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Your Call Is Important To Us

We’ve all had to do it; sit on the phone while listening to distorted, often depressing music, waiting for someone on the other end to finally answer our question or fix our problem.

And when you do get to talk to someone, they rush through their rehearsed jibber jabber, mumble jumble, assuming that you understand every word. Never mind that the quality of calls on cellphones has taken a very steep dive in the last few years.

Remember when phones were phones, and call quality was everything? Now it’s more about how many apps you can stuff on your device, and how good the camera is.

But I digress.

Around mid-January this year, I found out that my 2019 taxes had been reassessed and the CRA determined that I now owed them gobs of money. It was my mistake. I had declared some income I made in the wrong box on my income tax form. It was simply in the wrong box, I didn’t really owe money. But it made a mess of things.

After a number of attempts at calling the CRA, I finally got in the queue. And then it was another 5 hours of listening to that distorted, over-modulated classical music, before I actually got to speak with a real person. After some back and forth, I was given instructions as to how to mail all of my documents to a CRA office in Winnipeg to clear it up.

So last week when I got an email that there was a message in my CRA account, I assumed it was a response, and hopefully a resolution, to that issue.

Nope. It turned out to be another problem. Sigh.

This time, it took 19 calls over several days to even get in the queue. You go through the rigmarole of different menus and long, automated instructions before you finally get the dreaded “All of our agents are busy and the queues are full. Please call back later” thing.

This year’s tax season is turning out to be like no other in recent history for the CRA. They have been hiring thousands of extra agents for what they consider to be a very complicated tax season, with CERB and other benefits payouts being only part of the story.

Many users were locked out of their online accounts as a precautionary measure when it was thought some of their information could potentially be compromised. And the CRA website is only half working, with lots of pages unavailable due to “Technical Difficulties”. It’s a real mess.

On my 19th call, I finally got through to a real person. It was a surprise when the wait was only about 10 or 15 minutes this time. The agent was really apologetic and very helpful. I fixed my issue in about an hour.

I really feel for the agents who have to deal with an awful lot of people who are already in a bad mood because…well, let’s face it, how many of us are NOT in a bad mood these days? Especially when you’ve been waiting in the call queue for hours.

How do you get anything else done? How do you eat lunch? How do you, um, how shall I say, deal with nature’s call? I mean, we all take our phones with us to the bathroom anyway (don’t we?), but what if the agent comes on the phone just at that very inopportune time?

And I think maybe they should reconsider the distorted classical music and find something else. Rock or repetitive pop music might fire people up even more, so forget that. I’d like some jazz, myself. But I think the best choice would be some spa music. Chill while you’re waiting, and imagine having a nice massage, or a sea salt scrub, or a body wrap…ye-a-a-ah….

Hello? Hello? Click…

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Facebook Follies

When I became a computer operator (now referred to as a computer “technician”) at the Vancouver Public Library back in the early 80s, it was an enormous task to enter the name of every book and periodical, and every patron, into our new system. We hired a group of people for that task, and they literally spent months and months tucked away in a room, doing nothing but data entry.

It amused us at the time that a few of the patrons were worried about their information being put into a computer system. Who would see their names and addresses? Who would have access to their records? We rolled our eyes at their paranoia.

Little did we know that 40 years later, we’d be carrying devices in our pockets that knew almost everything about us even when we didn’t mean for them to. Not only that, but those little devices could also broadcast whatever they knew about us anywhere in the world, to whomever wanted that info.

Last year around this time, we were on what would be our last (sob) vacation on the Big Island of Hawaii, before this COVID thing hit. We were walking through a market when I spotted a t-shirt on a woman about my age, and it made me laugh. I can’t remember now exactly what it said, but it wasn’t anything I’d seen anywhere before, and I thought it was pretty funny.

So I giddily told my husband and my daughter about it after we had passed the woman.

Back at our condo that evening I was on my iPad perusing Facebook, when I saw that very t-shirt in my Facebook feed. It was a unique t-shirt, so I knew it wasn’t a fluke. That was the first time I realized just how little privacy I actually had. Suddenly, those long ago library patrons questioning where their info was going to be seen or accessed, weren’t so paranoid to me anymore. My phone was actually listening to me.

As we have all discovered, the technology and algorithms on our phones and other devices are mapping our routes, listening to us, and watching every Google search we make.

A lot of people have quit Facebook for many reasons, including that privacy issue. Facebook pretty much makes all of their revenue (in 2020, close to $86 billion US) from businesses, big and small, who want your dollars. Of course, that’s what advertising is for, and what would businesses and companies do if they couldn’t advertise?

What bothers me is the sneaky little way that technology is figuring out what you might want to spend your money on. It feels creepy. It’s like some sleazy guy followed you as you walked through the mall, and watched as you eyed that new red dress. Then he shows up in the parking lot with the red dress, trying to convince you to buy it from him as you’re attempting to get into your car. That kind of creepy. And so much more.

Because, now imagine thousands of sleazy guys following you through the mall, every one of them carefully watching to see which purchases you might be considering. That’s closer to reality.

What’s even worse is how we are targeted by political ads. The fallout from that has been witnessed in such a distressful way with our neighbours to the south. “Freedom of speech” the tech companies say. More like “freedom to spew bull poop”.

In spite of all of this, my 149 friends and I are still on Facebook. Oh, there have been a few who’ve left, especially after some of the negative publicity that Facebook has received. And others have un-friended me for reasons I cannot fathom. What did I do? What did I say? It feels like being dumped.

And why are the rest of us still scrolling our Facebook feeds? That’s a good question, which I am sure has many answers. For me, it’s about staying in touch with friends and family, especially during these difficult times. Sure, there are other ways to do that, but at this point, the convenience that Facebook offers is unparalleled, at least for me.

Many of us are are waiting for the day that these social media companies will be held more accountable for their content, and take greater responsibility for their massive influence. We can always hope?

Me, I’m just trying to keep my voice down, in case that creepy guy on my phone is still listening. Shhhh!

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October Storm

One day last week, I was in my basement studio finishing up a lesson with a guitar student. He started to pack his guitar in its case when POW!! There was a huge bang and the lights went out.

The wind had been blowing pretty fiercely all morning, so the power outage wasn’t really a surprise. But when we both walked outside, I could see that this was more than a blown transformer. The power lines to our house were almost touching the ground and the thingamajig holding those power lines to the side of the house was ripped right off the exterior wall. Oh, oh.

I texted my husband who had been working from home but who had gone in to the office to work that day. No response.

I looked for the number for BC Hydro and called them instead. I reported the issue and hoped for the best.

When I looked out and down the street, I could see lots of neighbours coming out of their houses, and I realized that this was a whole chain of events affecting us all. Just down the street, another power pole had snapped right in half and was hanging precariously above the street by the wires. The domino effect had yanked the power lines all the way up to our house, which caused the whatsit to rip off the house.

Someone had called the fire department and a couple of trucks responded. Firemen began to block off the roads, and I knew this wasn’t going to be over anytime soon. Using my phone, I emailed all of my students for that day and cancelled their lessons.

Having lived in the same house for 32 years, I can count on one hand the number of times that we’ve had power outages. It’s been many years, in fact, since the last one. I know that people living in rural communities or on the smaller islands go through this all the time, especially during our winter storm season, but I felt like a kind of a newbie at this. What do I do?

It was almost lunch time, but I didn’t want to open the fridge. I foraged for anything that I could find in the cupboards. I decided it was a good time to start gathering candles and flashlights, even though it was the middle of the day.

I went outside again to survey the situation and saw a young firefighter at the corner.

“I guess I get an extra long weekend!” I laughed. “I like your attitude!” he smiled. From our short conversation I found out that it was going to take at least 6 hours to get this mess straightened out. I went back inside.

A short time later a very friendly BC Hydro guy knocked on the door, and with a big grin he told me that because the whats-a-ma-call-it was ripped from the house, I was going to have to call an electrician to repair that before BC Hydro could repair the line. An electrician! I panicked. I called my husband again and was finally able to get through to tell him what happened.

He took it upon himself to get a hold of an electrician who could respond quickly.

My phone was about to run out of power. I got a text message from my phone provider that I had already used up half of my data for the month. And it was only day 2 of the cycle.

I have a battery booster that I bought for my car when it had a battery leak that my mechanic couldn’t figure out. Fortunately, the booster was fully charged, so I brought it upstairs from the basement. It has a USB connector and one of those cigarette lighter chargers, so I managed to find plugs and cables to plug in my phone and a couple of other battery packs. I was even able to plug my laptop in so I could do a little work.

I was feeling pretty good about my resourcefulness. The electricians showed up and set about fixing things. And then they handed me the bill. Gulp. More than thirteen hundred dollars.

The stormy day dragged on and BC Hydro worked continuously up and down the street repairing the wires and putting in a new power pole where the old one had snapped. It grew darker in the house so I lit up the candles. My husband brought home some fast food for dinner and we ate by candlelight. We took turns using the battery booster to charge things up.

Every now and then I would pop outside and look down the street where most of the work was being done. There were fewer and fewer trucks. Part of me worried that they’d just give up and go home for the evening. But they didn’t.

At 8:25pm, almost nine and a half hours after the power went out, the lights came back on. Sigh.

Thinking about the whole event, I decided to take note of what I had learned from the experience.

  1. I can be pretty resourceful when I have to be.
  2. There are never enough candles. Or flashlights. Or battery packs.
  3. When a BC Hydro guy comes knocking at your door with a big grin on his face, it isn’t necessarily a good sign.
  4. That whatsit thingamajig that holds your power lines against your house is actually called a mast.
  5. The character trait that serves you best in a situation such as this is called a sense of humour.
  6. The firefighters, electricians and Hydro people out there working for hours and hours in miserable conditions to get things up and running, are real pros. Thank goodness for them.
  7. When you don’t want to open the fridge for the white, you can always open a bottle of red.
  8. I’m nowhere near prepared for the Big One.
  9. Because, you know, it’s 2020.

Tech-tarded – A New Definition

Person with PDA handheld device.Image via Wikipedia

In the province where I live, British Columbia, a new law came into effect on January 1st, banning drivers from using hand-held devices (ie cellphones) while driving.  I think it’s a good law, especially after an incident I witnessed not more than a month ago driving back from Richmond to the ferries as I do monthly.

It was on Steveston Highway near the Ironwood Mall, for anyone who knows the area.  That place is a bottleneck at certain times of the day as people rush to get on Highway 99 and out of town.  Rush hour isn’t an hour-long anymore and hasn’t been for years!  Why don’t we find another name for it??

Anyway, I was sitting patiently in the gridlock knowing full well that it was going to take some time to get out of there, when I noticed a young woman with two children in the back seat of her car, trying to get out of the mall parking lot.  I was quite ready to let her in, but she didn’t even look at me.  She started butting her car into the lane of cars I was in, her eyes not even glancing my way, her cellphone glued to her ear.  Well, okay, I thought, and waited so she could move in.  But that wasn’t enough for her, she actually wanted to get into the next lane beside mine, which was moving a lot faster and would been a blind move for her even without a cellphone.  As she continued to slowly butt through my lane, she did not look at me once, so concentrated on her cellphone conversation.  I started to flail my arms, motioning for her to hang up her phone.  This was no situation to be having a cellphone conversation in.  Her kids saw me, but she didn’t look.  I think one of her kids said something to her, but she still didn’t look.

Eventually, she made it into the lane beside mine and brazenly put the pedal to the floor, racing away into whatever other disaster awaited her next.  I couldn’t believe her outrageous behaviour, especially with little kids in the car.  And that’s not the first time I’ve seen stupid behaviour from someone driving with a cellphone stuck to their ear.

Don’t get me wrong, I myself have driven like that before on more than one occasion.  That’s why I think I can say with confidence that it is definitely a distraction.  But beyond the distraction of a conversation, you are driving with one hand, most likely your right hand, meaning that if you want to signal a lane change you actually have to take your hand off the wheel to reach your signal.  Most cellphones are too tiny and awkward to hold between your ear and your shoulder, so that’s out of the question.  And your blind spot on the left side becomes even more blind because of your cellphone and your hand blocking your view even more.

Which is why it’s a stupid argument to say that it’s all about the conversation you’re having on your phone, and that it  is the same as having a conversation with someone in your car, so no big deal.  That’s only half the distraction!  I tuned into a talk show the other day and heard whiner after whiner complain that they’ve “never had an accident” while talking on their phones, so why should they be “punished”?  Okay, buddy, maybe it isn’t YOU having all of the accidents, but clearly we have to do something about all of the people who are!  What is the big deal in getting a hands-free Bluetooth gadget if you MUST be on the phone in your vehicle every minute you’re in it?  Oh, right, Bluetooth isn’t very good, and blah, blah, blah.

I used my hands-free device just yesterday, calling my husband back because I had missed his call.  I drove a particularly narrow stretch of road as I was talking to him, but I had both hands on the wheel and could easily turn on the signal and do a shoulder check before I changed lanes.

The ones who are going to benefit most from this law are kids of driving age, because they will be less likely to get into an accident, potentially killing someone and even themselves.  They are younger, they can adapt to things more easily than the rest of us, so they’ll get over it.  But there’s one significant difference;  kids text MORE than they talk.  And the hands-free device doesn’t solve that issue.  So kiddies, you are going to have to give up texting while you’re driving a car.  Sorry.  Can it wait until you’re parked somewhere, or until you have reached your destination?  It’ll have to.

Today I read an article on the CBC News website about CES, the Consumer Electronics Show down in Vegas.  Canadians are complaining because they can’t get all of these lovely gadgets or the content up here in Canada because we have too many Canadian content restrictions.  I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing!  We are so tech-obsessed that we have to watch TV on our cellphones?  Or in our cars?  We are so dumb that we need a GPS unit to tell us where we are at all times?  How about reading a road sign?  How about checking a map and mapping a route before you leave?

My daughter introduced me to the term “tech-tarded”, which is SUPPOSED to mean someone who can’t or doesn’t handle all of this gadgetry very well.  I’m going to use it in another way.  Tech-tarded will be my new definition for someone who cannot live without being wired to something at all times.  Sure, technology is amazing and wonderful and gives us access to lots of great things.  But we’re in danger of allowing it to make us more stupid.

So put the cellphone down, don’t be a TECH-TARD!

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