OUR TELEPHONE

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INTRODUCTION

I could probably write a book about our telephone experiences. This has six chapters, so it could possibly pass for a book.

When we first arrived in Austria, telephones were easier to get than twenty years later. The USA and Great Britain had rebuilt infrastructures important to their occupational forces. The telephone system was especially important, but when the occupation ended in 1955, there was little demand for telephones. Austria was still recovering from the effects of World War II and money was in short supply. When we arrived in 1964, few citizens of Vienna could afford a refrigerator and a used moped was considered a luxury. We received missionary support of $212 per month, which was what I had earned weekly as a carpenter. Still, our income was well above that of the average Austrian worker.

I won’t bore my readers with trivial matters, but one incident is especially worth mentioning.

One day in 1976, Verna answered the phone and a woman asked how she should go about making arrangements for an abortion. Verna was shocked but kept her composure and asked her to reconsider. The woman realized that she had dialed the wrong number (our telephone number was one digit different from that of an abortion clinic!)and apologized. She was about to hang up, but Verna assured her that she had NOT dialed the wrong number. God had caused her to call us. Thoroughly confused, she listened as Verna told her of God’s love for her and the baby, encouraging her to seek help from a counseling service. In tears, she promised to do this and hung up.

CHAPTER ONE

Our July, 1984 "Alpine Echo" newsletter celebrated twenty years of missionary work in Austria. The letter reported on preparations for the opening of the Austrian Bible Institute and requested prayer for Richard, who was seeking the Lord's leading regarding the choice of a college. That was a long time ago, so even if you read it back then, you may not remember much of what we wrote. We also included the following article entitled, "We Have a Telephone!" that many enjoyed reading.

WE HAVE A TELEPHONE!

Austria is a modern industrialized nation with a number of conveniences that not even Americans enjoy. Upon our arrival in Austria twenty years ago, we were impressed with the sturdy galvanized trash cans which are emptied into modern compacting trash trucks by means of hydraulic mechanisms. A rubber-cushioned base on the can assures a relatively noiseless operation.

Austria has excellent roads and European cars are well-built, but if a motorist does have a breakdown, there is little need to fret. There are emergency telephones every two kilometers along the expressways and arrows on the guardrails guide the stranded motorist to the nearest phone. A light on the emergency phone makes it easy to locate at night. In event of an accident or dangerous road conditions, the light flashes to warn motorists.

Since the early seventies, most car radios include a cassette player with built-in "Traffic Info" reception. When a station is tuned in that gives traffic reports, a yellow indicator light comes on. If the driver is listening to a cassette tape, but desires to hear traffic reports, he merely presses the appropriate button on the radio. If there is a report, the cassette is interrupted automatically. You can even hear traffic reports without listening to the radio or tape player. One simply turns the radio on and the volume down. If there is a traffic report, the volume is automatically turned up for the duration of the report.

Austrians can purchase television sets with a "Tele-Text" feature. Using a remote control module, the viewer can leaf through many pages of a magazine, which gives the latest news, sports, stock market reports, airline schedules and a host of other information.

Having shared this, one might ask, "So, what is so special about having a telephone?" Our reply: "We live in Ampflwang."

The name of our town may be difficult to pronounce (do you know of another word that has five consonants in a row?), but the telephone numbers are easy to remember. They only have three digits. Our number is 295. Actually, the telephone belongs to the church. It took seven years to get this phone, and none of the church members has been able to get one yet. If they want to call someone, they come to Ralph's office. People wanting to reach a church member call us and we hop on a bike to deliver the message. It is also the only phone for the GMU Print Shop and Austrian Bible Institute. Just imagine trying to prepare a sermon in an office with this phone! Presently there are two missionary families, six summer workers, forty campers and as many church members, who use our telephone. Eighty university students attended our first week of camp, and there was always a line-up, waiting for the phone!

We usually make overseas calls late at night due to the time difference, but there is no reduced rate for these calls. Until recently, this was a laborious process. We had to first dial the operator and listen to a recording for five to fifteen minutes. After the operator answered, we gave her the number we were calling and our own number. We would then be requested to spell out the name of the callee and city. In order to do this, one needs to learn the code name for each letter of the alphabet. If we were calling our mission headquarters, for example, it would go like this:
"Gustaf-Otto-Siegfried-Paula-Emil-Ludwig-Martha-Ida-Siegfried-Siegfried-Ida-Otto-Norbert-Anton-Richard-Ypsilon-Ulrich-Norbert-Ida-Otto-Norbert" (for Gospel Missionary Union, and so on for Kansas City, Missouri)

After this, the operator would instruct us to hang up the phone. When the call went through, she would call us back. This could take from one half hour up to two hours, depending upon how soon we drifted off to sleep.

Recently, after several unsuccessful attempts to make an international call, the operator asked why I did not dial direct. I explained that Ampflwang was not hooked into the direct dialing system. The operator then informed me that this had been changed several months earlier. In the meantime, we had wasted countless hours attempting to call through the operator! I asked her why we had not been informed about this change. Her answer was again typically Austrian: "You didn't ask."

A RECENT EXPERIENCE

It is past midnight and the phone rings. Sleepy-eyed, and exhausted from a long, hard day, I climb out of bed and grope my way to the office (no such thing as an extension in the bedroom; these cost too much!). A woman on the other end asks to speak with our co-worker, Mark.

Ralph: Mark is in his home sleeping. It is after midnight here. Could I take a message?
Caller: What is his number? I will call him directly.
Ralph: I'm sorry, but the Bryans don't have a telephone.
Caller: Why not?
Ralph: They can't get a phone - it's kind of complicated to explain. If you would call back at six in the morning - that would be noon here; I will ask that Mark be here to receive the call.
Caller: If at all possible, I would like to speak to Mark now.
Ralph: Well, if it is urgent, I can go wake him up. It would take at least 15 minutes. Would you like to call back?
Caller: This is Joyce's mother; may I speak with Joyce (Joyce is a summer worker)?
Ralph: I'm sorry, but Joyce is staying with Bryans.
Caller: Could you take a message for Mr. Bryan?
Ralph: Certainly, I would be happy to oblige.
Caller: I am concerned about Joyce. Could you ask him if she arrived safely?
Ralph: I can assure you that Joyce has arrived safely and is just fine. She is a very hard worker and we are very grateful for her help.
Caller: But I haven't heard from her yet.
Ralph: I'm certain that she has written, but it takes up to two weeks for mail to get to America.
Caller: I wish she had called! Thank you so much!
Ralph: Thank you for your concern. I'll tell Joyce and Mark that you called. Goodbye!

Progress is catching up with Ampflwang. Additional telephone cables have been laid and a new exchange is under construction. One more digit will soon be added to our number: 2295 instead of 295. Our new number is already listed in the new phone book. Some who try to call us get another party. His number is 229 and he is not at all happy about those midnight calls from people who only speak English! Soon there may be telephones for everyone! It is only a matter of days now - at least that is what they have been telling us for the past four months! After years of waiting, I suppose they are right.

CHAPTER TWO

It was three months since I wrote that leaflet entitled, "We Have a Telephone!" There was still no telephone available for the school and the telephone company couldn’t even say when it might be available. The official opening was slated for October 4th and it was important that the school have its own phone. We certainly didn’t relish the thought of running back and forth with telephone messages, or of having teachers, students and guests lined up at our door to use the church phone. It was bad enough during the camp season.

This was September, 1984, the year made famous by George Orwell’s famous novel, Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Four. Orwell was dead and the “telescreen” that Orwell prophesied, had not yet been invented. But Apple Computer introduced its new Macintosh in that year, certainly a technological accomplishment!

A local Austrian businessman heard of our plight and asked, “Don’t you know someone higher up that can help you?” He was speaking of a person of influence. Austrians have this saying, “It’s not what you know, but who you know that gets results.”

His remark struck a chord with me. We had been praying to the One who is "highest up" all along, and God was certainly influential enough to help! As I prayed, I began to wonder if there was a way "to put feet to those prayers." I considered how an Austrian would attempt to solve this problem. Paying a bribe was out of the question and we didn’t have any human friends “higher up” who might be able to use their influence in our behalf. But I realized that there just might be another “Austrian way” to get a phone.

The next day, I drove to the building which housed the telephone exchange and asked a worker for the name of the man who was responsible for installing telephones. He gave me the information, but added that the phone could not be installed unless we have been issued a number. I asked who was in charge of giving out numbers. After a slight hesitation, the worker gave me this information as well.

Armed with the names and telephone numbers of these two individuals, I proceeded with my plan. First I called Franz Schmidt (all names are changed to protect the innocent!), who was in charge of giving out numbers.

Ralph: Hello, Harvey speaking! I believe you know Hans Huber, who is in charge of installing telephones.
Franz: Oh yes, I certainly do! What's your problem?
Ralph: Well he can't install my phone until I have a number. Could you be so kind and give me a number?
Franz figured that I was obviously a personal friend of Hans. It would be important for Franz to give me a number. That would oblige Hans to return the favor for one of his friends!
Franz: Well now, let me see if I can find a good number for you. How does the number 2010 sound?
Ralph: That sounds just great! I'll call Hans right away so that he can install my phone. Thanks a million!

I then called Hans Huber.

Ralph: Hello, Harvey speaking! I believe you know Franz Schmidt; he just gave me a telephone number; the number is 2010. How soon do you think you could get around to installing our phone?
Hans: I believe I can work it in tomorrow, would that fit into your schedule?
Ralph: That would be just fine; thank you very much!

January, 1985
We received a letter from the telephone company. “We are happy to inform you that the telephone you requested may be installed within the next few weeks.” I picked up the phone and called the telephone company to tell them that they could cross our name off their list. “We already had a phone!”

In early 1985, many new phones were installed in Ampflwang. When we moved from the church parsonage to a rented house in 1986, it only took two months to get our phone. I even purchased a fax machine to expedite the job of GMU Field Director and Business Manager of the Bible Institute. It looked like we had written the last chapter of our telephone miseries. Not so!!

CHAPTER THREE

OCTOBER, 1992

The Austrian Bible Institute purchased property in Lower Austria, but I was Field Director for our mission and could not move with the school that we had founded and worked with for seven years. The church in Ampflwang was now indigenous and had called a pastor, so we were not needed there. We still had the print shop, but with the emergence of computers, laser printers and Corel Draw, the need for this ministry had diminished considerably. We knew that it was time to move again, but when and where?

It seemed that we would not be moving before spring, so we ordered coal for the winter. It turned cold early and we were practically living in our winter coats. It normally took a week for delivery, but we had been calling the coal distributor daily, asking when our coal would be delivered. It was long overdue and he kept promising, “tomorrow.” Tomorrow never came.

Then, the owner of the house we were renting gave us the clincher. He informed us that he planned to remodel the house and we would have to find another place to live. Now, we knew why the coal had not come!

Before I get to the telephone story, I need to give some background information on moving in Europe. It is nothing like moving in North America, where people change addresses every few years. Nearly all Austrians own their own homes and many who don’t, live in company-owned apartments or subsidized government housing that is not available to foreigners. There are few newspaper ads offering houses or apartments for rent, but there are many ads from people looking for a place to live. This keeps rent high and renters humble. People who rent, must accept whatever is available. Price, location, size and condition are seldom criteria of choice!

Rented apartments or homes come unfurnished. "Unfurnished" means no furniture, light fixtures, floor coverings or curtain rods. There are no built-in closets. Kitchens have no cabinets - not even a kitchen sink! In most cases, the bathrooms have fixtures, but you can’t count on it. Often, there is not even a hot-water heater or source of heat. We had basic furnishings, curtains, light fixtures and kitchen cabinets, but could we make them fit in another house or apartment?

Rented homes seldom come with a telephone!

We had felt for some time, that the area of Frankenmarkt-Vöcklamarkt would be a good target area for church planting. Our co-workers, the Guenthers, looked unsuccessfully for housing in this region for 8 months and our son, Richard, searched for an apartment in this area for over a year. We began to look for housing, and immediately found a house to rent. It was located exactly between Frankenmarkt and Vöcklamarkt!

We responded to the ad immediately. It had a garage and yard, was inexpensive and when we looked at the house, there was even a telephone installed! We said immediately that we would like to rent it, but the owner informed us that more than 50 others had responded to the ad. He would decide who gets the house later in the week. Because he was Roman Catholic and knew that we were protestant missionaries, we didn’t see much chance of being selected.

When Friday came, we received a telephone call from the house owner. He was giving us first choice! This had to be the Lord’s working! I called the coal distributor and asked that the coal be delivered to our new address.

After we were settled in our new home, we became quite friendly with the landlord. He was a bachelor and lived with his parents. On one occasion, I asked why he had selected us from the long list of people who wanted to rent his house. He said, “When you entered the house, you took off your shoes.” After a brief pause, he added, “My father said he liked you and insisted that I give you the house.” I had admired the lovely hand carved wooden ceilings in his home and asked if a local cabinet maker had done the work. The landlord’s father proudly stated that he had carved and installed the ceilings himself.

Soon after that, we invited the landlord’s parents over for coffee and cake. I jestingly asked if he was going to make a hand-carved wood ceiling for his son’s house. The father thought for a minute and replied, “That would make a great Christmas present!” He actually did make a fantastic hand-carved ceiling for the living room, and because he knew we were “religious people,” he carved an appropriate slogan into two of the boards! Translated, it read, “God is Lord, even in these times!” We lived in that house for ten years and when we decided to return to America for retirement, the landlord sold it. The hand-carved ceiling was just for our enjoyment!

When we started looking for a house, our son Richard was still living with us. He had returned to Austria as a missionary and as I already mentioned, he had been unsuccessful in finding an apartment. At the same time we found a house, the Lord led him to a nice, furnished apartment in nearby St. Georgen.

The owner of the apartment also had scores of applicants but gave Richard the keys. I asked why he had decided to rent to a single young man and he gave us three reasons: 1) “When you folks entered, you took off your shoes.” 2) “When I mentioned the caution fee, you said that this was reasonable because the furnishings were worth much more.” 3) “When you gave me your present address, I realized that you lived in the same house I lived in as a child!” If we had moved a few days earlier, we would have given him a different address!

I must get back to the subject of telephones. When we looked at the house in Frankenmarkt, a telephone was installed, but we were in for an unpleasant surprise. The previous occupant of the house moved to an apartment in the same town and kept the telephone number. We applied immediately for another telephone number, but were told that no numbers were available. I inquired at the company office and a representative assured me that this was so. We would have to wait until someone moved, but there were many ahead of us on the waiting list!

In 1992, Austria probably had the highest telephone rates in the world and the government-owned telephone company even charged for local calls. Worse yet, charges began to accumulate as soon as the telephone on the other end started to ring, so you were charged even when the call didn’t go through.

This government-owned monopoly also includes the postal and public transportation systems! Railroads and busses run chronic deficits, but the telephone system makes enough profit to cover these. Still, a person can wait months or even years for a phone! In our 28 years of missionary work, we spent a total of seven years on waiting lists for a telephone! I once asked a postal employee why it was so difficult to get a phone. His reply was typically Austrian: "If we gave everyone a telephone now, we would be without a job next year!"

In November, 1992, I wrote the following words in frustration.
“Verna's maiden name was Morse. She is supposed to be a direct descendent of Samuel F. B. Morse, who invented the telegraph in 1837. Over a century and a half later, we can't get a telephone! We are not missionaries in a third-world culture. We don't even live in a remote, uncivilized part of Austria! We live in a modern, industrial region located on National Highway Nr. 1. The main railroad line connecting Salzburg with Vienna can be seen from our window. In fact, there is a factory located in Frankenmarkt, which manufactures receptacles, plugs and cables for all Austrian telephones. Yet we can't get a telephone in Frankenmarkt!

Frankenmarkt can trace its history back a thousand years. In 1225, the Holy Roman Emperor believed that Frankenmarkt was such an important town, that he granted the special status of "Market Town"! Unfortunately, the citizens of Frankenmarkt no longer have enough influence among people "higher up" in the government to get telephones.

But we have personal access to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! We can pray!”

In our November, 1992 Alpine Echo newsletter, we requested prayer for a telephone. Soon afterwards, I wrote another letter to the telephone company. This time, I included a copy of our mission's special centennial edition of the "Gospel Message". It was in the form of a calendar, with pictures depicting the work of GMU worldwide for each month. In the inside back cover was a listing of GMU missionaries, where I was listed as Field Director. I circled this in red and mentioned that I was also responsible for missionaries in Eastern Europe.

In my letter, I explained our dilemma in detail, adding that GMU co-workers in Eastern Europe had little problem getting a phone. People used to have to wait years to purchase a Moskovitch or Trabant car even though they cost several years' salary. Now can get new cars and telephones promptly. How was it possible that Austrians still have to wait years for a telephone? In conclusion, I asked why the telephone company spent so much money to advertise phones (there was an illuminated showcase in the local Post Office, encouraging people to order a telephone) if they can’t provide them! Finally, I suggested that this miserable situation would make interesting reading in a newspaper or magazine article.

Within days, I received a short but sweet reply. The letter read, "You will be happy to know that we are installing your telephone on Friday of this week!" On Friday morning, December 4th, 1992, we got our telephone! Thanks to the prayers of the Lord's people, we only had to wait 67 days! The man who installed the phone said that we had gotten an "emergency number", reserved for very special cases!

CHAPTER FOUR

When our telephone was installed in Frankenmarkt, we asked the technician for an extension in the living room so we could both speak to our children when they called. He said that this was not allowed. I asked why and he said, “It would violate the Austrian confidentiality law.” People are entitled to privacy and even a spouse needs to be guaranteed privacy rights. I protested, “But can’t we listen to each other in our own home if we want to?” “Sure,” came the reply, “but not over the phone.” I argued, “We know of people in Austria whose phones are hooked up that way.” He nodded in agreement and added, “Either they broke the law and did it themselves or they purchased a telephone system.” I asked, “What is a telephone system?” He explained that for an extra $280 we could purchase a little box which connects the phones legally. Of course there was also a monthly charge of several dollars for this service. I looked at him in disbelief and asked, “Are you saying that for only $280 down and low monthly payments, we can break the privacy laws legally?” He shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Hey, I don’t make the rules; I just install phones.”

After Austria joined the European Union on January 1, 1996, the Austrian Telephone Company began to come under pressure to conform to EU standards. The EU had been fighting the telephone monopolies of several member states, and Austrian rates were highest in all Europe, four times higher than those of its southern neighbor, Italy! Since the heat was on, the phone company was not able to raise its rates, but came up with another original method to get money. Instead of producing free telephone books for an entire province, as had been the practice, the company divided the province into small sections, giving the customer only the book for his own area. If he wanted other books, these had to be purchased. This measure hurt those who lived in a border area and businesses. Even if all the books for a given province had been purchased, one never knew which one to look in for a specific number! Was it the “South-West” or the “South-East” book? Many found it easier to call information -- and pay even more!

By November, 1997, Austria showed signs of condescending and announced the introduction of new telephone rates. A letter to customers gave a breakdown of the charges according to complicated zones and time blocks. No one could understand these, but the company assured customers that rates would be considerably lower if callers made good use of the new regulations. Mathematicians began calculating and by mid November newspapers were reporting that even the most frugal telephone customers would likely be paying more under the new tariffs! Hardest hit would be those who had the old fashioned analog systems - like us! One expert calculated that the average customer with an analog telephone would pay $600 more per year than those with digital phones. The telephone company then announced that it planned to convert all analog systems to digital technology in the foreseeable future. The company also announced that it was giving Austrians a generous Christmas gift. All calls placed on December 25th would be free of charge!

Until recently, telephone bills in Austria were not itemized. Customers were charged for the total number of “units” used. It was nearly impossible for customers to check their phone bills for accuracy. The only possibility for control was to rent an impulse counter from the company for $4 per month and keep an exact record of all calls. Impulse counters could not be purchased and anyone caught importing one was fined. We found the monthly $4 fee well worth the investment. The total number of units on our phone bill often differed considerably from the number on our counter. If the difference was merely a few dollars, we could expect no remuneration. The company would explain that the date of their readings may not have coincided with the date when we read our counter. Once, the difference was more than $200 during a two month period, enough to warrant an adjustment.

With the new tariffs came higher phone bills and customers began to demand itemized phone bills. Their pleas at first fell on deaf ears. A company spokesman argued that this would violate laws protecting personal privacy (sound familiar?). When this argument was knocked down, officials said that it was technically impossible. Customers who traveled to other countries knew better and newspapers printed their complaints. Technicians wrote articles explaining how easy this could be done. Towards the end of 1997, the phone company finally gave in to public demand and agreed to provide itemized phone bills - for a monthly fee of $6. When the first bills appeared, there was another outcry. Instead of listing times, dates and phone numbers of calls made, there was simply a list of total calls by area and time zone!

In the mid eighties, the Internet boom began to jeopardize the huge profits Austrian telephone company had been making. More and more Austrians were buying computers and getting online. At first it was merely a status symbol for the wealthy, but before long, people began to recognize the vast potential of the Internet for business. Money- and time-saving features were also attractive. Unlike in North America, the Austrian telephone company charges telephone customers for local calls. Because the Internet was dependant upon telephone lines, these charges were added to the cost of providers and few users could afford to do much surfing.

CHAPTER FIVE

In October of 2002, we said goodbye to all our friends in Austria and moved to America where we would spend our “golden years” (so called because of the price of medicine and health care). Before leaving, we had a huge yard sale to get rid of those possessions which would no longer be needed in America. The fax machine and telephone system which allowed both of us to talk simultaneously to our children didn’t bring much. The emergence of the Internet had rendered these gadgets obsolete, but the computer and modem found grateful new owners.

After arriving in America, we lived in temporary apartments for the first three months. There were telephones in each of the homes, but our nomadic life of traveling and constantly changing telephone numbers confused many. We had purchased a computer and found an internet provider, but there were some who had no Internet capability or preferred to call. We decided to get a cell phone, but getting one was not so easy as we expected. We were turned down by several companies because we had no credit. We had always paid cash, had no debts whatsoever and even had money saved in a 401. We soon learned that in America, it’s “no debts -- no credit!” We finally did get a cell phone. It is one of those pre-paid ones that only costs $30 every two months.

On the last day of January, we spent most of our savings on a house and made $40,000 worth of debt in the process. Now, we get several credit card offers every week, but it took a while for the news to get out that we had big debts and were thus credit worthy. The gas, electric and telephone companies demanded sizable caution fees before giving us their services. We decide to get a second phone line just for the Internet. It only cost $6 per month.

Soon after moving into our home, someone wanted to send us a fax. I had assumed that faxes were no longer being used, but was informed that people now send faxes by computer via the Internet. I followed his instructions and clicked on an activation button. The fax came through just fine, but after that, I kept getting solicitor calls on my dedicated PC telephone line. The callers only got as far as the modem, but the calls usually came when I was in the middle of something and it not only interrupted whatever I was doing, but also drove me crazy - in case you ever wondered.

I wasted hours of precious time trying to get rid of the fax option, but there is apparently no way to block solicitor calls except to place your number on the national "Don't Call" list, which I did. But the solicitors didn’t know I was on the list and what is worse, I couldn’t tell them because my telephone line was a dedicated line that only went to the modem. There may be a feature that allows you to talk back, but after the fax experience, I was reluctant to try.

I kept trying to get rid of the fax option, but nothing I tried worked and finally, I found a button that said I could deactivate the fax modem and pressed it. I didn't get any more calls, but neither could I get my e-mail. So I tried to reactivate it and was told that this was not available due to a "711 Error" (not to be confused with “911”). It also said that I needed to install or re-install Dialup Networking by opening the "Add/Remove Programs" option in the "Control Panel". When you open this feature, you can change or delete software, but not add or install it. Helpful advice!

I clicked on "Phone and Modem" configuration settings, but received another helpful hint from Microsoft called "Error Message". It said I couldn't open this option and may have a problem. I clicked on a "Help" icon, which told me I needed to be on line for this to function. If I could have gotten on line, I would not have needed their help!

I managed to mess up the computer real good or bad (apparently these words mean the same thing). After many more hours of trial and error, trials and error messages, I did what Microsoft tells you to do when things go wrong; "Call Microsoft Support".

Millions of MS customers who call Microsoft Support punch numbers on their phone for hours on end, listening to recorded music and instructions about punching numbers on their phones. This is no more helpful than clicking the “Help” icon on your computer screen. You may find this difficult to believe, but I had the good fortune of having a direct hot line to one of Microsoft's top certified specialists! He also happens to be our son-in-law, David Pallmann. He knows all about computers and Microsoft, which is why his personal computer is a Macintosh.

Our son-in-law helped me fix the problem in a few seconds. In fact, it went so fast that I neglected to write down the steps for future reference. David then told me that there is a special tool built into Microsoft Windows XP just for people like me. He even told me where to find this magic tool. It is hidden in that jungle of obscure little programs and features with strange names that we never look at, let alone use. Actually, I would be afraid to even attempt using them for fear of becoming a victim of friendly fire and/or causing what the Pentagon calls collateral damage to innocent bystanders.

For all those who are not computer geeks, gurus or genies, I would like to tell you about this special secret tool. It can save you tons of frustration and you will never again waste hours of precious time trying to fix what you messed up. Forget about help screens and 800 numbers! Print this document and post it in a handy place, like on the front of your PC. Better yet, memorize it!

MICROSOFT HELP FOR DUMMIES (called "Restore Point")
Whenever you want to do something TO your computer (like install new programs or hardware) instead of WITH it (like write a letter), always perform the following 10 steps FIRST!

1) If your computer is turned on, press the "Start" icon. This allows you to do just about anything except start the computer, because it is already started and if the computer is turned off, you can't find the start icon. There is a real button somewhere on your computer that starts it. This is the proper terminology, because for the first several minutes all that happens is a million things starting. After the screen settles down and there is no more violent activity, go to step #2.

2) Press the start icon and a “window” will open (that is why they call it a “Windows machine”). At the bottom of the window, you will see a little green arrow and the words "All Programs". Place the cursor over this little arrow by moving your mouse (made of plastic and usually has its tail caught in the back of your computer) and watch what happens. In an instant you see a column or two of icons with names next to them. These are called “program folders”, but you can think of them as compartments. You will note that many of these folders or compartments have tiny black arrows next to them. This indicates the presence of sub compartments or folders. If you move the cursor up or down this list without pressing the mouse button (called “hovering” in the computer and helicopter language), you will note that more lists appear wherever you see a small arrow. You never know how many sub-compartments there are until you click on one that has no little arrow next to it. The departmentalizing of folders is called “Hierarchy” in the computer language, and it is similar to the structure of governmental institutions and the Vatican. The highest ranking folder has the greatest power of control, but the actual work is performed in the lowest ranking department.

3) Move the cursor over the green arrow by pushing the mouse in the appropriate direction without pressing any mouse buttons! Now slide it across to the columns of program files until you see a compartment called "Accessories." When the cursor hovers over this folder, another list appears. Now, move the cursor until it hovers over the folder "System Tools". Another list opens. Move the cursor to the compartment "System Restore". Now you can click the left mouse button to open this secret Microsoft tool.

4) After opening "System Restore", you see three options on the right side of the window. The top one says, "Restore my Computer to a Previous Time". This really has nothing to do with time, but should read "happening." It refers to the last time you did something TO your computer like set up an e-mail account, install a program or add new hardware. You are not going to restore anything at this time, but after messing around with your computer, you may want to use this. This item is normally checked, but you need to click the box in the second line which says, "Create a Restore Point". It's okay, go ahead and click on this box!

5) Now click "Next" at the bottom of the window. You get a new window with a blank in which you can type a meaningful name like "Just in Case I Mess Things Up" (upper case, lower case or mixed makes no difference). I type in the date too, just so I know when I created this Restore Point.

6) Once you have named your Restore Point, click on "Create" at the bottom of the page. Now you can close the window and mess around with the computer as planned. There are many things people do TO their computers, especially when they don’t do what they are supposed to do. But now that you have created a Restore Point, you will no longer be tempted to throw things at it or to throw it at things.

7) If all goes well and the computer functions the way you hoped it would, you can just forget the "Restore Point" you made. It will stay there and hurt no one. If, however, your computer starts to do all kinds of strange things and gives you error messages or tells you that you have a problem; you will be happy you followed the above steps in creating a Restore Point. Your computer may suggest that you send a message to Microsoft, but I advise against this because your message will only be read and answered by a computer that has been programmed by the same people who caused your problems in the first place. And they never make mistakes. Only paying customers and perhaps other software manufacturers do that.

8) In a worst case scenario, your computer crashes and you have to press the Microsoft equivalent of 911 (or is it 9/11?). Press the "Control/Alt/Delete" buttons simultaneously. If this doesn't work, unplug the computer and then plug it in again. You may have to crawl under your desk to find the plug, so it may be easier to turn the main breaker in your fuse box off and on. You will have to re-program all your radio station set buttons and reset your digital clocks, but that can wait. After restoring the electric supply, you can hopefully restart your computer.

9) If the computer starts, follow the instructions at point 3 above. This time you leave the first item checked and click on it with the mouse. You will see a calendar with the current date on it. To the right is the Restore Point you just created. Click on this and you can restore the computer to the way it was before you messed it up. Whatever problem you hoped to solve will still be there, but at least your PC should work (or malfunction) like it did before you made the Restore Point.

10) If the computer refuses to start up again, go to the nearest computer store and purchase a new PC. This is always easier and cheaper than trying to get the old one fixed.

My problem with the disturbing phone calls was still there, but at least I could get my e-mail again. They tell me that this feature is only available in more recent versions of Windows, like Windows XP.

CHAPTER SIX

We are writing the year 2007 and much has changed in the field of technology. We now live in the “land of unlimited opportunity” as the Austrians label America. I am typing this on a 5-year-old PC, the 13th computer that I have owned since 1984 (if I didn’t miss any). Although my present computer is considered “old” by geeks, it has a cable modem and wireless capability.

My first computer was a Commodore 64, whereby the 64 stands for kilobytes of memory, about one tenth the size of the smallest photo my digital camera produces. That computer was great! You just turned it on, shoved in a floppy disc and went to work. Each successive computer I bought had more memory and was supposedly faster, yet for some reason, it took increasingly longer to get them up and running. My present PC needs about five minutes to load Windows and McAfee before I can do anything at all with it. If I want to get email or write a letter, I must load other programs and that also takes time. By the time everything is finally loaded into memory, the cable modem kicks in and a message pops up, telling me that an important update is downloading or McAfee is doing a scan of all my hard discs. While this is happening, another “pop-up window” appears to inform me that I can continue working while the computer does these important tasks in the background. But I can only continue at half the speed of a Commodore 64 and must tolerate some spitting and stuttering. And just when I am in the middle of an important task, another message pops up to tell me that my computer is shutting down and restarting in order to activate whatever it was doing while I was working.

It has become possible to telephone via Internet if you subscribe to “all three” – broadband, television channels and telephone – for only $99 per month for one year. After one year, the price goes up, but they won’t tell you how much even if you ask. This is of course for the basic package, but you will need an upgrade if you want Fox News or another channel worth watching. We only watch Jeopardy, which we can get with an old-fashioned roof-top antenna for free. We don’t use our phone enough to warrant internet telephone service, so we just subscribed to broadband. That was hassle enough!

There was a Comcast cable in our house when we purchased it, but it was not activated. We kept getting calls and letters, encouraging us to have it hooked up for $99 per month, but we declined. I asked if we could just get cable for the Internet and they said, “Yes, for $99 per month.” Verizon has many special offers, but whenever we called, they always said that we couldn’t get it in our area. And we won’t be getting it in the foreseeable future because they need money to advertise services they can’t deliver. Comcast has a monopoly in our region, so they don’t normally have special offers. So, for 4 years, we made do with analog Internet access via telephone line that only cost $19.95 per month plus many hours of waiting for unwanted attachments to load onto the computer so we could erase them and finally get the email we wanted to read.

Finally, someone in the advertising department at Comcast made an offer that we jumped on. Because people were not buying their offer of only $99 per month for one year, they offered all three services for only $19.99 each per month for three months, after which the regular price would kick in (as stated in the fine print). The offer was only good for one week shortly before Christmas. I would normally have tossed the ad in the trash can, but one word caught my attention. The ad said we could choose to subscribe to digital cable TV “and/or” high-speed Internet. In other words, we didn’t have to subscribe to all three! Furthermore, the cost of just high-speed Internet would be only $57 after the three months were up. I called and a serviceman came the following day. I showed him the ad and asked if Comcast would keep its promise. He made a phone call and confirmed the matter.

Now that we have broadband, it only takes seconds to get tons of spam and a few emails. Before you can gert either, however, you must wait several minutes for the firewall to load. A firewall is a program that is supposed to filter out viruses and spam, but you still need to delete all the spam that was disguised as real mail and then go to the quarantine folder to retrieve email that inadvertently got labeled as spam.

When the first bill from Comcast arrived, it was for the full amount. Verna paid the bill, but wrote a note saying that we had been overcharged and should receive credit. The next month’s bill was also for the full amount, so Verna called Comcast. I refuse to make such calls, spending hours listening to elevator music, advertisements and electronic voices (have you ever noticed that there are no male electronic voices?) that tell you which buttons to push. If I ever got a real person on the other end of the line, the temptation would be to unload all my frustrations on that poor soul. If I did, they would respond by placing our number on their “do-not-answer-calls” list. I know from personal experience!

Verna pushed buttons and listened to the ads, music and electronic female voices for quite a while until she made a fascinating discovery. She accidentally pressed a button that was for purchasing something. She got a real live person on the other end, who connected her to another real live person, who solved the problem! You know it is a real person if it is a masculine voice. The man was very nice and apologized for the mistake. He even offered to extend the $19.99 per month offer for three additional months! Miracles still happen.

There will probably be a Chapter Seven to this story, so stay tuned for the next episode.

Ralph V. Harvey, May, 2007