Saturday, February 09, 2008

Ladies & Gentlemen: We Have a Guest Blogger!

Today's post was e-mailed to me following a seventh-grade keyboarding class, where the student (my son, Walt) apparently had completed his work and grown bored. He was instructed to bide his time with a little freeplay in Microsoft Word. And this is what he wrote.

Day 1 of my sentence in keyboarding class:

I have been subjected to many different ways of torture, all for some reason called Mavis Beacon. This evil computer program has sucked out the little bit of brain I have left, and left my head a hollow, useless cove of tissue and skull bone. After removing my brain from my head, they have thrown the gray matter into an almost-frozen pot of water, took it out, and immediately thrown it into the fire, making it turn as hard as rock. It is my educated guess that they are now using the strange substance as a small paperweight. It puzzles me that they call these different varieties of torture, “Mavis Beacon.”

Editor's Note: I hesitated to include this borderline libelous piece in the blog because Mavis Beacon, I thought, is/was someone's mother or grandmother, and this casts in her in a negative light. But a little research led me to the following article, published in The Seattle Times more than 12 years ago. Read on ...

The Seattle Times

Traffic | Weather | Your account Movies | Restaurants | Today's events

Business & Technology: Sunday, November 19, 1995

Supertypist Mavis Beacon Is A Creation Of Marketing

Knight-Ridder Newspapers

Who wouldn't love Mavis Beacon?

She's bright, attractive, helpful - "the world's greatest typing teacher," some would say. And for nearly 10 years, her generous smile and competent demeanor have generated millions of dollars for a computer company founded in a garage.

But - and you'd better sit down for this - she isn't real.

The super-swift typist who presumably lent her skill and image to five different versions of the "Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing" computer program is a creation, a logotype - the Betty Crocker of cyberspace, one could say.

As for the sleek, confidence-oozing African-American woman whose photograph has graced 4 million copies of the software, she's a retired Caribbean-born fashion model named Renee Lesperance, discovered - so the story goes - shopping in a department store.

"The high concept was that the world's best typing teacher was standing right there next to you, helping you along the way to becoming a great typist," said Michael E. Duffy, one of Mavis' programmers and chief technical officer for Mindscape Inc., the California company that created the software.

Mavis gets around

Even though Mavis doesn't exist, Mindscape markets the program - which promises to improve your typing speed by 25 percent - as if Mavis were the real deal, rendering her image in computer graphics and circulating promotional materials showing her with groups of excited schoolchildren.

Although reviews of the software have intimated that Mavis is less than she appears, the large package photo of Lesperance in a yellow wool suit with pearl earrings and shoulder bag has helped make her a computer-industry icon.

"I thought I read somewhere that she had won a big typing contest, or that she ran a school, or something," said Brent Bynum, 41, a Philadelphia man who purchased Mavis as part of a CD-ROM bundle at a computer show. "There really is no Mavis? I can't believe it."

You don't have to be a layman to feel duped.

Chris Commons, a 22-year-old administrator at the Computer City store in Cherry Hill, N.J., has been seeing Mavis on shelves for years. And for years he has thought she was real.

"She's not the lady on the cover?" Commons asked. "Really?"

Commons said he doubted that blowing the lid off Mavis would hurt sales. She's nothing if not durable, having clawed her way to the top of the typing software heap. (By some estimates, "Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing" is the bestselling program of any kind for Apple's Macintosh.)

And even now, as the software approaches its 10th birthday, Mindscape is celebrating with a children's version for Macintosh and an updated version of the main program designed to work with Windows 95.

Mavis gets a new outfit

The new packaging carries the same 10-year-old photo portrait, but this time Lesperance is shown in a burgundy jacket and a cream-colored blouse. The makeover was done with a computer.

Duffy said Lesperance, who was paid for individual photo sessions but receives no residuals, lives quietly in the Caribbean.

The model, Duffy said, was discovered in 1985 by Les Crane, the former talk-show host, while he shopped at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills.

Mindscape was created in 1986 when Crane, an early investor in computer entertainment products, merged his small company, Software Country, with Software Toolworks, another small business founded by programmer Walt Bikofsky in his garage in Sherman Oaks, Calif.

Crane had been looking for a woman with "warmth and compassion coupled with confidence" to embody his company's new typing program, Duffy said.

Meeting Lesperance, Duffy said, was "like Lana Turner being discovered at Schwab's (drugstore)."

The name of the fictional typing teacher was taken from Mavis Staples, lead vocalist for the Staple Singers and a favorite of Crane's, and from beacon, as in a light to guide the way.





Thursday, February 07, 2008

Things Found While Cleaning My Kids' Filthy Rooms

* A blood-red sign that reads, "STAY OUT. I MEAN IT, cough, cough, SALLY, ANNA AND WALT."
* Another blood-red sign (this one posted to the door): "I HAVE SHAMILIOZIOUM. It's when you talk to yourself. Ask SUPERmac 18." (see photo; may be a quarantine notice)
* A purple piece of construction paper with a pencil drawing of a spotted bunny eating six carrots. On the reverse side: "Detrmination."
* A folded piece of paper with "trash" written on the outside. Inside, Scripture references from Isaiah and Psalm. (Guilt apparently prevented her from following through to the trash can.)
* A transcript of an interview with our dog: "What Luna does when she's trapt." Burning questions include "Do you bite people?" Answers are mostly, "Yes, of corse!"
* A stack of fake money won at the bowling alley arcade.
* A whoopee cushion won at the same bowling alley arcade.
* A coupon for a free kid's meal at Chick-fil-A; expiration date: September 2007.
* A handwritten menu for peach tea, fruit and eggs.
* A permission slip for one sister to enter the other sister's room.
* Two fake American Express cards sent as solicitations. One is attached to yet another permission slip by a bobby pin.
* An old list of spelling words with editor's marks; i.e., I suffered in the center of Mars; and The vein looked bad with the thread going through.
* Too many Mad Libs to count.
* A stack of movie ticket stubs. Some date back to 2005.
* A pencil illustration of a "sion"--half lion, half seal.
* This cryptic message written on a sticky note: "Bring SB to Orange Blossom. Go to Cookie Corners."
* A 15% off coupon to Justice; expiration date: July 2007.
* The lid to a bottle of detangler. No sign of the bottle of detangler.
* A wide assortment of coat hangers in various hideaways.
* These words written on a purple, flower-shaped piece of paper: "Some people wipe there feet, but I just walk past. What do you do with me? What am I?"
* Two empty trash cans.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A Few Words About Food Storage

Today I'd like to talk with you about food storage. I have attached a photograph of a line of products named "If You Care." An alert reader stumbled across these items at an organic food store and e-mailed the photo to me, as if to say, "Hey, do something with this."

It brings to mind the methods of my ninth-grade English teacher, who would slide a page from a magazine into an opaque projector and announce, "Write a journal entry about this picture." The picture would be of a motorcycle or a storm cloud, and our job was to "quick, be creative -- you have 10 minutes." She was quite likely the worst English teacher in the world. Or was she? Her instructional technique prepared me for this reader submission.

When this photo appeared in my inbox, all I could think was, "If You Care? How can I possibly care less about where my aluminum foil comes from? And what is it recycled from?" The presumptuous, guilt-laden name didn't really float my boat, either. Why not "Foiled Again"? Or, "Foiled Rotten"?

No doubt about it, recyling is a noble ambition. But it's really nothing new. I come from a long line of waste-nots on my dad's side. (The other side will fall for anything. Sorry, but it's true.) For example, the whole notion of Ziploc bags (and marketing in general) was lost on my paternal great-grandmother. After she polished off a loaf of bread, she rinsed out the bag and hung it by clothespins on a clothesline on her laundry porch. When it dried, it was added to her collection and voila! Storage bags!

I've pulled the following excerpts from a family cookbook assembled six years ago to further illustrate how you can avoid buying unnecessarily and really give a boost to the environment:

Leftover Sandwiches
(one of the original experiments in recycling)
Save all leftovers. Don't waste anything. Make them into green bean sandwiches and fried okra sandwiches.

Mama Chalker's Peanut Butter Cookies
(an odyssey in food storage)
(submitted by Chris)
Use any peanut butter cookie recipe. The recipe is not the key for this sweet delicacy. It is the presentation that puts this dessert on the top of my list.

After choosing the recipe, mix ingredients accordingly, and make sure to put those little fork marks on the pre-baked cookies. Bake the cookies until they are charred beyond recognition. After cooling the cookies to room temperature, place in Tupperware container. DO NOT put in the normal cookie jar. Treat these cookies like they are the secret to the Fountain of Youth by placing this container inside yet another container (for reasons unknown) and then hiding them below your sink.

There's so much more to my cooking heritage, but I'll save those tips for another Wednesday. I hope these recipes inspire you to reevaluate your own recycling habits. And they should, if you care.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Hey, Go Google Yourself

(or, The Many Faces of Amy Cates)

If you've never Googled yourself, you should. You can learn a lot about your alter egos, scattered about in various parts of the world and using your name as if it were theirs.

Be warned. This is not for the thin-skinned. Google is to paranoia what Lortab is to a recovering addict. Very dangerous. I work where? When did I write that? Why are these people saying these things about me? When did I get a Facebook account?

Among the things I've apparently done and not known about:

* Amy Cates was called as the Associate Minister of First Christian Church in the spring of 2007 (Tullahoma, TN)

* Amy Cates, John Nowlin Elementary, Assignment: Third Grade (As a student? A teacher?)

* Amy Cates is a dentist specializing in General Dentistry in the city of DACULA, Georgia

* Amy Cates is a 1999 graduate of Transylvania University. (Is this near DACULA, Georgia?)

* Amy Cates says, "Man who fears suffering is already suffering what he fears most." Amy Cates is friends with Chrissie Bennett. (Sounds like Chrissie Bennett needs to find some new friends.)

* Amy Cates was thanked for masterfully compiling the data into a very readable format. (This may really be me. I am known for my masterful compilations.)

* To obtain a copy of 'Mathematics Education in Rural Communities: An Essay on the Parameters of Respectful Research,' contact Amy Cates. (Please don't. Really, please don't. If I go back through my files and find that I really wrote something like this, I will be very sad.)

* Amy Cates will be preaching. (Some people I live with say that I actually do this.)

* In the recital hall, we were greeted by the soothing sound of Amy Cates playing 'We Are Walking in the Light of God' on the violin. (If I had been playing the violin, this might have signaled the end of the world.)

* A properly conducted competitive analysis will provide the feedback necessary to give you an edge in your market, by Amy Cates. (Wait -- I really did write this for MasterCard. Sounds pretty slick, doesn't it?)

In other Google searches, I found that I:
* ran a road race in the Cherokee Land Run
* work at the Texas Water Development Board
* majored in music education at Indiana State University
* once said that the adjacent beach depends on the jetty for its nourishment (I think I might have said that once. Because it's true. Those jetties are pretty vital.)

But the real paranoia was sparked when I read this excerpt: "Seems the writer's strike has affected more than those who write for sitcoms. Last month produced a dismal number of Christmas card letters..." And that's all I can find when I clicked from Google to the meevee.com website. The disturbing part is that I wrote (but never posted) an entire essay about the Christmas Card Letter Writers Strike in mid-January, but ultimately decided it was a little late and I was way past sick of Christmas by that point and already planning my spring break. I've cut and pasted my first few lines here, taken directly from my library of drafts:

"Seems the writers strike has affected more than those who write for sitcoms. Last month produced a dismal number of Christmas card letters. I feel victimized, really, as if there were a big party and I wasn't invited. I feel deprived of the annual updates and entertainment." This unposted blurb appears on the meevee site with a tiny prelude about how it was found when someone crawled Blogger, whatever that means.

Oh, this is a whole new level of paranoia for me. First the identity theft that has me preaching, running road races and practicing dentistry; now the crawling. I feel like Sandra Bullock in The Net. Thanks, Al Gore!

My best move may be to forget my worries, pull out my violin and play some soothing sounds, maybe run a road race later in the day, extract a few teeth.......

Monday, February 04, 2008

Lost and Not Found


A few months ago, Birmingham News columnist John Archibald shared his misfortune of having his wallet stolen from the locker room at the YMCA. He was pretty tough on the unidentified criminal. I do not have the forum that Archibald has, so I will have to tell my story here. Perhaps you can help fight crime and bring to justice the thief who put a real damper on our weekend.

My 12-year-old son attended Winter Jam at the BJCC Saturday night and returned home WITHOUT HIS $40 AUBURN HOODIE. Seems he left his seat for a few minutes to visit the concession stand and returned to find that his jacket had been swiped from under his seat.

Dear readers, this simply will not do. You do not send your adolescent child into downtown Birmingham to a Christian concert with his church youth group and expect him to be ROBBED.

I have posted a photo of a similar Auburn hoodie here. The stolen merchandise was originally purchased at Anders, which, according to its website, doesn't have the exact hoodie in stock. So replacing the hoodie won't be easy. Or cheap.

The only added description I can offer is that it was probably enhanced with a moderate amount of cat hair and possibly with spots on the shoulder where the owner wipes his mouth during meals. Maybe these markings will lead to a quick ID and a speedy return.

Here's where you can help:

• If you attended Winter Jam and you witnessed this heinous crime, stand up and blow the whistle. I want names, physical descriptions, physical addresses. (And the Auburn hoodie, of course.)

• If your child attended this concert and left home not wearing an Auburn hoodie, but returned home wearing an Auburn hoodie, please have the good taste and common sense to return it.

I can't offer a reward, but I can post a nice thank-you note on this blog and bring to you a fair amount of fame. Plus, you'll feel really good about yourself.

Salvation is free. Auburn hoodies are not.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Party Gras!

That headline really makes no sense--"fat party," I think would be the translation. Don't know what a fat party would look like, but it
probably would resemble a Super Bowl party we attended exactly 16 years ago today (give or take a day), where I ate so much RoTel dip with sausage and chips that Craig yelled across the room, "My gosh! You're a pit!" I was also way past nine months pregnant with a baby who refused to make her way into the world, and nachos were the trendy food at the time. So I bellied up to the bar and ate directly from the Crock Pot. It was a good fit.

Back to Party Gras...I think it's a cute little play on words for a sweet little kiddo who experienced her first Mardi Gras this weekend. And just look at the loot she scored after just two parades!!! Do you know what a grown person would have to do in New Orleans to bring home such treasures? (Trust me, it would be lewd.) This sweet 7-year-old, however, only had to sit on a wall, flash a smile and wave her hands in the air.

Another of my children was supposed to join us, but alas, she was hit like a truck by the flu. Out of nowhere. The high fever couldn't keep her down, but the embarrassing vomititis in the Walgreen's parking lot eventually did—it didn't do much for Walgreen's business, either. Her dear father met us there, we transferred suitcases from one car to another like we were making a drug drop, and I smarted off at him for not listening to me in the first place because I know a flu when I see one and when in the world are you ever going to believe me when I say, "This kid is too sick to be out and about"? And then I pulled out the big guns: "It's like the appendicitis of 2007." But that's a story for another day.

The other photos are various shots taken on or near Royal Street. (Be sure to check out the cereal bowl in the hotel restaurant. You could mix up a cake in it.) Clearly, I am not a photographer. But perhaps these shots will give you an idea of the festivities. Good, clean fun.

So, happy end-of-Mardi-Gras, and best wishes for a very Fat Tuesday filled with pancakes, King's cake, Krispy Kremes or whatever else you can find to rid your home of fat, eggs and dairy. (My friend, Lee, once did this with an entire Johnny Ray's chocolate cream pie, but it had nothing to do with Fat Tuesday. I think it was the middle of summer. The pie was in his refrigerator, and it bothered him so much that he sat down and ate the whole darn thing, just to be rid of it. Wiped his mouth with his sleeve, threw the empty pie plate in the trash, rubbed his palms together and went about his business. That's efficiency right there. A real take-charge kind of guy.)

P.S. -- The Catholics did have wireless, by the way, but this Baptist didn't have a lot of time. So please forgive. And quit sending terse little e-mails, Caprice. I'm doing the best I can.