Sunday, July 01, 2012

The Sad Demise of Random Information

I guess it was inevitable that when information overload got to be more than we humans could deal with that we would start becoming self-censors. The tech tools that have the capacity to immerse us in information each day also come with the controls to restrain the flow. Naturally, when given the option of picking what information we see, we pick the just the stuff we like – in a very SPECIFIC and limited way. And therein lies the problem. My dirty little secret is that I do NOT control all of the information coming into my life. I realize that my retro approach is out of style and probably labels me as a technophobe in some circles. On the other hand, I use two computers in tandem most days, as well as an iPhone and an IPad and other digital toys. I am rather adept at managing all of these tools – at least for an old lady! I run my business virtually and I love cloud computing. I have Google Alerts and I know about RSS feeds. I have the technology to rigidly control the information that reaches me, but I don’t use it. I remember when there were just two TV channels to choose from and if you wanted to see a show, you made a point of being in front of the set when it was on. While you could choose between rock and classical music, the radio stations played what they chose to play (or perhaps what the DJ chose to play – remember payola?), and we teenagers loved the rock and roll stations and never questioned the selections. We chose books to read based on what was in the bookstore for sale or the library for check-out. Or sometimes we simply read the books that were already in the house because books were expensive to buy. There weren’t that many magazines to subscribe to and most households got the same mixture. In my house growing up, it was US News and World Report, Readers’ Digest, Better Homes and Garden , McCall's, Ladies Home Journal, National Geographic, Fortune and American Heritage. What an assortment and each brought us new, unplanned adventures each month! There was a morning paper and an evening paper and only one of each. We read them both – everybody did. It wasn’t even something you thought about. We watched whatever was on at the movie theater and there were just a handful of movie theatres in the city and certainly no multi—plexes. The drive-in was showing whatever it was showing. In those days we took also aimless rides in the country on Sunday afternoons . Life was slow and much of it was random. We ate what was on special at the supermarket and wore what was on sale at the department store – that was just the way it was. But gradually, our lifestyles changed. We got VCRs and learned how to tape shows for viewing later. We learned how to record or favorite songs on cassette tapes and carried a Walkman. The aimless drives fell victim to the gasoline shortage. We now have out GPS and don’t even get lost the way we used to. We know our route and we can even preview it in advance. The magazines and newspapers were hold outs, but eventually they went on line and became indexed and searchable. We started shopping at Amazon and then began downloading books, magazines and newspapers. And of course today there is a magazine for every interest, and most have apps you can download on your phone or tablet. In short, we went from a few choices to a zillion choices in everything we do and the information barrage increased exponentially. And we just put up the filters – but I couldn’t bear to filter everything and to have a steady diet of only what interests me. I need the stimulation of what doesn’t really interest me that much. For me that means sitting down in front of the TV and checking to see what might be on and maybe picking something that doesn’t excite me. It means reading a magazine that is not my favorite. It also means turning on the radio in the car and listening to whatever is playing. I choose to read my newspaper by turning the paper pages instead of searching the online index. Sometimes, I turn off the GPS and intuit my way on a road I have never traveled that goes in the right general direction. Yes, we even buy season theater subscriptions, taking a chance on randomness. There is a synergy that happens when you bring in a mixture of random ideas, and that is worth all the minutes lost in ideas that really are not that relevant or inspiring. We, as humans, need that kind of rich fuel for our brains.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Mall - Today and Yesterday

I have nothing against shopping malls, but they just don’t fit with my shopping patterns. Nonetheless yesterday I went to the mall because I needed new glasses. When I use the term “mall” I am referring to the big enclosed shopping areas that have multiple stores all facing toward a large enclosed central area. I am a destination shopper – that is, I am not intro strolling past lots of stores and window-shopping. I am more into going to the store that sells what I want to buy, buying it and going home. I find malls frustrating because I have to figure out what is where, find the nearest entrance, and usually have to walk some distance to find my destination. If a mall store has an exterior entrance they are much more likely to get my business. But once a store is inside a mall with no outside entrance, it is off my radar screen. But yesterday, I found myself at a local mall, getting glasses, and waiting around “for about an hour.” I was hungry, so I went a short distance to the chicken sandwich shop and got a sandwich and a bottle of water. After that I found the restroom and went to an ATM. So far, so good, but I still had 40 minutes to kill. I walked around a little bit looking in store windows and at the kiosks. It was too bad I didn’t need a new case for my iPhone because there seemed to be lots of places selling them. There were stores selling fancy lingerie, running shoes, inexpensive jewelry, video games, and cell phones – not to mention other stuff that was so far off my radar screen I didn’t notice. There were two perfectly good department stores I could have gone into and no doubt found something to spend money on, but they were both a bit of a trek from where I was sitting, now happily perched reading my email. Since the store where I bought my glasses and the food court were dead zones for my phone and iPad, I was pleased to find a place to sit where I got a decent signal. So I sat there until it was time to get my glasses. While I was sitting there a small train came by carrying long-suffering adults and bunches of small children. I thought about catching the train, but then I had no accompanying small children and I wasn’t sure that once I got into one of the little cars that I could get out. Besides, I really didn’t have a destination! But, I have to say that I realize that I am the average “mall customer. “ I work long hours and so for me shopping is a necessity, and not a fun activity. I have problems with my feet, so walking through a mall is no different than walking in an airport – it makes my feet hurt. At this point in my life, I need to buy very little and I know what I like and where to buy it. But the malls are filled with people younger than me, some with baby strollers and kids in tow, moving happily from store to store and clearly they are spending money or the stores would not survive. So I am just a demographic misfit. I remember the first mall I ever experienced was Eastwood Mall in Birmingham. I just checked it out the Web and refreshed my memory. http://www.birminghamrewound.com/EastwoodMall. Opened in 1960, it was the biggest mall in the South, with 47 stores. I boasted 73 degrees inside year-around. I remember that it was cooled by artesian well water. When it opened, the whole city was abuzz. Imagine, 47 stores and not going outside. Birmingham can get VERY hot in the summer and VERY cold in the winter, so the prospect was tantalizing. I remember going to the opening and marveling at the whole concept! At the time I was in 9th grade – the perfect age for appreciating such a marvel. I understand that Eastwood Mall is gone now, but that area remains a shopping mecca for the east side of Birmingham. When we moved to Maryland in 1976, I frequented Harundale Mall http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harundale_Mall in Glen Burnie, MD. It was said to the first enclosed shopping mall on the east coast and first air conditioned mall in America. I fondly remember Hoschild-Kohn. Today that mall is gone, replaced by a Plaza. In that same time frame, I shopped at the Severna Park Mall and Jumpers Hole Mall, now both turned inside out. It seems that the trend today is to turn the smaller malls into strip centers. Today there are mega- regional malls that are forcing the smaller regional malls to reconfigure, sometimes converting to plazas or putting office space where department stores once thrived. Today shopping is definitely different than it was in the late fifties when malls first came on the scene. Some say the malls killed the downtowns in some American cities. So now we have a few really large malls, downtowns that still have empty department store buildings, plazas that have been converted from medium-sized malls, warehouses, big boxes and local shopping districts and the newly emerging town centers. The local shopping districts seem to be ever-popular because many residents appreciate the need to support their local merchants. But… what changes lie ahead of us with the Internet and its impact of shopping? We already have chain stores saying you can order it online and pick-it up at the store. With some “big box” stores, it is possible check on the availability of a given item before ever leaving your home. Now you can scan in an item with your cell phone and check the price at another store. But as long as there are malls, teenagers will go to the movies, young couples will push their infants in strollers and old ladies will kill time while waiting on their glasses.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Trying to Keep Up

As a “leading edge” Baby Boomer I am part of group with mixed feelings about technology and change. I know some who have decided that computers are too hard and plane travel to too exhausting. So, why not just blow off the whole technology thing and spend my golden years in a state of unfrustrated bliss waiting for the final sunset? Do I really need to be spending precious minutes to reset network settings, de-frag, and reboot? I simply cannot stand being left out! I had to have a transistor radio and learn to drive when I was 15, and I am that same person today. So I have my laptop, my iPhone, my iPad, and various cool accessories. And I am going around giving speeches about “apps. “ I have heard people talking about these 3-D printers, and I guess I just thought they would take some plastic stuff like modeling clay and turn it into a replica of something or another. That didn’t sound particularly appealing. Then yesterday I read that they can actually make parts out of different materials. There is a video on the Web where someone actually downloaded a bicycle. And I heard that it is possible to download replacement body parts – including major organs. I bet this is a case where the cartridges cost way more than the printer – though that is nothing new! But WOW! What a concept – almost science fiction. The other day, I got to go ahead in the TSA line, and the guard called me “dearie.” Two other people also got to go ahead and they were women about my age or a bit older. I was concerned that the three of us had been selected for a special full body cavity search, having read about the TSA crackdown on elderly women, some of whom are wearing Depends when going through security. So I put on my most professional and sprightly air, and quickly did the shoe, jacket, belt removal dance, while deftly putting my laptop in a bin, stuffing my driver’s license into my wallet, and presenting myself, feet on yellow outlines, ready for the scanner. There were no signs of hesitation and confusion. I walked calmly into the scanner, put my hands over my head, and seconds later emerged. What I was not prepared for was the applause I received from the TSA guy. He said it was because I had no metal. I think it was because I pulled it off! If I do say so myself, I got through that line as well as any 21 year old, and they were all still waiting in line. So many changes…so fast! But I love the pace and can’t see myself ever being without the toys of the Information Age. Nor can I see myself giving up on air travel! I resolve to keep going and keep my brain engaged. The alternative is too scary!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

My Wallet Over the Years

I don’t think I had a wallet until I got to Junior High. Before then my money was mostly change that lived in a piggy bank. And I really never spent money on anything in those days but rides at “Kiddieland.” The rides were $.10 so a mere ten dimes in my pocket would provide me with a full evening of entertainment. But in junior high my allowance actually was folding money and I could actually earn a few dollars babysitting. But the really important thing for any self-respecting teenagers to carry around was pictures of friends. The school photo company facilitated that by giving us a fresh supply to trade each year. Remember the plastic sleeves stuffed with photos? In those days all wallets were pretty much one design – folded over in the middle with pictures on the left, a change pocket on the right and a pouch along the back for bills. Grown-ups had wallets with secret hiding places. My dad always kept a $50 bill there – just in case. He also had a special card that he could use to buy gasoline at the Gulf station and his driver’s license. My mother had her charge-a-plate (addressograph plate) that had its own leatherette sleeve. That metal plate was the equivalent of having a charge card good at all the major department stores in town. By high school wallet designs had changed and included a snap-top change purse and a more compact design. I remember one wallet in particular. It was cream leather with little metallic decorative dots on it, accented with blue leather trim. But the best part was that I had a matching hard shell key case. At age 15, I had my learner’s permit, so I needed a place for car keys and a key to the house—where I was finally old enough to be left alone. Of course, the most prominent item in the wallet was my learner’s permit and a year later, my driver’s license. In those days the Alabama licenses were printed in a green official looking design on cardboard. The learner’s permit had a pink stripe and my driver’s license had a yellow stripe until I turned 21. In college, the photos of friends were still there, along with the driver’s license and the photo student ID. When I was in graduate school when I got my first credit card, a card branded by a local bank that has evolved into a major credit card company today. I think it had a $50 limit. My wallet kept getting thicker over the years with more credit cards, a military ID, cute plastic copies of my diplomas (you never know when you might need one of those), and, as the years went by, pictures of our son. The wallet style got progressively more roomy. At one point, I had a monstrosity that was about 10” tall, with many pockets and room for a passport. The goal was to have a plastic sleeve for each credit card and photo. The older I get, the less stuff I have to carry around with me, the happier I am. I actually have two wallets – a regular wallet and a travel wallet. Realistically, when I travel I don’t need a lot of the cards and such like I need at home. My travel wallet is very small black micro-fiber fold-over. The everyday wallet I use today is similar to the one I had in high school, but it is a tri-fold. It even has a snap-close change purse, just like the one from high school. But this one is black leather and is made by some big name designer whose work graced the Nordstrom rack. It has three pockets for cards. I have a few business and personal credit cards, a military ID, my driver’s license, a folded up spare check, an ATM card and the newest addition, the Medicare card. Yes, I have a place for cash, though I sure don’t carry as much as I used to. I prefer to just dump my loose change in the side pocket of my purse, but this wallet has a change purse. I keep a half-dozen Susan B. Anthony dollars stuffed in there. I am not sure where I got them, but will be nice to have some time I am sure. As for the secret department, I will never tell.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Call of the Bathrobe

The Call of the Bathrobe Working virtually, I spend more time in my bathrobe than when I went to the office every day. The one I prefer is white waffle weave with my initials subtly monogrammed in beige. Of course, I am not sure why I thought I needed to have it monogrammed, but there was this special when I ordered it online. When I am in my bathrobe I want to see no one, and I just want to get my work done. Somehow in today’s world, the bathrobe has come to symbolize luxury and the plusher the robe, the more decadent one is supposed to feel wearing it. I am not sure about that because some of the really plush robes are so heavy that a winter coat would be lighter. Some hotel rooms have robes, while others do not. The rule seems to be -- “The pricier the chain the more likelihood of a robe” And sometimes I sense that if I had opted for a more costly room, say in the “tower,” that I would have gotten a robe to wear during my stay as part of the deal. But it really doesn’t matter because the odds are that the issued robe won’t fit. Besides, I always bring my own travel robe – a lavender number made of microfiber that folds up nicely in my carry-on. When I travel, I like to check out the spa. The fancier places have locker rooms and issue you a robe and slippers to change into. I have to say that spa robes vary as much as hotel room robes. It was a spa where I first discovered the white, waffle weave design I love. Some spa robes are plain terrycloth, like a soft bath-towel, while other are lined with cotton and are terry cloth on the outside. Beginning plus-sized, I always worry when wearing a spa robe, especially when forced to wear the robe in a co-ed setting in the “relaxation” room – you know the place with the cucumber water where they make you wait for your therapist. I tried to think back about bathrobes in earlier stages on my life. My mother made me one as a child, but after that I don’t remember spending much time wearing a bathrobe, though I guess I have always had one around. Some were flannel, others were terrycloth, others were nylon or microfiber. But I never really had time for them. I used to get up, get dressed, and go on about my life. Bathrobes were for people who moved more slowly, who lingered over breakfast and the newspaper. You know – old people! Hmmh.. I am coming up in my 66th birthday. Could that be a reason for my attachment to my bathrobe? Of course not! It is just comfortable and I am not rushing out the door. Here is it 11:15 on a Sunday morning and I still wearing my robe.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Boomer Technology Addiction

Decades ago when I smoked, I reached for a cigarette first thing in the morning or when I finished a meal. Today I reach for my iPhone. There is something decidedly similar about the compulsion.

I am sure there must be scientific studies and brain scans that show how areas of the brain light up when one ingests e-mail or tweets. As a 65 year old, running a virtual business, I am bombarded with an array of information whenever I am “connected” and that is most of the time.
But what I wonder is – how did I get to the point where I can move from laptop, to tablet to smart phone, effortlessly and without even thinking about it? What were the steps in the progression that led me here?

In the few short years I lived before television, I recall listening to the radio with my family. Nobody messed frenetically with the dial. We listened and then the adults turned it off. The situation was pretty much the same for the television.

As teenagers and college students, however, my generation took the car radio and turned it into a random juke box. We programmed in the rock stations on the push buttons and jumped from button to button looking for the songs we liked. And, of course, we became masters at twisting the dials on our transistor radios; we wore tiny earphones plugged into our handheld radios and tuned out the adults around us. My generation, at least the female component, loved talking on the telephone.

Shortly after we got married in 1969, we got our first remote controlled TV. Of course, it did have a wire, but it was possible to change channels from the sofa. Of course, channel surfing among three stations was not such a big deal, but I remember channel surfing before it had a name.

My generation, the leading-edge baby boomers, was simply not that intimidated by technology and we accepted change as inevitable and natural -- and most of us still do! We are the generation whose parents played 78 rpm records, while we played 45s and graduated to 33 1/3s in high school. Then we got into reel to reel audio tapes in various sizes; 8 track cassettes, audio cassettes, and CDs. Now I play music on my iPhone, set on shuffle, through the car radio. It reminds me of the old days of pushing buttons to change the song.

I went from a manual typewriter, to an electric typewriter, to a Selectric, to a word processor, to an Epson computer with a green screen, to a Morrow portable computer the size of a sewing machine with an orange seven inch screen, to a Atari ST, to a PC with Windows 3.1, to various iterations of Windows on various desk top and laptop machines, and yes, I also have a Mac. And, of course, I have the iPad.

My first car phone came in a bag the size of a shoebox and I thought it was very cool. Since then I have had just about any configuration of phone you can imagine – from the Nokia basic to the flip-phone to the Palm Treo to the iPhone finally.

But along the way, there were other devices that were must haves. I remember my Atari Portfolio fondly because it allowed me to do wonderful things without the bulky computer. I remember my pager through Skytel and years later, the little netbook.

At this point, there has been convergence – sort of! But it still takes me three devices to do everything I want to do. The laptop is still best for doing serious work. The iPad is super for doing work on the run or taking notes in a meeting, but it isn’t a phone. But the laptop is a modern version of the typewriter, and the iPhone took the place of the radio, home phone and record player.

What I do know is that the thing I spend the most time doing each day – e-mail – will reach me on all three devices. At some level I hate e-mail. It is incessant, filled with garbage, and intrusive. On the other hand, it keeps me connected with others; it is the way I move projects forward and communicate.

We Boomers grew up with technology and it has shaped us to value connectedness. What is really so addictive about e-mail may just be is the shot of connectedness that come with each email. The message says “you are alive and people want to tell you things.” It sure beats the alternative of sitting in my recliner channel surfing among the reruns.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Manila Folders to the Cloud

I got my first filing cabinet when I was in a senior in college. Education majors were supposed to put together a resource file. The theory was that this file would grow and grow through your professional life and after retiring after 40 years of teaching you might pass it down to a deserving young teacher. So I got myself a single drawer file and I was good to go.

For the 20 years I was an educator, I dutifully clipped this and that that might be good for teaching media skills and I pulled out any thought-provoking article about the “information age” that was gradually moving in to change our lives. I carefully labeled manila folders and put them in alphabetical order. I kept all sorts of things that interested me, from restaurants to travel destinations. I kept notes from family and friends and treasures our son’s life.

In 1989, I threw out much of my “resource” file because it was outdated and I was no longer teaching. Nobody but me would want what I had managed to save all of those years. So out it all went and I haven’t missed any of it. But I kept the personal stuff and restaurant and travel clips.
About that same time, I discovered the joy of hanging folders. I got them in an array of pretty colors and we used them for everything in my business and I used them at home as well. I had a lot of filing that needed to be done, and it was always accumulating. I used to hire people to come in just to file. I hated it, but I saw no way around it.

But somewhere along the line the world changed and the promise of information age came to life in the form of a scanner. The first ones we had were slow and clunky and documents copied one sheet at a time. Now we have stack loader scanners that quickly take a stack of documents and convert them to a single PDF.

We now scan in anything of any importance and we file it carefully online. Once it is scanned, it is retrained unless there is a security issue, but there is no fancy filing system. We hold the scanned documents in a stack by date – just in case we have to go digging. But I see a time coming soon where even that will be excessive.

I run a virtual company, but I have a storage unit filled with filing cabinets. I am simply aging these documents in place. Another few years and I can trash (or shred them all) and then I will get rid of the filing cabinets and the storage unit or at least get a much smaller one.

Today we file in the “cloud.” We back-up in the “cloud.” That is where we do everything. I really don’t need to keep much of anything in paper files. I am close to clearing the filing cabinets out of my home office. BUT… I am not quite there yet.

When I must deal with paper documents I keep them in plastic sleeves – sometimes in portable hanging files or in notebooks. I know what I must do – I must scan those paper documents in and recycle the paper. Not this week, but I know I will someday soon.

The Information Age is here!

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Bedside Tables

The bedside table-top is a window into what we value enough to keep it close to us while we sleep or use in the those final moments before dozing off. Over the years, in our society, this collection has changed dramatically for most of us.

My grandmother had a clock that was shaped like a ship’s wheel and it was made of brass (or fake brass more likely). It was electric. This clock stopped when she died in 1957. Back then clocks did things like that! She had a lamp too – the kind made out of ceramic with a shade. She had a glass for her teeth to soak overnight. She had a radio at her bedside – nothing fancy, just a radio with no clock. She usually had a copy of a ladies’ magazine like Better Homes and Gardens.

My grandfather loved stories about the old West and he generally had one going, resting on his bedside table beside his lamp. He had his teeth glass as well. He loved cigars, but having been told by his doctor that he could no longer smoke them, he chewed them. There was a Muriel cigar resting in an ashtray on his bedside table.

My mother had a clock radio which I think she probably got in about 1950. It was Motorola and made out of Bakelite. Each night she put it on “automatic” and fell asleep to the background sounds of “The People Speak,” a call-in radio program. She had a bean bag ashtray and copy of whatever she reading, which was typically either a book she for her literary club, a detective magazine or the American Heritage magazine or National Geographic –demonstrating the diversity of her interests. Of course, she had a bedside lamp.

My father also had an ashtray, a lamp, a flashlight in case the power went off, and a stack of magazines and books he was reading. He was an avid reader, but his favorites were Fortune, Reader’s Digest, and US News and World Report.

When I was a child, I just had a reading lamp and my book du jour – which was usually a Bobbsey Twins adventure on Lake Minnetonka. I usually had a glass of milk before going to sleep, so I would leave the empty glass for pick up by my long suffering mother in the a.m.

When I became a teenager, I got my own clock radio and bigger and better bedside lamp. I used to listen late at night to the 50,000 watt rock stations from Atlanta, Nashville and New Orleans. Not wanting to rent another instrument from the phone company, my Dad indulged me with my own phone from his collection of old phones. I ended up with a phone from the 1930s that my mother gold-leafed. My girlfriends thought it was pretty odd, but I had a phone of my own and if you were a teenager in 1960, that was a big deal!

When I was a young married adult, the radio, clock and light got combined into one compact instrument. I opted for a “regular” phone in beige, although at the time the princess phone was preferred by most. I always found the princess phone too lightweight and easy to pull off the table, though admitted smaller. Of course, I still had the ashtray because smoking had entrenched itself into my life. A few years later, however, the ashtray was gone, as was the smoking addiction.

When we built a new house in 1992, we mounted high –intensity lights on each side of our king-sized bed. We bought new matching end tables and we each had our digital clock radio and phone. There was room for a book and glasses. Somewhere along the way, my vision had begun to fail and if I wanted to read, glasses became necessary. Even with glasses, I found paperbacks hard to read, so I usually had a magazine or hardbound book.

Today, my bedside table has a digital clock radio that has a slot on the top for the previous generation of iPhone. It is hard to set, so it says an hour earlier than it really is. I never listen to it; it won’t work with he phone I bought last May, and it has the wrong time. Upon reflection, I think it should be retired! Besides I need the room on the table. I have run out of electric outlets beside the bed, so I am running a couple of cords from around the corner, so the bedside table has various small white wires going in different directions. There is the controller for the electric blanket, which can be removed now that the electric blanket has been stashed away for the summer. There is, of course, my iPhone 4, plugged into its white cable and its new BIG brother the iPad 3 and its cable. And the iPad is sitting on top of the poor Kindle in its leather case with built- in pop-up light.

I guess today I should re-organize my bedside table, removing the clock radio and the electric blanket controller. And sadly, I guess I should retire the Kindle by downloading its books onto the iPad and try to find the Kindle a good home. If I do that, I should have enough outlets beside the bed and won’t have to run any wires around the corner. AND, the book (yes, I am reading a book) will fit on the bedside table and no longer have to live on the dresser top. Change is hard, as is growing old – but thank goodness, I still have my teeth in my mouth and not in a glass! There is just so much that will fit on a bedside table!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Wine

When I was a child, my parents did not drink wine with meals. Like most Southerners, they drank iced tea. The sterling silver had ice-tea spoons and there were certain LARGE glass dedicated to iced tea only. It wasn’t that my parents were “tea-totalers,” but my Dad’s taste ran more toward the hard stuff. But wine – well, that was mostly for medicinal purposes.

My grandfather had hardening of the arteries. He wasn’t a drinker, but the doctor forced him to drink a small glass of wine every day. His “medicine” was Mogen David wine, an inexpensive, high alcohol-content fortified wine still made today. Of course, he referred to it as David Morgan wine. My father knew what he meant and brought it home from the State store on a regular basis. My father was the only one in the family who bought alcohol. While I guess my mother could have legally gone to the State store, she was a Southern lady and not about to be seen there.

The other kind of wine my father had to bring home was sherry. It was known as cure for “cramps.” When I had my first “cramps” I got to taste sherry for the first time. Mostly my mother used it to cook with – in an amazing “sherry wine pie” and as a major ingredient in her holiday sausage ball recipe.

When my parents had their 25th wedding anniversary, I joined with their friends in giving them a big party. The punch had sauterne and champagne and I remember having a bit too much of it!

In college, there was beer and there was bourbon, but no wine. The bourbon was consumed in Coca-Cola, and the beer came in kegs at frat parties. As a co-ed, I could get kicked out of school if I drank any of it. Obviously, not so for the boys who could drink as much as they liked – the old double-standard.

In graduate school I got some acquaintance with real wine. I was then old enough to drink and my husband-to-be introduced me to chianti – the kind in the straw bottle that became ubiquitous with its candle and melted wax. He cooked pizza and proved to me that it was really chianti that went with pizza, not beer.

Along about that same time, everyone I knew was drinking rose’ made by Lancers and Mateus. I never have been much on rose, but the bottles are nice.

When we moved to southern California in 1971, we discovered wineries and went to wine tastings and bought wine by the case. And, of course, we bought wine glasses for us and for my parents, who were by then also gaining an appreciation of wine.

Since then wines have come and gone into our lives. I remember when there were three flavors – white, red and rose’. White mostly was chablis and red mostly was burgundy if it wasn’t Chianti. Chablis, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, viognier, resisling, and their blended kin lead the whites. Burgundy, cabarnet sauvignon, chianti, merlot, zinfandel and malbec bid for our attention. We have been to Europe many times and had fine wines in Germany, France, Austria, Italy and even Greece. My personal favorites are Alsatian.

We bought a bottle of Sherry in St. Thomas on our honeymoon in 1969. We still have it, unopened. These days we don’t drink much sherry. The “cramps” are a painful memory mercifully gone forever. So we will wait another few years and open that wine on our 50th anniversary. It probably has gone bad, but we’ll see. We can share it with our son and his wife. Of course, none of us really has that much of a taste for sherry. Oh well, it seemed like the thing to buy at the time!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Making Copies

Remember carbon paper? It came in four colors – blue, black, blue/black and red – at least those are the only colors I remember. I actually still have some stashed away in basic black. I saw it on sale someplace about ten years ago and decided to buy some before it became extinct. Of course, I am not sure what I thought I would do with it. As it turns out, I have found a few instances when I used it with a clipboard to make a handwritten receipt at the same time as the original purchase information. At that rate, I will be able to leave an almost full package for my grandchildren (Hmmh.. maybe I should tell them what is for. )

I remember typing with carbon paper. You could actually have 5 or 6 sheets of carbon paper if your copies were made on very thin onion-skin paper. But the copies on the top were darker than the ones on the bottom. So, the most “worthy” copied recipients got the darkest copies.

Of course, typing using carbon paper was not for anyone prone to typos. The process for making a correction was no fun. First, you would tear off as many small slips of paper as you had carbons. You would then go to the last carbon and erase the error with a special typing eraser with a little stiff brush on opposite end from the eraser (my favorite brand was a soft green color). You used the brush to get rid of the erasure fragments. Then you would move to the next sheet and insert a small piece of paper behind the carbon so the pressure you apply in making the erasure will not smear the page behind it. Once you have erased all of the copies and the original, you would hit the correct key and hope the erasure is not too noticeable.

In grammar school, high school and even college, we got dittos – sometimes still wreaking of intoxicating fluid and damp to the touch, but always purple. The teachers could handwrite or type them on a Ditto master. Forever, I will associate the smell of Ditto fluid with the dreaded “pop quiz.”

For larger copy jobs, there was the fancier duplicating machine which printed out in black very quickly. This type machine was used by my professors and my sorority alike. I mastered the art of typing stencils, provided I had an adequate supply of stencil correction fluid – another memorable smell. It was hard to get the long stencil positioned just right and the ink pad properly saturated.

By the time I was in graduate school in 1968, the campus bookstore had a copier. It was a wonderful machine that spared me from using carbon paper. For certain papers, I need to keep a copy. For others, I had to submit multiple copies. Life was good!

When I got my first job out grad school, it was as Assistant Librarian a small college in the mid-west. The library had a copy machine and I was in charge of it. It was a Xerox 914 copier, the workhorse of the day. It was a very large box that stood on the floor. As with any copier, it was prone to misfeeds. Whenever there was a misfeed, we had to remove the shiny black drum, handling it carefully to avoid scratching it. Only certain staff members were qualified to exercise the care necessary for this delicate task.

We moved to California is 1971, and I longed for the convenience of a home copier. I purchased a used thermal copier (Thermofax machine). It would make copies and it would also laminate and make overhead transparencies
By the late 1970s when I worked at an independent school, there was a collection of Diito machines, duplicating machines, a copier and a thermal copier – not to mention access to a printing company. And we still used carbon paper sometimes!
In 1980, I was working in a new, small independent school. Someone gave us a strange copier that required us to make an intermediary sheet before making a copy. I never really liked that machine. We bought a Ditto machine and managed for quite a few years with what was referred to as “fuzzy facsimiles.”

In the ‘80s, ‘90s and into the 2000s, the thing to do was to rent a big fancy copier. At the school and later when I started my own business, the big copier was our salvation. We had different copiers made by different companies, but all them misfeed prone. Repairs required waiting for the “copier guy” and sometimes meant ordering a part and waiting several days. Still, we were making copies. We said goodbye to carbon paper, Dittos and the duplicating machine.

But when I took my business virtual in 2006, I dumped the rental copier. For what I was paying each month, I could buy a small copier that is still, to this date, working OK. It has been repaired a couple of times, but is functional.
These days, we also have all-in-ones --- we have three of them in the house and they all make copies – albeit slowly – especially if in color. The fax machine also makes copies. So, counting the copier, we have at least five ways to make copies. But we don’t make so many copies these days.

Most everything we do is saved digitally and never printed – much less copied. On the other hand, there is still the need to send out larger quantities of things to be printed. Instead of making copies, usually I send the file to a printer who makes the copies and send them wherever they are to go. That spares me of the challenges of collating and stapling.
But there is still that range between 2 and 25 copies where the simplest thing is to do it on the copier. This is the job I hate the most. My little copier is smart enough to collate, but it won’t staple.

I guess the next step for me with be to find a fast, small volume copier that collates. It better not mis-feed, but I bet it will. They all seem to misfeed.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Returning to New Orleans

This will be my third New Orleans blog post. It has now been nearly seven years since Katrina hit New Orleans and changed things forever. I make a point of coming back to New Orleans every few years because there is something about this city that is like none other.

The French Quarter today is as vibrant as ever. The rhythm of jazz fills Jackson Square. The steam calliope from the Natchez drowns out all the surrounding sounds. The booze still flow in the dive bars, sports bars and elegant hotel lounges. Policemen sit astride very tall horses while drunks sit on the curbside a few feet away. People sit in CafĂ© DuMonde sipping coffee and eating powdered sugar coated beignets. This is New Orleans, the way it is supposed to be and hopefully will remain. There may still be tension and pain remaining as Katrina’s legacy, but they are not visible to me as a tourist.

But once you leave the French Quarter, you see signs that this is a city still marred by a horrific tragedy. The Lower 9th Ward still show signs of obliteration, mixed with homes that have been reborn. Some are architecturally intriguing modern home with oblique angles and solar panels – a stark contrast to the early 20th century shot-gun houses that Katrina destroyed. Others appear to be replicas of what was there before, but only nicer. Along I-10, the signs of destruction still remain – office buildings, homes, shopping centers and big box stores – only shells of themselves.

We brought two other couples with us this trip, my fourth since Katrina and we are being “good tourists” and pumping some dollars into the local economy. Nice dinners, jazz clubs, sightseeing tours, museums – a great way to spend a weekend!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Fine Arts?

When I was growing up, I used to love the picture of the dog eating the little girl’s ice cone. It was hanging in my room along with the fiberboard cut outs of Little Bo-Peep and her lost sheep (magically reunited on my wall).

In the living room, there were framed pictures of some flowers broken down with all of their parts labeled, and there were two framed pictures from Heidelberg, Germany sent to my grandmother from my uncle who was stationed there in the early 1950s.

When we moved “over the mountain” in 1958, my mother spruced up the den (our first such room) with K-mart framed Paris street scenes (which she bought in a packet at the department store warehouse sale). She bought some really nice large “flower prints” which she had professionally framed. She gave the Heidelberg prints back to my uncle after my grandmother passed away in 1957.

I took art in elementary school, but mostly that was working with modeling clay and finger paints. There was no mention of fine art. Somehow I managed to graduate from high school and college and never visit an art museum or learn anything about the art world. Not totally living in a cave, I had heard of Picasso, Van Gogh and Monet and maybe a few others. But if you asked me anything about their art, I would have to have said – “I have no clue.”

I was about to receive my Master’s degree and had to also take the National Teacher’s Exam. Word was you had best know something about fine art to pass this exam. Oops! As it happened, the night before I was to take the test, I was able to borrow a slide show of the famous works of art from the library where I was working as a graduate assistant. That night, my future husband (with a fine prep school education) was able to give me a crash course in matching artists with their works. Sure enough, those same pictures were on the test!

On our honeymoon, my husband insisted we buy an oil painting of a the Flamboyant trees at Ramey Air Force Base, painted by a member of the Officers’ Wives’ Club.

In the years that followed we bought more and more art. During our stint in southern California we bought some paintings by Edmond Woods, whose art we fell in love with at a Palm Spring Gallery. Other paintings followed, along with some pencil signed and numbered prints by local fine artists and enamels on copper purchased at school fundraiser art auctions. I picked up some nice prints from the Cayman Islands.

When we moved into our new house in 1992, we re-assessed our art, including reviewing pictures inherited from my parents. I found those large framed flower prints of my mother’s and they are in the living room. In my father’s papers, I some nice prints of Birmingham scenes, so I got them framed and they hang in our downstairs family room. Suffice to say that we have art all over the walls throughout the house. Nothing we have is that valuable, but we like it – each piece brings back memories.

These days, we frequent art galleries wherever we find ourselves in the world. My favorite art destination, however, is Giverny, Monet’s Garden. My favorite art museum is the Brandywine River Museum, in Chadd’s Ford, PA – the showcase of Wyeth family art. There is something special about both of these places. You can somehow sense the connection between the reality of the location and how it is reflected in the art. That is the magnet that keeps drawing me back to both places in different seasons.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Shopping Bags

Remember going to the department store as a kid and they had racks of shopping bags? Those had handles that cut into young fingers and were so big they dragged the ground if you were not quite tall enough. As the day wore on, the bags got heavier. Even kids knew that the fancier the store, the nicer the bag.

It was a wise shopper’s “best practice” to go to the cheaper stores first, progressing to the most expensive ones. This, of course, makes perfect sense. For the Depression generation it was not optional – it was a mandate! If you can find it at a less expensive store, then why not buy it there.

I am not sure if it was that the bags from the more prestigious stores were better or that by the time we got to the pricey stores, the morning’s collection of bags were starting to go. I only know that we came got back to the parking lot carrying bags from the most expensive stores.
My mother and grandmother always saved shopping bags – at least the nice ones. At Christmas they often were beautifully decorated. Of course, we re-used shopping bags. While the cheapies might be used for trash (pre-plastic bags), the fancier ones were used to carry things about when donating to the rummage sale or going to the dry cleaner or maybe taking supplies to a literary club, PTA or DAR meeting.

Grocery bags were a constant when I was growing up. They never had handles and it was impossible to carry more than two at time. But they were ubiquitous. Need to wrap a package, draw a dress pattern, line the trash can, burn the trash (yes, we did that), start a fire in the fireplace, protect from paint spills, or a zillion other things – just grab a brown paper bag. Kids liked to cut holes in them and decorate them. The “bag on your head” concept was alive and well.

I am not sure when the plastic bag entered the scene, but it might have been the mid-60s and life has not been the same since. I remember raking leaves into black plastic bags, much as we do today. There were, and still are, white bags for the kitchen and small white bags for small trash cans. Now we have blue ones for recycling. We all know the code!

Some years ago, someone invented an orange leaf bags decorated like a pumpkin. For a few years you saw them every fall. What a great way to get kids to rake leaves, but maybe the kids got wise to the fact that inflating a large orange bag that looks like pumpkin is really just raking leaves.

Today, the stores use thin plastic bags that are easy to carry. Word is that there is legislation to ban them because of their environmental impact. I have to admit I like them better than paper bags because I have to make fewer trips and the bottom is less likely to rip out than with paper. On the other hand, I see the environmental problem. Personally, I recycle my plastic bags for all sorts of purposes and find them handy to store wadded up in one of their own on the pantry doorknob.

I know I am supposed to be using the non-disposable bags that the grocery stores sell. In various fits of environmental fervor I have actually bought the bags. The only problem is I can never seem to remember to bring them with me to the grocery store. Sometimes they get as far as car, but then I forget to take them with me into the store. On the other hand, they come in handy for all sorts of things, so it is good they are conveniently waiting for in the garage.

My husband collects paper bags and shopping bags. We have an endless supply in the pantry. I am not sure what he does with them, but he too, had a Depression era mother, so some things you just have to do – and saving bags in one of them! Even I can't throw out the ones from the expensive stores -- it is in the DNA.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Things I Never Anticipated in 1964

1. Taking off our shoes, belt and jackets to board a plane
2. Trash pick-up reduced and replaced with recycling pick-ups
3. Gas that cost more than $3 per gallon
4. Gas mileage over 30 miles per gallon
5. Tiny cars that make a VW Beetle look big!
6. Bottled water
7. 600 e-mail messages every day
8. Networking
9. Metal detector scan to go in a government building
10. Stamps that cost more than $.40
11. Typing on something the size of deck of cards
12. People being arrested for typing while driving
13. Gizmos that convince you to take really bad roads
14. A way to watch TV programs later
15. Channel surfing
16. Telephones that sound like our favorite songs
17. Kids teaching grandparents how to do things
18. Skim milks that tastes good
19. Watermelon in January
20. Cameras without film
21. Blow dryers
22. Pillow Top Beds
23. Hotel beds in all white with loads of throw pillows
24. Plane trips with only peanuts to eat
25. Peanut butter being banned in schools
26. Digital clocks
27. Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors
28. Candles without flames
29. Water heaters without tanks
30. Countertops made out of granite
31. Solar panels
32. Ugly shoes being “OK” if your feet hurt
33. Money dispensing machines
34. Cafes where everybody is typing
35. Beds that inflate that you can’t also take in the pool
36. Spray on tan
37. Leaf blowers
38. Fax machines
39. 3-D printers
40. Dozens of yogurt choices
41. Public television as innovative
42. Ordinary people going on cruises
43. Suitcases on wheels
44. People writing “blogs”
45. Ice coming from the refrigerator door
46. Air popcorn
47. Organic foods
48. Sea salt grinders
49. Massages for “nice” people
50. APPS!

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Electric Gadgets

My earliest memory of an electric “gadget” was the hand held massager my uncle sent my mother all the way from Germany in the early 1950’s. She could strap little vibrating monster to her hand and massage by grandmother’s sore shoulders.

A few years later we got an electric can opener. My mother loved it because it replaced the hand-cranked model with the little wheel --- oddly, the kind I prefer today. Of course, I open far fewer cans.

My mother had a fascination with manicure equipment and she was especially proud of his manicure tool that reminded me of a miniature power sander. I still have it! But I prefer a simple nail file.

When I was thirteen I received a “Hot-dogger” as a present. You could put six frankfurters in this little device – sticking each end of a metal post. They “dogs” cooked well enough to impress my teenage used it once and then forever it rested under the mini-kitchen counter in the “rumpus room.”

In the early 60s, hair was VERY important to teenage girls and I was no exception. The ability to dry one’s hair without having to sleep in rollers overnight was the ultimate goal. I remember the table top dryer that looked very much like a modern hand-held dryer. I stood on a metal stand and squirted out hot air. The secret was to position yourself so that your entire head eventually got the hot air. Just think – if we had only scrapped the rollers and taken that thing off the stand we would have leapfrogged ahead 20 years in hair-drying technology. But alas, the bag dryer and the table-top dome dryer intervened. It was not until the mid-70s that hand-held dryers came into use. The other hair innovation was hot-rollers. Imagine the idea of rolling your DRY hair with the hot roller that actually produced similar results to sleeping in rollers.

My mother was especially fond of her electric knife. I still have that too, but I never seem to find reason to use it. But she could make short work of slicing a rump roast or ham. I don’t much care for rump roast, and my ham comes spiral sliced—so the electric knife goes unused.
When we first got married, back in 1969, my husband had to have a slicing machine. Over the years it has come in handy for slicing the occasional chunk of cheese or large stick of salami, but mostly it just sits in the pantry waiting patiently for its next slicing job.
We also have a “foot machine” in the closet. About thirty years ago those were all the rage. You would fill it with water, and turn on the heat and it would vibrate and soothe your tired feet. Hmmh, I wonder if it still works! My feet could use a little soothing!

I had a “power” toothbrush decades ago; it ran on batteries. A few years ago I bought another power toothbrush – one that has a little charging stand and costs about the same as a life-time supply of toothbrushes (at least my remaining lifetime anyway).

I have reluctance to dispose of anything that plugs in and still heats, vibrates, files, or slices – you just never know when I might want it again. I think I going to go right now and dig out the foot machine.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Oysters

I am just finishing up a wonderful weekend in Apalachicola, Florida. All of my life, I have heard of the tasty oysters harvested from this sleepy northwest Florida fishing village. This weekend I have had them every way imaginable and they were succulent and delicious. I especially liked them lightly broiled on the half-shell.

Clearly the economy of this quaint town is strongly tied to the oyster and the residents we spoke with and the museum displays speak of the oyster as a fact of life – something that is just part of the way things are here. The oyster supply must seem unending.

But I know the other side of the story, because I live on a tidal estuary on the Chesapeake Bay. The water is brown and murky, though I know just a few decades ago it was clear. The oyster population in our rivers is down tremendously and we, along with scores of other waterfront homeowners, are cultivating baby oysters in the hopes that they can survive and help filter the water in the river.

This year I have read newspaper articles about oystermen giving up their trade because the harvest is so small. The economic impact of this declining industry is taking its toll, along with the housing market, general unemployment and the rest. This is a far cry from the days when Baltimore packing houses were canning oysters to be sent all over the country.

At home we can still get tasty oysters, including the prized Chincoteague oysters from Virginia. It is still possible to go to a local restaurant and order oysters on the half-shell or fried. And they still taste great. How wonderful it would be to once again know that the oysters were plentiful in the Chesapeake Bay. And the best part is that the Bay would once again be clear!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

50 Things I Don't Have to Worry About Anymore

1. Sleeping in hair rollers
2. Using a pencil for math
3. Worrying if anyone can read my handwriting
4. Getting the snow tires or chains put on the car
5. Adding water to the leftovers to heat-up on the stove top
6. Being a lady going into a liquor store
7. Getting up to change the channel
8. “Teasing” my hair
9. Erasing or covering up typos
10. Change for the toll booth
11. Carrying around a checkbook
12. Keeping a fold-up rain bonnet in my purse
13. Licking postage stamps
14. Tearing up salad greens
15. Having a quarter for a phone call
16. Standing in line at the bank to make a deposit
17. Files of information in case I need it in the future
18. Encyclopedias
19. Saving magazines
20. Saving maps
21. Dictionaries
22. Thesaurus
23. Carrying suitcases by the handle
24. Cutting up chicken
25. Milk going bad in a week
26. Tangled hair after shampooing
27. Lifting heavy boxes of powdered detergent
28. Washing the dishes BEFORE putting them in the dishwasher
29. Winding my watch
30. Being sure that the store where I am shopping is punched on my “charge-plate”
31. Having my feet X-rayed at the shoe store
32. Changing the blade in a razor
33. Refilling the ice trays
34. Whipping cream in the mixer
35. Inspecting a hotel room before accepting it
36. Hand-waxing the car
37. Burning the paper trash in the back yard
38. Long distance charges
39. Somebody opening the car door on the passenger side while stopped at light
40. Getting lost
41. Telling people the hotel phone number for emergencies
42. Putting something hot down on the countertop
43. No way to know if the house is on fire except the smell of smoke
44. Changing light bulbs frequently
45. Locking and unlocking the car with a key
46. Loud, slow dental drills
47. Taking a stack of books on vacation
48. Wearing out the car upholstery
49. The pressure cooker exploding
50. Carbon paper

50 Things I Don't Have to Worry About Anymore

1. Sleeping in hair rollers
2. Using a pencil for math
3. Worrying if anyone can read my handwriting
4. Getting the snow tires or chains put on the car
5. Adding water to the leftovers to heat-up on the stove top
6. Being a lady going into a liquor store
7. Getting up to change the channel
8. “Teasing” my hair
9. Erasing or covering up typos
10. Change for the toll booth
11. Carrying around a checkbook
12. Keeping a fold-up rain bonnet in my purse
13. Licking postage stamps
14. Tearing up salad greens
15. Having a quarter for a phone call
16. Standing in line at the bank to make a deposit
17. Files of information in case I need it in the future
18. Encyclopedias
19. Saving magazines
20. Saving maps
21. Dictionaries
22. Thesaurus
23. Carrying suitcases by the handle
24. Cutting up chicken
25. Milk going bad in a week
26. Tangled hair after shampooing
27. Lifting heavy boxes of powdered detergent
28. Washing the dishes BEFORE putting them in the dishwasher
29. Winding my watch
30. Being sure that the store where I am shopping is punched on my “charge-plate”
31. Having my feet X-rayed at the shoe store
32. Changing the blade in a razor
33. Refilling the ice trays
34. Whipping cream in the mixer
35. Inspecting a hotel room before accepting it
36. Hand-waxing the car
37. Burning the paper trash in the back yard
38. Long distance charges
39. Somebody opening the car door on the passenger side while stopped at light
40. Getting lost
41. Telling people the hotel phone number for emergencies
42. Putting something hot down on the countertop
43. No way to know if the house is on fire except the smell of smoke
44. Changing light bulbs frequently
45. Locking and unlocking the car with a key
46. Loud, slow dental drills
47. Taking a stack of books on vacation
48. Wearing out the car upholstery
49. The pressure cooker exploding
50. Carbon paper

Sunday, January 15, 2012

50 Things I Didn't Have to Worry About in 1964

I won't say that life has gotten simpler, since I graduated from high school in 1964, but I will say there is more to think about, worry about and generally keep up with. I thought it would be fun to compile a list of some of things that were not a part of my life in 1964.


1. Losing my phone in my purse
2. Losing the remote control in the sofa
3. Finding a key case big enough to hold a really FAT key
4. De-magnetizing my room key
5. The hot tub
6. Losing data
7. Filling up my hard drive
8. Recycling anything
9. Things exploding in the microwave oven
10. Figuring out how to open a child proof cap
11. Having my GPS lead me astray
12. Ice spewing from the dispenser
13. Faxes not going through
14. Fastening my seatbelt
15. Changing my watch battery
16. Identity theft
17. Getting a phone call during a play
18. Remembering to bring the sunscreen
19. Remembering to use bug spray
20. Texting at a traffic light
21. Charging my tooth brush
22. Too many post-it notes
23. Uploading photos to anything
24. Red light cameras
25. The cable going out
26. Rebooting the Ethernet hub
27. Finding an ATM
28. A barcode that can’t be read
29. Wearing the letters off the keyboard
30. The ice maker getting stuck
31. Handling hundreds of emails each day
32. SPAM (not the food)
33. Getting into the HOV lane
34. Getting in the EZ Pass Lane
35. Wearing slip on shoes when flying
36. Putting my cosmetics in a zippered bag
37. Full body scans at the airport
38. Unattended luggage
39. Terrorists
40. Fitting my roller bag in the overhead bin
41. Printing my boarding pass the night before my flight
42. Listening to my GPS complain about recalculating
43. Calling 911 in an emergency
44. Loading music onto my telephone
45. Synchronizing my calendar
46. Pumping gas
47. Storing plastic grocery bags
48. Being on time for the free breakfast at the motel
49. Gaining admission to the airport lounge
50. Opening the garage door when the power is out

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Techie or Technophobe - Critical Decisions

The other day I read an ad for a new kind of computer. This ad was in a magazine for the over fifty audience, and it was promoting a touchscreen computer, with a bright screen and no connector cables. It was designed for seniors who were overwhelmed by conventional computers. The ad made the point is that is too bad that seniors, whose quality of life could benefit from access to the world of the Internet and email, are the very group that has the most challenges in using computers.

At 65, I have friends, my age and a bit older, who use computers all the time and couldn’t live without them and all the latest gadgets. On the other hand, I also have some friends who use a computer in a limited way and still others who never learned and aren’t about to this late in life.
I have to say I am grateful that I am pretty comfortable with computers and gadgets, as it is helpful now and I think it will ensure me a better life when the body starts to fail. Unlike some folks, I find my brain is the best part of the brain/body package and I know as long as I can keep my brain engaged there will a reason to keep on living.

Looking back, I have to ask myself what made me a bit of a “techie” instead of a “technophobe.” There were definite decision points along the way. Decisions I made decades ago set the pattern and it has only continued. How easy it would have been to have gone the other way!

When I was in high school, my mother made me take personal typing. She could type and felt it would be useful for me in college to type term papers. And she was right! I always typed my own papers in college and in graduate school. I never thought of typing as secretarial work, even when I had a secretary to do it for me. I often found myself typing my own work rather than writing it out and giving it to someone else to type. Quite simply, I could think better while typing. The only problem was the whole thing about typos. Erasable bond paper became my best friend until they invented typewriters with correction ribbons.

When I was in graduate school, I had to write this 250+ page paper and it was no fun typing it on my electric typewriter. My husband had access to this amazing typewriter than recorded what you typed onto magnetic tape. I put that entire document into this machine and printed it out. And the best part was I could make corrections on the magnetic type.

But when my husband brought home his first home computer about 35 years ago, he tried to convince me I needed to use it. He told me I could put my magazine subscriber lists on it and my file of advertisers. I told him that I had other ways of doing that and it was more trouble than it was worth. But within a few months he got me to try it and I was hooked, though more often than not, confused.

Shortly afterwards , my husband got a flyer in the mail from Auburn University School of Engineering about a short course in microcomputers. It was being offered in Birmingham and I could stay with my parents. I decided to go and learn what I could. I was the only non-engineer in the class and thank goodness the course wasn’t graded.

Then I started using computers more and more. I had to have my own computer about 25 years ago and have had my own ever since. At work, I was the one who championed bringing in computers.
As the years went by, the computer got be
tter and more powerful. And I kept on upgrading and keeping with the changes. I have been using a laptop now for more than 15 years and some form of desktop machine for more 34 years.

But what would my life be like if I had never learned to type; or if I had rejected computers as irrelevant to me when they first came along?

I have a lot of sympathy for my friends who struggle with computers and with those who refuse to try. Thirty years of learning is a lot to catch up with quickly. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have never used a computer before and be faced with a new desktop computer, a sea of cables and only an online manual written in a tech speak, usually translated from some other language. I consider myself lucky to have made a few good choices decades ago.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

A Computer without Data

A few years ago, I would have said that was a really strange concept. But now, in the context of cloud computing, it makes a lot of sense. The data is in the clouds and the computer just accesses the data remotely. I think that they used to call that a terminal – whatever! Of course, we were doing cloud computing before it had a name, and have been operating virtually since 2006. So, what’s to change?

In a nutshell, I am finally ready to keep my computers clean – to store all the data I need someplace else that I can access it and change it from my computers, my cell phone, my netbook or anyone else’s computer. For years, our client databases , accounting files, and management systems have been Web based. Last year, I started saving finished work in what I called Work Product folders, by client.

So what’s left? E-mail was what was holding me back. I had resisted moving where I did email from an Outlook file on my computer because I really felt the online email service was just too slow! So whenever I traveled, I had to take my laptop with me so I could access my searchable email archive. Old habits die hard!

A few things happened to make me reconsider how I handled email. The first was that I managed to repair a relatively new laptop that I had replaced because the cursor jumped around. So now suddenly I have two pretty nice laptops that were basically identical. Then my son and my husband make some changes in the home WIFI network that really speeded up Internet use. Now I can finally get the speed I need to use the Web-based email program.

The implications of using the Web based email program are huge! Now I can do my email on any of my devices and I am actually operating on the server. That means when I delete a message, it is gone (well in the trash and can be recovered until I empty the trash). You know what they say about handling something only once!

On the whole, Web-based email sounds like a perfect solution, BUT! Unfortunately, I get around 500 emails now a day and even just keeping the stuff I must maintain for our company archive would quickly max out the storage I have on my email account. So I left my Outlook account set up on both laptops and let it download automatically. So, yes, I am keeping some data on my computers, but I am only using it as an archive – so I am pretending that it doesn’t count. Besides I have set up an archive folder on the my Web based email desktop and move anything especially worth keeping there.

Since all of our important documents are stored in the clouds and I have solved my email problem, I am really free! Well, not exactly – there is still the calendar. I have had my calendar on my iphone for the last few years and had given up on having it on my computer, Alas, I have discovered (later than the rest of the world, I suspect) that you can link a Google calendar to your iphone. This is nice, though I must admit that I am seldom without my phone. On the other hand, others who need to can easily access my calendar.

So, another year – another radical change! When I stop liking change I will know I am truly old!