April 26, 2008

As if Microsoft isn't bad enough...

Alice just bought a new computer, the last Windows XP machine to come off the assembly line. She is suffering technological difficulties, and sick to death of how wonderful the PC was supposed to make her life. Right now, she would rather have a hard copy of a newspaper, and not need to know more than the TV evening news has to tell her.

Although she has managed to keep most of the learning curve to a minimum, there are still a few hurdles to go before the machine is working perfectly. The computer guy (does not deserve the name "technician," though his invoice reflects it) managed to transfer data as Alice asked.

He could not, however, trouble shoot such common questions as, why won't the screen saver kick in when it's supposed to? Why won't the antivirus software run on schedule? Somehow, Alice expected a wee bit more knowledge from someone who bills himself as a computer tech guy.

However, given her last run-in with HP, she should know better. It doesn't matter what the native language is, ignorance is apparently in great demand for all tech support gigs. Where does Alice sign up? She wears her ignorance proudly: the exact label reads, I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore.

The do-it-yourself age is highly overrated, Alice once again observes. If she had wanted to be a travel agent, she would have signed up for that gig. If she had wanted to develop pictures, she would have had herself a darkroom. Getting the photos from digital camera to computer is just one more technological nightmare, so far as she is concerned.

And one more tangle with Microsoft's monopoly makes Alice certain that she would like nothing better than to get a cease and desist order on the entire company. Let us have a few years to catch up before you try to sell us anything new. The economy sucks, and we're just not interested.

On another note, here is some news from last week's Tactical Traveler:

Better Get That Icky Stuff Off Your Laptop's Hard Drive

"A federal appeals court in San Francisco has ruled that Customs agents at the airport don't need any evidence of wrongdoing to search the contents of a passenger's laptop, thumb drives and other storage devices. The theory supported unanimously by the court's three judges this week: A laptop is luggage and Customs agents don't need evidence of wrongdoing to search luggage because it is the equivalent of a border search. (The Supreme Court previously ruled that luggage searches at the airport are the equivalent of border searches.)

"All of this would be a fascinating legal argument in and of itself, but keep this in mind: The case began in 2005 when a Customs agent stopped a traveler on his return from the Philippines and asked him to turn on his computer. The agent then found images he believed to be child pornography. The flyer was arrested for transporting child pornography and traveling to the Philippines to have sex with a minor."

The world never ceases to amaze Alice, or perhaps dumbfound is the more appropriate response.

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April 22, 2008

My six-word memoir

Tagged by The Misanthrope I give you:

Nostalgic for what might have been.

April 13, 2008

"Helicopter" parent age

"Helicopter parents," I recently discovered, are those who hover over their offspring long after parents like mine -- those who gave you my generation, the baby boomers, decided to honor the generation gap and leave their offspring, i.e., me, to fend for themselves.

These are scary individuals. Roughly my age and younger, they have what strikes me as an overly extensive interest in their children's care and feeding above the age of majority. I'm sure every one of them wrote the essays for his kid's college applications. (I'm not sure mine even saw what I wrote.)

I would bet they worked on their kids' high-school geometry homework. Personally, I handed in mine in 1975. I suspect if I had asked for parental help, I would have been told, we haven't had to prove two triangles congruent since the early 1950s.

We love you, but you're on your own. Had I needed a tutor, one would have been found. But my parents had long since graduated from high school, thankyouverymuch.

I met several helicopters last weekend, while visiting my alma mater during parents' weekend. This year, like last, I volunteered as a sales girl for the annual Haiti Project art auction and craft sale. A Haitian village needs my support far more than my well-endowed college does.

Last year, since I stayed just one night, I didn't meet any of the parents at the college-owned inn where I sojourned. (The auction is held on parents' weekend because, of course, they have the money.) The college inn is the only ho/mo tel accommodation in walking distance of campus.

This year, I stayed two nights, and the parents I encountered in the inn's TV room made me feel I had stepped back into la vida loca all over again. In this world, parents seems to think having junior graduate from a brand-name college will set him/her up for life.

I didn't have the heart to tell them, 25+ years post-graduation, that a diploma from my college and a MetroCard will get me on the subway, and I don't expect it will take me any farther than the Staten Island Ferry.

Sure, I went to college in the 1970s. So did these parents. Did they forget that all we did was get stoned? My idea of schoolwork in college was to expend the least amount of time needed to get a decent grade.

Brand-name diploma was, for some, a $40,000 bar bill; for others, their parents' receipts; for me, a windshield sticker in the academic domain; for a few, recognition of honest academic achievement.

The last was not mine, nor did I claim it to be. The helicopter parents in the TV room would have had a collective stroke if I had described my college experience, or what I remember of it, to them.

Needless to say the idea that junior might be in it for the four years of freedom, sex, and crystallizing an adult self might does not seem to have permeated their collective consciousness.

These parents are going to get boomerang kids: they've raised their kids to live in a style to which they have all become accustomed, and it's not a style your average 25 year old earns enough to maintain. I would bet these kids are going to look for their parents' blessing in a mate. My generation, not so much.

I don't know anyone who returned to live with their parents or blended families for the prepared dinners, laundry service, and free cable. I could not have born the angst of retreating to that nest, but given the economy and the amenities, I'll bet it's looking a lot more attractive these days.

During my four years in an academic cocoon, I spent 40 hours a week in the college pub, and fewer than 10 in a classroom. I spent close to 60 hours a week in my dorm room, whether sleeping, studying or doing something more entertaining. Toss in hours spent primping, gossiping, flirting, and in hysterics, and you've just about captured my college years.

My memories of those long-ago years reflect the time spent in each area. I wasn't out to save the world, master six disciplines and come out ready to fall into coffee-achiever parents' concept of what a life should be.

My parents, I belatedly realize, let me make my own discoveries, my own mistakes. They would comfort me if I cried, but they did not assume, not being overly invested hoverers, that they were at fault. In the long run, I think that served me best.

Friends who are parents remind me we are living in different times, even those who have come late to the parental party. Nothing is as safe as it once was, and, given that my home was Wonderland in the days of "Ford to New York: Drop Dead," the safely gap has grown into a chasm.

It is one I am grateful to be of an age that I didn't fall in.

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April 02, 2008

The printer ate my telephone cord...

...and other tales of urban life.

The weirdness began before Mexico. The No Exit personae were just one stop in the strange confluence of events that has been my life of late. (Hell is other people.)

It may have started the day the telephone cord inadvertently fell into the ink-jet printer, swallowed whole permanently. Bye-bye phone cord. Bye-bye printer. Hello Staples? What do you have in the way of new all-in-one-machines?

Print color documents, fax, scan, copy, enlarge, reduce, read memory cards, tap-dance, what have you. All the machine fails to do is Windows.

It does VISTA. I do not. Note to self: get XP drivers. Download from Web site?

When I packed for Mexico, I could not find my suntan lotion. I had the car service driver stop at the local 24-hour chain drug store at 5 am so I could pick some up en route to the airport. You don't want to know who else shops at that hour. I didn't.

What else? In my absence during the No Exit experience, I have a house guest arrive. My best friend from grad school is in town from Switzerland, where she has emigrated with her second husband.

America is on sale, and she has the empty suitcases to prove it. She is awake when my housekeeper, who is from Poland, enters. While I am sleeping, they discuss their respective situations as immigrants.

It is not, I admit, a coincidence that occurred to me, that they share emigree status.

Later in the day, after my guest leaves, the infant downstairs starts crying. I put on the Rolling Stones to muffle the noise. I dance to Satisfaction. CC, my best friend, is chez moi, her dog in tow. Shamrock barks to show her annoyance at the baby. The Visiting Dog Service of New York has arrived.

My one-bedroom apartment has no place for a baby except a walk-in closet. The couple downstairs, whose layout is identical to mine, failed to receive the memo informing them that the time to move out is between the conception and the delivery.

They complained once of noise from my apartment. I suggested the doorman read them the riot act, and they take it up with their landlord. They aren't supposed to be able to rent in this building anyway.

The Visiting Dog Service will return as needed. CC will teach Shamrock to stop barking when downstairs teaches their child to stop crying. Or when they move the the kid into their bedroom. It (gender undetermined) lives in the dining area, where I have my office. The wailing makes it hard to concentrate.

I am unreasonable, but not completely so: dining areas are for meals and entertainment, not for infants' slumber. Bedrooms have windows and closets, neither of which is included in the layout for this apartment's dining area.

By Wonderland city code definition, a "room" has windows; an "area" that contains them is rare. The floor plans don't call the dining area a slumber nook.

Just as I never enjoyed my upstairs neighbors' domestic disputes, I do not enjoy the downstairs child. Had I wanted to marry or reproduce, I would have. Neither experience is one I need to have vicariously. Years ago, had there been one more thud from upstairs, I was ready to call 911, fearing spousal abuse.

I set up the new all-in-one and realize the sole purpose of the fax machine. It's is for CC to send prescriptions to her pharmacy in Paris and me to do the same with mine a block from here. Without our meds, we wouldn't need it.

Then came the bizarre phone message: in my line of work, I have had clients ask me to be their executor, or a trustee in their wills. Depending on the circumstances, I may agree. Today, a stranger from upstate left a message: would I consider being a trustee if he and his wife died? I am not sure what to say when I return the call.

Do I start with, are you out of your mind? Or, are you terminal? I have no idea who this person is, much less whether I will still be working when his need for a trustee arises. Or why he would want to entrust his finances to a stranger. This is not where I would begin the conversation.

Where would I begin? With the digested cord? VISTA? The 5 am lotion stop? No Exit? The emigrees? The Visiting Dog Service? The dining room child? The fax discovery? The trustee request?

This week an expose of my prep school has made the cover story of Wonderland magazine, much to my amusement, following the Spitzer denouement on its cover two weeks ago.

One class ahead of me, like most of my fellow graduates, he was filled with the arrogance and hubris imparted with the diploma. I suspect, too, that he never got laid during his days there. That strikes me as a reasonable explanation for his choice of paid companionship.

Where will it stop? Please: someone, anyone, a clue?

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