Tuesday, August 25, 2015


["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published August 27, 2015] © 2015 

There are infinite numbers of things that can go wrong with your computer. And Microsoft thinks of new ones every day.

I have a personal hate-hate relationship with all things technical which includes computers, software, cell phones, and the entire workforce of Time Warner Cable. I am suffering from serious technodespondence.

I really don’t do anything that weird.  I’m very careful about what emails I open, have good virus protection, rarely sext, don’t do social media or download videos.  So it is truly unfair that I’m dealing with as many techno problems as I am.
Even ten years ago, if your computer was working fine on one day and you didn’t mess with it, it would be working fine the next day too.  Not anymore. 

Unsolicited updates (that would be you, Microsoft) and undesired upgrades (Internet Explorer anyone?) are the curse of the modern world. They guarantee that whatever worked before will never work again.
For example, all of a sudden these red circles with white exclamation points started appearing on my desktop files.  Not a good sign. Many aggravating hours later, it turned out that I needed to go to McAfee, my virus protection software, and select Disable Icon Overlays in Windows Explorer.  But I never enabled them in the first place!  Turns out to be some stupid McAfee upgrade that I didn’t ask for that alerts you that this file is not backed up. Like, I need to be tortured by my own virus software?
On my iPhone, I accidentally upgraded to iOS7. I began to notice that I was missing most of my calls – it often wasn’t ringing even when I was holding the phone in my hands.  My daughter-in-law finally explained that iOS7 had activated “Do not disturb,” as an “upgrade” (hah!  HAH!) that keeps your phone from ringing if you’re in “sleep mode” (which apparently happens after you haven’t used the phone for about seven seconds).  Of course, I didn’t actually activate it because I had never heard of it, wouldn’t know how to activate it and didn’t want it in the first place.  Because it was eating all my calls!  Worse, it kept coming back! A stealth app.  Gaaahhh!
On-line “Help”, alas, doesn’t speak English.  (Actually, human help usually doesn’t either.) You have to know what you did to undo it.  (See “icon overlays,” above.)
For most new software, there IS no tech support (we’re talking about you, Google), other than “community groups” for which you are depending on the kindness of totally inept strangers. My experience with community groups is: 

(1) nobody answers your question
(2) lots of people answer your question but none of the solutions help
(3) I can’t understand any of the solutions
(4) the solutions will mess up my computer to the point that the original problem will seem insignificant.
Change one little thing on your computer and it’s like the butterfly in Australia that flaps its wings and causes tornados in Kansas.  Trying to fix it changes enough things to add monsoons in Asia. 

I have a mug that says “The chief cause of problems is solutions.”  I believe it fundamentally.

Error messages, meanwhile, are a cruel psychological test. The one thing you can be assured of is that whatever it says is NOT the actual problem.

It goes without saying that if Olof crumps before I do, I’m going to have to throw myself on top of his coffin and let them pile dirt on top of me. This is my worst fear, being left alone with my electronics. Every new appliance we get is more terrifying than the last.  In my nightmare Olof-less world, the grandtots mess up the remote and I never watch TV again.  Because who do you get to fix that stuff?  Messed Up Remotes R’ Us?  THIS, unemployed twenty somethings, is the career of the future. 
I just can’t keep up.  I don’t WANT to keep up.  I just want everyone to leave my electronics alone.  I don’t want those 22 Microsoft “Updates” to automatically upload (download?) on my machine when I go to turn it off. I know for a fact that there are evil forces contained in them.
And I want to opt out of all cloud-related activities.  Sunshine only!  I want messages that go from here to there without stopping on some intermediary planet. 
If I were president, I would make it a law that no software can be released that isn’t supported by actual humans who:
 (1) answer within 15 minutes
(2) can speak English understandable by 95% of native English speakers (meaning no one from either India or Alabama)
(3) actually understand the product.
If software should be introduced without tech support:
First offense: $1,000
Second offense: eight billion dollars
Third offense:  hanging
I’m serious.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Cheapness Olympics

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published August 20, 2015] © 2015 

At a happy hour recently, we were having a contest about the cheapest person each of us had ever known. I actually entered three candidates. None of them won but they all got honorable mentions.
Fortunately, we’ve been surrounded by truly generous people for all of our lives which makes the pikers that much more memorable.
My first entry was a couple whom my former husband had known in college. He hadn’t had any contact with them in the 15 years since graduation when he got a call from them saying they were coming out to San Diego for two weeks and hoped to see us while they were here.  My then-husband enthusiastically agreed. A few days later another call: a mix-up about their accommodations had occurred.  Might they, and their toddler daughter, stay with us for the first two nights since their airline tickets were already purchased? OK, we said, but be forewarned that our house is not baby proofed. We had no kids of our own at the time.
They duly arrived but daily complications with their other accommodations kept arising. Vague excuses despite our specific queries as to where this housing was. Should be just one more night, they said. After a week, we started to get really suspicious.
They managed to be at our house every night for dinner noting that it was greatly preferable for a young child to eat at home rather than a restaurant. It became clear that short of changing the locks (we thought of it), we were not getting rid of them.
On their last evening, they arrived at dinner time bearing a gift “to thank us for our hospitality” (i.e. sponging off us for two weeks). It was a $10 cardboard-backed poster which they leaned up against the beautiful Tiffany hurricane lamp on our dining room table which promptly fell over and broke. Oops! No offer to replace it. Let’s stay in touch, they said when they left. We never heard from them again.
My second candidate was a woman I knew casually in college on the east coast who I ran into at a local alumni event. Our husbands seemed to hit it off so we ended up socializing with them. Both the woman and her husband had had their educations funded by the income from their trust funds and were each heirs to fortunes that would be familiar to you. But they liked to play “struggling young 20-somethings,” and while we fed them nice meals at our place, dinner at theirs generally consisted of bread pudding (no meat) as the main course with a salad, and for dessert, “frozen yogurt” – one container of Dannon per couple put into the freezer and served with two spoons.
You could see how these peoples’ ancestors had gotten rich. This couples’ favorite entertaining gambit was to invite their friends for a “bring your favorite wine and your favorite cheese” party – and then proceeded to put guests’ names on them to shame you into bringing a genuinely good wine and a genuinely pricey cheese. (It was alleged to engender conversation about one’s selections.) Suffice to say, they were able to stock their wine cabinet for months with the unopened bottles.
For my 30th birthday, they showed up at our house with cake and a “gift basket” (minus the basket). The gifts were two avocados from their tree and a book from a local library sale still marked $.25, all wrapped in newspaper, along with the bottle of wine we’d brought to the wine and cheese party. The supermarket cake was tagged “Clearance” to reflect its imminent sell-by date and read “Feliz cumpleaƱos.”
My last candidate was a fellow mom with whom I’d had the misfortune to carpool for a sports practice. She frequently bailed on her carpool days leaving messages on my home answering machine (she had my work number) that she was unable to drive that day because her husband wanted her to meet him for drinks at their club. (Only in La Jolla.) So it probably wasn’t too surprising when she showed up to the end-of-the-season pot luck team party at my house minus anything resembling a pot but carrying a large Costco can of beans. She wanted to make her chili at my house, she said, so it would be “fresh.” (I think chili does better after it’s been in the fridge for a day.) She then proceeded to appropriate my stock pot and ransack my spice cabinet for all the spices she’d need, making a giant mess in my kitchen in the process. Nobody ate it (since other people had brought actual food) so she graciously announced she was leaving it for my family, since of course, she couldn’t actually take it with her without stealing my pot as well.
As I said, all honorable mentions. You don’t even want to know the story that won.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Letting It Go

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published August 13, 2015]  © 2015 

There was definitely a selection factor for the people who attended my 50th high school reunion in suburban New York a few weeks ago.  We were the ones who weren’t dead.

I confess I was seriously ambivalent about attending this event. But in the end, I was glad I went, despite, as I’ve previously written, the nightmare air travel to get there. Fortunately, there was one shining light in the airline experience: flying from Martha’s Vineyard (where we were visiting friends ahead of time) to Armonk, NY (closest airport to my hometown) in an 8-seater Cape Air plane. When I tried to go through the TSA line at the Martha’s Vineyard airport, I was  informed that I didn’t need to as mine was a “TSA-unsecured flight.” There’s really such a thing?  But then, there’s probably only minimal terrorist activity going on between Martha’s Vineyard and Armonk.

When they announced my flight, the Cape Air agent told me to go out the side door, walk past the playground, and hang out by the chain link fence where someone would come get me and my two fellow passengers.  After hours being tortured at O’Hare en route, this was truly refreshing.

Olof, meanwhile, had decided that he would rather excise his spleen with a rusty cheese knife than go to my reunion (his own, in Walnut Creek, is in September) and decided that it would be an upper instead to tour the battlefields in Gettysburg. Fortunately for me, the huge storm that was about to hit the Northeast held off long enough for my tiny toy plane to fly. While a deluge didn’t particularly impact my reunion, Olof observed that the Gettysburg battlefields probably show better when not under water.

When I arrived at my Armonk motel (my Draconianally-zoned home town doesn’t have any hostelries), friends had already set up a bar as a precursor to our first evening plans, which was to eschew the reunion’s official Friday night event: walking in the graduation ceremonies followed by dinner at the school cafeteria. When I heard that my classmates had voted for this event, I could wonder: were they all on food stamps? Further, I thought this was a rotten thing to do to the new graduates: like, if they work hard their whole lives and don't die of cancer, WE'RE what they have to look forward to?  Third, I avoided that cafeteria like the plague in high school so flying across the country to eat there wasn’t really high on my list. As it was later disclosed, the vote for the graduation/cafeteria event was 12-10, the other 150 classmates having failed to vote one way or the other. 

The big event was the Saturday night “dinner dance” at the local country club whose heyday was in the 1940s. We had a DJ who played “our” music, including the much beloved YMCA which was technically released 13 years after we graduated but without which no oldies high school reunion would be complete.

Despite being a small town, we actually have one really famous classmate, a Pulitzer prize-winning humor columnist and author of some 20 books who has written about our high school frequently. In fact, his latest book has an entire chapter about his yearbook photo in which he describes his hair as resembling a “malnourished weasel.” He and his wife came to the dinner dance with their 15-year-old daughter who bore up bravely but could be seen clicking away on her phone. I would have killed to see the hashtags: #geezerfest  #worstnightofmylife  #sincewhenisthismusic  #Illneverbebadagain #oyveyYMCA?

All of us being 67-68, there was, not surprisingly, a lot of health and diet talk. One of my classmates appeared to have been dropped into a vat of new age elixir: everything was “meant to be,” all choices were OK. You just wanted to smack her. But what was truly lovely was how unfiltered conversations were. Maybe it’s because we’ve finally dropped all the pretenses. Or maybe we’re borderline senile. Regardless, the dialog was all refreshingly honest. Then again, maybe in high school you don’t want conversations to be that honest.

It being a reunion, there were prizes:  most marriages (6); most grandchildren (8), longest marriage (46 years). As with the 40th, I got the award for coming the farthest although not before a challenge by somebody from Washington state was settled by MapQuest on our iPhones.

Alas not present: the alphabetical creepo who sat next to me in homeroom. I was secretary of the Organ Club (music, not donors) so when club announcements were read, he loved lean in and leer, “Hey, Inga, want to play MY organ?”  I had so many rejoinders ready.  Dang.
Ultimately I think the theme song for a 50th reunion ought to come from a much newer hit, Frozen’s “Let it go.”  I’m happy to say, I think we did.

Arriving in my tiny toy plane