Wednesday, July 12, 2017

How To Break In New Shoes

Note: This article falls under the category of "Don't do this at home, kids".
July 11, 2017

You know how some shoes are just too precious to wear casually - even if they're casual shoes? Maybe it's just me, but I've got a thing about shoes, and I have a hard time resisting them even when I know I won't wear them because they're too precious to wear.

I bought a fabulous pair of strappy black sandal heels about 10 years ago that I've never worn and I likely never will. I'd break my neck in 3" heels. My feet hurt just thinking about putting them on - my toes don't bend that way any more -- but I can't get rid of them. Every time I even think about finding them a new home, I open the box they came in (yes, they still are in it) and look at them, and I lust for them anew.

So I was in a Skechers store a few weeks ago looking for a sensible pair of flat shoes that wouldn't hurt my feet. I have one pair of Skechers slip-ons and I adore them. I wanted another pair for when I wore the first pair out, because if Skecher ever stops making that particular shoe I will weep and wail. They're that comfy.

But no
When I left the store I had a pair of precious shoes, not a second pair of the sensible ones. They weren't heels, at least. They didn't have the super cushy soles I love so much, either, but they made up for that with memory foam insoles. Plus they were air cooled. Air cooled! The Volkswagen Beetle of shoes!

The air cooled part came from being loosely knit. They came in a limited number of boring colors. I ended up with gray. But wait! They weren't just gray. They were sparkly.

My friend Laura says that I am part magpie. I love sparkly things. I don't wear sparkly things, I want to look at them. And I want to have them. I love sparkle. I can't help it.

These shoes were gray with tiny silver sparkles, probably part of the thread but I didn't care about technical matters. I tried them on. I said no, I want sensible shoes. I walked away. I tried on shoes, rejected shoes, and came back to the precious ones. The sparkly ones.

And left the store with them.

Breaking in new shoes

That was a few weeks ago. Until this morning I had not put the new shoes on. Oh, I looked at them. Brought them into the sunlight and admired the tiny sparkles. But wear them? They're too precious!

I worked on my attitude for a few days before deciding last night that I absolutely was not going to have one more pair of unworn precious pair of shoes in my closet. I would wear the sparkly Skechers today and that was a firm decision.

This was a good day to wear a pair of shoes for the first time. I was going to drop off my car in town to be worked on and Laura would pick me up in her car so we could run errands. Most of the day would be spent driving from place to place, so I'd be sitting as much as walking. Easy on the feet, a gentle way to break in a new pair of shoes. I figured I didn't even need to wear socks, thereby breaking Lif's First Rule of New Shoes: I never ever put bare feet into closed shoes for the first wearing, for if I do, I Will Suffer.

I don't consider myself a delicate flower, but my feet are another thing. I don't care how soft, how cushy, or how sparkly shoes are, my feet will not be happy unless I gently introduce them to new footwear. Well, maybe not slippers. But... Skechers! Do they really need breaking in? They truly are soft, stretchy, and cushy - and have I mentioned my pair was sparkly?

Sparkly feet
So today was going to be perfect for new shoes. I confess, I spent a lot of time during the day looking at my feet. They made me happy. I was wearing my own version of ruby shoes. Except not red. But sparkly, did I mention that?

But there's always a dark cloud, especially when you flaunt the Shoe Gods' Rules Of Breaking In.  My errands got done but the car didn't. Not a problem, Laura would drive me home. 

Except rain happened.

We've been experiencing an incredibly dry year so far. July is when our monsoon rains blow in to my part of New Mexico, but they had been taking their time. I had checked the weather forecast this morning, honest.  While there was a good chance of rain in the afternoon, the forecast was for less than two tenths of an inch. The two-track to my place can become a quagmire with a significant rain, but two tenths wasn't an issue.

Except that the part of the storm that passed over my place and then on out to the grazing allotment that my road runs through didn't care what the forecast was. The gods decided to gift the land with a hell of a lot more than two tenths of an inch of rain.

The county road was slippery but the mud wasn't too deep. Still, when we got to my road I knew Laura shouldn't even try to make it to my house. I said the words, my precious sparkly shoes forgotten for a moment.

"I'll walk home".

It's not really that far from the county road to my property, just under two miles. But now it was two miles of mud and sudden lakes. I had to leave all my stuff in her car and take the minimum for the cross-country hike.

Laura loaned me a raincoat and I grabbed my backpack/purse. It contained no more than it had all day, but knowing I had to walk home with it on my back, it suddenly weighed ten pounds. I wanted everything in it, though, because there was no way to know when I'd be able to get back out again.

I've done this before. 

Preciousness lost
I started down the road, carefully stepping on grass clumps, trying not to think of the Thing that was going to happen very soon.

I would have to walk in mud.

New sparkly shoes.

If you have read any of my other ramblings on, you know that I'm not adverse to adventure. So aside from the shoes issue, I actually wasn't upset about having to walk home. The air smelled fresh, the day was cool for a change, I could hear birds tweeting and ravens croaking and spade-toed toads singing their mating songs... uh oh.

Spade-toed toads are interesting critters. They spend much of their year dormant, snuggled deep in the soil of the arroyos that cut through the grasslands, waiting for the perfect conditions to wake up, get out and entice a mate with virtuoso toad-song, breed, and die. Okay, I'm not sure about the die part - maybe they live more than one season. But once they breed and the females lay eggs, everybody hops around stuffing their faces for a while then they dig down into the mud and go dormant again. That's toad life for you.

But here's the thing: The circumstances that wakes up a spade-toed toad (and who came up with that name anyway?) is pounding, sustained rain.

When I realized what I was hearing, I knew my sparkly shoes were in trouble. Sure enough, I'd only gone a few hundred feet when I first hit mud that I couldn't avoid. My new shoes got a layer of brown on them halfway up their sides. It wasn't too bad, but it was sad. I pressed on, cautiously, carefully.

And then I miscalculated my path and stepped into a hole, soaking my whole right foot and my jeans halfway up my shin. All right, okay, maybe the mud would rinse off. What could I do anyway. I kept going until I crested a small hill and could see my valley about a mile away.

Between me and the valley was a bog with a few islands of mud and grass.

About half a mile from my gate I started to hear the muted roar of floodwaters, and when had slogged my way there, sure enough, there was a river where just a few hours ago there had been a low spot in the grass.

To this point I'd been walking cross country because the two-track that was my road was slick with gooey mud. When I reached the point where my only option was to step into the flood water, my feet thanked me. Mud = grit. Grit inside shoes without socks = blisters. My heels were unhappy and the rest of my feet weren't any cheerier. The frigid floodwaters felt great. I waded through the water towards my gate, wondering how much road would be left tomorrow, and finally got onto semi-solid ground on my own property.

My place is a valley and it drains a large basin to the east of me. It floods several times a year. I've gotten used to being stuck at home, and occasionally having to hike in or out. So today's unexpected rain wasn't a big deal, nor was the unanticipated flood.

 The shoes, though.

RIP Skechers?
When I got to my house I wanted to take the shoes off right away, but when I reached my kitchen door I found an angry, wet ground squirrel in the varmint trap (live trap) on my porch. I'd been trying to catch the thing for days, and had forgotten about the trap when I had left the house in the morning. One end of the trap was protected by a pail so if I caught the squirrel it wouldn't sit in the sun till I relocated it.  The critter still wet and it was very pissed off, in spite of the fact that it had a belly full of most of a loaf of slightly moldy bread I'd left as a lure.

I sighed. I thought about just releasing the squirrel right there. I knew I'd be sorry if I did so I grabbed the trap and slogged back through the mud, waded through the flood rushing through my valley. I figured that maybe if the squirrel couldn't get back to the house right away it would stay away even when the flood dried up. When I opened the trap door the squirrel took a second to realize it was free and then ran to the floodwaters and jumped in. I watched with open mouth as it swam - who knew squirrels could swim - with the current downstream. After about 50 feet it swam to the bank (thankfully the opposite side from my house) and ran off.

Okay then. I grabbed the trap, waded back through the floodwaters, slogged through the mud, decided to feed my horses, and then finally - finally - got to take my gritty brown shoes off.
Household hintLet me take a moment here to tell you about shampoo. This is a tidbit I got from Laura: Shampoo not only cleans, it rinses out very quickly. 
I washed my Skechers in a bucket of water with some shampoo, rinsed them a couple of times, and put them in the shower to air dry. There was a lot of mud in the wash water, let me tell you. But the shoes weren't brown anymore.

So that's my story. I believe once my blisters are healed that my feet will accept these shoes as broken in.

And let me say this: My shoes still sparkle. I believe they will be all the more precious for that, once they're dry.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Just the ugly

The good the bad… no… just the ugly: 

A cautionary tale

I have been writing about music, creativity, and magic, along with odds and ends of living outback, for over 5 years. I also maintain social media accounts for clients, which means that I'm connected to those sites all day every day. Before that I was a researcher and non-fiction writer-for-hire, and thank the gods for internet and its research resources.

I work from home. I live out in an area so remote, so unpopulated by humans, that some federal agencies call it "frontier". Suits me just fine. Except... when you live in truly rural America you discover they are out to get you.

I don't mean the feds or aliens. This is not that kind of a tale.

This is a story of taking advantage. It's about internet satellite. This is a typical story about what happens to those who have no alternatives. You don't have to be poor or homeless, you just have to be an outlier, a demographic that contains few enough members that Big Business sees a great opportunity to suck victims dry.

I've been on satellite internet for fifteen or more years now. Before that – dialup. Really. It was horrible. I was always calling the phone company to complain, but as it turned out, the phone company was for sale and they weren't interested in upgrading their outmoded equipment. I still cringe when I hear that dialup sound when someone uses the FAX machine at the library.

Thus, as soon as I learned about satellite internet I lusted for it. A couple years after Starband began offering services in the US I signed up. I stayed with them, no matter how crappy their service (and it got truly crappy at the end) until they turned off the signal in September 2015.

September 2015. OMG!

If I had thought Starband was bad, that's only because I had never used HughesNet.

Let me explain. DSL doesn't reach me here in my part of New Mexico. I don't get a cell signal on my property because I'm in a valley.  The nearest cell tower is far enough away anyway that neighbors who do get a signal have their own problems because of the distance.

Cable? Bwahahahaha! Is there even cable anywhere in New Mexico? Heck if I know.

Satellite internet is all there is for folks like me. I don't think a person could even access email using dialup anymore. Maybe I'm wrong about that, but I don't want to find out.  When Starband announced that they were going out of the ISP business, HughesNet was about all I could get if I didn't want DIRECTV, and believe me, I did not want DIRECTV.  I don't do TV.

Enter, HughesNet

HughesNet offered their Gen4 service at a cost of about twice as much as other people with "real" internet had to pay for equivalent service (for the record, I was paying just under $100/month). For that, I got a metered allowance of 9MB per month of data, beyond which they'd FAP me (no, not what you think! FAP = Fair Access Policy, i.e. being throttled back or, as we victims put it, "molasses mode": adequate for email but forget accessing the web). Think dialup without the modem noise.

To avoid the FAP fate I could monitor and constrain my use or I could pay for outrageously expensive "tokens" that gave me more bandwidth. HughesNet's "fair access" clearly meant I could have as much bandwidth as I wanted, as long as I was willing to pay for it through the nose. How that is "fair" to everyone stuck with satellite internet is beyond me, but in any case I paid for tokens and kept them in reserve, pretty much getting along just fine on 9GB per month. I couldn't stream movies or TV, had to wait for YouTube videos to buffer (though that didn't always work, and let me tell you, start-stop-start-stop of YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo, and other videos is absolutely maddening). I couldn't stream music. Skype was out of the question. Most web pages loaded slowly and some not at all, but oh well. I had internet.

But right away I started having problems. The first sign was service disruptions, always at the same time of day, for days or weeks in a row, and then it would stop. In the beginning I called HughesNet. (Ironically, both internet provider companies I've used provide no way to reach them digitally). I had to constantly ask "Bob" or "Terry" in India to repeat themselves, as I couldn't understand them. To their credit, most of the techs I talked with were polite, but they weren't actually helpful. I dreaded the ordeal. I hated that somehow it was always a problem on my end, never on HughesNet's.  Funny, but when I learned to simply call HughesNet, let their automated answer do the "system check" and hang up, that would often fix the problem. Temporarily.

Then, in April of this year I started having not just service interruptions but also slow-loading or no-loading pages, to the point where I just couldn't work.  Coincidentally (or not), HughesNet's Gen5 came out in April and suddenly the fix for my problem was an upgrade to Gen5. "5X faster internet, Built-In Wi-Fi, and more Data" (copied and pasted directly from an email they sent me).

Now for the ugly

More data turned out to be 1GB more per month than I was already getting, but for less money/month and hey, "5X faster". That sounds pretty good, right? The tech I talked to told me that if I was getting along on 9GB before, 10GB would probably be fine, and besides, I could just upgrade if I needed to. He assured me that my pre-paid tokens would carry over.

Uh huh. I should know by now that those conversations need to be recorded. I upgraded. Bye-bye tokens.

Since "upgrading" to Gen5 my bandwidth use has mysteriously become much higher – extraordinarily higher - than with Gen4 even though I have not increased what I do on the internet. This billing period I looked at my HughesNet data meter a few days into the billing cycle and was shocked to discover how much bandwidth was already gone. I would clearly use up the allotted 10GB before I was even halfway through the cycle. I thought I had some kind of malware sucking the bandwidth. I ran scans, found nothing. I turned all my devices to airplane or powered them off. I always turned off the modem at night, now I did it whenever I went out of the house. I cut back on YouTube videos (which has put quite a cramp on my writing about music), made sure my ad blockers were working, made sure auto-play, auto-download, auto-anything was turned off.

Surprise! Nothing made any difference

Then I started researching and found out something I should have seen right at the beginning. I didn't pay attention to where HughesNet says that if I was on social media sites one hour a day I would use up all my bandwidth for the month with 10GB of Gen5.  That means no other use: no email, no browsing, no movies, no nothing.  Just ONE hour of Facebook a day.

ARE YOU KIDDING? It takes 10GB for Gen5 to deal with 30 hours of Facebook a month? What is HughesNet's Gen5 really doing? Why is Gen5 so data consumptive that what before used 9GB/month suddenly now requires double or triple that amount?

Customer = victim

HughesNet's solution to my problem? Cut back on my usage or upgrade. I have cut back. It doesn't make any difference except to make it harder to work and to make going online an unpleasant experience. And realistically, how could cutting back work if only an hour a day of social media consumes10GB of bandwidth a month? Why would I even consider upgrading, when all it would do would be to reward Hughesnet for creating a data sucking monster like Gen5?

From the user end it sure appears that HughesNet has set it up so that everything Gen5 customers do costs multiple times as much bandwidth as it did before. It is NOT helpful to say that because Gen5 is faster more data can be used in the same time period and that's where the bandwidth is going. Usage shouldn't suck up two, three, or more times as much bandwidth with Gen5 as it did with Gen4 if what people are doing on the internet is the same. If a person gets 100 emails a day with Gen4, then just because Gen5 serves up the 100 emails a day faster shouldn't mean multiple increases of bandwidth consumption.  If a person goes to a school or a government website or, for that matter, HughesNet's own website, it shouldn't cost more bandwidth to do that with Gen5 than Gen4.  If a person turns on the computer it shouldn't cost more bandwidth to do that with Gen5 than Gen4.

But it does.

So that got me to wondering. Why is "fair access" only a one-way street? How is it fair for HughesNet to run the meter faster for their Gen5 data use compared to GEn4, or to other ISPs for that matter, and why is it fair to avoid clear disclosure of the greater consumption of bandwidth by blaming the consumer for the consumption? How is it fair that we can't just dump HughesNet for their unfair business practices and go with a competitor because we're locked into big-penalty contracts and no one will listen to reason?

What I see here is HughesNet taking advantage of consumers that can't do a thing about it. Fair access, indeed.

Victims can fight back

I've tried getting answers on HughesNet's community forum, but all there is there is how we all are flagrantly using bandwidth and we need to cut back or upgrade. Perhaps it is time for each of us to consider filing FCC Consumer Complaints*.  At the very least, we can contact elected officials. They should care about this because our jobs depend on internet access, our kids need to get online for school, we need internet access just as much as people who live in cities. And hey, we may be few but we are voters.

Also, every state has enacted consumer protection statutes, which are modeled after the Federal Trade Commission Act. This allows state attorneys, along with general and private consumers, to commence law suits over false or deceptive advertisements, or other unfair and injurious consumer practices.

I don't think anyone out here in the frontier would grumble that much about having to pay more for satellite internet. After all, everything is pretty much more expensive here. But Fair Access should go both ways. HughesNet, don't make us get ugly about this.

* Note that HughesNet does not allow the use of "FCC" on its community forum -- a bot won't allow you to post if you try to provide a link to the federal agency that has oversight for internet.  That alone is food for thought.