By Suzanne Sparrow Watson


In 1975 I purchased my first house, which to me, was less about a roof over my head more about having a yard for a dog.  A couple of months after settling in, I ventured to the county dog pound (as they were called in those days) and bought a cute little fluff ball for $6.00.  I named her “Carrot”.  The people at the dog pound didn’t know much about her background, so they suggested that I take her to a veterinarian to have her checked out.  Unfortunately, she had kennel cough and for a few stressful days I thought I would lose her before I ever really had her.  But she improved and was my faithful companion until her demise in 1983.  So why am I writing about her now?  Because as part of our conversations with the vet during that time I asked him if he could tell me her breed and age.  He said she most likely was a cockapoo-terrier mix and fixed her age at about eight months.  I think about that conversation every time I stop to talk with someone about their dog. Somehow the owner always manages to blurt out some version of, “I really don’t know much about the breed or age because I rescued him/her.”  Sheesh!

I first started noticing the trend of “rescue virtue-signaling” about ten years ago.  Let me be clear, I think it is terrific to rescue dogs.  If you saw the 60 Minutes episode about dogs a week ago you were probably not surprised to learn that dogs have a “kindness gene”.  None of them deserve to be locked up in a cage.  All they want is a little love, a scratch behind the ear and some food and shelter.  In our family we have had a variety of dogs over the years, half rescue and half purebred.  But here’s the thing: when someone asked us about the rescue dogs, we always gave an answer that was as close to accurate as we could get.  Veterinarians are actually very good at assessing the breed and age of a dog.  I have a hard time believing that people who spend hours looking at dog videos on Instagram Reels or dress their dog up like a ballerina, don’t have the time or inclination to ask their vet for an opinion on the breed and age of their dog.

On my walk around the neighborhood last week, I met a woman walking her dog and stopped to ask her about the dog.  She told me all about how she rescued the dog but couldn’t tell me anything else about it.  I suggested that she purchase a dog DNA test.  She was stunned at my suggestion.  “Why would I do that?”, she asked.  I told her it would provide more information about the breed of the dog, which could be helpful in preventing or understanding future medical issues.  I left our encounter convinced that she had no intention of finding out more about her canine companion.  Because – and here’s the reason I find this trend so annoying – I think this woman finds more self-satisfaction in telling people that she’s rescued a dog that she would in saying, “She’s a Malti-poo mix and she’s about three years old.”  Where’s the fun in that?  How can the world possibly know what a wonderful person she is if she gives such a straightforward answer?

I’ll get off my soapbox now.  But I’m still going to tell people to get their dogs tested.  If people want to feel virtuous, they should donate time and money to the local animal shelter.

Water Falls & Banana Pancakes

by Bob Sparrow

Akaka Falls

I have just returned from the Big Island of Hawaii.  As always, it was great friends, great golf, great cocktails, great weather . . . great time!  Those who read last year’s blog about our trip to the Big Island may remember that I had planned a ‘Water Falls Tour’ to the Hilo or wet, side of the island, but no one else was interested in going, so the trip was aborted.  I made a similar offer this year, and again, no one signed up, but a car was available this time and the group encouraged me to go by myself; apparently, they were looking for a way to get rid of me for half a day.  So, please come join me on this mini adventure, so I don’t get too lonely.

It’s about an hour and a half drive from where we’re staying at the Hilton Grand Vacation Club timeshare in Waikoloa on the west side of the island (Kona), to Hilo, on the east side of the island, where most of the big waterfalls are.  The drive takes you through the historic Parker Ranch, which at one time, with 130,000 acres, was the largest cattle ranch in, not just Hawaii, but the U.S.  Yes, bigger than anything in Texas, but that’s another interesting story, maybe for my next visit to the Big Island.

The difference in weather between the two sides of the island is night and day, or rather I should say, dry and wet.  Except for the lush environs of the hotels and golf courses on the west side, the terrain there is mostly dark, rocky unhospitable lava.  Conversely, the Hilo side is incredibly lush green, as it gets lots of rain, averaging about142 inches per year!  The reason for the vast difference in climate in such a small distance, I’m told, has to do with the trade winds and the two huge mountains in the middle of the island, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, both above 13,000 feet and spectacularly snow capped at this time of year.

Snow-capped Mauna Loa

OK, we’ve got the geography and meteorology details taken care of, let’s move on to why I made this trek – water falls!  I’m not sure where or when I became enthralled with waterfalls, but I’m guessing vacationing in Yosemite growing up might have had something to do with it, but they’ve always intrigued me.  To think that a waterfall starts out as a small drop of water, either from rain or melted snow, then unites with other drops of water as they journey to wherever gravity takes them; and when they reach a cliff, they joyously and beautifully cascade over it. What’s mind-boggling to me is that it just keeps going, never seeming to run out of little drops of water!

Rainbow Falls, complete with rainbow

I headed out to the other side of the island around 7:00 am for my solo ‘Waterfall Tour’ which focused on three main waterfalls, Umauma Falls, Rainbow Falls and Akaka Falls.  But I must say, when I got to the eastern coast of the Big Island, the views were breath-takingly beautiful of a rugged shoreline and spectacular foliage, the likes of which I’ve never seen – just amazing!  Every time I saw a ‘Scenic Route’ This Way sign taking me off the main road, I took it.  I’d be hard pressed to find anything more scenic than my diversions on these ‘scenic routes’!  I stopped just outside of Hilo at a small, out of the way café, where I had the best banana pancakes sprinkled with macadamia nuts ever.  I heard Jack Johnson singing “Banana Pancakes” the whole time.

I’ll spare those who aren’t interested in waterfalls, which apparently is the vast majority based on my travel group, by just saying that Umauma Falls is in a great recreation area where you can ride horses and do a zip line over the falls.  At Rainbow Falls, I actually witnessed a rainbow created by the fall, and Akaka Falls, the Big Kahuna of waterfalls, is in a Hawaiian State Park and provides a scenic circular trail through the rain forest to the falls, which are spectacular . . . if you’re into waterfalls.

I was back on the ‘dry side’ by noon, and enjoying that, but with a head full of amazing images.  Thanks for joining me, for your efforts please enjoy this eye-full of banana pancakes, sprinkled with macadamia nut!


By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

     My Kindle

I was sitting in a waiting room the other day, reading a book on my Kindle, perfectly content and engrossed in the story.  A woman next to me was fidgeting and antsy, alternating between chatting to anyone who would listen and pacing the floor.  Finally, she looked at my Kindle and asked, “What is that?” I explained the concept of the e-reader and how convenient it is to carry around hundreds of books in a small device. She stared at it, shrugged her shoulders, and said, “I don’t read books.  You’re lucky to have something to occupy your time.”  She doesn’t read books??  I have previously met people who have no interest in picking up a book, who think the Cheesecake Factory menu is great reading.  I feel sorry for such people.  They are missing out on the magic of being transported to another place and time, the escape and education that can be a part of reading a good book. I thought about her comment.  Yes, I AM lucky that I love to read.  But it had nothing to do with luck – I had help and encouragement along the way.

         The Weekly Reader

First, my parents viewed reading as an important skill.  Of course, they owned and published a newspaper for many years, so they encouraged everyone to read, especially if it was the Novato Advance.  Our home was filled with books, and I cannot recall a time when they didn’t each have a book by their bedside.  My second influence, like many people, came in the form of great teachers.  In grammar school we were fortunate enough to receive the Weekly Reader, a magazine that published every Friday and contained fun stories, games and cartoons.  Mrs. Larson, my fifth-grade teacher, started a book club in her classroom.  We ordered books and when they arrived, we gathered around a table to unpack the box.  I still recall how excited I was to get a new book, especially if it was a Nancy Drew mystery.  She taught me how to read a book, about topic sentences, and themes.

         Bette Reese

But the greatest influence on what and how I read was my high school English teacher, Bette Reese.  Until I landed in her class, I was a middling student.  I was more focused on boys and socializing than schoolwork.  Ms. Reese was a task master, constantly correcting grammar, spelling and composition.  She taught me about symbolism and metaphors and introduced me to Hemingway, Camus and Dostoevsky – pretty heady stuff for a high school junior.  Her teaching philosophy was to teach to the highest standards.  If some in the class got left behind, so be it.  She wanted to instill an appreciation for good writing and classic authors.  To this day I credit her for my distaste of romance novels and sci-fi fiction. I can’t speak for everyone who was her student, but I do know that she influenced a great many of us.  Two years after I left high school Ms. Reese took a professorship at a local college.  She eventually became the faculty advisor to the student newspaper, where no doubt she used her magic on many aspiring journalists.  Sadly, Bette Reese died in 1979 at the age of 44 from pancreatic cancer.  I wrote a piece about her for a Marin County site and received many comments from former students who were similarly impacted by her.  Each year the college awards the Bette Reese Memorial Scholarship to a talented journalism student.  I can only hope they are maintaining her high standards.

  The Libby App

So, am I lucky that I love to read?  Undoubtedly so. I can be entertained anywhere as long as I have a good book to read – airports, waiting rooms, even on the treadmill.  And nothing is more soothing to my soul than to curl up in bed on a cold night, my husband and dog beside me, engaged in a good book. My friend, Patsy, introduced me to the Libby app, where I can download books for free from the local library directly to my Kindle.  A love to read and free books? Now that is luck.

Is it Suzanne, Bob or ChatGPT?

Those old enough to remember the 1968 movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey, will remember HAL 9000, as the spaceship’s artificially intelligent computer, who, with a mind of his own, turns against the crew when they believe his calculations are wrong, regarding their journey to Jupiter. The name HAL came from Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer.  Heuristic is a technique designed for solving problems more quickly than humans typically can.  As I recall, HAL spoke in a very soft, calming, conversational manner, but ends up killing one of the astronauts who was trying to disconnect it.  It was pointed out at the time that the letters HAL are just one letter off the computer giant of the day, IBM.

Enter ChatGPT.  For those unfamiliar with ChatGPT, here’s a quick tutorial.  First, it is a ‘chatbot’ (a software application used to conduct online conversations via text or text-to-speech in lieu of providing direct contact with live humans), developed by Open AI and Introduced at the end of last year.  ChatGPT (which stands for Chat, well, you know what chatting is, the GPT stands for Generative Pre-trained Transformer) is taking the Artificial Intelligence world by storm with its ability to do a multitude of things.

The core function of a chatbot is to mimic a human conversationalist; for example, ChatGPT can write and debug computer programs, compose music, teleplays or fairy tales, and write poetry and song lyrics.  Conveniently, it can, for a college student, answer test questions and write essays – yes, write essays!!

Just last week, I had the opportunity to see ChatGPT in action.  A friend of mine asked ChatGPT to write a Shakespearean sonnet for his wife on Valentine’s Day – it took about a minute and, Voila!!  The sonnet sounded like the Bard himself had just penned a special 14-line poem to his wife.  I was amazed!!  I learned that it could remember things you have said to it in the past and is capable of correcting itself when wrong.

As I dug deeper into the applications of ChatGPT, I found just the type of thing someone like me might ask of ChatGPT.  Here’s the example I found:

“Write a biblical verse in the style of the King James bible explaining how to remove a peanut butter sandwich from a VCR.”

“And the Lord spoke unto him, saying, “Fear not, my child, for I shall guide thy hand and show thee the way.  Take thy butter knife, and carefully insert it between the sandwich and the VCR, and gently pry them apart.  And with patience and perseverance, the sandwich shall be removed, and they VCR shall be saved”

And the man did as the Lord commanded, and lo and behold, the sandwich was removed from the VCR, and the man was saved.

And the Lord said, “Verily I say unto thee, seek not to put thy peanut butter sandwich in thy VCR, for it is not a suitable place for such things.  Rather, keep thy sandwiches in they refrigerator or on thy plate, where they belongeth.”

So, you see how an everyday problem like this, that I’m sure you’ve encountered, can be solved with the help of ChatGPT!  If you’re wondering if students now don’t have to write essays, or anything for that matter, I’ve been told that there is a way to detect whether something is written by a human or by ChatGPT.  But I’m sure it won’t take long before they figure out how to ‘fix’ that.

But, it’s not all sunshine and lollypops.  Like most computers, it goes wacky once in a while.  ChatGPT often fails at basic math, it sometimes can’t answer a simple logic question, and it can mix fact and fiction (Sounds very human!).  It can also give incorrect, and often damaging, medical advice.  And, because it is programed by humans and humans can be biased, ChatGPT can put forth biased information.

You’ve probably guessed the answer to the question in the headline; neither ChapGPT nor Suzanne, could have written something so banal.

HAL, by any other name, is here, amazing . . . and dangerous!




By Suzanne Sparrow Watson


            Singing at the 16th

Last week we denizens of Arizona experienced record crowds – it is estimated that 1 million people visited the Valley of the Sun to attend the WM Phoenix Open and the Super Bowl.  Our “sun” has been missing most of this winter (last week it snowed in Scottsdale), but the Chamber of Commerce obviously has an in with The Big Guy, because it was sunny all weekend.  Twenty-five years ago we were advised to hunker down the week of the WM Phoenix Open, as the crowds are plentiful … and drunk.  When the Super Bowl is also played here the same weekend, it is best to venture out only in the event of a severed limb or cardiac arrest.  So, we watched all of the festivities from the comfort of our couch.  One of the most fun aspects of the Phoenix Open is watching the idiots, ummm, patrons at the 16th hole.  They started the week off on Thursday with a rousing rendition of “Sweet Caroline”.  It was joyous to watch and reminded me of a fun family outing when the song was newer, and we were too.  More on that later, but first, a bit of history about the song and how it got its name.

Neil Diamond released “Sweet Caroline” as a single in May 1969, and it was then featured on his album, “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show”.   Its catchy lyrics and staccato beat made the song an instant hit, spending more than three months on the pop charts.  Surprisingly it never reached the top of the charts; it peaked at No 4.  For years people speculated who the “Caroline” in the song might be.  Decades went by without a definitive answer. Finally, in 2007, Diamond finally told the backstory of the song and how he came up with its title. He explained that “‘Sweet Caroline’ was born in a motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, as an afterthought to some songs he was preparing for a recording session.  He said he was as surprised as anyone when the music and lyrics flowed quickly and easily from his mind to paper.  Diamond revealed that the most challenging part of the song was finding the right name for the title. At the time, he was married to Marcia Murphey, and had promised her a song. The problem was he needed a three-syllable name to fit the melody. He picked up his “idea” book, a journal where he routinely jotted down thoughts for lyrics, and found the name “Caroline”.  It was perfect.

The inspiration for the song

But why did he put the name “Caroline” in his idea book to begin with?  In the 2007 interview, Diamond said he was touched by a photograph he saw in a magazine of a young Caroline Kennedy, dressed in equestrian gear on her pony. At the time he thought it was a sweet, innocent photo, and knew at some point he would want to write a song about it.  He never told anyone that Kennedy was his inspiration until her 50th birthday celebration, where he performed via satellite and surprised her by revealing she was his inspiration.  She was thrilled.  By that time, of course, it had become tradition to hear it at numerous sporting events, perhaps most famously at Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox.  The song is played during the 8th inning of every game and gets the fans roused up, regardless of how the Sox are faring.  It was first played in 1997 and then intermittently after that until 2002, when Charles Steinberg, the Red Sox executive vice president of public affairs, noticed that every time the song played, he saw the crowd transformed.  Steinberg decided to make “Sweet Caroline” a tradition, and it stuck.

           Diamond at Fenway

The most moving rendition of the song was in 2013, right after the Boston Marathon bombing. Diamond hopped on flight as soon as he heard the Red Sox would be playing and went to Fenway Park, not giving anyone a heads up.  Luckily the gate agent recognized him and let him in without a ticket. He stood in the infield and sang the song, with the crowd joining in as one. Diamond later said it was a moment he will never forget. That performance also created a great demand for the song, and Diamond donated all of the profits from those sales to the charity set up to help the victims of the bombing.


          The Three Troublemakers

I saw Neil Diamond perform in 1979, just after “Forever in Blue Jeans” came out.  Everyone stood, everyone sang, and in an era before cell phones, people flicked on lighters in the dark and swayed to the music when he sang “Sweet Caroline”.  But my best memory of the song dates back to the winter of 1969.  Each year we would spend the week between Christmas and New Year’s skiing at Tahoe.  That year was extra special because brother Bob had just arrived home from Japan, where he had been stationed for the past year.  The Vietnam war was still raging, and we were so happy he was home. One night we went to a local Mexican restaurant for dinner, and I suppose after a lot of libation and very little encouragement, we sang “Sweet Caroline” at the top of our lungs.  I’m not sure we even knew all of the lyrics, but that didn’t dampen our enthusiasm.  Looking back, the other guests were probably not as entertained as we were, and it was a good thing brother Jack knew the owners or we probably would have been kicked out.  That night and that song have provided me a good memory for fifty-plus years.

Given its long-standing popularity, the song clearly holds sentimental value for a lot of people. Most of us can probably remember singing it at some point, maybe alone in a car, or in a crowd, or at a fun family gathering. All I know is that every time I hear it, it brings back memories of things being “so good, so good, so good”.


Super Bowl was a Gas . . . But, It’s Passing

by Bob Sparrow

My Super Bowl was already ruined when the 49ers couldn’t beat the Eagles with their 4th-string quarterback, but it got worse.  Several days before ‘the game’, I made the mistake of reading an article about being careful about what one eats at a Super Bowl party.  The article reported that the food typically served at these get-togethers is not healthy – now there’s a news flash!  It went on to itemize different food groups and the various gastronomical complications that could ensue from digesting said foods.  It was like a train wreck, I couldn’t stop reading!, but since I was already depressed by the San Francisco loss, I continued.

The first ‘warning’ came early on, saying that doctors see more patients for food-related problems around national holidays and big sporting events.  So, if you’re reading this from your doctor’s office, you’re not alone.

So here’s the scoop (best served with guacamole), coming a day late and a handful of Tums short.

Chicken wings – this favorite game day staple is the trifecta of potential digestive distress.  Fried, fatty foods open the gap between the esophagus and the stomach, thus allowing stomach acid to go into the esophagus and cause acid reflux and heartburn.  Spicy wings are even worse; and if you’re dipping them in say, Ranch dressing, you’re adding processed oils that can exacerbate acid reflux and cause bloating.

Three ‘Widow Maker’ Options

Nachos – Pick your poison; beans, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, cheese, jalapenos, meat and other toppings on a bed of fried tortilla chips – they should rename ‘Nacho Health Food’!

Jalapeno poppers – these delicious breaded peppers filled with cream cheese creates the perfect storm for an upset stomach.   Additionally, the little know ‘capsaicin’ in it are an irritant to everything they touch on their journey through the digestive tract.

Dips & Spreads – Spinach dip, artichoke dip, bean dip, etc. all cause gas and bloating and adversely affect people with even small degrees of lactose intolerance.  And of course, we’re all aware of possible embarrassment of flatuance caused by beans.

Hail to the Chiefs!

The article continues with that pesky issue of alcohol.  When you should have been drinking water, to help move things along in the digestive tract, you’re dehydrating and alcohol poisoning yourself by spending the entire game downing beers, sipping wine or guzzling those specialty Super Bowl drinks – Kansas City Ice Water (a Gin & Tonic combined with a Vodka Soda) or Philadelphia Fish House Punch (rum, brandy, peach brandy, lemon).  Personally, I drank some northern California wine during the game – Go Niners!

The article then goes into FODMAPS, not FoodMaps, but those fermentable oligosaccharide . . . never mind, you don’t want to know!!

I’m surprised the article didn’t offer a ‘Prop Bet‘ for the number of times one uses the toilet bowl during the Super Bowl.

Be thankful you read this after the Super Bowl and not before.  So, congrats to Kansas City, who will be enjoying a little Kansas City barbeque and some Ice Water, while the Eagles will find solace in a Philly Cheesesteak and a Yuengling Lager, before we all go back on those diets that started last month!

If the 49ers don’t make the Super Bowl next year, I’m thinking I’ll write  a follow-up article on Irritable Bowl Syndrome.



By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Have you seen the price of eggs lately?  They have skyrocketed in the past few weeks, particularly here in Arizona.  Beginning January 1, chicken farmers here have had to double the space provided for their laying hens.  The new law has caused egg production to diminish by roughly half, while the increase in prices has roughly doubled.  Elsewhere in the country egg prices have increased due to avian flu and weather conditions.  So, Americans are doing what they normally do in a crisis – taking matters into their own hands and becoming chicken farmers.   People are rushing to farm supply stores, hell-bent on becoming more self-sufficient when it comes to their breakfasts.  Unfortunately, like many trends that make their way to TikTok and other social media platforms, this has not been particularly well thought out.  I should know, for a brief time in my youth I was the proud owner of a chicken.

Novato was still a rural community in the 1950’s, with many dairy and chicken farms in the surrounding area. My third-grade teacher thought it would be a wonderful life lesson for us to see the cycle of life, at least with respect to chickens and eggs.  Perhaps she was trying to provide a real-life illustration of the age-old quandary of which came first. In any event, she brought a chicken coop into the classroom and every morning we rushed to the coop to see if the chicken had laid an egg. After four weeks of a squawking chicken and a room full of distracted third graders, she decided to end the “chicken lesson”.  But instead of taking the chicken back to where she got it, she asked if anyone wanted to adopt it. My hand shot up and several hours later I proudly walked home with “Henrietta”.  I cannot recall my parents’ reaction to the new addition to our family, but I can’t imagine it was good.  I quickly discovered that chickens take a lot of work and… this is the tough part…their excrement smells like, well, chicken excrement.  Details escape me but I think Henrietta quickly wore out her welcome and my dad took her to our next-door neighbor who already owned chickens.  It was perfect, I could visit her but not have to care for her, or more critically, clean up after her.

Given my brief stint as a chicken owner, I’ve been fascinated by this recent trend in chicken farming.  As I learned, raising chickens is not easy, or necessarily cost-effective.  Baby chickens are selling for $5 each.  Sounds cheap, however, feed ranges from 10 to 20 cents a bird per day and coops cost between $400 and $3,000. Other costs for the birds include heating and fencing.  And most people don’t realize that hens don’t lay eggs in winter conditions.  Perhaps they come to Arizona like the other snowbirds? One new owner adopted seven chicks four months ago and estimates she’s spent about $750 on food, bedding, heat lamps and other supplies. She doesn’t have a single egg to show for it.  That makes paying $8 for a dozen eggs sound like a bargain.

When people realize that chicken farming isn’t all romance and eggs benedict, the question arises as to how to dispose of the chicken?  In olden days, once hens could no longer produce eggs, they became dinner.  But many new chicken owners are reluctant to eat their hens.  In fact, some say they have become a part of the family.  One woman in my knitting group has knit sweaters for her daughter’s chicken.  We thought she was joking, but it turns out it has been a popular fashion trend for chickens.  Apparently, people are mis-guided in thinking that chickens get cold, when in fact, sweaters actually inhibit the hen’s ability to shed feathers.  But like the people who put a ballerina skirt on their dog, sometimes common sense plays no part when it comes to people and their animals.  All I know is, although my time as a chicken owner was brief, it did inform me as to how convenient it is to buy eggs at the grocery store, regardless of price.  The eggs are ready to eat and better yet, you don’t have to muck around in chicken excrement to get them.

I’m Amazed by the James Webb Space Telescope

by Bob Sparrow

JWST photo of ‘Cartwheel Galaxy’ 500 million light years away.

I’ve searched high and low for something to write about this week.  Yes, I was just out in ‘the desert’, had a great time, but you’ve heard those stories before.  I have some fun trips planned for later in the year, but that’s for later in the year.  What on earth can I possibly write about?  Wait a minute, maybe what I write about is not on earth.  Those who follow us here, know that I have an interest in space, and have mentioned before, perhaps on several occasions, that coincidently, my teachers always said that I took up space in school.

If you thought James Webb was the love child of Jack Webb and Princess Leia, then you should probably stop reading now.

Since the launching of this 26-year project, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), on Christmas day of 2021 from French Guiana, the photos that it’s been sending back to us have been spectacular!  Wait a minute, why, you ask was a telescope built by the US (NASA), European (ESA) and Canadian (CSA) space agencies launched from French Guiana, of all places?  You astrophysicists out there already know that the closer to the equator the launch is, the faster the earth is spinning and thus giving the launch additional push.

James Webb Space Telescope

When one discovers that this six metric ton, floating telescope was folded up inside an Ariane 5 rocket, built by the European Space Agency, for launch on a 930,000-mile journey, it’s truly amazing . . . at least to me.  Once it reached its destination, a 21-foot mirror and a tennis court-sized sunshield was unfolded.  This large light collecting area can look further back in time than any previous telescope – don’t think about that for too long or your brain will start hurting!   If any of the attachments failed to unfold properly, the mission would have been scrubbed, as there would be no way to reach and repair this telescope, which is 100 times more powerful that its predecessor, the Hubble Telescope.  Once the JWST was in place, attachments deployed, instruments turned on, mirrors aligned and the optics of the telescope were cooled, along with other stuff that none of us normal people would understand, the telescope started sending back amazing images starting in July 2022.  It’s mind boggling to me how the space agencies could work on something 930,000 miles away when I can’t even get my wi-fi working!  They estimate that it will continue to send photographs back to us for the next five to ten years.  Cost?  About $10 Billion.  Not bad when you consider we’ve already spent more than $50 Billion on Ukraine.

The ‘Other’ Ringed Planet

Photo Op: If you were to guess the name of the planet with the rings in the photo on the left, you might guess Saturn, because of the rings.  Nope, it’s Neptune.  Yep, Neptune has rings; they’re not as spectacular as Saturn’s, but rings none the less.  Because Neptune is 30 times further from the Sun than Earth, it hasn’t been easy to photograph, but this recent close-up photo taken by the JWST last year, showed its rings.

If you want to know more of the basics of this scientific wonder, below is a link to a 13-minute, 60 Minutes segment on the JWST prior to its launch in late 2021.

Hopefully that was interesting to some of you.  To keep the integrity of the science involved here, I purposely avoided any Uranus jokes.  You’re welcome!




By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

I listened to an interesting podcast the other day wherein NYU professor Jonathan Haidt was interviewed about his book, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.  The book takes a deep dive into the culture of “safetyism” that has developed on college campuses and how it interferes with young people’s social, emotional, and intellectual development and has contributed to the divisions we see in our culture.  It’s more complicated than that, and certainly more nuanced that I can do justice to here.  He’s an interesting guy and has a number of videos on YouTube if you want to learn more about him and his research.

What caught my attention, and led me to this post, was his discussion about the effect of social media on young people.  (I actually started this post a couple of weeks ago after I watched Haidt, and coincidentally blends right into what my brother posted about last week).  Haidt cited a statistic that was startling: between 2010 and 2015 the suicide rate of teenage girls almost tripled.  Haidt concluded the advent of social media, with its constant bombardment of “influencers” who appear to have a perfect face and body, combined with negative, sometimes cruel, comments young girls receive about their own posts, is a primary cause of depression and feelings of worthlessness.  This struck a chord with me, as I had just remarked to a friend that I couldn’t imagine being a teenager today, having to be constantly “photo worthy”.  Heck, my heart skips a beat now when someone accidently FaceTime’s me.  If I don’t have my hair done and makeup on, I pretend I was in the shower when they called.

It seems every young woman I see lately is clutching her phone like a lifeline. I think about how far we have come from the more reticent generations before us.  It was pretty common growing up that our mothers – and certainly our grandmothers – were known to say, “Oh, don’t put me in the picture!”  Now we have social media platforms that contain nothing but people taking pictures of themselves.  I keep an Instagram account to post photos of Dash the Wonder Dog, and a lot of the photos that come across my feed are of women with their phone to their face, trying to pose in just the right way, with their lips in the perfect pout or their hair tousled to project something between “I just got up” and “I’m the sexiest person alive”.  I’d like to blame the Kardashians for starting this trend, but that’s too easy a target.  There are plenty of people, and companies, to blame for this fascination with how we look and the compulsion to let others know how we look.

Aside from the damage all this does to self-esteem, the bigger concern for me is the inward focus of this trend.  The “influencers” give the impression that if you just have the right clothes, purse, makeup, yada yada, life will be good.  But those of us of a certain age know that no amount of beautiful outward trappings will bring you happiness. Which is why Heidt is so concerned about the mental health of young people, who strive so hard to replicate an airbrushed version of someone and are then bitterly disappointed when they fall short.  I think this is an urgent problem that needs a drastic solution.  Removing phones is impractical and unrealistic – we can’t put that genie back in the bottle.  Maybe we need to have a draft for young people where they are required to do community service.  It would not only get them out of the house and into broader society, but it would also expose them to people less fortunate, who have bigger problems than not having the right brand of sneakers or a statement handbag.  It would be a start.

I promise – next week we will be back to talking about football or cake or something a bit lighter!




Feeling Isolated?

by Bob Sparrow

Feeling isolated?  You’re not alone.  Now there is an oxymoron for our times!  It seems to me that we’ve been working our way into isolation over the last couple of decades; certainly exacerbated by Covid recently, but largely encouraged, by the convenience of getting most everything we want or need without leaving your home and ironically, through social media, which can be very anti-social and divisive.

Come with me inside an American household at the end of a typical day. 

Dick shuts off his computer and takes off his headset, as he completes another day of work . . . remotely, just as an Amazon truck pulls up in front of the house, for the third time this week, as the driver drops off a package at the front door – it’s the cosmetics his wife, Jane, ordered yesterday.  Shortly thereafter, the doorbell rings and it’s Door Dash with the meal that was ordered for tonight’s dinner.  They sit down and enjoy their meal while watching a Netflix series. After the kids wolf down their food and are not interested in what their parents are watching on TV, they retreat to their separate bedrooms and get on their phones or computers.

Sounds pretty normal right?  But what’s missing is fairly obvious – socialization!

Dick working remotely is certainly handy and saves gas and time commuting to and from work, but it eliminates any socialization with work colleagues.  Amazon is amazing, but it keeps both Dick and Jane from getting out of the house and mingling with people to shop; ‘window shopping’ has even been replaced by computer ‘scrolling’.   Amazon. seems to be on a mission to make most retail stores obsolete – and they’re doing quite well at it.  Door Dash and their like, deliver meals or groceries to your doorstep, which keeps the family out of restaurants and grocery stores; while Netflix, and all the other streaming services, keep folks sitting silently in front of their televisions and out of movie theaters, as well as typically eliminating any family interaction or sharing of the ‘events of the day’ while sitting around the dinner table.  Today’s kids would much rather be alone with their phones or computers than sitting around the dinner table having a ‘family discussion’ or watching what their parents are watching on TV.

This trend is disturbing to me.  Even getting to know people is different; today people don’t learn about each other from meeting and interacting, they learn from social media.  It seems that the tools we’ve been given and told would increase connectivity and socialization, have done just the opposite.  Yes, we most probably ‘connect’ more, but on a more superficial level; and mostly just to show as many people as possible what a great life we have, because we only post the good stuff!  We also believe that there are a lot of people who want to hear our opinion on a particular subject, even though we may not be at all qualified to opine intelligently on that subject.  Sites like Facebook and Twitter give us the platform to spew whatever is rattling around in our brains at the time, regardless of how knowledgeable or well-thought out our responses are.  Today, everyone has a platform, which on the surface sounds good, but it is a privilege that is egregiously abused.

I think we are on a very slippery social media slope and I certainly don’t have the answers to find purchase thereon, but I hope to make a more conscious effort to choose socialization over social media this year and hope you do as well.

I’ll be right back, after this commercial break . . .

Kids ‘socializing’!

As we all inevitably get deeper and deeper into social media, as they get deeper and deeper into us, we’d like to encourage you to subscribe to our blog (Just click the ‘SUBSCRIBE’ button at the top right of this page and put in your email address.  The blog will come directly to your email every Monday).  We know many of you have been subscribers for years, and we thank you, but we also know that many of you get and comment on our blogs on Facebook, or other social media.  As we get closer and closer to being totally disgusted with social media and ‘drop out’, we want you to still be able to get our blog every week.  The cost is reasonable, like free!!!

Back to our programing.  Actually, my work is done here – ‘thought for the year’ – more face-to-face,  and less Facebook, Facetime and Faceplants!