Chapter 61: COVID Chronicles

May 28, 2020

By Karen

Day78

Am I Showing Signs of Addiction?

Max has been hanging out with me today and now it’s his turn to say hi…

I’ve been proofreading like mad since early this morning an unexpected large project from a client who needed it “yesterday” and whose work always tempts me to put my fist through a wall. It’s as specific as I can get about that. I’m thankful I finally got it out of here, but I feel like I should soak my eyeballs in bleach. Or maybe vodka.

Consequently, nothing else has been happening today. But I’ve been meaning to share how the pandemic has forged this new bond between me and my smartphone.

In the “before” days, I’d sit here three feet from my landline and people knew to call that number because my smartphone was in my purse, off. It could go for weeks untouched and I didn’t miss it. I’d pull it out occasionally to see if it needed a charge. It existed solely for me to make a call in a pinch, not to make me available 24/7 to anyone wanting to interrupt whatever I was doing. You know, like the twits who take calls in Target or at the Food Lion checkout because they’re SO important.

And I’d use the phone occasionally if I was stuck in a waiting room with lousy magazines because I could continue reading a book from my iPad. I have an original iPhone SE, which is small, and I don’t think Apple considered it much of a success.

But now Apple sells a new phone they also call an SE. Why recycle that model name? Did they run out of alphabet? Or creativity?

But I digress. Since I’ve been cooped up, this phone is on and with me in the house every waking moment. Mainly to catch pics of the cats being cute, but I also use it to text my yard guy and handyman because that’s how they roll. Lugging it up and down stairs takes conscious effort because few of my clothes have good pockets.

Come to think of it, the only time I’m not staring at a screen now is when I’m in the kitchen cooking, in the bathroom doing whatever, or sleeping.

I read newspapers first thing on the laptop. I work all day at a desktop. At night I watch TV, that’s another screen, while looking stuff up and ordering cat food on the iPad Mini. Now my phone is attached to me like a fifth limb.

WHAT HAVE I BECOME??!!

BONUS: Turns out MSNBC Last Word host Lawrence O’Donnell is a fan boy of Sarah Cooper’s Donald Trump lip-syncs. Last night he showed several of her clips when he interviewed her. This is the first time I’ve ever heard her real voice…

DOUBLE BONUS: I hope you can make out this fantasy New York Times front page. You only need to read the headlines; the articles are fake. It gives us something to aspire to come January 2021…


Chapter 16: COVID Chronicles

April 13, 2020

By Karen

Day 33

Rainy Day & Bureaucracy

This morning we woke to rain, wind and thunder, on the edge of massive storms and tornadoes sweeping across the Deep South. Some of those states don’t think they need to lock down. Now some of their people don’t have homes to lock down. It’s Mother Nature’s way of tag-teaming with Karma.

Roc scoped out the soggy deck…

Then joined Tony for a welfare check on my car. Whew! No trees on it…

I spent my morning trying to make my annual doctor’s checkup a televisit to renew my prescriptions for another year. Since my doctor’s practice advertised they’re doing video consultations now, I thought, “No problemo.”

The blood is still pounding in my ears.

First, I discovered this visit is “special.” It’s my “Medicare Welcome”! Whatever the hell that is. Balloons and confetti, maybe a pinãta?

They want to see my shiny new Medicare card in person. I did finally get them to accept it as a fax, but their fax machine wouldn’t pick up, so it couldn’t go through. Ha, ha, we got ya, Sucka!

Televisits are routed through the practice’s “Patient Portal.” While I double-checked that I had set up an account, the practice rep canceled my password, setting me back to Square One on accessing the Portal.

After 30 minutes and many links and codes sent to my email and cellphone, I set a new password and logged in. Televisits only work through the Chrome browser on a desktop or laptop computer.

My two-year-old Dell laptop runs Windows 10 (latest), and I updated Chrome, but the Portal kept saying my system is “incompatible,” giving no reason why.

I tried emailing my doctor directly through the Portal, but got a message that there was a problem sending and it didn’t go through.

My final phone call to the practice rep was, “I WILL BE THERE IN PERSON.”

They are going to be very sorry they forced me to say that.

The practice rep assured me all suspected coronavirus patients are being stopped and treated in the parking lot. It’s not a big parking lot. And I’d bet money the staff aren’t changing their virus-encrusted white coats between patients.

I assume I at least managed to scale back the visit to prescription renewal only (meaning NOBODY touches me) because the rep asked when I’d like to schedule my “Medicare Welcome.”

I asked, “How do I know? You’re the doctor’s office. When do YOU think it will be safe?”

She replied, “I have no idea. I’m administrative.”

What I learned today is that if I do get sick and need my doctor, I’m fucked.

But to end on a cheerier note, true to form, Roc simply HAD to steal Max’s usual spot on the newly configured Man Cave couch. Here he is, sacked out like a drunk in a frat house, while Max plots his revenge…

And the rain has stopped. It’s still windy, but sunny and about 80 degrees.


Apple’s Win Would be Terrorists’ Gain

February 23, 2016

By Karen

Apple’s refusal to help the FBI access San Bernadino mass-murderer Syed Farook’s iPhone is a joke. The world leader in creating innovative devices and software devised this super-tricky password feature that wipes an iPhone clean after 10 failed attempts to get in, and they want us to believe they don’t have the code to bypass it.

Well, I think they do — they just don’t want their customers to know it.

It’s like KFC claiming Colonel Sanders deleted ingredients from his secret formula for delicious fried chicken when he retired from the company, and they’re OK with that.

Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote an open letter to customers to justify Apple’s disingenuous stance. The implication is that Apple employs no one trustworthy enough not to steal the code and use it with evil intent, or sell it to the highest-bidding hacker. It’s just human nature.

It also implies that Apple itself can’t be trusted. Cook writes: “And while the government may argue that its (the code’s) use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.”

Apple’s been given permission to write their code in a closet, slip the results to the FBI through a crack under the door, and then immediately destroy the code.

But Apple thinks it will somehow become a “master key” out in the public domain that anyone may use to hack into any iPhone at any time.

Who could possibly be responsible for that happening except Apple?

It’s the old slippery slope tactic. You know, “If we let gays marry, people will be marrying their dogs next.”

Cook also claims: “The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.”

Does he really think none of this happens now? My iPad Mini tries to track my location every day.

There’s a supreme irony in Apple fighting to maintain the purity of the very devices its customers use to splash the illustrated minutiae of their lives all over the Internet.

And the government already has access to whatever crumbs are left. Let’s not kid ourselves. The TSA can even fondle your boobs and stick its hands down your pants.

If Tim Cook is allowed to obstruct justice and spit in the faces of the San Bernadino victims’ families, he’ll certainly gain a lock on the terrorist smartphone market. ISIS can rely on Apple’s protection, no matter how many slaughters are coordinated on iPhones.

But if one more dead terrorist turns up with another inviolable iPhone after another domestic massacre, I don’t think it would be remiss for the feds to charge Mr. Cook with aiding terrorists and being an accessory to murder before and after the fact.

 


Taking the Smartphone Plunge

April 30, 2013

By Karen

Call me old-fashioned, but I think anybody who goes around with a phone stuck upside their head because they’ve lost the ability to function without third-party feedback are the worst kind of stupid.

If you ever eavesdrop (it’s usually hard not to), they’re usually describing their location…

“I’m in Food Lion. At the checkout.”

They never give the full story, which is, “Slowly unloading my groceries with one hand, backing up the line, and ignoring the cashier so I can babble about nothing on my phone.”

I had a sweet little blue Samsung cellphone with a slide-out keyboard — that was never on. It was for when I needed to make a call, not to make myself available to interruption 24/7.

But for just the occasional call, without texting or data, I was paying Verizon $45 a month under a 2-year sentence contract. They said texts were 10 cents each, but every month I’d get a 20-cent charge for some useless text they’d sent me. So apparently, it was 10 cents to receive, and another 10 cents to read.

A few months ago they dangled a Samsung smartphone at me, real cheap. But to take that bait started a NEW 2-year sentence and raised my bill to $80+.

So last week I went to Sears to check out Consumer Cellular. It’s AARP’s preferred cellphone provider and runs on AT&T’s network.

For $150, I bought a Huawei (pronounced Wah-way) 8800 smartphone. It only runs Android 2.2 (aka “Froyo,” for “frozen yogurt”), which isn’t the latest version. But who needs frills when you don’t even know how to use the damn phone?

I have no long-term contract, and 150 voice minutes, 1,000 texts, and 100 MB of data (WAY more than I’ll ever use unless I develop an addiction) is $25 + tax a month. If I need more or less, I can change the plan any time.

The biggest snag I hit was with Google. You need Google email to access apps. When I entered my Google address, it sucked over 600+ email addresses from my AOL business account onto my smartphone, when all I wanted was a short list of personal phone numbers from my old Verizon phone.

(BTW, nothing from a Verizon phone is transferrable to CC because Verizon phones don’t have the interchangeable SIM card other carriers use. Way to put one last screw to your customers, Verizon!)

My Huawei’s relatively primitive capabilities should lessen the learning curve, but I had to call CC twice for help the first day. The reps were rather condescending, with one telling me I should LOVE having hundreds of junk email addresses on my new phone because it’s supposed to be the repository of my LIFE.

This whole endeavor boiled down to 1) Reducing some bills since Anthem hiked my health insurance another $50 a month, 2) Having text/data capability if I ever need/want it, and 3) Breaking out of Verizon’s yoke.

So far, so good with the Huawei, although my first game download (Bingo Blast) was too big for the screen and I couldn’t figure out how to play it. And I couldn’t buy a cute case anywhere (it’s an iPhone and Galaxy world), but I did order one from Amazon.

I don’t feel compelled to use the smartphone any more than my old one, and I don’t keep it on all the time. Why smartphones are an American obsession is still a mystery to me — but now I have one.

 


Verizon Strikes Again, Comcast Strikes Out

August 11, 2009

By Karen

After more “rate creep” by Comcast to almost $90/month for plain vanilla cable, Verizon bundled FIOS phone and TV for a few bucks more than I now pay for phone alone.

Verizon needs to work on their “Wait from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for us to show up” policy, but the FIOS TV installation August 10 was seamless, thanks to Mike, a friendly technician from Indiana.

But on my phones, Verizon screwed up in classic mode. I just wanted my dedicated fax line merged into my main line with distinctive ring, retaining the fax number.

No problem, Verizon said. We’ll disconnect the fax line August 10, and reconnect it as distinctive ring August 11. They said it involved another service call, so I’d have to spend a second day waiting between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

No so, said Mike. That’s a remote switch. He even rearranged my phone jacks and reprogrammed my fax so I’d be ready. Then he called Verizon to confirm the phone work, and they told him my fax line had been disconnected since August 4.

WTF?

He gave me a number to call and verify the phone work, and that’s when things got interesting.

The first Verizon rep kept me on hold for half an hour before telling me I couldn’t keep my fax number, even though it was still available.

So I asked to be bumped up and got a nice woman who said I could keep my fax number. She even offered to switch it to distinctive ring on the spot, but the work order for August 11 was apparently set in concrete.

I just checked it, and my fax line works, so the switch was made. There’s just this little nagging mystery of why that line was disconnected a week early.

Verizon FIOS TV leaves Comcast in the dust. I never knew my TV could have such a clear, crisp picture. FIOS lets you access Internet information with widgets, even though I have Clearwire Internet. Accessing On Demand takes mere seconds. And Verizon threw in some free HBO so I can catch up on Season 2 of True Blood.

Superior TV for $80 less, but there are tradeoffs. We’ve lost our beloved horse racing channel, and I can no longer fax and talk on the phone simultaneously. But to dump Comcast, it’s worth it.


Verizon Books Start Life in the Gutter

March 1, 2008

By Karen

In spite of everything, I have to admire Verizon for its singular dedication to leaving no stone unturned in making itself look bad.

My phones are fine, but the other day I found a dirty plastic bag in the mud, a foot from my paved driveway.

It was a mammoth new Yellow Pages directory. The cover was torn and some pages wet, but once it dried and I shook out all the crud, it was OK and I was satisfied – even willing to forget about White Pages. I figured Verizon gave them up as a compendium of errors too expensive to correct.

But a few days later, a man called asking if I’d received my books, and promised me White Pages, as well. And he kept his word.

My street’s gutters were soon strewn with white plastic bags. My particular gutter wasn’t, so I swiped my neighbor’s bag because he wasn’t home.

Sure enough, it was White Pages and a little Companion Yellow Pages. What’s with that, anyway? Does Verizon really think we let our fingers do the walking through a reference library when we need a plumber?

Miraculously, my listing was updated – calling Verizon twice about it obviously paid off. I’m a modestly published author and sometimes blog controversially, so I figured it’s time to delete my address and make potential assassins Google me to find me.

Verizon finally dropped my sister’s ancient listing, but my mother’s still showing at the house she sold 5-6 years ago, as well as her new address – with the same number.

I’ll give Verizon a pass on the crazy deliveries. They probably hire kids who consider the job a paid joy ride to fling heavy objects.

But the books’ content is pure Verizon. Why can’t they start by matching the books to their billing files? Don’t they have people who could do that?


One More Pocket of Competence at Verizon

February 21, 2008

By Karen

I can send long-distance faxes again, thanks to the “Expeditor,” a Verizon supervisor somewhere in the 757 area code.

She first called me out of the blue several hours after I put in my second request for third-party long-distance on my fax line. She said a 2-day wait for activation was unacceptable, and gave me two numbers where I could reach her.

Unfortunately, she was unsuccessful in speeding things up.

The two days were up yesterday, and when the promised service failed to materialize, I called the Expeditor, who stunned me by answering her phone. She checked into things and found that my order had “clogged” and gotten dropped. When this happens, no one at Verizon apparently notices or cares because nothing gets done until the customer starts screaming.

I know, because this isn’t the first time I’ve been trapped in a “clog.” It happened before when I initially tried to get FIOS. Verizon’s “So what?” attitude and “rush” to reschedule me – 3 weeks later – caused me to switch to Cavalier Telephone for a while.

The Expediter got me back in the flow and my long-distance was restored by 5 p.m. yesterday.

At 7 p.m., the Expediter phoned me again to make sure everything was OK.

After I sent a long-distance fax early this morning to assure myself it really worked, I called the Expediter to confirm and she answered her phone again. The woman never goes home.

I can’t tell you her name because I know she’d be swamped if it got out. I’m adding her to my stash of secret Verizon contacts. However, with both phone lines working properly right now, I hope I’ll never need to call them again.


More Hassles with Verizon

February 20, 2008

By Karen

When I got Verizon FIOS phone service in October 2007, they insisted I buy unlimited long distance on my main line for $14.95 a month. Then they screwed up my much-cheaper long distance plan with Qwest on my fax line, leaving me with none.

I don’t do much long-distance faxing, so I didn’t reinstate Qwest until December 18. As instructed by Qwest, I immediately called Verizon to give them Qwest’s PIC number, 0432.

I didn’t need Qwest until two days ago to fax long-distance, and then it wouldn’t go through.

Qwest blamed Verizon for not processing my change.

Instead of wasting hours trying to go through proper channels for what I thought would be a quick fix, I called the secret phone numbers I got when I blogged here about my mother’s recent problems with Verizon. Naturally, no one answered, so I left messages.

A while later, another Verizon rep called back and said it would take two days to get my Qwest service because 1) It was President’s Day (although not a holiday at Verizon because she was working), and 2) It was just after noon.

She also said I should be charged $7-something to make the change, but promised to waive it.

Verizon screwed up my service and isn’t going to make me pay for that. How wonderful.

Later that day, a fourth Verizon employee called who said she’d try to “expedite” things.

Two days are up, and I still can’t send a long-distance fax. I called “Ms. Expediter” a few hours ago and I’m waiting for answers.

5 P.M. update: The Expediter called me again after this entry posted, so I suspect I’m being monitored. Upon trying the fax machine once more, it just said, “Thank you for using Qwest.” So it appears that Verizon finally gave up and let me have my cheaper long-distance carrier back. Hallelujah!


Keep the Garbage Off Your Phone Bill

January 22, 2008

By Karen

We know we must watch credit card bills for charges that could signal identity theft. But phone bills pose an equally insidious threat, and phone companies are complicit by listing their own legitimate charges in gibberish and by allowing anyone to place charges on your bill without authorization.

My phone has been targeted twice, but the first phony charge was only 25 cents, so I eventually paid it after protesting it for several months and getting nowhere.

Phone scam crooks depend on our lack of attention and/or comprehension of our bills, and our unwillingness to do battle with the phone company.

Last March, a suspicious $4.25 charge from Integrated Voice Services in Tampa, FL, appeared on my Verizon phone bill for a conference calling service I never ordered. It would have become a monthly charge if I hadn’t caught it.

Verizon refused to remove it, so I contacted Integrated – every month for four months. They canceled their “service” immediately, but that $4.25 hung on my bill as an overdue balance, and even accumulated finance charges. Integrated kept saying, “Just wait one more billing cycle,” for it to disappear.

All Verizon would do was waive the finance charges and put the $4.25 in dispute so it wouldn’t go against my credit rating. By law, I don’t believe they could cut off my phone service for not paying it.

By July, I was incensed enough to call the State Corporation Commission, and learned that phone companies earn a fee on these fraudulent charges (as well as any finance charges, if you give up and pay them), so they have no incentive to stop.

Once the SCC was on the case, Verizon had so many days to respond. They did, my account was cleared, and they offered to put a “cramming block” on my line, which was supposed to stop them from adding future unauthorized junk.

Anyone can call their phone company and request a cramming block (a.k.a. third-party block). You’ll never see them advertised, they’re not foolproof, and they’re not the only blocks available, but they’re a good start.


Verizon’s Off the Hook

January 21, 2008

By Karen

Verizon’s Executive Support Escalation Team determined that my mother’s phone bill is correct. She just wasn’t able to calculate any combination of the convoluted, cryptic list of charges to arrive at the $99.99 she was quoted.

The total is about $10 more a month than she expected to pay, but that’s because they never tell you up-front you’ll be hit hard with taxes and miscellaneous fees.

Here’s more good news for Verizon: My mother has decided not to send her complaint to the State Corporation Commission. She feels she’s wasted enough time on this and won’t rewrite her letter to reflect that her bill’s confusing format led her to believe she was being overcharged.

She also declined Verizon’s offer to send someone out to tutor her on their e-mail program. From the way she describes it, it’s as bad as their billing and she’s better off with AT&T.

It’s unfortunate that every Verizon customer service rep isn’t a member of their Executive Support Escalation Team, diligent as a stalker and fully empowered to find answers and solve problems.

On the other hand, this morning I had reason to call Verizon Customer Service myself. I did it like any other schmuck, not using my new-found contacts in high places. When I had my FIOS phone service installed a few months ago, I clearly stated that I did not want Call Waiting. They seemed to understand me, and repeated the order back to verify it.

Guess what? I got Call Waiting.

I spent 2 pointless minutes explaining my request to a computer, then another 16 minutes on hold. A pleasant rep named Diane finally answered and, in my excitement, I accidentally cut her off.

I was standing there listening to the dial tone in despair and disbelief when Diane miraculously came back on the line. She quickly verified that, yes, the weird beeps I’d been hearing were Call Waiting, she disabled it, and then double-checked by calling me. She even offered to transfer me to Billing, but my phone plan requires paying for features I don’t want, so that wasn’t necessary.

All in all, except for the long hold time, it was perfect customer service. Thank you, Diane.

But trying to get a fraudulent charge off my Verizon bill was another story. That’s coming up next, along with advice on how to keep it from happening to you.


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