TECH TALK with John Rudy: Your Digital Data

Your Digital Data:  Thinking and Planning for Incapacity or Death

All of us have a lot of personal digital data available to us that may not be available to others .  Let’s start with a sample of the various categories:

  • You have files on your home computer, tablet, or smart phone. These may be photos, tax returns, passwords, etc.  In general, nothing will happen to these if you die and (1) IF SOMEONE HAS THE APPROPRIATE PASSWORDS TO ENTER THESE DEVICES and (2) knows the names of the important files.  You probably have thousands of files, and you might not have set up a file structure or named them in a way that is obvious to your heirs.
  • Professionals such as stock brokers, bankers, accountants, and lawyers have your files, and their protection systems are probably robust. In most cases, I suspect that you do not duplicate on your systems the data that they have on theirs, relying on your ability to log into their systems.  But can this data be shared?
  • You might have data with social media environments that your family doesn’t want to lose. Let’s limit ourselves to Facebook for now, but that, of course, is not the only social media platform out there.
  • You have email IDs that could be closed down.

Discussing all these areas in detail is complicated, and you not only have to be proactive, but you also have to understand any pertinent US or state laws that protect this data.  I’m going to provide my thoughts on a number of these issues, but I do not claim to understand all the laws that are in effect.  And some of these laws might differ by locale.

  1. Try to set up your computer folders so they are readable. At the top level. have something called PICTURES or PHOTOS and store all your photos in sub-files under this.  Have a file called TAXES and do a similar thing.  Then document what you have done and ensure that your heirs have a copies.
  2. Have a Password file, with all your passwords. It is best that you use a password manager, but, if not, set up an Excel list.  Keep it hidden, but be sure that your heirs have copies.  If you are sick or die, others may need to get into these accounts.
  3. If you die, some applications will become aware of it. Here is an example that affects me.  MIT provides me with an email address which I can link to whatever normal email I am currently using.  MIT also has a web crawler that looks across the Internet for obits of their graduates.  Six months after I die, MIT will cancel this forwarding service, and my heirs will be unaware that any messages sent to that address will bounce back.  That means that I better make sure that my heirs pay proper attention to all incoming messages for 6 months so that they can inform folks of the proper email address to use in the future.
  4. Companies like Facebook say that they close your page when you die. Is that what you want?  Here is an interesting article on the Facebook situation:  https://www.lifewire.com/facebook-account-after-you-die-4103721 There is even a Facebook app you can download, called “If I die,” that you can set up at any point before your death to control what happens.
  5. Do you want your spouse to have access to your calendar if something happens to you? This might be useful if you would want appointments cancelled or colleagues informed.  Of course, you should be sure that your spouse has access to your address book.
  6. I recently read the following in a newsletter: “Merely scribbling down your passwords on a sheet of paper isn’t always enough. In many cases, your relatives are still legally prohibited from accessing your account without express permission. Thankfully, 41 states have adopted laws that allow you to declare who has access to what data—as long as you include a provision in your will or revocable trust and your power of attorney specifies that they can have access”   Who would think of that?

I am not a lawyer, so I do not know what the legalities are (and they might be different for different states) for allowing your broker or bank or attorney to share data with a designated person.  I have personally addressed this problem by making my heirs trustees for my accounts.  You might ask whether a letter from you is sufficient to provide access (and whether it is effective for both death and disability).

While you are thinking about your digital assets, it might be appropriate to include your heirs’ names on a checking account and on the checks, so that they can pay bills on your behalf if you are incapacitated or die.  Obviously, you must think carefully about who you provide any of this linkage/access to.

And lastly, this is not a one-time endeavor. You should periodically review your approach and attempt to see whether the environment within which you operate has changed.

“BOLLI Matters” feature writer (both Tech Talk and the Chef’s Corner) John Rudy

A long-time technology expert and guide, John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide John with questions,  comments, or suggestions future tech items to cover. 

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402)

STORIES FROM STEVE: I QUIT

I QUIT

By Steve Goldfinger

“Giving up smoking is easy,” Mark Twain said.  “I’ve done it hundreds of times”  

My tally is a lot lower, perhaps ten or twelve times.  My fervent intentions were almost always foiled after I drank a little alcohol with a pal who was lighting up. “Can I have one?” invariably led to more.

At one point, I was seeing a patient who flaunted a pack of Lucky Strikes in his front shirt pocket. How I craved one, and my ensuing strategy was craven. He was in for a routine health check up, and I strongly urged him to quit smoking. The best way, I assured him, was to go cold turkey. “Toss that pack into that waste basket. Right now,” I implored.  He did.  I went for that waste basket as soon he was out the door.

That was 50 years ago, and I’ve been clean for about that long now.

It wasn’t so easy when it came to golf.   I can think of dozens of occasions when, driving home from a horrendous round with my golf buddy, I assured him that the end had come.  Never again.  Why torture myself?  Why destroy a perfectly gorgeous Sunday morning by hitting one wretched shot after another, succumbing to outbursts of temper, and cursing–so unlike me during the rest of my week. He would smile and remind me of the two good shots I had made that day.  And, sure enough, during the week, I thought about those shots, remembered how many wonderful ones I had hit in my prime.  Just recapture the rhythm, the mind set, the joy of being out in nature, the camaraderie, I said to myself.  And the next Sunday, I was out there with him again.  And the ride back was no different.

There was only one way to truly quit, and I proceeded to do it. Last year, I prepared a professional looking affadavit entitled Goldfinger’s Last Round of Golf and in it, detailed all my foozled and otherwise mis-hit shots, hole by hole. I sent it out to all my golfing friends– recent ones and others from years ago.

So far, this has worked.  I even gave my clubs to one of my sons. But I had this dream last night: I was out on the course with a player who was hitting magnificent shots with a set of curious-looking clubs, a recent breakthrough innovation by a club manufacturer who was advertising them widely.

I asked if I could swing one. When  I did,  the ball soared high and far, in a trajectory that would have made me proud even at my golfing peak.

These clubs can be purchased online or at a nearby golf store. They are handsome and affordable.

Tune in next month.

 

Memoir Writer Steve Goldfinger

Since joining BOLLI a few years ago after a long career in medicine, Steve has been exploring his artistic side.  He has been active in both the Writers Guild and CAST (Creativity in Acting, Storytelling, and Theatre) as well as the Book Group.  

POP CULTURE WITH DENNIS GREENE: HARRY POTTER

                          J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter:                                Serious Literature or Adolescent “Slop”

By Dennis Greene

     “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at age fifty.”  –C. S. Lewis

Unless you have been living under a stone for the past twenty years, you have certainly heard of British author J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels. Ms. Rowling has sold over 500 million copies of this seven-volume “young adult” series published from 1997 through 2007. The series has spawned ten extremely successful films and is frequently credited with encouraging the millennial generation to enjoy reading thick, complex books. This literary phenomenon has made the author a billionaire, and the Harry Potter franchise is now valued at over $25 billion dollars.

The Potter fan base is not limited to young adults. Millions of mature readers have come to know and love the Potter books by sharing them with their children or grandchildren. Others have sampled The Sorcerer’s Stone to see what the fuss was about and discovered, in one reviewer’s words, “the liveliest, funniest, scariest, and most moving children’s stories ever written. The praise from many well-respected reviewers has been effusive. A. N. Wilson in The (London) Times referred to Rowling’s narrative skills as Dickensian while Stephen King predicted that Harry Potter deserved his place on the shelf with Alice, Huck, Frodo and Dorothy. The Mail on Sunday rated The Philosopher’s Stone as “the most imaginative debut since Roald Dahl,” and the Guardian called it “a richly textured novel given lift-off by an inventive wit.”

The skyrocketing commercial success of the Potter books, along with the literary awards and critical acclaim they have received, eventually attracted the attention of the elite literary establishment. Leading the attack on the popular books was Yale Professor and well-known ;iterary critic Harold Bloom. In a Wall Street Journal article entitled “Can 35 Million Book Buyers be Wrong?  Yes.” Professor Bloom observed that Rowling’s writing was “dreadful” and the book was “terrible” (note Professor Bloom’s magnificent use of richly descriptive adjectives) and then went on to disparage her readers.

“Why read it?” Bloom said.  ” Presumably, if you cannot be persuaded to read anything better, Rowling will have to do. At least her fans are momentarily emancipated from their screens and so may not forget wholly the sensation of turning the pages of a book, any book. And yet, I feel discontent with the Harry Potter mania, and I hope my discontent is not merely a highbrow snobbery or nostalgia for a more literate fantasy to beguile (shall we say) intelligent children of all ages.”

 The disparaging comments of this prominent critic, cloaked in the prestige of both Yale University and the Wall Street Journal, was an unwarranted attack on a young novelist whose first published work had achieved startling commercial success. In Rowling’s wizarding world, Professor Bloom would be easily recognized for what he is—a highbrow snob and a bully. If Professor Bloom were rewriting his article today, it would have to be titled “Can 500 Million Buyers Be Wrong? Maybe not.” I have no idea if it was a conscious decision, but in a later Harry Potter book, Ms. Rowling introduces Professor Slughorn, a mercurial, pompous, social-climbing Hogwart’s teacher who hosts dinner parties for “pureblood” students from famous wizarding families while excluding Hermione, the smartest student at Hogwart’s, because she is a “mudblood.” Professor Slughorn might easily have been patterned after a certain Yale literary critic.

Once Professor Bloom opened the floodgates, the deluge from other critics began. One of the first to pile on was Dame A.S. Byatt, an English author with an honorary title and an aristocratic aura, who opined that the Potter books were “written for people whose imaginative lives are confined to TV cartoons, reality TV, and celebrity gossip.” Another British newspaper critic predicted that “in years to come, people will make a link between our plump, comfortable, infantilizing society and the popularity of Potter.” Other more measured critics did fairly identify a number of flaws in the Potter books, including tired writing, overuse of clichés, and being too complex for children and young adults to sort out. I don’t know exactly where Harry Potter should rate on the spectrum of young adult books of “literary merit,” but I believe it would be much closer to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Grahame’s Wind in the Willows than to Twilight or The Hunger Games.

 After 20 years, the commercial success of the Potter series has assured Rowling and Harry Potter an honored place in popular culture. Whether the Harry Potter books are to stand as one of the great classics of English literature or are ultimately judged to be unremarkable adolescent “slop” as Professor Bloom contends, only time will tell.

I enjoyed spending time in Ms. Rowling’s imaginary wizarding world and coming to know all her unique and definitively drawn characters. But what made these books special tp me was Ms. Rowling’s extraordinary ability to make me care about each character and emotionally participate in their interactions. The seven-year transformation of each of these characters about whom I cared deeply was a poignant coming of age story. Ms. Rowling really “gets” the adolescent experience and makes the reader see it. I still have an emotional reaction when I think of Dobby’s death or Dolorous Umbridge’s tyranny. Along the way there are also trolls to kill, mysteries to solve, backstories to discover, unspeakable evil to oppose, and a series of wonderful friendships to admire. In addition, the books incorporate many of the traditional elements of classical English literature.

The most comprehensive discourse on the literary merits of the Potter books is John Granger’s Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader. He describes the way the author meticulously planned and structured the entire narrative before completing the first book. Ms. Rowling was familiar with many of the fundamental patterns of great English literary tradition and seamlessly wove them into her tale. Among the patterns evident in the narrative are:

The traditional Hero’s Journey.

  1. The patterns of Literary Alchemy, a tradition dating back to the middle ages and evident in works of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Jonson, Blake, and Joyce. The mythical philosopher’s stone, which is the title of the first Potter book published in England, was the key to medieval alchemy.
  2. Well devised narrative misdirection drives the reader to keep active and on edge through the 4100+ page journey and allows numerous plot twists and surprises.
  3. All the trappings of the English schoolboy novel as established by Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s Schooldays published in 1857.
  4. Incorporation of numerous postmodern issues and concerns, including class prejudice, slavery, friendship, race, xenophobia, intermarriage, loyalty, family, bureaucratic ineptitude, credibility of the press, gender, individual transformation, tyranny, and, of course, love and death.

If you are a sophisticated reader who enjoys exploring the text to discover literary antecedents and subtext, as some scholars do with Tolkien’s works, there is much in Rowling’s Harry Potter books to examine.      

 There are many adult readers who haven’t read a Harry Potter book, either because they instinctively dismiss books designated “young adult” or because Professor Bloom and his ilk have driven them away. William Safire, in a New York Times article, argued that “children’s books like Harry Potter are responsible for the infantilization of adult culture,” and Ruth Graham in Slate argued that “adults should be embarrassed to read literature aimed at teenagers.” Faced with such highbrow snobbery, some potential readers may give in to the shaming. But those who do succumb will be doomed to reading only books like Portrait of a Lady, Anna Karenina, and “The Sun Also Rises” and existing in a continual state of depression. Instead, I suggest you look to the wisdom of C. S. Lewis who observed that “on becoming a man, I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

If you are willing to risk being thought childish by literary highbrows, try reading Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone.  You may enjoy it and discover for yourself the literary merit encased in Ms. Rowling’s magnum opus.    

“BOLLI Matters” pop culture writer Dennis Greene.

While Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer,  he’s been a pop culture geek and junkiey for sixt.  He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since.  

A LIGHT-HEARTED MOMENT FROM LARRY SCHWIRIAN

THE LESSER OF TWO WEEVILS

By Larry Schwirian

Mavis and Marvin were a couple of happy-go-lucky boll weevils living in the deep South in the early 20th CenturyAt this time, boll weevils were decimating the cotton fields of practically every state in the south.  Marvin, being male, thought of himself as superior and the more destructive of the two as he had a heartier appetite, but Mavis, seemingly the lesser of the two weevils, was more discerning.  She also had a secret.

Either she happened to read the work of Swedish evolutionary biologists who discovered that female weevils live longer when mated with males bred to reproduce later in life—or she simply noticed that, the more she mated with other weevils, the more energized she felt.  And as weevils are not monogamous, she mated a lot.  Soon, Mavis started cluing-in her less observant sisters to these dynamics and became the leader of the weevil feminist movement. She set a new longevity record by living to the ripe old age of twenty-one days, outliving Marvin by more than sixty hours.

Mavis’ dedication and lust showed the citizens of Enterprise and surrounding Coffee County that they needed to diversify their crops.  It wasn’t long before they became the country’s largest producer of peanuts and, later, peanut oil.  In 1919, as a tribute to her leadership and appetite, the citizens of Enterprise, Alabama erected a statue in Mavis’ honor in the middle of town.

The Enterprise, Alabama Weevil Monument

 Note: There really is a town in southern Alabama called Enterprise, and it does have a monument to the boll weevil. Also, Swedish evolutionary biologists really did discover that female weevils live longer when mated with males bred to reproduce later in life.

“BOLLI Matters” frequent contributor Larry Schwirian

Architect Larry and his fellow architect wife Caroline live in an historic preservation home in Newton and, together, lead BOLLI courses on architecture.  Larry has been an active participant in  and leader of the Writers Guild special interest group as well as serving on the BOLLI Journal Committee.