Symphonies: 1 minute. Story of Man: 2 minutes.

Muriel, 2008 Headshot little smile hand

like so many others, by Susan Kauffmann

My friend Hans was a talented musician and writer. He was a student at the Vienna Conservatory of Music until he was unceremoniously tossed out by the Nazis. After escaping from Austria to the U.S., (an amazing story in itself) Hans was drafted and served in the U.S. military overseas. When he returned to America and married, the first piece of furniture he purchased was a grand piano.

Hans more than mastered the English language, he wrote musicals, songs,


Hans Muller in Los Angeles

plays and funny skits — one of which was about how to be knowledgeable about every symphony by just learning one minute of each. He was a really funny guy.

If you read my blog, you know I’m a history buff. To me, the story of man is more amazing than any novel can be. I can read through volumes of history to delight in one sentence about something I didn’t know before. Yes, I’m weird….

My family just visited. It has been a wonderful time for me — and a lot of fun, but there hasn’t been much free time, so you can imagine my delight when a cousin, who lives in Australia, sent me ‘Our Story in 2 Minutes’ about the history of man. It reminded me of Hans and his humorous skit about learning symphonies.

prehistoric man

Prehistoric man

I’m passing ‘Our Story’ on to you. I’ve already watched it four times. Here’s the information. Enjoy!

“Joe Bush got a high school assignment to make a 
video reproduction. He chose history as a theme and tucked it all 
into two minutes. Joe took pictures from the internet; added the sound 
track “Mind Heist” by Zack Hemsey (from the movie Interception) and 
came up with this, an incredible work for a 17-year old. Just finding the 
pictures was a formidable task. Hold on to your seat. This moves fast. 
Don’t blink — not even for a second & keep your sound on.”


How to open a jar…..

Mom, look I'm telling you 2

photo by Susan Kauffmann

After our Arthritis exercise class the other day, friends gathered to chat over coffee. Isabel had given me a gift of a battery-operated jar opener. Goodness knows, I’d done battle with some stubborn tops lately and probably told her so. I said I couldn’t wait to get home to play with my new ‘toy’. This led to a discussion of our children and their toys.

My son, Rafi, was a ‘lets-see-whats-inside’ kid. When he was five, I thought he’d enjoy a walkie-talkie — okay, I would anyway. (This was before computers.) We both loved it and communicated with each other from room to room. The next day, after work, I returned home and found Rafi had taken it all apart. He thought he could put it back together. No more walkie-talkie. He was so sincere, you couldn’t get upset with him.

raf kid dancing

Rafi was a funny wonderful kid


70s toy Simon

70s toy Simon

The next thing Rafi took apart was the then-brand-new and very popular Simon game. I got the biggest kick out of it. It lit up! We loved it. If memory serves, it cost over $60, a hefty sum at the time — but well worth it. What happened?? The next evening I learned Rafi couldn’t resist taking Simon apart. He wanted to see how it worked. No more Simon.

I’m a slow learner and since I never grew up, I was soon entranced by a real working watch for children. An educational toy… The inner workings were clearly visible and coloured in bright red, green and yellow. It, too, didn’t last more than a day. Mr. ‘Take it Apart’ was at it again, and the loving woman who cared for him found it impossible to say no to him. That was the last toy I bought for Rafi  which could be taken apart.

I had several employers through Rafi’s growing up years. I asked if I might have any ready-to-be-discarded, no longer functional adding machines, telephones or radios. I’d tell little Rafi my boss wanted him to try to fix them. He happily took them apart with screwdrivers and spent hours working on them. He was perfectly happy — and so was I.

Balsa Wood Model Airplane

Balsa Wood Model Airplane

Rafi then became interested in building planes out of those kits kids used to play with. He put them together while I was at work. He never bothered reading the directions and there were always a piece or two left over. Yet, they seemed perfectly okay.

When we bought our first computer, my CPA husband and I thought we’d use it for accounting. It was a classic double disk drive — Microsoft?? Rafi had attended a summer computer class and he and his friends were playing/trading Apple computer games. These didn’t work on our computer, so we bought something perhaps called a ‘card’ (program?) to install. I planned to hire someone to do it since we wanted Rafi to be able to use it.

disk for our first computer

Remember these disks?

I’m still intimidated by computers, so imagine my concern when I got home from work to find the computer taken apart, and Rafi, about eight at the time, sitting there, cool as a cucumber, screwdriver in hand, putting the card in. I gulped. He did it. And, it worked. Not surprisingly, Rafi’s grown up to be a handy kind of guy.


automatic jar opener

So, what about my new automatic-battery-operated jar opener? Amy came over and the two of us experimented with my brand new toy. Press the button and it makes this fabulous noise, parts move, it does a little dance and removes the top —  just like that! It was so much fun, we opened every new jar I could find in my kitchen cabinets.

I’d love to do more. Have a few I can open? Just bring them over…..

“May you live in interesting times.”

Mom, look I'm telling you 2 They say “May you live in interesting times.” is an ancient Chinese curse. Indeed, ‘interesting’ can be horrible if there is war, political unrest, famine or real trouble in your life. To me, the curse sounds wise enough to be Chinese, but there is some doubt about where it actually originated. No matter. Some of us who are lucky don’t consider ‘interesting’ as ominous.
The other day, over lunch of Eggs Benedict, a friend who has reached the venerable age of 90, declared: “I’ve lived through the most interesting of times”. She shared with me all she had seen during her long lifetime — and since she has been truly lucky, she’s absolutely right. An elderly Los Angeles friend had said the very same to me over 25 years ago and I still remember….

He remembered his family's first radio

He remembered his family’s first radio

He had recalled with pleasure and wonder his family’s first radio — all of them sitting around the table wearing earphones, with the contraption of open tubes and wires sitting in a place of honor in the centre of the table while they heard a symphony on radio for the very first time. It was a thrilling event he never forgot. He told me about the time their gas lights were changed to electric and when his mother no longer had to go out into the hallway of their apartment building to get water because new plumbing was installed right in each and every suite. He thought it all miraculous.
An 1895 automobile

An 1895 automobile

He also remembered the excitement of receiving wires, seeing his first automobile, the introduction of the telephone, then later television, microwave ovens, electric typewriters, and his first computer and printer. He did not dwell on the fact he had had to flee for his life from his beloved Vienna and then, serving in the U.S. Military, had witnessed the liberation of a Nazi death camp. He felt he had had a fascinating, interesting time of it.
My lady friend who last week talked about all the wonderful changes she has seen has been even more fortunate. She spent her whole life in Canada. And, yes, the advancements we’ve experienced are great in many ways, but sometimes I wonder…..
I am old enough to remember learning to type on a manual typewriter and how difficult it was to deal with my first electric one. Those keys typed letters at the
I learned to type on a manual typewriter

I learned to type on a manual typewriter

slightest touch, and it was frustrating. If I found that intimidating, you can imagine how intimidated I can be by the complexity of modern computers.
I also remember when we called any business and a real, live person answered the phone. Now, a machine tells us our call is important and the wait will be 15 to 30 minutes. Or, we must push this button and that while the minutes tick by and we desperately concentrate on following the recorded directions correctly because just one blunder — and we’re out of the loop with no possible way back. And, since these electronic telephone systems aren’t always perfect, we can do all the right things and still end up with a dial tone. No wonder we grind our teeth!
Just where oh where have all the people gone? And if our calls ARE important to them, why don’t they employ enough people to handle them? Perhaps we’ve made a Faustian pact with the devil where modern technology is concerned. Even flesh-and-blood humans are beginning to behave more like humanoids than people. We bank at machines, our bills are paid automatically and too often we have little human contact in our everyday lives. I miss that, don’t you?
Will our grandchildren who nuke potatoes in a microwave ever know how great a real baked potato tastes? Is that important? Will future generations who grow up texting each other and using cell phones have any idea how to have a real conversation? Will the youngsters who are no longer taught how to write at school know how to sign their names? Does any of this matter to anyone besides me?
True, my own relationship with modern technology is tenuous. My computer and I have an agreement — I try not to goof too often and it tries not to scare me too much. I know how to turn on my microwave, but have no idea how to decrease the power, so everything gets heated on high. Still, we manage to live together in peace.
And, all those unnecessary clocks that are pre-installed on microwaves, CD players, and most other electronic gizmos in my home remain unset, so don’t bother looking at them for the correct time. I don’t know how to set them and nor do I care.
There is just so much I can handle.

Computers are out to get me

Among the papers my son, Rafi, so kindly brought me, there is this article I wrote long ago. At the time, it thrilled me to sell it to The Grand Rapids Press. They published it on Aug. 15, 1982. Computers were quite new in our lives then, however nothing much has changed about my uneasy relationship with them.

Muriel from Blog Dogs and children, they say, instinctively know if you don’t like them. Computers, I am convinced, know as well. Dogs growl, children cry and computers create havoc in your life.
I’m particularly fond of animals and can tolerate babies, but I do admit to hating computers with a passion. I try, but I’m not much good at disguising my feelings. And, they fight back like tigers.
They lose my records, purposely forget that I mailed my payments, have wrong figures key-punched into them, charge me twice for the same dinner and generally make my life as miserable as they can — and they can!
Recently a computer sent me a statement for one cent. That’s right. One single, solitary penny! I was amused and casually tossed the statement into my trash basket. After all, some human would take that stupid computer in hand, explain to the silly machine that it had wasted a postage stamp to mail the dumb notice and the penny would subsequently be written off the way decent pennies should be.
Lo and behold, next month that evil computer was at it again. I opened my mailbox to find another statement for the same penny. This was really ridiculous! I showed that statement to anyone who would look, as proof that computers are out to get me.
A friend, perhaps to be funny, suggested my credit might be ruined if I didn’t remit the penny. I laughed! How silly! But then — knowing how computers feel about me, I had nightmares of the bank repossessing my home, my car being scooped up in the middle of the night, my children in ragged clothes, feet bare, crying in the snow, and my being hauled into court for non-payment of one cent. (Do they still have debtor’s prison?)

I got a kick out of this delightful press sketch by Charlie Albright

I got a kick out of this delightful press sketch by Charlie Albright

It was 3 a.m. I furtively crept out of my rumpled bed while my unsuspecting husband lay sleeping. I removed the worn, wrinkled statement from my purse where it had gotten wedged between my compact, tissues and chewing gum. I straightened it out as best I could — I know better than to antagonize computers! After taping a penny to it, I made sure to place the stamp on securely, carried it out to the mailbox and went back to sleep, relieved.
Alas, too late! Another month had gone by and now the computer said I was past due and had incurred a late charge. That blankety-blank machine charged me one cent on a balance of one cent. I was now being asked for two.
Oh, this was a sly computer, a worthy foe to be feared. It had cleverly kept its knavery a secret, outwitting the humans who could have stopped it. It remained amuck — out of control and out to get me. I was frightened and decided to call for help.
Very clearly printed on the statement was the following: “Any credit information, contact Johanna at Ext. 229.” Clever, clever — for nowhere on the statement could I find what number to call Johanna at. The computer had triumphed again!
The statement had come from a large corporation. Was Johanna at Ext. 229 in Dallas, San Francisco or Tulsa? Was she perhaps tucked away in some obscure office in South America? I had to try to find her, so I turned the problem over to our local telephone information operator who gave me a number right in town. Working up the courage for a real showdown, I was geared for a fight. It would be that computer or me. I was ready…
Locally they did not know a Johanna at Ext. 229, but the very serious controller agreed to check into my account and call me back. I made sure to let him know I had mailed payment.
“My penny and this statement must have crossed in the mail,” I told him, expecting him to laugh.
He was unfazed by the amount of money I was discussing. There was no laughter. I can only suppose he knows some of the same computers I do. Heart pounding, blood pressure mounting, I waited patiently for the man to wrestle with my adversary and call me back.
Humans are more kindly than computers and the conscientious controller did call regarding this weighty problem.
“Madam,” said he, “Ahem! It seems our key-punch operator, ahem, well, she was in error. Your original payment was put in incorrectly. It seems you don’t owe the penny after all. Computer error, you know, sorry about that.”
“I don’t owe the penny!” I cried. “I don’t owe the penny! But I mailed it to you. I want my penny back, you hear, I want my penny back. I WANT MY PENNY BACK!!!”
Suddenly he developed a sense of humor. He found my hysteria hilarious. He had no understanding of what I’d been through, the sleepless nights, the agony, the fear. He found it all funny!
And, the computer? It had the last laugh. I never did get my penny back. Do you suppose it gobbled it up?