Monday, April 26, 2010

Celebrating A Cranky Anniversary

On its one-year anniversary, Middle-Age Cranky is moving to Wordpress, where it will be easier for readers to leave comments. Join me here.

Monday, April 19, 2010


Yesterday I rode my bicycle to the library.

In the abstract, it sounds silly for a man in his 50s to be riding a bicycle. But in the moment, I am astounded by how much I love it.

Part of it is just plain old common sense. It isn't far to the library, but that's a smidgen less gasoline used, and I hadn't done any other exercising over the weekend. But there's something more than that.

Mine is not a fancy bicycle. It's got 15 speeds, five more than the last bicycle I had, but I really only use the middle five. It takes me back. I was very independent for a seven-year-old. My working parents would let me cycle to the swim club, a couple of miles away. (I wonder if parents let their kids ride their bicycle that far anymore.) I used to ride my bicycle to the nearest Baskin-Robbins, when a single scoop cone cost 12 cents. That Baskin-Robbins is still there, but of course, the cones are more expensive now.

I remember my friend Jim Scott and I used to take a circuitous route up into the same hills, just to find ourselves at the top of a long and winding road. Sometimes we'd have to walk our bikes for part of the trip, but oh, that wonderful feeling of navigating those rolling curves on the way down. The downhill made the uphill all worth it.

These days, I sometimes cycle up to a nearby county park to go hiking, and it's a bit of a climb to get there. But oh, baby, that ride back down. The breeze, the ability to stop pedaling and be motionless, almost to be flying through the air, like a dream but wide awake.

There aren’t too many ways to feel like a kid again, but being on a bicycle sure is one of them.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Why I Love Facebook

According to the latest statistics, one-fifth of Facebook users are Baby Boomers. Although our ranks on Facebook aren't growing as fast as they were a couple of years ago, especially compared to younger people, we're still a major presence there. We need to be. It's the only place we can keep track of everyone. It provides pictures along with names, which e-mail doesn't. Let's face it, it’s the best memory aid known to Boomers.

I love it for that and for other reasons. As the following exchange of messages shows, even the most innocent posting spreads out into cyberspace like a rock in a pond and blossoms into advice, insight, and — best of all — serendipity.

4:54 pm

Howard Baldwin
I am sitting here trying to get the string to my sweatshirt hood back through its holes. Shouldn't there be a machine for this?

4:55 pm
Shelley Ewer
There is. It's called: fingers!

4:56 pm
Howard Baldwin
Oh, the warranty expired on those YEARS ago. Part of the problem that Gus is here helping me. He is torn between wanting to be in my lap and playing with the string itself.

5:00 pm
Shelley Ewer
Hire someone to do the tedious work. Why should you be bothered?

5:04 pm
Eva Langfeldt
Attach a safety pin to one end of the string, which will give you something to grab onto as you thread it through.

5:37 pm
Robin Snyder
What Eva said - use as big a safety pin as you can find. Or give up, and entertain the cat. :)

6:06 pm
Clark Buehler
I actually had to do this several times over the last several years and the answer is the safety pin but not necessarily the largest one. It depends on the design of the clothing you are trying to restore. Trust me on this one, some patience required.

6:16 pm
Halsey Royden
Try your knitting needles!

6:24 pm
Megan Diehm Gebhardt
You could pay me to do it! You know, there are experts for everything....

6:27 pm
Eva Langfeldt
Ixnay on the knitting needles . . .

6:33 pm
Mary Schaefer Mercogliano
This must be an ancient sweatshirt - can't buy them any more because of strangulation concerns - you should see the recalls the CPSC puts out on an almost daily basis recalling hooded sweatshirts with drawstrings. Savor your antique :)

6:35 pm
Martie Muldoon
Wait ... I know Howard, and I know Eva. How do Howard and Eva know each other????

7:23 pm
Eva Langfeldt
Wait, Martie . . . how do you know Howard? He and I have worked together frequently (albeit usually remotely) over the years, both of us being editorial freelancers in the high-tech field.

7:28 pm
Edwin Watkins
Tie one end of the string to a cat, put the hoody on the cat, gently place one paw of the kitty in the opening of the string portal, then light the cat on fire.

8:09 pm
Paula Pierce Crockett
Let Gus have the string and buy yourself a new sweatshirt!

8:21 pm
Martie Muldoon
Eva, Howard and I went to school together. Howard, Eva and I have played together in symphony and theater.

9:27 pm
Howard Baldwin
You're all hilarious, especially those of you who suggested Gus help out. Because serendipity rules the world, I found a foot-long twist tie on the kitchen table (I still don't know where it came from) and pushed that through ... with patience. Problem solved. I will try not to strangle myself.

1:45 pm

Amy Helen Johnson
Hey, I like the sound of that for a New Year's Resolution, Howard -- try not to strangle myself. I'm certain I shall be more successful at that than eating less sugar and exercising more.

8:50 pm
Virginia Shea
Eva, I didn't know you knew Howard! Small world!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sensors Gone Wild

I drove a rental vehicle in Seattle recently that gave me a horrifying vision of the future. It was a six-passenger van manufactured by Chevrolet, chosen so that we could drive around with both my friend Andrew and his kids without having to take two cars.

It was sufficiently huge that once the kids were strapped in, they couldn't close the sliding doors with enough force to close them securely. This would prompt a message on the dashboard: RIGHT REAR PASSENGER DOOR AJAR. This would in turn force Andrew to get out and slide the door shut again. But his doing so would trigger even more frantic error messages: PASSENGER SEAT BELT UNFASTENED and PASSENGER DOOR AJAR. (Yes, they were in capital letters; I'm surprised there weren't exclamation points involved.)

Andrew and I immediately began imagining an over-networked world where sensors cause havoc instead of promoting safety. "Can you imagine some poor guy trying to get his pregnant wife to the hospital?" Andrew asked. "The car wouldn't start if she couldn’t get the seat belt around her midsection, and then you'd start getting all sorts of error messages: SEAT BELT NOT FASTENED. PASSENGER SCREAMS DETECTED. PASSENGER SEAT DAMPNESS DETECTED."

As a technology writer, I started realizing that all sorts of other nightmare scenarios were possible. At times, do-gooders have suggested that cars should have kill switches, so that the engines can't be started in any of a number of situations: an alcohol sensor indicates the driver is too intoxicated, or the seatbelt sensor indicates one or more of them is not fastened.

So what if car sensors networked with online banking systems? You'd try to start the car and start getting messages indicating you weren't going anywhere: PROPERTY TAX BILL NOT YET PAID; TRAVEL ON LOCAL ROADS NOT ALLOWED. GAS TANK ONE-QUARTER FULL, NO FILL-UPS ALLOWED UNTIL GAS CREDIT CARD BILL PAID.

These belittling warnings, of course, would not just be flashed on the dashboard; undoubtedly someone will figure out how to have that same annoying woman who sighs "calculating route" and "when possible, make a legal U-turn" on your GPS when you've gone in the wrong direction deliver them as well. An added "benefit": the volume would increase depending on how late your payments were.

With Webcams are already standard equipment on many computers, they'll probably migrate into cars before too long. I can only imagine algorithms that analyze how people are dressed, taking into account colors, patterns, and skin tones. Parents could have the car announce to their teen-agers: YOU'RE NOT GOING OUT DRESSED LIKE THAT. The algorithms, of course, could be reconfigured using a Web site based on the appropriate season. Heck, I'm thinking women would order this to make sure their husbands couldn't go out wearing striped shirts and plaid pants.

Hmmm. I may have stumbled on to something that will get people using mass transit.