Monday, January 20, 2020

How Did Life Get So Complicated?

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published January 22, 2020] ©2020

Welcome to Auntie Inga’s Curmudgeon Hour

Grab your preferred beverage and sit down while I whine again about why life has just gotten too perplexing for me. 

Recently, for example, I wanted to attend a fundraiser only to discover when I went to buy a ticket on-line that the only type of payment accepted was PayPal.  I emailed the agency in charge of the fundraiser whose solution was that they would help me set up a PayPal account. This was not what I had in mind.

I emailed back: “Your offer is very kind but I've lasted 72 years without a PayPal account and am not planning on ruining my status as Techno-Moronic Senile Luddite of the Year.  One last option: can one pay at the door in, say, cash?  It's the green stuff made of paper that comes in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 units that boasts portraits of past presidents and is still considered legal tender, however obsolete.  Anyway, thought it was worth asking.”

Ultimately we worked out a payment solution but I couldn’t help but reflect that stuff that didn’t used to be so hard is sucking up way too much time and increasingly limited mental capacity.

For example, parking your car didn’t used to be rocket science.  You either got X minutes for free or had to stuff coins in a meter, or pay some nice person in a little booth.  You did not need to download an app, assuming of course, you even knew how to download an app, not that you  actually kept any financial information on your stupid phone anyway. You just wanted to run in and get some Damp-Rid at Manley’s!

Reading the Sunday New York Times travel section, I have learned that besides using your phone as a boarding pass, one can now track one’s bags with it, and subscribe to services that will upgrade your airplane seat if a better one becomes available.  I fear I’m destined to have the worst seat on any plane, and be the last one out of the continent after the blizzard.  And definitely the only one who truly has no idea where her bags are. 

It just seems like there are techno road blocks being thrown in my way every single day. It would never occur to me to clap my hands to turn on a room light or wave my hands under a faucet to turn it on, unless I was in a movie theater restroom and they had very specific signs.  I don’t even want to get into the ever-increasingly list of friends I will never visit again because I can’t work their high-tech Japanese toilets.  And if I have to clap to turn on their bathroom light to even GET to the high-tech toilet, I’d fantasize about wetting their pricey sofa.

Recently, I needed to give information stored on my iPhone to a customer service agent. In Inga Land, my usual protocol is to call on the land line so I can access information on the cell phone if I have to.  But in this case, I was talking on the cell away from home. I’d been on hold for 45 minutes to get to get this lady in the first place so I didn’t want to disconnect the call.  Fortunately, a 20-something person overheard this and showed me how to do it. Yes, you can get info from your Contacts list without disconnecting your call!  But could I ever replicate it?  Not a chance.

I’m terrified of my TV remote.  One accidental push of a wrong button and the TV is unworkable.  Where’s the “revert to previous settings” button?  In fact, EVERY appliance or gadget should have one!  The “Save me!” button.  (Are you listening, 18-year-old techno-nerd designers?)

The thing is, I’m just not interested in learning most of this stuff.  It takes up too much bandwidth in an already failing brain.  I’ve slowly mastered my cell phone, or at least the parts of it that I really use (texting, photos, or calling an Uber).  If I want to chat with someone, I call them up.  OK, OK, I probably should at least master that thing on my phone that lets me access my Contacts list while talking to someone on the phone.  But it’s my final offer.

Some of us Boomers have really mastered, nay, embraced all the new technology.  But there are plenty of us who have been left in the dust.  Who likes to feel incompetent, like you can’t work a basic appliance or a TV or listen to a voice mail or figure out how to pay for your parking space?  All stuff that you never gave a thought to for the first 60 years of your life.  Have I outlived my time? Probably.

But I’m drawing the line at the toilet seats.

I don't know how to do this.  And I don't want to learn.

Monday, January 13, 2020

The Curse Of The Intermittent Technical Problem

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published January 15, 2020] ©2020

Is it just my imagination, or do I spend an inordinate amount of time getting stuff fixed?  Something is always broken, whether it’s a computer problem, a funny noise the car is making, a broken sprinkler head, or an ice maker that isn’t making ice.  Even our security cameras decided to fog up for no known reason. 

Of course, I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of the stuff I’m getting fixed wouldn’t have needed fixing in my youth because it didn’t yet exist (like computers).  Or didn’t exist at my house (like ice makers, sprinkler heads, and security cameras).  There was a lot to be said for the era of manual typewriters, hand-washed dishes, ice cube trays, and a climate where it actually rains.

But the true insanity-making problem to fix is the intermittent one. Just as intermittent reinforcement is the quickest way to strengthen a desired behavior, an intermittent technical problem that absolutely refuses to manifest itself in the presence of an entity actually qualified to fix it is the fastest way to make people bats--t crazy.  

Cars, of course, are notorious for this. I am sure if you are the auto repair biz there is nothing you hate more than a person such as me bringing in a vehicle that is making a “funny noise.”  What kind of ‘funny noise’? they ask patiently.  Is it more like a knocking, or a squeaking, or a clunking?  OK, clunking. 

They take the car out for a test drive. Does it clunk?  Not a chance.  Cars are designed to never clunk on command. They only clunk again on your way home.

Our heating system has developed a whine.  It is annoying beyond belief.  But the alternative is being cold.  The heating guy has been out twice and the system purrs like a happy kitten when he is on the premises.

So that brings us to the problem of the pictures on both of our TVs “tiling” (also known as “pixelating.”) The picture will suddenly break up and get totally fuzzy and unwatchable, always, maliciously, at some critically important point in a program or sports event. The fact that it happens on both our TVs which have two different cable boxes suggests that it is not the TVs or the cable boxes but something to do with the cable itself. We allowed it could always be transmission issues from the channels themselves. But surely our cable company could troubleshoot this for us?

Our cable provider sent out a gentleman named George who had the social skills of a sock.  Unfortunately, the technical skills of one too.

Let me just say that we have actually had some very good people come out over the years to deal with the various cable problems at our house.  We have also had a fair share of ones who wish to get out of your home with the greatest possible expedience and least possible service.  I really wish you could give Yelp ratings to cable guys.  There’s a bunch I’d like to see re-employed in trash pickup.

George showed up during our early afternoon appointment window and turned on the TV sets.  No pixelating or tiling was occurring.  He tested the signal on our cable box and pronounced it “fine.”  But, of course, as we noted, the problem was intermittent. Olof mentioned that our cable installation had been done some years ago so we wondered aloud if the wiring was getting a little corroded at this point, especially being so close to the ocean. 

George, however, insisted that he can’t send a “maintenance technician” out to look at a problem that he can’t see on the TV.  He suggests – and we were a tad incredulous – that we reschedule for a service call for an evening time when this problem was occurring. 

Olof, who is a far nicer person than I, reiterated that we notice this problem in the evenings because that is the only time that either of us ever watches TV.  Could very well be happening at other times too.

I, a far less nice person than Olof, queried if the technician would be joining us on the couch for the evening hoping the screen would break up. (I offered to make popcorn.)

But George just shrugged. He left. And our TVs continue to sporadically pixelate.

I couldn’t help but reflect that in my youth, TV picture problems were solved by adjusting the rabbit ears on top of the set.  It helped, or it didn’t help.  But it was vastly less aggravating.

So now I’ll take the route I should have taken in the first place: crowdsourcing.  Anybody out there having this problem too? Were you able to fix it? Olof is hoping to find out before our TV screen disintegrates during the last five minutes of the Super Bowl.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Refrigerator Wars

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published January 8, 2020] ©2020

I am lucky enough to have the legacy of parents who were truly kind people and never missed an opportunity to jump in where needed.  So when Olof and I realized that a disabled friend with no local family desperately required assistance, we volunteered to help. And thus began the saga I call will Refrigerator Wars. It could easily be five columns but here’s the abridged version. 

Our friend has 24/7 caregivers.  His refrigerator stopped working. An ancient behemoth, it was ultimately deemed not repairable, despite multiple part replacements over several days.

This was the news I dreaded.  Every appliance repair person who has ever looked at that refrigerator has said, “How on earth did that thing ever get in here?”  My husband wryly opined that it must have been manufactured on site.  It was a commercial-grade built-in refrigerator that wasn’t actually built in.  I’m sure our friend got a great deal on it. 

While lots of places have removal services for an old appliance when you buy a new one, there was no way any delivery service was going to tackle getting this massive fridge out of there.  So I hired multiple handy persons who each worked considerable hours, said they’d be back the next day to finish the job, and were never seen again. One, I learned later from the caregivers, actually used a sledge hammer.

There was fortunately a kitchen door on this 1929 house. Unfortunately it was 28 inches wide and had not only been painted shut but the lock mechanism broken in the lock position.  All other avenues to remove this refrigerator were even more impossible than the kitchen door.

The final set of handy persons succeeded in dismantling this refrigerator and removed it in 26 component pieces to the porch through the newly-unstuck re-locksmithed kitchen door.

I’d pre-selected a replacement at Home Depot only to find that any fridge I wanted was on three-week back order and one-week delivery delay. However, a nearby outlet store said they could indeed deliver the next day and provide take-away service for $90. They wouldn’t let me use my friend’s credit card (probably good news) so I had to buy it.

The next morning I was over there at our friend’s house at 7:15 a.m.  waiting for the delivery guys. 

At 8:40 a.m., a truck pulled up and three teenagers who seemed at most 15 jumped out. I asked them to confirm that they were taking away the refrigerator (pieces) that were on the porch.  Head Teenager says his paperwork doesn’t say anything about taking away the old refrigerator so he can’t do it. Do I want the new one or not?  I am really tempted to say just take it back but the caregiver is looking at me imploringly.  They’ve been without a refrigerator for over a week.

Head Teenager calls Customer Service who tell me that “someone will contact me later in the week” about picking up the old fridge.  Translation: I will never hear from them again. 

Not surprisingly, getting the new fridge in the 28-inch kitchen door requires heroic measures but to the Head Teenager’s credit, he ultimately gets it done.  Caregivers are ecstatic.

11 a.m.  Once home, I call the outlet place and ultimately get Mark, the manager, who promises someone will be out to pick up the old refrigerator tomorrow “at the latest.” 

11:30:  Mark calls back.  A problem. I didn’t tell the salesman that my old refrigerator was a built-in (even if it wasn’t actually built-in).  They don’t pick up built-ins.  I need to call a company who will send out a four-man crew which I would have to pay for.  I tell him I have already had it removed from the house onto the porch and that its component pieces need to be moved all of ten feet onto a truck. 

Mark also says the delivery kids told him there were “six steps” up to the porch.  I reply that the delivery kids are obviously products of San Diego public education and that there are actually two. Mark suggests that the best solution would be that they refund my $90 removal fee and I find some other [clueless idiot] individual to take it away for me.  Would that be acceptable to me?  Me: Hell no.  You guys are going to come get this refrigerator. 

1 p.m. Mark calls and says he is sending a crew later that day to pick up the refrigerator. 

8 p.m. Pick-up crew never shows up. 

9 a.m. Day 9: I go over to the house first thing with 26 strips of paper on which I have printed “refrigerator part” and tape them to all the assorted parts so there can be no mistake.

11:30 a.m. Caregiver calls:  Truck has come and taken away the refrigerator including all its component pieces! 

Day 10: Caregiver calls to report dishwasher isn’t working.  I say, “Tough!”