Aging Gracefully

Did you ever wonder why they stopped printing phone books? 

I have identified two reasons. 

Firstly, even “el cheapo” cell phones have facility to load the contact details of your favourite people into them. 

Secondly, the only people who have landlines these days haven’t got a snowball’s chance in hell of reading the print in a phone book!

So why bother to print the book.

QED.

Somebody said that getting old is not for the faint-hearted. 

Sadly, aging isn’t a voluntary process.  Nor a reversible one – despite what the cosmetic, gymnasium, or plastic surgery industries would have us believe.

Age sneaks up like a thief in the night and resoundingly kneecaps you when you’re not watching.

Sure, you can stave aging off for a while if you’re determined.  A healthy life style, gobbling down handfuls of vitamin tablets, or heading off to the gym encased (entombed?) in lurid pick or green hi-viz lycra tight enough to display all your indiscretions. 

But if you don’t take aging too seriously it is a condition that can provide its own humour, albeit slightly black and perverse.  In fact, if you’re not into gymnasia or facelifts, humour is the thing that will do you the best.

And it’s free!

I used to worry about eyesight, but I don’t see it as a problem now.  How can I, when everything I look at today is so small and fuzzy on the edges? 

Hearing, too, is a looming issue. Conversation and television programmes today come filtered through a winter-weight woolen sock.  I did think for a while that I could overcome hearing-loss by learning to lip read – right up until the eyesight started to blur.

But aging allowed me to discover other stuff.

It started off being small stuff, like a reduction in available trouser belt holes.  Or an increase in the distance between button and button hole. 

But now the stuff is getting bigger and more important.

For a start, my feet used to be so much closer to my hands – the act of putting on socks or shoes never used to be a challenge.  Or taking the socks and shoes off, either, if it comes to that.

But it seems age has either made my legs longer or my arms shorter.  Either way, it has happened without my being consulted.

Birthdays that are a major in the aging stakes. 

When you were young, your birthday seemed to come around maybe every two or three years.

Now the next birthday has arrived almost before the smoke detector has stopped going off from the candles of the last one!

And all the numbers seem to end with a five or a zero and a requirement to re-sit your driving licence.

Gravity, though not in itself part of the aging process, is another experience with which I have issues. 

Gravity has such wide-ranging effects.  On everything. 

Once upon a time, if you dropped something, your quick reactions allowed you to catch it on its way down.  Or you just bent over, picked it up without a second thought and moved on. 

Now reaction time is such that whatever dropped is on the floor before you even realise that it has left your grasp.  Unless, of course, there is somewhere even more inconvenient it can drop that is lower than the floor – such as over a bank. 

The only things that don’t fall to the floor are the things that it would have been better if they had.  Cooked egg of any type, tomato soup, ice cream (particularly boysenberry or chocolate flavoured), coffee dribbles, jam or anything else of a liquidy form.  All will only go down as far as your shirt front.  Or a really dark place under something that you can’t reach without getting on hands and knees. 

Or, worse still, your trouser front.

And gravity not only affects things you were holding.  It also affects hair. 

I used to have hair on my head.  I still have some there, but gravity has taken a lot of it further south to my ears and shoulders.

And my back.

There used to be a clear demarcation line between neck hair and chest hair.  But now – as is the case with so many things – the line has become blurred, and where to stop shaving has become a threat to sanity.

And I really don’t want to discuss nasal hair. 

Do I stop at the line of my shirt collar?  Or do I just keep on mowing south until I reach somewhere hairless?  Which may possibly mean I finish up shaving at the end of my toes.

My wife lovingly offered to help me with that.  She was holding a pair of malevolently sharp bathroom scissors at the time, which made me just a little uneasy. 

As she brought the scissors towards my nervously twitching nostril she got the giggles, making her hand shake alarmingly. 

Health and safety (mine) made it judicious to separate her carefully from the scissors and resolve not to mention nasal hair again in her presence!

I don’t need to have a plain English contract, thank you.  I will be quite content with the big print one! 

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Customer Service – or not.

“Your call is important to us.”

“The next available customer service representative will be with you shortly.”

“We are experiencing higher than normal demand at the moment. Please stay on the line to preserve your place in the queue.  Calls may be recorded for staff training purposes.”

“If you are calling about this, press 1 now.  If you are calling about that, press 2 now.  If you are calling about the other, press 148 now.  Or stay on the line to speak to an operator.  Your call is important to us.”.

Yeah, right.

We have all encountered the abomination that is the automated telephone system at some stage, together with their assorted sycophantic variants too numerous to regurgitate.

No matter the actual words that are being talked at you, the translation for all of the variants is:

“Your call is an interruption to our day of navel contemplation and we wish you hadn’t bothered to call.  However, seeing you’re here, if you know the extension of the person you wish to speak to, please dial it now.  If you don’t, we will strive to irritate you for as long as possible by reciting this incredibly long list of options you can press now to be diverted to another automated answerphone system in a parallel universe.  Then, while you watch your life, your phone battery, and your will to live all ebb away,  we will insult your intelligence, the last vestiges of your sanity and self-worth with the most outrageously cacophonous music played by a tune-deaf zebra on an out-of-tum harpsichord down the far end of a toilet roll tube. And we will add insult to injury by interspersing it every 40 seconds with advertisements for products and services that you will never have any likelihood or desire to want or need.

“And. in the unlikely event that you do interact, we will gleefully take the opportunity to direct you to a third parallel universe.”

Further translation:

Further translation:

“In the interests of maximising profits for our masters and shareholders, we fired our minimum-wage-paid customer-facing staff and replaced them with this one-off, low-cost car crash of an automated phone system.”

“Our sole living operator is in the toilet / cooking a roast meal / on leave of unspecified duration and will be with you shortly.”

Further translation:

“if you press any button that we have recommended, this whole fool system will collapse in on itself and your call will be sent into a huge astrological black hole from which it will never reappear.”

Now, I understand that paying A Person to sit around reading magazines and waiting for the phone to ring will incur on-going cost.  It makes economic sense to have someone record a whole raft of standard waffle onto a tape that can be used over and over to bamboozle customers, while the someone moves on to pastures new. 

Or, more probably, the unemployment queue.

The pre-recorded message system works well where the transaction does not benefit from consumer feedback; for example, announcing the arrival and departure details of trains at railway stations.  Although that relationship came to grief recently when a power outage stopped the trains but not the announcements – the latter kept cheerfully announcing on, while no actual train action was taking place. 

The result was a whole heap of confusion which took a bit of sorting to get back in synch.

But for the enquiring customer, the whole point of ringing up in the first place was for People Contact: you ask a question, you get an answer. 

It gives a warm fuzzy feeling to have interaction with another human.  You might consider that providing customers with warm fuzzies would be a core building block of service. 

Setting your customer’s teeth on edge with stupid information that has no relevance whatsoever to their needs must be counter-productive. 

Maybe the logic behind it is that all your competitors are doing it to. There is no better service to be got, no matter where they might go.

But I keep coming back to the thought that if my call was that important to you, wouldn’t you have someone there for me to talk to?

Footnote: A friend recently provided a solution of sorts to the horror of the automated pre-recorded message. 

If you raise your voice to just below Screaming and start to loudly recite obscenities, a Person miraculously appears on the other end of the line.  There was one there all the time – they were just hiding!

Try it.  It’s fun!

And I’d love to be there when the recording of that call gets re-played for staff training purposes!

I can giveth, but can I taketh away?

Now, here is a problem that I did not know I had.

I’ve got a whole heap of blood, but I can’t give it away.

I can’t borrow a book from the library.

KiwiSaver will accept my money happily.

But they may not give it back. 

I can’t even borrow a wheelchair in a shopping mall. 

The stumbling block in my life?  The cause of all this grief?  A convicted fraudster?  An undischarged bankrupt?

Far more mundane than that. 

I don’t have photo ID. 

Having photo ID is the modern Holy Grail.  Without photo ID, the list of things that you not able do covers pages.

It was a friend who brought the issue to our attention.  Without giving too much away, she has had a couple of name changes through marriage, owns her own home and grandchildren, has serious professional responsibilities, has held high offices in national organisations and has won national recognition for her efforts.

In short, she is no muppet.

But in her life she never had a passport, a driver’s or firearms licence – the acceptable forms of photo ID.  In order for her to be able to sign official stuff, meet her eight year old grandchild off an aeroplane or collect her pre-paid purchases from the store, she has had to get herself an 18+ card – the same card teenagers use to get themselves into the pub!

Now, I understand that, in the modern environment, protection of one’s identity can be problematic.  But here are some of the things that you cannot do without photo ID.  This is not an exhaustive list, just the more bizarre ones!

You can’t:

– close a bank account or cancel a credit card that has a nil balance,

– get a mortgage or renew a fixed one,

– become a signatory to an organisation’s bank account when you have been elected treasurer, secretary or president,

– change the name on your driver’s licence when you have changed your name through, for example, marriage,  Note: you don’t need photo ID to change your name by marriage, just the one on your driver’s licence,

– buy something on a hire purchase agreement,

– pay your rates bill over the counter at the post office,

– visit a prisoner in jail.  You don’t need photo ID to go to jail, unless of course you’ve been using someone else’s,

– to apply for a driver’s licence you must provide either your photo driver licence (the old one, which can have expired up to two years ago), or your current New Zealand passport, or your current overseas driver licence and current overseas passport, or your New Zealand birth certificate (issued on or after 1 January 1998),a student ID card or an 18+ card,

– to apply for a birth certificate in person

And here is another interesting one that I tripped over recently.  I went into my bank to change a $20 note into two $10 notes.  A very simple transaction, I thought.

Wrong! 

Without going into the conversation too deeply, to complete this meagre transaction required that I produced my bank card and photo ID!

I wish I could say I was joking but I’m not!

The entire interaction to change one bank note took five precious minutes of my life while they checked my ID on the computer, got two $10 notes from the draw, put my $20 note there and signed a piece of paper to say that they had swapped my note for two other notes.

The Ministry of Complication

I have been long convinced that there is an Official Authority somewhere whose sole task it is to ensure that the ends can never meet.  This Authority – let’s call it the Ministry of Complication – works to ensure that, if four criteria are needed to reach an official goal, it is only ever possible to meet three of them.  And in the unlikely event that one does manage to meet the fourth, it will have negated one of the other three. 

The processes for getting a firearms or a new drivers’ licence are very good examples of their work.

Our friend whose problems were the genesis of this Rant inadvertently came up with the superlative version of the Ministry of Complication’s handywork. 

To get her 18+ card, she went to the post office and got the necessary form to complete.  It required a whole lot of stuff, including a witnessed statutory declaration in front of a JP. 

When she took the form back to get her card, she was advised that she had “the old form”.  It had now been replaced with a new form. And they were very sorry but they could no longer accept the old form – so she had to start all over again. Including the statutory declaration bit.

And, to rub salt into an already gaping wound, the fees had gone up!

I hear an uncomfortable rumour that we may soon require photo ID to be born.

The Password

In the 1980s I read that the modern generation would have to know five times as much as their grandparents.   

Thinking back on my grandparents’ life, the statement made sense.  Telephone numbers to remember, learn how to use a wringer washing machine or a pop-up toaster.

And then the universe invented The Password.                                                                                        

Thou shalt not pass.

Once upon a time you only had to remember your own name, like Rumpelstiltskin.

Then whether you had put the 123 before the word Password or after it.  

Then it was the name of your pet or an old girlfriend.  And when you needed to change your password, 123 was changed to 124.

Electronic systems require passwords to be at least 10 characters long, include upper and lower case letters, some numbers, and something called a “Special Character”.  After some trial and error I found out that means one of the +, >, <, } or # keys – who knew?

Password creation is Snakes and Ladders.

Square One: think of a word that makes sense to you.  Not your name or your birthday date or your telephone number.

Square Two: try to write the word in hieroglyphics on the keyboard so it will end up looking like the word you chose but has numbers or symbols replacing letters: for example, replace ‘a’ with @ or ‘e’ with 3. 

Square Three: put in a + or a > or a ? to jazz it up a bit.

All good ­- until the computer system says that you can’t use that one.  It looks too similar to the last one you used and “violates password history”

Back to Square One.

Password Background

Security of information has three identification factors:

  • who you are (your name, your photo or, in extreme cases, your fingerprints),
  • what you know (a password or a PIN number), or
  • what you carry (a key or a swipe card).

Back in the day, any one of these three factors on its own was sufficient for most security purposes.  You had a key to open the door or you had your driver’s licence or your (very simple) password.

Then things went wrong. 

Someone who didn’t have the correct door key turned up with a piece of field artillery and blew the door off.  Or they “hacked” your password (note: using “Password” as a password is a bit obvious, even if you add 123 to it). 

And this is how we got to the hieroglyphic stage I mentioned.

Next Generation

Identification has now gone deeper into Never-Never land. 

Some sadist invented 2FA.

2FA is an acronym for Two Factor Identification. 

(A pedantic side-track: shouldn’t the acronym for Two Factor Identification be 2FI?  Obviously smarter brains than mine ……)

Anyway, the essence of 2FA is that you know your password to the system.  And after that you have to know a code.  But you don’t have to remember the code – it constantly changes and the current one has been sent to your smartphone. 

You open your phone (another password needed here). Then open up the password-protected application that has the number you need.  Then you go back to the system you were originally trying to get into and enter the code that was sent to the phone. 

Of course, this last stage presupposes that the computer hasn’t gone to sleep from boredom while you’ve been away mucking about trying to remember the passwords needed to get the code number off your phone.

If you’ve managed to get all these ducks to line up in single file, Hey Presto!  You’ll be allowed in.

Otherwise, the Snakes and Ladders analogy starts again.

And passwords are like raw meat.  They “go off” after a while.  The system advises that you have ten days to create a new password or you will be shut out of its secrets.  More snakes and ladders while you try to invent a new password that makes some kind of sense to you, doesn’t resemble any other password you’ve used in the last decade, and looks like some ancient Egyptian scholar drew it on the wall.

If you’ve managed to navigate this minefield, how do you keep track of all these passwords pin numbers and user names?  Writing them down on paper is frowned upon – someone might steal it and you will be password-less.

Technology has a solution to this most modern of dilemmas.  You can get a password recorder “app” for your smartphone.  Here you can enter all your passwords in little files that separate your password collection.  Great idea! – now you don’t have to remember that password that you created yesterday to protect your valuable account at the on-line haberdashery shop. 

You just look it up on your phone. 

Brilliant!. Love it!

Spot the drawback? 

You have to create a password to protect the password collection.

To quote Peanuts’ Charlie Brown, “AAARGGGHHHH!”

I don’t know about my grandparents’ knowledge, but I’ve calculated that I have to remember 123 more things than I did even five years ago.

And all of them are passwords.

PS. There is a life saver.  Using swear words for a password is OK, so long as they are suitable encrypted and don’t read the same as real swear words.

A Matter of Death and Life

My family have lost two cousins in the last six weeks.

In an ill-judged attempt to lighten up that opening, the innate (and probably regrettable) humourist in me goes back to the old joke about how losing one can be put down to misfortune, but losing two is starting to seem like carelessness.

Both of the cousins were ladies, one in her late 60s and the other just 65.

For various reasons, I was brought up in fairly close contact with both of them: the first because her family were physically the nearest relatives we had when we were growing up, the second because her family had a large semi-rural property and we spent many an hilarious Christmas holiday staying with them.

Both ladies were individuals with a capital I.

The first, the daughter of my parent’s cousin (someone brighter than me can work out what the official relationship is), was an outspoken lady who told it like it was.  Not in any kind of bad way – you were just left in no doubt where she stood.

The second, the daughter of my father’s sister, was also direct but with one totally unusual feature – in all the 65 years I knew her I never ever heard her say a bad word about anyone.  Ever.  At all.  No matter what the provocation, and believe me she sure had some!

And she also seemed to come with the most amazing boundless energy and tremendous enthusiasm for everything she touched.

Both ladies died extremely suddenly, with no warning of their imminent departure.

We had bumped into the first cousin as we were heading into a local mall on a wet Saturday.  We hadn’t seen her for maybe a couple of years so we took the opportunity for a sit down over a cup of morning coffee and a bite of something that I can’t remember now.

But the great pleasure of seeing her and catching up sticks in my mind.

A few weeks later, she collapsed and died.

The second died a week or so ago as the crow flies.  Some of the family had gathered together at a family event over a long weekend.  We had played garden cricket and quoits, chatted and caught up, than consumed a wine or two and some barbeque and gone our separate ways at the end of it.  As usual, she was the life and soul – chatting brightly with everyone, enthusiastically cricketing, helping with food etc.

Three days later she collapsed and died.

And both of these ladies, for their individual reasons, will be sorely missed by the wider family.

Now I don’t intend this to be a sackcloth and ashes piece about loosing relatives.  It happens, and reportedly no-one gets out alive.

But what I have become acutely aware of is the assumptions we make.

There is an accounting assumption that says that the company being accounted is a “going concern”  that will remain and continue to operate and function as it is now.

Which is fine for companies.

But people may not.

And that is especially true as we age.

You cheerily say to loved ones “see you later” or similar as you part, with the assumption that they will still be there the next time, still going strong, albeit a bit older and greyer or whatever.

But the last six weeks have brought home very clearly that the pleasure of seeing them again may not be the case.

So my recommendation to you is that when someone goes away from you, before you part take the opportunity to give them a big hug.  And let them know just what their existence means to you.

First Steps

The idea started when the Big Cheese decided that a “review” of the workplace was needed.

It didn’t seem important that the Big Cheese didn’t know anything whatsoever about how things functioned, what was connected to what, what impacted which.  A review was needed.

The review resulted in my job being declared “disestablished”.

What a wonderful language English is.  There are so many euphemisms available to us now that weren’t there 30 years ago.  “Disestablished”, “restructure”, “realignment”, “redeploying” , “resource” – all means the same thing: “not wanted”.

The upshot was that I faced applying for a job I didn’t really want, working in a place where the atmosphere had taken less than 24 hours to turn from happy, friendly and supportive to toxic.

It’s happened to pretty much all of us since the fashion for re-structures started around 30 years ago –  you find yourself wondering what you’re going to do.  Do you want another version of the same job?  Can you be bothered dusting off and re-polishing a curriculum vitae that hasn’t seen the light of day for 10 years or more?

Or is it time for a massive change of direction?

I have a few savings.  Not a huge amount but enough to provide living with a small government-funded income.  I don’t really have a lot of high-cost needs, if you don’t count international wanderlust or assisting the whisky industry to maintain its lifestyle.

Maybe it’s a sign that it’s time to leave the workforce rat-race.

But what to do?

I told my wife that I could become a house-husband.  She was still laughing three days later, although the laughter had started to have a slightly hysterical edge.

I could practice my old job as an independent contractor, working from the house.  Nah, that doesn’t really appeal.  Too competitive a market, and I’m sick of doing that type of work.

I need contact with people and the outside world: “Hi, Tom.  How’s the kids?  What are you doing on the weekend?”  I need mind exercise.  I enjoy writing: could I become A Writer?

We have a friend whose success I’m rather jealous of.  He had long harboured a desire to write and he couldn’t find a job that he wanted.  So he started to write.  He wrote a book.  A very good book.  And he sold it!  It’s now been printed in several languages (including American) in hard-back and paper-back versions.  And it’s being turned into a movie, with proper Big Time Stars!  Wow!

I won’t fool myself that I’m in that realm.  At all.  But with increasing age come experiences, observations and views of the world – the funny, the bizarre, the horrendous, the interesting, the nostalgic stuff that has long gone and will never return.

I have interest in whisky, people, music (especially from the 60s and 70s), cars and a whole lot of other stuff.

Why couldn’t I do some writing and see where that might go?

Blogging seemed to be a good starting point.  No great capital outlay.  Get a website together to post your deepest (and maybe sometimes shallowest) thoughts on.  Write stuff, post it, sit back and see what happens.

Now, here’s the start of the learning curve.

I know computers.  I’ve been using them since the late 1980s, when all your programmes were held on little blue plastic things called floppy disks.

And I know websites, because I visit heaps of them daily to find stuff out – where to go, how to get there, what to see/buy/eat when you’re there.  It must be simple to have a website, because all the world seems to have one these days.  They must have learned how from somewhere.

Thank heaven for search engines!  You can find absolutely anything these days, if you type in the right words.

In the last few weeks I have found out what a domain name is and how to reserve it, what a server address is and how to get your domain name on it, how to make an attractive website on your new domain so people can search for it on your domain name on your server so they can read what pearls of wisdom you’ve written this week.

There are brilliant videos on the web that give step by step instructions that a fool can follow.  Which is just as well, because one is!

So now I own a domain.  Housed on a server.  With a website which, if you’re reading this, is obviously searchable.  Yay!

So this is the start of my New Life.  Not that everything has been thrown out, but there no longer is a formal “job” with a nice salary.  Now I look at things around me with a whole different eye.  Observing people, looking at trees, sampling whiskies, experiencing Things, sampling more whisky.

And then I sit at the kitchen table in the sun with my laptop and write about the things I’ve seen and the thoughts that I’ve had and the whiskies I have sampled.

And I hope that you read them.  And if you read them, I hope you enjoy them.