I Wish I’d Thought of That

Image by Stuart Miles, freedigitalphotos.net

Image by Stuart Miles, freedigitalphotos.net

Jon Stewart had a guy on the other night named William Rosen who wrote a book called, “The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention.”

The most powerful? Seriously? Not that I have anything against steam engines but I highly doubt that they were the most powerful idea in the world, if that’s what the book is about. I’m assuming it is because what else would it be about? Steaming your cappuccino? The invention of the steam bath? I’m guessing saunas, while pleasant enough, aren’t that big a deal.

Anyway, I didn’t actually watch Jon Stewart’s interview with this guy because I was really tired from catching up on episodes of “The Colbert Report” because of the whole DirecTV, DVR, time-shifting your TV watching thing. Now that’s a powerful invention. Being able to watch “Mad Men” at 7 p.m. while the rest of your Facebook friends are still talking about how they can’t wait to see what happens to Don and Betty Draper later that night and you already know. Talk about feeling drunk with power, knowledge, wealth and overall superiority. Muahaha! Now that’s the kind of thing I want to invent.

Like this website I heard about recently, www.runpee.com, which does the research in advance so you come to the theater already knowing the best time to go to the bathroom when you’re at the movies. Brilliant. There’s nothing worse than sitting through an endless piece of family entertainment, such as “The Karate Kid” remake-which could have lost an entire hour without losing a single second of its entertainment value-while wiggling in your seat for 30 minutes because you think that the movie has to be over any minute now, for the last 30 minutes.

Another great idea is Switch Gear Jewelry (www.switchgearkit.com). I won a set of these mix and match earrings and they’re one of those simple genius ideas that make you think, “Wow, I should have thought of that.” Basically, it is a kit that gives you tons of options to create your own earrings on the spot (no tools) using various combinations of interchangeable hoops, chains, and funky architectural materials such as metal, rubber and tortoise shell. It’s totally fun and super easy. Again, why didn’t I think of that?

Then there’s the Java Log (www.pinemountainbrands.com) for your fireplace. Hello? What a great idea this is. Every time I throw out my coffee grounds I think I should do something with these. I can’t believe I didn’t think of this idea before Rod Sprules, the guy who’s now making millions selling these green firelogs that not only divert 12 million pounds of coffee grounds from landfills each year, they also make great smelling fires, and give you a caffeine buzz to boot!

Probably my favorite new invention of all is from Daniel Wright, the author of “Patently Silly” and proprietor of the website www.patentlysilly.com. This guy is a college engineering major turned comedian, who now makes his living making fun of other people’s inventions. His website and book feature zany ideas-all of which have real patents-such as an Apparatus for Cat’s Cradle Game, a Hip Hop Aerobic Exercise Doll and a Thong Diaper. Talk about a patently obviously brilliant idea. He didn’t even have to invent anything, he just had to write about silly things that other people invented!

I wish I’d thought of that.

Share your invention ideas with Leslie@LeslieDinaberg.com. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.comOriginally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on July 30, 2010.

The Girl Who Stared Into Space

Image by marcolm, freedigitalphotos.net

Image by marcolm, freedigitalphotos.net

Last Sunday I went to the beach to relax with my husband and son. It was a perfect warm day, with just the right amount of sea breeze. I had warned them both earlier that I wasn’t in the mood to socialize. I just wanted to veg out with the sand in my toes and a book under my nose.

We spotted friends a few yards up the shoreline but I wasn’t in the mood to socialize. I was determined to $#% relax that afternoon, as I ever so (im)patiently explained to my loved ones. They were supposed to read their books too.

That was our plan.

I was going to $#% relax if it killed me.

I had said so-clearly-before we left the house.

The tall guy immediately took off on a walk, while the short one read his book and I read mine. “Ah summer,” I thought lazily. “This is exactly what I needed. Pure bliss.”

That blissful feeling lasted a whole 45 minutes till I turned the last page of Richard Russo’s “That Old Cape Magic” (good book, by the way) at the exact same moment the short one turned the last page of Cory Doctorow’s “For the Win.”

I handed him my iPhone to play with (hey, it was an emergency) and dug in my beach bag for another book.

Now, if I were to have my own version of “The Girl Who Fixed the Umlaut” it would be “The Girl Who Never Ever EVER Wanted to Run Out of Books to Read,” as evidenced by the 18 unread books I have sitting by the bedside and the other 247 I have in various rooms around the house.

I am never ever EVER without a book to read and yet I didn’t seem to have another one in my bag. This couldn’t be happening to me! I was always prepared with an extra book (or two or three), yet there I was sitting on the beach with perfect weather and a child who was uncharacteristically tired enough to sit there contentedly playing a game on my phone with little or no interaction required on my part-and no book to read!

I honestly had no idea what to do with myself.

I was so un-used to having the luxury of a few minutes just to space out that it took a little while for this to option occur to me.

I’m so used to always having a child to entertain, a project to think about, an article to work on, a book to read, a problem to solve or a friend to talk to that the idea of sitting and staring out at the vastness of the ocean took a while to sink in.

Then it took me a while to remember how to do it. To simply sit and do nothing and allow my thoughts to wander where they may, with no specific purpose or direction.

To simply be.

To relax and enjoy the sounds of the birds and the warmth of the sunshine and the salty smell of the ocean and the gritty sand between my toes was pure bliss once I got the hang of it.

Who knows, by the end of August maybe I’ll actually be “The Girl Who Stared Into Space-and Liked It” after all.

Share your summer stories with Leslie@LeslieDinaberg.com. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.comOriginally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on July 23, 2010.

Dude Food

516AmvTQJnL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Is there really such a thing as dude food? If you were an alien looking in on our culture of Burger King and Yoplait ads you would certainly think so. But how much of our “dude food” and “chick picks” food preferences are based on cultural and gender stereotypes and messaging? A lot, according to “Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think,” a book I recently picked up.

The author, Brian Wansink, is the director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab and a professor of consumer behavior. We—the American consumer—are the lab rats for this scholar of the drive through window and the office candy bowl. I must say, we make pretty interesting subjects.

The average person makes more than 200 food decisions a day-and can’t explain most of them-according to Wansink. But society certainly seems to play a role.

While most traditional diet and nutrition books focus on what dieticians and health practitioners know, this book focuses on what psychologists and marketers know, and offers some new insight into why we eat what we eat.

For example, Wansink’s research found that 40 percent of people, both men and women, identified their favorite comfort foods as relatively healthy fare like soup, pasta, steak, and casseroles.

However, when it came time to rate a list of the foods they personally found the most comforting, “men and women might well have been from Mars and Venus,” writes Wansink. Women chose ice cream, chocolate and cookies as their most comforting foods. Throw in red wine and a Meg Ryan DVD and you’ve pretty much got my “cure for a stressful day” shopping list. Men, on the other hand, chose ice cream, soup and pizza or pasta as their comfort food faves.

The explanation for these preferences?

“When we asked men why they preferred pizza, pasta and soup over cakes and cookies, men generally talked about how good they tasted and how filling they were.” But when the researchers probed a little more they got additional feedback from the men that those foods made them feel cared for, important, or the focus of attention of either their wife or their mother.

No wonder they found them comforting.

When women were asked about those same foods, they found them less comforting because they thought about having to make them-or how hard their mothers had worked to make them-and then having to clean up after making them. In other words, despite the ease of picking up the phone and calling Rusty’s, which I guess they don’t have in Ithaca, some of the so-called comfort foods signaled discomfort for the women.

“For women, snack-like foods-candy, cookies, ice cream, chocolate-were hassle-free. (I guess they’re not making handmade truffles or Cherry Garcia.) Part of their comfort was to not have to make up or clean up anything. It was both effortless and mindless eating,” writes Wansink.

This book definitely made me wonder if the reason so many men behave like Hoover vacuums when it comes to food is that they aren’t usually the ones to clean up afterwards. It also made me wonder (be still my heart) if the younger generation of men, who willingly drink Diet Cokes and eat Cesar salads without making jokes about keeping their girlish figures, might also be more willing to pick up the vacuum.

Share your thoughts on dude food and chick picks with Leslie@LeslieDinaberg.com. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com. Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on July 16, 2010.

Off the Record

Image by Stuart Miles, freedigitalphotos.net

Image by Stuart Miles, freedigitalphotos.net

“Abracadabra” is a magic word. So are “salagadoola mechicka boola bibbidi-bobbidi-boo.”

Even “please,” “thank you” and “I’m sorry” have magical properties sometimes.

However, “off the record” is not a magic enchantment spell with supernatural powers to change both the future and the past.

I repeat: “off the record” is not a magic phrase.

“Off the record” is a mutually agreed upon transaction, the terms of use of which should be discussed with a reporter before the person talking “off the record” actually discloses any information.

I don’t know why this is so confusing for people, but obviously it is.

If you really need to confide in someone, tell a priest, tell your doctor or tell your lawyer, but don’t tell a journalist—unless you want him or her to do something about it. True confidentiality is what pets are for. If you must talk to someone about a private subject and you don’t want it repeated, tell it to your dog or cat. Those are the only beings that you can guarantee won’t share your confidences.

When you say something to a journalist, think first about who it is that you’re talking to. Journalists are people who tell stuff to other people for a living. We love to tell people stuff. We get off on telling other people things they didn’t know before. Information is our currency, our life blood, our only substitute for barely making a living wage.

Think before you talk and talk (about whether or not what you’re saying is on the record) before you really talk. Then talk to Gen. Stanley McChrystal if you still don’t understand why this is important. I hear he’s got some time on his hands these days.

This is not to say that there aren’t perfectly legitimate reasons for telling a journalist something “off the record.” We can and will keep a secret if we say we will. It goes back to that “mutually agreed upon” part of the equation I talked about earlier.

If, for example, something really bad is going on but you don’t want to be fired-or killed-talking to a journalist “off the record” might be a good way to set the wheels in motion to do something about it. I know this, because I’ve seen it in a movie. For example, if you’re being chased by a black-ops, rogue faction of the government, give me a call.

Sometimes there might be a need to provide background information or context for a story, stuff you don’t want to be quoted about, or even “double super secret background,” which is stuff you really, really, really don’t want to be quoted about. The old, “I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you” kind of information that many of us deal with on a day-to-day basis, at least in the movies.

And let’s face it; some gossip is just too juicy to keep to yourself. But come to think of it, that’s probably what Twitter is for. I haven’t quite figured that one out. But “off the record” is something I’m pretty clear about and you should be too.

Just keep in mind that while the line between edit and advertising has become blurred in many publications-along with the line between bloggers and journalists, professionals and hobbyists, and fact and opinion-newspaperman H.L. Mencken defined news as “what somebody does not want to see in print. The rest is public relations.”

Or, as Rolling Stone writer Michael Hastings wrote, when he took to Twitter to defend himself against criticism of his recent cover story which resulted in the firing of Gen. McChrystal, “Hard not to respond to this without going back to an old saying. I’m paraphrasing: Reporting is what someone somewhere doesn’t want known. Everything else is advertising.”

Share your journalistic pet peeves-on the record-with Leslie@LeslieDinaberg.com. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.comOriginally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on July 9, 2010.

Why it’s okay to swoon

TwilightAt the last Twilight movie, my girlfriend and I decided there should be a drinking game where you did a shot every time Jacob (18-year-old actor Taylor Lautner) took off his shirt and you heard the gasping chorus of all the teenage girls in the theater.

When you gasp you gulp. When you gasp you gulp. Big gasp. Big gulp.

Had we been playing I would have been just as tipsy as the Clearasil crowd.

I know that some people will be appalled to hear that even middle-aged moms can still swoon at the sight of a beautiful teenaged werewolf man-boy. I can understand their reaction. Every year I get a little closer to having a teenaged son of my own and then I understand their reaction even more. But here’s the thing: somewhere inside every grown up lives the child-and the teenager-they used to be.

Admittedly, I may be more in touch with my inner 13-year-old than many of my peers-though certainly not the ones who attended Tuesday’s night’s Angels Foster Care benefit screening of Eclipse at the Arlington Theatre. This is sometimes great and sometimes downright annoying, but it definitely helps me appreciate pop culture.

When I watch the Twilight movies I’m not someone’s mom and I’m not someone’s wife, I’m a teenaged girl, just like the rest of Team Jacob.

Clearly I’m not alone.

Describing the indescribable pull of the Twilight series (both books and movies), a 36-year-old mother of two told CNN reporter Breeanna Hare: “As grown women we know that we never forget our first love, the first time our heart was really broken. I just think that so many women can kind of identify with the experiences and emotions and underlying message of how difficult it is to make choices in life.”

New York Magazine columnists Em & Lo eloquently put it, “Twilight taps into a time when passion is as much about fantasy as reality, before drunken college hookups, before booty calls, before scheduling sex into a marriage. Twilight reinvents sex for women who might have placed it at the bottom of a to-do list.”

Some of my friends feel the same way (though not passionately enough to let me use their real names).

“Every time I look at R-Pat (tabloid-speak for Robert Pattinson, who stars as dreamy vampire Edward in the films), I feel like I am 12 years old again,” says Gena.

“Of course we don’t read the books or watch the movies for their literary merit,” laughs Serena, another mom friend. “But Twilight is the ultimate teenager girl’s fantasy. Two beautiful, sweet and undemanding boys fall madly in love with a plain, ordinary Jane. How can any woman, of any age, resist the spell of that daydream?”

Author Stephenie Meyers sounds a little surprised by the attraction to these characters. She told Time magazine, “I didn’t write these books specifically for the young-adult audience. I wrote them for me. I don’t know why they span the ages so well, but I find it comforting that a lot of thirtysomethings with kids, like myself, respond to them as well-so I know that it’s not just that I’m a 15-year-old on the inside.”

I think she’s wrong-Meyers is a 15-year-old inside, and a 9-year-old and a 25-year-old and so on. We all are. But sometimes it takes a cultural phenomenon like Twilight for us to realize it.

Share your Twilight theories with Leslie@LeslieDinaberg.com. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.comOriginally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on July 2, 2010.