Saturday, September 27, 2014

Click bait

                                                                       




A new and pithy phrase has entered popular usage,  click bait:  website content that is aimed at generating advertising revenue, especially at the expense of quality or accuracy and  relying on sensationalist headlines to attract click-throughs.  I've seen examples which are written in superlatives:   The sexiest dresses ever, or written with periods after each word:  Read. This. And. Cry.  Forever.   Inevitably, when the reader clicks through the dresses are nothing exceptional and the cry worthy story may involve a dog finding his  home after being lost.

The writer of the on-line blog may receive payment from the click through site.  The newsmagazine editor or news distributor may hire the journalist or writer for future articles depending upon how many people click through and perhaps read the article behind the click bait.

Even less desirable for the reader and even for society, if that is possible, is when the click bait is an outright deception and after clicking through that would be obvious to everyone.    A title that states:  Obama loves KKK turns out to be about the President eating a donut which is identified as a Krispy Kreme Kruller.  Wouldn't you feel used and sheepish if you clicked through that one? 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

VANISHING FLOWERS

An excerpt from an upcoming Jaswinder Mystery novel:





“I don’t like to say anything, Jaswinder, but . . .”

Jaswinder resisted the urge to close her eyes and settled for a quick glance at the ground.    Conversations that commenced like this never ended well.   She took a deep breath and gave herself a mental pat on the back for not turning and running into Summerland Dental office where she worked as a clinic receptionist and occasional dental assistant.  Freda had scooted over to her car door before she’d even managed to close it behind herself.

Freda, who managed the bookstore three doors down, seemed unaware of Jaswinder’s inner angst and continued.   “Don’t look so worried, Jaswinder, I’m sure you had nothing to do with it.   But I remembered hearing about your brilliant detective work last year and I figured this little problem would be a piece of cake for you.”

That’s it, Freda, lay on the charm and compliments.  Works every time.   Problem was, Jaswinder could already feel her curiousity superseding her initial trepidation.

“You’ve noticed the way the mall management has planted all these daffodils and tulips in the planters on this side of the mall?   Nice of them to make the effort, I have to say.”

As an employee, Jaswinder had nothing to do with the expenses involved in running Summerland Dental; paying bills was in the realm of Bev, the office manager.  But she had noticed the improved outdoor décor and more than one patient had commented favourably.   “Yes, they’re lovely.”   Hopefully, the detective work Freda had mentioned didn’t involve knowing the species of flower.   They were daffodils and tulips as far as Jaswinder was concerned.

Freda hadn’t seemed to notice Jaswinder’s nodding silence and she stepped closer, her face bearing the expression of one who was about to disclose a confidence.   “Someone’s stealing them.   Can you believe it?”   She stepped back to let the full impact of her statement register.

“Someone’s stealing the flowers?”   Jaswinder turned her head quickly and scanned the nearby planter.

“Not just the flowers; the bulbs as well.   Look!”   Freda nudged Jaswinder closer with a gentle elbow.

Sure enough there were a couple . . . no three . . . gaping holes where once bulbs and their attached blossoms had presumably resided.     “But, who would do that?”

“That’s what I’d like to know.   Flowers aren’t cheap, you know but, really, how low can someone go?   It’s not like they’re a necessity.  I did think I saw that funny old woman who always dresses in bright red and purple—you know who I’m talking about, don’t you?   She’s one of your patients, I think.”

Jaswinder gave a shrug, knowing all the while that Freda had described the eccentric but kindly Hortense Harrington.

“I saw her hovering over the flowers last week . . . with a shopping bag on her arm, mind you.”   Freda glanced over her shoulder.  “Well, I’d better get back in the bookstore.”   She gave Jaswinder a last encouraging look.   “Keep an eye out; you probably have a good view out your window.   Catch the criminal in the act.”

Make the world a safer place, Jaswinder added mentally, giving Freda a noncommittal smile.   Like she didn’t have enough to do.  Ten minutes after entering Summerland Dental Clinic the conversation was all but forgotten in the swirl of dental receptionist duties.  Thoughts of Hortense Harrington were put aside.

Several days later when checking the appointment book in preparation for making the usual tedious reminder telephone calls, Jaswinder noticed that Mrs. Harrington was coming in the following day for a recall appointment.   One of her few remaining teeth had been bothering her and she was coming in for a small filling.   Jaswinder remembered Freda’s suspicions.   She couldn’t possibly ask the elderly widow if she had taken the flowers, bulbs and all.   Was Mrs. Harrington in such dire financial straits that she was reduced to stealing?   It was true, her boss, Dr. Al  let Mrs. Harrington and some other patients spread out the payment of their dental procedures.   Had Mrs. Harrington had to choose between relieving her dental pain and beautifying her garden?   

Maybe there had been some sort of mental decline.   Jaswinder had always thought of Mrs. Harrington as eccentric with her Red Hat club involvement and her over-indulged Yorkshire Terrier, Herbie, that she carried with her everywhere in a blue doggie tote bag.   Despite admonitions about bringing a dog into the dental clinic, Mrs. Harrington persisted and now, by some silent mutual consent, everyone ignored the situation.  But she really was a sweet old lady, Jaswinder decided, and it would be sad if her mind had deteriorated to the point where eccentricity ventured into larceny.

As Jaswinder made ready to leave at the end of the day, she decided that she would stop in at the garden shop that was on her way home and buy a potted daffodil plant for Mrs. Harrington.     Having received her income tax refund the previous week, Jaswinder was still feeling ‘in the money’.   Surely, it wouldn’t cost more than ten dollars.  Then there would be no need  for her to resort to thievery.

The following day, Jaswinder kept looking out the front window by the reception area as the time neared for Mrs. Harrington’s appointment.   Fortunately, the lady could be spotted at a distance in her red three-quarter length red trench coat and purple slacks.   The aqua blue tote bag was the unneeded accent piece.   As Jaswinder watched her approach, Mrs. Harrington slowed her pace and stopped by the planter located on the sidewalk between the bookstore and dental office, abloom with yellow daffodils and sky blue hyacinths.   She leaned over the latter and inhaled deeply and Jaswinder found herself muttering, “Don’t take any, don’t take any. . .”   She realized it would hurt her to discover the kindly woman was a thief.

Now Mrs. Harrington was holding up her blue tote bag with the mesh grill opening at the front which Jaswinder had noticed previously was to provide fresh air for Herbie.   Had the dog, being treated more like a person by his owner, acquired an appreciation for floral displays?  Yes, Jaswinder could see some movement in the tote bag.   Or was that Mrs. Harrington stuffing more filched flowers into its depths?    She craned her neck to see but then was thwarted when Mrs. Harrington caught her eye, straightened up and headed her way.

Jaswinder flushed as the overhead entryway bell tinkled and Mrs. Harrington entered the clinic.   Had she caught the elderly woman in the act?   Should she say something or try to find an excuse to look in the tote bag?   Did Mrs. Harrington even know what she was doing?  

Mrs. Harrington gave Jaswinder a broad smile before taking a seat in the reception area.  Jaswinder steeled herself and decided to open the investigations delicately by bringing the potted daffodils over.

“For me?   Oh, my dear girl, that’s so sweet of you.   You’ve probably seen me admiring the display outside your office.   Herbie finds the smell of the hyacinths intoxicating for some reason—can’t get enough of it.   But I’ll have to keep these inside the house.   Squirrels, you know.  You’ve got the same problem here, I see.   They’ve taken some of your bulbs clean out of the dirt.   Cheeky little things they are."



                                                                             * * * 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

ADVERTISING FOR EGGHEADS

                                                                   



Joshua Becker on Becoming Minimalist wrote this post, discussing why we buy many times more things than we need.  Just before I opened the post I considered the title and decided that the the answer to the why had something to do with the search for security or perhaps prevention of loss. The extension to me of buying excessively with hoarding, filling your home with enough stuff to put a barrier between you and the outside world.   

The writer agrees that looking for security in an uncertain world where little is guaranteed is one of the seven reasons but I was interested in the suggestion  that we are more susceptible to advertising than we believe.   I was of the opinion that advertising can be counter-productive at times.   Sometimes it is because of simple excessive repetition.   A commercial that was mildly amusing the first two times becomes infuriatingly nausea inducing to the point that, after the fiftieth repetition,  I feel to compelled to swear that I will never buy this product, not if it was the last one on earth.    Stores advertising Christmas in September have a similar effect.

But it seems I am not as resistant as I like to believe.    More subtle advertising, like product placement, worms its way into our subconscious to the extent that we do not attribute our desire for a certain product to advertising but manage to convince ourselves that our purchasing acumen is the reason.   The product is superior and it is something we need.   We independently made that decision.  But it isn't so, at least not very often.   The New York Times detailed some of the ways we are barraged:


"Advertisers seem determined to fill every last one of them. Supermarket eggs have been stamped with the names of CBS television shows. Subway turnstiles bear messages from Geico auto insurance. Chinese food cartons promote Continental Airways.  US Airways is selling ads on motion sickness bags. And the trays used in airport security lines have been hawking Rolodexes."

It's not that we crack open an egg with a television program on it and tell ourselves:  "I must watch that show tonight."   Maybe that works for a minority.   But more likely, after a few dozen eggs, we somehow recognize the program name on the television guide and pause briefly in our scrolling.   Is that enough?   Sometimes it is.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

When I was ten








From a prompt from my Writers' Group.



When I was ten I think I was an annoying child.  Ten is such an awkward age.   Too old to get away with temper tantrums, whining or other behaviour now deemed childish.  I was expected to know how to share, to let grownups go first, to remember my manners--the list went on.  I was old enough to recognize the look of disapproval or disappointment when I didn't quite measure up to maternal or paternal expectations.


But while I was too old to be a little kid and get away with very much, I was too young for many of the activities I longed to partake of.  I was too young to watch scary movies, I was too young to stay up until midnight on New Years Eve and I was definitely, in my mother's opinion, too young to go to the pre-teen dance at the local community centre.



I'm trying to remember if things improved when I turned eleven -- but I don't think so.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Now, where did I put . . .

                                                                                     



I used to misplace my keys from time to time.  This never occurred at a convenient time; inevitably, I would be leaving for work and perhaps running late when the crisis would strike.  Everyone would have to get up and start the hunt for Mom's keys.  Yesterday's coat, the downstairs bathroom, the dogs' leash basket;  all were fair game.  Everyone, including myself, became heartily tired of  this exercise.

Perhaps there was a serious consequence at some point --   a missed interview or airplane flight.  I've been merciful and allowed myself to forget.   But at some point I decided that henceforth my keys would be placed in my purse immediately I entered the house no matter what domestic chaos presented itself at my entry or how laden down with groceries.    No excuses or else!   Somehow it has worked.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

DO IT YOURSELF?


                                                                     


I can be moderately extravagant about some things (did someone mention travel?).   Somehow, it's worth it to me.   I suspect most of us have at least one weakness, something that brings us happiness, makes life worthwhile, helps us carry on . . . no, that would be love.   But there are those items, that you can buy with money. that make it easy for us to bring out our wallets.   It would be important to ensure there isn't more than one, or maybe two of these indulgences, wreaking havoc with our budgets.

Does anyone still buy magazines?   It used to be the practice of young women to buy these colourful missives of either fashion or home décor,  cut out those photographs that were most appealing and paste them in scrapbooks for future reference for an upcoming life in their own household.   I don't know if it was always the case but I understand now that even the editorial articles and photographic spreads are funded by the advertisers although always designed to appear objective.  Articles on the no make-up look never involved not using make-up; rather buying and using new products that promised the no make-up look.

Knowing my general proclivity for reading, a few magazines from a dentist's office were passed on to me.   A two page spread on what was termed footstool poufs caught my eye; seventeen in all of striking colour and size variation.   The prices were noteworthy.   For an item made of a modest amount of fabric and polyfill the prices ranged from $199. to $1474.   Even with my modest sewing talents I felt I could duplicate most of them for under $30.  I, too, could have 'a fun hit of pattern and colour.'

Now let me think about what to spend the difference on . . .

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Here's To the Pier






You're always there for me
On a sunny summer afternoon
When crowds jostle for space 
On the journey along your wooden planks.

On a brisk and blustery winter day
I grasp your railing -- just in case
And tread with care, aware of
The foaming surf below.

I may commence my perambulation
In low or troubled spirits
But steady progress calms my mind,
Ever present, ever constant -- the Pier

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Colonialism is alive and well in 2014






Do you want to feel like Violet Crawley (aka Maggie Smith)  the Dowager Countess of Grantham from Downton Abbey?  Cruise ship travel can be a voyage into the past as well as a journey to foreign destinations.   It was my daughter who provided the title for this post as she viewed the situation with fresh eyes.  The guests or cruise ship passengers departing Southampton, U.K. were 95% caucasian, mostly from Great Britain, as were the officers.

It was a little like a step back in time and culture:    We dressed for dinner, often in formal attire, we left our staterooms in the morning and found them tidied up upon our return.   At mealtimes, napkins were whisked off our tables and elegantly spread on our laps as a printed menu in an embossed leather folder was handed to us for our perusal. Our beds were turned down each evening and a wrapped chocolate placed on our pillow. 

Perambulating around the ship, we were greeted with 'Good morning, madam' from every staff member we passed and any request for information or direction was met with friendly instructions if not accompaniment to the correct location.    It was all surreal yet surprisingly we sank into our roles as though born to them.   Playing gracious lady of the manor seemed natural in the elegant surroundings of our ship, somehow vaguely modelled after the Titanic with the grand entrance staircase.

The cruise ship staff was mostly from the Philippines, some from India and other former British Commonwealth colonies;  this was, after all, a British cruise ship company.   We shared frequent smiles and jokes with the staff.   But were the workers still smiling when their long shift was over and they were back in their cabin, a much less luxurious cabin than mine? 

I feel disconcerted when I read that major cruise lines such as Carnival and Royal Caribbean are incorporated in foreign countries like Panama, the Bahamas, Bermuda and Liberia.   Their ships fly the flags of foreign nations and thus avoid all U.S. and British taxes, labour laws and safety regulations.

It is my understanding that the crew signs contracts of nine months on, three months back home.   We chatted with our waiter, a most capable and hardworking individual, and discovered he had a wife and five year old daughter at home in India whom he was looking forward to seeing next month when he was due for his break.   The assistant waiter, from the Philippines, had been working with the cruise line for many years. I know that many people from the Philippines come to Canada as nurses and nannies.   They come from a poor country that, despite a hardworking population, does not seem to be able to provide citizens a better standard of living.   Women leave their own families behind to come here to care for our children and elderly relatives and send home money.   Some eventually bring their families over but only after many years.   I understand that cruise ship jobs are coveted although the salaries and hours required would not be acceptable to North Americans or Europeans.  

In a way, cruise ships are a little like Disneyland for adults:   a fantasy world full of guilty pleasures.  


Or there's always the tour bus alternative.