Obsolete Skills

There was no internet when I was in college.

The other day, during my long commute to work, I remembered, for no apparent reason, a story I had most likely heard on NPR back in the 1990’s. It was about a young lady who won a four-year, full-ride scholarship to college because she had won a competition for being the fastest and most accurate texter in the country. This was back when telephone texting was so new that you used to have to use your phone’s number pad, and, for example, push the number 2 anywhere from three to seven times (depending upon the phone) in order to get a lower case c.

I was still extremely new at texting at the time, but I remember being jealous of that girl, because I sure could have used a full-ride scholarship back in my day. But when I graduated from college, no one I knew had even touched a cell phone, let alone used one. They were out there, but they were the size and weight of a brick, and only the ultra-rich had them. The line for the payphone at my college dorm was always quite long.

I can still hear the sound of horror in my nephew’s voice when he told me his sister’s phone was so old that it “didn’t even flip”. That cracks me up. But man, it also makes me feel old.

But then, I remember bringing my laptop to work to show people in 2001, and bragging that it had a 10 gig hard drive. People were so impressed! That was cutting age. That was 15 years after I graduated college. So, yeah, I’m old.

Anyway, I wondered what had become of that scholarship winner. What did she major in in college? What is she doing now? Does she ever reflect on the fact that her education was paid for because of a skill that is now so commonplace that people barely give it a thought?

I tried to find the story about her on the internet, in hopes of tracking her down, but I came up empty. That’s not surprising, when you consider that commercial Internet service providers only started up in 1989, so a lot of old news never quite made it into cyberspace. I guess it will just be one of those questions that I’ll never find the answer to.

Still, it got me thinking about obsolete skills. I don’t think of texting as a skill anymore. It’s more like a means of survival. But there are quite a few skills that seem quaint or completely unnecessary these days.

I know someone who got a degree in computer science back when computers still used punch cards. That knowledge won’t exactly pay the bills in 2023. You might say that that skill was folded, spindled, and mutilated long ago.

I also know someone who won awards for her perfect penmanship when she was in elementary school. Her letters were beautiful to behold. Now, cursive writing isn’t even taught in public schools anymore. What would be the point? Will there come a day when only a few people will be able to read cursive writing, just as most Germans can no longer read Old or Middle High German texts?

I can imagine a day when people’s ability to even print words will deteriorate. Yes, they’ll know what shape each letter has, and they’ll be able to read, but they’ll have been typing and texting to the point where they’ll look like three-year-olds when they try to write something. They won’t be confident that they know how to hold a pencil or a pen. Will they even know what paper feels like? That will be tragic.

Other skills that are falling by the wayside are writing checks and balancing checkbooks, reading analog clocks, driving a manual transmission car, doing minor car maintenance such as replacing a flat tire or changing the oil, ironing clothes, making your own clothes, remembering phone numbers, having a sense of direction, folding a map, doing math in your head, finding hard copies of things in a library, making coffee on the stove, refilling a fountain pen, making and flying kites, tying a tie, creating meals using recipes, and conducting business using actual currency.

I suspect that in the year 2050, if you threw people into some sort of a wayback machine and sent them to the year 1950, they wouldn’t have a clue how to survive. From the perspective of a person who has one foot in the internet age and the other one off somewhere holding a payphone door closed while irritated dorm-mates looked on, the loss of all these skills makes me sad.

But it’s the way of the world, isn’t it? I wouldn’t know how to hunt for my own food or skin an animal or find the proper herbs to heal myself or build a house without power tools. (Well, I suppose I could Google those things if I were sufficiently motivated, but you get the idea.)

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Crossing Paths with a Con Woman

I hope that someday her chickens come home to roost.

Every once in a while, I’ll do a Google search of my former boss from decades ago. It’s not that I miss her. It’s not that I ever even liked her. It’s just that she owes me 500 bucks that I’ll never see again.

I did freelance work writing articles for a magazine she started. It was advice for parents, which is ironic when you consider my childfree state. Still, it seemed like a lucrative business, until the day she stopped answering my phone calls.

And then her phone got disconnected. So I stopped by her house, looked in the windows, and discovered it was completely empty of furniture. I also found out that there were so many liens on the house that adding my humble little grievance to the massive pile would have only had me standing in line behind a long list of other outraged marks. She was a con woman extraordinaire.

Still, I used to drive by the abandoned house sometimes, when I found myself in the neighborhood. The driveway formed cracks and trees started to grow there. In Florida, nature quickly reclaims neglected buildings. The rotting roof reflected my diminishing hopes of ever getting justice.

Here’s the thing about Googling her, though. She has a very successful name twin in the same area of the country where she most likely resides. I’ve talked to the woman. She’s really nice. She’s a property owner, a keynote speaker, the head of her own self-named company. She dines with mayors. Her name is often associated with major financial corporations. It’s because she has such a wonderful reputation that I won’t taint her by mentioning any names. She is everything her name twin, my loser ex-boss, is not. When I told her about the many crimes of the other woman who shares her name, she was horrified.

My ex-boss, on the other hand, seems to have stepped into some internet black hole. She is nowhere, absolutely nowhere, in cyberspace. Of course, she doesn’t want to be found. I’m sure she’s changed her name more than once. It must be awfully stressful, living an anonymous, fraud-filled life like that. One wonders where she’d be if she had used her powers for good.

But all the speculation in the world isn’t going to get me my money back. I can only hope that someday her chickens will come home to roost.

Police Line Up
Fun fact: When I tried to find an image of a female police line up, I came up empty. Go figure.

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Sticking to the Facts

I don’t know how journalists do it.

I just spent three hours, three hours, trying to track down a fact for a particular blog post. I know I read it, less than an hour before then. I know it. Really. I do. Because I thought, “Oooh. That would be good to mention.” But I can’t find it again, despite my avid search, and I can’t remember the exact wording, so I can’t put it in the post.

Do you have any idea how maddening that is? Honestly, I don’t know how journalists do it. The urge to make stuff up must be intense. (Oh, yeah. It’s called Fox News.)

This is why most of my posts are opinion pieces. I can basically pull anything out of my hind end and put it out there for your reading pleasure, as long as I don’t call it a fact. And believe me, I’m chock full of opinions. You don’t even have to agree with them. I promise.

But, dang, that little statistic was so tantalizing. I tried rereading all the literature I had just read. I tried Googling. I tried reading all the literature yet again, paragraph by paragraph, backwards, so I wouldn’t get caught up in the content. Still nothing.

I hope you can take comfort from the fact that I’m trying, here. Because I’m probably going to lose sleep over this. You’re welcome.


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An Unfinished Internet Story

The story itself is sick and twisted, but the fact that no one bothered to follow up on it is even more revealing.

Do you ever Google your own name, just out of curiosity? I do, sometimes. But I bet Joann Elizabeth Wingate doesn’t.

I don’t even know how I stumbled upon this story, because it is from the summer of 2014. When I found it, I was intrigued. The story itself is sick and twisted, but the fact that no one bothered to follow up on it is even more revealing, in my opinion.

Here are the very basics, which got picked up by one lowbrow news outlet after another, for about a week: Ms. Wingate was once a chiropractor, but her license expired for reasons not explained. So she decided to steal the medical license of a local psychiatrist who shared her last name, and operate a physical exam business from inside her own home. She targeted truck drivers, who need this exam to renew their certifications. She put up fliers at a truck stop.

She would meet these guys at the truck stop, drive them back to her shabby little house in her shabby little car, and perform a full medical exam, including urinalysis, for $65. At least 16 guys fell victim to this woman, who held no medical license whatsoever. (That’s what you get for getting your doctor off a truck stop flyer, I suppose.)

But here’s what I don’t get, and probably never will: That’s a lot of work for 65 bucks. It seems to me that if you’re going to do a con, you’d go for some bigger fish, unless there was some unexplainable kink factor for you with regard to making men pee into a little cup.

Whatever her motivations were, riches do not seem to have been her primary one. Instead, she wound up being held in prison on 10k bail. (And how do you make that phone call to your nearest kin?)

I can understand why so many news outlets jumped on this story. It’s insane. It’s funny. It probably went viral. And there was marijuana involved.

But here’s the thing: According to my lazy internet search, not a single one of those journalists bothered to follow up on the story. Did she do time? (She should have, because apparently she had already gotten caught pulling this creepy con elsewhere, and had to move to another county to keep it going.)

There’s nothing more frustrating to me than a story without an ending. The only thing I am fairly positive about is that Joann Elizabeth Wingate doesn’t Google her own name, if she even bothers to use it anymore. Because the only thing that pops up is this odd little unfinished story.

I would hate for that to be my legacy. And I feel awfully sorry for any woman out there who shares her name. (Note to expectant mothers: Google prior to naming your child!)

Where is she now? More importantly, what is she doing, and to whom? The possibilities are endless.

Joann Elizabeth Wingate
Joann Elizabeth Wingate

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My Response to Search Queries

One of the great features that I get to take advantage of because my blog is on WordPress is the “search engine terms” feature. It lets me know what questions or phrases people have used to find one of my blog posts. (Never fear, it doesn’t tell me who is searching for what or even when, so if you recognize yourself below, rest assured that I do not.)

Can I just say that there are a lot of strange people in cyberspace? Some of them are so odd, in fact, that I feel the undeniable urge to interact with them. I’ve done a post like this before. But new levels of bizarre seem to have cropped up, so I thought it was time for another one.

What follows are honest to God search engine terms in bold, my response to them, and links to the blog posts these queries probably came up with.

  • Can psychopaths have friends? Actually, I’ve gotten many queries along these lines, and they never fail to make me sad. Yes, I used to have a friend who was a psychopath, for many, many years. I thought she was my friend, but was I hers? In retrospect, no. I must have served a purpose for a good long while, but as soon as I stopped serving that purpose, as soon as I started pushing beyond the boundaries that she established, it was over.

    If you’re making this query, dear reader, my first instinct is to tell you to find a better friend. Psychopaths, by their very nature, cannot and do not truly care about you. You deserve more. Set your sights higher. See also: My Friend the Psychopath.

  • Is it bad to change your favorite color? Well, I’ve done it. And the world didn’t come to an end. So I’d say no. A better question might be, “Why do I care if it’s bad to change my favorite color?” See also: Changing My Favorite Color.

  • Gas gauge empty pee, gas gauge montana pee. Okay, there’s a story behind this query. There has to be. And I’d love to hear it. But it probably sent you to a post about my trip through Montana when I was moving from Florida to Seattle.

  • Can you get addicted to acupuncture? Yes, I once wrote a blog post called Addicted to Acupuncture, but I didn’t mean literal addiction. I just liked the way that title rolled off my tongue. I apologize if this caused any confusion. I absolutely love acupuncture and highly recommend it. I can’t imagine how an actual addiction would be possible under these circumstances, but then, I’m no doctor.

  • Where are the best location for the drawbridge and why? Er… over a river? Where you need a lower bridge but taller vessels must still transit the waterway? I’m really not sure what you’re getting at, and I doubt any posts of mine were much help. This one must have just sent you to my blog in general. I hope someone was able to answer your question for you.

  • Why is he picking a fight with me? I have no idea. If he does it often, though, you may want to move on. This kind of thing can go downhill quickly. Take care of you. Good luck. See also: How to Become a Battered Woman.

  • Why are drawbridges so scary? I am sorry you feel that way. You’re not alone, though. I’m sad to say that quite a few people are frightened by them.

    The most common reason I’ve heard is that when you’re going across them, you can feel them move and bounce. But trust me, you do NOT want a rigid bridge. Rigid bridges can lead to disaster. We learned this with Tacoma’s Galloping Gertie. You really do want a bridge to be able to move and flex within reason, so it can adjust to shifting weights and winds and temperatures. If you don’t allow for that, the bridge will find a way, just like Gertie did.

    Other people are afraid of the open grating that many bridges have, as opposed to solid asphalt or concrete. This is to reduce weight and wind drag when they are up in the air. I used to be afraid of these grates, too, but trust me, they will support your weight. Buses and semi trucks cross over them all the time. If they can support that, they can hold up your car, your bike, and/or you. Just don’t look down. You’ll be okay.

    Other people are afraid that the bridge will open up while they are crossing it. There are a whole lot of safety systems in place that you aren’t aware of to prevent that. And most bridgetenders take their jobs very seriously. Do people get hurt on drawbridges? Yes, it happens. You can do a lot of very common sense things to make sure it doesn’t happen to you. First of all, DO NOT wear headphones or ear buds when crossing a drawbridge. You want to be able to hear the warning gongs that signal that a bridge is about to open. And if you see a red light, stop. If you see a gate go down, do not try to run past it or crawl under it.

    I’m sorry you are stressing out over this. I just suggest you stay safely outside the gates when a bridge is opening and enjoy the show! If you allow yourself to become fascinated with drawbridges, they won’t seem nearly as scary.

    This is another query that probably just sent you to my blog in general, but I’d also like to invite you to join my Drawbridge Lovers Facebook Page.

  • Construction man cement porn. Okay, I have no freakin’ clue why this brought you to me. And I’m not sure I want you to stay. Maybe you stumbled upon my post about Gender Specific Jobs? I don’t know. But I’m kind of worried about you.

  • Drawbridge jokes. If you know any, I’d sure love to hear them. But I got nothin’. Something about this job having its ups and downs? Yeah. I’ve never heard that one before.

  • Weird face. I sure hope this didn’t bring you to me because of my face. That would be crushing. But perhaps you stumbled upon my post about Uncanny Valley. That one has some weird pictures. It gives me the shivers just thinking about it.

  • How to hate alcohol. It just so happens that Why I Hate Alcohol is one of my most visited posts by far. It seems that there are quite a few people out there who hate it, and for very good reason. I think if everyone did, the world would be a much nicer place.

    Unfortunately, there’s no one who will be able to convince you not to like alcohol if you do, in fact, like it. The fact that you’re making this query leads me to believe you are ready to make a change, though. I wish you the best of luck.

  • Anorexic women with breast implants. Okay, I did write a post about Valeria Lukyanova who is the poster child for this. But I hope you didn’t just go there to “admire” the picture of her. My post was a cautionary tale. This woman is not healthy, and I hope you don’t want to emulate her.

  • Hoop skirt pee, and/or six inch heels. I wrote about the first topic because I was genuinely curious about how this maneuver was pulled off. But it seems to have drawn quite a few fetishists to my blog. I’m quite sure they leave very disappointed. And I think the photograph of the heels in another post (in which I was trying to explain how self-destructive humans can be) is the most viewed photo in my whole blog. That kind of makes me sad, because the post is informative, but I bet it’s rarely read. I wasn’t really trying to please pervs. Oh well.

  • Graffiti is like dogs peeing on lamp posts. I do tend to agree. But I have to say, some graffiti definitely approaches the level of art. And I think I said as much in my post entitled Sliz. It’s a shame these artists choose to destroy other people’s property instead of using their power for good.

So welcome to my blog, you fascinating, quirky people! Hope you’ll come back soon.


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The Church of the Random Word Generator

Here’s why I take exception to the implication that any multi-language translation of an ancient text is the exact and perfect word of its author: Have you ever used Google Translate? Seriously, most old texts that are still studied today have been through so many idioms that the very idea that they bear even a passing resemblance to the original intent is laughable, at best. And even if you go to the original documents, in some notable cases, they were written 40 years or more after the events in question took place. Could you accurately describe something that happened 40 years ago? I couldn’t.

In addition, ancient scripts were written in the context of the times, and now we’re attempting to interpret these messages through our modern lens. That’s like dropping a modern teenager into the year 1530 and expecting that kid to fit right in. Whatever, as they say. Good luck with that.

Now, you also have to realize that many of the texts that came down to us came without spaces between words, or even vowels and punctuation, and you can see where the finished version that we currently rely on is a little sketchy in terms of accuracy and original intent. So maybe those words were separated rather, um, randomly.

I’m not bashing your religion. I’m just saying that rigidity is not the way to go. Add common sense into the mix. Throw in a dash of critical thinking. Remember that historical context is everything. Then you can be as spiritual as you want. Amen.

But thinking about all those translations and all the loss of integrity that has crept in over the years as various people added, deleted, and changed things, has made me think of my old friend, the Random Word Generator. What if religious texts got so altered over time that the words seemed random, and we were forced to interpret that mess?

I decided to do a little thought experiment. I pulled up a fairly standard version of The Lord’s Prayer (which is the only religious thing I know by heart), and I determined that it was 71 words long. Then I asked the Random Word Generator to spit out 71 words. Whoa, Nelly. That makes for one strange religion.

For added fun, I broke up our random words as if they were the Lord’s Prayer, giving it the same word count in the stanzas, and the same punctuation as this English version, and wound up with this:

The Lord’s Prayer (as per the Random Word Generator)

Record Pause, bronze stuff pottery shoot,

route drown attitude Photocopy,

compose write hallway,

curriculum bold cultivate racism,

worm harass death rotate staff crown protest.

Ice campaign elect snack adult conservation strict.

Roll traffic self inside license,

age convince limit crosswalk

witch wrong jump master.

Charm building treat electron mirror winner,

glare recession gold competence wrestle.

Eat concentration grain hurt bang,

wing ensure miracle, pool hen train,

Museum victory carry pity. President.

If I tried hard enough, I’m sure I could find some great advice in there. It might even alter the way I live my life. There does seem to be a certain level of violence implied as well. (That’s something that most world religions can’t seem to avoid.) It also shows hints of politics, a little bit of economic socialism, and it has me thinking that maybe children shouldn’t be able to get drivers’ licenses at the tender age of sixteen.



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I’ve been getting a lot of attention of late. It feels funny. I’m not used to it. My default position is to be the quiet, thoughtful background person. The spotlight isn’t something I have ever sought.

But in recent weeks, this blog is really starting to take off. And I’ve also been featured on a friend’s new podcast, Shaping Sapiens. And I’m included in a StoryCorps anthology that comes out on April 19th. I’ll be the second story in the book, on page 17. There’s even some talk of bringing the book promotion tour to Seattle, and if that happens, they want me to be there. And because of that book, I was featured in an article in Parade Magazine, which, according to their website, has a readership of 54 million.

I feel as though I’m riding the crest of a wave. That wave is called micro-fame, and I know it’s fleeting. And part of me is extremely relieved to know this. Another part of me is going to miss it when it’s gone. I totally get why people are willing to make fools of themselves on reality shows.

I have to admit that it makes me smile when I go ego-surfing on Google. Now my name gets several pages of hits. Cyber immortality is a heady experience, indeed.

The banner picture for the Parade article. That’s me, upper left.

Ego Boost

Go to Google and look up “Bridge Symbolism”. You’ll get over a million results, but the first one, the very first one, is a blog entry I did on that very subject. The first one. On Google. I feel like I’ve hit the big time.

That also would explain why that particular blog entry is the most viewed one on my blog at the moment. I imagine kids all over the world using it as a source for some essay or another. And it’s just something I posted, kind of as an afterthought.

I’m making an impact. How freaky is that? It’s also kind of overwhelming. I really ought to be careful of what I say here. I’m not very good at that. There’s a fine line between being honest and vulnerable and spontaneous and being irresponsible. I’m not sure I’ve found it yet. Bear with me.


Any Excuse for a Party

I had been driving all day on Interstate 90, on my journey to Yellowstone National Park, when I saw a faded billboard for a Testicle Festival in Clinton, Montana. The hell? I almost went off the road. Was I hallucinating?

Nope. This was for real. What on earth? I can’t imagine there’s much to do out here. I mean, I doubt you can even get pizza delivered, which is my ultimate litmus test for civilization. But a Testicle Festival? Aren’t men already entirely too full of themselves?

Or maybe all the ranchers get together to castrate their bulls all at once. But that doesn’t seem practical. Those poor creatures would be agitated enough at a time like that without having to witness the violation of their cohorts as the humans around them throw a party. Clearly I was going to have to Google this as soon as I had access to wifi again.

It was a solid week before I found myself back on the information superhighway, and it’s a testament to my level of sick curiosity that this Google search was one of the first things I did. It seems that the Testy Fest is a 5 day event held every August in Clinton, and it draws quite the crowd. It’s the place to go to satisfy your craving for fried bulls’ testicles. (You don’t have to thank me. I’m just providing a public service by passing this information along.)

While there, you can also participate in the “Undie 500”, which is a race that you do in your skivvies. In addition, you can take part in the cow chip throwing contest or play some bullshit bingo. Fun for the whole family!

I’m not sure this festival is going to make it onto my bucket list, but it would be fun to have a t-shirt that said, “I had a ball at the Testicle Festival”.



The other day I made the mistake of Googling the name of someone I intensely dislike. I wish I hadn’t. She has always been hostile toward me, and extremely territorial. To cope with her I kind of imagine her as an evil Martian with neither heart nor soul. That way her behavior somehow seems understandable and therefore a lot less hurtful.

But this Google search turned her back into a human being in my mind. Her wide open Facebook page showed me that she has friends. Not many, but some. And she enjoys the outdoors just like I do. Another Google hit lead me to believe that she also enjoys international travel, just like I do. In addition, I discovered that she owns her own home, and thanks to Google earth I see that it’s in a quiet, quaint neighborhood, and she takes pride in a well-kept lawn.

We actually have a great deal in common, and I hate knowing this about her because it makes her hostility even more incomprehensible, and it causes me to have regrets. She could be a friend. I sure could use one. Instead, what I get is an angry troll whose presence in my life is something I’m forced to tolerate.

It just goes to show that people have layers. You may think you know someone, but there is almost always much more to them. It’s never a good idea to rely on simply the surface stuff. Take the time to delve deeper. You may just be intrigued.

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This is one of my fractals, “Layers”. You can buy it in the form of a greeting card, mug, print, puzzle or business card, along with nearly 600 of my other fractal products, here.