THERE’S NO GOOD TIME TO CALL AT&T – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Affable

Affable. I was in a pretty good mood when we got home from shopping, or at least as good as I feel after shopping when I have a cold and forgot to buy eggs. That was probably why I thought it was a good time to call AT&T and get my rates dropped. I’ve been overpaying for my phone for more than a decade and I was determined to GET the lower rates this time.

First, there is NO good time to call AT&T. No one knows anything. They transfer you back and forth and half the numbers they give you don’t work. Even when you get the right person, they don’t know anything. No one takes notes so you have to explain the problem over and over and over and by the fourth time I was repeating the same story, I was just plain pissed.

What I had done — THOUGHT I had done — was to transfer from my $53/month plan to the $29.99 plan which is part of the “Senior Nation” set of benefits for we old folks.

This required that I have an un-smart phone.

I wanted an un-smart phone in the first place because I don’t use the internet on the phone. If I want the internet, for this I have multiple computers. But our telephone distributor (they are morons there, too) said they didn’t have any, couldn’t get any — so you had a choice of a smartphone or? A smartphone.

We ended up with this Galaxy Samsung Google phone which does whatever it does pretty well, far as I can tell — but they only thing I do with it is to make an occasional phone call … like when we are on the road and lost (always lost, always and forever), or if the power is out and we have to call the electric company.

I don’t use it on the internet. I don’t use it to update banking or to text. I actually don’t know how to text. That’s embarrassing, I realize, but I simply haven’t done it … so I don’t know how. Garry doesn’t know how either. But Garry is anti-technical and I’m supposed to know all this stuff. I do know a lot of stuff, but texting isn’t one of them. Shoot me, but there it is. I also cannot change the ink in my printer. I hate printers and I refuse to even try.

After making this arrangement to get on the low-cost plan and get a free flip phone (yes, they still make them), I got a bill from AT&T informing me that I’d changed my plan and would now be paying them $90 next month and $60 for each month after that — which is significantly more than I’m currently playing. For having done absolutely nothing except try to lower my bill.

No mention of the senior plan. No mention of the free phone. No mention of nothing.

I called back. No one knew what I was talking about, but they kept transferring me from one department (who knew nothing) to another department (which knew nothing). Finally, I called back and said: “I’ve had it. Either you fix this right now or I’m leaving AT&T. You people are driving me CRAZY.” I have been an AT&T customer for about 15 years and there was a time when they actually had really good customer service.

Ah, those were the days. We were so young, so optimistic.

Phones

So eventually, I got the $29.99 (+ taxes, et al) and can use the phone I’ve got OR the one they are actually sending me. I don’t think you can transfer a smartphone SIM card to a flip phone. I’ll deal with that IF I ever get another phone. My current phone is five years old, but it looks brand new, probably because effectively, it IS brand new. I don’t use it. It lives in my bag and is usually off.

So much for affable.

At this point, I’m plain pissed off, even though I think (I hope, I believe) I have the issue dealt with. But who knows? I may get another bill any minute. Nothing like a long afternoon on the phone with customer service to finish off your good mood of the day.

Now I’m watching the news. The final crunch. I have such a nasty headache, too.

WE DIDN’T START THE FIRE – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Onerous

I have a cold. Not a lethal cold or one that will make me wonder why we got flu shots. No, it’s a regular winter cold with the usual drippy nose, hoarse voice, and sore throat. I was supposed to go to the cardiologist today, but when one is getting his or her heart checked, it’s best to not have anything else wrong with you or your readings come out strange.

Garry’s got “it” too. So does my son. The dogs, however, are fine.

Red-capped woodpecker, warbler, and a nuthatch

The doctor — the actual doctor himself — called to tell me to get some sleep, stay hydrated (whatever happened to “drink plenty of liquids”) and later, call for a new appointment. When I felt better. Which was not today.

I had just gotten back into bed (after the dogs barked me out of it). I had fed them two or three small treats, turned on the coffee, and tucked myself back under the covers.

The phone rang. It was the doctor’s office. I said I was trying to sleep, but between the barking dogs and the phone ringing, it was starting to seem pointless.

She said to call back when I felt better and I drifted off to sleep.

Bonnie barks me awake every morning. With or without assistance from the other two.

Duke doesn’t usually bark. He flings himself at the door and tries to knock it down. Once, he knocked the knob and latch out of alignment and was on the bed in a blink.

I don’t need to give him the incentive to do it again. It’s not a strong door. I don’t think it would survive another pounding. Duke’s no giant, but he’s got vim and vigor going for him. His enthusiasm knows no bounds. None. What he lacks in weight, he makes up for in pure energy.

In between interruptions, “We Didn’t Start the Fire” kept rolling through my head. like one of those earworms you usually get from commercials or Disney cartoons. It started and wouldn’t stop. It still hasn’t stopped.

I gave in and got up. By now, my back was hurting enough to get me out of bed regardless. Excessive bed rest makes everything more painful. If I was ever forced to stay in bed for a prolonged period, it would probably kill me.

Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray
South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio
Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, television
North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe
Rosenbergs, H-bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom
Brando, “The King and I” and “The Catcher in the Rye”
Eisenhower, vaccine, England’s got a new queen
Marciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye


We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

Joseph Stalin, Malenkov, Nasser and Prokofiev
Rockefeller, Campanella, Communist Bloc

Roy Cohn, Juan Peron, Toscanini, Dacron
Dien Bien Phu falls, “Rock Around the Clock”
Einstein, James Dean, Brooklyn’s got a winning team
Davy Crockett, Peter Pan, Elvis Presley, Disneyland
Bardot, Budapest, Alabama, Krushchev
Princess Grace, “Peyton Place”, trouble in the Suez

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it


Little Rock, Pasternak, Mickey Mantle, Kerouac
Sputnik, Chou En-Lai, “Bridge on the River Kwai”

Lebanon, Charles de Gaulle, California baseball
Starkweather, homicide, children of thalidomide
Buddy Holly, “Ben Hur”, space monkey, Mafia
Hula hoops, Castro, Edsel is a no-go
U2, Syngman Rhee, payola and Kennedy
Chubby Checker, “Psycho”, Belgians in the Congo

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it


Hemingway, Eichmann, “Stranger in a Strange Land”
Dylan, Berlin, Bay of Pigs invasion

“Lawrence of Arabia”, British Beatlemania
Ole Miss, John Glenn, Liston beats Patterson
Pope Paul, Malcolm X, British politician sex
JFK, blown away, what else do I have to say

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it


Birth control, Ho Chi Minh, Richard Nixon back again
Moonshot, Woodstock, Watergate, punk rock
Begin, Reagan, Palestine, terror on the airline
Ayatollah’s in Iran, Russians in Afghanistan

“Wheel of Fortune”, Sally Ride, heavy metal, suicide
Foreign debts, homeless vets, AIDS, crack, Bernie Goetz
Hypodermics on the shores, China’s under martial law
Rock and roller cola wars, I can’t take it anymore

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
But when we are gone
Will it still burn on, and on, and on, and on


We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it


We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it …


Songwriters: Billy Joel

We Didn’t Start the Fire lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group


The world is an onerous place. The business of surviving it gets worse almost by the minute. I didn’t think it could get worse. I thought we had bottomed out. Apparently, there is no bottom. Maybe there never was and we all lived in a happy fantasy, each in our own personal parallel reality.

It’s a sunny day and the birds are out. I think I’ll take some pictures.

DO YOU HAVE THE KEYS TO THE UMBRAGE? – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Umbrage

When I was a teenager (I actually was one, a long time ago!), I thought the word “umbrage” was hilarious. People took the Chevy or the Pontiac … but I wanted to drive the Umbrage. I figured it would be the perfect car to drive in a thoroughly annoying world.

“Would you like a taxi, madam?”

“No thank you, Jeeves. I’ll just take Umbrage!”

Is this a classic Umbrage or what?
A classic hot rod Umbrage

Off I would drive in my Umbrage. No matter how fretful, disgruntled, and generally pissed off at the world I was, my Umbrage would always understand.

An Umbrage that looks like an Umbrage should

Nonetheless, despite my entreaties, no one has had built a driveable Umbrage. These days, I think a self-driving Umbrage would be even more satisfactory.

There’s always the Oscar Meyer dog-day Umbrage special

Given the state of the world at the moment, I believe now is that perfect the time for a mobile Umbrage. Everyone is so stressed and mentally messed up, the moment may finally have arrived.

For the executive taking Umbrage

“Madam, we are offering the Umbrage in dark blue, silver, beige, black, and of course the ever-aggravating orange.”

“Thanks. I’ll take orange.”

AVID VERSUS DIVA – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Avid and Diva

First, there was Diva. It was a “big format” video editing tool meant for use in television studios or advertising agencies. I didn’t work there, though I did go for one of those insane interviews where you have to meet everyone in the company from the guy who runs it, to the overnight backup guy.

I was impressed by the product and spent 20 hours interviewing with them. They obviously hired someone else and didn’t so much as send me a postcard to tell me they’d weren’t interested.

I never understood that. It happened a lot of times over the years. They keep you coming for interviews and you figure — after the better part of a week of interviewing everyone — that while you might not get the job, the least they could do was let you know they’d decided on someone else.

But they didn’t and as the years went on, this became common practice. Whatever happened to simply being polite?

Then, I was interviewed by Avid who was producing a nearly identical product. Diva did much better than Avid in the professional market in the beginning, but eventually Avid sold better, even though the products were nearly identical.

Today, both of them are “box” software, though Avid is also available as a subscription, like Adobe. Their “Pro Version” costs $999 if you want to buy it outright, which is a lot less than it used to cost.

Diva went another way and is available free as an open source product for the Gnome operating system.

Avid is a “paid” product sold largely to private users who want to make videos for the internet.

I have no idea who creates the software currently used by television studios, but from my encounters with that software (AVID — admittedly quite a few years ago), it sucked.

If you understand the concept of “look alike, feel alike,” it means that modules in a software “package” feel and look similar. That means a user can slide effortlessly from module to module with minimal training. The people who built that ridiculously expensive software apparently never heard of it.

They needed to hire real developers to produce software that made sense for people who just wanted to get a job done — without memorizing seven separate formats unrelated to each other. As it is, they had software using many modules. Each module was completely different from every other one. Their only connection was the main menu and the only function of that menu was to allow access to a particular area of the software. Which was limited by your job.

Thus a reporter could write scripts, edit film and post-editing (a separate function — I suppose you had to be an official editor to edit a written script), after it was sent back as “approved,” link the script with the digitally edited “news” and forward it to whatever slot to which it was assigned. To say this was confusing doesn’t begin to explain it.

I understood it because that’s what I did for a living. I figured out what the software — any software — did, then explained it (in a book) to people who had to use it. In this case, I had to figure out the software that Channel 7 was using, then teach Garry to use it. In one weekend.

If he didn’t get it, he’d lose his job the new old-fashioned way: inability to understand the computer.

My car had been hit by a truck that Friday and it was (I think) the fourth of July weekend, so we had three days. I told him I’d do it, but he had to never object to the tone of my voice and he had to do exactly what I told him to do no matter how many times I told him to do it. Repetition is the key to using most software and he had to keep doing it until he didn’t need to think about it.

First I asked him what he did. He told me. I looked at the main menu, doped out which parts of the product did the things he needed to do and by the end of those three days, he knew it. Of course, by now he has completely forgotten it — as have I. This is stuff you use or lose. I have dumped more technical data from my head than most people ever learn. At this point, my head is surprisingly empty. I barely remember what I used to do.

I was particularly good at learning very complicated material for a very short time, them emptying my brain and learning something completely different — for a very brief interval. That’s how people like me functioned in those days of tech. Everything was new and everything was a first. You didn’t really need experience, just a knack for computers and an exceptionally good short-term memory. Oh, and the ability to write and teach. Basically, I was teaching — just via a book, not usually in person.

Garry was my singular exception to teaching a real live person how to do something. I wasn’t bad in the classroom for the couple of years I taught, but I didn’t really like it. I like writing better than talking. And yet, I made more friends in the classroom than I made in all my years of office work. Hmm. I never thought about that before. I’ll have to do some pondering.

This is “Nerd History.”

You had no reason to learn it, have gained nothing by learning it, and I’m sure you wonder why I bothered to write about it.

Diva “product”

It’s the words. Avid to me is that “other” video editing company. Diva came first and Avid flipped the name around. Voila!

Diva always felt they should sue Avid for stealing their name — backward. But you couldn’t prove who came first and I don’t think they ever settled it, in or out of court. Eventually, it didn’t matter because other players entered the game and both companies stopped being especially important.

I’m sure this goes to show you that getting an early start in the tech field doesn’t mean you’ll still be a player a few years later. Almost all these early companies that I knew when they were effectively just getting started have gone bankrupt or just faded into the woodwork.

What was interesting for me was watching them come, get really big, become very important, then vanish as if they’d never existed. It’s a reminder that “big” in this world is temporary. Just because you used to be someone doesn’t mean you will be someone next year.

Just a little thought to keep in mind as you “bigly” your way through life.

A WORLD WITHOUT WASTE IS POSSIBLE? – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Inane

I try not to be inane and in the name of non-inanity when I have nothing to say — not infrequently — I shut up. That’s what pictures are for. Or reruns. Or reblogs.

I wrote about politics a lot at the beginning of this mess we are in and after a while, I realized all I was doing was repeating myself. Things are bad, getting worse, and there’s no bottom to this administration. My repeating that endlessly was not going to fix anything and — more important — wasn’t going to make me, you or anyone feel better. It might help me let off steam, but mostly, I think it makes me feel worse, not better.

Didn’t we fight this battle before?

That was pretty much when I discovered birds. it helped me get out of myself. All summer, the Red Sox did that for me. Watching them beat everyone was a huge help to our sagging morale.  Now, it is birds. And watching the Pats beat the bejeezus out of the Challengers.

We weren’t expecting it, by the way. We thought the Pats were too old. And though they are winning — like really winning — I’m pretty sure there will be a slew of retirements at season’s end. Too many injuries. Age is catching up with even the best of them.

Not today, though. They are walloping the Challengers. Right now, the score is 38 to 7. So I guess they are going to the Super Bowl. I didn’t think they’d make it. Personally, I hope Brady retires before he gets seriously injured. Take the trophy, go home. Reconnoiter. Become an unbelievably well-paid talking head on television. Time has its way with all of us and 42 is still 42. On the playing field, that’s mature. Okay, old. If we win this year, go home and enjoy being the best that ever played the game.

It’s time to rebuild.

There’s a lot of rebuilding to be done. We need to rebuild our government. Did you read that Coca Cola has pledged to make ALL of its bottle recyclables by 2030? I know it doesn’t sound like such a big deal for one company to make such a pledge, but Coca Cola doesn’t just make Coke. They make most of the “named” soft drinks on the market, so it’s a big deal.


Coca-Cola today announced an industry-first goal to collect and recycle the equivalent of every bottle or can it sells globally by 2030.

The company and its global network of bottling partners will tackle the ambitious goal, which is part of a holistic plan called “World Without Waste,” through a renewed focus on the entire packaging lifecycle – from how bottles and cans are designed and made, to how they’re recycled and repurposed.

“Consumers around the world care about our planet. They want and expect companies like ours to be leaders and help make a litter-free world possible,” said James Quincey, president, and CEO, The Coca-Cola Company. “Through our ‘World Without Waste’ vision, we are investing in our planet and in our packaging to help make the world’s packaging problem a thing of the past.”

Read Quincey’s op-ed titled “Why a World Without Waste is Possible.”

For once, I don’t think the government forced them into it, either. Someone said “We should DO something,” and they did.

Inane. There’s much inanity on the web. A lot of young people trying to tell old people how to live their lives and too many old people trying to tell young people how to live theirs. Everyone should stick to what they know and stop telling other people how to live.

Overall? Everyone should stop trying to tell other people how to live. I could stop gnashing my teeth.

INSTRUMENTAL AND PERFORMANCE – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Instrumental

I started learning the piano when I was four. I was so tiny, I couldn’t reach the pedals. They had to add blocks — like on an old-fashioned bicycle — so I could use them.

By the time I was 10 or 11, I played pretty well. Not as well as I was supposed to play, but well enough to play complicated music, which, as it turns out, could be heard all over the neighborhood. It was amusing listening to all the neighbors humming whatever I was practicing.

The house I lived in was on top of a hill and the sound of the grand piano wafted with the breeze.

By the time I was 16 and starting college (I skipped 7th grade), I decided to be a music major. Not because I was a brilliant pianist. I wasn’t. But I really liked my piano teacher. Coming as I did from a dysfunctional family, she was the nicest adult person I knew and I adored her.

The problem was not that I didn’t play well. I played almost well enough to be a professional. In the music business, the difference between playing “almost well enough” and “well enough” is a gap the size of an ocean. It sounds like a minor thing, but in music, it isn’t small. It’s huge.

I remained a music major despite all hints to the contrary that said: “You aren’t going to make it.”

Piano lessons

These hints included having very small hands, which meant a lot of “large” music was impossible for me. It included a number of teachers pointing out to me that doing well on exams wasn’t going to “do it” for me as a musician. I was okay, but I wasn’t great. I didn’t want to be a music teacher and I wasn’t a composer.

I didn’t see myself as a conductor either — and piano was the wrong instrument for me. Unfortunately, it was the only one I knew — other than a little bit of messing with a guitar or a ukulele. And even worse, I had a case of stage fright so severe I couldn’t play for my teacher, much less an audience. I should add that I never overcame it.

I was one credit away from finishing my music major when I realized there was no future for me in professional music. I switched to speech & drama (a combined major) which was the degree I eventually got.

It was even less useful than music. By the time I completed college, I realized what I really wanted to do, but I would need an extra year of school to make up for some of the basic courses I’d missed — like “economics,” and “political science,” et al. Somehow, without realizing it, I had actually finished my major as well as the required number of credits for graduation.

No matter how hard I begged — and my professors begged with me — they would not let me stay an extra year and complete a second B.A. These days, it would be no problem, but back then, schools were a lot more rigid than they are these days.

I didn’t have the basics for an M.A. in anything in which I was interested, so I said “screw it” and went off into the world where I did what I always wanted to do anyway: write.

Until a few years ago, though, I could still play. The only thing that stopped me was pain from arthritis in my hands. Unlike arthritis in the rest of my body, “hand” arthritis is the result of years of playing the piano. Almost every serious pianist retires by the time they hit their 60s because their hands no longer work. It’s the price you pay for pounding on the keyboard from age four.

My piano teacher had trouble playing for more than a few minutes and her older sister, who played brilliantly, could barely perform at all.

Everything comes with a price tag. The funny thing is I knew this, even when I was quite young. But “60” was a million years in my future … and now it’s a pretty long way in my past.

I finally sold my piano. I couldn’t play anymore and it killed me to see it waiting there and not be able to use it. I still have a ukulele, though. Just in case.

REMORSE, REGRET, AND WISHFUL THINKING – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Remorse

I think the remorse I felt has — with the years — slid into wondering what would have happened if I had done the other thing rather than whatever I did. Remorse, like anger and rage, is self-destructive. It doesn’t solve a problem. From a personal point of view, it makes it worse. It makes you worse.

You can regret and move on. You can wish you could do it again … and still move on. But remorse? You need either a priest to give you absolution or an actual encounter to let you make amends. There’s no “thinking your way back.” So for many of us now, where we felt remorse, it has been replaced by wishful thinking and perhaps regrets.

Remorse is meaningless when there’s nothing to be done, especially if it is something that is highly unlikely to ever be repeated. If you cannot solve the problem, you can’t fix it. Remorse — like obsession and rage — has no useful place when the original issue has gone forever.

When the object of remorse has vanished to another world, it’s time to move on unless depression and rage are your “thing.”