An AlogoRithm from Hell

Back in the day, the go-to guy for science at Bisbee High School was H.B. “Fuzzy” Warren. I have no idea what the initials stood for—those were never revealed. Ditto for his nickname. If Fuzzy was fuzzy once, he certainly wasn’t fuzzy by the time I walked into his physics class as a junior. I managed to pass, but that class marked the beginning of the end of my formal science education. Less than two years later in 1962, Bill was working for Motorola and learning how to do computer programming. Not me, I was off on a path for becoming a science-free English major. Eventually computers escaped the labs and spread to the rest of the world, bringing with them a whole new world as well as a whole new world of problems, including the word algorithm.

I’ve always had problems spelling algorithm. For starters, I always used to leave out the R, but now I have a handy-dandy way of remembering to use the R. All I have to do is think about that guy who allegedly claimed he had invented the Internet. Then there’s the rithm part. That’s challenging, too. I always think there should be a Y in it as in “rhythm and blues.” So far I haven’t found a mental elastic band to put around my head to remind me that the word contains an I not a Y!

Unfortunately, my life is now being adversely affected by two separate algorithms, not just one!

Last week on TV we saw a show where a fictional character ends up being mislabeled as someone else by faulty facial recognition software, aka an algorithm. As a result, the innocent guy is gunned down by cops who think he’s someone else. It was only a story after all, but boy did I get it.

For the past several months, I’ve been plagued by an unending stream of Facebook notifications for someone named Joanna. Many of those notices have to do with Joanna’s vaccine status, suggesting places where she could go to get a booster shot. (Hey, Facebook, my vaccination status is between me and my Maker and between me and my husband, but certainly not between me and a bunch of total strangers on Facebook! It’s none of their business!)

But back to my problem with Joanna. The first time it happened, I thought, “Wait a minute. Joanna is a fictional character. She doesn’t exist in the real world, and she doesn’t need to be vaccinated.” Then I hit the delete button which I’ve been doing on a regular basis ever since. Delete, delete, delete! A lot of the Joanna notifications have to do with Nelly’s Taqueria which I assumed was located somewhere in the backwoods of Texas. Nope, I just checked. It’s somewhere in the wilds of New York in a town called Hicksville. If that isn’t the wilds, I don’t know what is!

Eventually I decided there was a real Joanna somewhere, but I didn’t worry about her all that much until last week. On Friday when I tried to respond to a comment on my blog on Facebook, my reply was labeled as being from “the Joannas.” There’s really no way to fix it. It’s not like I can write to Facebook and say, “Look you guys, you’ve got me mixed up with somebody else.” I’m pretty sure they won’t pay any attention. So if you put a comment on Facebook and get a reply that says it’s from “the Joannas’ you can be pretty sure it comes from me rather than from a correspondent named Joanna who may or may not be a fictional character. Got it?

Then my AlogoRithm problem set in—a different one this time—simultaneously attacking both my Apple Watch and my iPhone. Those versions of my step-counting app on those got their noses out of joint and stopped speaking to one another. Steps that counted on the watch wouldn’t necessarily count on the phone. Bill’s device trouble shooting mantra goes like this: IF IT DOESN’T WORK, REBOOT! So I tried that twice, once on the watch and once on the phone. No go!

Last night, before charging the watch, I happened to check my pedometer app. It said I had ZERO steps. (By the way, after the word App, I hit the wrong key and my screen went blithely off to the App Store. No, no, no, I did NOT want to go there!) I looked from the watch to the phone which said I had 11,583. Then I happened to check my app settings on the phone. They had me on “Wheelchair” mode. They also had me listed as an eight-foot-one-inch male! No wonder my steps were screwed up. I fixed the settings.

This morning things were back to normal. My Apple Watch steps and my iPhone steps are in sync. YAY!

I just wish Joanna was that easily fixed because I just got a whole new batch of notifications for her from someone named Klark. As long as they’re coming to me, I doubt they’re getting through to her.

Sorry about that, Joanna, you might try letting Facebook know.

30 thoughts on “An AlogoRithm from Hell

  1. People think I’m Lisa. The worst are the collection agencies who refuse to believe that I’m not Lisa and don’t know anyone by that name. They’re reaching the number they dialed, but it’s been my number for 25 years. Wrong person, wrong city, wrong street. I’ll swap for your Facebook problem. Though, they’ve told me I posted incorrect info about something they won’t reveal and have stomped down my posts for at least 90 days.

    • On our home phone we get voicemails telling us that we are an individual with a Latino name who is due in court next week, even though our outgoing message clearly says that we are ourselves, with completely different first names than the guy who has the court date coming up- We have also heard from High School personnel trying to track down a student, also with a Latino name, whose first name does not in any way sound like our two first names- What strikes me is that this is not a one-time thing, but is ongoing- Apparently the guy continues to be due in court for many months, and the H.S. is still trying to track down the student almost a year later- The callers don’t give up easily, I’ll give them that-

      • We were forced to get rid of our landline since the local phone company was unable to fix it. They did, however, offer to credit any days we didn’t have service. So, we were forced to go cellular.
        I managed to keep the landline number for my phone since that number has been in existence for over 35 years. The major benefit of the cell phone is the spam block feature and I heartily recommend my new-found call-blocking! It’s even worked for a collection agency looking for someone with a similar surname. Of course, they keep spoofing numbers but my system recognizes many of them and POOF! they’re gone!

    • Well for the last ten years, I get calls to renew my car warranty. I have not had a car in ten years and when I did, it was not in the same State I now live in. For years on my landline number I got calls for Mitzy, I could not even register my phone number at Rite Aid, because Mitzy had never changed hers with Rite Aid. So social media is not the complete problem per see. On the other hand, my high school report for many years that they could not find me. Who told me this? Other classmates. Had to have two classmates intervene and set them straight. Then I discovered that many classmates from this high school had moved to Florida or at least spent Winters in Florida and were having reunions in Florida – 1,000 of miles away from our home State. One of the classmates from my town hooked up with another classmate from the town where the high school was and married. So then I got some questions on Facebook. Do I even want to have an expensive dinner with booze I don’t drink? No thank you. When I started to have children, my husband and I moved to a town that had its own high school and I did not have to send my kids to a school as a student from a sending district. (If you don’t know what a sending district is, just ask.)

    • 45 years ago, I started getting calls on my phone for a woman that I’d never heard of. Finally I started asking questions of the callers. Turned out each of them was relying on a printed phone directory from a local university. The prefix part of the phone numbers in the university dorms was 738. My number began with 783. (I don’t actually remember the numbers but I do remember that the digit flip was those two digits.) Whenever I got calls for her after that I just told the caller what was up and the correct number, and the calls petered out. It seemed so simple. Nowadays, tracking down all the possible sources of error seems daunting if not impossible!

      Of course, in the same era, I remember one of my university professors being cursed with a phone number that was one digit removed from the local pizza parlor. He told a story of catching his teenaged son taking orders for pizza.

      My current annoying hard-copy mail issue is the somebody bought a REALLY OLD mailing list with my previous name on it, and I’m suddenly getting piles of junk for that name. Grrrr!

  2. Omg, JA. You have been hacked. 🙂 Bummer. FB really isn’t worth the aggravation. Besides, you won’t get any satisfaction from the admin there because you’re on the wrong side. Just sayin’. Sorry to get political, but I couldn’t resist since you mentioned Algore. lol

    Your blog is great and you’re a great storyteller/writer. Best to you and yours.

    • It IS worth it if it is the only way to keep in touch with your adult kids and your almost adult grandkids. We don’t live in Mayberry and Andy Griffin has taken the last train to the coast.

  3. Algorithm is one of those words I can’t seem to understand, sort of like “meme.” My 10-year-old great-nephew has a Rubix cube that he solves by means of an “algorithm,” but I’m in the dark as to what that means.
    I do know that I get strange messages on Facebook sometimes, like the one supposedly from my cousin–and it even had her picture–saying that she’d won $400,000 and had noticed my name on the list as well, to win that. I responded, and she responded back, for a while. Subconsciously I noticed that her writing style had deteriorated in her old age (she’s about 6 years younger than I), and I finally figured it out, by getting her email from another cousin, that I’d been hacked too. Stuart is probably smart to not do social media–it’s a pain.

  4. There is a Hicksville, Long island, N.Y. Whether it’s “In the Wilds” or not I don’t know, but I will attempt to find out-
    I have avoided Facebook, and social media in general, like the plague- However I frequently get notifications from FB that people whose names are completely unknown to me are trying to contact me– I do not give in to any temptation I might feel to find out who these mysterious strangers might be-
    Maybe I am being paranoid, but I don’t relish the thought that Big Tech will gather even more information about me than they already have just by my being online- I also loathe and detest Zuckerberg- Has anyone else noticed that his face always seems to be completely expressionless?

  5. About 4 1/2 to 5 years ago I started getting phone calls offering David jobs. My name is not David, I am a retired kindergarten teacher and female. I don’t even know a David. I thought the first one was just a wrong number. But they continued for quite awhile. And I got text messages and more text messages. One was for a warehouse job in Bylthe, Ca. No thanks. I guess David.must have posted on some job site but with my cell number. And I had that number for years, so he could not ever have had that number. I did try to see if I could find the site where he had posted. With no last name, that didn’t work. The text message continued for years! You would think that those postings would have a fairly snort life span, but no. About a year ago I changed carriers from AT&T to T Mobile. And I finally quit getting David’s job offers. David where ever you are, I hope you got a job but please lose my cell number.

  6. Amazing the things that bother both of us. [JA Jance: joana; other psudomyms] Amazing esp.when I am in 6th chapter of Man Overboard by you. which raises many more questions than it solves. The English is terrible but being corrected by another algorithm as we speak. This Typewriter has a mind of someone else controlling it. Have I {Chuck from Tacoma] lost total control of my life.?$….thanks for keeping my mind busy and sane/ I think…

  7. Judy, I used to live not far from Hicksville, NY. If you have time, please read the Wikipedia article about Hicksville. It really is a nice place.

  8. I, too, have a problem with algorithm and consortium. I used to work for a woman who pronounced consortium as “consorshum” and I learned it as con-so-ti-um. She had a fit when I said it my way…

  9. Sounds very frustrating–like my day yesterday dealing with installing a new modem and Century Link. Now my answering machine doesn’t work. Must be something in the air!!

  10. Don’t ya just love facebook? I can never figure out why I get some of the stuff I do on the news feed but at least I’m not getting someone else’s notifications, Yet….

  11. I bet Joanna (or Klark) have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn, if you’ll just send them some money in Bitcoin or a gift card. Wouldn’t it be a hoot if you got fleeced by a namesake of one of your characters? Put Ali on the case!

  12. says it finds over 100 instances of Joanna Brady in 40 states. One of my favorite tennis players is Jennifer Brady. Beau is probably safe from duplication but I don’t envy anyone who needs to choose a name for a book character!

  13. All sounds so familiar. Social Security is after a couple of people at my address for Medicare. I have lived here for 22 years, the people before me about 17. No one knows them. Found one lady in N Cal. Then I started checking records. One of theirs had my address as previous address. My address shows people other than those who have lived here. Funny, 1962 was the year I took my first Fortran class. Loved it. Then they added Macros, and for the next 28 years, other “Apps”. I have decided I am an electronics jinx. ipads, answering machines, Cable. Now it is my file at the pharmacy! FB is just one of several frustrating platforms. Amazon started several years ago. Important because I have to look for favorite authors (J A Jance) instead of them showing up. Once you buy a different genre (children’s), you are bombarded. Ok, enough now. Waiting for next release! Stay safe and well.

  14. Thank you, your post helped me to gain a better perspective of the algorithm experience I recently had with Facebook, plus it made me laugh which is always good for the soul. Yes, I had to use autocorrect for the word algorithm, lol.

    Recently my FB account was suddenly and with no warning put on a 90 restriction. I tried to figure out why and the reason that was given was that I had made some false posts as well as ones that were violent. Now, considering what I mainly post to my page is simply things that are funny, to bring more laughter into the world; memories; beautiful photographs either others or myself have had the privilege to take; photos of my dogs; photos of places we hike or RV at; photos of my children, spouse, family, or friends; memes or quotes that I feel are positive and worthwhile lessons in life; some short essays which have had a positive impact on my life or lessons I have learned, several which have come from your book, After The Fire; basically neutral to positive content which I fact check regularly.

    So I looked at the posts Facebook claimed I made and found I only posted one of the posts and it was one of the ones that claimed to have violent images. It was one I posted on Holocaust Remembrance Day and it was a picture of Auschwitz where yes, violent and horrible things occurred but also a place that needs to be remembered to help prevent such atrocities in the future. The other posts had my name on them but I noticed the profile picture was from an account I had opened over 10 years ago that I was going to use to show my art on but hadn’t done anything with since. I had the page friended on the FB page I use on a regular basis but hadn’t thought about it in years.

    When I went to sign into that account, I found it didn’t recognize any email address I have had nor any passwords so it had clearly been hacked. I reported that to FB as well as the fact that the account they put the restriction on was not the account that had made those posts. I did find it odd that I was not able to see any of the posts made by the other account on my page or when I went to the other page.

    FB refused to take down the other account so basically now a hacker runs a page purporting to be me and FB thinks that is just fine. Then they ignored my support tickets. That of course angered me so I started turning in a support ticket or two on the subject of the restriction and hacked account every day without fail. It took three straight weeks of that before one day I opened my page and the restriction was gone with no explanation nor no apology–guess that was asking too much. I don’t know if it was due to an algorithm or someone thinking I had made the posts reporting them. Guess I will never know as FB’s support is nearly non existent and to actually get limited support one has to be quite persistent.

    So lesson learned, algorithms don’t always make life easier, often it is best to have a real life human being double checking what algorithms decide, persistence pays, that getting out of FB jail is truly a joyful experience after being wrongfully convicted, and life is too short not to laugh about life’s little complications.

  15. Dear Judy,
    I can so relate to this problem! A week I ago discovered that Facebook locked my account for “unusual activity on this account”. It was then I learned how un-reliable Facebook’s customer service really is — try non-existent!! They do not accept telephone calls nor do they have a method to make a correction to an error. I have two Gmail accounts but am only able to access the newer account. The old account has 41,000+ messages that i need to delete — have no way to do this!!! The company listed as being helpful is a Scam and my bank warned me of their status. Am ready to scream at this mess!!!!
    Hopefully my days will get better.
    BTW — love this weekly journal as I love your novels!!! We share a Norse connection and Scouting!!

    • I recently had a horrible experience with Facebook as well. They put a 90 day restriction on my account for posts I did not made but were made by an account I had created over 10 years ago and essentially forgot about that has my same name. I tried to get into that account and found it had been hacked and none of my email addresses or passwords will help me regain access. I reported both these things to FB via their so called, “support”. I heard nothing back and the restriction remained in place but they responded that the other account was a legitimate one and they wouldn’t take it down despite the fact it was hacked and now someone was impersonating me and my actually account was being restricted because posts made that were out of my control since I no longer have access to the account in my same name that was making the posts. So I got angry and started sending in support tickets each and every day, sometimes twice a day for good measure, reporting the same problem over and over and over again. It took three straight weeks of doing that before suddenly when I opened my facebook page one day I noticed the restriction was gone. Of course, no explanation or apology for their mistake was made and of course someone still has control over the other account but I did take it off my friends list to put some further separation between my true account and the hacked one. So in some ways persistence is the only thing that pays when dealing with a company that is not beholden to the people it serves but rather to stakeholders, stockholders, profit and greed. They eventually get tired of the constant thorn in their sides.

  16. LOL! LOL! So a friend called and said what was I talking about grants on Instagram. Now my friend is blonde and she of course clicked on it to see what I was talking about. NOT ME! My granddaughter goes into my account and comes back LOL herself. Sends a picture of an older, chubby, whitehaired guy. My “spook” or whatever you want to call him. Now the good news is she fixed the problem??? The funnier news is he was the only one and lives in Ohio. I thought about it and decided it would stress my brother who lives in Ohio if I called and shared the joke:-) Then my 10 year old great grandson comes visiting and shows me some apps he’s making. Do I want to learn?

  17. I’m a firm believer in science, and in fact my Dad’s only publication was one lauding science called “The Scientist and the Scientific Method.” Without science, we have only superstition as a basis for learning truth.

    And computers didn’t “escape the labs.” Early day computers were heavily used in business (remember International Business Machines?!), particularly the Aerospace business, and practitioners far exceeded what was happening in the “labs” back in those days. Computers were in heavy use already in the early 1950s, and the lab/academic discipline of “Computer Science” didn’t come along until late that decade.

    Robert L. Glass

  18. Judy,
    I am sorry you had the facebook problem (the computer algorithm want’s me to capitalize but I will not give them that satisfaction) but you have been able to use your platform to show the real every day problems with facebook. I too had a problem which really had me upset for a week as that is how I keep up with some of my children. Facebook locked me out said I had 90 days to fix the problem or my account would be completely removed. It took me a couple days communicating with a computer to finally discover they felt I was not old enough to have an account. Now I know my picture on the account if maybe close to 10 years old but I still figure any real person, not an algorithm, could determine that I am somewhere near my actual age of 80. How old do you have to be to have any account?
    Thanks for your blog every week. They are almost as good as your books.

  19. I’ve been trying to convince FB I’m a tall, 26-year old slender blonde but they’re not having it……

  20. At least you didn’t get bored and entry some sweepstakes that now has me receiving emails from everyone offering Gerber Life to Nugenix to Tarot readings. I unsubscribed, but usually the email came back with a notification that it would take 10 days to clear my email off their lists. Why? It only took 12 hours for them to start emailing me. Sometimes I hate computers.

Comments are closed.