The internet age has introduced a new plague to the world. Fortunately I have not (yet) been tackled by the beer virus. (It is the “Corona” virus, not the “China” virus. If it were the China virus, they would have called it the “Chop Stick” virus.) This new plague is technical, not biological, in nature and effects every user regardless of race or political affiliation. At most, it gives you a headache and, for some people, it causes severe emotional stress and temperamental outbursts. As of this writing, there is no known cure for it.
The plague I am talking about is the unknowable number plague. I have a nice German designed program that stores all my names and passwords so that all I have to remember is the main password to get in that program, and my various accounts are just a couple of clicks away. However, that main password just directs me to a menu that asks for a code number that they will send to my cell phone, which, unfortunately has a discharged battery. I am now the victim of the unknowable number plague.
THE CHECKING ACCOUNT
Since I really need to get into my checking account to pay a critical bill, I call the customer number for the bank and am connected to a nice lady who asks me for my account number. Another unknowable number as it is on my checks, which are at another location. I am allowed to answer my secret questions which will correctly ID me as the account owner.
What is your pet’s name? Linda Ann Smith
Who is your favorite teacher? Albert Einstein
What is your favorite food? Sautee French truffles
“Ok, Mr. Clark, here is the code number for access to your account: XXXXX.”
I go back to the code entry field on the screen and get the message, “Your session has timed out. Please enter a new code number.” I’m warning you – what happens next is irrational and not pretty.
THE VETERANS ADMINISTRATION
As a military veteran, I am eligible to get medical care at the beautiful, new, outrageously expensive VA hospital in Aurora, CO. On my first visit. I walked up to the clinic desk, and they asked me for my “last four.” I answered, “Alice, Mary, Helen and one whose name I can’t remember.” It turns out what they wanted was the last four numbers of my USAF serial number.
I got discharged in 1958 so that was by now an unknowable number despite the fact that the laundry printed it on all my underwear. Fortunately they were able to find my records by actually using my name in their system, which is quite unconventional for the government. At my house, I went through some files and found an old record with the number. I have trouble with numbers, so I have taken to writing them on my arm with a sharpie.
Now if I could just remember what those numbers meant . . .
THE PARTS ORDER
If you are a regular reader of my newsletter, you know that I spend most of my time working on car restorations. This requires me to order a lot of parts from many different suppliers. My handy dandy German password program directs me through a few clicks to the right supplier’s website where I rather laboriously plow through pages of items to find the exact part I need. I click on the description and put it in my “shopping cart” and go to “check out.” I fill out all the required fields and am directed to “pay.”
I enter the credit card number on the payment screen, which I have discretely scribbled on a little scrap of paper that I hide in the desk drawer. I even know the expiration date. But then I am asked for the CVV number. What the hell is that? It is the number on the back of the credit card. But I left my wallet in the car, and it has the credit card tucked inside. I am in my robe and slippers, and it has been snowing all night and close to zero outside. The CVV number remains unknowable, and I cannot place the order. AARGH!
THE KNOWABLE BUT IGNORED NUMBER
About one and a half years ago, two Boeing 737 Max airliners crashed killing 340 people. This caused a huge outcry and crippled Boeing production. People expressed and continue to voice their great fear of flying on that airplane even though it has been revised and recertified. Why risk your life flying on a plane like that?
Meanwhile, let’s go party to celebrate our team winning, then go to church and pray for a better world. In the meantime, we’ll have the kids and family friends over for dinner. The COVID-19 virus? “What, me worry?” to quote Alfred E. Neuman of comic fame. Our President seems to be rather unconcerned about it and tells us to go full speed ahead, and not worry as it is on its way out.
Let’s do some numbers. As of today, we are about 320 days into the year, and 250,000 people have died of this virus. That comes out to about 781 people a day. The Boeing 737 Max airliner configuration carries 200 passengers. That means close to FOUR 737 Max-10s would have to crash EVERY SINGLE DAY to have that many killed. If that should happen, I say: “Let’s go to Vegas on one and have a ball because there is not much to be concerned about.”
Different numbers with a different impact, but with the same end result.
Stay safe and see you next month.