Thursday, November 16, 2017

100 Million Americans Have Hypertension AND I Know Why

Watching the news Monday night, first ABC News with David Muir and then CBS News with Anthony Mason, one of the headlines they both had and even featured was the latest medical report stating that over 100 million Americans suffer from hypertension. Now it should be noted that the definition of hypertension has been changed from 130 / 90 to 120 / 80 sweeping in a great many citizens who until Monday night thought they were safe.
   The "expert" doctors on both shows noted that before people start taking more medicines that lifestyle changes could also make a tremendous difference. Diet, exercise ... the same mantra that is used for just about every condition.
   However, after events that Monday, I think I know another factor that increases our blood pressure and does so each and every day in our modern world.
   I am taking a holiday trip later this year. While I ordered the tickets in early October I never received a confirmation that everything was confirmed. The sheet of paper I had even said this was not a confirmation, one would be sent shortly. It wasn't.
   Since I have had several pulmonary embolisms, one that could have been caused by a long plane flight, and have suffered other blood clots I have to prepare what I wear on the plane and "should" get up and walk about every hour. Since my flight will be about 15 hours I need an aisle seat. 
I'm not so sure about the "happiness." Efficiency is better.
   So a call to Hotwire finally got me to a human that I explained my predicament to. He looked up the itinerary number and sure enough there was my flight information. When I told him I never received the confirmation he said one was sent. I replied that I had nothing. He sent one and I received it while we were talking. (A month ago would have been better.)
   When I told him that I needed to pick my seats he said, "Oh, we don't do that. You will need to contact the carrier and pick your seats." Odd, you can do that on Expedia. I thanked him, hung up and went to the United Airlines web site.
    Dante wasn't kidding about the 7 circles of hell. United Airlines has that down to a science. After a bunch of questions that led me around and around their web site without getting anywhere, I finally found my flight information and the four flights there and back. Since I am flying from Palm Springs to San Francisco, a flight that is 90 minutes, I wasn't concerned where I sat on that flight. On the 15 hour flight I was. 
   After picking seats on the going flights the site went wonky and it throw me back to the home page. No amount of trying could get me back so finally, I found a number (trust me, a phone number is NOT stressed anymore. They don't want to talk to you.) The recordings say over and over you can do everything online, only, as you find out, you can't.
   I finally got a human after about 10  minutes of number punching and explained my plight. She was nice and offered to walk me through the process though I could tell she thought I was lame. We went through the same steps and picked seats on all my flights. Then, when she went to save my selections it wouldn't save. Her response was that they knew there was a problem and they were working on it. I should call back in an hour and it might work. Her inference was that I should stick around the house and call every now and then. I asked for the seat numbers noting them on each of my flights and then asked to speak to her supervisor. I wasn't going to sit around all day and hope that the site might work. I can say it didn't work the other three times either. Who was it? United? Delta whose flights stopped worldwide for a few days because of such computer nonsense?
   Finally her supervisor came on the line and sounded about 10. While the first person said she explained our plight, with the supervisor we started all over again. This time I knew which seats and finally he was able to pick them and confirm them while I was on the phone. Later, I did receive confirmation of this conversation. I think from the time I started and I hung up I had spent 2 hours on the phone. Just about 100 minutes too long. Do you think I was a bit stressed after this? You bet!
   Unless I am cursed and a black cloud follows me around, just about everything we do today is like this. I already recounted the experience with my iPhone X, which has taken a week and some tricks to put all the data from an older phone onto it. Hours and hours over a week to do what once took maybe an hour or two.
You don't need to go to hell. The Feds have created
the perfect preparation right here on earth!
   I have a friend that has been fighting the Feds over his Green card, already two years beyond its expiration. When we checked in September of this year, he was told that they were still only up to July for applications or renewals  from July of 2016. You can bet he is excited! He is stuck here and can't leave without a current Green card.
   When I was a kid and even a young adult you called a company, a human answered and you were transferred to the person you needed to talk to. Today a quick question turns into a 45 minute experience of punching numbers and numbing waiting all the while being told you call is sooo important to us and they will be with you shortly between bursts of staticky music. Heard that one? Or how about this one ... please hold, we are experiencing an unusually high caller volume. I called at 3 am one time and got the same message but was so pissed I held on for 45 minutes and when the guy finally answered admitted, when grilled, that they only had one person ... pretty much for the whole day. I have witnessed phone calls at desks where the employee let their answer phone pick up. And not just once either. For all we know, it could have been your call. The newest wrinkle is, "We can't come to the phone right now so please leave your name and number and we will call back as soon as possible." That's a lie too. They never call back.
   So yes, experiencing this kind of behavior all day, every day is certain to raise your blood pressure. When I worked at a manufacturer of furniture I felt that I had two jobs ... the one that paid me and the other constantly following up on orders hounding people who hadn't gotten around to it yet. The excuses I heard would fill a book. In fact, I often wondered if there was such a book of excuses because everyone seemed to know them but me.
   The other side of this same coin is, well, coins or dollars. Companies are constantly looking for ways to cut costs and human interaction is expensive. Just like big box stores, how many sales do they lose because they don't have enough employees to stock the shelves or help you?
   Our lives are also getting stressed because you never know when some nut with a gun will begin shooting at you or drive a car into you or, as we learned on 9 / 11 hijack a plane and crash it into skyscrapers. While you may not consciously think about it, be honest here ... when you're at the airport, stadium, crowded mall, concert, movie theater and now church, aren't you a bit nervous? I
Remember how carefully you packed? The TSA didn't.
remember how the underwear bomber during Christmas in 2009 changed airport check-in. Our flight to Egypt was relatively calm. However, coming home after the underwear bomber nearly brought a flight down over Detroit, a security guard at the Charles De Gaulle departure gate put his hands inside my pants and my underpants looking for a bomb. And to be honest, there were some pretty dicey looking characters on that flight. I took comfort that they too were "completely" checked.
   So yes, our lives ARE stressful and as any doctor will tell you unrelieved stress causes hypertension. We live in a world where quiet and calm are now an anomaly. The most sought after vacations are those that are those beyond the range of cell towers, Facebook and often people.
   The other option is to pursue art. Once you begin painting the world, and all it worries, fade away and you live in a world of imagination and hopefully quiet and beauty! It gives your body a break from the stress that surrounds us each and every day. Now, where IS that paintbrush ....

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ... Many of the items talked about here are for sale there!

Friday, November 10, 2017

LOVING VINCENT - A Must See Movie For "Every" Artist

Last night I went to the opening of Palm Springs 1st Animation Festival because it was featuring the movie LOVING VINCENT, a film I had read about months ago that featured one of the first films ever made where all the frames were painted ... not like the Disney cells but painted with oil on canvas in the style of Van Gogh.
   Every painter knows about Van Gogh and either they admire him or not but at the end of the film, that was warmly received, it was noted that most art historians consider him the father of what we consider Modern Art. And personally I have thought that too and considered his suicide? as his being unable to continue after such stunning and nearly abstract works as "Wheat Fields With Crows." I thought he possibly didn't know what his next step would be. His final works were but a step away from the increasing abstraction famously pioneered by Cezanne and even more by Duchamp, the German Expressionists and then Picasso.
   My love affair with Van Gogh began in the 5th grade. My father worked in a Schick Electric Shaver Shop in downtown Portland, OR and being artistic himself discovered the Portland Museum of Art had classes for kids. So, for several years before opening his store, he would drop me off at the museum for classes.
Starting in the evening STARRY NIGHT begins "Loving Vincent." This
is the world's second most famous painting behind the Mona Lisa
   Portland for some reason got the traveling Van Gogh Exhibit from Amsterdam as they were building their first Van Gogh Museum to exhibit their collection. For weeks (it seemed) I would walk past these shimmering paintings for classes and gaze at them as I waited for Dad to pick me up when he closed the shop at noon. There is no way to describe the fascination these paintings held for me over the years. When finally, we landed again in Amsterdam I made it a point to see the Van Gogh Museum literally across the park from the Rijksmuseum which had only reopened a few months before after being closed for years to be restored.
   We stupidly lined up with hordes of tourists in the rain to enter but as I expected it was like going to some secret inner sanctum. Even though I had read and owned many books about him, saw every exhibit that come to Los Angeles, I learned much about him ... things I noticed that were shown in the movie, to my surprise. More than 180 paintings are shown each more vibrant than the last including one that was finally authenticated after years hidden in a Norwegian attic.
  I had read about this movie but never really gave it much thought. In the hinterlands of Palm Springs I never thought I would see it but, as I have discovered since moving here, the world seems to beat a path to our valley. During the Gay Pride weekend I met the organizer of the upcoming animation festival and we struck up a conversation where I admitted I loved Van Gogh. He encouraged me to come and with the card in hand came home, looked up the site but it didn't work well so I called and ordered a ticket. I am SO glad I did.
   LOVING VINCENT in its creation is quite a feat. Ten years in the making and at a cost of $5 million, cheap in an era of $200 million blockbusters, it took 10 years to complete. A joint project between Polish, Dorotea Kobula, and English, Hugh Welshman, directors, it used 125 artists painting upwards of 100,000 original, hand painted canvases. Each second, of the 91 minute movie used 1200 canvases! 
The faces of "Loving Vincent" each one taken from his actual paintings
and woven into a story about his death.
   However, it is the art ... seeing paintings we all know move and talk to us that is in itself a stunning achievement. The story begins a year after Van Gogh's death as the friend of Vincent, the Postman Joseph asks his drunken and feisty son Armand to deliver Vincent's last letter to his brother Theo. 
   We follow Armand and enter a mystery about what happened to Van Gogh, yet to be truly answered.
  Over the years there have been many theories about his death and they are explored here too. The most recent book felt that he was shot by some youngsters by accident and rather than blaming them shielded them at the cost of his life. A boy that tormented Vincent as he painted in Auvers-sur-Oise said near his death that he loaned Vincent a gun but never said whether he had accidentally shot Vincent or not. The boy was known to carry it and wave it around. 
Madeline and Armand discussing Vincent as she takes her daily flowers to Vincent's grave. Was there a romance?
Ryan Chapman at work on a canvas
   While I knew many of the theories it was the details that drew me in. In Amsterdam I saw a frame he created with strings to help him with perspective. In a moment of seeing him using it as he painted I instantly knew how he had used it. It was such details that made you realize the amount of time researching him was painstaking.        
  The paintings though are luscious ... Vincent's paint strokes come to life over and over again as the story is told and processes from the present in color to the black and white past. To see Armand and Madeline talking in the wheat fields as the crows fly around is to enter a movie like one of Woody Allen's where the actor steps out of the screen into our reality. It is simply that stunning! And remember, each motion as shown above required a painting so many were made as they discussed Vincent shown in one of his last paintings.   
   Each canvas such as this had to be painted up to 76 times. Can you image doing the same painting
A finished canvas. Note the change in head position from above!
over and over again? And to make it worse it had to be extremely close to the others so the movement was left to changing positions in each canvas to show motion. So as you sit and watch the paintings move and shimmer, the bold strokes of paint are shown clearly in wonderful detail.
   The irony, as it is discussed, is that while he thought that he was a failure in life, and in truth he had failed in just about everything else in his short life, his paintings show a vision that was simply unlike anything ever painted before. As his doctor, Dr. Gachet, notes, he was a genius and was pushing paintings into realms never seen before. A failed painter himself Gachet spent many hours secretly copying Vincent's work. Later historians had to sort out his copies from the actual works he removed from Vincent's room after his death. To be fair, at his death he donated his Van Gogh paintings to the Louvre where by then the genius of Van Gogh was recognized, at long last.
   The creators studied his paintings for four years then spent 2 years creating each frame. They referred to his over 800 letters to Theo and had help from the Van Gogh Museum for accuracy and telling his story. 
   It is one of his final letters to Theo that sums up Vincent's story, written shortly before his death:
  "We cannot speak other than by our paintings."

   For an artist there can be no other way! If you get the chance please go see this film. I think that story aside, though I enjoyed the artistry of it,  the life of these paintings will move you in ways you may not expect. He may have felt his life had little meaning but his art has certainly enriched ours!

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ... Many of the items talked about here are for sale there!

Monday, November 6, 2017

I Just Got My iPhone X and I Hate It (Amended Twice)

Yup, about two weeks early, I was surprised to receive today the world's creme de la creme phone, the now scarce and yes, IMPOSSIBLE to use, iPhone X.
   Now granted, I am 72 years old, however, I walked into MacWorld in January of 2007 just as Steve Jobs was finishing his keynote speech announcing the new iPhone. I can remember all of us standing around slack jawed and frankly thinking everyone at Apple had smoked something a little too much. While I hated my Motorola Razr it just didn't seem possible you could get a phone to do all that besides call and talk to someone. I mean, carrying around a computer in your pocket? A trip to Europe a month later proved that it could.
   I was number 222 at the Glendale Galleria June 29, 2007 and got my first, the first iPhone with 8 GB of memory. So, I am not a neophyte here. I have been enamored of the iPhone's since they first came out. I spent the next day hitting every button and finding out what it could and could not do. A friend and I attended an iPhone class the following Sunday so I, the old fart of 61, could learn to use it. I knew about as much as the Apple guy as he only had his phone about the same time as me. In fact I knew a few things he didn't! It was wickedly easy to use. I loved it. I did note, however,  that each new phone and iOS got harder to use but today .... I am now defeated. I can't call on either my iPhone 7+ or my iPhone X. Nothing is syncing and the things that were on my older phone can't seem to transfer, via  my iMac to the new phone. 
   So ... today, right now I can't do anything because when I connected the "X" it disconnected me from AT&T. So I guess that means a trip to the Apple Store with both phones and see what I can do. 
   And to make it worse, the backup that has been spinning for over an hour is useless. None of the information backed up from the 7+ has made it ... no music, no photos, no movies and not one single one of the Apps I have accumulated over the past 10 years. All the mailboxes are gone and to make it worse there seems to be no way to get them back either without hours of research and work. Frankly, what was Apple thinking of? I have read that some of the new features take awhile to get used to but I hadn't read anyone saying it was impossible to back-up and restore your information on the new phone. Simply put the only phone is what Apple gives you, a brand new virgin phone. What you had before is lost and it seems gone forever. 
   This is my last iPhone ... I am sure they will get it to work, maybe not at the level of my iPhone 7+ that I loved and used on trips to take stunning photos. It was a very simple process to go from an iPhone 6 to the 7+. Evidently Apple has chosen the Microsoft way of doing business. You need to be a geek to get it right. The rest of us either stand 10 deep at the Genius bar or wait. The trip to the Apple store is 40 minutes there ... God knows the hours of waiting and 40 minutes home. But, if this is the way Apple is going to make the migration of information work from one phone to another, I am done. I hope the build quality is good because it is going to have to last a looooooong time meaning it will be a loooooong time before I get another.
This is Apple's version of the Blue Screen of death. It spins and spins and spins!
   Its been hours now and I don't know what to do. My inclination is to take the new phone back and just live with what I have. It worked. My iMac is totally frozen, I can't go or do anything and I am terrified of forcing it to shut down. I am hoping that they can get the 7+ to work again and unless they can convince me, have their new toy back.

Later Monday Evening...

   After one last attempt to back up my iPhone 7+, I packed up both phones and made the trek to the Palm Desert Apple Store to return the "X" and have them help me establish an AT&T connection to my old phone so that I would have a phone, a cell phone being the only phone I use now. (Sorry Millennials, I beat you to that concept years ago). The guy that met me at the door said that he would get someone to help me but I had to wait abit. So ....
   They had me wait at one of the tables and soon Eric came over to help. I told him about my experience and that I had had an iPhone from the day they came out but today, well, I was defeated and had given up. He looked at them both and said that he would first like to try a few things before I surrendered the new phone. He tried several things and had to admit the normal ways didn't work as he tried to backup the old phone to a laptop and then restore the data to the new phone. Finally, he suggested we try to buy some more space on iCloud, 50 GB for $1 and sure enough the phone started to work. However, what if one, like I'm sure most seniors, don't have iCloud nor even know what it is, how would you ever know? I resent that you need to add yet another layer to make a phone work. It took us over an hour and once we were sure everything was coming back he said that I could finish up at home without a problem. Shut the phone off, turn on and follow the prompts to keep restoring the phone. They were closing and I had a phone that partially worked anyway. Everything did resume once I got home.
   In the limited time I have used it, I find that the facial recognition works even in the dark outside walking my dog. Without a protective case it is the perfect size. Smaller than the 7+ but bigger than my old iPhone 6, the whole front is glass and you soon adapt to not pushing or even looking for the home button. It just opens. Other than shutting down, I can't seem to close Apps but it is fast.
   Settings and passwords are not there so you will enter a lot of passwords. Before I could open any of my emails I had to enter the passwords for each mailbox. So, if you haven't, start writing those down. Pairing Bluetooth items is easy though I haven't tried my Mazda yet. The sound is much improved and videos are amazing. I haven't used the camera much yet so will give a rundown on that in another blog. I was more than happy with my 7+ and used it often as my only camera. I have two printed books that show how amazing the camera is. Is this better? Only time will tell.
   If you, like me, have a difficult time going from one phone to another, do exactly what Eric at the store told me, "If you fail the first time or two head over to the Apple Store (if you can) and let them help you." Trust me ... I lost an entire afternoon and a good part of an evening. If you make an investment such as this, seniors  may need to get some help. Life is too short for such frustrations!

Monday November 13, 2017, One Week Later ... 

   My phone does most things now, and quite well. However, the back-up of data from your phone or data (read images, music videos, books) is very iffy. It took three tries and hours to put data from my iMac into my iPhone X. It "still" isn't all there. Only abut half of the music that still resides on my iPhone 7+ and on my computer has made the transfer. Clearly there is SOMETHING wrong. All I can ask and wonder is what happened to the elegance and simplicity of the original iPhone? The expression, "You can't go home again," takes on new meaning with this 10th anniversary phone. An yes, to find out how things work that you knew from before, expect a lot of Googling. I have already searched online about three times for actions I used to know.

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ... Many of the items talked about here are for sale there!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

How Big Box Stores Are Driving Us To The Internet

Change. We all hate change. And yet, like it or not ... whether we plan for it, design it if you will, one way or another things do change. For several years now, it has become a kind of media mantra ... we are letting our fingers do the walking across our keyboards instead of than using our feet to walk at the mall. Business magazines say in 5 years 1 out of 5 malls will close in the United States. Many already have. I live a mile from one that closed a few years ago. It looks like some kind of beached whale dead in the desert. The signs are everywhere ... talked about on TV, magazines, newspaper articles and of course on the Internet.
   Macy's is closing 150 stores, J.C. Penney's is on the brink, Sears announces that they may not survive in one year or maybe two. While you can call, and I did, you even have to book your Amtrak tickets on line. We won't even talk about the havoc with the travel business!
   So you might ask, where do we shop?
  That's avery good if not loaded question. The grocery world was rocked when Amazon announced that it was purchasing Whole Foods Markets, better known as Whole Paycheck Market. What? Amazon the company that pretty much put retail book stores out of business buying one of the priciest chains in the country? I can't wait to see.

... and the cupboard was bare!
Must have been a good sale or?
was it Black Friday
   Going to my local Walmart yesterday after not finding all I wanted at Aldi, what I saw, on a Monday afternoon was pretty grim in groceries and for that matter, the rest of the store.

   There were lots of things in the store but obviously the things that people were wanted were not, they were already gone and from the looks of things not soon to be replaced. And sometimes, what was left you wouldn't have wanted anyway. Well, Walmart has part of the mantra right; if they don't have it you really do save money; there's nothing there to buy! This was not the only part of the store that was bare, or we used to say in retail ... ragged.  Their pharmacy department is simply a disgrace. What I have pictured here is nothing new. It always looks like this. And when you inquire it's like the three monkeys ... hear no evil, see no evil, talk no evil. In several minutes of inquiry no one knew anything.
    Would you drive there for this? Save you time and gas, 

    look for it online. It is always there, somewhere and
    probably cheaper.
   What is their plan? How are they going to reverse the slide that is rapidly moving from a trickle to a flood? It certainly won''t be stores such as this.
   Before I hear some grousing, these photos were taken Monday afternoon after a normal school weekend. You can only guess what it would look like after a holiday weekend. Around one bin of budget DVD's three, yes 3 "associates" were counting (mostly chatting) a nearly empty bin. All around them were similar scenes.
   Its this kind of behavior that has customers flocking to the Internet. What they order is always there, the items should be of the highest quality or that company is doomed and often it can be delivered on the same day! What's not to like? Sitting in a robe on a chilly morning or a dark wintry night with a cup of tea or coffee, munchies at hand shopping. The world and just about everything in it is available and you don't even have to leave the house.
   Here is just a sample on Amazon of the choices you can make ... electronics where you can have Alexa place your order, food, books, movies, music and more, much MUCH more.
   Are we lazy or just so stressed for time that at least for now this seems to be the solution? I will say one thing, another run to a store like this and I might be ready to give it a try.
   However, it was just a few years ago that Walmart was the biggest retail store in the world. Tales and studies showed how when a Walmart entered your town just about every local store closed because they couldn't compete, mostly on price or variety. (Which begs the question just how much variety do we need?) There were also studies made on how to compete and win against Walmart but not many listened. How many small folksy stores have you entered where not one employee even acknowledges your presence? If they don't at least greet me I won't buy a thing. Yet I will return to a store that has given me good service. Even if its more expensive. I have learned in my long life that price and quality are usually not compatible. I have also learned that good "enough" and reliable  with inexpensive brands, think Casio over Rolex, often works just as well. Is a Rolls Royce really all that much better than a Chevy Impala? Consumers Reports doesn't seem to think so. The current Chevy Impala rated a 95 out of a 100 while a Rolls Royce costing over 10 times more is merely ok.
   Internet sellers had better do their homework too. Walmart, General Motors and just about every company around has been the big honcho at one time or another but was soon eclipsed. In the 50's GM had 56% of the American car market. They told us that "what was good for GM was good for the United States." Now it's good for Toyota who battles Volkswagen for largest carmaker in the world. Similar mantras were espoused by the big banks. After 2008 they are universally hated and many might agree, they need to be broken up. Walmart was the biggest retailer in the world. A visit to your nearest one may tell another story. Microsoft seemed invincible and yet they have lost the smartphone market, and while healthy in some product lines have had massive failures in others.
    Apple stores are fun. You can use every single

    item they offer and advice is free. Big Box stores
    will have to make coming to their stores compelling
    to a younger generation.
  I, like most men, shop when I need something. I usually don't linger. I can't think of many stores that lure me in and keep me in. The Apple Store is one and while I don't hunt or fish Bass Shops and Cabala's keep me in just to browse and oftentimes buy things I spotted I realizing I could use items that I had never seen before.
   I read recently that the newest Nordstrom's won't have clothes racks. Instead you will meet a clerk who will somehow find out what you want and show you those items, like a personal shopper. That could work. A customer would have a meaningful relationship with a clerk and a store. I remember that when my ex had a shopper at Nordstrom's she got real deals and was well dressed. I remember a local men's store that was like that as well. I would walk in and my usual clerk would show me what he thought I would like. He was rarely wrong either. I miss that.
   For me, the only downside in this new shopping age is that whatever I buy online seems to appear as ads in my Facebook stream. I resent that invasion of privacy. Its bad enough that there are many times more ads than ever before, now, we are subjected to additional ads based on what we purchased. What I purchase is my business and doesn't need to be shown to the world. I never buy from these ads. What I buy, either in the store or online is initiated by me. I make it a point to never click on Internet ads.
The new rating service
   When you walk the aisles and see empty pegs or shelves or nothing where there should be something, I wonder if retailers calculate their lost sales. How much did they lose because the product their master plan calls for is simply not there? Are low wages, lack of living hours for benefits worth it? Possibly this is the secret to COSTCO's success. While they may not carry the same things all year what they have is plentiful and when gone something new and worthy takes its place. Getting hired there is difficult ... few quit. They get good wages and benefits. Employees work hard and are rewarded for it. But even Costco is moving more and more onto the Internet. Where will it end, if ever?
  Some big box stores like Lowe's or Home Depot will most likely continue. Freight alone on a 4' x 8' sheet of plywood would cost a fortune. But stores like BEST BUY better watch out. I have yet to walk into one and see things that actually work. And when you ask to see and use a working model there aren't any ... ever. The batteries are always dead, its not plugged in or there is a working model on the wall but none on the shelf. Yes you can see TV's in action but what about a phone, camera, some kind of player? I gave up on them years ago.
   If I read about something, and I know I am not the only guilty one, I go to Amazon and read the reviews ... and not the good ones either. I zero in on the 1 or 2 stars. What are their experiences? Why the bad rating? If is something I can live with I either order it there or if I can't wait the 2 Prime days will return to the store, assuming, of course they have it and I don't have to wait.
   Retail is rapidly changing. Retailers need to reinvent themselves like the original Macy's did in the 1880's. Their concept was to put everything you needed in one place rather than walking to a variety of different stores. Empires were built and put many small independent businesses out of business. The paradigm is occurring again. Change is the order of the day and so could be their demise.

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ... Many of the items talked about here are for sale there!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Do You or Does ANYONE Ever Read the Ads On the Internet or Anywhere Until You Need them?

After watching 8, yes 8 ads in a row on TV the other night I sort of exploded. If I remember correctly from my days in Journalism school, the airwaves are public ... PUBLIC and media of any kind has to pay for their use. However, since the rules seemed to have relaxed from those "Golden Years of the 60's" where no one could own more than one type of media in any market, advertising seems to have exploded. Sadly the 1976 movie NETWORK seemed to see the future and it was glum. Remember the reporter shouting out the window, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore?" I do. And, I am.
   One of the worst, as I have noted before, is CNN, definitely not the Cable News Network but the ANN ... the advertising of news network. "Pardon us as we interrupt this ad for a bit of news." And trust me, it IS just a bit before the ads resume. What is even more maddening is that we have to PAY to watch all this as they rake it in the cable door and from the advertising door. How sweet is that?
Classified ads ... the way you sold
things before Craigslist or 100
other Apps on the Internet today
Newspapers don't
show you the newest ad fad;
advertising half sheets that
fold over the front page
extending to the back. I make
 it a point to NEVER buy
that product.
  Which brings up the topic in my headline ... do you or anyone you know ever look at or click the ads that seem to have gotten worse on the Internet,  ever? In fact, what about those on TV or the sides of just about every vehicle it seems, billboards, the newspaper, junk mail? In fact, I have made it a point to never buy any product from the half sheets the  Desert  Sun  covers  the front
page here with here in the desert. Enough is enough. 
   We are now subjected to 8 minutes of ads on every 30 minute show, four more than in the 60's. They go on and on and on. In fact, at least in California, the infomercials that were once the domain of late night TV are now shown on CBS, NBC and ABC during the evening news. And they are not any shorter either ... droning on and on with and "Wait there's more..." Time for a beer, a snack or pee break, they are that long. 
   In 1967 I graduated from Oklahoma State University with a B.S. in Journalism, Advertising. The rules were much different and extremely strict. But, as we saw on 60 MINUTES the other night, money literally turns the crank in Congress. I applaud CBS and the Washington Post for making everyone aware of who buys who and why. As we now know, just as with the obesity epidemic, drug companies and their distributors with crooked doctors have turned pills that help many of us manage pain in an addiction that few can shake. I have no doubt that is what happened to the 5th Estate too. There is just too much money and few can turn it away.
You can't even ride in public transportation without ads. If
 there were an emergency you don't even know where to look

Ads literally cover the Internet. How many have you clinked
for "more" information? 
Home page on Yahoo. Now that Verizon bought
it there is no doubt going to be more ads, not less.
  In those days we designed ads by hand ... literally! We were expected to create advertisements that looked like they were printed ... no small feat. If you watched the series MAD MEN it was pretty much done like that. Other aspects were also similar like the martini lunches wooing new clients. I would literally spend all day Sunday working on my presentation for Monday. India ink, scissors, glue and whatever I could use became close friends.
   So, I know something about advertising. Yes, there were ads in the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth but not with the intensity of today. I find it disconcerting to see ads in my timeline from say Amazon that reflect something I just purchased from them or anyone else for the matter. You can't get on a "home page" anywhere without it looking like this; your home page looking like Times Square. How can you even find anything? I never could and soon gave this kind of thing up. Since I reopened my Facebook page I find it hard to tell if its an ad or something posted by someone I know.
   And I have a message for Zuckerberg too. He better read Marshall McLuhan's THE MEDIA IS THE MESSAGE. Anything that carries a message disseminates, no matter what the media you are sending a message and that message makes you a media company.
   What makes it worse is that other than in your own home with the TV, radio, Internet off, no magazines or newspapers, advertising is everywhere. People are paid to cover their cars with ads, highways are sponsored by companies, you can't see a billboard that isn't either an ad or sponsored by someone. I can remember the 1984 Olympics in L.A. It was an advertisers dream. No one remembers it was the first and probably one of the only Olympics to make money. Every event was brought to you by someone and it wasn't the Olympic Committee either. I wonder what the Greeks of around 500 B.C. would have thought of that? Maybe they could have afforded to buy the athletes some clothing.
   I can hear it now, here's this grumbling old man complaining. Nothing is free. Someone has to pay for our "free", more often not so free, TV, Internet, etc. You have an ever increasing cable bill, if you have a landline there are the nagging robocalls, the cell phone costs money and the list goes on and on. And I ask, how much is enough? Really? I understand the profit principle ... I had my own business. Would advertising be more effective if there was less of it? What if advertisers paid more for each ad that aired fewer times? How many people do you turn off by overkill rather than underkill? Wouldn't you rather see fewer ads and have time to consider them rather than one after another that when they were done you find you couldn't name one!
Grocery store ads I look at.
   The only time I ever look for something is when I need it, be it a new car, tires, food at the grocery store and for fun the real estate ads that out here in the desert are the majority of the newspaper with not one but multiple inserts of million dollar homes. What about you?

  I guess what I'm asking is ... how much is enough? Do we need to be assaulted, yes ASSAULTED at every point in our day by advertising? And personally I find ads such as this (above) on my Internet pages that are, well, offensive. They are something I wouldn't want to both see or read about. There are other forums for this, not there.
   There seems to be just about nothing we can say or show on TV today. I remember when CBS canceled the Smothers Brothers over their use of the word "Damn" and their views on the Viet Nam war. Then, when Walter Cronkite came back from a tour of the Viet Nam War and said on the air, the war was lost that very comment changed both the discussion and conduct of the war.
   Maybe it time for the public to fight back against the increasingly dollar based advertising world. After all, life is more than greed and money ... or is it?

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ... Many of the items talked about here are for sale there!



Thursday, October 12, 2017

Chicago, Chicago ... What a Hellava' Town!

An argument is that Chicago thinks of itself as a country

Before I retired I would make a yearly pilgrimage to Chicago representing an outdoor furniture manufacturer for the Annual Casual Furniture Show. I started I guess in the 90's and continued until I had to bow out in 2007 after some serious medical issues and retire. I, of course, missed the 2001 show as I was waiting for the Super Shuttle to pick me up for my trip to Chicago from LAX, September 11, 2001. As I watched the second plane hit the Trade Towers in NYC on TV, I called them and cancelled the pick-up to their great annoyance. When asked why I explained what I was watching and said I didn't think anyone would be flying that day. She agreed.
   So, its been about 11 years since I have been there. I so enjoyed my visits and would make a point of going to one of its premiere attractions ... The Art Institute, Sears Tower, Field Museum, walking the Miracle Mile. Now, I would be able to do just about anything I wanted and didn't have to deal with the numbing boredom of a trade show, a demanding client, or rooming with someone I may not have liked.
   As a news junkie, I could also not ignore the years of violence that has seemed to rock this city since my last visit. While there were dicey areas then, you simply avoided them and enjoyed the sites. However, as we soon discovered, there is a kind of tension, a seeming lack of patience or courtesy that displayed itself over and over again wherever we went.
You take your life in your hands crossing the street!
   Having just studied the laws regarding drivers here in California for my drivers test, believe it or not, pedestrians have the right of way ... always. Imagine my shock when, as we were crossing clearly marked street corners, drivers turning right would whip around us ... not once but at every corner. There simply was no patience of any kind. One night a woman driver kept angling around me as we walked across a clearly marked crossing with a light that said we could walk. I have never seen such driving ... anywhere. If a car delays a nano second at a green light a horn will sound - not just one either. This is a city that drives by its horns and speed and impatience.
   As a kid I remember a Disney cartoon where Goofy, playing a kind father and husband became a kind of beast the minute he got behind the wheel of his car. His antics were funny to me as a child but are not so funny as an adult crossing the street. In Chicago Goofy comes to life.
   We did enjoy ourselves though but quickly learned to gauge drivers. On our first night after getting lost using the WAZE app on my iPhone that was taking us who knows where even though we wanted the Congress Hotel, we gave up and hailed a taxi, we walked and walked. After not walking much on the train we made up for lost time going up Michigan Avenue and over to Grant Park and the Buckingham Fountain. My friend enjoyed the sites and while crowded to me with people and skyscrapers I am sure it is nothing like say Shanghai.
Morning on Lake Michigan
    The next morning was beautiful ... springlike in fact. I have been there where you wore short sleeves one day and the next dressed like an eskimo as it was 17ยบ outside. We had breakfast at a sidewalk cafe and decided to hit the Art Institute. There were a few pieces I wanted him to see and explained that it was big and we could stay a few hours and move on.
   We left at closing and I don't think saw 10% of the art there. Luckily they had information desks to help you find rooms of art you were looking for. It was fun and for me, wonderful to see old favorites ... Seuret's AFTERNOON ON THE GRAND JATTE, Van Gogh's SELF PORTRAIT, Renoir's TWO SISTERS and many many more.
Yummy Superman and
Blue Moon
Ice Cream at Kilwin's
   Hungry after missing lunch, we had a nice meal and as we approached the hotel noticed a candy store, Kilwin's. We went in to check out the chocolates and were given samples. Too sweet for him he went over to check out the ice cream. Intrigued I ordered "Blue Moon" that left my mouth blue and he ordered "Superman" that had streaks of blue, red, yellow and green. Not sure exactly what the flavor was but it sure was good.
Chicago's Miracle Mile on Michigan Avenue
  No trip to Chicago is at all complete of course without a visit to the Miracle Mile and its tony high-end stores. I was surprised at the changes though and saw that the old Sun-Times newspaper building was replaced by a new Trump Tower, quite a feat considering the small footprint right on the
The new Trump Tower replaced
the old Sun-Times Newspaper building
Chicago River. Some of the mega stores were gone but many remained with new ones added and we looked but didn't buy. I mentioned that he should look here as he might find some 
deals for similar items at the Cabazon Outlets near Palm Springs. Its fun to look knowing that you can't or don't have to buy. Having only carry on suitcases one doesn't have a lot of room!
   I had been told to take the boat architectural tour and so we did. Our guide knew everything about every building and it was fascinating. Just about every high-rise design was used in Chicago, a city that started the trend with Louis Sullivan who built the first steel framed skyscraper.  He was also mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright considered by many American's finest architect.
   I had several places I wanted to eat at but discovered you can't go home again. Carson's For Ribs, one of my favorites had changed the menu and no longer offered draft beer. Berghoff's was still there after a hiccup and closing, and the German food was good but we would miss the Oktoberfest festivities. Meals were good with several places chosen at random surprisingly good.
   On one of my visits the city was adorned with cows decorated by artists that after a certain time were auctioned off. This trip there were fiberglass police dogs everywhere decorated by famous and not so famous artists that would be auctioned and the money given to the police department. It was fun finding them and seeing how different one dog could be from another even though the fiberglass shape was identical!
Fiberglas police dogs adorned the city. Various artists painted them and soon they will be auctioned off with proceeds
going to the Chicago Police Department

 One of the neat things about Chicago is its sculptures and fountains. There are several fountains and sculptures that demand your attention and are fun to watch day or night. 
Like a giant silver jelly bean the Cloudgate is a popular site!
 There is also the awesome Cloudgate a gigantic Stainless steel jelly bean sculpture that you can look at and walk through the effect is almost hypnotic as you negotiate through the crowds looking upwards trying to see and oftentimes lose your balance as you try to walk through.
   The first fountain that comes to mind is the grand olde dame of Chicago fountains, the Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park, almost across the street from our hotel. It is worth seeing during the day and at night for its light show!
During a sunny day you can spot a rainbow

  It is hard to say which is the best time to see it ... day or night but the truth be told, each time offers its own rewards for viewing. The night scene shown here got us quite wet when the wind changed directions! This photo doesn't do the fountain justice as I have some videos taken with my phone that show it in all its glory!
An amazing sculpture of water and light
The Crown Fountain
  Another amazing fountain, best seen at night, is the Crown Fountain that shows a face at each end that seems to change from a woman to a man and back again. Three sides change color with water running down them but the faces face each other and at some point water is spit from their mouths. It has a kind of prurient attraction.
  Chicago is definitely a city for walking. Michigan Avenue has museums south of the Chicago River. You have the Art Institue, one of the finest museums in the world, the Field Museum with all kinds of bones, stones and the like, the Shed Aquarium with it's collections of fish. North of the River there is fine shopping, malls, and restaurants. You can walk alongside the river on Wacker and then there is State, Lasalle and Wabash that include shopping and several fine and famous restaurants.
   Friends had urged me to take the architectural boat tour of the city. Chicago is the birthplace of the skyscraper. Louis Sullivan was the first architect to use a steel frame covered with a facade freeing the limitations of height. Sullivan was the mentor of an even more famous native son, Frank Lloyd Wright who changed the way we looked at living quarters forever. I encourage you to take the tour and see some of the finest buildings ever built. We took the tour just below the Michigan Street

Bridge. Our guide was a font of information enlightening us not only about the buildings and why they were built but how their uses changed over the years. Utterly fascinating.
   Another event we just happened to stumble upon was a wedding being held on the steps of the Art Institute. The bride, groom, pastor and a gaggle of people including passersby stopped to watch this. On consideration I thought, why not? If this is one of your favorite places go for it.
On the Navy Pier, this new addition, a 200 ft.
Ferris Wheel, was only two weeks old!
   Another place that is fun is the old Navy Pier undergoing a transformation for its next 100 years. Many people do not know the Ferris Wheel was an invention for the 1894 Chicago World's Fair, their attempt to rival the 1889 Paris World's Fair with the Eiffel Tower. The fair was to show the world the city had recovered from it's fire, a fire that destroyed over 66% of the city.
Your hardy travelers with their buddy
Sue, the Field Museum's T Rex!
   We had a wonderful visit, partially planned and partially whatever we stumbled upon. I do believe you can to often overplay.
   Chicago is a great city designed for its citizens but one can only wonder, as with any large city, at what price. There is a tension here that is not the normal mid-western kindness and generosity.

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ... Many of the items talked about here are for sale there!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

62 Hours On Amtrak From Palm Springs to Chicago

When my friend from China told me he wanted to see more of America during his recent visit,  I thought about it and since he doesn't drive gave him three choices:
   1. Fly to New York City and stay a few days
   2. Fly to Boston, see the sights then rent a car and drive up through New England to see the fall colors
   3. Take the train from Palm Springs and go to Chicago, stay a few days and fly back

   When I discovered though that the train trip was a 60 hour trip told him we would need to discuss this a little more.
   Trust me, I was surprised he picked the train, a trip I have always wanted to take to say Detroit, also buy a new car and then leisurely drive home on Route 66! However, in China the trains are pretty special and fast, something I stressed to him he would not find in America. He noted you don't see much from a plane and so I dug into the train trip, ordered tickets, made hotel reservations, booked our flight home and, well, considered it would be an adventure. It was without a doubt! Would I do it again! Ya betcha!!!
Other than sand and sagebrush
this is about all there is!
   A trip to the local AAA office said that I would have to make my own Amtrak reservations. They didn't do that anymore. They could arrange the flight home and hotel reservations. I figured I could do that. After a call to Amtrak and getting the information on the cost of a coach seat vs. a sleeper decided that I needed a bed. 60 hours is a long time in a seat and while comfortable is not a bed. He agreed and I booked the berth.
   While freight trains chug by it seems almost hourly passenger trains don't. I wanted to leave September 26th but was told the next train would be the 28th, leaving at 12:35 am. Really?
   On a hunch I drove out to the Palm Springs station to just see where it was. People talked about it but only roll their eyes when I talked about leaving from there. If you ever saw Clint Eastwood in "High Plains Drifter" there could be no better description of the station or its location. I gasped and wondered how will it know to stop? When I sent him a photo of the station all the people in his office looked at it and asked, "Where is the station?" Its that desolate and forlorn.
Yup! The Palm Springs Amtrak station. Luckily there
were several other customers waiting on this bleak platform. 
The weather was lovely so ... we waited for the train.
   I panicked and called Amtrak and said, "there's nothing there! Only a tiny locked building and I guess a platform. How does it know to stop? DO I need to wave a flashlight standing on the tracks? And, how will I get there?" She patiently explained the train will stop, and they have an arrangement with Lyft. Download the App and you will be all set. Luckily I called at around the time we would have to leave and noted that there were far more drivers for Lyft near midnight than I ever imagined. And, as a new customer I got a $5.00 discount on my first ride!
   My friend arrived taking the Fly-A-Way bus from LAX to Union Station and we drove home from there. He was excited about the upcoming trip to Las Vegas, and after returning leaving a day later on the train. Luckily we arrived in Vegas a week before the shooting.
    On the appointed evening, after a hectic day of preparation including me taking the written driving test again before my 72nd birthday in a few days, we texted Lyft and within minutes he was here to pick us up. The Lyft driver was great. He was a night owl and liked driving at night. We were there in under 15 minutes but it the dark of night we might as well have been heading to the moon. It is, yes, DARK! Luckily more people arrived to board the train.
   As we waited, several of the riders were getting text messages that the train was delayed. Again, And yet again! Finally, an hour late the train arrived and I thought, OMG, its only 100 miles. I just drove it. At this pace we won't get into Chicago until Monday, if then? One of the riders explained that the tracks are owned by the freight companies and passenger trains must wait for freight trains. We learned later that is exactly what happened. 
   We didn't have time to think about it as the conductor looked around and said, Alan? I waved and he told us to follow him. He led us to the last car and to our berth ... the beds already made up and we, squeezing out of our clothes, crawled into our berth / bunk beds. It is very cozy but soon we were roaring along and it rocked us to sleep. I was exhausted.
Our menu. And YES,  the food is that good! 
   The next morning we struggled back into our clothes ... intimate doesn't describe the close quarters, but we got ready and went to the dining car. It turns out when you book a berth you also get your meals included, something I didn't know. That turned out to be a great that we enjoyed!
   We had worried about food and you don't stop long at any station on the way. So they seat you with others and when they gave us the menu explained we could pick anything we wanted as it was included in our fare.
   Breakfast was delicious. ALL the meals were excellent. They had just included mussels in the menu (the waitress said we were the first) and my friend ordered them. When he gave me one I was, to tell the truth, stunned. They were that good. The salmon was delicious, the steak done perfectly. We did not suffer. Even the desserts were good and we could get all we wanted. Everything is included except beer and wine. They had Stone IPA for me and Coke for my travel companion so we were happy campers ... not such an unusual analogy either.
At a stop from the berth car.
   In the dining car you meet a variety of travelers and one couple had been on all four of the routes from the west coast to Chicago. There never was cross country train travel in the United States. It was done one time only. Passengers had to disembark either in Chicago or at the Mississippi and change trains and stations. Two leave from Los Angeles taking different routes, one leaves from San Francisco and the final and, we were told, the prettiest route leaves from Seattle on the northern route.
Our 62 hour home ... away from home!
   Your berth is converted into a cabin during the day and you can sit and watch the world go by. Our original porter was excellent in helping us make the transition but from Austin on we were on our own. When this got boring, we could go to the observation car and really see the world go by. As we discovered Friday, there is a lot of Texas out there and it was cloudy and rainy the whole day. The excitement of that day was when someone was caught smoking pot on the train five minutes after we had made a 
You get a great view of the world and
a ring side seat for drug busts!
stop where smokers could get out and well, smoke. So at the next town the cops rolled up to the stopped train and two K-9 dogs were brought onboard. California might have shrugged at it but Texas is not a place to try such stunts.
Sunset on the Texas Eagle
   The view though is oftentimes breathtaking! We saw amazing clouds and some beautiful sunsets.
   On one dark night looking out my berth window at night in bed, I could clearly see Orion in the pitch black sky.
   Saturday dawned clear and sunny. I was able to see the arch in St. Louis and my final shot showed the state capital clearly through the arch that even cast a shadow on the capital. Of course the mid-west is so different than the Palm Springs desert and we were surprised to see so many puddles of rain that had come and gone by the time we arrived. Texas was not dry this year. 
   The weather was supposed to be nice in Chicago and was in fact warmer than we expected. We had traveled in sweatpants and a variety of shirts.
   The other big surprise was that there was a shower. Now that, WAS an adventure. You are luckily in a small cubicle so you can't fall far as you literally rock back and forth trying to scrub yourself. As one wag described this to us, coal, wheat or soybeans don't care if the track is bumpy. In any event the views can be breathtaking! For me, it certainly was better than having to drive.
View from our berth as we traveled through Texas
    Another pleasure is that you get to meet people, especially in the dining car. One couple had taken all the routes to Chicago and was considering routes east of the Mississippi. A single woman was a frequent traveler on the train and had traveled just about the whole system. We all agreed that if you are not in a hurry it s a wonderful way to relax and see the country. Cities are not so pretty but once out the countryside takes on a beauty of its own.
The St. Louis arch and state capital
   Our last day dawned clear and sunny and around breakfast time we reached St. Louis. We came around a bend to find the arch there gleaming in the sun. Watching it as we continued past it I was able to capture an amazing photo of the state capital seen beneath the arch. It made for a wonderful photo and was until Chicago an amazing view.
   While the trains are slow during the day, often held up by freight trains, they roar at night. You are swayed as the dark world flashes by. Unable to sleep a bit after a potty trip, I looked out the window of our berth and saw a pitch black sky filled with stars. Orion shown in all its glory over us as we rocked along. If you have never done it, there is something soothing listening to the clackety clack of the wheels roaring over the track.
Entering Union Station with Chicago in the background
  Soon we were in Springfield, IL and we knew our time was short. So was lunch. You could get a sandwich, hot dog or macaroni and cheese. The macaroni, a comfort food for the Boomers seemed fitting. Soon the city of Chicago appeared and shortly after that we reached Union Station, a few hours late but we were in no rush.
At Chicago's Union Station!
  Would I do it again? Oh YES! However, as my traveling friend pointed out, its much faster in China and the tracks are not so bumpy.
   Traveling by train also has many perks. Usually you land in the city center so no long trips from the airport. You get to carry two pieces of luggage, two personal items and no one weighs them or sniffs them either. We could bring snacks, drinks and as we discovered, until he was caught, pot! Coach seats are cozy, recline, you have electric plugs, trays and lots of leg room. While a bit bumpy at times it was relatively easy to move around and there were places to go and not just be stuck in a seat. Berths offer even more including a bed. It may not be like the one at home but you can stretch and sleep comfortably We arrived relaxed and ready to take on the city. As we were to discover we needed that relaxation more than we ever dreamed!
   In case you are wondering, I consider planning a trip as much a kind of design as painting. Every aspect, just like writing, painting, creating music, needs to be planned and hopefully worked on just like a great piece of art. However, just like creating, you also must be prepared for the variations you didn't plan for along the way. Often, its these "variations" that make travel even more exciting!

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ... Many of the items talked about here are for sale there!