SPAM! – Marilyn Armstrong

For a long time, I got two spam messages for every real hit on my site. I was getting almost a thousand spam messages on heavy days. WordPress finally fixed the bug, but it was overwhelming for a while. Was this a record?

I have many questions about spam. The big one is simple. How did a slimy, over-salted canned meat come to be synonymous with electronic junk mail?

Even more puzzling is that people some people still actually eat Spam. You may take that any way you like. In case you didn’t know, it now comes in a variety of flavors. Yum!

Most of my spam comes from a Spanish list server (lista de emails … anything you get from this address is spam) or — and 80% of these were porn. The rest are bots and scams. Legitimate companies do not send thousands of illiterate, nonsensical messages to random blogs.

Then, there are those who ask for advice. They use some version of this message as a comment to a randomly selected post.

“These are in fact fantastic ideas in concerning blogging. You have touched some good things here. Any way keep up wrinting.

Huh? What? It gets better. For completely incoherent, this is one of my favorites. I receive several dozen of these every day:

“Fine way of explaining, and fastidious paragraph to take information concerning my presentation focus, which i am going to convey in academy. Watch Elementary Season 1 Episode 5 Online”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

A few of my best friends and followers always get mixed in with the spam, so I can’t delete it without looking at it. I have to read through it. Sometimes there are 10 to 15 pages or more, but since there are usually a few real comments mixed in, I have to at least look through all the pages.

Every once in a while, something looks like it might be the real deal … a true comment, but I can’t always tell. When in doubt, I spam it.

If you’ve been trying to comment and aren’t showing up, probably you’re getting dumped into the spam and because I don’t recognize you, you’re getting deleted. If you are a real person, please say something that identifies you as a human and not a machine generated message.

I apologize in advance if I have over-zealously deleted you.

I know that I am by no means alone in getting tons of this garbage. And with all the “spam bots” all over the world, it’s only going to get worse.

So, what do these spammers hope to accomplish by sending me this stuff? The messages never have anything to do with my posts. All are repetitive and obviously generated on a computer programmed by someone whose native language is not English. Most of it is gibberish.

Then again so are many posts on Facebook, so maybe that’s not a good example.

There are the spams that warn me my blog doesn’t display properly on the sender’s computer in Internet Explorer. Why would I care?

There’s are three or four versions assuring me I am brilliant, they love my post about (insert post title) and promise they will tell everyone how useful the information is on my web blog. They always call it a web blog like they just learned the term.

The thing is, while there are many ways you could describe my site, no one could honestly say (not even me) that it’s full of useful information. My stuff may be interesting, thought-provoking, occasionally funny, off-beat and apocryphal, but useful?

I don’t consider it useful and I write it.

There are those that request I exchange links with them and those that would love an invitation to write for my blog, those who suggest I come to their site to see huge penises, hot lesbian sex, hot gay sex, hot sexy sex, huge breasts, gigantic butts, and attractive ladies doing disgusting things with inanimate objects. If not, they would like to sell me some Viagra.

Does anyone actually believe this will generate business?

Make money?

If they believe this, why do they believe it? Does anyone ever respond to these “messages”?

So many questions, so few answers. If anyone has an answer, let me know. I’m baffled. It’s not the only thing about which I’m baffled, mind you, but most of the others are more serious.

Meanwhile, feel free to visit the Spam website. You’ll be glad to know that Spam comes in a wide variety of flavors, including a low sodium version that dodges the question of all that fat but it does lower the salt level. The site includes recipes, a Spam Museum and an online shop where you can buy Spam gear, such as caps, tee shirts, and other strange and wonderful things.

So maybe I do include useful information. I guess it depends on how you feel about Spam.

THE MANUAL YOU DON’T HAVE – Marilyn Armstrong

Last night, someone I know and who should know better, complained that Olympus, from whom he bought his camera, should fire the tech writer. Because there was no manual.

There was a booklet that listed the options but didn’t explain what they were or what to do with them. Well, duh.

I wrote this. Then I rewrote it to make it better.

I felt obliged to point out the reason there is no manual is they never hired a tech writer in the first place. If they had a living, breathing technical writer, there would be a manual.

You wouldn’t spend a couple of thousand dollars on a camera and get a generated leaflet. You’d get a real book with an index and a table of contents. Screenshots. Explanations not only of where to find a function but what the function does. So when you get there, you know what option to select and what it will do to your photographs.

Once upon a time, that was my world. I thought it was important, at least to the people who bought products about which I wrote.

The mysteries of the menus in my camera are hilarious. It might as well be written in Urdu.

Years went by during which the work I did was most of my life. I got up, got dressed, scraped the ice off the car, went to work (stopping for coffee along the way) and went through my day. Between having done the same kind of work for a long time and perpetually racing against a deadline, life was busy.

I knew, no matter what the ad said when I took a job, my work wasn’t permanent. I would work until the book was finished, then I’d move on. That was the way it really was.

The industry in which I worked ultimately decided the work I did was no longer necessary. Who needs a manual to tell them how to use equipment that costs a gazillion dollars and controls the operation of a steel mill? Or a missile tracking system? Or a satellite grabber for use out in space? They can always call the help desk — especially in space where you can easily find a signal for your phone.

I was the one who organized the chaotic information into a book with a table of contents, index, chapters, and diagrams so you would not always have to call someone. Considering the state of tech support these days, you can see where this failure to supply reasonable documentation has landed us. That’s why the phones are always busy and why the quality of support is so bad. How often do you find that you know more than the “help tech” individual knows? Basically, if you can’t fix it by rebooting, uh oh.

The help desk people don’t have the manual, either. And they badly need one.

Regardless, I was obsolete.

You need developers and a boss because someone has to say why you are all gathered here this morning. Also, the boss makes sure there’s coffee.

But a writer? They only hired me when they were at the end of a production cycle, realized the contract required they deliver documentation with the product. Sometimes, I got as little as three weeks to learn a product and produce a book that looked professional. At that point, no one cared what was in the book or whether the information would be of any use to anyone. It just had to be big, thick, nicely designed, and weigh enough to use as a doorstop.

My days were numbered. Eventually, I was gone.

To substitute for professional writers, they produce “automatic documentation.” Which is raw data generated by a program using “comments” left by developers, many of whom speak English as a second or third language and in any case, do not understand how non-engineers work or the kind of information they need to navigate a complex product.

It turns out, people were still willing to spend oodles of money for an undocumented product. So I guess they were right. No one cares until they get an expensive product that includes nothing. The good news? You can find entire books — the kind I used to write — on Amazon. Buy them and find out how the product works. It’s just like the books people like me wrote. Cool, huh? Except they don’t come with the product. You have to buy one and they are not always available.

My best bet is finding people online who own and use similar products and pick their brains.

For all of you who believe that crappy documentation is because tech writers are lazy? No, we aren’t lazy.

What we are is fired.


I hate printers. I also hate copiers, scanners, and fax machines. The only other things I hate are telephones. To be fair, I hate all telephones, not just cellular or mobile ones. I don’t understand them and they don’t understand me.

Just saying.

These days, when you buy a printer, you are also buying a scanner, copier, and it probably is wireless and can run on Bluetooth. I get an entire package of things I hate.

I still hate all of them, whether in one package or many. I got my new printer a while ago and finally got around to installing it yesterday. Maybe I should have waited.

When you are setting up a new printer, what can you do if your WiFi simply won’t “see” it?

It turns out, the most popular technique is highly technical denial. This means you turn everything off and go shopping. Really, any outside-the-house activity will do the job.

We went grocery shopping.

When we came back from shopping, I realized I had to confront the printer again. Another one of the small aggravations of modern times: new computers — like this one — don’t have DVD players. I bought an external one, but first I tried downloading the setup instructions from the website. This is supposed to work just like the disc, but unsurprisingly, did not.

Probably, because the WiFi did not find the printer. Or maybe there was some other inexplicable reason.

When your WiFi won’t find a device, there isn’t much you can do about it. You can wave your hands in the air like a fan. Maybe that will blow the WiFi in the right direction. You can shake your devices — but this may turn out to be a disadvantage because it might break. Then you’ll have to return it and start all over again.

Then, there’s cursing. For many people, that works well, but for me, it’s another distraction.

Turning everything off, then turning every back on is one of the most popular and effective ways of convincing something that isn’t working to work, but this time, it didn’t. I should have known. If going shopping didn’t fix it, I needed a new approach.

It’s so simple …

So, after we came home and I realized it hadn’t magically fixed itself (damn), I hauled my laptop and DVD player into the office. There are — as it turns out — alternate instructions which only appear when you click “NO, that didn’t work either”  for the third time. At which point alternate instructions pop into your browser.

These are apparently dangerous weapons of mass destruction and can only be used if your WiFi absolutely can not find the printer, even after you wave your arms and whisper the name of the manufacturer while burning incense.

It turns out, you have to press the WiFi button until the ALERT button flashes twice. Not three times. If it flashes three times, you have to start over.

Next, you have to push the start button again, at which time the WiFi button should start to flash very quickly. Not slowly. Slow flashing won’t work. They also don’t warn you there’s a pause before it starts rapidly flashing — but if you push it again, you have to start from the top.

If all goes well, at this point, unless your WiFi is actually out, you should have a connection.

Then you push another button while pressing the third button. Which prints a sheet which you will attempt to scan. Which inevitably produces an error message. If you try to do it again, all it will do is keep printing the same page.

I said screw it and gave up. Then, I decided to register the printer. It turns out, I can’t. Because I am a Canon user — but have no idea what my password used to be. I’m exhausted from carrying the laptop around and having to follow all those instructions.

Since the printer has been found by the WiFi, it would surely print if asked. If the WiFi had found the printer all by itself like it should have, I wouldn’t have had to do any of this. Windows would have taken over and installed everything. Immediately.

Good news? The printer says it works. I’m trusting this is true because I’m not sure about the scanner. I’ll save that for some other day. Like maybe never would be the right day.

Have I mentioned how much I really hate printers? I used to hate fax machines and copy machines too, but now they’re all one thing. So I have just one thing to hate instead of three.

Is this a good or bad thing?

ORDERING A NEW PHONE – REALLY! – Marilyn Armstrong

I gave in. The flip phone was not working for me. I needed a phone with something resembling a keypad. Using the multiple hits required on the flip phone keys plus my inability to find text markers in case I might WANT to text meant it wasn’t working. I also couldn’t find any way to save phone numbers although I’m pretty sure there IS a way to do it.

This is what I have. It was free. And worth every penny!

On the other hand, I don’t need the internet — just the ability to phone someone in case of an emergency (like — the phone is down at home or we are on the road and typically lost), so I had to carry a notepad with friends’ numbers and the phone number for the electric company who do not seem to “get” that when the electricity is “out,” so is your wi-fi as well as the TV and telephone cable, heat, and the well pump. And pretty much everything else, come to think of it.

In the mail! I even bought a case for it. Wow, eh?

I also wanted a phone that would link to my wi-fi at home because it makes life simpler. Right now, I have — for $14.50 — unlimited text and phone. That price won’t change, either. So it was $80 for an LG3 LTE phone – plus $2 shipping.  This time, they are supposedly sending a manual.

I’ll believe it when I see it.

I almost never use our cell phone. It’s the emergency phone for when we are on the road or the power at home is out … or Charter has gone down and taken the phone with it.

For someone who is pretty savvy around cameras and computers, I am a total dummy around telephones and printers. Not just cell phones. Regular phones, too. I have some kind of mental disconnect. I can’t change ink in my printer, haven’t figured out how to make copies or use the scanner. So for me to actually get a phone that might work is a giant step.

They have pretty good prices on “fancy” phones, too, but what do I need fancy for? I always have a camera with me and usually have a Kindle in case I have some dire need for the internet while away from home. If I’m on vacation, I have my Mac with me AND the Kindle. And I’m not 100% sure, but I think there’s a wi-fi link in my cameras, too. I have no idea how to use it, but it’s there.

I do not use a telephone for anything financial. I’ve been hacked once and that was enough. I canceled a credit card because it got hacked once and then someone tried to hack it a second time. I figured those people (Walmart) need a better security service before I’ll use their card. I don’t need it anyway.

So sometime this week, I’ll have to take a very deep breath and try to figure out how to use the phone. I’m already scared and I don’t even have the phone.

“COMMANDER? I’VE MADE CONTACT!” – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Contacts

Google is always changing the browser. As soon as you get used to it, they do something to “fix” it. The most recent change was that “contacts” are now a separate section, not part of email.

I was lucky. I actually read the note they sent that reminded me that contacts would now be available only by clicking a group of small boxes on the right top of the screen which will ONLY be visible if you happen to be using email at that moment. If you aren’t using email, you won’t see the little boxes and you won’t be able to find your contacts. There’s logic in there somewhere, but I’m just missing it.

Company name is no longer a default search column. You have to look under the first name of whoever you are looking for. Like, say, your cardiologist whose first name is John. I don’t think of him as “John.” I think of him as “my cardiologist” or at least, “Cardiology, UMass Hospital.”

You may think I’m picking on Google, but yesterday, it took close to 45 minutes to enter the local pot shop information into my contacts form, including their email address and physical address. Fortunately, they still consider the phone number part of basic information, but who knows for how long?

So, just to back up a little bit, yesterday, in a fit of enthusiasm for Uxbridge’s newly opened Pot Shop, also known as “Caroline’s Cannabis Uxbridge Marijuana Dispensary,” I decided to add their address to my contact list. This was when I made the remarkable discovery that the contact list no longer automatically includes a physical address section. You have to ask for advanced material and then you get an insanely complicated bunch of stuff.

Is it me? Isn’t there supposed to be a physical address to go with a contact’s phone number? For that matter, you need to go into “advanced” for the website address too.

Although I don’t go out as much as I used to, there are places I have to physically go. The Pot Shop, assuming I go there for some reason other than to take pictures for a post, is one such place. The grocery store, the bank, all doctor’s offices, and hospital addresses too. There are places where I have to take my physical self that isn’t medical like (for example) the local Home Depot.

Apparently, no one goes anywhere anymore, so getting somewhere to write down a physical address is an “advanced contact item.”


One of the things I learned about writing software is that developers put information wherever it fits conveniently on the screen. They don’t actually care whether you — the user — will find that location useful or convenient. They say “Oh, there’s an empty space in the  “color droplet” menu, so I think I’ll put the leveling control there.” They have no idea how you will use the software and they really don’t care. They know how it works and the rest is your problem.

No one would ever look there for a leveling tool since it has nothing to do with all the rest of the items on the list, but that’s where they put it and that is where it still resides. I had to do a deep dive into Google to locate the function.

It is for this reason that I have a little paper booklet in my bag that has basic information about places I go in it. Addresses, names, and a few little directions. Because my body needs to get there, too.


How many people actually know what they are buying when they buy television services?

It used to be that you bought a television. What you got when you tuned in was whatever was broadcast from big towers on top of tall buildings — free. It usually came from the tower placed atop the tallest building or a mountain where you lived.

It cost nothing. You paid for the television and the broadcasting was for everyone, courtesy of the FCC.

That’s how it was supposed to be, anyway. What you actually got was something else. Unless you happened to be positioned perfectly to get clear pictures from the signal tower, you might or might not actually get the channel you wanted to watch. Or anything at all. Signals were weak, too. So you got “snow” and “rolling.”

If you had a big antenna on top of your house, that could help, but it was a lot of years before television had the kind of resolution we have come to accept as normal. “Free” signals have not kept up with the quality of reception we expect.

In fact, since the 1980s, we have mostly given up free television. Cable TV arrived. With a sigh, we exchanged free television for cable companies who could give us clear reception at a price — replacing all that snow, rolling, and rabbit ears. All we had to do was pay the bill.

With cable, you could see clearly — as long as the cable worked. You paid a price for this service. Initially, not a huge price, but it got bigger and eventually, huge. Ultimately, the price for cable television was bigger than the price for electricity, trash collection, and sometimes, heat.

They lured you in with “specials” for 3-months, 6-months or a year. And when the “special” ended, you got a bill so enormous, your heart nearly stopped.

Suddenly, along came streaming packages. Streaming — wi-fi — was the stuff that made our computers work. It turned out it could also power television.

Instead of trying to compete with wi-fi-based services, cable companies kept raising prices while customers said: “Screw this!” and dropped their cable packages. Despite all evidence to the contrary, cable companies are still convinced most users will hang onto cable because they are too stupid and/or lazy to make the change.

They are wrong. Of course, since they are still the only ones allowed to offer wi-fi, they can keep raising those prices too. I’m sure they’ll keep getting their piece of our asses forever.

Even old people like us refused to pay hundreds of dollars for inferior packages. Ironically, AFTER I dropped Charter (Spectrum — the absolutely worst cable company of them all) offered me a good package at a reasonable price. I said “NO” because I’m not playing their game anymore.

I know them. They’ll offer me a bargain and next year, raise the price by $50. Been there, done that. Not doing it again.

So I bought YouTubeTV which is not only a moderately-priced platform but includes MLB and our local sports TV channel so we can watch all the baseball everywhere AND our own team (the Red Sox) too. What’s missing? HBO and Comedy Central. I miss HBO because of John Oliver — but it’s the only thing we watch on HBO and for $15/month, that a lot of money for one very good show. As for Comedy Central, we can watch it on the computer for free. I hate missing John Oliver, but it’s a small price to pay overall.

What are we buying? We are buying a platform that includes channels, just like when we bought a TV and got channels. The channels come in LIVE — just like “real” television. We can save shows (an unlimited number of them) but we can’t fast forward through them to skip commercials as we did on the DVR. That’s something we thought we’d miss but it turns out we don’t miss it much. Instead, we go to the bathroom, the kitchen, turn down the sound and actually talk to each other.

YouTubeTV is a platform, not a channel. It isn’t Netflix or Acorn. It’s more like cableTV than an individual channel.

Each channel is an individual channel that comes in over the platform. Live. You aren’t buying a “channel.” You are buying a live platform consisting of many signals.

What do you get? All of the networks for your area and a bunch of other channels, depending on your location. We are in the “Boston area” and get that package. We have friends in western Massachusetts who get a slightly different package.

Regardless, it’s a big package. A lot better than what we got from Charter including a lot less junk. More watchable channels. Lots of sports. TCM. Plenty of movies including Sundance, TBS. A variety of news channels. If you hate something (Fox news comes to mind) you can turn it off (we turned it off). A few kid things we turned off.

There’s also a connection to YouTube (regular) so you can watch some very old movies that you can’t find anywhere else via your computer, too. I’m really happy with it.

If Netflix gets any more expensive, I may decide to ditch it. It hasn’t gotten better — just more expensive.

You also get five family connections. We’ve only used three: me, Garry, and our granddaughter. Owen isn’t sure they watch enough TV to bother with it.

It has taken Garry a while to realize that TCM is not a separate channel but a channel that is part of the package that is YouTubeTV, that all those channels are part of one platform. That it’s like getting an entire cable package. For $40 a month. Including baseball.

Oh, happy day!

WORLD WITHOUT WI-FI? – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Wi-Fi

Although we have managed to remove cable television from our lives, you just can’t do without wi-fi. As a result, Charter/Spectrum’s wi-fi now cost more than their entire cable package used to cost. $76 for a $10 telephone and the rest, wi-fi.

For the moment. I’m sure it will cost more soon enough.

Considering that wi-fi is no longer a luxury for most people, maybe it’s time to set some controls on how much it costs? It used to cost $30, then $40, $50 and now, $65. Next year, the sky is probably the limit. I bet before we hit 2020, I’ll be paying more for JUST the wi-fi than I was paying for the whole cable package. And we only have ONE source here. We can pick Spectrum (Charter) or nothing. When you live in a small town, you don’t get lots of choices.

There are at least some regulations on electricity and other basic utilities. How about some kind of regulation for wi-fi?

Photo: Garry Armstrong

I’m going to be (again) at UMass today. Transthoracic Echocardiogram. I hope I’m in and out quickly, but you never know. It depends on what they see. I would much prefer they see everything ticking along like the proverbial clock.

It’s all “ultrasonic transducer.” At least something works without wi-fi! If they let me look at the pictures, I’ll be happy. I like it when I can see what they are seeing.