Sunday, May 30, 2021

In Memoriam: Post-It Note Inventor

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 31, 2021] ©2021

I was genuinely dismayed to read recently in the New York Times of the death of a man who has had a profound impact on my life.  He was Spencer Silver, inventor of the glue that makes Post-it Notes stick. 

I would have gone to the memorial if I’d known.  

Anyone who has spent any time at all in my home knows that from the instant I first encountered a Post-it Note in 1980, my entire mental organization has centered around them.

Truly, I think Uber and yellow sticky notes are the greatest innovations of modern times.  I’m not sure what I did without either.

In 1968, the aforementioned Mr. Silver, was a scientist at 3M working on “pressure-sensitive adhesives.”  When I hear stories like this, I always wonder: did his high school guidance counselor bring him in and say “Your Myers Briggs test indicates that you would be ideally suited to a career in the glue industry”? 

Actually, Mr. Silver was attempting to create a pressure-sensitive glue strong enough to be used in aircraft construction when he inadvertently created one most definitely not suited for that use. You do not want to be able to pull the wings off the aircraft, even if you could quickly reattach them. 

But what to do with this amazing new product, this “solution without a problem.” It was another ten years before a potential application was found. The story, which sounds suspiciously apocryphal, alleges that one of the scientist’s colleagues discovered that the adhesive helped him to anchor his bookmarks in his hymnal. If you say so.

Post-it Notes are now produced in multiple sizes and colors, different strengths of adhesion for non-smooth surfaces, and even with lines on them.  We purists, however, only use the original canary yellow.

Personally, I’m only willing to try to keep so much information in my head at once.  This is why my computer monitor is ringed with sticky notes reminding me of all manner of info such as short cuts I use during word processing, passwords I use frequently but not quite often enough to remember them, what sequence of commands to use when my computer freezes up, and how to stop print jobs when I accidentally specified 100 pages instead of 10.


Sticky notes on my bathroom mirror remind me of the day’s appointments now that I am a senior.


There is no machine in our home that is not adorned with sticky notes advising me of its operational requirements. Some current and former residents of this house still need to be reminded to push the dial of the washing machine IN before turning it. 

At one point, my older son Rory sent me a birthday card depicting an old person holding a remote up to her ear and waiting for a dial tone. Rory noted: “Mom - I’m sure there is a sticky note in your house that addresses this.”  

Post-it Notes on the fridge remind me to thaw chicken or put the lasagna in the oven at 6:00.

I just have a Post-it note mind. Or, as it has been suggested by mean-spirited persons in my family whom I will not personally name, a mind not sufficiently memory-capable to avoid needing Post-it Notes. Take my Post-it Notes away and you’d have to put me in a Home.

A few times my Post-it note habit has had unintended consequences.  In 2009, during a weekend visit, my prankster older son Rory appropriated my 14-digit library card number sticky-noted to my computer and ordered me up a long list of books including The Book of the Penis (it came with an 8-inch ruler along the binding); The whole lesbian sex book: a passionate guide for all of us; Coping with Your Colitis, Hemorrhoids and Related Disorders; and The Rear View: A Brief and Elegant History of Bottoms Through the Ages.  He was aided and abetted by the public library website’s then-policy of announcing “your password is the last four digits of your phone number,” a policy now changed, presumably at the behest of other mothers with creatively-minded sons.

It’s comforting to know that after I’m gone, I’ll live on through Post-it Notes.

If Post-it Notes are to be my legacy, I think it would only be appropriate that when I die, the assorted assemblage should be issued with pads of sticky notes on which they could write farewell messages and stick them to my coffin. This could be in lieu of flowers. It would be especially appropriate since yellow is my favorite color.  The messages could run the gamut of, “I’m sorry I never returned your blender!” Or: “I hope those chocolates won’t melt where you’re going, ha ha!  Or even: “Inga – you really should have had that checked.”

But somewhere in the program, there should be an important announcement: Given Inga’s demise, go short on your 3M stock.


 Some members of my family continue to need reminding

Could not operate computer without sticky notes

Monday, May 17, 2021

'Prevailing Medical Advice" Doesn't Seem To Prevail Very Long

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 19, 2021] ©2021

The jig is up, medical science.  I don’t believe a word you say anymore. 

The one thing about being in 70 is that I have had the opportunity to watch “prevailing medical advice” (the ultimate oxymoron, in my view), flip flop back and forth multiple times. 

When my sons were infants, babies had to sleep on their stomachs to avoid crib death; now they have to be on their backs.  Our friends with ulcers who spent 30 years avoiding spicy foods are now being treated for a bacterial infection.  People with diverticulosis were once relegated to soft diets; now they’re filling up on roughage.  Olof and I have dutifully switched back and forth from butter to margarine several times in the last 30 years (but frankly preferred the butter years). The New York Times recently reported that even 50 years ago, exercise used to be considered dangerous for people over 40, and for heart disease, bed rest was prescribed. In my youth, teenage acne was treated with radiation.   I spent twenty years limiting myself to two eggs a week and then suddenly eggs were OK again.  (I demand a cholesterol refund!) 

Remember Sam-E, chondroitin, tryptophan, and Airborn?  Actually, probably not. They were the miracle cures of their time.  Now even the current darling – Vitamin D - is getting bad press.  Medicare just denied a lab test for Olof’s Vitamin D level saying that no longer think testing for it is “routinely medically necessary.”

People in my advanced age group are really having a hard time embracing the  now-popularity of foods like coconut oil, its 14 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon always considered a fast track to premature death.  Now it’s a health food.  I decided to add a jar to my supermarket basket but only got five steps before the chest pains started and I put it back.  It’s like Mao waking up one morning and exhorting the Chinese to embrace democracy. 

And don’t even get me going on hormone replacement. Or calcium supplements, for decades the sacred cow of medical advice for women, now thought to cause heart disease in supplemental form. (You’re supposed to get it from your diet.)  If that’s true, what took medical research so long to figure it out?  I’ve been taking supplemental calcium for at least 40 years.  Aside from a big fat refund, I also want an extended warranty on my heart from you guys. 

Ambiguity fatigue has taken its toll on me.  In my heart of hearts, I’ve begun to think of medical researchers as the Enron executives of health care.  What happened to all those studies, for example, showing HRT was good?  If those studies were all flawed, how do we know the new ones aren’t too?  Before I completely change my life again, they’re going to have to convince me. And I’m going to be a really hard sell.

When one reads about medical treatments through the ages, one is frequently horrified at the amount of suffering that was inflicted upon people by what passed for the gold standard of medical science in their day.  (Before long, I predict they will be saying that about colonoscopies.) Of course, you say to yourself, they didn’t know what we do now. 

C’mon, admit it: Is “now” just as flawed as it was 50 – or 100 - years ago?

All you can really do, I’ve decided, is go with what feels right, knowing that whatever you’re doing is bound to come back into favor again at some point. It’s kind of like riding out a down market.  In fact, I like to think of it in terms of medical research ``futures”:  I personally plan to go short on Lipitor (my pick as the next pariah of health care) and go long – very long – on chocolate. A person, after all, has to live.

Sorry, medical science. It's over between us. You've lied to me one too many times. No, the constant volte faces are a level of perfidy that cannot be countenanced.  I'm done with you changing the rules! 

And speaking of which, there is nothing that irritates Olof and me more than finally hitting the cholesterol and blood pressure targets our doctors have set only to have them announce that new research has found that these numbers should be yet lower.  We’re in a loop of perpetual medical fail. Is this a plot?

I’ve concluded that my husband, Olof, is right:  Since medical science doesn’t really have clue, that you can pick what you want  to die from.  Neither of us are willing to die from tofu since we don’t like tofu.  But I’m willing to die from chocolate.  He’s willing to die from single malt Scotch. 

Fortunately for me, there are plenty of opportunities with chocolate to get enough calcium from one’s diet.  As a first step, I’m going to drastically up my intake of chocolate mint chip ice cream.  Strictly medicinal.


Sunday, May 9, 2021

Too Much Of A Good Thing

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 10, 2021] ©2021

There’s a lot of hoarders in my family.  Fortunately, I’m not one. Well, except for photos. But I personally think of photos as “artistic curation.” 

As I’ve visited various relatives over the years, it’s become clear to me that the tendency to accumulate what could politely be referred to as an excessive number of possessions – particularly  books and National Geographics - clearly runs in the family.  What is it about National Geographics that make people hang on to them forever?   I know people who have moved twelve times and while the dining room set didn’t always make the cut, the National Geographics invariably end up on the truck. 

The most egregious example of mass accumulation in my own genetic network is the ancestral home in Hard-To-Get-There, Ohio, which has been continuously in the family since 1865.  Let me just say that you can acquire a lot of stuff in 155 years.  The last surviving occupant, my favorite aunt, died 12 years ago but left the hoard, er house, in a trust.  My aunt encompassed the Hoarder Big 3:  child of the Depression, ardent conservationist, and OCD packrat (maybe that’s four).

It was a hoarder perfect storm.  The place was an absolute treasure trove of wonderful old stuff – Ladies Home Journals from the 1880s, gorgeous oil lamps, ornate ewers - intermixed, alas, with multiple cases of 40-year-old Jell-O, cartons of ratty underwear preserved in 1962 newspaper, and a huge freezer that was a veritable biohazard. Then there were the 10,000+ books, three-deep in the bookcases.  

I have to confess that when I went to visit her over the years, the first thing I did was to check the latch on the upstairs bedroom window to make sure I could get out onto the roof and jump in case of fire.  Because with the piles of old newspapers (which she intended to use for mulch for her gardens) and magazines (you can guess which kind) stacked up in every hallway, I figured I’d have approximately seven seconds to hurl myself out the window.  I simply refused to have my Cause of Death be listed as “National Geographics.”

Little did I know what a fire trap the place really was.  After my aunt died, we ordered up several 35-foot dumpsters and started dumping all the flattened cardboard boxes that had been on the back veranda in ever-increasing piles for as long as anyone could remember.  I suddenly saw the color drain out of my husband’s face.  Underneath it all was coal.  Eight hundred pounds of coal.  The old coal burning stove, unused for decades, was still in the living room.  I suddenly realized that the seven seconds of escape time I always thought I’d had was actually two.

You may have noticed that I am carefully avoiding addressing my photo habit which, as noted, I genuinely consider to be in a different category.  My sons disagree.

The kids had long been threatening to cremate me after my untimely death with the 65+ photo albums – an entire bookcase - that I had amassed over the years. It would be a two-fer; get rid of Mom and the albums all at once.  

I am proud to say that my pandemic project last year was to cull the 65 albums to 32. For me it is heartbreaking to part with a single photo. It’s like erasing history.

I just love taking pictures, and might possibly have been (over)compensating for the fact that my parents probably took a total of 20 out-of-focus off-center black-and-white box camera photos of me before I was 18.  My children’s lives would be documented. 

When my younger son and then-fiancĂ©e wanted to do a slide show for their wedding, I hauled some 40 albums out to the dining room table.  I swear my daughter-in-law said under her breath, “I hope this isn’t hereditary.” 

I was always the (self-designated) family photographer, the absolutely most thankless job in the world.  With every picture I looked at in my albums, I could replay the sound track of whining that went into getting everyone to pose for it.  The irony, of course, is that years later, friends and family would look at these pictures and ooh and aah over them with delight. 

Three years ago, I put together a 400-slide show of Olof and me to mark a milestone birthday. Afterwards, there were wonderful toasts made - Henry gave a 4-hanky tribute to both of us. I gave a toast to Olof, commenting on how different this evening would have been had Olof not come into our lives. Both kids simultaneously chimed, "200 fewer slides?

Yeah, you can put photos on CDs but honestly, you'd never look at them.  Photos are meant to be shared in albums over a cup of cocoa, or depending on your haircut in that era, several bottles of wine. Besides, in ten years, no one will be able to read the current CDs. So maybe CDs are the ultimate solution: self-expiring photo storage. 

There's hope, kids!



Wednesday, May 5, 2021

The Sounds Of Silence

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 3, 2021] ©2021

You know that life around you has become too perpetually noisy when you hear a sound that you can’t quite place but seems familiar. Then you realize it’s birds chirping.  In fact, it’s your own aviary birds.

The eerie quiet is unsettling.  What happened to the leaf blowers and chain saws and jack hammers? Has the city been evacuated and you weren’t notified? 

For a while, I used to think that my nice residential neighborhood has always been really noisy but I didn’t realize it since I was at work all day. Or, that once the current construction projects were finished, the serenity I think I remember (but could have hallucinated) will return. 

But nope, I’ve been retired for a while. This is the new reality.

One obvious source of noise is lawn mowers, tree trimmers, and leaf blowers.  San Diego’s year-round growing season blesses us with perpetually lush greenery.  Which needs to be trimmed.  Constantly.

I grew up in the Northeast where lawn mowers (generally teenager-powered, and very quiet, except for the complaining) were strictly a summer event and leaf blowers didn’t exist. No snow-blowers then either, just kids shoved out the front door with shovels at 6 a.m. to clear the driveway so we could get to school (kids) and commuter train (Dad).  There was nothing my mother feared more than a snow day.

It would only be fair to note that on Wednesday mornings, the mowing and leaf blower noise comes from my house (and my next-door neighbors’ whose lawn service comes at the same time, creating a cacophonous mind-numbing stereo). And I have to cop to a half day of really noisy tree trimming recently too.

I realize that leaf blowers save lawn guys a lot of time. But I really hate the noise, and even more the fact that these machines are blowers not vacuums.  At my house, they simply relocate all the leaves and dust from point A to Point B, the latter being all over the lawn chairs stored on my back porch. 

We used to have a local kid doing lawn maintenance who was a holy terror with a leaf blower.  I’d be puzzled as to why my kitchen was full of leaves and dirt.  With his iPod turned up full blast, “Bentley” failed to notice that he was blowing all the detritus from the patio through my kitchen window.  One had to admire the technical skill that got so much lift in those leaves that he could get them up and over a four-foot high pass-through.  The stuff that failed to achieve altitude settled like Mt St. Helens ash on the plants. 

But it’s the on-going construction noise, both residential and commercial, that is really doing me in. By 7 a.m. six days a week, there are jack hammers, nail guns, cement mixers, skill saws, thundering lumber deliveries, and assorted power tools going on in seeming Surround Sound.  

Our (truly lovely) next door neighbors did a 2.5 year remodel a few years ago, having been promised by their contractor, “Ralph,” that it would be “six months maximum.”  (I stuck a lot of pins into Ralph dolls during that time.) My husband and I maintained that the noise was at least offset by our gaining a second language from the Tijuana radio station the construction guys boomed some seven days a week.  (But did they have to sing along?)

The average spec McMansion remodel seems to take at least two years (really). Then whoever buys it remodels it again to customize it and “make it their own.”  If I were mayor, I’d make it a law forbidding any house from being remodeled less than three years from the last remodel.  And I’d also make the those spec house/house flipper contractors live in the house for one year after the project was finished to give the neighbors on both sides opportunity to exact revenge. Lots of revenge. The Flipper Pay Back Act would allow anything short of arson, and only because then you’d have to start building again.

It isn’t just a multitude of construction and gardening noise.  There are at least six different kinds of helicopters that buzz regularly over our home: military, police, news, Coast Guard, tourist, and INS. Some days it sounds like the Ride of the Valkyries scene in Apocalypse Now.

The changing flight path from Lindbergh Field seems to be adding to the aerial pollution although I have to confess, I’ve been pretty good at tuning that out. 

And that’s the issue.  Tuning it out.  There’s only so much noise you can tune out. The batteries seem to have permanently crumped on my inner tuner-outer.

The (truly lovely) next door neighbors have just alerted us that they need to do an “upgrade” to correct some problems with the remodel they finished two years ago.  Three months max, they promise.

Oy. Just so long as they don’t hire Ralph.