What?

Today I read a short headline proclaiming that Chinese mega phone company Hua Wei is becoming the world’s leader in artificial intelligence infrastructure. Evidently, the Chinese want to know everything about you before you do. I only wish they would place particular emphasis on designing hearing aids for me that can differentiate between the noise of a crowded restaurant and the person sitting opposite me. If ever there was a need for artificial intelligence that would do it for me.

I am on my third set of Siemens hearing aids (eight years) and although I will admit they have made some progress in reliability, and in sound quality, hearing aids are still in the stone age. Siemens is the European version of General Electric, known for its advanced quality in all things electronic. When I bought my last set they changed the name of the hearing aid division from Siemens to Signia. A good move I thought, why tarnish your entire company by one poor division. Give it a new name and we dupes of the world will believe the product is better.

Ask anyone who uses hearing aids what they like about them and they will say, “I can hear.” Ask what they hate about them and they say, “I can’t hear.” The “I can’t” has to be qualified with I can’t hear in noisy environments. When I got my last set the audiologist sold me on the many wonderful ways the devices can be programmed. For instance, I have a setting for noisy environments which dulls the sound I hear. The only problem is that the AI required to separate noise from voice is still lost in China. The second setting is a super sound deadening for when I am running noisy machines in my shop. This setting is almost as good as removing the aids from my ears. A third setting trains my brain to forget I have tinitus or ringing in the ears. Basically the device plays one of six different alternate noises that are more pleasant over the top of the ringing (a form of noise cancelling). I used this setting every chance I got until I realized that the chances of killing the ringing is slim since my ears have been ringing for forty years. A few minutes of sound training a day is probably not going to shut that off.

There are a couple of things these aids do that I really like. I get the sound from the TV piped right into my ears. I like this so much that I have the TV on mute because it is easier to hear through the aids. I can also listen to the radio the same way. I need a smart phone and a radio app, but the bluetooth feature will send the sound right into my ears. This is useful for when I am mindlessly surfing the net, I can also listen to my favorite program. Because I have bluetooth, I am also able to control loudness from my phone or the bluetooth pendant I have hanging around my neck. The TV requires a special sending unit and the radio requires the phone. It only took me one year to learn how to control these connections because it was not obvious that when I want to watch TV I have to “pair” the TV sending unit to my pendant which then directs the sound into my ear. All of that should be totally automatic with no need for human intervention, training, and frustration. The pairing and the electronics should all be integrated in the hearing unit. If AI and the automated pairing were part of the package then I might believe the money I paid was worth it.

I am sure the next generation of hearing device that I buy will no doubt work on a network which means it will require user names and passwords to access anything. I can visualize it now. You ask me something and I say, “hold on while I input my user name and twenty character password.” After all, I wouldn’t want anyone to hack my hearing aids to hi-jack my brain.

Maybe if I live to be a hundred and eighty I’ll see some real progress in artificial intelligence come to fruition. In the meantime AI is just another acronym that people will try to impress us with.

Dreary, Dark, and Windy

Closeup of wild turkey in newly fallen snow

Today I postponed my daily walk a bit to catch a few extra degrees of warmth. The temperature didn’t matter though, the wind was blowing hard with gusts of fifty miles per hour. If it was at may back I was literally being pushed along faster than my legs would move. On the return, I got my workout. Several times the breeze stopped me dead in my tracks. Combine that with an uphill climb and the workout was intense. In either direction the breeze carried away any heat that the workout was providing and I was under dressed for it.

This after noon I added some more decoration to the house for Christmas. I am stopped at this point having broken my promise never to decorate again. As sorrowful as I want to be I force myself to see only the joy that Christmas brings. The tree, the lights, the colorful ornaments all add brightness to the dreary November days. Historically, in Illinois, November and December have the least amount of life sustaining sunshine in the year. So, why not brighten it up a bit?

I will post photos of my decorations once I figure out how to do it using a smart phone. (A smart phone operated by a  dumb operator who is beyond the tech-savy required to survive the conveniences.)

Have a very blessed and happy Thanksgiving holiday with family, friends, or with yourself, what ever the situation presents.

Raging Hormones and Crying Eyes

I finished my KETO lunch and am spending too much time clicking aimlessly from page to page on the internet allowing my God given minutes to be wasted. The last page I stopped on was a blog “Behind the White Coat.” The blogger, a doctor, wrote a heart tearing piece about his father who had Alzheimer’s dementia. Reading it opened a new door to my own grief of losing my sweetheart Peggy. In three days she will have passed five months, but I still think about her daily as I do my first wife Barbara who is now gone sixteen years. Grief is a strange emotion that strikes when you least expect it, and can turn a great sunny day into a dreary grey one.

Reading the Doc’s blog post got me to thinking about how grief affected me after Barb died. At her wake a widowed cousin whispered into my ear “don’t be foolish like I was and seek out a grief support group asap, I waited three years.” Grief made me do strange things, and to forstall the emotion I loaded myself with as much activity as was possible. I found a grief support group right in my own church and went to the September meeting. It was one month after Barb died. The group leader led each attendee in discussion. “Tell us about your loss,” she would ask?  The grieving widow would spend as much time as she needed to tell her story. I was the only man in the group of about ten ladies. Their ages ranged from fifty to eighty, I was sixty-five. We sat in a circle on couches and lounge chairs in a pleasant setting. Immediately opposite me sat a beautiful black haired beauty with penetrating blue eyes that met my own and clicked a button in my head that said, this girl is going to be my wife. Maybe it was because my hormones were raging during that time that I would immediately think of marriage when my wife of forty-two years was barely cool in her grave, but that is exactly what happened.

When it was my turn to talk, I could not utter a single word, I was so overcome by emotion. My eyes welled up in tears and my voice choked. I just waved to the moderator and with a crackly voice said “I can’t.”

Later, I told the story of my breakdown to a friend. What really impressed me was that some of these widows lost their husbands five years earlier. I expressed my concern about the efficacy of a support group that kept people coming back with grief for five years. That’s not what I had in mind, and she asked me why I would continue to return to such a group. I never told her about how my eyes zeroed in on the azure blue eyes of an amazing woman who had a huge effect on me. Of course I attended every month if only to continue to see the raven haired beauty with the penetrating eyes. By December, I was able to speak to people, but I still could not tell my story about Barb. That night as we cleared the tables of the cookies and refreshments I hung around until everyone was gone except Peggy. I knew her story because she was able to relate it to the group. She met her husband when she was fourteen. They married when she was seventeen, just before he left for basic training. She moved with him to his base near Columbia, South Carolina and stayed in a rooming house until he was transferred to the Okeefenokee Swamp for bivouac training. She came home and lived with her parents untill he was discharged. After basic, his orders were to go to Korea. A serious mistake during a dental check caused him to miss the boat. His chart was switched with someone else’s and the dentist never checked before he began to pull Ron’s teeth. The man whose teeth were supposed to be pulled caught the boat to Korea, Peggy’s husband got new dentures and spent the rest of his tour in Germany. I helped Peggy carry a heavy bag of books and goodies out to her car. We talked in the parking lot until both of us were frozen. I asked her If I could write to her from Arizona because I was leaving within a couple of weeks to spend the winter. She said yes it would be alright.

I went to Arizona to leave my tears there. During Barb’s wake and funeral I could not shed a single tear. In Arizona one of my daily routines was to walk to the library and write in my journal. I wrote the story of Barb’s heart attack and the following two year ordeal. It turned into a tale about our life together. There were days when the pages were soaked and the ink ran the page, but I got it out. I never reread the story until about a month ago. I found the journal while cleaning and trashing stuff from my house.

I was about a month  from returning, when I finally wrote a letter to Peg. Letter writing became an after lunch routine. I cooked lunch by recipes three times a week and on those days I also wrote letters to friends. The letter was properly headed with my address and the date, but I also included my Arizona phone number. A week later I received a call from Peg.

Two years went by when I finally asked her to marry me. She responded yes without hesitation, and that sealed our deal. Now, I find myself recalling the many great times we had together. I want those memories burned into my brain to wash out the memories of her final four years of regression. She finally reached the point where she forgot how to breath. I missed her very last breath by only a few minutes. I wanted to be holding her hand when it happened, but that wasn’t to be.

The Countdown Begins

Writing with regularity has to become a habit. This morning, I sit here before my computer with a great challenge. What topic shall I cover? So, taking the advice of my writing coach in college, I begin by writing non-sense. Eventually a topic will become evident. In the meantime I write only words.

The display I am working on for the weekend art mart is completed and standing in the garage waiting for me to disassemble for transport to the event. I sit here with a good case of jitter-shitters hoping I follow through with the project. I am told that performers get nervous before going on stage. They suddenly question their talents. They only have to walk on stage to overcome the fear. Once in place, they perform as well or better than their capabilities deem. Meanwhile I will complete a couple more steps I need before I step on stage. I lack simple things like a chair to sit on while waiting for customers, lookers, art aficionados, and critics to pass by and comment, or better yet to buy.

I have deliberately priced each piece of art very high for the simple reason that the price reflects what I believe the specific piece is worth. I have several favorites which are priced in the 3-5 thousand dollar range and nothing less than two hundred dollars. I have made the mistake of recording the time I spend on pieces and using a nominal rate of $15/hr the listed price is a bargain. What is more important to me than getting paid for my time it is getting recognition for the beauty, precision, craftsmanship, and artfulness of the work.

Time will tell whether I have begun a new life journey as an artist or whether I continue as I have for the past twenty years as an obscure producer of heirloom art destined to collect dust on the walls of my beautiful grandchildren.

Another New Adventure

As part of my new single life I am declaring myself an artist. I have always shirked from calling myself one because I am an engineer. The two careers are polar opposite of each other. I tend to like mechanical things, and so pursued training into that arena. At the same time I always had a liking for art. Ever since the fourth grade when the good Nun started me  drawing with crayons. That evolved into cursive writing, then printing. The printing evolved into engineering, and dominated my life.

When ever I had the opportunity I went to art galleries and shows to see what people who use their right brain lobes come up with. I am still fascinated by artists and it doesn’t matter the medium. If it is good, I like it. No, I love it. Throughout my travels during both of my marriages we visited art fairs and loaded our home with affordable artifacts. During my recent purge of things that don’t matter to me anymore the paintings. prints, and pottery survived.

This coming Saturday I am signed up for the Winter Art Market at our public library. I rented a space and will be there with the first public showing of my Intarsia art. My walls are a little bare right now, because many of the items I made found there way to places of prominence within the house.

Why did I decide to join this event at this stage of life? It is something to do, and also because I want some validation either negative or positive on the quality of my work. If my pieces sell for the price I have marked on them, it will be very positive. Right now my entire energy is in creating a display that is easily portable and artful as well. I could have spent a mini-fortune to buy art panels made for shows, but being the cheap bastard that I am I decided to repurpose some available materials. Thankfully, I made a plan and I’m sticking to it. I will be at the venue in time for the Friday afternoon set-up, and I have solicited help for the Saturday afternoon teardown. Of course my expectation is the load will be lighter since all of the pieces will be sold and gone to new homes. The minimum is to sell one piece to break even on the registration fee.

If you are anywhere near Frankfort, Illinois this Saturday, 9 November drop by the library at 21119 S Pfeiffer Rd. between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. to visit my display and those of all the other artists. Enter the raffle and have a chance to win “Happy Hour Begins With a Single Drop,” a contemporary intarsia art piece donated by GrumpaJoesPlace.

Happy Hour Begins With a Single Drop

 

All Hallows Eve = Halloween

This year Halloween was truly different from all of my halloween’s (81), it snowed. It was our very first killing frost, and the snow measured a couple of inches. The temperature registered at twenty-three degrees Fahrenheit. Our weather man cited that the last time we had snow and cold of this magnitude was ninety-five years ago. No wonder I can’t remember it being this cold!

I was prepared for the kids, but they didn’t come. Well, a few hearty souls did show up. They looked funny wearing super hero costumes covered by their snow suits. The door bell rang just five times between 4:30 and 7:00 p.m. Now what do I do with all the left over candy? I am on a Keto diet, and candy in the same house is forbidden. Rats!

Halloween kicks off a three day celebration at my church. The next day is November first and is All Saints Day, a holy day of obligation. November second is All Souls Day, and November third is for all the still living souls.

This morning I attended a special mass commemorating all the people from our parish that died during the last twelve months. There are 83 people listed, my wife Peggy is one of them. Right after this mass were two funerals that didn’t make it in time to be on this year’s program, and another one next Monday. Death doesn’t seem to care about holidays or scheduled events it just happens.

Sinfully, I scanned the congregation to see if there were any notable widows that I would want to hit on. I didn’t see anyone worth developing a relationship with. I’m really bad aren’t I? Here I sit, my wife not yet cold in her grave, and I’m looking over the field. I loved both of my wives, and still do, but both of them broke the contract (til death do us part) when they took their last breath. Life is for living, and I do grieve, but I also want to move forward without wasting a single second of my God given gift. I also don’t want to be judged at the pearly gates for wasting the life I was granted. I would rather be criticized for doing something even if it is wrong rather than not doing anything.

After wife-one died I attended a support group dealing in grief. That is where I first laid eyes on Peggy and it was an instant connection. We married two years later. We enjoyed ten great years together before she was beset with Alzheimer’s dementia. The next four years were not so great, but God gave her to me to care for in sickness and in health, and that is what I did. I miss her terribly, but at the end I prayed that God take her to stop her misery, He did.

The aloneness I experience now that she is gone is unbearable at times, and I have to do something physical to get my mind off of being by my miserable self. Sometimes, I will wash my dirty clothes, other times I will call someone just to hear a voice. Lately, I have taken to watching movies. On Demand has become my most viewed channel on television. I find that becoming engrossed in a good story puts me into a better frame of mind. By the time I cook my supper, eat, and wash the dishes, there is just enough time for one or two movies before nodding off to sleep. If Its too late to start another movie I’ll get ready for bed and read a book until it is time for sleep.

Last evening’s diversion was to use my jacuzzi tub, a pleasure I haven’t experienced for many years. I went out earlier in the day to buy some bath salts and bought a bottle of Dr. Teal’s Foaming Pink Himalayan Bath Salts and Oil. The idea of soaking in something like that was intriguing. The instructions said to use a generous amount. I didn’t measure but I poured at least a cup full of the stuff into the water. I didn’t just want some therapy, I wanted deep deep therapeutic benefits.  By the time the water level in the tub reached the jets the foam was at the rim of the tub. I stepped into the water and my foot slipped on the bottom. It took some effort to haul my thirty pound over weight hulk into the tub without injuring my self. I hadn’t counted on Dr. Teal’s oil component to be so slippery. I could barely sit up without sliding on my back. I finally braced myself across the width of the tub with my back against one side and my feet against the other. I gingerly reached over to the side and pressed the “on” button to energize the water jets. All holy hell broke loose as the massaging water whipped up a frenzy of bubbles which now bloomed over the rim and reached the window sill. My head was barely out of the bubbly cloud. The only way I knew how to keep the bubbles from filling the entire room was to keep pushing them into the water.

Before I turned on the water I set my phone to alarm me after a half hour passed. By the time it rang, I had enough therapeutic relief and was ready to exit the tub. That is when the therapeutic workout began. Trying to maneuver the mass of my body on oil slick smooth plastic became a nightmare. One false move and I would slip below the bubble line and sink under the water, and I don’t breathe too well under water. My legs were impossible to move out of the wedge I had myself in, and twisting my upper body only seemed to make the wedge work better. In the mean time, my phone kept on alarming. In my mind I was deciding how many handholds I will have to install all around the tub to make it senior friendly. I used the faucet spout as a handle and finally maneuvered my way out of the wedge position. Finally I reached the switch to shut the water jets off, and to stop the bubble machine. These were not Lawrence Welk cutesy bubbles bu rather more like a volcanic eruption.  On my knees now, I inched my way to the edge of the tub. God it was slippery. I made it, and threw my body onto the rim with both arms over the edge. Somehow I rolled onto my back against the rim with my  arms still hanging on for dear life. Slippery foam covered me from head to toe. I reached for a towel on the floor and was able to wipe off some of the oil from the edge of the tub, and this gave me enough friction to hike my ass up into a sitting position. The next therapeutic exercise involved Yoga. I lifted one leg high enough to make the edge of the tub, and with some exertion I managed to straddle the tub. My leg was covered in oily foam and I maneuvered the towel with my toe to bring it where I could step on it. I pictured myself standing on a slippery tile floor with one leg, and the other in the slippery tub, and me doing a split landing on my most sensitive body part.

I made it out and shut off the alarm. The exit took a full fifteen minutes. On my next therapeutic adventure I will begin by dispensing Dr. Teal’s Foaming Pink Himalayan Bath Salts and Oil in quarter teaspoon increments, or maybe an eyedropper would be smarter. I jumped into the shower to rinse the foam and oil off. When I was dry I reached into the tub and pulled the drain plug. This morning there was still some foam left in the tub.

You know what? The therapeutic jacuzzi soak took my mind off missing Peg.

 

 

Kodak Memories, What To Do?

KA-30H-TPC.jpg

When I first married my wife and I decided to capture our life together on film. With a little help from Kodak the number one producer of film encouraging us to do so. We bit hard. I was always engrossed in finding a camera that would take the ultimate pictures. When Super 8 movies arrived on the scene I went bonkers. I loved cinema photography. I took cartridge after cartridge of film with my trusty Bell & Howell Super Eight camera. That lasted until the camera slid from my lap onto the steel deck of a ferry boat taking us to Mackinac Island. When the camera hit the deck it made a loud noise and scared the heck out of the passengers. More than one thought the noise came from a ship sinking collision at sea.

I bought a 35 mm Argus camera for taking slides. It was completely manual and could take beautiful pictures. Note, it isn’t the camera that is responsible for taking beautiful photos, it is the operator of the device. I quickly learned after processing roll after roll of film that my operative ability amounted to nil. I chose a simple box camera instead and began to get some surprisingly great shots. There were no adjustments to make on such a device, I merely pointed the camera and clicked. My picture taking improved and it was the beginning of our life’s chronicle.

I replaced a totally broken Bell and Howell movie camera with a Bolex. The Bolex camera was the industry leader in moving pictures. Barb and I joined a movie club to learn the basics of making Hollywood style movies on a very strained budget. It was fun for me, but a drag for the family. I was the producer, director, camera man, editor, and author of all our family films. My movies would not be the ordinary ones of kids waving at the camera and smiling, they would be action films with the kids in motion. I quickly learned that the kids would cooperate provided I got my pictures in one take. Retakes became a drag for them. I prevailed most times and got some really great stuff. I entered my very first film into the cinema club annual contest and won the grand prize. I was stunned. All that honor did for me was to inspire me to out do the winner. That didn’t seem to happen, although I tried. You can view one of my films on You Tube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2OkQtp8wSA 

In the meantime, the cassettes began to pile up with our life on film, both still and movie chronicled, but not properly edited, spliced, arranged, timed, and turned into award winning movies.

Fast forward sixty years, to today. My first wife left me for heaven sixteen years ago, my second wife left just three months ago, and I am avoiding grief by clearing my home of all things unessential to my remaining years. I’ve thinned the wardrobe, decluttered the knick knacks, shredded the documents, and now I am left with ten boxes of photos.

Every time I attack a box and handle photos of my wives I get emotional, grief sneaks it’s way in and takes over. I stop dead in my tracks and begin to recall the actual events in my mind. All of them are there in the brain waiting for a stimulus to recall them. The question is do I want to recall them? Yes of course I do, but not while I am in a quandary about what to do with the hard evidence of fuzzy photos. Each time I find a duplicate of a favorite photo or even the not so favorite ones and I make an instantaneous decision to trash it, my guardian angel blows his whistle and shouts “STOP.”

Yesterday, I opened a drawer on Peg’s desk and put my hand on an envelope I hadn’t seen before. My Angel told me to look inside, and there is a set of pictures Peg made of her house, room by room so she wouldn’t forget. Guess what, she forgot, at the end she couldn’t remember how to swallow, or breathe much less care about her house loaded with her beloved knick knacks. For me this group of photos was an easy decision, trash. The same picture finding scene has repeated itself over and over through out the past eleven weeks.

When I first began sorting the albums I devised a strategy that would cut the job down. I would take the albums of my bicycle trips which meant nothing to anyone but me and trash them without looking at them. That worked for four albums. The ten boxes of family photos remain. What to do?

My new strategy is to group photos and send them to my grandkids. For instance, all of my wife Barbara’s nursing school memorabilia and photos will be boxed and sent to the grand daughter that followed in her footsteps and beaome a nurse. All of my love letters and courtship photos will go to my oldest grand daughter who is a pharmacist/writer. Perhaps she will use the information to develop characters for a best selling novel. I can continue to sort pictures into blocks of memories and send them to each of my seven natural grand kids. My pictures with Peg are another matter. Her grand children were adults when we married and our photos together do not include them. Also, our photos are 99% digital and are on my computer. It will be easier to delete these files or send them to electronic heaven when the computer dies.

Another strategy is to do nothing. I can do what 99.9% of the population does and leave the job to my heirs be they direct desendants or grandchildren.

My final thought on this topic is about Kodak, the company that created this nightmare for all people who were sucked into memory saving images. You were so involved in selling the concept of memories on film that you failed to heed the signs of a changing world. You allowed the Japanese to out wit you with digital cameras, and now they are selling the virtues of making memories on digital media which has already evolved from VHS tape, to cassette tape, to compact disks, to MP3 flash cards to the Cloud. What next? Kodak is dead now, but the world is stuck with their product and a proper way to dispose of them.

How about if we just convince ourselves to save memories in our head and recall them when needed?

 

 

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