Sunday, March 29, 2020

Virtual visits

The first product I heard about was Skype.  Then, Facetime. Note: Facetime, not Facebook.  Then, Google Hangouts, Google Duo and Zoom.  All allow computers or other internet-connected devices to make audio-video calls with the opportunity to see and hear someone on the other end of the call.  Some of those products allow more than one participating site. We had a meeting the other day with 15 small pictures on my laptop screen, each a different person at a different site.  

There has been plenty of publicity and interest in Zoom lately.  Our local campus has jumped aboard and I have used the program three times.  It is easy to use and works well. My usual computer setup has me sitting with my back to an outside window so I tend to be too brightly backlit to offer a good picture of myself.  It is not a lot of trouble to switch a bit and have light from a window in front of me. 

When I have had an invitation to make a call using Zoom, there was a link included to click on. The link is a URL (a web address) and opens in a browser.  I use Firefox most of the time for most things. With Zoom, participants can have only audio, or only video or both on. Appearance is very important among humans and people do not always welcome being seen without warning or time to prepare. The success of the telephone since 1876 has emphasized the importance of the audio, which means of course, that things can work better if all participants speak the same language.  











When we took greatgrandkids on trips, calling home to report that things were ok was especially important.  Faces matter in communication but only sporadically while voices, both words and tone, matter steadily.

All of the programs/apps are available in free versions downloadable from the internet.  The only product listed that works on only one platform is Facetime but that program is easy to use and comes with every iPhone or iPad. Facetime can be downloaded and installed on a Mac.  

You can expect a small surge of pride when you successfully see others on a phone or tablet or computer.  These are good days to see friends and family face to face and hear and see them speak.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

What's next?

I read, I watch tv.  You know what happens.  I come to the end of the book.  The tv series ends. What then? Searching, that's what.  Looking over possibilities.

Sometimes, that is not fun.  I have to look at many titles and read many short paraphrases, all to try to pick the next thing to read or watch.  Blurbs are written to lure but it seems that the majority do nothing for me. I suspect that algorithms and suggesters often use continuity as a guide.  If I have read several books about mining, I get suggestions of more books about mining. I like mining but I also like variety.  

I guess it is hard to tell when I want to stay with an author, a character or a subject and when I want a change.  Note to Google and Amazon: the chances are a good and imaginative change will do better. I admit that once in a while I want to continue.  We have been watching NCIS on Netflix and the shows are good. We have probably seen the stories from the 2nd or 3rd season on. So, we are interested in the early shows.  Besides, they are further back in time and quite likely we have forgotten any we did watch. For some reason, series on TV attract us more than additional fictional books that continue in the same setting. 

If we slip in a change, we are often interested in returning to the same character and setting after the change.  We tend to like changing away to something new and then changing from that back to what we liked before. Here is a list of fictional characters I have enjoyed enough to return to:

Whether that web page or some other list, sometimes a list is difficult. When I believe every item is a good choice, how can I choose?  It is like the menu at a good restaurant. It is daunting. I can't order them all - that would be wasteful and expensive. I don't want to not order anything.  So, which one? There is always the coin trick: flip a coin. Heads the first item, tails the second item. I get heads and I feel a little letdown. Ok! Pick #2.  

With a tv show or a book, there is always the chance to stop.  Don't like the show? The book is a drag? Stop! Mrs. Crane is not around to see me simply stop. She can't see me doing poor reading habits.  Same with a tv show. Don't like it? Go elsewhere.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Police calling

I read "When Prison Calls" in the current AARP magazine.

The article, by Doug Shadel, AARP's scam expert, details how a pair of prisoners, inside a state prison, managed to conduct a scam that brought them $300,000 while in their cell.  I was interested in how it could be done.

  1. Get likely prospects

  2. Arrange for a false name to appear on someone's phone ID when called.

  3. Call on Saturday and inform the respondent they have ignored several summonses for jury duty and they are about to be arrested.

  4. Note that officers are ready to make an arrest now unless the fine is paid right now.  Best pay now and straighten out the situation when offices open on Monday.

  5. Direct the payment to be done by Moneygram or gift cards.

The article makes clear that the process requires possession of cell phones and the ability to use them. Cell phones get smuggled into prisons.

There seems to be efforts afoot to modify the communication laws to enable prison authorities to jam any and all cellphone calls from inside the prison.  Phones have been used for many negative activites, including remaining in charge of a gang, ordering murders and directing sex trafficing and drug operations.

I have read that the ID on my phones can be faked.  I wondered how, so I put "fake phone ID" into Google.  I immediately found several services that offer to arrange for other names to appear on someone's phone than my own name and number.

The AARP article is by Doug Shadel and I found an inexpensive Kindle book on scams and frauds by him, Outsmarting the Scam Artists.  I have been reading it and he emphasizes that he is often told by people that they are too smart to fall for these scams.  He explains that well-educated, savvy people who know their way around finance have been scammed. He describes "boiler rooms" in which many workers are conducting the scams:

you would find every kind of fraudulent boiler room ever invented: oil and gas rooms, vending machine rooms, Internet kiosk rooms, prepaid cell phone rooms, prepaid legal rooms, prepaid pornography rooms, gold coin rooms, online casino gambling rooms. You name the scam, there was a room that operated that scam.

Shadel, D.. "Outsmarting the Scam Artists" (p. 5). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

I guess not only does the operation require fake information on the recipient's ID but another weak point seems to me the matter of Moneygrams or gift cards.  We were surprised recently at signs about a rack of gift cards that said no purchases of more than $300 worth of gift cards. We were told the rule was an attempt to block various scams and extortions.  Don't forget the problem of laundering either. Bankers and government agents can be interested in where these funds came from. 

Thursday, March 26, 2020

PBS and "Kinky Boots"

Four or five years ago, we bought a new TV for about $138 and a Roku streamer.  It is a Vizio from Walmart and it gets snickers from more sophisticated viewers who own 65, 75 or 85 inch tv's.  Ours is only 36 inches but we do well with it. Ever since getting the streamer, we have watched just about zero broadcast television and concentrated on Netflix, Amazon and Acorn, which is mostly British and English speaking, including Australia and New Zealand.

Lynn handles our charity donations and contributes regularly to PBS, Wisconsin Public TV and Wisconsin Public Radio.  So, zipping around the many possibilities on the Roku player, we keep seeing the Public Broadcasting Station. Wisconsin has a proud and important history of using radio and television to educate and update citizens in many different occupations and situations.  As we get an overdose of murder and blood and bad guys (and girls, sometimes), we started looking more carefully at the PBS offerings. As with the three listed above, there are many possibilities, almost certainly more than we ever watch.  

We have been enjoying "Wisconsin Life" and saw foreign language teachers, including Hmong and Native American.  We watched an advanced glass blower who makes all sorts of specialized chemical containers, drips and tanks. We watched the super-seamstress who makes spectacular jackets and pants for the leader of the UW marching band.

Last night, we spent 2+ hours watching a full performance of "Kinky Boots."  We could have paid a couple of hundred dollars for admission somewhere but it was right here in our house.  I knew a little about the main story and after 10 minutes or so, Lynn stopped the program and asked if I was enjoying it enough to continue.  I felt I was, barely. But in the next few minutes, I was gripped much more completely.

The actors and roles were quite impressive.  The story line gives a man like me plenty of motivation to consider his life story, his father and other adult men in his life, his sexual life and proclivities.  I found the whole thing amazing and fascinating.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Meeting from home

I have spent plenty of time on instructional television and, separately, being video recorded for later release on public television.  The tv was teaching statistics. Can you imagine going to your television set at 6 AM on Sunday morning to learn statistics?

But my televised instruction did not take place from home.  Today, I participated in a "Zoom" meeting using Zoom software that let me see a small picture of each of 15 or 20 participants in the meeting, each of whom was also at their home. Today was my first experience that included a small child being hoisted onto Mom's lap.  Of course, I was charmed and waved, even though I probably was not seen. With enough images on the screen, the situation is somewhat like a page from "Where's Waldo?" Can you find me in the mass? Have you seen the visual jokes of Waldo alone since the mass of people are staying home to avoid the virus?

Some people kept themselves electronically muted to try and leave bandwidth for good sound.  So, today was my first experience where a participant signalled agreement by nodding affirmatively.  I have found in the past that the audio was more important for education and conversation than the visual.  But I experienced the advantages of gestures as a college wrestler at Gallaudet University for the deaf. Their coach could use signs to advise a guy in trouble while our coach had to try to make himself heard over the cheering and booing.  

One of the participants stated that "everything is on You-Tube."  I have found that to be the case. It is not easy to think of a subject that is not touched on in one video or another.  If you are interested in using the Zoom software, you can search "Zoom" on You-Tube and find many videos about the program.  Zoom seems to have a gripe on several markets right now 

but there are other possibilities.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Busy day 1

I consider Monday, March 23 the first day of the COVID-19 time.  I know that my email has been full of coronavirus related items for a while.  But this town is much affected by the presence of our local University of Wisconsin branch and it had spring break last week.  Today would have been the first so-called "normal" day of resumed classes but, of course, it isn't because we are still hiding from a virus.  It is said to be invisible to the naked eye but it can make a person sick so we are trying to avoid contact with anyone who could transmit the little thing to us or leave it around where we might pick it up.  

We have heard the bug-like thing can survive for a while on surfaces.  As people try to enjoy fellowship and conversation over distances and by wire, the wires get busier.  Gamesters, pranksters and malovents try to make a buck or at least cause a problem with threats, confusion and dirty tricks.  Meanwhile, local merchants have found their normal stream of customers much diminished and yet those that do show up, buy much more of some items than usual, disrupting delivery schedules and predicted quantities.  

The virus is said to get a foothold before giving the host symptoms so people are capable of transmitting the beastie to others unknowingly.  Quite a few businesses are trying to activate a routine that allows transactions with less contact or proximity between people. I have heard that Amazon has had an effect on all retail but many small firms are casting an envious eye on the speed and familiarity that company has with online and distance customers.  

Truck drivers and health workers of all sorts are in demand.  Days ago, we saw a picture of an Italian health worker so exhausted from extended hours and unending demands that she fell asleep across her computer keyboard.  We will certainly see more of that closer to home.

The word is that China is already past the peak of infections but that the emergency social impetus to be isolated is still active there.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Lynn's CD's

We took care of our greatgrandson for a while when he was little.  Lynn made two CD's of songs we have liked over our lifetimes to play for him on long drives.  

I used to think that my mood was not much affected by music but I don't think that now.  I listened to the exciting final movement of Beethoven's 9th symphony while driving and for a while, I thought my exhiliration would lift me and the car into the sky.  I have been listening to Hallelujah by Mamuse and those two women nearly gave me an earworm. I had to work to stop it replaying in my mind over and over.

This morning, I wanted something strongly positive and I started playing those two CD's she made.  The first one includes

  1. Swinging on a star

  2. How much is that doggie in the window?

  3. Day-o

  4. The marvelous toy

  5. The purple people eater

  6. Jambalaya

  7. Jump down

  8. Mocking bird Hill

  9. Don't fence me in

  10. Jamaica farewell

  11. Zip-a-dee doo dah

  12. Heigh-ho

  13. I wanna be like you

The 2nd one has 





Seventy Six Trombones

Robert Preston


Cool Water

Marty Robbins


It Might As Well Be Spring

Andy Williams


Anything You Can Do

Betty Hutton


The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimoweh)

The Tokens


Singin' in the Rain

Gene Kelly



Perry Como


You Are My Sunshine

Ricky Nelson


I'm Looking Over A Four Leaf Clover

Mitch Miller



Debbie Reynolds


A Bushel And A Peck

Doris Day


April Showers

Carol Burnett


(If I Knew You Were Comin') I'd Have Baked a Cake

Ethel Merman


Buttons and Bows

Gene Autry


Don't Worry, Be Happy

Bobby McFerrin


Ghost Riders in the Sky

Johnny Cash


Lavender's Blue Dilly-Dilly

Burl Ives


Shoe Fly Pie

Jonathan Stout


Catch a Falling Star

Perry Como


Manana is Soon Enough For Me

Peggy Lee



Jimmie Rogers


Happy Talk

Ella Fitzgerald


Whatever Will Be Will Be

Doris Day

Depending on your age and preference, these might lift you, too. Or, not.

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