“Useless skills” in our modern world

InformationTechnologyArthur – yes, that Arthur, the Kiwi Illinoisan, wrote in response to a recent post of mine. Hmm, I’ll have to ask him, though, what got him to remember another post of mine, that one from a decade ago:


Apart from people under, say, 30 or so, all computery technological stuff has to be learned—we didn’t grow up with it. Most of us, I think, do best when we can migrate what we know to a new setting.

For example, the reason I can fix my blog when things blow up is because I learned useful stuff when I was young(er) that serves me well now that I’m old(er). For example, I can edit the HTML code in my log because I learned to use coding when I used an olde timey wordprocessing program called Wordstar in the 1980s. I still have to look up how to change or fix code in my blog, but I at least basically understand what I have to do because of that earlier training.

In January 2011, you published a post about “useless skills”. I wonder how those “useless skills” help us in our modern tech world. What ones help you?

My wife has a breadmaker, but she would rather create it the old-fashioned way if only so the bread will fit in the toaster.


I think I have soft skills. I can read a map, so if the GPS is not working, or is taking me the wrong way – it’s happened – I can figure out a way home. In a city with a decent, but unfamiliar, mass transit, I can generally negotiate that too.

When I was working, I had a better-than-average chance of finding the answer if it wasn’t available online. This involved using something called the “telephone” and “calling” to “talk” with people. That said, I think a lot of agencies and other entities do not value their institutional wisdom.

Because I’ve moved over 30 times, and have helped others moved at least twice that, I’m really good at packing our car when we’re going on a trip. My wife has told me this repeatedly.

As bad as I am with names, I’m pretty good with numbers. I can figure out a 15% tip or even 8% sales tax sans calculator. I make change with alacrity, so I’ll give the pizza guy $21 for a $10.95 purchase, knowing that one-dollar bills are precious in retail.

Usually, I remember phone numbers, so if the phone/computer address book isn’t available, I’m still OK. Definitely, I know my wife and daughter’s Social Security numbers.

I can name all of the Presidents of the United States, including their years. So I don’t have to “Google it” to help my daughter with her American history homework. Whether she would LET me help her is quite another matter.

Now, there are a few things I can do in my blog – assuming I’m not using the new editor – by hand. And, as Arthur knows, I can keep score in bowling, even during the apocalypse.



Happy when I figure it out


InformationTechnologyConsidering my general lack of technological expertise, I’m always happy when I figure it out. And by “technological”, I don’t just mean Internet stuff.

I’m the kid who took the front door lock apart in our apartment then couldn’t figure out how to put it back together. Or blew up pottery in the junior high school kiln, and created furniture with first one leg, then three legs, uneven.

Interestingly, I was actually good at taking metal shop in 9th grade because the tools were more precise.

My first cellphone was like the early computers. Start also meant stop. The red button meant to start. Because I was/am a late adapter, the instructions are “Do this just like you did it on your earlier phone.” But I didn’t have an earlier phone.

I have a FitBit-like device. It’s never been used. In fact, where IS that thing?


When I first started my blog in 2005, it had no photos. Blogspot/Blogger wanted us to use a product called Picasa to add photos. I could NEVER suss it out. But somehow I stumbled upon a workaround. Whatever I can do technologically is usually by trial and a lot of error. So I’m really impressed with folks such as Arthur who can fix actually his blog.

My little victories cause me oversized pleasure. Back when I was working and had interns, I showed at least two of them how to search for text using Ctrl-F. Those savvy young folks didn’t know that?

My daughter was trying to print a label, but it was coming out with gaps in the text. I downloaded the file, and printed it; it was fine. Of course, she then found a file my wife wanted to be printed but I got the same error, even after downloading. She changed the text color and it worked.

When I was helping to plan my FIL’s funeral, the videos came to me in Dropbox, which I could view but the guy putting the service together could not. The download, then send, worked that time.

I muddle through.


“Your website is at risk”

Do you know what I hate? Technology warnings that I do not understand. Specifically from my blog host, with the headline above.

<em>Your website… is currently running PHP version 7.2. Updates for this PHP version are no longer issued by the PHP project. In practice, this means that any bugs or security vulnerabilities discovered in your PHP installation will not be fixed and that your website is potentially vulnerable to several known security threats.

On June 2, 2021, we’ll be making an attempt to upgrade your site’s version of PHP to v7.4.

We’re constantly working on making improvements that we hope will reduce or eliminate any upgrade-related complications. We plan to upgrade your site and run a series of automated tests immediately afterward to ensure your website is working as intended.

If it passes all of our tests, it will stay on PHP v7.4 but you will want to inspect it yourself right away because our tests can’t catch everything. If this happens you can change PHP back easily from the panel.

If it fails, we’ll automatically revert your site back to PHP v7.2 and notify you.

We want to stress the importance of getting PHP upgraded as soon as possible. We’ve made the upgrade procedure a quick and simple process, but we understand that you may also need to update your site’s code for it to be compatible with newer versions of PHP.</em>


So I’m asking you that if you see something weird on this site on June 2/3, please me know what they are because I might not see them.

It’s LIKELY that it’ll all be fine. But being a pessimist, particularly when it comes to things largely out of my control…

BTW, PHP is “a popular general-purpose scripting language that is especially suited to web development. Fast, flexible and pragmatic, PHP powers everything from your blog to the most popular websites in the world.”

A flimsy surrogate; and yet…

faith and the Census

and yetWhen the singer/songwriter/actress Sara Bareilles was on some morning show recently, she was asked how she was faring in the era of COVID-19. She noted that while she was staying connected via ZOOM, et al., it wasn’t at all the same thing. Each substitute was a “flimsy surrogate” for the real thing.

This resonated with me greatly. I’ve discovered that there are actually MORE chances for hearing music, seeing productions, and interacting with performers. It’s actually a bit overwhelming, truth to tell. Broadway World alone has tons of video opportunities, more than I can avail myself of. Search YouTube for COVID music or coronavirus music and you’ll find a wealth of clever items. The OUTKAST parody Hey-Ya “Ro-Na is a current favorite.

But I miss hugging. I am told that I’m a very good hugger. How one measures that, I have no idea.

I miss going to the movies. Will there be movie theaters next year? Yeah, there are lots of films available on my TV, computer, and even phone. Nah, I’m NOT watching a movie on my phone.

Not the Lone Ranger

The problem with masks is that people don’t recognize me. I was at a Farmers Market and I said hello to one of my state legislators. They said, “Hello to you, whoever you are.” If I wanted to begin my life of crime, maybe now would be a good time.

And I don’t recognize others. At the one Black Lives Matter events my daughter allowed me to attend with her – it WAS Juneteenth – some nice young man brought us water. It wasn’t until he pulled down his mask that I recognized him as the son of great friends of mine; I’ve known him his whole life.

Ordering food is an adventure. Which one of the seven online websites should I order from? GrubHub or EatStreet or AllMenus or MealO or something else? There are places, fine sit-down restaurants where I’ve eaten, whose menus just don’t translate well to take-out. And yet: the sushi place I ordered from for my wife’s birthday was quite fine.

Having nothing to do with WGBH in Boston

The problem of ZOOM meetings there seems to be so many of them. And yet: the Olin family reunion – my mother-in-law’s people – wouldn’t have met at all without it. And they’ve gathered for over three-quarters of a century. While some of the regulars didn’t make it, others who had moved away were able to “attend.”

My choir meets every two or three weeks. On the one hand, we miss the singing. Getting details about the music we’re not performing is sad. And yet: one of the choir members suggested we share our joys and concerns. That’s something we’d do at the end of every rehearsal. The addition was profoundly meaningful.

I’ve had the chance to go to the Adult Education class, which I could rarely attend in the past because it conflicted with the choir. I’ve even gotten to facilitate it once, about my Martin Luther King references on the blog. And I’m doing another one on July 26 at 8:45 a.m. EDT about faith and the Census. (If you’re that much of a Census junkie, I’ll email/IM you the ZOOM link.)

My Tuesday morning Bible study group stopped meeting for the summer. And yet: the Thursday morning group, which I began attending, continues on. I’ve even led the discussion once and I’ll do it again next month.

The church service is actually on Facebook. We do communion with, as instructed, with whatever is available. That might mean Wheat Thins and shot glasses of Blueberry Peach Cobbler from our local cidery.

Advances in technology

The opportunity to go into my bank has been diminished. And yet: the ATM at my bank, which had dispensed only twenty-dollar bills since forever is now allowing customers to get tens and fives. So if I need $100, I could get 3 $20s, 2 $10s, and 4 $5s, or whatever combination I want.

I understand my former colleagues are now more productive working from home.

My wife is now enamored with Google Classroom, which she barely used five months ago.

There are some innovations, such as no-touch door openers.

So we continue to adapt.

FTC Disclaimer: I noted links to a couple of products/services positively, but I received no remuneration for doing so.

Embracing the technology, right?

Why did I NEED Venmo?

Every Virtual Meeting: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives 3.0 Unported License
When I was talking to a librarian friend of mine recently, it occurred to me that embracing the technology is often a cost/benefit analysis. So I’ve been pondering my adoption, re-adoption, or rejection of the same in the calendar year 2020.

Zoom/Skype/Google Hangouts: I had Skype over a decade ago. I didn’t use it much, didn’t like it. But since March 15, 2020, I must have used one of them at least four dozen times. BTW, EVERYTHING in the cartoon above I have witnessed.

Facebook: I have no idea how I receive the items I see first in my feed. Lately, I’ve found it necessary to delete people, almost always friends of friends. Actually, I like to keep people I know and disagree with so that I don’t get caught up with too much confirmation bias. I tend to retain the ones I know IRL. But stupid stuff, usually with misspelled graphics, not so much.

Twitter: I still don’t “get” Twitter. My blog posts go there daily, but that’s it.

Cellphone: I eschewed getting one at all for years. Then when I did, it was a dumb phone. I finally yielded and got a smartphone when I lost my flip phone a few years back. But because I often misplace it AND the battery drains too easily, it was often off. And I wasn’t going anywhere anyway.

Necessity is a real mother

That changed, not because of the COVID-19 but because of my father-in-law’s illness. My brothers-in-law and their wives were discussing issues via text. I wasn’t on the chain, because they didn’t have my number. I learned to have the phone on, and charged, regularly. My wife had a phone from the Pleistocene period, so she traded in her phone this calendar year. The kicker is that while I would receive the group texts, my wife would not. She could get individual texts, though. We don’t understand the issue.

Here’s a problem with being behind the curve. When getting instructions from the manual, or from other people, they operate on the assumption you’re just upgrading. The truth is more prosaic. I HAVE NO IDEA how to fix these things. Fortunately, I have a teenager. Still, I’m going to get ANOTHER phone for me, because the memory is so poor, and because I can seldom see images people text to me.

What’s App?: When I went to a conference in Indiana with kids from my church and others from the presbytery last summer, it was decided that we’d use What’s App. to communicate on the huge Purdue campus. On my phone, at least, it operated slowly, and occasionally not at all. So…

Why do I need this?

Venmo: When I needed to download the Venmo app, I had to dump What’s App and two others. And why did I NEED Venmo? Because the teachers at her school use it. They collected money back in March because they thought a couple of non-teaching staff were going to get laid off. As it turns out, they weren’t. Meanwhile, a couple of teachers are retiring at the end of the semester.

So we (I) had to get the money from Vera, who had collected the first $30 and then transfer it to Chuck, who was collecting for the retirement gift. This took about three hours, my phone is so wonky. Now why Vera couldn’t have sent the money to Chuck, keeping us out of it, I don’t know. Venmo is a sister company to PayPal, which I’ve had for years.

eBay: I’ve had it for years, but seldom use it. I wanted to get cards for our SORRY game. I could have bought a new game, but the rules in Fire and Ice are very different. i figured out my password and got new cards for $5 plus nearly as much for postage. But it’s good. We use them.

Instagram: Even my daughter couldn’t help me with this.

When your blog provider says upgrade

I got this message recently: “Debian and Ubuntu are operating systems that power a huge chunk of DreamHost. And, like any operating systems, they receive regular updates to fix bugs, improve stability, and add features. We will be upgrading your Virtual Private Server from version 14.04 (also known as trusty) to Debian 9.12 (aka Stretch!)”

OK! I have no idea what that means.

Date of upgrade: Tuesday, June 9th
Maintenance Window: 8:00pm-10:00pm Pacific Time
Expected downtime: 5 minutes
You may notice that your sites become unreachable for about 5 minutes while we perform the upgrade. Don’t worry – this is normal!

And I was working on the blog RIGHT AT THAT TIME, losing a bit of work. But it’s all good now.

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