THE CHANGING SEASONS

The snow is falling again as I write these words.  Another reason for living in the Colorado Rockies.  In fact, the two seasons are slugging it out, as the golden aspens (at peak only a week ago) are clearly reluctant to surrender the field to the forces of winter, but they have no choice in the matter given that each season is as inexorable as incoming and receding tides.

We’ve been waiting almost half a year for this moment: when once again it is safe to build a fire in our moss rock fireplace.  If the truth must be told, when we moved back to Colorado in 1996, the real estate agent had been given a list of 30 priorities (what we valued most in our new home).  At the top were: It should feature serenity, a view we’d never tire of, lots of snow, and a wood-burning fireplace.  Today we get to revel in all four.

OUR BLOG WORLD

Our daughter Michelle and agent, Greg Johnson, joined forces two years ago to drag, kicking and screaming all the way, this dinosaur of the ink and paper age, into the new digital age.  “You must blog!  Thus was born the weekly blog, Wednesdays with Dr. Joe,” which has continued unbroken even during that hellish period when an unscrupulous predator hacked into our world and shut us down.  We have no idea how many readers we lost during that traumatic period.

What I have discovered is that blogging is such a new construct that there are few entrenched norms—unlike tweets where a Procrustean Bed of 140 spaces preclude deviation length-wise.  As you have discovered, I joined the ranks of those who prefer the longer format.  It’s really much like the weekly column I wrote once, “Professor Creakygate,” for the students attending Southwestern Adventist University.  Once you establish a rhythm, it’s just a matter of not breaking it.

Given my penchant for longer blog series (the Northwest National Parks, the Southern Caribbean, the Zane Grey convention in Virginia, the Trembling World, and the upcoming series on the Southwest National Parks), I have discovered that long series where I dwell on a subject for months at a time can put my voice into a straitjacket which precludes me from speaking out on hot current issues.  Because of this, I hereby announce that this time, expect periodic breaks; but rest assured, always I will afterwards resume the series topic.

OUR TWEET WORLD

I held back as long as I possibly could—until my agent held my feet to the fire long enough to risk ignition—on adding the tweet dimension to our lives.  On October 1, I started daily tweets, concentrating on quotations chosen from a half century of collecting (hundreds of thousands).  Not just quotations, but quotations that help make sense of this thing called “life.”  Speaking just for myself, this hectic life we live virtually guarantees that we will break down unless we turn to a Higher Power than ourselves and also seek wisdom from others who have learned much from the batterings of the years.  These hard-earned nuggets of thought and insights end up providing us with just enough strength and courage to face each day.  Changes of pace too, for without changes of pace (such as humor) in our thought-processes, we become warped or petrified.

During my 34 years in the classroom, one aspect was a constant: a thought written with chalk on the blackboard each day.  My students looked forward to something new that greeted them each time they came in the door.  Also, I have since discovered that many of them copied those quotes into their notebooks and have lived with them ever since.

I’m an avid collector of quotation compendiums.  Some few I find worth the price; many, if not most, are not (merely quotations flung onto paper, without regard to their relative power or effectiveness).  I don’t know about you, but what I hunger for most are quotes that make me think, that make me re-evaluate my own habits and inter-relationships, that end up making me a different and better person than I was before.

I also realize that we are each fighting off electronic strangulation; so much so that we try something new with great reluctance.  It is my earnest desire that you will find these tweets worth the time it takes to check them out each day.

MY PERSONA

For years now, my agent has been trying to hammer into my thick head this message:

Our old world (paper and ink-driven) is changing by the nanosecond.  While books are likely to always be with us, they will never reign supreme as they have during the last six centuries.  Like it or not, electronic books will continue to expand their reach.  What this means is that the old templates will no longer work like they once did.  Your persona is no longer captureable just in traditional print.  But rather, you owe it to your “tribe” [people who are kind enough to listen to what you write and what you say] to speak out about life and values multidimensionally: through paper and ink books [75 so far], through public speaking, through media appearances on radio and TV and book-signings, through your blogs, through your tweets, and through all the plethora of new communication technologies.  Only by keeping up with all this as best you can, can your unique voice (your persona) have any chance of remaining alive during coming months and years.

And since I do wish to stay in contact with all of you, I am committed to continuing to create books (traditional and electronic), blogs, and tweets.  Do let me know if all I’ve articulated in this blog makes any kind of sense to you.

* * *

Next week, we will transition through the abstraction of travel toward the Southwest parks and lodges.

* * *

A TREMBLING WORLD – Part 4

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

A TREMBLING WORLD – Part 4

It is a very sobering picture, isn’t it (the last three blogs)?  It is indeed.  Yet, even so, I promised last week that we’d now turn to the up-side, affirmation, hope, solutions.

It is time.

A DIFFERENT WORLD

You will remember that, several times in recent months I have referred to my earlier prediction that, historically speaking, the other side of the zeros (100-year-turn, 500-year-turn, 1000-year-turn) invariably turns out to be radically different from all that came before—and that this one, being all three (100, 500, and 1000) would inevitably prove to be the most seismic since the years 1500 and 1000.  We are only now beginning to realize that the ebbtide of the old order is taking place before our very eyes.  What we don’t know yet is what kind of incoming tide will replace the receding one.  We can only guess.

What we can predict with a high degree of accuracy is that the pace of life and change will continue to increase in speed as the world continues to constrict into nanotechnology.  So when did all this begin to accelerate?  Only three-hundred years ago: when the zeros of 1800 replaced the zeros of the 1700’s.  Up until that crucial watershed (turning point), for millennia, the pace of life had remained relatively unchanged: the fastest land-speed being a galloping horse and the fastest sea-speed being a sailing-ship.  Because neither of these optimum speeds could be long sustained (obstacles on land and becalming on water), there was no need for clocks; sundials worked well enough, until the industrial revolution of the 1800’s when steam-power replaced sail-power.  Only when ever faster locomotives made it imperative that we divide the nation into time zones, did accurate time become relevant, for before the invention of mechanical engines, no one could possibly know for sure when either a land-vehicle or a sea-vessel would arrive at a given destination.

Every year since 1800, the pace of life has continued to accelerate.  Sometimes at such a rate that the juxtaposition of two opposites proved to be ridiculous (such as during World War I, fought with both cavalry horses and armored tanks; fought with both drifting balloons and power-driven airplanes).

Nostalgically, my thoughts drift back in time a half-century to a musical play my high school students put on during the mid 1960s.  Our theme song was “Far Away Places,” and the play began and ended with a dreaming teenager in her home bedroom, and the lyrics had to do with “those far away places with strange-sounding names.”  The music that followed came from all over the world.  Places that seemed strangely exotic to us back before jet travel replaced prop-engine travel. The world seemed so vast to us back then!

I remember when I first heard the phrase: “The world is a vast web, and you can’t touch any part of it without it affecting the lives of everyone else.”  That seemed so far-fetched back then, really too much of a stretch to take seriously.  So what if rainforests in far away Brazil or Papua New Guinea were being cut down at an ever-increasing rate?  It surely couldn’t affect me!  Far-fetched then because I’d never been to either place, and with the pace of travel back then, it seemed unlikely I ever would.  But that’s not true today when I can doze off in one continent and wake up next morning in another, thousands of miles away.  When astronauts can return to earth after having actually walked on the moon!

But the flip-side of speed is nanotechnology: being able to reduce all life and technology to such infinitesimal proportions that the naked eye cannot see it at all.  And thanks to this new  technology, sports victories can now be accurately calibrated down to a hundredth of a second—even a thousandth!

Not surprisingly, national boundaries are increasingly viewed as both indefensible and outdated, and dictatorships are toppling like rows of dominos thanks to the worldwide web of the Internet.  Not even the strongest walls in the world can keep the Pentagon’s innermost secrets from being hacked.  Corporations can set up shop in the loosy-goosiest countries (regulation-wise) on the planet; and jobs can be out-sourced to wherever in the world the hourly pay is the cheapest.  No longer does someone in the most powerful country in the world have the edge over someone in the poorest country, given that access to a computer so levels the playing field that Thomas Friedman can justifiably announce that “The World is Flat.”

* * * * *

So now comes this global slowdown that dramatically changes every aspect of life for every person on this planet—not just ours here in the U.S.  Everything was working so well—as late as only three years ago.  Then Bam!  Bam!  Bam! —one after another, the bludgeon blows continue, with no apparent end in sight.  No one appears to have the answers.  In the words of that timeless baseball skit: “Nobody’s on first.”  Nobody.  Not here in the U.S.  Not anywhere else in the world either.  All even the most powerful leaders in the world know is this: the old order, the old template that enabled all the markets in the world to peacefully coexist and churn out prosperity for the majority of the world’s industrial powers, is broken, and there isn’t a mechanic in the world who knows how to fix it.

That’s just it: it is unfixable.  The answer nobody wants to hear is this: A new template, evolved from scratch, must be created from our new realities.  It is anything but a quick fix, and it is almost certain to take a long time to develop.  And we have to face the likelihood that when we do finally get it up and running again, so that the world’s markets once again purr their satisfaction, even that template will be foredoomed to a short shelf life, because change in future years will be near continuous.

The good news is that these are exciting times in which to live.  We have been long overdue for a course-correction; unfortunately, we waited so long that this one is likely to be the mother of all lulus.

Next Wednesday, we’ll discuss silver-linings.

HACKED!

Up until last Thursday, Identity Theft and being hacked were merely abstractions to Connie and me — something that happened to other people who weren’t ultra careful like we are. Not any more — for now it has happened to us! The days since then have been nightmarish, to put it mildly. But perhaps, by sharing the experience with you, we may help save you from our fate.

First of all, we are no longer as trusting of safeguards we mistakenly assumed Internet providers had put in place. But before I deal with safeguards, permit me to stop a minute and describe for you what it’s like to be hacked:

The first clue was when Connie checked in first thing Thursday morning, and lo, the entire Address Book of untold hundreds of our e-mail addresses, names, phone numbers, etc., were all missing!

In very short order, here came a non-stop barrage of phone calls (not only from all over North America but also Europe and Africa) from people asking if we were OK. Initially, there were also e-mails, but those mysteriously stopped. The big question: “Are you home? Or are you really stuck in Madrid, Spain (having been mugged), needing $5,000 to be wired to a certain number/address immediately so that you can make it home?” By later in the day, it became increasingly apparent that someone (most likely in Nigeria, China, or Romania, the apparent centers for Identity Theft today; however one in every ten victims actually knows the perpretator, according to Lifelock) had taken control of our e-mail world: writing personal letters to responders to the bogus plea for funds — in Connie’s name, or mine! –, reaffirming our immediate need for money. We’ll most likely never know how much other personal and business mail they misdirected to themselves.

In desperation, Connie began the laborious process of recreating the e-mail address book, one at a time, until she’d found about a hundred. Then weary of it all, we went to bed. Next morning, she discovered that the unseen thief had stolen those too! And deleted our address book again. That’s when we realized the full extent of the hacking. So Connie got on the phone with a representative of our provider (in far-off Manila) and began to work through the mess to a solution. In the middle of which, incoming e-mails mysteriously vanished from the screen in front of her. Talk about staring at a robber face to face!

So what do you do when you’ve been raped of your security and sense of being certain of your own ship? Lots! You race to your bank and credit card providers. You immediately change the passwords to all accounts (more on that later). You soon realize these are but lead dominoes for with a hostile force now owning the names of all those family, friends, business associates, clients, etc., that you interact with, where do you go next? You can’t alert them to the truth, urging them to beward of these semi-demands for funds because all these addresses have been stolen from you! You don’t have their e-mail addresses anymore.

Your next realization is that you need to immediately secure at least one more Internet provider, for the one you thought you had is now snake-bit. That means that more dominoes will fall as you’re forced to order new stationery, business cards, etc. And it goes on and on from there into no one knows where.

Eventually, we changed our password on our e-mail account and mail began to appear again; but two days of our lives had been commandeered by a hostile force determined to destroy us.

Belatedly, we signed up for Identity Theft protection. Really, there is no such thing, but having such a program in place enables you to make pre-emptive strikes when someone somewhere begins pretending to be you, setting up accounts in your name and charging things to them; even buying automobiles, etc., in your name — then, not paying them, leaving your credit rating in shambles.

During the two-hour dialogue with that protective organization, we learned much about this soft underbelly of the “brave new world” of cyberspace. We also learned a lot from our banks and friends and relatives who had given us after-the-fact counsel. Here are some of the things we’ve learned:

  • No Internet provider is immune from being hacked, no matter how large — even our national government routinely gets hacked. Nothing is safe anymore to these monsters who are seeking to destroy rather than create on their own.
  • Passwords are your key protection (your firewall). They need to be at least twelve digits long, interweaving totally unrelated letters, numbers, and symbols on your keyboard; no full words, no sequential anything — and, after logging in, placing your password in a safe place. And they recommend changing those passwords every six months.
  • Odds are staggeringly against us! If a bank is broken into, there is a 95% conviction rate. If you are hacked or your identity is stolen, at best there may be a 1% conviction rate.
  • Destroy – don’t put in trash – all records containing your name, address, phone numbers, e-mails, etc., for thieves daily pick through our garbage in order to begin structuring a new identity for themselves and their crimes.
  • Ditto, your used prescription medicine containers. Medicare is being defrauded by billions of thieves latching onto such individual prescription records.
  • Don’t let credit cards out of your sight if you can possibly avoid it, for unscrupulous employees often surreptitiously make copies of them while your credit card is in their possession.
  • Especially, guard with your life Debit Cards, for they can be used to clean out entire bank accounts!
  • Online banking is dangerous. Institute safeguards.
  • Be extremely careful about how much personal information you place on Facebook. It too is monitored by those who seek to do you harm.
  • When blogging or commenting on social media, do not tell people in advance where you will be on certain dates, as thieves may clean out your house while you are away! This goes for web sites too.
  • Unscrupulous people may secretly make copies from cards in your hand ar checkouts or even from your wallets or purses!
  • Every time we use a credit card, we open ourselves to the danger of losing our identities.
  • Especially does your Social Security number need to be protected. Ditto medical policy cards.
  • You should take steps to stop in their tracks all pre-approved credit card offers (in the mail).
  • Destroy all bank statements you don’t keep for IRS Purposes.
  • Never give our personal information to anyone by phone unless you are certain the caller is legitimately who s/he claimes to be.
  • You need to place 12-digit passwords on everything.
  • When hacked, immediately cancel old credit cards and secure new ones.
  • Avoid using your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your Social Security number or a series of consecutive numbers.
  • Either monitor yourself or have an Identity Protection agency monitor for you one of the following three consumer reporting companies:
    • Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
    • Experian: 1-888-397-3742
    • TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
  • After being hacked, put a tickler on your calendar 90 days out, for Identity Thieves often wait 91 days before moving in on you, lulling you into thinking all is well.
  • It is imperative that you continually monitor your financial accounts (daily, if possible), watching out for questionable charges. Reason being that thieves usually begin with small charges to your account — to see if it works — then, if those aren’t flagged, they move on to ever larger purchases. And the longer it takes you to catch these things the more difficulty you’ll have in getting banks or credit card companies to swallow the results. If you report loss or theft within two business days of your discovery, your liability is limited to $50. Then it immediately goes up to $500. After 60 days, the loss is all yours. When you report a theft to an institution, always follow it up with a certified-return request letter.

Hopefully, you will personally escape being hacked, by instituting safeguards suggested earlier in this blog.

If you received one of those infamous bogus requests for funds in our names, you have our abject apology!

Blessings!

Do let me know your thoughts, reactions, and responses to this blog.