Sunday, April 26, 2009

Words that irritate

Earlier this year, Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper published a list of the Top 10 most irritating phrases. Some reflect British culture, but I suspect you’ve heard (and horrors, maybe used) a few of these yourselves:

1. At the end of the day

2. Fairly unique

3. I personally

4. At this moment in time

5. With all due respect

6. Absolutely

7. It's a nightmare

8. Shouldn't of (instead of "shouldn't have")

9. 24/7

10. It's not rocket science

Some of the phrases are considered irritating because they’re overused and others really bug grammar nuts like me. “Fairly unique” fits into the latter category. How can there be degrees of unique? It is or it isn’t. And where did “I personally” come from? There’s never been an “IMpersonally.”

Anyway, the list prompted some of my American writer friends to compile these Top 10 irritating expressions:

1. No way.

2. You think?

3. It's a slam dunk

4. Irregardless

5. Humongous

6. It's all good

7. For me, personally

8. The consensus of opinion

9. It's all copasetic

10. If you must know...

Then there's the Michigan college that's issued its 34th annual “List of Words to Be Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.” The 2009 version includes such expressions as “green,” from "Wall Street to Main Street" and “carbon footprint.”

Well, if you must know, I’ve used a few of the words and phrases from these lists when I probably shouldn't of. Haven't you? But now that we know that they're officially considered “irritating,” are we less likely to use them? Next time you’re in a social situation, or hear people talk on the radio or television, have some fun and listen for the words and phrases on these lists. Do they truly irritate you at this moment in time? Or will you simply smile and think it’s all good?

At the end of the day, are there words and/or phrases missing from these lists that you find irritating enough to share?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Low thoughts on high technology

I'll be blogging over at this Tuesday so in the meantime, I'm sharing one man's view of technology in this guest blog

By Frank Cook, aka Husband No. 1

How old is that geezer in the window?

“Some folks, in looks, take so much pride
They don’t care much ‘bout what’s inside.
But as for me, I know my face
Will n’er become a thing of grace.
And so I think I’d rather see
If I can fix the inside of me.
So folks will say, ‘He looks like sin,
But ain’t he beautiful within.’”

That, I think, is my favorite "mommily" and I’m a little surprised that I still remember it. I suppose I shouldn’t be, though, since it was drilled into my brother and sisters and me from an early age. I think we heard it every Sunday when Mom finally gave up on making us presentable for church. (I also vaguely recall a hairbrush, a heavy sigh and a sad lament, “Well, that’s the best I can do.” I’m sure that was a reference to my sisters.) But I digress.

Mom’s old saying came rushing back to me the other day with the purchase of my first video Web cam. Like all healthy adults “of a certain age,” as soon as I got it installed – which, admittedly took a while – I immediately looked around for a proper subject for my first video attempt.

Needless to say, I didn’t have to look far. What better subject than me? Without going through all the machinations of “frank-video-sample-1,” (subsequently deleted), “frank-video-sample-2,” (also deleted), “frank-video-sample-3, 4 and 5” (deleted, deleted, deleted), what I ultimately discovered was this:

Just because you have technology, doesn’t mean you should use technology, and just because you can use technology, that doesn’t mean you should use it on yourself.

Dr. Jekyll taught us an important lesson here that most of us would be well-served to remember.

Decades ago, the first time I recorded my own voice on a tape recorder (“This is Frank. One, two, three, four, five …) and played it back, I couldn’t believe how weird my own voice sounded. The same thing happened when I shot my own video.

Who was that old guy and where did he come from? More importantly, how do we keep from ever digitizing him again?

I read a Pew Internet survey the other day that suggested at least half of Americans are dissatisfied with their technology. Count me among them.

They say (first) that their technology is hard to install, (second) hard to understand when it is installed, and (third) hard to get to work properly. Then, when it is working properly, (fourth) more than half complain that it adds stress to their lives that they never had before because they feel they need to use it.

How true.

I have dismantled my Web cam and removed the software from my computer. My stress has gone down and my life has improved.

I remember the immortal words from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (the book, not the movie), when the monster (state-of-the-art technology at the time) finally wields his power over the doctor, proclaiming, “You are my creator, but I am your master!”

Dr. Frankenstein should have included an uninstall program. Much less stress.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Adventures in parenting AND college majors

If you’re reading this on Monday morning, I’m still in Washington, DC, after an Easter dinner with my children at No. 1 son’s apartment (though we had to bring our own plates so we didn't have to eat off paper) and interrogating No. 2 son about his newest life plan.

Who knew parenting could be such an adventure – and for so long?When the phone rang last week and I heard the words “aaahhh, Mom?” I knew it was going to be bad. The last time No. 2 son uttered those words, he was on a train to Philadelphia within hours of returning to his DC campus from winter break.

This time, the words were followed by, “I think I need to talk to my advisor.” Uh oh. “I’m thinking about changing my major,” he said.

That didn’t sound so horrible. The words “lawyer” and “doctor” flashed through my mind. Maybe he’d finally accepted my suggestion to study law and use his verbal talents for good instead of evil. I waited for the good news.

Then he said the word “anthropology.” My jaw dropped. “But honey, don’t you think you should take at least one class in anthropology first?” I sputtered.

This anthropology news is a shock after just two semesters at a college we'd sent him to because DC offers so many opportunities for someone majoring in international studies. I’m not even sure what an anthropologist does, never mind how you become one – and then get paid for it.

I know children are supposed to find their way at college, but this sudden anthropology thing has me wondering if my child is lost. It's the same panic I felt after each of No. 1 son’s whiplash decisions about his college major.

I'll never forget the engineering parents session at freshman orientation for my oldest son. We parents were told engineering students often have the lowest grades on campus because of the tough curriculum, but the highest salaries coming out. I was thrilled. Less than an hour later, No. 1 announced engineering had too much math so he was switching majors. “But honey, you haven’t even taken an engineering class yet,” I wailed.

“I think I’ll try philosophy,” he said. My jaw dropped then, too. They say 60 percent of students change their major before graduating. But I never thought I'd see my son drop engineering before school even began, and then go from philosophy to sociology and finally, justice studies. He graduated with a major and two minors in those courses. I doubt philosophy is helping much at the police academy.

So you can understand why I'm concerned. Anthropology is unnerving enough. But I'm even more concerned about how many other majors he’s going to try. Hopefully, he'll at least take a class in them first. Nonetheless, something tells me this journey is going to have more than a few detours.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

What’s the magic word?

I hate passwords, don’t you? I detest that technology continually forces us to come up with new combinations of letters and numbers to do everyday things – like access computers, read e-mail, do our banking, check our kids’ grades, etc. If they ever require passwords for grocery shopping or starting a vehicle, I’m doomed.

The sheer number of tasks requiring passwords boggles my mind. Even worse, we’re supposed to create a password that's complex – using unexpected numbers and letters – not "simple” passwords that can actually be remembered. We’re also not supposed to use the same password for every task. Some Internet sites try to make it easier by making you record a clue. That way, if you forget the password, they'll tell you IF you answer some stupid question like: "What's your great aunt's least-favorite pet's name?"

This is all apparently aimed at thwarting cyber-criminals. But I suspect we’re the only ones being thwarted.

I hope my co-workers are getting used to the annoying “bing, bing, bing” sound my computer makes when it rejects my password at the start of the workday as I frantically search for the scrap of paper with the latest magic code. I have to change passwords every three months, or so the computer reminds me almost every two months. And if the new password resembles the old one, the computer rejects my choice. Believe me: Rejection by machine can be demoralizing.

I’ve heard that organized people keep lists of passwords in notebooks or on index cards. Anyone who’s seen my desk knows I’ll never be a member of that group. Besides, those organized people will be sorry when computer criminals steal their notebooks. That won’t be a problem for me.

Someone recently told me the best password is the name of an old boyfriend or girlfriend. This not only thwarts cyber-thieves, but also your loved ones – unless they’re the rare types who actually listen when you tell stories about your past.

So I "Googled" my high school boyfriend, who also was my debating partner, to see if he was worthy of being a password. Up came a link to a video of an environmental debate he’d participated in just weeks earlier. It was strange to realize I could still read his body language “tells” all these years later. I e-mailed to see if he objected to being a password. But then I became concerned he'd be able to access my bank account. Since he lives in San Francisco now, my money might just be enough to finance dinner out for him and his wife – once.

If that happens and I desperately need to replenish my account, it's a good thing I can remember the names of high school sweethearts of other people, which is odd because I can’t even remember what I ate for dinner yesterday.

For example, I’ve never forgotten the names of three former girlfriends revealed by co-workers after more than a few beers at the Knox Street Pub, a Dallas bar reportedly owned at that time by (I kid you not) Marina Oswald, widow of Lee Harvey Oswald (though I never saw her there). I did work with the guy who convinced Marina the body in her husband’s grave wasn’t his and that she should have it exhumed, though. Of course, the experts ruled it was JFK’s assassin, but I digress.

Anyway, at this after-work gathering, the guys around the table traded tales of their high school romances. Three decades later, I can still remember the names of those girls. Mayadelle, Starr and Scootchie would make really great passwords today. Watch your bank accounts, guys.