Mall In The Time Of COVID

Today I ventured into a mall for the first time in almost a year. I had to go to Syracuse to swap cars with Brady, and I have a hardware issue with my MacBook Pro, so I made an appointment at the Apple Store to confirm my diagnosis and see about getting it fixed.

The mall, Destiny USA, was relatively deserted. While not unexpected, it was still surreal. I used the rest room first and then made my way to the Apple Store. There were fully 6 “guards” (really Apple Store staff) milling about outside the store in black shirts with “SECURITY” on the back. I’ve seen fewer places taking COVID as seriously as the Apple Store does. People are kept out until there is someone in the store available to meet with them. There are 6 workstations at the front of the store (the rest of the store is cordoned off) where you meet with a store employee. It’s very much like how visiting prisoners in prison is depicted on television, but without the intercom/phone handset.

The mall itself has done a good job of trying to keep people safe, as much as that’s possible. But as comedian Ron White said, “you can’t fix stupid.” I don’t know if it’s actual stupidity as it is obliviousness or willful ignorance, though to me the latter qualifies as “stupid.”

What I’ve called “Pedestrian Narcissism” bothers me on a good day. But today I wish I’d brought a squirt gun with me so I could go around squirting people who just walked wherever the hell they wanted, ignoring or not bothering to read the clearly-placed signs that were RIGHT THERE ON THE FLOOR telling you where you were supposed to walk. And it’s not hard—modeled on how we drive. One simple rule: keep to the right. And patterns generally moved in a counter-clockwise direction. I can’t even give them the excuse of staring at their phones, because I actually saw very little of that. (And being early for my appointment I had about 20 minutes to watch this chaos.)

I couldn’t get out of there fast enough, and I won’t go back if I can at all avoid it until masks are no longer required. People suck.

Webinar Etiquette

If you’ve led a charmed existence and never had to suffer the pain of “participating” in a webinar or a web conference/meeting, you can stop reading now and consider yourself lucky.  Go buy a lottery ticket.

For the rest of you, I’m sorry.  A well-run and -moderated webinar is a rarity.  As participants, we are subjected to legions of peers who have no concept of “mute,” and thus suffer an endless barrage of dogs barking, babies crying, doorbells and phones ringing, food chewing, drink slurping, and open-mouth breathing.  Here are my tips (pleas?) for both hosts and participants of webinars to avoid all of that.

Consider using the right tool for the job.  If all you need is audio, then a webinar is overkill.  There are lots of free conference call services.  Sign up with one and just e-mail your participants the access code.  Use a webinar tool only if you or your participants need to share non-audio information as part of the conversation, e.g., display a PowerPoint or share your desktop in order to show/demonstrate something.

If you do decide a webinar is the right tool, seriously consider forcing all participants to use webinar/computer audio instead of telephone audio.  Why?  Because it forces them to actually join the webinar!  I don’t know how many times I’ve seen it: an invitation is sent out.  The invitation specifies in the details of the event that there will be stuff to be seen.  A dial-in option is offered.  Users inevitably dial in.  When the stuff is put on screen, SOMEONE will pipe up, “wait wait…I only dialed in!”  The worst for me is joining a webinar, headset/mic at the ready, only to find that the only way to get audio is via phone.  Ugh.

If someone has requested your participation in a webinar, then you should have the appropriate tools.  This includes a headset with a microphone.  Your computer’s built-in speakers and microphone are fine for personal Skype/Facetime, but on a webinar with more than 2 (possibly dozens of) people, it’s not going to cut it.  In order to be properly hear and be heard, you must have a headset and microphone.

If you are participating in a conference call, do NOT use a speakerphone!  Pick up your handset or use a headset.  There is no such thing as a good-sounding speakerphone, at least as far as the people on the other end of it are concerned.  This is especially true if you are the presenter.

No matter how you participate, the mute button is your friend!  All participants should remain muted unless they are speaking.  This prevents feedback, buzz, and everyone participating from being assaulted with every belch, fart, slamming door, and ringing phone in the background.  If the moderator/host of your webinar does not inflict muting upon you by default, have the courtesy to check your own control and make certain that it’s active unless you are speaking.

I sense I’ve lost this battle.  People seem to be in love with their phones even when a phone is not the most appropriate tool for the job at hand.

It Shouldn’t Be This Hard.

I’ve never been the best or smartest person when it comes to managing money.  But we have a household budget and we stick to it.  I don’t track every penny spent, but there are some things I do track so that we can plan accordingly, most notably groceries.

I have been a Key Bank customer for about 30 years.  Recent events have me evaluating that relationship.  Earlier this year, Key overhauled their online portal–the web site customers use to view their accounts, pay bills, transfer money, etc.  As part of that project, they deleted all of the budgeting and reporting tools that used to be a part of the portal.  I had spent hours defining budget categories and applying those categories to transactions so I could run reports, e.g., “How much did we spend on Groceries each month last year?”  All that hard work, gone.

I complain to @KeyBank_Help on Twitter and receive an “apology” and am urged to use another service called “Hello Wallet.”  So I go and sign up with them.  My Key accounts link up easily enough, but Hello Wallet can only show me the previous three months of transactions, which is useless if you’re in need of reviewing a year’s worth of personal finance data. (This was confirmed by their tech support.)

So I suck it up and decide to buy Quicken.  (The Windows version, as Intuit has done a pretty thorough job of screwing with Mac users on and off for decades.)  When I get to the Payment Information screen, I am informed: “The Quicken special discount offer you’re trying to access has already been redeemed or is experiencing an error. Please contact Quicken customer support specialist at 650-250-1900 Mon – Fri 5am to 5pm Pacific if you need more assistance.”  *sigh*  So I call that number.  It rings 3 times, and then punts me to some kind of error tone/beep I’ve never heard before.

The universe is conspiring against me.  I should just keep my money in a shoe box, I guess.  If I ever do manage to acquire Quicken, I should probably send the receipt to Key Bank and ask for reimbursement.

#KeyBank #Quicken #Intuit

America (2016)

This evening at bowling someone played Neil Diamond’s “America” on the jukebox.  I never saw “The Jazz Singer.”  I don’t even know the story, much less the context for the song as performed in the motion picture.  I’ve never cared especially for the song, but for some reason, hearing it now struck a chord.  The lyrics tell the story of how this country came together from, basically, the dregs of everywhere else on this planet.  For a long time, it was “y’all come!”  And all were welcome.  There have been some very dark times in our nation’s history, to be sure.  I won’t romantically gloss over all of that.  But we have always invited those like us to join us.  From Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus”, which is engraved on the pedestal of our very own Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.  Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Reading recent headlines, it would seem that Neil Diamond’s “America” doesn’t exist anymore.  If that’s true, I mourn that loss.  Still, it’s a catchy tune–an anthem, really!  And I think the melody deserves to live on.  But it will need new lyrics.  And so, with humble apology to Neil Diamond, I offer “America (2016)”:

We all travelled so far
To our new home
Away from any Czar


We cut down all the trees
And tamed this land
While writing our own creed


On the boats and on the planes
We all came to America
Welcomed all who shared our pain
They all came to America


We forgot from whence we came
Now if they are not the same
We don’t want them here
We don’t want them here


All they want is a new place
It is to our great disgrace
That we greet them with fear
That we greet them with fear


Everyone around the world:
Stop coming to America!
Just in case you haven’t heard:
We fear you in America.


We don’t care where else you go,
Stop coming to America!
You don’t fit the status quo,
Stop coming to America.


Stop coming to America!
Stop coming to America!
Stop coming to America!
Stop coming to America!
Go ‘way, Go ‘way
Go ‘way, Go ‘way, Go ‘way!


My country used to be (Go ‘way!)
A place where all would be (Go ‘way!)
Welcomed with Love (Go ‘way!)
We’ve really lost

What’s In A Name?

No…seriously!  It is 2015.  Someone explain to me why we haven’t evolved beyond the “need” for a wet signature on paper as a means of authenticating or approving anything!  The notion that I wield any degree of “power” whatsoever by virtue of some arbitrary scribbling is ludicrous.

This has been a bad day and it’s not even Noon.  Amanda’s folks generously trickled-down a car to us.  We’ve been trying the one car thing since letting Brady take the Subaru to grad school.  It’s been generally OK, but we’ve found that when it’s inconvenient, it is VERY inconvenient.  And so we have been on the casual hunt for a “beater” to be used primarily in-town.  Rob and Pat have given us their 2004 VW Passat wagon.  Rob needs his plates back so he can put them on the “new” car he has bought.  I need to get the Passat registered!  I fill out–which is to say I BELIEVE I fill out–the requisite paperwork and schlep over to Canton, the county seat and location of the nearest DMV office, where I mercifully find that there is no line, but frustratedly am informed that I neglected to have Amanda sign in all the right spots.  Proud of myself for not spewing vitriol at the very nice clerk who assisted me (these stupid forms were not her doing, after all!) I return to Potsdam and the rest of my day’s schedule which now includes a return trip to Canton this afternoon.

Did I mention I have a fundraising dinner in Ogdensburg this evening?  Three trips to/through Canton in one day.  UGH.  (Though I’ll probably go through Morley on the way to O’burg this evening…so 2.5, I guess.)

Fuck bureaucracy.