Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Appliance Whisperer

Modern-day technology is a wonderful thing. With the mere click of a button you can order sushi, apply to graduate school, and slut-shame your loved ones. But technology also has a dark side. I learned this, as so many do, the hard way: I became able to communicate with my air conditioner.

Recently we had new air conditioners installed, which seemed unremarkable enough. Then my roommate sent me an email. It contained an invitation.

"What's this?" I asked.

"It's a link to an app called Wink," she said. "It lets you control the AC with your phone. You can communicate with it from a distance."

There stirred within me a deep, fuddy-duddy, anti-modernist force beyond my years. "What kind of a distance?"

The more I thought about it, the less comfortable I was with Wink. Don't get me wrong; I am all for communication. But I prefer the traditional kinds, such as violent argument over what episode such-and-such happened in, or the local regional variant of hurling insults at random people on the subway platform.

But communicating with appliances bothered me. There were several reasons behind this. For one, if I could communicate with the appliances, presumably they could communicate with me:

AC (via text message): HEY YOU
Me: Me?
Me: Can't. I'm ten miles away.
Me: No! It's 11 p.m. You'll wake up the neighbors.
Me: No!! Please!!!
Me: Shut up!! Please!!!! I beg you!!!

Of course this is not the worst-case scenario, since my worldly possessions consist basically of cat toys and the complete second season of "Night Court." Nonetheless, it is a harrowing future to imagine. Furthermore, since we have more than one AC, who's to say they couldn't communicate with each other, and plot against me? ("OK, BOYS! AS SOON AS SHE'S ASLEEP, WE REVERSE THE FLOW AND SUCK HER FACE OFF HEEHEEHEEHEEHEE.")

So I have left well enough alone. I remain wary of ever using Wink. I leave this to my roommate, who is more attuned to household matters anyway. It was she who originally noticed that the original ACs had become sub-par, in the sense that they had grown stalactites and stalagmites and a colony of badgers was living inside. Whereas I am the kind of "big-picture thinker" who cannot be bothered to pick up on such minimal details, although to my credit I did occasionally wonder why the badgers were biting me.

Anyway, regardless of my app-phobia, I'm attempting to "get with the times" and maybe even invent some apps of my own. If I can communicate with my air conditioners, nothing is truly beyond reach. Here are a few of my preliminary ideas for new, revolutionary apps:

1. THE "PEN GENERATOR" OR "PENERATOR" APP. As has been the case my whole life, whenever I want to write, I can't find a pen. This app would automatically generate pens in my purse, thereby assuring that whenever I had an idea, I would instantly find a pen ... and therefore immediately lose all interest in writing. Advantage: Cuts out all those pesky middle steps between you and lack of inspiration.

2. THE MERKY APP. I share my home with a deranged gray cat named Mercutio, a cute furry cuddly presence who would really like to bite me to death. I have many times explained to Merky that I will bite him back, but he knows these are idle threats. This app would therefore do my dirty work for me, unleashing bites on Merky from afar whenever he is even thinking of doing something bad, which is always. I would call it the iBite, if I didn't fear litigation.

3. THE "RESTROOM-SEEKING MISSILE" APP. As you know if you have spent significant time in New York, an estimated 87% of life is spent walking around in search of a public restroom whose mere proximity to your body will not kill you instantly. Enter the "Restroom-Seeking Missile" app, which would detect a useable restroom in your vicinity and alert you. The only downside is that this alert would be triggered approximately never. So maybe a more fruitful way would be to have the app alert you to BAD restrooms, but then the sheer volume of alerts would probably cause your phone to burst into flames.

Those are my ideas, and despite my stodginess in the face of modern technology, I truly do plan to pursue them into the future, at least until I get bored sometime in the next hour or two.  In the meantime, if you'll excuse me, my air conditioner is calling me. Something about wanting a movie night. Thank goodness, because I was beginning to worry it didn't like me.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Boating Adventures in Prague

The other day, I took my life in my hands and operated a paddle boat.

I'm being melodramatic, of course. Paddle boats are perfectly safe, as evidenced by the fact that they grant boating privileges to any random dweeb who enters Prague. Still, it's hard not to feel melodramatic, given the stone-faced way the boat guy read me the safety litany. It included items like this:

- If you go past the buoys, you will die.
- If other boaters come near you, you will die, and so will they.
- You can sink in the Moldau, just FYI. And if you do, you will die.
- One hour from now, you will probably be passing through the digestive tract of a large water rat.
- If this happens, you may not sue.

Also, he kept calling me "Cap'n," as in, "are you ready, cap'n?," and still with no hint of a smile. How can you feel calm about this when your cap'ning experience is limited to eating Cap'n Crunch?

But I am not one to crumble at such provocations. At heart I am a hardy seafarer, and so I gathered my courage about me and took my vessel to the seas. Let me tell you it is no small thing to set out on the mighty waters with no provisions aside from a sweater, a coat, a purse, all your credit cards and an iPhone. But I settled in soon enough. It turns out paddle boating is quickly seductive. Here is an overview of the thought process you, the cap'n, will be undergoing on the boat:

1 MIN IN, as the boat guy sets you free: OH DEAR GOD
3 MIN IN: hey, I can steer! Kind of!
5 MIN IN: YEAH!!! Let's $%**&in' FLOOR this $*^#$-er *^%$%-er!!!!!

As befits a seasoned salt such as myself, I soon bonded deeply with my vessel. I have dubbed her the S.S. Snark, and though she tops out at the speed of a mallard duck with a nerve disorder, her majesty has never failed to inspire great awe and fear in all who see her, causing some among them to remark: "Huh."

I do not mind telling you that while piloting the Snark, I executed a great many "bad-ass" boating maneuvers, such as:

- Not bumping into other, lesser vessels;
- Executing turns so wide that at one point I bumped into Poland;
- Calling to a swan, "HEY YOU! OUTTA MY WAY!"(I regret to report this did no good, but that's probably because he only spoke Czech.)

Thus maneuvering, I sailed the mighty Snark from one row of yellow buoys set up by the boat company all the way to - get this - the other row of yellow buoys set up by the boat company. This is the kind of fearsome voyage we hardy cap'n types engage in, and I'd like to see you try it. Truly, there is nothing quite like coursing up and down the river, imagining you are going much faster than you really are.

Along the way I also witnessed many fine examples of nature, including:

- Fuzzy baby duckies;
- Humans in other boats that were a lot like the S.S. Snark, only less cool and fearsome and awe-inspiring;
- A water rat the size of a Volvo station wagon, who was probably a local elected official;
and last but not least,
- A floating bottle of Fanta, clearly a relic of the geological period known as the Fanta epoch.

When not manning the mighty Snark for all to see and wonder at vaguely before thinking about other things, I am here to work. I am in a play in the Prague Fringe Festival, in which I operate a large bunraku puppet named Lizette. She requires a great deal of physical skill, but on the other hand, she is excellent company and never dominates the conversation.

Meanwhile, I am delighted to report that I am speaking some Czech over here. Or at any rate, I am speaking some language. I have made a concerted effort to learn basic conversation, but you just never know what will come out of your mouth. For example, this morning it was Bulgarian, which is pretty damned amazing when you consider I've never heard it.

In sum, I highly recommend, if you come to Prague, that you take your own spin in a paddle boat. It will leave your heart full and your mind empty, provided it wasn't already, and if it was it will still be empty, so no harm there. Two hundred crowns or roughly 6 euros gets you an hour at sea, and it will be worth it. I myself even went a few minutes over the time limit, and the boat guys were very kind: they could have charged me over time, but they elected not to. That is the sort of fear and admiration inspired in all who behold the S.S. Snark.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Prague Blog, Day 1: Oslo Edition

Here is my first Prague blog, which, as you will no doubt guess, was written in Oslo.

My final destination is the Prague Fringe Festival, where in a few days I'll be performing in a show. But for now, I sit in the Oslo Gardermoen airport, which contains all the amenities you would expect, namely:

(a) large quantities of blond European people, and
(b) comically priced sandwiches.

As an American, I find nothing quite so disconcerting as buying a sandwich and being told it costs "one hundred two." But that is the sort of monkey business that goes down around these parts. Then you leave the restaurant, and the employees share a rollicking good laugh, and you find you have overdrawn your savings account.

So yes, this place is fun, but soon it will cloy. You see, I'm stuck in here for the next 6 hours, or in blond European time, 789.3 metric hours. In these situations one must make one's own fun, as evidenced by the airport men who ride around on a motorized chair, trailing a train of luggage carts. Oh sure, they look as though they're Hard At Work doing Important Work Things, but in fact, they are just fulfilling their little-boy dreams of riding loud clattery things through a large public place, making loud bodily-esque sound effects and preferably mowing people down on the way.

But I don't have my own cart-train, so I just bought a sandwich. Naturally it was slathered in mayonnaise, because in Europe no sandwich is deemed fit for consumption until it is caked in enough sauce to baste your average quarterback.

The other main activity in the Oslo airport, at least so far as I'm personally concerned, is noting cultural differences from the good old U.S. of A. Here are a couple examples:

(a) this screen, which asks you to rate how smiley or frowny you find the restrooms,


(b) this screen, stating how long it will be until the restroom's next cleaning.

That's right. Can you IMAGINE money being spent on this technology in, say, New York City? Well, okay, I guess that's not totally fair. New York might install the liquid readout screen, but only so it could say, "This bathroom will be cleaned in: F**K YOU."

There is also this:

Yes, you can get Hel pizza here. Satan's favorite. This is what makes Scandinavia great, besides the Moomins. And of course the aforementioned restrooms, which, for the record, I found to be smiley.

Next I'll blog about the Prague Fringe, which, as I understand it, is located outside of Oslo. Stay tuned.