Watch Your Steps!

The punk rock duo The Proclaimers are Scottish twins Craig and Charlie Reid. Now 58, the Reid’s were born just a month after I was, back in 1962. Even though The Proclaimers produced eleven albums and sold five million copies, I only know them for their 1988 chart-topper, “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)”. It’s the song thrumming in my head every time I’m close to getting my 10,000 steps for the day.

5,514.  Good Lord, I’m only halfway to my 10,000 steps today and it’s already two in the afternoon.  I need to get moving.  I even worked out this morning (lifting doesn’t get you many steps).  As usual, I strapped on my (Fitbit) tracker immediately after waking up but I’m usually further along by now.  I’m gonna have to go long with the dog tonight if I have any shot at making the magic number.

Magic number?  10,000 steps?  Who made this the “minimum for good health”?  A Japanese pedometer company; that’s who.  In 1965, they nicknamed one of their trackers the “10,000 step meter” and the number stuck all these years later.  Not that 10,000 steps has any significance when it comes to health benefits.  It’s all relative to whatever number you normally walk.  For that reason, we Americans can go less than half the 10,000 and still lower our mortality rate in a big way.

If you’re reading this post and you’re Amish, you’re already pooh-poohing 10,000 steps.  You and your people average 14,000-18,000/day just by removing motor vehicles from your world.  If you’re Australian or Swiss, 10,000 is just another day in the outback or the Alps (yodelayheehoo!).  Even the Japanese find a way to average 7,500 steps/day inside a small island nation.  Bringing up the rear?  The Americans, of course (drum roll, please…).  We clock an average of 4,800 steps a day – downright pathetic for residents of the fourth largest land-mass country in the world.  Is it any coincidence the U.S. makes and sells more vehicles than any other country besides China?

Source: Pedro F. Saint-Maurice, National Cancer Institute

Back to the “magical” 10,000 steps.  Let’s diminish the facts, shall we?  A recent collaborative five-year study of 15,000+ participants determined as few as 4,400 steps a day associates to a 40% reduction in mortality rate (when the norm is more like 2,700 steps).  Make it to 7,500 steps and the mortality rate drops by 65%.  In other words, you’re doing your body good well below 10,000 steps.  Unless you’re Amish, Australian, or Swiss.  Sorry, you people have to keep going.

Alas, no collaborative study nor determined blog post is going to change the world’s obsession with 10,000 steps.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services instead recommends five hours of moderate exercise a week (or half that much in “vigorous” exercise).  Doctors prefer a rather vague recommendation of “about 2,000 steps more than you normally walk”.  But none of that shuts down tracker production: 33 million devices shipped in the first quarter of this year alone.  You know who you are; doing mindless laps in the kitchen late at night just to “close your rings”.  10,000 steps remains the benchmark no matter the expert advice.

Close those rings!

Speaking for Americans at least, the magic number really is burned into our culture.  We’ve switched out our most glam watches for fitness trackers (because even a Rolex can’t count steps).  We download apps, print out weekly results, and obsess over “rings”, consecutive days, and “personal bests”.  We get cheap thrills when our tracker vibrates 10,000 and those little digital fireworks shower the screen.  Companies offer employees financial incentives if they can demonstrate extended habits of 10,000+/day.  We are beguiled of time and money for this fairly arbitrary number.

[Side note: The other day I woke up and checked my Fitbit history, only to discover I’d hit 9,999 steps the day before.  Didn’t bum me out; still strapped on the tracker and started a new day.  Kinda proud of that.  On the other hand, one time I strapped my tracker to my ankle to try to get “steps” out of a cycle class.  Didn’t work.  Not so proud of that.]

The pertinent lyrics of The Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be” go like this:  But I would walk 500 miles, And I would walk 500 more, Just to be the man who walks a thousand miles, To fall down at your door.  No wonder I’ve got that song on the brain.  I don’t think I’d walk a thousand miles, even for my girl.  But I would walk five miles (about 10,000 steps) to hit my daily tracker goal.

Some content sourced from the 6/12/2020 Wall Street Journal article, “10,000 Steps a Day Is A Myth.  The Number to Stay Healthy Is Far Lower”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

True Colors

In the kitchen cabinet convenient to our countertop coffeemaker (I’m on a roll with the letter C today), we keep a couple of large mugs; souvenirs from the San Diego Zoo. Identical in size and shape, both mugs have images of animals on them. More importantly, one mug is light blue while the other is bright red. For this reason and no other, I place the blue mug at the front of the cabinet and the red mug further back. My preference is the blue one.

If these same mugs were in your kitchen cabinet, which would you choose?  What if I added a green mug and a purple mug – would your choice be just as clear?  It should be, since we all have favorite colors.  Unless we’re colorblind we concur when something is blue, or something is red.  We even agree when something blue is “pretty” (say, the summer sky) or something red is not (say, the heart of a forest fire).  But that’s just preference by association.  Favorite colors are part of our DNA.

I’ll take “green”

As far back as I can remember my favorite color is green.  I also like blue and purple, but if I only get a single Skittles make it green.  With board games, I choose the green pieces. With my wardrobe, I own several green shirts (but no red ones).  My wife and I once owned – one after the other – a green van, followed by a green sedan, followed by a green mini-van; even though the more popular vehicle colors are white, silver, black, and dark grey.  It may be no coincidence the colors of my alma mater are blue, gold… and green.

Hello, Marilyn!

Don’t let the numbers influence your choice but 35% of Americans prefer blue while 16% prefer green, 10% purple, and 9% red.  Orange, yellow, and brown sit together at the back of the bus.  Also, gentlemen may prefer blondes, but gentlemen definitely prefer blondes in red.  To heterosexual men at least, women in red draw more romantic attention than any other color.

Infants show a preference for color as early as twelve weeks old.  That’s hardly an age where you associate colors with material things.  Toddlers show a preference for pink and blue regardless of sex (and cool colors over warm), but choose yellow over both of them – perhaps owing to association with the sun, flowers, and other “happy” things.

Here’s where favorite colors get interesting.  At five years of age you begin to associate colors with more than just “things”.  You associate with feelings and states of mind as well.  Consider the table above.  My preference for green suggests a good/bad combination of traits.  Immodestly I like to think I have good taste.  Unquestionably I put a premium on my health.  Envy?  Sure, every now and then.  Eco-friendly?  Nope, not really.

Red and blue make for better arguments.  The “lust”, “power”, and “speed” associated with red explain why it’s the color of choice for sports cars, and why red uniforms statistically improve performance in certain sports (think Tiger Woods).  All five blue traits explain why the color is so prevalent in the American workplace (and primary in the logos of standard brands like Ford, Facebook, and IBM).  Even the traits of violet/purple make sense: the color most associated with royalty.

The Rose of Temperaments

Our desire to interpret the meaning of favorite colors has been around a long time.  The Rose of Temperaments is a wheel-like image from the late eighteenth century, matching colors to character traits and occupations.  See what your color says about you.  If green goes to my very soul, the rose is strikingly accurate.  I can make a case for every trait in the list of phlegmatic. My tendencies are also more introverted than extroverted.  The rose gives me reasons for envying red, yellow, or blue (and reasons for not), but I can’t deny it: I am literally defined by my favorite color.

Speaking of the basic colors, we also favor color names. Mother Nature’s rainbow just doesn’t do it anymore.  In a recent remodel project my wife and I chose the paint color “Cocoa Whip” over “Havana Coffee” and “Wild Truffle”; when in fact we were simply choosing a shade of brown.  In product tests, participants shown swatches of the same color consistently preferred the one with the most elegant name.

Closing comment on my favorite color green.  You do know what they say about green M&M’s, don’t you? The aphrodisiacal effects (urban legend) are explained by the color’s association with fertility.  However, the better story comes from 1976, when the FDA banned the chemical “red dye #2” and red M&M’s temporarily departed the production line.  Rumor had it the reds were the real aphrodisiacs, employees were pocketing them straight from the line, and the whole red dye #2 story was a cover-up.  Red, green, whatever the color; they all taste good to me.  Even the brown ones, which testers swear taste more like chocolate than any other color.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”, and Snopes.com.

Whistle Work

Last weekend my wife and I drove north a couple hours to visit our granddaughters.  The last time we saw them was in the pre-pandemic days of yesteryear.  We spent most of Saturday afternoon in the backyard playing little-kid games in the makeshift pool and breaking out a plastic Tee-Ball set.  Later on after a barbeque, it was time to clean up the toys.  My son and his wife promptly requested the “The Clean Up Song” from Alexa, and my granddaughter hopped to it.  Watching her I caught myself thinking, can’t I help with the clean up too?

Google The Clean Up Song and you’ll find several dozen versions to choose from.  Cleaning-to-music for kids has been around a little while now.  I wish we’d used this approach more often when our own children were little.  It’s a song!  It’s a game!  It’s almost whistling while you work.

For me, household chores morphed to something more therapeutic as the kids grew up and out of the house.  Taking out the trash became extra steps towards my ten thousand (we have a long driveway).  Washing dishes became a mini-spa of warm water and soap bubbles.  Making the bed and arranging its pillows channeled my inner Marie Kondo.  Folding clothes was how to avoid lazing on the couch while watching TV.  (On that note, an ironing board should be called a “clothes-folding board”, if you go by my folding minutes (100%) vs. ironing minutes (0%).

Lest you think me compulsive, a recent Wall Street Journal study comes to my rescue.  During these stay-at-home times – locked-down residents find similar stress relief in housework.  Washing windows allows the slow, deliberate wax-on-wax-off zen of “The Karate Kid”.  Cleaning countertops tempts flowing dance, like Julia Stiles in the diner in “The Prince and Me”.  Ironing doubles as light weightlifting. And vacuuming?  Nah, I got nothing there.  Vacuuming’s still just a chore.

The lovely Ms. Stiles and her diner dance

Headspace

Headspace, a software company focused on meditation and better sleep, includes housecleaning exercises on its app.  They recommend “quiet housework in dim lighting” just before bed (but then how do you see what you’re cleaning?) They want you to sweep the floor and wipe the counter in smooth, restorative motions.  Laugh all you want but the use of their “cleaning-related content” is up 20% since mid-March.

Household products are trending the same way.  Swiffer wants you to mop with “a clean home and a clear mind” and suggests a facial treatment while you’re at it.  They switch “clean the counter” to “give your surfaces a little TLC” (as if your surfaces are close friends).  Proctor & Gamble fortifies its “Gain” laundry detergent with essential oils like lavender and eucalyptus, touted for their calming effects. “Clear Your Mind with a Cooling Clean!  A Soothing Scent with a Mindful Twist!”

Call me one-in-five (not compulsive) because P&G research claims 20% of us clean to relax or reduce stress.  Sure, but we also clean to clean.

I never thought about laundry this way but the Journal article likens clothes-cleaning to problem-solving (which we guys are all about).  Sort the clothes, dose the detergent/softener, fold according to best-fit in drawers, and then put everything away.  It’s a process, and it’s a new puzzle every time.

To take it one step more spiritual, household chores are considered seva – a form of selfless-service.  Says one yogi about dirty dishes, “You’re reminding yourself you’re washing for the divine grace that flows through your husband, your wife, your children, or your parents.”  Whoa now.  Me, I’m just washing dishes.

I’ve neglected to mention another household chore: cleaning bathrooms.  It can be “healing” sponging the porcelain to a sparkling-white shine, conducting the bowl brush in large, lazy circles, or returning to nature in the gentle flow of the sink (waterfall) or toilet (whirlpool).  No, no, NO.  I don’t do bathrooms.  Not even if you ask Alexa to play “The Clean Up Song”.

Some content sourced from the 5/27/2020 Wall Street Journal article, “Sick of Cleaning?  Turn It Into Meditation”.

Not-So-Fast Food

If you’re like me, you’re prepping meals at home more often than you used to.  Your grocery lists are electronic or paper instead of in your head.  You may even be meal-planning and on your way to becoming America’s next gourmet chef.  But no matter the approach eventually you succumb to food out instead of food in.  “Taking away” meals these days means navigating an app, a website, a drive-thru, a phone call, or for the really daring, an unscheduled appearance at the front doors.  You never know which approach works until you try a couple.  Sometimes you simply give up.

Case in point.  Last Friday we took my wife’s truck for a service – scheduled just after sun-up. Leaving the house so early meant breakfast would be out instead of in.  My first thought?  McDonald’s.  An Egg McMuffin is still a pretty good on-the-go breakfast, and navigating McDonald’s hasn’t changed (drive thru, pay at the window, drive away, enjoy).  I also admit to a soft spot for the Golden Arches because I worked there in high school.

My wife had other ideas.  Since a breakfast sandwich was the order of the day she wanted Einstein Brothers Bagels, and with good reason.  Einstein’s offers a choice of five “classic” breakfast sandwiches and another seven “signature” specials: twelve different spins on bagels and eggs.  While Egg McMuffins are assembled from just four mass-produced ingredients, Einstein’s creations are made-to-order adventures with options like chorizo, avocado, spinach, and mushrooms.  If the choice is Einstein’s or McDonald’s it’s a no-brainer.  Except now.

“Save time?” I beg to differ.

Not knowing Einstein’s take-away approach during COVID, I parked in front of the restaurant while my wife went inside to place the order.  Nope.  Einstein’s allows two options: DoorDash or order from the app.  Well blast my bagels – DoorDash doesn’t even deliver to our neighborhood so it was either the app or go hungry.  Fine.  A quick download and I went in search of the “Order” button.  Nope.  Einstein’s wants an account first – phone number, email, birthday, credit card, and so on.  Fine.  At last we assembled our on-line order and I went in search of the “Pay” button.  Nope.  Einstein’s makes you bank a minimum balance first (and welcome to “Shmear Society Rewards”).  Really?  A cash reserve for a breakfast sandwich?  Once and for all, nope.  I X’d out of the app, deleted it from my phone, and left a skid mark or two as I accelerated away.

“McDelivery?” Not necessary.

McDonald’s was also on the way home, a couple miles up the road.  We didn’t have their app either but so what?  Order at the drive-thru, pay at the window, drive away with an Egg McMuffin, enjoy.  We even splurged on hash browns (and an order of breakfast sausage for the dog).  A McDonald’s breakfast for two people and a pet costs far less than a similar order at Einstein’s.  Was my Egg McMuffin forgettable?  Yes.  Did I consume my sandwich within minutes of leaving the restaurant?  Yes (today’s Egg McMuffin is smaller than your palm).  Did I wish I’d had a custom-made Einstein’s instead?  Of course.  But not if I must jump through a bunch of electronic hoops to get one.

I want to support restaurants through the COVID pandemic; I really do.  Our favorite Mexican place has nothing electronic, so you just place a phone order and take-away fifteen minutes later.  Our favorite coffeehouse is a converted bank, so it’s drive-thru, pay, and go, lickety-split.  That’s all I’m asking for: simple process, no hoops.

Einstein’s theory of relativity assumes accelerated motion (say, a car pulling away from a restaurant with an order of food).  Einstein’s Bagels requires decelerated motion (say, the unanticipated time to download, setup, and bank-load their app).  Take your pick: Einstein’s approach or Einstein Brothers’ approach?  For me, it’s Albert’s way every time.

Merry-Go-Round Mayhem

The Safari Park’s merry menagerie

In the midway of the wonderful San Diego Zoo Safari Park in California, you’ll find a colorful attraction called the “Conservation Carousel”. Unlike traditional carousels teaming with horses, the Safari Park merry-go-round boasts giraffes, rhinos, zebras, cheetahs, and other “rare and endangered creatures”, just waiting to be taken for a spin. It’s a full-on circle of animals. It’s like riding a zodiac.

Wheel of Fortune

Speaking of the zodiac, what’s your sign?  I’m an Aquarius (born in late January), which makes me water-bearer to the gods.  As much as I don’t subscribe to horoscopic astrology – a visual representation of the heavens to interpret the inherent meaning of life – I can’t deny water’s played a significant role in my world.  I spent childhood summers in the Pacific Ocean and the backyard pool.  I lazed away hours in Northern California’s Lake Tahoe, swimming and water-skiing.  I enjoy a lively display of water, whether Niagara’s Horseshoe Falls or the fountains of Vegas’s Bellagio Hotel.  A gentle rain is nature’s therapy.

He’s not as great as he looks…

But then there’s the hell-or-high-water side of things.  Literally since our wedding night (when my bride and I awoke to dripping from the bed-and-breakfast room above us), the two of us have endured all manner of water problems.  A fully flooded basement.  A backed-up septic system.  Drinking water with a PH so out-of-whack we had to install a conditioner and a neutralizer.  Our well water quit pumping one time – for days – when a squirrel chewed through the electrical connection.  It’s like those gods have nothing better to do up there than play games with their little water-bearer down here on Earth.  If it were up to me I’d spin the zodiac wheel and land on another space instead.

Turns out my wish may have already been granted.  According to the Wall Street Journal, the earth maintains a wobble in its orbit around the sun, caused by gravitational pull on its not-so-perfectly-round midsection.  That wobble (called “precession”) – projected over the last several thousand years – shifted the alignment of the Earth with the zodiac constellations as the Sun passes through them.  Long story short, everything astrological advances one month on the calendar.  In other words, you rams out there (Aries) are actually fishes (Pisces).  You maidens (Virgo) are now lions (Leo).  And us water-bearers (Aquarius) – mercifully – are now mountain goats (Capricorn).

… but they don’t fall down.

With more passing of time, the earth’s Weeble-wobble will redefine basic astronomy as we know it today.  Take Polaris, the “North Star” at the end of the Little Dipper, and the starting point to locate the more distant constellations.  A few thousand years from now, Polaris will give up its position to Vega, another bright star.  All because our planet is a little fat in the middle.

With talk of a “changed world” after a curbed pandemic, I think it’s high time for me and you to adopt our newfound zodiac signs.  Goodbye Aquarius.  Hello Capricorn.  To preview my new persona, I looked at today’s horoscope in the local paper: A conversation with a female acquaintance will be important to you today. This is a good time to share your hopes and dreams for the future with someone to get his or her feedback.  Bless my lucky stars – I’m to check with my wife before moving one position on the astrological merry-go-round.  Seriously?  What does she know, holding court from under the sign of Cancer?  Whoops – make that under the sign of Gemini instead.  Either way, she can finally refer to me as, “you old goat, you”.

Some content sourced from the 2/21/20 Wall Street Journal article, “You’re a Scorpio?  Why the Earth’s Wobble Means Your Zodiac Sign Isn’t What You Think”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Creamer Schemers

A couple weeks ago, my Nespresso coffee maker sprung a leak. As it brewed a cup, it also “espressed” a small river of coffee from the base of the unit. An online chat with the good people at Nespresso determined, a) the maker really was broken, b) the one-year warranty covered the repair (whoo-hoo!), and c) the fix would take up to ten business days. Well beans; ten business days meant regressing a full two weeks on drip coffee instead.  Hold the phone; did I just label myself a coffee snob?

Nespresso

Nespresso – for those of you not familiar – is one of the many capsule coffee systems on the market today. Unlike the Keurig K-Cup, “Nestle-Espresso” capsules spin as the water passes through the grounds (7,000 RPMs – vroom vroom!), adding a light-colored frothy cap of “crema” on top. The crema enhances the aroma, but more importantly delivers the mouth-feel of a latte, as if you stirred something in from the dairy family. But call me fooled; Nespresso’s nothing more than coffee in the cup.

Bunn’s coffee-monster

Coffee snob? Parvenu, perhaps. It wasn’t that long ago I contentedly drank “joe” from one of those big metal Bunn machines, flavor-boosting my Styrofoam cup contents with a sugar cube and powdered Coffee-mate. Then, I spent a year in Rome and my world was forever coffee-rocked. I returned to the States armed with words like cappuccino and espresso and caffe latte. But America didn’t even know the word Starbucks yet. A “coffee shop” was still a greasy spoon diner; forgettable joe in a forgettable cup.

Mind you, not having Starbucks didn’t mean I was gonna crawl back to the Bunn, especially after a year of Italy’s la dolce vita (look it up). Eventually I dropped hard-earned cash on one of those early model home coffee/espresso/steamed milk contraptions – a machine requiring twenty minutes, twenty steps, and a phone-book-sized operations manual to produce a small cappuccino. The birth of the American barista did not start at Starbucks, my friends. It started in the frustration of orchestrating an overly complicated home-brew system in search of pseudo-Italian-style coffee.

Sometime after Starbucks opened its first doors (but before Nespresso), Keurig developed the K-Cup. The Keurig coffeemaker felt like a huge step up from standard drip (and ushered in the concept of single-serve coffee at home). Keurig opened a seemingly new world of coffee to me – exotic names like Green Mountain or Paul Newman’s or Donut Shop – but let’s be honest. Keurig was basically glorified drip, and I still wasn’t taking my coffee straight, like I did in Italy. And that’s where Nespresso shines. If the K-Cup is a step up from drip, Nespresso is the entire staircase.

Ironically, the same company producing Nespresso markets a line of oil-based creamers sugary enough to make your coffee taste like Easter in a cup. Nestle already offered creamer flavors like Peppermint Mocha or Italian Sweet Creme or Toasted Marshmallow, before recently adding Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Funfetti. Not to be outdone, International Delight augmented its own coffee creamer line – REESE’S Peanut Butter Cup, Cinnabon, and OREO Cookie Flavored, with – no joke – a PEEPS flavor. Better check for bunnies before you take a sip.

For the record (if the Pulptastic website is to be believed), I’m not even close to being a coffee snob. I can choose from any of their twelve defining characteristics and come up short. I don’t read about coffee. I don’t speak the lingo (“Robusta?” “Arabica?”). I don’t know what “cupping” is. I do enjoy a Starbucks coffee every now and then. Finally, I’m half-tempted to check out the PEEPS creamer (maybe I won’t even need the coffee in my cup). See the Pulptastic list for yourself. Maybe you’re the coffee snob instead of me.

I’m still waiting (im)patiently for my repaired Nespresso coffeemaker to come back. I’m barely surviving on my backup K-Cups. But I’m no coffee snob. And I was just kidding about wanting to try PEEPS in a bottle. On the contrary, those creamer schemers can keep their product far, far away from my Nespresso.

Some content sourced from the 2/3/2020 Wall Street Journal article, “Rich Sales Boost Coffee Creamers”.

Cruise (out of) Control

Ever since the Ferris wheel debuted (at the 1893 World’s Colombian Exposition in Chicago), there’s been an unofficial competition to design and build a taller version.  The original topped out at 80.4 meters all those years ago, while today’s leader – the “High Roller” in Las Vegas – rotates over twice that high.

The “High Roller” in Las Vegas

To complicate the matter, there’s great debate about what defines a Ferris wheel.  The tallest wheels for example – including the High Roller and the London Eye – are labeled “observation wheels” because they’re more than just an amusement.  Newer designs eliminate the spokes and hub to give the illusion of a free-wheeling ring.  Whatever.  Thanks to my acrophobia, even a kiddy amusement park Ferris wheel is thrill-ride enough for me.

Go figure – I enjoy the highest, fastest roller coasters anywhere, but I wimp out when it comes to a standard Ferris wheel.  Why?  Because Ferris wheel gondolas are neither enclosed nor replete with safety bars.  You’re just sitting up there in the open air, 250 feet off the ground, realizing nothing is preventing you from falling (a peek into the mind of an “acrophobe” – you’re welcome).  Conversely, when the roller coaster safety bar ratchets down to the waist, almost taking your breath away, there’s a sense of being one with the coaster, like you can’t possibly fall out.  Much better.

I will never be this guy

Let’s change the channel and focus on big ships.  If you’ve ever taken a cruise, you should be able to name one or more “amusements” you didn’t expect to find in a floating hotel.  Golf driving ranges.  Skeet-shooting.  Water slides.  Again, it’s an unofficial competition.  But what about a roller-coaster, traveling up to 37 mph, with an elegant sweep out over the ocean?  Yep; coming soon to a Carnival Cruise Line ship near you.

I hereby retract my earlier statement about tolerance for roller coasters.  Riding the rails, plunging down towards the ocean and back up to the sky, two hundred feet above the keel of a moving ship – Carnival’s “Bolt” is too much for me and my acrophobia.  Almost a little too much for the coaster’s engineers, too.  They faced a pile of challenges with the design.  What would be the impact of a moving vessel on the gravitational requirements of a roller coaster?  Will the weight of seven hundred feet of track twenty stories above the water tip the ship?  How will the vessel’s structure tolerate the forces of heavy cars speeding here and there?  And what about all that noise?

Put the cart before the horse – as Carnival did – and things get easier.  First design the coaster; then design the ship.  Make the roller coaster cars self-propelled so they don’t depend on gravity.  Eliminate the chains and sprockets in favor of small booster engines to reduce the noise.  Then design a ship keel three football fields in length.  Reengineer the structural elements – from the water up – to accept the distributed forces of the coaster.  Overweight the whole thing so coaster cars can go almost vertical and still not tip the ship.  Behold Carnival’s Mardi Gras – a virtual floating amusement park – breaking the champagne bottle next winter.

I still think a roller coaster on a ship is nuts, but I seem to be out of touch with the latest amusements.  You can already partake in “Sky Pad” – also on Carnival – a bungee-jumping-trampolining-virtual-reality mash-up.  Or Royal Caribbean’s “RipCord”, a column of air for skydiving simulation.  Or Norwegian’s “Ultimate Abyss”, a four-story sort-of toilet bowl, where you’re flushed in circles and dropped down a 200-foot water slide.

If you’ve ever seen Katy Perry’s music video, “Chained to the Rhythm”, you probably laughed at the outlandish amusement park rides, like the coaster with the heart-shaped loop-the-loop, or the pseudo Ferris wheel catapulting riders out into the air.  But considering Carnival’s “Bolt”, maybe Katy’s got a keen eye on the future after all.  As for me, I’ll stay grounded in my local kiddy amusement park.

The future of amusement?

Some content sourced from the 1/8/2020 Wall Street Journal article, “They’re Putting a Roller Coaster on a Cruise Ship”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Identity Crisis

Whenever I go for a workout, I face a choice as I walk through the front doors of my gym. The welcome desk gatekeepers scan the barcode on the back of my membership card to a) make sure I’m really me, and b) keep track of my visits (a motivational data point reported back to me at month-end). Recently, my club gave me the choice to scan my mobile phone instead, using a barcode produced by their app. And there you have it: the emergence of the virtual ID badge.

Please don’t steal this

Given the myriad uses of phones these days, you’d ask why I wouldn’t shred my physical gym card and embrace virtual identity.  Alas, what works at the welcome desk does not work beyond it.  My gym’s lockers still use the physical card as part of their securing mechanism.  Insert card, close door, release key.  Yet I still need my phone to collect heart monitor stats or listen to music.  My identity therefore remains physical and virtual for the foreseeable future.

Workout facilities are a basic example of what’s going on here.  The more sophisticated virtual ID installations reside at the offices of large companies, where hundreds of employees pass through secure doors morning, noon, and night.  Forget “keycards” – how would you prefer to be ID’d in the year 2020? Facial recognition? Iris scan? Fingerprints?  Even those technologies seem dated with what’s being tested in the lab.  How about gait recognition (the way you walk)?  Or microchips – a grain of rice if you will – implanted gently between the thumb and forefinger?  Everyday security is about to advance to a whole new level.

My first couple of office jobs were environments too small to worry about real security.  The front desk attendant could greet every employee who stepped off the elevator by name.  But then I joined Hewlett-Packard (HP) – 50,000 humans worldwide – and even HP’s smallest offices demanded more than a casual glance at those passing through.  In the early years I had a simple name badge, to be clipped on the shirt and worn at all times.  Then I graduated to a photo ID card (w/ lanyard, as dress codes relaxed).  Finally, HP added magnetic stripes to the back of the cards, so we could self check-in the way you now self check-out at grocery stores.

The new identity technologies are rooted in biometrics: your sui generis body measurements and calculations.  With that in mind – and body – your ID is just the tip of the data iceberg.  As long as your heart rate, steps, and movement are measured, wouldn’t your employer want those data points as well?  It’s like having a giant Apple Watch lording over an entire workforce.  In theory your manager could use this information as a gauge of your “wellness” (i.e. stress), but more likely they’ll be interested in how it relates to your productivity.  They’ll also know where you are, when, and for how long, all the day long.

If microchip implants become the norm (something I wouldn’t have fathomed even a decade ago), the benefits are endless.  Swipe your hand at a conference room door for access/reservation.   Swipe your hand in front of the vending machine for a snack.  Check your resting heart rate.  On the other hand (ha), consider; the microchip is always watching, including your taps at the keyboard.  No message – even the one you deleted before sending – is safe from scrutiny.

When my wife and I joined our church last year, we were issued name badges. Wearing them is not so much an expression of membership as it is a convenience to greet fellow parishioners by name. But what if we start using biometrics someday?  Will my pastor know when I’m at church and when I’m not? More importantly, will He know? Ah, let’s be real; the Almighty doesn’t need an ID system.  He already knows when I’m in church and when I’m not.

Some content sourced from the 1/6/2020 Wall Street Journal article, “The Humble Office ID Badge Is About to Be Unrecognizable”.

Heavy Metal

The most appealing aspect of my slim bi-fold wallet is – slipped into my front pocket – I sometimes forget it’s even there. Between the couple of credit cards, insurance cards, driver’s license, and the wallet itself, you’re talking about an item less than a half-inch thick, weighing just a couple ounces. That suits (pants?) me just fine, since I don’t want to be weighed down (or bulged) any more than I have to be. Maybe that’s why I don’t understand the fuss over trendy credit cards made of metal. Then again, my “vanity score” probably wouldn’t qualify me for one anyway.

I guess I missed the memo on metal credit cards. They’re in circulation to the tune of 32 million these days, which sounds impressive until you stack them up against the four billion plastic cards out there. Less than 1% of any total is never impressive, but the forecasters say metal cards will quadruple in the next two years. One reason for the increase: some financial institutions issue metal cards as a replacement for expiring plastic ones. Another reason: consumers are willing to pay an annual fee for the privilege of metal vs. plastic.

The demand for this sort of thing fascinates me. If my financial institution wants to gift me a metal card (whose hefty feel apparently makes me feel special and therefore inclined to spend more), so be it. Just don’t charge me an annual fee. Speaking of annual fees, here’s the extreme example with metal. A by-invitation-only American Express Centurion “Titanium” card will set you back $5,000/year, just so you can carry it in your wallet. You’ll also be tagged with a $10,000 initiation fee. I know several country clubs who’d let me in the door for less than that.

Honestly, I have no problem with holders of metal cards. Those same 32 million people probably pay for vanity license plates and gold-colored trim on their cars. They also pay to avoid standing in line, whether at the airport or at Disneyland. Maybe there should be a website to purchase “vanity fair” in one place. We could call it IFeelSpecial.com

Let’s get the drawbacks of metal cards out of the way up front. They’re high-maintenance. Apple has a titanium credit card, complete with care guide, which advises “… against keeping it in a pocket or bag with loose change… or other potentially abrasive objects”. Metal cards also demand a cleaning solution (like rubbing alcohol), though I suspect that’s more to make them look pretty than keep them charging. Finally, metal cards destroy your shredder if you try to get rid of them when they expire. Buy a pair of tin snips instead.

I’ll own up to having an American Express Platinum card and a Visa Platinum card, but both are plastic, and “Platinum” simply means they have a rewards program. Which brings me to a point of missed opportunity. If issuers are trending towards metal cards, why not make them out of whatever material they’re named for? A platinum card should be made of platinum. A titanium card titanium. Citibank’s Diamond Preferred card? Oooooooo.

It’s not the craziest idea. Metal cards weigh up to five grams. If Amex issued my Platinum card from five grams of pure platinum, they could charge me $600 (current market value). A Gold card made of gold would be worth almost $1,000. A Silver card made of silver? Okay, that’d only be worth eleven bucks. But think about it. Your card gets declined? No problem. Just surrender it and say, “I’d like the current market value in cash, please”.

[As usual, someone beat me to the punch with my great ideas. If you live in the Middle East, Singapore, or the Czech Republic, you have access to a company called CompoSecure. CompoSecure makes its credit cards out of pure gold.]

Counter to the forecasters, I think metal cards will be challenged by no cards at all. Meaning, pay-thru-phone (i.e. Apple Pay, Google Pay, Venmo) is on the rise, and the security of these transactions – not to mention no need to carry cards and cash – may trump the “special feelings” metal brings. Can you imagine – plunking down your country-club-rate Amex Titanium after dinner, and one of your guests goes, “Really? You still pay with a physical card? How old-school!”

Pretty sure I’m going to miss the metal credit card movement completely (even if they do make better ice-scrapers than plastic). I’ll be jumping straight from my plastic Amex Platinum to digital one of these days.

It would probably help if I set up Apple Pay on my iPhone first.

Some content sourced from the 12/5/2019 Wall Street Journal article, “Once a Tool of the Elite, Metal Credit Cards Now Turn Up Everywhere”.

Media Meltdown

Nope, not that media.

A few weeks ago, I gave Legacybox a try.  Heard of ’em?  Legacy converts old home movies – the ones you may have on VHS or 8mm tapes (or even reel-to-reel) – into clean, digitized formats. I sent Legacy a heaping box of my tapes (reel-to-reel was slightly before my time), and a month later received a single, tiny thumb drive in return. Remarkable really: dozens of hours of precious video memories packed into a bits-n-bytes “box” the size of a fingernail clipper. If I’d chosen a digital download instead of the thumb drive, I wouldn’t have received anything (physical) in return.

We’ve flash-landed into a digital, live-stream, can’t-hold-it-in-your-hands world of multimedia these days.  Phonograph records, celluloid film, audio and video cassettes, and optical media like CD’s and DVD’s spin firmly in the rear-view mirror; collectables reserved for only the most nostalgic.

[It’s not a stretch to say print media – books, newspapers, magazines, and photographs – aren’t far behind, but that’s another post for another day.]

For those of you born in the last century – literally, not figuratively – let’s eulogize some of these once-upon-a-time physical media formats.

The “8-track”

I’m old enough to remember 8-track tapes, are you?  Before I owned my first “LP” or “45” record, I was regularly subjected to my dad’s music choices on his car stereo 8-track player.  In hindsight, there’s something endearing about the bulky, inefficient format of the 8-track tape (except when your only memory is your dad’s music).

The smallish 45 “single”

Before the 8-track tape gave way to the compact cassette, I built up a pretty good collection of 1970’s 45 rpm records (“singles”) – 100 or more.  My older brother – who built a sizeable collection of 1970’s 33 rpm records (“LP’s”), understandably disdained my choices in music.  His flavor was “classic” rock (ex. Rick Wakeman, Emerson, Lake & Palmer) while mine was “bubblegum” (ex. Olivia Newton-John, Barry Manilow).  Appropriately, I have Olivia’s “Let’s Get Physical” re-running in my head as I cover today’s topic.

The cool thing about compact cassettes was – of course – you could record things (birthing the concept of the “playlist”).  Just as noteworthy, you could play cassettes in your car’s “deck”.  Your records had to stay home.  It wasn’t long before my 45’s were stashed in the closet and I was all-in on “tape”.  I spent countless hours recording and listening as I hugged my very first tape recorder.  I spent countless weekly allowance dollars on the Columbia House Record and Tape Club.  When the ultra-compact Sony Walkman debuted in 1979, cassette-tape music went everywhere you did.

Right about the same time as the Walkman, JVC (VHS) and Sony (Betamax) figured out how to put video on tape.  My early memories of movie rentals at the video store include renting the video player too.  After all, the price tag on first-generation “VCR’s” ran into the thousands of dollars.  I can still picture myself lugging a bulky VCR down the street to my apartment, with a pile of cables, an instruction booklet, and a stack of videotapes to watch.  Then, twenty-four hours later, I’d pack it all up and lug it back to the store.

The colorful “laserdisc”

Compact discs (CD’s) and digital versatile discs (DVD’s) felt like space-age technology in the ’80’s and ’90’s.  But press the Pause button for a moment.  Did you forget laserdiscs (LD)?  LD’s were the first optical disc storage medium, and man did I buy into the hype of those rainbow Frisbees.  By the time I invested in a (bulky) LD player and loaded up on (pricy) LD’s themselves, DVD’s were beginning to take over the home video market.  Sadly, I still have my LD collection today (along with my no-longer-functioning LD player).  I figure the whole setup isn’t even worth the time to advertise on Craigslist.  In hindsight, laserdiscs were the very definition of unwieldy.

Finally (for physical media), I never graduated from DVD’s to Blu-ray discs, but “cinephiles” claim Blu-ray looks and sounds even better than its digital successors.  Regardless, Blu-ray should be considered the final frontier in a history of physical media dating back to the 1800’s.  Check out Wikipedia’s timeline of audio formats (player-piano rolls!) here.

Thanks to companies like Legacybox, Netflix, and Spotify, digital media is here to stay.  But I must concede, there’s little pride in perusing a collection of utterly un-physical files and folders on my laptop.  Maybe Olivia Newton-John knew what she was singing about after all.

Or maybe that’s why I’m still hanging onto my laserdiscs.

Some content sourced from the 10/11/2019 Wall Street Journal article, “Streaming Is Killing Physical Media.  Here’s Why You Won’t Miss It”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.