Saturday, April 28, 2007


When I was a child, I recall the dinner table was the place where ethics were discussed. There was the man my father knew who cheated on his wife whenever he traveled on business. There was the vendor and neighbor who tried to bribe my father with amazing gifts. There was the neighbor woman who set fire to piles of leaves under my parents’ guests’ cars and who shouted profanity to their dinner guests when they went to move their cars. There were all women my parents knew who fell prey to a World War II era con man. My parents spoke with disdain about those unfortunate incidents and with good cause. I took it all in!

My own values got tested as a high school senior when the “friend” who sat behind me kept trying to hand me her chemistry final exam paper while the teacher was out of the room. She knew I had trouble with the questions, and she had a gift for chemistry calculations. I rejected her paper repeatedly and we never spoke after that. Graduation was the next day and we went our separate ways.

In college I watched other girls sneak in and out of the dorm, drive around town drinking beer, be promiscuous, cheat on tests, and break the drinking laws routinely. I never did any of that. I considered trying to buy beer one night, but ended up with a banana popsicle instead. I just don’t have it in me to break the rules (except for a bit of a lead foot on the accelerator which I don’t quite understand for an otherwise “goody-two-shoes.”)

Over the years I have encountered people without integrity here and there along the way. One woman stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from a nonprofit I helped found. We were devastated. A cleaning woman stole hundreds of dollars from my frail father. Someone walked into my office and took credit cards out of my wallet and once someone removed a credit card from my desk drawer. Just yesterday, I discovered thousands of dollars of fraudulent credit card charges on one of my business cards.

In business, there are always opportunities for kick-backs. Some are legally called commissions and disclosed. Others are under the table referral fees. This whole business is messy and very gray. But even so, I prefer the moral higher ground and only do what is legal and disclosed and what feels to me. If it doesn’t pass the “smell test” I won’t do it.

I guess we all have our own standards and mine are the result of a strict Southern upbringing. I can’t change it, nor do I want to! But the one thing I have learned is that my values are what they are, but I can't impose them on others -- nor do I want to. And that is the most important thing.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Memory Matters

I think it is great that just as my own personal memory is starting to fade, I was able to buy a new external hard drive with 250 GB of memory. I am sure everything in my brain would probably fit on that hard drive. Maybe I should start backing up before the real thing goes altogether. Interesting thought…

If I were to back-up my personal brain, what would I want to include? I would start with where I left my car keys and the TV remote, as well as my shopping list. But I could record all of that easily enough on my cell phone. Of course, sometimes I misplace my cell phone. More often than not it is lost in my purse, along with the car keys and the shopping list. I don’t, however, put the TV remote in my purse – except when I mistake it for the cell phone.

But wait a minute--- what about the rest of my past life? The childhood memories, my parents, my grandparents, teenage angst, college and grad school, the early years of marriage, our son, his family, my professional life. Yeah… I guess really need to keep all of that stuff as well. Without it, what meaning would my life have?

Of course, I could never “back-up” all of these memories successfully unless I wrote about them and then added video clips, audio clips, and a musical soundtrack. Sounds like a movie, doesn’t it? Or maybe a PBS special? But then what about smell? And who would care but me, making it all financially unrealistic.

But as I think about my life, I start to realize that it is all about interaction and synergy, not to mention context. Everything I do, I do within the framework of my life. Memory is not just as simple as pulling up a file on the computer. On the contrary, depending on the circumstances, I call up my memories in different ways. Sometimes I recall one thing, and others, another – different tidbits for different circumstances. So when I make a decision, I rely on my memory– it is just not the memory itself, but the conclusions I have drawn based on what happened and how I remember it. Sure, that makes sense, right?

Perhaps this is what truly distinguishes us from the machine we create. Computers, at least not the ones real people like us have, are not programmed for this kind of analysis. They won’t go back for us and look for files related to my current project and make a recommendation. Maybe the next version of MS Office will include something called Concluder. Well, I take that back, is coming close when it recommends books for me to order. Problem is – another program kicks in from the depths of my brain and that program says – you have already bought one book about that, do you really want another? It is not often that I totally immerse myself in a subject, but maybe I am odd. Imagine, however, what kind of program Amazon would need to figure out just what is going to tickle my fancy next!

I bought a new little hand-held video camera. The last video camera we bought was VHS recorder that traveled in a small suitcase and weighed down my shoulder when I used it to record. Then there was the little Super 8 camera from the early ‘70s.

Now I am the proud owner of this new little video camera gizmo. It shoots great quality video that it will record either on a small tape or a card. (the same kind of card used by my phone and my still camera—that has to be a good thing). Although I have a masters degree in instructional technology, I have to admit I am intimidated by the digital world. So I carefully read the directions and did exactly what they told me to do. Truth to tell, this little video camera works a lot like the VHS monster camera from the ‘80s and the Super 8 camera from the ‘70s. Once I understood that simple truth, I could follow all of the instructions. Basically, you have to take the lens cap off (that never seems to change), put the tape in, hit record and a red button comes on. There really are similarities.

Within the last week I purchased also purchased an exercycle. It is a nice one, like the ones they have at the gym (where I don’t go anymore because I don’t have time – i.e. too lazy). [This one came cheap through a friend who knew somebody with 600 of them in New Jersey in a warehouse ready of fast liquidation.] I am determined not to make it into a clothes rack –like I did with the treadmill (now banished to another room because it is too big, too ugly and too noisy, and too broken to live). This particular excercyle is a lot smarter than the one I got rid of last fall. That one I had for 30+ years and put a mere 25 miles on its odometer. Why? Because the thing was an instrument of torture. I tried three different seats and a sheepskin seatcover. Nothing helped! Finally it got relegated to the basement and last fall to Salvation Army. Of course, it was a gift from my husband, so he was not thrilled when I produced yet another exercycle for him to assemble a mere 30+ years later. I bring this exercycle up in the context of memory, because this is a “smart” exercycle. The last one, the cheapest Montgomery Ward had at the time, was not only uncomfortable, it was dumb. It only knew how far I had gone (not far) and how fast I was going (not very). This new one, on the other hand, has all sorts of sophisticated electronics. It has exercise programs built into it and it monitors my heartbeat (fast).. Of course, all of this has to be deciphered and an instruction book translated from some other language. What it comes down to is the same thing as with camera – you push buttons up and down and left and right and different things happen, depending on the phase of moon. Of, as long as I understand that I am fine.

I remember a time when things had a dial or two and maybe an on-off button. Today everything has buttons that change meaning, digital displays that only the 22 year olds who designed them have vision good enough to read, and more capacity than I want or need – or for that matter will ever figure out how to use.

But this 61 year-old is in there trying to take advantage of the digital world. I have a Treo, a digital camera, VOIP, a CD boom box, a digital iron, a DVD player, laptop and desktop computers, a card scanner, an all-in-one, a laser printer and now a digital exercycle and a video camera. I may not use them to capacity, but I use them! The problem really is with my personal internal memory. I just can’t remember how to push all of those tiny buttons in the right sequence to reveal all the possibilities, and once I do push them I can’t tell read the print. Oh well…

Monday, April 02, 2007


For the last twenty years or so I have been having a bedspread issue. You see, I am accustomed to bedspreads that are big enough to fold over the bed pillows. That is the way bedspreads are supposed to be.

The newer bedspreads aren’t really bedspreads at all; they come in fancy sets for ridiculous prices and include pillow shams. I don’t understand the whole pillow sham thing. Does anyone really expect me to either sleep with my head on some fancy decorative fabric that matches the bedspread (or short imitation of a bedspread)? Or perhaps I am supposed to remove the pillow from the sham every night and then tuck it back into it the next morning. Yeah right! And imagine training a husband to do that!

For our king-sized bed I use a quilt-like comforter that is really very nice. It is white, light and feels good in any temperature. But, nice as it is, it won’t stretch over the pillows. I am one of those people who actually uses normal pillow cases on the pillows. They are made of the same fabric as the sheets. In frustration, I have given up and simply throw the pillows on the bed in their regular pillow cases. Then I have two throw pillows that get thrown into the crack between the two pillows. Does it look great? Absolutely not! On the other hand, it is simple enough. Of course, the first thing my husband does every night is throw the pillows on the floor with a sigh.

I have some really nice quilts that sometimes I put on the guest beds, but for regular every day guests (like my son and his wife and the grandkids) I opt for a chenille bedspreads. I have managed to hang onto a few of them in double and twin sizes. True they are a bit old and pulled here and there, but they feel just great on a summer night and fold over to cover the pillows the way they are supposed to.

I have been bothered by this situation for some time. I would love some new bedspreads – you know real bedspreads like the kind I grew up with. I tried to track down the manufacturer of some of my old bedspreads to no avail. Meanwhile, every morning when I make the king size bed I curse the fact that I just can’t handle the pillow sham thing.

Whenever I see a bed with pillow shams, I wonder --- do the people sleep on them or spend time every morning and every night stuffing and unstuffing the things? Maybe I am missing something, but for me life to too short to spend it trying to stuff or unstuff a pillow from something marginally big enough to hold it.

Hotels are a different thing altogether. They actually seem to find bedspreads that are long enough to cover the pillows. Could it be they are able to do that through mass purchasing? I guess if I came in with an order for 50,000 bedspreads I could get them any size I wanted.

But hotels these days also seem to have a fascination with pillows. Mercifully, most do manage to have regular bed pillows with regular pillow cases buried down under all the throw pillows and pillows in shams.

I do recall one Las Vegas hotel with only one regular pillow stuffed on the top shelf of the closet. Strange – but then Vegas IS strange. That hotel had some rawhide pillows too and rawhide fringe hanging from the bed. This room was part of a suite on the concierge floor. As we walked the door I was getting excited. They would put me in it for only one night because it was VERY special and they had no other rooms. The room was odd in many ways, including lights that would only dim - -not turn off and a phone outlet that sent my laptop into fits or error messages about high voltage. The next morning I was at the desk begging for normal room! I wish I could have seen the “rest of the suite.”

A few weeks ago we stayed at a rather nice hotel on Hilton Head. I have seen hotels with lots of pillows, especially in the last year, but this one took the prize. I didn’t count them, but I would estimate at least baker’s dozen on each bed. We threw them in a large pile in the corner of the room. I feel sorry for the poor maids who have to rearrange all these silly pillows daily.

At any rate, my problems are solved. I was thumbing through my copy of the Vermont Company Store catalog and they have bedspreads – real bedspreads that fold over to cover the pillows. They even have the chenille kind I grew up with, and also some lightweight summer bedspreads that don’t need ironing (not that I would ever want to iron a bedspread). I am getting my order together now!