Remembering names and that neural implant something or other

Torn. Absolutely torn.

Because technology is starting to frighten me. With all its advances and nefarious uses and the fact that our microwaves are now snickering at us when they see what we’re wearing each morning.

But there’s some cool stuff, too. Some of it seems awfully tempting. Like the news that tech entrepreneur Elon Musk is launching a company with the goal of implanting electrodes into our brains. One day, this could help us do all manner of wonderful things, like speed up how we process and analyze information. You know, like finding the most adorable cat videos on the Internet without ever typing on a keyboard. That way we can have our hands free to eat cheese puffs!

I’m terrified and intrigued by this idea. The cool part is how such a chip might help my feeble little mind work better. Like remember names. I’m possibly one of the worst name-remembers in history. I once looked in the mirror and had to ask myself, “So, one more time, tell me your name?”

How awesome would it be to have a neural implant in my brain that gently reminds me with tender nudges who people are: “ARE YOU FREAKIN’ KIDDING ME!?! IT’S ED!!! HOW HARD IS THAT TO REMEMBER?!?”

I could totally go for that.

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Flight of the bomb-crater chicken

My chickens have it pretty good. A nice, roomy house, an enclosed run where they can stretch their legs, and even a “private” yard with a picket fence so they can explore a bit when we’re home.

All I ask in return are two simple things: 1) provide us eggs and 2) don’t venture out into MY yard where they dig giant holes, toss around pine needles and devour anything green like a giant swarm of drunken locusts.

Two simple things! And two of my three birds abide.

But then there is little Phoebe — the bomb-crater chicken. A house, a run and a yard are not enough. She needs to roam and explore. She needs to wander MY yard, scratching for bugs, eating plants and digging massive holes that that look like a World War II air raid.

How does Phoebe get out? Well, chickens do fly, you know. But most of the time they’re too lazy, too fat or frankly, lack the smarts to remember they have this skill.

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Spring dumped a New York blizzard named ‘Stella’

I paced back and forth. Up and down the block, under the cover of a hotel awning. Weary to venture out. Is that black ice? Can high-powered snowflakes kill? If you get hit by a snowplow, do they just shove you in a snow bank and leave you until the city thaws?

No Floridian should be here. In an epic spring-time storm. A winter-esque blizzard that even the northerners freaked out about. They were careful on the roads. They skipped work and school. They shutdown trains and fired up snow blowers. They sprinkled salt everywhere, even on their salads. And they mourned the tulips they had planted the week before when it was 60 degrees and supposed to be spring.

Ha!

This was a Noreaster, combining with a polar blast of snow cutting across the Midwest. They called it Stella. A she-devil who was supposed to bring 12-18 inches of snow to New York City. I was there for a College Media Conference. It seemed like a good thing to attend … until I learned their HIGH temperatures wouldn’t crack the lowest I had seen all year.

Um … ha?

I paced back and forth, trying to decide whether to trudge into those cotton-candy whiffs of white drifting down. Piling up on the street like someone shaking powdered sugar all over the city.

To trudge out into it or not to trudge? That is a Floridian’s question.

But no Floridian — not one who had been through a hurricane last year — could live with himself if he didn’t trudge.
So, I went. To learn many new things about winter weather, and to remember lessons I had long since forgotten.

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The vacation worrier

It’s summer vacation planning time, and it has me in a tizzy. I love the act of designing a summer trip, filled with excitement and adventure and beautiful spaces that will make our mouths gape so wide open that some exotic insect buzzes in and ruins the moment.

But with the excitement comes the stress and the pressure and the fear of getting it right. Knowing that if not planned perfectly, it will all go wrong. And if it does, my daughter will tell the story for the rest of her life. “So, after he drove the rental car into the swelling river, he blurted out, ‘Oh no! I left my wallet at the truck stop!’ A beaver on the shore was laughing at us.”

For chronic worriers, vacation planning can be a nightmare. A tale of excitement and dread. But as I venture into my annual travelers’ panic attack, I came across a Wall Street Journal titled: “You’re a worrier? Don’t worry.” It looked at why we worriers “over-worry,” and laid out some handy steps to help us stop. So, as I dig into travel books and web sites, I’ve decided to use some of this advice to help me with my vacation planning:

• Is the concern as serious as I think it is? Meaning, if my vacation turns sour, will my family really leave me stranded on the side of a lonely road while they check into a 5-star hotel and get strawberry-scented pedicures? Probably not. At least not if there is bad WIFI service and they can’t pull up Google maps. Note to self: look for remote, isolated locations.

• Come up with a detailed plan to make it seem more controllable. I like that. Although, I already come up with ultra-detailed plans that get too deep down into the minutiae — “ … arrive at restaurant, put napkin in lap, ask for more bread because my daughter already ate it all.” Is that too detailed? Maybe skip to the other extreme and do no planning? Or just leave out the part about asking for more bread?

• Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” … aside from being eaten by a bear, because that’s pretty bad and could happen. Or checking into a place like the Bates Motel run by a creepy guy who keeps his taxidermied mother in the upstairs window. Or unknowingly booking a place right next to one of those failing California dams because the Internet description read, “Wake up to tranquil sounds of rushing water …” Better yet, let me just skip asking myself about the worst things that could happen.

• Come up with a better story than the negative one that is playing in my head. For instance, instead of seeing the downside of being next to that disastrous, failing dam, think about how once the National Guard helicopter pulls us to safety, the authorities will probably put us up in a nice hotel for free. And they might have strawberry-scented pedicures so my family can forget all about our failed, miserable vacation. Now, that’s a plan!

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Dear technology engineers … a little help with my email password

I was watching a car commercial the other night when it occurred to me that driver-less cars are probably the next big technological milestone. Here was a car that could automatically brake in emergency situations no matter what the driver was doing. The commercial showed a couple injured in an accident getting to magically go back in time to avoid the whole episode thanks to their car’s sensors predicting the crash and bringing the vehicle to a stop.

Cool! Just like that I was a driver-less car convert.

But at the same time, it also got me thinking that if we can create such incredible inventions, why do we continue to fail on easy, low-hanging fruit?

Self-driving cars? Great. But why not pollen-resistant paint!

My two cars could be mistaken for a landslide. They’re covered in so much dust, pollen and other assorted detritus that I sometimes lose them in parking lots. I refuse to wash them because I know it won’t last more than 5 minutes. So, I lose my cars and walk around asking people if they have seen something that looks like a boulder or what a cat might have coughed up.

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All the terrifying numbers, says a birthday boy

Stupid numbers. Why do some matter more than others? Shake fear into us. Terrorize us. Cause us to cross streets or run screaming when we hear them called out at a deli or they pop up on the calendar. 13. 6-6-6. 1040. (Oh no, the taxman cometh!!!)

And then there is this one: 44.

Hear it? Despicable. Slimy. Terrifying.

The last one is the number of years I’m turning this week. And for some stupid reason, that stupid number is getting to me. Intimidating me. It’s like it carries weight. Baggage. More so than his cousin 43, or even some of his more advanced relatives like 46 or 47.

Why? Why is it that some numbers — and especially ages — do this to us? Bring added significance or added pressure. Or a special feeling of doom!

When I tell people the number I’m turning, I say it with disdain and contempt — a little bit of trepidation. A shiver curls up and down my spine.

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The news you should REALLY be reading

You need a break. Between all of the stories on Senate confirmation hearings, immigration bans, street protests, political squabbles and whether President Trump owns bath robes (seriously folks, this was a topic of conversation!), you just need to know there’s something else happening in the world that isn’t fused with politics.

It’s overload, no matter what side you’re on. The new presidency has managed to suck all the oxygen out of the air. And we need a break, America!

So I’m here to bring you some of the OTHER news you may have missed. Maybe it will brighten your day, give you a new perspective on life or help catch you up on some of the most important information you’re not getting:

• A new coffee shop has opened in Brooklyn, NY, serving the country’s most expensive cup of coffee. Price? $18. The actual cost of the cup of coffee isn’t that much. Rather, what you’re paying for is the chance to hang around with a bunch of Brooklyn hipsters willing to shell out major bucks to drink something that tastes like tar no matter how expensive it is.

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Breaking free from the screens

I had just about reached my limit. That moment when I realized I had wasted enough of my time — my life! — staring at the computer screen while clicking on an endless supply of political ramblings, soccer recaps and advice columns about getting really rich while only raising two fingers. “Go do something productive!” I commanded myself. And I was just about to … when I saw the story headlined, “Luke Skywalker learned Jedi secrets while watching Youtube.”

Oh, I’ve got to click on that!

It was then that I realized I had a problem. That my whole family has a problem. Like millions of Americans, we’re hooked on screens. They’re everywhere in the house, and worse, we’re bound to them like umbilical chords. Unable to function, think or cope without them.

“How are you feeling today?”

“Hmm. I don’t know. Let me Google it.”

Which is why I think we need to break away. Free ourselves from the screens. So I have come up with a 5-step family cleanse to help us do it. We will shatter our reliance on the almighty screen and here’s how:

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A Floridian’s invitation to Old Man Winter

Hey, Old Man Winter! Is this the best you got? Can’t you do better? Can’t you send at least a little cold stuff down our way? That way I can wear this new sweater I got for Christmas.

Last time I tried, I didn’t make it a full day before it was heaped up in a ball while I panted and Googled: “how to cure winter heat exhaustion.”

The answer was: move north!

No, I don’t want to. And I sure don’t want it cold here all the time, for months on end. But a little moderation — a little nip to the air — would be nice.

Already it feels like spring has arrived. I’ve seen azaleas blooming, and after a rain, rings of yellow pollen collecting around the puddles in the street. I stood two feet from a hummingbird slurping away at porter’s weed in my front yard. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and had a suntan.

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The evil side to the friendly fire alarm

Need proof that technology has a mind of its own? Has a sense of mischief? An evil streak?

How about this: Why does a smoke alarm decide that the appropriate time to let you know it needs a battery replacement is at 2 a.m.?

Not at 4 p.m. on a weekend, just as you’re launching into other house projects. Or 10 a.m. on a weekday, when no one is around to care.

Two … in … the … MORNING!

And does it gently prod you? Offer a nicely-worded reminder? Nope. Instead, it emits a sonic burst so shrill and piercing that it feels like a stream of molten lava has been poured into your ear canal.

For some reason, fire alarm manufacturers see no need to differentiate between, “RUN, fool! Your house is on fire!” and “Please, sir, kindly gather up a 9-volt battery, but only when you have a moment.”

Practically the same thing in my book.

This is what happened in the Thompson house at 2 a.m., directly above my head, while I slumbered in the deepest of sleeps. You don’t come out of those easily, and certainly not from a single blast of the fire alarm. The little bugger is kind enough to issue a single “blurt” before pausing for 30 seconds or so.

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