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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.

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Call Me, Maybe – How Phones Have Changed

Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s I worked at the Vancouver Public Library as a Library Assistant. Once, for a couple of months, I was asked to fill in for someone at the library’s main switchboard. Although smaller, the switchboard looked very much like the one my Aunt, Edith Jackson, worked on. That’s her, pictured here when she was a phone operator for the Vancouver Phone Company in the 1940s.

Most people called the library to ask questions. My job was to answer the phone, and then plug the caller into the line of whatever department could answer them.

Most of the time, the caller’s questions were pretty straight forward. When was Diefenbaker the Prime Minister of Canada? I put them through to the History Department. Who painted the Mona Lisa? Arts And Literature Department. Well I knew the answer to that one, but it wasn’t my job to say it. And every now and then, you’d get a question that you really had to think about. How do you waterproof a zipper? Yes, that was an actual question from a caller I got one day.

I took a wild guess and put them through to the Science and Technology Department. Whether or not they figured it out, I have no idea.

And then there was an elderly woman, a regular who would call and yell loudly “What time is it, dear?” I would just look at my watch and tell her.

Any questions you had about anything, you could count on getting an answer at the public library.

A few years later, around 1991, I was working at a Victoria radio station in the Promotions Department, when one day my boss handed me a contraption the size of a one litre carton of milk and told me to take it with me to the promotions van.

“What the heck is this?”

“It’s a mobile phone. I might need to call you.”

“What’s a mobile phone?”

Much to my delight, I found out that I could ACTUALLY CALL PEOPLE while sitting in the van! On a phone! A mobile phone!

The order given to me was to use it for business purposes only. Predictably, the first call I made was to my husband.

“I’m sitting in the promotions van! On a phone! A mobile phone!” It was so totally cool.

When cellphones started to become more widely available, I was the first one in my household to get one. It was still pretty clunky and had an antenna so it didn’t fit easily in my purse. But, of course, the first thing I did was drive to the local mall, sit down in the food court, and call my husband again.

“I’m in the food court! On my new cellphone!”

Fast forward to today, and we rarely use our cells as phones anymore. That is, unless a scammer is calling. We don’t even think of it as a phone, really. It’s a camera and a calendar, it’s a step counter, and it’s a computer linking us to the rest of the world. It’s also something that we absolutely can’t leave the house without.

Because, you know, we might miss something. Something important. Like a Facebook message or text, or a news alert. Beep! Blip! Boing! Ding! The thing goes off at all hours and we’ve got to look. Even if it’s utterly useless stuff, we’ve got to check. Just in case.

I do remember one time being in the grocery store before I realized I didn’t have my cell with me, and I almost panicked. What if someone is trying to reach me? How will I know how many steps I took and calories were burned? What if the world ended and I didn’t know about it?

Yeah, pretty ridiculous. But I really did feel panic.

Up until this pandemic hit us, most of us were probably texting or messaging or scrolling Twitter more than we were calling each other. But when you’re in isolation or cut off from your usual group of friends and family, a voice or video call is a lot more comforting. If you have a parent in a care facility, it has literally been a life line speaking with them on the phone. Come to think of it, I’ve seen a lot more people talking on their phones in the last few months.

When those in my generation were kids, if your family even had a home phone, you had to share the line with others in the neighbourhood. It was called a “party line”. You’d pick up the phone and listen first, just to make sure they weren’t using it, and then you dialed. Rotary dialed. I’ll admit, I listened in on a few neighbour’s private conversations longer than I should have back then. Hey, I was a little brat. But to be honest, the conversations I secretly listened to weren’t that interesting.

Today, every kid has their own phone. I mean, I do understand why parents would want their children to have one. You’d feel better knowing that you could reach them if you needed to. But for the kids, it’s different. They just want to have something to shoot their latest YouTube video or play their games.

Me, I like having so much information right at my fingertips. My phone is like a little pocket library, and the switchboard operator is now Google.

And I’ve turned into the old lady yelling “Hey Google! What time is it, dear?” Google doesn’t answer me unless I drop the “dear”. Little snot.

A Rant About Stuff

The audio cassette greatly increased the distr...Image via WikipediaWith all the hoopla about Apple’s latest iPhone problems, I’ve been thinking about things that get re-designed or “upgraded” and end up being less than satisfactory.  And what do we do with the old ones?  Okay, some of the stuff I’m going to talk about may not seem as fancy schmancy as the iPhone 4, but IT’S MY BLOG!  Dammit.  But I really did have to stifle a laugh when I saw the disaster that became the iPhone 4.  All of that hype, all of that excitement, and all it would do is drop calls.  Yeah, put all of your attention into the appearance and these things called “apps” and “oooh, it does this! and it does that!”.  And forget that it’s supposed to be a PHONE, you idiots.

First of all, why change something that works just fine the way it is?  I spent a long time looking for a bra the other day because all a person can find these days are these foam type cups that are supposed to “smooth” out the look of your bust, I guess.  But all they do for me is make me feel like I’m a massive, over-stuffed double D.  I hate them.  And since when are subtle traces of nipples on a person’s top so disgusting or unappealing?  I mean, they’re BREASTS for pete’s sake.  They’re supposed to have nipples!!  Personally, I believe that the truth is that young women simply want to look bigger.  Of course they do.  I guess I was exemplifying exactly that when as an 11-year-old, I got a bra from my Aunt in Denmark who had never seen me and didn’t know I was flat as a pancake.  I put it on and stuffed it with Kleenex, like any girl would do, excited to have her first bra.  Two boys asked me if they could come to my house after school.  I guess it worked.

But I’m 53 now, for crying out loud.  I have no desire to lure anyone with the size of my boobs anymore.  It would be disturbing if someone wanted to come to my house after seeing me in one of those foamy bra things.  I’d be calling 9-1-1.

Well, after hours of searching I finally found what I was looking for at Sears.  The real slap in the face was that the bras that I ended up buying actually cost three times as much as those foam-stuffed things.  Hopefully they’ll last three times as long.  Things are just not made to last anymore.

For awhile now we’ve been using a crappy old microwave that my husband inherited from work because our “new” one pooped out on us after only a couple of years.  The very first microwave we got was given to us as a wedding present 26 years ago.  It lasted almost 24 years.  Stoves and fridges and washers and dryers are lucky to last 10 years, if that, anymore. 

My father calls it “built in obsolescence“.    And it makes sense, doesn’t it?  Why would a company want to make ANYTHING that lasts 24 years?  That means it’s going to take 24 years for them to get any more money out of you.  That goes for anything electronic.  In this case, it’s not even that they can’t make something as good as they used to.  It’s that they don’t want to.  And I won’t even go into this madness for the next “great” technology that has taken over the universe.  Holy crap, how many 2- or 3-year-old cellphones are there out there lying around unused because their owners don’t actually even care to use them for their expected (short) life spans, because the next iPhone has come along?  Sheesh!

Okay, I’m calmer now.

But where do we put all of this stuff when it stops working or suddenly doesn’t suit us anymore?  For me, it’s in the basement.  There are a couple of old TVs down there, a gazillion cassette tapes (nobody uses those anymore!), some old books of my Dad’s, wires, boxes of boxes, two space heaters that barely lasted two years each, two fans, same thing, a dead coffeemaker, a couple of old computers and monitors, boxes of my daughter’s stuff (hopefully they going to take it with them when they move out?), some of my brother’s stuff, and the rest I can’t remember because it’s been so long since I’ve even looked through it all.  A few years ago, I convinced my husband to spend the money to hire one of those junk hauling companies to empty out the garage and some old stuff from the basement.  I was so relieved to get rid of it all.  And then, much to my horror, it seemed only months before the basement filled up again.  How did that happen?

Tomorrow I have to go to Richmond and pick up my mother’s secretary/desk, a beautiful piece of furniture that I always loved because it was hers.  And I have no idea where I’m going to put it.   Years ago I fantasized about having that piece of furniture, and now it’s just another (rather large) thing that I don’t have room for.  I guess when I was younger, it was all about acquiring stuff.  You moved out and took your stuff with you, and when you could afford it, you bought more stuff to fill your place with.  And you dreamed about the “big” stuff like a car or a house, until you could at least afford a car loan or a mortgage.  And then you filled your new house with more stuff, until your kids came along and you had to move into a bigger house to be able to fit them and their stuff…

Okay, that’s how it happens.

But I don’t want all of these things anymore.  And having to deal with my parents’ stuff because they are at the point where they can’t take care of it and don’t have room for it leaves me (and my siblings and many others I’m sure) with this enormous pile of someone else’s stuff that I’ve never even wanted. I guess my parents didn’t plan on being stuck with so many things either.  We don’t realize when we’re younger, that the things we think we want will eventually just become the things we have to find a way to get rid of.  I put that in bold so that when I read it again later, I will remember.

How did I get on this whole rant?  Oh yes, cellphones.  Well, the last several months I’ve been at the end of my contract with my cellphone company and had nothing but offers for the “newest” and “latest” new cellphone.  Complete with another 3-year contract of course.  My old cellphone works just fine, but like all other technology geeks I am tempted by these new offers.  Except, unlike younger geeks, every time I think about a new one, I can’t think of what to do with my old one.  Nobody in my house wants it and it’s such an old model that I know for sure it isn’t going to become one of those “refurbished” ones.  This particular cell provider talks about recycling your old phone…but what do they really do with it?  I have hellish visions of poor people in third world countries working for next to nothing taking these electronic things apart and breathing in and handling horrible toxins from their components.

I call it my old cellphone, but is it really?  After three years, oddly enough it hasn’t died on me.   Crap.

IJ

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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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