Archive for the 'computers' Category

New occasions for communication

March 7, 2015

There’s the Tower of Babel and there’s the blind men feeling the parts of the elephant, and with respect to both parables, I take it that we’re supposed to communicate with each other.  I’d go further and suggest that this communication leads to greater empathy, and hence compassion, through getting to know the other better and taking a look at things from their perspective.

This morning I got an email from the current accountant’s office letting me know that an email I had sent (with material from the prior accountant’s office — why the two offices, one in NYC and the other in MA, could not communicate directly with each other is beyond me) had not been received.  Said email was in my “sent” box, I had not received an “undeliverable” message indicating that the email would not be received, but I also wasn’t entirely surprised it hadn’t been received since I was aware that the file I had attached to the email was big.  I had marked a second email as transmitting Part 2 of 2 of the document, which the person in the accounting office had received, so they were able to realize that they were missing Part 1 of 2, which, apparently, had been too big.  And they really wanted the entire document, so they were motivated to figure things out and get back to me.

We were into “Part x of y [parts]” because the original file had produced undeliverable and failure messages at the outset when I tried to send it as one, unified attachment.

So this morning I subdivided Part 1 of the document into subsections (a) and (b) — and felt like I was getting experience in binary or dualistic thinking — and sent each of those in separate emails.  Those went through.  Bingo.

I have had the opposite experience, in fact with a professional who shares the same suite of offices with the accounting firm (although I don’t know that they share computer systems or service providers).  There, I had sent a large file (of something else) and gotten a failure notice, but the recipient told me they had in fact received it.  They went on further to say that they have learned not to assume a failure notice is accurate because it has happened to them so frequently that they get such a notice but their recipient actually receives the email.

So I am left with not being able to assume I know what has happened to an email — “undelivered” ones delivered, “sent” ones undelivered.

Tony-my-computer-guy happened to call this morning about something else, and when we got to discussing this, he confirmed the reality of what I experience and he offered some technical information to explain the gaps in the system(s).  We agreed that what’s needed, if something is important, is corroboration through a separate communication about whether the original message was received.

Later on, on my own, I reflected further on this need for further communication and it got me thinking that it could be seen as another version of the situation in which we humans are being prompted to communicate more closely with one another, like the Tower of Babel and the Blind Men and the Elephant.  We’ve developed email, and we can use it pretty impersonally and just send each other stuff, but this hasn’t meant that we don’t also have to check-in with each other if we want to make sure the message has been received and our intentions have been fulfilled.  This need for confirmation gives us another chance at communication that might lead to greater empathy and compassion.  We try to pull away and separate into respective silos of existence, but something pulls us back together and encourages us to interact, share, and engage in a flow.




New Year’s resolution

December 28, 2013

About a week ago it occurred to me to make a New Year’s resolution, and to resolve to work on trying to be more pleasant and less reactive under stress (in situations I find stressful, that is).

The universe gave me an opportunity to work on this the other day, even before the New Year begins, when I got my telephone bill and it contained a price increase.

My phone/internet service arrangement had come up for renewal and renegotiation this past August, and the matter had been a protracted mess, in part because somebody working for the company had made an unauthorized change to my services.  It took a lot of lengthy phone calls to get things sorted out.

I had not thought I would have to revisit my relationship to my carrier until next August, but they raised the price for my internet service, apparently, in this latest bill.

This blog post is going to be about reactivity and pleasantness, but let me first sketch out that, long story short, the phone/internet service provider actually had given me a price guarantee for a year, back in August, and now they are saying they will honor it (although I won’t see that they are following through on this claim until my next bill — in the meantime, they did give me a credit on this bill for the difference in prices, though).  The guarantee was for a slightly higher price than what they had been charging me, because they had also given me promotional coupons for a year, but I was willing to budge on that issue because, quite frankly, I wasn’t sure why I had ended up with that lower price.  The guaranteed price is below what they were billing with the new, increased price on the bill I most recently received.

Anyway, back to my reaction.  I was indignant and upset that I would have to spend time on this issue again so soon, I wanted to push it off my plate and I resented that someone had plopped it on my plate.  So when I encountered the first scripted response of “We can do this, you don’t have a contract,” I felt frustrated. And I felt the asymmetry of the relationship, I felt I was being “done to,” and I felt victimized.  When that happens, I think I tend to express anger in my tone of voice and I tend to interrupt.  I think I did all that.

I suspect it’s sort of to compensate for feeling I have a lack of effective tools at my disposal to fight back with.  I was indignant about a mid-year-ish price increase, and my argument was about how I had not been aware that my price could go up and had understood that it wouldn’t for a year from the deal we had agreed on.  I think I tried for a bit to argue from general principles about why I didn’t think I should be subject to this increase, but all I got was scripted responses and a list of new options, none of which I liked.  I did subside and said I would need some time to think over my options, and the conversation ended pleasantly enough, but I had gotten testy in the middle of it, I believe.

Later that day I went back to look at my notes from the August negotiations and I saw that because I had been “put into my bundle by a manager,” the price was guaranteed for a year even though there was not contract.

When I called back at that point, I got a representative who was even more scripted, but I had the right lines;  her script allowed her to respond to my manager’s guarantee by going to her supervisor, and we got back to my guaranteed  price and to “yes” — in part because their file notes showed the guarantee and in part, apparently, because of what my deal had been before August, information they actually had to ask me to supply them with.

I learned from this that had I not reacted with such emotion to the fact of having to deal with this at all, I could have gotten all my ducks lined up before I made the first call and possibly gotten the matter settled to my satisfaction with one call and without getting testy.  That I didn’t has something to do with getting too drained by my work on behalf of my dad’s estate and on behalf of my mother, and on behalf of my children.  In all those cases, I seem to be the only one available to help, and while I don’t take on every aspect of the tasks — I avail myself of professionals and I insist these other family members do, too, like financial managers, social workers, academic advisers, etc. — it leaves me too drained to take things, like straightening out the telephone bill, with equanimity.

So, part of the solution, in theory, is to take better care of myself so I am not on the verge of being too frazzled when a new issue comes along for my attention.  Part of it is to at least train myself to put in a pause and take time to observe that yes, I am reacting and not taking the time to address the issue methodically and calmly, in my hurry to just push it away.  Part of it is to train myself to use tools other than my tone of voice — I think I resort to tone when the content of my words does not get through the first two or three times I try.  Part of it is faith — to have some faith that the issue will not be the straw that breaks the camel’s back in terms of making my workload impossible, that I have some support even if I have no spouse or relatives to provide respite help to me with what’s on my plate.

The bill is, as I said, supposedly being revised to meet my price guarantee, Jonas has lined up a new place to live in the spring, Jordan has chosen new spring semester courses, my mother has accomplished her transaction before the end of the calendar year, the estate has been largely settled.  I don’t have nothing to show for my efforts (in these and other current matters), but my “serenity” has taken a hit.  And that is what I want to figure out, how to accomplish this stuff with less “drag” on the system.

Private programming weaknesses

October 22, 2013

I think I could probably write one of those running counts of a particular phenomenon people often post online — mine would be about bugs and defects in computer programming in the private sector.  Over the weekend it was programming involving a private university and a payroll company.

Today’s entry involves a private medical practice, a pharmacy, and a private insurer.  The doctor wants to send the prescription refills to the pharmacy electronically during the appointment with the patient.  But if he does that, if it’s not time for a refill to be processed, the insurer will reject the prescription, and the pharmacy, apparently, won’t be able to file the prescription for later use.

The doctor suggests calling him shortly before the refill needs to be filled instead.  The patient and their family suggests just giving them the prescriptions printed on paper, which can then be taken to the pharmacy at the right moment.  That way we all avoid problems such as the doctor being on vacation or absent due to illness or accident, and communication glitches.

Progress?  We’ve moved beyond, at least, it seems, what happened to me ten years ago, when I spent a day in my husband’s hospital room on the phone with this same medical practice and this same pharmacy, trying to get prescriptions filled at the end of the month’s supply.  I swore I would try my best not to be put in a similar situation ever again.

In any case, these technological glitches have nothing to do with the government or with Obamacare.  They are easily found, in my experience, in the private sector.

Algorithm, confirmation bias, or synchronicity

September 19, 2013

I posted the previous post and then went for a walk.  I got back and started on my usual tasks.  I googled “Crow on the Cradle” done by Jackson Browne for accompaniment, and when it was finished, I clicked on another Jackson Browne and David Lindley live performance (turned out to be “Before the Deluge”).  I got treated to an ad first.  It was about how MetLife walked the woman who was testifying in the ad, through the process of applying for life insurance — it was over the phone and easier than she thought.

I usually get ads on YouTube about stain removal.  This MetLife life insurance ad was a first for me, so it stood out.  And yes, it did remind me of my blog post about walking my mom (using a different method) through a phone conversation about a financial matter, despite her apprehension and with a positive reaction to the experience.

Do I know whether there was a material connection between the two incidents?  If I have looked at shoes online and shoe ads pop up on webpages I later browse, I assume cookies and algorithms and whatnot.  Here if what happened was due to such things, it would take a lot more sophistication in the software, so I don’t assume it was the mechanism.  Is it confirmation bias?  The two incidents happened close in time and with not much business in between (basically just my walk).  Is it synchronicity?  I don’t like to get too caught up in terms and definitions.  The way I would put it is that it feels like being an unwitting recipient of an unadvertized “buy one, get one free” special, or like pulling an apple off a tree and having another one fall down beside you as the branch returns to its place.  It doesn’t feel random.  And a mundane mechanism is not obvious to me.

Even without my ego to perceive both events in relation to me, they both happened in close succession in the same locale.  A post goes up, an ad with a similar theme plays on YouTube on the same computer a short time later.

Not my birthday

July 31, 2013

Yesterday felt like my birthday, only it wasn’t, not even close.

The biggest reasons it felt that way was that I got a laptop computer, and there’s a bunch of some of my favorite flowers in my dining room, perfuming it.  And I didn’t (directly) pay for either.

The flowers are lilies from my garden, four Star Gazer blooms and seven white lily blooms.  The Star Gazer lilies I did buy last year, but here they are again this year, re-sprouted — I didn’t do that.  The white lilies I don’t know who planted.  They seem to appear sporadically, some years and not others, and neither Willy nor I could remember choosing them or planting them.  They surprised us ten years ago, the summer he died (I remember asking him about them and cutting one for his room), and here they are again.

The laptop is my first.  I know I’m late to the party, but I only even got this one by being backed into it (I’m typing this post on it);  my father’s computer stopped working, both CPU and monitor, and I kind of need computer access while I visit my mother (including during next week’s trip) — wouldn’t make much sense not to be able to pay her bills electronically while I’m there in NJ, when I can do it while I’m up here in Massachusetts.

So I asked Tony to find me something used and appropriate (pretty basic), and he did, and my mother offered to pay for it.

But it wasn’t the payment issue that made it feel like a present — somehow getting it reminded me of getting a bicycle for my birthday, the same kind of thrilling.  And I’m no technophile, so I don’t think it had to do with the laptop itself.  So, too, with the flowers.  I love their robustness and scent, how they perfume the house even beyond the room they’re in, but somehow when I just look at them, especially when the sunlight is bathing them, I feel so thrilled, way beyond what I can explain.

I do notice birthdays this time of year.  Jonas’ official one is next week, and maybe because he has birth certificate issues (it’s quite legal and proper, but it is court created, not a record of the facts of his birth), I think of President Obama’s birthday, too, which I think is even sooner (his birth certificate issues were manufactured in a quite different way, of course).  Then there are two other gentlemen born around the same time as Obama — same year, I think — who, or whose work, have loomed large in my life:  Richard Shindell and David Brooks.

So happy birthday to all of them, while I enjoy my computer and flowers, for whatever reason.

Live accounts

July 15, 2013

My son’s university no longer sends out paper tuition bills — we have to look at the bill online.  So I thought this meant that when there were new bookkeeping entries to be made, such as financial aid awarded or portions of that aid declined, it could be updated.  Well, apparently it can’t, apparently it’s just like a one-time printing of a paper bill.  The only efficiency seems to be in the means of the initial delivery of the information.  I was surprised.  It’s not a live account, just electronic paper.


February 28, 2013

This Amazon Cloud business is full of surprises for a dinosaur like me.  I’ll select a song and then go off to do something in another tab in my browser, and all of sudden some other song comes on that I haven’t selected and had no idea I ever acquired on a CD.

I could try to learn how the website works, but I kind of like the surprises.  As I was saying the other day, sometimes it’s quite nice to let somebody else, or something else, create the playlist.

Struggling with technology

February 25, 2013

I was using a tax software program yesterday.  In its running summary of my progress, it did not include all the information that had been entered according to its instructions.

Some of that information turned out to be there, and indeed landed in the proper boxes and lines on the forms.  Some of it I had to re-enter manually.

So it’s not just on my end, the software has idiosyncrasies.

At one point, I was on hold waiting for customer service, and I started wondering why I seem to have such a struggle with technology.  And I thought, maybe other people feel the way I do about technology, about something else that I actually feel comfortable with.  And maybe my struggles with technology are a gentle reminder to be more understanding of others who struggle with those things, and to be clearer in my explanations if I am trying to help them with that.

Restricted communication

February 8, 2013

While I am riding out the nor’easter with my mother in NJ, I thought I would try to engage in some of my regular news commenting routines.  My dad’s computer and browser, I am discovering, won’t support what I usually do.  I got a message so saying when I tried to comment on Gwen Ifill’s blog post on Rosa Parks.  On the NYTimes website, the typing is on delay, and eventually the computer freezes up. 

Apparently I am on hiatus from commenting, as well as from snow shoveling duty.

I am grateful we got my dad’s ashes buried before the snow, and we got a lot done earlier in the week.  Being stuck here and forced to chill maybe are what I need now.

Performing tasks

January 16, 2013

I think I learned this from Gita, she to whom I go to hear what I don’t wish to hear.  It’s the idea that whatever it is we’re doing, we are doing it for God (or, if you prefer, we can do with the attitude that we are doing it for God).  I associate that idea with tasks that are tedious, difficult, too many in number for the amount of time, etc., but I mostly associate it with tasks deemed lowly in some way.

But today I was caught up in activities that involved technology, finances, and other things that suggest status and significance.  What I actually spent hours doing on the phone and online with these people in the financial sector was really unproductive and unsatisfying, and why it has any better reputation than cleaning bathrooms or shoveling snow, I don’t know — I certainly didn’t find it more satisfying than tasks lower on the totem pole according to our system of values, and it struck me that the people on the other end of my communications, while very nice and trying to be helpful, were being paid more than I think maids and plowers are paid.

It struck me that what we assign value to is pretty arbitrary, and that some of the current claims to an activity’s value are a little like the emperor’s new clothes.

But if the orientation is that whatever task is being done is being done for God, it doesn’t really matter.  That concept is a great leveler.