If You Have to Ask, It's Probably Real

Last week in Tampa, Florida, a couple of police officers were walking in a neighborhood trying to track down a couple of stray dogs. While they were searching, they were approached by a man named Phillip Williams with a problem. The exchange went something like this:

WILLIAMS: Excuse me, officer, can you help me?
OFFICER EASLEY: We’re a little busy right now, can this wait?
W: I don’t think so… I just got ripped off and I need help.
E: You got ripped off?
E: Yeah, man. I got ripped off! I just bought this crack and pipe from some guys in that yellow house over there, and I don’t think it’s real. They ripped me off, man!
E: Well, uh… I suppose we could test it for you. Would you like us to test it?
W: Yeah, man… I’m ticked! I’m sure I got ripped off!

Williams, much happier after learning his crack was, indeed, the real McCoy, was arrested and charged with possession of cocaine and drug paraphenalia. With bail set at $2,500, he may still be in jail. The fate of the stray dogs is unknown.

NY Times Educates Us On "Modern Love"

In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that I consider myself conservative. If you asked me to define “modern love,” I’d be inclined to point to my own marriage, now going on eight years with the pitter-patter of lots of feet around the house. Or I might tell you about my parents, planning their 50th wedding anniversary this year to celebrate a love that’s truly endured in sickness and health, for better or worse.

I’m fairly certain, however, that I probably wouldn’t immediately think of a divorced woman who falls in love reading poetry to inmates, marries a murderer, consumates her marriage in a trailer on prison grounds, has her second abortion, consumates again a year or so later, gets pregnant again, and then divorces her incarcerated, murderous husband because she thinks it’s time to “woman up and do this thing on her own.”

But, like I said, I’m a little conservative. Apparently a lot more conservative than the NY Times, which portrays the story above as a shining example of modern love. You have to read it to believe it…

[Read the story of modern love]

Talk to a Person?!? Get Outta Here!

There are few things I dislike more than automated phone systems. Anyone who’s ever been through the hell of “Press 9 to repeat this menu” feels immediate camaraderie with the poor sap on the new CitiBank commercials. (“Please state your password,” the system asks. “Big boy,” he responds, sitting on a commuter train next to an older, somewhat surprised passenger.)

So, apparently, I’m not the only one who feels this way. Paul English, co-founder of travel search engine Kayak.com (about which I recently wrote a web review), had a few too many bad experiences with phone systems and set out to do something about it.

On his personal blog, English began posting 800-number shortcuts for more than 200 companies. What happened? Well, the site was a little overwhelmed. So many people wanted this information, the site has now become its own movement, called Get Human. The site still focuses on secret number codes and phone numbers that will allow you to slice through those crappy automated phone systems to get straight to a living, breathing (very likely incompetent) human being. And because of that incompetent thing, they’re also using the site as a rating system for customer service calls and plan to publish a list of the best and worst mass-market consumer companies in the world.

So, if you need to call Dell, AAA, Visa, Fifth Third, or any one of more than 400 other companies and you prefer a human to a computer, make a quick stop at Get Human.

On Phones, Telegrams, and Colossal Blunders

I remember feeling somewhat melancholy when I read that Western Union had sent its final telegram. To me, it seemed to mark the end of an era; the passing of a simpler time. Technology, I thought, has just rendered another company obsolete. While this is certainly true, it turns out that human blunder was at the heart of the problem. I submit the following facts:

Did you know that it was on March 7, 1876 when Alexander Graham Bell received patent No. 174,465 for the telephone? He filed for his patent on the same day as a Chicago electrician named Elisha Gray filed for a patent on basically the same device. Bell only beat Gray by two hours.

“Interesting,” you say, “but so what?”

Bell later offered to sell his patent to Western Union for the (then) princely sum of $100,000. Citing that the telephone was nothing more than an electronic plaything, they turned him down.

Bell’s company went on to become AT&T. On January 26, 2006, Western Union sent their last telegram.

News Brightens for Premies

Every year, more than 330,000 American children are born prematurely. As you probably know, we have two in our family. When Abby and Grace were born eight weeks early, they each weighed a little more than 4 pounds and spent four weeks in the neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU) at the hospital. A trying time, to be sure, but they came through with flying colors.

They’re almost two now, but I find that I’m still worrying just as much now as I did during those first few weeks at the hospital. I worry about their health and development and how their premie status might affect the rest of their lives. It seems odd sometimes, since they seem just as healthy as any other toddlers. But research shows I have cause to worry, and new reasons for hope.

A new study out today in the journal Pediatrics shows that children born prematurely can benefit greatly from intensive early education. If these kids get extra attention in the first three years of life, they show higher math and reading scores and fewer behavorial problems than similar children who didn’t get the educational boost.

[Listen to the story]

On a related note, the March of Dimes is working to prevent premature births. You can support their efforts by joining WalkAmerica. Last year, walkers raised more than $250,000 toward the cause. Round up everyone you know and sign them up. The event kicks off in a few weeks.

[Visit the March of Dimes website]