Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Shadows and Shades

At the outer edges of awareness,
shades hide in shadows,
silken shades,
yet presently alive,
watching and wondering,
the shift of time,
as actions and images flow,
revising truth,
reviving resolve,
releasing moment
from any proviso
that may try to hold
what no longer is
to what may become.

What can be no longer
is not, is not, and can never see
beyond what was
that can never be again,
but in shadow, in shade
and in memory.

Shades hide in shadows 
at the edges of awareness, 
silken shades, 
sight out of light, 
away from sharp pain of focus,
fleeing and fading, 
colorless dissolutions 
that evolve and resolve,
even hope to solve, 
in the offing of ever,
newness and beginnings.

© 2012 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

Monday, June 11, 2012

Pins, Passwords and UserIDs; all the numbers of our lives

“Pictures hanging in a hallway
And the fragment of this song
Half remembered names and faces
But to whom do they belong
When you knew that it was over
Were you suddenly aware
That the autumn leaves were turning
To the color of her hair

Like a circle in a spiral
Like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning,
On an ever spinning wheel
As the images unwind
Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind”

English lyrics from the song “Windmills of Your Mind”
Marilyn and Alan Bergman
(music composed by Michel Legrand)

I had an interesting encounter with Customer Service this morning. We had been early registrants for toll transponders, when such service came to our area. A year ago, we discovered that the transponder we had was no longer operating; we would go through the transponder toll lane, and no telltale beep would issue forth to signify that our toll had been registered. The system had photo identifications of our cars, however, and so we were never in violation, as the photo would be compared to our account information and verified.

Somewhere along the line, about a year ago, this was no longer good enough, and we were contacted by letter, and asked to call in to unsnarl what had previously not been snarly, but now for some reason was.

We called in, and the customer service person told us we needed to get not one, but two transponders. We could no longer share one between both autos. And they asked us to send them back the one we had that was no longer working. We did so.

Now, a year later, we have two transponders, but were sent a notice of “evasion of toll”. Guess what, one of the “newer” transponders no longer seems to be working. My husband checks out our on-line account (this was one of the “changes” or “upgrades” to transponder “service” over the years, so that customers can do all the work and the transponder people don’t have to hire as many customer service representatives). When we initiated our online account, years ago, all you needed was a customer identification code and password.

Today, when I called the transponder customer service line, negotiating the knarly phone system, (including the ubiquitous “please listen carefully, as our menu options have changed,” message that has appeared on most customer service phone systems in the last ten years, never to be changed again, but always to repeat that it has been changed, even if that change was made years ago, and not yesterday...), and was asked for a four-digit pin number.

Well, we don’t have a four-digit pin number. We never had one for this account; all we ever needed was a password and user identification code. So, I waited, while the automated voice yammered at me “the code you entered [even though I had not entered one] is not valid. Please enter your…” (sigh)

Finally, the machine gave up on me, as I waited on the line, and kicked me over to a live representative.

I gave her the account number, in response to her first question. Then she asked me for a pin number. I said, “we don’t have one.”

“You should have a pin number, and I cannot help you if you cannot give it to me.”

“Can’t we verify by address and phone number?”

“What is your address?” I supplied the address.

“And what email address would the account be under?” I gave my husband’s current email address.

“That is not correct.” Oops. My husband had changed his email address within the last six months, but had not updated it in the, oh, gee, several HUNDRED accounts we have all over the internet.

I supplied his previous email address.

“That is not correct.” GAH! We had opened this account so long ago that the email address used was one that was for an email service no longer available, owing to merging and submerging and overmerging of undermergable corporations by ├╝bermergable ones. “I am afraid I cannot help you.”

“Look,” I said, “I am just trying to tell you that of the three transponders listed, we only have two. One of them was no longer working, and we were told to mail it back, which we did.”

“Where did you send the transponder?”

“This was about a year ago. I know that they gave us an address over the phone, and we sent it there. Obviously, things have changed quite a lot since then, for you and for us. I no longer have a record of that information.”

“If you cannot verify your account, I cannot help you.”

“I can give you the numbers of the transponders we do have, surely that is something that will verify our account. You should be able to see this information.”

The rep listened patiently as I recited what records I did have to proffer, in the form of transponder identification numbers. I heard typing in the background.

“Yes, these are listed on your account.”

“Thank you, yes. And the other one that is listed we no longer have, as we sent it back.”

“Since you cannot verify your pin number or your email address, I will have to send you a letter in the mail about how to properly update your account.”

“I see…”

That phone call took about 25 minutes, and when it was over, I was really no closer toward my goal that when I started.

I might understand all of this multiple code business, if security were really at stake with regard to “the product.” This is not a stock transaction or a bank transaction, and while we use a credit card to pay for our toll transactions, surely our address should be enough to verify we have an account. It works for other accounts.

This kind of security is rather misplaced in our scheme of priorities. The fact that we must have unique codes (passwords, user identifications, pin numbers, etc.) for every single internet account (which often is a secondary account associated with an original service begun before the internet was available to the public) is nothing less crazy-making. We have a huge spreadsheet to tell us what all our codes are. Seems a little ridiculous, given that most of these accounts are not dealing with trade secrets, government secrets or anything except a very occasional monetary transaction that, yes, should be secure, but is often transacted through a secure webpage that you are transferred to on the website.

In fact, this is just how we were able to change our credit card information on the transponder site, without the need for a pin number!!!!

Meanwhile, customers pay the price for the inefficiency of the agency that does not remove old information when it is supplied or send a message informing the need for new, additional means of identification, like a pin number.

While we are chasing after the “circles in spirals” and the “wheels in wheels” of petty business bureaucracies, what more important life experiences are we missing?

Is this the aspect of technology that was supposed to make life easier and less work-intensive?

Is this the windmill of your mind, or mine?

Perhaps we are all now face-to-face with the dilemmas of “Don Quixote.”

Monday, June 4, 2012

Three Strikes; You’re OUT at the Ole Ball Game!

I haven't written in a while. I apologize! I've been a little preoccupied.


When I was growing up, in the latter portion of the 20th Century, I never played a team sport. Mostly, I wasn’t interested. I really didn’t have any friends who played team sports, although I have a vague recollection that there were organized baseball games held at the park I used to play in. They might have been Little League games—I don’t know. I think I watched a few, but it really didn’t hold any interest; I mostly hung out because they had a hotdog stand. The nearest thing I had to a “sport” was bicycling.

Fast forward to 21st Century Parenthood. My twins are in middle school, and my son is nearing the end of his three-season Little League career. He started late, but developed pretty quickly into a decent ball player, jumping from AA into the Majors in his second year. My daughter, who had never expressed anything but boredom at being dragged to her brother’s games, suddenly decided this Spring she wanted to play softball. I am sure she was influenced by the example of her best friend, who has been playing for years.

My daughter went to the tryouts. She could catch, but not throw very well. She had not really done any batting to speak of, but managed to hit a few at the tryouts. She was put on a team with girls she had never met before, although she had seen a few of the older girls at school.

The most beautiful thing, indeed the very best thing, about the softball program in my town is that all of the practices and most of the games take place at a park that is literally across the street from my house. No driving. (Little League is another story…) So, my daughter would cross the street with her equipment bag for practices, and I could watch out the window or stroll over to watch, if I was at home.

My daughter would frequently come home from practices tearful and frustrated.

“Mom, I can’t do anything right!”

“Dear, you are just getting started. That is why you practice! So that you can improve.”

“The coaches keep telling me all these different things. The tell me I am not in the right place on the field, and then I move, and later they tell me to move back to where I was!”

Well, not having been a ball player, I couldn’t offer a response to that. So, I decided to go watch what they were doing. I sat through some practices. I watched the drills. I listened to what the coaches said. Finally, a scrimmage with another team was announced. It was then called off, due to rain. And it rained and rained and rained. Our fields were closed, our practices postponed. (sigh)

Once the rainy season decided to end, practices resumed. Then, the first game came and went. It was a disaster. The girls didn’t know how to read the coaches signals, the in-field didn’t know how cover their positions or how they should back up other positions. A few girls could hit, but not others. No one could really slide. There wasn’t any communication or cheering going on. I won’t tell you what the score was.

[And here is the truth about scores: Scores don’t matter. I figured that it was good that my daughter was outside, getting some fresh air and exercise. I didn’t really expect much more than that.]

After a few more disappointing games and practices, that I watched closely, I could see that there was a bit of a misunderstanding, involving the way the coaches would tell the players to move on the field. I had figured out something fundamental to team strategy: Once the coaches have seen the opposing players at bat, they have an idea what that player can do, and they try to remember and use that knowledge to reposition their fielders to better advantage.

“Mom, I can’t do anything right! I want to quit.” She came banging in the door, crying, one afternoon.

“What happened?”

“The coaches kept yelling at me to move to different places. First I had to move back, then forward, then way over to the side!”

“Sweetheart, let me explain what they are doing.” And I told her what I had figured out, summing it up with, “so you weren’t in the wrong spot. The coach was moving you to a new correct spot, every time.”

That made sense to her. It is so funny that something like that never gets spelled out for anyone but the pitcher and the catcher, but there you have it.

After that, it was a matter of improving on her batting and getting better with her throw, and remembering what area her position covered and what position she had to back up. They worked with the girls on sliding into bases. Turned out Emily was a natural at it! The coach nicknamed her “Slick” and had her demonstrate for the other girls. Pretty soon, I was hearing her little voice piping from the field with how many outs there were and where the next play was. The girls started cheering each other at bat more.

As I watched them during their practices, I realized that baseball and softball, and probably all team sports, require you to be both conscious in the moment of what is happening and also to think forward into the realm of possibility—to be aware of what must be done at the individual level in the now, as well as think through possible consequences of your actions on your teammates in the next moment. WOW!!

And again, I say:  WOW! Who knew?

The team continued to have a lack-luster season, but they did win a few games, and that lifted everyone's spirits.

Finally, the playoff game dates arrived. I thought we would be out of it immediately.

Here is what was written about Playoff Game #1:

5/29 Playoff Game #: Diamonds-In-The-Rough 10 – Good Sports 9

Possibly the most exciting game of the season! No scoring until the 3rd, when K.C. made it home for the Diamonds. Pitcher B.L. and catcher S.W. shut down the Good Sports’ chances, allowing one runner on, later tagged out at 3rd. Top of 4th, G. O. scored a 2nd run, leading with a strong double. Team B.L. and S.W. foiled Good Sports’ at bat. Diamonds were unable to score at the top of 5th, when Good Sports powered home 5. Diamonds shook it off with runs by G.O., A.G., B.L, K.C. and E.N. Good Sports brought it up to 9. S.W. and A.G. scored in the 7th to tie it up. Pitcher G.O. and catcher S.W. shut the Good Sports down 1-2-3. International tiebreaker was called. K.C. broke the tie. G.O. struck out one Good Sport, but it was a fabulous double-play, with A.G.’s in-field throw to K.C., and K.C.’s quick throw to S.W., taking out runners at 1st and home, that closed out this sensational game.

We who watched the game were beside ourselves! That was a fantastic game! Like the light switch had come on, and the Diamonds were really a team now!!

So, they had one more playoff game. When we found out who our girls were playing, we thought, oh, well. They were just up against the first ranked, undefeated team, of course!


Here is what was written about Playoff Game #2:

5/31 Playoff Game #2: Diamonds-In-The-Rough 9 – Expulsion 8

Another exciting win for the Diamonds! No scoring until top of the 2nd, when B.L. was driven home by E.N. Expulsion tied it up with one at the bottom of the inning. Diamonds got no traction at the top of the 3rd, and Pitcher G.O. was hit off of by three Expulsion batters, but the first two ground out at first and the third popped a fly caught by 2nd base-girl E.D. Top of 4th, Expulsion bobbled K.C.’s single into a triple, and G.O. slammed one deep to bring her home. A.G. also scored. B.L., on the mound, and S.W., at the plate, held back Expulsion with one strike and two batters ground out. In the 5th, the Diamonds did not score, but B.L. and S.W. held off Expulsion with a double-play assist from K.C. at first base. No scoring in the 6th. Top of 7th, G.O. and A.G. scored again, owing to Expulsion fielding troubles and a line drive from E.N. Not to be outdone, Expulsion took swift action, confounding Pitcher G.O. with 7 batters, three of whom scored, tying the game at 5-5. The exciting and decisive 8th inning found C.Z., V.S., K.C. and B.L. making it home. Expulsion battled forward with two more runs before a third strike ground their season to a halt.

You cannot imagine the scene. Our girls were screaming with joy. The other team’s chins hit the ground and their coaches looked like thunder. The stands were full of family and friends of our team, figuring it was the Diamonds' last game. Everyone bounced out of their seats and surrounded the girls. WOW!!

And again, I say:  WOW! Who knew?

The undefeated first place team had just been upset by the fifth place team. The fifth place team was now going to the championship!!!

This was the shot heard around the league! (And believe me when I tell you it was HUGE news and that parents and kids in lower divisions were talking about it for days.)

As you can imagine, it was an unbelievable victory and we were all full of joy. The underdogs sometimes get to shine!

Now, I won’t hold you back from the end of the story: The Diamonds lost the championship, having to settle for 2nd Place.

Isn’t that wonderful?

Well, take it from me: that’s wonderful.

(Whew! The season is finally OVER!)