Friday, January 13, 2012

Angry Man

It's been one of those weeks.  I haven't been around here for a bit but that in itself isn't really unusual.  I'm an intermittent kind of blogger anyway, which is why I still have my day job.  This time though, it's frustration setting in that's brought about my tardiness.  Specifically, I'm not very happy with technology lately.  To whit:

First on the technology frustration list, the railroad. They went through a massive system upgrade over the holiday which is probably a good thing since half their stuff still looks like DOS and navigates with the tab key. I have visions of card readers and a long-ago FORTRAN course in high school every time I look at it. It's great to search endless screens when you're on overtime but it gets a little old when it takes 15 screens to tell the mechanical guys that your engine is low on oil. I hoped greatly for a move away from that old 'F5 to update' routine and a move into the point-and-click world that we all know and love. If wishes were fishes...

This process at least was well-known and anticipated but somewhere in the change-over, when they switched all the coding on my direct-deposit and sent my paycheck on a journey to another dimension, the drawbacks became readily apparent. We knew we would be unable to make changes to our personal information for the duration but when they did it for me and the electronic payments started bouncing, things got little dicey.

The real entertainment value of all this began when the bank (evil, greedy, unscrupulous, etc.) decided to ignore the fact that none of the usual transfers had been made and went ahead with automatic payments despite the fairly obvious problem (at least to me) of a zero balance in the account. They made payments with money they didn't have which put us in the negative and to reinforce the error of our ways, charged us an enormous fee. That was really fun so they did it again only this time with a less-than-zero balance and slapped on another fee. It continued to be good for them so they did it again...and again. This merry-go-round continued until Chris got is turned off just as the fees topped a grand. I almost think it would have been fun to just let it keep going until we owed them the national debt on a checking account that rarely has very much in it. I wonder how long the computers would keep bouncing it back and forth before an amount field somewhere ran out of zeros.

I guess that's how you really make money in America these days...charge endless fees for a screwed up service until you bleed your customers to death. What a concept. Banks, branches of government and airlines have elevated this to an art-form. Unfortunately, I also seem to remember a biology class that defined an unsuccessful parasite as one that killed its host.  I don't see how this can be a long-term strategy. There's this old saying about getting blood from a turnip that might apply...
But again, I digress.

After lengthy and somewhat heated discussions with a hard-to-find, real-live person, Chris talked the 'full-service' bank into waiving all but the first set of charges. That was good until their computer got involved and slapped most of them right back on again. More calls. I think the dust has finally settled but I'm still not exactly sure what happened to the account codes...

Next on the list...I use a site called MapMyRide to keep tabs on my biking mileage, plot routes and track my gear.  If you've been around here long, you've seen the routes in assorted blog posts and links.  I've always found it useful and relatively easy to work with; glitchy and loaded with ads sometimes but fairly easy, especially considering it's free.  Unless you want to pay to get rid of the advertising, they don't charge to save all those bytes for me and so I was content.  So far, so good.  I have a zillion miles of rides saved on it and even when they split the thing into two parallel sites, it worked.  Right up until New Years Day...

Suddenly, half it's functions ceased and desisted and I couldn't save anything.  I tried to use it for a week to do the same old, same old stuff I've been doing for years and eventually found after numerous emails that it now probably will require Chrome or Safari to make it work.  Thanks for letting me know.

Yep, I should just roll with it and upgrade.  Everything will probably work better anyway if I Chrome it but MMR ticked me off when it just stopped working.  I had to go looking for the answer when a simple note on the header would have sufficed to give me a heads-up.  Note to might be good to let somebody know when you make changes that affect millions of users of dirt-common browsers. 

OK I admit it, I know I'm a dinosaur and still have Explorer but it's been chugging along just fine.  Like me, it's old and creaky but still manages to work every day.  Slowly but surely.

This morning, on a whim I tried MMR again and everything worked as intended once more.  I never changed anything.  Go figure.  Now I can shut up and be happy...or at least shut up and quit spamming their Facebook page.  I'll probably download another browser anyway but the whole ceremony kind of left me unimpressed.  I know sites go through development and things evolve faster than GOP sound bites but it seems like a convoluted process engineered and guaranteed to piss me off.

So, next up on my test of patience list is a site with the catchy name 'Blurb' that promised the ability to vacuum a blog right out of space and into book form.  Cool.  Alledgedly, you can manipulate text, photos, links and whatever else you have stashed in your blog into a bestseller before lunch.  Well, maybe not the bestseller part but you supposedly can turn what exists only in electronic form into a hard-copy that will fit nicely on the coffee table or back of the toilet tank.  I had visions of  'The Wayward Home' printed up on glossy paper looking all spiffy and professional.  Oh and by the way, you do have to pay for anything that actually prints so this one ain't a freebie.  It all sounds easy enough for even the rankest amateur to work with and so I downloaded the software.  I watched the slick tutorial video and prepared to launch into publishing.

The fly in the ointment was that I never even got the thing to log on to the 'Home' to start the process, much less do all the other wondrous stuff trumpeted in the 'abouts'.  My publishing career is off to a rough start.  Two days worth of emails to assorted tech people finally collapsed in frustration when Blogger refused all efforts to open up and say ahhhh.  Despite a heroic effort on the part of their tech help people, all was in vain and I came up against my limit when they wanted me to open a new email account just for that site.  I know Google wants to rule the universe but requiring a new Gmail address for every different site seems a little much.  I wasted half the day trying various fixes (which weren't really fixes because the settings they wanted changed were the defaults anyway) to no avail and finally uninstalled the miserable wretch without any print forthcoming.  No sale.  Another note to IT...if you say it works with Blogger, it might be helpful for us who will be paying the bills to make sure that it really does.

And so, lacking much progress elsewhere I'm doing what I suspect may actually work...tapping away at the 'Home' and with any luck, the 'Save Now' button actually will and 'Publish Post' won't be just kidding.  Note: Other than losing two paragraphs that I had to re-do somewhere between 'Preview' and that 'Publish' button, it did.  I'm going to trade my laptop in for a fountain pen.

My kids may eventually lead me kicking and screaming into the future but for now, I'm stuck right here.  Hey, it isn't all bad news...I managed to get the disk drawer open on the X-Box without even looking at the start-up guide.  There may be hope after all.