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Tag Archive: New York Times

Apr 26

A complicated relationship with a GPS

“You got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there” – Yogi Berra

“If you think Missouri isn’t beautiful, then you should take the drive Bonnie took me on last weekend”, my friend Paige said.

Who is Bonnie, I wondered, thinking I’ve never heard Paige mention a ‘Bonnie’?

“She is my GPS,” Paige answered and added that somehow Bonnie knew exactly what she needed that day—a peaceful and serene drive through the beautiful landscape of Missouri back roads.

“I was going from Kansas City to Jefferson City and Bonnie told me so confidently to turn off of I-70 onto Highway 87 and take that to Highway 179, that I did. It is as though she knew I needed my emotional batteries recharged with a picturesque drive in the country where I saw rolling hills, gorgeous flowering trees, green, green grass, cattle grazing in the valleys and charming farm houses and barns.”

Paige continued, “How did she know that is exactly what I needed?” I think Paige meant that rhetorically, but I answered anyway.

Well, I said, “She isn’t Suri, so you couldn’t ask her why, because of course one cannot have a two-way conversation with a GPS as one can with Suri.”

We laughed, and Paige then explained more of her story, “Bonnie was patient as though she was listening to me and intuitively taking me through a ‘road less traveled’.

“Part way there, “ Paige said, “I stopped for coffee and water. She didn’t like it as we know that no GPS wants us to veer off course or stop. I let her rant for awhile because she probably needed to, and after all, she had not had a chance to say anything for a long time.”

And thus, we have a perfect example of how we form relationships with our GPS, sometimes love and sometimes hate, or more likely annoyance and dependence.

It’s the GPS racket that bothers my husband.

When we drive out west, we take a short cut because we know it goes directly to my brother’s house. Dominique, our GPS, does not know this and fusses at us incessantly with the familiar admonition “recalculating, recalculating”.

Finally after enough of this noise, my husband will ask me to turn down the volume. She annoys him, but because of the love-hate relationship many of us have with our GPS, he also misses her reassuring voice and wants to be sure he is on the right road. Dominique will know. Then he asks me to turn up the volume.

I found an online story by Anna North about some interesting relationships people form with a GPS.

She writes: “More than one dude has fallen in love with the female voice on his GPS unit. She’s so trustworthy, so calm and reliable.”

North gives an example of such a case. Bruce Feiler of the New York Times wrote that he had “fallen for my GPS voice”, and says he knows several guys who have developed a crush on the disembodied voice that tells them where to turn. Wives and girlfriends might be lifting an eyebrow at that one as we speak.

Additionally, we know that couples often argue about whether to take the GPS lady’s directions or not because she is not always accurate.

I have met business travelers who say they would never leave home without her, knowing that she has saved them at the last minute when they were late for a meeting. However, she has also sent them down tangled dirt roads to the hinterlands.

Even though that soothing voice is almost human, we begin to wonder at times if my Dominique and Paige’s Bonnie are simply ignorant, out of touch or behind the times.
Sometimes they simply cannot find the shortest, fastest route. Goodness, it can be maddening.

Although we may love and hate our Global Positioning System and its voice, we must admit that these units, similar to any other technological device, are indispensable.

The problem is that the minute the devices leave the factory, the maps are outdated.

A business traveler’s guide I found gives a solution: there is always the old-fashioned way if one is lost. Ask a local, and switch off your GPS, just so she knows who is boss.

But somehow, I don’t think my Dominique would approve.

Think of it this way. If your GPS lady had a Facebook page, she would have to say on the profile page under ‘relationship”—it’s complicated.

Mar 25

Novels written with flying thumbs on cell phones—best sellers!

“I’m so far behind, I think I’m first,”—Anonymous quote on my coffee cup.

Just when I thought I was current if not ahead on all forms of electronic communication, I find out that I am woefully behind. I just learned about a new genre of writing—cell phone storytelling.

Yes, mostly young authors, but some as old as 40, are writing novels on their mobile phones and using flying dexterous thumbs that defy understanding.

Granted this is happening primarily in Japan where cell phone novelists and most citizens prefer writing on their phones to typing on computers.

Still, the idea is making its way to the U.S.

As preposterous as the notion first sounded to me, I am grasping the concept better since learning that half of Japan’s best-selling novels began as cell phone stories, uploaded to web sites, and later published in hard or soft-cover books.

A famous literary journal in Japan asked if this new genre would kill traditional authors and end writing as we know it.

Apparently not as as Shigeru Matsushima, an editor at Starts Publishing, writes: “It’s not that the (young cell phone novelist) has a desire to write and that the cell phone happened to be there…Instead, in the course of exchanging e-mail, this tool called the cell phone instilled in them a desire to write”.

An article in the New York Times, “Thumbs Race as Japan’s Best Sellers Go Cellular”, concludes that “Indeed, many cell phone novelists had never written fiction before, and many of their readers had never read novels before, according to publishers.”

So instilling the love of reading and writing works for me. More power to them, I say.

The New York Times article adds this bonus for cell phone storytellers, “Whatever their literary talents, cell phone novelists are racking up the kind of sales that most more experienced, traditional novelists can only dream of.”

One young woman, pen name Rin, was voted No. 1 in Japan with her text novel, a story of a tragic love between childhood friends. After uploading to a web site where readers could follow as she wrote, the novel was turned into a 142-page hardcover book that sold over 400,000 copies.

That sells me on the idea.

I am starting mine now, but I am not quite as fast as the kid writers. And there is the arthritis and the carpal tunnel to complicate the matter.

I forgot to mention that cell phone novelists use texting abbreviations, emoticons and text smiles to tell their story as well as leaving out vivid and detailed descriptions. Plot happens fast and characters are never fully developed apparently.

They are losing me and probably anyone over the age of 40, but, nevertheless, here’s my attempt at a beginning:

“Brk Tskot r0d her mAr BlAz a+ the prayri n surch of wht she new she wud fnd. Hrsh elements & Mac, the last pursn on urth she wantd 2 see this AM.”

Translation: “Brook Tescott rode her mare Blaze across the prairie in search of what she knew she would find–harsh elements and Mac (Chad McPherson, known to everyone on the Flying K Ranch and in Kenworth County as “Mac”), the last person on earth she wanted to see this morning.”

I will let you know how my first cell phone novel is going. I may be too old for this. TTYL.

May 14

When things go wrong, blame Mercury Retrograde

“I have never been lost, but I will admit to being confused for several weeks,”—Daniel Boone.

About a week ago, I noticed a confusing problem.

Things were going wrong all around me, and I was as perplexed as a lost Daniel Boone.

Usually, when things go wrong I blame it on pilot error, and the self-deprecating humor gets a laugh. Then, I am off the hook, and no one gets too mad at my foibles.

However, I am considering the possibility that this time the fault could lie somewhere other than in my own cockpit.

A neighboring post office I rarely use had a baffling snafu and lost a graduation gift card I mailed from there. Our bank, not me, made a mistake on a deposit. Business appointments were scheduled incorrectly on their end, not mine. Someone else’s computer snarled up my travel reservations.

In all these situations, no one could effectively explain what went wrong, which is precisely what sent me sleuthing for answers.

Here is what I found out.

According to numerous astrology sites online, we can blame Mercury Retrograde.

This is an astrological event, that occurs typically three times a year, when the planet Mercury appears to move backwards in the sky. Things go abysmally wrong seemingly for days in a row, according to those who follow the stars.

It is happening now.

Andy Newman of the New York Times once penned a story titled “Yes, Mercury is in Retrograde. So What?” He explained the phenomenon this way.

“Perhaps you’ve noticed that things have gone a bit screwy the past couple of weeks. Traffic jams materialize out of nowhere. Your luggage makes an unscheduled stop in Sumatra. The computer eats your dissertation. If you have friends who follow the stars, they may have had a ready explanation for you: the planet Mercury is in retrograde.”

Astrologers also note since Mercury is the planet associated with communication, when it goes retrograde, communication will move backwards, stand still, or become hopelessly confused.

Probably what happened to Daniel Boone.

Modern science may disagree saying instead that Mercury Retrograde is an illusion created by the earth’s orbital rotation in relation to other planets. Science holds that Mercury really isn’t moving backward and has no effect whatsoever on the inhabitants of Earth.

Newman agrees in his article and quotes Bruce Schaller, former research director of the New York City Transit. Schaller examined statistical findings about Mercury Retrograde on train schedules and pronounced the influence of Mercury to be conclusively insignificant. Just hogwash.

Still, I am not so sure, and yes, I have noticed things going a bit screwy lately.

The current Mercury Retrograde period began May 7 and will not end until May 31.

So if you are waiting for Mercury Retrograde to pass as I am, astrologers tell us to spend our energy doing activities that begin with the letter “r”.

Relax, review, research, rewrite, revisit, redo, repeat, repair, retire, retool, retrace, retract, retouch, retrace, and rest.

I tried this advice and have rewritten this column five times, but I am not sure it helped.

As C.S. Lewis once said, “When things go wrong, you’ll find they usually go on getting worse for some time; but when things once start going right they often go on getting better and better.”

Is it better yet? Enough rewriting already. I think I will try another “r word and rest this thing. The end!