Saturday, January 31, 2009

I am not in the pay of the cable company

SOOOO boring of me to go on and on about my magic new TV and PVR. I mean, if you already have the same system, you know for yourself what I’m talking about and don’t need to read a research paper on the subject, and if you don’t, I’m just making you feel envious and annoyed. Don’t care. I’m amazed and I feel like writing about it and this is my blog. Go read something else.

The main thing I’m still in my early infatuation stage with is the fact that I never have to watch a commercial again. I don’t know what the future of TV commercials is with this new system, because there’s really no reason whatsoever to have to watch them. I am getting in the habit of each morning, scanning the on-screen program guide for that evening. When, using your remote control sort of like a computer mouse, you highlight a show you might be interested in, the guide accurately tells you whether it is a new or repeat episode, whether it’s in HD, and provides a quite thorough little synopsis. I decide what I might want to watch that evening and order the PVR to record everything I’m considering. Doesn’t matter how many there are or if two of them are on simultaneously. PVR can cope.

What makes it especially fun is that we now have access to the major networks back east at the real times they air their programming. In other words, on certain channels we get the primetime programming of the east-coast versions of NBC, ABC, etc, between 5:00 and 8:00 p.m., because that’s 8:00 to 11:00 p.m. there, you see. So I can record my favourite shows in the early evening and then, rather than watch them as they air at our local primetime -- with commercials -- I watch my recorded version and zap through the ads.

SRH really loves this time-shifted channel thing. He’s an early-to-bed sort of fellow but he can now enjoy watching Leno or Letterman, live as they happen, at primetime here on the west coast.

Basically it’s a complete shift in attitude towards watching TV. It’s a shift which began with home VCRs and which has now been, in my view, perfected. Previously, I would only record a program if I knew I was going to be out and unable to watch it, or if it was airing simultaneously with another program I wanted. Recording was not really convenient -- the complexity of programming a VCR was a clichéd joke of our times -- and you couldn’t record more than a couple of hours (or a bit more if you didn’t mind a really grainy picture), and of course you had to make sure there was a usable tape in the machine and so on.

Now I record everything as a matter of course. It’s the way I watch TV. And it couldn’t possibly be more convenient. When I decide, having highlighted a show on the program guide, I might want it, I simply hit the Record button on the remote. I don’t have to set times. I don’t have to build in an extra few minutes at the end in case my show runs over a bit. PVR records the show, not a particular time period.

Also, there is a channel, number 225 here where I live, that is simply an endless slide show of stunningly beautiful HD photographs. It’s like having one of those neat digital picture frames, but it’s a 47-inch picture frame rotating pictures by professional photographers, any one of which would take your breath away, and they just keep coming. It’s a little perk of the new system I had not previously been aware of and it’s quickly become my favourite channel. We always have it on if we’re in the family room reading or chatting or not watching anything else on TV. I’m just astounded that for the price of our monthly cable bill (which is only about $12 more than we were paying before for almost nothing compared to what we have now), we get this spectacular selection of art in our family room on top of all the other benefits of the new system.

As you get older, you tend to get rather jaded about a lot of things. You’ve been there, done most. The one area this doesn’t happen is new technology. Here the young people are blasé and take it for granted, but us older folks find it astounding and exciting and it perks up our jaded, cranky menopausal lives. I’m still thrilled with cell phones and computers. And yes, I am having an inappropriate love affair with my PVR. Told you to go read something else.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

I hear babies cry; I watch them grow...

My son is all grown up. I mean, more than just chronologically or legally. He actually behaves like an adult. It’s kind of awesome, in the original sense of that word rather than the one generally followed by “dude!”

He came for dinner last night. Having seen that there were numerous things that needed doing around here that his father was having difficulty getting to, and not having to work until late afternoon today, he decided to stay the night so that he could spend today getting through a few of these tasks.

This boy -- this man -- who used to throw tantrums when asked to do chores, who would lose his temper the minute something went wrong, who thought he should be paid for having a pulse, of his own initiative helped us out, cheerfully and patiently and expecting nothing in return. He listened to what his dad calls his “old war stories” with every evidence of interest and encouraging questions.

He also put his dishes in the dishwasher and made his bed. If I wasn’t a believer in miracles before, I am now. It’s a miracle that happens to families every day around the world, of course. Our babies grow up to be the most amazing men and women, and we look at them with awe, and wonder how it happened, and how we got so lucky.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Aren't you glad you're not 15?

I have a nephew who is 15. It’s an awful age. All your little-kid perks and benefits are gone, but you are not old enough for your parents -- or anyone else -- to take you at all seriously yet. It is an age where you’re constantly hearing, “Oh, grow up! Act your age!” But that’s the problem: you’re not grown up, and chances are you are, in fact, acting exactly your age most of the time. The fact that the behaviour of your typical 15-year-old is obnoxious and loathsome to most of the population is not your fault. 15 is what you are, for one whole year. It’s not a fun year. That's just the way it is.

My nephew has kindly allowed me to be a Facebook friend. I honour this privilege by refraining from, as they say, “creeping his wall”. I read only his status posts, which I cannot avoid as they come up on my Home page, as the Facebook-savvy among you will know. His status post for today indicates that he has had a pretty awful week. As I recall, most of them are, so it’s all relative when you’re 15.

I badly wanted to respond to his post with a sympathetic comment, but was afraid pretty much anything I wrote would leave him open to the world-class mocking that teenagers practice. “Poor baby!” Nope. “Kisses from auntie!” Nope. I could write something like “F**k em, dude, u no u rock!” except that my comment comes with a little picture of a middle-aged lady attached and so…nope.

Nephew of Grammar, all I can tell you is that 15 doesn’t last forever. It is followed by 16, which frankly is not a heck of a lot better, but a little, and then 17, and before you know it (yeah, yeah, we old folks always say “before you know it”, like each stinking day wasn’t 147 hours long) you’ll be 18, and things really start looking up. Hold out for 18, NOG. It’s coming. In the meantime…

Poor baby. Kisses from auntie. U no u rock.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

More Like a New Year's Musing

Although SRH and I are very compatible, as evidenced by 25 years of joyous, peaceful marriage, there are naturally ways we are very different. Some of them are quite fundamental (and no, I’m not talking about plumbing, either our own biological sort or our abilities to fix the pipes in the house, although certainly we are yin and yang in both those areas).

The fundamental difference I’m thinking of today might come under the heading of general world view. SRH tends to focus a lot on the past, deriving his pleasure from memories of happy times, enjoying his ability to recall them and the young, healthy fellow who features in them. I tend to focus on the future, imagining exciting things to come, of cures found for what ails us, of weddings, of grandchildren. I muse not on fun cruises past but wonderful cruises yet to come. The next is always going to be the best one.

The ability neither of us possesses is that of living for today. We both get up each morning and proceed to muddle through the next 15 or 16 hours, doing our routine, mundane things without much thought. While we’re doing them, SRH relates them to similar situations from 10 or 20 or 30 years ago, and I think about how different things will be next year, or five years from now. (I tend not to go so far ahead as he goes back!)

His is the safer track. The past is a known quantity. It is fun to remember happy times, and sad times can at will be either ignored or recalled as something successfully survived and moved on from. My fellow dreamers and I live with the constant potential of shattered hopes and derailed plans. But I can’t be any other way, and with age seems to come improving ability to accept that life zigs and zags and tunnels and bridges and takes you places you never imagined. You have no idea what stations your train is going to stop at, which ones it will pass by, and which one will be your terminus.

I think what has led me to follow this train of thought (sorry, carrying that metaphor into this paragraph was a mistake) is that my family, both nuclear and extended, is at a kind of turning point right now, moving out of one era and into the next. This was brought home to us by events of Christmas Dinner 2008, a.k.a. The Last Big Dinner that Never Happened.

My extended family: my parents, three sisters, three brothers-in-law, and all the grandchildren, have managed all these years to get together for Christmas dinner. It was not always easy; it required understanding in-laws and inconvenient travel and the numbers got to be a little unwieldy, but we kept it going for a long time. We were finally, ultimately stymied by the Great Snowstorm of 2008. What was to be the biggest gathering to date, with an aunt and cousin and her family to join us, was thwarted when Mother Nature kept everyone in their own homes.

Subsequent sisterly conversations revealed that everyone had very much enjoyed the quiet Christmas season at home with their own families and friends instead of the hectic running around to prepare, travel and congregate for the mass clan dinner. Accordingly, a rather momentous consensus was reached: it was time, at long last, to stop gathering under our parents’ banner and settle into our own family Christmas dinner traditions, under any one of whose banners our parents would, in future Christmases, be welcome to join. The majority of the grandchildren are now grown up, or nearly so, and are already beginning to head off and make their own lives and traditions. The clan is on the verge of branching very quickly into a dozen different directions.

This is something that you can be sad about, and wallow in nostalgia, and weep a little tear for an era’s end. Certainly I’ve been known to be a sucker for that sort of thing, having cried like an idiot when my children graduated preschool and sang Skinnamarink-a-dinky-dink to me, but in this case I’m just interested, excited, apprehensive, all those things, about seeing where the L Clan all go on their train journeys during 2009. Where will we all be next Christmas?

Watch this space…

Friday, January 9, 2009

Almost a Month Later, and this is What you Get. Sigh.

The blog haunts me. I know I should be writing something here, but every time I try to, I am struck with severe writer’s block. It’s disconcerting; writing is something that has always been as natural to me as breathing. And by “always”, I mean since I grasped the magic of literacy at age four or five. I’m the little kid who won newspaper poetry contests. I’m the geeky teen who greeted essay assignments with glee. I’m the university student who made a little cash helping other students write papers after I tossed mine off. I’m the middle-aged lady who’s kept a journal almost non-stop since I was 15 years old. Writing is what I do.

It’s ideas that I am short of, I suppose. It’s so ridiculous: there a million stories in the big world, but it seems I have nothing to say about any of them. Instead, I think of topics like this:

Do you have one of those triple bathroom mirrors you can angle to see the back of your head? I was looking in mine the other day and when I looked at my own face in profile, it was as if I was looking at a stranger. We’re all used to seeing ourselves face-on in mirrors and our brains have a particular version of ourselves we register in those circumstances. We are often surprised, when looking at photographs, that it doesn’t appear to be quite the same image that we see in the mirror. But the profile in the mirror is another thing again. You’re seeing yourself, in real time, as other people see you when you’re not looking back at them. You can stand there and make faces and pretend to have an animated conversation, and that’s what you look like to other people. It’s just weird, is all.

Now, before you start (or continue) thinking my mind is a strange thing which goes off on bizarre paths, there are people who have done studies of human reactions to their faces in mirrors. Of course there are. I don’t think it matters how odd a topic you think up; there’s always going to be some academic out there in some musty room doing a study of it. In fact, at this point I have just gone off and Googled “face in mirror human” and Amazon suggested a book called “The Face in the Mirror: the Search for the Origins of Consciousness”. It discusses, among other things, a tribe in New Guinea which until recently had never had access to mirrors or even been observed to look at their reflections in water. I’ll bet this is a very interesting book. So it just goes to show, doesn’t it? What, I don’t know. But go ahead and play anthropologist yourself: try the triple-mirror profile thing.