Monday, May 15, 2017


The wild frontier of the Internet is well epitomized by the recent hostage extortion that brought most of the medical world of Europe to a halt, but then was ended by a young man who understood that the whole operation rested on one access point, spent less that eleven dollars to reach it, and turned off the entire hijack.  Assuming that he wasn’t the perpetrator in the first place and therefore naturally knew what that pivot was, this shows that the relative galaxial dimensions of a code complex does not at all require an equivalent mass in order to be changed.  It’s like the concept of “0”, an insight that shifts whole worlds of thought.

So when my URL provider, 3 Rivers Communications, which recently asked us all  “how are we doing?” and “how can we improve?” needs is a whole shift in world view.  This organization, a cooperative, was originally organized to provide telephone service in a rural area against the east side of the Rockies.  Therefore, the people setting up and running the operation had necessarily to be the kind of people who lived there.  They were not cosmopolitan “opera-lovers” used to city density and tolerance. At that point there was no television, much less internet.  Transistor radios were the cutting edge.

The simple technology of how to make sound travel was one thing — you can do it with string and two soup cans.  The brute effort of keeping lines on poles intact during weather extremes on the Montana prairie was another thing entirely, but not out of the world-understanding of ranchers and small-town business people.  They could understand that optical fiber could carry more info, they could understand machines that would trench-dig and bury the lines, and so on, but the internet introduced a shift in thought beyond anything local.

So when I try to think about 3Rivers, the problems are at many levels, from many sources, and impatiences that I share with many others.  One is the predominance of cell-phones.  This means no directory.  It means people carry their phones in their pockets in and out of access points.  Before the recently erected tower in Valier it was interesting (sometimes) to hear one’s neighbors standing on their front porches shouting conversation with friends.  "Cells" also mean that people are talking almost continuously as though their whole circle of friends and family were in the room with them.  They answer the phone almost instantly, with no effort at all.  

In order to answer my landline, I have to run a gauntlet of cats, boxes of books I’m sorting, baskets of laundry newly clean but not sorted -- trying the whole time to remember where I left the phone which is on a thirty-foot cord and probably under the last magazine I was reading.  Then it turns out to be a health insurance salesperson pretending to care about my safety and cautioning me about the danger of throw rugs.  The whole time my heart is in my throat because the only time someone calls me is when there’s a health emergency or death, and since we’re all old, they do happen.

In fact, I have several friends who, because they are international corporate whistleblowers or political opponents to power or work with risky populations.  If you don’t believe me, it’s because you don’t know much about Unitarian Universalist ministers.  (Think Amnesty International.)  That means they should not be traceable.  So far two people have told me they were accessed through my 3Rivers account.  I don’t know what measures had to be taken or COULD be taken to protect them, but it means that local people must think on a scale that normally doesn’t exist for them.

I’m still getting robocalls from men with booming male voices who claim to be collecting charity for law-enforcement officers.  I’ve learned to ask them for their name, birthdate, and badge numbers.  How do I know they aren’t someone’s dubious uncle phoning from the garage?  Also, Republicans — never Democrats — call me to announce their grandiose intentions. I’m not a party affiliator and I will not vote for anyone who uses robocalls.  These are not things 3Rivers can address.

One thing the co-op does that opens risk is the practice of sub-contracting functions of a provider.  The most obvious is hiring and training of technical support, maybe youngsters in Spokane.  Probably in Great Falls, there is a boiler room of people at work stations who answer the phone and then open binders of information to figure out the answers.  They are often serving more than one company.  They do not like minority or atypical questions.  Since I’m a MAC user in a place where corporations (schools) worship whatever is dominant (Windows and Microsoft), they are sometimes stumped or maybe don’t try very hard.  Lucky I’m not a Linux user.

But the worst sub-contract is that for the “block listers”, often called “black listers” but represented to the public as “spam and porn filters.”  Since one friend of mine manages properties in Idaho, including trailer parks and low-rent apartments, he gets phone calls from dubious characters.  Since block-listers will blackball any phone that get calls from such people, he occasionally must call me on the land line to see why his emails aren’t getting through to me.  I don’t even know they’re blocked until he calls.  Then I have to go through rigamarole to get off the list.  One enterprising block lister put every provider he know of on “blacklist” and would not unblock them until he had been paid a fee.  I get blocked if anyone on that original list calls me if they refused to pay the fee.

Find out your IP number by calling and then go to and look for your IP number.  If you're blocked, follow the directions.

Since I often write about risky and taboo subjects because they need to be written about, that can get me on a block list, though this one that 3Rivers subcontracts with (Barracuda) can be set at different levels of “protection” and I set mine at “off.”  Even so, there are local monitors and if someone believes that I will be shocked by naked human parts, as a special gesture of caring, they might censor them.  Once in a while one slips through.  Nearing eighty, I don’t care, but I get really testy when they censor nude dancers and sculptures out of prudery.  

So should I tell these past-retirement ranchers on the board that I object to their taboo level?  They don’t know a gay person when they see one; probably some of them don’t realize THEY are gay.

Yesterday I asked online for a free copy of “Bean” which is a minimal word-processing application.  In seconds I was drawn into a web of entrepreneurs demanding that I try their apps, mostly hard drive “cleaners”  In spite of telling them again and again that I didn’t want them, I had to use another hard-drive cleaner to get rid of them .  They wanted to put me on the Cloud.  Poetic as that sounds, it really means they want to record my material on a giant industrial computer system somewhere near a river for the sake of the cooling water.  Like politics and advertising, they tried to scare me with wire-tapping and hard drive crashing.  I figure if some Ukrainian spy is reading my blog, that's a good thing, a good influence.

Since Apple bought Pages and has been “improving it” ever since, my old-system documents can’t be opened anymore.  In fact, my previous MACOS is now obsolete and inoperable.  But no intel seeker will find my hard drive useful because I maintain an always-offline separate computer and print out to file anything I don’t want to lose.  Luckily, it’s mostly writing — no spread sheets or data-records.  I don’t use Bluetooth, etc. — only landline.

3Rivers is not responsible for that, even if their lives are so different that they can’t predict or understand what I need.  Their biggest problem is that other internet companies can provide microwave service more cheaply and efficiently, until aging satellites fall or their relay towers blow over.  Or until the next wave of technology makes all that obsolete.  I’m not throwing away my string and tomato cans, just in case.

Nor is my increasing problem the responsibility of 3Rivers: it is increasing age.  My eyes are weakening but the young techies insist on pale blue slender fonts with tiny clues for where to click.  They like things to pop and bulge, come and go, flash big and then shrink — all things that derail my ability to understand.  I’ve stopped installing new versions or “upgrades” because I have to waste a half-hour figuring out everything all over again or maybe they prevent me from opening my old files.  Ever more aggressive, they turn on my computer and install their cookies in the middle of the night without my knowledge or permission.  I’ve tried working with the internet turned off, but then when I start up in the morning, I have to wait five minutes while all the stuff that couldn’t be installed while the machine was off comes piling in.  Of course, some of it is uploading what I did, without notification.

When I complain, I get the same answer given by the people who want to cancel generous health care:  if I can't keep up, I should get out.  But more and more people are my age.  If it weren't for a few people I love, I'd just pull the plug. 

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