ROAD AND BANK

I haven’t done much driving in the past two years. Since I had my heart surgery, I have not wanted to drive.

I have done it, briefly as needed, but I don’t like it. Despite that, I need to drive sometimes and today was a good choice. Nice day, not a busy time. It turns out, I remember how to drive, but have forgotten how to get anywhere. I’ve always had a terrible sense of direction but two years of letting Garry drive has made it much worse.

Nonetheless. I found the post office, with help from Garry. I couldn’t remember which road went where (really, THAT bad) and then the doctor. Garry drove home. But my day was not over.

I had to go to the bank.

I cannot remember the last time I was inside a brick-and-mortar bank. Normally, I do everything online. Money comes in as direct deposits and I pay my bills on the computer. Today, though, I have a piece of paper. Which won’t become money unless (gasp), I deposit it. Eventually, I find myself in the bank with the check in hand. Trying to deposit it. Apparently no one uses deposit slips anymore. You hand them the check, slide your bank card through this month’s newest machine, tell them where you want it to go … and sign. Voila. Done.

I couldn’t remember anything. The machines are new, the slider is on the opposite side. I couldn’t find the pen. It was humiliating.

I’m sure the next time I go to a bank, it will be new all over again. Online, it’s all direct deposit. I can move money around, pay bills, calculate how much money is available for whatever. And I’m great with software, but as a live human, I’m hopeless.

Pathetic, I know. But who knows when or if I’ll ever have another check? Seriously. Who gets paper checks anymore?

WHEN YOU COULD LOOK IT UP IN A BOOK

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

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 technical writers, there would be a manual. You wouldn’t spend a thousand dollars on a camera and get a three-page leaflet. You’d get a book with an index and a table of contents. Screen shots. Explanations not only of where to find a function, but what the function means, so when you get there, you know what to choose.

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.

Years went by during which the work I did was 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. It was the way it 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 awful.

The help desk people don’t have a book, either.

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 regular people work and 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?

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.

HOW TO HAVE ENOUGH MONEY ON WHICH TO RETIRE

I found this question on Quora:


What percentage of my salary do I need to save in order to maintain my current quality of life once I retire?

So I said:


Definitely, you should live in your mom’s basement and save all of the money you earn. Using your salary to live on? BIG mistake.

Just saying.

LET’S ROUND UP AN ANGRY MOB! by GARRY ARMSTRONG

“Let’s round-up an angry mob and storm the place!”

That was our granddaughter, a few years ago. A precocious 7 or 8-year-old venting her anger over management shenanigans at a favorite local restaurant. We considered the issue and somehow placated our granddaughter. She clearly thought we should tackle the issue head on. She reminded me of all the high-profile, controversial stories I’d covered in my 40+ years as a TV news reporter. I never backed down!! I was relentless!!  I had to do something!!

Gradually, the hot button issue faded away. Gramps was now in retirement. I’d hung up my guns.

We’ve frequently laughed about the “angry mob issue” over the years. When something comes up that bothers us, someone yells, “Let’s round-up an angry mob!” Giggles all around.

I heard the familiar refrain again, today, in the middle of grocery shopping. I started to laugh and stopped quickly. Two very angry people confronted me. I just stared, trying to make sure they were talking to me. They were shouting!

“We need to round-up an angry mob. That’ll get their attention!”  I continued to stare as my brain shifted into second gear. They — the angry duo —  clearly wanted to do something about the state of our nation. I almost squashed the tomato I was holding.

“I’m retired,” I tried to reason, but they wouldn’t have it. It was just the beginning for me. I was still picking tomatoes a few minutes later when I heard it again.

“This is crap!! We need to do SOMETHING! I’ve had it with this guy!”.  It was a store employee I’ve known for several years. We’ve discussed politics, the economy and local environmental issues between my getting tips on what’s good in the supermarket on a particular day. No such tips today. He was angry — and it had nothing to do with the price of tomatoes.

“Nobody wants to get involved! We need to do something, Garry. This country is in big trouble”. I bit my lower lip and nodded in agreement, hoping to appease what I saw coming.

“Garry, you could do a special report. You know people. You have clout. People respect you!!”.

“I’m retired,” I said it slowly, dolefully. He shook his head as if he didn’t hear me … or it didn’t matter.

“We need to get people involved. We need people to make things right. We’re running out of time, Garry!!”  I bit my lower lip. More people had gathered around. I realized we had a small audience. People were nodding, red-faced, shaking their fists.

I surveyed the crowd. Shook my head solemnly and said it louder. “I’m retired!”.

They shook their heads in disbelief. I could hear mumbles of anger and confusion. I should have anticipated what would come next.

“We grew up watching you on TV. You always told us what was happening. We’ve told our kids about you..”.

The guilt card, face up!

“I’m retired,” I repeated again. They couldn’t accept it. They moved in closer, fingers poking in the air as if I didn’t understand. Of course, I understood. I understand.  It’s hard making sense out of what’s going on with the current administration. Real news is called fake. Fake news is being analyzed as if it’s real. There’s no precedent for this in my lifetime. I have no war stories to share about dealing with the type of people who are now in charge. I covered Presidents from JFK to Bush Number 1. There was lots of crazy stuff over the years but nothing, nada like what is happening today.

I dodged several more small crowds and made it to the checkout counter. I was feeling pretty good because I had found some fresh fruit Marilyn wanted. Head down, I spread my groceries on the counter, glancing at the young woman bagging the stuff. I thought I was free as soon as everything was tallied and bagged.

Free at last?

No! I felt a hand on my shoulder. An elderly man, maybe 80 or so grinned at me. But it wasn’t a happy grin, but a grin of anger. I’d seen this many times before. I braced myself.

“Garry, why the hell aren’t you out there, telling the public about this guy? Everyone’s angry!! You done it before! You done it with them other bums. We could always trust you!”

“I’m retired.”  I said it slowly. Very sadly.

I politely extracted myself from the elderly gent’s strong grip and wheeled the groceries outside. As I loaded everything into the car, I saw a couple of people approaching me. I double-timed the rest, got in the car, put pedal to the metal and beat it out of the parking lot.

In my head, I could hear my granddaughter.

“Gramps, let’s round-up an angry mob and storm the place”.

AUTOMATICALLY

AUTOMATIC | THE DAILY POST


I lived my life on automatic for a long time. I got up, got dressed, scraped the ice off the car, went to work (stopping for coffee along the route) and proceeded through my day. Stopping to think only as required. Usually that was when someone asked me a questions, like “Hey, we’re sending out for pizza, you want in?” and that wasn’t a very big think.

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Between having done the same kind of work for a long time and perpetually racing against a deadline, thinking was a luxury. I wasn’t against it. I employed it when needed, but anything that I could do without engaging the frontal lobes made the day go more smoothly.

And then, everything changed.

An office

The industry decided that the work I did wasn’t 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 space satellite grabber for use out in space? They can always call the help desk (especially in space where you can always find a good solid signal for your phone). Of course, those were the days when you actually could get help from people at the desk because everyone in the company was available to answer questions. From the CEO to the developers who designed each product module, we were all there to help. I was the one who organized all the chaotic information into a book with a table of contents, and index, chapters, and diagrams so you would not alway have to call someone.

empty equipment boxes

But the bottom line did me in. You can’t cut developers and you need a boss because someone has to say why you are all gathered here this morning. Also, the boss makes sure there’s coffee to fuel workers. That’s critical.

But a writer? They would only hire me when they were nearing the end of the cycle and realized the contract required they deliver documentation with the product. Sometimes, I got as little as three weeks to learn the product and produce a book that looked professional. At that point, no one much 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 OUT.

They created “automatic documentation” 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 people work and what information they need to successfully navigate a complex product.

300-gibbs-sofa-dog-13122016_002It turns out, people were still willing to spend oodles of money and for an undocumented product. So I guess they were right.

Now, I live in the world of retirees where automatic is a word applied to machinery only. The boiler that heats the house. Electricity that powers everything. The pump which delivers water from the well. Supposedly the cable, telephone, and WiFi is also automatic, but not nearly as automatic as it should be.

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Nothing I personally do is automatic anymore. I walk purposefully because I prefer to not fall and break something. I think before I get out of the chair or bed, making sure my feet are solidly planted on the floor and I’ve found my balance. I navigate stairs slowly and rough ground even slower. From living in the fast lane, we have moved over to the far right and follow the slow traffic.

We go to bed when we want to and get up (only) when we must. We do what we should, but not everything we ought. Good-bye automation!

YOU ARE NOT COST-EFFECTIVE. PLEASE DIE.

OR, BECOMING PART OF THE EMERGING DEMOCRATIC RESISTANCE


If you have asthma or any kind of chronic medical problem that requires continuing care and medication, that’s the message you are getting. We have had a brief interruption during which almost everyone had access to at least basic medical resources. You could go to a doctor, get some medicine. Have your cancer removed, your broken leg treated. Now … well … who knows what lies ahead.

If you’re on Medicare, that’s the message you’ve been getting for several years. They’ve been chipping away at the benefits. Fewer dollars for medication. Fewer covered medications. Deeper deductibles for tests of all kinds. The out-of-pocket costs for an MRI or CAT-scan are beyond us. Garry hasn’t had any big medical issues, but I’ve had enough for both of us. Yet, I turned down a cancer CAT-scan last year because I didn’t have the $450 co-pay … and I’ve had cancer twice, so it wasn’t a decision made lightly.

medicare__estelle_carol___bob_simpsonMedicare doesn’t cover eyeglasses, dentures, dental care of any kind … or asthma daily inhalers. Those are the inhalers that keep you from needing emergency treatment. In the 1990s, when my asthma finally got bad enough to require treatment, a daily inhaler cost (without insurance) about $75. Not cheap, but doable. One day, about two or three years ago, the same Advair inhaler shot up to more than $500 a month. Medicare will only pay for about $12 of the total price. Although they are not paying for it, they will charge the entire price of the medication against my annual drug benefit of about $2800.

Let me repeat that because you probably think it doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t make sense, but it’s true. If a drug costs $535 per month and Medicare contributes $12, they charge all $535 against the annual drug benefit. The amount of that benefit has been dropping each year while medication prices have soared. This makes sense only if the real goal is to kill older generation as quickly as possible.

In another bizarre but real piece of anti-intuitive reasoning, if you are prescribed a medication, towards the cost of which Medicare pays not a penny, and you pay for it out-of-pocket, Medicare still charges the entire price of the prescription against your total benefit.

It’s a lose-lose-lose. If you don’t get any medication, you will have trouble breathing. If you do get the medication, it’ll break your bank and will burn through your benefits, even though Medicare isn’t contributing anything towards the cost.

It’s true. Absurd, but true.

medicare confusion

I am not cost-effective. I have not the slightest doubt that my compassionate government would prefer I cast off my mortal coil and stop costing them money. Never mind that over a lifetime of work, Garry and I paid enough taxes to fund a small country. Our contribution vastly exceeded any amount we will get back. And we aren’t exactly free-loaders now. We continue to pay income taxes, excise taxes, as well as some hefty property taxes. And Medicare, while not expensive, is not free.

Ever since I turned 65, it’s been downhill.

The day I turned 65, I was dumped by MassHealth (Medicaid). I hoped I’d be protected by my disabled status. I’d been on disability for years which was why I was entitled to MassHealth.

Medical marijuanaNo problem getting around that. Social Security simply reclassified me, eliminating my disabled status. Poof — I’m just old, not disabled. They switched me to standard Social Security, so I get the same monthly check —  but without the extra medical protection conferred by disability. They also lowered the poverty guideline so we no longer qualify for any extra help on anything — not fuel, medication, electricity, nothing. Because apparently when you turn 65, your costs go down … or anyway, that’s the reasoning.

We’ve outlived our usefulness, so how come we aren’t dead? Why do we stubbornly cling to life? Obviously if we cared about our fellow humans, we’d get out of the way.

Meanwhile, my doctor found some samples of asthma medication that if I’m lucky, will keep me breathing for another 6 months. I expect it will get much worse. As of today, we have a president — if you want to dignify him with that title — dedicated to making the lives of everyone whose life is already difficult, worse. Compassion, common decency, basic fairness? What? Huh?

medicine wheel 8

Today was the first time, I learned being a Democrat is now being part of “the emerging Democratic resistance.”

I have to admit being part of an emerging Democratic resistance sounds much better — far more romantic — than merely being old, sick, poor — and not Republican. Maybe they’ll write books about us. Sing ballads. Talk about how brave we were right up until the moment when they put us up against the wall and shot us.

Where is Earnest Hemingway when we need him?

RELUCTANTLY ON THE ROAD AGAIN

The day was beautiful. A perfect summer’s day. Cloudless blue sky.

I needed a prescription from a doctor near Boston. It’s 50 miles away. Typically, about 45 or 50 minutes driving. But not on Friday afternoon in mid-July. If you live around here, you know summer weekends begin on Thursday and climax Friday when everyone is coming home from work, jumping in the family buggy, and taking off for somewhere else.

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New York, New Hampshire, Cape Cod. The population of New York is on its way to New England. The mid-Atlantic and New England regions do a population swap every weekend during July and August.

We forgot. It was the day of the asshole driver. The ones who cut you off, the ones who hog the fast lane while driving slow, but will never let you pass.

Endless stretches of “construction,” Miles of orange cones with nary a worker in sight. Closed lanes, crawling traffic. Accidents on the side of the road and each driver feels a compelling need to slow down for a long look. A few major mishaps with sirens, police cars, and ambulances. Accidents that close lanes in two directions … and of course require all drivers to stop and take an even longer look.

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Police, supposedly in place to keep traffic flowing hang out in the middle of the road having a friendly chat with fellow officers. They get paid extra for that.

It wasn’t one road. It was everywhere. Bumper-to-bumper in every direction.

When we got to the doctor’s office, they’d forgotten to get the prescription ready. I simply said (very firmly) that we’d just spent hours getting there through the worst traffic metro-west Boston can offer … and I wasn’t leaving without my prescription.

I got my prescription.

We took a side road home, so we got home.

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For all the years I commuted though hell and high water. For all those years I dragged my tired carcass out every morning to plow through traffic to meet a deadline that was not a real deadline, but a lost hope. Because the product or project had long since gone off the rails but no one told me — this was a ghastly reminder.


Did I work better under pressure? Actually, I worked regardless of pressure. I worked best with encouragement, resources, and sufficient time to do my job properly. When those conditions could not be met, I worked less and less well until finally, I could not work. At all.

I doubt anyone works “better” under pressure. Some people deal with it. Others break down.

Modern management has a lot to learn about how to get the best from workers. They don’t seem to be learning.