Friday, September 26, 2008

Just Give Me A "Dumb Phone"

I know this column is a bit late. I suspended my column-writing for a day while I concentrated on the country's finances. So, here it is:

Someone in my family who shall remain anonymous to protect her identity -- and our marriage – owns an iPhone. And she loves it. My limited research tells me that everyone who owns an iPhone, a Blackberry, or any other "smart phone" loves their phone. How can you love a phone? To me, it's like loving a paper clip. Anyway, now Google's getting in the smart phone business with its version -- the G1. So there's going to be more love going around when it comes to these devices.

I understand that one of the reasons that their iPhone is the last thing that some people look at every night and the first thing they smile at every morning is because of the wonderful design. I guess the same goes for the other smarty phones. The other reason people adore them, of course, is that these phones can do so many things. They're actually powerful computers that are also phones.

You can use them to send email. If you're really brave, you can use them to check your stocks. Some of them have navigation systems. The G1 system has "Street View" which will show you actual street-level photos of the street. I guess this is better than taking your eyes off your beloved electronic device and just looking at the street you're standing on.

Okay, okay. Obviously, my sarcasm doesn't mask my true feelings about these things: who needs them? If you're saying they're just fun toys, okay. But don't try convincing me that you "need" them.

The G1 won't just have a camera. It will have a camcorder. I guess that is something people might need. I mean, look how often you'll be in front of a bank, you'll see it being robbed, you'll see a pregnant woman trip the robber, then the bank guard will deliver the baby, the pregnant woman's estranged husband just happens to walk by and is so touched by the sight of the innocent baby that he's thrilled that they are a family again, and all you're thinking is, "I can't believe I wasn't able to record this on my phone." That kind of thing happens to all of us all the time, right?

They call these things "smart phones." My question is, if they're so smart, why don't these phones work better -- as phones? That's something you never hear in the commercials. Nobody's saying, "Not only do you get all these features, but you always get a strong signal, a perfect connection, and an easy to understand conversation."

Doesn't it seem that the more expensive the phone, the worse it works as a phone? I've actually suggested to my wife -- I mean to the anonymous family member -- that she buy the cheapest phone available to use as a phone, and keep her iPhone for all the fun things. That's not going to happen. I think she feels that she would be cheating on the phone she loves.

I can remember when phones actually worked each and every time. Now, people dangle out of windows to get better reception just so they can say they're going to be late for dinner. It seems to me that first you should fix the phone aspect of the phone, and then you come up with all these fun features. I don't need a phone that can tie my shoes. Well, actually, that would be a pretty cool feature, but barring that, I prefer a phone that works.

From a business standpoint, I must be wrong. People are buying these things and falling in love with them, and they don't seem to care that the most common thing they say over their phone is, "I can't hear you. I'll call you back from my real phone."

They are fun things to own. I just think they should stop calling them phones. Maybe more appropriate names would be the Gee1 or the iFun. When the founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin introduced their new product, they projected an air of fun. They weren't wearing suits and those fancy shoes with the little holes in them. They wore casual clothes and rollerblades. I guess that shows they're not button-downed CEOs of some stuffy phone company. Also, if the product bombs, the rollerblades will help them make a quick escape from their stockholders.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I've Got News For You

Yep, it's another audio only "column" for you. If you're tired of reading the newspaper or listening to those people on TV, listen to my podcast of the news. The networks take 30 minutes to give you the news. My podcast is only about 8 -- with no commercials.

In case you haven't tried it yet, to listen, all you have to do is click where it says, "Click Here To Listen To This Column." OR, if you really want to be cool, go to the column to the left and click on where it says, "Subscribe with iTunes" (there will be a little musical note or two there). Just follow the links and the directions, and then from now on, my podcasts will automatically be downloaded to you.

So, enjoy my comments on the news, and please let me know what you think about them.

Thanks -- Lloyd

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Land Of The Free...Stuff

We love things that are free. We don't even care if we want or need the things we get for free. If it's free, we want it. We are a nation and possibly a society who loves bargains. We go to those discount stores and come back with a vat of ketchup, a drum of soy sauce, and a truckload of toilet paper because they're "bargains." We could all save so much money if we only didn't buy bargains. Yet, we buy all kinds of things that we didn't realize we wanted until we saw that they were on sale. And if they are free... we might as well take them no matter what, right? The other day I got something in the mail that was an "opportunity" for me to get a free cremation. Would you go for it because it's free, or would you pass because you think that somehow you'll get burned by the deal?

I'm sure this isn't the first advertisement that I've gotten in the mail that has to do with a product that I really wouldn't use in my lifetime. I've just thrown those insurance and funeral ads in the recycling basket. Why didn't I do the same with this one? Obviously, because of the free offer.

Some of us have religious, philosophical, or just a gut reaction that eliminates cremation as an option. But does that mean I should just throw the card away? Not necessarily.

If I don't use it for myself, maybe I can use it as a gift. Nobody likes to "make arrangements" for themselves. Many people don't get around to making wills or deciding what they want done with, well, their remains. It's a ticklish subject, one that people try to avoid thinking about as much as possible. So why not do the thinking for them, and give them a "final gift" -- a pre-paid cremation?

If you make this choice, the next time you go to a surprise birthday party, I'll bet you'll be the only one there giving the guest of honor a free cremation.

On the note from the cremation people, it says that by filling out the card requesting more information, "You will be eligible for a drawing each month" to win a free cremation. They actually have a monthly drawing?! Do you think they do it like the lottery, with a pretty young woman or a handsome young guy picking out the winning ticket? Would they ever televise it as part of their advertising campaign? Would people actually watch it, hoping that they'll be this month's cremation winner?

I'll bet they would. That's another thing we like -- to be winners. It could be very successful on television. We've already learned that people will watch anything on TV. Certainly they're going to watch something where they have a chance of winning something that's free.

And once the cremation commercials are a success, look for imitators like free funeral plots. I know what some of you are thinking: if I win a cremation or a plot, what about my spouse? Don't worry. I'm sure there will be some kind of discount for your partner. Besides, you could get really lucky, and win twice – win two cremations or plots! I'm looking at the card right now, and I don't see any fine print that says, "Only one winner per family."

We've all heard friends say things about something that wearing like, "Yeah, I don't like it either, but it was free." People will go to places for a weekend that they would never even want to visit for a second if the trip weren't free (even though they might have to sit through a video about buying a condo). They'll eat free samples of food they don't normally like to eat. So, what is it about getting something for nothing that thrills us so much?

I think it's a feeling that we "beat the system." Maybe we feel that the system is beating us all day, every week, every year, so if we have a chance to get something for free -- anything -- we go for it.

So what am I going to do? I'm not going to mail that card in for a chance at a free cremation. I don't know, maybe l'll use it as a coaster. I can't throw it away. After all, it was free.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Secret To Happiness

I was in a bookstore the other day, and you know what? It's getting harder and harder – especially in a big chain bookstore -- to find a book. I mean a real book. Literature. Or and least something that you can't read while you're also watching TV. The reason you can't find the kind of book you're looking for is that all the self-help books about how to be happy fill up the shelves. Ironically, this makes some of us quite unhappy.

Some of these popular happy books include, "Climb your Stairway to Heaven: The 9 Habits of Maximum Happiness" and "Mary Lou Retton's Gateways To Happiness: 7 Ways To A More Prosperous, More Satisfying Life." The Dalai Lama's book, "The Art Of Happiness: A Handbook For Living" is on the shelves, and so are "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience" and "The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting The Life You Want." One thing is certain: if you're going to write a successful book about happiness, you need a colon in the title.

I don't want to call us "whiners," because I know that even advisers to presidential candidates can get in trouble using that term. But we are certainly seekers. Yet, it turns out that research has shown that seeking happiness is one of the least likely ways to find happiness. Of course, now they'll try to sell us books about how we don't need a book to achieve happiness.

I'm not denying the importance of happiness. On the contrary, happiness is one of my favorite things, along with magazines that don't smell like perfume and a nap when nobody's home. I'm just not sure we need so many books about it.

What is the real secret to happiness? What do the gurus of our era – scientists – have to say about being happy? The latest scientific research on happiness indicates that about 50% of one's propensity to be happy is genetically determined. So if you're happy, stop being mad at your parents. And if you're not happy, stop blaming them for more than 50% of your unhappiness.

The other 50% of your possible happiness comes from circumstances and from the way you act. Not surprisingly, the old standbys of doing things for others and being grateful for what we have are at the top of the list of things that bring us happiness. Exercise, meditation, and laughter are helpful, too – and they don't mean laughing at other people you think aren't as happy as you are.

With all of the complaining we do about not being happy, with all of the lack of gratitude that seems to permeate our society, with all the money we shell out in the hope of buying happiness, we must be the unhappiest group of people in the history of the world, right? Wrong.

The University of Michigan's Ronald Inglehart's recent paper published in "Perspectives on Psychological Science" refers to surveys taken over the past seventeen years by the World Values Society. These surveys measured happiness in 88 countries covering 90% of the world's population. Overall, happiness has increased 6.8%. Maybe 6.8% doesn't sound like a lot, but that includes places that have had wars, floods, and reality shows.

How is this possible? If we're happier than ever, why do we have such a need for "get happy books?" Why do so many people claim to be so unhappy if the statistics say that happiness is on the upswing?

Well, I have a theory. We all know that exercise can lead to better mental health and happiness. But recent research indicates that it's not just the physical act of exercise that improves our brain. Doing a repetitive activity like running or walking can help the health of our brain.

And what's the most common repetitive activity that we do: complaining about not being happy. So it's quite possible that our chronic dissatisfaction, our habitual lack of gratitude, and our constant fruitless search for an easy road to happiness all might be contributing to our actual happiness.

Those of you reading this, please don't write books about my theory. The stores are already running out of space. However, you have to admit it's interesting that these days, the credo of many people who are really happy is a variation of the old "I think, therefore I am." Maybe today it's, "I complain, therefore I am."

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Que Sarah, Sarah

Que Sarah, Sarah, Whatever she'll be, she'll be.

At the beginning of the Republican convention week, a poll revealed that 41% of Americans surveyed said they weren't familiar with Sarah Palin. That means that 57% of those surveyed weren't telling the truth.

Now we all know that Sarah Palin, the Governor of Alaska, is John McCain's choice for his running mate as the vice presidential nominee. Not that McCain asked me, but there are some things about this pick that bother me.

Some Republicans are saying that with this choice, women who are disappointed that Barack Obama didn't pick Hillary Clinton as his running mate now have a woman to support and vote for. This seems so sexist, so condescending, that it's beyond belief. Do they actually think that many women will vote for a woman just because she's a woman, even if they disagree with her beliefs and positions? That's crazy. Nobody's saying that men will vote for McCain or Obama just because McCain or Obama is a man.

And then there's this other thing. They're saying that she's not a "regular politician." Instead, "she's just like you and me." "Just like you and me?" Are you kidding? When they were trying to contact her father to tell him that she was going to get the nomination, he was busy caribou hunting and gold mining. I have to tell you, nobody in my family ever spent time caribou hunting and gold mining. If McCain had decided to choose me instead of Sarah Palin, it's possible that my mother would have been busy when they tried to call her, too. But she would've been busy doing something like reading -- not panning for gold or pointing her rifle at an animal.

By the way, what's Sarah Palin's favorite food? Moose stew. "Just like you and me?"

Sarah's father isn't the only one in the family who is a hunter. Sarah likes to shoot animals, too. Rumor has it that she's a much better shot than the current vice president. Then again, Ray Charles was probably a better shot than Vice President Cheney.

Evangelical Christians and other Republicans on the right are embracing Governor Palin's religious and social views. She believes that "abstinence only" should be taught in school, not sex education. She believes that creationism should be taught alongside that other doctrine that's only been accepted by the scientific community around the world for 149 years -- evolution.

There is something I've never understood about "creationists." If they believe so strongly that God has created all the creatures in the world, why do they think that it's okay to shoot some of those creatures with a gun? And then they think it's a nice touch to decorate their homes with the heads and skins of the animals they've killed?

So in Sarah Palin we have somebody who doesn't think sex education should be taught in school, who doesn't believe in evolution, and whose favorite dish is moose stew. "Just like you and me?" I don't think so.

But don't write her off. One of the most amazing things that I've ever seen is that the Republicans are turning all of her negatives into positives. Since they can't call her selection a strange choice, they're calling it a bold one. Instead of apologizing for her shortcomings, they celebrate them. Her inexperience is supposedly an advantage because she's not a "traditional politician." Her family problems are a positive because they show that she has the same kind of problems as everybody else -- except she has to worry about overcooking the moose stew.

And at the convention, she offered up her own blend of political stew. It had equal parts of "Aw, shucks" and venom.

Don't sell her short. She might be different from you and me – she was the 1984 runner up in the Miss Alaska contest, and I wasn't -- but just because she is different, doesn't mean you should dismiss her. I don't think jokes about her being another Spiro Agnew or Dan Quayle are going to fly. As I recall, those two guys were on the tickets that won.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Women In The News

This is an audio-only column, for now. If you'd like to hear what I have to say about Sarah Palin, "Gone With The Wind," "Hillary Supporters," and moose stew, listen to this "audio column." To listen, you can click the orange thing that says, Click Here To Listen To This Column" or, even better, if you haven't already done so, you can go to the upper left hand corner of this page where it says, "Podcasts." Right below there, click on next to the musical note where it says,"Subscribe With iTunes." Even if you've never had iTunes, it's really simple to follow the links. It's so easy, I was able to do it.

Thanks -- Lloyd

New Bob Newhart Video

Check out Bob Newhart's first internet video by