That time I missed out on a major national news event

Static on TV

When I watched CBS Sunday Morning today they reminded me that it’s the 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, which means it’s also the 20th anniversary of my high school band trip to New York during which I was completely oblivious to the Oklahoma City bombing. At age 14 I wasn’t all that interested in following the news, so when the band went out of town for half a week I was somehow able to avoid reading any papers or seeing any newscasts about the event. I remember overhearing my band director saying something about a bombing to someone else, and there was a snippet of conversation I heard on a radio show on my Walkman when I was scanning through the New York stations, but that was it. I lived in my own little bubble for half a week and came back to town with an “I Love New York” t-shirt, not any appreciation for the national disaster that had just occurred.

When I got back 3-4 days later and saw stories about the bombing on the news, I was like, “Wait, what happened?” But at that point in the story the reporters didn’t bother to explain what had happened 4 days earlier, they just reported on the latest developments. The only way to get news at that time was through the TV, newspaper, or radio, so it was a bit difficult to figure out what was going on. The internet existed back in 1995, but I don’t think any major news organizations had a web presence yet. I didn’t even have my own email address at the time, so the internet was more of a novelty than a useful information source.

As a result, I feel like I missed out on a national moment, as sad as that moment was. Whenever the Oklahoma City bombing comes up in the media I’m reminded that I did not experience that event like the majority of the country experienced that event. Twenty years later, it’s amazing how hard it would be for me to be that oblivious to world events unless I was consciously living off the grid. A tragedy like that would start trending on Twitter immediately, people would share articles in my Facebook feed, and I’d see it mentioned when I visited news sites during the day.

It’s amazing to realize how much more saturated I am in information now than I was in 20 years ago. It’s also amazing that that saturation seems completely normal. When a major news event happens, I expect a bystander to tweet a photo or post a video to YouTube. It’s a bit strange for something major to happen that isn’t recorded. It feels like we’re all having a large, communal experience that we weren’t having decades ago. Everyone is accessing a group of common experiences through videos and camera phones that we couldn’t share before. It’s much harder to know nothing. We all seem to know the same something.

I’m not really sure if this is bad or good. I do like knowing what’s happening in the world. I like being able to Google something and get the information I’m seeking instantly. I like checking Twitter and Facebook, but sometimes they make me feel like I’ve wasted hours not doing anything. It’s impossible to consume everything out there, and I have to wonder if it all seemed more manageable 20 years ago. Or not. There were probably people back then with piles of newspapers in their living room like I have hundreds of links bookmarked in my browser, saying, “I will read this eventually! I promise! I can’t throw it out yet!”

There’s so much media available to consume now that that I feel like I can never keep up. There are dozens of TV shows I’d like to watch that have gotten great reviews, but I don’t think I could watch them all unless I abandoned all my clients and spent all day watching TV instead. And sometimes I’m too tired to focus on something new and would rather turn my brain off and watch some Law and Order reruns instead. *chung chung*

Back in 1995 I would never anticipated any of that. I could just ride along the east coast in a bus full of band geeks without knowing what was going on a few thousand miles away, headphones on, in my own little world. I’m not sure if I miss that or not, but it’s odd to think that it will probably never happen to me again. I’m fairly certain a 14-year-old on a band trip today would hear about a national news event like that while it was happening, not 4 days later. We’re all connected in a much larger community now, and it’s hard for anyone to opt out completely.

Playing the stock market

I don’t remember exactly why I opened a Sharebuilder account, but I know it involved free money. I think they offered to give me $50 if I opened an account, so I did. I’d never played the stock market before, unless you count opening an Individual Retirement Account (IRA), but that money is invested in an index fund so I’m not actively doing anything other than depositing money into it every month.

I learned about the stock market and bonds and IRAs and other financial voodoo like that in my early twenties after I graduated college with some credit card debt. And then my transmission broke. And then I had gallbladder surgery. So I was in debt for many, many years, signing up for new credit cards just so I could get nine months of no interest with my balance transfer, and slowly paying my debt down. That slow, suffocating horror made me decide I would like very much never to be in debt again. I did some reading and felt educated enough to handle my savings and my IRA, but I never dallied with day-trading or purchasing a specific stock by itself.

However, now that I had this free $50 I decided, what the heck, let’s play the stock market! It’d didn’t feel like real money, more like I was playing “Monopoly.” If I lost it all, well, I hadn’t really earned it in the first place. And if I made some money, wouldn’t that be fun?

Oh my God, y’all. It has been so much fun.

The best line chart ever

Remember that $50 I started out with? Over the past five years it has almost QUADRUPLED!! It topped out at $192 a few weeks ago. I am so good at playing the stock market! My only regret is that I did not dump my entire savings and IRA into this thing. What super-rocket stock did I buy, you might be asking? I bought Allergan. What the hell is that, you might be asking? They’re the manufacturers of Botox.

One of the most common pieces of advice given to writers is, “Write what you know.” Similarly, when playing the stock market you should buy what you know. I might not now how to properly pronounce “Allergan,” but I did know they were going to get FDA approval for Botox as a migraine treatment not too long after I made my purchase. Yes, my chronic headache might give me 99 problems, but bad stock tips ain’t one. The stock did go up as I predicted. And it continued to go up, and up again, and up again.

More recently a company call Actavis acquired Allergan, which drove the stock up to that peak point I have highlighted in my chart. I don’t know much about Actavis, and I don’t really care enough to educate myself about Actavis, not that they haven’t tried:

Big boring book

Thick boring book

One of the strange side effects of owning a stock is that you are occasionally sent big, fat, reports about the stock’s possible merger with another company. These days the phone book isn’t even as thick as this thing. I feel bad for whoever has to assemble this report. I have to wonder if they hid total nonsense passages in the middle as a test to see if anyone bothered reading it. I didn’t. I tossed it directly into the recycling bin.

It also came with an invitation to attend the stockholder’s meeting in California, which I imagine must be a totally boring event. But I do feel just a smidge special to have been invited to a stockholder’s meeting, because it sounds very grown-up and elite.

Anyway, I can’t decide if I should sell my stock now and get out, or stay with it and see where this roller coaster ride ends. Is this the peak? Or will it continue going up? Past results do not guarantee future performance! I was tempted to get out when it hit $100, but I didn’t want to bother figuring out how capital gains taxes were going to complicate my tax return. And like I said, it still feels Monopoly money to me. Only, I’ve never been as good at playing Monopoly as I am at playing the stock market.

Better (six years) late than never: I finally review the Vita-Mix Super 5200 blender

Vita-Mix 5200

A while back, a PR person for Vita-Mix sent me a free Vita-Mix Super 5200 blender in exchange for a review. That was December 2008, over six years ago, so I thought maybe I should get around to doing that review already. Yes, that’s right, a PR company sent me a blender that costs (holy shit, I just looked this up), $449 dollars, and NEVER followed up with me about a review. Who is running that place? They should be fired! Maybe they were! Maybe that’s why they never followed up!

I had originally intended to make a video to review the blender. My friend K was trying to decide between a Vita-Mix and some other model at the time, so I brought it over to her house and we blended a lot of stuff and it was quite fun. This machine is a monster! It can blend anything that is blendable, and some things that aren’t. However, I had never done a video review before and when I reviewed the footage a lot of it wasn’t lit well and editing the whole thing together was going to take a lot of time, so I never bothered to finish it. I’ve occasionally wondered if K thought I’d made up some weird story about a blender review as a way to get invited to her house or something.

I’ve had this blender for six years and every now and then I’ve thought to myself, “You should really review that Vita-Mix. You’ve gotten as close to stealing that blender as you can without technically committing theft.” So, now is the time. Now is the day I finally review the Vita-Mix!

Let me put this simply: this blender is totally awesome. It’s the greatest blender I’ve ever used. I swear I am not biased by the fact that I got it for free, because obviously I could have kept my mouth shut for another six years and no one was going to give a damn.

You do need to know a bit about blending to make it work best. When I was at K’s we threw a lot of solids in without much liquids, which made us think it wasn’t working that well. Oh, how foolish I was in my late twenties! You need to put the liquids in first and the solids on top of that so the blades are able to spin more freely and chop better. Once you figure that out, you can blend ice and frozen vegetables without a problem.

Vita-Mix 5200 controls

There are two settings: variable speed and high speed. When you’re using variable speed you can use a knob in the middle to adjust how fast it’s blending. I start out at the low setting when I’m making a smoothie and then slowly ratchet it up. Once the ice has been broken up a bit I flip it into high speed mode.

I believe the blender also came with a recipe book, but I’ve never used that. It also came with a stirring stick, but I’ve never needed that either. I’ve only ever made smoothies with it, but hypothetically you can make soups and sauces. To clean it I just squeeze a bit of dish-washing soap into the container with some water and blend for a few minutes. All clean!

So there you go. The Vita-Mix is awesome. If you have a few hundred bucks to drop on a blender, you will not be disappointed. Or you can start writing a weight-loss blog in the hopes of luring another PR rep into sending you one for free. I’m not sure that’s going to work twice though. I’m surprised it worked once.

If you could get by with 3 hours of sleep a night would you want to?

Sleep

Did you know there are people who only need 3-4 hours a sleep a night? I didn’t, at least until I read this New Yorker interview with a woman who has the..disorder? Disease? Mutation? Whatever. They’re called “short sleepers.” She never gets jet lag! She can take really long road trips! She didn’t feel sleep deprived when she had a baby! While it’s fascinating to learn about this ability and how it affects this woman’s life, I found myself wondering if I would want it if I could have it. To my own surprise, I gotta’ say I’m leaning towards “no.”

I really like that there is a window of time during the day when there are no expectations upon me. Somewhere between 11pm at night to maybe 8am in the morning, it’s widely accepted that it would be rude to call someone or drop in on them or ask them to do something for you. If you do get a call during that timeframe it’s also wildly accepted that something has gone horribly wrong and you’re about to receive life-changing information. That’s because that time is your own. You do not owe it to your employer. You don’t owe it to your friends (unless you want to party). You might owe it to your family if you have people to take care of. But otherwise it’s “you” time when you get to hide away from the world for awhile, curl up, and get unconscious. I love it.

If this window of time were suddenly shortened from 8-9 hours to just 3-4 hours, I would be pissed. Now people would think it was ok to call me at 4am in the morning, and we’d be expected to work 12 hour days, or 20 hours days if you were a workaholic. There would be pressure to get even more done than I currently do. I already feel like I don’t accomplish enough during my waking hours, so if you added another four hours a day I’d just feel guiltier about it, because I wouldn’t get as much done in that time as I wanted to either. I like having eight hours during the day where it is societally acceptable to do nothing. I don’t feel the need to do more. I feel the need to do less.

I also spend a lot of my waking hours in chronic pain, so sleep if often a refuge for me. There have been times when I’m lying on the couch in the evening and I check the clock only to think, “Oh my god, are you kidding me? I have at last six hours of consciousness left? Seriously?” I just want to zonk out already and stop feeling like crap, because I can’t get much done when I feel like my head is full of sand bags.

So, no thanks, short sleepers. I’m a long sleeper and I prefer it that way.

My phone has officially become too complicated for me to fully understand

How do you take a picture of your own phone?

I got a new phone in December because my old one had started rebooting randomly for no apparent reason. When it wasn’t doing that it was outright dying after 10 seconds of Candy Crush Saga. The most painful moment was when it died at a town meeting I was at where a man rambled on and on and on for ten minutes about nothing related to anything, so instead of checking Twitter on my phone I was more tempted to hurl it at the speaker. I considered just getting a new battery, but decided to upgrade since the phone was two and a half years old. I’m a web designer by trade so I should at least appear like I’m attempting to keep up with technology, though I think that’s ultimately a futile pursuit.

I got a Samsung Galaxy S5, upgrading from my Galaxy S2, and it’s made me realize phones have reached a point where they are too complicated for me to completely understand. There was a threshold and we have crossed it. This phone has dozen of features I don’t use, will never use, and probably don’t even know exist. In addition to that, it has features that are supposed to make my experience better, but just make it worse.

Image Stabilization

The first photo I tried to take was of my skinned knee, a knee that burned like it was on fire, so I wanted to snap that photo fast and get some Neosporin on it already. However, I could not get the damn thing to focus, which is not a problem I had with the S2. I had to take five pictures before I got a clear one. Later I did some Googling and determined that the problem was caused by the “image stabilization” feature that only seems to work when you’re in bright lighting, thus making it more of a “image hard-to-take-ization” feature. I turned it off and haven’t had much trouble with it since.

Blurry knee

Noise Reduction

The second problem I encountered with my phone was that it seemed to be good at doing everything except being a phone. Whenever I made a phone call, people said I sounded muffled or they couldn’t understand me at all. I was starting to have a mild panic attack, thinking I’d have to buy another phone to replace my new phone, or wondering if it might be cheaper to somehow run all my phone calls through the Skype app or something. (How ridiculous is it that one of the lower priorities I have for a phone is that it actually work as a phone?) After an hour or two reading Sprint message board forums I finally discovered there was a “Noise Reduction” setting hidden two or three levels deep in one of the settings menus. Once I turned that off, I no longer sounded like one of the adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon. Wah-wah-wah-wah.

Weather Alerts

My new phone also came pre-configured to scream at me like a maniac whenever there was a national weather service alert. This means I was awoken at 7am in the morning so my phone could tell me there was a cold weather warning, which I did not care about because I was snug in my warm bed. I remember having the same problem with my old phone at first. It was hard to determine how to turn this off because the setting was hidden under the “Messaging” settings, and you can never really be sure you’ve turned it off until a tornado or a blizzard comes your way and your phone doesn’t say anything about it.

Various Other Issues

I’d also forgotten that when you get a new phone all your applications think it’s ok to send you push notifications, which is why I heard the “chung-chung” of my Law & Order themed message alert at midnight letting me know all my lives had refilled in Candy Crush saga. I’ve had to turn these off one by one as they go off. There is another alert I still haven’t figure out how to turn off. It’s a little song that chimes from 5 seconds when charging is complete, but only when I’ve plugged in my phone with 90% or more battery power left. I’ve looked through all the settings I can think of, done all the Googling I know how, and still have no idea how to disable that. The imaginative part of my mind thinks there will one day be a scenario where I’m hiding from a bad guy in my home and then ♫la-da-dee-da-da♬ my position is betrayed by the damn charging sound I could never figure out how to disable.

A new phone is supposed to be fun, like a puppy. But like a puppy it has to be housebroken and trained. All of which is to say, I am feeling more and more like the “mother” mentioned when people ask, “Could my mother learn how to use this?” I feel like I only understand 75% of the icons and gestures necessary to use the latest apps. I find it difficult to take pictures and talk on my phone. I don’t have full control over the bizarre sounds it makes. I fear this will only get worse with time. I’m not really sure what to do about it other than not to care what people think, and if they do say something rude to me, hurl my old S2 brick at their heads.

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Want second helpings? Devour more entries in the archives.

 
 
Chocolate & Vicodin: My Quest for Relief from the Headache that Wouldn't Go Away Half-Assed: A Weight-Loss Memoir

Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, chronic headache sufferer, (former?) weight-loss inspiration, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She was formerly known as PastaQueen. You can contact her if you promise to be nice.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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