Old Age

I thought I would feel completely different about growing older. I thought I’d worry more about getting gray hair and the spare tire that would collect around my stomach after I had retired than I have. As I begin my 70’s, I can’t muster more than a shrug about any of those things. MEH. Last I remember I was in my 20’s so I don’t know where the last 50 years went. Instead, what I find terrifying about getting older is that I’ve totally lost the capability to comprehend what people do and why they do it.

Up until recently, more recently than I really want to confess, I didn’t know what a meme was. I had to look memes up on the internet to find out what they were and I am not really sure I understand what they are yet. It was around last week Monday, when I decided to dig deep down into my own oblivion to write this piece, that I discovered that Drake is not just a male duck.

I need a good strong drink and a  to reduce my stress every time I need to remember a password. I have trouble using the 4 remotes that control my TV that my 7 year old grandsons can use in their sleep. Remotes are bad enough. I see you can now turn your lights on and off, luck and unlock your doors and adjust your thermostat with your smart phone. I just want to make a phone call!

I also have no idea how to use Snapchat, WhatsAPP, Tumbler or Venmo, whatever those are. I have a Facebook account, mainly because I want to let people how things are going, to see how they are doing, find recipes and to promote my writing. I have a Twitter account that I only use to stay in touch with a granddaughter who is now going to school out of state.

I’m hearing that cutting back on social media is starting to be trendy, so I might just find out that I am, for one brief second accidentally on-point. We will see how long that lasts. What should I do now? Try to close up the void between the generations, or should I embrace it?

A few years ago, when I first started to sense a technological gap opening up between me and the youth, I tended to enjoy it, much like an old person who’s reached that spot in life where it’s perfectly acceptable for me to dismiss all new music as racket or trip a passerby with my cane just because.

People in a few generations behind me are now becoming parents and CEOs, and I am becoming exactly what I’ve spent the last 40 years accusing my elders of being, angrily befuddled by every new skill needed to get by in life. Give me a smart phone and strand me in a desert and I’ll most likely die there.

When I was in school, “pop culture” just seemed like a course you took for the easy credits not something that was fun, but I did pay attention because it was fun. Part of the charm of becoming an adult was that I could stop working on the oppressively boring task of having to remember trigonometry, history and the periodic table.

Now, though, it turns out that there’s even more for me to try and jam into my brain. The problem is I’ve been in an elective, educational coma for few decades, having reached my interest in modern culture. I don’t know how many Kardashians there are, nor do I care. Just the thought of trying to catch up on everything I’ve missed now is exhausting.

I’m a member of a generation that can remember a time before texting and email and chat rooms. I learned these things in slowly during my 40s, and it wasn’t a problem. I scoffed at, and even felt bad for, anyone who was older and said that they weren’t prepared to try new stuff.

We have a very negative stereotype of people in thier 70s and that stereotype is usually incorrect. Elderly people are very likely to describe the last five or ten years of their lives as the happiest years of their lives.

It may come as a surprise to some, but studies have shown that seniors are among the happiest segments of the population and they are frequently more contented than people in who are in their middle ages. Older people frequently have a very healthy sense of satisfaction that comes from their achievements. These accomplishments don’t need be great feats.

In John Lennon’s lyric, “A working class hero is something to be,” Lennon explains it succinctly. Achievements like being happily married, raising healthy and happy children, serving in the military or retiring from a company in after years of dedicated service, may see ordinary but they can be the basis of contentment in old age.

I Robot

round robot vacuum
Photo by Jens Mahnke on Pexels.com

We have a couple of residents at our house. We don’t have to feed them. They never need a doctor’s appointment. We don’t have to take them anywhere. And here’s the best part, they never make a mess. In fact, they clean up after us humans. These tenants roam around the house every day cleaning up the crumbs and debris left behind by us.

Yes, our “tenants” are robots. Not the kind you see on TV with legs, arms and a head. No C3PO or R2D2 here. These robots are the kind that vacuum our floors on their own. I had been watching these for quite for a while and I read several rave reviews on the internet from people who had bought a vacuuming robot of their own. When the one I was reading about finally went on sale, I jumped at the chance to get one. It is a workhorse, cleaning the living room, dining room, kitchen and the master bedroom suite.

It worked so well that I bought a second one for upstairs. We now have downstairs and upstairs “maids” as we jokingly call them. The upstairs maid even speaks to us in a feminine voice whenever she gets stuck. But even cooler than that, we can program her to speak to us in French. I always wanted a French, upstairs maid.

In the time they have been roaming around in our house, vacuuming up dirt, crumbs and hair I’ve grown rather fond of them. They’ve quickly become like a regular member of our family. But they are vastly different than rest of us. They only need to be asked once to do their work, they never complain, and they never say they’ll get to it later. They never roll their eyes, sigh heavily or conveniently forget because they are too busy playing video games or texting.
And, OMG, are they efficient. With just a touch of a button, they take off randomly patrolling our floor in their mission to find and collect as much dust, lint, hair and crumbs as they can. Fragments left behind by the rest of us. All they ask is that we empty their dust collection bins after they are done with their work. It’s astounding to see just how much stuff they pick up each time we use them. I never knew that we were that dirty.

These technological “employees” even have remote controls that allow me to choose what days and what times I want them to do their job. That way, I can program them to work when we are not home so we can come home to a clean house. What’s not to love?

I really admire their work ethic. This flat, round workhorse will vacuum until they have expended almost every bit of energy they have and then they will slowly, ever so slowly, roll their way back to their home bases and gently ease themselves into their dock to recharge. They never call in sick, never have to leave early or ever come to work late. I don’t have to worry about taxes or liability insurance and if one of them breaks by falling down the stairs, I just throw it away and get a new one.

Because they are so thin and low to the ground, they can go many places that an upright vacuum hasn’t been in many, many years. There’s something so very satisfying about resting on the couch after a long day at work, watching TV, and having a robot wheeling around sucking up the dirt and grime that has managed to get into our carpets.

My wife never wanted one of these but now that she has one, one more household chore is done for her. I never thought it could do as great a job as it does though and I am surprised just how much dirt and grit is in its collection bin every time we run them. I also like how they leave vacuum cleaner wheel marks everywhere they go.

Of course, they are not without fault, nor do I think they would be. Every now and then, they get stuck on something, trapped under my recliner or entangled in a lamp cord. If I don’t hear them running, bumping into things like a drunken sailor or see them charging on their base, I know I have to go looking for them like a high tech game of hide and go seek. Once we find them, we pick them up and return them to their home base so they can recharge for the next time.

So here’s to the robots who save us time and take us a little closer to Rosie the Jetsons’ maid and housekeeper of the future.

An interesting housekeeping robot just debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Click here

round robot vacuum
Photo by Jens Mahnke on Pexels.com

not only can it clean your floors, it can fetch you a beer.


clinic doctor health hospital
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

As an eight year, three time, cancer survivor, I always read with interest about the latest advances in cancer treatment. Over the years I have been poked, prodded and probed. I have been subjected to MRIs, CAT scans, X-rays, PET scans and frequent Blood work. When I had my prostatectomy, my surgeon said if I had waited 2-4 weeks longer, he wouldn’t have been able to save me. I have endured a few rounds of chemo and a few surgeries. I also had several months of radiation therapy at CCS in Lockport with Dr. Yi, which I credit as the treatment that saved my life.

I had so many doctors, procedures and was administered so many drugs that I had to carry a small note pad with me so I could remember them all. I also had a port installed in my chest that made it necessary for me to carry a card so I could pass thru airport security.

Because of this, I am intrigued with the latest course of cancer treatment called immunotherapy. A recently discovered method that uses the patient’s own body to cause the death of cancer cells that scientists have said might be more successful than the present treatment procedures.

Most current anti-cancer therapies like chemotherapy and radiation work by killing cancer cells through a process called “apoptosis” which activates proteins called “caspases”. This leads to cell death. However in apoptosis, the therapies used often fail to kill all the cancer cells which can lead to the disease recurring or relapse.

This is what happened with me. The prostate cancer I had been treated for reappeared in a different location on two separate occasions, years apart. This is caused by the cancer cells breaking off from my original tumor and swimming around till they found a nice place to live and multiply. The first time this happened was in the fatty tissue below my liver. The last time I was diagnosed as having stage 4 cancer. I had 3 tumors. One in the lymph nodes in my lower abdomen and 2 along my windpipe.  I now am looking at my 4th fight because my Prostrate Specific Antigen went up. This usually indicates a return of the cancer.

Chemotherapy, due to the fact they infuse toxic poisons into your body can cause nasty side effects. The chemo I had put me in the hospital and caused all my hair to fall out. Scientists from the University of Glasgow sought to create a way to develop a therapy that kills the cancer cells while reducing the unwanted toxicity.

Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment designed to allow a cancer patient’s very own immune system to discover and eradicate cancer cells where ever they are in the body. New immunotherapeutic methods have been successful when used for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, lung, melanoma, bladder and kidney cancers. Clinical trials are under way for over 25 additional types of cancer. Patients who do respond to treatment have a much higher probability of a continued response because the immune system’s memory leads to an extended protection.

Scientists say they discovered a method to separate cancer killing immune cells from a donor’s blood and then multiply them by millions. The “neutrophil” cells are a part of your body’s primary line of defense against foreign invaders. This is also known as the “innate immune system”. These cells are thought to be the reason that some people will naturally reject powerful cancers in circumstances that are described as a “miracle recovery”. And the clinical trials for this new therapy may possibly be happening as early as this year thanks to LIfT in conjunction with researchers from King’s College in London, England.

“It is something that I don’t believe has been done before, and producing these specific cells with cancer-killing ability is a notion we had not thought of before. We are excited by these early results.” Said Alex Blyth, chief executive of LIfT Biosciences, whose mother Margaret was killed by pancreatic cancer in 2014. The team will focus on pancreatic cancer as this is one of the most lethal solid cancers. Mr. Blyth says neutrophils can be given to anyone without fear of serious rejection.

There is evidence the neutrophils can often become “blind” to cancer, but when they do target the cancer, they eradicate up to 95% of the test cancer cells within 24 hours.

LIfT’s team has collected thousands of cells discarded as unwanted waste products by blood banks and is mass-screening them for their cancer-killing potential.

Unlike apoptosis, which is a silent form of cell death, when cancer cells die through Caspase Independent Cell Death, called CICD, they alert the immune system through the release of inflammatory proteins. The immune system can then attack the remaining tumor cells that evaded the initial therapy induced death.

The trials, if they go ahead early this year, will involve a small number of patients with pancreatic cancer. The new method of killing cancer cells has led to the complete eradication of tumors in experimental models.

For those of us who have had cancer or are fighting cancer, these are exciting times. I hope the Food and Drug Administration approves this therapy as soon as possible. No one should have to go through what I went through.

Norb is a freelance journalist from Lockport.

“As close to home as your VCR”:  Remote Control (Movie) (1988).

grayscale photo of remote control near eyeglasses
Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

As I sit here typing I look over at my end table and see four remotes. I also have a cordless phone there. It is not unusual for me to grab the wrong remote to try to change the station or even to grab a remote when the phone is ringing and try to answer it.  I have on occasion pushed the buttons on the phone when I wanted to change channels, wondering why the damn thing isn’t working. This happens occasionally when I’m “resting my eyes” after lunch or dinner. Donna, my wife would frequently ask to go out to dinner right after I woke up. She knew I would agree to anything then and not remember it later.

There are two remotes for the television. One for me and one for Donna. (Don’t ask). There is one remote for my Roku device. Roku allows me to access thousands of sites including television programs, movie, music and social media sites. The fourth remote on my end table is for my Amazon Fire Stick. Again this device allows me to access thousands of television programs, movie and music sites. But these aren’t the only remotes in the living room.

I have one remote for my VCR so I can play all our children’s wedding videos and several old movies we have. There is one last remote that controls our DVD player. I don’t remember just why we got this because our VCR is a combination VCR- DVD player. They sit in the cabinet under the TV.

My children and grandchildren would make a game of trying to take a remote from my end table when I was in my recliner “resting my eyes” after lunch or, as my grandson calls it, my “napatizer” after dinner. That’s the nap I take before going to bed. They would wait until I was snoring like a lumberjack and then try to pick up the remote without waking me. This never worked out for them. They would inevitably be caught red handed before they even got it off the table. Just the action of their touching it was met with a stern “I’m watching that”.

If it is summer we also have a remote for the air conditioner in the dining room that I have never figured out how to use yet. It has only been five years so give me some time. I just press buttons until it seems to be doing what I want it to do.

Next we go into the recently built, first floor master bedroom suite. There we have another TV and another Roku. Both of these remotes work differently than the ones in the living room.

If you go to our second floor, there is a television and a third Roku device in our old master bedroom. In the summer there is also an air conditioner with a remote in this room. This is one of the three guest bedrooms we now have. On the third floor, the man cave, the walk up attic, there is an older analog TV and a digital to analog converter both controlled by their own remotes.

None of these remotes are alike except for the fact that they are black and have buttons. They don’t even work alike with some of them having the volume controls on the left and the channel selector on the right and some are the other way around. This isn’t very helpful late at night when you are tired and the lights are off.

I know there are “universal” remotes but believe me I have used a few of these and they aren’t universal. They have hundreds maybe thousands of codes you can punch in to try to program them for your device but if you find a code that does work, at best, you will be able to turn your set on and off, change the channel and adjust the volume.

Remotes worked better when I was a child. My father would say, “Norb turn the channel” or “adjust the volume” or “turn the antenna.” This worked 100% of the time and the batteries never died. That’s what kids were for.

This is the other thing. Every one of these remotes has two batteries in them. My best count is we have over 20 batteries running these remotes. Most of them are either AA or AAA. We go thru them so fast that we buy them in the large economy, family size packages. I believe the battery manufacturers and the television makers are in cahoots. I think the TV people get a royalty for every battery of these sizes that are sold.

Not to worry though. I see there is a smart phone APP you can use to control your electronic gadgets. That way when your phone dies, you have to get up and figure out how to use the buttons on your devices. According to WebMD Instead of using the remote, you have to get walking to the television to change the channel might give you some exercise and even help you lose weight.

We now have remote starters for cars, remote wall switches, remote thermostats even remote control bugs, (https://www.insidescience.org/news/brief-worlds-smallest-remote-controlled-cyborg-bug.)


Don’t need it. Don’t want it.

apple apple device blur cell phone
Photo by Terje Sollie on Pexels.com

Years ago I owned a small handyman business. I had installed a microwave in to a wall for a customer and she was telling me just how useful a microwave was to her. I had been thinking about getting one for my wife for some time and this was all the push I needed to get her one. As soon as I got home, I told her that I was going to get her a microwave. Her response was that she didn’t need one. I ignored her and we drove out to the appliance store and bought one. For the first week I don’t think she used the stove. We are on our third microwave now, we wore out the previous two.

I bought her a minivan that she “didn’t need, didn’t want “. She was happy with her four door sedan. She is now on her third minivan. She drives it every single day, going shopping, and ferrying children to and from school, work, sports etc.

The most recent one I bought her has a number of options that she “didn’t need”. She said she didn’t need a backup camera but this one has one. She recently said that she would never get another van without this option. DVD player? What does she need that for? It only took a short time for her to learn that this was an ideal way to keep the kids quiet in the back of “Nana’s Bus”. A power lift gate seemed lazy to her. She thought she could continue doing this manually like she did with her old minivans. Now it’s push a button it opens, push a button it closes. Same with the power sliding doors. Another win!

The next thing I got her that she “didn’t need” was a cell phone. She said if anyone wanted to reach her they could call on our home phone. I have bought her several phones since then. From a brick phone to a flip phone to whatever phone was currently available. Today she can surf the web with her phone. She panics if she misplaces her phone now. We occasionally have to dial her phone number so she can find where she left it.

She recently dropped her phone and shattered the screen. We had to opt for expedited shipping to get a replacement for her. Of course this new one is a different size from her old one so we had to buy a new case for this. She also bought a small purse to carry this around so she can misplace this too. She has developed a malady that I call “cell phone hand “where she is frequently carrying it with her left hand.

We have Roombas. For those of you who don’t know what this is, it is a robotic vacuum cleaner. You push a button and it takes off. It wanders around aimlessly cleaning your floors and when it is done, drives itself back to the charging station. You can leave the house and it will operate without any human intervention at all. It doesn’t get any easier than this and it does a darn good job.

She didn’t want one of these either. “I can vacuum the floor” was her way of saying thank you, “I can carry the vacuum cleaner down from the upstairs closet whenever I need to vacuum.” The vacuum weighs almost as much as she does. I don’t think the very expensive machine I bought her has seen the light of day since the first Roomba arrived.  We now have two of these. She calls them her upstairs maid and her downstairs maid. We have also worn one of these out. Again, I ordered a replacement online. Our upstairs maid got a real workout until the replacement Roomba arrived. Our upstairs maid even talks to us in either French or English. Knida sexy to have a French maid living upstairs.

She loved to read and would go to the library at least once a week to get new books. She would load up a large bag and walk the 1.1 miles to get there.  She would spend quite a bit of time selecting books, refill her bag and then walk back home.

Enter a Kindle. She didn’t want this either. She said that she could easily go to get the books she needed and that the Kindle was just too expensive. She used this via our Wi-Fi to surf the web, stay in touch with people, look for recipes, etc.  It’s not just for reading. She wore the first one out recently. It started to have a mind of it’s own. It would change screens when it wanted, wouldn’t charge and generally became a pain. I had to replace it. Until it arrived, she struggled with her old one.

Of course the new one was slightly larger than her old one so the case wouldn’t fit. We had to buy a new case. It also worked differently than her old one so she had to learn how to use it. The last problem was we had to load all her Wi-Fi passwords, Facebook accounts, Emails, etc. on the new one. This took the better part of a weekend.

Yes technology is scary at first but once you get used to it, it becomes indispensable.

Norb is a writer and an early adopter who currently uses 2 laptops and is on his fifth cell phone. He can be reached at nrug@juno.com.