Monday, October 28, 2013

Bad Apple

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published October 31, 2013]  © 2013 

As any designer of software upgrades knows, the way to identify bugs is to inflict it untested on your customer base and wait for the anguished cries.  Half of what worked before no longer does, and worse, from my point of view, it all looks different. I really hate different.  Hence, I have an inviolable policy of letting working software lie.

So it’s all the more surprising that I could have accidentally installed the new Apple iOS 7 operating system on my iPhone while we were on vacation recently.  OK, I might have been drinking. All right, I was definitely drinking.  We were up in the San Juan Islands with friends and I was checking email when a message popped up asking if I wanted to upgrade to iOS 7.  I inadvertently pressed yes.

Instantly I realized my error.  I tried to cancel pushing every button I could think of, and even turned off the phone. “Abort!  Abort!” I wailed as the iPhone I knew fairly disappeared before my eyes and was recreated in a Technicolor horror of all new icons.  In desperation I even exhorted Siri to intercede on my behalf.  But as usual, the nasty robot wouldn’t perform.  “I’m sorry,” she simpered innocently.  “I don’t know what you mean.”

Yeah, right. Siri knew EXACTLY what upgrade I meant.  But she knows on which side her bytes are buttered.  She probably gets full medical and dental.  Even when I ultimately told her I hated her, she replied, “Well, I’m still here for you.”  Her exact words. Siri-ously.

Now, as a certified techno moron, it’s not surprising that I don’t like the new operating system but this time I have plenty of company among the internet-posting techno-scenti.

It’s not just that it all looks different but none of the app-y things work the same.  It took me a full year to master them the first time.  Now that's all shot to hell.  A lot of my settings changed too and since I had the sales children at the AT&T office set them up for me in the first place, I have no idea how to change them back.  Even the default ring tone was now a new, and icky, default ring tone.  The iOS 7 calendar app morphed into a sullen, gum-chewing, diurnally-challenged clerical, and it turned out it wasn’t my imagination that the new operating system was sucking the life out of my battery.

But worst of all, a mere week before, I had actually succeeded, with the heroic help of Customer Service for Idiots, to whom I pay $10 a month, to change the number of seconds to voice mail from the default 20 seconds to 40 seconds so I wouldn’t miss all my calls.  IOS 7 changed it back.

So I called my new best friends at Customer Service for Idiots only to discover that overnight, it had morphed into Customer Service BY Idiots.  They have no idea how iOS 7 works either. 

I started by asking them to restore the former default ring tone, called Marimba, to my phone and to help me sort out the seconds-to-voicemail problem.  The Customer Service BY Idiots guy put me on hold for five minutes but finally came back to report that Marimba was no longer available on iPhones. Really?  The classic iPhone ring tone?  So I put him to work on the voice mail problem, and gave him the link to the instructions which had worked a mere week earlier. 

We attempted to implement the instructions four times, but always ended up with the same error message at the end. A bug? A different set of instructions now?  He put me on hold again (ten minutes this time) and while he was gone, I played with the ring tone thing and discovered that Marimba was alive and well; you now just have to access it through a sub menu.  (I do have my techno-idiot savant moments.) 

Customer Service Guy ultimately concluded that there is no reason why the instructions we used shouldn’t work, but he agrees they don’t.  He recommends that I “keep trying it over the next few months to see if it fixes itself.”  Golly, thanks!

So here's my idea for Apple’s next upgrade:  Forget a new operating system. It only annoys people. Instead, tackle the real issues of the “end user experience,” like end users experiencing their phones dropping in toilets.  The way I envision it, as soon as Siri sensed imminently impending moisture (i.e. a commode), she’d shriek May Day! May Day! which would deploy a flotation device from the bottom of the phone cocooning its immersion-averse microchips in blissful dryness as it bobbed like a life raft in a very small sea.  The only downside of this app is that I really wouldn’t mind flushing Siri.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Just Don't Leave Me Voice Mail

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published October 24, 2013]  © 2013 

Just so we’re clear, when the iPhone 75 comes out, I will still be using the iPhone 4S.  I bought the 4S a year ago and learning how to use it has taken at least five years off my life expectancy.  Intuitive?  Only to the teenage technogeeks who design them.  God forbid Apple should provide a comforting printed manual for civilians. 

My husband, Olof, maintains that my iPhone is America’s smallest land line.  That’s because it rarely leaves its perch on the kitchen counter.  I live in terror of losing the thing if I take it with me and then I’d be forced to get a new one.  It’s not the cost.  Against all advice, I bought the insurance along with the Customer Service for Idiots plan.   It’s strictly a mental health issue.  I’d rather extract my spleen with a rusty cheese knife than get another iPhone set up again.   I have a veeeerrry low tolerance for techno frustration.

Last month, the recently-retired Olof and I took the first vacation we’ve had in six years.  That was the good news.  The bad news was that my iPhone was going to be the sole method of communication with family and friends during this multi-stop trip.  Olof turned in his company phone on his last day of work and has elected to go cell phone commando ever since. 

The only people who were more worried about my being the sole source of contact on this trip than me were, of course, the family and friends.  Well known to them, my long-time strategy with cell phones when they ring is to push buttons and scream in the general direction of what I hope is a microphone. (My younger son does an absolutely vicious, and may I say, uncalled for, imitation of this.) 

Surprisingly, I’ve actually mastered texting which I now use a lot more once someone showed me how to turn off Auto Correct. When Olof was sick last fall, I tried to text the friend who was picking us up that we were in front of the Ximed Building at Scripps Memorial.  Auto Correct was not going to let me type Ximed if its last microchip depended on it.  The friend kept texting back “Where?  Huh?”  I was ready to hurl that phone under the tires of the next passing vehicle. 

Before we left on this trip, I realized that the one modification I had to make on this phone was to change the number of rings until voice mail kicked in.  I miss approximately 100% of calls because by the time I realize the phone is ringing and retrieve it from the kitchen counter, it has already gone to voice mail.  I’ve never quite gotten the hang of voice mail which has a habit of making itself deliberately (and frankly, maliciously) inaccessible.  So given the upcoming trip, it seemed imperative to avoid anything going to the voicemail graveyard where it would never be heard from again. 

Now, even on my previous Dumb Phone, changing the number of rings before voice mail kicked in was so easy a child could do it.  More to the point, I could do it.  I looked up the on-line instructions for how to do this on an iPhone 4S and I swear, I really am not kidding here, you need a degree in engineering to do this.  The guy at the AT&T store on Pearl couldn’t figure it out despite being presented with the printed instructions I’d brought him from Apple’s own web site.   Even the lady at Customer Service for Idiots struggled.

Of course, one of the reasons you can’t extend the number of rings until voice mail answers is that, unknown even to Apple Tech support, you can’t actually do that on an iPhone.  You can, however, change the number of seconds from the default 20 to anything you want, although the Customer Service for Idiots lady advised not making it more than one minute or people would give up without leaving a message.  Okay!  Works for me! 

Ultimately, we compromised on 40 seconds.  But seriously, here’s just the first three steps:

1. Open the phone app and dial *#61# on the Keypad. Press the Call button.

2. Locate this text on the screen: "Setting Interrogation Succeeded, Voice Call Forwarding, When Unanswered, Forwards to +" and record the 11-digit number after the + symbol. 

3. Touch the Dismiss button. Now enter this code on the Keypad: *61*+ followed by the 11-digit Forwards to number recorded in step 2, followed by *11 and *ringtime#.  

Clearly, Apple pulled a former writer of Japanese calculator manuals out of retirement to create this text.  A minor detail is that to get the plus sign you have to hold down the zero until the plus sign comes up, a detail mentioned nowhere in the instructions.  More of that Apple intuitiveness, I guess.

Against all odds, we actually managed to get to our various destinations and to rendezvous with friends and family.  And thankfully, I never had to access voice mail.  That’s next year’s project.  I can only deal with so much technology at a time.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

*Life On 50 Amps of Power

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published Oct. 17, 2013]  © 2013 

La Jolla has a number of historically significant buildings and cottages that deserve to be preserved, but every time I hear of a movement to preserve the architecture of the 1947 houses in our neighborhood, I feel compelled to demur.   Or barf.

Don’t get me wrong:  we love our little place (mostly) – but only because the exterior and interior have been substantially upgraded to give it little resemblance to its origins.  The house itself still retains its original footprint, however, one of the few in the neighborhood.  Pretty much everyone else has already put these houses out of their misery.

I’m not unreasonable.  I’d be willing to preserve one of these homes as a cautionary tale so that future generations can see what teeny, dark, poorly constructed cookie-cutter houses built by the lowest bidder were like.

Before we remodeled in 1999, I would tell people that we still had the original 1947 kitchen (except for the appliances) and they would implore us not to remodel it.  It sounds so quaint, they said!  There are so few of these kitchens left!  Maybe you could even find some appliances of the era, even some kitschy countertop mixers, and completely restore it! 

Of course, the people who had seen our kitchen said, “Would you like the name of our contractor?” 

Retro isn’t necessarily quaint.  Sometimes it’s just old.

Even the contractor who ultimately remodeled our kitchen observed, “They sure knew how to build a depressing kitchen back then.”  Think gray Formica counter tops, gray linoleum floor, a single overhead light bulb, cheap pine cabinets, one outlet. 

We used the only outlet in the kitchen for the portable dishwasher as that was another invention that hadn’t yet become a standard fixture in 1947.  A lot of people have never seen a portable dishwasher, which rolls over to the sink and is connected by hoses to the faucet.   Guests would ponder the dishwasher sitting alone in a corner of the kitchen and finally blurt out, “How on earth does that work?”  And I’d say, “It transfers water from the faucet remotely.” There had to be SOME advantages to having the most retro kitchen in America.

The single 100-watt bulb as the only source of light in the standard 1947 kitchen was also problematical.   The many scars on my fingers attest to what a bad idea it is to use sharp objects when your only light source is behind you. 

Another throwback to 1947, of course, is that code at the time prohibited electrical outlets in bathrooms, considering it too dangerous to plug in an electric appliance in the vicinity of a bathtub or shower.  Of course, with the advent of hairdryers, curling irons, electric razors and toothbrushes, and of course, ground fault breakers, code changed.  But we still didn’t have electric outlets in our bathrooms for the first 26 years I lived here, until Olof married me and decided that living in the 19th century was only charming to a point.

And that leads me to the true downside of living in an original 1947 house from our neighborhood:  50 amps of power.  When Olof and I married in 1995 and he moved down here from the Bay area, that’s all the power the house had ever had.  Which he quickly discovered when he’d be working on his computer and the kids would decide to toast a pop tart.  All of a sudden the house would be very quiet.  And very dark.  Well, not totally quiet, as the normally mild-mannered Olof would say a seriously bad word. 

The kids and I had long been used to the fact that you could only run one appliance beside the refrigerator at a time so no microwave if the washer were going, and no toaster oven if the portable dishwasher was plugged in.  Faster than you can say, “Can this marriage be saved?”, a dedicated line was put in for Olof’s computer. 

The 1947 floor furnace was so full of holes that it emitted a lot of fumes and not much heat.  Space heaters blew the circuit breaker in nanoseconds. 

I recently Googled 1947 kitchens.  There were some fairly nice kitchens then.  Just not in this neighborhood and price demographic. 

As of 1999, we now have a kitchen with a built-in dishwasher, 14 outlets (OK, I got a little carried away there), under-the-cabinet lights and eight can lights in an 11x11 space.  Honestly, turn them all on at once and it looks like a nuclear blast.  But having spent decades in the land of single 100-watt light bulbs, I wasn’t taking any chances.  We rarely blow a circuit breaker, have central heat and even sport skylights to diminish the darkness of small rooms. 

So as far as preserving the 1947 house for posterity, I’m afraid the romance is gone for me.  I’m happy to have one of these houses preserved – just so long as I don’t have to live in it.


Saturday, October 5, 2013

*We're Free! We're Free!

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published October 3, 2013]  © 2013 

In May of this year, I wrote a column called “So done with medical science” after articles began appearing in both scientific journals and the popular press that calcium supplements, the sacred cow of medical advice for women, could actually cause you harm.

But it’s only gotten better – or worse, depending on how you look at it.  If I didn’t have a character limit, this column would be titled “Totally absolutely never going to believe anything medical science says again and this time I really mean it!”

When one reads about medical treatments through the ages, one is frequently horrified at the amount of suffering that was inflicted upon people by what passed for medical science in their day.  Of course, you say to yourself, they didn’t know what we do now.  Lately I’ve begun to wonder if we know anything at all.

In 1973, Woody Allen presciently released the movie “Sleeper” about a health food store owner whose body was accidentally cryogenically frozen and who wakes up 200 years later in 2173 to find that the real health foods are tobacco and red meat.  The doctors who unfreeze him are dismayed to learn that he consumed the likes of wheat germ and organic honey.  “What?” they exclaim.  “No deep fat, no steak, no cream pies, no hot fudge?” subsequently observing that “these were thought to be unhealthy  - precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.” 

Guess what, folks.  It’s 2173.  We just got there 160 years early.

Frankly, it’s all changing faster than I can keep up with.  In the wake of the calcium revelation, vitamins have been declared to shorten your life, and saturated fat has become good for you.  The saturated fat argument, of course, has actually been around for a while in the form of the Atkins diet which maintained that it wasn’t harmful – IF you didn’t pair it with high carbohydrate intake.  Otherwise, sayonara, baby.

But now even that line has been crossed with the sudden popularity of foods like coconut oil.  I started seeing it more and more frequently as an ingredient in recipes and even Dr. Oz is flogging it as a health food that fights illness-causing viruses and bacteria, wards off yeast, aids in thyroid and blood sugar control, improves digestion, and improbably as it sounds to me, increases the good HDL cholesterol despite its 12 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon.  Surely even a bacon cheeseburger dipped in a hot fudge sundae can’t have 12 grams of saturated fat per bite? 

I’ve never had a primary care doctor who didn’t caution that artery-clogging saturated fat puts you on the fast track to counting worms.  Still, since a whole display case of coconut oil had magically appeared in my local supermarket, and Dr. Oz said it was OK, I decided to add a jar to my basket.  But I only got five steps before the chest pains started and I put it back.  It's like Mao waking up one morning and exhorting the Chinese to embrace democracy.  I may have jettisoned the calcium supplements, but I don’t think I have enough life expectancy left to embrace coconut oil as a health food.  I’d probably end up dying from a reverse placebo effect:  in my heart (literally and figuratively), I know it will kill me. 

As for new findings in the vitamin world, a June article in the New York Times entitled “Don’t Take Your Vitamins” maintained that even non-megadose use of vitamins has been shown to increase mortality and cancer risk.  So have all those years of vitamin ingestion only hastened my demise? I am beyond annoyed.  You can positively feel the breeze blowing through my empty medicine cabinet these days. 

Of course, not all the news is bad.  Mere weeks after the calcium news came the revelation that 60 years of research has been wrong and that now it’s good to be pear shaped.  It has NEVER been good to be pear shaped.  Looking like an Anjou has always been linked to an early death.  Now the word is we pear shapes are getting an extra ten years.  I may have to re-do my estate plan. 

Most people I know shrug and say, “Moderation in all things.”  Nope, I’m predicting the next big medical headline screams  “Moderation kills!  New research urges wretched excess!”   Remember, you read it here first.

So what is a gullible health-oriented sucker consumer to conclude?  There only seems to be two possibilities:  (1) nothing is bad for you  (2) everything is bad for you.  Either way, it seems to me that there’s only one reasonable path:  eat whatever you want.  Finally, at last, we’re free!  We’re free!

So bring on the Krispy Kremes!  And thank you, Woody.