Showing posts with label telephones. Show all posts
Showing posts with label telephones. Show all posts

03 June 2018

Hot Spot


I’ve fallen off the grid. Unintentionally. No T-Mobile, No AT&T, no Virgin Wireless, no voice mail, no cell phone. Also no email, no web, no internet access. Neither of my phones nor my computer work. Both fruitlessly scan for radio signals, not picking up even a blip, not even alien static from distant Roswell.
phone, no bars

I didn’t plan it this way. I’m spending five weeks in Arizona. Tomorrow I visit the Grand Canyon, but here in the town of Gunsmoke in Holyshiteitshot County in eastern Arizona, the telegraph bypassed the town, never mind Pony Express and the telephone. When I enquired about a hotspot, bemused residents said, “It’s 109°F in May. How damn hot do you want it?”

109°F… Here F, usually preceded by a plosive ‘holy’, stands for a word other than Fahrenheit, usually heard when sliding into a rental car seat. I never knew leather could melt. Steering wheels appear inspired by paintings of Salvador Dalí. Truthfully, the steel door handle of a downtown restaurant is wrapped with pipe insulation and electrical tape, presumably after a few people involuntarily left skin samples.

Century Link is establishing a presence in the county seat. When I enquired, they said, “Congratulations, you qualify for high-speed internet.” They went on to define ‘high speed’ as 3Mbps, the approximate walking speed of a one-legged dog. Computers think data rates that slow mean the internet is broken. Compare 3Mbps to my suddenly much less despised Spectrum/Brighthouse ISP at 100Mbps or even optional 1000Mbps if that’s too slow.

100-1g Mbps

At 3Mbps, news can take a long time to crawl through copper wires. Folks asked about rumors a black man had been hired in the White House. They seemed politely dubious when I said more like a weird orange.

As for my computer, I plugged it into a socket. The wiring exploded with a shower of sparks, barbecuing my power supply. This is what we call a ‘challenge’.

Knowing I had a SleuthSayers article due, kind people came together to help out. One lent an old laptop. When connected to the internet for the first time in eons, it launched into mass Windows 7 updates taking most of a 24-hour day and burning through the data allocation of that person’s telephone hotspot. At that point, another person stunned me by buying a new cell phone to provide a fresh hotspot. Folks are asking around for an old cell to lend me. Life is good.

But wait, there’s more.

FedEx delivered a new computer power supply. As before, neither of my phones can pick up a signal, this coming from a guy who for years refused to own any phone. The nearest AT&T tower is thirty miles in one direction, fifty in another. An internet solution remains questionable, but I’m not yet out of options. SleuthSayers’ Dixon Hill has invited me to stop in, and Scottsdale definitely has internet and phone service.

Life is good.

06 July 2016

Topping Up and Ticking Off in Scotland


Fairy Glen, Isle of Skye (also in the new movie The BFG)
My wife and I just got back from a lovely trip to Scotland.  In future pieces I will probably write more about that but right now I want to concentrate on something that has nothing to do with crime fiction, unless you stretch that to communication issues and petty theft.  Bear with me.  I will include some lovely pictures of our trip to ease the way, okay?

Terri and I are not big cell phone users but we knew we wanted to be able to call home, especially to check our messages.  We went to our Verizon dealer who assured us our phone was unlocked and we could buy the necessary sim card in Scotland.  He recommended a company called EE.

Glasgow Dunce Cap
So when we landed in Glasgow we found an EE store and told a salesman named Scott exactly what we needed.  But he couldn't figure out how to open our phone.  I don't mean he couldn't unlock the electronic system; I mean he couldn't figure out how to physically open it and get at the sim card.

So we talked about buying a cheap phone.  All we need is to be able to call the U.S., we explained.  Don't care about local calls; don't care about texting.

The Kelpies, near Falkirk
No problem, he said.  For ten pounds he sold us a cheapie phone.  A five pound "topping up" fee gave us 250 minutes of US phone calls.  Excellent!

That night I called and checked messages.  Took almost ten minutes.

Next day I tried again and was told we had no money left on the phone.  Problem.

We were heading off to Edinburgh, so we found an EE shop on Princes Street, the main shopping drag in the capital city, where mobile phone shops seemed as thick as plague fleas on a medieval rat.

Edinburgh Castle, seen from Princes Street
The saleswoman told us that  Scott in Glasgow had sold us the wrong plan and there was nothing she could do for us except sell us a different one.  So you won't fix your company's mistake? No. You won't give back our money?  There's nothing we can do.  No, I said, there is obviously something you can do.  Your company just chooses not to.

So we went next door to a Three Mobile Phone store (like I said, thick as fleas).  We told the whole sad story to the man there.  "Why didn't the man in Glasgow check Google to see how to open your phone?"  Good question.  It hadn't occurred to Scott, or to us.

Plockton Harbor
Three Man did so and quickly learned how to remove the sim card from our phone.  He put in his sim and found that it was useless.  In spite of what Verizon had promised us, our phone was apparently locked.  We discussed what Three could do for us but their plans were not a match for our needs.  So we thanked them and marched on.

Soon we came to a second EE store (we eventually passed three on Princes Street).  The salesman there contradicted the saleswoman at his neighboring shop.  There was nothing wrong with the plan; the topping up had somehow failed to register.  He spent ten minutes in the back, calling someone for help twice.  Eventually he came back and told us the topping up was now properly set up and he had added £15 pounds in time for our trouble.  It would take an hour to register and then everything would be fine.  I shook his hand and we went back to the hotel, happy.

Stirling Castle
But the phone still didn't work.

For the next few days we traveled through Orkney, the Isle of Skye, and Stirling.  All wonderful places, but not crammed with EE shops.  On the last day we returned to Glasgow and made our way back to the scene of the crime and, believe it or not, the original salesman, Scott.  He confirmed what the last man in Edinburgh had told us: the topping up had not registered.

So what could he do for us now?  Nothing.  He won't give us our money back?  No; we had received a working phone; it was fine for texting and making local calls.

Satan's willing handmaids
I replied that it didn't matter whether  the phone could text, make local calls, or swim across the river Clyde whistling "Will Ye No Come Back Again?"  He knew when he sold it to us that the only thing we wanted it for was overseas calls, and for that it was as useful as a paperweight.

But EE apparently doesn't stand behind its products, promises, staff, or services.  We were out fifteen pounds.  So my goal in writing this is to do them much more than fifteen pounds worth of damage.  If you are in Britain and need a phone, try Three or one of the other companies.

Enough of that nonsense.  Let's move on to bigger topics.  We were in Scotland during the Brexit vote and you may want to hear my observations about that important event.  Happy to oblige.

I predict that Brexit will drive EE into bankruptcy and the CEO will be reduced to living under the Forth Bridge on cheap blended whisky and spoiled haggis.  But if you want a somewhat more informative opinion, try this one by Luke Bailey and Tom Phillips.  It's hilarious and you will learn something.  "By this point, actual British political news was basically indistinguishable from a random word generator..."

09 January 2012

Leave a Message



Two weeks ago, I asked if anyone wanted to share a story song or answer a new question. Rob Lopresti sent me an excellent song, which is available on the Internet if you query him about it. No one tried to guess the commonality between Abraham Lincoln and Edgar Allan Poe, so we'll move right along.

One week ago, 02/Jan/12, Leigh shared Jan Grape's answering machine message in Comments. In a flat, no-nonsense voice Jan's phone answers with this:
You have the right to remain silent.Anything you say may be taken down and used in my next book.If you understand these rights, please leave a message.
Jan's is now my favorite, though one of my long-time memorable machines said:
Yeah, this is Aaron. I'm not sure if I'm home or not, but I know I've lost my telephone again. If it's around here and I'm home, I may find it and answer before you finish your message. If not, I'll be sure to call you back whenever I'm home and can find the phone at the same time.
I loved that because I'm notorious for misplacing the cordless phone on my desk under a thousand pieces of paper. (That's hyperbole, but I exaggerate all the time. Being a fiction writer is like being given a license to lie.)

This was my message years ago, in a voice like Velma's (or Roxanne's if you're familiar with the Callie Parrish mysteries):
You've reached the machine, so there's no doubt
I'm either busy or out and about,
So leave your name and number, too
And I promise I'll get back to you.
I confess there was a whole lotta promise in the word "promise." Chuck Cannon, Nashville songwriter and performer, used to call my house just to listen to my machine. He also passed the number to friends, so I'd receive messages like, "Didn't want anything. Chuck Cannon gave me your number so I could hear your message." I suppose I should be grateful nobody wrote it on a restroom wall in Nashville!

This afternoon, my grandson texted his dad to tell him we were entering the gate to their house. His dad was home. He opened the door, stood there, and greeted us as we pulled 'round the drive. Just another example of generation differences. I would have called, but they text.

I used to say that I neither give nor take guilt trips. Now I say I neither text nor read text messages. I actually disposed of my cell phone a year ago and have enjoyed being less accessible. I've loved driving without interruption--making up songs and working out plots as I travel. Of course, that changed after Mom's fall. The new cell is with me at all times so the rehab center can reach me.

Cell phones are ultra sophisticated these days with all kinds of apps, but landlines remain my preferred telephone communication. Cell phones usually have a mechanical voice referring to the owner by number or just a quick name blurbed in when they tell you to leave a message. I like to hear a human voice that reflects an individual's personality.

My answering machine is and was my friend. Messages work both ways. My machine gives a message to the caller. The caller leaves a message for me. I learned about my first book contract when I returned from shopping and had this message. "This is your agent Jeff. When do you check your email? I've been trying for days to let you know we have an offer from Berkley for three books with a nice advance. Call me at ### ### ####." (I now check email at least once a day.)

Another great message was "This is Melanie Howard with Harland Howard Music. I listened to your demo, and we want to put a hold on one of your songs. Call me at ### ### ####."

Both of those calls came on days when I'd become so discouraged that I was considering giving up writing.

Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines the noun "message'' as a "communication by writing, by speech, or by symbols." By that definition, all of the Sleuthsayers are involved in messages each time we write a story, novel, essay, poem or song.

Some of us grew up dreaming of writing the Great American Novel. I was one of those kids, but I don't think some cozy-like Callie Parrish mysteries and a southern thriller quite fill the bill. However, I've been thinking this week about messages, and a writer doesn't have to write the Great American Novel to leave a message. In fact, it's not even necessary to write a novel. Think of the timeless messages in Guy de Maupassant's short story "The Necklace" or O Henry's "Gift of the Magi," and for Christians, the message in "Amazing Grace." Though much less global, I'm leaving a message every time a reader "falls into" what I've written or laughs at Callie and Jane.

My wish for all Sleuthsayers and readers for 2012 is that we leave memorable messages.

Until we meet again… take care of YOU.