iPad a pod too far for some

Delirious iFans are all over cyberspace these days with effusive praise for their new toy –

… an alternate computing reality in which the balance between content creation and consumption has shifted.

…a new computer that really plays to this new reality … shifts the priorities, … gets us more intimate with our media than we have ever been before…

…the iPad (has) finally given us a reason to think beyond our current relationship with computers.

Light and slim and sexy, the iPad is not a machine, its analysts would have us understand, as much as “an experience.” Boasting a volume rocker and a sleep/power button and a switch that locks into either horizontal or portrait view.

The talk is all about the “responsive screen that lets us interact with the things we care about. (It) quickly becomes the way you want to consume the Internet.”

This writer hereby admits to a relationship with a ThinkPad X61 that is, at times, excessive and does occasionally drive the husband to the brink of tossing it out the window. But interaction with the things I care about tends to happen when I shut the machine off. Which leads me to believe I’ll remain PC Luddite and iPad resistant.

IPad’s interactivity raises computing bar.

The Year of the Tiger Roars in

Quick! Sweep the floors and clear the bad spirits away. Once the Lunar New Year arrives you’ll want to put off housekeeping so as not to sweep the good spirits out. February 14 marks the coming of the Year of the Tiger.

The Year of the Tiger, sandwiched in between the Year of the Cow (2009) and the Year of the Rabbit (2011) is the third sign in the Chinese Zodiac cycle. Its New Year’s Day brings with it — as all new year’s potentially do — hope and truth, good fortune and peace. Not bad for a day that this year falls on Valentine’s Day, a celebration of love and affection.

If you’re a Tiger (skip the puns, this is a serious report) you are strong and lucky but prone to trouble. Brave and courageous, caring and thoughtful but a little rebellious at times. You are in the company of tigers Jon Stewart (1962), Jay Leno and Gary Larson (1950), Judy Blume and Kofi Anan (1938), Alan Greenspan (1926), Joe DiMaggio (1914), Agatha Christie (1890) and who knows how many other brave and courageous, occasionally prone to trouble good folks.

In New York and San Francisco, Los Angeles and Atlanta there are celebrations of the New Year with parades and festivities, dumplings cooked and feasts shared, red lanterns lit and red paper envelopes of money distributed. Around the world — one nice thing about this holiday being the fact that we share it with China, Indonesia, Hong Kong and other festive sites — there will be marching music, tiger hats and lion dancers. On my block there are always fire crackers, thanks to the grandchildren of our Chinese neighbors George and Annette, popping in the street to ward off the evil spirits. Which is clearly why you will find no evil spirits around our neighborhood.

So bring in the oranges and tangerines (symbols of good luck and great wealth) and hang the red paper hearts. Kick back, nibble sweets and enjoy a good excuse to put off housecleaning.  Who knows whether it will roar or rebel, we might as well welcome the Year of the Tiger with joy… and hope.

Super Bowl Ads: Anti-abortion, yes — gay romance, well, maybe

Super Bowl watchers at this house tend to be interested in the ball game. But elsewhere, apparently, the star attractions are the commercials. If you get bored in between the ads, you can even keep your laptop handy and bring up winners — winner commercials, that is — from past decades.

Being only mildly interested in this year’s game and not the least bit interested in whatever is on sale for a gazillion dollars a minute, I had been blissfully unaware of the hype and hysteria surrounding the event — until an e-mail earlier today asking if I knew anything about the anti-choice ad scheduled and simultaneous rejection of an ad that could be termed pro-gay. I did not, but as it turns out, NPR does:

This year, CBS is airing an anti-abortion commercial featuring college football star Tim Tebow, with his mother. The ad is sponsored by the conservative group Focus on the Family. Within a few weeks of that ad’s approval, CBS turned down a commercial for the Super Bowl produced by a new gay dating site called ManCrunch.com.

The Tebow and ManCrunch ads raise questions about not just what networks want in Super Bowl advertisements, but also what potential advertisers really want from the Super Bowl.

The 30-second ManCrunch ad shows two guys on a couch watching a football game. They’re rooting for their respective teams. Then, they both reach for potato chips at the same time. Their hands touch. The music builds. Then they kiss — rather comically.

I have a few problems with Focus on the Family. I have a LOT of problems with those who would have us return to the horrors of pre-Roe v Wade. Without roaming around the site a great deal I think I have a few problems with ManCrunch — but I’m not exactly their target audience. I had no problem at all, before now, with Tim Tebow, who seems a pretty good guy.

But suddenly there are problems all over. Emily’s List is petitioning CBS to toss the Tebow ad. The ad has its own, fast-growing Facebook fan club for crying out loud. Planned Parenthood is weighing in with a YouTube video in response to the tempest in the Tebow teapot.

ManCrunch, meanwhile, left out in the cold with their ad that reportedly cost $100,000, has gotten at least twice that much publicity and will probably have their own Facebook fan club before it’s all over.

Are you ready for some football?

A sucker born every minute: the link between casinos & the Supreme Court

Getting something for nothing is tough these days. But that, obviously, doesn’t stop millions of Americans from throwing money away trying, every day. And there’s a lot of money to be made off of those suckers. Witness the current hoopla between two bands of Pomo Indians, the Manchester-Point Arena Band v the Guidiville Band, over the latter’s push to develop a new “gaming” facility in the San Francisco Bay Area. Gaming is the new gambling, gambling having gotten a bad name for some reason, but certainly not the obvious reason that millions of people throw their money away on it and some of them suffer a lot thereafter.

If you don’t want to throw your money away on the slots, however, an anonymous gentleman (Joe Prosflow?) in Daly City, CA, invites you to toss it his way. (I Googled it, but you don’t want to go there; it’s pretty much defunct.) In a bright-yellow-background 2-column ad in today’s San Francisco Chronicle, a 76-year-old male who avows “I believe I have discovered a solution which has eliminated all of my symptoms” — i.e. waking up 3 or 4 times a night for bathroom calls — says he will send you “specific information” for $20 check or money order. Plus a self-addressed stamped envelope. Even though there are those near and dear to me who are known to arise multiple times during the night, I am resisting the temptation to respond to Mr. Prosflow.

But back to the slots. In a former life I had reason to attend occasional conventions in Las Vegas, which required walking through airports and hotel lobbies ad infinitum, all filled largely with little old ladies holding containers of coins and relentlessly feeding them into machines. Being now a little old lady myself, the remembrance of that sight makes me even sadder than ever. This is fun and games? I do not recall seeing anyone smiling. (Forgive me, Las Vegas, I’m sure you have good, smiling citizens there somewhere.)

But casinos cry at the top of their neon lungs about what a fun time you’ll have there! Glamour! Excitement! Not to mention all that money you’ll win! Just as lotteries tout the last gazillion dollar winner. Win big! Jackpot now over a gazillion! Hello? Have you met many gazillion dollar winners?

What brings this to mind, in addition to the interesting just-send-your-money ad, is the fact that casinos and lotteries and other nifty ways to abuse the poor — who are a large percentage of lottery ticket buyers if a smaller percentage of casino-goers — all get your votes. Because they advertise how their profits will make schools better (have you noticed schools getting better on casino taxes?) Or other wonderful benefits they will bring to the ‘hood. They somehow neglect to mention the increased costs they will bring in human miseries and public services required.

They get your votes, or your legislators’ votes, because they have a gazillion dollars to spend in order to get them.

Exactly as multinational corporations will now have a gazillion dollars to dominate every election in the country, large or small, thanks to the Supreme Court ruling that they can spend all the gazillions they want. Leaving us one-person-one-vote suckers still free to send our money to Daly City. But otherwise with not much of a voice.

Get smarter before the New Year? Sure you can

Scientific proof is limited. But this space, in the interest of staving off dementia while smartening up the general population, has been investigating recent reports on benefits of brain exercise. (One recent report in this space said crossword puzzles aren’t any big brain deal, which is mildly contradicted by the report below, which proves one cannot believe everything one reads online. Still… evidence is coming in.)

Doing crossword puzzles, reading, and playing cards daily may delay the rapid memory decline that occurs if people develop dementia, according to a U.S. study.

Researchers from New York’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine spent five years following 488 people aged 75 to 85 who did not have dementia at the start of the study.

Participants were tracked for how often they engaged in six endeavors: reading, writing, doing crossword puzzles, playing board or card games, having group discussions and playing music. Almost 1/4 of them developed dementia (that’s the bad news) during the study period. But the more engagement, the slower the decline.

Denise Park, PhD, founder of the Center for Vital Longevity at the University of Texas and a panelist on the recent brain fitness segment of PBS’ Life (Part 2) series, argued against crossword puzzles in this space (Can You Beef Up Your Brain, 12-09-09.) The social component (think tackling a new dance step) of brain exercise, she and many others maintain, is critical. Or the multi-layered element involved in learning to play a musical instrument or taking up photography — Park believes those sorts of endeavors will always beat crossword puzzles and solitary computer games.

Now comes Kathryn Bresnik of ProProfs.com. Bresnik isn’t quite ready to assert that you can improve your cognitive function right this minute by playing online brain games, but she cites a recent report (by Mary Brophy Marcus in USA Today) that the movement is gaining traction:

Computer games have been inching their way into the medical world over the last few years and though your local hospital may not become a mini-arcade, experts say patients can expect to see more gaming in medical settings in the years to come, especially brain games.

That report covered a recent Games for Health Conference in Boston, which for the first time featured a day of sessions specifically focused on gaming and cognitive health, and presentations by researchers from such mildly disparate sites as Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment. (Pick which to believe.)

For the past two days, since being alerted to ProProfs.com, I have been sneaking over to their game page, doing things like the Family Word Search or the Quick Calculate math one. Being an admitted novice to computer games, I found it pretty nifty to have that little voice telling me That. Is. Correct. when I did something right, and presenting instant tallies of time and scores.

So, okay, I haven’t made it into the top 50 for this week, and the games I chose are probably designed for 7th graders rather than 70-somethings. But here’s the thing: Every day, my scores are just a tiny bit better. This seems proof, albeit slightly anecdotal, that I am getting smarter. You may want to give it a try. If I can get smart enough to embed the game that the site tells me I can embed into a blog, it will be done at a later date, and perhaps we can poll True/Slant readers for increased cognitive function.

One caveat: While you are doing computer games, you cannot be doing dishes. Or writing blogs, for that matter. Smartness has its price.

via A crossword puzzle a day may delay dementia – Aging- msnbc.com.

Forget Barry & Tiger. Cal Ripken is still my hero

Today’s news says it’s all over for Barry. A lot may be over for Tiger, since Pepsi says their eponymous drink will be canned — or not canned, as the case may be. Still, it’s hard to feel terribly sorry for either of them. Barry never showed much affection for his fans, and Tiger apparently didn’t have enough affection for his family to keep them out of the sordid spotlight. But I suspect neither will wind up in the poorhouse unless they find new ways to abuse the public trust. For Barry, today’s news, reported by John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle, just looks like a confirmation of last year’s news:

Barry Bonds’ agent finally acknowledged Wednesday that the home run king is done playing baseball.

‘It’s two years since he played his last game, and if there was any chance he’d be back in a major-league uniform, it would have happened by now,’ agent Jeff Borris told The Chronicle. ‘When 2008 came around, I couldn’t get him a job. When 2009 came around, I couldn’t get him a job. Now, 2010 … I’d say it’s nearly impossible. It’s an unfortunate ending to a storied career.’

I’m just not sure it couldn’t have had a happier ending. If, perhaps, he had seemed to care more about the fans who made him rich and less about the stuff he was stuffing into his body in the presumed interest of getting richer. Maybe Tiger can find a happier ending, if he gets his act together before he hits retirement age himself; golfers don’t hit it quite as early.

There is a caveat which should be entered here: 99% of my sports information comes second hand from my husband, who has the uncanny ability to read complex books and magazines with one eye while digesting unbelievable hours worth of every known sport on TV with the other. But who didn’t follow, first-hand, the steroid saga of Mr. Bonds? And who could possibly be missing all the interminable coverage of the Woods family tragedy?

For a while I occasionally watched Barry Bonds do magic at the plate, and for a while he made such an attractive hero. I never saw Tiger except on the small screen, but at first he seemed such an attractive hero. So now I’m left feeling just a tiny part of one more national betrayal.

But here is the good news: Cal Ripken will be in Secaucus, NJ at the World Series MVP and Heroes Show on December 12.

Let’s all go to Secaucus.

Can you beef up your brain?

Not multi-tasking fast enough? Trouble concentrating? Worried about memory loss?

Maybe those neurotransmitters in your poor, information-overloaded brain can be expanded to improve these functions… and maybe not.  A panel of experts on the PBS series Life (Part 2) is tackling the topic of brain exercise — a topic which has been tackled in this space several times in the past (How’s your brain fitness today, 10/5; Diet, exercise and Alzheimer’s, 11/28.)

We talked with panelist Denise Park, PhD, founder of the Center for Vital Longevity at the University of Texas, who starts right out by debunking any notion that those crossword puzzles will keep you sharp: [youtubevid id=”xZBzZZJHic0″]

But all is not lost. Jigsaw puzzles could indeed help. “With jigsaw puzzles you’re manipulating materials,” Park comments, “and actively puzzle-solving; what we call executive function.” This may explain — though only in part — the brilliance of British novelist Margaret Drabble, whose new memoir, The Pattern in the Carpet is subtitled A Personal History with Jigsaws; although my own personal history with jigsaws unfortunately hasn’t enabled me to write like Margaret Drabble.

It is the combination of functions that stimulates, and perhaps enhances, those brain cells, Park explains. She recommends doing something both stimulating and fun: dancing (“I believe the social component is important”), learning to play a musical instrument, etc. — in which motor, auditory and other systems all come into play. Or taking up something like photography, with which one masters one step and then moves on to the next.

“I’m reluctant to prescribe anything to improve cognition,” Park says, “because we don’t know yet. We need to know a lot more.” Still, current findings — Park’s Center is doing fascinating work with aging citizens who are learning to quilt — are heartening, and anecdotal evidence about those of us reciting lists of numbers to each other and then trying to do them backwards, as suggested by the SharpBrains people, suggests that hilarity is good.

And the best news may be that computers aren’t the be-all and end-all here. Park suspects that sitting in front of a computer playing games, even games advertised to stimulate the brain, may have no great brain-building value at all.

So this space advises getting out the dancing shoes or the mandolin, inviting friends in to play numbers games — and maybe buying a giant jigsaw puzzle (for two.)

White House dinner crashers? '…certainly not us!'

I am still worried about the Salahis. A few days ago it was the issue of decorum, which they do not seem to have in abundance. Today, amid protests of good manners that would never have allowed them to intrude where the uninvited fear to tread, there is concern for their grammar and syntax. For a couple who are clearly headed towards a book deal, grammar may no longer matter but discombobulated syntax can cut into book-signing audiences.

As Kathleen Hennessey and Mark Silva report in today’s Chicago Tribune,

The couple who made it past Secret Service security to hobnob with the president at a state dinner last week say “the truth will come out” about their night at the White House and insist they’re not party crashers.

The couple said in an interview on NBC‘s “Today” that they were “shocked and devastated” by accusations that they showed up uninvited and talked their way past security. They said they were cooperating with a Secret Service investigation and claimed they had evidence showing they had permission to attend the A-list affair.

An e-mail exchange with Pentagon official Michele Jones will, insist the decorous couple — certainly people who invite the TV cameras in to watch their dressings-up can’t be utterly without taste — completely exonerate them.

The Salahis wrote that they drove to the White House the night of the dinner “to just check in, in case it got approved since we didn’t know, and our name was indeed on the list!” The Secret Service has said they were not on that list and that it erred by letting them in.

“We were invited, not crashers,” Michaele Salahi said in the “Today” interview. “There isn’t anyone who would have the audacity or the poor behavior to do that. No one would do that and certainly not us.”

So far be it from this space to insinuate that they are guilty of poor behavior. But there is still room for concern about their facility with the English language:

Tareq Salahi said he and his wife have been “very candid” with the Secret Service and “have turned over documentation to them. … We’re going to definitely work with the Secret Service between Michaele and I to really shed light on this.”

Couple say they didn’t crash White House dinner — chicagotribune.com.