Archive for the 'technology' Category

Bus cards

December 21, 2014

I gripe about technology, I admit it.  Here’s a recent occurrence.

I got on the bus yesterday, first time in a long time, and one of the automated messages during the ride was that some of the “Charlie Card” fare cards are expiring and we should go to a T station with fare machines (none are in my town) to see if ours is such a one.

They may have said it was due to a software upgrade, but I am not sure.

We checked online when I got home and found further information about what to do if we end up with inaccessible stored value on a fare card — go to Downtown Crossing (in Boston) to get that addressed.

I would have preferred one fare for all, paid in cash, all along, to having to do this, especially since it comes at an especially inopportune time for me.  I assume it is something of a monkey wrench for some portion of other passengers, too.  If we don’t take the steps outlined, and our card is one of those expiring (which I am thinking is likely mine is, because it’s pretty old, but let me add, I had no idea that if the card were to expire, there wouldn’t be an easy transition), not only will I lose my money on it, but I will pay higher fares going forward if I don’t obtain a new card.

My gripe is that the system is sold to us on the basis of convenience and pricing, but we actually pay up later, with either greater inconvenience, or worse pricing.

Reminds me of the behavior of private telecommunications service provider companies — they make an arrangement with the customer, induce some amount of reliance, and then unilaterally change the arrangements to the customer’s detriment.  The pattern teaches mistrust, it seems to me.

When I first got on the bus, I was thinking about whether I should put more money on my card.  Interesting that I may well end up paying the pay-as-I-go higher, cash fare instead.

What it takes away from me is the sense that I had in my wallet a card I could rely on in a pinch to get me a ride on the bus, that I had made adequate preparations.  That was a false sense of security, it turns out, perhaps because I didn’t pay enough attention to the details of the card arrangements, I don’t know.  I am sure there is a lesson in it.  It certainly echoes other patterns for me, involving my being taken in by what turns out to be salesmanship.  I wonder if technological innovation lends itself to that pattern.

Response before the query

July 5, 2014

I was helping my mother this evening with some “business,” as she likes to call it, and sure enough, I discovered that the fix to an old problem had not been taken as described (the amounts of money were not the same).  Even though it’s a holiday weekend, I almost immediately sent off to the person handling the matter the email pointing out the issue, because it was much easier to write the email while the details of the matter were still fresh in my mind.

And I received pretty quickly an automated response about how my recipient was out of the office and would be back on Tuesday.  No big surprise there.

But my thrill was that when I transferred the two emails to a folder for storage, my recipient’s response preceded my query in the list, even though this list sorts the emails according to when they were “Received.”  Both have the same time stamp, but the reply comes first in the list.

I love it.

I had always wanted to ask Kinko’s to photocopy my college papers before I wrote them.  This comes close enough — close enough to a physical representation of a concept I love, a concept of a much more fluid experience of time, an experience of time which includes the possibility that what comes later can be inserted back into the past.


January 15, 2014

I found myself in Belmont Center yesterday.  I apparently hadn’t been there for years, because every time I asked shopkeepers about changes, they told me “about three years ago.”  Without Bildner’s (a grocery store) and Filene’s (a department store; the Macy’s replacement just wasn’t the same, and now the location is empty) and Charlesbank Books, it ceased to be a particularly beckoning destination for us.

I saw a gorgeous scarf.  It’s more of a shawl, it’s wool, cream colored with pinkish paisley, and it’s, tastefully, beaded.  It was not cheap, but nor was it unreasonably priced.  I braced myself and got out my cash.

The salesperson rang it up with sales tax, so what she asked me for was noticeably higher than the tag price.  I said, “But it’s clothing” [and so shouldn’t be subject to sales tax], and she and her colleague said, “It’s an accessory” [and hence taxable].  I inferred that my choices were to pay what they were charging or to put it back, and I went with Option A.

When I got home and had eaten lunch, I went to my computer and googled “scarves sales tax ma,” or something to that effect, and sure enough, it’s exempt from tax, according to a state government document I found right away.  Right there grouped with neckwear and ties.

I called the store, they were very nice, told me if I came back with the receipt, they would give me back the tax.  Which I did.  We had a lovely conversation, quite friendly.  I recalled I had actually been through this at least once before, with shawls sold by an antique store that used to be in Brattle Square in Arlington.  I think shops that don’t sell primarily clothing are more apt to make this mistake.  (This shop in Belmont told me, “That’s the way it comes up in ‘the system.'”  I won’t get started on my technology issues here.)

Why I bring this up is that I don’t think I could have gotten any further at the time of purchase than I got.  There was no willingness to entertain the issue at that point.  They, not surprisingly, had a computer, but I don’t think it would have been effective to have asked them to go online and check.  I ended up expending the extra time and gas to go back, but c’est la vie, it didn’t take long and it’s not that far.

This resonated for me with other encounters, including formal meetings with bureaucratic officials, I’ve had, where afterwards, I wonder why I didn’t press my case further.  The scarf situation didn’t have much emotional overlay to it, paying the extra money was not fraught with anything in particular — it was just money, enough that I noticed, not so much as to be upsetting — so I could see more easily that there really wasn’t an opening to pursue the issue further at the moment.  It made me feel better about similar experiences in past situations, reassuring that I probably really hadn’t missed real opportunities.

Driving directions

January 10, 2014

I had a really good example the other day of how our reliance on technology can be misplaced.

I needed to drive to an office I had never been to, I got driving directions online, but I also got one of those human internal “messages” to call to see if there was anything I should know about getting there.  Sure enough there was.

Not only would the exit ramp off of Route 128 be very long, but when I got to the light, I should get into the middle lane and take the right that is not the hard right.  Follow that road down and up a hill, then it’s the second of three brick buildings on my left.

Those directions worked like a charm.  My printed directions had me taking all kinds of turns on about 4 different roads in quick succession.  And nothing about a series of brick buildings.

I like being able to look at directions online — it’s quick and convenient and private.  But the directions can be, as I’m sure most people know, misleading, and the sense that one now knows enough to get to the destination successfully can be misplaced.  (By the way, when I thanked the receptionist for her great directions, she told me that the GPS experience is no better in helpfulness than the online directions in this case.)

I can see that with enough data input, technology could mimic humans in giving directions in these kinds of situations, but I want to know why that’s a good use of human energy.  Why not have a human interaction?  Why not train humans to give better directions, if human unreliability is a problem?  Or make it a valued skill so that it’s more readily available, if difficulty in finding someone to give directions is an issue.  The human interaction was a nice touch, too, I thought.  (She also told me the staircase I would see in the building would not take me to the third floor, where the office was.)

I think my point is something related to “unintended consequences.”  We see the advantages to a new technological application and leap into its use, but we may not realize we have lost something, too.

Oh, those electronic medical records!

December 17, 2013

I was reviewing my level of distrust with a situation I will describe below, and concluded that I, too, have been impacted by the “If you like your policy, you can keep it.”

I have multiple family members with Medicare, and one of them received a notice that their primary care doctor is becoming part of an accountable care organization (ACO), I assume as a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  The family member may opt out of having medical information shared around among their providers through Medicare and this ACO.

In the past, admittedly in a different context, one of these providers has made a point of only sharing the minimum of information necessary, as the provider has seen problems arise.

So the family member is thinking about opting out of sharing.  But we are concerned that this could mean the family member will be told by the primary care doctor that the doctor can no longer be the family member’s doctor.

The notification letter tells the recipient to call Medicare, I did, and they don’t know if that can be a consequence.  The number for the ACO gives only a voicemail option, so I dutifully left a message.  The other option is an appointment with the doctor — but we’re supposed to pay a co-pay, not to mention time, energy, and parking fees, to talk about this?  Doesn’t seem appropriate to me.

In any event, I file this under (a) the unintended consequences of storing medical records electronically, (b) distrust created by misleading promises in marketing the ACA, and (c) distrust of the medical bureaucracy in general.

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.

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 27, 2013

I bought a few CDs on Amazon today and received an email about their Cloud Player.  So I asked Jordan about it, and voila, I have music from the cloud this evening.  Lots of it, I guess courtesy of previous purchases over the years.  I’m listening to Jethro Tull.

So I enjoyed the little echo sound I heard when I read the title for Maureen Dowd’s column tonight:  “Get Off Your Cloud.”

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.

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.