Like Clockwork

Don’t you love it when things go smoothly? Even when the means are antiquated—say, when the person involved is kind of, no, extremely low tech—it’s rewarding when the plot in hand goes just as planned, or even better. Clearly, this is somewhat rare, or it wouldn’t be a big deal; nothing about ticking along at speed without a hitch would be memorable.
Digital montage from photos: Mighty Machines

But it is. And we do have technology, however old-school, to thank much of the time. I’m no expert, but I am thankful to have so many handy props for getting the job done, and I hold in reverence the invention and creativity that make my life easier and more pleasant even when I don’t know the cogs are turning behind the scenes to make it all possible.

Grey Hairs & Live Wires

Hanging out in the tech store is an adventure of a new kind nowadays. There was a time when the generation gap between early adopters and those who have now grown up wholly in the personal-computing age was a crevasse of seemingly un-breachable magnitude. Now, the first generation of techno-babies has come far enough into their majority and the era of common computing has drawn enough of their elders into its mainstream that the paths are beginning to converge again.

It’s most evident in the staffing of technology stores, I think: customers of all ages are finally being served by experts of all ages. It’s an oddly comforting phenomenon to a middle-ground, middle-aged slow learner like me. I’m not as cowed by the expertise of youth, who, like those well-versed in so many other complicated fields, grew up knowing of their art and science’s nuances in ways that earlier generations couldn’t know. Neither am I so dubious of the expertise of people my age and older, who have now had enough years of immersion themselves to become equally, if not so innately, well-versed. It’s no longer that the people who were on the cutting edge of that first computer-building wave are utterly obsolete, but that they are—like my 88-year-old father in law, who worked in computing when it was still a universe of room-sized behemoth machines and basic binary punch cards—so curious as to have now trained into able manipulators of the current tech as well. It is a rich environment in which to learn and practice as I muddle through.

I just wish it meant that I could reboot my own brain, upgrade my mental hardware, and assimilate the new data without having to rebuild my mainframe entirely.Digital illo: Binary Baby

The Genie is Out of the Bottle

Digital illustration (BW): Grinning Genie 1It would be hard to imagine a person who is less the early adopter than I am. Newness frightens me even under the best of circumstances, and I am intimidated beyond words at the idea of trying to learn anything. Worst possible example for anyone’s edification when it comes to scholarship, growth, adventure, futurism, daring, and tireless commitment to progress of any sort. I’m the one you’ll find huddled somewhere in the shady corner as far back of the starting blocks as I can manage to be, while everyone else is already sprinting gleefully into the turn.

Chalk it up, pretty succinctly, to fear. My self-diagnosis, summing up my own observations and experiences with the insights of better educated therapist and doctor supporters over my lifespan, is that the recipe made by my own ingredients of personality, health, situation and resources tends to combine into a person who’s timid and easily defeated. Add a dollop of laziness to my already potent blend of anxiety, dyslexia and other perceptive and receptive oddities, and my lack of physical strength and grace, not to mention of any sort of courage, and you get an unwillingness, even a very stubborn one, to set foot into new territories, whether actual or metaphorical.

Still.

When I feel I can experiment safely and without anyone else observing me at work, I may occasionally delve into something new with a surprising (to me, at least) sense of play and eagerness. Though I’ve resisted the idea of learning to use any new forms of technology, at least until they’re far from new anymore on a general scale, even these can be both useful and entertaining if and when I finally get up the gumption to try them. So here I am, finally, fiddling around with the iPad as an artistic medium. On our recent week’s jaunt to Puerto Rico, the iPad provided a convenient way to reduce the weight and size of my baggage from the old laptop I have lugged around for the last five years, and while I found it slightly irksome to peck at the tiny integrated keypad on it to write posts, it did work for that, and as long as I used newly made images or ones in my stream of digitally stored photos, I could plug in illustrations as well. Photos taken on my iPad or iPhone do not impress me much, and I find both a bit awkward to use at this point. But with a new set of digital drawing/painting toys, I’m distracted from any such photographic and textual shortcomings by the process of teasing out the secrets of each art-related program.Digital illustration: Grinning Genie 2

Once introduced to this plaything, of course, I loosen up and lose my inhibitions gradually. Knowing that after years of such untutored play with various iterations of Photoshop, I still only use a hundredth of the possible functions and tools it offers—and those, probably, in wildly incorrect and inefficient ways—I can only imagine that there will be exponentially more things I can learn and do, as well as fail to learn and do, with these newer tools and toys. But at least I’ve managed to wiggle my recalcitrant self into trying them, for a start.Digital illustration: Grinning Genie 3

Tree-Totaler

I have a new toy! I’m not an early adopter when it comes to tech; in fact, I’m a slowpoke, and pretty much a big chicken, since learning new things intimidates the heck out of me. I know things come slowly to me, so it takes a while for me to even get up the nerve to try. But I have a new toy, and I’m liking the process of learning what I can do with this one.digital illustration

It’s an iPad, my new toy, and I bought a stylus to use with it, and downloaded several drawing programs (freebies and super-cheap ones, of course), and I’m having a grand time fiddling around and trying to see what I can do with the new artistic tools I’ve gotten. No amount of technology can make me into what I’m not, but some of those things I can do with the things I’ve now got could help me to make myself, however gradually, into a better artist. And that’s a fun thing to the degree that it does a remarkable amount to overcome my normal reluctance to trying to learn anything new.digital illustrationIn times past I have managed to kill a lot of trees in pursuit of my artistic growth. In my heart I am a great big tree-hugging plant lover, but my instinctive urge to make art has often trumped my tree love, at least to the degree that I make many works on paper. It’s easier to use when making marks into drawings than other, non-flat surfaces. I’ve been happy to use recycled material when possible, but paper is paper and, well, finite too. I’m liking the option that electronic tools give me of deleting or, better yet, erasing, layering, and redoing all kinds of things over and over again without needing to go to print unless and until I’m good and ready to do it. Here goes!

The More Things Change, the Less We Stay the Same

photo montageIn the dark on an airplane, I heard a click and it was accompanied by a quick flash of blue-white light. What followed was far more startling, though: first, a softly chattery rasping sound, repeated twice, rapidly. Then, the realization that I was hearing film being wound. It really wasn’t all that long ago that I’d’ve seen and heard these things without even taking note of them. But the world has changed dramatically, and all the more so have we within it.

It’s been a long time now since any flash of blinding light from an unseen source or any sound, however soft, of indeterminate mechanical movement has become the instant focus of suspicious thought.

Longer still, I realize, since I’ve been in the presence of anyone using a disposable film camera. That, of course, is what it was. It’s remarkable enough to have one appear like that and be struck by how long it’s been since I started expecting to only be around people taking photos that never need developing, shooting them with no sound, or with a distinctly artificial click, with their phones and digital tablets and pens and eyeglasses. Weirder still to realize how few years ago it was in reality that those disposable film cameras were on the cutting edge.photo montageThat is precisely, though, the way of the world. New ideas, inventions and technologies arise and supplant the ones we knew. The pace is ever more relentless and extreme. We fear the new in the instant of its inception, and seemingly minutes later, have forgotten even the existence of the old. One day’s science fiction is the ancient history of the next.

As always, I’m left in the wake of these little cataclysms wondering: what of today is soon to be obsolete? What strange marvels that are yet undreamed lie waiting in tomorrow’s dark? And where, in the midst of them, is the place I’ll occupy?photo montageI know that eventually I’ll lie forgotten in the jumbled janitor’s closet of history, as virtually all things and people once useful or known or loved eventually do. But like most animate beings, I do still harbor a whisper of hope that at least one person will remain for at least some little time after I’ve gone, still able and willing to remember me, if not as significant or laudable, at least as well loved during the short while that I lasted. With that, I think I can go off and return to dust happily.

I Won a Zillion Dollars! SERIOUSLY???

photoScams are as old as human interaction. I can only assume that among the first hunter-gatherer people wandering this great globe there were some who quickly discovered that if they used certain diversionary or distracting tactics or played the Needy card even when they’d just been gnawing on a good fat hunk of food, some softhearted other would hand over his or her hard-earned goodies. The more purportedly sentient and sophisticated we get, the more elaborate the flimflam. Bamboozling and outright fraud and thievery are well honed skills among those so inclined. And we who live in Bloglandia know better than most what rich tillage is available for such nefarious labors if the tricksters and crooks are even the least bit techno-savvy.

As a blogger I am the not so proud owner of a spam filter that scoops up as many as several dozen phishing and monetary theft attempts in any single day. One of the aspects that makes me especially irritated is the irksome knowledge that unlike promotional and advertising spam–tiresome enough–scam emails offer no possible way for me to Unsubscribe from their persistent and pernicious pestering. If I should be so foolish as to respond with an angry Unsubscribe letter of my own, and yes, of course I’ve done it just to let off steam, odds are astronomically against there being a human at the other end of the equation rather than the helpfully designed automation that considers any reply a positive one and an invitation for further encouragement to Send Money to the phisherman or woman on the other end of the hook, line and sinker.

Bad enough that I should have to waste my time cleaning out multitudes of junk emails. I know, too, that sending along any evidence of this sort of thing to any kind of authorities is futile, and of course the perpetrators of the intended crime also know it full well. As soon as there’s the slightest hint of danger, such lurkers dart off to new pseudonyms and reroute their emails, disappearing without a trace until the next move is necessitated, leaving a wake of idle dalliances and false promises broader than any black widow‘s.

photoThat comparison, though, is apt enough, since the intent is to play upon vulnerable people’s sympathy, greed and loneliness just far enough to get them to surrender the largest amount of cash and personal information the con artist can manage to accrue before leaving like a sneeze: at high velocity and with the victim left covered only in his own shame and sorrow. That these scams work best against the elderly, the young, the inexperienced and the poor is certainly one of the greatest of sins committed by Scam Scum. The amount of creativity involved in developing their villainous schemes, while it could of course be put to higher and kinder uses, seems to me to be lessening with the ease of perpetration offered by anonymous technology.

What quickly became known years ago as the Nigerian scam, for example, has veered only so far as to another part of an equally fictional version of Africa, as my current roster of letters almost always references Benin rather than Nigeria–but the rest of the content remains constant. Plug in new names and change two or three of the variables, and surely someone, even one who knows by now to be wary of references to Nigeria, will respond, and all’s well in the world of easy money. Those who use the cloak of putative widow- or widower-hood, political or religious persecution, or just plain blind trust to approach strangers and ask for help in securing and using massive funds do the very same. I can cite in particular one ‘Mary Mohomed’ who has continued to send me variations on her theme of pretend benevolence repeatedly, even under the same name, claiming an intimacy with me that even in my dotage of 50+ is hilariously impossible to believe of a total stranger. ‘She’ and her obvious relatives ‘Mrs. Rose Daniel’, ‘Mr. David May’, and ‘Mrs. Grace Ike’, along with numerous others–remarkably friendly Doctors, Ambassadors and (lest I be suspicious) officers of various trustworthy government agencies here and abroad, all love me and care for my welfare so deeply that they are willing to seek me out without introduction and invite my participation in ever so many worthy causes, all to be remunerated beyond-generously. And all for a teeny, tiny, infinitesimal, nominal, negligible fee on my part to get the party started.

Now, I will admit to a certain level of entertainment inherent in reading these letters, if and when I occasionally stoop to do so. Besides the intriguing effort to vary the plot line (a transparent practice that results in the virtual equivalent of visible panty lines or the Mad Libs sort of method certain serial novelists are said to use to rework one story into multiple books) email scam letters are loaded with typos, bad grammar and incorrect usage that, while it perhaps does reflect badly on the current state of language in the US and other English speaking locales, often provides hilarious unintentional asides. Today’s prizewinner in this phishing derby is the following letter, which clearly presumes that I would believe that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has an interest in seeing that I, an unknown but obviously well loved citizen of the Bureau’s own country, receive a sum of money won at random (yes, without my even trying) outside of its own jurisdiction from a lottery in a country not named and the coffers of a generically named pretend gaming Company, and discovered by, I am supposed to suppose, the purposeful working of the Bureau’s own fantastic newfangled machine whose purpose is apparently to monitor activities that are, again, outside of its purview. If that isn’t catchy and convoluted enough for a really cheesy Movie of the Week, I don’t know what is. But I’m glad I’ll have my $2.4million USD handy now to fund the making of said movie. Thanks, FBI! So glad it’ll only cost me $96 of my own money up front to get all of this in perfect order.

Anti-Terrorist And Monetary Crimes Division
FBI Headquarters, Washington, D.C.
Federal Bureau Of Investigation
J.Edgar Hoover Building
935 Pennsylvania Avenue, Nw Washington, D.C. 20535-0001
http://www.fbi.gov

ATTENTION: BENEFICIARY

This e-mail has been issued to you in order to Officially inform you that we have completed an investigation on an
International Payment in which was issued to you by an International Lottery Company. With the help of our newly
developed technology (International Monitoring Network System) we discovered that your e-mail address was automatically
selected by an Online Balloting System, this has legally won you the sum of $2.4million USD from a Lottery Company
outside the United States of America. During our investigation we discovered that your e-mail won the money from an
Online Balloting System and we have authorized this winning to be paid to you via INTERNATIONAL CERTIFIED BANK DRAFT.

Normally, it will take up to 5 business days for an INTERNATIONAL CERTIFIED BANK DRAFT by your local bank. We have
successfully notified this company on your behalf that funds are to be drawn from a registered bank within the world
winded, so as to enable you cash the check instantly without any delay, henceforth the stated amount of $2.4million USD
has been deposited with IMF.

We have completed this investigation and you are hereby approved to receive the winning prize as we have verified the
entire transaction to be Safe and 100% risk free, due to the fact that the funds have been deposited with IMF  you will
be required to settle the following bills directly to the Lottery Agent in-charge of this transaction whom is located in
Cotonou, Benin Republic. According to our discoveries, you were required to pay for the following,

(1) Deposit Fee’s ( IMF INTERNATIONAL CLEARANCE CERTIFICATE )
(3) Shipping Fee’s ( This is the charge for shipping the Cashier’s Check to your home address)

The total amount for everything is $96.00 We have tried our possible best to indicate that this $96.00 should be
deducted from your winning prize but we found out that the funds have already been deposited IMF and cannot be accessed
by anyone apart from you the winner, therefore you will be required to pay the required fee’s to the Agent in-charge of
this transaction

In order to proceed with this transaction, you will be required to contact the agent in-charge ( Mr. Nicholas Smith )
via e-mail. Kindly look below to find appropriate contact information:

CONTACT AGENT NAME: Mr. Nicholas Smith
E-MAIL : revnicholassmith1@yahoo.com.tr
PHONE NUMBER: +22996334110

You will be required to e-mail him with the following information:

FULL NAME:
ADDRESS:
CITY:
STATE:
ZIP CODE:
DIRECT CONTACT NUMBER:
OCCUPATION:

You will also be required to request Western Union or Money Gram details on how to send the required $96.00  in order to
immediately ship your prize of $2.4million USD via INTERNATIONAL CERTIFIED BANK DRAFT from IMF, also include the
following transaction code in order for him to immediately identify this transaction : EA2948-910.

This letter will serve as proof that the Federal Bureau Of Investigation is authorizing you to pay the required $96.00
ONLY to Mr. Nicholas Smith  via information in which he shall send to you,

Mr. Robert Mueller
Federal Bureau of Investigation F B I
Yours in Service,Photograph of Director
Robert S. Mueller, IIIRobert S. Mueller,
III Director Office of Public Affairs

And if you believe all that, I give you free of charge this magnificent bank vault in which you too can store all of your wealth. Enjoy!photo

Mayday! or, How Telecommuting Saves Lives

digital image from a photoWhen Face to Face Meeting is Obsolete

The business is dead! It’s technology’s fault–

the lighting, AC and the big central vault

Are scrambled and frozen and jolted and jammed–

the intercom’s buzzing, the plumbing is dammed–

Email is blacked out and the network is fried

and what’s in can’t escape or what’s out, get inside–

Alarms are all ringing but signals are dead–

the boss would’ve canned me and then had my head–

The one thing that saves me (although you may scoff) is

she can’t recollect how to get to the office.digital artwork from a photo