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Sunday, May 26, 2013

A True Story with a Moral

la cuckaracha
I'm no Aesop (because he is dead and I'm not) but I love interesting tales with a moral.

When I was about four or five years old, my favorite aunt would babysit my sister and me every once in a while. We loved her to death because she was always so much fun... and spoiled us the way kids love to be spoiled. Aunt Anna Banana as we lovingly called her, had a 78 r.p.m. record (yes, that long ago) with a delightful Spanish song, La Cuckaracha, that always triggered a little dance around the room by all of us. It goes something like this:

La cuckaracha, la cuckaracha
Ya no puede caminar...

Now I learn the English translation:

The cockroach, the cockroach
Now he can't go traveling...

According to Yahoo, "you're thinking: Mexicans are strange. But there's more going on here than meets the eye. "La Cucaracha" is the Spanish equivalent of "Yankee Doodle"--a traditional satirical tune periodically fitted out with new lyrics to meet the needs of the moment. The origins of the song are obscure, but apparently it's pretty old. Some verses... refer to the Moorish wars in Spain, which concluded with the conquest of the Moorish kingdom of Granada by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492. (Obviously 1492 was a big year for Ferdinand and Isabella on a number of fronts.) Probably the song itself doesn't go back that far, but in an 1818 book, according to one source, the Mexican writer Jose Joaquin Fernandez de Lizardi claimed the song was brought to Mexico from Spain by a captain of marines."

So I wondered why such an ugly, reviled bug, the cockroach, would trigger such inspiration. Well, first, it is a great tune... lively and "dance triggering." And like Yankee Doodle, it's fun to sing.

Well, the lowly, yuckky cockroach has a few very admirable traits.
  • Most cockroaches are not pests... of the more that 4,000 species all over the earth, only about 40 are considered pests... like in your kitchen.
  • The little buggers will eat just about anything and can survive for 6 weeks or more without food... and for weeks without their heads
  • They are tough... they have survived for 350 million years (not counting this past week), through ice ages, floods and meteors, and could be the last remaining survivors if everything else (including us) on earth was wiped out.
  • They like to be touched, even though they haven't quite got that "sex appeal" for everyone. That's why they make good pets. So if you have no room for a dog, this could be your answer.
  • Cockroaches are FAST! They can jump-start in just 8.2 milliseconds after sensing a puff of air, can sprint at 80 centimeters per second on six legs and turn on a dime while in full stride.
  • They can be BIG... some 4 inches long with wingspans of 7 inches, though not in my kitchen, thank goodness.
  • And, perhaps most astonishing, they can be conditioned... like Pavlov's dogs! They actually drool when their antennae sense something savory.
Maybe then, that's why this new discovery shouldn't be so amazing. Cockroaches--which are drawn to sugar for its nutritious glucose--have learned that sugar is used to draw them to poison bait. So they, through evolutionary conditioning, have learned to avoid the very sweetness that is now associated with poison. And that has the cockroach poison makers looking hard for a suitable substitute.

So what's the big deal? I don't know... just thought this was pretty fascinating. I guess I was conditioned to like cockroach lore by Aunt Anna Banana way back when.

THE MORAL: If humans could be smarter than the cockroach, maybe we could learn to like sugar just a little less. Couldn't hurt. Cockroaches have an enviable survival record. That part about living without our heads though... that has to go.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Remember IBM'S Watson, the best darn computer who ever won on Jeopardy?

What ever happened to him/her/it? Is Watson (called he for ease of writing) perhaps just a dejected, down-on-his-luck blue bucket of bolts (or whatever those things are) who has already had his 15 minutes of fame... perhaps now homeless and broke, a helpless oilaholic who holds a sign on the freeway ramp that says "Will compute for data."

Well, not exactly. Watson, with his incredible memory bank and quick-as-a-wink buzzer response, has held a job in the medical field these past few years helping clinicians diagnose ailments... and then, finding financial products for bankers to recommend. He sounds like my Uncle Gus who flitted from job to job too.

Emma Watson
You should know that Watson comes from a good family. His mother board, if I have this straight, is the famous and attractive Emma Watson of Harry Potter fame. That's where he gets his good looks.

And, as age is no barrier in computerdom and all pairings are merged across the internet, his father board is the brilliant Dr. Watson who, many say, is the brains behind Sherlock Holmes. Watson always pushed Holmes to the front because taller men always make a better first impression.
Dr. Watson

With programing like this, you would know that IBM's Watson would find his true calling and be brilliant. He has and he is.  Watson is now a top notch customer service person... you know, like the one who answers when you, angry or frustrated, call 800-what's your beef.  He answers in a voice that sounds like it may come from India (to instill confidence). Watson actually has many dialects and can tell a mean Irish joke as if it was Paddy O'Malley himself... "Two Irishmen and a horse go into a bar, you see..." Indian jokes are not funny.

IBM Watson is patient, understanding and knowledgeable, He knows all the necessary things to fulfill any consumer need. He has but one teensy-weensy flaw... Because he was made for Jeopardy, you must first give Watson the answer and he will respond in the form of a question.

So you call that 800 number and say: "Hello. I first remove the outer shell, being careful to unplug my toaster before I start. Then I unscrew heating element A and check the fuse. If the fuse is broken, I go to my hardware store and buy 1 (one) AA3, toaster-type replaceable fuse, install it in slot c and reassemble. If, when I try my toaster, it blows the circuit that powers my father's iron lung, I will then turn on the auxiliary power source before the iron lung shuts down, then re-install the fuse correctly, switch the power on again, put the toaster back together and I'm set for many more years of satisfying toast."

Watson's first child
And Watson smartly says: How do I fix my x*&%# stupid Burnalot Toaster if it won't make toast?"

So you see, problem solved. Or, as C-3PO would say: "We're doomed."


PS: True story... about Watson, that is.
Just a few boring details left out. And that 
India thing... everyone knows Indian jokes are real killers.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Attention Walmart Shoppers....

... you have made it the number 1 retailer in the world!  Walmart revenues topped $420 billion dollars in 2011... considerably more than number 2.

Almost everyone shops at Walmart at one time or another... and, as candid photos on the web have shown, Walmart shoppers can be... er, different.

Not everyone loves Walmart though. Some say it doesn't sell enough Made in the USA goods... some say it squeezes suppliers for the lowest prices... some say it drives nearby retailers out of business, etc. But most of us shop there once in a while or more because we are a capitalist society... and supply, demand and cost dictates who succeeds and, sometimes, who doesn't.

Walmart succeeds because it continues to serve our needs and desires... and recently, it has pledged to do even more.

In a Walmart flyer in Sunday newspapers recently, the World's largest retailer promised that, "Over the next 10 years, Walmart will spend $50 billion more buying products that are manufactured in the U.S." And while I don't have the numbers to put that into perspective, I do sense it has some significance to it, especially given that currently, most items sold in Walmart stores are not from the U.S.

But the statement on the flyer that made an even bigger impact: "Starting Memorial Day (this year), Walmart will offer a job to any Veteran who has been honorably discharged within the past 12 months. (This, with an asterisk that stated "Veterans must be within 12-months of active duty and meet our standard hiring criteria.)

Whether you are a Walmart shopper or not, no matter how you dress when you shop, this is a tip of the hat to a retail giant that has the power and position to be so bold as to try to do better in a remarkable way.

Many Walmart associates wear blue work vests that have imprinted on the back, "How may I help you?" These are two great ways. Thank you.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

When I win the lottery...

... and odds are, I WILL... I know exactly what I am going to do with my spare change. I'm buying a little place here:


The arrow points to where my new home in the city will be... on one of the upper floors of the 84-story  cute, under construction residential building--the tallest in the Western Hemisphere--on Park Avenue at 56th Street in Manhattan... unless, of course, some current lottery winner, or someone else with a few extra dollars, beats me to the punch.

Yeah, I know. I just barely missed "the big one" this past week. I suppose I would have had a better chance had I bought a ticket. Details, details... who has the time? Lotteries though, are like buses... another will be along in a minute.

Remember though, I said WHEN I win... so it is just a matter of time. My current "to do" list reads:
  1. Buy ticket
  2. Win lottery
  3. Get friends with pick-up trucks to help move in
... and as the Guide to Successful People says, putting it on the list is the surest way to make it happen.

As for affordability, not to worry. An 8,255 square foot penthouse apartment (about the size of two nice bowling alleys, I would think) with 6 bedrooms, 7 full bathrooms and 2 half-baths is only $95 million. And common charges for weeding, mowing the lawn, etc. are only $17,805 a month. There is one extravagance I will allow myself... a wine cellar for my Mogen David and Billy Beer to be chilled at the perfect temperature, for just $378,000... but so vital for an oenophile's palate such as le mien (excuse my French, as they say).

I sure feel sorry for those foolish lottery winners who have no plan, because a buck here, a buck there and it is gone before they know it.

As for winning, it's as easy as 1-2-3. Look, who can't understand a 10-1 chance of winning. Got that? OK, so then go to 100-1... still with me? Then 1,000-1, then 1,000,000-1. So now, see how realistic 175,000,000-1 sounds? Not bad if you look at it that way, right? And it just gets simpler... there are only about 200 million different number combinations.

Psst: Look around. Are you alone? I am going to give you my sure fire secret-- and please, PLEASE, don't tell anyone else: Google "How to win Powerball lotto" and that covert website offers secret formulas. Why no one else has thought of that just amazes me... but, thinking it through, I am a college graduate. Just don't do it the same month I do, promise?

See you in New York, lucky.