Your Life On Your Phone

It all started in 2007 with the first iPhone model. It could make phone calls, send basic texts (no photos), and access the world-wide web, albeit painfully slow at 2G speed with AT&T. There was no app store, and only black wallpaper in the background. It did have a camera, but no video capabilities. Still, people loved it.

2007 first iphone(photo credit: AP)

Every new model of iPhone after that added more features. Better cameras, video-recording capabilities, more internal storage space, faster internet, an app store, the ability to play music, Siri, video streaming, and a map navigation system.

Twelve years after the first iPhone with its simple operating system launched, we are now up to the iOS13 system. What can it do?

Unlock your phone with a retinal scan (as opposed to a PIN or fingerprint scan).

Identify all the members of your household by listening to their voices.

Read your messages aloud to you if you’re too busy.

Give you a simplified view of the road ahead through CarPlay Dashboard.

Add virtual objects around images of people for an augmented reality experience (ARKit3).

Let you play over 100 arcade video games on your phone.

Help you record your menstrual cycles, and predict when the next one will hit.

Sync with your home’s “smart” devices to control household appliances.

Store your medical ID and health records.

Track your tooth-brushing time.

Track audiograms from hearing tests.

Oversee your activity levels.

Monitor the time you spend on your phone.

Let you know how the stock market is doing. (And probably make an educated guess on what stocks you own by what you are viewing.)

Here’s the link to Apple’s description of their new system:

I’ve always thought of “Big Brother” as being the government (and it is). But our phones have surpassed even the federal institution on collecting data about every part of our lives. Sadly, much of the information on phones is information given willingly by the owner of the device.

We should be asking ourselves several questions:
1 – Do we really need a device to do all these things for us?
2 – Should we really be storing that much personal information on a phone that could be easily lost, stolen, or hacked?  You wouldn’t hand over your fingerprints, eye scan, medical test results, blood type, names of your doctors, and control of your home wifi and appliances to a stranger, would you? When you store all these items on something small enough to be tucked in a pocket, you set yourself up for identity theft.

I’m not trying to pick on Apple. They clearly make a great product. In all fairness, Android phones are also a privacy risk with the personal info they carry. Just be aware of how much of your life you are storing on your device, and consider limiting how much you share with that phone.



Third-Grade Reading

We have a reading crisis in this country. By third grade, kids should have the basics of reading mastered. They should have moved from the “learning to read” stage to “reading to learn”.  Teachers work on reading, spelling, and comprehension with their students every day, and constantly remind parents to read with their children at home. Tutors spend extra time working with kids who are struggling. There are computer games and phone apps to boost reading skills. Public libraries across the country lend books out to people at no cost. With all these ways to help kids learn to read, it would seem like every third-grader would be a fantastic reader.

Even with all this help, less than half of the third-grade students in my state are reading proficiently. Less than half! The kids that have not caught up by the end of this school year will have to repeat third grade, according to a new law. This will be a nightmare for schools. Imagine the fourth-grade classes being very small, while the third-grade classes are oversized. Up till now, most students that were not proficient in their reading skills were simply passed and received tutoring. Will the new law help push the kids and their parents to work harder on reading? Maybe, maybe not.

But why are reading scores so low? I think the answer is simple: there are so many other things kids would rather be doing, that reading gets pushed to the back burner. We have after-school sports and other clubs, social media to keep up with, video games to play, Netflix to binge-watch, and a host of other distractions. The average person simply doesn’t have time to read anymore. Adults have the same affliction. Between working, shuttling their kids from activity to activity, and doing housework and yard maintenance, they are too exhausted to do anything at the end of the day besides flop on the couch, watch tv, and check Facebook and their other social media accounts. Interesting as social media may be, it really doesn’t count as reading.

It’s a very discouraging situation, but with American culture the way it is, I don’t see most people changing their habits anytime soon. They are just too in love with their electronic toys to go back to a lifestyle that includes more reading. It’s the sad truth.

My $3.00 Bag Of Books

2019-07-12 Thrift store 3.00 bag of books

About once a month, I have a few thrift stores that I visit to check for book deals. There are specific types of books that I hunt for:
– Easy readers, chapter books, and young adult fiction for our local school library
– Christian paperback books (fiction and non-fiction that men would enjoy)  for a local prison ministry
– Reader’s Digest Condensed books for a family member who loves those short reads
– A few good fiction and biography books for myself

Today was one of my best book runs. One of our neighborhood thrift stores had a $3.00 book bag sale. Old books, new books, fiction, biographies, non-fiction, even sheet music books – whatever books you could fit into a paper grocery bag – was only #3.00.

I ended up with 27 easy readers, 5 chapter books, 3 kids’ non-fiction, 3 young adult novels, 3 paperback fiction, 6 non-fiction/biography, 1 Reader’s Digest, 1 pop-up book, and a large pixel coloring book with a $12 price tag still on it! You just can’t beat the value – fifty books for $3.00! If you are on a tight budget but love to read, check out your local thrift store.

Summertime Reading

reading a book(photo credit: NBC News)

Schools are out for the summer! This is the first full week that the kids (and their parents) haven’t had to wake up early, eat, shower, and rush off to school. To me, summertime has always been the time of year to gorge on reading books. It’s one of the highlights of the season.

In honor of this prime reading time, I will be reading and reviewing books for kids, ranging from picture books for the early elementary years, to upper elementary books, to young adult novels. I’ve already read a few “kids” books, and found them to be quite enjoyable as an adult. Here’s to reading!

Audio Drama Podcasts

audio fiction podcast

Before television was in every house, there was radio. Classic radio shows in the 1930s and 1940s opened up a whole new world of entertainment for folks. There were comedy skits, westerns, mysteries,  and science fiction. People were mesmerized by this new invention. They listened as individuals, families, and neighbors. Some of the most popular shows were: The Shadow, Gunsmoke, The Adventures Of Sam Spade, Death Valley Days, Lux Radio Theatre, Whistler, Abbot And Costello, Batman, The Great Gildersleeve, Adventures Of Ozzie And Harriet, and Flash Gordon.

By the 1950s, most homes had television sets, and the popularity of radio dramas dwindled. There was still some interest, but most people switched over to TV for their dramas, and kept their radios mostly for music. In the 1970’s VCRs became common. This was followed by DVDs and Blu-ray discs. Now we have computers, tablets, and smart-phones that all allow us to watch streaming TV shows, which is where we mostly find our drama stories.

Despite all these options for shows, the radio drama format is not dead! You can still listen to the old classic shows on websites like Some sites will even allow you to download files for the shows which are now public domain items, free to all.

In addition, a new version of the old radio drama has been developed: the audio drama podcast. It’s not surprising to see that a new generation of listeners is clamoring for good stories to listen to while driving or doing menial tasks, or when unwinding at the end of the day.  It’s not quite the same as reading a book, but it’s still a way of listening to a story. From the beginning of time, people have loved stories, whether it was an oral tale, a printed book, an audiobook, a radio drama, or a drama podcast. If you have never tried listening to an audio drama podcast, check it out through the “podcast” app on your phone. You might end up loving it!

The Pack-Horse Library

pack-horse librarian
(photo courtesy of

The Great Depression of the 1930s was exceeding difficult for almost everyone in the United States. Jobs were few, and every penny was needed just to provide basic food for families. As the depression stretched on, people needed a distraction from the stress of daily living. They needed books.

In urban areas, people could visit their local library, and go home with something to read. But if you lived in a more remote area, like the mountains of Kentucky, you were out of luck. The solution: pack-horse libraries.

Portable libraries were actually in existence before the Great Depression. The Kentucky Federation Of Women’s Clubs ran traveling libraries from 1896 until the early 1930’s, when they ran out of money. In 1935, the federal government continued the idea. The Works Program Administration (WPA) hired healthy young women to go to mountain communities on horseback with packs of books, serving as portable libraries. It was a tough job, and paid only $28 a month. While the government paid the salaries of the librarians, the state of Kentucky had to come up with the books, and the workers had to provide their own transportation – either using their own horse or renting a horse. Books were donated by more affluent Kentuckians, and as word spread, by people in other states.

It wasn’t easy being a pack-horse librarian. You had to make your circuit at least twice a month, covering 100-120 miles. The mountain roads were difficult to navigate. They had to care for their horse, and their two large saddle-bags of books. What sort of reading material made it into those saddlebags? A lot of classic fiction (Mark Twain was a favorite), the Bible, magazines, recipe books, how-to books, and Sunday school booklets.

As books and magazines became worn out, they were not thrown away. Instead, the librarians would salvage good sections and pages, and glue them into scrapbooks, which went right back into the pack-bags. Even old donated Christmas cards were put to use as bookmarks.

The pack-horse librarians brought books to about 50,000 Kentucky families in 1936, and to 155 schools the next year. These tiny libraries provided much-needed reading material through the rest of the Great Depression. The project was discontinued in 1943, as the economy recovered and people went back to work. But the idea of tiny libraries lives on with bookmobiles in areas that do not have a traditional library.


(photo credit: The Washington Post)

I love a good challenge! Like five years ago, when I started this book site to share information about great books that are available to read. Might I run out of good books to write about? Maybe, but I haven’t gotten to that point yet.

Then there was the challenge several years ago to significantly reduce our family’s grocery bill. That took some time and grocery-store analysis, but we were able to pick the two best stores for our budget and save a fair amount of money.

Last year I challenged myself to close out my Google e-mail account, and switch to a smaller company that is less intrusive in its data-collecting. It was a royal pain in the neck, but the detangling from the tentacles of g-mail was finally complete.

Last year was also the year that our family decided to see if we could do without home internet service for awhile. This was one of our toughest challenges, and I wrote a few posts about our experience.

That brings me to this year, and my latest challenge: to pull the plug on Facebook. Many years ago, when I first signed up, it was a lot of fun. It kept me up with the lives of my relatives and friends. Who had a baby? Who had died? Who graduated? Who was sending out an urgent prayer request? Coffee and Facebook became my first stops in the morning. But as the years went by, the amount of actual news from friends decreased, replaced by endless videos that people wanted me to watch, angry tirades about politicians, memes, and ads for things I should buy.

In addition, I was becoming painfully aware of just how much personal information was being mined by facebook and shared with all of their affiliates. More than 150 companies, news outlets reported, although no one actually seemed to be able to produce a complete list. So I began the tedious process of removing personal pictures, posts and messages from my account. When I mentioned my goal of un-Facebooking to friends, most expressed doubt.
“How will you know what’s going on?”
“You’ll be back.”
“It won’t do any good to close your account, they’ll get your data some other way.”

But how will anything ever change if people aren’t willing to unplug from monster data collectors like Facebook and Google/G-mail? Maybe un-Facing won’t stop the powers that be from continuing to mine information about me. But why should I make it easy for them?