Monday, April 25, 2016

United Outsources Security Questions To Pod People

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published April 27, 2016] ©2016

Recently United Airlines notified both my husband Olof and me that we would have to strengthen our passwords on our mileage accounts and select new security questions.

Olof and I hate security questions. For virtually all of our accounts – financial, travel, etc. – we try to use a single account so we can have security questions that we would both know the answer to. City where we were married (La Jolla) is always a good choice, although this is actually both of our second marriages so even that one has potential for confusion. We always go for Olof’s first pet. City where you were born has at least a 50% chance of being correct. We never use grandmother’s maiden name since neither of us can remember our own much less the other person’s.

But with this new system, United has outdone (undone?) itself. We were each offered 15 security questions and were required to pick five of them and select answers from a pull-down menu that was alleged to provide pretty much any option one might choose. It goes without saying that if either of us, but especially Olof, has to prove identity to United with the answer to any of these questions, he’ll have to take the bus back from Chicago.

There was not one single question of the 15 that we would both know the answer to. That is because United outsourced this project to pod people from a parallel galaxy who have not visited Earth in any recent time-space continuum.

To be accurate, there WAS one question that I knew we’d both know the answer to without a single doubt: What is your favorite pizza topping? Woo-hoo! Anchovies! But is anchovies one of the options? Nope! WHATS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE?? Something called Za’atar is an option, as is mashed potatoes. On a pizza? Even something called giardiniera. Sounds like an intestinal disease you get from camping.

Another question is “favorite subject in school?” What age? In elementary school I might have gone for “recess” (not an option, although “penmanship” is. Penmanship is anybody’s favorite subject in school?)

First major city that you visited: I was born in Boston and grew up in a suburb of New York City. Do either of those count as visits? “Major city” seems to be up to some debate as well: the extensive list includes Guangzhou, Lahore, Reykjavik, Jakarta - and Fresno.

What is your favorite sea animal? To eat? The list includes oysters, manatees, sea cucumbers, and sting rays. Hard to imagine that anyone’s favorite sea animal (food or otherwise) is a sting ray.

What is your favorite breed of dog? There are 57 (yes) choices before you even finish the C’s. English bulldog isn’t there but bulldog is. News flash, United pod people: English, French and American bulldogs are very different breeds!

What was the make of your first car? Like dogs, a long list which included Bugati, Armstrong-Siddeley, Bentley, DeTomso, Lamborghini, SsangYong – but no Yugo. We’re talking FIRST CAR here folks. I would aver that far more people had Yugos as first cars than Lamborghinis.

Favorite type of movie: Olof loves those icky Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies so maybe “fantasy” for him. I’d opt for “anything without car chases or special effects” (not a choice). I’d never dare select “romantic comedy” because Olof would sooner forfeit his plane ticket than opt for that.

What is your favorite type of reading? For Olof, computer books or technical books which really should be an answer but isn’t. The closest is “professional development” but he likes technical books for their own inexplicable sake. I would have selected memoirs if that were a choice, but I’ll concede that biography is close enough.

What musical instrument do you play? Olof used to play the guitar but hasn’t in decades. My answer, “I am terminally tone deaf and do not play a musical instrument” is not an answer, although nose flute, didgeridoo, shamisen, tambourine, sousaphone, and sitar are all choices.

There were slight variations in the options on our lists: Olof got What was your least favorite fruit or vegetable as a child? while the question on my mileage account was What was your most favorite fruit or vegetable as a child? Answer to both: Seriously, we’d remember?

What is your favorite warm weather sport? Drinking pina coladas on the beach? Not an option, but “disc golf” (what the heck is that?) and “biathlon” are.

What is the month of your best friend’s birthday? OK, at least there’s only 12 choices instead of 2,000 dog breeds or car makes. But do either of us have a single best friend anymore?

So here’s OUR question for United: How many fails do they give you before your ticket is cancelled and you’re assumed to be a site-hacking terrorist? Inquiring minds want to know.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Dirt Be Not Proud

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published April 20, 2016] © 2016
I’m not the worst housekeeper in the world. But I am a contender.
That said, I really do try to keep both clutter and dirt under control in my small garage-less house. I also have an alternate-week cleaning lady so with the food-shedding goober-fingered grandtots in town only about monthly, the house really doesn’t get very dirty.
Where my husband Olof and I disagree about housekeeping is the kitchen. Olof, I can assure you, would never have made it as a divorced working mother. For 12 years, I always seemed to have eight balls in the air between my job, carpooling, cub scouts, managing youth sports teams, and trying to keep my house and yard from descending into chaos and ruin. I can remember way too many nights when I fell asleep exhausted on top of the clean laundry piled on top of my bed, and way too many weeks when the dishes sat in the sink. There’s only so many hours in a day.
When Olof came into my life and was commuting down from the Bay Area on weekends in the years before we married, he would joke on Sunday nights as I was taking him to the airport that he was going to make an X in one of the dinner plates on the kitchen counter to see if it was still there when he returned. Very funny, I said. Like I didn’t always make sure those Sunday dishes were done before I left for the airport on Friday.
Life is all about priorities. The kids turned out well. So if the dishes got a little furry sometimes during warmer weather, so be it. That’s what the fur, er, superwash cycle on the dishwasher is for. Astonishingly, Olof married me anyway since Olof is not a furry dishes kind of guy.
Ah, the dishwasher. That is one area on which Olof and I will never see eye-to-eye. He took over the dishes when he retired two years ago. Though he’s too nice to say so out loud, I’ve sensed he’s never been all that happy with the job I did on the stove and counters and sink which the dishwasher, maliciously, refuses to clean. (We can put people on the moon but someone can’t invent this?)
The sound of dishes being done and I’m not doing them is music to my ears. But it makes me truly crazy that he spends at least a half hour doing the dishes just for the two of us. I always had that sucker loaded up in four minutes flat. When he’s done, the stove top is spotless, the granite counter tops positively sparkle, and you could be blinded by the shine in our stainless steel sink. And then – listen to this - he sweeps the kitchen floor. Why, I asked him one night as he emptied the dustpan, would you do that when the cleaning lady is coming in another week?
Olof held out the broom. “If you want, I could teach you how to use this,” he offered with an evil smile.
For reasons known best to Olof, the dishes are so clean by the time they’re loaded they probably don’t need to be run at all. Since I’m the dishwasher unloader, I couldn’t help but comment that if you can’t tell whether the dishes are clean or dirty, some of us could give them the benefit of the doubt.
But worse, Olof runs the dishwasher half full. Now, to be fair, I think the Bosch people would probably consider it correctly loaded. But seriously, I could have crammed three more days’ dishes in there, easy. (If you can see the bottom of the machine, you’re doing it wrong.) “Inga,” I have to remind, myself. “The man is DOING THE DISHES. If he wants to run it with two friggin’ forks, let him!” 
But even after two years, I truly feel that spending a half hour on kitchen cleanup is time that could be used far more wisely. Like reading War and Peace with a snifter of Laphroaig. Or in my case, People with a glass of chardonnay.
Olof just isn’t getting it.

Olof’s fully-loaded dishwasher
Inga’s fully-loaded dishwasher