Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sarah of the FUTURE!

Published January 25, 2009
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

My husband and I were talking the other day about the nonexistent advances in technology that were promised by the science fiction writers of yesteryear. It’s 2009…it’s the Future… and I see no flying cars. There are no pills that become a five course meal when a drop of water is added. Sidewalks everywhere (except in airports) are still stationary. My arm is not robotic nor in any way capable of mass destruction or world domination.

As a kid, I devoured volumes of Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Arthur C. Clarke for some hint as to what I could expect from my life as an adult. By now, I expected I’d be living in a colony on some distant planet, studying quantum mechanics and playing rousing games of hover tennis in my state of the art space suit while sipping the latest version of Tang through a hose.

I would harrumph with a great big, “WHAT GIVES?” if it weren’t for the latest technological innovation in my life. I’d like to tell you about my new cell phone. Actually, cell phone isn’t quite right. It’s a phone. It’s a modem. It’s the internet. It’s a TV. It’s a camera and a camcorder and a planner and an mp3 player. When I’m working on my online college classes, it’s my classroom. When I need to create documents, spreadsheets, and even Power Point presentations, it’s my office.

In fact, this entire column was written on my phone. I thumb-typed my way through every paragraph, hooked my phone up to my computer with my handy USB cable, and uploaded my column into Mother Load history.

I have to admit, when my old phone died and my carried told me it would be cheaper for me to upgrade, I didn’t even glance at the list of features. The phone was free. The phone was pink. That’s all I needed to know. It wasn’t until I opened the box and started skimming through the welcome packet that I realized what an amazing piece of technology I’d just had delivered to my door.

Some of you out there are wondering what all the fuss is about. You’ve had a phone like this for ages. It’s not terribly new technology. Some of you have better phones…phones that sort your mail and pay your bills and fold your laundry. You’re thinking, “What’s this chick all excited about?”

I get that. You just have to understand that to me, this phone is the equivalent of driving my flying car over a moving sidewalk while preparing Thanksgiving dinner with a pill and a drop of water and dominating the world with my robotic arm. This phone might as well be my space colony, my hover tennis paddle, my hose full of Tang. This phone is proof positive that I, Sarah Clark, am indeed living in the FUTURE. I…am…FutureWoman!

Knowing that the future is now opens up a world of things I need to do. I’ve already started a new task list in my phone’s planner. 1. Prepare for first contact with benevolent alien species (make world famous pot roast and cinnamon rolls). 2. Begin studying quantum mechanics 3. Find out if anyone still sells Tang. 4. Reread phone’s welcome packet to check for overlooked robotic arm.

(If the alien species doesn’t like pot roast and cinnamon rolls, we just might need it.)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

"Unbreakable" dishes break my heart

Published January 18, 2009
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

I got a text from my husband the other day, telling me he’d spent the last of a Christmas gift card on a new set of glasses for the family. I was excited, to say the least. New glasses are my favorite frequently purchased item. With five kids, three cats, a penchant for clumsiness and the occasional bout of unbridled chaos, glasses don’t last long in my house.

The glasses, however, came with lovely stickers that pronounced them, “Unbreakable!” Uh huh. Unbreakable dishes are like bullet-proof glass. They’re all flash and prestige and failure to deliver. Bullet proof glass is no more bullet proof than most things. Given enough of a beating, it will fail. And so it will be with this lovely set of tumblers.

I know, I know. Pessimism doesn’t become me. I guess all those broken unbreakable dishes from my past are still too fresh in my memory. I remember the first time I owned unbreakable kitchenware. Braggart that I was, I confidently tossed one of the plates from hand to hand, saying, “It’s okay! It’s unbreakable!” I’m sure you can all guess how the sound of a shattering plate on a hard floor reverberated around the room.

Now, I’m not angry that the plate broke. I don’t mind having breakable dishes. It’s the way of the universe. It’s natural. It makes sense. You toss a plate from hand to hand and then miss? It breaks. You feel a little dumb, and you clean it up. Such is life.

What I have a problem with is the fact that some company wants to pass off its breakable dish to me, the cynical consumer, and to others, the na├»ve consumers, as somehow above the laws of physics. They call it “space age.” I call it false advertising.

I’m sure there are research and development guys somewhere objecting to that. They’re all hot under the collar because they subjected those plates to numerous well-controlled and well-funded breakability tests involving monster trucks and steamrollers and the plates handled that fine. Fellas, therein lies your problem.

I do not own a monster truck nor do I own a steamroller. Your plate was tested to withstand a fantasy land in which large vehicle operators have an inexplicable and downright crazy vendetta against dishes. The dish is going to defend itself as a matter of principle. That plate is thinking, “Must…survive...can’t…let…steamroller…win. Must…quote…Nietzsche… whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. I am PLATE! YOU WILL NEVER DEFEAT ME!”

Fresh from battle, you send the plate to me and the plate thinks, “Hey…this lady’s okay. I don’t see a steamroller anywhere. What? She just wants to put her world famous Italian Chicken on me for the enjoyment of her lovely family? Ahhhhhh, this is the life.” What kind of plate subjected to that spa-quality treatment is going to think to defend itself against a little game of toss?

My advice to the unbreakable dish manufacturers: when it’s time to test, call off the wrecking ball. Take back the flamethrower and the military grade cannon. Just round up a couple of impatient four year olds, a busy mom, a curious cat, a sink full of other dishes, and a short flight of stairs. If it can withstand all that, you can call it unbreakable.

If the heavy machinery of the world ever becomes self aware and plots to destroy us, those other dishes will do just fine.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Facebook Column

Published January 11, 2009
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

Today, I learned a few things about my friends. I learned that Amy put away all the laundry. Jauna is wondering why kids like Teletubbies. Aimee is taking “that stinkin’ dog” to the vet for a bath. Mary thinks whoever invented Lofthouse cookies should probably rule the world. And Carrie is BREAKING BENJAMIN!!! XD. (I don’t know what that means, but I’m very happy for her if it’s a good thing…though I can’t help feeling sorry for this Benjamin person.)

I learned all of this exciting news on Facebook. For those of you not in the know, Facebook is a social networking site on the internet where friends and family (and the occasional reformed grade school bully and his now grown victim) come together to share news and updates, comment on each other’s pages, and, uh, throw sheep at each other.

Okay, the sheep throwing is something I haven’t quite gotten used to.

If you’re feeling like giving in to your agoraphobic tendencies and are looking at a Facebook membership as your default connection with the outside world, or if you’re just like me and enjoy keeping tabs on everyone, including your childhood babysitter, there are a few things you should probably know.

First, no Facebook page is complete without a profile picture. If you’re of the young female persuasion, this means taking a series of self portraits with your camera phone until you get the shot that makes you look most like a starving goldfish, lips puckered into a position I can only imagine you think looks sexy. If you’re an adult, all you need to do is post a pic of your face, either taken by a friend or scanned and cropped from your latest family picture. As you get better at the Facebook thing, you’ll start to branch out. My current profile pic is a view of my feet dangling over the edge of Angels Landing. I think it says, “This woman is adventurous and daring! Don’t throw sheep at her!”

Next, you’ll need to add friends. This is the super easy part. Find one person you know. Send a friend request. The rest just happens. Once people see your scanned and cropped face on that person’s page, it’s all just a matter of doing the math. I don’t want to actually DO the math, so I’ll just say that roughly half of that person’s friends and three quarters of their friends and two thirds of their friends will all request to be your friend because you see them occasionally at church, are best friends with their relatives, or used to sit next to them at lunch.

Having a large cache of friends isn’t enough, though. It’s now time to augment your Facebook relationships by joining some groups. My advice? Be choosy. Don’t accept every group invitation just because you’re lonely and in need of adult conversation. Look for people with some actual connection to you or who share some common interest. I’m currently a member of the “Clark Family” group and a group titled, “I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar.” You’re going to get at least 27 invitations to a group called, “Let’s See if we can get all Facebook members into one group.” Don’t fall for it. If I’m never going to join, which I’m not, there’s really no point in your joining.

Finally, you must decide on applications. This is the make or break moment for most Facebookers. Apps are a form of online entertainment which run the gamut between fun and annoying, the sheer volume of which can be overwhelming to a newbie. Take it slow and be mindful of your time. Don’t try to be a hero. If you want to join your former Sunday School teacher’s Oregon Trail team, be aware that you might not make an effective Mobster partner for your niece. Don’t promise more than you can handle, because that only leads to hurt Facebook feelings.

And that, my friends, is where the sheep throwing starts.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Published January 4, 2009
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

As I drove to work today, I tuned my radio to my favorite talk radio station and started in surprise to hear the familiar strains of, “The One I Love.” The song is one of the first hit singles by the band, R.E.M., a long time favorite of mine. The radio program, a rebroadcast from April, featured the band members as they promoted their new album and the 25th anniversary edition of their first hit album, “Murmur.”

Wait…what?

Okay, Sarah. Just think in cold, hard facts. What do you know for sure? I’m 32 years old. I know that. “Murmur” was released in 1983. In 1983, I was a first grader attending Johann Kalb Elementary school in Nurnberg, Germany. It is now 2008. 2008 minus 1983 is 25.

All right…all right…good. Now, considering everything you know for sure, does it follow that R.E.M. could release a 25th anniversary edition of “Murmur” in 2008? No. No, absolutely not. Can’t happen. Completely impossible.

It’s quite a moment when you realize you’re old enough to speak the language of decades. As a kid, you hear people say things like, “He’s been my buddy for 25 years,” or, “I haven’t been back there in nearly 25 years,” and you just shake your head and think, “I’ll never be that old.” And then one day you’re driving down the road and 25 years worth of R.E.M. love hits you like a runaway semi…head on, no mercy, no survivors.

It’s times like these a girl realizes why her parents once balked at the idea of “their music” being relegated to “oldies” status. Back in the 80s, it made perfect sense to my young mind that music from the 50s and 60s was old. 25 years was, like, forever, man. Now that my music is 25 years in the past, it’s not so easy to wrap my mind around.

You can imagine how the shock became 1983 times worse when I shared this column idea with a 15 year old girl I know and heard the words, “Who’s R.E.M.?” WHO’S R.E.M!? I sang her song after song, even imitating the mandolin part on “Losing My Religion,” and got nothing in return but a blank stare (mixed with humor and pity at the old lady who was clearly losing it.)

I’m not sure where to go from here. My love of jazz and big band music notwithstanding, I’m not sure I’m ready to be old enough to listen to oldies. It’s not the Beatles, people! We’re talking about R.E.M.! Depeche Mode! Bon Jovi! Aerosmith! Wham! (Okay, not so much with Wham!, but “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” is just too infectious not to like.)

I considered rebelling against the clock and listening to the type of music my 15 year old friend listens to, but about a half hour into that experiment, my brain started melting right out of my ears from all the insipid lyrics and two note “melodies.” How do they call this music?

That's just great. Not only do I listen to oldies now, I complain that kids today don’t know what good music is. I’m one step away from using the word whippersnapper and shaking my hand carved cane around.

I guess it could be even worse than that. I could be the 30-something who can’t accept her age and keeps right on acting, dressing, and dancing like a teenager, never catching on that the teens aren’t laughing with her but at her. Much as it pains me to realize my musical heroes are well past the greatest hits stage, I’m not ready to be THAT person.

The best plan is to just suck it up and enjoy my life and my music as an out of touch adult. Maybe it’s not as bad as I’m making it out to be. It’s not like the singers I adored as a kid are old enough to win any lifetime achievement awards. I’ve got plenty of time before all those crazy hot front men of yesteryear become so old I can’t pretend to be young and vital. Steven Tyler, lead singer of Aerosmith, still makes my heart pound, and he’s only…uh…only… (Google search) 60.

Darned whippersnappers. Where’d I leave that cane?