Technological Marvel

Like many people, I am conflicted about the ever-growing incursion of the electronic world into our daily lives. It seems that so much of it is about keeping track of us, one way or another.

For example, one feature that not everyone knows about in some modern cars, is the ability for the car manufacturers, insurance companies, and various legal authorities to track drivers’ movements, not just where the drivers go, but how they get there, how fast they go, how they maneuver through traffic, and whether the driver starts smoothly or indulges in jack-rabbit starts.

I don’t know if all cars come equipped with this technology — some people add it intentionally because it lowers their insurance bill. I do know that there is so much technology in cars — way more than I like — that I restored my old pre-tech car so I wouldn’t have to deal with any of it.

If eyes on our personal space inside our vehicles isn’t bad enough, there are cameras everywhere, including far up in space, that can keep track of our every movement.

The same is true with the internet. Although computer software purveyors pretend they aren’t using our data in any way, to a certain extent, they are more in control of our computers than most of us non-technical folk are.

And then there is the whole black web thing, where all sorts of unsavory things go on.

Like most everything I do, my online life is a cotton candy version of what is out there. I stick with this blog, play a game or two, make use of email, do a bit of research and do even less than a bit of shopping. It’s so ho-hum that I doubt anyone is watching me, though I am always cognizant of that possibility so I protect myself as best as I can. Still, even with a certain level of vigilance, and maybe even because of it, I tend to take technology for granted and forget what a marvel it all is.

Today I got a phone call from a local area code. Most people don’t answer unknown calls in their own area code because that recognition factor is how the scammers try to sucker people into answering the phone, but my area code is from a city I’ve never lived. I don’t even know anyone who lives there. So any call from that area code, I immediately block. But the area code from where I live? Those calls tend to answer because every once in a while, I do get local calls from people I know who aren’t in my contact list.

So I answered the phone, and oh! What a surprise. I am watching a house for a couple of friends who are out of the country, and the husband called me today. At first I thought he was back in town because of visa problems, but no, he’s still out of the country. He just wanted to talk, to tell me how they are doing, to let me say hi to her, and to thank me for taking care of their house.

So how did this marvel happen? Skype. I thought to use Skype, both people had to be signed up, but apparently not. He was able to get a Skype number from the closest city, so now he can call all the way from Bangkok, and it shows up (and is billed) as a local number.

Truly a marvel!

Note to local folks: B & L said to tell you hi. She is doing better, though she’s having trouble walking. They thank you for your prayers. And, of course, they miss all of you and hope you are doing well.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

New and Improved Email

A few weeks ago I got an email from my domain provider telling me they are switching to a new and improved email platform.

I liked having my own personal email address at my own personal domain (@ patbertram rather than @yahoo or whatever), so I used that email frequently. I also used that email address to sign up for various websites because if I got inundated with junk, it didn’t come to me via the phone. I had to wait until I went online to check my email.

Ever since that notification, I’ve been making a list of people and businesses I have to contact to change my email address, as well as sites where I have to change my email login address. Making all those changes in the two months allotted seems insurmountable. (After two months of a free trial, they will be charging me monthly, though how being charged for a service that used to be free can be considered new and improved, I don’t know.) Because of the monumental task (and because I am rebellious and don’t want to do the work), I’ve been considering going ahead and paying for a year or so until I either get everyone changed over or until attrition makes some of the changes unnecessary.

Today the changeover happened. And the new and improved is nothing more than Microsoft’s Outlook. I already have a Hotmail email using that same platform, but since it’s dedicated to family emails, I don’t have to use it very much, which is good, because I find it tedious cumbersome.

The only good thing about the changeover today is that it made the decision about keeping the account for me. Since it’s a platform I don’t like, and one, moreover, that I already have, I see no point in paying money for the service.

I bet you can guess what I’m going to be doing the next couple of months! And it won’t be me having fun, that’s for sure.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Banking Online

I’m surprised it took me so long to sign up for banking via the internet, and more surprised at how convenient it is.

Come to think of it, it’s not surprising that it took me so long to sign up after all. I wasn’t sure I trusted the safety of such transactions, with the way passwords are occasionally compromised, and I didn’t like it that I had to ask my bank “permission.” It wasn’t really permission, but it seemed that way since I had to ask them to set it up.

When I opened my accounts here, it was mostly automatic. They told me what to do, I did it, and that was that. Now, I can’t imagine going back to the old way where a person had no idea what was happening in their accounts until they got a monthly bank statement. And even then, a person never really knew what was going on, because there was approximately a two-week lag time between when the statement was prepared and when it was received. And then there was all the adding and subtracting to reconcile the account, because there were always checks that had been written and sometimes even deposits made during that lag time.

I don’t really have a lot of banking tasks, but I do have a separate account to use for PayPal and online purchases, which I keep mostly empty. So that means I have to transfer money from one account to another to pay for online purchases and bill paying. Banking online makes all that so easy! Less than a minute, and the money is transferred. And even though I do keep a separate written tally because just like in the old paper banking days, it takes a few days before checks and transfers show up in the account, and I like knowing where I stand.

In retrospect, it would have been a good idea to have used internet banking during those years I was living in a different state than my bank, but I managed to survive it, as well as survive someone fraudulently using my debit card.

The theft of my card number was probably why, when I moved here, I was so willing to make the change to a paperless account. Back then, I had to call the hospital and give them my debit card number to pay the monthly bills for my arm surgeries, and it was one of those employees who stole my card number. It would have been so much better doing it online.

Not that any of this has anything to do with anything except that I paid bills today, transferring money from one account to another to do so, and it dawned on me how convenient it all is. It makes it convenient to spend money, too, but that’s a different issue.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Browsing for Browsers

I waste a lot of time trying to undo things computers do to me, such as change settings that aren’t supposed to change. For example, I prefer browsers to open with Google or even a blank page, but suddenly, for some unfathomable reason, Edge decided to forget my preference and instead open with the Microsoft page. I don’t mind Edge, but I do not like Bing, and even though I use Microsoft products, I don’t like the name jammed down my throat to gag me. Which is why I want Google as the opening page.

I spent what seemed like hours searching for the instructions on resetting Google as my homepage (though it probably wasn’t more than half an hour). As it turns out, the setting is still the same, with Google set as the default opening page. Edge has simply decided to ignore it.

You’d think, then, that I would switch to Chrome to get the opening page I want, but I always seemed to have problems with Chrome, though it could have been my old computer that had problems with it and this one would like it okay.

Although many people over the years have recommended Firefox, I never was that fond of it. I do use it as an alternative browser, though, so I can keep two different sets of sites going at once. For example, on one browser, this blog is kept logged in, and on another browser, a different blog is kept logged in. (That’s the blog I have to use to reblog this blog so I can post a link on Facebook so my friends there can keep current with me. Confusing, right?)

With previous browsers, a new tab would open to my default opening page, but Microsoft removed that option, so now it takes me an extra step to get to the Google page on subsequent tabs. I imagine I’ll get used to doing the same thing when I open the browser. It’s not as if an extra click is that onerous, it’s that computers are supposed to be increasingly easy to use without having to make those extra clicks.

I could go with a completely different browser — I’ve heard that Opera is good — but like Edge, it uses the Chromium page-rendering engine. (From what I can gather, the only holdout is Firefox.) So why bother with any browser other than Chrome?

In my case, it’s laziness. Edge came with my computer, and so that’s what I’ve been using, though, as you can see, I’m rethinking that particular option and browsing for browsers.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Showing My Life

People often express concern about my posting photos of my house and my yard. They think I am setting myself up for theft or home invasion or some such, and perhaps that’s true. However, most people who read this blog don’t know exactly where I live — in fact, most live in distant parts of the United States or in other countries — and those who do know where I live, know because they have actually been to the house. Despite that, I realize anyone can find anyone nowadays, probably with just a few keystrokes, so it behooves all of us to be careful.

In a way, posting photos works in my favor because although my rooms look inviting, it’s quite obvious there’s nothing of value in the house. The furniture is old, handed down from relatives; the kitchenware was inexpensive when I bought it decades ago; and whatever tools I have are both handed down and inexpensive. Still, when it comes to a more expensive tool (expensive compared to old rakes and shovels, but still relatively cheap), such as the lawn mower I use, I make sure not to post any photos, though truly, that’s not the sort of thing that goes missing around here. The tools people like to steal are the sort they can pocket and perhaps pawn — or maybe even pawn off on an unsuspecting buyer.

I am careful, though, at least as careful as I know how to be. If I were to go on a trip, I wouldn’t talk about it until I returned home again. It really is nuts the way people post their vacation photos while they are away, as if to tell the world, “No one’s home. Feel free to break into my house.”

I did post photos when I took my cross-country trip, but even then, I waited until I’d moved to my next stop before I posted the previous stop’s photos on the off chance (the off, off, off chance) that someone would be stalking me. At the time, I had no home, so it didn’t matter if people knew I was away, but I had enough people telling me how dangerous it was for a woman to travel alone that I took a few precautions. I’m glad nothing dire happened, and even more than that, I’m glad I took the trip. Although I thought that trip would be the first of many, it turned out to be the first of merely a few. I tend to think my traveling days are now over, especially since I spent my travel money on a garage. But truly, if I do ever take off, I won’t be announcing to the world that my house is empty.

Still, whether I heed people’s warnings or continue showing my life, I do appreciate the concern. It’s nice to know people care.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

The Internet Gives and Takes (And Takes)

The internet seems to have always been a give then take and take situation, and this state of affairs continues to do this day. For example, I just got a notice about upgrading my free email account to a paid version for the incredibly low price of $5.00. Free is cheaper, of course, but they have been adding so many more ads to the site that I’m sure people will be willing to pay the money to get rid of the annoyance factor. That email is the one I used to sign up for all my internet sites, and since it’s used primarily to get notifications from those sites, the ads aren’t a problem for me.

The email I use most has no ads — it comes with my website at no extra charge. I also get an email that might be ad-free from my internet provider, though I haven’t used that email yet, so I don’t really know. Previously, I never paid attention to such email services because I was moving around a lot and wasn’t interested in always having to change my address. Now that I’m in my “forever” home — well, not really forever because forever would last eons beyond my death, but you know what I mean — I could use the email since it would be as permanent as my residency in this house.

Still, I’m not sure I trust the company. They used to offer a singe charge for internet services no matter what the bandwidth. It was a variable number, sometime incredibly fast, sometimes incredibly slow, but they recently started offering a more expansive bandwidth service for a rather large increase in price. Which would be fine if they had actually increased the speed, but it looks as if what they did was divide out the variable bandwidth and are making people pay for the faster service. So now my internet is a bit slower, and if I want to get back to where it was, I have to pay more. It’s a good thing there is only me and that I don’t watch movies or listen to music on my computer or phone, so the bandwidth I have is fine for now. Until they decide to offer a midrange speed and slow my computer down again.

But, as I said, this has always been the case with any internet service. When I first signed up with Facebook, everyone who “liked” or “followed” my author page got all of my updates in their feed. Whether those people saw the updates or not was a different matter, but the updates were there. Then FB decided they weren’t making enough money, so they started charging for that service. Now, the only people who get occasional updates are those who regularly interact with the page. The other 1,549 people who follow my page will only see what I post if I pay FB to show my posts to them, and since FB refuses to let me post the link to this blog, I refuse to pay them. Even worse, because FB doesn’t like second hand links (I have to “reblog” my blog to another blog so I can post my blog by proxy) I’ve gone from the original 1000 views on FB to the pre-ban 100 views to the current 10. But the way I see it, anyone who wants to follow my blog can follow it directly. I just post a link on FB for those who asked me to.

WordPress is another of those sites that used to be ad-free for people who signed up, either to post a blog or to read blogs, but gradually the ads encroached there, too. I now pay a yearly fee to offer you an ad-free environment (except for my books, of course), but for that I also get a dedicated domain name. And unlike FB, they don’t charge me to send my blog to my followers.

My author website used to come with a free web builder, but they started charging for that, too. Somehow, because of their retiring my old website, I ended up with a less comprehensive builder at no charge (at least for now.) Come to think of it, with all the shenanigans going on, I better renew my website domain before the price of that goes up and becomes prohibitively expensive.

Despite all this, the internet is still a special place. Where else can I meet and communicate with people all over the world without leaving my chair?

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Warm World View

I’ve been feeling good today — lighthearted, actually. Although I often write (or at least infer) that I am happy, I am actually more contented than happy (since to me, being happy connotes a bit of giddiness perhaps). Being lighthearted is something else, though I’m not sure what the difference is except that today I feel . . . lighter . . . than I generally do.

Part of this feeling of lightness has to do with the blue skies and warm sun. Even a chill wind doesn’t offset the pleasure of an otherwise nice day.

Part of the feeling of lightness has to do with being out and about on foot. I’d run (walked, rather) an errand this morning, and I still felt strong, so I headed to the grocery store to pick up a couple of items. I was almost there when I felt a twinge in my right knee. [The right knee started out being my bad knee since I’d damaged it a few years ago doing ballet exercises. Then, after it healed, I woke one morning with the left knee out of kilter. That’s the knee — the bad knee — that caused me so much trouble a year ago. But now, the left knee seems to be doing better, and the right knee seems to be the bad knee. Sheesh.] I wasn’t worried about getting back home. The store is about a half a mile away, and I knew I’d make it back okay if I only picked up the two or three things I needed.

Another part of the feeling of lightness has to do with living in a small town. Because this is such a small town, I always seem to meet someone I know at the store, and today was no different. My friend offered me a ride, and because of my knee (and because my car issues have kept me from being able to do any real grocery shopping), I accepted. We had a lovely time wandering the aisles together (I even found pequin powder, a rare item I thought I’d have to order online), with her filling up one section of the cart, me the other.

When I got home, I still had that same feeling — the lighthearted feeling I mentioned above.

It seems odd to me that no matter where I am or what I am doing, I feel at home here, whether I am out walking, meeting people at the grocery store, or waving back at the folks who wave to me as they pass by in their cars. Sometimes I think I’m living in a fool’s paradise, but I never feel in danger. Nor do I know of a lot of truly bad things that happen here. Oh, there is petty crime, but any violence is with people who know one another, not stranger to stranger. People seem to look out for one another, to be casually friendly without being annoyingly in-your-face.

Mostly, I think, I feel good about this place because I’ve stopped believing in the Mean World.

The idea of Mean World Syndrome has been around since the 1980s and basically postulates that the more one watches television (and, since these are the internet days, the more one pays attention to social networking sites and online news sources) the more one comes to accept that the world is much meaner than it actually is. It’s no surprise that fearful people are more dependent, more easily manipulated and controlled, and agree more quickly to hardline safety measures. This sort of programming reinforces people’s worst fears, so they tend to react more quickly and more aggressively to slights. Even worse, people are hard-wired for compassion, and the Mean World Syndrome tends to circumvent that, so we end up with a cynical population rather than a compassionate one.

I think I first noticed this (without knowing the name of the syndrome) back when I was in the hospital after I destroyed my arm. That was one of those times when the whole country was up at arms (literally) about racism and immigration. But there I was, in a hospital, totally dependent upon people of various skin colors and nationalities, and they all seemed to get along, and all treated me well. In fact, the only negative comment came from a white nurse who said to another in my hearing, “Doesn’t she ever exercise?” The other woman said, “Didn’t you know? She fell after a dance performance.”

As you can see, the experience left me feeling almost as confused as my trip through the old south, where racial tensions seemed almost non-existent compared to the hype, and not at all like the aggression I was used to from those living in the gang-ridden area near where I had been staying in California.

I much prefer a Warm World View (nothing to do with global warming, and everything to do with feeling warmly about one’s surroundings and the people that inhabit those environs). I’m not naïve; I do know bad things happen — I have even experienced bad things — but I also know they don’t happen anywhere near as often as we are led to believe. That the bad things are real, doesn’t matter. When I was growing up, the world seemed safer, not because it was (to be honest, it wasn’t — we lived in a fringe neighborhood where our bikes were stolen, property was vandalized, and my brothers were beaten up). The difference was the relative lack, back then, of non-local news (world news was but a small subsection of the news), a relatively small media group, a relatively short period dedicated to the news. Now that the news media is huge and constant, so is the need for product. So something bad happening halfway across the country — or the world — is broadcast as if it is an immediate danger to us all and so creates fear in everyone.

I don’t watch the news — won’t watch the news even if I have an opportunity — for this very reason. I don’t follow news sources online, don’t participate in social sites except to post a link to this blog (in the case of Facebook, I post a link to a post that links to this blog, since I’m still considered persona non grata), and I shy away from any discussions of today’s issues. Those issues aren’t my issues. My issues are local. My issues contribute to a Warm World View, to compassion and calmness.

And yes, to the lightheartedness I feel today.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

Rebooting Ourselves

I had a bit of a problem yesterday with one of the programs on my computer, so before I got worked up about it, I restarted the computer. And as I hoped, the problem was resolved.

Which got me to thinking — what would it be life if we could reboot ourselves when things go wrong? Not to do a factory reset — I mean, I for one, wouldn’t want to have to start my life over as a baby. It’s taken me decades to get to the point where I am now. A full factory reset would force me to live all those years over again, and the very idea seems unutterably horrific. But to be able to reset what isn’t working right while keeping memories and experience intact? To get back to where we older folk can walk effortlessly without having to place each foot solidly on the ground before moving forward? To get our cells back to replicating exactly without all the little “mistakes” that add up to aging?

And then think about the other “programs” we could use, such as virus protection and virus removal. Add to that any supplemental “hardware” such as more memory.

The idea is staggering.

Alas, although our bodies seem to work like computers at times, we don’t have the capability they have for self-repair. (Though for the most part, our immune systems do a good job, at least until they are overwhelmed by age or other detrimental factors.)

On the other hand, computers don’t have the capacity for enjoyment and beauty and feelings that we have. At least not yet.

I might not be able to reboot myself (except in the winter when I have to reboot myself to go back outside to finish shoveling snow or something like that), but there are offsetting factors like . . . well, like tulips!

Although winter temperatures returned, with lows in the twenties (Fahrenheit), a few tulips managed to bloom anyway, bringing a dollop of color to an otherwise murky morning.

That for sure is worth something.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

Shedding Light on the Dim World of Grief

I happened upon an internet discussion yesterday where people were commenting about those who post bereavement, death, and grief comments on the various social sites. As you can imagine, this got my ire up.

It seems that it’s okay to rant about politics, gossip about celebrities, talk about diet, brag about one’s feeble accomplishments, restyle one’s life so that it seems admirable and exciting rather than as mediocre as everyone else’s, and of course, post copious photos of pets as well as posts about the illnesses and deaths of those animals. But apparently, it’s not okay to mention something as important as grief for a fellow human being.

I realize people would just as soon forget that their lives have an expiration date, would just as soon forget that a person cannot be happy all the time, would just as soon forget that bad things happen to everyone at one time or another, but still, the major problem with grief is that so few people want to even acknowledge that death and grief and ongoing feelings of loss do exist.

If you’re one of those, then if someone posts about death or grief, scroll on by. You’re not obligated to acknowledge someone else’s pain, though perhaps it would be the kind thing to do.

Some people in the discussion thought that those who posted updates about grief were simply looking for sympathy. I suppose it’s possible some grievers do so, but no one of my acquaintance has ever mentioned their grief in a bid for pity. If we are looking for anything, we’re looking for validation of our feelings, looking for an acknowledgment that life after the death of a loved one does not and cannot continue as before, looking for someone to stop and pay attention.

Some people, perhaps, are looking for a sign from their deceased loved one, which, if there is life after death, would be feasible since we, like computers, are an electronic medium.

Mostly, though, if the social sites are about laying out our lives for others to see, then to refrain from mentioning death or grief would be a disservice not just to ourselves and our deceased loved ones, but to the world at large.

The truth is, you cannot pretend such things do not exist, at least not forever. One way or another, you will confront death, if not a loved one’s, then your own. Wouldn’t it be nice to think that after you were gone, people would still remember you with an occasional post online? Or would you expect people to wipe you out of their lives and thoughts?

I’ve come to realize that some people have little sympathy for those who acknowledge their losses because they think when someone dies, that person is not just erased from this world, but is erased retroactively, so that the deceased never existed, never left behind a hole in the fabric of life on Earth. Because of this retroactive erasure, those unsympathetic people tend to think that anyone who still misses their loved one years later is buying into a victim mentality, perhaps is even addicted to grief.

Whenever I think I’ve said all there is to say about grief, I discover a new black hole of ignorance and insensitivity, so apparently, my mission of shedding light on the dim world of grief, is far from over.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator