Archive for February, 2007

Roger, the Tech Support Professional

I can’t log onto the college website, so I have enlisted the help of Roger the Tech Support Guy in a chat session.  I finish explaining the issue and he asks, “What is your social security number?” 

I can feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.  Why does this guy, who I can’t see or hear, need my social security number?  I don’t distrust Roger, but won’t my unique student ID number suffice?  What if my connection to their chat server is intercepted and someone snags my information and gets credit cards in my name?  What if they use my identity and get into some sort of trouble?  I mean, do I need everyone thinking that it was me that hijacked a bus full of nuns and drove it to Redondo Beach? 

There is a guy out there with the same name as my brother, and who was born on the same day, who is some sort of felon.  Every time my brother gets pulled over, he gets all kinds of uncomfortable questions from the police about the other guy’s criminal record. 

There are plenty of horror stories about people whose identities are stolen and who have to jump through hoops to get their good names and credit back.  There are more and more stories in the paper these days about companies and government organizations whose “confidential” files get hacked into and as a result, people’s personal information is not so personal any more. 

What’s truly mind-blowing is that some of these companies keep the fact that their customers’ information has been illegally accessed quiet until they are sure that the revelation won’t hurt their holiday sales numbers – I mean, until they can investigate the matter fully. 

These companies aren’t shy about asking for personal information, either.  The Megger was at a doctor’s office the other day, and they asked her for MY social security number.  For billing purposes, of course; so that if we don’t pay the bill they can track me down for her doctor bill.  They also asked for my work address and phone number.  Lovely. 

There was also a toy store a while back that would ask for a phone number at the checkout register, and a company I’ll call Radio Shed that would ask for everything up to a drop of blood to buy electronic equipment.  These companies tried to make it seem a very routine thing to be asking for personal information, and they relied on the fact that most people would rather just give out their information rather than “make waves” by saying no. 

Not me.  I always say no, if I can.  If I can’t buy an extension cord without giving up my mother’s maiden name, so be it.  There are other stores that will sell me extension cords.  Sometimes I will give a fake phone number, or one of my old phone numbers (this drives The Megger insane), but mostly I just say no.  Then, if I can, I avoid doing business with those companies in the future.  In my own, very small way, I am trying to teach them not to ask for that information. 

Which is why I’m confused about why I gave Roger the Tech Support Guy my social security number in a chat session on my college’s web site.  Maybe I wanted to be a young and carefree undergraduate again?  Maybe, as a fellow tech support person, I was trying to make Roger’s life a little easier?  Maybe I felt that, unlike the government and large corporations, the college website was hack-proof?  The most likely explanation is that I am an idiot. 

With my social security number, Roger was able to generate a username and password for the website.  He told me to wait a couple of hours before trying it, as it would take that long to be activated.  It’s been a week, and the username and password still don’t work.  I guess the website is more secure than I thought.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 16 Feb 2007 No Comments

A Long Friday

A few days ago, I was asking around for ideas about something to cook for dinner.  My friend, a culinary school graduate, recommended that I make some fried rice and ground turkey and that I season the ground turkey with something called Hoisin Sauce. 

I picked up some Hoisin Sauce at the grocery store, despite the fact that the list of ingredients clearly indicated the presence of fermented soybeans.  I suppressed my gag reflex and put the sauce into the basket – after all, it had been recommended by a culinary school graduate and I’ll try anything once.  Besides, I enjoy soy sauce. 

The culinary school graduate’s advice proved sound.  The Hoisin Sauce, despite looking like brown ick, worked out really well – it brought a lot to the table, you might say.  I had two big helpings of the fried rice for dinner that night.  The Megger even approved, and she is absolutely not the type of person to eat something like fermented soybeans (ok, to be fair, I didn’t tell her until afterwards what was in the sauce). 

It was a couple of hours after lunch (yes, the Hoisin dish) the next day when my hand started to feel itchy.  Then my arms started to feel itchy; then my feet.  By that night, I was waking up every 15 minutes to find myself scratching the latest burning spot.  No matter how much I scratched the burning just got worse; and soon I was covered in hives.  I know that scratching hives is never a good idea, but the sheer itchiness of these hives was far greater than my ability to ignore them. 

The next day, I figured that surely Benadryl would help.  It didn’t.  As I was driving home that Friday night, I was hoping that this allergy was would pass quickly, but that if the hives were still around by Sunday I would go to see the doctor.  I wasn’t allergic to anything else, after all, except for cats and guinea pigs, and even those allergies had faded with the years. 

The bright red brake lights of the car in front of me flashed suddenly into the night as the car swerved into the left-hand breakdown lane, narrowly avoiding the last car in a line of stopped traffic…a car that was now directly in front of me.  I hadn’t been speeding, but the two long lines of stopped traffic had appeared suddenly as I had come over a rise on Route 2 west.  It turns out that they were stopped because of a different accident up ahead.  I stomped on the brake pedal and the clutch, but with the left-hand breakdown lane now occupied there was no way for me to avoid the car in front of me.  It is a strange feeling to know that there is nothing to be done that can prevent the accident that is coming. 

I squeezed the steering wheel of my wife’s Honda (my car was in the shop that day, oddly enough) and gritted my teeth as I screeched into the bumper of the red Toyota in front of me.  The front of the Honda crumpled and the black hood, which had once been keyed by some jerk in South Boston, buckled into the air as my forward momentum came to a stop.  The Honda’s airbag never deployed, but thankfully I was wearing my seatbelt and as a result didn’t have to dislodge my teeth from the steering wheel. 

I sat in the car for a moment, thankful that I didn’t feel any impact from the car behind me, before getting out of the car to check if the person I had hit was ok.  The woman was already out of her car and assured me right away that she was fine.  In fact, her car didn’t even look like there had been much, if any, damage to it.  The car that had swerved around her was already gone. 

We were asking each other if we were ok for probably the third time when there was a crash, probably 40 yards behind me.  As I turned around to look there was another crash.  I couldn’t even focus on the sound when there was another crash and a smashed up white car came careening up the left-hand breakdown lane, headed right for me. 

If you had never seen a fat man leap a guardrail, that was your opportunity.  I’m not going to claim that my double axel was very graceful, but it got me safely out of the way.  The car wouldn’t have hit me, in hindsight, but there was no way for me to know that at the time. 

Once everything seemed safe, I crawled back over the guardrail and realized that my cell phone was sitting safely on the kitchen counter.  I hesitantly approached the woman I had hit and asked her if I might, please, just use her cell phone for a minute to call my wife. She didn’t even blink; just said sure.  It’s pretty amazing how nice people are sometimes. 

All told, I counted 9 cars involved in separate accidents around mine, including one lady who knew that her SUV had been hit, but had no idea who had hit it.  Luckily, thanks to seatbelts all round, no one was hurt.  The firefighters and police officers – who had already been called to a number of accidents that night – kept shaking their heads and saying, “One of those nights.” 

As I stood out on the side of the road, breathing in the crisp, cool air while watching the police car’s lights flash against the night sky and listening to the sound of metal being dragged across the pavement by tow trucks, it occurred to me that I had totally forgotten about the hives.  Fear had apparently driven them into hiding…but they would be back.  I was sure of it.  Fermented soy beans don’t give up that easily.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 02 Feb 2007 No Comments