March 25, 2009

Google: trusted advisor, all-knowing confidant, magic 8-ball

I don't know when it started, but Google added a prompt/dropdown thing a while ago that offers suggestions for what you might be looking for, based on what you've typed, before you click search or "I'm feeling lucky." Such tech-related knowledge is beyond me, as is explaining why anything comes up when you search. Google is too big, too far away, too complicated, too anonymous for me to understand it.

Which is probably why so many people trust it with big, important life-questions.

The prompt/dropdown thing clues us in to just what people are Googling. Go to Google and type, "should I..." and you'll see some options come up.

Should I call him?
Should I refinance?
Should I get a divorce?
Should I go to law school?

Type "how should I," and you'll see stuff ranging from the mundane to the intensely personal.

How should I get my haircut?
How should I do my makeup?
How should I ask her out?
How should I propose?

"Why do I..." him?
...sweat so much?
...have so much gas?

How do I know...

...If a guy or girl likes you?
...If you're pregnant?
...If your in love? (This one has 91,300,000 results. "if you're in love" has about half that many.)

When should I...

...get married?
...take creatine?

And, of course, google isn't immune to the deeper religious and philosophical questions.

Why does God...

...allow children to suffer? me?

Why doesn't God... himself?
...heal amputees?

I've done this before. (Maybe not with the deeper religious stuff. Yet.) And you probably have, too. The question is on your mind, and Google is right there, why not ask? For example, I know very little about cars. If I hear a noise, see an oil spot where I parked, smell something burning, see something burning, the first thing I do is... call dad. Then maybe I Google it later. Google is great for those of us who are automotively handicapped.

I guess what makes me feel a little ocky is that Google seems to be a go-to resource for relationship questions. People want definite, concrete answers; they want to follow the formula. And if that formula is out there, Google probably has it. So people take their intensely personal questions, from their unique individual situations, and bring them before the vast, anonymous space of the internet.

"Should I get a divorce?" (2,430,000 results.)

? You want Google to be your magic 8-ball on that one? Did you talk to your husband/wife before you googled it? I hope so. Or maybe you talked to your family and friends about it? If their advice was, "I dunno. Why dontcha Google it?" then I wouldn't blame you for seeking help elsewhere.

March 20, 2009

My 1998 Ford Escort ZX2 is dying...

...and I'm the one killing it.

I took it on in 2003, when it was five years old, young and robust and virile and buoyant. There wasn't a spot of rust on it. I would take it through the car wash and it would shine like a ruby. A big, car-shaped ruby.

I remember the trip up to camp, just after it became mine, and I wanted it to prove itself. On the open empty roads of Oceana county, I cruised down a hill on the freeway and kicked it up to 100. The engine whirred, strong and calm and confident. It panted for more, but I was satisfied. Never made it do that again, never forced it, never let it, though it was strong and eager. Maybe... Maybe it needed that. I let it weaken and atrophy, never pushed it again.

Now the age is showing. There's rust eating away above the rear wheels. Things begin to shake and rattle when I press the accelerator on the freeway, and I don't hear the calm confidence anymore. It begins to feel like walking on eggshells, and I ease off to... to be nice.

It has been leaking oil. It is perhaps a simple sign of age, perhaps a cry for attention. Either way, it's a reminder that our relationship is nearing a sad inevitable end. Every time it leaves a dark stain in the driveway, I'm reminded of its age, and my regrets at not letting it be all it could be, and how things can never be the way they once were. I took it in for an oil change today, and they told me the oil pan had rusted through, and the radiator was leaking. To change the oil pan, they have to remove the engine. All said and done, repairs would be more than the value of the car.

It is a sad choice to make, to live with an imperfect, dying, struggling automobile you once loved. It will age and deteriorate, and I'll move on. I'll begin to look at other cars, ignoring its lapsing state, thoughtless as it putters toward a sad, anonymous end in a junkyard.

But I'll be alright, eventually. I'll find another car and we'll bond. I'll enjoy the air-conditioning and cruise control, and the Escort will be fossilized in my past, placed high upon a pedestal it can never live up to. It'll be phony and nostalgic and perfect, the way I'll remember it best.

I confided in my brother about all this.

SeekUpward: I've put 95,000 miles on it
ishoppejon: you raised it from a pup
SeekUpward: I knew the end would come eventually
SeekUpward: well, it had 107,000 when I got it
SeekUpward: It tears me up inside that I'm not the primary mile-putter
ishoppejon: but you stuck with it through good and bad
ishoppejon: you have had it for the longest time.
SeekUpward: yeah, that's true
ishoppejon: don't beat yourself up
SeekUpward: I just... you think you have such a personal connection, and then you realize it's spent so much time with someone else, and you realize, maybe you just hardly know anything about it.
SeekUpward: that's all I'm saying.
ishoppejon: I understand
SeekUpward: Somewhere out there, my car has another person
ishoppejon: we can't always live our lives in the think you're supposed to go to school, go to college, get a job, and get a car that no one has ever been with.
ishoppejon: and we need to realize, Jim
ishoppejon: we need to realize that isn't always how it ends up
ishoppejon: we live one life, that of our own
SeekUpward: you're right.
ishoppejon: I'm not saying put emotion aside...take time to feel
ishoppejon: thats how a person heals
SeekUpward: I feel like intimacy is dead. And we're the ones that killed it.
ishoppejon: well, if we can kill, we can try to revive it
SeekUpward: that's a good way to think about it.
SeekUpward: Some people name their cars.
SeekUpward: I never did that.
SeekUpward: nothing seemed right.
SeekUpward: I wonder, if I knew it better, if I would have named it. Or, if I had named it, if I would have known it better.
ishoppejon: I'd like to think "Original NyQuil" is an appropriate name for my car.

March 18, 2009

It's time for....

I watched this religiously when I was a kid. Everyday, four o'clock, Animaniacs. Without exception. I'd get myself a bowl of cereal, turn on the tube and let television dictate my developing sense of humor. Today Jon sent me a link to a YouTube video of, without a doubt, our favorite visiting character, Mr. Director, posing as a clown on a visit to the Warner Brothers and their Warner sister Dot. I watched it this morning, and in my semi-grownup-ness, I still laughed at everything. To me, it's every bit as funny now as it was when I was a kid. It's amazing. I think there's universal appeal in the show, especially the marvelously cartoonish violence. Mr. Director, in each of his incarnations as director, clown, actor, comedian, was a regular recipient of it.

Animaniacs played off lots of stuff a kid only sorta gets... For one, they complained about the writers and censors. A bunch. And there was tons of innuendo. ("Hellooooooooo nurse!!!, for one, and a song devoted entirely to Lake Titicaca. Ah-em.) But there were some brilliant educational pieces, too... Anyone remember Yakko singing the nations of the world? I'm too out of touch with kids television to know for sure, but something tells me Hannah Montana isn't teaching kids about Borneo and Vietnam.

Three things I want you to see, if you have time:

The aforementioned Clown clip:

Yakko's nations of the world:

And the treasured introduction, to which I still know all the words:

March 11, 2009


I bought a plane ticket. In a month - barring the catastrophic prospect of a job offer - I'm flying to Atlanta to see some friends. I've never been to Atlanta. I've been through Atlanta, on six lanes of I-75, with my fingers white-knuckled on the steering wheel, trying desperately to see the city without crashing and finding myself at the bottom of a massive pileup. From that fleeting vantage point, flying between the freeway walls far beneath the skyscrapers, Atlanta looks like a pretty cool city. Soon, I'll know for sure. Cuz I bought the plane ticket.

I don't know when or how the travel bug bit me. And I hate using the term travel bug because it makes me think of tourists with cameras who sneak out the hotel to take self-portraits in front of landmarks and eat at the same restaurants they have back home. I want to distance myself from that as much as possible. (Sidenote: To make this specific experience more authentically Atlantan, I requested to my friend Joel that we go to Chick-fil-A.) And besides, most people claim to be ill with the travel bug. If you asked a roomful of people if they liked to travel, they'd probably all raise their hands. Everybody wants to travel. It's just that not everbody can, because of time, responsibility, or money. I have time. I only have a little responsibility. The thing I lack is money. Two out of three ain't bad.

But money... that's something to address. There isn't much I want to spend money on right now. But there are lots of places I want to see. I would rather have an experience than a product anyday. I would rather cross another destination off my list than a household appliance. That will change once I get out of my parents house and into the world, where you actually have to spend money on little things like heat and electricity and space to call a home. But I love being able to tell people that I've been there, wherever there is.

There are, I think, different levels of being somewhere. You don't really ever know a place until you call it home. I know Michigan. And you definitely haven't seen a place until you've gotten away from your hotel room and the theme parks and arcades and strip malls. Otherwise, you've only been to little pockets of places at best, where the locals don't go and if they do, they're wearing their work uniforms. I can say that I've seen Orlando, even though I never went to Disney. I've been to Sandusky, but I haven't really seen it. And you definitely haven't been to a place if you've only passed through it.

There are lots of places I've passed through, and Atlanta is among them. Soon, I'll be able to say I've been there. Hopefully, I'll see it too.

Wikipedia: Atlanta skyline

March 1, 2009


She calls Papa John's and asks about their deals. The Pizza Guy explains them to her, competing with escalating shrieks from her kids, who demand mommy's attention. They get louder and louder as mommy tries to make dinner decisions, particularly the daughter, until at last they reach a climax, and mommy reaches her breaking point. "GODDAMN IT," she screams at her daughter, right into the phone, and The Pizza Guy hears her. She's embarrassed. It slipped out. She tells him she'll... have to call him back.

#7: Blanchard: It is 8:00 pm. The Pedestrian is crossing 44th Street just as The Pizza Guy turns onto it from Clyde Park. He gauges the distance, clutches his brown paper sack in his left hand, and crosses. Oops, didn't judge it right, should have waited. Never mind, though, The Pizza Guy has slowed to let him cross. But as he crosses, he slows, stops, and stands in the street. So Pizza Guy slows and stops, too, and there's a brief standoff as Pizza Guy raises his hands in disbelief as if to say, "What are you doing?" The Pedestrian raises one hand and one finger, the one in the middle, because it's his road too and he can do what he wants.

#16: Walden Woods: It is 11:30 pm. There's a knock on the door, and the kids rush it. They shout at The Pizza Guy, and they're excited to see him. They poke through the curtains to see him through the window, and he makes faces at them and they laugh and shout at him some more. Mommy comes and opens the door, keeps her cell phone at her ear. The mass of children grows, and they crowd around mommy. There's a lot of shouting and she can't hear her friend on the phone, so she shouts too. "You're going to go to bed right now without your dinner if you don't shut up." They don't listen. Too much excitement about pizza. And a guest. "Okay," she says. "You're all going to bed as soon as you're done eating."

#18: 44th Street: It is 12:30 am. The pizza man knocks and mommy answers the door. The kids are watching TV and mommy is burning a cigarette. She'll burn another when it's gone. She hands the pizza man $15, takes the pizza, and closes the door.