EVEN TERRORISTS NEED TECH SUPPORT AND OTHER THINGS – BY TOM CURLEY

Whenever I get a goofy idea for a post, I try to write it down as quick as I can because if I don’t, I forget it. After about, oh, 10 or 15 seconds. As usual most of my ideas fall under roughly three categories.

1 – What was I thinking?
2 – Good God, what was I thinking?
 3  – Wow, I was really stoned.

With that in mind, I took a look at some of my recent “Notes.”

Here’s one.

“The ISIS IT tech support hotline.”

My first thought was “What the hell is that about?” Then Ellin reminded me we saw a news report about how ISIS has a very extensive and modern computer network. I realized if that’s true, they must have an IT department. If they have an IT department, they must have a tech support hotline.


What must an average day be like for the guy who manages
t
he ISIS tech support hotline?

ISIS TECH SUPPORT: Hello, you have reached the ISIS tech support line. How can I help you?

ISIS GUY: Hello, I’m having trouble with my suicide vest. It won’t explode.

ISIS TECH SUPPORT: OK, I am opening up a ticket. Have you tried taking it off and putting it back on?

ISIS GUY: No, let me try that. Hang on. (pause)


BOOM!!!


ISIS TECH SUPPORT: Hello? Hello? OK, I am closing this ticket. This is the ISIS Tech support line. How can I help you?

ANOTHER ISIS GUY: My suicide vest isn’t working.

ISIS TECH SUPPORT: Hold on, I am opening a ticket. Have you tried taking it off and putting it back on?

ANOTHER ISIS GUY: Yes. It still doesn’t work.

ISIS TECH SUPPORT: Hmmm, that usually works. Have you tried jiggling it?

ANOTHER ISIS GUY: No, hang on, let me take it off. OK, I’m jiggling it.


BOOM!!!!!


I think that’s pretty much how his average day goes.

Here’s another note. This one was an interesting question.

“How do you go on vacation when you’re retired?”

Good question. It reminded me of an old joke by George Carlin. He asked, “What does a dog do on his day off? He can’t just lay around on the couch. That’s his job.”

That got me thinking.

Do I get days off? Well, yes. All my days are off. Not doing anything is my job. I’m always on vacation. So, being on vacation is my full-time job. That sort of depressed me because I’m always working!

I can never take time off!

So, to take my mind off this existential Catch-22, I spent a week doing nothing but play a video game. Red Dead Redemption 2.

The video quality of the game is breathtaking. It’s the most realistic game on the market. In it, you are a cowboy. Sort of a bad guy who is running with a gang. You get various missions. Most entail going somewhere and shooting somebody. Or shooting a lot of some-bodies.

But along with that, you have to do other things. Like, find food, cook food. Eat food.

Feed your horse. Brush your horse. Go fishing. Clean the fish. Go hunting. Bring what you catch back home and skin it. (Sorry, I drew the line on that one). (Note to self: Does that mean I’d starve?)

And to get anywhere you have to ride your horse. And all the towns are a long way from each other. After a week of this, it hit me.

This isn’t a game. This is work!

A lot of work. I didn’t do this much work when I was working! So, I’m giving up on this game. Well, after I collect the money the O’Driscoll gang owes me, and I finish cooking the stew.

After that, I need some time off.

NEW DRIVER? YES/NO/LET ME THINK ABOUT IT – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Driver

I just got a new download for Windows 10 — which was a followup to the new download I got for my Mac laptop and the one I got for my Kindle and whatever happened to make my mini iPod completely unusable. I didn’t use it anyhow, but having paid for it, it irks me that they’ve downloaded a “new version” of whatever was supposed to make it useful and now, NOTHING works. Among other things, they wiped out my password.

The iPad mini 4

I am too incurious to ask someone how to fix it, even though it’s insured and I could probably just get a new one … which will also sit unused. I must remind myself that unless I actually have a valid use for a gadget, DON’T BUY IT. Even if it is on sale.

Now, about drivers.

There are, unlike you and me behind the wheel of a vehicle, programs that tell other things how to do whatever they do. They link an application to the operating system and if it doesn’t work, nothing works. A driver is often linked to more than one thing on your computer. Many drivers are part of your operating system. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Apple, PC, or Android. Everything needs a driver.

I have a lot of high-end stuff on this monster and every time I see the question “Would you like to download the new driver for … (fill in the blank) …?” I go into a panic. The most panic-producing issue is the driver that links my graphics super NVIDIA stuff which handles both what I see and what I hear to everything else on the unit. NVIDIA is not part of Microsoft, but Microsoft — and every other computer company — use their products. They constantly introduce new drivers, many of which are designed for whatever the latest video game is. Because this is a gaming computer, even though I don’t game. I would, but I don’t have time.

Douglas Adams inspired “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” AND he shares my birthday, so I feel bonded

I have this machine so I can process pictures. Still photographs. Also, it has — if you can figure out how to tune it properly — a really good set of speakers in it. But it has two full sets of graphics in the machine. A generic set from that another company (a Microsoft product?) plus the NVIDIA set up.

I feel like the robot in Douglas Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

“DON’T TALK TO ME ABOUT DRIVERS.”

I managed to get through the last collections of updates apparently undamaged. So far. I haven’t, I admit, gone in to check the setting, so the next time I try to listen to an audiobook, I’m sure it’ll sound all weird and I’ll have to reconfigure the entire thing. Again.

Drivers. Don’t talk to ME about drivers!

HOW PUBLIC? – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Public

Having been hacked and fortunately gotten off relatively lightly, I’m wary about information being given away online. You can’t protect yourself entirely, especially as a blogger. No matter what you do, anyone with the will and interest can find out whatever they want about it … but within the limits of our abilities, I try to make sure I don’t leave the barn door open.

The lock might not be the best in town, but considering that the U.S. Government has been hacked and my bank has been hacked twice, as well as Adobe, Lands’ End, Equifax, Facebook … and who knows how many more have been taken down by hackers, I’m pretty sure I don’t have anything in my arsenal that would stop a determined hacker.

The requirements of writing mean that you are going to get at least a little bit personal. The question always remains, “HOW personal?” At what point does “personal” mean too much?

It doesn’t help that the stores, banks, and agencies we work with online appear to be easily hacked. In my case, material that got hacked on Facebook was sold or given (I suspect sold) to Cambridge Analytica who then sold my personal material to any hacker with the money to pay for their list. Of course, there was the recent international round of router hackers. I got a new router, but who knows if the new one has any more stopping power than the original? As far as protecting ourselves from people who hack people and steal their money for a living, we are relatively helpless.

All of this hacking stuff is some version of identity theft and short of not using any online stuff, which these days is nigh unto impossible, there’s no way we can prevent identity theft.

You do your best, but compared to the pros in the field, we don’t have a lot of power to protect ourselves. As soon as they invent a new “protection,” hackers figure out a way to tear it down.

So how public do we dare be? Most of us are already public, there’s not much to hide.

Whether you are a blogger or merely connect to accomplish normal business with banks and other organizations — like, say, the Motor Vehicles Department — we will always be a few steps behind the people who do it because that’s how they make a living.

I always wonder if the damage they do bothers them … or are they simply without any kind of conscience? I’m betting the latter.

In a more perfect world, we would have made sure everyone was well protected before we offered online service, but this is far from a perfect world. And apparently, getting less perfect minute-by-minute.

FIRST DAY: ACTIVATING THE COCHLEAR IMPLANT – Garry Armstrong

After 76 years, 4 months and 18 days of hearing impairment, aka deafness, I can HEAR in both ears. Sing Hallelujah. But hold the applause. We’re not home yet.

Right ear. This is where all the sound data is collected to be transmitted to the implant and then, the brain
I’m going to need a trim to my hair soon. It’s not easy finding my head and the magnets

I’m writing the morning after the cochlear implant parts were activated in my head. During activation,  I felt a little like “the creature” in “Young Frankenstein”.   We had a prelude where the audiologist carefully explained how to assemble the cochlear “accessories,”  how to place them on my head and in my ears. Marilyn was watching closely. Good thing because I was quietly panicking. I’ve never been good doing the simplest of assemblies. I’m very clumsy.

I was as anxious as a Red Sox mid-inning reliever.

After the tutorial, several dry runs, and increasing anxiety, all the parts were in place and activated.  All this came after lengthy audio tests to determine how loud my new ears should be.

I braced myself with everything in place.

The cochlear parts are for my right ear, the “bad ear” which gives me very little audio. I have a new hearing aid in my left ear, the “good ear” which is supposed to enhance the cochlear parts.

I’ll give you in my rookie wearer understanding. The devices you see entwined around my right ear collect audio signals and send them to a “transmitter” which, with magnets, sits on the side of my head. The transmitter sends those signals into my head,  to the “implant” which was inserted via surgery.  Okay so far?  Oh, and there are magnets in my head so the headpiece will stay in place. Magnets. In my head.

So far, so good.

I breathed loudly as everything was activated. The voices of Marilyn and the audio technician were very tinny.  I could hear Marilyn’s voice more clearly. She had more “body” in her words than the technician, who I could also hear clearly, but she has a thin, rather reedy voice. I tried to relax my body and let myself really hear what was being said.

Left side with the new hearing aid. Smaller than the old one. This part of the gear needs some work

Relaxation is key. All my life, I’ve physically strained to hear. Leaned forward to catch what people were saying.  It’s difficult and physically exhausting.

It’s been my norm for 76 years. Now, I had to try and change that life-long habit. I sat with my back to Marilyn and the technician to test how well I could hear without seeing the people talking and read their lips as I usually do.

Usually, I can’t hear Marilyn if I am not directly facing her. It’s produced years of frustration for both of us. I could hear, my back turned away, both Marilyn and the audiologist. (Insert applause here.)

Sort of “normal” Garry from the front. The backpack came with all the “stuff” packed into it including the implant gear, a backup set of that gear, all those tiny little tools you need for working with hearing aids, charger, a whole set of “foreign” plugs for when (ahem) we travel to far off places … and a drying to get the humidity out of the unit. A GREAT idea!

Still, the voices were tinny and they echoed. As I responded to questions,  my voice sounded clear, full of that crispness and authority that’s familiar to TV News viewers. (Insert laughter here). That my own voice sounded perfectly normal is a good sign. It means that my brain is recognizing my voice and turning it into “normal” sounds. Probably Marilyn’s voice will be next. Familiar voices become “normal” much faster than the rest of the world and some may never sound entirely normal.

I allowed myself a brief smile of satisfaction.  It was very brief because I was also hearing bells and whistles, like a train was approaching the station. It was bizarre. The audiologist nodded as I explained what I was hearing.

She said it was normal. That I probably would hear those noises for “some time” as I wore the cochlear parts in various situations. Reporter Garry wanted a time frame.  How long? No easy answer, but she said — in round figures — about three months.

We went over how I should adjust to using my new ears and the various parts, inside and outside of my head. My brain was swirling but, fortunately, Marilyn was absorbing the information. We made an appointment for an evaluation.  I thought a week might be too quick but now I’m glad because I have lots of questions.

During the drive home yesterday, I was able to talk to Marilyn with minimal “what’s?”   Call it an early triumph.

We were greeted by the boisterous barking of our three dogs.  Yes, they were very loud.  Their yaps and growls were “enhanced” with echoes.

As we crashed, relaxed, and wolfed down late lunch sandwiches, I flipped on the television to baseball. The announcers sounded tinny with accompanying echoes. Their commentary was hard to understand. They were blasted by the crowd cheers.

I lowered the TV volume and things improved.  But I still heard echoes, bells, and whistles and the occasional chime mixed in with everything else.  Marilyn talking. Dogs barking.

I tried to mentally adjust. Slow down my intake of what Marilyn was saying.

That helped.  I’m so used to responding without really hearing. It’s a whole new ball game. As late afternoon turned into evening, I became more comfortable but I could not get rid of the echoes, bells and whistles.  Sometimes it also sounded like church bells tolling. For whom were they tolling?

There was one constant amid all the extra sounds. I could hear Marilyn’s words — not just muffled sounds.  Yes, there were a few “what did you say” moments, but a small number compared to life before the cochlear implant activation.

Marilyn took care of unloading my new backpack, filled with all the cochlear accessories, manuals, batteries.  She setup the battery charges and patiently walked me through everything.  Frankly, I had lost patience after the “first day”.  The echoes, bells and whistles had worn me down. I had an Excedrin Plus headache.  Marilyn seemed more pleased than me. I was excited about the events but physically drained — as was Marilyn who had to make sure we handled the cochlear parts correctly.

Looks like an odd version of a “smart” phone, doesn’t it?

We’re into day two. Against my objection, I’m wearing the cochlear parts. I complained, like a whiny kid, but Marilyn was firm that I not shy away from using my new ears even if I’m not comfortable.  I wanted to wait until I shaved and showered but that would’ve been just delaying what must be done. The audiologist was really pushy that I really had to wear them — all the time I was awake.

So, there you have it. Yes, it’s a different world for me now.  It’s a better world.

I just hope those bells are not tolling for me.

A TIMELY AND ESSENTIAL DAY – Marilyn Armstrong

Time, Bluetooth, and an Essential Day

(As opposed to an “inessential day” without time?)

If there’s such thing as an “inessential day,” I’d like to know what that is. These days, if I wake up and manage to struggle out of bed and find something to wear, that is an essential day. Time is a definite part of the essentialness of any day because not a whole lot gets done if one is lacking time.

If after that, I do a few things that seem worth the effort, I’ve moved beyond essential into “productive.” If somehow I do something of which I am proud, I am approaching “unforgettable.” I think it’s possible I’ve hit unforgettable today, although mostly, I got there by making other things disappear.

Last night, I realized the ringing in Garry’s ears was audible. To me. If it was regular old tinnitus, I couldn’t hear it. But this was loud and my hearing is far from perfect. In fact, it was very loud. Annoying loud.

The thing is, real tinnitus can’t be heard by anyone but the person who has it stuck in his or her head. If I could hear it sitting next to him, it meant he had something called “objective tinnitus.” In other words, it isn’t tinnitus. Something is triggering the noise. Something real. Sort of like hardware versus software.

Now, all I needed to do was figure out what that thing might be.

Garry, still pretty loopy from anesthesia, seemed to be mad at me for not nailing the problem and immediately fixing it. I was not exactly in my comfort zone, technically or medically. But since he wasn’t behaving rationally, I decided to breathe deeply and try to work it out.

The first thing I checked was his hearing aid.

No more of these!

It was chiming. And really loud. It sounded like melodious chimes on an old grandfather clock. Garry had said it did sound like chimes and sometimes, like a lot of small car horns beeping at the same time (he referenced a particularly funny scene in “A Shot In The Dark” (Peter Sellers).

I was pretty sure the hearing aid wasn’t supposed to be doing that.

Since all of this started when my Bluetooth speaker decided to connect with his brain the previous evening, I decided to start by reducing the amount of Bluetooth in the house. This turned out to be a lot more complicated than I imagined possible.

Sometimes I forget how many wireless things live in our house. We aren’t nearly as connected as other people’s houses are, but it was still a lot of stuff.  All of which are emitting Bluetooth signals. Just in the living room, there were four computers — including Garry’s iPad and Kindle — as well as the DVD player which has its own Bluetooth setting.

The speaker is the long box in front of the television — and it is definitely Bluetooth.

The television speakers have a Bluetooth signal. We don’t use it. We simply plug it into the TV, so it works like a standard pre-wireless speaker, but the signal is still there whether we use it or not. There were also three small devices plugged in (two in the living room and one in the kitchen) supposedly designed to scare mice out of the walls of the house. Obviously ineffective since we had a house full of mouses.

On any Apple product, you turn off Bluetooth by finding the settings, locating the Bluetooth setting, and turning it off. If you change your mind, you can turn it back on. I turned it off on Garry’s iPad, then on the Kindle (almost as easy) and later on my Macbook.

I pulled the three little anti-mouse emitters out of the wall. Short of unplugging the DVD player, I couldn’t find an answer for that, so I moved into the bedroom where I turned of the Bluetooth on my Kindle and computer and removed another anti-mouse thing from the bathroom.

Somewhere in there, I also went and turned off the wireless Canon printer.

PCs used to have a Bluetooth setting like on the Mac. A simple on/off clicker. Now, you have to find the device manager then individually disable each Bluetooth device.

I’ve got two devices on my computer and I use neither of them. Belay that. I cannot be sure of that until the next time I try to use the printer, which is at the other end of the house. Is that a Bluetooth signal or just plain WiFi? Right now it doesn’t matter because I turned off the printer. I don’t print much anyway, so when I need it, I can just turn it back on. I might also have to turn on the signals on my computer, too, but I will make that discovery when I need to. Suffice to say I yearned for the simple “on-off” switch it once had.

Windows keeps getting more confusing without its functionality improving. To turn off the Bluetooth devices, I had to go into properties and “disable” each. What’s wrong with an “on/off” switch? Wouldn’t that be less stressful?

I disabled both devices. I fondly believe I can go back and able them when and if I need to. This morning, I disabled the Bluetooth in Garry’s big computer.

In the interim, I also realized that Garry had failed to “disable” his right ear hearing aid. There’s no reason for it to be on at all or even have a battery. He will never use it again because the surgery removed the internal parts of his ear that he would need to use it. He has a Borg ear and implanted lenses from his cataract surgery. His eyes are not Bluetooth. Phew.

The Collective is ready to receive us. Personally, I have two implanted heart valves, two fake breast implants, as well as a Bluetooth-enabled pacemaker which I cannot turn off. Also, an implant in my right ankle from when I was 14 and had a huge tumor on that bone.

His ear is nice and quiet now. Not silent. The surgery tends to cause some degree of tinnitus. Any ear surgery, explosion, or another injury, as well as infections,  can produce tinnitus which can’t be fixed. But at least I can’t hear it, which is an improvement.

The entire house is surprisingly quiet. When you turn all this stuff off? It’s amazing how quiet it gets. We are so used to all the little electronic beeps and dings and chimes, it’s startling how different the sound level is when we make those noises vanish.

This is my essential day. How is yours going?

WORLD SHARING AND ANOTHER MONTH PRETTY MUCH GONE – Marilyn Armstrong

Share Your World – June 25, 2018

Where has this first half-year gone? Whoosh! It was winter that never ended, a muddy, windy spring … now summer. Whoosh and it will be autumn. Why does winter last forever, but summer and fall are gone in a flash?

If aliens landed on earth tomorrow and offered to take you home with them, would you go? (remember this is SYW, they are friendly aliens)

I need to ask a few questions. HOW friendly are these aliens? Are they likely to love me so much they want to have lunch with me — as the main dish?

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND

Can they make me young? Cure all ailments? Can I bring Garry? Can I bring the dogs?

I’ve been waiting for the Mother Ship for years. I won’t let it go without serious consideration. As long as I can take my family and not become lunch, that is.

How tall are you? Are you satisfied with your height?

I’m SHORT. I used to be short, but not quite THIS short. I’m barely 5’2″ these days.

On the deck, I look NORMAL. On the ground, I am squat.

I can’t reach the top shelf of my kitchen cabinets. Am I satisfied with my height? Hell no.

Do you think you could live without your smartphone (or other technology items) for 24 hours? 

I could. I have. Sometimes, I look forward to it. I live without a smartphone anyway because although I have one in my bag, it’s off. It is my emergency phone and I rarely use it. 

I don’t think I could do without a camera, though. That would be painful.

What did you appreciate or what made you smile this past week?  

Seeing the fourth orchid come to life, getting the lawn mowed (love the fresh grassy smell) and finally setting the deck to rights.

Four orchids

One of the really positive parts of having real company is that you do the things you’ve been putting off. If no one ever visits, you can let them slide.

SHAKEN, NOT STIRRED – Marilyn Armstrong

We are shaken, but not stirred

I read all the James Bond books before they made it into the movies. I loved the books and for me, the movies were more like parodies than anything to do with Ian Fleming’s writing. The whole martini thing about “Shaken, not stirred,” always struck me as weird.

Why would it make a difference? Not being a drinker of any kind, much less a martini drinker, I’m probably the wrong one to ask.

Nonetheless, we are personally shaken even if not fully stirred.

Garry at the Police station in Uxbridge

In the course of a month and a half, we’ve been the victim of an intended more than $7000 in credit card theft. Yesterday, I realized for the first time (I can be a little slow on the uptake) that this started at least three weeks before I realized anything was happening and continued after I was sure it was fixed.

I think it’s fixed now. I hope so because I have done absolutely everything I was supposed to do. We are lucky we didn’t lose any of our so-called money. The credit card companies are less lucky and have spanked us thoroughly on our credit ratings. Not that I can blame them. They’ve taken the entire hit leaving us shaken and fearful. Feeling incredibly vulnerable. But no poorer than we were before.

Main street in late June

I didn’t know how bad it was until I looked at my monthly credit report. Credit Karma is free. They track your credit, the amounts you’ve spent, suggest cheaper cards or loans … and they are really free. If you are not a member, I suggest you sign up. If I hadn’t looked at the report, I would not have known what was happening.

One card leaped off the screen at me, a card on which I knew I had used less than $1000 in credit and suddenly, a $5000 bill was staring at me. I called the company. Because the card had already been declared as damaged — involved in a fraud attempt — it was closed. I couldn’t actually get to any information online and had no idea about how much money had been taken. It looked like much more than I had thought.

Back to the post office to file the reports. Round two. Hopefully the final round.

The guy at the bank gave me a list — down to the penny — of all the hits. I felt sick. Until I saw that report, I had no idea something had been going on. There were no flare guns, no strange packages, nothing to alert me. It had been going on since the beginning of May, more than 3 weeks before I knew there was a problem. A week more before I realized the extent of the problem. The day before yesterday, I got it.

“This is considered identity theft, ” the bank manager said. This was confirmed by the guy at the police station because we had to go back with all this additional information. Previously, all I knew about attempted thefts. This was the real deal. The took the money and laughed all the way to the shops where they bought stuff.

Truck parts. Lots of truck parts. I didn’t know truck parts could cost so much money, but I suppose when you steal them for free, whatever you get for them on the market is “free money” for you. Not for me or the bank, but a hop, skip, plus a little jump, made some thief happy.

A quick trip to the grocery. Frozen pizza for dinner. I was in no mood for cooking.

I assume big parts of our own private military hackers are on top of this stuff. Even though nothing is reported in the press, I would imagine this doesn’t get a lot of press coverage. All it would do is warn the targets.

The brightest — and funniest — moment of the day is when Garry called me from the police station and when I looked at the phone, it said “Interview Room 3.” It was a very NCIS moment.

I have alerted the police, all three credit monitoring agencies, filed reports with everyone. Deleted embedded copies of my credit cards from anywhere I knew they existed. Each time I use a shop, I will have to replace the card numbers then and as soon as the transaction is complete, delete it.

No matter what anyone says, if they are keeping your credit card information, your data is NOT secure.

These days, I’m not sure what secure even means.