THE OTHER SIDE OF IMMIGRATION – Marilyn Armstrong

Learning (or, in my case, trying to learn) another language was high entertainment.
Immigration isn’t easy, isn’t fun.
These days, it can also be life-threatening. 


In English, I rarely if ever used a word the wrong way. I was a serious reader very young and had a big passive vocabulary. By passive, I mean I knew a lot of words but had never used them in conversation. I knew what they meant and how to spell them, but not how they sounded.

I had no idea that Too-son and Tucson were one place. Or that ep-ee-TOME was really an epitome. I remember those two examples because of the hilarity they caused the adults in the area. I was all of 8, but adults were not all that nice to kids. They still aren’t.

My feeble attempts to properly learn Hebrew was even more entertaining. I am sure that my fumbling attempts to learn the language, having caused hysterical laughter, probably played a part in my never properly learning Hebrew. I was so embarrassed by my errors, it didn’t seem worth it, especially since everyone knew at least a little English.

My first big discovery which occurred during my second day in the country was that Zion (Zy-on) means penis. In Hebrew, the pronunciation is actually tzee-own. So if you say that Israel is the “Land of Zion” using your good American pronunciation, you will reduce Israelis to tears of laughter.

They can be a rough crowd.

To add another layer of problems over the difficulty of just getting the words out through my teeth (which were not designed for all those gutturals), many words in Hebrew are very similar to each other but have different meanings. For example, sha-ah is an hour. Shannah is a year. And there you stand saying, “My Hebrew isn’t good. I’ve only been here for two hours.”

After a while, I spoke English and used Hebrew words as needed. Eventually, more Hebrew found its way into my sentences, though complex ideas never made the cut. I could say simple stuff. I could buy groceries. Chat about the weather, as in, “It’s really hot.”

The alternative was “It’s raining hard,” because you only had two seasons: hot and wet.

Eventually, I got to a point where almost everyone could understand most of what I said, sometimes without laughing, but not with joy. My accent made their ears hurt and they preferred English. It was less painful.

You might consider this when you meet immigrants who are trying to learn English. I mention this because having been on the other side of this experience, a bit of kindness to people trying to work through a difficult life transition while learning a new language and culture can go a long way to make them feel less lonely, threatened, excluded, and generally miserable.

Just a thought.

SPAM! – Marilyn Armstrong

For a long time, I got two spam messages for every real hit on my site. I was getting almost a thousand spam messages on heavy days. WordPress finally fixed the bug, but it was overwhelming for a while. Was this a record?

I have many questions about spam. The big one is simple. How did a slimy, over-salted canned meat come to be synonymous with electronic junk mail?

Even more puzzling is that people some people still actually eat Spam. You may take that any way you like. In case you didn’t know, it now comes in a variety of flavors. Yum!

Most of my spam comes from a Spanish list server (lista de emails … anything you get from this address is spam) or outlook.com — and 80% of these were porn. The rest are bots and scams. Legitimate companies do not send thousands of illiterate, nonsensical messages to random blogs.

Then, there are those who ask for advice. They use some version of this message as a comment to a randomly selected post.


“These are in fact fantastic ideas in concerning blogging. You have touched some good things here. Any way keep up wrinting.


Huh? What? It gets better. For completely incoherent, this is one of my favorites. I receive several dozen of these every day:


“Fine way of explaining, and fastidious paragraph to take information concerning my presentation focus, which i am going to convey in academy. Watch Elementary Season 1 Episode 5 Online”


I couldn’t have said it better myself.

A few of my best friends and followers always get mixed in with the spam, so I can’t delete it without looking at it. I have to read through it. Sometimes there are 10 to 15 pages or more, but since there are usually a few real comments mixed in, I have to at least look through all the pages.

Every once in a while, something looks like it might be the real deal … a true comment, but I can’t always tell. When in doubt, I spam it.

If you’ve been trying to comment and aren’t showing up, probably you’re getting dumped into the spam and because I don’t recognize you, you’re getting deleted. If you are a real person, please say something that identifies you as a human and not a machine generated message.

I apologize in advance if I have over-zealously deleted you.

I know that I am by no means alone in getting tons of this garbage. And with all the “spam bots” all over the world, it’s only going to get worse.

So, what do these spammers hope to accomplish by sending me this stuff? The messages never have anything to do with my posts. All are repetitive and obviously generated on a computer programmed by someone whose native language is not English. Most of it is gibberish.

Then again so are many posts on Facebook, so maybe that’s not a good example.

There are the spams that warn me my blog doesn’t display properly on the sender’s computer in Internet Explorer. Why would I care?

There’s are three or four versions assuring me I am brilliant, they love my post about (insert post title) and promise they will tell everyone how useful the information is on my web blog. They always call it a web blog like they just learned the term.

The thing is, while there are many ways you could describe my site, no one could honestly say (not even me) that it’s full of useful information. My stuff may be interesting, thought-provoking, occasionally funny, off-beat and apocryphal, but useful?

I don’t consider it useful and I write it.

There are those that request I exchange links with them and those that would love an invitation to write for my blog, those who suggest I come to their site to see huge penises, hot lesbian sex, hot gay sex, hot sexy sex, huge breasts, gigantic butts, and attractive ladies doing disgusting things with inanimate objects. If not, they would like to sell me some Viagra.

Does anyone actually believe this will generate business?

Make money?

If they believe this, why do they believe it? Does anyone ever respond to these “messages”?

So many questions, so few answers. If anyone has an answer, let me know. I’m baffled. It’s not the only thing about which I’m baffled, mind you, but most of the others are more serious.

Meanwhile, feel free to visit the Spam website. You’ll be glad to know that Spam comes in a wide variety of flavors, including a low sodium version that dodges the question of all that fat but it does lower the salt level. The site includes recipes, a Spam Museum and an online shop where you can buy Spam gear, such as caps, tee shirts, and other strange and wonderful things.

So maybe I do include useful information. I guess it depends on how you feel about Spam.

THE WHITE AZALEA – Marilyn Armstrong

Azalea – FOTD – 05/23/19

When we moved into this house, there was one bedraggled Azalea trying to stay alive in front of the house. It never got any sun and it was too close to the foundation, so it didn’t grow and never bloomed.

This year, for the first time, it actually bloomed with more than a single flower. It’s not brilliant, as Azaleas go, but it has come a long way since we transplanted it. It’s a full-sized bush, even if it doesn’t produce a lot of flowers.

A blooming white azalea! Ours! Golly!

AND SUDDENLY, IT’S ALL GREEN – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Wednesday – BREATHTAKING

It’s gray, rainy, cold and the world is made of mud. No hope of flowers because it still feels like the end of winter.

Then, suddenly, the sun appears and you get a couple of warm day and the world explodes in color. Breathtaking barely describes it. It’s like a new world, a new planet. The sky is blue, the birds are singing. Of course, the squirrels are still eating all the seeds, but the lawn got mowed, the dead bushes are gone, there’s a tall fence to keep Duke in the yard where he belongs … for today, at least, the world is just perfect.

Garry went out and took pictures yesterday. Me too. I got serious about birds. He got serious about Uxbridge. There are so many pictures, I have barely had time to scrape along the edges of the more than 200 pictures from just yesterday. Call this “Breathtaking Sample 1” with more to follow!

From Garry Armstrong, the village and neighborhood:
Photo: Garry Armstrong – This picture is my favorite.
Photo: Garry Armstrong – The brand new crossing sign in the middle of town.
Photo: Garry Armstrong – At home in the woods
Photo: Garry Armstrong – The crossroads of Uxbridge
Photo: Garry Armstrong – The perils of not having a newspaper or even a radio station — we didn’t know there was a vote — or for what!

From Marilyn Armstrong, more birds and a squirrel.
The determined squirrel
Cowbird with Hairy Woodpecker – sharing!

Nuremberg And Its Consequences Are Only A Heartbeat Away – SHINBONE STAR – Reblog

But I do not think we are going that way. I know it’s a possibility, but I think we aren’t going there. We are too individualistic.

THE SHINBONE STAR

The disabused old saw that the only book Donald Trump ever kept at his bedside was Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf — the German dictator’s post-World War I vision for a Utopian Aryan universe — is perhaps true.

The observation is at least a fair assumption. On Monday, Trump held a taxpayer-paid trip to a campaign rally in Montoursville, Pa., where his “Make America Great Again” campaign found nirvana among the unemployed coal miners and formerly well-paid steel workers who rejoiced listening to him rant about the unfairness of it all.

The roots of Trump’s most scurrilous rant to date are found in a tweet he penned early last Friday morning, towards the end of a week-long Twitter blitz precipitated by day after day of bad political news. In it he claimed the FBI’s investigation of his presidential campaign was an attempt at a political coup.

My campaign for President…

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THE MANUAL YOU DON’T HAVE – Marilyn Armstrong

Last night, someone I know and who should know better, complained that Olympus, from whom he bought his camera, should fire the tech writer. Because there was no manual.

There was a booklet that listed the options but didn’t explain what they were or what to do with them. Well, duh.

I wrote this. Then I rewrote it to make it better.

I felt obliged to point out the reason there is no manual is they never hired a tech writer in the first place. If they had a living, breathing technical writer, there would be a manual.

You wouldn’t spend a couple of thousand dollars on a camera and get a generated leaflet. You’d get a real book with an index and a table of contents. Screenshots. Explanations not only of where to find a function but what the function does. So when you get there, you know what option to select and what it will do to your photographs.

Once upon a time, that was my world. I thought it was important, at least to the people who bought products about which I wrote.

The mysteries of the menus in my camera are hilarious. It might as well be written in Urdu.

Years went by during which the work I did was most of my life. I got up, got dressed, scraped the ice off the car, went to work (stopping for coffee along the way) and went through my day. Between having done the same kind of work for a long time and perpetually racing against a deadline, life was busy.

I knew, no matter what the ad said when I took a job, my work wasn’t permanent. I would work until the book was finished, then I’d move on. That was the way it really was.

The industry in which I worked ultimately decided the work I did was no longer necessary. Who needs a manual to tell them how to use equipment that costs a gazillion dollars and controls the operation of a steel mill? Or a missile tracking system? Or a satellite grabber for use out in space? They can always call the help desk — especially in space where you can easily find a signal for your phone.

I was the one who organized the chaotic information into a book with a table of contents, index, chapters, and diagrams so you would not always have to call someone. Considering the state of tech support these days, you can see where this failure to supply reasonable documentation has landed us. That’s why the phones are always busy and why the quality of support is so bad. How often do you find that you know more than the “help tech” individual knows? Basically, if you can’t fix it by rebooting, uh oh.

The help desk people don’t have the manual, either. And they badly need one.

Regardless, I was obsolete.

You need developers and a boss because someone has to say why you are all gathered here this morning. Also, the boss makes sure there’s coffee.

But a writer? They only hired me when they were at the end of a production cycle, realized the contract required they deliver documentation with the product. Sometimes, I got as little as three weeks to learn a product and produce a book that looked professional. At that point, no one cared what was in the book or whether the information would be of any use to anyone. It just had to be big, thick, nicely designed, and weigh enough to use as a doorstop.

My days were numbered. Eventually, I was gone.

To substitute for professional writers, they produce “automatic documentation.” Which is raw data generated by a program using “comments” left by developers, many of whom speak English as a second or third language and in any case, do not understand how non-engineers work or the kind of information they need to navigate a complex product.

It turns out, people were still willing to spend oodles of money for an undocumented product. So I guess they were right. No one cares until they get an expensive product that includes nothing. The good news? You can find entire books — the kind I used to write — on Amazon. Buy them and find out how the product works. It’s just like the books people like me wrote. Cool, huh? Except they don’t come with the product. You have to buy one and they are not always available.

My best bet is finding people online who own and use similar products and pick their brains.

For all of you who believe that crappy documentation is because tech writers are lazy? No, we aren’t lazy.

What we are is fired.

WHAT DO YOU READ? – Marilyn Armstrong

So let’s say you’re at the airport. Your flight is delayed for six more hours, and none of your electronic devices are working. Out of juice and all the plugs are taken … and there’s no free wi-fi. Oh no!

How can you pass the time? Those chairs are too uncomfortable for sleep and you’re too old to use the floor.

I don’t believe it. You really don’t know what to do without electronic devices? You are lost without your cell phone? Really?

If you don’t have an instant answer to this, perhaps we come from different planets. I would reach into my carry-on and pick out a copy of The New Yorker or National Geographics. I could take a walk to the nearest shop (airports are full of them) and buy something to read. A newspaper maybe?

Yes, they still print them.

And the Kindle, with books already downloaded, is like carrying a whole library with you wherever you go.

If all else fails, I might consider chatting with other passengers who are waiting with me. I have had some of the most interesting conversations of my life in terminals, waiting for planes, trains or buses. Although I know you usually text, the organ into which you insert food has a dual purpose and can be used for conversation.

Despite rumors to the contrary, direct communication between living people can prove a pleasant — even enlightening — way of passing the hours. If you’ve never tried it, this would be an opportunity to expand your world! I strongly recommend you give it a try.

You really need to think about this? Seriously?

I’d probably be taking a few dozen pictures too. Airports and the people in them make great subjects. I don’t take pictures using a phone. In fact, I don’t carry a cell phone (what? say that again? You heard me … I don’t carry a cell phone).

I use a camera, a device dedicated to taking photographs. I carry enough spare batteries to get me through two weeks without electricity, so I don’t care what anyone says.

My camera WILL work, no matter where I am.