Monday, October 29, 2012

*Please Just Keep It To Words Of One Syllable

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published November 1, 2012]  © 2012 

Before my engineer husband tries to explain anything technical to me, he says, “I think you might want to get the yellow pad.”  He, of course, means an 8x11 lined legal pad which we buy by the kilo, since he also asserts that when I die he’s going to insert a multi-pack of them into my coffin for my use in the hereafter. 

In his dream of the hereafter, somebody else is helping me with my technical problems besides him. 

I have a multitude of really good skills in a number of areas.   But techno stuff?  The synapses just don’t fire in sequence. Interestingly, I’m reasonably good with cameras which Olof insists is because I actually like cameras and photography, unlike virtually any other technical gismo, all of whom I have a total hate-hate relationship with.  I did master my new iPhone, but only after I spent the first twelve mornings of ownership at the AT&T store on Pearl, yellow pad in hand.  (I refuse to allow that the rapid turnover of employees that week had anything to do with me.) 
While I’ve never had learning disabilities per se, I think I’ve always suffered from technical dyslexia.  Or maybe that’s dys-technia? 

Fortunately, I’m trainable.  But I need the yellow pad and laboriously detailed instructions. There are no givens in Inga Land.  Olof, along with my long-suffering former co-worker, Dave, have tried to maintain that most techno gadgets are designed to be intuitive.  You play with it, you figure it out, you don’t need a manual.  Hah! Let me rephrase that.  HAH!  For some of us, there IS no intuitive. 

As for my computer, Olof insists I can’t break it.  Maybe not, but I can get it to the point where I can’t get it to work again either.  In my world, that’s called “broken.”  You’re typing along, minding your own business, and suddenly everything on the screen looks different.  Sweat breaks out on my forehead.

Olof would also insist that computers are made up of ones and zeros and operate by logical rules, but I know differently.   Technical gadgets sense fear and take advantage of it.   Sometimes you just have to get the upper hand by threatening the machine into submission.  Windows Live Mail only shaped up when it knew I was going to replace it with Outlook.

Olof also maintains that the biggest problem I have with electronics is that I have the frustration tolerance of a gnat.  I am forever vowing that whatever gadget is giving me trouble is simply going to end up in the pool.  It’s kind of become a code phrase.  “So, is it in the pool?”,  Olof will inquire when he comes home from work knowing I’ve been thwarted all day by my computer.   Olof says I have to learn to stay calm when frustrated.  Why?  What’s the point?  I think hurling epithets at mechanical devices is a perfectly reasonable and healthy reaction. 
Of course, a third reason I hate technical apparati is that I hate being dependent on other people to help me fix them.   Olof, bless him, is endlessly patient but I know that when he pours his third Scotch that he’s getting testy.  This is especially true when he’s trying to teach me something for the first time and has to wait while I painstakingly record instructions like this:

Turn on power strip on top of desk. 

Turn on power button* on computer.  The computer is the black box with the white top on the floor to the left of my desk chair and says “Dell” on it.  [No snickers please.  We also have another box that is called a “firewall” that is NOT the computer, or at least the one that will make my monitor come to life.]

*The power button is on the top of the Dell box on the right side.  If the light comes on, it’s on.  No light and you probably didn’t turn on the power strip.  Or it was already on and you accidentally turned it off.  [I always include trouble shooting instructions in my notes.]
At the bottom left of the monitor screen is a blue ball with an orange and green and blue and yellow checked flag.  It’s really important because it is also how you turn the machine off again.  Well, correctly anyway.

No sound on speakers?   Make sure the little green light on the speakers is on and that the Iomega thing isn’t plugged into the power strip instead.  Still no sound?  The kids may have turned off the volume using the speaker icon-y thing at the very bottom right of my screen . Click on it and slide it back up to the middle of the scale.  [Make note to tell kids:  don’t ever ever do that to me again!  I had no speakers for a week while Olof was out of town! ]

How to open the disk drive:  Could they have hidden it any better????  Right below the little slot thingeys (WHAT ARE THEY?) is the disk drive.  On its right side, totally un-obviously, is a thing that you push and out pops the disk drive.  Would a label have killed them? Unmarked panels that open secret compartments should be left to Nancy Drew books!

I can only hope the hereafter is more user-friendly.  Or that they sell yellow legal pads. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Trick or Treat or Trash Your House

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published Oct. 18, 2012] © 2012 

Halloween is approaching again – one of my most and least favorite holidays.  But before we go further, let me make one thing clear:  no matter what your teenager says he or she did on Halloween, they’re lying.

I’m not trying to cast aspersions on your particular kid but after nearly four decades in a very Halloween-centric neighborhood (we get around 400 Trick or Treaters every year), I can attest that this is a night when kids who would normally never commit major vandalism are happily sucked into the vortex of group stupidity. 
The first part of the Halloween evening is always pure fun:  non-stop gremlins, princesses, and whoever the iconic figure of the moment is.  We just stand on the front porch shoveling candy into pillow cases and plastic pumpkins as fast as we can and basically trying to act as traffic cops as one horde moves out and another moves in.   

A friend who didn’t grow up in the U.S. visited us one year asked why I wasn’t spending more time chatting up the kids’ costumes with them.  Well, for one, you can’t really do that if you’re servicing twenty kids a minute.  But more importantly, I told him, he needs to understand that from an American kid’s point of view, Halloween is a business:  maximum candy accrued in minimum time.  More talk, less candy. 
Inga:  “Great Red Ranger Samurai costume!

Kid: (already half way down the steps):  “Whatever.”
But after eight p.m., the fun stops when the little kids go home and the teenagers come out.  The police would usually get called to our block at least six times when the egg and paint and shaving cream wars got out of control.  Finally the police got the message and just moved in en masse at 5 p.m. and set up a counter-offensive.

Seriously, we’ve had such a major police presence in our neighborhood on Halloween for the last several years that if Mitt Romney drove by on the way to his La Jolla digs, he’d wonder why he doesn’t get that kind of attention.  But in the thirty-some years before that, it was pretty insane.
One year, a group of local teens thought it would be wildly good fun to break into a neighbor’s house being remodeled and spray paint the new custom kitchen cabinets with black graffiti.  Vandalizing cars, knocking over brick retaining walls, dumping trash cans out into the street, and breaking the occasional car window were all part of the merriment.

Another year the police barely saved the lives of five high schoolers who were being beaten to a pulp by a bunch of drunk college kids who caught them defacing their cars.  And yet another year, some irate teens retaliated against some egg-throwing counterparts by using 2x4s to smash in the windshield of the pelters’ car – with them in it.  But hey, it’s Halloween! It’s just kids being vandals kids!
The police would invariably round up a group of miscreants, some of whom I would recognize since they were either neighborhood kids or classmates of my sons.  (And let me make no insinuations that my kids were saints.)  The officer would admonish the assembled reprobates that if he saw them again that evening, they were going to the substation.  I guess you can’t blame the police for not wanting to do the paperwork. But the second the police were gone, the barbarian invasions began anew.

Sometimes I would see a parent of one of these kids in the next few days and say, “So what did Joey do for Halloween?”  And Dad would say, “Oh, he just went over to a friend’s house and they watched TV.”  Of course, that was back in the days when you could actually call over to someone’s house and check on them.  Not that anyone ever did, of course, because as Dad quickly added, he trusted the kid implicitly. 

Trust your kid implicitly the other 364 days a year.  Sometimes I’d mention that actually, the police had rounded up Joey and a bunch of other kids for vandalizing my neighborhood.  Invariably – and we really are talking 100% of the time – I’d get a call back in a day or two that Dad had talked to Joey and Joey admitted that yes, he was there but he “wasn’t doing anything, just watching.”  And Dad wanted to assure me that he trusts Joey’s version of this implicitly.

No point in telling Dad that Joey, the lying little weasel, was actually one of the ringleaders of this operation.  (As you can tell, I get testy when people vandalize my property.)  But more to the point, it always stunned me that (a) I heard this excuse so often and (b) that parents would actually accept it.

I made so many mistakes with my children that they keep lists both alphabetically and chronologically.  But the felony murder rule always applied:  you were there, you were guilty.  I would have laughed in their little faces if they’d ever tried to pull that excuse on me.  

So folks, it’s Halloween time again.  I hope your teen has fun.  But whatever he or she says she did, don’t believe a word of it. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

**Scraping the bottom of the airline barrel

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, October 5, 2012] © 2012 

Now that coach travel on airlines has deteriorated into abject misery, everyone is looking for a way to raise themselves above the fray, however briefly.  The airlines, recognizing that we all want to feel special (and since they have absolutely no intention of making us feel special once we’re in the air) are throwing us crumbs in the form of opportunities to go through the First Class security line, or to get priority boarding.  An aisle seat has become a coveted prize, and boarding early is not only a status symbol but a way to up the chances one’s bag will fly free in an overhead space and better, arrive at your destination when you do.

But as my husband, Olof, and I found when we took a recent trip on an airline we rarely fly (they had a non-stop to our destination), the new system may have run amok.
It was at boarding time that things got really loony.   As always, the Grand Poobah million mile fliers, First Class folks, and the elderly, infirm, and child-encumbered had priority, followed in turns by the Gold, Silver, and Semi-Precious Metals mileage club members.  (We actually have frequent flier accounts for this airline but somehow – expiring miles, I think – seem perpetually mired at the Cubic Zirconium level.) 

When all those folks were safely seated, they called for people who bought early boarding rights by virtue of purchasing the airline’s pricey credit card, then summoned the people who had responded to their announcement of a pre-board if they allowed their roller bag to be gate checked.  Somewhere in there, Star Alliance members also made the cut, followed by military members in uniform, and then members of a special club that one could join if one lived in the airline’s ancestral state (some kind of quaint local pride thing, I think).  Then – finally! -  the folks in rows 20-35!  Actual civilians!  The crowd had really thinned out by then and we, in row 15, were poised to step forward when they announced that anyone left who did not intend to use the overhead bin space was now free to board.

This was a new one on us.  Now, we applauded this idea in theory, since on Southwest, if you’re not in the first boarding group, your bag isn’t going to make it into the overhead.  However, at this point, a lot of people began boarding who had roller bags that clearly weren’t going to fit under the seats.  Now, some of them could have been people who qualified for boarding in the previous 30 categories but inexplicably didn’t.  The gate agent wasn’t even checking at this point – just scanning the boarding passes as fast as she could. 

I looked at Olof with my WTF look – and the implied message that we should be doing this too.  We had a fairly short connection to a small commuter flight from a local airfield to a wedding in a remote location in the Pacific Northwest, and having our bags lost even temporarily would mean we would be wearing the same clothes all weekend. But I am married to Honest Abe Lincoln, Mr. Integrity of this century and last.  The look he gave me was “Do not even THINK of getting in that line.  I would sooner attend this wedding naked but for down gleaned from native geese than board before being called.”  He can be so annoying this way.
But finally all the no-bin-intendeds had seated their sociopathic reprobate selves.  Rows one through five were First Class, but with six seats across on the rest of the plane, that still left a theoretical 84 passengers in our totally full aircraft for the yet-to-be-boarded rows six through nineteen.

I looked around.  There were exactly NINE of us left.  I was agog to hear what the next category was going to be.  People wearing the airline’s logo colors?  Still, both Olof and I were fairly impressed that the gate agent could keep straight the list of who was slightly better than whom, a system that seemed more complicated than the IRS tax code.
The gate agent eyed our little group and seemed to decide against further categories.  She picked up her microphone: “All rows may now slither aboard.” 

OK, so those might not have been her exact words.  Two hundred passengers, 191 pre-boards and us.  And thus we began our walk of shame, the last dregs of humanity to be allowed aboard this aircraft, the ones who had insufficient miles, no affiliations, the wrong credit cards, and certainly no class.  We were the chaff separated from the wheat, the adult versions of the kids picked last for the dodge ball team in elementary school, the new caste of airline Untouchables. “I’m not feeling loved,” I whispered to Olof as we slunk aboard with our reviled roller bags that we’d been too cheap to check. 

I guess you can’t give people a feeling of superiority without giving them someone to feel superior to.  And this time we were the inferiors.  Or maybe that should be posteriors.  It’s a lousy job, but someone’s got to do it.  But having done it, I think we might just stick with United who loves us.