Opinion

This ‘n’ That by Nicky De Lange

It was just over two years ago that I made the big leap into the terrifying world of technology. I bought an iPhone. The 5s, to be exact.
I did it because College of the Mainland offered a non-credit course for seniors (50-something and older). I got a telephone call from COM a few days later saying the class was filled. When I asked about a waiting list, I was informed that there were 58 people on that list.
Luckily for me, the college found an another instructor and opened two more class sections. I made it! I quickly ran out and purchased an iPhone and took a really good course. It was several weeks long and only cost $15.  You just can’t beat a deal like that.
And that brings me to today’s topic: Siri. Who or what is Siri? It’s your voice-activated personal digital assistant. It came into cell phone history on the iPhone 4s and has continued through the 5, 6, and & 7 as well. If there’s an 8 series, I haven’t heard about it but I’m sure one is in the works.
Siri can do so much more than you’d expect. You just push the home button and ask her/him whatever you want to know.
I say her/him because the original voice of Siri was a woman, Susan Bennett. But in my iPhone class I learned that you could change the voice to that of a male. In my early struggles learning to operate my phone, I found myself asking Siri a lot of questions and getting a bunch of not-so-helpful answers. Many of the problems were because of my lack of familiarity with how to phrase my questions so Siri understood me.
After a few weeks of getting really cranky when trying to use Siri, I learned in class that you can change Siri’s voice to that of a male. I got that done faster than you could believe possible. I was so fed up with the female Siri that I was highly motivated.
Here’s how to do it. Launch “Settings” and tap on “General.” Tap on “Siri” & choose. You’ll find “Siri Voice”. Tap and the next screen will let you choose  both accent and gender. Tap your choices here and you can turn Siri from “that woman” who drove me crazy to James Bond or Crocodile Dundee. Knock yourself out!
What can you do to have fun on Siri? Well, there are all sorts of questions that will elicit funny or odd answers from him. Here are a few to try out:
Beam me up. (Siri’s reply: Stand still.)
Are you real? (Siri’s reply: Ask Siri.)
What is your favorite color? (My favorite color is .  . . well, I don’t know how to say it in your language. It’s sort of greenish, but with more dimensions.)
What do you look like? (Let’s just say . . . multidimensional.)
What’s new? (Just watching the leaves fall. I’m betting on that big red one.)
And finally, my favorite: How much wood  can a woodchuck chuck?  The answer, according to Siri, is “None. A ‘woodchuck’   is actually a groundhog, so it would probably just predict six more weeks of winter.”
Siri – you gotta love him!

This ’n’ That by Nicky De Lange

Some weeks I know exactly what this column will be about. At other times, I depend on last-minute inspiration. This week’s topic is a mix of both.
It just happens that I recently watched several movies on TCM. These included Mutiny On The Bounty and It Happened One Night. Both starred my favorite actor and all-around hunk, Clark Gable. (Yes, I realize he’s been dead a long time, but he’ll always be alive to fans like me.)
As a result of my wallowing in old movies, I got to wondering which stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age became famous under the names with which they were born and which ones changed their names. I just grabbed my iPhone and asked Siri for the information. Siri, by the way, is my techno best friend.
I found it surprising that many of the early movie and TV stars stuck with their birth names, although Clark was actually Mr Gable’s middle name – it followed William.
Those actors who elected to reinvent themselves often had good reasons for doing so.
Do you, for example, know of an actor named Leonard Slye? Probably not. But, if I tell you he became an actor named Roy Rogers, I bet you remember him. Leonard Slye, king of the cowboys, just doesn’t have the right ring to it, does it?
How about Bernie Schwartz? He had to overcome his name as well as his New York accent to become the famous Tony Curtis. (Actually, I’m not sure he ever completely overcame that accent.)
And, no matter how suave and debonaire he was on screen and off, do you really think Cary Grant would have had the same effect if he’d acted under his birth name of Archibald Leach?
Actress Joan Crawford’s real name was in reality so refined and elegant that she would have probably been limited in the roles she played. Her given name was Lucille Fay LeSueur. (Even more surprising to me was that Siri told me she was born in San Antonio.)
Everyone remembers the incredibly talented dancer Fred Astaire. His top hat and tails went perfectly with his dance moves. But, as Frederick Austerlitz, he sounded more like a Nazi spy and surely would never have won a date with Virginia Katherine McMath, aka Ginger Rogers.
John Wayne is one of the most famous, admired and beloved stars of westerns and war movies. He was an all-around rugged guy’s guy. But, acting under the name he was born with – Marion Mitchell Morrison – might have been too much of a challenge, even for “Duke Wayne”.
Considered one of the most beautiful actresses in the Golden Age, Rita Hayworth’s original name was Margarita Carmen Cansino. An exotic name for a famous beauty, it might just have been too big a mouthful on the movie screen.
The famous comedy team of Martin and Lewis was a complete name changer. Dean Martin was born Dino Crocetti, while Jerry Lewis started life as Joseph Levitch. Somehow, Crocetti and Levitch just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Then there’s Rock Hudson and Tab Hunter. Both actors wound up with really fake-sounding names but they were a step up from Rock’s Roy Scherer and Tab’s Arthur Kelm. That was back in the era of “cool” names – and these poor actors got stuck with two of the “coolest”.
I’ll finish this list with one of my all-time favorite actors, Boris  Karloff. What a terrific name for one of the most talented horror actors ever. So evil sounding.
It was a much better choice as a pseudonym for this cultured British gentleman, who began his life as William Henry Pratt. That just would not have sounded anywhere near as scary.
As Shakespeare said: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. But Shakespeare wasn’t dealing with Hollywood, was he?

This ’n’ That by Nicky De Lange

It dawned on me recently that reality television shows can be quite educational. Not all of them; for instance, I never got hooked on watching Fear Factor.
That’s one the goes back a few years. Fortunately for me, before I could make the mistake of watching even one episode, I caught an ad promoting it. Before I could close my eyes or turn off the television set, I saw people putting live spiders in their mouths and eating them. That moment is still indelibly etched in my brain.
I’m totally arachnophobic. There is no such thing, to my mind, as a small spider. And the only good spider is a dead one. Very, very dead. Most folks who want to get rid of one of these eight-legged horrors would spray it with a bug killer or smash it with a shoe. I favor a nice grenade. I just feel better knowing that spider is really gone for good.
Needless to say, I won’t ever watch Fear Factor.
Some of the other reality programs have a very different effect on me. Take Hoarders or Hoarding: Buried Alive. These shows feature people who live in homes stuffed floor to ceiling with junk. We’re talking junk piled to the ceiling in every room, closet, cellar and yard. This is reality and it’s overwhelming.
So of course I watch these programs regularly. I tell myself it’s to make sure I never wind up living that way – it’s a preventative effort. For those of you who’ve never had the experience of viewing one of these horrifying shows, try to imagine a dwelling literally full of totally useless junk. Like empty two-liter bottles, pizza boxes, unwashed dishes and sinks clogged by backed-up drains.
Did I forget to mention the tons of roaches and other bugs? The rats? These are not cute little mice, either. They are seriously large rodents and there are lots of them.
And then there is the dreaded refrigerator. This appliance is about the scariest thing I’ve seen in any TV program. It’s traumatizing to see one of the “cleaning experts” swing open the door. I’ve actually caught myself mumbling “No – please don’t open that!”, usually followed by me covering my face. Talk about “slime in the ice machine”!
The inside of the average refrigerator in a hoarded home is filled with gross, unidentifiable items. Many of them are ancient. The show’s experienced cleaning crew winds up wearing hazmat suits and wielding long-handled shovels. I wouldn’t have their job no matter how much money I was offered.
Each hoarding program features a psychologist with a background in counseling hoarders. That must take the patience of a saint as well as nerves of steel.
By the end of the show, even these professionals look traumatized. The hardier ones just look frustrated beyond belief. The people they’re trying to help are usually way off the wall mentally.
True hoarders can’t part with anything, no matter how useless or filthy it is. In a book about the subject, I read that these poor people feel as if every item in their hoard is a part of them. Chucking it out would be like throwing part of themselves away.
That’s when I had my big epiphany. I was never meant to be a psychologist or any other kind of mental-health professional. Somewhere during the second or perhaps third day of trying to persuade a hoarder to part with just one little piece of junk, I’d lose it completely and wind up in a mental institution myself.
Happy TV viewing, all y’all!

This ’n’ That by Nicky De Lange

Good news! It’s that time again. You know what I’m referring to – funny T-shirt sayings.
I honestly believe some of the most profound philosophical thoughts can be found on simple, everyday shirts. If I were writing a book on the topic, that’s where I’d do the majority of my research.
For example, consider this deep thought: “In my defense, I was left unsupervised”. Is that not the best excuse ever for those times when you’ve done something really bizarre? There’s also: “I’m not much on seizing the day – I just kinda poke at it with a stick”.
Another deep thought regarding time that really appeals to me is this dictionary definition: “Tomorrow/te’maro/n: A mythical land where I get all my stuff done”. Does that resonate with you? It sure does with me.
Also concerning time was this treasure I found in the same T-shirt catalog: “It’s been ‘ONE of those days’ for like three years now”! That is the best way to sum up the theory of relativity as it concerns time that I’ve ever read!
Another popular subject on T-shirts is sanity – or the lack of it. For example, there’s: “My alone time is sometimes for YOUR safety”. There’s a great message in there somewhere. Or how about: “My level of maturity changes depending on who I’m with”. Great way to put the blame for whatever idiotic thing you’ve done on someone else!
If you want to proudly let others know your sanity is a little on the shaky side, wear the T-shirt that asks: “I wonder what NORMAL PEOPLE think about”.
Here’s my favorite explanation for seeming just a little wacky to others: “Physically I’m here. Mentally I’m in a galaxy far, far away.”
Without a doubt, one of the most popular T-shirt categories is pets. One of the funniest ones I’ve seen has dog hair drawn all over the shirt front. Against this background is the simple message: “Dog hair. Don’t care.” I hope they have this one in a cat version.
There’s another that reads: “Love is how excited your dog gets when you come home”. I bet that doesn’t come in a cat version!
But the one that – at least in my humble opinion – sums up the relationship between dogs and humans the best says: “When I die, the dog gets everything”!
The last category today is a new one – people’s exes. Not all marriages have happy endings, judging by two new T-shirts I found recently. The first shirt gives you a warning that things can get rocky sometimes: “If you’re happy and you know it, thank your ex”!
Now that you have a clue, brace yourself for the next one. Ready?
“All I’m saying is I’ve never seen my ex and Satan in the same room”!
This is a good place to quit. I’m happily married and plan to stay that way. Although, when I die, the cats really do get everything!

This ’n’ That by Nicky De Lange

Memory is a strange and amazing thing. Have you ever suddenly remembered something from your childhood that you had totally blanked out of your mind?
I’m not talking about anything devastating, tragic or traumatic. Or, for that matter, anything wonderful or special.
This is just some simple thing – a favorite toy, a delicious treat or a pair of really loved cowboy boots. There are lots of cues that spark some quirky thing you remember from the past – newly-cut lawns, a TV show you never missed, the sound of the ice-cream truck coming down your street.
That kind of thing hit me the other day over something so mundane I couldn’t believe the mental picture I had.
If you’re old enough, picture oleomargarine or, as it’s commonly called, “oleo”. If you are a Gen Xer, you will probably picture a plastic tub of this common food. It looks just like real butter and often tastes about the same.
But, if you’re a Baby Boomer, you might remember oleo the way I did recently. Picture a heavy clear plastic bag filled with a white oily substance. It looked like Crisco.
Here’s the kicker, the part that really jolted me back to the late 1940s. In the middle of the blob was an orangey-red circle like a setting sun. Is this jogging your memory now?
Back in the early days of oleo, selling colored versions of it was illegal. I think I read something about the government trying to prevent it being passed off as genuine butter, defrauding consumers.
And that’s the sudden recall I experienced recently. I remembered my mother bringing home groceries, including the package containing the bright red-orange packet containing artificial coloring to make the margarine look tasty. You just squeezed the package before opening it and the coloring turned the oleo a nice buttery yellow.
That was my favorite chore, getting to squish the oleo around with the coloring. If I did a good job, I could magically turn the white goop into delicious-looking fake butter.
Why this was so much fun, I cannot now imagine. I just know that, back in the mid-1940s, we didn’t have colored margarine and real yellow-colored butter must have been too expensive for the average family.
I don’t recall when this funky butter substitute disappeared from grocery stores. My best guess – and it’s only a guess – would be somewhere in the early or mid-1950s.
But as time passes by, there will be fewer and fewer of us left who recall the early oleo. Like the dinosaurs, it has disappeared, along with dime stores, DC comics, nickel cokes and radio serial programs – you might remember Stella Dallas or Pepper Young’s Family.
In years to come, my grandkids will fondly remember Mario Brothers, Frozen and sneakers with twinkling lights on them.
Heaven knows what Millennials and whomever comes next will remember. But I doubt if it will be any cooler than color-it-yourself margarine.