Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Password. PLEASE!

Quick! What’s your password?  Which one, you ask? Exactly! That’s my point!

There are so many!  Certainly, this is true in our household where we have way more pass codes than my electronically-addled, technophobic brain can handle. Is this symptomatic of being middle–aged and losing memory cells, do you suppose? Or do “young people” have this affliction as well?

I mean, really. Let's start: We have one password each for logging on to our two computers. These are fairly benign three letter jobs. But once we’re in, our internet provider (is that the right term? I also have trouble with correct electronic jargon) occasionally asks us to log in with our password – which is supposed to be in excess of 8 characters, with the recommendation that at least some of them be digits and maybe some upper case letters thrown in just to make it difficult for hackers. Hackers!? These are too difficult even for me and they’re my pass codes. So we created four passwords for our four email accounts, each one with a one-letter or number variation on the same password theme – I think one of them has capital letters in it. I’m stumped every time trying to remember which one is which. So I’ll sit there and type in all the variations (oops, I mean “key” in) I can think of and hope to get it right before I give up and call Ken in case he remembers. I’d write them down somewhere, but there’s no guarantee that I’d remember where I’ve hidden them “for security purposes” (assuming that the hackers will break into our house and find our pass codes in a secret drawer somewhere.)

Then there’s one for our online banking. I must have keyed it in incorrectly one day and it kicked back with the dreaded, “Pass code is not valid. Please try again.” I got rattled. I tried it again but left off a portion of it thinking, “Well, maybe it doesn’t have those two last letters I put in before.”  The warning came up again. But this time it said if I wasn’t successful the third time it would assume that I was not the correct user and it would require me to call them to reset the password. Yikes! That’s all I need – another new pass code that I’m not going to remember. PLUS having to go through the “press one for customer service, press two for new passwords” hell.  I shut the whole thing down and called Ken in case he remembered. Fortunately he did and I got back into the system. But I always have this uneasy feeling that there is actually a person sitting at the other end of the line tsk-ing over my stupid mistake who is going to shoot back with, “Alright how do I know you are who you say you are?” “Oh, yeah? Prove it.”

The list goes on. I have a password for signing on to my Facebook page as well as one for this blog site. Also my online Weight Watchers account, one for Blockbuster online (fortunately this is one of the few web sites that actually remembers my password, because I have no idea what it is, it’s been so long since we opened the account. I couldn’t even guess what those black dots represent when they come up automatically. I’m sad that we won’t need to rent movies on DVD for much longer – it’s so simple) and several for my favorite selection of online retailers. Not to mention one for the electronic overhead garage door opener and another for our voice message system – make that systems, because we still have a land line (remember when the phone on the kitchen wall was just a “phone”?) plus our cell phones.

Now, I know what you are saying. Yes, yes, some of them are the same code. But just try to recall every place where it is applicable. And I also know that we are supposed to change passwords every once in a while. This thought strikes terror.

A dear friend in Vancouver was bemoaning this very topic in an email this week. She teaches drawing and needs to frequently change passwords on her college account. She said she had been using words like “pencil” and “eraser” but was running out of familiar words like that to use that she could easily remember. I suggested that she had all kinds of options if she used the various brands and pencil lead weights, such as Ticonderoga4H, or Kohinoor2B. I like the irony of using low-tech pass codes for high tech access. And besides, does anyone but a drawing teacher know these anymore? Surely they’d be safe from modern day hackers who have probably nevcr used a pencil.

She and I also talk about our childhoods on a fairly regular basis. We’re both a tiny bit prone to nostalgia. She told me a great story about her family asking, “What’s the password?” And it was always the same: “Goldfish!”  (Word has been changed to protect their security.) I love this. I can see it being a source of gleeful giggles when she and her siblings were little kids. And a faithful, inside joke-kind-of-reminder of childhood as they got older.

In my house, it was my brother, older than me by five years, who would block a doorway and demand a password for me to get by.

“What’s the password?”
“Nope! Sorry! Try again.” 
“I don’t know!”
“Nope! Still wrong! Try again.”   
“Will you just let me GO!”
“Oooooh, SOOOORRRRY! That’s not it either!” 

This would go on for a long time before it would elicit parental intervention.

So, you’d think this experience would have prepared me for a future of guessing passwords. At the very least it should have given me the stamina to try over and over again to get it right. But, hey! This could be good news. Maybe it isn’t my memory that’s the problem! It just might have been this early training that left me with the frustration of never thinking of the right password when I need it!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Life Goes On

Well, I heard the news today.  Hoo boy.  Paul McCartney has been snapped up again by some other woman.  Now that he is 69 (well past 64), and I’m pushing 60, Sir Paul’s impending marriage probably means that my chances of becoming Mrs. McCartney one day are getting slimmer. The torch I’ve been carrying since I was 13 is growing dim. 

When I mentioned this to Ken, he was mildly consoling, “Maybe he hasn’t heard that you’re on Weight Watchers.”  I married a funny man.  
Oh, yeah, right. I am married. Happily, I might add. Ken also said it would come to fisticuffs if McCartney ever tried to take me away from him.  And I told Ken that I would never leave him even for my favorite former Beatle.  So, we’re good with it.

But I did wonder what it might have been like if my dream had come true.  What if I had actually met Paul somehow (o.k., sure, that might have been a one in a million longshot), and he had fallen for me (a sure fire guarantee once we had met!) What if we had married (Westminster Abbey no doubt) and lived happily ever after.  I began to wonder if life with a celebrity like Paul McCartney would have been the same as any ordinary life.
Would we have argued about the same things as most married couples? Like, sharing the house work?  “If I’ve asked you once, I’ve asked you a hundred times to clean up all these music sheets!  I’ve had enough of all those silly love songs!”  

Could we have worked it out?

Would he have appreciated my helpful comments on his work?  “I think you should cheer that one up a bit. Why don’t you take that sad song and…oh, I don’t know… make it better?”
Would we have agonized over big purchases?  “Baby, quite worrying…you’re a rich man!”

Would we have a job jar? "Hon, could you please fix that hole where the rain comes in?"

Would I have gotten involved in record deal discussions? “For heaven’s sake, won’t you listen to what the man said?!?”
Would we have planned annual vacations?  “I don’t know, honey. That looks like such a long and winding road. Let’s look for an easier route.”  

And would I have gotten to drive an Aston Martin or two? “Baby! I can drive your car?!?" 
Would we have found those little niggling imperfections and nitpick them to bits, “For gosh sakes, Paul, will you just let it be!”

I like to think I would have made a good muse.  Imagine, being an influence on the greatest pop music of our generation.  Maybe he’d have been amazed.  But, oh well, so much for my girlhood dreams.  Or as Paul would say, “oh bla dee, oh bla dah”.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Write Thinking

In the 1970s, comic actress, Gilda Radner, created a character on “Saturday Night Live” named Emily Letila. Do you remember her?  Emily was bookish, dressed primly in a longish skirt with a Peter Pan collared blouse and a cardigan sweater buttoned up to her neck, her hair held back in barrettes, and her glasses attached to one of those necklace chains that dangled like a long pair of second ears down to her shoulders.  Her shtick was getting topics in the news mixed up (“What’s this I hear about violins on television?”) and going on at length about how terrible it was, launching into a rant, until the news anchor would correct her (“Emily, that’s violence on television.”)  Then she’d pause and say, “Never mind.”

If the wonderful Gilda Radner were still alive, I think her Emily Letila would have had good material with a hot topic in the news today, i.e., “What’s this I hear about not teaching cursing in school?”  School is a good place for kids to learn cursing – or at least cursing that they haven’t heard at home!  I picked up all kinds of new words at recess and in gym class that I had never heard my Dad or brother use.  Ken tells a story about how he learned to curse in Italian from a kid in grade school named Fabio.  It’s an expanding, educational experience to learn useful curse words from other kids – or your gym teacher.  

Excuse me?  What’s that? The topic isn’t, “not learning cursing at school.”  Its, “not learning cursive?!?”

Never mind!

No wait. I have something to say on this subject. Some schools in our area are in debate about eliminating the teaching of cursive writing in elementary school. The rationale, I believe, goes that kids today need to learn keyboard skills more than they need to learn “writing”, but they will learn to print because printed letters look more like keyboard letters.  Is this going on in your community? Has the world gone mad?  I can’t believe that losing such a basic, centuries-old skill can’t be detrimental to future generations!  Have I become such an old fogey that I can’t see the benefit in this?

Right off the top of my head, I can think of the Ten Top Things Kids Won’t Be Able to do if They Don’t Learn Cursive Writing in School:

10. How is a person supposed to sign their name on a legal document if they can’t write? Is printing acceptable in the legal profession?  Maybe we can all just mark an “X”?

9. How are kids supposed to develop illegible handwriting when they become doctors?

8. Tomorrow’s kids won’t be able to go for handwriting analysis.  This is a shame because there are so few pop-psychology methods for finding out all about your personality (forgive the slight sarcasm on this one.)

7. How is a kid going to write a thank you note to Grandma?  By texting her?  Dear Grm, Hope U R OK. Thnk U 4 gr8t sox 4 my C U 2moro.  Betcha Gran won’t post that warm little note on the fridge!

6. If kids don’t learn to write cursive lettering, will they also not learn how to read it?  So, does that mean that they will have no clue how to read anything in historic record?  Such as, oh, I don’t know, the Constitution of the United States?

5.  How can a kid without cursive writing skills jot a quick note to pass in class? Printing is too slow for this activity. And where is the thrill, the danger, in texting each other? Sure, the teacher can still catch you and take away the cell phone, but you can bet the message will be deleted before it gets read out in class! It’s not the same as a hastily scribbled note on a chunk of paper torn from your coil bound notebook that the teacher intercepts by sneaking up behind you: “Do you have anything you’d like to share with the WHOLE class?”

4. Kids who never learn cursive will never know the joy of reflecting back to their school days when they got a report card that said they will never amount to anything because their handwriting is atrocious and then, years later, they become President and CEO of a large, successful organization.

3. Future generations will never sit in school rooms that have those poster-sized, loopy cursive letters looming over them along the top of the wall like graphic crown molding. Will those too be omitted from the lexicon of standard symbols that represent “school” – like apples, framed individual slate boards, and chalk?

2. The song, “School Days” will have to be retired because the lyric, “Readin’ and Writin’and ‘Rithmetic” will be irrelevant.  Well, o.k., it was a sucky song that needed to be put out to pasture anyway, and the “Three R’s” was never accurate, because one of them begins with a “W” and the other with an “A”, but I think I can make a case here that learning to write was a skill that my grandmother’s generation did not take for granted.  Are we throwing away hundreds of years of writing for “keyboarding”?

1. And, INHO, (“in my humble opinion”), this insane idea will rob kids of yet another activity, like art, that makes them slow down and attempt to do something for which the goal is beauty. To write they have to use their eyes to really see what is given them as an example and create their own version.  Not teaching them the art of cursive writing, however raggedy it might turn out for some kids, is another way of robbing them of something that is individual; something of their own style and signature; something that will become as distinctive as they are as they grow older; something that will be with them all their lives. A page of computer-generated text, even in the fancy fonts, carries no personality of the writer!  How are we supposed to look at a page of text and say, “That’s so-and-so’s writing” if it looks like every other page of text?  

No, I am against this whole idea. Call me old fashioned or rebut my argument, but I am convinced this is a mistake.  Unless, the topic really is not teaching cursing in school?  Then, never mind.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Labor Day weekend has left me feeling a bit lazy, so the blog this week is a collection of random rattlings rather than one meticulous musing. I hope you had a lovely, lazy day on the last long weekend of summer.

True Grit

You have to admire the moxie of a bug that starts in to eat a head of cabbage.  I mean, this is a dense vegetable.  The insect to which I refer, which I found on the “organic” cabbage I bought this week, was no bigger than a Ladybug.  It had only made it as far as the first layer of leaves.  But still, you have to give it credit for its fortitude.  Broccoli would have been so much easier.  A life lesson there for sure.

Modern Family?

You’ve likely seen those little white-line cartoon figures that some people adhere to their rear car windows usually on mini vans, but not always.  One surmises that the figures represent the family that owns the vehicle.  Have you noticed that the illustrations are usually arranged left to right, from tallest family member to smallest?  Most often there is a dad pictured at far left, a mom next, oldest kid to youngest in order beside her, and the lineup concludes with the family pets, the dog, the cat, the gold fish or whatever.  If one really studies the semiotics of these artworks, should one also conclude that there is a hierarchy implied in the ordering?  That dad is the head of the family?  Are all the participants agreeable with this inference?  Aren’t there some moms out there who at least deserve equal billing? Is it mandatory that the figures be arranged in linear fashion?  Maybe they could be applied to the window in circular fashion – that way everyone is equal (and certainly you do see some families in the mall dealing with a tots’ temper tantrums where the children seem to be in charge.)  What about families with gay partners?  Are the illustrations that are available for two dads or two moms identical or are there various models on the market so that each parent can find a drawing that best represents their unique qualities?   Sometimes I wonder if we had these cartoon characters on our Subaru if we would put Riley at far left – you know, just to indicate who really runs things around here.  In any case, I saw a car with these drawings recently that made me wince.  The family in question had clearly been disrupted — I concluded it was by divorce, because the dad had been scratched out.  You could still see the faint outline of where he had been.  If the poor man had died, surely the grieving widow would have removed all the drawings as it would be too painful to see the intact family every time she got into the car. No, I thought, this is a divorce.  There was a certain, detectable anger with which the male figure had been erased.  Expunged.  Deleted.  Sad for the kids, I thought.

X-Rated Recipes

Some dear friends, a great couple who enjoy food and wine as much as we do, came over for dinner a couple of weeks ago.  The wife in the couple and I are both doing Weight Watchers.  The meal I planned had been reasonably compliant with the points allowed in the Weight Watchers system – simple, nutritious, yet tasty and ultimately satisfying.  “Points friendly” as they say.  But after dessert, she and I gravitated to the kitchen where we poured over some of my cookbooks especially the most deliciously illustrated ones that have luscious photographs that look good enough to eat.  We concluded that gazing droolingly at the mouthwatering, yummy pictures of decadent plates of gloriously sauced main dishes and powdered sugar-dusted desserts is pretty much porn for dieters. 

Mmm, Cajun!

It seems that squirrels like spicy foods.  I would not have thought they’d go for the peppers I have growing in a ceramic pot, but I have been finding the seeds and little pepper bits all over the patio. Makes you wonder if there are squirrels with tummy aches out there.  Ken and I haven’t even gone near these peppers ourselves.  I bought a cute little “Mexican Salsa” mixed planter at the beginning of the season that included cilantro, oregano, basil and these chili peppers.  I threw the tag out, so now I have no idea what kind of pepper they are – but they look hot!  They’re smaller in diameter than a golf ball, intensely red when ripe, and quite round.  I’ve looked at a few internet pepper sites to try to identify them, but the closest I can find is habaneros – and we all know those are hot, hot, hot.  I’m not about to try them.  I am totally spice-averse.  I would pull them out of the pot, but the squirrels seem to be having a fiesta with them and why spoil their fun.

Actually I’m not surprised by the squirrels’ taste for spice.  A few years ago, I planted some tulip bulbs in our Buffalo garden.  The squirrels dug them up and ate them, leaving empty holes in the soil and tell-tale bulb bits scattered here and there.  I looked into remedies.  First I tried putting down chicken wire to cover the next batch of bulbs I planted.  The squirrels scooted under the fencing and dined on my bulbs.  Next, the garden store sent me home a bottle of “deterrent” guaranteed to repel the little beasts, yet not cause any real harm. The red liquid smelled of concentrated cayenne pepper with a dash of ancho chili.  I couldn’t get close to it without my nostrils burning.  I soaked the bulbs in it for a day or two and patted them into the earth. The next day?  Gone.  Eaten.  The little rats enjoy their bulbs with hot sauce!  I gave up on tulips after that.  And I figure the squirrels’ history with heat was a “heads-up” on those peppers!