A Dilbert Moment at Social Security

I had to go to the Social Security office. I know you can make an appointment so I got on line and pulled up the web page for the local office.

The web page did not list a phone number that you could call to make an appointment at the local office. The only phone number listed on the local Social Security office web site is the national Social Security telephone number. I called that number and the automated voice told me it was an hour to and hour and a half wait to talk to someone. I pushed the buttons to have them call me back and was told that was an hour and a half wait time too. I went down to the social security office and waited an hour there instead. It was quicker to go to the office than deal with the nation telephone number.

Once I got to see a representative I asked how do you make an appointment. He said you call this number. I told him the number wasn’t on the local office web site. He said yes, you either call the national number or Google the number. Why have a web site if your not going to put a phone number on it that speeds up service for both the customer and the office?

I needed to help a family member get Medicare. I told the rep that the Social Security web site had a button called How To Apply. If you click on the button it gives you all sorts of information about the benefits of Medicare, but tells you nothing about how to apply for Medicare. He said you can apply for Medicare on line from the Medicare web site but that’s buried somewhere on the Medicare site.

The How To Apply web page should tell you how to apply, what site to go to or where to go to and what buttons to push.

The Social Security web site is a true Dilbert or software coder’s web site. Lots of information, but nothing you need.

Write on, draw on.         Professor Hyram Voltage

A Dilbert Moment at MicroSoft

A recent update to MicroSoft Windows 10 caused many computers to lose the ability to connect to the internet.

In an old Dilbert cartoon the Dilbert character email stopped working at work. The next panel shows him talking to the company computer technician. Dilbert tells the technician that his email doesn’t work. The computer technician smiles and tells Dilbert to send him an email.

For the loss of internet problem the official MicroSoft fix is to turn off your computer, leave it off for one minute, then turn it back on. If that does not work then go to the MicroSoft web site for more help.

If you’re a programmer you have several computers and this makes sense. If your an older user and have only one old second hand computer that someone gave you (and doesn’t connect to the internet because of a MicroSoft update so you can’t get to the MicroSoft site) or if your on the road with only one computer then you’re a very angry Dilbert character about to form a neck tie party and go after some pointy haired MicroSoft types.

Stay strong, write on.          Professor Hyram Voltage

From frenzy to gloom

As a writer I am an emotional being. Microsoft and its product Windows drives me from Frenzy to Gloom, from uncommunicative to hysteric. Forgive me, but to paraphrase Shakespeare, the first thing we do is hang all the programmers, after we classify the lawyers as programmers.

August was not a waste, 11 states and over 5000 miles driven in 16 days. The great salt lake, Yellowstone park and Old Faithful, Cody Wyoming, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse monument, Devil’s tower, Minneapolis, Nebraska arch, and lots of points in-between.

I drove most of it. No time to write.

I’m back let’s write. I got four chapters to go in the second novel. Rewriting the end of the outline. Blasted characters keep doing thing I hadn’t planned on.

Stay strong, write on.   Professor Hyram Voltage

A modest proposal to save water

California is short of water. Since water doesn’t grow on trees we need to stop wasting water and stop now.

Early the other morning I was driving a friend to breakfast. We stopped two blocks from my house to turn onto a major street through town. The sprinklers system was on watering the vegetation in the center median of the major street. It was also watering the street from one side to the other. Cars were zipping through the wet street sending water every where. This was during daylight not some midnight accident.

Several blocks later we drove past the Department of Motor Vehicles offices. Their sprinklers were on full blast. Those sprinklers did not have near as much over spray but one sprinkler head had broken off and a fountain of water was shooting straight up four or more feet.

My recommendation to remediate this type of problem is to put someone in charge. Both these instances were before normal working hours and it would be expensive and inefficient to have someone watch the sprinklers. But during working hours a person at the city or state office could be charged with making sure water is not wasted. Offices for the state and many city offices are not owned by the state or city, still the office water Czar could work with the owner of the building and the ground keeping contractor to insure there is no over spray, no broken sprinklers, that the timers for the sprinklers are set to come on only twice a week and only come on after dark. All these measures would show the tax payer that the state is trying to save water (even when it is the building owner who is wasting water).

Additional action could be for state owned building to put in artificial turf or rock gardens. A visit to Tuscon Arizona could show how well that can be done.

The state could help fund cities so that they can put in drip irrigation systems to replace spray type sprinklers.

These simple measures would make the state and cities look like they are not wasting water.

Write on, draw on.    Professor Hyram Voltage

 

They don’t make them like they uses to, or at least not as well

I just rebuilt a storage shed in my back yard. It replaces a twenty year old shed that the termites got into.

Instead of reusing the door latch from the old shed I bought a new door latch. The old door latch was rusted up bad. Same brand, same size but the metal was thinner on the new one. And of course the new one cost a lot more.

Maybe there is something to this the government and manufacturers things don’t change for the better. Now let’s see if the new latch last as long as the old latch did.

 

Write on, draw on.  Professor Hyram Voltage

Your Hard Drive is Going to Die

It’s not if but soon. Hard drives fail, all the time, so back up your data. I’ve said it before, now go back up your data. Even new SSD (Solid State Drives) fail. If you know how SSDs work then you know they are constantly failing and that they have excellent error correcting electronics but one day they will get so bad that the error correcting can’t correct the errors.

I’ve lost data in hard drive failures. I now back up my data at least once a month. I back it up on two different USB connected hard drives. I keep the USB Hard Drives locked up and stored well away form the computer. And I keep old copies of the data. If the data on your hard drive get corrupted and you copy it onto the back up USB hard drive over the data that was there then you’ve lost the data anyway.

I also backup working files on thumb drives. It makes the files handy and if I write over a file with to many changes I can always pull an old copy off the thumb drive and start over.

At the last writers meeting we had a new guy. He’s making a graphic novel using a image program. He’s stuck, his hard drive died and he lost a lot of the old images so he has to make do with the images he has. The graphics program he uses has changed so it would be a major undertaking to make new images in the style of the old images.

I’m having trouble finding sympathy for the guy. I’ve lost data and I could not afford at the time to pay someone to get it back. Sometimes when a hard drives fail and even the best techs can’t get the data back. It’s also very expensive to recover data from a damaged hard drive.

USB thumb drives are cheap and have plenty of room for the files that you generate (you don’t need to backup everything). Even if it is a bunch of pictures there are 128 Gbyte thumb drives out there. Get two thumb drives and store them in different places. One glitch in the hard drive and you could lose all your children’s baby pictures.

There are four terabyte USB portable hard drives for sell. Stick with the two terabyte drives, I have heard that the three and four terabyte hard drives have problems. These drives are fast and hold a lot. Again get two to protect against fires and floods and store them in separate places. Think about getting a water proof and fire proof container to store them in.

On line or cloud storage is not the answer. If your files on your computer get corrupted and the computer syncs the files on the computer to the files on the cloud then the cloud stored files are damaged and no good. If a hacker gets mad at One Note or Google and develops a virus that start destroying cloud files you’re out of luck because all your files were in one place and that place got hacked.

It’s your data and it’s your responsiblity. Back it up.

 

Write on, draw on.  Professor Hyram Voltage

The end of home solar energy as we know it

I’ve been for solar energy since before the energy crisis of the 1970s.

A power company in the state of Arizona is going to start charging $50.00 a month to people who have installed solar cells (solar energy) at their homes. They didn’t say if they would also charge people that had solar water heating or wind turbines. The reason for the charge is that people with solar electricity need to pay their fair share of maintaining the power lines, distribution equipment and other maintenance of the power company.

This is like telling people to use less gasoline and then charge them a special yearly tax for buying an electric or hybrid car.

Arizona is hot. It is not unusual for people living there to pay $200.00 to $600.00 a month for electricity for air conditioning in the summer. In the winter you have to pay the fee even if you don’t need the solar electricity.

I grew up in the desert and it was 100 degrees at midnight many times during the summer so solar cells may only cut your power bill by half. At $200.00 a month that means saving $100.00 a month in electricity then the power company comes and takes $50.00 of that $100.00. That’s optimistic numbers.

The power company will get $50.00 a month for tens to a hundreds of thousands or more users is like getting free money for doing nothing more than they usually do, they are not going to give this fee or TAX up without a big fight.

Other states have said they are going to implement this fee for home solar installations.

Will the air base in Arizona that has the largest solar installation of any base have their uniformed members living in  base housing start getting charged for having solar power?

Will this will drive the home solar power companies out of Arizona and put a lot of people out of work? To the power company it’s profits first and the government of Arizona is very pro-business.

Me, I live on a fixed income and use less than $40.00 worth of electricity a month. Will the power company start charging me a minimum of $50.00 because I don’t use enough electricity to pay for my share of the distribution of the power?

The same power company in Arizona just raised its rates for everybody so it sounds like they are in big financial trouble and trying to milk money out of their customers any way they can. The cost of oil and natural gas is way down they should be lowering the price of electricity.

 

Write on, draw on.  Professor Voltage

This Time it is Different, and that is sad

This time it’s different, is a phase that should strike fear in your heart if you invested in stocks and lived through the dot COM bust.

In the dot com bust of the stock market showed that things may have changed but people and society had not. People and society change very slowly but they do change.

The other day I went to a Radio Shack store that was closing. The place was clean (a tip of the hat to the guy that was running the place) but almost sold out of everything. And there were customers in the place. Sure some of the customers were older but not all.

One article postulated that Radio Shack make a big mistake getting into cell phone in a big way. There was and is nothing to stop anyone from getting into selling cell phones and under cutting you.

Another article talked about how you use to be able to buy radio controlled cars at Radio Shack at Christmas time and the cars were something no one else had.

Another article remembered how you could buy a computer at Radio Shack and it was as good as many other computers.

Today there is a second hand store in town that sells new cell phones. There are a half dozen store fronts selling cell phone in the poorer part of town. How can even AT&T and Verizon compete with those stores?

The Motley Fool calls it having a moat around your business. Something that keeps others from competing with you and undercutting you. Radio Shack does not have anything different to sell.

I remember Radio Shack before computers, back when it sold vacuum tubes and glow in the dark was a warm and good thing. I also remember when Radio Shack was going to have a store within 10 minutes of anyone in the continental U.S. Those were the days before overnight express delivery. Ordering a couple of resistors to repair or build something could take two week to two months for the parts to get to you. There were not that many mail order places to get parts from either. Today if the part isn’t on their doorstep in two days people go ballistic.

Hardly anyone remembers Lafayette Electronics. It was a smaller chain of stores than Radio Shack but it had a big mail order business. The company even sold musical instruments before electronic keyboards were available to consumers. In those days you could buy a guitar in your local drug store. Lafayette stuck with the hobbyist and repair man instead of mass marketing and went out of business in the 1980s.

You could also order parts from Allied Radio and if real cheap you could get parts from Poly Packs. I sent a lot of dollar bills to Poly Packs. In 1960 paying $8.00 to $10.00 for a vacuum tube is like paying $50.00 to $100.00 dollars for a very simple semiconductor like a basic transistor.

Things have changed, people don’t build things anymore. Vacuum tubes are a specialty hobby or elitist item. Surface mount electronic components have made building electronic devices at home very hard and requires special tools.

If you do want to build something then there are many places to buy the components on line. Hobbyist and experimenters no longer grab the old TV set that someone has set out on the curb so they can salvage the parts out of the set. Parts out of an old computer are so out of date that they are unusable before the computer has stopped working.

A few people who are mostly labeled wide eyed fanatics still wonder what will happen if the over night delivery system breaks down, or the country that makes the needed electronics stops sending the equipment to the US for some reason, or if we have a big war or depression where you have to make it work longer or do without and the equipment can not be repaired (because repair parts are not available or the equipment was not built to be repaired).

Society has changed, but is it for the better?

Good bye old friend, you are not the Radio Shack I knew but I will still miss you.

Write on, draw on.  Professor Voltage.

Kids breakfast and a changing world

Between writing and serious family obligations I don’t get out much.

The other day I had a doctor’s appointment. A five hour appointment. The instructions said bring a lunch ( a fatty lunch so I got a cookie to go with the sandwich). It’s 8:00 in the morning and I stop at the local Subway sandwich shop. There’s a line out the door of high school kids. Many were eating their sandwiches at the tables in the shop.

What struck me was, less than half of them had backpacks and the backpacks were not heavily loaded with books. They were getting sandwiches not the breakfast specials or flat bread wraps. They were mostly girls and they were not over weight.

The lack of backpacks stood out because schools today don’t have lockers. When I went to school you got issued a locker and hopefully it was an older locker that could hold all your books and your jacket. Even with a locker I had to haul two or three books home each night to do reading in or home work from and I wasn’t the greatest homework doer.

A sandwich for breakfast is better than an “Egg McMuffin” with grease soaked potatoes but as a school kid I ate a lot of cold cereal for breakfast (chocolate coated corn and sugar bombs or multicolored corn and sugar bombs). I also cooked a lot of scrambled eggs for by brothers and sister. I could cook a skillet of scrambled eggs at one time and feed everyone. Everyone wanted fired eggs but that meant cooking an egg or two at a time while everyone complained about how long it took to cook the food. You either got scrambled or cooked them yourself, and only after I was through cooking the scrambled eggs. After one or two times cooking their own eggs they went back to eating scrambled eggs and complaining. Amazing how lazy people are in the morning. Sometimes when things were good we got cheese or peppers or chorizo thrown into the scrambled eggs. Eggs were a couple of pennies each back then and are only fourteen to fifteen cents each today. How can kids afford six to seven dollars for breakfast? That’s almost as much as a cheap breakfast in a sit down place. I can’t afford to buy a Subway sandwich every day.

It was surprising to me that it was mostly girls in the line at Subway shop and they were not massively over weight. I figure the guys and overweight girls were over at the fast food places.

OK, how do I work this into the next story. The story is set in 1880’s so the schools girls are dressed in uniforms. They have rich parents or they would be working in the factories so they can afford to eat in a cafe. It’s a French style cafe so they would be getting coffee and a croissant. Alternately trying to look grown up and talking like little girls.

 

Write on, draw on.   Professor Voltage