Thursday, January 24, 2013

Grandma, what's a pencil?

I realize that if it weren't for technology, I wouldn't be writing this column on my new laptop. But does it all have to be so complicated?

It seems as if every day there's a new gadget I should upgrade to -- and then learn how to use. I think I spend more time reading manuals and calling tech support than I do actually using the gizmo.

I'm starting to sound like my grandmother, but things were simpler when I used a pencil and paper to write articles and stories. If the lead broke, I sharpened the pencil. And when the notepad was full, I started a new one.

Back then I never lost a year's worth of work because the notebook "crashed." I never had to call tech services in order to learn how to operate a writing utensil. Even when I "upgraded" to a typewriter ('member typewriters?), it only took a few minutes to figure out how to put words on paper ('member paper?). In fact, the most complicated thing about my old typewriter was changing the ribbon, but I managed without ever having to call The Geek Squad for help.

I just bought myself an iPad mini, mainly because, like Goldilocks, my iPad is too big, my iPhone is too small and the iPad Mini feels "just right." Besides, it's cute, lightweight and fits in my purse. Unfortunately, I've had it for a week and still can't download my mail, surf the Internet or play Spider Solitaire.

I suppose there's an "app" for all that, since there doesn't appear to be a manual, but I can't find it. I've already got some 50 other apps, including Instagram, Crackle, Zombie Café, Mirror, Shazam, Dropbox, Beat the Traffic, Talking Tom, Crack Screen, Pandora, Sound Effects and Mickey's Club House. I just don't have time to figure out how to use them.

I've been on the phone for days calling AT&T, Yahoo, my techie nephew and my son who thinks I'm an idiot, to no avail. I've been to Best Buy's Geek Squad, Apple's Genius Bar and some random guy who was holding a cellphone at Starbucks but with no luck.

I'm still trying to figure out how to use the four remotes for the TV/DVD/X-Box/Whatever. (We used to have six or seven, but we lost those.) Plus we have something like 500 channels. I only use half a dozen of them, but the rest are available to me, so I can watch low-tech shows like "Honey Boo Boo," "Swamp People" and "Antiques Road Show," featuring typewriters. I haven't seen my old friends in years, but I know every detail of their lives, thanks to Facebook, Twitter and TMI.

Things are only going to get worse. Coffee makers will become more complicated as we try to make our own double-shot decaf mocha frappachinos without an IT degree. When the post office finally shuts down, I'll have to learn how to Photoshop my own stamps, find an app to weigh my letters and figure out how to send packages via email. And if I want to write a letter the old-fashioned way -- with pen and paper -- I'll have to learn how to use a stylus and e-pad.

I might as well get a degree in computer science. No problem. I'm sure there's an app for that.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A trip back in cats

There's nothing like a trip to an Egyptian museum to remind you how finite life is. I recently visited the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose to do some research for my next book, and I felt like I was stepping back in time. I mean, way back, like in Mr. Peabody's WABAC machine. Like thousands and thousands of years back. Really creepy back.

Thank goodness we didn't bring the grandchildren. This place would have scared the beetle dung out of them. Actually, I learned that beetle dung plays an important part in Egyptian Cycle of Life mythology, hence my use of that particular analogy.

We went in December, hoping to avoid the stress of the holidays and spend some time in a serene setting. We couldn't have picked a more serene place. When you're among mummies and artifacts of dead people, there's no escaping serenity.

The museum is made up of four rooms, each with a different theme, sort of like Disneyland but without the rides, etc. We started in the Daily Life room, which houses artifacts such as hair accessories, mirrors and perfume bottles. I realized we women haven't come that far, considering we're using the same things they used thousands and thousands of years ago. I also found out they drank a lot of beer -- more of the cycle of life.

We learned lots of Egyptian facts, in case we're ever on "Jeopardy." Things like how important cats were as far back as 6,000 years ago. The museum even had mummified cats that were buried with their owners. Egyptians thought of their cats as magical protectors. Some cats wore jewelry, like earrings, and had fancy names, like "Ta-Miewet," "Bastet," and "Kitty."All of today's cats are descendants of Egyptian cats. No wonder our cats act like they're something special.

The museum offers a how-to guide on mummifying. If you're interested, here are the basics: First wash the body. Then cast a bunch of magical spells over it. Then give it to Anubis, the god of embalming. Anubis drains all the fluids (bodies are mostly water and beer), removes the brains (don't need them in the afterlife), and removes the innards, except for the heart. Next he pours wine over the area to disinfect it. (Have some wine yourself if you're feeling squeamish.)Then dry out the innards and place them in canopic, or "jelly" jars. Douse the skin with perfume, since dead bodies usually have an odor about them, then wrap the body up tight with festive fabric. Drop in a few amulets -- lucky charms, like scarabs (those dung beetles) -- and place in coffin. Decorate the outside with poster paints, sequins and other craft materials.

On our way out we dropped by the "gift store," which is little more than a countertop with some cool papyrus bookmarks. I was hoping to buy some amulets for good luck, or even a cat mummy toy for Tiger, Max and Baby to play with, but the bookmarks would have to do.
I learned a lot, mostly that we don't do enough for our cats. Must get Max a Rolex, Baby some nice earrings and Tiger a tiara. Don't want to lose the good luck these cats have brought us so far. And all those mice.

Visit the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum at