New Mystery Series: Maisie Dobbs

The Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear is a recommendation of friend and regular reader Mary R. in Minneapolis. I love finding an author new to me who develops her character and plot lines over several books. Winspear, who won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel — named for Dame Agatha Christie of course — is a gem of a writer.

Maisie Dobbs is a psychologist and private investigator whose stories are set in World War I London and the aftermath. While Dobbs is unraveling the latest mystery, her creator gives us a vivid picture of the conditions following a war: desperate poverty caused by an economy upended by conflict, grievous wounds to the body and spirit that never really heal, the long trailing suffering that leaches out from the actually wounded to the loving families who have to build up some semblance of normalcy.

Winspear paints a vivid picture of post-World War I London, and of the lives of rich and poor who lived there. The mysteries her character is called to solve occur mostly among the privileged; they are, after all, the ones with the money to hire an investigator. But Maisie began her life in service at the age of 13, her father is a former costermonger and now lives in a small cottage on the estate of Maisie’s wealthy patron, and Maisie’s assistant, Billy Beal, lives in that part of London where diseases like diphtheria ruthlessly claim the lives of small children whose poor parents can offer them only limited access to doctors.

Winspear puts a lot into these books, and I’m unable to tear myself away from the series in order to read other books I’ve downloaded and want to read, like Elaine Pagels Why Religion? I just finished Maisie Dobbs book 4, and am downloading the next three.ย  The Pagels book, which I expect to enjoy very much, will have to wait.

Robotics: Making the World a Giant Roomba

Trump is raging against the desperate migrants at the U.S. southern border, but he seems oblivious to the ways that robotics is already changing our work force.

WalMart is deploying 360 AI powered robotic cleaners as a test in various of its stores. The robotic Roombas will replace humans pushing brooms and mops. The store claims this will free up associates to offer more customer service, but I have my doubts. I last entered a WalMart in Rochester many years ago, but my overwhelming impression was that it’s next to impossible to find anyone to ask anything. I suspect WalMart is simply eliminating those cleaning jobs — most of which probably happen overnight anyway, while the store is closed.

Quartz, reporting tongue in cheek on the trend, says we’ve seen the future and it’s a Giant Roomba. CNBC describes how the robotic floor scrubbers work:

Brain Corp. makes the robot floor scrubbers, called the Auto-C, powered by the company’s BrainOS technology platform, which includes autonomous navigation that uses multiple sensors to scan the robots’ surroundings for obstacles, like people. (That means the autonomous robots could even be used when customers are in the store.)”

I have no plans to return to WalMart, and I’m not enticed by the image of a large moving object sharing my aisle but designed specifically to navigate around me. And if I were a member of WalMart’s low wage cleaning staff, I’d be really worried.

Finally Prevailing over Target

I haven’t been able to stop the flow of unwanted Target online ads by repeatedly clicking “unsubscribe”, but I did succeed in diverting the ads to my Spam folder. Instead of seeing a missive from Target in my Inbox every day, sometimes multiple times a day, I now delete Spam every few days, the unwanted ads lumped in with the rest of the junk mail.

I consider it a victory.

The Living Room by the Ladies Loo

If you’ve ever been in an older theater, or a high end department store like Nordstrom’s, or a top tier jewelry store like Tiffany’s on 5th Avenue in New York and have to visit the ladies room, you will still see an adjacent area with rugs and comfortable chairs or sofas and a mirror for applying cosmetics. The area looks a bit like a living room.

How those spaces came to be, and why they are now so rare, is in this fascinating story in CityLab, a publication of the Atlantic.ย  Enjoy.

I had a funny experience with Lily and Gloria when they were in the U.S. visiting and we went to Tiffany’s. Fancy bathrooms and adjacent living rooms were, back in the day, the province of affluent white women. Gloria and Lily and I rode the elevator upstairs to use the ladies room, and as Gloria was done first, she sat in one of the plush chairs waiting for Lily and me to wash our hands. A very chi-chi older woman, superbly coiffed and decked out, came in and gave Gloria the stink eye, clearly assuming she was the help taking liberties. Gloria certainly caught the look, and remained smugly seated. The woman positively glared at me as Lily and I met up with Gloria and we three prepared to leave.

These ladies lounge areas may be fading into history, but clearly not the attitudes of some wealthy women who still consider them a private domain.

Target Ads: The Persistence Prize

When my online inbox seems to be filling up with unwanted ads, I go into cleanup mode and start hitting “unsubscribe”. Usually after a couple of tries, the sender does in fact delete me and I no longer receive those ads. Target is the big exception. After more than a week of hitting “unsubscribe” on a daily basis, and to no avail, I started trying to divert the Target ads to my Spam folder. GMail learns from what you do with emails, so I figured this would be a sure thing. I’m on my third day of trying that, and so far the Target ads are still showing up in my inbox. Will let you know if I finally prevail.

I like Target the store for certain things, but I surely do not like their persistence in sending me email I don’t want. There’s no one to call here, no human to whom I might complain. I’m working against an online mail subscribe list. I may rue the day I ever gave them an email so they could send my receipt instead of handing me a paper copy, but I’m determined and I will prevail.

Hot Gift for Christmas 2018: Squatty Potty

OK, so this thing has been around for more than a year before I’m discovering it as a hot new bathroom gift for Christmas 2018: the squatty potty. It’s a stool that you put your feet on while pooping so that your knees are higher up toward your chest. Supposedly this straightens out your colon and makes pooping easier. Your body comes closer to the position that people since antiquity have used: squatting.

I read a couple of reviews, including this one below, and it looks like squatty potty is more trendy than game-changing, unless you have problems with constipation or hemorrhoids. Then it might help.

The squatty potty strikes me as right up there with the Paleo diet. We assume that because people once did something it’s better than what we do now. I’d also guess that any grandparent who has a small stool for grandchildren to use while washing hands might use that and it would work just fine, without investing in a new piece of bathroom clutter.

I had to use a squat toilet in rural France, and in Dubai. It’s hard on the haunches, especially for older people.

Don’t expect a squatty potty from me for Christmas, but it was a funny name and caught my eye as a topic for a blog post. ๐Ÿ™‚

Word of the Day: “Nanoinfluencer”

“Nano” refers to small particles, and “influencer” is someone whose opinions hold sway. But I’d never seen the word “nanoinfluencer”. Here’s what it means:

“By now you have probably heard of influencers, that group of internet-famous people who have more than a million social media followers and can make big money by plugging various brands. And you may have even heard of microinfluencers, who do the same thing for a still sizable but somewhat smaller social media audience โ€” from the tens to low hundreds of thousands.

Now get ready for the nanoinfluencers.

That is the term (โ€œnanosโ€ for short) used by companies to describe people who have as few as 1,000 followers and are willing to advertise products on social media.

Their lack of fame is one of the qualities that make them approachable. When they recommend a shampoo or a lotion or a furniture brand on Instagram, their word seems as genuine as advice from a friend.

Brands enjoy working with them partly because they are easy to deal with. In exchange for free products or a small commission, nanos typically say whatever companies tell them to.”

Back in Seattle

While I was in Panama my gardening guys installed the new lawn and did further plantings. The yard looks really great. My grass is real, and of course it will never look this perfect again. Getting fake grass like Matt would have been about 3x the price, but then no upkeep or maintenance or watering bills in the summer.ย  If I live here for 5 years I’ll probably think I should have bitten the bullet and gotten the high quality fake lawn, but for now I’m just enjoying the new finished and very green look.

Panama November 2018: Lunch

Tacos and Cheese Whiz.

To be fair, tacos are a Mexico thing, not a Panama thing. But they were on the lunch menu, and sounded good. Cheese Whiz, in case you’ve never had it, is a “cheese product”, not to be confused with actual cheese. It’s soft and runny and tastes sort of cheesy in a salty and chemically kind of way. There’s a little meat in there, and a little avocado.

Maybe I’ll go for the buffet tomorrow.

Turning Back the Clocks

Turning back the clocks used to take a bit of effort and time. I recall Jerry going around the house, tackling the wall clock in the kitchen, the Baby Bens on his desk and mine, the kitchen timers on the stove and microwave, the clock radios in our bedroom and in those of the kids, and our watches. I think I recall that his classic stereo system had a clock that needed to be manually reset as well. Then he went out and adjusted the clocks in both cars.

Wall clock in the kitchen? Who has one of those any more?

Only two things in my house now need a manual reset. One was the clock on the stove, which I know how to do, and the other was the microwave. That required my going online to find the manual, which wasn’t hard to do, and it only took three steps to make the adjustment. Everything else updates automatically, including my FitBit which I now wear instead of a Rolex.

I don’t know what I’m going to do with that Rolex, which was once a very big deal to me and part of my executive persona. Neither Sara nor Amy wear a watch — they use their cell phones to check the time. I doubt Archie and Else even know what a watch is.

Welcome to standard time. ๐Ÿ™‚