Sunday, October 30, 2011

Cell Phone Technology and New York Manners - Can We Take This Offline?

... there is no conversation that is agreeable; there is no modesty, no attention to one another. They talk very loud, very fast and altogether. If they ask you a question, before you can utter three words of your answer they will break out upon you again and talk away. - from "The Works of John Adams" Aug 23, 1774, as cited in The New York Times Were New Yorkers Always Seen as Fast-Talking and Rude?

I happened to click on one of those online support chat links last week. I was re-installing "Quicken" and had a couple of questions.

The little chat window popped up and I asked my question. Several seconds later, a reply came back.

Yasim: Hi, my name is Yasim. Thank you for contacting Quicken, please allow me a moment to read your question.

and a few seconds later,

Yasim: Hi Kate, how are you?

Me: It doesn't really matter how I am, but seeing as you ask, I am frustrated with your product!

There was a long pause. I started to time it, but became bored and clicked the 'x' to close the window.

What's with these people? What do they mean, "how are you?" Obviously you are not on top of the world if you have been forced to "talk" to a faceless someone, only possibly human, using a virtual window on a computer. Enough said!

But on reflection I felt sorry for Yasim. He or she was obviously in India and is a very nice person and the "How are you" was auto-generated, beyond his control. Still. I've lived in New York for over a decade. I had little patience even before I came here. And now I've acclimated. So you can imagine ...

New Yorkers Communicating
Yes my patience threshold is in the negative.

New Yorkers rude? I don't THINK so. We just don't have time for small-talk.

In fact, real New Yorkers don't have time for ANY talk, other than their own.

Take my New York friend Stella. She called me the other day on my home phone. I'd just walked in the door and was coughing and sneezing and feeling quite unwell.

After listening to her for 20 minutes I said, "I'm sorry, but I am feeing quite unwell. Can we take this off-line?"

"Can we take this off-line?" is New-York-speak for "I don't want to listen to this anymore".

But Stella hadn't heard me, or if she had, it hadn't registered, and she kept on with a soliloquy worthy of Hamlet in its length.

"Maybe if I died she'd notice and stop" I was thinking, when there was a pause. If you wait long enough, even a New Yorker will run out of breath. "I am feeling really ill; I need to go to bed!" I croaked. And was heard. There is a god after all I thought as I collapsed on the sofa.

Color-coordinated New Yorker on Cell Phone
When I first came to New York I was intrigued with how New Yorkers, when they called, would when you picked up start rattling on with whatever thoughts were in their mind. I'd spend minutes trying to decipher what appeared to be streams of consciousness which would make James Joyce appear succinct.

Eventually I'd but in with, "Who IS this?"

Inevitably the response would come back, "It's me!"

Technology has cured many ills and improved our quality of life no end. We had Guttenberg and his printing press, the spinning jenny revolutionizing the fabric industry. Dr Salk and his polio vaccine. And for the past several years, smart phones and their visual caller-id function.

Life is good. No longer need we ask, "Who are you?"

There it is, the caller's name clearly pixelled on one's iPhone or Android cell phone.

Yep, technology has an answer for everything. Or if it hasn't, it's only a matter of time.

Just ask any New Yorker.

But be quick about it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Torture by iPhone

Why didn't the clock wake him? He was such a light sleeper! "Arvie!" she called; no answer. "Arvie !" she called again, with a strange ring of remonstrance mingling with the terror in her voice. Arvie never answered. - from "Arvie Aspinall's Alarm Clock", by Henry Lawson


I'd had my iPhone-4s for just four days. Prior to this I'd been an Android Samsung gal. And I'd used heaps of Samsung Galaxy apps, including the inbuilt alarm feature.

Before I go on, I have to explain - alarms are of special significance in my life. Being a child of OZ (Australia) I grew up on Henry Lawson stories. One in particular caught my attention, and stayed with me - "Arvie Aspinall's Alarm Clock".

It is all about a little boy forced because of economic circumstances, to get up at the crack of dawn to earn a crust. It's a short story and in the end little Arvie doubts the Protestant work ethic (he was an intelligent child), gets a bad cold, and fails to wake at the sound of his alarm clock. He has died in the night.

I remember both of my parents telling me this story and dinning it into me that life was cruel, bosses were even crueler, and something else ... about capitalism ... but I forget what that was.

What struck me at the time was that Arvie owned a clock. I didn't. And that he had a job. I didn't.

This just goes to show that you can't count on your kids getting your message.

In any case, because of, or in spite of little Arvie, I've always had a thing about alarm clocks.

I'd liked my Samsung Galaxy alarm app. It was easy to set, and in the morning would start by sounding its alarm sound very very softly, and slowly increasing the volume. Starting off almost sub-auditory. By the time it reached hearing threshold, I'd be awake.

But then, I bought the iPhone-4S.

The inbuilt alarm on the iPhone has just one set volume. You can make it soft or loud, but as far as I can tell, there is no feature to have it start soft and morph to high. There seemed to be no way of setting it to come on at a very low volume and then to increase it until you woke. Furthermore, I am not familiar enough with iPhones to easily navigate the settings section. So I was unable to tailor the phone to play an alarm sound of my choice. I was stuck with the default which is something mid-way between a 1960's ambulance siren and a New York fire alarm.

For a few days I walked around a shattered wreck. And then DING - it dawned on me ... there must be an app for that.

So I cybered over to the cyber market-place and bought the first alarm app that had 4 stars. It looked good. You could set the alarm so the sound started off softly softly, and you could even set the number of seconds till it reached full volume. Plus there was a flashlight feature that I didn't bother with. I'd look at that later, I thought.

And so, on Sunday night I went to sleep, certain that I'd awake to the gentle sounds of Vivaldi's Four Seasons Autumn.


Yep. You got it. I'd forgotten to disable the iPhone default app alarm. And what's more the flashlight feature of my new app had defaulted to "on".

At 6:58 am precise I was awakened to the sound of ambulance sirens and fire alarms at full bore, drowning out Vivaldi's Autumn which cut in at exactly the same time, and accompanied by a searing iPhone flashlight searing straight through my retinas into my brain.

Enough already yet. Arvie, my mum and dad were right.

Alarm clocks suck!

Bring on the revolution.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Remembrance of All Things Must Pass

Sunrise doesn't last all morning
A cloudburst doesn't last all day
Seems my love is up
And has left you with no warning
But it's not always be this grey
- George Harrison, "All Things Must Pass, 1970

You say you want a revolution
Well you know
We all want to change the world
- John Lennon

My Brother Tim - Self-proclaimed Hippie, Golden Gate Park SF
I haven't been down to Zuccotti Park - ground zero for the "Occupy Wall Street" protests.


I have two reasons.
  1. I don't want to get arrested and
  2. I am just not sure about what the protests mean.
Just last night I was watching the New York City News and saw Arlo Guthrie describing the protests as the new "Summer of Love". 1967 all over again.

I'm not convinced. That is not to say that I don't agree with the protests. But "Summer of Love" revisited? I don't think so.

"The Occupy Wall Street" movement has come at a time when the Summer of Love generation people are nearing retirement. I just read that the Massachusetts Legislature is considering a bill to create a vehicle registration plate for baby boomers at a charge $30. The New York Times editorial asks defining generational image will be: "A peace sign, maybe. Or a tie-dye T-shirt, a mushroom or a mushroom cloud (boom!), a bong, 'ME' in flowery script ..." etc. etc.

Are the Boomers the new flavor of the month? I suspect this is the case.

But while I support the "Occupy Wall Street" protesters, I have to wonder about their lack of agenda.

I remember the "Summer of Love". At the time I thought it was all about free love and protesting against the war in Vietnam. The more radical protesters wanted control over their university curriculum. Weird eh?

Yes the "Summer of Love". was essentially middle class and it's people were mainly middle-class kids, enrolled at university. Dropping out.

After all, if you weren't at school/university, what else could you "drop out" from? I suspect the working-class kids were too busy earning a crust.

The "Occupy" protests are comparatively classless. Protesters include a more representative cross-section of people. Not only the modern-day equivalent of flower-children dropping out of Berkeley, Melbourne University, Columbia, but community college kids, the unemployed, actors, singers, ex-hitch-hikers to Iran. I have to wonder, will reality TV show people be the next to join? Oh, and of course there are the Baby Boomers, the retired ones at least. For once again, "T-ttime is on our side ..."

I've watched TV interviews with protesters. The press is unforgiving and I am sure the reporters have deliberately picked, in many cases, the inarticulate. Sure, the protests are about Wall Street greed. But what do we want and when do we want it?

I'm yet to be convinced.

My current stand is that I support the protests. But until I REALLY know what they are about, I prefer to remain,

an Armchair Occupier.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Meet the Millenials

The workplace has become a psychological battlefield and the millennials have the upper hand, because they are tech savvy, with every gadget imaginable almost becoming an extension of their bodies. They multitask, talk, walk, listen and type, and text. And their priorities are simple: they come first. - The Millenials Are Coming

Millenials on Subway
Forget Generation X. Or even Generation Y. And certainly forget the Baby Boomers.

We now have "The Millenials".

According to Pew Research, "America's newest generation, the Millennials, is in the middle of this coming-of-age phase of its life cycle. Its oldest members are approaching age 30; its youngest are approaching adolescence."

When I first read about the Millenials, I thought they were another species. The name sounds so SciFi. I imagined tall thin people wandering around Earth looking for work.

For that is the context in which I read about them. Somewhere I read that "Millenials" were having problems finding jobs.

As we all know, this global unemployment is the fault of Wall Street and its Euro and Asian counterparts. And in order to draw attention to the economic devastation caused by these stock exchanges, many Millenials have become "Occupiers". Occupiers are ideologically opposite to Tea-Party people. Of course it is possible to be a Millenial Tea-Partier, in which case you are "Misguided".

Perhaps the "Misguiders" will be the next group to grab the attention of the press. In which case no doubt its ranks will swell.

But back to the Millenials. Why did I imagine them as tall thin wispy people? Was it just the name?

Pre-Millenials, Brooklyn
I pondered this on my ride back home tonight. I was sitting next to a woman who was even older than a Baby-Boomer. She must have come of age in the nineteen fifties. What were THOSE people called? "Old people" comes to mind; but raking my long-term memory, I came up with "Bobby-Soxers".

So to rephrase.

I was sitting next to a Bobby-Soxer. She looked like the archetypical grandmother. White hair pulled back into a French twist, she was elegantly dressed and a silver eagle walking stick rested against her imacculate New York black skirt.

Every now and then the bus driver would sound his horn, holding the hormn down until the offending vehicle apparently blocking the bus's path, moved away. And whenever the driver did this, the Bobby-Soxer would yell "Shut UP!!!"

But what got me was, as no sooner than she'd emitted her "Shut up!", her face would go back to looking serene, and once again she was the story-book grandma.

Boomers and Millenials Unite
Around this time I was nearing the end of the novel, "The Leftovers". "The Leftovers" by Tom Perrotta is about a world where a million people have magically left earth, à la "Rapture".

Except it wasn't the Rapture. The book details the daily lives of a number of people who were not disappeared and who are called the "Leftovers". Individual Leftovers react differently as one would expect, but some form themselves into groups. One group is "The Watchers", aka "The Guilty Remnants". I preferred to think of these people as "Watchers" as "Guilty Remnants" made me think of buying scrap fabric at the now disappeared "Job Warehouse" in Melbourne a hundred years ago.

So there I was, on the bus, reading about Watchers - a subset of the Leftovers, sitting next to a Bobby-Soxer, when my mind did a lateral De Bono jump to the Millenials.

Millenials, Bobby-Soxers, Generation X-ers, Tea-Partiers, Occupiers.

What's the world coming to?

I'm just so glad that I am a Baby-Boomer. It sounds so solid. So normal. So salt-of-the-earth.

Oh and by the way, if you are thinking of reading "The Leftovers", don't bother. Unless of course, you are into baseball.

And as to why I say this, you cannot know. Not unless you get to the last chapter.

And I don't wish that on anybody. Not even on Tea-Partiers!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Voyage Around My Mother

The reason grandchildren and grandparents get along so well is that they have a common enemy. - Sam Levenson

You've got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between - Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer c1945)

Alma Road East St Kilda - Circa Last Century!
"What a shocker!" my daughter exclaimed, upon seeing - apparently for the first time - this photo of me as a child - holding a toffee apple, in front of my home some time a hundred years ago.

"The hair!" she added.

Well I knew. But I'd repressed it. The hair. In the language of 21st century Australia - it was "a shocker"!

But at last, someone-not-me had voiced it. There was no turning back.

"It's a basin cut, Mum," she continued. "She was probably too poor to take you to a hair-dresser." "She didn't cut it," I snapped back. "She took me to a BARBER!"

That night in my dreams it all came flooding back. The hair-cuts, the embarrassment, me looking at the other girls at school - pretty girls with curly locks.

"She hated me," said my inner voice. My inner child. And I listened.

As the day wore on, I became increasingly convinced. My inner child had surfaced and was telling me something. No, let me be honest, she was SHRIEKING it! "She didn't like you; she was JEALOUS!" she was saying.

I pretended I couldn't hear her and went to the office. Conveniently I became lost in meetings, codings, emails. But the inner child was not to be stifled.

And Again!
I remembered years ago seeing a therapist in Australia. Her name was Lolita. Really! She didn't look like a "Lolita" though. I remember her as looking sort of academic. A blue-stocking. An intellectual. Full of wisdom.

We'd sit her dimly-lit consultation room and I'd talk. Occasionally she'd comment.

"You have to learn to LOVE that little girl, the child that was YOU," she said one day. In response to what, I do not remember. But the comment stuck.

I tried. I tried to love that inner child but it didn't happen. I continued to stifle my inner child's persistent voice.

And then last week after my call to my daughter, my inner child became even more strident. Telling me about my mother. She wouldn't shut up. Yes, she was obviously MY inner child. Remembering my daughter's comment on my childhood hair-cut, at last I accepted her credentials ...

Still, she was hardly likeable. Though she did earn my respect; she had persistence.

I picked up the phone and called my daughter.

And Again!
"Hey, I have to thank you for pointing out that 'shocker' haircut," I said. "I now know that my mother hated me."


"Yes, really," I insisted.

My daughter came up with all sorts of excuses for my mother's behaviour. But I could tell that she was searching desperately, blindly. There was no getting past it. That haircut was the product of my mother's instructions to the barber, hairdresser, whatever.

AND it wasn't an isolated haircut. It was the norm.

Eventually my daughter concurred. After she'd controlled her laughter she said, "Mum, you've had an epiphany!"

Yep, that's what I'd had.

I'd always thought though that an epiphany was a thing of wonder. Like seeing Jesus, or discovering that the world isn't flat.

But then, seeing as I'm currently trying to be a "glass-half-full" kinda person, I supposed that I should accentuate the positive.

A bad hair-cut is no tragedy. It'll always grow out.

But try telling THAT to my inner child.

She's still screaming!

Thursday, October 06, 2011

On Being iSad

We’re born, we live for a brief instant, and we die. It’s been happening for a long time. Technology is not changing it much - if at all. - Steve Jobs

Me with an Unknown Delegate a Hundred Years Ago
"Who is Steve Jobs?" I asked.

It was a hundred years ago. Melbourne, Australia. I was on the Organising Committee of the First Pan Pacific Computer Conference.

I was talking to "the other Kate". There were two of us "Kates" back then - two known-in-the-industry-Kates, that is.

Kate Behan had just announced, excitedly and triumphantly that she'd been successful in getting Steve Jobs as a key-note speaker for the conference.

Hence my question.

How could I have been so ignorant? Well, back then I was a PC person, immersed in programming. But to be perfectly honest, I've always been bad with names ...

I remember Kate staring at me. Unbelieving. And then she answered. "Just the most important person in computing. Just a genius."

I have to compliment Kate on her vision. Certainly I didn't appreciate it back then. I saw her more as a marketing person than a serious computer scientist. Yes, I know. I'm a shallow person.

Tonight I looked through my old photos taken at social events I'd attended at the First Pan Pacific Computer Conference. I scoured the photos, looking at the crowds at the restaurant tables to see if Steve Jobs was there. Was he even at the conference? I can't remember if I went to his keynote address or not. Or if he was there or not. Yep, "shallow" is a good word for me!

I DO remember Kate telling her husband "Sit here between me and Kate. That way you won't have to remember names." Top-left is a photo of me with an unknown delegate. A photo taken by "The Happy Medium Photo Co." Quelle name!

Look at the table in the photo above - Vegemite, tomato sauce. I have vague memories of the venue being an Australian-themed comedy club. Australians are not known for their subtlety.

Kate Behan. I'll have to look her up on FaceBook. Surely she'll remember if I met Steve Jobs.

Diners at the Formal Conference Dinner
I always liked Kate. I liked her sense of humour. I remember her saying once, "Just because you call a variable 'grand-_total' doesn't mean it's got a grand total stored in it." She was having a dig at someone who had recently attained for himself a grander title. Something like "Chairman of the First Pan Pacific Conference" perhaps? Not really. I can't remember who she was referring to. As I said, I've never been good with names.

I'm annoyed at myself though. Why can't I remember whether Steve Jobs was at that conference? Or if I met him if he was? It's bit like the first time I had sexual intercourse. I didn't even know I'd had it! I had to be TOLD!

Yep, I'll look out for Kate B on FaceBook.

I've already organized ordering a new iPhone. In white.

I need something to brighten things up.

The world is a darker place without Steve Jobs.