Saturday, January 14, 2017


It’s an advantage to be a writer who blogs because every troubling or pesky incident offers plenty of stuff to discuss — and cuss.  The internet alone is a rich inexhaustible problem but I try to stick with what I know, which is my internet “provider” which is which is a rural telephone cooperative that dates back to the days of crank (the kind with a handle) boxes on the wall that were mounted at a convenient height for men.  My aunt always had to stand on tiptoe and shout to transmit.  

My grandfather derived great amusement from using the bell code that signalled who was being called.  The caller used the crank handle Morse Code fashion, mixing longs and shorts.  My gleeful Irish grandfather would add more longs or shorts so the wrong person answered the phone.  Everyone was on party lines then because it was farm land and only one wire reached out along the road.  Soon everyone on that road was mad at my grandfather.  He used to run for office and wonder why no one voted for him.

Things haven’t changed that much since the old days, esp out in the boonies.  There are people here who haven’t adapted to industrialization, still preferring horses to tractors.  Since this is Indian country, there may still be people who prefer dogs to horses.  The telephone system in Valier is not that much ahead of the days when telephone signals were sometimes sent down fence lines in the actual barbed wire.  My computer internet access is landline copper wire, not optical fiber.  I hear various things about the switching system.  So we’ve got two systems to mesh: the old gradually upgrading telephone and the new webbed mix of satellite, microwave hilltop towers, and various kinds of wires, all with their own requirements and assumptions.

But the hardest part to manage is the “wetware” — the part that’s living humans.  Consider the password conundrum that is supposed to provide more security but simply provides more opportunities to game the system.  I was called at the beginning of the workday (which is for me still sleep time since I do my best writing at three or four AM) to ask me for a new password because of problems with security.  

I cannot think of new passwords when I’m still wandering the labyrinths of dreams.  I’d be hard pressed to remember I had a phone call.  Anyway, I’ve already exhausted the supply of names of pets, favorite teachers, preferred foods, etc.  I’m told that there are software programs that can easily discover one’s passwords.  I may have to get one of those programs. When this craze started I designed a form to put into a 3-ring binder.  There are 25 entries per page and I’ve had to change so many so often that I’ve got six pages of passwords.  At least they’re in chronological order so I can tell which is the most recent.

The dark side of being a writer is that I do a lot of online research, which generates a lot of passwords.  Also, I was an ordained minister (still in good standing) and address taboo subjects, which are the ones needing analysis and consciousness-raising.  (Like the Internet.)  But they set off alarms in the minds of rural folks whose worst sin is picking their noses.

This 3rivers office person (very nice person) who called asked for the new password over the phone.  That’s not very secret.  When weeks ago I lost my password for my 3rivers account (forgot to put it in the binder), they refused to give it to me and said I would have to come up with a new one — over the phone.  So if I were an operative of China, I would get my nephew to work in the phone office and every time someone called in to get a new password, I’d write it in a little notebook and have it handy for accessing that account myself or for sending to some official.

Of course, the techies working on email have the capacity to enter and read any account stream at will.  Management stopped letting outsiders into the work space when they realized visitors could see techies running interesting communication through their screens when times were slow.  In fact, to be helpful, a techie often has to come online with you and sort out the glitches.  So I asked what measures are taken to check out these tech people, not just for skills but for honesty in dealing with confidential material.  I mean, I know that most stuff is just boring household chat, but once in a while there must be materials worth blackmail.

Extortion is also a good way to make money, since there are a thousand companies out there capable of creating a “block list” also called “black list” which means they can shut down one’s account.  This is supposed to be because one’s communication is insecure or otherwise faulty.  Most commonly I get shut down because I typed something into the wrong place in the connection software— or didn’t.  Since I’m a MAC user, the techie I get is sometimes stumped because the majority of the systems are Windows.  They take a moral attitude towards this.  

So I have a friend who lives in a narrow forest valley in Idaho.  The only dependable provider for his internet, which is the basis of his business, is the satellite outfit called Hughes or BlueSky.  They have a bad reputation with Barracuda, who blocks them — sometimes.  

Which brings us to two new problems.  These flows of signal are so easy to modify that they can be adjusted to handle traffic density.  This is why I work in the middle of the night:  at that hour all the features of the programs are generally available because traffic is thin.  When it gets thick, features get dropped out.  Capriciously, from my point of view.  When the traffic is overwhelming enough, there begin to be warnings and then even a shut-down.  Users tend to assume that internet service is there and consistent.  Wrong.  In fact, in rural areas the electricity, water, and gas don’t always flow evenly either.

The other issue is sub-contracting, and strangely the security aspects of email are the ones the company sub-contracts.  The nanny filter meant to keep out porn and SPAM is contracted by 3rivers to Barracuda.  When I was having troubles, I went direct to Barracuda, but their contract with 3rivers is entirely separate from individual contacts.  No one had access to both aspects so they couldn’t tell me if there was interference between the two systems.  I set them as “low” as I can since at 78 I’m unlikely to be shocked

The other service contracted out is the hiring of techies which is done in this case by TrueVision Net.  Their focus is on skills, not on honesty or reliability.  Like telephone help-desk answering businesses, the humans might be anyone.  In fact, one little scandal developed (it didn’t involve any of the companies named here) when it was discovered that a telephone business was using prison help.  Some of them had developed a remarkable ability to remember VISA numbers.

Management level jobs are usually a matter of experience and therefore are older people, so that much of the country’s supervision is still done by people who have little or no experience or ease with computers.  But the “kids” on the first line grew up playing vid games and possibly even hacking for fun.  When I called back the office person at 3rivers this morning, she had given me her extension number but the automated phone answering system was not set up to accept it, so I had to be switched over by the human being the machine-algorithm system assigned.  Using an extension number is an OLD device.  For a telephone company to not install it does not inspire confidence.  It makes me wonder whether some of the lines are still barbed wire running along fences.

But my grandfather would love it.  So many break points, so many chances for mischief.

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