Category: Personal

Beware Dropbox! A Cautionary Tale

I have just been forced to undergo one of the most time-consuming, frustrating and anger-producing experiences with technology of my long career in the field and I feel an obligation to warn you of two things:

First, stay away from Dropbox. The services they provide in terms of an offsite storage location for important and shared files is quite good but their “customer service” is crap. In fact, it’s non-existent. Their Web site contains no obvious way to contact the company…and I spent more than an hour trying to find it. No phone number. No email address. No physical location.

Finally, I found a trouble ticket submission page. I filled out the form describing my problem (a billing issue in which they are continuing to bill me months after I cancelled a service) and submitted it. Several hours later I received an email saying, in effect, “Buzz off, buddy. We’ve designed the greatest self-serve customer service experience ever. Go use it.” Which, of course, I already had, without success.

Second, do not sign up for recurring payments on anything. As it turns out — and if I’d thought about it, I’d have realized this sooner — once you sign up for one of these payments, only the vendor can stop the billing. Your bank cannot help you because the vendor has your credit card information. So even if your bank would tell them to stop charging your account, there’s no way to enforce it. And most banks won’t even do that; after all, the vendors are generating a lot more revenue for them than you are.

Because I couldn’t reach anyone at Dropbox to request they stop dinging my card, I had to close the card and have a new one issued. Which is already resulting in messages from the places where I have my card on file for convenience (and not for recurring payments) crowding my email inbox. Each of these requires me to go to the vendor site and update payment information. But that’s only after I get the new card, which in the ordinary course of business apparently takes the bank 7-10 days (which is ludicrously indefensible). So I agreed to pay an additional $25 to expedite delivery of the card (which is what the bank claims FedEx charges but I doubt that).

So, bottom line. Avoid Dropbox like the plague. Avoid recurring payment arrangements lest you find yourself spending gobs of time undoing them when one of them decides to defraud you.

 

Whither the Greens and Me?

In the just-concluded election, I cast my vote for Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein and was quite vocal about it. And, no, I didn’t help elect Trump: I live in California where our electoral votes were never in doubt for the Democratic Party’s well-worn candidate, Hillary Clinton.

Now the election is over and I’m considering what, if any, role I want to or should play on the American political scene going forward.

I have concluded that I am not going to continue with the Green Party, at least not as an active supporter and participant. That decision has little or nothing to do with how the party conducted its campaign or with any specific outcome. It has everything to do with my new vision of hope for the progressive cause in America and with my desire to remain flexible and independent until that scene sorts itself out.

I won’t do anything precipitous; I don’t need to worry about my party affiliation until the next election in 2018. But I have cut off contributions to and volunteering for any specific party-supporting activities in the meanwhile. Instead, I choose to spend the little time I’m willing to devote to politics these days to the progressive movement in the broader sense.

progressivismThe stunning election of a right-wing demagogue to lead a nation that has traditionally stood for diversity and democracy seems to be having an unintended positive side effect: a coalescence and re-energizing of the progressive base. Today, a progressive interested in the broad agenda can pick from several national movements to support. There’s MoveOn.org, which is practically venerable at this point, and which claims 7 million members. There’s Bernie Sanders’ Our Revolution, which staggered out of the starting gate with internal disputes about leadership but which has the most clearly articulated progressive “platform” with more than 20 planks. And there’s Organizing for Action, the successor to outgoing President Barack Obama’s Obama for America campaign group. OFA claims 5 million supporters and counting.

Then there’s Keith Olbermann’s loosely defined movement which he dubs “The Resistance”. (If you’re not watching his regular vidcasts sponsored by GQ, you owe it to yourself at least to sample them over at YouTube.

Here’s the problem. Unless these various attempts at creating an umbrella group over the Progressive Movement come together to share resources (mailing lists, information sources, donors, organizing expertise and more), conservatives will continue to win the day electorally despite their demonstrably minority position among voters.

So where does this leave the Green Party?

Given that it is a political party, and despite its clearly progressive platform and agenda, its primary focus is not on carrying out that agenda directly, but rather on getting candidates elected. Frankly, I’ve reached a place where I don’t care what political label a candidate chooses to adopt; the question is whether he or she is progressive. In recent years, that has meant they were either Democrats or Greens or Socialists. But if that weird anomaly called a “Progressive Republican” were to appear on the landscape, I would unhesitatingly vote for that candidate.

I have essentially become a one-issue voter. Facing the existential crisis of global warming, it seems to me that focusing on other no doubt incredibly important subjects like income inequality, social injustice, criminal justice reform, and big money in politics is for all practical purposes futile. If we fail to solve the global warming catastrophe looming on the horizon, all of these other issues will fade into oblivion, along with the human race.

Given that reality, and my general disposition to be broadly progressive in my views, it seems too narrow for me to identify with any political party. Unless something drastic changes between now and the 2018 election, I will register as Independent. I will continue to monitor both the Green Party and the Democratic Party to see how progressive their agendas and platforms become — particularly on the subject of the climate — then determine at an appropriate point whether to register for one of those parties or remain independent.

This is an odd place for me to find myself. A lifelong Democrat, it was difficult for me last year to register with a different party and to vote for that party’s candidate for president. But then, these are odd times in our nation’s history.

 

Farewell to a Great Friend

Word came yesterday evening that one of my best friends and the man to whom I literally owe my life passed away yesterday. Ted Lane was a rare human being who lived his life in as close to constant contact with Spirit as anyone I’ve ever known. He was the creator of an amazingly helpful healing technique called Patternology, which changed dozens and dozens of lives, including several in my family.

Ted had a congenital disease which by all rights should have laid him to rest many years ago. More than once, doctors told him he was in his final days or weeks of life. Time and again, Ted and Spirit — an indomitable duo if there ever was one — rebounded and proved the medicos wrong.

We worked together for nearly 20 years refining, documenting, automating, and promoting Patternology. Being a perfectionist, he never quite brought himself to release his miracle discovery to the broad attention it deserved. Perhaps he was intended only to plant the seed and see it through to early adolescence; others may pick up the mantle now that he has released it by his passing.

Ted was one of the most consistently optimistic people I’ve had the pleasure to know. No matter what setback or challenge he faced, he could always be counted on to find the silver lining and the life’s lesson. In each obstacle, he saw opportunity. I could always count on him for an emotional lift when I needed one, and often when I didn’t even realize I needed one.

On the first day I should have died, Ted appeared at my house. I still don’t know how that happened. Maybe we had a scheduled meeting. Maybe my wife asked him to come. Three days prior, I’d been in the ER and been diagnosed with “pre-pneumonia” and I was still feeling really lousy from that multi-day experience. I didn’t have any of the classic symptoms of heart attack, so when my wife Carolyn tried to force me to call 9-1-1 or get someone to take me to the ER, I resisted. I didn’t want to become “that guy.” Ted walked into my house, took one look at me, said, “Your skin is gray. I’m calling 9-1-1 and I don’t care if you get so angry you never speak to me again.”

Less than 20 minutes later, I was on a gurney in the trauma room at the local ER, my wife by my side, when I heard the female doctor say, “Code. He’s having a heart attack right now.” She said to my wife, “You’ll need to leave because in a minute this room is going to be filled with people who need to be here.”

It turns out I experienced what doctors call the “widowmaker”; upwards of 85% of people who have one don’t survive. And if it hadn’t been for Ted, I’d have been at home, alone with my wife, when it hit. And I likely wouldn’t have made it either.

So, Ted, I still owe you one, my friend. I wish you Godspeed on your new adventure, with gratitude for all the ways you changed my life and those of people I love. You are a hero.

I’m missing you already.

“Arrival” is an Absolute Must See

Let me start with the bottom line: you must go see the new movie Arrival. In fact, I hereby grant you leave to stop reading this post/review right now so you can get to it soon before it leaves theaters. Arrival is a visual feast that succeeds as a film of triumph on so many levels that it has quickly become my all-time favorite film in its genre.

That’s right, it’s better than Contact, better than Interstellar and, dare I say it?, better than my beloved Avatar. And it made me want to go back and binge-watch those movies just to soak up the incredible spirit of hope each represents for mankind. Maybe I’m feeling a special need for that at this moment in the world’s history.

WARNING! Minor spoiler alerts ahead.

Arrival bundles together in one all-but-overwhelming sensory experience my deepest passions and my most cherished beliefs and teachings.  Its symbolism — from the mysterious arc-based writing of the invading aliens to the egg-shaped craft in which they arrive, from their number (12) to their special “weapon” (or is it a tool?) — Is multilevel and internally consistent.

In so-called “message movies”, the underlying content that wants to be conveyed is generally sufficiently broad, not to say vague, that different people can get different messages from the same movie experience. While there is certainly room for nuance, it most often seems to me that these messages are ones upon which the majority of viewers can agree.

For me, the central theme of the movie, indeed its singular underlying Important Message, is the Essential Unity of All Life.

The most constant character in the movie — apart from linguistics expert Louise Banks (Amy Adams) — is Time. There are two parallel plot lines at work here. One unfolds in linear time, or apparently linear time at least, and deals with the main story flow of the movie. The other quasi-randomly interrupts that flow to offer a completely nonlinear story in which Prof. Banks’ actions are informed by memories of her daughter, who died at a young age of a disease that followed a course of action Prof. Banks predicted. This “intertwingling” of non-parallel, non-linear time frames never becomes difficult to cope with, but it does require paying attention, particularly to the seemingly small events as the story of her daughter unfolds in fits and starts.

Arrival is a strong story of triumph: love over fear, brain over brawn, calm over panic, love over time, oneness over separation, and so many others. It is, in the best sense of the phrase, spiritual but not religious. Particularly noteworthy is the intermixture of mathematics and cosmology, in the persona of Prof. Banks’ physicist colleague, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), who is given nominal charge of the team assigned to trying to find out why the aliens have come to Earth. I found his character to be poorly developed; but he plays a critical role of the alternate timeline, so the director (Denis Villeneuve) can perhaps be forgiven for not finding a way for him to be more interesting and complex.

The writing is crisp, and I found it enjoyable purely as a writer. But I went to this film with my good buddy and ardent film buff Paul Jimerson, and came away with a deeper appreciation for the visual artistic component of the film. Particularly the scenes in which the two main characters encounter the aliens are so excruciatingly minimalist and well drawn that they are practically worth the price of admission in themselves. Paul might say they are.

I would be remiss here if I didn’t make at least a passing comment about the performance of one of my favorite character actors of all time, Forest Whitaker. As the Army colonel in charge of the expedition to the alien craft, he manages to blend authoritarianism and understanding, a need to follow the rules and a curiosity about what happens if he doesn’t. In other words, typical Whitaker.

OK, enough commentary already. Hundreds of people of Artie reviewed this movie, and not sure I’ve got much original to add to what they’ve said. Is often the case, I’m stunned by reviews that did not give this movie high marks for reasons seem to me to be pedestrian and trivial. Still, a great many reviewers saw what I saw, heard what I heard, and saw what I thought. So let’s make a deal. I’ll stop writing if you’ll stop reading and just go watch it.

I’m Going Home Sunday to Continue Healing!

For those of you following the latest Shafer Health Saga, I’ll be returning home to continue the healing process on Sunday morning. The consensus is that I have progressed far faster than expected (Western medical expectations are lower than mine!) and there’s no more to be gained from being treated away from my home.

I am feeling much better than at any time recently and even though the Big Picture remains problematic (IOW, the physical aspect of me is still well below the level of health at which I’d like to be), I have clearly emerged from the most recent critical challenge hardly the worse for wear and much wiser.

I am reminded by Spirit of the vast wealth that is at my fingertips. Friends abound, generosity and compassion embodied in each and every one of them. Even financially, I know that Spirit is in charge and taking care of things thanks in part to the GoFundMe campaign my lovely youngest daughter Heather thought to set up.

I’m doing a lot of thinking and contemplation these days about how I continue to meet my calling, fulfill my mission and advance the state of Enlightenment in myself and those around me. Some changes are clearly going to be necessary, but I don’t see a cessation in the near term. IOW, I’m not done with you yet!

Of course, I remain eager for all affirmative thoughts and prayers you feel moved to share with me as this journey continues.

Harvard Intro to CS? Free? Sign Me Up!!

I did something rash today.

I signed up for a class through Harvard College and the school’s online presence at edX. That surprised me a little because I’m already in the middle of four college-level classes through Great Courses Plus. What was more surprising — astonishing, in fact, to those who’ve known me very long, is that the class I enrolled in is Harvard’s famous CS50 course, “Introduction to Computer Science”. The surprise? The course uses the C language, against which I have been an ardent battler and which I vowed more than once to go to my grave able to say I’d never learned it.

I even rented (whole other cool story) the recommended text for the class.

So why did I do this? Particularly after learning it was taught primarily in C and involved a series of non-trivial projects the instructor says should take 10-20 hours each to complete? Honestly, I did it because I’ve always felt my programming and scripting skills were never going to be better than good to above-average unless I had a deeper, more formal understanding of programming and algorithms. Yeah, I’m 71 and retired. Nope, I don’t plan on re-entering the job market and certainly not as a coder (clearly a young person’s game). But I figure I have a few good years left and I might as well learn as much as I can now that I have the leisure to do so and no deadlines to interfere.

Besides, the most popular class of any kind at Harvard? And free? (I don’t need the verified certificate, but if I did, it would only cost me $90.) Just couldn’t pass it up. I may find I hate it before I complete it. No harm, no foul. I may find I just don’t have the aptitude to learn C after experiencing far more verbose object-oriented languages like Smalltalk and LiveCode and decide not to “waste my time.”

But somehow the notion of wasting time while learning is a bit of an oxymoron.

Wish me success!

Here’s One for Spiritual Chess Players

I’ve begun resurrecting my long-time interest in chess now that I’m retired and have the time for such nicely paced activities. In rummaging around my documents attic today I ran across this chess-themed spiritual essay I wrote a couple of years ago.

I hope you enjoy.

I AM Pawn

I AM a proud pawn, the most important and powerful piece on this playing field. I am the least valued by inexperienced players. There are more of me than any other piece, of which there are only one or two. We are eight.

But look at me!

pawnI am the only piece in this game who can move more than one way. Think about that! I have choices. Everyone else lives by a single rule of movement. I can only move forward, it’s true, but I can move one or two spaces my first time. I can move diagonally to capture other pieces, which makes me a stealthy fighter. I even have a sneaky move many players don’t know (and I despair in their ignorance) in which I can capture an enemy pawn who thinks he’s slid past me by moving into the empty space behind him. Nobody else can do that! (It’s called en passant in case you don’t know.)

Because I cannot retreat, I cannot give up. Nor can I turn on my own fellows and become an impediment to their successful attack or defense.

But in the end, I AM the most important and powerful player in the World of the Game because I alone can transform myself into any other piece. Knights are and always will be Knights, however noble. But if I can reach my enemy’s home rank, I can choose to become a devious Knight, or a dominant Bishop or even an imperious Rook. Or even the King’s consort, the Queen.

Don’t overlook me. Don’t dismiss me. Learn me. Watch me. Use me.

I AM Pawn.

(Inspired by re-discovering Hans Kmoch’s brilliant study, Pawn Power in Chess.)

Bernie in My Home Town

Monterey, California, seldom has seen a Presidential candidate from a major party visit in the last few decades. First, thanks to the way primaries are run in this country (aka chaos), California’s votes hardly ever count. Second, even those candidates who do come to California typically don’t do public events; they’re here for the rich veins of fund-raisers in San Francisco, Silicon Valley and Hollywood. Finally, Monterey is well off the beaten path located as it is all the way on the coast.

But there was Bernie. My friend MaryAnn Boylan took this picture at the rally. She had a great spot near the candidate, as you can see.

Bernie Sanders Comes to Monterey May 31, 2016

Bernie Sanders Comes to Monterey May 31, 2016

Several of my friends — some of whom remain convinced of Bernie having a remaining long shot at the Democratic nomination — found the rally refreshing. “Most of the people up front near me,” MaryAnn said, “were millennials. It was really great to talk to them and get their take. Most of the ones I talked do said if Bernie doesn’t get the nomination, they won’t vote for Hillary.”

Almost 8,000 people attended the event, four times the campaign’s forecast to local authorities.

My New Pet Peeve: Videos That Play on Page Load

For some reason, there has been a significant increase recently in my experiencing webpages that load and immediately begin blasting video clips to my headset. This behavior has always annoyed me, but the huge increase in the number of such sites I’ve seen lately has become far more than merely annoying.

I’m thinking it’s time to start boycotting advertisers who engage in this disruptive, nefarious and incredibly impolite behavior. I’ve begun compiling a list of these advertisers, and when I have enough in hand, I will publish them here. One of the problems with these disruptive idiots is that they sometimes play the audio with no visible video clip where they could be silenced. The page loads, noise starts offending my ears, and there’s no obvious place to turn that sound off of other than muting my headset.

This crap has got to stop!

Who’s with me?

Today Marks 37 Years of Joy

My incredibly amazing, talented, creative, gorgeous wife CJ and I have been married 37 years today. We have been through so much together. Through it all, she has been a partner, a cheerleader, a companion. She knows me better than anyone else. And still she loves me.

I am among the world’s most blessed. I literally thank Spirit every day for her presence in my life.

What a gal!