Remember When We Didn’t Need A Planetary Protection Officer?

When I saw NASA’s advertisement for “Planetary Protection Officer,” I knew that it was the job for me.  I have always been concerned about interplanetary missions accidentally bringing alien germs back to Earth.  Although I did not have the required degree in physical science or math, I hated being around sick people, especially people who are sniffling or coughing, and I knew that this trait would make me the most qualified candidate.

My first task upon being hired was to install hand sanitizer dispensers on all spacecraft, with a sign stating that all personnel were required to use it on their hands before entering the spacecraft.  It seemed easy, until I realized that the alien life forms would probably not be able to read English.

So instead I drew several diagrams of aliens placing their hands underneath the dispenser, their hands filling with foam, and then the aliens rubbing their hands together.  But then I realized that the aliens might not have hands.  So I added a few more diagrams that were exactly the same, except in each one the hands were replaced with a different extremity: tentacles, claws, wings, hooves, fins.  I thought I’d covered every possible combination, until some staffer asked, “What if the alien is a gelatinous blob?”  I replied that gelatinous blobs would obviously be far too weird-looking to be allowed on Earth.  I then arranged to have the staffer transferred to a less challenging department.

Next, I drew diagrams demonstrating how aliens should cover their mouths if they coughed or sneezed.  This was a much larger project, since not only did I have to cover a wide range of potential types of hands, but also types of mouths.  Then it dawned on me that some aliens might have more mouths than extremities capable of covering them all.

This problem really had me stumped, until I realized that the thing to do was draw several diagrams, one showing the cough coming from one mouth, then another showing a sneeze coming from another mouth, and so on, with each drawing showing the hand or fin or tentacle covering just the mouth that was coughing or sneezing.  It came out very clear, and I marveled at my success in communicating with extraterrestrial life.

My third task was the most challenging.  I have always considered it my mission, and a difficult one at that, to convince people who have runny noses to grab a tissue and blow their noses, rather than sit there sniffling all day.  We all know what it sounds like when someone with a runny or stuffed up nose chooses to sniffle it back rather than expel it into a tissue.  And then makes that same choice again, and again, and…again, all day long, day in and day out, when there are plenty of tissues right there for the taking, especially when a well-meaning co-worker is holding the tissues out and offering them for free.

With it being so difficult to get humans to use tissues, I knew it would be even harder to convince lifeforms from other planets to blow their noses rather than sniffle?

I struggled with the problem, until I realized the truth was staring me right in the face: sound doesn’t travel in space.  The aliens could sniffle all they want, for no one would ever hear them.  I patted myself on the back for solving a problem with no cost to the taxpayers, and thought about tackling my next big project: extraterrestrials abusing cough syrup.

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My Slogan Was Published In the New York Times!

Two weeks ago, Senator Chuck Schumer announced the Democrats’ new slogan:  A Better Deal

And my first thought was:  “Surely they can do better than that.”

So when the New York Times asked readers to send in their ideas for a better slogan, I submitted mine…and it was among the handful chosen to be published!  I am deeply honored.

So what’s my slogan?  Read it here: A New Democratic Slogan?  Your Choices.  There are a number of other slogans, all of them great.  But if you want to go directly to mine, just scroll down a bit, or search for my name.

I am deeply, deeply honored, not only to be chosen, but to be among so many other great slogans.  If you check out the link, let me know what you think!

-MK

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Remember When We All Had Chips Surgically Implanted?

When my employer approached me about surgically implanting a microchip in my hand so that I could get into the office without having to take out my key fob, I was little reluctant.  But then I read that other people had done it, so I knew it must be safe.

Having a computer chip sitting inside the fleshy web between my thumb and forefinger was a bit strange at first.  But I quickly got used to it, and being able to get into the office with just a wave of the hand was both convenient and futuristic, and I was thankful to live in a time when such technology existed.

The following year, my employer offered a new chip that could not only unlock the doors, but would also allow you to purchase food from the company cafeteria. We normally used a special employee card for that, and although the card was very light, there were a few times that I left it in my pants from the day before, and had to beg for food from co-workers.  I immediately wanted the new chip, and I could not rest or enjoy my lunch until this chip was part of my anatomy.

So I signed up to have my old chip surgically replaced with the new chip.  But the fleshy web between my thumb and forefinger had been stretched during the first surgery, and so the doctors were afraid that yet another surgery to the same spot would cause the fleshy web to lose all elasticity, leaving me with my thumb permanently left hanging off to the side of my hand, and people would perpetually think I was giving their ideas the thumbs down.

So they had to implant the new chip in my other hand.  I was a little upset having now two chips in my body, especially after they told me that the old chip would have to be deactivated per company policy.  But this discomfort was more than offset by the convenience of being able to unlock the doors and buy lunch or a snack with just the wave of my hand.

The following year they released a chip that included a tiny receiver/transmitter so that it could also be a cell phone. I hesitated not one nanosecond before putting my name on the list that had been posted in the cafeteria.

Being able to make a phone call by talking into your hand – can you imagine?  I was so excited, that I did not foresee that there would be any problems.  So I was quite shocked when the head of HR told me that I could not have the upgrade done because both hands had already been operated on.

I begged them to reconsider. Was there another part of my body into which they could install this latest of chips?

Having a chip surgically installed in my upper leg was not as bad as I’d feared.  The surgery was simple, the scar tiny, and making calls by talking into my leg was better than I’d imagined. I could just hunch over like I had dropped a piece of food on my lap and was looking to see where it landed, and say “Dial” and then the number.  The volume of the chip was amplified so that I could hear the speaker easily from my leg. And when I received a call, the chip would vibrate, a nice sensation that had the unexpected effect of massaging my leg, and was quite welcome, especially at the end of a long day.

Naturally they had to deactivate the second chip, again per company policy.  So unlocking the office doors, which I had to do now with my upper leg, was a bit more challenging.  But hardly impossible. The real issue was buying food at the cafeteria.

It was disconcerting to my co-workers standing next to me on line when I suddenly kicked my leg straight up in the air so that the cashier could charge my meal to my thigh.  I am not the most coordinated of people.  Sometimes I jerk my leg up quickly and I can’t always avoid trays that are nearby. So people learned to avoid me when they saw me on the line.

I’d be lying if I said that this minor ostracism did not sadden me.  I’ve always thought of my co-workers as friends first, and co-workers second. But when your employer offers you the chance to become a cyborg, friendship stretches only so far.

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Remember When It Seemed Like Christmas Was Far Away?

This was published yesterday at Markkaplowitz.com.

santa bear

Photo taken October 7.

Remember when you were in school, and it seemed like the month of December that was after Thanksgiving but before the beginning of Christmas break, took an eternity to pass?  When you’d think, “Oh, it’s only December 12th?  Christmas will never arrive.”

Nothing like Christmas makes me aware of how fast the year goes.  I feel like it was just that time of year when every other commercial is about men’s college basketball.

I wondered if there was a way to make Christmas start later.  So I started a campaign on Facebook to move Christmas to mid-January or even February.  And I got people to support me.  I was very clever.  I posted on people’s Facebook walls that I was tapping them for the “Christmas – Paper Towel Tube Challenge.”  The challenge was to film yourself putting one of those cardboard tubes at the inside of rolls of paper towels.  and speak into it like one would a megaphone.

It became very popular and before long I had a million Facebook users saying move Christmas to February 15 so that it would feel like the year was longer.  There was a referendum and a very close vote, and more than one accusation of cheating.

But when all was said and done, the ayes had it and Christmas – the biggest holiday of the year – was moved to mid-February, a month and three weeks from its usual spot.

Oh sure, people loved the extra shopping time at first.  But the next thing they knew, it was February 12, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, and everyone was stressed out.

So there was another campaign on social media, and another referendum, and another close vote, and Christmas was now scheduled for May 22nd.

Why people did not foresee this causing conflict with graduation ceremonies and celebrations is one of the larger questions to arise from this episode.  An easier question might be why they decided to move the holiday once again.  Naturally they had another referendum – most people cast their votes early this time – and Christmas Day from the previous year is moved once again, this time to September.

This was later viewed, correctly I believe, as a mere stopgap measure.  All voters, no matter yea or nay, knew that with the start of another school year, and the Jewish holidays, that a September Christmas was dead in the water.  At the eleventh hour the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a create was stirring, not even a mouse, the Christmas from the previous year was moved to December 25th of the current year, so there would be two Christmases on the same day.  People had to buy last year’s and this year’s gifts at the same time.  Retailers never had it so good.  And so it was decreed that henceforth every Christmas would be a double Christmas.

People still wait until the last minute to shop and are stressed out leading up to that minute.  But the double the joy on the children’s faces more than makes up for it.

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Remember When There Wasn’t All This Hacking of Emails?

This was published earlier at Markkaplowitz.com.

I recently received a message saying that my email account “has been implicated in a security breach.”  After I calmed down and stopped pacing around with my hands in the air, asking “Why me?”, I wondered what these hackers could possibly have wanted with my emails….

“Captain, what have we found, if anything, from the emails?”dirty keyboard

“Well, sir, we have discovered that his sister is coming over to visit in a few weeks, and that he has a 20% off coupon to Target.”

“Hmm.  Not sure what I’m going to do with that yet.  But go on.  What else did you find?”

“He is delinquent in reading all emails from The Wooden Spoon Store.”

“Well, that is interesting.  Do you know what that means?”

“No, sir.”

“Obviously the account custodian is involved in a ideological battle with this retailer.  Run with it!”

The story that The Wooden Spoon Store along with other online retailers was involved in an ideological battle with me tarnished its squeaky clean image and hurt sales.  I was interviewed several times about my thoughts on the store.

They shoved microphones in my face, and asked, “Why did you not read those emails from the Wooden Spoon Store?”

“Because I don’t use wooden spoons,” I replied.

Then the FBI announced in an unsigned letter that they were “taking a closer look at a few emails that merit a closer look” and  I had to testify before Congress.

“Mr. Kaplowitz, it says here according to this email dated…ah, where is the date.  Excuse me,” turning to his right, “Senator, can you help me? Where is that email I was going to talk about?”

“Um, I don’t know, Senator.  You had all your papers on your table.”

“I did?  Well, anyway.  Mr. Kaplowitz, I understand that you believe that the Wooden Spoon Store is manipulating the market for wooden spoons.  What evidence do you have to back that up?”

“I don’t have any evidence.  And I never said that the store was manipulating anything.”

“You didn’t?”

“Well, it was taken out of context.”

At my sentencing for violation of the Fancy Kitchen Wares in Lawful Commerce Act and a slew of other fraud and obstruction of justice charges, I was given the opportunity to address the judge and all three employees of the Wooden Spoon Store.

“To my fellow human beings, I am sorry that I never read the emails you sent me, advising me of specials and other deals.  I should have taken the Terms of Service more seriously.  This was grievous error and I am glad that I am going to be punished for it.”

I served my time in a special prison for hackers, computer fraudsters, and people who post on Facebook about their long distance running.  These fellow inmates taught me how to read online newspapers without paying.  Upon my release for good hygiene, I put this skill to use and today I read upwards of four articles a day without paying for them.

Have I traded one kind of fraud for another?  Perhaps.  But a man’s got to make a living somehow.

 

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Happy Thanksgiving

This post also appeared on my own website, MarkKaplowitz.com.

What I remember most about Thanksgiving is having a school assignment that was due the day after Thanksgiving break.  Why do they make things due the day after Thanksgiving break?turkey

Like the time in fifth grade, I had to write an “report” on Ferdinand Magellan.  I’d done nothing for weeks, thinking, “Oh, December first, that’s like forever away.”  Then that Sunday after Thanksgiving, when I and my brother are still eating pumpkin pie for breakfast, I realize in a panic that the report is due, that I don’t have any books on the subject, and that our library branch is closed.  To appreciate this scene you have to know what it was like in the days before the internet.

Fortunately, my father served with someone on the synagogue ritual committee who worked for the library system, and by calling this person – during dinner, from what I could gather from my father’s side of the telephone call – discovered that there was one library branch that was open, and it was thirty minutes away by car.

It was an uncomfortable car ride.  My father waited while I got out the books, and then had to drive me to his office thirty minutes in the other direction from our home, just so I could type the essay because, I had meant to add, the teacher said that the essay had to be typed.

And there was eighth grade Thanksgiving break, for which I saved an assignment to pick ten Civil War battles and write a short poem about each one.  This was my first (but far from my last) experience with the “all-nighter,” as well as with the technique of using the same rhyming couplet (“In this battle of the Civil War/Twas hard to know who suffered more”) in every single poem to give some substance.  I recently reviewed the teacher’s comments in red – “Good technique but need something about the battle.” – and was insulted all over again.

In twelfth grade, I honored my Thanksgiving break with an assignment to memorize and recite lines from Hamlet.  As I could do this entirely by myself without need for rides or money or labor, I told no one, and stayed up all Sunday night and into Monday morning rehearsing the words “we fat ourselves for maggots.”

After dozing off and missing the bus and enduring a ride to school from a very angry and tired parent, I ran to English class, took a few deep breaths, got into character, and commenced my performance.  It was more exhilarating than I had ever imagined, at least until my teacher informed me that I had learned the wrong lines, and gave me an A-.

These days, the challenge on Thanksgiving is getting ready and out the door at near light speed without upending the pie or squishing the rolls.  This ritual is in its own class of torture.  But by Sunday I am worry free.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Remember When People Proofread?

Today I have not written a post.  Instead, I have posted a graphic from Grammarly in honor of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), the annual contest where you complete a 50,000 word novel entirely within the month of November.  If you must know the truth, I started a novel of my own for NaNoWriMo 2015.  But I stopped about 10,000 words in because I became bored with it.  Maybe you’ll have better luck with your novel!

 

Five Mistakes To Avoid in Your NaNoWriMo Novel Infographic

Courtesy of Grammarly (https://www.grammarly.com/grammar-check).

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