Thursday, May 25, 2017

Retro tech: First gen is the new gen

Old tech still sought.
It’s classical conditioning. Pavlovian response. Each year, new technology is unveiled, and suddenly we hunger for the latest, shiniest thing.

My 2016 iPhone SE? That’s so yesterday. Today? It’s the Nokia 3310. Wait, what? Yes, it’s back and being heralded as iconic and a timeless classic.

Originally introduced at the turn of the 21st century, the simple Nokia cell phone has become “a modern classic reimagined,” with extended battery life and low price of 49 euros. Yes, euros, because the phone won’t be sold in the U.S.—at least not with its current incompatible frequencies.

Still, the new-old Nokia is a sign of the times. This year also saw announcements of an Android-powered Blackberry with a physical keyboard. I had been a blindingly loyal Blackberry fan, spending many hundreds of dollars on new devices I was sure would return the company to its former glory. No such luck; hence my switch to the iPhone SE.

Smartphones aren’t the only technology in the midst of a nostalgia boom. How else to reconcile buyers' interest in these items:
  • My old Aiwa boombox was essential to my short stint as aerobics instructor, but had been stored away, unused, for decades. Last month it sold on eBay. And this week a colleague emailed in hopes of borrowing just such a boombox for an event.
  • eBay also came through in attracting buyers for several old-tech items: a Polaroid Land camera, which went to China; a Mamiyaflex twin-lens film camera, sold to an art student at UCLA; and an early-model Garmin Forerunner GPS watch, to a runner with strength enough to wear such a big and bulky device while exercising.
  • My collection of vinyl LP records has moved with me since college days, and that’s been a dog’s age. Finally I found an entrepreneurial couple in the business of buying and reselling albums. They sat in my basement, using a raking light to illuminate the grooves and detect scratches, warping, and other imperfections in each one. Eventually, they bought 100. 
I don’t know if this retro trend is here to stay, but I certainly hope so. New is fine when there are worthwhile advances in technology, but I still have closets and drawers full of old technology. It's good to know someone somewhere might someday want to own a piece of it.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Making and breaking contacts

As a freelancer, I’ve learned it's both what you know and who you know. The combination of expertise and connections keeps the business flowing.

Over the years, I’ve worked with a lot of clients. Sometimes with individuals, other times with project teams. Out of habit I would add every person to my address book, along with their support staff and accounts payable.

As a result, my contact list overfloweth. In the digital world, this isn’t as much a problem as when I had stacks of business cards on file. Still, it was slow going to scroll past old and outdated contacts to find the ones I wanted.

My unwieldy list became a bigger problem when a syncing glitch led to duplication of all contacts on my computer and smartphone. That's when I knew some digital spring cleaning was in order.

First to go were the deceased contacts – and there were several, sad to say. Next were people associated with dead-in-the-water projects whom I haven’t heard from in years. Then the people who consistently called for quotes about projects that never materialized also disappeared. I trimmed a number of contacts I haven’t worked with in many, many years. Rounding out the business deletions were people I met at conferences and workshops ages ago and haven’t heard from since.

I wasn’t too worried about losing business contacts because I can find most of them through LinkedIn, if need be.

Where things got brutal were with personal deletions. I had contact information for the most casual of acquaintances: people I ran with once or twice in my life, people I met in airports, friends of friends, and friends from past lives. If there was a question to delete or not, I used this criteria: Would this person have me in their contact list? If not, they went from mine.

This isn’t as anti-social as it sounds. It’s more a matter of cleaning out the clutter that hadn’t been accessed in a dog’s age.

I still believe in making and keeping contacts. But I’ve decided not every contact needs to be kept forever.

If you want to make a fresh connection with me, just let me know. I’m on LinkedIn and Twitter and the AMY INK website.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Life hacks for aging boomers’ aging parents

Many of us baby boomers have been lucky enough to have parents and relatives live long enough to still be around. As the years go by, roles shift from cared for to caregiver.

Just about everyone I know either has been there or is now going through it. Advice, resources, and tips are mouse clicks away. But because every situation and every person is different, there are no universal solutions.

Still, it’s worth sharing a few life hacks I've found in case they work for you and yours.

1)    More is less with meds
There is a pill for everything, but not every condition needs a pill – or, if it does, there's no need to take it forever. More meds mean more potential for drug interactions and greater confusion about what to take when. So I was glad when my mother’s doctor cut out medications that were “nice to have,” “could be helpful,” and “not necessary at her age and could be harmful.”

2)    Play along
The lung disease COPD has no cure, but that doesn't mean the music ends. Some brilliant person made the connection between breathing exercises to strengthen lung function and playing the harmonica. Now “Harmonicas for Health” is a program offered by the COPD Foundation and Pulmonary Education Program. (Musical talent not required.)

3)    Daily reminders
We all have asked: “What day is it?” But when it becomes a daily or hourly question, it can signal a deeper problem. External memory aids sometimes help, at least in the short term. Among the tools we’ve used in the family are big wall calendars, wooden-block perpetual calendars, digital time-and-day calendars, and even Alexa. Yes, there is an Amazon Eco Dot in my mother’s apartment. When she asks, Alexa tells her the time, the day, or the temperature—and will even play Willie Nelson for her. She just has to remember to ask.

4)    Go for the assist
When broken hips mend, flexibility can be lost. Some helpful aides we’ve found include the Carex Upeasy Seat Assist, with a hydro-pneumatic spring that slowly activates as the user leans forward to stand. Even less high tech is the sock horse for help in bending down to put on socks.

5)    Help I’ve fallen
…And I can’t get up. Baby boomers have laughed at commercials for medical alert systems for years. Now the joke’s on us, as we scramble to research the various companies to determine what’s best for elderly relatives. Is it waterproof for the shower? Does the range extend into the yard? Can it detect falls? Is it GPS-enabled? Some independent-living communities even have their own devices. While any of these options are viable, there’s a bigger issue: getting Mom (or Dad or Auntie) to wear it. After a few accidental activations, my mom resists wearing her pendant necklace. It now sits on a nearby surface, safe from being activated but very unsafe for her.

The biggest change for me at this stage is being in a position to make life decisions for those who once cared for me. I'm sure I was no picnic for them back then. When my mom says I slept like a baby, she probably meant I cried all night and wet myself. I guess turnaround really is fair play.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Just four questions?

Four questions are an essential element of the Passover Seder. This was one of the first things learned by the non-Jewish Wikipedia-skimming couple who celebrated with us this year.

The purpose of the four questions is to engage children in the story of Passover, with the youngest asking why the holiday’s customs and foods are different than those of all other nights. That’s a lot of information to convey through just four questions.

Journalists use at least six in their reporting: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

I’m not a journalist, but I do interview clients to get to the heart of a story. And I do ask a lot of questions.

In some cases, clients ask for a list of questions beforehand. And while that’s easy enough for me to generate, it isn’t always helpful. After the first few questions, interviews usually take on a life of their own. They become what I call fishing expeditions. I let the conversation go where it will so I can discover things I may not have known enough to ask about. 

Questions don’t even have to be fully formed thoughts. If there’s good back-and-forth in an interview, just mentioning a key word or phrase can prompt the subject-matter expert to respond.

Generic questions also work better than you might expect:
  • Why is this topic important for readers?
  • What are the two or three key things you want them to know?
  • What are competitors saying about this topic?
  • What haven’t we covered?
  • Is there anything else you want to add?
I might even ask “Anything else?” a few times, until the final answer is: “No. I think we’ve covered it all.

One of the best questions I’ve found is a single word: Why? By asking “why” over and over, you can drill down into any topic until the relevant detail surfaces. It’s an approach most of us used as small children, to annoy our parents: Why? Why? Why? 
 
As an adult asking the same question, I can see why it’s so effective. The answer either starts with “Because…” or winds up providing background or rationale that puts the content into perspective.

Questions are useful tools for acquiring information...which leaves me with a final question about the Passover Seder: Why only four questions?


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Sweat the small stuff, big stuff, and all stuff in between

We live in a world of “stuff.” Stuff bought in stores or flea markets. Stuff received as gifts. Stuff inherited or donated. As long as this stuff is used, loved, or valued, there’s no problem.

Eventually, however, there comes a time when everything will need to find new homes. Over the years, I have pitched in during the cleanout process as relatives have passed away or downsized from houses to apartments. Lots of stuff was pitched out or donated to charities, while precious little was claimed by family members.

Their lack of interest surprised me. Years ago, I would spend hours browsing antique shops or refinishing hand-me-down furniture. If something was old and interesting, especially with family history attached to it, I raised my hand. These days, no hands are raised when younger generations are offered their grandparents' belongings.

Apparently, it’s a trend. I read as much in “Sorry, Nobody Wants Your Parents’ Stuff,” subtitled: “Advice for boomers desperate to unload family heirlooms.”  The story relates how baby boomers and Gen Xers are faced with the task of disposing of their parents’ possessions – and nobody wants them. So much for sentimentality.

Even though people love the History Channel’s “American Pickers,” PBS’s “Antiques Roadshow,” and HGTV’s “Flea Market Flip,” it is more as spectator than enthusiast. The lure of rusty gold or vintage collectibles doesn’t extend beyond the TV screen. After watching someone else dig through dusty barns or recondition old dressers, it’s time to visit IKEA or HomeGoods for trendier products and faux vintage stock.

My own experience helping to dispose of several households has left its mark. I now look at my belongings with a sharp, judgmental eye. If I don’t cherish it or use it, I toss it – and by toss I usually mean donate to charity. A while back, I found an entrepreneurial couple willing to comb through my vinyl record collection. I was happy when they carted away about 100 albums, but not as happy as if they’d taken the whole lot.

My husband has had some success on eBay, particularly with vintage photography equipment. His Polaroid 180 Land Camera shipped to China, his Mamiyaflex C2 TLR to someone at UCLA School of the Arts, and the Gralab 300 darkroom timer to Austin, Texas. He even sold my Garmin Forerunner 205 GPS watch, which was both cumbersome to wear and depressing, because it accurately recorded my continually slowing running times.

As much as I try to live lean, without too much stuff I don’t want or need, my house remains full. There still is stuff my mother wishes I would take after she downsized from a three-bedroom house. And she talks of thousands of photographs that were taken over the years of who knows who.

What to do with all this stuff? The good news is there are several donation centers nearby. Some even have a drive-thru. With these final options, giving stuff away has never been easier. Especially when family members don't want much more than mementos.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Falling hard for inline skating

#ThrowbackThursday: Originally published August 2, 2002, in the Sports section of the weekly paper "News of Delaware County."


I was sitting on the front porch the other day, watching a young couple playing in the street. They must have been twenty-something, but I still think “playing” is the right word. That’s what we always used to call it when you went roller skating around the block. I guess “inline skating” is the term now, and the skates are certainly much more upscale than those metal skates we used to tighten around our sneakers.

Watching this couple weave and turn and glide was a wonderful sight. They were smooth. They were natural. They stayed upright. I was amazed. That certainly wasn’t my experience during a brief fling with blades. The first time I strapped on inline skates, I fully expected to embrace this new sport. Instead, I found myself embracing the asphalt. Again and again and again.

Originally, I thought this would be a great cross-training activity to complement running. What a great way to build building leg strength without overstressing the knees. My enthusiasm was bolstered by a colleague who swore by skating. He even took mini-sightseeing trips on skates. He promised to teach me the tricks of staying vertical while actually moving forward.

I should have taken him up on his offer. Instead, I wanted to conquer gravity by myself. I thought I could follow the same course that worked so well in learning to ride a bicycle and drive a manual-transmission car. I went to the far end of an empty parking lot and stubbornly kept at it until I could get the hang of this new “thang.”

My first clue that this might not be my forte should have been apparent in the first 10 minutes. It took me that long just to figure out, untangle and put on all the special padding—with knee, elbow and wrist guards and a helmet. Then I had to struggle into the skates, which are sized to be snug, for support. Ever try to walk in shoes you’ve outgrown? Now put yourself on wheels, and you’ve got the picture.

Once suitably outfitted, I slowly rolled away from my car…and panicked. Even though my speed was barely perceptible, I was fearful of not being able to stop. So I fell. On purpose. Somehow it hurts less when you do this while cross-country skiing. I guess it has to do with a sufficient cushion of freshly fallen snow. No such luck with skating. Ouch.

Back to the car to consult the how-to book I had bought. The directions were clear. I understood the concepts. But once I finally got rolling, I quickly became concerned with stopping. And so I lurched around the parking lot, glad that no one was around on a Sunday afternoon to witness the spectacle. After an hour, I was pooped. I probably hadn’t gone but a half-mile, but I’d had enough.

After several such Sundays, I went looking for my colleague. Surely he would have some comforting words or practical advice. As I rounded the corner, I saw him coming down the hall. Actually, he was limping down the hall. On crutches. With his foot in a big, white plaster cast.

I might have guessed. He, too, had been skating. He and dozens of others were zooming through New York’s Central Park when the collision occurred. Skater to skater. Broadsided in broad daylight. It took months of recuperation, corrective surgery and ongoing rehab before his ankle returned to near normal.

And that’s when I reevaluated my need to take on this particular sport. I had been having trouble finding long, flat expanses where I could practice, and I certainly wasn’t having much fun picking myself off the ground.

So, I packed up my skates and protective gear and stashed them in the basement. After three years, and two housing moves, I finally got tired of looking at them. Rather, I got tired of being reminded that my roller skating days were well behind me—and that inline skating was better left a spectator sport. At least for me.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Want a lift from failure? Weight training will help

#ThrowbackThursday: Originally published March 29, 2006, in the Sports section of the weekly paper "News of Delaware County."

I’ve been lifting weights for about 18 months, and it just now occurs to me why I like it so much. The way to success is through failure, and that relieves a lot of the pressure.

From my years in the corporate world, I’m used to hearing, “Failure is not an option.” To fail in school always meant dreaded discussions with parents and educators. In today’s fast-paced, success-driven culture no one wants to fail. The only exception is in the gym.

Here, failure is a good thing. It’s what you strive for in your workouts. The goal is to tax your muscles to the point of failure. That’s how they get stronger.

To give in to failure is a strange sensation. The temptation is to stop while you’re still in control, but you need to push up against that boundary.

Say I’m doing a bench press, and I’ve got a little more than half my body weight on the bar. The first few repetitions are easy enough that I can still hold a conversation. Suddenly, I start slowing down. Things…get…tougher. And tougher still.

Finally, I can only get my arms halfway up. I’m stuck. I can’t finish the rep. That’s when the trainer steps in with an assist. I feel like a failure; I can’t even complete the set. He says failure is good. How could you not love such positive reinforcement of a negative result?

The funny thing is I had been avoiding the gym for years because I feared failure. I was intimidated by the svelte spandex babes and the muscle-popping he-men you see in gym advertisements. I didn’t want a lifetime membership to a big-box exercise mill. I felt that having a personal trainer would be a bit too, well, personal.

I finally found my way to a small, comfy gym by way of another kind of failure. An injury had caused my shoulder to fail, and so my doctor prescribed physical therapy. Treatment included working with a therapist and working out in the onsite gym. Once I was healed, I “graduated” from being a patient to a client, a logical next step.

I already knew and liked the staff, so staying on became a no-brainer. And that’s exactly what my workouts have been: a no-brainer. The trainer designs my workout program. He keeps an eye on my progress and suggests changes when needed. And he encourages failure. When I finally master an exercise, he hands me more weight to make things harder. I may curse him the next day when I’m stiff and sore, but I know I’m getting the results I’m after.

It’s not that I want to be a bodybuilder or a female version of Jack La Lanne, often called the godfather of fitness (although he looks great at 91). It’s just that from everything I hear, growing old is not for the faint of heart. My goal is to build up enough strength and resistance to live an active life for the next 50 years. Then that 18-wheeler with my name on it can flatten me like a cartoon character.

Until that final failure, I’ll be lifting weights like there’s no tomorrow.