KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES – Marilyn Armstrong

Xfinity has an advertisement. They assure viewers that their wi-fi is so fast, you will definitely be able to keep up with the Joneses.

I didn’t know it was a race. I didn’t know I was supposed to be keeping up with anyone.

If you use Xfinity, you will be able to keep up with the Joneses, whoever they may be.

“Garry,” I asked. “Are we keeping up with the Joneses?”

“The who?”

“Joneses.”

“I don’t think so. We don’t know anyone named Jones. I actually can’t remember ever knowing anyone named Jones. Lots of Smiths and many of them named Mike. No Joneses. Of any name. So probably we aren’t keeping up with them.”

On the other hand, I don’t think I’ve ever worried about keeping up with anything that didn’t have a dollar sign attached. I certainly don’t worry whether or not I’ve got faster wi-fi than my neighbors, especially not in Uxbridge. This just isn’t a “keeping up with the Joneses” kind of town. We all use Charter. We don’t have any choice. That’s what the town decided for us.

We have enough trouble keeping up with the mortgage, bills, and taxes.

IT’S THE LITTLE STUFF THAT GETS ME – Marilyn Armstrong

EVEN WORDPRESS CAN’T BE THAT BAD, CAN THEY?
Even my computer is part of the plot against us! It's Alienware!
Even my computer is part of the plot against us! It’s Alienware!

I definitely have a few bones to pick and I’m going to start picking right now. You see, I have these questions. Important questions. And there are, as far as I can tell, no answers to them.

1. Why does WordPress allow us to approve or disapprove comments, but anyone can follow us? Doesn’t that seem wrong to you? I leafed through my thousands of “followers” the other day and exactly as expected, most of the recent ones are spambots. Short of using Captcha, which I consider cruel and unusual punishment, there doesn’t seem to be any way to prevent the spammers from following. I can get rid of their comments, but I can’t get rid of them.

2. No matter what you do, every pingback has to be personally moderated … yet if you allow reblogs — and most of us do — these do NOT need to be moderated, not even for those who have never commented and are essentially anonymous. Thus my posts have been reblogged on all kinds of horrible sites where I would never go, much less see my work posted. Forgive me if the logic of this eludes me.

3. Object linking has become the function that powers our internet experience. For those of you who don’t know much about programming and computer development, a “link” is really an embedded address. Thus a pingback is actually an object “pointer.” It takes the address of a website or some other thing on the internet (it could also be an email address or a picture … or a part number in a database), embeds it in a graphic or text so that when someone clicks on it, it takes them to that place. Like the transporter on the Enterprise.

Bonnie guarding my computer

It’s the computer equivalent of “Scottie, beam me up.” The other day, all my links went wacko. If I clicked on a notification from a follower, I got sent to the Reader … but not to that blogger or that post. Just the top of the Reader. Sometimes, I got the message that the address didn’t exist.

I panicked, contacted WordPress. Who said they would check it out. Yet, before they even had a chance to look at it, it fixed itself and the problem disappeared. That was when I got a notice that other people had begun to have the same problem.

Is our technology beginning to fail because chaos reigns and magic is loose in the world?

4. When my links went berserk, my knee jerk reaction was to get mad. After all the goofy “upgrades” WordPress has been making to their user interface (in my world, it is known as the GUI, pronounced Gooey, or graphical user interface), anything is possible.

I assumed this was another bizarre piece of programming they were foisting on me. Eventually, I realized even WordPress could not possibly consider this acceptable. Not unless they were all taking some heavy hallucinogenic drugs up in the office.

So there you have it, my contentious bone picking of the day.


Watch your links. Keep watching your links.
Aliens are invading the servers.

 

REMEMBER WHEN YOU WERE HAPPY TO GET A PHONE CALL? – Marilyn Armstrong

“Holy shit,” I said to no one at all. “That really HURTS.”

I was referring to my back and left hip (aka “the good one”). It was early. Although morning often is accompanied by stiffness and pain, I don’t normally wake up with quite such a jolt.

Rolling slowly out of bed, I tried to remember what I’d been dreaming about. Something about cats made of smoke and a clothesline that was part of a computer game. And a shrink who offered to scratch my back, but couldn’t find the right spot.

I took a couple of Tylenol and a muscle relaxant. I rearranged the bed and tucked myself in for a few more hours of sleep.

The phone rang. Of course.

I looked at the caller ID. It showed a local number. It was not a local call. Scamming technology shows local numbers on my Caller ID including my own number. I’m pretty sure I’m not calling myself.

I answered the phone in what has become my typical surly morning greeting: “Who are you and what do you want?” There was no response. A bit of crackle on the line, but no voice. Not even a recording. I hung up. More accurately, pressed the OFF key.

It has been a long time since I expected a ringing telephone to herald a call from a friend. I don’t even expect it to be a return call from someone with whom I do business. I expect all calls to be scams, surveys, or sales pitches.

All the calls I get are recorded messages. I can’t even insult the caller or his company. That used to be the only positive side to these endless calls from anonymous people. Even that small pleasure is gone.

I have utterly abandoned good telephone manners. Telephones are not a way to communicate unless I’m making the call. Otherwise, it’s annoying and intrusive — another attempt to steal personal data so someone can hack our accounts, steal our identity, or scam us in some other way.

I can’t make them stop calling because they never call from the same number twice and the number that shows on the Caller ID is fake. There’s nothing to report. NOMOROBO dot com has considerably limited the volume of calls, but nothing eliminates them. Somehow, they get your number. When I ask how they got it — assuming there’s someone to ask — they tell me they got my telephone number from a form I filled out “online.”

Except, I never do that. I do not fill in forms online and anything which requires I include a phone number. I tell everyone I don’t have a mobile phone.
I actually do have a smartphone. I just don’t use it.

As part of the day’s epiphanies, I realized how technology steals pieces of our lives. There’s nothing wrong with the technology. It is neither good nor bad; it is what it is. It’s what people do with it that’s can be life-stealing. Those People have ruined telephones for me, probably forever.

Unwanted telephone calls may seem a minor detail in view of the many awful things going on in our world these days, but I can remember waiting with pleasant anticipation for the phone to ring. It wasn’t that long ago.

Or was it?

HACKING, OPERATING SYSTEMS, AND THE END OF THE WORLD – TOM CURLEY

I watch a lot of television. Probably too much. I’m fond of action shows. I’m really fond of all the various comic book shows.

The single thing these shows have in common is they all have at least one computer genius. A girl or guy geek who’s the best hacker in the business. They always have at least a half-dozen computer monitors in front of them. Each one has 10 or more windows open with lines of data scrolling by at about a hundred miles an hour. They can do anything and everything. Instantly.

falcontradingsystems.com
falcontradingsystems.com

BOSS: I know this is illegal, but I need you to hack into the CIA, NSA and FBI servers. They have the most secure and impenetrable firewalls ever designed. Can you do it?

COMPUTER GENIUS: I was into all three 15 seconds ago, sir.

The ones that work for the FBI can find anything in 10 seconds or less.

FBI BOSS: Our serial killer is male, early thirties, white, and probably living in a two square mile region south of Albany, Georgia. He’s left-handed and likes string cheese. We need to narrow our search …

FBI COMPUTER GENIUS: Found him! His photo, home address and a copy of his permanent High School record have already been sent to your phone.

Not the real bad guy
Not the real bad guy

But this got me to thinking. What would these shows look like if they were happening in the real world?

BOSS OF SUPER SECRET GOVERNMENT ORGANIZATION TASKED WITH SAVING THE WORLD FROM SUPER BAD EVIL DOERS:  OK, listen up. You two are the world’s best black hat and white hat hackers. We’ve brought you here because a Super Bad Evil Doer has stolen software that will allow him to access all the world powers’ nuclear codes. He is demanding 1 trillion dollars in ransom or he will launch all the missiles at once and destroy the Earth. You each have a whole bunch of computer screens in front of you with dozens of boxes open scrolling lines and lines of stuff. You have less than 10 minutes to somehow find our Evil Doer and figure out a way to block him from launching those missiles. Can you do it?

HACKER #1: Yes, but we will need to write some specialized software, at least 10 to 20 thousand lines of code.

BOSS: My God!  Can you do it in time???

HACKER #2: Already done sir. Now, all we have to do is upload it to the Evil Doer’s computer. Ready to send in 3, 2 ….

HACKER #1: NO! NO! NO!

HACKER #2: What’s wrong? OH GOD NO! NO! NO!

BOSS: What’s happening?!

HACKER #1: My computer is shutting down!!

HACKER #2: MINE TOO!

BOSS: Are you being hacked? Have your computers been infiltrated by some kind of malicious software? Does the Evil Doer have a genius hacker of his own???

HACKER #1: WORSE! Windows just installed updates! It’s rebooting so the updates can take effect!

windows shut down

BOSS: Can you stop it!??

HACKER #2: It’s too late! Look! It’s already started rebooting and configuring the updates!

windowsupdateinstalling_40853_l

BOSS: There’s nothing you can do???!

HACKER #2: No sir. Look at the screen. It says “Please do not power off or unplug your machine while updates are in progress”!

windows updates 1

BOSS: How long will it take to reboot?

HACKER #1: God only knows! Look! It’s still installing update six of ten! This could take an hour! Even more.

BOSS: We have less than ten minutes before nuclear Armageddon! What are we going to?

HACKER #1: Wait! I’ve got it! I can use my smartphone!

HACKER #2: Yes! We will have to adapt about 15 thousand lines of code but …

HACKER #1: It’s done! OK now, all I have to do is input and send the kill command. “NEUTRALIZE ALL NUCLEAR LAUNCH CODES.” And … done!

BOSS: Thank God!

HACKER #2: Oh NO! You entered “NEUTRALIZE ALL NUCLEAR LUNCH CODES”!!

HACKER #1: What?! Damn you AUTOCORRECT!

autocorrect

BOSS: What do we do now!!

HACKER #2: You know what? Pay the ransom. I’ve had it with Windows. I mean look, it’s still on update 6 of 10! We’re going to be here all day!

HACKER #1: I agree. Pay the money. This is just too much trouble. I’m telling you, ever since my phone updated to iOS 9.0.1, nothing works right.

HACKER #2: Tell me about it.

ios-9-overnight-update

As the two hackers walk off into the sunset discussing whether or not upgrading to Windows 10 would make the situation better or worse, small mushroom clouds appear in the distance.

doodleordie.com
doodleordie.com

Yeah, that’s pretty much how it would happen.

ORDERING A NEW PHONE – REALLY! – Marilyn Armstrong

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll believe it when I see it.

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

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

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

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

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

WORLD WITHOUT WI-FI? – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Wi-Fi

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

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

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

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

Photo: Garry Armstrong

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

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

AND THEN, THERE’S AT&T – Marilyn Armstrong

I swear that I’m at that point with AT&T where I’d rather chip half an inch of ice off the car than talk to anyone at AT&T.

Yesterday, they delivered the telephone that goes with the plan. Whatever plan that turned out to be. I actually had no idea what the plan was. Each time I talked to someone, they had no idea what I was talking about. I kept getting computer-generated emails telling me I had to pay $80 or $90 next month and $50 or $60 thereafter. I signed up for their 300-minute plan that comes with a free flip phone.

Yes, they still make flip phones. They are just like the old ones. In fact, I these really might be the same flip phones we used 20 years ago. They sure look the same, although they have a calendar and a camera. I’m not expecting much of a camera and for reasons that are obscure to me, it didn’t import my Google contact, but apparently, it will accept the information if I can figure out how to enter my email address and password into the flip phone.

Right now, I can’t actually turn it on and off successfully. It’s one button that turns it on and turns it off, but you hold it longer to turn it off. If you hold it too long, it starts up again. Meanwhile, the on/off button on the side doesn’t do anything as far as I can tell. I wonder if this thing will ever work. I despair as I try to read what they humorously call “the user guide.”

I went to the site where they are supposed to tell me how to set up the phone and they never heard of it, but the setup site never heard of the phone. I was forced to (gods of olden days please protect me) call AT&T.

I couldn’t even figure out how to turn the phone on or move the cursor. She did turn the SIM on, but it didn’t have any information on it. But, it turns out, there IS a manual for the telephone. Not a good manual, but a “better than nothing” manual. I’m sure you know what I mean. Written by a software program, no humans involved.

“Why,” I asked, “Didn’t they include the manual with the phone? Is there some law against giving basic instructions to users?”

“This is the packaging for this phone, and it doesn’t include the manual,” she explained.

“Lady, I used to write manuals. You ALWAYS include the manual with the device. That’s the point of having the manual. When you get the device, you can make it work and you don’t have to spend three days on the telephone with AT&T.”

She said she was sorry, but she could give me a link to the manual online. I said “FINE. Let’s do that.”

But it wouldn’t come up so we had to clear my browser data and NOT sign me into AT&T and then figure out what phone it was because the only thing it said was AT&T. My home phones are also AT&T, but they don’t actually make them. I think they might be Unidyne ripoffs, but I’m not sure. They work and that’s all that matters.

In this case, she had no idea who made the phone, so I pried open the back and said: “The battery is an Alcatel, so I’m betting that’s who actually made the phone.”

And sure enough, Alcatel made the phone. Got the manual. Downloaded it. Saved it in two places — desktop and on Google — and then she asked me if I need any more help. I said: “No, I’ve had enough of AT&T to last me the rest of my life. I’m going to eat dinner, watch some television and try to never think about AT&T again as long as I live.”

Long pause.

“Thank you for your patience in letting me assist you.”

“If you’d included the manual, you wouldn’t have had to assist me.”

“Well, thank you for being a loyal customer.”

“You’re welcome. Now I’m going to eat my dinner.” And I hung up before she could say anything more. I couldn’t cope with another thank you for being a loyal customer because being a loyal AT&T customer doesn’t feel like a great thing at the moment.

Oh, and by the way, after a lot of conversation yesterday on the phone — I’ve had three days of dealing with AT&T, not to mention half a dozen computer-generated NOT the real bill — I am paying $29.99 a month plus local taxes. The phone cost $3.78 for shipping. That’s it. I am saving about $20 a month … and I nearly lost my mind in the process.

The phone still doesn’t really work, but I can turn it on, turn it off, and enter a phone number and probably, it will call the number. Pretty sure.

I did eventually get it to accept my wi-fi, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time, right?