Monday, January 31, 2011

Turn and face the strange...

I'm not good with change. Usually, when faced with new situations, I have a tendency to deny, deny deny, and then bury my head deep in the sand. There are things going on right now that don't leave room for my usual modus operandi and I'm trying to learn an abject lesson in facing front and marching forward with blinders on. I can honestly say that up until this point, I've been doing a pretty good job of failing abysmally. An small example of this is my reading pile. Usually, I can pack away two or three novels in a week, review one or two of them, and then get through all of magazines stacked by my chair. For the past month or so, the books have sat un-read, the reviews have gone unwritten, and luckily for me, my township has instituted magazine recycling, so I don't feel too guilty when I wrap them up with twine, untouched, and toss them to the curb.  Instead of productive activity, I find myself mindlessly flipping through Facebook pages, twitter feeds, blogs and boards. After what I think is a half hour or so of clicking and tapping away on my keyboard, I look up to realize that it's actually been two to three hours of total time-suck. Bad. Very, very bad.

The change I'm talking about? Well, to give you an idea, my to-do list these days consists entirely of helping my daughter get out of the house, packed and supplied for her semester abroad in Australia. And while that in and of itself should be really exciting (and it is, to her) it's causing me to want to move in the opposite direction. Perhaps if I procrastinate, if I hang out on my computer, if I  go to sleep a little later at night or wake up a little earlier in the morning, then next Thursday may not come as fast, and I'll have her around for just a little while longer. In the meantime, I'm just plain distracted. Don't get me wrong, things for the trip are getting done. Skype and iChat are set up, an old, unlocked phone has an Australian SIM card in it,  the visa has been procured, the rolling duffles are ready to be filled, space bags already hold a comforter, towels and linens...I'm getting there.  And so will she. And when the house is empty again, and she's 10,000 miles away (as opposed to 250) I can de-brief and see what I should do differently next time. Because there always will be a next time.  That's the reward and the drawback of being a parent; constantly watching the door close behind them as they leave you for their own adventures. The hard part is smiling as they do it.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Do-Over before Down Under, please.

If you could see my passport picture, you would understand why I hesitate to travel anywhere a driver's license is not adequate proof of identity or citizenship. It is, by far and without a doubt, the worst photograph ever taken of any human being, in any setting, anywhere. I can't emphasize this enough. When I applied for it, I decided to let the passport office staff take the 2x2 picture that would represent my likeness for the next 10 years. I figured they had more practice than the kid with the digital camera at CVS, so why not take advantage of their expertise? That decision made, I'll set the stage. It was a very warm night in October, with rain and high humidity (you see where I'm going with this, don't you?).  My entire family applied at the same time and I gamely volunteered to go last. As my turn came to sit down for the picture (This was my first clue of impending disaster.  No one looks good looking UP at a camera) my daughter shouted these words of last minute advice, "Don't smile, mom. You're not supposed to smile." And before I could look back from her general direction and school my bewildered expression into something resembling a non-toothy, slightly upturned tilt of the lips, the flash went off and I was done. Despite my pleading, I wasn't even offered the opportunity to look at the proof  and reject it for another go.  Instead, it was promptly printed up and paper clipped to my application.

Now, studying it from the other side of the clerk's desk made me realize two things. One, there was not an immigration control officer in the world who would recognize that picture as anything even remotely resembling a true likeness of me, and two, my hair and humidity do not good bedfellows make. These points were driven home  to me on a recent trip to Europe, when I certainly did not imagine those incredulous double takes as I handed over my passport for review at various intervals. The worst was immigration in Paris after taking the train from London. That  officer had a definite smirk on his face, and if I understood any French at all, I'm sure I would have heard him express some doubt as to the true identity of the woman standing in front of him. Either that, or he was mumbling that the kid with the camera at CVS would have been the wiser choice.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Router this.

In my family, I'm known as the Router Maven. I've set up more routers and wireless networks than I can count over the past 6 or 7 years, mostly for my kids when they've moved into their apartments or at my office. I didn't ask for this job. It came to me by default. Whenever this had to be done, I'd turn around to see if there were any other volunteers brave enough to make the attempt and I'd find myself standing alone in the room, the blinking modem and a shrink-wrapped box my only companions. So I would set to work. And over the years, I've become the go-to person when those installed routers stopped routing. The text messages that read, "my router died" are my worst nightmare.

For a piece of equipment that is so ubiquitous today, you would think that one company would package the thing with instructions that are easy to follow and written in English. What's that you say? They are written in English?? You could have fooled me. It's English only if you understand techno-gibberish.  Even the "Quick Start" instructions are anything but simple. Oh, yes, the yellow cable goes from modem to router. And even though it's a "wireless" router, to set it up, you have to be tethered into the modem with a cable. So that wire goes into the first connection...then power everything up in some arcane sequence that if you don't follow exactly will lead to the destruction of life on Earth as we know it, and then and only then, do you get to insert the "Start Up Disk." This is where the fun starts. What the heck is the difference between PPoE and DNS and DHCP. Or is that DHL? Or UPS? And what is an 811.g? N, G, Broad or Dual band? I don't think we're talking music here.  Do I want my channels on automatic, or should I guess which one my wireless X-Box playing neighbor is not on at any given time and choose one myself? Do I want my lease to renew automatically? Do I want WPS, WPA (I thought that was a depression-era work program) WEP 1, 2 or maybe even 3? Is a 45 character password acceptable? And even reproducible? And speaking of those 45 characters, don't forget to copy them down correctly (case sensitive too) before you click continue because if you don't... You. Are. Screwed.

Deep breath here.

Once the signal is up and running, and you can cut the umbilical cord to the modem and are floating free in the ether, you now have to get your computer to find the signal, and enter that 45 character password. I wonder how many times I've successfully done that on the first attempt.  If I had to guess, the answer would be, well, none. But eventually, and after numerous attempts to enter those  digits and letters, I've finally done it correctly (0 and O look a lot alike when scribbled on a post-it note) and, like magic, the network icon appears.

So now, the networks I've created stretch all the way from Central Pennsylvania to Manhattan, with a stop in Central Jersey (and my trusty Apple Airport Extreme-small plug there).  But the fun never ends. After about six months of blissful peace, those aforementioned text messages start rolling in. I have no idea why anyone would think it's possible to troubleshoot via text message, so invariably, I pick up the phone and call whichever one of my kids needs help. And honestly, while I can usually figure out how to get a router re-connected (at the same time, praying it's the cable company's issue) the pain of doing so is akin to the proverbial bamboo shoots under the fingernails. You get the idea. I'm successful about 95% of the time, despite the fact that the software for these routers is long gone ( works great in a pinch).  I've never had to call a router manufacturer to speak to a customer service rep who would undoubtedly have trouble understanding a word I say from his or her perch 6000 miles away. I consider myself lucky.

So there it is; my one latent technical talent that my friends have no idea I possess.  While I have yet to meet more than one or two routers that have totally defeated me, in the end, a few back-ups are available. One is a paper clip and the tiny reset button. The other is my credit card and Best Buy.

Monday, January 3, 2011

I'll put it on my list.

I have to admit that as I'm getting older, there are certain things that occur that have me just a tad worried. I find myself getting up to get or do something, and before I take two steps, I'm at a total loss. If I retrace those two steps, sometimes it will come back to me, but more often than not, the thought is gone, usually never to return. Or, I put something down, and then I can't find it. Or, I put something away where it doesn't belong (refrigerated cereal, anyone?).

All that is probably just normal aging stuff, although it doesn't explain why I can remember a conversation from a date that occurred 30 years ago and can't find the keys I put down five minutes ago. My husband is amazed at the useless bits of trivia that float around in my brain. It amazes me too, but more than likely, this stuff is squeezing the really important things into a corner of my head that is not easily accesible. At least, that's what I tell myself. To counteract the effects of this malady, I make lists. Lots and lots of lists. I go through pads of post-it notes. While my cellphone allows me to leave a voice memo,  I find if I don't write something down, it doesn't stick. So my pockets are filled with yellow post-it notes with to-do items scrawled on them, which I later combine into one written list on legal paper. I then proceed to go down this master list, crossing stuff off as it's done. Sometimes, I'll even add things like, "brush teeth" or "feed cats" just so I can cross them off and feel like I've actually accomplished something. Right now, for instance, I have four of those master lists in front of me. One is for organizing my daughter's study-abroad term (Money ordered, check. SIM card ordered, check. Credit card companies notified, check.). You get the idea. Then there's a list for house stuff like cleaning, laundry, etc. because if I don't write it down, it won't get done. And then there's a list for the fun stuff; reviews I have to do, books I have to read, etc. The final list is for things I've brought home from work; insurance claims, letters to write, bookkeeping, and other boring have to finish or the boss will yell, stuff.

Now, there are one or two people who have pointed out that my list making talent could be mistaken for  a psychological disorder. I'm going to brush that aside for now. I like to think that it's my way of avoiding that minute in time when my brain finds itself in suspended animation and  I'm left standing in the middle of a room, trying to remember something that shouldn't have been that easy to forget. And that, more than any pill I could swallow, keeps me (for the most part) calm and focused. It's a fair trade-off, I think.