SORRY, WRONG NUMBER – By GARRY ARMSTRONG

People of a certain age will recall the title from a popular radio drama that became a film noir classic with Barbara Stanwyck as the damsel/wife in distress and Burt Lancaster as the spouse with mayhem on his mind.  You can also dial “M For Murder” with the same theme: the telephone as a nefarious device and weapon.

A friend just wrote a piece, extolling the virtues of the telephone as a personal link in the impersonal age of social media. Good point. You need to be able to talk, hold an intelligent and coherent conversation on the phone.  Social media doesn’t require those basic skills.  Courtesy is also another trait required on a phone conversation even when you’re dealing with unpleasant matters.

My wife, Marilyn, rises to heroic stature dealing with insufferable customer service, health care reps, local business people who lose the check and fail to show up. Credit card hackers who’d love a little personal information and the idiots who’ve dialed the wrong number but keep redialing anyway.

I hate the telephone!  It stems from all the years of unwanted calls from the TV station that employed me for 31 years. Three o’clock in the morning calls demanding I grab my gear and immediately report to the scene of a grisly crime, awful weather, deadly fires, criminals running amok, traffic accidents with myriad, mangled bodies and the latest gangland or drive-by shooting with multiple victims.  All breathlessly awaiting my presence to round up the usual suspects for eye-witness accounts and/or to go banging on doors asking parents “how they feel” about the recent death of a loved one.

Hey, how do you feel, Pilgrim?  All of this hurled at me in fleeting minutes once I picked up the phone and heard a familiar voice with the phony excuse of waking me up out of my warm bed.  I usually cursed myself if I answered the phone.

Marilyn normally took the calls because of my hearing problems.  I couldn’t blame her. Nor could I hurl expletives at the person calling.  You can’t shoot the messenger in the TV news biz.  Being called into work goes with the territory.

Instead, I blamed the inanimate object.  The telephone. Outraged, I yelled obscenities at it.  Meanwhile, the telephone sat there quietly,  probably mocking me. After all, the phone was just doing its job. Nothing personal.

Statehouse on Beacon Hill

During my bachelor years when I had to take these calls, I frequently hurled the phone across the room during my tirades against the telephone company, its employees, executives, and Alexander Graham Bell who I imagined as Don Ameche from the old biofilm.

Why did they seemingly always call me?  Why was someone always picking on me?  Frequently, I’d envision conspiracies to target me. Racism? Envy because I was on the tube every day, outshining other folks? Political target?  I had an ‘attitude’ with some local pols. It was me against the giant telephone conglomerate.  I was riffing Dwight Eisenhower’s warning.

Truth time.  Early on in my Boston TV news career, I let it be known I was ‘always available’ for major, breaking news stories.   I envisioned the scoop on that major story that would shoot me to stardom and a mega-contract.  I put myself on the spot that assignment editors love. An eager-beaver young reporter with stars in his eyes and experience not yet absorbed.

Veteran reporters scoffed at my enthusiasm even as I sauntered around the newsroom full of myself at landing big stories that had me prominently featured on every newscast of the day from sunrise to midnight.

In my glee over the big stories I always forgot how it began.  Always the damn phone call.  During my saner moments, I knew I was my own worst enemy. That logic didn’t sit well with me.

During long lunches as everyone congratulated me with my face and story on all the monitors, I realized I was in a catch 22 scenario.  Hero of the hour absorbing lots of congratulations while my brain kept reminding me that it was that early phone call that made all of this possible. I continued blaming the phone for interrupting my sleep. I would go on shooting the messenger for years.

One time I lived up to my vow to avert the phone call-to-arms.  I answered the call. Heard the voice and slowly said, “Sorry, wrong number.”  I grinned to myself, returning for a good night’s sleep.

I was still smiling as I awoke and turned on the radio in the morning.  The all-news station was frantically blaring out details about a massive fire, building collapse and the loss of many lives.  It was such a big story that the networks were in on coverage.

My smile turned to a scowl. The potential ‘story of a lifetime’ had been lost to my erstwhile, “Sorry, Wrong Number.”

Oops.

LOVING AND HATING THE PHONE WHILE WISHING IT WORKED BETTER – Marilyn Armstrong

Since everyone’s into talking about hating phones, I figured I’d throw my oar in the water too.

I loved the phone right through my teenage years. I and my girlfriends would chat the night away, even though we lived two houses apart. The phone was more intimate. No one else was around. Just us, hidden under the bedclothes.

From the 1910 and 20s (reproduction, original had a dial) …

From then on, it became gradually more of a nuisance. When I was a kid, a telephone call meant someone you knew was calling to say hello. You could talk and laugh. There were occasional wrong numbers, but that was all. Later, it might mean I’d gotten a job I’d applied for or a story had been accepted.

Technology changed everything. At first, subtly, but eventually, it changed the telephone from a communications device to a sales tool. The concept of “cold calling,” trying to drum up business meant fewer than half our incoming calls coming were people you knew, though they might and include calls you wanted. Reminders from the doctor of an upcoming appointment or another pending appointment were useful and usually brief.

Telephones look like this for at least 30 — maybe more — years

By the time I was in my 40s and had recently returned from Israel, most calls were solicitations or surveys and occasionally, a person you knew and actually wanted to talk to. At least those earlier calls were live human beings, but over the years, they became recorded messages. It’s extremely rare to get a human being on any business call.

Thirty-two years later, no live person ever calls except a couple of friends and a few local businesses. All the rest of our calls are medical, hackers, surveys, insurance companies trying to get your business, and my personal favorite, silence.

Making calls inevitably involves waiting and I think I can hum the background music to at least three companies “waiting” mode.

Our local hospital, where most of our medical appointments take place (other than our personal physician) has the longest recorded voice mail call I’ve ever heard. It’s a full five minutes waiting for that final moment when you are allowed to press “1” meaning “Yes, we’re coming.” Instead of giving you the most useful information at the top, they give you the hours of service, a reminder to bring your medical card, and money (can’t forget that now can we!), the address of the building (but never directions to get there), followed by a rambling buildup until, at the very end, you can push “1” (“I’ll be there”) or “2” to rebook — or worse, a different phone number which is read so fast I have to have them repeat the entire recording to get the number written down.

Our own wall phone. It doesn’t work properly anymore, but it lives on that wall anyway.

As a technical writer, I know that no one wants messages like that. The “are you coming?” should be on top followed by “make a new appointment” with a list of options including directions, speak to a human being, talk to a doctor or lab for test results, and finally, “Thank you for calling” so you know you’re done and can hang up. A lot of these calls just leave you wondering if you completed the call or not.

If, for example, you are a long-time patient, you should be able to just press “1” and hang up after that, but they won’t let you. You have to listen to the entire recording. I sometimes fall asleep while they drone on. They first call you a week before your upcoming visit, after which they call every day until you are ready to dive through the phone and beat someone with a handset.

Then there are customer support departments. Clearly, when you finally connect (and hopefully have been disconnected multiple times), one person with a headset in a huge room full of other customer service people are all talking at the same time. The background noise makes it impossible to hear anything. Maybe they can hear you, but all you hear is jabber. All of this following an endless stream of music that becomes an earworm you can’t dispel.

None of this makes calling people fun, especially because when I finally do call a friend, they are never home anyway and I get their answering machines. At least they usually call me back — or email me or something.

Modern phones … for a “landline” and a cell

It’s not hard to learn to hate telephones. It’s much harder to like them. If indeed they ever eliminate solicitations, hackers, and poorly designed recorded messages removed from phone lines, someone might try making a phone call in the hopes of having a conversation.

Of course, it would help if the phone stayed connected long enough to have a conversation, which is entirely another subject! Since getting a real landline is absurdly expensive, everything — even our supposed “landline” is part of your WiFi service with its tendency to glitch or fade in the middle of a call. It’s turn-of-the-century telephoning on the most up-to-date technology.

U.K. phone booth, but where’s Dr. Who?

Often, I realize the issue is not how far we’ve come, but how far we haven’t come. I think we’ve really circled back to about 1917. Now, we can’t hear anything on mobile phones. But hey, you can text, right?

WOULD YOU PLEASE ANSWER THAT PHONE? – BY ELLIN CURLEY

The world can be divided in many ways – Republicans vs. Democrats, religious people vs. non religious people, cat people vs. dog people. Here’s another way – people who love the phone vs. people who hate it.

I love talking on the phone. I have many close friends who live far away now and it’s the next best thing to spending time with them in person. You can have real conversations that drift from one topic to the next. You can even interrupt each other! You don’t get the subtleties of body language that you get in person, but you’re actually engaging with the real person. You can remember why you loved this person in the first place.

Another important advantage of phones is laughter. We can hear our friends laugh at our jokes and our friends can hear us laugh at theirs. We get to laugh TOGETHER, which is huge. Laughter is a powerful bond. Most women list a sense of humor as one of the things they most value in a man. Sharing laughter is one of the great joys in life. You can’t get it in a text. Typing LOL is not the same thing!

When I was dating online, I discovered that liking someone’s emails was NOT a good indicator that I would like them in person. But liking someone on the phone gave me a pretty good chance that I would like them in person. That’s when I fully realized that writing and talking are on two separate planes.

Talking is personal. It reveals personality and connects people on an emotional, visceral level. You get most of what you get when you are physically with someone.

Emailing may tell you the writing style of the person but not their speaking style or their personal “je ne sais quoi.” In texting, people tend to write shortened sentences with abbreviations and even Emojis. So you don’t even get the “voice” or writing style of the person. The time lag with texts also annoys me. Write then wait. Read then write. Rinse and repeat.

Try watching a movie or TV show and hit pause for twenty seconds after each person speaks. Not very gratifying. In fact, it will probably drive you crazy.

To me, texting is great for short, immediate communications. Like: “In traffic. Running 15 minutes late.” OR “What time do you want us for dinner?” Otherwise, not really communications.

Nevertheless, I understand that some people are just not phone people. My daughter is a phonophobe. She would rather talk for an hour every few weeks and text in between to stay in touch. My mother hated the phone. When I was growing up, she would have me call people to change or cancel appointments for her so she would not get “stuck” talking on the phone.

My husband, Tom, is also not a phone person. When we were dating, it didn’t even occur to him to talk on the phone the nights we weren’t seeing each other. Once I started the pattern, he was fine with it. But he wouldn’t have done it on his own.

I think the younger generations are growing up totally immersed in texting and internet communications. They may never learn the pleasure you can get from a long phone conversation with a friend. They may not even have long conversations in person anymore either. From what I hear, kids spend time online even when they are really with other people. The art of the conversation may be dying out altogether.

I guess I shouldn’t be worrying about fewer people talking on the phone. I should be worrying about fewer people talking to each other. At all!

VIOLENCE, VIOLENCE! – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My husband is a sweet and gentle man. He is not aggressive and doesn’t have a violent bone in his body. Yet he spends hours a day watching violence on TV, in movies and actively participating in it with video games. What is going on? His appetite for onscreen blood and gore is unfathomable and unsettling to me.

He says that it’s all make believe, that none of it is real. But my problem is that to me, it’s all way too realistic. I have no tolerance whatsoever for any kind of on screen blood and guts. I can’t even watch realistic operating room scenes on my TV medical shows. The sight of someone getting an injection makes me cringe, let alone someone being sliced and diced, even by a pretend doctor. I am a total wuss.

I may have become more sensitive as I get older. Or maybe it’s just that the entertainment industry has taken onscreen violence to another level. It’s more extreme and more gruesome these days. It’s also more graphic and much more realistic looking.

Onscreen violence used to be more suggested and less in your face. When someone got shot or hit on the head, they just fell down and maybe bled a little. Now, wounds are gaping, flesh is torn, internal organs are everywhere and blood is all over everything.

I can’t handle it. I could deal with pretending that someone’s hand was cut off. But in a recent episode of my favorite show, “Outlander”, the cutting off of the hand looked so real I almost lost my dinner. This is true everywhere in the mainstream now, not just on the military, underworld, superhero or shoot ‘em up shows.

There is so much fighting and brutality on TV and in movies. People seem to be more inhuman to each other, and also more creative in their violence. Torture is portrayed, again realistically, all the time. People don’t just shoot each other or stab each other, they use more inventive and sicker ways to inflict pain and suffering.

The world is portrayed these days as a much more brutal place. Man’s inhumanity to man is front and center and perverse sadists are everywhere you look. Many shows are very dark. They are dark in theme as well as lighting. I can tolerate some, like “The Blacklist” and “Blindspot.” But some — like “Gotham” — are over the top for me.

They portray the underside of life, the worst of the worst, the ugliest of the ugly. The public’s appetite for darkness, crime, and plain meanness seem boundless.

Close to half the shows my husband watches on TV, he watches without me. I can’t stomach them. If I did try to watch them, I think I’d be depressed and anxious all the time. I know there is horrible stuff going on out there. But I can’t focus on it or wallow in it. I can’t even bear to read stories about cruelty to animals or children. If I think about it, I become obsessed with awful images and I literally feel sick.

I need to spend most of my time dealing with the normal and the positive. I get enough angst from reading and watching the news. I don’t need to add to that by watching sadism and butchery as entertainment. There is enough crazy and destructive going on in the government, I don’t need to watch pretend craziness and destruction on television in my downtime.

Please let me keep some of my illusions about people having common sense and caring about each other. If I can’t keep some of these fantasies alive, I don’t think I’ll ever make it out of bed.

JUST THE WAY IT GOES — Marilyn Armstrong

I honestly thought when I finished dealing with the medical stuff that I was done with my days of customer care. It never occurred to me that I was going to be doing it again the very next day.

There is definitely an epidemic of pathetic customer service. It really isn’t the fault of the service people. They don’t know what they should know because they have not gotten sufficient training. Not only that, but they aren’t paid particularly well, so they’re mostly working at entry-level wages, they are young, and poorly trained. Is it any wonder that they struggle to answer questions that aren’t “typical” questions?

Tom, the television, and Remy

We got — my son got us — a new Roku for the bedroom. It was working, but it’s also four-years-old and a lot has changed since it was installed. In particular, the remote is much better and does a lot more than the old one. It controls sound, turns the entire system on and off. This remote unit does everything you can expect it to do, including (supposedly) work by voice. I don’t use the voice function because they never understand me and I’ve just given up.

So Owen plugged it in for me because I’ve shrunk. When I installed it last time, I was at least an inch taller. Now I can’t reach it. I used to be more-or-less a normal height for women, but the average height of female persons has gone up. I have not.

Then my spine sort of crunched itself together and over the past 10 years, I’ve lost 3 more inches. In total? Four and a half inches, which is a lot when you were only 64.5 inches at full height. I’m glad my son is tall. He certainly didn’t get it from me.

So I started to set up YouTubeTV, which is our primary source of entertainment. We also have Netflix, Acorn, and Hulu, plus the free versions of History, PBS, and some others that we never watch. I’d really like to get HBOGO and CBS-Pay-to-Play (that’s not what they call it, but it’s what I call it). But HBO is $16 a month and CBS is another six or seven (I’m sure it’ll go up). It all adds up to a pretty big number. The only reason I have HULU (the least expensive channel) because they carry “Orville” which I love so much, I have to have it. Acorn is also not expensive. It was originally $50 a year and this year, I think it’s going up to $60. Which is still inexpensive.

Of course, Charter has raised the price of streaming services, so now we pay more for streaming — without cable or telephone — than we used to pay for cable, telephone, and computers.

Why not? They’ve got a monopoly and we have no choice about where we get our service. Charter is the only ISP in this area and for most central and western Massachusetts. They are awful. If there’s something wrong with the signal, I will wait until I really can’t see anything or make the computer work before I call them.

I signed into YouTubeTV. I followed the same rules I used the last time I set it up. The TV wouldn’t work, though it showed up beautifully on my Mac. Swell.

A wide look …

I turned it off, unplugged it, and tried again. Half a dozen attempts to fix it later, I called for help.

The guy on the other end said he would have to “escalate” the incident since I’d already done everything he could suggest. I said “NO NO NO.” I was done with spending my life waiting for or arguing with Customer Service.

He said they’d get back to me by the end of the day. Since they are in California (Redmund, naturally), I asked what that meant since I live by Eastern Standard time and it was already 2:35 pm. “Are they going to call me on my time? Three in the morning? What time is ‘by the end of the day’?” He couldn’t answer me. I suspect no one had ever asked him what “end-of-day” meant for the east coast. Time change confuses many people.

Oh, and Tier 2 couldn’t call me. It would arrive as an email. Not to worry, though. They work 24 hours a day. Except that I’m not awake 24 hours a day.

I pointed out that I’d have to sit up waiting for the email and meanwhile, I’d have to explain to my husband that there was no television … and he was very likely to be very unhappy while I was already more than a slightly annoyed, so could I please talk to a supervisor?

Suddenly, a few moments later, I got a set of instructions. I followed them. Voila, they worked. Amazing, eh? No Tier 2 escalation. No emailed instruction in the middle of the night. No having to explain to Garry why there were no movies. Garry is very dedicated to late-night old movies he knows I won’t watch.

I said “Thank you,” and hung up. Then I had to sign onto all the other channels, which took another hour, give or take a few minutes. Total time? About 3.5 hours. Maybe a little more.

I can’t even imagine what else I could possibly need to do tomorrow that would land me on another customer service line, but these days, who knows? Once you get on a roll, you keep on rolling until you hit the bottom of the mountain.

OLD ACQUAINTANCES – Garry Armstrong

We meet once a month.

I slug the Google calendar with “Ol’ Farts Luncheon” to schedule the event, time, and location.  We usually meet at 12:30 pm and wrap maybe two hours later. It’s an event full of old war stories and a few well-worn memories as we eventually go our separate ways.

Our group is mostly retired broadcast news people — predominantly cameramen as well as a reporter or two, and a few newspaper folks.  We all used to cover the mean streets of Boston, from the last days of non-electric typewriters and film to current day electronic media. We’ve all been around from old Remingtons to mini-cameras emitting images that air instantly while watching the rise of social media and purported news writers who post stories that are raw. Unchecked for truth or validity.


Our friendships date back half a century or more. Once, we were the young Turks, ambitious and breathing fire to bring fresh air and relevance to television news we thought was maybe too stiff and formal.  The old guard regarded us with suspicion,  annoyance and I suspect, a little envy because they’d been the same way a mere few decades earlier.

We’ve shared triumphs, tragedies, marriages, divorces, births, and deaths. Lately, we’re bonded by attending too many funerals of people who used to attend our lunches. We know that sense of mortality we so casually dismissed to the old guard in earlier years.  Now, we are the old guard.

It’s interesting to follow the thread of how our lives have changed in retirement,  away from the daily spotlight of events on the center stage of public life.


A relatively small gathering for our latest luncheon.  Nine very mature gents around the big table. Seven of these fellows are retired (or semi-retired) cameramen, video technicians, van maintenance, and uplink pros.  All have worked at least 40 years in the TV news biz.  That’s at least 280 years which is a pretty a conservative tally — untold days, nights, weeks, months and years. Collectively, we’ve covered just about all the major news events over the past half-century.

Although Boston-based, we’ve followed stories around the world.  We were there when the Vietnam War became an awkward part of history, when Watergate brought down a president, and when the Berlin Wall tumbled. We were there when Three Mile Island became a national scare,  when sexual abuse scandals ripped through the Catholic Church (including a prominent local Archbishop), and when court-ordered school desegregation put Boston in a very uncomfortable international spotlight.

All of us were there for these events that, like a thousand tiny paper cuts changed our world, our neighborhood, and how we view ourselves.  Their cameras delivered images that have become part of history.  History not often covered in textbooks — paper or electronic.

Most of these unassuming fellows have taken home multiple Emmys, Pulitzer Prizes, Murrow Awards and other honors recognizing their bodies of work, most of which they have done their work in relative anonymity.


One suit, with typical executive lack of respect, called them “button pushers”.  That suit’s tenure was relatively brief.  Ironically,  we worked for many suits who simply did not respect the quality of the work or dangers faced by pros “just doing their job.”

Preserving anonymity, one of my colleagues dealt appropriately with a suit who endangered all the lives of techs and talent in a TV remote van.  The suit, in the middle of a thunderstorm with huge bolts of lightning, insisted the signal rod be kept upright so the van could transmit a news report.  If the exec’s order had been followed, there was an excellent chance that lightning would blow up the truck with everyone inside.

So one of these fellas ignored the suit’s order, suggesting that lives were in jeopardy and, perhaps the suit would like to come and put up the rod himself.  Newsroom applause drowned out the suit’s expletives as he stomped back to his corner office.

Another of these “gents” braved jail time with his reporter rather than reveal a source for a high-level story.  Like some of the Pols on the Impeachment Inquiry, the suit didn’t grasp the meaning of “confidential source’.’  He didn’t comprehend that the source and his family’s lives would be in jeopardy if he was identified.

So “the button pusher” and his reporter opted out for adjoining jail cells rather than yield to high pressure from yet another suit who probably should’ve been working at a car wash.  The suits and the company lawyers blinked.

There are multiple, similar stories around this table. I was around for many of them.  Often, I hid behind them as they took the brunt of self-serving, second-guessing suits who seemed oblivious to the complicated life on the streets.


It bears repetition that these under-appreciated news people — reporters without microphones — are responsible for most of the hardware I’ve taken home.  I’ve always felt obligated amid the warm applause at award ceremonies to thank the folks behind the cameras for cleaning me up, straightening me out, and making sure we always had the full story.

It’s a joy to spend time with them.

CYNICAL? HAVE A CHAT WITH YOUR CABLE COMPANY! – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Charter’s Best Cynic

I was having a normal day until I realized that for no particular reason, my cable company raised my rates another $5. They are known for not having contracts. What that actually means is they can raise their rates whenever they want. They never lower them. We live in Uxbridge and we don’t have a choice about our cable service.

We have Charter or nobody. We can’t get any other company, not even the telephone company, to serve us. I’m sure someone got a not little extra gift from them to set us up with only one company and no competition or hope of competition.

In theory, we can get DirectTV, but this is a heavily wooded area, so almost no one has a clear patch of south-facing sky to use to receive the signal … and working — these days — with DirectTV might actually be worse than working with Charter/Spectrum (it’s really the same company using two names). I grant you it’s hard to imagine anything worse than Spectrum, but if anything is worse, DirectTV is probably it. And you have to go through AT&T to use them, so you get a double whammy.

Spectrum is very big on advertising how they don’t have any contracts. This makes it sound as if you have the choice to choose another company, but there IS no other company in the area. What it really means is they can raise their rates when they feel like it and we can’t do anything about it.

Great deal, isn’t it?

I remember when Charter strung their first wires on our street. I think I was one of the very first people to sign up with them. We have been loyal to them because we have no choice. Even so, after 19 years, you’d think they might actually care in some way that we are customers that have been with them a long time. But there are no discounts. I cut out cable TV about 8 months ago, so they raised the price of the cable itself to $76 and doubled the cost of our telephone.

You’re welcome, Spectrum or Charter, or whoever/whatever you are. I can tell how much you care about us.

WHO ARE YOU AND WHY ARE YOU CALLING ME? – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #46

From Fandango:

“I was watching “Jimmy Kimmel Live” last week and he and his sidekick, Guillermo, paid a visit to the New Yorker magazine in an effort to get a cartoon published in the magazine. Neither was successful, but Jimmy came up with this cartoon, which serves as the inspiration for this week’s provocative question:
CDAE46BB-E23E-40BF-BDB9-14331575A5F4The cartoon shows a picture of a young man sitting in a jail cell with headphones on. He’s busy using his smartphone when the prison guard apparently advises the guy in the cell that he’s entitled to a phone call. The guy then asks the guard, “What’s a phone call?”

So here’s the question:

Question of the week #47

I grew up before mobile phones — or at least before mobile phones became popular and common. Garry and I were among the earliest users of cell phones. Garry was always out in the field and he really needed a phone. Even back then … the early 1990s … there weren’t many functioning payphones. Most of the booths had broken or entirely missing phones.

The first phone I bought for Garry was the size of a brick and weighed at least as much and possibly more. On the other hand, that phone could connect with anyone anywhere. It was very much like the big “field phones” the telephone technicians used.

One day, the Blackberry came out and for years that was our phone. Garry loved his Blackberry. It had good sound and he could actually hear when he used it … and he could read (and send) email. I had a phone too, which was good because I was always looking for a job and I needed to find a quiet corner to set up interviews. Sometimes the phone WAS the interview.

Texting hadn’t arrived yet and phones were not miniature computers. They were small, portable telephones that also had email and calendar. Which was what I needed.

And the granddaddy of them all:

The standard black dial telephone

But how do I feel about taking on the phone? There was a time when the phone rang and I knew it was a friend. Or someone who wanted to talk to a parent, a brother, a husband, even your child.  But now? The phone is nothing but a noisy, device large used to try to scam you out of money or steal your personal information. It’s rarely fun.

I have three or four people — close family and dear friends — to whom I enjoy talking. Otherwise, I’d rather use email. The joy of email for me is its wonderful silence. My cell is always dining and ringing and jingling and binging and bonging. It never stops updating so as soon as you think you know how it works, they decide it needs to be fixed. When it is actually broken and needs to be fixed? That’s a wholly different story and usually costs you money.

With the exception of good friends and family, I don’t want to use the phone. I have to beat myself up to actually make a phone call, even if it’s important. Email is great because I can ignore it until I feel like doing something about it. I never learned to text, probably because that would mean I’d have to leave my phone on and people would actually CALL me. I don’t want them to call me. I’m very happy to not have something ringing all the time.

The thing I don’t understand about mobile phones is that they never shut up. They are always making some kind of noise. It’s like being on an electronic leash: you are never out of touch. It’s why when people ask if I have a smartphone, I say “no.” I do have one. I just don’t use it any more than I have to … and I do NOT give out the phone number.

My favorite calls are from Indians or Pakistanis who say their names are “Bob” and they are calling from Texas. And they know a Nigerian prince. Moreover, if you give them all your personal information, you can inherit a fortune and never have to worry about money again.

My all-time favorite call was a woman who called to ask for money to be collected for women who’ve had breast cancer. The money, she averred, would be given directly to people who had cancer and needed help. I told her she could call me back when my check was ready.

Modern telephone technology has taken all the fun out of making phone calls just as “modern airplanes” have taken all the romance out of travel. From all of this, I have concluded that progress is good but not every change is going to improve your life.  The only thing I hope for is that people will get tired of living on their phones and start to consider the possibilities of conversations.

And sometimes, enjoy the amazing possibilities of quiet and even silence.

WHAT COMPUTER TO BUY IF YOU DON’T HAVE MONEY? Marilyn Armstrong

My granddaughter is in college. Twice. She’s studying to be a beautician AND a psychologist (online). She’s a bit busy which is fine because it keeps her away from men. She has really terrible taste in men. But at her age, so did I. Actually, thinking about it, most of us had terrible taste in a lot of things, relationships being just one of them.

iPad

What she would like and I wish I could give it to her, is an iPad. I simply don’t have the money. If Garry had not co-opted my Mac for his voice recording work, I could give her that, but it’s taken. I actually, for the first time in my life, have only one computer. Well, that’s not entirely true. I have a broken one in my closet in the bedroom. It needs a new battery, but I can’t find anyone who knows how to get one. It wasn’t a mainstream computer and there weren’t many of them made. So it’s in a case at the bottom of my bedroom closet. Not too useful.

Macbook Air

Garry has an iPad that he doesn’t use much, but Garry keeps things. He doesn’t give them away. He saves everything, including things he hasn’t had any actual use for in 50 years like his Marine Corps dress uniform into which he can still fit.

I was thinking of getting her a Chromebook. Garry has one and he uses it all the time … but he doesn’t have to write papers for school and Chrome only has Chrome documents and stuff like that. I do not know if it would handle the workload she has got.

In return, she would like to paint our front door. She likes to paint. Actually, she has always liked to paint but I must discourage her from getting excessively artistic. That door will need to be painted again and again over the years and she may not be around to augment her artwork.

Chromebook

Anyone know enough about the Chromebook’s OS to tell me whether or not it’s up to managing a college student’s part-time work? This would be the “lightweight” computer. The heavy one is one of my old laptops that has a dead battery. Effectively, it’s a desktop computer.

I have no idea what it would cost to replace the bad battery. Another question I need to ask … but out here in the boonies, it’s hard to find someone to ask. We don’t have a lot of computer experts lurking around and those who are lurking are basically … well … me.

Maybe second hand? They rebuild iPads, so maybe?

All input gratefully accepted!

THAT POOR HORSE! – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Jaded

A poor tired horse looks jaded. That’s the origin of the word. It has come to mean “worn out” or “bored with everything.”

Lately, it also means fed up. Exhausted. Too much news, too much hassle, too much of everything.

I’m jaded with the news, jaded with the tragedies we seem to promote and then deny. It used to be that when you got like “this,” you could flee to some deserted part of the world. An empty beach on a warm sea or ocean maybe. But where is there a deserted anything anymore? Is there anywhere to go where you don’t get the news? Short of going back to live in a dark cave which, I admit, isn’t awfully attractive, I’m not sure there’s anyway “out” for anyone.

We live in a world where privacy and peace are banished. Between social media and more television channels, radio stations, and Alexa, there’s no escaping.

Phones

It’s why I loathe mobile phones. Who needs to be in constant touch with everything and everyone? Don’t we get to have a little quiet time or is that forbidden?

This morning I saw a new SimpleHuman invention: Alexa linked faucets for your sink. you can make your kitchen sing from anywhere in the house and if that’s not enough, you can adjust the sound levels at your bathroom mirror while your electronic toilet device measures your output.

The toilet? The sink? The mirror? All of them will all give you the news, too. It somehow fits that the toilet will give you news. That’s pretty much where it’s coming from anyhow.


“Hey, Alexa? Tell the toilet to give me the news. Then, when it’s done, please flush!”

TIME AND TRAVEL – Marilyn Armstrong

First of all, no one can travel to the future unless they are returning from the past. Everyone who’s anybody knows that. It hasn’t happened yet, so you can’t go there. You can’t go sometime if it never occurred.

nasa time machine

One-way time travel sounds ominous to me regardless of direction.

You mean I can’t come home? Ever? I have to go forward or backward and it’s a final decision? Without any hope of returning to my time, my friends, family? My world? In which case, no thank you. That’s too high a price to satisfy a bit of curiosity.

With all the issues of the present, this is my time. It is where I belong, for good or ill.

THE JOY OF MEDICARE – Marilyn Armstrong

I belong to Blue Cross Blue Shield Advantage Value Added PPO group, which is a Medicare plan that offers extras but costs just a tiny bit more than basic Medicare.

Last night, in a moment of mindless stupidity, I decided to register for my medical plan. Usually, I just call them, but it was after hours and I just wanted to look up the price of a  medication. Which I could do online. If I registered.

This is the cutest little Tufted Titmouse I think I’ve ever seen.

No big deal, right? Fill in the form and voila, registered. Medicare was even easier. You could just call them and do it all by phone. I think it took me all of 10 minutes to register for Medicare in the five years I had straight Medicare before I switched to the BCBS Value Advantage plan.

I entered most of the registration information at which point I was told that I had “timed out” and would have to do it again. So I tried to do it again BUT it would not let me because it already had my ID and password — basically everything except my Medicare number.

The gallant Tufted Titmouse – He’s blue and yellow!

I have a week coming up of major medical exams — heart and head and back and more about my eyes.

I was going to die as a result of software glitches. I could cope with being eaten by an alligator or a Gila monster … but SOFTWARE? Seriously?

I tried to call them to fix it but got the “closed for the weekend” message. Starting October 1, they are open 24/7, but this isn’t October. Close, but no cookie. I ultimately discovered that the databank is closed all weekend because they are setting up for the incoming members for 2020, but I didn’t know that until later.

Finally, I finally managed to connect with someone who informed me that my membership had expired.

What?

Expired?

I pay my Medicare/BCBS advantage plan straight out of Social Security. When I was told I belonged to Aetna, not BCBS, I gurgled. I’ve never worked with Aetna AND. I had the BCBS card in my hand. It was blue, blue, and blue. A Blue Cross. A Blue Shield. A blue card. All the ink was blue. \

I had the wrong department and the person I was talking to didn’t have any idea what was going on. I’m not even sure she knew was software is. The right department was closed until Monday and I have a doctor’s appointment early in the day.

By now, after 2 am. I was tired. I knew I’d be even more tired by morning. At this point, all I now wanted was an assurance I was signed up and hadn’t somehow inadvertently or via glitchily cancelled my medical plan.

Forget the price of medications. I was too tired to keep on keeping on, so this morning I got up and called the number that was supposed to work, but it was closed until Monday. Of course.

I also got transferred a lot, but at least not disconnected. Everyone was enormously polite, friendly, and unable to help me. At all.  Of course, no one mentioned that the databank was down, too. That was the guy at Medicare who told me. How come HE knew but the people at BlueCross didn’t know?

One Titmouse and a Chickadee. They will share the feeder … but from opposite sides and they never touch.

I was getting increasingly frustrated. So after I had coffee in hand, I tried calling in a prescription. I figured if I wasn’t signed up, they’d tell me because my card wouldn’t go through. Nope. It went through fine, no problem. Not only did it go through fine, but it went through for a medication that had no refills left. I have to call back and make sure she has the right number. Regardless, it was the first good news of the day.

Having tried every single number for BlueCross and getting nothing but people who didn’t seem able to access my type of BCBS care, I chanced upon the 24/7 number for Medicare. Even though I have an Advantage plan, it’s still a version of Medicare, so one way or the other, I had nothing to lose by trying.

And this is why I love Medicare. Not merely are they REALLY open 24/7 all year long, but they are consistently helpful, polite, and cooperative. If they don’t have the answer, they will find it, no matter how long it takes. And they never put me on hold.

I explained that I had had a software glitch with BlueCross and with an early doctor’s appointment Monday, I didn’t want to find myself dying due to a computer glitch. That would be too pathetic.

The guy at Medicare checked and said, “Don’t worry. There’s no problem. You are paid up and everything works.

So for all you people who are afraid of Medicare? Don’t be. It’s great. It really isn’t one of those messed up government agencies. In fact, I am convinced it is the ONLY government agency where everything actually works just like it is supposed to work.

Now at least I know I would not die from bad software and be buried in an Amazon box.

You all will LOVE Medicare. I promise.

To make things even better? The birds have already begun to return. There was a flock of Tufted Titmouses on the feeder this morning. Where there’s a Titmouse, can the American Goldfinch be far behind?

WORLD SHARING AGAIN – Marilyn Armstrong

Share Your World 9-16-19

Fall is beginning to show up and we’re supposed to get a couple of cold nights. If it doesn’t start to rain nonstop, maybe we WILL get a little bit of Autumn. It would be nice. it’s my best season and the most photogenic. Lots of trees, lots of maples. Mucho color!

Are we losing the art of listening in comparison to simply hearing?

There is a time to seriously listen and times to be quiet and let the noise of the world fade to silence. Garry and I spent thousands of hours talking in the many years we courted without getting around to marrying. We still do, as long as one of us isn’t seriously reading, watching baseball, writing, or editing.

Garry and me – Thank you Rich!

These are private times and interrupting a writer in the middle of creating is a no-no.

As for “just hearing”?  If it’s chit-chat, I don’t listen or at least don’t listen much. I also don’t listen to most television shows. It has to be worth listening to before I bother to pay attention. I spend a LOT of time writing, editing, photo processing, and reading. Not much time left over.

How often do you openly discuss with friends or here in WP with your readership topics that make you feel uncomfortable or might be taboo or stigma-laden?

We discuss pretty much everything when we are in the mood. Not all the time. The noise would drive us all crazy. We are full of ideas, but sometimes the world also needs quiet and a little peace.

We argue about the existence of God, whether or not we have souls, and which version of Star Trek is the best (ORVILLE!!).

Republican talking points are off the table. Probably permanently.

Do you think that these discussions should be freely discussed and written about more?

What subjects? Which discussions?

Did you have a nickname as a child and if so, what was (or what is it now)?

No nickname. Wanted one. Nothing fit.

Why is there still ‘stuff’ we simply just don’t understand despite our progressive world?

Because there is a LOT of stuff and we’ll never know ALL of it.

Meanwhile, most of us pay little attention to anything scientific or technological. If they discovered some amazing and complicated body in space and it ran on page 23 in the New York Times, how many of us would ever read it, much less understand it?

About the stuff we already know, most of us understand very little and care less. We use it. We know how to plug it in and turn it on, but how does it work? I love the old grandparents who don’t know anything about computers while their wise children tell them the basics.

My granddaughter knows how to turn on her computer, use what she needs, and turn it off. If ANYTHING goes wrong, it’s: “Gramma, I have a problem.”

Thus we believe “using a computer” means being able to turn it on, enter a password, and using a mouse. We have no idea what is going on behind the GUI or what WYSISYG means. I’m not going to be making any fabulous new discoveries because I’d rather reread a Terry Pratchett novel.

How many people understand how these basic items work?

At least we are creative. If you don’t do physics or math, creativity IS discovery.

So. Summing up. With all the stuff going on, the vast majority of human beings are not involved in making new discoveries. I could literally be staring at the latest, greatest Truth of the Universe — and I would probably flip the channel. We aren’t discoverers because most of us don’t have the skill-set, education, or interest. We spend our time messing with cell phones, tweeting, or watching cat videos on YouTube.

I find it comforting that we are stupid by choice rather than via inheritance.

What is your most essential kitchen tool?

Coffee maker and we just (finally) got a new one. I totally love it. Gotta have the brew. That probably means I also need the fridge because where else can I keep the half-and-half?

Who is one blogger you really admire and why?

I admire many people for various reasons and even if this were a competition, they are each so unique, I couldn’t possibly pick one. I’m not even sure I could pick a whole slate of candidates.

Would you rather double your height or lose half your weight?  (In response to last week’s double your weight, half your height query). 

So would I rather be 10 feet 3 inches tall or weigh 80 pounds? Really?

NOT A PENNY FROM ME OR MINE – Marilyn Armstrong

I am a Liberal Democrat.

I currently get about 20 emails a day asking me to contribute to a campaign or to the party coffers for some good  Democratic cause or other. I support almost all of these causes, but I’ll never give them another dollar. I will unsubscribe to all 20 of today’s emails today or tomorrow. As soon as I have time.

Why? Am I a fervent advocate of reforming campaign corruption? Do I harbor a passionate, idealistic need to change the system and alter how politics is funded?

It turns out, I am a fervent advocate of campaign corruption reform and I do harbor a passionate need to reform political funding, but that’s not the reason. I’m also poor, but even that isn’t the reason.

72-Lost-Dutchman-newer-GAR-Superstition-011316_186

In 2008, I donated three dollars to Barack Obama. I was pleased when he got elected. I donated a few more dollar in 2012. As a thank you, I got spammed.

Every Democrat running for any office in any American state, as well as every liberal group with a cause, sent me thousands of emails several times each week and sometimes, per day. It might have been even more, but somewhere along the way, I lost track. So we’ll just call it a mountain of mail.

All of them told me in some wildly hysterical way that some candidate I’d like to see elected was missing a mere $320 for the month and a few dollars from me might make the difference. They started out by asking me to sign a petition, after which, they wanted money. A little money but I could send more and I could set it up to come out of my account automatically every month. And that was just the beginning.

Every other minute, there was a new cause as well as a few hundred more emails. It reached an insane crescendo and I spent entire days deleting everything without even trying to see what it was. One day, I spent an entire day, morning to evening, unsubscribing. The incoming mail dropped to a bearable level. For a day. And then it began to rebuild.

Every time I considered signing a petition or read an online post, I was automatically — without being notified or offering my permission — was subscribed to the site and mailing lists. I was a piece of data. Being mined.

I don’t care how good the cause is. That’s wrong. And it’s spam. They succeeded in making me unwilling to ever give them any money ever. I do not answer surveys. Nor do I fill out petitions, no matter how much I sympathize with its cause.

Uncle sam political cartoon 1899

The Democratic Party — all political parties, their candidates and causes (I actually found myself on the Conservative Republican mailing list because I read an article somewhere and they also signed me up) — are on my “not one red cent” list. Because a $3 dollar donation got me spammed. I was buried under electronic propaganda.

Know that if you are naive enough to provide your phone number on a petition or survey, expect never-ending intrusive phone calls. I think if they want my opinion, they can pay for it.

The political funding system needs reformation. Equally in need of reform is the way all political groups feel free to use your personal information for their own purposes.

They will subscribe you to their mailing and calling lists because you tried to read their literature. Which, in theory, is what they want you to do. Participating in politics — trying to be a good citizen — will get you bombarded with propaganda until you declare a plague on all their houses.

By: politicalavenue-com

It’s not okay. Really, it’s not. It’s intrusive and sneaky. It is a massive abuse of my right to privacy. I did not agree to let everyone in the world use my personal data for their own goals.

Visiting a web site does not imply permission to invade my privacy. I do not know how other people handle this sort of thing, but it means that I will never donate a penny to anyone running for office — or in support of any of their causes. Ever.

Vermin Supreme poster

They — both parties, all parties, all the pols — have done it to themselves.  Before pointing fingers at “the system,” they need to admit that they are the system. They are the abusers. While they are busy investigating Google, Facebook, and Twitter, they might take a look in the mirror and consider how they are doing the same thing. That it might be for a better cause — in my opinion — is neither here nor there.

I am not a piece of data and I do not want to be mined. Don’t put my name or my phone number or my personal preferences on your database. Don’t bury me in emails or phone calls.

Instead of getting me to sign on, you got me to sign off. Was that what you wanted? If not, reconsider your methods.

THE ULTIMATE POWER OF THE WEENIE – By Tom Curley

You can’t use the word “p#rn” on Google because as everyone knows, Google is so carefully-regulated and selective about who publishes on their site, one need never worry about what one might see there. It’s the word, NOT the subject of the writing that is at issue. Do they have any human beings who know how to think in their administration? Or is it all accountants, computers, and software hunting for buzzwords? I am not the only one wondering about this!

There was an interesting article in the news concerning a porn site called xhamster.com I don’t know why it’s called that and I really don’t want to know. They’re in the news because they closed off their website to anybody living in the state of North Carolina.

Why? Because of the harsh, horrible anti-LGBT law they passed. If you log onto their website from anywhere in that state, you get a blank screen.

blank screen
Blank screen for you!

The tone of all the news reports and nightly talk shows was that this was a funny but useless protest. There are thousands of other porn sites where North Carolinians can … well, you know. But, as usual, the mainstream media and the nightly talk shows missed the real story. I am not offering an opinion on the virtues or evils of porn. However, there is a larger truth which is widely known but rarely talked about regarding the porn industry. Porn has been a major driver, financial backer, and early adopter of technological innovation since the beginning. Since forever.

When mankind started drawing on cave walls, I guarantee you some of the first things depicted were people getting some Neanderthal Nookie.

thestar.com.my
thestar.com.my

Porn was very popular in the Middle Ages. Moreover, it utilized some of the earliest encryption technologies. I saw an exhibit in a museum once that showcased one of them. The exhibit consisted of huge tapestries painted with very strange distorted images. You couldn’t tell what they were.

What were they? Porn. The artist would draw the original naughty painting on a regular canvas. He would then look at the painting’s reflection in a cylindrical mirror. The image in the mirror would be all distorted. He would then paint that distorted image onto the tapestry. If you looked at the tapestry the painting made no sense.

anamorphic art
arthit.ru

But. If you looked at the tapestry’s reflection in the same cylindrical mirror the artist used, the image would be reconstructed back to its original form. (“Naughty Knights 5”)

When photography was first invented in the 1800’s one of the earliest subjects was, of course, naked women. Having sex. When the telegraph was invented, telegraph operators were known to spend their off-hours “telegraph sexting”.

I didn’t believe it either.

blog.kaspersky.com
blog.kaspersky.com

OPERATOR ONE: Who you talking to?

OPERATOR TWO: I don’t know, but she sure can dit my dot!

The VCR became popular because porn producers started switching to videotape, abandoning film. Finally, you didn’t have to go to a movie theater for porn. You could “bring it home.”

VHS beat out Betamax because the porn industry chose VHS. Really. No kidding. That’s the way it really happened.

alf.image.com
alf.image.com

Porn money propelled other technologies, too. Online payments, DVDs, streaming video, and two-way internet chat rooms. Virtual Reality headsets were only been available for a few months before there was Virtual Reality Porn.

truvisionvr.com
truvisionvr.com

(I wouldn’t know this personally, but I read a lot).

So here’s the real story that everybody has missed.  One porn site blocked off an entire state. It has been viewed as a symbolic, but mostly useless protest.

What if they all did it?  What if all the porn sites got together and said to North Carolina: “NO PORN FOR YOU!”

no porn for you

I’ll bet you that anti-LGBT law would be overturned in about an hour and a half! Maybe less. Then, the porn industry would realize it’s true power! Imagine, Lysistrata on a national, even a global, scale!

dykiegirl.wordpress.com
dykiegirl.wordpress.com

“You won’t do what we want? NO PORN FOR YOU!” All the porn industry needs to do is come together. Organize.

Organize into a cartel.
A conglomerate
 A Ring.
lotr.wiki.com
lotr.wiki.com

“One ring to rule them all. One ring to find them.

One ring to rule them all and in the darkness bind them.”

Pray they use their power for good.

ALL THOSE COMPUTERS: WHAT A MESS! – Marilyn Armstrong

Our computers have gone wacko.

I think it started when the last upgrades (calling them upgrades is absurd since they have made a mess of all the computers in the house — Macs and PCs alike. Google, Microsoft, iPad, and MacBook Air have decided to link to each other and I can’t tell what’s going on with any machine.

I want one that says “enraged.”

They no longer remember whose password works with which account. This is not a problem if you are the only user in your house, but here, it’s getting absolutely tragic. It isn’t just a Windows. It’s just as bad on the Macs. Maybe worse because for reasons I don’t entirely understand, we seem to have more Mac-operated devices than PC devices — and I don’t actually like Macs. I just own them.

The only electronics that still know what’s going on are the Kindles and they are Android. Everything else is a mess.

Oh, I almost forgot. Garry has a Chromebook. Since it’s a Google machine, it’s a mess, too.

All the endless “alterations” made to WordPress have slowed it down so half the time, it doesn’t even remember your name or password from one use to the next. How many times do you try to answer a comment on your own site only to be told that you have to “sign-in”?

Since you are signed in, it gets interesting.

Meanwhile, when they ask for passwords, they don’t specify what password they want. Is that the WordPress password or the Google password? One of each? Maybe looking for the computer’s key number? Plus the password? Which password? The one you had to add today or the one they made you add yesterday and the day before?

And it has to be COMPLETELY DIFFERENT than any other password you use … as if you even remember your other passwords.

Each and every one of your passwords is supposed to be unique and not like any of the other passwords you use. Right. That’s what everyone does. Except I can’t remember any of my passwords anyway.

Seriously, can anyone remember that many passwords? Even if you write them down, the one you last wrote down may not be the one they are looking for. It might be the one before that or the one you were using a month ago. Only a hacker can figure it out and he/she is the one person you don’t want to figure it out.

ARRGGGH!

I used to have my own inbox and Garry had his. Our tools and internet links were linked to our email passwords. NOW you need a password for Google, for your inbox, and sometimes, they don’t seem to know what they want the password for. Meanwhile, the password manager stopped working, too.

They tell you your password doesn’t work, but it’s the same one you used yesterday and last night and finally, it starts to work again … and this is after you’ve been battling with it for an hour to accept a new password only to ultimately be told you can’t get a new password because you have an old password, so now you need a new email account — but I don’t have another mail account — and when I’m about ready to give up and throw everything out the window — which is when everything starts to work again. More or less.

What???

I have NO idea what’s going on. I sign in with my email account, but only Garry’s header shows up. Or Garry signs in with his password and MY headers show up. I don’t know what they think they are doing, but it’s a godawful mess. I’m pretty sure the last set of upgrades totally screwed the pooch.

Garry has an upgrade waiting on his iPad and he’s afraid to let it run. I don’t blame him. My last upgrade on the PC and the Mac were BOTH disasters. How are your machines running?

All my computers are a mess — and I haven’t done anything to them. This is the stuff they are doing.

I don’t know what they are trying to achieve, but it’s not working. I wish they would stop. If you think I’m confused, just imagine how GARRY feels.