Friday, June 05, 2009

Earful for the future: Bluetooth, hearing aids, iPods

And to think that some folks my age are self-conscious about hearing aids’ being visible to others.

How about the growing numbers who now have Bluetooth devices prominently clipped to their ears? Rather than disguise them, wearers flaunt them like status symbols.

“Look, Mom, no hands!”

It’s being in touch without touching.

So what’s the difference between the Bluetoothed and the hearing-aided?

As one of the latter, I offer that the former have a choice, the latter don’t. And while my hearing aids are of the discreet, hidden-behind-the-ear type, there are times when I wish they were Bluetooth obvious.

“Hey, I wear hearing aids!” they would signal. That way folks might speak up without my having to ask them to.

With the spread of Bluetooths (teeth?), ear appendages might become a cradle-to-grave phenomenon. When the tonsils or the baby-teeth come out, the Bluetooth/hearing aid might go in.

Throw in an implanted iPod while you are at it.

What next? Contact lenses with computer-screen and TV insets. Multi-media tri-focals.

Human beings today will be seen like stripped down models of what’s to come.

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Compare and Contrast

Willamette Week and The Oregonian have always been studies in contrast. The scrappy alternative weekly routinely scoops and embarrasses the big, cautious daily.

Think Neil Goldschmidt and Sam Adams sex stories, both WW scoops.

Today both papers ran stories about the resignation of Matthew Hanly, the headmaster of Oregon Episcopal School. You can read the Willamette Week version here and The Oregonian story here.

In its story the weekly reports that it published events leading to Monday’s resignation in a story on-line last week.

Which raises the question of whether The Oregonian would have printed the “resignation” story if Willamette Week hadn’t published its prelude.

Someone hacked e-mails that Hanly foolishly wrote on his school computer. Then the messages were anonymously sent to the papers.

The papers handled the e-mail contents in a markedly different way.

The e-mails revealed Hanly, who has been separated from his wife since September, to be gay. More than that, the e-mail correspondence included some on-line “pillow talk” between Hanly and Michael Hulshoff-Schmidt, the headmaster of the International High School in Portland.

Willamette Week chose to share explicit content with its readers in a graphic — to which I say, “Give us (to say nothing of Hanly and Hulshoff-Schmidt) a break!”

The Oregonian simply referred to the content as “flirtatious conversations with a man.” Unlike Willamette Week, The Oregonian didn’t name the man.

The resignation and the reason for it was news enough. Which is pretty much the way The Oregonian played it.

Still, curious minds wonder about The Oregonian’s omission of Hulshoff-Schmidt, who was e-mailing from work too.

The other major difference between the coverage is that Willamette Week included Hanly’s eyebrow-raising salary: $243,500 a year. No salary figure was given for Hulshoff-Schmidt.

When the dust settles from this tabloidesque yarn, it would be instructive to see how the salary of the headmaster of a private school compares to that of public school principals.

Now that has the whiff of serious news.

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

'I am who I am'

In a New York Times article today about New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s barbed and impolitic campaign comments, the Mayor is quoted defending himself with the words, “I am 67 years old. I am who I am.”

As it turns out I’m 67 years old and I am who I am.

The mayor’s remarks were timely in more ways than one. I happened to be feeling the sting of a young man who had just e-mailed me about some comment I had made. “I’m not sure, honestly, where you come up with your sweeping generalizations and judgments on people,” he wrote.

I wrote back asking him to be specific because, frankly, his own statement seemed pretty sweeping and judgmental itself. If he writes, we’re probably in for a long exchange that could lead to my favorite resolution — coffee and cranberry scones at the local bakery, Baker & Spice.

But, after reading the Times, I wondering whether I should have simply said, “Look, I am 67 years old. I am who I am.”


Monday, June 01, 2009

Buick convertible nights

I’m glad my dad, gone for nearly 23 years, never lived to see the bankruptcy of General Motors.

He was a GM guy. He routinely bought GM cars. When he didn’t, he learned to regret it. I remember his cursing a 1948 Ford he bought my mom. It refused to start on bitter cold January mornings in Illinois. He bought a ’50 Ford, but it refused to start even in the summer.

He replaced it with a ’52 Chevy and never looked back.

In the ‘50s my dad bought a new car annually. After a few Chevys, he graduated to Buicks, just the way GM wanted him to. From the start he bought convertibles. During the war, nimble Jeeps may have given him the open-air bug as they transported him to the B-29s crews he attended.

In the Buick line-up (Specials, Centuries, Supers, Roadmasters), he settled on the hot rod Century. Small body (at least for its time), big engine (for any time).

He’d keep a Century for himself for two years and then buy another. In the off years he’d buy my mom a new Buick, usually a Special. Small body, small engine. The Special, like the Supers, had three, not four, fake portholes. Dad would make her car a convertible too though Mom had fair, delicate skin and never put the top down. Dad probably anticipated that he might need to “borrow” her car, especially after I got my license.

Dad was nuts about new cars, and the nuttiness got into me. As a kid, I’d anticipate delivery dates weeks in advance. The night before the big day, I wouldn't sleep.

It took about 60 years for me to cure myself of the fascination. And while I could never match my dad’s extravagance, there was a time when I’ve cycled through cars just the way he did.

Recently I’ve mellowed. And though I’m tempted, I’ve stuck with my practical 1999 RAV4 for a record five years. It's about as far from a Buick Century convertible as you can get. Toyota is still in business and far from bankruptcy.

Dad was a urologist (he called himself a "plumber") back in the days of house calls. The houses were spread out across north-central Illinois and southern Wisconsin. Rockford was our home, but he’d do surgery and visit patients in Freeport, Belvedere, Rochelle, Monroe, Woodstock, Beloit and Janesville.

As a kid, I’d often go along with him in the summers or on Saturdays or even Sundays as hard as that is to believe. He knew all the back roads, and ,with the top down, he’d unleash the big engine and we’d slice through the thick summer’s air. The cornfields whisked by in flickering rows. Often he would sing into the wind and I’d join him. We made a motley duet belting out “Old Man River,” “Summertime,” “She’s Funny that Way.” Fortunately only the corn, the blackbirds and the cicadas could hear us.

Sometimes, on the weekends, the four of us — Mom, Dad, my kid-sister Kate and I — would take off for Milwaukee to see the Braves play. Or we’d drive in to Wrigley field to see the Cubs. I remember none of the games, but oh the long, two-lane drives home in the top-down nights. I’d stretch out on the back seat and stare up into a vast sea of stars. As Dad negotiated turns through the towns and the curves out on the highways, the stars would wheel above, first this way, then that, until, mesmerized, I’d drifted off to sleep to the wind song and the crickets.

I’d awaken to the silencing of the big engine and the shutting of the doors. Then I’d somehow stagger up to bed to dream.

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