There Has To Be A Better Way

For the past few months, almost every day, I’ve been receiving unwanted calls to my mobile phone. When I look up the numbers I see search results telling me that they’re for a diabetes equipment testing company. I’ve also seen it mentioned that people who did answer the call and asked to be taken off the list got more calls from even more numbers, presumably because the rogue calling company now knows they have a “good” number. I’m on the do not call list, and I’ve been keeping a log of every unwanted call. I’ve been reporting them as complaints on donotcall.gov, but the calls continue, from the same handful of numbers and it appears there’s nothing I can do to stop it. Why?

With all of the advancements in modern technology, why can’t I block a nuisance number from calling me? There’s Spam filtering for emails, so why isn’t there a way to report these numbers to the phone companies so they can deal with them? Is it because it would be too cumbersome to filter them at the phone company level? OK, then let my device decide if I want to take the call. Why isn’t there a way to tell my phone that if it detects a call from a specified number to reject it and to not even bother me with a ring or a missed call? I know that I have an ancient phone, but I’ve looked into it, and even with a snazzy iPhone, you can’t do it. I have seen some options from mobile phone carriers where if you pay a recurring fee you can set up blocking of certain numbers as a way to protect young children or to ensure that they only use the phone to call home, etc.

Why should I have to pay a fee to keep someone from pestering me? Someone smarter than me has to know of a way to make call filtering as easy as the “Report Spam” button in my email.

Knee Deep In Mud

Sometimes you just have to go with your gut. Today was one of those times. I was out doing some Geocaching and after finding the first stage I looked at my options for approaching the final stage. I tried to make a beeline for it and saw that there were high weeds, trees and what looked like some poison. With less than 500 feet to go I went against my instincts and quickly found myself surrounded by poison plants. As if that wasn’t bad enough, just as I got out of the poison I found some mud. There wasn’t a way around it, so I figured, why not step through it, it can’t be that bad, right? Wrong. With one step I sank in. Up. To. My. Knees.

Luckily I didn’t lose a shoe, and I did find the Geocache, but had I trusted my instincts and taken the time to look at the area a bit better I would have seen a better route that didn’t include mud or poison plants. The lesson I learned today is one that I think everyone can apply to situations in their lives. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t assume it’s the only way. If you’re stubborn and force it, you’re bound to end up in a mess.

Halfway To Ohio

A friend of mine lives on the western end of the Lehigh Valley and we like to pick on her and say that she lives “halfway to Ohio” since she’s so far away from everyone. As “remote” as she may be, it’s nothing compared to some of the places I’ve been as I’ve traveled around the country. In fact, the more I see of these great United States, the more I become certain that an area just like the Lehigh Valley is where I want to come home to.

Big cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia or Seattle just don’t do it for me. I’m not sure if it’s because I can’t ever find anywhere to park, because there are always so many people everywhere or because there just seem to be too many buildings crammed everywhere, but whatever their appeal is to the millions that live and work in them, I just don’t get it.

I’ve also seen the other end of the spectrum. I can recall a business trip to rural Virginia where I was driving around with a local and I mentioned an abandoned building. They quickly informed me that the building was not only not abandoned, but a family of twelve resided in it. Times like that made me not only feel fortunate for everything I have, but also showed me that there’s a whole other side to America. One that I’ve only briefly experienced, but it’s certainly opened my eyes to a whole new “normal” that a large part of the country lives every day.

Sure, the Lehigh Valley has its problems, but trips like the one I’m on this week where I’m about three quarters of the way to Ohio make me appreciate the Goldilocks area I grew up in. Not too big, not too small. It may not be “just right” but it’s close enough for me.

Learning By Doing

Today was a perfect example of how often times the best way to learn how to do something is to be faced with it as a problem. I noticed that my tweets weren’t appearing correctly in the sidebar of my blog. Only my tweets were showing up, none of my retweets. I searched and read and even tweeted to twitter asking for help. It turned out that even though I was doing things correctly I was requesting my tweets using an old, now unsupported, URL. I switched to the new URL and everything was showing up as it should.

While I was reading up on how to use the new URL I noticed that there were rate limits on timeline requests. This explained why I would often end up with nothing to display, even though twitter was up. In their infinite wisdom Twitter suggested that developers use caching so they wouldn’t exceed the rate limit. Great, how do I go about doing that?

They had no examples, but after some searching I found a few people who had done something similar to what I wanted, but none of them were doing exactly what I needed. After polishing up on my programming skills and teaching myself some new tricks I’ve now got my tweets and retweets showing up as I’d like them too, but they’re also caching locally so I shouldn’t hit any rate limits and if twitter does go down, the last available tweets will still show up so I don’t have a big empty box where they should have been.

Had I not run into that peculiarity this morning I never would have bothered to learn more about how Twitter worked, I would have been content to just copy paste the example I’d found online a few weeks ago. With my new knowledge I’m looking into updating an old badge I’d made and possibly cooking up a few new widgets. See? I told you I was all about twiddling the knobs

Nose In A Screen

I was on a road trip out to Des Moines in June of 2009 when I had one of the best wake up calls that I can remember. I was riding along in my friend’s truck and we were almost to Pittsburgh when panic had set in. I knew I had it when I left my house that morning, but where was it now? Oh well, I’d check when we stopped for lunch. Not on the back seat, not on the floor, not behind the cooler. WHERE WAS IT? Did I leave it in my car? Did I lose it at the last rest area? We wouldn’t be back for almost a week. What was I going to do?

No, it wasn’t my suitcase, my wallet or the address of the hotel where we’d be stopping that night. It was my phone. I tried calling it from my friend’s phone just in case I’d dropped it somewhere that it couldn’t be seen. Nothing. At that point I convinced myself that it was probably in my cup holder in my car back at my friend’s house in Maryland. Even if it was there, we were too far into our trip to turn around. If it wasn’t, and I had lost it at the last rest area it was an old phone and I could just replace it when I got home. I didn’t need my phone to survive, I’d be just fine. Right?

My friend had his cell phone with him so if there was a problem he could always use it to call for help so I didn’t need my phone, but now that I realized I didn’t have it I immediately felt cut off, like all of a sudden I was missing out on something. I didn’t know what, but there had to be something going on in the world that I wasn’t able to find out about. For the rest of that day and much of the next I wasn’t able to enjoy the fact that I was on vacation, or on a trip to see friends I hadn’t seen in a year, just that I was missing out on something appearing on a tiny screen that I usually kept in my pocket.

I think it only dawned on me how foolish my fussing over my phone was when we arrived in Des Moines and a few of us went over to our usual watering hole and instead of talking with friends we hadn’t seen since last year’s gathering, half of the people there had their noses buried in a screen. Sure, some were watching the game on TV, but most were fiddling with their phones. That moment of realizing how silly I was for worrying about my phone flipped a switch inside me and allowed me to enjoy the rest of the trip which ended up being one of the most memorable I’ve been on.

I see a replay of that scene from the bar in Des Moines almost every time I go anywhere. People will be out at an event, or having lunch with a friend, and instead of talking to the person right there with them, they’re checking twitter, or email, or any manner of other things. Technology is a wonderful thing, but the more tools that come out to connect us to events far and wide, the more I see people becoming disconnected with the events unfolding right in front of them. Instead of having a conversation with their friends, they’re checking in on foursquare. Instead of enjoying a beautiful wedding, they’re attempting to photograph the event, even though there’s a professional photography crew documenting the whole thing. I’m probably going to take the plunge and upgrade my ancient phone to an iPhone when the new ones come out. I hope I don’t end up becoming one of the people I’ve been talking about.

Oh, and where was my phone on that road trip? It was set to Silent and had fallen under the seat. I was less than a foot away from it the entire time.