Hot on the Web
Lost in Cyberspace
Online San Diego
Feature Articles
Book Reviews and Reading Diary
Music Reviews
Favorite quotates
Contact Me

Ever more tasks now online

Hot on the Web

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on October 25, 2002
(Issue 2043, The Outer Limits)

I recently found work again after having a couple of dot.coms go out beneath me.

And part of the modern ritual of economic courtship is providing your blushing employer papers to prove you have a legal right to work in this country.

After tearing my house apart, I realized that I no longer know where my Social Security card or birth certificate are. Getting a new Social Security card means spending an afternoon or morning at the local Social Security office — not exactly the way to get your new boss to think highly of your reliability.

But you don't need both the card and certificate — one or the other will do.

Still, I was born in Dayton, Ohio — a bit of a drive to the county records office from San Diego.

So I went online and found the official Web site of Montgomery County, Ohio, clicked on the Birth and Death Records link, and ended up at VitalCheck.

VitalCheck is a service that lets you pay by credit card online to get a legal copy of your birth certificate. The forms were easy to fill out, they used a respected and secure online server for the credit card transaction, and sent a confirmation receipt to my e-mail basket.

No different from shopping at any other established online merchant.

On the other hand

At the same time I'm looking for work, I'm also shopping for new life insurance — the term policy was coming up on 10 years old, and my monthly premiums were set to double.

My insurance agent found me a new policy that is actually less expensive than the old one I bought at age 30, and so I called the original insurance company to cancel.

Interestingly, this turned out to be case in which the government is moving ahead faster than private business in adopting online technology.

While counties and states across the country are turning to partnerships with outfits like VitalCheck, my old insurance company has no method for validating identity — and so I cannot cancel my policy online or by phone. I'll have to write a letter with all the particulars, and then mail or fax it.

The birth certificate will be here in a week or so.

No financial impetus

True enough, the insurance company has no strong interest in making it easier for me to cancel the policy. Having customers leave provides no benefit to the bottom line.

And it's not like insurance companies are alone in this. For years, America Online was infamous for making it ridiculously difficult to quit your subscription (which was paid for by automatically charging your credit card each month).

At one time in the early 1990s, you could only quit AOL by telephone!

A growing media backlash and inquiries from various government agencies got AOL to add an unsubscribe option to the online menus, and to clearly identify the steps by which you can cancel your subscription.

But AOL is an online entity — my insurance company is probably unlikely to make it easy to drop their policies via Internet any time in the near future.

Opera for Mac

The Opera browser is now out in a beta of version 6 for the Mac.

Version 6 for Windows has been out for awhile, and is the most stable browser I've found for Windows.

The new version for Mac seems to have all the features the Windows version has. It now supports Unicode fonts (extended non-Western font support), has the tab windowing system (so you can have multiple sites open in one overall window), and has the multiple search engine entries built into the interface.

One neat feature is the slider bar for adjusting the magnification of the page. Located right on the main toolbar, it is undoubtedly easier than clicking View>Zoom>150% — it's even easier than the Windows version of clicking on the 100% toolbar entry, then choosing another resolution.

As with the Windows version, though, plug-in support remains spotty for Opera — although it is getting better.