Exit Facebook, Stage Left

This afternoon I lost my temper with Facebook and announced, to the dismay of some readers and friends, that I was gonna close my account, and that would be THAT.

After one person said “don’t do it,” I reconsidered. But not for long.

The issue is that Facebook has found a way to override Adblock Plus, a fine piece of software I use to clear away the chaff and debris that gets in the way of smooth web surfing. All of a sudden, every third post — literally every third post — is a goddamn ad.

Do a little Web search to see if there’s anything you can do about this latest little outrage, and you find advice both from Facebook itself and from various users on adjusting ad preferences. So beside your FB page, you put up a web page explaining, step by step, how to do this. Nary a word of this advice works.

Okay, so the problem with trying to adjust ad preferences by way of minimizing the new Facebook intrusions is apparently that I don’t have a regular user account with Facebook. My account was set up by a marketing agent whom I hired when I was trying to publicize my books and my sideline businesses. The result was just hilarious. Any of you who might be thinking of advertising on Facebook might enjoy the tale:

So she sets up this account for me, and she’s very proud. I have several books for sale at Amazon, where their track record ranges from poor to abysmal. We pick a title. She asks me to keep an eye on Amazon’s sales reports and let her know, day by day, how the thing does. And voilà! She launches an ad campaign on Facebook.

The book had been selling, BTW. Just very feebly. A copy every few days.

When the ad came online? Sales…collapsed. They dropped from almost nothing to nothing at all.

When I reported this to her, she was floored. She actually DIDN’T BELIEVE ME. So I sent her a PDF of the Amazon report, over the three weeks following our launch. She was even more floored. We might say: subfloored.

After several more weeks of assiduous thrashing around — she did a sincere job of trying to make this work — we had sold NOTHING. Not. One. F**king. Copy.

“This has never happened before!” quoth she.

“I’ll bet,” I thought.

Finally we had to give up. But I was left with the account. And so I’ve used it to socialize. It’s been wonderful to reconnect with old friends. And wonderful to stay connected with current friends. But it doesn’t sell much of anything.

And that is why I find the new advertising blitz SO, SOOOO OFFENSIVE. Either Facebook has found some way to override AdBlock Plus, a Firefox extension which in general works very effectively, or Adblock itself has failed. If the latter were the case, though, ads would appear on other sites. Because they do not, I surmise this mess is peculiar to Facebook and presumably engineered by Facebook.

I would not have installed AdBlock if I enjoyed having ads shoved in my face. I do not go to FB to buy stuff. If I could afford to buy random junk, I wouldn’t seek the random junk on Facebook while I’m trying to focus on something else. Thus an annoying ad popping up between every three posts is annoying first because it’s an intrusive distraction and second because it reminds me of the considerable amount of money I wasted on FaceBook Ads myself.

On reflection, I will not shut down my FB account, but neither will I continue to spend hours here. Instead, I’ll continue to post links to new posts here at Funny, and hope any friends who care will come on over and join the circus. Maybe some will even subscribe.

With less time diddled away over coffee at Facebook…and over another cup of coffee at Facebook…and over ANOTHER cup of coffee at Facebook, maybe I’ll have time and energy to get back to writing books. Got to finish Ella’s Story. Got to get the bathroom reading collection in print and on a few local news-stands. Got to find new things to do!

And so, away! Perchance to waste less time. 😀

Phone-dango!

So… I’m in the Costco thinking about replacing my houseful of phones, the current system evincing signs of advanced age. All the batteries are running down, so every time I turn around I pick up another dead handset. And lo! There on the shelf at the Costco is this elegant Panasonic model. It’s an elaborate lash-up, very much like mine only updated for the 21st century. Not only does it include 87 gerjillion (well…four) wireless handsets plus the required answering machine, this thing includes a call-blocking feature similar to the much-missed CPR Call Blocker.

I threw my CPR Call Blocker out after Cox barged in and forced its customers to switch to VoIP, having been told it wouldn’t work with Cox’s accursed modem. Cox, however, now offers NoMoRobo, supposedly the be-all and end-all for nuisance call blocking.

Not so much. The CPR Call Blocker 5000 cut the nuisance calls to at most one or two a day, but more typically to none.

NoMoRobo? Holy sh!t, what a nuisance! It takes the robocall nuisance and multiplies the aggravation by a factor of about 10. It does not block robocalls, because the robocallers automatically generate thousands, hundreds of thousands, and ultimately (one presumes) millions of fake phone numbers. They target your area code and phone exchange, or one close to where you live, so that incoming calls appear to be coming from someone in your neighborhood. The kids’ school, perhaps. Your neighbor across the street. Your pharmacy, telling you a prescription is ready. WhatEVER. Pick up the phone, and you get a scam.

The deal here with NoMoRobo is that it can not be programmed to block all calls in a given area code. None of my friends, acquaintances, or business contacts have the same exchange as mine. This means that any call incoming from this exchange is, by definition, a scam and nothing but a scam.

I get between six and twelve such calls every day, starting around seven in the morning and running through till nine at night.

To block spam calls, you have to go to NoMoRobo’s website, type in the offending phone number, describe the circumstances, and send the squib. This turns an ordinary nuisance into a time-consuming nuisance. And it’s pointless: the scammers don’t care that you blocked thus-and-such a combination of figures…their machines are constantly generating new combinations.

Even when NoMoRobo blocks a number, it lets the first ring jangle you up! So…yeah. That’s real helfpul, isn’t it? When you’re trying to focus on something — or hell, trying to take a nap! — the god damned phone jerks you away from what you’re doing, even if it’s a blocked call!

Most of the calls, however, are not blocked, because the spoofers generate many, many more calling numbers than NoMoRobo can catch.

At one point, I suggested to their alleged customer service that they should allow users to block entire area codes. They said ohhh no! That can’t be done!

Well, it sure as hell can be done, because the CPR Call Blocker does exactly that. It can be programmed to block calls from whole countries, to say nothing of local exchanges.  So either NoMoRobo’s developers don’t want to be bothered with making their system do that, or their customer service people are not altogether forthcoming.

At any rate, when I saw this fancy Panasonic wonder-phone, I thought hot dang! Kill two birds with one stone: replace the aging Uniden phones and get a built-in call blocker!

So I grab it off the shelf.

Having become ever-so-much-more wary over time, though, before opening the box and setting up this complicated marvel, I looked up the user reviews on Amazon. And then on Costco’s website.

Not so good.

A lot of people on both sites complained of poor sound quality. This seems to be a nigh unto universal issue. Also roundly hated: poor customer service and incomprehensible instructions. Ten percent of Amazon reviewers pan it with one (!) star. Interestingly, the rate is about the same over at the Costco site.

At Amazon, I figure when one-star ratings add up to more than 9%, that ain’t a happy sign.

For 8 bucks, I could buy four rechargeable phone batteries supposedly approved by Uniden. So I ordered up eight of the things, for a total of about $18 including tax…a far cry from $108 for a complicated phone system that may or may not work.

So I decided to replace the batteries in the existing handsets and hope for the best. If that doesn’t work, Uniden sells the handsets alone: it’s still cheaper to replace a few of those than to buy a whole new Panasonic system.

Apparently, if I’d just waited until the steam stopped shooting out of my ears after the Cox fiasco, I could in fact have attached my old CPR Call Blocker to Cox’s accursed modem. But I can’t find the thing now, so I guess I must have tossed it in a rage. That would be pretty typical.

It’ll cost another hundred bucks to get a new one. But at this point I’m thinking…let’s see if these new batteries hold a charge. If they do, fine: invest in a new CPR 5000, call their excellent customer service on the phone, and get them to coach me through connecting it to Cox’s accursed modem. Et voilà! Say good-bye to the NoMoRobo joke.

Schlepped the unopened Panasonic back to Costco this morning; received a fistful of money back on the card.

Now I’m going to think about this for a few days and, if I can confirm that the CPR 5000 will work, with the hated new Cox equipment, then I’ll just bite the bullet and buy another one. I know their customer service will coach me through connecting the thing to the complicated junk Cox cluttered my desk with — at least, I think they will. They post a phone number at Amazon, which I’ll call tomorrow to see if they’ll agree to do so.

Failing that?

Well, frankly, I think the only alternative is to disconnect the land line. Replace it with an iPhone for actual calling and texting, and several charged-up but un-connected cheap clamshells for dialing 911 in a pinch.

The Costco Glasses Jamboree

New-glasses
Out, alas, with the old…

So this afternoon, after having spent the morning finishing up the first of two indexes for a couple of 380-page books only four or five days late, it was off to the Paradise Valley Costco to collect the new progressive glasses that have been sitting there for a week, while I’ve been wrestling with various crises editorial and otherwise. This, because my beloved stylish fancy guy, who was forced out of Uptown Plaza when the proprietors “upgraded” the mall and jacked up the rent, wanted $395 just to replace the lenses after I fell and irredeemably scratched one of them. And…how did that work out?

Not too bad.

The frames are clunky, no question of it. But for what I paid, one could hardly expect the airy height of style. They’re clunky, wouldn’t be my first choice if I had a job, but WTF!? At this age, no one notices you.

Annd…in with the…uhm…old-fashioned…

Seriously: it is literally true that very few people actually register the presence of a woman my age, much less care one way or another how she looks. She’s just part of the background, like leaves in an oleander hedge.

That is, after all, not a bad thing…

It means you can get away with clunky, which means you can get away with buying a whole new pair of frames along with a whole new pair of progressive lenses for a fraction of the cost of a classier pair of lenses to fit your now-defunct classy pair of practically invisible frames.

So… In the store I try on the new pair of specs, and WOW! It’s a whole new world! Like the entire interior of Costco has been electronically enhanced.

Put them on to drive home, and yeah: pretty impressive. I can see the car’s dashboard as though through a microscope, and the road adorned with my fellow homicidal drivers as though through a telescope. I am, in a word, wowed.

Notsomuch when I get home and sit down to the computer. I can’t see either screen — laptop or desktop — without cocking my head like a blue heron. And this, as you can imagine, is ever-so-slightly painful.

Luckily, I have two old, supposedly outdated pairs of glasses — both progressives, which provide a more or less intelligible view of the distance. These allow me to see what I’m doing when I’m passing hour after fuckin’ endless hour working for pay. Or for fun, as in blogging.

So. We have yet to see whether these new glasses will allow me to read music scores for choir. We’ll know in a few hours, because rehearsal comes up in about two and a half hours. If they work for that purpose, then I’ll use the new thangs for driving, shopping, and choir, and put one older pair in the office next to the desktop and one pair in the family room next to the laptop.

If they don’t? Well…I haven’t a clue.

Figure that out when I come to it, I guess.

Old age is not for the young or the faint of heart. That’s for damn sure.

Chambray Shirt!

So I’m sitting here contemplating the dermatologist’s orders (rather standard, but in these parts standardly ignored) that every square inch of skin must be covered up when one is out of doors.

Well, in a country where most women decline to wear burqas, that’s really not very practical advice… Oh well. Then I remembered: the chambray shirt!

Whoa! Literally… Back in the day, when we had a ranch and I used to ride a horse around the boondocks at every possible chance — which was usually a couple times a week — Phoenix used to host a store called Yellow Front. An odd emporium, it had features of a general store, a Sportsman’s Warehouse, and a blue-collar worker’s supply. I bought a pair of saddlebags for Babe there — very handy! And jeans and bandannas and fishing gear and a felt-covered canteen and…all sorts of cool stuff.

Among the cool things you could get there were men’s blue chambray work shirts. They were cotton plus some kind of synthetic, as I recall — so you didn’t have to iron the damn things, the way you had to iron your daddy’s khaki shirts once a week. And they were the bidness! Loose-fitting even in the smallest men’s size (which was the only size that would even remotely fit a 120-pound woman), they let air flow all around you (if you left the tails untucked) and so, much like an Arab’s white robes, would keep you cool on a warm day by blocking the direct sun while creating a kind of natural air-conditioning.

Yellow Front, like all things American and Good, is long gone, of course. In the past I’ve looked for the things at hopeless joints like Target and Walmart and found them…disappeared. Hmmm… chambray chAMbray chAMAZONbray! Why the hell not?

Off to the Web! Look it up, and lo! Wrangler still makes them!!! And Amazon has got them!

HOT diggety DAYum!

Order one up. Late this morning, stroll out to the front courtyard to imbibe the remains of the day’s coffee, and lo! There’s a package from Amazon. Grab. Rip open. And lo! There’s a good old chambray shirt.

This one’s fabric is a little heavier gauge than the ones I recall. It’s 100% cotton. And instead of being made somewhere in New England or the Midwest, it’s fabriqué in Bangladesh, which is too bad. Shame on Wrangler! Still…at least they’re still making them and still shipping them to…Amazon. Yeah.

And the “small” size does still fit. A little long in the arms, which as I recall was the case with the original. I used to roll up the sleeves, aping a handsome young man whose style I admired. For an old lady’s purposes, though, this is…umh, handy, because when left to their own whim, the cuffs slide down past your wrists and cover about half the back of your hand, thereby protecting the supposedly precancerous area from the dreaded sun.

This kind of shirt makes a great lounge-around-the-house cover-up when the weather’s cold, too. I don’t run the heat in the winter — saving the power then makes it marginally affordable to run the air conditioning in the summertime. So what’s needed here at the Funny Farm is something to keep off the chill that can be run through the washer and is not too fancy to wear while gardening and cleaning the pool and scrubbing down the kitchen and is sturdy enough to hold up to said activities. For the summer: all of the above, except substitute “keep off the sun” for the first desideratum.

Just the ticket.

Heh. Wrangler. I used to wear Wranglers jeans. That was SO outré! Lawyers’ wives did not wear Wranglers. No, nooo, dear, it was just not done! At the worst, you could wear Levis, but even that…tsk tsk. If it cost less than $50, it was just…no.

Well, being the sassy little broad that I was, of course I wore Wranglers, because the things fit. Levis do not fit a 120-pound woman with a 130-pound rear-end. 😀 Do not now, did not then, never will. Wranglers would fit real women, and they fit women who were given to riding horses. Not only could you breathe in the things, you could swing your leg up over a saddle and push yourself clear of a horse that was going down or trying to throw you. Not only did I wear the things, I wore them to teach in graduate school. So there!

Think I’ll order up a few more of these fine garments. Now…if only I could get ahold of another mare…

So…the Fire Prevention Scheme? How’d it work?

Hilariously.

Well, it didn’t seem funny at the time. But after a stone-cold shower and a couple hours of rest, it’s beginning to seem pretty ridiculous.

Tellya one thing, though: I will never buy another product from Home Depot again, not if there’s any way I can help it. After this, I’ll shop local and pay a few bucks extra to get a product that’s not so cheapied down as to be insulting. If push comes to shove: Lowe’s or Amazon.

Here’s the piece of junk I bought — four of them, actually, so as to cover about 120 linear feet of invitingly flammable shrubbery.

I wanted to buy a 100-foot length and a 25-foot length, or, failing that, two 50-footers and one 25 feet. But the 100-foot hose, as it turned out, was not a hose but a contraption: a kit that you had to put together with an array of cheesey plastic connectors by way of laying down a pattern to fit a garden. It had no built-in connector fittings for your garden hose — you had to DIY those along with all the other pieces of ditz.

As usual with Home Depot: back in the car, drive up to the damn store again, get my money back for the 100-foot non-hose. Replace it with four 25-foot hoses.

Notice, once home, that the new hosing is not the same gauge as the old hose I put in around the roots of the pool-side plantings. It’s considerably narrower. And considerably cheesier.

Oh well.

So I run these fine hoses along the top of the cat’s claw mounds, zip-tying them in place and planning to let water dribble on the plants for several hours. Theory: the underlayment will be good and soggy by the time the lads come around this evening to play with their illegal fireworks.

First thing that happened: as soon as I turned on the water, a SHOWER erupted from the connection to that soaker hose. I tried to patch it with duct tape: no dice. And the other hoses? Water would barely run through them, even with the faucet turned way higher than it should be with a soaking hose.

What a fiasco. I screwed around and dorked around and dorked around and screwed around, trying to find some way to make the junk work. Finally ended up dragging a garden hose over to the vines’ worst dry spot, climbing up on a ladder, and zip-tying a lawn sprinkler to the top of the vines. Realized one of the old soaker hoses (we do mean old: I put those in a good 10 years ago) was still viable, even though the other one, which was connected to it, disintegrated in my hands yesterday. Tried to drag that out from behind and around the stems and plants but it was just too damn hot to continue. Removed the hose-oid with the geyser and attached the other garden hose to the next hose in line.

This one at least didn’t release a spray into the stratosphere. But neither did it move much water into the soaker hose. Even with the water pressure turned way higher than you’re supposed to use with a soaker hose, it wouldn’t move water past about halfway down the next, attached hose.

Finally gave up — even jumping into the pool wasn’t cooling me off, the face was beet-red, and I was beginning to feel light-headed. Turned on the water so it would soak (I hoped) at least the vines directly across from Jerkowitz’s trash piles and retreated into the air-conditioning.

It is 112 degrees here as I write this, after 5 in the evening. I’m a tough old bat (so they say), but wrestling with that mess damn near gave me a heat stroke — at one point I considered whether I should call 911. Then remembered that ice water comes out of the refrigerator’s spigot so was able to soak a compress and chill down the head, bringing a stop to the wooziness. A cold shower finally did the complete job.

Man. What is the matter with a retailer that peddles crap like that to the public?

I will never buy ANY product from Home Depot again. If this is the kind of junk they feel free to foist on customers, I will pay a few bucks more to BUY LOCAL (!!!!!) and get a better product.

If Donald Trump somehow, by some God’s miracle, manages to do ONE good thing while he’s running a three-ring circus from the White House, it will, just maybe, be that he lays enough tariffs on shoddy imports from China and waypoints to force U.S. corporations to start making goods in the U.S. again. With the exception of automobiles, our products were not just out-and-out junk.***

Okay. The Fix-Or-Repair-Daily cars were a big exception. But most of our stuff: not guaranteed to be trash.

We need the jobs back. And we need the quality consumer goods back.

***Uh-oh! CTRL-Z: DELETE RANT! MD notes, below, that we can’t blame China for today’s fiasco after all: Miracle-Gro’s shoddy hoses are shoddily made right here in the good old USofA. Tsk. Well…I still blame Home Depot. It’s all Home Depot’s fault. By golly!!!!! {grump!}

Why You Need a Call Blocker

…and why telecoms should be required by law to provide the NoMoRobo call  blocker

Did you see this amazing story? Police in India busted a ring of 61 crooks who were in the business of calling Americans, impersonating IRS agents, and threatening the marks with arrest if they didn’t pony up “late” taxes. This scam has been around for awhile, and it’s had enough press that you’d think most people would be wise to it. But no: apparently it’s true that there’s one born every day. According to Homeland Security, this merry bunch collected $3 million from feckless phone customers.

In Mumbai, $3 million goes a mighty long way…

These crooks called me at least three times that I know of before I installed the CRP V5000 call blocker that I ordered up from Amazon. Since then, they haven’t been able to get through long enough to choke out even a few words of their pitch.

US telecoms refuse to install NoMoRobo

A powerful, effective system developed over the past couple of years is called NoMoRobo. This is the only call blocking program approved by the Federal Trade Commission, which awarded its makers a prize and urged all US phone companies to make it available to customers.

Telecoms responded by failing to do so. In my parts, Cox will make it available to business customers but refuses to extend the same courtesy to home customers. This, despite figures showing that in 2016 alone, American consumers were bombarded by 2.4 billion robocalls per month! Obviously, they wish not to cut off a flow of cash from these scammers — there really is no other rational explanation.

NoMoRobo is now available for cell phones, including the iPhone, at a nominal monthly cost. To get it on a land line, you’ll need to switch to VoIP, dropping your regular telecom provider. Ooma is one service that offers NoMoRobo. To do this, you’ll need some tech proficiency — not a lot, apparently, but still, some degree of DIY is involved. Most people are pleased with NoMoRobo, which blocks nuisance calls effectively enough to make any extra cost or hassle worthwhile.

So how else can you defend yourself against robocall scammers?

There are other options. For your landline, the CRP V5000 (which comes with 5,000 pre-programmed blocked numbers) is only one of nine highly rated in-line call blockers available on Amazon.

I remain very pleased with the device, BTW. The company’s customer service can’t be beat. And though it’s a little inconvenient to ride herd on the spoofed calls and the out-of-area calls to be sure you don’t accidentally block a legitimate call, it sure as hell improves on upwards of a half-dozen nuisance calls a day.

For your smartphone, here are ten recommended call blockers that run on Android. As of late 2016, we were told a number of new apps for the iPhone were forthcoming; more recently, the Mr. Number call blocker & reverse lookup has racked up 4½ stars at the Apple store.

The only way to defeat these crooks and pests is to take their market away from them. The most effective way to do that, of course, is to force telecom companies to provide a proven technology, NoMoRobo. In the absence of government rules to enforce that, though, about the best you can do is install your own call blocker. Given the risk of fraud, to say nothing of the constant invasion of privacy and interruption of your daily life, you should get one of these systems now. Not later.