WHY I DON’T LOVE CELL PHONES

Everyone loves their cell phone except me, or anyway that’s how it feels. I know there are other people like me who are not enchanted with the technology, but it’s dreadfully unfashionable to express an anti-cell phone opinion.

I am not a fan. It’s not because I’m stodgy and old, though I’m probably both those things among many others. It’s because they are good for almost everything except their original purpose. Making phone calls. The audio quality is pathetic. They disconnect randomly and often. I need reading glasses to see anything on the screen. I could forgive everything else if I could make a phone call — or receive one — and know I’d be able to communicate with the other party with a reasonable likelihood of staying connected all the way to the end of the call while hearing and being heard.

iphone-whiteIronically, our old cell phones, the big klutzy brick like ones we had back in the 90s, were better telephones than the iPhone or any other phone you can get now. They connected, stayed connected. You could hear the person on the other end and they could hear you. The batteries lasted for days, not hours and you could get a signal anywhere. You could have conversations that didn’t include a single “can you hear me?” How amazing is that?

Today’s phones are miniature entertainment centers. But I don’t need an entertainment center. I need a portable telephone. So I can talk to people when I’m away from home. Is that too much to ask?

As for taking pictures on my phone, why? I carry a compact point and shoot wherever I go. It has a superzoom and takes high quality pictures. I like cameras. I have a lot of them. I don’t need my phone to be a camera. Or a movie theater. Or to listen to music. The whole “listening to music on your cell” is weird to me. The speakers are so tinny, why would you want to use them for music? I need a telephone.

I know the younger generations would rather text, but they were born with pointy little thumbs. Alas, but I have big, cumbersome, slow thumbs designed for grasping tools, an advanced monkey version of thumbs.

So I don’t like cell phones, or more accurately, I don’t like the cell phones they make these days. They are light, small and totally adorable.  And useless for making phone calls. Which is the only use I have for them. For everything else, I have computers, cameras, readers, GPS, radios, CD players. DVD players, televisions and little music players.

Does anyone actually use their cell phone to call anyone anymore? Just wondering.

ITCH

Karma? Murphy’s Law? A deity that has it in for us? Bad things happen to good people, but annoying things happen to everybody. Constantly.

These daily annoyances are like an itch you can’t scratch. You try to ignore them, but they keep nagging at you. Why, why, why?

Why are we always behind the slowest vehicle on the road? All our roads are two lanes, one in each direction and rarely is there a safe place to pass. It doesn’t matter if we are alone or together, we will be behind the vehicle that ignores the 45 mph speed limit and chooses to drive at 25. And they are going the same place we are. Always.

Public Transportation

Why does the thing I can’t find always appear in the exact place I already looked a dozen times? Where was it hiding?

Why is the month always longer than the money?

Mar-iPhone-0nWhy, when I clear our a closet, is it instantly full again?

Why does nobody call me unless I’m out of the house? I’m hardly ever out and I rarely get phone calls.

Why can I never hear my iPhone ring? I can hear the microwave ding from another part of the house, but not the cell phone.

Why do doctors’ and veterinarians’ offices have to call at 8 in the morning to remind me of my appointment two days in the future? Especially since they are using robot calling devices … don’t these people understand about morning?

Why do I never spot the typo until after I publish the post?

Why is the medicine bottle for which I’m looking always the last one out of the bag? Why can’t it be on top?

My missing mug. If you spot it, please let me know.

My missing mug. If you spot it, please let me know.

How do the matching pillow cases always migrate away from the sheets with which they go? They start off together. When do they roam?

To where does the second sock in the pair vanish? They go together into the wash, but only one comes back.

Where is my granddaughter’s hairbrush? It’s a Mason-Pearson. It was expensive. It was still in its original unopened box when it vanished without a trace. Apparently forever.

How did my antique squash blossom wind up in the bottom of my husband’s underwear drawer?

How did my favorite bracelet wind up in the piano bench?

Where did my coffee mug go? I never take the mugs out of the house. I only drink coffee in my office or kitchen. I don’t understand. They keep vanishing. Tell me … is it the terriers again?

Why do I have a rash on my wrist? Am I allergic to my wristwatch? Talk about itch.

Why do you find that thing you’ve lost immediately after you replace it?

Why, when my keyboard stops responding, do I never remember to change the battery before I start running diagnostics? You’d think I’d have learned by now.

These are universal questions. We all could use a few answers, so if anyone out there has answers, I’m all ears. The big issues I will have to deal with, but these? They just itch.

Daily Prompt: Are you being served? Chaos and Madness at AT&T

Shortly before Christmas, Garry and I went somewhere and I forgot to bring my cell phone. I asked Garry if I might use Blackberry Torchhis. I was appalled when I could barely hear anything, even with the volume full up and using the speaker. I realized if I could barely hear it, he couldn’t hear it at all. Which brought me to the inevitable conclusion that Garry needed a new cell phone.

Good wife that I am, I figured I’d get him a new phone with better sound so he would not be stuck trying to hear on a phone with such awful audio.

This was early December and Christmas was a couple of weeks off. How long could it possibly take to get a new cell phone, right?

I went online at AT&T, our long-time carrier. I checked to see if he or I was entitled to an upgrade. It turned out both of us were entitled to upgrades, but my phone is just a year old, I don’t use it very much and although I’m entitled to a new phone, I don’t need one. Garry, on the other hand …

This seemed a fairly straightforward process. I checked to see what phones were available on super special, discovered he could get an updated version of the phone he already has for $29.99, with the usual 2 year committment, but we’ve been with AT&T forever anyhow and I don’t see that any of the other carriers are better … so why not? It was the middle of the night, but I called AT&T and was going to order the new version of the Blackberry Curve … but they wanted a credit card and I was already in bed, so I said I’d call tomorrow. I was too tired to get up and deal with it right then.

When I tried to access the website the next day, I couldn’t. Eventually, I called and discovered it wasn’t me, wasn’t a bad password or my computer. AT&T’s servers were being upgraded. I should have guessed. I should have sensed the crackling of crisis in the air. Why they picked early December to do a massive server upgrade is anyone’s guess. It would not have been my first choice.

Mar-iPhone-0nWhen I started to place the order, AT&T assured me that they needed to charge me $36 for the upgrade fee. “What upgrade?” I asked. “We already have all the services we need. The only service you are providing is putting the phone in a box and mailing it. You said it’s free shipping … but $36 is a shockingly high shipping charge. Since you aren’t providing any other services, that’s the only thing it could be.”

The young lady to whom I was talking said she couldn’t do anything about it, she was not responsible and everyone had to pay the fee. I said that I was not going to pay the fee and frankly, we’ve been long-term customers and this was shabby treatment indeed. I next learned that I was going to have to pay sales tax on the full list price of the phone, even though we all know that NO ONE pays full retail on anything, much less a cell phone upgrade. Thus this $29.99 had spiraled into around $100 …. which is more than our ultra tight budget could afford.

I said I wanted to talk to a supervisor. I was transferred and eventually, disconnected. Called back, went through the whole story again, was told — again — she couldn’t help me. Said she was transferring me to a department that could help me. When I got to that department, I was told it was the wrong department and I was going to have to go back and talk to the original people who had now two? three? times told me they couldn’t help me.

I would have been laughing but time was passing. I had started this on Sunday night and it was Tuesday. Christmas was creeping up on me and I had yet to actually place an order.

I don’t remember all the people I talked to, all the supervisors to whom I was transferred, all the deals I made only to find that the next person I spoke to had never heard anything about it. It has mercifully become a blur. My husband was cranky because he felt, since he hadn’t actually asked for a phone, I had no reason to expect a lot of sympathy or support. I pointed out he did need a phone and just being his wife ought to entitle me to sympathy and support.

It had indeed been my idea to get him a new phone based purely the uselessness of his old one. But that’s sentimental twaddle. I should have waited until he actually asked me for a phone, preferably begged me on bended knee. Generosity. That was my first mistake.

As the tale continued, it became the story without end. So many departments, so many disconnects. I ran down the battery on my cell phone and on the handset of my house phone, then switched to the other handset  And still, no order.

Finally, it was Friday, December 21st. AT&T agreed to waive the charge, give me back a few bucks to compensate for the insane sales tax, and include free shipping. By now, I’d changed from the Blackberry Curve to the iPhone 4 which was on clearance for $0.99 and they swore up and down the east coast I’d have the telephone in my hands on Christmas Eve. Shortly after this amazing promise, I got another call from someone who said whoever promised me Christmas Eve delivery should not have made such a rash promise because who knew if I’d really get the phone? It could be weeks away. Maybe never.

We had been planning to be away from the day after Christmas through the following weekend. If they delivered the phone during that period, it would sit outside in the ice, snow and slush until we got home. But not to worry, she said. If that happened, I could “just send it back.”

I could not cope with the idea of returning the phone. This was bad. Doing it twice would be unbearable. I had been on the telephone with AT&T for more hours in one week than I had been on the phone with everyone else I know during the entire previous year. Granted I’m not on the phone much, but this had eaten at least 25 hours of telephone time … and there seemed to be no end in sight. Ever.

Somewhere during this period, our plans for visiting friends post-Christmas were cancelled because my friend was ill. Despite assurances there was no way I’d get the phone by Christmas Eve followed by equally passionate assurances I definitely would get the phone by Christmas Eve, I simply had no idea when or if I was getting a phone. Would you like to take a guess?

I got the phone Christmas Eve. There it was, a little white box in a bigger brown box. Delivered by FedEx. No bubble pack. Just the phone banging around inside the shipping box. So I waited until the day after Christmas and called about the lack of padding in the box because I didn’t want to wind up with a dead iPhone 4 being told it was somehow my fault. I was assured by someone somewhere that this wouldn’t happen, so I went ahead opened the box and tried setting up the phone.

Nothing worked. What is more, due to the endless legal battles between Google and Apple, Garry’s gmail contact list could not be synchronized with the iPhone.

The first tech support individual, from AT&T, told me that Garry would have to enter all the information by hand. I said “up your nose with a rubber hose” or words to that effect. Garry’s address book has at least 300 entries and I think I’m being conservative. I pointed out that the iPhone is supposed to sync with Outlook and by now, a few disconnects later, I was on the phone with Apple tech support and my cell phone was recharging, the battery having run down to zero again and I was on the second of the two “house phone” handsets, having run through the first phone’s battery. We finally doped out, between him and me, that we had to delete the “cloud” function and NOT synchronize the two email addresses linked to Outlook because it created a conflict and would immediately spew error messages.

When I finally got the iPhone to synchronize with Outlook’s address book, it started demanding a password for voicemail. My head began making a funny buzzing sound that kept getting louder. Were those voices talking to me? Possibly … if only the buzzing would stop and let me think …

Neither Garry nor I has ever needed a password for our voice mail. Not his, not mine, not ever. We didn’t have any passwords to give them. When the Apple tech guy said I’d have to call AT&T to get it sorted out, I went into full meltdown. I could not face another long wait, multiple disconnects … and trying to interface with who knew how many morons before maybe … by New Year’s … I could get through to someone who would  know what the problem was and fix it.

Finally, the fellow at Apple who actually seemed to have at least a pretty good knowledge of the product managed to get the address book issue dealt with … said he himself would call AT&T and put us in a conference call and we’d sort the whole thing out. He said he’d call me back and I begged … I think groveling might better describe it … that he really call me back and not leave me hanging.

This was the day after Christmas, the busiest day of the year for tech support what with everyone getting a telephone, tablet, computer, or some other electronic widget under the tree. Likely this didn’t help. But he called back with a man who was obviously not an entry-level tech support guy. He was a Big Gun. You just knew it. He fixed it. He said it was a software artifact from older phones and he was going to delete it from the system and it would never trouble me again.

Then he gave me a $40 credit giving me a small profit on the transaction unless you count my time as being worth money in which case I’m far behind. Far, very far behind.

Garry has a new cell phone. He said “thank you,” and I said “you’re welcome,” but personally, I think I’ve earned a medal at the very least.

Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

So for all the people who told me to “Get a Mac” to solve my problems, I will agree the iPhone is a fine, well-made phone. Was it easy to set up? No. Did it have fewer glitches than my other phones? No. If anything, it had more issues. I got it for a great price and it has, as I had hoped, very loud speakers so Garry can hear it. Hopefully, he’ll get used to the virtual keyboard.

I hate it even more than I hated the tiny raised keys on the Blackberry. I never voluntarily write anything on a cell phone and why Garry does is beyond me.

This whole trial by fire has made me aware of how pathetic my older Blackberry Torch (first generation) is and how I need a new phone. When I’ve recovered from this experience, I will think about replacing it. Why do cell phones need replacing so often? They are so expensive, shouldn’t they last more than a year? Just saying.

Meanwhile, I need to rest and recover my perspective. I have to wait until the story gets funnier. At least until I find my misplaced sense of humor. Then I’ll buy another cell phone.

A huge pink underbelly

Little things defeat me. An electrical blip — so brief as to go otherwise unnoticed — knocked out the time and date on the clocks and telephones in my house. It was so brief I didn’t realize it had happened until I went to bed and everything was blinking. Don’t you hate when that happens?

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I would have noticed had I been in my office. That computer isn’t a laptop, so an electrical blip knocks out the computer. But I was using the laptop and it just switched to battery. I continued uninterrupted. But all the blinking in the bedroom was hard to ignore. Resetting the clock radio was easy enough, but then … there was the telephone. They are all networked, so I only have to set one and all three reset. It should have been no big deal.

Sadly, I do not get along with telephones. Not mobile phones or landlines. Nor the networked house phones. I can manage a computer and software, but I very quickly discovered I had no idea how to reset the date on these telephones. I was defeated by an AT&T multi-handset system I installed in our home about a year ago. For which the instructions are long vanished.

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Every time something so miniscule defeats me, I am reminded how helpless I am — we all are — in the face of our technology. Even those of us who are technologically savvy have limits. All of us have a technical Waterloo. If anything goes awry with any major system in my house, not only am I helpless, so is everyone else who lives here. Three generations of people who use technology constantly and depend on it utterly. If we were without power for 24 hours our world would collapse.

It’s the huge, soft, pink, underbelly of our modern world. The aliens will not have to defeat us in battle. They just have to knock out our communication satellites and blow up a few power plants. Human civilization goes down like a row of dominoes.

aliens hubble

The image of a spiral galaxy has been stretched and mirrored by gravitational lensing into a shape similar to that of a simulated alien from the classic 1970s computer game Space Invaders Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage/ESA-Hubble Collaboration
Read more: http://www.universetoday.com/100497/nasa-finds-a-space-invader/

The only survivors will be the rural poor, those few who don’t depend on technology because they can’t afford it. Or maybe the survivalists in their compounds. Their lives will go on as before. Not me, though. Probably not you either. It’s just a thought to ponder.

Charge! Address the Mess!

My world runs on rechargeable batteries.

Three laptops, two Kindles, two cellphones, six cameras, four mouses (mice have fur and make squeaky noises, mouses attach to your computer), wireless keyboards, GPS, various clocks, flashlights, who-knows-how-many remote controls, electric razors, tooth cleaning machines, and a mind-numbing array of miscellaneous devices I can’t remember off-hand. To keep the world running, Other than those things that run on AAA and AA rechargeable batteries, everything else uses some kind of proprietary battery. I do not understand why camera makers feel obliged to use a different battery for each camera model. Surely they could design at least all cameras of one type to use the same battery.

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I don’t always realize how dependent we are on batteries and chargers until I’m packing for vacation. Half a carry-on bag is entirely allocated to chargers and wires. And that’s just for items we use while traveling: laptop accessories,  Kindles, cell phones, mouses, portable speakers, cameras and accessories. Laptops and cameras have their own cases … but there’s never enough room for the chargers.

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I used to pack all the chargers and wires carefully, all coiled and tied to avoid tangling. One day, I gave up. Now I shove the chargers and wires in a bag and untangle as needed.

At home, I have to keep track of what needs charging and which chargers they use. There are so many I finally was unable to remember which batteries went with which gadget. I really had to address the mess.

The floor of my office is covered with wires and power strips. I’m afraid to walk anywhere because I might step on something fragile.

I did what I do best: research. There are solutions. Not all power strips are the same, and there’s a whole new generation designed to address exactly the problems we all have with too many chargers and power supplies. Some of them are quite pricey, some more affordable. It’s still cheaper to buy a generic strip at Walmart or Target. But you may actually wind up with more usable space if you pay a bit more and get a strip designed to accommodate various sizes and shapes.

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These deal with the problem of oddly shaped and variously sized chargers and power supplies, both strips and as wall sockets.

Let’s start with the Belkin Pivot Surge Protectors. These are available in a 3 versions: a 6-outlet wall mounted version, plus 2 corded versions (6 and 8 foot).

There is extra space between sockets and most also pivot and rotate to let you use all the outlets without waste. Belkin products are usually high quality and they are well-known for their surge protectors. Of course, you may or may not actually need surge protection, but most of these units include it.

I put surge protectors on computers and printers. Battery chargers are cheap and easy to replace and anyway, surges aren’t my problem. Power outages are more likely to be the problem, but a surge protector is no help with that.

Lightning is a problem. Surge protectors are useless against lightning.

We’ve been hit by lightning on three occasions. The first strike was on a utility pole in front of the house. It took out two computers and a printer. The second took down a tree, but no equipment. The third strike killed the well pump which is more than 450 feet underground. That’s how I learned that lightning can strike underground. Apparently the combination of electricity, metal, and water is very attractive to lightning. Well pumps are expensive and not necessarily covered by home insurance.

Lightening is incredibly powerful. Anything plugged in when lightning strikes will get fried. The only thing that will protect against lightning is having your equipment physically unplugged when it strikes. Just a bit of advice from someone who has learned her lesson the hard way.

Insurance will replace equipment, but no one will replace lost data. For that you need a backup on a separate drive.

Prices for the Belkin surge protectors (on Amazon) range from about $18 for the wall-mounted unit, to $25 for the 12-outlet unit with an 8-foot cord, to $27 for the 8-outlet surge protector with a 6-foot cord. The 8-outlet is a very different design and lets you rotate the outlets so that you can use all of the outlets regardless of the size or shape of the chargers or power supplies you want to plug in.

The design of the 8-outlet unit spreads the outlets along a round, wand-like strip that lets you configure the sockets to fit a wide variety of variously sized and shaped chargers and power supplies.

Quite a bit of creativity has gone into some of the designs. By the way, all of these are available on Amazon.

The creative solutions don’t end here. The Kensington 62634 SmartSockets 6-Outlet 16 Foot Cord Table Top Circular Color Coded Power Strip and Surge Protector looks like an electrified lazy Susan. Designed to put in the middle of a conference table so participants can all plug their laptops in at the same time, you could as easily use it on the floor.

It’s rather pricey at more than $40, but it is very cool and if you need a table top strip, this is probably a good choice.

For 25% less, Quirky makes something similar. The white Quirky Pivot Power 6 Outlet Flexible Surge Protector Power Strip costs a couple of dollars less than the identical unit in black. I have no idea why.

Though not cheap, it is not as expensive as the Kensington or Belkin units, nor as fancy. The sockets rotate, but don’t swivel. If you can live without swiveling and color coding, you can get one of these for just under $30. Exactly what will work for you, whether or not any of these will be right for you, depends on the shape of the space you have and how many devices and chargers you have.

If, like me, your charger problem extends into your kitchen and bathroom, there are wall-mounted units for that let you rotate outlets.

360 Electrical 36035-W 4-Outlet Rotating Surge Protector

You can keep your electric razor and water pic plugged in and still have somewhere to attach the hair dryer or curling iron. And if, like my husband, you want to play the radio while you do your daily ablutions, you have a plug for that too. At about $15, it’s a real problem-solver. There are other versions made for kitchen appliances that come with more outlets in some fascinating shapes.

My personal favorite and what consider the most power strip for the least money is Ideative’s Socket Sense 6-Outlet Expandable Surge Protector, 3-Foot Cord. It’s simple and costs just $15. You can set the spacing as needed. Since the equipment in our life keeps changing, I’m attracted by a strip that I can adapt to changing requirements. I have two of them and need one more.

Ideative Socket Sense 6-Outlet Expandable Surge Protector, 3-foot Cord

Ideative’s strips are comparatively simple. No rotating or color coding outlets, but you can make the space between outlets larger or smaller, so most things should fit easily. The sockets are angled to make it easier to plug stuff in.

There are more. Tripp Lite makes a series of high voltage surge protecting traditional strips that have as many as 24 outlets.

They are expensive and much higher tech than I need, but it depends on what you need … and the size of your budget, because those babies cost upwards of $50 apiece.

Below is a cord splitter, one alternative to a strip. I have one in my office and it has the advantage that any size device will fit into any plug. These are also sometimes called hubs and may include special sockets for charging USB devices, or hooking up phone lines. I also have a hub like this on my desk that gives me an extra five USB outlets. Just be aware that not every device operates properly through a hub; some devices need to be plugged directly into the computer.

Civilization probably wouldn’t survive the loss of electricity, but until the world as we know it comes to an end, at the very least we can make life a little easier. All you need is willingness to do the research … and a credit card. With some credit on it.

Like so many problems in life, if you throw money at it, you can make it to go away. More or less.

 

Taming the Techno Beast

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of posts focusing on how civilization is disintegrating because of technology. The loss of privacy, clearly because of websites like Facebook. The prevalence of moronic rumors on the Internet that for incomprehensible reasons, people actually take seriously. And of course, the loss of language and relationship skills by young people who communicate entirely by texting in code that no one over the age of 18 can decipher not to mention the pernicious effects of electronic books replacing paper and ink. And finally, my personal favorite, the paranoid belief that mobile phones are scrambling everyone’s’ brains and are probably responsible for the epidemic of worldwide stupidity.

I’m not convinced we had any privacy to lose. If you weren’t a recluse living in a cave, then you lived amidst people. In towns, villages and cities. In tribes, settlements and family groups. In metropolitan areas, we form villages within the larger population. We call them neighborhoods. You don’t come from New York or Boston.

You come from Park Slope or Southie, Roxbury or Astoria. As long as we live in and around other people, they know all about us. They know a lot more than we wish they did. You sneeze and your neighbors say a collective “gesundheit.” Have a fight with your spouse and everyone knows every detail the following morning. Gossip is the meat and potatoes of human relationships. Call it networking or whatever you like: we talk about each other all the time. Privacy is an illusion.

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The big difference is you can use your own computer to tell total strangers everywhere in the world all your personal business. But that’s your own choice. It’s entirely voluntary, but millions of people do it every day. I suspect — on the whole — we care a lot less about privacy than we say we do. Sure, we want to protect our bank accounts and credit cards from being stolen, but otherwise? How much do you really care who knows what’s going on in your life?

We are herd animals. We are nosy. We gossip. Knowing your neighbors’ business doesn’t require technology,  just eyes and ears. For broadcast purposes,  a mouth works as well any other device.

One of the more common assumptions about technology is that this stuff is more important to young people than older folks. Older people are supposed to resist new technology, to be stuck in our ways and refuse to move on.

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I recall thinking along the same lines when I was young and stupid. Young people underestimate their elders. Maybe it helps them gain the courage to face uncertain futures, but as one of those Old People, I find it annoying.

People my age have not rejected technology. Au contraire, we embrace it with enormous enthusiasm. Technology has impacted us more than any other age group. Computers give us access to the world, let us to remain actively in touch with scattered friends and family. It helps us know what people are thinking. Digital cameras with auto-focus compensate for aging eyes. Miniaturization makes more powerful hearing aids so that people who would be condemned to silence can remain part of the world. Pacemakers prolong life; instrumented surgeries provide solutions to what used to be insoluble medical problems and lets us keep active into very old age. Technology has saved us not only from early death, but from losing touch.

We can watch movies whenever we want, the old ones from childhood and the new ones just out of theaters. We can view them in comfort on huge screens as good as the movies, but with better sound and cheaper snacks … plus a convenient “pause” button if you need to hit the bathroom or kitchen.

Virtually every one of us has a cell phone, uses electronic calendars as well as a wide range of applications to do everything from post-processing photographs and balancing our bank accounts,  to cooking meals.

My generation consumes technology voraciously, hungrily.

Unlike the kids, we don’t take it for granted. We didn’t always have it. We remember the old days and despite all those nostalgic postings on the web, most of us are glad we don’t live there anymore.

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We can’t all repair a computer, but neither can the kids. They know how to use them … my granddaughter was using a computer when she was three … but she has no idea how a computer works and would be hard put to explain the difference between the operating system and an application. Most of her friends are equally ignorant. They are on top of the world when things work but  if anything goes wrong, suddenly Granny transforms to Computer Guru.

For teenagers and young adults, technology is no miracle. They don’t need to understand it. They feel about computers the way we felt about electricity: we didn’t need to know how it worked. We just put the plug in the socket and turn on the lights.

There is a down side to technology as there’s a down side to everything. An hour’s power outage and we are lost. Dependence is not what worries me. I’m no survivalist. Without modern technology, I wouldn’t make it through a week.

I worry that young folks are not learning how to talk to each other and will have a hard time forming relationships. Not that we did all so well ourselves, but at least we talked to each other.

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The ubiquitous availability of social networking gives kids the illusion of having lots of friends … yet many of them have no real friends … not the kind of friends you can depend on and who will hang on through a lifetime.

I don’t want anyone to give up their electronic goodies … but it would be nice if there were more direct communication, human to human. I have watched groups of teens sit around in a room, but instead of talking, they send texts to one another. Good relationships need a more touchy-feely approach.

All of us have gotten a bit lazy about relationships. We send an email when we should pick up the phone. We pick up the phone when we should make a visit. There’s nothing electronic that can replace a hug.

Yet I believe civilization will endure. Stupid people were always stupid. They always will be. Those who believe nonsensical Internet rumors without bothering to learn the truth would never have been truth-seekers anyhow. Before we had Internet rumors, we had plenty of regular rumors. They didn’t travel quite as fast as they do on the Internet, but they got the job done. The problem isn’t computers; it’s people.

I don’t get why people have a problem with electronic books. As far as I am concerned, reading is good no matter what form the words take. For me, electronic books are a dream come true. I will always love the smell and feel of paper and ink, but I am glad to not need more space for books. I’m love my Kindle. Nobody had to slay a tree for the book I’m reading.

I  will always love bookstores, the feel and weight a book, the smell of ink on paper, the gentle crack of the spine when you open a new one, but I only buy special books, first editions, reference books.

The good old days weren’t that terrific. There were good things, but plenty of bad stuff. Ugly stuff. Institutionalized racism, a gap between classes far worse than today. Real oppression of women, so if you think we don’t get a fair shake now, you would never have survived growing up in the 1950s. Help wanted ads in newspapers were divided by sex; we had to wear skirts to school, even in the dead of winter.

Today, our houses are heated better. Basic household goods are relatively inexpensive. Wal-Mart sells cheap underwear. Don’t knock it: I hate spending money on underwear!

lotsa guns

If you want an education, you can get one … no matter what your color or ethnicity. The  legal barriers to individual development have been lowered. The world and the people in it are imperfect; there’s more than enough hate to go around and we’ll never see the end of war, but at least the law is changed. That is not a small thing. Human beings are good at hating. Laws can change the rules, but not human nature.

I wish the quality of entertainment was better and I wish they taught grammar in schools, yet I was never taught grammar and I’m reasonably literate. Those who love words will learn to use them by reading, listening and absorbing the music of language.

Language will continue to evolve but it has always been a moving target. It’s not changing because of computers. We don’t talk as they did in Olde England and future generations won’t talk — or write — like us.

The basic nature of humans hasn’t fundamentally changed. We have a savagery embedded in our DNA.  I doubt anything will erase it. Will we evolve to the point where we are truly civilized and the hidden beast is gone? I doubt it. I believe we would lose our humanity along with our bestiality. It is our never-ending battle to tame our baser instincts that defines civilization.

That, and having a really fast Internet connection.

Phoneography Challenge: My Neighborhood — Roxbury in Boston

I carry a small point and shoot with me all the time and most of my pictures end up being taken with this camera — the Canon PowerShot S100 — rather than my larger, more complicated and expensive system camera. I guess it’s ironic. My little Canon cost less than a single lens in the larger system. It weighs almost nothing and takes up no more room than a cell phone.

We lived in Roxbury for more than a decade, only leaving when the construction of The Big Dig made living there untenable. I still think of it as home, along with the entire city of Boston. Between Roxbury, Beacon Hill, and Charles River Park, we lived in Boston neighborhoods for a very long time and I always enjoy going back again whenever we have an excuse. These were all taken a few weeks ago when we returned to the old neighborhood for a memorial  event for an old friend who recently passed away. The neighborhood is looking better than it did when we lived there. It’s one of those neighborhoods that is improving. I would stop short of calling it gentrifying. I don’t think the folks who live there want it gentrified. They don’t consider themselves gentry and neither do we.

This is a bit of Roxbury. It was, once upon a time, a city in its own right, but years ago it was absorbed and became a neighborhood within greater Boston. It is almost entirely Black and when I lived there, I was often the only white face in the crowd. Despite that, it was by far the friendliest neighborhood in which I’ve ever lived. We had great neighbors, wonderful block parties, and a sense of community we have never had anywhere else. People in general don’t understand how wonderful these ethnic neighborhoods  can be, how warm and supportive the community is when they consider you one of their own. I still miss it, though I love the country. Each place has its own charms, but Roxbury was a wonderful — and eye-opening — experience.

I do not shoot with my cell phone.  I cannot afford the data package that it would make it practical to use mobile apps for anything other than emergencies and our cell phones are for emergency use. Life is not always a matter of preference. More often than not, you don’t get to decide how you will live. Life hands itself to you and it’s your job to figure out how to make it work.

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Just one of those days …

This was basically a good day. Really. Gar and I went to a real party and saw people we almost never see. We didn’t stay long because both of us have trouble with loud parties, but it was a lovely home, good company. Pleasant and full of happy noises.

stop-signs

We got home with only one missed turn off and managed to correct it, even though our GPS, “Richard,” seemed to feel we could make a u-turn on the Southeast Expressway, also known as Route 93 … an elevated limited access high-speed road with perhaps the heaviest traffic in the region. At rush hour, no less. So instead of our GPS, we were forced to rely on a blind luck to find a route that would let us reverse our direction and get back onto the Expressway in the opposite (correct) direction.

If we hadn’t been just outside of Quincy, it would have been easier … probably. Massachusetts was one of the earliest settled parts of the U.S. and our roads are a mess. If you look on a map, they look like a bowl of spaghetti.

We have wrong way concurrence of road, incredibly complicated intersections, signs that don’t make any sense … and no signs where you desperately need them. For you foreigners (anyone not from around here), the town is actually pronounced Quinzy, leaving me with the eternally unanswered question: Was our sixth president called John Quincy Adams,  or John Quinzy Adams.

The roads in and around Quincy are totally illogical. To go south, you have to first go north, but not necessarily vice versa. The signs, although better than they used to be, can’t entirely clarify. Getting on and off of route 295 heading south on route 146 requires keeping right, then left, then right in rapid succession, and when coming back the other way, a high-speed dash across 5 lanes of rapidly moving traffic and the signage doesn’t begin to explain that you have to gun it and keep going, no matter how many cars and trucks are heading at you. If you are driving in a vehicle that doesn’t accelerate quickly, prayer is recommended.

And that is approximately where we missed a turn off. With our GPS shouting at us to turn around, then losing track of us completely. At one point, we were apparently in the middle of the bay, at least according to Richard. It’s wasn’t as bad as downtown Boston — few things are — but it’s bad.

typical Boston road sign. Try to read this going 30 mph.    Ryan39s Smashing Life!

We eventually managed to circle around, though we had to go a few miles.

We got home and discovered that Nan, our innocent, sweet lamb of a Norwich Terrier had chewed a very neat but sizable hole in the previously unopened 20 pound bag of dog food. It’s hard to tell how much she ate, but for a dog that is about 11 inches at the shoulder, she is astonishingly food-driven. Her need for food is hard explain unless you’ve seen it because she is such a little sweetheart … and willing to battle a mastiff to get to the food dish first.

After dealing with the dog food, I decided to take care of what I assumed would be a simple task: getting a new cell phone for my husband. His phone has gotten old. It’s just a couple of years old, but in cell phone years, that’s practically ancient. I can barely hear on it and I have normal hearing, so he probably can’t hear anything. It’s just old.

But AT&T says that Garry is entitled to an upgrade and they have the new version of his Blackberry Curve at the upgrade price of $29.99. So I logged myself in … it took three tries, even though it was unquestionably the correct password … and when I went to do the upgrade, I discovered they were going to charge me $36 dollars for “upgrade services” plus $18.69 sales tax. The phone is $29.99 … which would make the tax significantly more than 50% of the price of the phone. The “upgrade service fee” is more than the phone.

Both of us already have Blackberries. We are adding no new services. We are changing nothing. So the “services” consist of mailing us the phone, whereupon we insert the chip, the battery, charge it, configure it and all that jazz.

Message

I have stuck with AT&T for years, not because they have the best signal — not even close — or the best prices, but because they’ve always had great service. I was seriously pissed off. Eventually, I talked to a supervisor who agreed that perhaps the $36.00 fee was a bit much, but the sales tax is based on the full retail list price of the phone … a price nobody ever pays. And oh, the systems at AT&T are down, so they couldn’t take care of it right now. By then, I’d been dumped out of my account and in trying to get back, was informed that I’d tried to get into the account too many times and was now locked out. Not that it made much of a difference anyhow since the system had stopped recognizing my password yesterday and only intermittently recognized the new one.

Curve

They said they’d call me tomorrow. I said I was going to be at the hospital all day tomorrow seeing the neurologist who I hope can do something about my back, or at least make some of the pain go away. I’d happily settle for less pain.

Of the 450 minutes we pay for (and they no longer offer that plan … you have to buy at least 500), last month we used, between the two of us, 17 minutes. Of my 200 MB data, I used 9 MB. Of his 200, Garry used 12. We don’t need more features. What we need are telephones with decent sound that can be used to make telephone calls. We aren’t going to play with apps. We just need telephones for emergencies. There doesn’t seem to be a plan for people like us.

I started to wonder if we really need Blackberries at all, but there are practically no phones you can get that aren’t smart phones that have even passable sound quality. We both have laptops and desktops on which we get email. I also have a netbook and Kindle … both of which get email. How many ways do we need to get email? We take everything with us everywhere we go out-of-town. If there was a decent telephone that isn’t a smart phone available, we could save $60 a month. But any phone with good sound quality is a smart phone and requires a data plan which we don’t need or want. Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Again.

Finally, I settled down, baked a frozen pizza and watched some television. I’m mentally preparing to find out if my spine is salvageable. I have a feeling that sleep is not going to come easily tonight.

I think I need to chill. Between dealing with my new HMO (that’s a whole other story) and AT&T, and the dreaded cable company … how did I ever find time to work a full-time job?  I’m way too busy to work.

Life hurts

My granddaughter and many of her friends are having big problems in high school. Their problems are identical to those of my generation but this generation is even more clueless than we were. They have no idea how to cope. They are like those monkeys raised with wire mothers, at a loss to relate to other monkeys. 

They don’t know the difference between a real friend and a casual acquaintance. The glib labeling from social media is, for them, the real deal … until they discover it’s not.

Becoming a misfit in high school is easy. If you are different, you are going to have social problems. How large these problems loom is a function of the vulnerability of the individual.

In the “good old days” when I was growing up, rumors and lies spread no faster than however long it took to pass the word from person to person. Today, with the click of a mouse on a Facebook page or mobile phone, the same meanness, backbiting and gossip that has always been with us can be distributed instantly to hundreds, thousands, even millions of people. It’s the same stuff, but it gets around faster.

Schools can’t deal with the problem. It’s too amorphous. They can’t control the Internet, text messages, and social media sites. It’s so easy to pick on someone. It doesn’t even have to be intentional.

A moment of pique, thoughtlessness, a casual reference, ordinary gossip can do an enormous amount of damage to a fragile adolescent ego. The electronic world is as real to them … maybe even more real … than traditional relationships. I’m not sure they understand there is a difference.

I’ve watched the dynamics of this first generation of young people for whom cell phones and computers are as ordinary as electricity was for us. I’ve watched them sit together in groups preferring to text each other rather than talk. I’ve wondered how in the world they would ever learn how to have a real relationship, to make the kind of friends that last a lifetime.

The answer is that they haven’t learned. They are lost.

They are starting to pay the price of hiding behind electronic communication. They have used it as a substitute for face time, conversation, of really being with other people.

Shy kids have had no motivation to get over it. They can’t handle even the simplest conversation. They don’t get it that people can be two-faced, dishonest, and just mean and that it isn’t personal. People are what they are. We older people could help if they let us, but we’re fossils, stupid old people suggesting they talk to each other, spend time together, that you can’t become “best friends for life” by exchanging emails.

They’ve relied on words alone, out of context of the rest of the package: facial expression and body language.  They have never learned to “read” people. They can’t see when someone is lying.

Growing up is hard. Being a teenager is rough. It was as true 50 years ago as today, but we never had the choice of hiding behind a computer.

A lot of young people have had only minimal contact with other kids. There are a lot of forces at work, not only the hyper-availability of technology but also the fearfulness parents, the limited availability of free time, the overly structured lives kids have. They can’t just hang out. They aren’t encouraged to do stuff  independently.

If my generation suffered from unwillingness to discipline our kids, this generation of parents not only doesn’t discipline kids, they smother and over-protect them from life itself. They label everything as bullying. They do not encourage their offspring to face problems and assure them they can handle it, that you don’t get emotional strength by avoiding life. Instead they buy into the endless psychobabble and make their kids feel even more helpless.

I’m not surprised at the problems. Despite my son and daughter-in-law’s contention that kids are meaner than they were, I don’t agree. Kid, people, are no different than they ever were.  The difference is that parents are afraid to let their kids work out their problems. They don’t let them grow up. Sometimes, I think they don’t really want them to grow up, as if they want them to stay permanently dependent and childish. They have no idea how much they will regret it.

It’s natural to want to protect your children from hurt, but you shouldn’t protect them from life.

Life hurts. Life is also wonderful, rich, rewarding, exciting. But never pain-free.

There’s no turning back from technology. Nor would most of us want to dump our computers and cell phones. There does need to be a better balance. Technology won’t produce relationships. Exchanging words is not bonding. Sending texts and emails can’t establish closeness.

It’s a tall order convincing teenagers that emotional pain is part of growing up. Nothing but experience will help toughen them up so they can function in the world.

No one gets a pass from pain. Money won’t buy it. Private schools won’t keep life away. There’s only one way to become a survivor — experience. These kids need to get out and live. Put the cell phones away and talk to each other. Get involved. Let life happen to them, be swept away by events and emotions. Learn that feelings are manageable … with practice.

They aren’t getting the message. Maybe if they read it on Facebook?

 

The Golden Days Begin With A Dental Checkup

It was a beautiful morning and if I hadn’t had a dentist appointment, it would have been a great day for a photo shoot. I didn’t want to go to the dentist anyhow and if it weren’t for all those reminders from the office on how overdue I am for a check up, I would have happily canceled and wiled the bight hours away in the woods and by the streams.

A tiny waterfall behind the leaves.

As it was, I had the presence of mind to toss the little Canon point and shoot into my rucksack. That’s why I bought it, so I wouldn’t be reduced to trying to use my cell phone. Do not tell me what great pictures I can get with my phone. I don’t care. My phone is not a camera. I have issues with taking pictures using non-camera-shaped objects.

A red barn in Mendon.

I found a long-lost waterfall, waving grasses, a great old red barn. A white farmhouse with a tilted white well. Some color on trees and vines. It’s just the beginning, but I’m hoping this will be a good one. A long autumn, a bright autumn. The last good time before winter closes in again.

All photos taken using the Canon PowerShot SX 260 HR, processed in Photoshop.

And I didn’t have a single cavity!

Charge!

My world runs on batteries. Mostly rechargeable batteries. Three laptops, two Kindles, two cellphones, three cameras, four mouses (mice have fur and make squeaky noises, mouses attach to your computer using USB transmission), two wireless keyboards, GPS, various clocks, flashlights, who-knows-how-many remote controls, electric razors, tooth cleaning machines, and a mind-numbing array of miscellaneous devices I can’t remember off-hand.

To keep the world running, I have to charge things that recharge and keep a stack of AAA and AA rechargeable batteries ready to go.

I have never lived in a house that had enough electrical outlets for things like lamps and televisions, but with all these chargers to accommodate, I own dozens of power strips. Everywhere you look, and in many places you would never think to look, in every room, power strips keep the chargers charging and other electrical devices functioning. The strips range from high-end hubs with surge protection to whatever was on sale at Walmart when I needed another strip. Every one of them is full. Or, more accurately, as full as the size and shape the chargers allow.

Power strips are designed by people who don’t use them. I have come to this conclusion based on the stupid design that presumes you will never have anything larger than a lamp plug that needs a socket. Not even a vacuum cleaner cord fits properly, much less a laptop power supply.

No room is left on either side that would make it possible to fit more than two or three chargers in a strip theoretically designed for half a dozen plugs. There’s no allowance for odd-shaped power supplies that will use half a strip.

I don’t understand why chargers have to be so inconveniently shaped, or why they can never make a 3-pronged plug that will fit into an outlet without a fight. Why do most chargers require that you insert them at the end of the strip. No one ever seems to consider that there are only two “ends” and only one without a cord in the way. There’s some kind of Murphy’s Law that say if you are going to need two wall outlets, both devices will need to be on top or on the bottom.

I have 2 electrical sockets in the bathroom and 2 devices that require electricity. Only one can fit. The other socket is always unusable. The one charger blocks both outlets. Always.

The first day we moved into this house, two events occurred that have since defined our lives in the Blackstone Valley. The toilets backed up and the power went out. The toilets backed up because the crooks who sold us this house backed their moving van over the pipe that runs from the house to the septic system and crushed it. The power went out for the usual reason: heavy rain, high wind, and lightning. Getting to know my neighbors meant figuring out how to find an electrician and plumber before I’d unpacked.

I don’t notice how dependent we are on batteries until I’m packing for a vacation. Half a carry-on is allocated to chargers … just for things we use while we travel: laptops, accessories, a pair of Kindles, his and her cell phones, mouses, portable speakers and more. I used to pack this stuff carefully. Now I just shove the chargers and wires in a bag and untangle as needed.

If you think our civilization will endure, remember: We are entirely dependent on devices that run on batteries, most of which need to be recharged from an electrical outlet. Without electricity and batteries, life as we know it would end in about two weeks. A month maximum. After that?

Our world will be a jungle in which every man, woman, and child will fight to the death for a working AA battery.

Postscript:

I’m reading comments on this blog and suddenly I remember that Garry’s Kindle is still waiting to be charged and is probably flat by now. And that the “land line” phone is still charging and I need to take it out of the cradle, and that my cell phone is still charging and shouldn’t be. So many batteries, so few outlets.