Navigation
Past Articles
This form does not yet contain any fields.

     

    Esther Blumenfeld  

    The purpose of this web site is to entertain.  My humor columns died along with the magazines where they were printed, although I cannot claim responsibility for their demise.  I still have something to say, and if I can bring a laugh or two to your day, my mission will be fulfilled.

    Everyone I know thinks he has a sense of humor.  Here is my unsolicited advice. If you try to be funny and no one laughs, don’t worry about it.  However, if you try to be funny and no one EVER laughs, you might have a little problem.

     

    Friday
    Jul062018

    DELIVER ME

    Postal Service never used to be an oxymoron. As he strolled down the block, the mailman used to deliver mail to a mailbox outside people’s homes, or drop letters directly into a slot in the front door.

    Our mailman used to enjoy reading postcards that my Grandfather sent us from London.  My grandparents had escaped there from Germany at the beginning of World War II, and my Grandfather tried very hard to learn the English language. The mailman came to our door laughing as he read, “London is fine, but we don’t have enough intercourse.”  Unfortunately, my proper Grandfather had forgotten to add the word, “social.”

    In those days, the FBI would never have had to subpoena a suspect’s records to find out what he was up to. All they would have had to do was to ask our mailman. He would know everything.  However, the mailman was everyone’s friend. Nowadays, I have never even seen my mailman’s legs, because he never leaves his beloved truck. If an alien vehicle is blocking my mailbox— Forget it!  No mail that day!

    Granted, now, postal workers have lots of competition, such as UPS and FedEX. Their drivers do run to the door, ring the bell and yell something like, “Trick or Treat, and then they run away. It’s only a problem when they deliver a package to your door that belongs to someone else. I have, on many  occasions, run after a UPS truck, but have never, ever managed to catch it.

    Recently, Amazon has gotten into the act. A drone can hover and deliver, but the problem arises if you stick your head out of the door at the wrong time. I enjoy reading books, but not getting crowned by them.

    The newest innovation is that now Amazon can deliver a package to vehicles in “accessible locations.”  I remember when we lived in Chicago and had to park on the street. That was “accessible” until it snowed and we had to move to the other side of the street every other day. How, in the world, could the Amazon person find our trunk—-let alone defrost it?

    There’s no limit to the innovations from chief digital workers. Not only can I now give strangers access to my automobile, but they can also waltz into my living room to deliver a package “securely and reliably.”  Maybe, for a few extra bucks they’d vacuum the carpet on the way out.

    There is no end to the mix of commerce and innovation. Maybe, soon, Amazon drivers can make house calls that doctors used to make. The digital officers of the company may find a way to set up a driver-medical-delivery-care app.

    Some people might really appreciate the delivery into their bathroom of rectal suppositories.  After all, “Amazon expands its reach into places long considered no-go zones for most people outside the immediate family.” Amazon intends be at the forefront of any invasion of your privacy that you will allow.

    I think it’s the mailman’s fault. He should never have read Grandfather’s postcard.

    Esther Blumenfeld

    Friday
    Jun292018

    AI, MI--OH,MY!

    These days the pressure to automate has led to unbridled competition.

    When some genius can install human intuition into a self driving car, then I will be impressed. At the time a  car makes an intuitive decision whether to to save the life of the person in the car,  or save the pedestrian, who just jumped off the curb, then, machine intelligence ( MI) will be equal to natural intelligence. We aren’t there yet.  And, I have yet to meet an ethical computer.

    Sony has now invested in “Agility Robotics” where “Cassie,” a headless, biped robot balances like a person, and can deliver packages, driven to your front door by a self delivery van. “Cassie” (named after the New Guinean Cassowary Bird) can navigate on uneven ground, and when she runs to your front door, she can even pick herself up if she stumbles. However, the article I read about “Cassie” did not say whether she can pick up the dropped package, or, if she can be sued if Aunt Mabel’s precious, heirloom vase arrives in shattered pieces.

    The long term goal is that a machine can be made to simulate human intelligence. The idea is that if a person can not distinguish between the responses from a machine and a human, the machine can be considered “intelligent.”  So we advance to data mining, medical diagnoses, etc.

    I use my computer to access information.  When I have a question, often the computer will come up with the right answer—or not. I use my GPS to get me to where I want to go and the lady in the little box does just that—sometimes. And, I love it when my telephone screens my calls.

    The bottom line is that none of these machines came up with their own answers. It involves algorithms; “A set of unambiguous instructions that a mechanical computer can execute.” So, what happens with incomplete or uncertain information? I guess that’s where probability comes into play. However, it’s good to remember that some things are not probable, but anything is possible.

    Scientists have now given machines the ability to read and understand human language. And, with cameras and other sensors, computers can execute speech recognition, facial recognition and object recognition. Yes, it is amazing! However, computers only mimic human emotions and experiences. They have been programed to be cute and banter with people. Note: earlier in the story I referred to the robot, “Cassie,”as,  “She.”

    It’s sad but true that some computers have better social skills than the teenager next door, but to reach human level intelligence, a machine will have to be able to reason what is being talked about, and have the knowledge to replicate social intelligence, and do it all at the same time.

    As far as I know, unless it’s been developed today, so far, no machine can use logic or solve a number of completely unrelated problems at the same time. Granted, AI has taken us to new heights and accomplishments, but there are still some philosophical questions to be considered:

    Are there limits to what problems a machine can solve without the support of human intelligence?

    Can a machine be ethical, and can we be assured information will be used ethically?

    Can a machine think?  And, if so, does a machine have the same rights as a human being and can machines harm us on purpose?

    Alan Turing suggests, “We need not decide if a machine can think; we need only to decide if a machine can act as intelligently as a human being.”

    If that is the case, Boy! Are we in trouble!

    Esther Blumenfeld

    Friday
    Jun222018

    LISTEN UP

    Nowadays, there are two ways to get someone to listen when you talk:
    Talk to yourself—or—Get a dog.

    There is a difference between hearing and listening, and often people only hear what they want to hear. Also, you should realize that a polite way of saying, “Shut up!” is, “I hear you.” I have learned that the old saying, “Give and you shall receive” can be hazardous— if it’s my opinion. However, sometimes self-control is impossible in the climate of this polarized society. I know that some things are better left unsaid, but sometimes I don’t remember that until I’ve said it. So there you go! Of course, sometimes people excuse me because I’m an old lady, and I know how to play that card very well.

    Frank Zappa once said, “A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it’s not open.” Listening—truly listening—is really hard, because you have to put yourself out there, and sometimes you have to be willing to hear what you don’t want to hear. If you listen and reflect on what you have learned, you are not just hearing verbal noise.

    I have learned that with some people, if you aren’t talking about them, they stop listening. There’s the old story about the author who said, “Enough about me. What did you think about my book?” However, I have learned that it is important to listen when people talk about themselves, and that you should remember what they say. File away that information! And I’m not even in the FBI.

    For instance, I recently met a young woman, I had never met before. She told me that she was Catholic, and that her husband was Jewish. She goes to church every Sunday, and she said that he never goes to synagogue, and she is worried about his soul. A few months later, I saw her again, and she said, “I’ll bet you don’t remember me,” and I said, “Oh, Yes, I do.You are Catholic. Your husband is Jewish. You go to church on Sunday and he doesn’t go to synagogue. And, you are worried about his soul.” She was speechless. It was worth it!

    I must admit that sometimes when a conversation is really boring my mind will wander, and sometimes it just seems to run away. At that time, smiling a lot and nodding sympathetically  seems to work. Excusing oneself and hiding in the closet may be strange, but you can always say that you thought it was the bathroom.

    It’s true that most people would rather talk than listen, except for the strong silent type.  He might just pass for a good listener, or, he might just be plain stupid. Unfortunately, too many people hear what they want to hear. If you are listening to someone talk, it’s always a good idea to question the source of the information. Otherwise, you may just be hearing babble or listening to downright lies.  

    It is a given that when you hear birds singing in the trees, you don’t have to verify that they are birds. On the other hand,  ringing in your ears is a common ailment when politicians are speaking. Listening to music is an activity that can help all of us escape constant verbiage. However, it is also a selective hearing activity. As Woody Allen so aptly said, “I can’t listen to that much Wagner. I start getting the urge to conquer Poland.”

    Esther Blumenfeld

    Friday
    Jun152018

    DIVINING RAIN

    Sometimes, I have the bad habit of skimming through a newspaper article rather than reading it in depth. Admittedly, this practice can give me the essence of a story, but it can also get me into trouble. The heading, “Monsoon Start Is On The Horizon,” got my attention, especially since Tucson has had no significant rainfall since the end of February.

    I scanned the article until I came to the paragraph about storms that bring dry lightening and  shaggy clouds that contain Viagra. “Wow!” I thought, “So that’s where the name of the male enhancement medication came from—a rain that evaporates before it hits the ground.” Then I read, “This  part of the season is super dicey.”

    Okay, “super dicey” got to me, and then I decided to go back and read the entire article carefully. It was then that I discovered that shaggy clouds contain “Virga”—-not Viagra. I was glad that I had read more carefully before embarrassing myself with a dumber than usual question aimed at my son, the former meteorologist.

    One has to be so careful with information, because it doesn’t take too much to get it wrong. For instance, a gynecologist once told me that a young bride wanted information about ovation. The doctor said, “I think you mean ovulation. The ovation comes later.”

    However, misunderstandings aren’t always the fault of the recipient  but rather the fault of the person who is supplying the information. For instance, when shopping for an item, a little price sticker will announce “50% off.”  That looks really good until the shopper sees that the smaller print underneath informs the customer that it is 50% off the second item—- if you buy two of them.

    The worst offenders are still the pharmaceutical companies recommending their products on television. The drugs they push inform the public that everyone needs the medication they are touting, because they will cure ailments most of us have never even heard of. Then the small print disclaimers zoom by at the bottom of the screen advising that, “This product has not been approved by the FDA.” Or,  “Individual Results May Vary.”  If you can read the speeding, tiny message it might say, “ Call your doctor if you get a rash, your tongue swells and hangs down to your knees, or you feel that  Kenny G’s saxophone is stuck into one of your ears.

    Granted, there are miracle cures in the works for almost everything. Maybe, if atmospheric scientists try seeding the clouds with Viagra, it just might work! After all, the magazine PHARMACY TIMES says that the name, Viagra comes from “vitality, virility and vigor and it rhymes with Niagra (force and endurance).”

    Niagra Falls has lots of water. So, I figure a little seeding here, and a little seeding there, couldn’t hurt. If it rains, I will definitely give the sky a heartfelt ovation.

    Esther Blumenfeld

    Friday
    Jun082018

    ROAMING ABOUT

    My friend Perry (“Don’t use my last name, because I am in the Witness Protection Program) lived in New Jersey when he was ten-years-old. He and “three” or “five” of his buddies would get on a bus and ride to the subway station, whereupon they got on a subway, and rode to Shea Stadium in Flushing Meadows, New York to watch a baseball game. What fun!

    In today’s world of over-protective parenting, they probably would have been confronted by child protective services when they returned home, and their parents would have been in handcuffs. No normal parent wants to expose a child to serious danger, but on the other hand, children need the freedom to do things alone such as riding a bike to school or exploring a playground.

    Utah is now the first State to pass a law legalizing free-range parenting, and New York and Texas are contemplating the same. Over scheduled and over protected children need more freedom to develop independence, and the opportunity to become more resilient and less micro-managed. They need to breathe.

    When I was eleven-years-old, my family lived in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. As a big sister, my two-year-old brother was often my responsibility, and I enjoyed sticking him in his stroller, and taking him three blocks from our home, to McKennon Park, where he could swing on the swings, slide down a metal slide and climb on the Monkey Bars. The kid was fearless.

    One day, when we were at the park, the birds stopped singing, and the earth and the sky turned brown, and the wind began a ferocious howl. I threw my toddler brother into the stroller and began to run home. Cell phones had not yet been invented—-good thing—-because I never would have noticed the sky.

    As I was running, it became more and more difficult for me to push the stroller, but I managed to get home. I struggled with the front door, and it took both me and my Mother to open it. My brother and I blew into the house just as the tornado reached its full force. The next day, I was amazed to see a tree sticking out of the side of our neighbor’s house. I had taken enormous responsibility, because even though I was a child, I was used to being left to my own devices and trusted to use good judgment.

    I never felt cooped up since my parents couldn’t afford organized activities. However, I did go to a terrible camp one week where the creek had leeches Did you know you can burn those things off with cigarettes?  And the outhouse stank!  I survived and  it was a learning experience like…”Don’t ever do that to me again!”

    Even getting lost can test ones mettle. I used to ride my trike up and down our sidewalk, and one day, decided to go around the block to see what was there. When I lost the familiar, I turned around and peddled back to where I had started. It was scary, but I had tested myself.

    Fun consisted of playing outside sometimes with the kids in the neighborhood and we entertained ourselves with make-believe games and exploring my neighbor’s garden when she was out-of-town.  My buddies and I even went to the community swimming pool on our own. The only semi-adult supervision was the pimple-faced life guard. He did save me one day when a mean boy sat on my head when I was under the water. I did not drown, and I did punch the kid.

    I had no screens to stare at—only the clouds in the sky, and I didn’t have a telephone tied to my wrist. I played outside from morning to dusk. In the summer my friends and I created forts and play houses out of old wooden crates. We played and laughed and fought and then made-up and played some more. In the winter, we made angels in the snow, built snowmen, and snow forts and had snowball fights. All of this inter-action, creativity, and independence was a great learning experience

    In every season, my favorite words were, “Can Esther come out and play.” Those are still my favorite words.

    Esther Blumenfeld