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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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Remember When People Didn’t Grow Plants on Their Heads?

I cannot believe that this blog is five years old. I’ll never know what moved me that day to write a few hundred words about the earlyflowers 90s show Beavis and Butthead and publish the piece on a WordPress blog called “Schlabadoo.”  But whatever it was, be it muse or daemon or the ancient Babylonian god Marduk, the same force is moving me to start blogging on a self-hosted site with my own name in the URL.  Five years ago I thought blogging on a site named after myself would be too vain.  And then, later on, when I started getting a lot of followers, I thought, “Well, maybe I don’t care about being too vain, but I don’t want to lose all my followers and all that Google juice I’ve built up.”

I’ve given this a lot of thought.  3,860 followers is a lot of people to inconvenience, and pulling a switch on Google is not something one does lightly.  But I have a plan, and moving to this new site is part of that plan.  I really hope you understand.

Thank you everyone who has read and followed and commented and shared.  And thank you WordPress, for letting me blog here for free; y0u run one heckuva platform.  Blogging has been great here at Schlabadoo, and the blogging is going to continue. It is just going to continue somewhere else.   From now on, markkaplowitz.com is where new blog posts shall be posted. A link to the new posts will still be posted here, but I hope to see you over there.  All the best – MK

And here’s the link to today’s post:

Remember When People Didn’t Grow Plants on Their Heads?

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Remember When You Could Send a Spaceship to Mars for Only $75 million?

So I’m sure you’ve heard by now of the orbiter that India sent to Mars for only $75 million, and seen it compared to the U.S. Mars orbiter that cost $672 million. Whatever the reasons for the difference in price, my main concern is that the two orbiters will start orbiting the planet in the same path at the same time, and they’ll be fighting over the armrest, and we’ll have to turn the spaceship around.mission to mars

The more I think about it, even $75 million starts to sound like a lot. Maybe the first space trip would cost a lot.  But that was decades ago, back when there was an evening paper and people had milk delivered to them in a glass bottle.  There should have been more cost-effective innovation by now, like what they’ve done with coffee.

There are plenty of places where money can be saved on the Mars orbiter. I hope they didn’t bother installing air conditioning.  I’ve found that a good fan well-positioned can cool as quickly, if not more quickly, than central air conditioning, albeit with a plug that can be a trip hazard, especially when one is using a plate with a turkey sandwich on it to balance a large glass of soda.

We shouldn’t be paying for ice either. Space is very cold.  All the spaceship has to do is hold a pitcher of water outside the cabin for a few seconds, and poof!  Instant ice cubes.  The ice cubes would, of course, be in those annoying half-moon shapes that come out of refrigerators.  You can’t have everything in life.

The biggest cost-saver would have to be cable and internet. The price that NASA pays to have cable and internet on every one of its spaceships was probably, in the beginning, quite modest.  And after a few months, NASA got accustomed to the price, and the astronauts were too tired from walking in slo-mo in those bulky suits to read the monthly cable bill very closely anymore.

In fact, I’m sure that NASA at this point feels rather powerless to do anything against the cable company. But the company is expecting you to do nothing! I wish I could say.  Just call up, and say that you heard that other large and inefficient agencies are paying less for cable and internet, and that you as a loyal customer demand the same low price.  The cable company will grant your wish.  And do you know why?  Because they don’t want to lose you as a customer.

Friends, it has been over two days since I shamelessly plugged The Issue Box on this blog, and I suspect that many of you have not had the opportunity to check it out. I know, I know.  They’ve been showing episodes of Roseanne. I get it.  TV marathons happen.  But still there are commercials.  So feel free to stop by during a commercial break.  Unless it is one of those commercials that is better than the program you were watching.  It’s fun when that happens.

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Remember When the World Cup Wasn’t On?

I was walking down the street, with my headphones on, listening to Sir John Gielgud’s performance of the “To Be, Or Not To Be” soliloquy from Hamlet.  Suddenly a long black car pulled up to the curb beside me, and two large men with black suits got out and pulled me into the car.  They blindfolded me, I imagine so that I could not see their faces, or perhaps they wanted to surprise me with a gift, the way parents would do after we lit the Hanukkah candles.

Then someone spoke to me.

“We heard that you said football was boring.”

I protested and said that I never said such a thing, that I love football and cherish every tackle as if it was happening to me or someone I loved.  There was some whispering, and then the man who spoke cleared his throat and spoke again.

“I mean, we heard that you said that soccer was boring.”

I tried to remember if I ever said that soccer was boring.

“Well, I certainly remember thinking it,” I admitted.  “But saying it?  I’m afraid I don’t remember.  I mean, I’m not saying I didn’t say it.  I’m saying I just don’t remember if I said it or not.”

The car stopped moving and the door opened and someone led me out of the car.  We walked for a while and I wondered if I was going to be killed for thinking or perhaps even saying that soccer was boring.  Then I remembered that many great people had died for a deeply held belief, and I was comforted.

Then someone stopped me, and removed my blindfold.  I was standing in the middle of a field.  It was a sunny day, and I felt around for my prescription sunglasses, and realized that I had left them at home.  Then someone called to me from my left.

I turned and a large man in a black suit, perhaps one of the pair who had kidnapped me, was standing by a soccer ball.

“We are going to show you how much fun soccer is!”  And he kicked the ball over to me.

“Now kick it back,” he said cheerfully.  I kicked it back.  I admit it was a little fun, kicking a ball.  I’ve never been able to hit a baseball or throw a perfect spiral.  But kicking a soccer ball?  It’s just like kicking a TV that doesn’t work, except it rolls.

The man kicked the soccer ball in different direction, and I saw that the person he had kicked it to looked as confused and out of place as I did.  Without a word, he kicked the ball back to the kidnapper, who then gracefully kicked the ball in yet another direction to yet another person looking confused and out of place.  I turned my body around a full 360 degrees, and saw many other people standing around, looking confused and out of place, all with a look that said, “I can’t believe I’m standing here playing soccer.”  I was apparently part of a soccer game designed to expose soccer to people who were rumored to have said that soccer was boring.

I don’t know how long I was out there.  Time seemed to stand still as we kicked the ball to this person, then to that person, then to that person.  It was too hot to run around, so we all just stood there kicking the ball.  But after a while it was kind of fun.  Just kick the ball.  At some point someone asked the kidnapper how much time was left in the game.  The kidnapper signaled to the sideline, and two other large men with black suits came onto the field, hit the person over the head with something, and dragged him off the field, his heels leaving tracks in the grass.  He did not return to the game.

At some point the soccer ball disappeared, and we were blindfolded one at a time.  I was led to the car, told to get in, and driven a distance.  Then the car stopped, the door opened, the blindfold removed, and I’m let out of the car.  The kidnapper who played with us was standing next to me.

“You see?  Now you know how much fun foot – I mean, how much fun soccer is.  Tell all your friends!”

The car drove off and I wandered down the street.  I passed a bar where people were watching World Cup soccer, and I walked inside.  The players on the screen were kicking the ball from one to another, just as I had been doing a short while before.  I thought about how much fun I had been having.  I remember the satisfying feeling of kicking the ball, and projected my feelings onto the players on the TV.  No one in that bar was more focused on the game than I was, and soon I started to feel like I was actually in the game.  I was living soccer!  This is what they were talking about!

I lasted almost five minutes.  Then I felt around for my headphones, put them on, walked out of the bar, and continued listening to Sir John Gielgud as the melancholy Prince of Denmark.

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Remember When Extinction Was Permanent?

I read in the newspaper that scientists have figured out how to bring back extinct animals like passenger pigeons and woolly mammoths. So filled with possibilities was my brain that I kept giving customers incorrect change. As I rollerbladed home that evening the words in the article kept going through my head.

Thanks to advances in genomic sequencing, the woolly mammoth will once again roam the steppes of Asia.

The idea appealed to me in a way I could not yet describe. Bringing back extinct animals – yes, that was impressive and would certainly be a boon for the manufacturers of squishy toys. But the real potential here was something even greater. Over my usual dinner of Cheerios I had a vision.

I am eight years old and I am sitting at the kitchen table. The morning sun is shining and I am eating a bowl of something called Ghostbusters cereal. The cereal is made of multicolored Os of grain and little dense marshmallows that don’t seem quite like food but melt it my mouth nonetheless.

Suddenly my father comes by holding open a garbage bag.

These sugary cereals are making you crazy,” he says, sweeping the nearly full box of Ghostbusters cereal into the large black plastic bag. I am devastated.

That was the last I saw of the great sugary cereals. Cereals made of pure sugar and oat-like structures with a commercial tie-in to a popular television show or movie. I blink back tears. Now I know why the article about un-extincting extinct animals moved me so.

I dress in all black and make sure there are batteries in my flashlight. The museum is a few miles but Mom is glad to drive me and doesn’t ask too many questions. Closing time was hours ago but I’ve seen enough movies to know how to cut a hole in the glass skylight and drop in like a spider.

In between the Monets and Caravaggios is the crowl jewel of the collection: extinct breakfast cereals, on loan from the Smithsonian. Behind heavy glass the boxes are lined up in diaramas. My eyes linger over each one. Mr. T Cereal, Smurf Berry Crunch, Nintendo Cereal System, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Cereal, and…oh yes…Ghostbusters Cereal (with Slimer inside).

These cereals have been off supermarket shelves for decades. These are last survivors, their genetic structures and free toys perfectly preserved for the viewing public, and a day when science fiction would finally become science.

The genomes of these cereals turned out to be not as complicated as I’d feared. All I really had to do was add milk, and the colored oats and marshmallows would distintegrate into an extremely sweet primordial soup. Then boil off the milk, implant the leftover cereal residue into boxes of newer cereals that are still in circulation, and voila – resurrection.

For days I was in a dream state. I was eating cereals that were supposed to be long dead. I pittied the poor fool that couldn’t eat Mr. T cereal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

And then one morning I realized I had been up for days, functioning on nothing more than the sugar rush from the cereals. I wanted to stop but could not. I ate one bowl after another. Suddenly it was clear to me what was going on. These cereals had been created and marketed to kids in another time. Our present environment had no defenses against the glazed oats and marshmallows. If only I had not been so eager and fallen victim to human folly.

Just when I thought I would never be free of the sugar rush, my father appeared.

Dad, you were right,” I said. “It’s too late for me, but you can still save yourself.”

But instead of running away, I saw that he was holding something. It was a large, black, plastic garbage bag. I rubbed my eyes.

In one motion my father swept the resurrected cereals into the bag, and tied it shut with the built-in plastic drawstring. I could see the boxes writhing inside. He ran out of the house, just in time to catch the garbage truck, which was techinically only supposed to pick up paper, but could be bribed into taking some extra baggage.

And as I watched the truck drive away, I soberly reflected on the danger of bringing back creatures long extinct. Sometimes your curiosity gets the best of you.

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Remember When You Could Twerk and Not Cause a Worldwide Scandal?

I was setting the table, trying to decide whether to fold the napkins in the shape of a rectangle or a triangle, when my wife came home from work.

“Hi honey!” I said.  “What do you think?  Rectangle or triangle?” I asked, holding up an example of each.

“Did you hear about Miley Cyrus’s performance at the MTV Video Music Awards?”

“No, I didn’t.  What happened?”

“You didn’t hear about it!  Do you live under a rock?  All over the news, all over the internet, all over Facebook, it’s all anyone is talking about.”

“Really?  There wasn’t anything in the Times about it.”

She rolled her eyes, and I made a mental note to never again come to dinner unprepared.  There is certainly no lack of coverage of the event.  Here are just some of the recent headlines:

“Miley Cyrus’s twerking routine was cultural appropriation at its worst” (The Guardian)

“Miley Cyrus, twerking, and the ‘sexual hazing’ of American pop stars” (Christian Science Monitor)

“Justin Timberlake Is Cool With Miley Cyrus Twerking” (Vibe)

“Miley Cyrus to Lead US Attack on Iran” (Bayard & Holmes)

Young people have always used dancing to meet other young people.  I remember the dance scene from the 1987 film Can’t Buy Me Love, where Patrick Dempsey thinks he’s doing the latest dance from American Bandstand.  He doesn’t know that he was watching some educational program instead of American Bandstand, and that it was the African Anteater ritual he was learning, and when he performs the ritual at his high school, all the other students think it’s just the latest dance that all the cool kids are doing, and soon they are all doing the African Anteater ritual.  Miley Cyrus should have done that at the Video Music Awards.

When I was in middle school I learned something called the Chicken Dance.  First you held your hands out in front of you and clapped your fingers and thumb together, like you had lobster claws.  Next you tucked each fist into the adjacent armpit and flapped your elbows, like you had chicken wings and were trying to fly.  Then you crouched down a little while simultaneously moving your rear end from side to side.  Finally, you stood straight up and clapped your hands four times.  There was a song that went with it so that you knew when to do the moves.

The venerable Oxford English Dictionary is apparently going to add “twerk” to its list, defining it as a verb meaning to “dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance.”  Based on my years of experience, I am comfortable saying that the third movement of the Chicken Dance qualifies as a kind of proto-twerk.

But when I think of dances that involve hip movements and squatting stances, the kind of dances that, pretty much, anyone can do, I think most fondly of the Macarena, which rocked the world around the year 1996.  Like the Chicken Dance, the Macarena also involved a repetitive series of dance moves that progressed from putting the hands out, to placing the hands on the body, to rotating the hips with twerk-like elements, and then ending with a clap.  But the Macarena, which was named after the song that inspired the well-structured, was far more complex than the Chicken Dance, and represented a great leap forward in the evolution of dignified group-dancing.

Like scientists seeking a purer form of a metal, the twerkers have stripped dancing of the unnecessary hand and arm movements and unduly formalistic sequences, and distilled what was really its essence all along.  So when you watch Miley Cyrus again, squatting and thrusting and unfurling her tongue, know that you are not watching a garish display of celebrity sexuality in cable television’s race to the bottom, but natural selection at its finest.

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Filed under Current Events, Television and Movies

Remember When Restaurant Service in France Was Gruff?

Paris is apparently making an effort to make its restaurant staff more polite.  It reminded me of the trip my wife and I took to Paris last year.  For those of you contemplating a similar trip and who want the inside story from an experienced traveler who was there for nearly five days, here are a few tips for dining in the City of Light:

1.     “Cheval” means horse.

2.     Every member of the waitstaff I met was very polite and spoke fluent English.  I didn’t even try to speak French.  One restaurant even had an American server that was assigned to any American patrons that walked in the door.  She reminded me of one of my classmates from high school.

3.     Despite the pervasive English fluency, if you ask for grog, and you don’t pronounce the “r” with a proper guttural roll, they won’t know what you’re talking about.  Practice in front of a mirror before you leave, maybe while you’re waiting in the airport.

4.     Believe the hype about the croissants.  No matter how lost you get or what other frustrations you meet along the way, the croissants in Paris will take you to another dimension.

5.     There were many cafes but nothing that had what I would count as coffee.  I’m not talking about espresso or some other smidgen of brown liquid shoved into a cup from a dollhouse tea set, but a coffee that can bring me back to life every morning.  The kind of coffee I drink every day before work, and as soon as I get to work, and after lunch so that I don’t pass out at my desk.  They have something called “Cafe Americain” but it must be an inside joke.  There was even a Starbucks across the street from our hotel.  From the length of the line and the price of the coffee and the kilos of cardboard and plastic that clothed each serving, I said to myself, “Well, this must be authentic American coffee!”  But I drank it and I still fell asleep on the train to Versailles.  What the croissants giveth, the coffee taketh away.

And those are my tips for dining in Paris.  Bon appetit!

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