Thursday, January 17, 2019

And another thing we never dreamed we'd have to worry about: Breaking the seal on social media

Long Suffering Spouse and I welcomed our eighth grandchild into this world on Monday.

Thank you.

Another girl -- that's seven girls and only one boy so far -- that boy, our seventh grandchild, is one year old today.

Thank you again.

Anyway, Middle Son gave us a little warning that Margaret's time was getting really close. But his mother-in-law was coming in for the weekend (she lives in Michigan, but winters in Alabama and doesn't much like it, so she comes up here as often as she can) and we thought she might be tasked with taking care of their older daughter (our fifth grandchild, if you're keeping score at home -- she just turned one in August).

Thank you. Really, you're very nice, but stop interrupting, OK? I have a lot of work to do this morning.

Anyway... Middle Son disabused us of this notion over the weekend. The MIL would go with them to the hospital when the time came. We would take care of Grandchild No. 5. I reminded Middle Son that he should call his mother's cell phone when he needed us; that is the phone we keep in our bedroom overnight (we cut the landline awhile back -- but that's another story).

Hmmm. Now I'm interrupting myself.

The phone rang at 3:50 a.m. Monday morning.

Older Daughter installed custom ring tones on my wife's phone some time ago, apparently at a time when she was miffed with her brother: When Middle Son calls, we hear the Imperial March from Star Wars. It's distinctive, certainly.

The phone is charged on my side of the bed. So I answered. And fairly promptly, too.

Middle Son was impressed. "Were you awake?" he asked.

I looked at the clock radio on the nightstand. "No," I said, "I was up at 3:00 as usual, but I'd fallen back asleep." (Hey, this is what happens as men age, OK?)

"[Grandchild No. 5] was up then, too," he told me.

"That's nice. We're in sync," I said. "So, is it time?"

"Yeah. I'm just going to jump in the shower and we're going to go. Can you come over?"

Now, as I'm writing this, it looks like a two-person conversation. This shows the limitations of my art. Long Suffering Spouse woke up during this -- if not while the phone was ringing, then immediately after I started talking -- and was sitting bolt upright, instantly on Red Alert. As soon as I heard her moving, I put the phone on speaker. No point in repeating everything.

"Sure. We'll be right over."

"The front door will be unlocked."


I terminated the call -- I'd say I hung up, but of course you don't hang up with a cell phone, do you? -- and told Long Suffering Spouse I'd run downstairs and turn the coffee on.

We always have the morning coffee ready to go; this was not the result of any baby-related anticipation.

And it gave me a chance to slip away before I would have to plead ignorance to all of Long Suffering Spouse's first dozen questions -- did her bag break? how far apart are the contractions? -- I heard a couple of them as I worked my way down the stairs.

I was going to say that I bolted down the stairs. "Bolt" is a nice action verb. But at 3:51 a.m., in January, in Chicago, it's dark out. The expression "it's always darkest before the dawn" has some scientific validity, at least if my observations mean anything. Also, while I am still reasonably limber, it generally takes at least a little while for my legs to respond efficiently to commands. So I plodded at best. I turned the living room light on at the switch, dispelling the early morning gloom. I got into the kitchen and turned on the coffee. Perhaps I can accurately state that, by this point, I could, and did, bolt back up the stairs.

Long Suffering Spouse was up and moving. Middle Son lives about 10 minutes away. His shower time was our driving time. So we conducted only the most basic, abbreviated ablutions, threw on some clothes and headed out.

With our coffee.

I'd never have made even that short drive without a few sips of that life-giving fluid.

When I say we are 10 minutes away from Middle Son's house, I do not exaggerate. But, on this occasion, at least, I underestimated. There are precisely six stop lights between our home and his -- and we got stopped at the first five of them. At 4:00 a.m. Long Suffering Spouse was exasperated with me, with our route, with the persistent 'check engine' light on our failing van, with traffic signals generally, and with the ones along our route specifically, and she let me hear about all of it. She was nervous. She knew, better than I ever can, what Margaret was experiencing, and she wanted Margaret to get the hospital as soon as possible. Sooner, even.

Imagine our surprise, then, when we walked into Middle Son's house -- the front door was not just unlocked, it was open -- and found Margaret sitting, alone, on the couch, watching television.

She didn't get up to greet us or anything -- but she was remarkably composed, given what was going on. She's a tough kid.

We even chatted a bit, while Middle Son finished writing out detailed instructions, and Margaret's mother stood ready by the door. At one point, a contraction hit. Margaret did not cry out or even wince -- I only noticed because she paused to enter something into her phone. It turns out there's an app for that, too.

There really is an app for everything.

Off they went, finally, and Grandchild No. 5 stayed asleep for a reasonable while longer.

We had a lovely day with her, our fatigue notwithstanding, and Grandchild No. 8 made her appearance before the morning was done.

Margaret's mother -- and Margaret's sister, who'd driven five hours from Michigan when the labor started -- came back to relieve us late in the afternoon.

Long Suffering Spouse had made arrangements to pick up her mother to meet the new great-grandchild (her 12th!) something that had to happen Monday evening or not at all for a month, inasmuch as Abuela was scheduled to undergo a procedure on Tuesday morning that would leave her radioactive for about that long. That's still another story.

And Long Suffering Spouse had a present for the new baby all ready to go -- but we had to stop home to get it.

And Middle Son asked if we might also stop at the restaurant across the street from the hospital and bring them dinner. Well, we had to eat, too, didn't we?

We did all these things -- I went to the restaurant alone, of course, after dropping off Abuela and Long Suffering Spouse -- but I eventually got to meet the new arrival, too. Youngest Son and his wife Danica were already there. We ate. The obligatory Grampy-holding-the-new-baby-like-a-football pictures were taken. As were pictures of Middle Son and Margaret with Grandchild No. 8, and Long Suffering Spouse and the new baby, and Abuela and the new baby....

You know the poses. You've seen them all a million times on Facebook. From a million different families.

Which, of course, is where I'm busting to put these.

But I can't.

Not yet.

With all of our grandchildren so far I've given the parents first dibs on posting about their new arrival. It seems only fair, right? Middle Son deleted his Facebook account -- not that I blame him -- Facebook is getting darn near as hostile as Twitter -- but Margaret still has hers. And she does post from time to time.

But so far... nothing.

So I want to put up a post -- and bask in the glow of the many 'likes' I will receive, some of them from people I've actually met -- but I don't think I should. Yet.

At what point, if the parents don't do it themselves, can I break the seal and make my own post?

This is another question I could never have imagined having to ask 30 years ago... or even 20.

And how do I find an answer?

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Curmudgeon falls into the streaming revolution -- Part II

I begin today's installment (for yesterday's, click here or just scroll down) with something of a confession: I was not entirely ignorant of streaming services before the kids gave me the Roku stick.

The TV in our family room -- the one that's hooked up to the DircTV service -- came with Netflix and YouTube and something else (I forget which) built in.

And, when Olaf and Younger Daughter were living here (they moved out four years ago already!) I was allowed to use their Netflix account.

See, it can be set up for five people -- and I was one of them. I think my designated screen name was "Mooch." No, that's not a name I chose.

Anyway, that's when I learned an important lesson about how these services operate: Every time I clicked on a program or movie to watch, a computer algorithm started whirling and twirling deep within the bowels of Netflix -- if I clicked on a Mickey Mouse cartoon, I got all sorts of cartoons and other Disney effluvia "suggested" for me next time I watched. And, of course, if I clicked on a rom-com I'd get a whole bunch of those suggested for me. Eventually, the Netflix algortihm would start getting to "know" me -- just as Amazon's algorithm has since gotten pretty good at figuring out what books or movies I might like. Scary good.*

Sometimes, with the DirecTV, or, before that, with the cable, when I've clicked through the channels, I'd pause on some cheesy movie or tasteless TV show, just to see what all the fuss was about. You've done this, too, I'm sure; don't pretend otherwise.

But the way I figured it, the show was on anyway, and would be there, whether I lingered there or not. Unless I was hooked up to a Nielsen meter, I didn't contribute to the decline and fall of Western Civilization by peering in.

On the other hand, with Netflix or some streaming service, when I order up a program to watch I am in some small way endorsing it. I am complicit. Because the algorithm will note what I have chosen and then serve up more or whatever it was that I elected to watch. A reality show. A Chuck Lorre sitcom. Any movie with the words "bikini" and/or "hot tub" in the title.

I understand that I could give a negative review if I thought the program tasteless or trashy or whatever -- but I assume the algorithm would just wait and see if I called up another episode or similar show before sneering, yeah, right.

So I'm a little uncertain about how much I'll actually use my new Roku stick. I might learn -- or confirm -- things about myself that I don't really want to know.

* Long-time readers -- as if I had any left given my erratic, and infrequent, posting here -- might remember that, in 2011, I publicly declared that I was afraid to buy from Amazon. I wasn't lying. And I did not in fact buy from Amazon until the giant corporation made peace with my home state by collecting taxes on purchases. And, once that happened, I didn't suddenly start buying everything online -- mostly, if not always, I confined my online orders to stuff not readily available from local stores. But even this was enough for the Amazon algorithm to start predicting with increasingly eerie accuracy stuff I might like. Recently, I've begun searching on Amazon for things I don't like and wouldn't buy -- so I can put its computer off my scent....

Monday, January 07, 2019

Curmudgeon falls into the streaming revolution -- Part I

My children were generous again at Christmas, giving Long Suffering Spouse and me a Roku stick and a "new TV." And all it's cost me so far is $132.

You may wonder why the phrase "new TV" is rendered in quotes. (You may also be wondering what a Roku stick might be and why gifts from my children are costing me money, but all things will be revealed in time, Dear Reader.)

TVs in this day and age aren't really TVs at all. They are monitors. No different, really, than the monitor on which you are viewing this post, if you're reading on a desktop.

TVs today have no tuners; they receive neither VHF or UHF stations (remember when that was a big distinction?); they have no knobs or buttons -- except possibly a manual power switch, well concealed. They do have plugs in the back. Since this was allegedly a "TV" it had a threaded protrusion as well as an HDMI cable plug. The threaded protrusion is where one might connect an antenna with a coaxial cable.

The TV that formerly stood atop my dresser was where the juvenile squirrel that invaded my house in 2007 perched when said squirrel, after I'd noticed him mewling in the open living room window, opted to ignore my suggestion that he exit through the front door, and scrambled up the stairs to the second floor instead.

This was a small color TV -- 12" maybe -- and an outmoded, analog type to boot. Somewhere along the line, though, we'd gotten a digital TV tuner -- which we connected to the TV with one of those aforementioned coaxial cables -- enabling us to watch TV in our room, sort of, depending on the atmospherics, or whether it was our night to be on the main flight path for O'Hare. Which it is, seemingly, on most nights.

But, whatever, I had the digital tuner. The new 24" super keen flatscreen had a threaded protrusion for a coaxial cable so -- I thought -- at least I'd be able to sorta kinda watch TV as we had before, if on a bigger screen.

I hadn't taken the rabbit ears into account.

The old TV had an antenna -- rabbit ears -- that, while not designed for these frequencies, allowed at least some of the modern digital signal to reach the connected tuner.

The super keen new flatscreen, of course, did not.

As a result, we got no picture at all from the digital TV tuner. Not even a sporadic one.

So I knew I would have to buy a digital antenna.

But, first, I would install the Roku stick.

The Roku stick -- about the size and shape of a pack of gum, only with an HDMI plug on one end (that plugs into the back of a super keen flatscreen TV) and a power cord on the other -- picks up a signal via the home wireless Internet. The signal that the Roku stick picks up allows the viewer to log into Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime or ESPN or CBS All-Access or any number of free, or allegedly free, providers -- including Roku.

"Yes, yes, yes," Long Suffering Spouse said, with some exasperation, as I offered this explanation. "But how does it work?"

I gave the best answer I could. "Magic, I think," I told her, and, unsurprisingly, she found this answer less than satisfactory.

Still, it's the best one I have.

The First Law of Technology is that one need not know how something works in order to use it. I gave up trying to keep up with how computers worked when Windows replaced DOS -- but I've managed to get by, more or less, ever since.

This, of course, would be one of those "less" situations -- but I didn't know that as I gamely plugged everything in, set up my account, linked it to my laptop and started downloading Roku "channels."

I did everything properly -- it's my blog, so you'll just have to take my word for it -- at least on the second run-through. Long Suffering Spouse and I went out to a New Year's Day reception while the Roku "channels" were first installing. At some point, while we were out, the operation failed, leaving me with only six of the 20-something "channels" that I was supposed to have gotten on the standard install. When we got back, I started installing these one at a time.

It took... a... long... time.

But this was nothing compared to the time it took to load and play a 90 second instructional video.

Now we did have a wireless network before this. And it worked fine. Our phones or iPads got signal upstairs, as did my laptop. When Olaf and Younger Daughter were living with us, I'd upgraded the cable modem, which intensified the wireless network throughout the house to the point where the kids could use their computer in their room without difficulty. Youngest Son fell asleep at night, when he was living with us, watching reruns of The Office or Seinfeld on his computer.

But, apparently, Roku sticks need more signal than my modem -- however adequate it had been heretofore -- could provide.

I consulted with the kids and their spouses and learned that I would need a Netgear router.

So, now you see how the kids' gift cost me $132 -- the price of the digital antenna and Netgear router.

And I still had to install them both.

The antenna installation was fairly straightforward, of course. It has a flat panel that is supposed to be part of the antenna rig -- but it also has rabbit ears. I knew what to do with these.

But I thought the Netgear device would replace the AT&T modem.

Not so.

It apparently takes the modem's feed and amplifies the signal throughout the house -- pumping it up to the point where, now, I could finally find out what was available on all those Roku channels. And I should talk about that in my next installment.

But, for now, the best part about the Netgear super high-tech Nighthawk router?

It has rabbit ears.

The more things change....