I am not trying to sell you this gadget, but I think this little thing and the other things like it are the future of connectivity. It suggests a few months down the road, there will be many more portable connectivity widgets. They will continue to improve, to become more affordable and powerful.

Prices always drop as technology comes of age. Remember when a portable hard drive costs thousands of dollars? When a terabyte of data storage was unthinkably huge?

What this signals is that soon enough no one will need an outside company or an expensive, contracted data plan to use the Internet.

Karma WidgetOur internet service providers have been holding us at gunpoint for decades. They have extorted the maximum money from us while providing the least possible service.

This technology promises freedom. Buy as much bandwidth as you need. Have your own “server.” One that fits in your pocket and goes wherever you go.

Combine this technology with the coming of age of WiFi television … and I prophesy freedom from the pirates who have held us for ransom. They will finally get what they deserve, to be out of business.

Read “The Best Mobile Hotspots of 2015” in PC Magazine to get a peek at the rest of the field.


No one knows for sure what the future holds … but this looks like an idea whose time has come. I’m not selling this product (or any product like it). Or buying it, either. Not yet. Just pondering all the money I won’t have to pay an ISP in the future.

How delicious is freedom!




Given the furor over gay marriage, it should have come as no surprise that there would be hysterical outrage over the legalized joining of humans with their favorite device, animal, mineral, or plant.

As soon as the technology became available, millions of teenagers raced to fuse with their cell phones, nerds with their computers, aviators with fighter planes, animal rights activists with their favorite vanishing species (leading some to wonder if this will not signal the death knell for many species) and tree huggers with large forests. Fundamentalist Christian groups — never imagining the far-reaching implications of this law — scrambled to get out of church and on the street.


“Clearly,” stated the Reverend Righteous P. Indignation, spokesman for the Church of the Ridiculous Assumption, “This is not what God had in mind. Although the Bible does not specifically mention marriage — or fusion — with non-human things, this can’t be right in His eyes.” Indignation’s statement was greeted by catcalls, neighing, bleats, beeps and a goodly amount of shrill ringing.

Many, mirroring the human yearning for the freedom of flight have chosen to form a union with some kind of bird. Eagles were most popular, with geese, swans, and other water fowl close behind. Racing enthusiasts have become mostly horse, often with the rear end as the dominant segment while their bookies have chosen chainsaws and jack hammers.

While corporations hustled to reinvent themselves in light of a weirdly altered target audience, communications providers from television to Hollywood tried to reconfigure everything from seating in stadiums to snacks at movie kiosks.

The potential impact on major sports has not yet been calculated. Some prefer to be a ball and others a bat, so to speak.

Only Walmart, ever sanguine, merely widened aisles in super-stores.

“We never care what customers look like,” said a spokesman. “If they look or behave like sheep or cattle, as long as they pay at the register, everyone is welcome at Wally World.”


Four computers in this house run Windows 7. There were more, but the kids moved out, so it’s just Garry and me. We each have a desktop with a big, high-definition screen. We don’t use either of them.

Instead, we each have a laptop, which we use all the time. There’s nothing wrong with the desktops except they live in our “offices” and we have chosen to live in the living room. That’s why they call it a living room, right?

alienware side view computer

Together. All the time. If we are awake and home, we are on the love seat, or maybe in the kitchen, but this is comedy central, where it all happens. The dogs, the laptops, the big TV … and us.

At the end of July, Microsoft shoved Windows 10 out the door and into the waiting, eager arms of the public. Of which we are two, or maybe four, if you count computers rather than people.

Everyone in the world got a little symbol telling them they could upgrade as soon as it came their turn “on the great queue.”

We didn’t get the little symbol. Not on any one of our computers and while this didn’t worry me initially — I’m in no great hurry to install a new operating system on four computers — eventually I realized that I was not going to be able to avoid this giant communal computer upgrade event.

What to do?

I went to Microsoft’s “What do I do if I didn’t get the little upgrade doohickie in my system tray?” page. They carefully explained what was eligible (any legal copy that isn’t a bulk licence) of Windows 7.


So why didn’t any of my computers get the signal that “we’re good to go?”

“Try this little application to check if you are eligible.”

72-Computer in use_06

I did. On all four computers, it said “NOT ELIGIBLE” and then, a few more clicks to get the message: “Because this computer isn’t up to date.” I’ve got all my computers set on auto-update. It isn’t MY fault that they reject one out of three downloads Microsoft sends.

I sighed. I whined. Then, I started updating. Everything. My husband’s was easy. He was just missing the most recent updates. Installed, rebooted, and voilà. There was the flag. Quickly, I put him on the queue. Microsoft will let him know when his wife can install his new copy of Windows 10. Oh boy. Something to look forward to.

Garry in his office

Next, I updated my laptop. That took a little longer and I had to install all the updates I’d rejected because I don’t use Internet Explorer and didn’t see the point in updating it. I bit the bullet and installed everything, even the crap I thought was a total waste of time and hard drive space.

The symbol appeared and I signed up.

The recalcitrant desktops were another story. Garry’s hadn’t even been turned on for the past few months, so it was missing updates for probably a year. I got it started, rebooted, it started downloading more. I rebooted. When the third round began I went to the next room and confronted my desk top, the one with that great, big super high-definition screen that I don’t use anymore because it’s got everything I want in a computer except a decent graphics board.

Office by window light - Photo: Marilyn Armstrong

I set it to updating. It updated. Then, after a reboot, it updated more. Another reboot. More updates. I needed coffee and this morning, its caramel macchiado, so I ambled to the kitchen. And totally forgot about the struggling computers in the other rooms.

Many, many hours later, as the sun was sinking in the west, I realized I’d forgotten to go back and check the two desktops.

Both were awaiting a reboot. I remember when Microsoft used to just reboot them for you, like it or not. Even if you were in the final edits of your great American novel, your computer would turn itself off and reboot. Apparently enough people threatened to burn down Microsoft headquarters after losing significant work. Today, the “Reboot now?” prompt sits in the middle of your screen. Waiting. Like refugees from the Nazis at Rick’s place in Casablanca. They wait, and wait, and wait.

I rebooted. Wouldn’t you know it? One more — I hoped final — round of updates. I got them started. Went back, watched a rerun of NCIS, then returned, rebooted, rebooted

Triumph! Both computers displayed the white flag of surrender. Eligible at last! Talk about overcoming obstacles. Wowie zowie, this household is ready to rock and roll.

computer and keyboard

I signed up both computers for Windows 10, noticing as I did it that it was the same email addresses I had used for the laptops because (tada) we each have two computers, but only one email address per person. I hope that doesn’t confuse Microsoft.

Surely (and don’t call me Shirley) we can’t be the only people to own more than one computer, right? I mean … this isn’t 1980 where people still think a family can share one computer (ha! how long did that last!).

And so it went. Overcoming obstacles 101. Four computers updated in one day. Am I ready for an “attagirl” or what?


Unwilling to even think about today’s daily prompt, I offer this instead. Just food for thought. Or paranoia.

After contemplating operating systems at length, I started rethinking the whole thing and I began to wonder if operating systems will be relevant a couple of years from now. Because everything is changing.

computer gargoyle

Change is hardly new to the world of computers and technology. Change is what drives the industry. Change is how come you need to buy new software, new hardware, new operating systems. Change can make things work better, but it’s not unusual to discover that your “upgrade” is a downgrade because what used to work no longer does. You pays your money, you takes your chances.

I grew to adulthood in a pre-computer society. I started working before cable TV, when encyclopedias were huge heavy sets of books and a computer was gigantic and needed a whole building for itself. It ran on punch cards and used weird languages like COBOL and FORTRAN. Even decades later, personal computers were just one step removed from a doorstop, floppy disks were 5-1/2 inches across and really flopped.

Those early machines (personal units, not mainframes) — I hesitate to call them computers — didn’t do much. They didn’t have hard drives. There was no software and no user-friendly interface. I don’t think the concept existed. No WYSIWYG. What you saw was a black screen with lurid green letters that made you feel like you were going blind after an hour or two.

Then … everything changed.

First there was Apple and then Windows. Windows didn’t work very well at first, but soon enough, it got better. And then better again.

There were different players and more operating systems in the beginning. Wang and DEC plus a crazy quilt of dedicated word processors and computers made by Commodore, Atari and many others. For a while, I had an Amstrad, a European machine that was almost a computer, kind an intelligent typewriter with a screen that spit out paper.

This was the Amstrad!

Then, everything changed again. Computers started to really do stuff. It was magic!

I worked on this machine in Israel using the first word processing tool, WordStar.

For a while, it seemed like everything changed every day. One day, there was a thing called the Internet. I had to buy and install Netscape to access it. Once connected, there wasn’t much going on, but it was cool to just roam around and see what there was do see.

You could send electronic mail — email — if you had a friends with computers. You sent them messages over old copper telephone wires and everything happened in slow motion.

My first personal computer.

To get on the Internet , you turned on the computer and the modem. Went to the kitchen. Prepared dinner. Cooked dinner. Served dinner. Ate dinner. Cleaned up. By the time you got back, you might have managed to connect. Or not.

My first PC. I think everyone had one of these at some point!

Then suddenly AOL popped up and I got a really fast modem, a whopping 2400 BPS! Imagine that. I worked in California from my home office in Boston. Cool! Telecommuting was the cat’s pajamas.

By the time my granddaughter was born in 1996, everybody had a computer or two. In her world, computers have always been fast, the Internet has always been the world’s shopping mall.

My old 486 ran for 10 years. It wasn’t fast, but it sure was durable.

At age three, she could run basic applications. It’s like electricity to us: something you use that’s always there, always was. I’m sure she can’t imagine a world without it. It’s hard for me to remember so far back.

Memories of days of yore … but not halcyon I fear,

For a brief interval, the rate of change slowed. We drew a collective breath and didn’t have to buy new computers for a couple of years. High speed connections arrived, though most home users didn’t have it right away. Everything kept getting faster and soon, with cable modems, no one could even remember what it was like to try to get onto the Internet using an old telephone line.

Commodore 64 – the most popular computer ever produced.  More than 30 million of them sold.  I had one of these, too.

Every time you looked around, there was a  new generation of processors, bigger and faster hard drives, amazing super high-definition monitors and speaker systems to knock your socks off.

The Internet became a world-sized shopping mall and overnight, catalog shopping became website cruising. The Internet was a world unto itself; I played bridge in real-time with a partner who lived on an island off the Pacific coast.

We have computers all over the house and what isn’t a computer is run by a computer or contains a mini computer … microwave ovens, smartphones, digital cameras, and GPS units. I have three computers — desktop, laptop, and Kindle. Garry has the same arrangement . There’s an extra Kindle or two lying around, too.

Six computers and only 2 people. All it takes is a brief interruption of connectivity to leave us wandering like wraiths, without form or function.

Now, it’s about “the cloud.” Same old Internet, but “cloud” is the “new” word for stuff stored on external servers. We’re going back to where we began, to using stripped down computers with no hard drives. Instead, everything is stored on someone else’s computer — out there. In the “cloud.” Our data might be anywhere. We have no way of knowing where it lives.

Am I the only one who finds this unnerving?

I can see advantages. When you eliminate memory sucking operating systems and cumbersome installed applications, your computer will run faster. Start-up is instant. You don’t have to maintain and upgrade expensive applications and volumes of data. You don’t need ever bigger hard drives, more memory, and video RAM. You wind up with faster computers that are less expensive and easier to maintain. It’s a win-win, right?

Or is it?

How much do you trust your Internet service provider?

If your cable company has a bad day or the servers on which you store your critical data go down — even for a short while — you have nothing. As long as everything works like it’s supposed to, it’s hunky dory, but Murphy hasn’t left the building yet.

Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, and will do so at the worst possible time.

Maybe it’s my age showing, but I would prefer to have data on hard drives that I control. That I own.


The idea of entrusting everything —  from my photographs to the manuscript of my book — to an unknown server somewhere in the world scares me. What if the building in which the server storing my stuff burns down? Gets hit by a terrorist attack? Taken down by hackers? You have no way of knowing what country your data is in, how stable its government is, or how good an infrastructure it maintains. You financial data could be in Pakistan, Indonesia, or Kuala Lampur. Or next door.

Is there a compromise possible? Because when I think about entrusting everything to a cloud, I begin to twitch.

How many times have you been unable to access a web page because servers are out? What if you need a critical piece of data from a server while its offline?

My bank was hacked. BOA had to send me a new bank card. Lands End and Adobe were hacked too. I had to redo my accounts because they’d been compromised. Lots of other places too over the years, places that were “unhackable.” I know I’m not unhackable. I just figure I’m lucky and don’t have anything worth stealing.

If your ISP is down, you’re out of business. If you think your cable company has you by the throat now, how much worse will it be if everything you need to run your life and business is dependent on their services?

Those of you who are old enough to remember the great Northeast power blackout in the mid 1960s know what I mean when I say overloaded systems go down like dominoes. I’m all in favor working with my fellow human beings throughout the world, but at a certain point, when does inter-dependency make us too vulnerable?

If you put too many eggs in the basket and the basket falls — and it will — eggs break. In which case you don’t have an omelet, just a mess of busted eggs.


toasted english muffin

I just learned — hot off the presses — we are sending a capsule into space. Deep space. The deep, dark outer reaches of our galaxy. For some peculiar reason, we think other, non-human intelligent life forms will be interested in our culture. They will want to see our artifacts, gadgets, widgets. The best examples of what makes us great. Imagine that.

72-Mobile and Regular Phones_07

What to show them?

You’d have to include the cell phone. Probably an iPhone, clearly the quintessential techno-gadget of our generation. Or maybe one of the new Android tablets that’s sort of also a telephone, or is it a telephone that’s sort of a tablet?

Kindle and iPad

What about a loaf of sliced bread? Everyone always says “It’s the best invention since sliced bread!” Thus sliced bread must, in some way, be a classic piece of intelligent design from the people who gave you the Edsel and the Bunny Hop. The open bar and happy hour. How to you package up those high points of culture?

Do you include a few drunks in the capsule? How about a box of White Castle sliders? How about at least one politician?

A toast!

I know I’m not thinking clearly. I’m missing so much. So many great things. Monumental achievements we could package in the guise of a small gadget by which any advanced civilization would be instantly recognized peers, equals, and perhaps, superiors. I just can’t think of them right this minute.

Don’t forget to include a cold six-pack of beer. It will be the intergalactic male bonding moment when they all chug it down together.


It happened again. Someone’s left a voicemail message, but all I can make out are a few words. Maybe, if I’m lucky, I recognize the voice. Maybe not.

roku and headphones

We used to leave messages on our answering machines telling folks to speak slowly and clearly, but most callers thought we were being funny. Leaving a coherent message was apparently a joke. These days, we get lots of incoherent messages. Usually, with caller ID (and now with a caption phone), we know who called and can retrieve the number, but not necessarily. If it’s garbled enough, the caption phone won’t get it either. It’ll just say “Incomprehensible” or “muffled” or something else that means “sorry, no idea what he/she said.”


“Garry, your brother called. No idea what he said. Call him, okay?”

“Hey, Jim called about something. Call him when you have a moment.”

“One of your cousins called. They left a message but I can’t make it out.”

My favorite: “Someone called. Maybe it was important. They left a number but I can’t understand it.  Guess it wasn’t important enough.” Note: If it really is important and we don’t call back? Pick up the phone and call again. Seriously. If it’s that important, make sure we got the message.

wires and blue sky

If you leave a message, speak up. Clearly. Repeat the phone number. Don’t forget to include your name — in case we don’t actually know you as well as you think we do or can’t recognize your voice.

Don’t mumble.

While we’re on the subject, how about those cell phones, eh? On which you can’t hear anything? From either end? I miss telephones on which you knew you had a connection that wouldn’t drop and on which you could hear what someone said to you — and know they could hear you.

No wonder texting is so popular. No one can understand what anyone else is saying.



I was playing with a camera this morning, trying to capture flowers in the morning light. In the middle of this artistic endeavor, I had a minor, yet memorable techno-crisis. It is a classic example of the kind of problems that beset us because of the technology on which we depend.

I’ve been taking pictures for more than 40 years. I know my way around a camera.

My first cameras were mechanical. Film. I took a lot of rolls of black and white because I could develop black and white film. A lot cheaper than sending it out to a lab. I also did my own printing, mounting, and framing, though I’ve completely forgotten how.

Olympus PEN PL-5

The only electronic part of those film cameras might be the light meter. My first half-dozen cameras didn’t have built-in light meters, so I used a Weston Master V. It was a standard part of my equipment for years. If I forgot it, the piece of paper that came with Kodak film was a pretty good substitute. We affectionately called it “the paper light meter.”

A while back, I bought a handheld meter almost exactly like the one I used for so many years — and realized I had no idea what to do with it. It has been a long time.

Pentax Q7 plus lenses camera

Cameras might break and need repair, cleaning, or adjustment, but basically, there wasn’t much to go wrong. As long as you didn’t drop it, soak it in salt water, or spill coffee in it, it could last forever. To prove my point, there are a surprising number of these old film cameras still in use.

There weren’t many moving parts: shutter, film winding mechanism. You set film speed (ISO), shutter speed, f-stop. Aim, frame, focus, press the shutter. Voila. Photograph.

Today, my camera wakes me in the morning and starts the coffee. If I ask nicely, it will do the grocery shopping, though it draws the line at laundry. Not really. But close enough.


If something goes wrong, it’s crazy time.

This morning, I removed the lens cap and turned the camera on. I unlocked the lens. The menu came on, but no picture appeared. Flashing on the screen was something I’d never seen before. Without a clue what it meant, I double-checked to make sure I really had removed the lens cap. I had.

So I did what I do with my computer. I rebooted. I turned it off, waited, then turned it back on.

More flashing. No picture.


I removed the battery and the memory card, counted to twenty. Put them back. Still flashing. Still no picture.

By now, I was in full panic mode. My camera wasn’t working. Fear gripped me. Eventually, it occurred to me to check whether or not the lens was properly seated.

Click. The flashing stopped. A picture appeared. The lens had been loose. I must have accidentally pressed the lens release button, so it wasn’t quite locked. Ergo ipso, the camera wouldn’t work.


With all the ridiculous, useless functions built into modern cameras, how come they don’t have anything that alerts you that the lens is loose? Or for that matter, that your battery is about to die? The next time someone is adding bells and whistles to the software, please consider adding something useful. If necessary, remove one of the many pointless menu options and add something we might use.

I felt like a moron. Then, I took some pictures.