Being a cast member on a movie set wasn’t exactly what I’d expected. Maybe I wasn’t sure what to expect since my experience with working on a film was vicarious, drawn from depictions on television or movies. Even subtracting 95% of what I thought I knew to align with reality, I thought something should be happening. I guess it was, if you were one of the stars or co-stars.


But extras? Which is what I was, though these days the term “extras” is out of favor and “background performer” is in. Whatever you care to call us, we got shuttled from set to set, fed three meals at lavish buffet breakfasts, lunches and dinners where everyone chowed down with extreme prejudice.

Otherwise, we waited. And waited. Then, we waited some more. While we waited we had to be silent. Don’t annoy the stars. Don’t be in the way. Don’t go anywhere — including the bathroom — without permission. Permission was from one of the dozens of assistants, those attractive young people running around with headsets and clipboards.

It was confusing, tiring, and dull. You never knew if someone might decide you or your group were needed in a scene, but even if you were never in any scene — entirely possible — you had to act as if you were about to be “up” any moment. Your presence or absence was (apparently) life or death. On a movie set, it turns out everything is treated like life or death. It’s a Hollywood thing.

It was mid-November, night in Lowell, Massachusetts.  I hadn’t worn enough layers. Cold.

My feet hurt. Not to mention my back.

I needed to pee.

I was bored.

The director was on the 128th take. Before the night was done, he would close in on 250 takes of this particular scene. It was the turning point of the plot. It included every member of the cast except a bunch of us “background performers.” No matter. We still had to be there. Just in case.

I wondered how much money I was going to make, just standing around. I didn’t think it was going to be enough especially since it seemed unlikely this would be the night Hollywood discovered me. I wished I’d brought a book, though in the dark I wasn’t sure if I’d have been able to read.

That was when I noticed the woman. She was standing just off to my right, leaning against a street light. It looked like she was reading, but whatever it was she was holding wasn’t a book. Something else. It had a light attached.

I sidled over.



“You’re reading? What’s that? I’ve never seen one.”

“It’s a Kindle.”

“OH,” I said, things clicking into place. “I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never seen one before.”

She looked up and smiled. “It’s wonderful. I don’t know how I lived without it. I can bring books with me everywhere, as many books as I want. See?” she said, and she began to show me all the cool stuff it could do. Like being able to bookmark passages, get definitions of words and phrases. And carry a whole library with her in just this little thing no bigger than a paperback.

I held it, turned it this way and that. “You know,” I said. “This might be exactly what I need.”

Certainly my bookcases at home were bursting at the seams. Anything that let me buy books without finding someplace to put them sounded like a really good deal. And this thing would let me take books everywhere without hauling a trunkful of paperback. It seemed a good idea. But the price was still too high for me and I wondered if I would like a book that didn’t smell like ink and paper. It was convenient, but it lacked ambiance.


Nonetheless, that conversation stuck in my brain. Long after the movie — in which I did not appear, though I had one scene which was cut and left on the editing room floor — had faded into memory, I remembered the lady with the Kindle. When the new generation of Kindles was released and the prices dropped, I bought one.

Then I bought one for everyone in my family who reads books. And I bought another one that plays movies and audiobooks and checks email. Finally, I got an even newer one that does the same stuff, but better and faster. And bigger, lighter, and takes (and sends) pictures.

I can’t imagine life without my Kindle. I don’t want to. I’ve got hundreds of books, audiobooks, music, everything on it. It goes with me everywhere.

A week or two ago — don’t remember exactly when — I had to read a paperback. It was heavy. It was awkward. I couldn’t hold it in one hand. And where was the light?

This may sound like no big deal. Just another toy, one more electronic doohickey. But it isn’t. It was a game and life changer. Finally, I could always have a whole library of regular and audiobooks with me.

I’ve gone through four or five iterations of the Kindle experience since. By now, all my friends have them. Many of us have several, in different sizes and styles. I can’t imagine reading without them.

And finally, after my most recent upgrade to the next to the latest version of the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9″ super tablet, I gave my iPad to my granddaughter (hers was pretty beat up and mine has 64 gigs rather than 32, like hers). After I got the newest (for me, but there is an even newer version available and probably will be yet another generation shortly), I had no further interest in the iPad which had always annoyed me anyway.

So everyone is happy. Skyping and reading and listening and watching … all because I met a lady when I was briefly (very briefly) a movie extra in Lowell, Massachusetts.

Watson, the game is on!


Daily Prompt: The Heat is On

(And now, the original answer from the first round of this prompt.)

The high-tech world is fueled by pizza. If it had not already been invented, a group of developers trying to meet a deadline would have had to invent it.

I could have invented it myself. As the only non-engineer on a development team, I was supposed to know about things like food. And complete sentences. And the difference between active and passive forms. Whew. That was why they paid me the big bucks.

The world in which I worked most of my life required tons of creativity and productivity. To keep these going, three key ingredients were needed:

  • Computers
  • Coffee
  • Pizza.

We could have posted a sign outside the offices which said “We work for pizza!”


Because essentially — not counting salaries — that’s what kept us going. I never missed a deadline. No one else did either. When our efforts seemed in danger of flagging, copious amounts of pizza appeared in various permutation. Of course, there were plenty of computers and endless amounts of coffee too. That went without saying.

I do not believe any developer I know would work in an office where one actually pays for coffee. Blasphemy!

Question: How do you know when your development team has been working too much overtime?

Answer: When someone says “Can we have something to eat that isn’t pizza?”

No. Not really. And don’t forget to make fresh coffee.


I went to the dentist. Discovered I’m not (no longer?) dying of infection (antibiotics), but I need a $1200 crown. If I plan to keep the tooth, that is.

Olympus PEN PL-5

At which point, I noticed how lovely was the late afternoon sun. Trying to forget about dental issues, I grabbed my camera to snap a few pictures.

My camera had lost its date and forgotten how to focus. And was making double and triple exposures. I was sure it was not broken, that I had inadvertently pressed something. Clicked something. Turned a dial and changed a setting. Lacking a viable manual, I’d have to go through every menu, setting by setting, until I figured out what happened.


Every year, cameras have more settings. More menus, bells, and whistles we don’t need and probably don’t understand. Extra techno junk is no problem when everything is working as it should, but if it  goes wrong, I’m lost in technological la-la land.

One accidental pressing of a button, a glancing touch on a dial and your camera is a useless hunk of metal.

Unable to figure out what happened, I reset the camera to its default settings. After which, it was fine. I’ll never know what happened. Just one of those things.


Did the memory card go belly up? Was it me? Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve unset, or reset something without knowing what or how. Each time it happens, whether it’s a camera, software (Photoshop is particularly prone to going weird), or the computer itself … it makes me crazy. It requires a lot of deep breathing and mumbling to myself to straighten out the mess.

People say “extra bells and whistles” do no harm. I think they are tiny electronic land mines waiting for the unwary to step on them. Not that anyone listens to me, but I would love it if whoever you are, don’t add things, change things, complicate everything because you can. Not a good enough reason.

Stop fixing what isn’t broken. If you can’t improve it really, whatever “it” is, leave it be. And make dental work affordable.


It’s an odd feeling to be declared obsolete. I had been getting increasingly less relevant for a while, but after the dot coms went down, the high-tech world turned on its ear. Venture capital disappeared and so did the start-ups that had been my bread and butter.

computer gargoyle

Tech writers were replaced by automated systems that generate “documentation” from embedded engineering notes. For years, no one cared if the material these systems generated was useful or readable. As long as “something” was included with the product, it was “good enough.”

Intelligent, human-based technical support had already been exported. Now, the same thinking was applied to documentation.

Need help? Call tech support on the other side of the world. Let your customers wait on hold, get disconnected. Finally, let them talk to someone who knows nothing and will provide incorrect information. Never provide a call back number, so if the solution doesn’t work — and mostly, it won’t — make them go through the whole thing again. What could go wrong with this? Who needs a manual?

i_467_old-computer-advertisement-006A lot has gone wrong with this approach. Almost everything. Belatedly, a wide range of companies discovered that having horrible customer service and no documentation was actually affecting business.

Industry-wide rethinking came too late for my career, but it’s nice to see respect for customers coming back into style. Better late than never. It turns out that customers who buy expensive gear do want documentation and expect good service, too. Shocking. Who’d have guessed?

The whole “call tech support” got old quickly.

I never intended to be a technical writer. I was going to be a “real” writer. You know. An author. Novels. Literature.

I eventually wrote a lot of books, all of them explaining how to do something obscurely technical and computer-related. For a gal who barely scraped through basic algebra and never took a physics or chemistry course, I picked up a lot along the way.

I rode the high-tech wave until that fateful day when I was informed “no one reads manuals.”

alienware side view computer

The world keeps turning. I’m seeing “help wanted” ads for tech writers again. It was a long drought.  At last, written (not generated) documentation is making a comeback. I’ve lived long enough to see the full cycle, to watch an industry — and my profession — come 360 degrees back to where it all began.


You make a new friend. Make them a mix tape (or playlist, for the younger folks) that tells them who you are through song.

Photographers, artists, poets: show us MUSIC. And here it is. Animusic is music made visual. If music can be seen as well as heard, ANIMUSIC makes it so! Enjoy! I own several of their DVDs and they are wonderful. You can visit their website and see what’s available. The kind of music varies from classical to hard rock to “hard-to-describe,” but all of it has the same ability to let you actually see music, every note. If you don’t normally like music, you might like this because it isn’t like anything else.

See on Scoop.it – In and About the News

I published this a while back, but I thought it deserved another appearance, especially since it’s such a perfect match with today’s prompt.

I find this piece of music haunting and sometimes, I play it over and over again and can’t get it out of my mind. There’s something about it. Turn up your speakers, then watch, listen and be awestruck!

Click on the graphic (above) to see the entire production.

Animusic specializes in the 3D visualization of MIDI-based music. Founded by Wayne Lytle, it was originally called Visual Music. It became Animusic in 1995.

The company is famous for its futuristic computer animations in which the music actually drives the animation so that what you see and the music precisely correspond. This is as close to “visual music” as you can come.

Although other musical animation productions exists, there are differences. The models for Animusic are created first, then are programmed to do what the music “tells them.” Instruments appear to be playing themselves …  instruments that could never exist yet somehow seem entirely plausible. Many people, on first seeing an Animusic production ask if the instrument or instruments really exist. I thought it was real … strange and remarkable, but real. They are startlingly realistic. Sometimes very funny, too.

See also on www.youtube.com


I don’t usually blow my horn quite this loudly, but I wrote this two years ago, almost to the day. Three weeks from now, Microsoft is bringing in Windows 10, replacing the deservedly hated and wildly unsuccessful Windows 8. People said I was just being stubborn, refusing to “get with the program.”

Windows 10, from all reports, is a lot like Windows 7, which is what I still use on all my computers. Given the way things have turned out for Windows and Microsoft, they should have listened to me and the other few million users who said “hell no, I won’t go” to their poorly conceived operating system. Microsoft converted more computer users to Apple systems than Apple could ever have managed to do without their help.

Here’s what I wrote, two years ago. When you’re right, you’re right.

I’ve given this thought. I reviewed the video from Microsoft. I read the FAQ. I’ve read the articles in ZDNet and anything else that seems to have detailed information. I watched the video a second time. I read the email you sent me and looked at the poll results. I still can’t find any advantage for me in using — or even testing — Windows 8.1.

I  don’t have a machine appropriate for testing anyhow. If I install it on a little notebook, the inadequacy of the machine would so limit what I could test I’m not sure I would learn anything meaningful. I couldn’t use such a little machine to run any important applications. I don’t even know if Chrome will run on 8.1. The information in the FAQ was vague.

My office by window light

Installing and testing would steal time from other projects to which I’m already committed. Others things take priority. If I could install it on one of my real working computers and use it for regular stuff I do … no, I don’t think so. I’ve heard rumors. Ugly rumors. I’m not willing to risk my computers … or waste my time. In the end, I’m merely curious about the system. And that isn’t enough motivation.

Windows 8 does not appear to be a work-oriented operating system. I’m a work-oriented user. The Dell XPS tablet I gave my son runs RT and that’s fine. RT was designed for a tablet and it does well in that environment.

But what’s in it for me? A bunch of apps I don’t need and won’t use? I have no interest in or need for basic photo editing apps. I don’t need simplified anything. I’m way past grade school versions of real tools I’ve been using for years.


Who does Windows 8.1 target? Not me. You? Anyone out there?

I understand what Microsoft is selling. The problem? I don’t want or need it. It’s not a business environment. My wish list for a new operating system is for more and better business tools. Easily organized, searchable databases for graphics, photos, and documents. Tools to help me quickly locate files on huge hard drives. A better media player for audio.



I want an improved email client and a versatile calendar I can share on a network. I don’t want to lease or even buy it. It should come with the computer and automatically update as needed.

I want dependable, simple access to the Internet. In particular, my blog.

I don’t like Internet Explorer. I hate being prevented from going where I want because my browser is a wimp. I’m not 12 and I don’t need to be protected from myself.

Microsoft urgently needs folks like me to test drive their operating systems. They need core users — like me — to work with it, accept it, and enthusiastically endorse it. To talk it up on the Internet. To vouch for it to friends and co-workers.

Instead, we are the people most reluctant to try it and unless something dramatically changes are least likely to adopt it in the foreseeable future.

XPS 10 Tablet Details — Dell Windows 8 Tablet - Dell

Does Windows 8.1 work? Probably with a lot of bugs. Eventually Microsoft may fix it … or give up and create a system people will want. Not nearly fast enough.

Two basic questions remain unanswered:

  1. Why should I switch to a new operating system that’s anti-intuitive, ill-suited to my needs, and requires I relearn basic computer tasks?
  2. What advantages does Windows 8.1 offer that might motivate me to use it?

The answers are “no reason” and “none.”

Two words: Why bother?

I have read every article, watched all the videos, played with my son’s RT tablet and I cannot see anything tempting — for my purposes.

Maybe in the future Microsoft will do something to change my mind. But far as I can tell, they don’t know I exist. Or don’t care. One way or the other, they’ve chosen to ignore me and everyone like me, effectively disenfranchising the whole class of business users. That’s a crazy choice for a corporation which depends on business clients. Mind blowing and well … dumb.

Does this mean that there’s no merit in this operating system? I’m sure it has value to someone, but it doesn’t have any to me. At least none I can find. And I’ve looked. I want to want it. I want to like it.

Sorry, Microsoft. Not happening for me.


I wrote a long version of this in November 2012. The “experts” agreed. Tablets would shortly replace desktops and laptops. By 2015, everyone would (according to them) be using a tablet or other mobile device for everything.

tablets kindle iPad

Tablet sales have slowed and will level off. I wasn’t surprised. They aren’t the hottest new toys in town. There has been a huge drop in tablet prices. Everyone has a few.


I remember the articles announcing the imminent replacement by tablets of laptops and desktops. The big machines were obsolete. This, based on the surge in tablet sales and the slowing of computer sales. Every time I read one of those articles, I wanted to reach through my monitor, grab the author by the throat and shake him or her.

I like portable devices and have a bunch, but they are not a total computer solution. All other issues aside, the devices are too small. Don’t you love the way mobile phones are growing? They are less and less pocketable and portable. Eventually, they will morph into laptops. Again.

I recently read yet another article that extols how easy it is to type on the iPad’s virtual keypad. I have an iPad. You can’t type on it. It has no keys.

You can’t run graphics software on a tablet. Or a Chromebook. Or a Smartphone. This is a big issue in my world. I bought this computer entirely so I could run Photoshop without crashing. Even online versions of these applications don’t run on small devices.

You can’t edit photographs on tiny screens. This is not opinion. It’s a fact. You can’t see enough. Mobile devices are too small to do the job.

About your next novel

Do you want to write 100,000 words one letter at a time? I can’t even write a long response to a comment on my iPad, much less a mobile phone.

alienware side view computer

Some people use phones and small devices instead of a laptop or desktop computer for many things I think are inappropriate. I feel like my mother warning me to not read under the covers with a flashlight. “You’ll ruin your eyes.”

It’s a big world

There’s room for computers, tablets, phones, and everything yet to be invented.

Know your equipment. Respect its limits. Make sensible choices. Small devices have a place in our world but will never replace larger machines. They do what they do. They don’t do everything.

Nothing does everything. You can’t replace everything with one thing. Nor should you.

One size does not fit all

Not in clothing, cameras, computers, politics, or relationships. It’s okay to be different. Choice is good. We should enjoy it while we can because every day, we have fewer choices. Eventually, we’ll have none.

IMHO – The Daily Rerun Prompt