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Sci Tech    H2'ed 1/19/09

On the Cusp of Change, and Going with What You've Got

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 We are on the cusp of a historic moment.  The baton will soon be passed; the end is in sight.  We survived the last eight years, barely.  We may be battered and bloody, but, starting tomorrow, we have another chance. During W’s tenure, I became a fan of books on tape -in self-defense.  I simply couldn’t bear to listen to all the bad news. Now, I’ll be able to walk by a radio without cringing.

In the spirit of fresh starts and new beginnings, I offer these personal vignettes, each with the  theme of going with what you’ve got.  


I almost flipped when I opened my bill last week.  The bundle of services -  internet, cable, and phone - usually runs around $166.  Since last month, my bill jumped by more than 25%, to well over $200.  After fuming for a few minutes, I picked up the phone. 

Calmly, I told Daniel that I absolutely refused to pay this increase.  He didn’t argue;  he started clicking away on his computer. Within a few minutes, he asked me how I’d like a rate of $121. I wanted to know how this was different from my current package.  Daniel assured me that it was not; it was exactly the same as what I have now. What’s the catch? I asked. This offer is good for only six months.  Then, you have to call back and ask for it again.

This is actually not the first time I’ve protested a price hike at Comcast. Last year, I brought a lower bid from RCN, Comcast’s only competitor.  The implied threat was enough to instantly ‘disappear’ my rate increase. That wasn’t even necessary this time around. According to Daniel, all customers who have built up a good track record by paying their bills on time are eligible for a renegotiation of fees. As a public service, I’m passing along this well-kept secret on how to keep your Comcast bills lean and mean.  Just don’t mention my name when you call.

Computer woes

Several weeks ago, my five year old eMac pretty much gave up the ghost. After consulting with someone on the Apple hotline, it became clear that heroic measures were not an option.  It was time for a new computer. I was unhappy;  I really didn’t want to shell out the money right now. I also realized that I had become emotionally involved with my elderly computer.  I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.  I guess that’s not so surprising, considering that  I spent more time with it than with friends and  family members combined.   It became an extension of my brain, my constant companion – sort of like a faithful pet, that I didn’t have to feed, walk, or clean up after. 

So, for several days, I found myself sans computer while Old Faithful was in the shop, sharing its files with  my new MacBook. I was like an addict going cold turkey. It was not a pretty picture.

For most of my life, I’ve taken a perverse pride in being extremely low-tech.  I don’t have a PDA, nor do I have plans to get one.  For years, I never took the time to figure out the cable remote control because I just didn’t care enough. I still don’t think that high-tech is always better.  Sometimes, less truly is more. (I feel compelled to add a caveat here. In the four years that I have been working for election integrity, I have discovered nothing to persuade me that there is a more transparent, accurate, or democratic method of running elections than with paper ballots, hand counted at the precinct level, on Election Night. But, that, obviously, is another subject.)

I was beside myself over the several days I spent without any computer. I felt so out of touch,  dis-abled.  Even my writing suffered.  Until quite recently, I did all my writing on yellow legal pads.  But, somewhere along the line, I apparently made the transition to composing and editing almost exclusively on my computer.  I was caught off guard, since I had been under the impression that I could still do my writing either way.  Silly me.

When I purchased my new computer, I paid an extra $100 for a year of fifty-minute, one-on-one tutorials at my local Apple store. I can get private instruction on virtually anything I want! Because this offer is so inexpensive, we customers can sign up no more than once a week. Even with this minor restriction, I foresee literally dozens of private lessons, making me far more efficient and effective in my work.

In a way, it’s tough, because I don’t know what I don’t know.  It's okay; I'll figure it out.  I can’t wait to discover what my computer can do.  While I learn, I'll be keeping those grey cells active and firing. As Rick said to Louis in the final scene of Casablanca, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

Coping with the winter doldrums

Here in the Windy City, the winter has been pretty brutal so far.  Last week, the daily highs were well below zero.  So far, I have successfully fought off the urge to hibernate until spring.  In past winters, Rafi and I have hunkered down in our king-size bed, surrounded by lots of soft pillows, a fluffy down comforter, and flannel sheets.  Over time,  those sheets have gotten progressively more ragged and worn.

After careful consideration, I decided to splurge and replace them with a deluxe set from LL Bean. Our anniversary earlier this month provided the perfect justification. During this economic downturn, I have gotten so out of the habit of spending, I had to first convince myself that we did, indeed, deserve this bit of luxury.

I’m here to report that the jury is in and it was definitely worth it.  The sheets arrived Thursday afternoon.  I tossed them in the wash as I was on my way out the door to the soup kitchen.  By bedtime, my bed had undergone a make-over.  It’s hard to describe what a difference this relatively small change made. The word  “mechiah” immediately springs to mind:  it’s Yiddish for refreshing, literally giving life. The difference between these sheets and the newly retired ones is the difference between a luxury car and an old clunker.  It was worth staying married for thirty-four years just to get to this point.  Now, I know that I can make it until spring.  And if you don’t find that empowering, you haven’t lived through a Chicago winter!

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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