THE BIGGEST GLITCH – Marilyn Armstrong

Little things defeat me. An electrical blip — so brief as to go otherwise unnoticed — knocked out the time and date on the clocks and telephones in my house. It was so brief I didn’t realize it had happened until I went to bed and everything was blinking. Don’t you hate when that happens?

75-ModemAndRouter-37

All our computers are laptops, so we didn’t notice. They all just switched to batteries, so when the glitch ended, everything seemed fine.

Until I got to the bedroom and everything was blinking, each in its own color. Resetting the clock radio was easy, but then there was a telephone. They are all linked, so I only have to set one and all three should automatically reset. It should have been no big deal. But it was.

I was defeated by an AT&T multi-handset system I installed in our home a few years ago. Never had it lost its time, even during a much longer outage. This time, it lost everything including all its settings and sub-settings. All blown away.

75-GearNIK-CR-72

Every time something minuscule defeats me, I am reminded how helpless I am — we all are — in the face of our technology. Even those of us who are technologically savvy have limits. All of us have technical Waterloos. If anything goes awry with any major system in my house, not only am I helpless, so is everyone else who lives here. Three generations of people who use technology constantly and depend on it. If we were without power for 24 hours our world would collapse.

It’s the huge, soft, pink, underbelly of our modern world. The aliens will not have to defeat us in battle. They just have to knock out our communication satellites and blow up a few power plants. Human civilization goes down like a row of dominoes.

The only survivors will be those who don’t depend on technology. Or maybe the survivalists in their compounds. Their lives will go on as before. Not me, though. Probably not you either.

Given what’s been going on these past few months, I think a long power outage might finish me off. I’m already derailed, but one more hit and I’m over the cliff.

REMEMBER WHEN PHONE CALLS WERE FUN? – Marilyn Armstrong

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


The phone rang.

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 spam, scams, surveys, or sales pitches.

All the calls are recorded messages so I don’t even have the luxury of insulting the caller and his or her company. That used to be the only positive side of the endless from anonymous calls. Add to that the fear that somehow, they are going to find a way to steal you identification.

I’m also shocked when I call a friend and they actually answer the call. Personally. Although these days, everyone is home. It’s the upside of everyone isolating. These days, we are grateful for a call. It breaks up the quiet.

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.” And all of them have an accent that is definitely not from anywhere in North America … so have I been filling out those Pakistani forms again?

I do not fill in forms online. Nor do I fill out 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. Part of the reason I don’t use it is that we have really poor cell service here and getting a usable signal isn’t easy. The other reason is I get enough scammers and spammers on my landline. I don’t need to give the rest of the world another entree into my world.

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 thing especially in view of the many awful things we are trying to survive, but I can remember waiting for the pleasant anticipation of the phone ringing and knowing I was going to hear from a friend. It wasn’t that long ago.

Or was it?

SKYPING FOR IDIOTS – Marilyn Armstrong

I admit it, I never learned to use Skype. I have tried it. At least twice a year some friend or family member wants to see if we can make it work. I’ve never made it work.

There are a lot of reasons. One is that this computer has two sets of video and sound cards. It’s a gaming computer and for reasons best known to Dell (or more accurately, Alienware), they decided to do everything twice.

All well and good but getting Skype to run, you have to figure out which microphone it can use and which video card it needs and you have to use either the two high def ones or the two low def one. Not one of each. That merely confuses the system which is often confused without any help.


Then there’s Charter (Spectrum) which has a habit of dropping you for a few seconds here and there, usually when you are trying to save something. Most of the time, it comes back on its own, but sometimes you have to reboot the router et al. Sometimes, it doesn’t come back. Then you are glad you have a rarely used mobile device so you can call Charter and explain there’s no signal. Which they will deny has anything to do with them.

Last night, my friend Cherrie sent me an email and said: “Let’s try Skype … oh and by the way, I’ve never done this before.” I answered saying I’d never done it either — not entirely true … I’d been walked through it once before. I wasn’t sure I could make it work, but I’d give it a whack. What the hell. It turns out her son was urging her to use it.

“Why?” she asked.

“You could talk to your family.”

“I never talk to my family. Why would I start now?” But luckily, I’m not a family member, so she’ll talk to me. In theory.

This is a simplified version of Skype. It doesn’t look all that simple to me.

First, I did all the stuff to set it up. It told me I didn’t have a camera. I managed to turn on the camera. Then it told me that I couldn’t use that email (which is my only email) because I’d used it before and did I want to create a new email.

I did NOT want to create a new email. I gave in. I took out my cell phone and used that number. After which,  my computer started to ring, but when Cherrie tried to answer it, she couldn’t get it to connect. Our dialogue consisted of me asking “Are you there?” (text) and her computer saying “You missed your call” (more text).

When it’s set up, it looks like this. It does NOT mean you will really connect, but it’s the thought that counts.

I gave up. I picked up my (non-mobile) telephone and called her. I could see a frozen picture of her on my screen, but she couldn’t see or hear me. I figured we could forget the whole microphone thing have a nice chat. But she was determined.

“We used to be good at this,” she said. “What happened?” I declined to point out that we got old and hadn’t even tried to keep up with current technology. I have always been good at software, but there are things I can’t do. I can’t run my printer or change the ink in it. I hate copy machines and they hate me right back. Since we were already on the phone, she figured she might as well give it one more try. This was the start of a lot of clanging while both our computers started ringing like mad. Still no pictures.

And suddenly, she could hear me and I could after a while, I could hear her. We laughed a lot and figured we should make this a good conversation because we doubted we would ever make it function again.

Somtimes it works.

This morning I asked Owen if he knows how to use Skype. After all the explanations of what’s wrong with the technology, how they’ve oversimplified it so you have no control over anything, the answer was “No.” Meanwhile, Garry wants me — ME! — to set up Zoom for him for tomorrow. Does anyone think this is going to happen? I certainly don’t.

I find this process so utterly baffling I don’t know why it didn’t work and I don’t know why, eventually, it did work.

The telephone works fine for me because I am the idiot.

THE WONDER OF THE WEENIE – By Tom Curley

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

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

blank screen
Blank screen for you!

The tone of all the news reports and nightly talk shows was that this was a funny but useless protest. There are thousands of other porn sites where North Carolinians can … well, you know. As usual, the mainstream media and the nightly talk shows missed the real story. I am not offering an opinion on the virtues or evils of porn.

There is a larger truth. It is widely known but rarely talked about regarding the porn industry. Porn is not just dirty pictures. Porn has been a major driver, financial backer, and early adopter of technological innovation since the beginning of our technological revolution. That is to say, forever.

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

thestar.com.my
thestar.com.my

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

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

anamorphic art
arthit.ru

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

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

I didn’t believe it either.

blog.kaspersky.com
blog.kaspersky.com

OPERATOR ONE: Who you talking to?

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

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

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

alf.image.com
alf.image.com

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

truvisionvr.com
truvisionvr.com

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

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

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

no porn for you

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

dykiegirl.wordpress.com
dykiegirl.wordpress.com

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

Organize into a cartel.

A conglomerate

 A Ring.

lotr.wiki.com
lotr.wiki.com

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

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

Pray they use their power for good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Modern phones … for a “landline” and a cell

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

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

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

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

NCIS AND MY PACEMAKER – Marilyn Armstrong

EPISODE: Need to Know (2012)

Alan Katzenbach, a lawyer, waits for Gibbs with his client, a chief petty officer named Leland Wiley. Wiley was busted for drugs and wants to trade his info — which he says is about national security.

It concerns Agah Bayar, the arms dealer. Gibbs is interested. Wiley comes over to talk, but grabs his heart and drops to the ground.

ncis-need-to-know

Gibbs comes for the update from Ducky. Turns out, Wiley had top security clearance and his workstation is locked down. They haven’t been able to connect him to Bayar yet.

Abby calls Gibbs to the lab. She tells him Wiley’s pacemaker was linked into a computer to monitor it. Someone hacked in and jacked his heart rate up to 400 beats per minute.

“Somebody murdered Wiley by remote control,” she says.


What does this have to do with me?

Well, glad you asked. This episode so intrigued the heart surgery team at Beth Israel Deaconess in Boston (where I had all that heart surgery in March 2014), that they decided to find out if it really could be done. One of the people that performed the experiment was my surgeon.

They did it. My surgeon did point out as far as they could tell, to actually hack a pacemaker you had to be no more than a couple of feet from it. Nonetheless, they made the manufacturer change the programming.

In theory, nobody can hack my pacemaker.

I find this comforting. Garry finds it disturbing and I suppose I can see where he’s coming from. He doesn’t like thinking about the mechanical and electronic stuff that keeps me alive. It would creep me out too, but I’m a bit of a geek.

RBB-pacemaker

I find the technology sufficiently interesting to overcome its inherent creepiness. It is creepy. However, it doesn’t matter. No matter how I feel about it, I’ve got this thing in my chest. It keeps my heart beating. If my heart would beat on its own, I wouldn’t need a pacemaker.

In the beginning, they used to stop my heart will beat without it. My heart stops beating. Talk about creepy. It is a very unpleasant — and indescribable — sensation.

The blue tooth remote functions still work. They are (in theory) more secure than they were a couple of years ago before the NCIS episode aired and the guys got curious about it. Remote functionality is important. After all, I might need a tune-up. Blue tooth lets my doctor access my pacemaker from … how far? I don’t actually know. A considerable distance, whatever that is.

Garry — again — doesn’t want to know about it. I pointed out if someone murders me, this is potentially important evidence. He would still rather not think about it.

So there we are. Too creepy?

I can feel my pacemaker. It sits on my left shoulder. The outline is visible. I can feel the wires, the connections through my skin. I find it impossible to ignore. I might as well find it interesting. It’s part of me, after all.

And no matter what, I will always have that Pacemaker because, after all those tests, my heart absolutely will not beat without it.

CENSORSHIP AND THE LIFE WE LIVE – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #42

It’s a good question for everyone to ponder these days.

There has always been censorship of some kind in every country as long as humans have been “civilized.” Its definition — or at last one of its many possible definitions is, “Censorship is the suppression of speech, public communication, or other information, on the basis that such material is considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or “inconvenient.”

Censorship can be conducted by a government, private institution, and corporations. Or by your local sheriff or lynch mob.

The question is:

There is some kind of censorship in every nation, every government and in nearly every business. Even if the big secret is “what ingredients are in the Coca Cola recipe,” it’s still censorship.

There is censorship to keep technology private. Censorship which aims to keep military movements undercover. In some places, religions force secrecy. No society is completely open. There’s always something — militarily, governmental, corporate, technological, religious, or personal that are forbidden to say aloud. Sometimes censorship is unwritten, but everyone knows about it. Sometimes it’s part of your professional contract.

Sometimes you just know what you should simply not talk about because if you do, something bad will happen to you or those you care about.

Issues like this don’t affect everyone. The business you are in, how well-known you are, what kind of profession you follow are part of the process. If you are a general in an army, most of your life is censored. If you are in the Mossad, or a television reporter, what you can say is by definition censored. In the United States today you can get away with anything if you are personally unimportant but can get away with very little if you share a spotlight on the big screen of life.

Does it affect me? Personally? Mostly not because I am not regarded as knowing anything worth censoring. I don’t belong to a corporate entity that is creating new technology or know anything about the government other than what I read in the news.

Garry has a lot of secrets and most of them — nearly ALL of them — he has never told me. I have pointed out that many of the people about whom he “knows stuff” are gone from this world.

“They have families,” he says and that is the end of the conversation. Reporters always have secrets.

So do I personally feel threatened as an individual citizen by censorship? Not at the moment. When I worked for Grumman I had a “top secret” legal rating and there were things I could not say to anyone lest I be imprisoned and fined. I worked in a “black building” and I hated it. I hated everything except those great bridge games at lunch. They were fun!

If I live long enough, this could change, but I think for most non-political, not military, and no, not a spy either? No one cares what we say because we don’t know anything and when you are low enough on the totem pole, nobody much cares what you say.

But if our world changes dramatically and for the worse, this could alter. I hope I’m not alive if it does.