HOUSEWORK SUCKS – Marilyn Armstrong

Housework seriously sucks.

It’s not just me who thinks so. No one likes it, not even the people who are paid to do it for other people. Maybe they like it the least, but I suppose getting paid makes up for something.

Last night, Garry sniffed and said: “It smells like ammonia here.”

The recently departed carpet

I knew right away what it was. A few weeks ago, my grandkid brought over a darling and completely un-housebroken puppy who — of course — pissed on the rug, directly in front of where Garry sits.

The rug before this one

I have cleaned the rug, cleaned the floor … but the dogs have great noses and they can always smell it and feel obliged to add their own personal scent at the same site. This is why I only buy cheap carpets, so even if I have to ditch them once per year, I don’t have to slash my wrists because my hand-tied woolen rug from somewhere in Asia has been ruined.

I pondered the possibility of getting the rug cleaned. It was only a 4 X 6 so it would not have been all that difficult to haul it to wherever they clean rugs (I am sure there must be a place that does it), but the price of cleaning it would be around $30. The rug only cost $40 in the first place and once the urinating has soaked it through, it never entirely comes clean.

The rug before the rug before the last one

I pointed out to Garry last night that we needed to do some cleaning, especially floors. Even though we clean up after the dogs, they can smell it. The whole urinating becomes a kind of canine party, you know?

So when the dogs started their morning barking: “GET UP GET UP GET UP,” I got up. I turned on the coffee, gave them biscuits, cleaned the water bowl. I tried to get Garry up to help with the cleaning, but he had gotten up early to put the dogs out. It was pouring again this morning, by the way, as it has been doing pretty much every morning for weeks. When Garry said he thought he might need extra sleep to compensate, I said “Whatever,” and got to work. If I waited for Garry, it would be dinnertime and we wouldn’t be done yet.

I took up the rug and its underpinnings — the thing that was supposed to keep it from sliding around on the floor. I threw it away. It stank. It was made up of some kind of sticky foam and I think it had effectively functioned like a sponge and absorbed everything. Yuck.

I rolled up the rug and pushed it off to one side of the room, got out the vacuum. Vacuumed everything. Since we’d done this a mere four or five days ago, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. I vacuumed the living room, hallway, kitchen, then took the dustmop and cleaned behind the dressers in the bedroom, another one of those jobs which needed doing for a long time. Oddly enough, it did not disturb Garry who thinks I can’t tell if he is sleeping or awake.

Back to the kitchen, I dumped Murphy’s Oil in the bucket, let it seep into the mop, and washed all the hard woodlike floors. Then I did it again, moving all the furniture out of the way. By this time, my back was screaming at me.

All the pulling and bending was taking a toll. I emptied the bucket. Refilled it with the kitchen floor cleaner and started moving everything out the way for the next stage. I got halfway through the kitchen and realized I needed help. I was not going to get the rest of it done. It was almost noon. I figured since this big cleanup was his idea, maybe he could lend a hand.

Soon to be the new rug. It’s shabby chic, just like the rest of the place.

About an hour later, it was done. Garry hauled the old rug to the trash. I changed the covers on the sofas. Duke is shedding and being white, he leaves a trail wherever he lays his body. Which is everywhere.

Duke made out well, all things considered. When I hauled the end table out of the way, at least half a dozen tennis balls emerged. One was tossed for excessive slobbering and toothy destruction, but all the rest were salvageable. I put a few back in the box where I store new ones and gave Duke three previously lost balls. Bonanza!

That was approximately when I realized I actually couldn’t move. For all practical purposes, my back had seized.

I ordered a new rug. Another $40 plus a new non-skid pad for underneath it. I considered skipping the pad, but falling isn’t a really great idea.

I hate housework. It’s never finished. As clean as you get it today, it will need to be redone in another few days. And another few days after that. It is the task that is never finished and never completed

SEARS GOES DOWN IN FLAMES – Marilyn Armstrong

Last night on the news, they announced that Sears was going out of business. Destroyed, they said, by the likes of Amazon.

In the course of last night, I ordered two things I needed — a raised toilet seat because I’m finding it really hard to get up from the very low seats in our bathrooms and a raised seat is a lot less than a new toilet. Later, after the nurse called with the results of our blood tests, I learned I was anemic, so I went back to Amazon and ordered a couple of bottles of Vitamin D3. I didn’t have to get out of bed for either order.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

When I was a kid, everyone went to Sears. That’s where you shopped for the “big stuff.” Refrigerators, washing machines, shop tools. You always needed help because these are expensive items that you intend to keep for a long time. You want to be sure they will be what you want — within the limits of your budget, of course.

Meanwhile, sometime during the late 1980s, Sears decided to take a chip from the local department stores and eliminate human sales personnel. For love nor money, you couldn’t find anyone to talk to. At the same time, they substantially cut down on the items for which everyone had gone to Sears — large appliances — and loaded up on dorky kid’s clothing.

Considering that every store carried kid’s clothing but almost no one carried appliances, it was a baffling decision by The Suits who ran the place.

Since then, I’ve never had any reason to go to Sears. Not only do they not have what I’m looking for, but they have hardly any people working with customers and they’ve closed down most of their checkout counters. So did most of the other brick and mortar stores.

There was a time when you could go into a department store and someone would be stuck to you like glue, showing you where your size was on the rack and helping you find the shoe or the dress or the jeans you wanted. Then, one day, all these stores decided we could all fend for ourselves, like a herd of sheep without a shepherd, a dog, or even a fence to keep us from falling off the mountain.

From that point on, which by then was the early 1990s, shopping at a mall became a chore. They would have one frazzled worker supposedly managing multiple departments and you had to wait, often for as long as an hour for him or her to have time to answer a simple question, sometimes as little as “Where’s the changing room?”

Amazon didn’t kill these stores. They committed suicide. They thought that they owned us and we’d keep coming because what else could we do, right?

Along came Amazon. They might not have someone to help you find the item you were looking for, but you had all the time in the world to read the reviews, compare prices … and if something didn’t work out, they were (gasp) NICE to you! That’s right. Nice. Polite. Helpful. And they sent the item right to your door. No battling for a parking space and hauling heavy boxes through the lots.

Our little grocery store — Hannaford — is the smallest store of its type in town. They aren’t fancy. They don’t have a lot of variety, but they also don’t have extremely high prices. Often, their actual prices are lower than Walmart and much lower than “Stop n’ Shop.” If you want help, there’s always someone around to show you where the item is … and they will wait for you to make sure you’re all set before they go back to whatever they were doing before. They never seem to be cross about it, either.

Hannaford

Not only are the nice to the customers, but they are also nice to the workers, many of whom have worked there for years. This has a side benefit of employing people who know something about their products and the store.

Amazon didn’t just join the market and destroy the competition. They found a big hole in the market — department stores who overcharged and acted as if customers were trivial. They made it increasingly difficult to find items and harder to pay for them. Parking lots got smaller to make room for more mall and around the holidays, they were a nightmare.

By the time Amazon loomed on my horizon, I had already made a big shift to buying more from catalogs and less from shops. It wasn’t even a big deal.

Parked cars

Today I bought my toilet raiser for $35 and two bottles of chewable D3 vitamins for $17.00. I wouldn’t have even known where to look for the raised toilet seat … and just one of those bottles of vitamins would have cost me the same price at CVS as I paid for two of them on Amazon.

I’m sorry that Sears is going out of business, but I’m not surprised. They stopped providing customer service years ago. Actually, it’s amazing it took them this long to crash and burn.

The irony is that I didn’t mind paying a little more to shop in a “real” store where I could get help and assistance, but I really minded paying more to get no assistance or help and a general attitude of surly indifference from employees.

I know working retail is hard. My son has worked his whole life (mostly) in retail. It’s hard work and many customers are not nice people. But then again, many of the workers aren’t nice either, so I guess it sorted itself out.

It all started because the shops decided to save a few bucks and get rid of their own workers and now, they are SHOCKED that the shoppers have gone elsewhere.

Parked cars

Our little local grocery store is always busy. The parking lot is constantly full and the checkout lanes are filled with people chatting with each other while waiting to pay. No one gets crazy when a line is slow because a new employee is learning the ropes.

They are nice, we are nice. Even though “Stop n’ Shop” offers delivery, we go to Hannaford because they offer human beings.

RDP THURSDAY – HERD
FOWC with Fandango — Fence

BEING NICE TO CUSTOMER SERVICE – Marilyn Armstrong

Usually, by the time I call customer service, I’m already mad about something. It’s just the way life is in these crazy days of long hold times, people who speak some other language, but whatever it is, it’s definitely not one you speak.

Kaity and camera (and phone too)

Last night I went to look at an order I placed on Amazon. It was for a camera. Birthday present for my granddaughter. Believe it or not, she has finally worn out her camera. I offered to get her a new one last year, but she really loved that Canon and couldn’t believe it could ever wear out.

Well, they do wear out. If you read the fine print, every camera has a “designated number of shutter hits.” Usually, it’s somewhere around 150,000 which sounds like a huge amount, but if you take a lot of pictures, over the course of seven or eight years, you can run up some pretty big numbers. A few weeks ago she admitted the camera was slowing down and not delivering like it used to.

I wasn’t surprised. In the olden days, we’d send the camera into the shop and have it rebuilt, but you don’t do that with electronic cameras. When they die of old age, you replace them. In the time since I got that camera — 2011 I think — the Canon DSLR has undergone considerable changes.

In keeping with my understanding of what she really wants as opposed to what I want for her, I knew she wanted the same camera. New. Faster. But basically, the same otherwise. So that’s what I got her.

From the Canon T3, we have moved up to the Canon T6. It is not one of Canon’s top cameras, but that’s what she wants. She has lenses — one for each birthday.

Kaity looks for something to shoot …

I found a seller on Amazon who had the camera body only, no lens. Just the body, battery, charger, eye-cup, strap with and a full warranty for a good price. I bought it.

And when I went to look at delivery schedules, there was a big “PROBLEM WITH ORDER” showing, but no information about what the problem could possibly be. Since I had already paid for it, it wasn’t money.

There were only two other possibilities. They ran out of the camera and I was supposed to wait for them to restock (no way) — or they realized they needed to raise the price. In fact, they had already charged me $10 more than their list price. I really hate when they do that.

I had a funny feeling they were going to ask me for even more money. I noticed in their new listing, the camera’s price had gone up by more than $50, which made it the same price as every other Canon Rebel T6 camera.

I didn’t have time to wrangle with the seller. Since I hadn’t placed the order directly with Amazon, I understood it was sort of their problem, but also, sort of not.

It was late, maybe two in the morning. I got a customer service woman on chat. I explained this was a gift and I didn’t have time to turn this into an extended issue. I needed to just cancel it, get the money back, and order the camera somewhere else.

I said: “This is a really popular camera and there are tons of them on Amazon and elsewhere. I wasn’t expecting a problem or I’d have ordered sooner.”

Honestly, I forgot to order. I meant to, but I was looking to see where the best deal was and didn’t actually order one until a few days ago. I wasn’t expecting a problem, so I didn’t think it was a problem.

Kaity

I told her I understood it wasn’t entirely in her control since Amazon was not the seller, but I could not wait a week for them to figure out what to do … and surely there was nothing to prevent me from canceling. They obviously hadn’t shipped it.

She assured me I’d she’d make sure it got canceled and I’d get all my money back. Then she sent me a letter saying “thank you for being so nice.”

No one ever says that to me because usually, I’m not all that nice. But Amazon has been good to me, so I try to be nice in return. They always try to work things out for if they can. Not only did she say thank you, she gave me the secret telephone numbers to get hold of Amazon service directly! That’s like the keys to the kingdom. NO ONE gets those numbers.

Canon Rebel EOS T6 DSLR bundle

Plus a $30 credit — for being nice.

Me?

Ultimately, I bought the camera where I usually buy cameras. It cost a little more, but I got the normal zoom, which I knew Kaitlin wanted. It came with a case, a few filters in a nice little case, battery with charger, a good quality SD card, and Corel software.

I spent an extra hundred dollars, but she got a better setup — and I know Adorama will ship it quickly, pack it properly, and provide a real warranty. They have a physical address in New York. I used to shop there years ago when I lived in New York.

Being nice apparently has some good points.

EVEN GOOD CUSTOMER SERVICE HAS ISSUES – Marilyn Armstrong

My son ordered a label maker from Amazon. Not terribly expensive and not an obscure product. He got it on time, but when he opened the crate, it turned out to be an empty case. No label maker in it.

He was going to return the empty box.

I said: “Don’t be silly. You don’t return empty boxes. That will confuse everyone. They will want to know what happened to the label maker. You get in touch with them. They will fix it.”

I said that with confidence because they always try very hard to fix problems at Amazon.

“You can’t get in touch with Amazon,” he said.

“Oh yes you can,” I said.

“How?”

“Ask for the number or to chat live. They really will fix it.”

“How do you do that?”

The answer is not complicated.

Go into the customer service area. That is a bit circuitous, but if you use Amazon a lot, you figure it out. It needs to be about an order, so you should know exactly what your problem is and what you want them to do about it. That is pretty much true for all customer service.

After you are in the right area, type: “Need telephone number for Amazon customer service.”

They ask if you want them to call you (which they will do literally instantly) or would you prefer a chat? They prefer chats and so do I. It’s faster. Also, I can copy and paste information from the order into a chat file. That’s harder on a phone call. Not impossible, but harder.

I got the chat. Explained what happened. She said “Oops, sorry. Tell him he can keep the box and do whatever he wants with it. We’ll send him a new one.”

The would ship it as soon as possible. I called Owen back.

“But how did you know who to talk to?”

I explained I had talked to the guy at customer service and the new order was already in the order file, price $0.00. Shipment probably overnight.

Good customer service does make a big difference. Well-served customers keep coming back. Angry customers don’t. You hear that Dell? You hear that Apple? Got that Microsoft? Anyone listening at DirectTV, Charter, or AT&T?

Happy customers come back and sometimes bring their friends. And family. If you make us mad, we go elsewhere. Just saying.

The shipment arrived yesterday and guess what? It was another empty case. One empty case was not a big deal. Two? They have a shipping problem. Especially because this second box came with a big label on it that said: “CASE ONLY!”  I have to assume the shipping picker either had no time to recognize that the label maker had to be taken from another shelf and put into the case, or couldn’t read English.

I gave up. Although they offered to ship it again, there was no guarantee that it wouldn’t show up empty again. They refunded the money. Sometimes, you have to know when you’re beaten.

Good customer service helps, but so does getting the order right.

HOW DID THAT HACK HAPPEN? – Marilyn Armstrong

A friend asked me how a hack could happen.

You can find plenty of information about this in the news almost every night. Multiple attempts by many governments to locate these guys and take them down are always underway. The problem is, there are a lot of them. Many are funded by the Russians and for all know, other hostile governments.

Does everyone think these guys hacked our election, then quit hacking?

They’ve hacked (that I know of): Equifax, Bank of America, Adobe, Lands End, Amazon, Facebook … and probably a lot more than that, but these I know about because they have all been in touch with me to warn me.

Forget about the dozens of television series that deal with this issue. If you read a newspaper or watch the news, the information is not exactly secret. The busting of these hacker rings has been major news for at least three years and probably longer, so if you’ve missed it … you should catch up. Hackers thrive on people who don’t understand what’s going on. That’s why they pick on the elderly so often.

Essentially, it all happened in one afternoon. Anyone whose identity has been stolen can understand how quickly your financial life can fall apart. Fortunately, that didn’t happen to me. I lost no money, although I had to spend $90 on a new router. I also spent a lot of time rebuilding my computer, but since I did it myself, it didn’t cost me anything.

Should credit card companies be more on the alert? Absolutely. They are pretty sharp even now. Far more alert than our so-called government who seem collectively helpless to fix this. I think they don’t want to fix it, but what do I know, right?

Anyone can call Experion, Equifax, or TransUnion and ask that they put your credit on alert. You can do this automatically on the phone and you only have to call one company who will alert the other two. If one of you has been hacked or think you might be in danger, you don’t have to wait until they have hacked your accounts before you deal with it.

Once you’ve set up an alert, all credit companies must contact you directly before granting credit in your name or changing your address, telephone number, email address, or password. I can’t even count the number of people who’ve been hacked on Facebook — had their accounts stolen. I think someone stole my Twitter account, but since I never used it, I didn’t know about it for weeks.

If you think you are safe because nothing like this has ever happened to you, you are naïve. It can — does — happen to everyone. Anyone. Young. Old. Retired. Poor. Rich. It hurts more when you are poor, but it won’t stop the hackers. If you’ve got any money, they’ll take it and leave you with nothing.

These are not people with a conscience or a sense of right and wrong. They don’t care what happens to you. They do not care if they kill you in the process, either.

So, here’s the timeline:

1.  Facebook gave my personal data to Cambridge Analytica. For a fee, I’m sure. I know this because Facebook told me they did it. They didn’t seem upset about and felt I shouldn’t be either. Right.

2.  Cambridge Analytica sold my data to hackers, most of whom are supported by the Russians.

3.  They got more information by hacking my home router. This had already happened in Europe, but no one mentioned it on our news, so we didn’t know. By the time they did mention it, it was 24 hours too late for me.

4.  They pretended to be a different company and had sufficient data to make me think they might be real. When they demanded money to protect my computer, I instantly knew they were hackers.

5.  They attempted to take money from a bank who controlled 3 credit separate cards, two of which I knew about. I stopped the transfers and they never got anything. The final one I only discovered today, but again, I’m covered, so no loss to me.

6.  They locked my computer and demanded $1000 to “protect” it. Talk about a mobster move! Not a snowball’s chance in hell. There’s no guarantee if you give them money they will release your computer anyway and I’ll bet they don’t. Not exactly trustworthy guys.

7.  To get my computer back, I had to rebuild it. From scratch. Which was not so bad — boring but not difficult. Because I back up my files, I was able to restore everything. In all, I lost one document, but I can live with it.

8.  I had to buy a new router with a protective patch.

Does this mean they can’t get me — or you — again? Of course not. These hackers are gigantic organizations heavily funded by Russian money. if they can hack Equifax, they can bypass my protection on a whim. And the places they operate are glad to have them. They hire people. They are a big business.

At the bottom of my personal mess is Facebook. They casually took my personal data and sold it to hackers.

It’s so simple …

Facebook made this happen. Our government helped them by refusing to go after the hackers. If you think Trump is a good guy, remember he and his team have protected these guys from the get-go. They have allowed the hacking, encouraged it, and supported it. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are also getting paid off.

You could be next. They may already have your number.