girls were truly away from home and their parents. Today, maturing children can text and Skype and email and immediately get help, advice, or at least sympathy. Our girls had to figure it out by themselves. They could have phoned, of course, and sometimes they did, but I don’t recall too many phone calls, probably because it meant an international phone call charged by the minute. Today  young people have contemporaneous back and forth texting at their fingertips. Even a phone call requires a certain amount of retrospective synthesizing of experience before you talk about it. Texting soon after or, for heavens sake during, an experience removes the probability of mulling it over independently.

However, I don’t think it was necessarily a totally positive situation. Learning to fly is hard, and many times I have thought how wonderful it would have been if we could have instantaneously communicated by email. And I am sure there were occasions that would have benefited from adult intervention. But our girls learned to manage—no doubt faster than if we had been available to help solve problems immediately. Both of them eventually lived in private housing and dealt with associated problems with landlords,  phone companies , and the like. If they needed to go to the doctor, they just did. We learned about it later–a week or two later.

Instead of stuffing the letters back in the box we found them in, we decided to store them in archival boxes. Digitizing them is a bridge too far for us, but maybe someone someday will decide to do that.

Things worth saving need a safe place to live.

I dare says everybody has important paper objects that need to be saved and protected for future generations. Not just the obvious diplomas, birth and marriage certificates, awards, and so on, but personal letters, photographs, post cards, greeting cards, children’s drawings, homework, and recipe cards. Yes–recipe cards!

If you want to know all about organizing and preserving your family memorabilia, check out  the this source: http://thefamilycurator.com