Sunday, December 6, 2009

Women and their Purses

I know, it's a long standing joke about women and what they keep/carry in their purses. But, years ago I had an opportunity to add to the mythos.

It was 1979 (or thereabouts) and I was working at the UCLA Medical Center in the Clinical Pathology Department. They were remodeling (on a huge scale) much of the "A" level (one floor below ground). The work had been going on for months, and many of us were getting to know the construction workers by name.

I was walking down the hallway into work on day, when I was stopped by one of the workers. He had a large pipe wrench in his hand and asked me if I would mind very much dropping it off to one of the guys working on the plumbing at the other end of the hospital (a long walk, so I can't say I blamed him).

I stuck the wrench into my admittedly large tote bag, and made my way down the hall. As I got to the main lab, I heard a man say "I could really use a f*cking pipe wrench about now!! So, I walked over to him, whipped this big old wrench out of my tote, flashed him a nice smile and went on in to work.

You just know, somewhere over a few beers, that guy told the story of what women really keep in those monster purses. Lipstick? No. Blush? No. Pipe wrench. YES!!!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Just When I Thought A Dog Didn't Understand ...

My neighbors have a dog. Her name is Daisy. Daisy and I have what I would call an "understanding." I can come into the house, but I am not allowed to leave .... ever.

If I try to leave, then Daisy bites me. Hard. Hard enough to actually draw blood. Since that hurts, but there are times I really need to go into the house (and leave again, I do have my own dogs and cats to look after), her primary human and I now have a drill that we go through when I decide I need to leave.

Step one, MaMaw (that's Louise Moon's nickname) calls Daisy over to her.

Step two, MaMaw grabs onto Daisy's collar and holds her.

Step three, I zip out the door while Daisy barks, and strains at the collar.

Step four, MaMaw releases Daisy once I am outside with the door closed and ...

Step five, Daisy slams into the door.

When I say that there are times I need to go to Daisy's house I mean that when MaMaw's son and daughter in law (both of whom are good friends) have to go somewhere, I sort of look after MaMaw. I pick up the mail. I take out the trash. I pick up the Daisy poops in the yard. And, mind you, when I'm in the house, Daisy is generally lying at my feet, or on her back asking for tummy rubs.

It's just when I try to leave that the dramatics begin.

So, today, I was sitting talking to MaMaw (having brought in the mail), and I decided it was time to leave. Daisy was at my feet, just lying there with her eyes closed. As a joke, I looked at Daisy and said "Daisy, would you mind terribly getting up and going over to MaMaw so that she can hold your collar and keep you from tearing me limb from limb?"

To my surprise, Daisy opened her eyes, slowly got up, and walked over to where MaMaw was sitting, and then assumed the appropriate position (with her collar just under MaMaw's hand ... an easy grab). I just wasn't expecting that .... it's not every day that a dog appears to understand every word in a rather complex sentence.

And, then there's the rest of our understanding. As usual, thanks only to MaMaw's steady grip, I managed to get out of the house without shedding any blood.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

I haven't posted in a while,

However, five months after my run-in with the truck, I am still in a fair amount of pain. Some three months post accident, the doctor discovered that I had actually broken some bones (rather than just sprained some muscles). It took an MRI to uncover the breaks. Apparently, sometimes they just don't show up in xrays.

Needing to be on pain medication sort of put a crimp in getting much in the way of work done. Actually, it put a crimp in getting pretty much anything done. But, pain or not, when you live alone, you do what you have to do to keep things together.

So, with my wrist in a splint during most of my waking hours, I have been getting my life organized and preparing for the launch of Don't look yet, I'll let you know when it's ready.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch .....

Monday, February 23, 2009

Nothing like a near death experience ...

To put things in perspective.

I should preface this post by saying, I have just taken my pain medication, and I have one hand splinted, so typing this post is a little difficult. No, scratch that, it is seriously difficult. I will probably read this post someday and realize I was making little if any sense, but you do what you can.

On the 18th of this month, just five days ago, I was driving home from grocery shopping, going South on 281. For some reason that I will never understand, a man driving an 18 wheel big rig decided to pull out into oncoming traffic and make a u-turn in the highway.

The car in front of me was able to swerve around the front of the truck. I wasn't so lucky. However, I did manage to hit him in the one spot that didn't mean instant death for me ... his gas tank. Yippee ... diesel fuel is not all that likely to explode.

Now, my biggest problem is that it is near impossible to work while in pain or on pain medication. This is the downside of being self employed. It is also a little difficult to take care of 19 cats and 2 dogs when every part of your body is screaming in protest. Not to mention getting any effective work done on my building or computer projects.

However, I am alive, and that is the biggest upside I can think of.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Great Cons

Today a friend, with the best of intentions, gave me a lecture on why I should not be brushing my teeth with toothpaste containing fluoride, and why I should abandon using a cell phone altogether.

Her concern, on the topic of fluoride, was that fluoride can be toxic, and that certainly some of it is going to get into your system when you brush your teeth. Well, yes, but then anything in high enough doses is going to be toxic. Too much salt can be toxic, hell, too much water can be toxic. That doesn't mean it isn't beneficial in smaller doses.

Toothpaste is not intended to be eaten. My friend duly noted that there is a warning printed on toothpaste. Has anyone ever read the warning? I'll assume not and quote the one from my own personal tube. To wit: "Keep out of the reach of children under 6 years of age. If more than used for brushing is accidentally swallowed, get medical help or contact a Poison Control Center right away." Translation? Children under the age of 6 are stupid enough to try to eat an entire tube of toothpaste if they think it tastes good.

I have personally experienced seeing a child (age about 4) being brought into the emergency room for treatment from eating an entire jar of One-a-Day vitamins because he "thought they were candy." Result? Iron toxicity which killed the child.

If you stopped using every product that a child could potentially use to kill himself or someone else, you'd be left with ... actually, I can't think of anything a child couldn't use to kill himself or someone else. I'm amazed at the number of children who make it through the first few years of their lives given the hazards.

The next warning concerned microwave radiation coming from cell phones, and hadn't I heard about all the brain tumors growing in the shape of cell phone antennas?? Ummm ... no? I would say it was possible that I hadn't heard about them because I don't keep up with that stuff. However, I do keep up with that sort of stuff (once a scientist, always a scientist), and so decided to do some additional research on the topic.

As of this date, there are no credible studies proving a connection between use of cell phones and brain tumors. I did find some anecdotal evidence about such tumors, but the problem with anecdotal evidence is ... well, it's anecdotal.

If I may digress for a moment. I happen to believe in ghosts (yes, I'll wait until you stop laughing). I believe in them because I have seen them. So, does that stand as proof that ghosts exist? No, it stands as proof that I believe in them. Nothing more or less than that. Anecdotal evidence is simply proof that a particular person believed something, and passed that belief on to someone else. It stands for nothing as to the truth of idea itself.

What was interesting, was that the site link my friend gave me (for a product that is supposed to guard against the evil effects of microwave radiation), cites numerous articles, that do nothing more than illustrate that (1) there is a debate going on, (2) most of the scientific community believes there is no connection between use of cell phones and brain tumors, (3) that the critics disagree, not so much because they have any hard evidence, but just because they disagree.

So, why do I call that a con? Because the site panders to fear to sell a product that has no proven efficacy. That's how a con works, you see. The con artist works whatever angle will work best on any particular mark. Sometimes it's fear, however, greed, sex, and even altruistic beliefs can be used. Whatever the con chooses, it will be something that the mark will have a difficult, if not impossible, time turning his or her back on and walking away.

In the case of this site (which I will not post a link to here ... I don't want to send them business), they note "The Problem" and then go on to list a half dozen or more links with sensationalistic headlines from different publications. How many marks do you think just read the headlines, and how many do you think actually take the time to click on each link, read the article, and realize that the headline really overstated the matter (as headlines typically do). Then, they note "The Solution" (to a problem that probably doesn't exist), and all you have to do is send them close to $800 for a "home harmonizer" or $280 for a pendant you can wear around your neck to protect you from "electropollution." Sure, as long as you are making up a cure, you might as well make up a name for the supposed disease.

The only defense for the great cons is critical thinking. The key word in that phrase is "thinking." People do not think particularly well when what is driving them is something for which they have a strong bias. In order to think critically, you have to be able to step away from your bias (even if your bias is a completely altruistic need to help that poor Nigerian widow reclaim some small portion of the millions of dollars her husband (the former general)stashed in some bank before he died). I would normally attribute that thinking to greed, but I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.

That said, if it makes you feel really good to wear a talisman against evil spirits, or carry a silver bullet with you in case you meet a werewolf, then, by all means go for it. But, please, shop around first, and try wearing a tinfoil hat. It couldn't hurt and it's a whole lot cheaper.

On Taking Lives

I heard from someone today that there is apparently a difference between being willing to kill a cat or a dog and being willing to kill a human being. Now, that's where being a Buddhist for the past 42 years or so makes me different from the community that surrounds me. I do not see a difference, and I doubt I ever will.

While I respect that other people have different viewpoints about life, that does not mean that I feel bound to agree with them. In my own (very personal)view, the life of a cat, dog, or any other animal has as much value as that of a human life. I make no distinctions between them. There is no objective system of weights and measures that I put on the value of a life.

I much prefer my own view simply because I have been a student of history all my life and have seen human beings justify the murder of other human beings simply by dictating that they are something less than human. When causing a death is justified simply by how you define your victim, then that's not a good thing in my opinion. You know, there's a reason so many serial killers start with small animals. It's honing their skills without so much risk. After all, our society doesn't really value those victims.

I hit a deer about two years ago. I was going the speed limit in the middle of the day, and whammo ... suddenly there was a deer on the hood of my car. I raced to the nearest phone to call for help and waited until there was someone there who could put the poor deer out of its misery. I still feel awful that, accident or not, I had to be the cause of that death. For most of the people I know here in Texas, the main concern for them seems to be how much it cost to repair the car. That's the point at which I realize that I now live in a part of the world where I will probably never fit in.

However, if becoming a "real Texan" means abandoning all that I believe about life and death, then I'll pass on that honor. I'll just live here without the title, and go on doing my best to help animals that others have abused or abandoned. Although, I have a sneaking suspicion that there are a lot of people who live in Texas who feel the same way as I do ... and I hope a whole bunch of them start moving into this area ... and soon.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

On Word of Mouth Advertising

I have opinions and I state them freely. People generally understand when I am stating an opinion, as opposed to making a statement of fact. Common signs of stating an opinion are prefacing the statement by words or phrases such as "I think" or "it has been my experience that."

For example, I have often stated that it has been my experience that the customer service at Circuit City stinks. That was, and will always be, my opinion of customer service at Circuit City, and I was not at all surprised to hear that they had declared bankruptcy and were closing their doors. Apparently there were a lot of other people who had the same experience with Circuit City, and like me, they stopped shopping there.

The thing is, because of the Internet, opinions get around a lot more efficiently than they used to. If a business treats its customers poorly, the news is going to get out. That's a good thing as long as the opinion is based on facts and the opinion is clearly stated as such, preferably with the factual basis for the opinion stated along with the opinion itself.

Let's explore why I lost all my respect for Circuit City, stopped shopping there, and told anyone who would listen that in my opinion there were better places to shop.

Some years ago, I wandered into Circuit City in San Diego, California (the store in the Loma Portal area if anyone cares). I purchased some software, which came in a sealed box. The box had a little heft to it, so I certainly didn't think the box would be empty, and it wasn't .... it had a manual for the software in it; just no CD Rom with the software.

So, I went back to the store with the manual and the box in hand and was treated to the following conversation:

Me: I'd like to exchange this. There wasn't any CD in the box. There was nothing but the manual.

CC: Oh, no you can't exchange that. We can only take back unopened boxes.

Me: I wouldn't have known there was no software in the box unless I had opened it. That was how I found out there was no CD in there.

CC: Well, we're sorry, but there's nothing we can do. You'll just have to purchase another box.

Me: And, what ... I'm supposed to open it up here in the store to examine it before I purchase it?

CC: No, we don't allow customers to open the boxes until they are purchased.

Me: But, if I purchase it, then I can open it up here in the store, and if there is no CD in it, then you will take it back?

CC: No. Once you have paid for the product and opened the box, we cannot take it back.

This was Circuit City's idea of good customer service. Why actually give the consumer what they paid for when you can just sell them empty boxes?

My response to this was to pick up my cell phone right there, in the store, in front of the "customer service" person, and call the company that made the software. I explained (in a very loud voice, that could be heard all over the store) to the software company exactly why I had decided never again to shop at Circuit City. The software company not only agreed with me that it was an idiotic policy for the store to have, but told me that they did not want to have the store's lack of respect for the customer to be attributed to them. So, I gave them my address, and they sent me, free of charge and no shipping costs, the CDs that should have been in the box.

Cost of that software: about $50. Amount of business that Circuit City lost because I stopped shopping there? Thousands of dollars. Amount of business that Circuit City lost because I told people about what happened to me and why I would not set foot in a Circuit City store again if I had any other option on the planet. Well, I have no idea, but I hope it was a lot. And, I'm not shedding any tears of their stores closing.

Four years ago, I moved to a particular development in a particular town in Texas (which is a state in the United States of America, just in case anyone could be unclear about that). People often come into this development looking at lots. Sometimes, they stop their car, wander down to the house and ask me questions, about living here, what I think of the town, what I think of the development. In other words, they ask me if I "like" living here.

I tell them the truth. Had I known what the past four years was going to be like, you could not have made me move to this development if you had put a gun to my head and ordered me to sign the papers. That is simply because my personal experience of living here has been as close to hellish as I ever want to get. That's my opinion, it is based on things that I was told before I moved here and things that have happened to me while living here. No attorney making veiled threats is going to change my opinion of this place. Quite the contrary, it will probably serve to make my opinion worse.

If people ask on what I base my opinion, I drag out the governing documents of the development (all of which are a matter of public record, and available on the Internet, or at the local county recorder's office), along with my highlights and notations on all of the contradictory materials, the clauses that make them one sided (in favor of the developer), and I tell them that I am now in the midst of a lawsuit with the developer over many of the terms in those documents and what appears to be (again, in my opinion) the uneven enforcement of same.

Now, I understand that people might choose not to purchase land in this development after talking to me. But, I do have the right to voice my opinion of the developer (with respect to this development), and my opinion of the management of this development (which has resulted from my personal experience). What I cannot do is say something about him (or the development) that is (1) not opinion and (2) not true. I have a right to tell my friends, in California or here in Texas, all about the developer's attempt to have me arrested (and why ... in my opinion ... it was simply an act of retaliation), or why (again, in my opinion) the management of this development is generally pretty awful, and if that means that my friends and their friends choose not to purchase land here, then that's as it should be.

Anyone who doesn't understand the concept and impact of word of mouth advertising deserves to go out of business. Any business that makes the consumer pay good money to be treated badly deserves to go out of business.

My respect for this developer and this development may be lost for all time. No matter what happens in the lawsuit, it is probably a given that I will continue to have a low opinion of both. The only thing that would be likely to change my opinion would be if both began to treat me with some small amount of respect or consideration. And, I doubt that's ever going to happen.

I'm also becoming less and less fond of the "city" (population around 1,200 ... that's a "city"?) that I live in. I generally recommend other towns in the area when people ask me what places I like in this part of Texas. However, I have not gone totally off liking the State of Texas or Texans generally. There are some good people living out here, some of my neighbors are wonderful people. But for them, I'm sure I would wake up every morning absolutely in despair over the decision I made to uproot and move here from California.

The moral of this lesson? Treat your customers and clients with respect. They are your best advertising when you treat them well and your worst nightmare when you treat them poorly.