Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Plumbing the Shallows

I use Yahoo as my internet whatever – the first screen I see (whatever that is called) not from any strong preference but merely because that must have been, in the dim dark ages past, the first whatzit that popped up when I started on the internet.  By now this has become, in a modest way, my preferred whatzit only because I am used to it.  Actually, on my other computer, my Apple, which I bought when I had a lot more money and nothing much to do with it, Google is my first whatzit, which makes more sense in a way, because I often go online to Google to look up a word or person or thing which has come up in conversation and which I suddenly realize after all these years that I don’t know exactly who or what it is. 

Yahoo seems to see itself, these days, as a sort of USA Today lite – and of course, USA Today itself is news lite in the first place – so when I first hit my computer in the morning or whenever I manage to get to it, I am usually presented with about six headlines concerning things that Yahoo assumes will interest me.  At least one of these commonly begins with a grabber like “Six people that…” or “The ten best…” or “Fifteen horrifying…”.  I canceled my Time subscription some time ago for offering me too much of this kind of headline.  There are usually about two of the six headlines given over to some event in the lives of some film actor who should have known better even if he or she is not Lindsay Lohan.  Today’s quota of actor-related headlines were about actors Pete Postlethwaite dying and Zsa Zsa Gabor having her leg amputated.  What stopped me in my tracks were not the misfortunes of these actors, but the little note at the end of each headline displaying a camera icon and the word ‘photos’.  Really??  For one giddy moment I thought I was being promised a close-up of a corpse and a stump, but of course, just like the ‘Ten ways to cut your taxes’ articles, the reality is no such luck.  I have to say they had me for a minute there. 

I’d like to say that Yahoo doesn’t ‘get’ me and that I am above clicking on articles about people I will never meet and lists that have nothing whatever to do with my life.  (Have you ever read one of those tax-reducing articles, by the way?  They have about as much relevance to me as does the AARP magazines agonizing over where one should buy one’s second home or which upscale getaway caters to such ‘Life-is-sweet’ seniors as myself. )  But, getting back to the thought provided in sentence one of this paragraph, I have to admit that I quite frequently do find myself idly clicking on these desserts for the mind type articles – though I hate myself for doing so - while I am just as likely to skip stories on the war and Washington.  Partly my avoidance of the latter items is Yahoo’s insistence on giving no information that I don’t already know from last night’s two sentences with film footage on NBC or ABC.  The problem with a world in which everyone is famous for 15 minutes, is that no one is allotted that fame in relation to his deserving of it.  Probably nearly everyone has 15 minutes worth of depth in some area or other, but that is never what we get to read about.  I wonder what kind of interesting stories we’d get if Yahoo omitted any ‘news’ article with less than ten sentences altogether, and for those longer than ten sentences, they arbitrarily picked sentence 11 of the article and had a writer do a whole article on that sentence’s topic alone.  Such depth is why I love my Atlantic and my New Yorker.  Either tell me a whole lot that I don’t already know, or skip it altogether. 

So I have to admit, sadly, that Yahoo probably does have my number.  It is embarrassing.  On the other hand, while Yahoo is just guessing, and probably wouldn’t know me if it passed me on the street, my nearest and dearest should have a clue as to what I am all about.  Each Christmas I am reminded anew what a mystery I am to all who know me.  I wonder if the gifts I give are as unrelated to the people to whom I give them as theirs are to me.  An Indian man, whom I worked with in Saudi for six months or less, and whom I have seen only once in the last fifteen years, dropped by the other day on his way from Toronto (to which fascinating city he has emigrated) to introduce me to his wife and three kids and the lot of them were kind enough to bring me a Christmas gift.  How is it that this man had a better idea of what I like (a book on the latest findings on brain plasticity) than do my relatives, many of whom have known me since birth?  Just asking.  I like getting gifts – giving, I find, is much overrated – but I do find it baffling that people are so wide of the mark when they decide what I might like.  Perhaps they see me as too narrow, and wish to widen my horizons.  But an insulated coffee cup every Christmas?   Still, the degree of difficulty I find in buying gifts for most of my near and dear would argue that I am as clueless as they are.   But this is about ME after all. 
What happened to bring these thoughts to mind was the fact that just now I opened the upper cabinet door where I have stowed the latest insulated coffee cup and, apparently feeling that I had enough of its ilk therein already, this latest gift leapt from its shelf and smashed a plate I had set on the counter below.   I am not exactly looking a gift horse in the mouth here; I know that it is the thought that counts.  But what baffles me, is what thought exactly is it that I am counting?  Has anyone ever found me, for instance, serving or drinking flavored coffee?  Yeah, I got some of that – and when I served a bit of it at the Sunday Breakfast last week, I got a resounding chorus of ‘Eeewww!” which kind of echoed my own reaction.  To be sure, if asked, I wouldn’t know what I wanted either, so I guess I can’t expect anyone else to know.  I have too much stuff already.  The best gift I have gotten in the last several years was a gift certificate for iTunes.   At least I don’t have to find a place for the resulting purchase. 

As a special service, I offer the following (he said, changing the subject).  If your eyeglasses’ lens keeps popping out, don’t try supergluing it to the frame.  If you DO glue it and inevitably get some glue on the lens, don’t try wiping it off with your finger.  And if you do smear it around with your finger, don’t try to clean it up with a paper towel.  I’m not saying how I know this, or where bits of paper may be firmly adhering to my body, I am just being of service.  


  1. I remember Yahoo being the home page on my very first PC that I purchased in 1997. I got my first 'extra' email addy from Yahoo, an address which I still have after 13 years with the same password. I have always used this as my 'give out' address when I am on the internet.
    As for Christmas gifts, I solved that this past Christmas by telling everyone what I would like to have. ;-)

  2. I had yahoo as a home page for less than a year. It's even worse than the next home page I decided on which was msn. Same junk. Now I use Chrome mostly and with that I have these neat little (big) squares that show my most visited sites and I can just click on one of those. I like it.
    As for Christmas, you should do what Beth said and just TELL what you'd like. On the other hand, and you can stick your tongue out all you want to here, you could actually give some real thought to what you give to others. When you see the true look of delight on another's face, it's worth it all. The more it becomes about others, the more it ends up being about you, and isn't that what you want anyway?

  3. I had to laugh out loud when I read what you wrote about Zsa Zsa and Lindsey Lohan. I saw the SAME story and thought, OMG, has Lindsey took some acid or something, only to read on and realize it is a spoof.

    I think you are spot on with the "news" on these sites being so void of true content. It is like watching the preview for a movie, then going to see it and realizing ALL the good parts were in the preview and there was really nothing any better in the other 126 mins.

  4. David, I am in love with words in general and the English language in particular. The word "whatzit" is a useful little guy; I'd forgotten him, although I frequently use his poor cousins, "doohickey" and "thingamajig".
    He will be returned to my lexicon forthwith; thank you for the reminder!

    I enjoyed your thoughts concerning Yahoo. My whatever of choice is Google--love the word for the sound of it alone--and the bane of my day is "Bing"--hate it, hate it, hate it. The thing most distasteful about Bing is its presumption that it "knows" what sites of interest to "suggest" to me. Further, I find MSN's arrogance maddening as it forces my computer to default to Bing on my formerly-visited MSN homepage. I've endured active links which show popups when my cursor accidentally triggers them; my teeth clench when the link takes me to another Bing "suggestion".


    Okay. That's out of my system.

    Your remarks about gift-giving are poignant and resonate with me. Have you ever questioned the practice of gift-giving at Christmastime (or any other occasion, for that matter)? How much anxiety--and excessive spending--would be eliminated if we could eliminate gift-giving altogether? Imagine just getting together with friends and loved ones for no other reason than to share time together on a special occasion?

    Come to think of it, that sweet feeling of spending time with loved ones and friends is one I've come to anticipate when I seek out my blogging family...

    ...and there's no fear of getting another insulated coffee mug, ever.

    (Thank you for the wise advice about eyeglasses repair; I'll remember it.)

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  6. I wrote lengthy responses to everyone yesterday and somewhere along the line I guess I hit control-something instead of shift-something and everything vanished in an instant. I have been lying down with several medications and a cold cloth on my forehead from the shock, ever since. I’ll try again, this time in Word, which is a helluva lot more predictable than Blogger. But now all that wit, that eloquence, that insight have flown and I am left with responses a lot more pedestrian.
    @BETH – I probably got to Yahoo originally just as you did. But I am not the bright light vcerebrum-wise that you ae, so for several years I had the custom of using as my e-mail provider whatever Dervice provider – Roadrunner, Comcast, Knology, Charter – from which I was getting my cable. I am not sure why, but I thought this was the sapient, adult way to go – that there was some advantage. But everytime I moved –which was often twice or more a year because of my job, I seemed always to be where the previous service wasn’t available and I had to chance – and each time I lost all my e-mail, addresses and probably some friends, because I never answered their post-move e-mails. One day – duh – I realized that Yahoo was always there and made it my e-mail service and voila – I had to lose friends the old fashioned way – by offending them.
    Your solution on the gifts won’t work for me – as I said, I don’t KNOW what I want. I buy on impulse and often never open the package – so I know what I GET, but I don’t have a clue what I WANT. So I guess, why should my family know?
    Huh – NOW Blogger thinks my comment is too big (and actually deleted it – God bless Word!) I’ll get to the rest of you below!

  7. @JENNYD – I am used to Yahoo – but I have begun using Chrome because a guy from the Geek Squad said he had heard good things about it. And those big icons you mention are cool, except I always have to shut my computer quickly when folks come ‘round because a really big icon of ‘Super Hot Escorts’ or ‘Hot Bodies’ is not the image I want to portray. So I log onto Chrome and then have to go to Yahoo for mail and stuff – if I had it to do over I’d use Gmail, but as I said to Beth above, I just can NOT change my e-address again, although probably Yahoo will be bought and I’ll have to change anyway – probably to something Chinese.
    And don’t make me have to come over there and put “LOL” on my remarks about getting v giving. I do like that look of delight – but all the folks I COULD delight seem to be gone. No matter what I do, I can’t seem to plumb the depths of my relatives’ preferences. I suspect delight in a recipient is partly due to WHO gave you that wonderful gift – and I am not a source of delight for anyone anymore. Also, I find that the gifts that delight seem to be those that come on no special occasion. I think the days on which one can ‘expect’ gifts – birthday, Valentine’s Day, Christmas – almost blunt the delight, both by the fact that they can be one of several, and by the implicit “have to” factor. I still wear and treasure a suede jacket Tumwell gave me, even though I have to make several tries to get my hand into the right hole in the now-tattered lining and I may well have given it to charity were it not for the delight and surprise I still remember when I got it. It may well be more blessed to give than receive – but somebody has to do the less blessed part. I always was a little miffed, like Martha, when the late J. Christ was all about Mary who just sat there with her mouth agape listening, while Martha busied herself getting a nice meal and making some delicious coffee. But that’s men for you. I wonder, after three days with nothing to eat, how lazy Mary would have looked!

  8. OK – NOW I am just pissed – even though Blogger SAID my comment was too big, and disappeared it – AFTER I repost in smaller pieces to Beth and JennyD and go back to re-read my other commenters’ thoughts – I find that my first shot actually DID post and so did the replacements and I look ike the big fool that posted the same shit several times. THAT is why you see that ‘removed’ moment.
    @ONEGIRL – Hey, in Word I can even do bold! I am pleased to hear you laughed out loud – when someone goes to the trouble to write out the words and not just scribble ‘LOL’, I actually believe it happened. I am always happy to score (not in the biblical sense – although that to, maybe) with my readers.
    Really – why do these sites bother ‘reporting’ news at all? We are as one on that issue. As to the misleading previews – I am 50% pissed when all the good bits were in the preview and the rest of the film sucks, but I am DOUBLY pissed (that would be 100%) when the preview shows the film as being one kind of film and the actual film is completely different. Case in point: I just went to see that Gyllenhaal/Hathaway film because the previews showed a light romantic comedy. What I GOT was one of those Lifetime Channel-style “disease of the month” flicks. And all the naked boobs and butts – attractive as they were – did not make up for the glum mess I was forced to watch when I was in a light romantic mood. Go watch those ads and tell me, do you pick up that it is a film about a woman with a debilitating, fatal disease – and I don’t give a damn if I poiled the plot for people – It is a pblic service to do so. Similarly, but with a happier ending, Dead Poets Society was advertised, you may recall, with a series of cuts of Robin Williams doing his usual comedy. As it turned out, this very serious film was one of my ten favorites of all-time, but it was so far from a comedy, that I resent even today the false pretext under which I was lured in. Why don’t the advertisers trust the film they are advertising enough to give an honest picture of what is offered?

  9. There really is only one consistently thoughtful gift. Everyone says it is not what they want but in all the years I have been giving people crisp 100 dollar bills I have never seen the expression of horror I used to get when I would give people snowman sweaters.

  10. I think the area in which Apple and other players are superior to Microsoft for people who are serious and who do not have ADD, is that the others have ‘helps’ that do not distract or get in the way, but Microsoft is like the person who is ‘only trying to help’ as they track up your carpet and break your china. Hey I just noticed YOU said ‘Grrr!’ and I actually used it too without realizing I was cribbing.
    I like whatzit better than doohickey or the ‘thingama-‘ words because it seems less boisterous to me – more like an, I don’t know what it is but that is not my point, whereas doohickey is more of a ‘I am trying to point out that this item is weird or unfathomable in some way – and so does thingamajig or –bob. I guess when I use that many syllables, the word seems to get in the way of the point. When the point is that something is yet another little burden to progress, then doohickey is just fine, but I myself don’t use it.
    I haven’t ever thought, actually, about Christmas without gifts, and I am sure we need something to help our beleaguered merchants break even each year. I guess, I would like to be able to opt out without it being a ‘statement’ of the kind which I do not wish to make. And to be honest with myself, I seem to resent anything that means the slightest effort, and without effort it is all too easy for me to do nothing at all. Thanksgiving IS a holiday without gift-giving, and I don’t like it any better Since I don’t much care for turkey – it is OK, but my least favorite non-exotic meat (I draw the line at monkey or even venison), but I hate pumpkin pie, mincemeat, winter squash, green bean casseroles (yuck! Mushroom soup!), stuffing or dressing, and cranberry sauce. Not big on sweet potatoes either, but I can eat them. I DO love the mashed (white) potatoes and the olives, though, but really, that seems a very little to drive 20 miles for. Plus, trying not to look like I am not eating anything, so my hostess doesn’t feel hurt. My sister-in-law is a wonderful cook – it is the traditional food I dislike, not her cooking.
    As to blogging families – well, I am going to write a blog on that concept one day – I believe they are far less intimate and more evanescent than people think at a given moment – nearly everyone who dearly loved me when I was in my first year has disappeared without comment. And I don’t think it is just me – people come and go – I enjoy them while they are here, but I am still checking out EdgyKay and Cybilsophia and others and – nada, for years now.

  11. @MARGE – I don't know if it was me or Blogger, but the first part of my response was cut off, which was:
    Thanks for reminding me how much I hate Bing – the biggest problem for me is I have to be so careful not to let my cursor roll over any of the many mines in the minefield that is MSN or you suddenly have your reading interrupted by some completely different article – god, I hate that. MSN’s problem is always that they think they know what you want to do. The one thing I loathe about Word (which I otherwise really like) is that if you indent and number or letter or bullet a couple of points they don’t let you resume with the main body, but you have to fight for hours not to have the next thing you want to say added as if it were point 3 or enumerated item D) or yet another bulleted sub-thought. Grr.

    @LAOCH - My brother Luke gives cash and it is funny - it is sure nice to have but I kind of wish it was a little bit more about me. Still, it beats the snowman sweater that I won't wear, or the insulated coffee cup - and it beats the absolute worst gift of all - those awful giftpacks that look like they have about 5 pounds of cheese and sausage, and which turn out to have about an ounce of each - and it doesn't taste good either.

  12. Greetings from "the hills of Kentucky",
    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.
    After reading several of your posts, I see that your literary skills are pretty much on the level with Marge and even Jenny D (also a couple of my buddies).
    So whenever you "get a hankerin to dumb-down", feel free to stop by again.
    My site aims ramble from hommade videosfrom local photography, poor humor, and sometimes like your site...just bitching about things. I, too, like to do it in a humorous way... only I'm not as eloquent as you. Also, I'm too damned lazy (and don't know how) to use spellcheck on this site.

  13. the comments were as much fun as the post...got a kick out of all of it...and, I still have a yahoo address from long ago and, sorry to say a homepage, too, that I even use once-in-a-while...then there are msn, google, and have you heard of myway.com?...and, I've taken to reading only the headlines of some of the articles in newsletters I receive...a lot of it is repeat of what others have reported...and, who has the time, anyway...

  14. My "home" is msn.com. I don't know why, it just is. I think reading all the snippets of what msn promises to be interesting has lent itself to my lack of attention span. Why read a substantive and informative article when I can keep up with the world 3-lines at a time?

    I began asking for "lists" of wanted items from my nieces and nephews several years ago. In my mind they were still little kids and my gifts were not reflective of current interests. I also give them one. It's difficult to find that one special thing for someone when we all tend to go buy what we want for ourselves all year. It was easier when Christmas and birthdays were the only time we could anticipate long-wanted stuff. The trouble with lists is that there's not much "surprise" at gift-opening time which takes a lotta the fun out of it. It's almost the same as giving a gift card, but without the guilt of putting zero thought into the process.

  15. @DAVE – Nice to see you; my nephew lives in KY – it is a beautiful state. And I didn’t see anything ‘dumb’ about your blog. Different people like different things and write for different reasons. I enjoy many, an others aren’t for me – mostly because of topic or the like – my interest in some areas is very slight. I value your comment on my skills (Marge?! JennyD?! Two to live up to!), it is really rewarding to be complimented on what one likes doing best – in a way, that perfect gift. I also do not know how to use spellcheck (and Spellcheck will tell you ‘spellcheck’ is spelled wrong!) on this site, but I have learned from sad experience to write in Word and then copy and paste. I DO know how to use spellcheck there, though I don’t always DO it. Now I am even writing my comments in Word because I lost a long set and I was shaking with rage. But as you see, it does encourage me to wax prolix.
    @PATRICIA – First thanks – glad you were amused. I love reading just headlines – the best are in the tabloids at the supermarket checkouts – the articles are crap, but the headlines are awesome. Haven’t heard of Myway.com – do you recommend it?
    @MIZANGIE – Hmm – maybe that is what killed my attention span – although I think these snippets are a result rather than a cause of people’s loss of span. People went from e-mail to Facebook to Twiter in search of ever more limited expression. One day, we will all just post, ‘You rock, Girl!’ on the web when we are 13 and will never have to read or think about anything again. In most cases that would be an improvement. Each step in the shortening of the span has been an even larger step toward the concept that it is all about ME. In the old days, one had to at least give some proof of that. Whole books!
    As to gift cards – I don’t think they are ALWAYS proof of zero thought. I try not to fall back on them, but if I do, I at least try to get one that reflects the recipient’s interest. I love to receive gift cards for bookstores and iTunes. And the closest thing to a lit-up face this Xmas was that of my brother Luke, when he got the gift card for a certain discount tool store he goes to every week. And I always get a card from a ‘general interest’ retailer to bring extra in case someone unexpected shows up at our family Christmas. (This year it was a hit when a new boyfriend showed up; it makes one feel part of things.) The list thing is good – but different families are quite different in the way they do things. I often find an item that makes me think immediately of someone – only it is July and I NEVER have the sense to get it then and squirrel it away, or even to write myself a note.

  16. Hi, David...

    I was homesick, so I cam back to read your blog again and the comments it inspired; both are rays of sunshine in my day.

    Thanks again for being here.

    *hugs David very bigly*