Daily Prompt: My name is Marilyn. I’m a teepee.

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My name is Marilyn but you can call me Teepee12. I am alive, if not entirely well. I plan to stay alive as long as the choice exists.

I never intended to hide my identity when I chose this Internet ID as a username for my blog on WordPress. I chose it because I’d been using it since 2007 when my book — The 12-Foot Teepee — was published. It was easy for me to remember and no one else wanted it — as opposed to my real name for which there is heavy competition. The perils of having a common name were never more obvious than when I tried to get a piece of my real name for use on the Internet.

I began using the Internet back in prehistory. No one used real names back then. It was considered most uncool. I went through a lot of names before starting to use Teepee12. Unlike many other names I used and abandoned, it stuck, though no one can spell it and auto-correct always changes it to Steeper (damn you auto correct!). I wish I could go back and do it over, using my real name or something close to it  The problem is that there are dozens of Marilyn Armstrongs all over the Internet, on every continent and a bunch of my namesakes recently died. If I Google me I end up  reading obituaries. This can be troubling in some indefinable way.

I got the name Marilyn — never a common or popular name — because my great Aunt Malka died right before I was born. In Ashkenazi families, babies are named after recently deceased family members. They don’t have to be favorites. You don’t even have to like them. In fact, as was the case with great Aunt Malka, you don’t even have to know her personally. It’s just a custom and no one, including my mother, could explain why we clung to it. We weren’t  observant … but my Aunt Kate, who was indeed a traditionalist and family Matriarch, quite insisted.

My mother refused the straight “Malka” because she said it sounded like the cleaning lady. It means “Queen,” actually but doesn’t sound queenly. So she suggested Mara because apparently, to maintain the tradition, all you need is a name that begins with the same first letter sound (the Hebrew alphabet is, after all, different from English). But Mara (the root for all “mar” names like Mary, Marie, Mireille, Marilyn et al) means “bitter” in Hebrew and my aunts collectively objected because you should not name your daughter “bitter,” feh, bad luck. Ptui, ptui, ptui.

“Fine,” said my mother. “Marilyn.”

No one had any objections so Marilyn it was. How romantic! To be named almost randomly after a dead relatively about whom no one much cared. Wow. And to add insult to injury, I wasn’t given a middle name, so I had no name to which I could retreat.

I struggled with my name. I hated it. I’m still not fond of it, frankly, but I’ve at least made peace with it. No one can spell it correctly and it has never felt like me. When I was a kid, I tried to change my name to Linda, which I heard meant “pretty.” Then “Delores,” which sounded like the heroine of a romance novel. Finally, I tried for “Spike” because I figured tough would be better than dorky Marilyn.

96-Me Young in Maine

Nope. No other name. Not even a nickname unless you count “Mar” which is just a way of saying it shorter.

As for children? My son’s name is Owen. It’s become quite a popular name, but wasn’t when I gave it to him. It sounded good with his last name, a bit Celtic or Teutonic, depending on how you look at it. Everyone called him “O” from the start and still do.

At this point, my name doesn’t really matter. My identity is defined by electronic documents collected by daemons and maintained in various government and other databases. No human beings review the data. If you find errors, you cannot correct them because being you is not considered sufficient credentials. Human knowledge has no force of law any longer. I’d find that scary if I weren’t so funny.

A lot of people worry about keeping off the radar. The thing is, the radar is so inaccurate, it doesn’t matter. No one will find you because your address is wrong, your age is off by ten years, you live in a house you never owned at the opposite end of the state and have a phone number that was disconnected over a decade ago. Your email address belongs to an ISP that went out of business in 1992 and it is spelled wrong anyhow. I think you might be safer on the radar than off.

Marilyn and Bonnie

I’ve been blogging for a while now and I can’t figure out how to get my name back. I’ve put my name on Serendipity’s header and in the “About Me” section. I sign my name when I write to people. But it apparently doesn’t matter. I have become a teepee and a teepee I shall stay. A 12-foot teepee, which is the smallest possible teepee that isn’t a miniature. Pass the pipe. I like teepees, which is fortunate.

So, consider this my official coming out party. My name is Marilyn Armstrong. I wrote a book titled “The 12-Foot Teepee” and my online ID is Teepee12 whether I like it or not. Marilyn Armstrong is not available and I would have to be MarilynArmstrong00054 or MArmstrong876987 or something and that sounds too much like an android or robot … so for the forseeable future, I am a Teepee.

Teepee12 to you.

Keep an Open Mind

“Man will never reach the moon regardless of all future scientific advances.”

– Dr. Lee DeForest, “Father of Radio & Grandfather of Television.” 

“The bomb will never go off. I speak as an expert in explosives.”

Admiral William Leahy , US Atomic Bomb Project 

“There is no likelihood man can ever tap the power of the atom.”

– Robert Millikan, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1923 

“Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.”

– Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949 

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

– Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943 

“I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year.”

–The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957 

“But what is it good for?”

– Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip. 

“640K ought to be enough for anybody.”

– Bill Gates, 1981

This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us,”

– Western Union internal memo, 1876.

“The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?”

– David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s.

“The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible,”

– A  Yale University  management professor in response to Fred Smith’s paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. (Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp.)

“I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face and not Gary Cooper,”

– Gary Cooper on his decision not to take the leading role in “Gone With The Wind.”

“A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research reports say  America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you make,”

– Response to Debbi Fields’ idea of starting Mrs. Fields’ Cookies.

“We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out,”

– Decca Recording Co. Rejecting the Beatles, 1962.

“Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible,”

– Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895.

“If I had thought about it, I wouldn’t have done the experiment. The literature was full of examples that said you can’t do this,”

– Spencer Silver on the work that led to the unique adhesives for 3-M “Post-It” Notepads.

“Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You’re crazy,”

– Drillers who Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil in 1859.

“Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.”

– Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics,  Yale   University  , 1929.

“Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value,”

Marechal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole  Superieure de Guerre,  France  .

“Everything that can be invented has been invented,”

Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, US Office of Patents, 1899.

“The super computer is technologically impossible. It would take all of the water that flows over  Niagara Falls  to cool the heat generated by the number of vacuum tubes required.”

– Professor of Electrical Engineering,  New York   University

“I don’t know what use any one could find for a machine that would make copies of documents. It certainly couldn’t be a feasible business by itself.”

– Head of IBM, refusing to back the idea, forcing the inventor to found Xerox.

“Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.”

– Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at  Toulouse  , 1872

“The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon,”

– Sir John Eric Ericksen, British surgeon, appointed Surgeon-Extraordinary to Queen  Victoria  1873.

“Who would want a F*****G Computer to sit on their Desk?”

– President of Warner-Swayze, 1977

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”

– Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977

A huge pink underbelly

Little things defeat me. An electrical blip — so brief as to go otherwise unnoticed — knocked out the time and date on the clocks and telephones in my house. It was so brief I didn’t realize it had happened until I went to bed and everything was blinking. Don’t you hate when that happens?

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I would have noticed had I been in my office. That computer isn’t a laptop, so an electrical blip knocks out the computer. But I was using the laptop and it just switched to battery. I continued uninterrupted. But all the blinking in the bedroom was hard to ignore. Resetting the clock radio was easy enough, but then … there was the telephone. They are all networked, so I only have to set one and all three reset. It should have been no big deal.

Sadly, I do not get along with telephones. Not mobile phones or landlines. Nor the networked house phones. I can manage a computer and software, but I very quickly discovered I had no idea how to reset the date on these telephones. I was defeated by an AT&T multi-handset system I installed in our home about a year ago. For which the instructions are long vanished.

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Every time something so miniscule defeats me, I am reminded how helpless I am — we all are — in the face of our technology. Even those of us who are technologically savvy have limits. All of us have a technical Waterloo. If anything goes awry with any major system in my house, not only am I helpless, so is everyone else who lives here. Three generations of people who use technology constantly and depend on it utterly. If we were without power for 24 hours our world would collapse.

It’s the huge, soft, pink, underbelly of our modern world. The aliens will not have to defeat us in battle. They just have to knock out our communication satellites and blow up a few power plants. Human civilization goes down like a row of dominoes.

aliens hubble

The image of a spiral galaxy has been stretched and mirrored by gravitational lensing into a shape similar to that of a simulated alien from the classic 1970s computer game Space Invaders Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage/ESA-Hubble Collaboration
Read more: http://www.universetoday.com/100497/nasa-finds-a-space-invader/

The only survivors will be the rural poor, those few who don’t depend on technology because they can’t afford it. Or maybe the survivalists in their compounds. Their lives will go on as before. Not me, though. Probably not you either. It’s just a thought to ponder.

You must remember this … Techno Memories

I wonder if operating systems will be relevant a few years from now. Change has been a synonym for technology for the past 30 years or more. Change has driven the computer industry. Change is why we need to buy new software, hardware and 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 machine languages — COBOL and FORTRAN. Decades later, personal computers were still 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 it got better. And even better.

In the beginning, there were different players in the marketplace and many more choices of operating system. 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. It spit out paper.

Soon everything changed again. Computers started to really do stuff. Magic!

The speed of change accelerated. Technology was in hyperdrive. Then came a thing called the Internet. I had to buy and install Netscape to use it. After I got connected, there wasn’t much going on, but it was cool to just roam around. Mostly, you bumped into other people looking for something interesting. And then came AOL.

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.

Just getting on to the Internet could take … well, let me put it this way. Turn on the computer. Turn on the modem. Go to the kitchen. Prepare dinner. Cook dinner. Serve dinner. Eat dinner. Clean up everything. By the time you got back to your computer, you might have actually managed to connect to something. Or not.

Then suddenly there were ISPs popping up all over the place. I got a super fast modem that ran at 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. Ebay and Amazon are no big deal.

At age three, she could run basic applications. For her, it’s like electricity was to us: something you use that is always there and always was. I’m sure she can’t imagine a world without it. It’s hard for me to remember that world and I certainly would not want to go back there.

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.

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, catalogue 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 — in my office, living room and bedroom. My husband has two. My granddaughter has 3, but I think a couple of them don’t work any more. My son has two, my daughter in law has one but if she wants another, we have a spares and she can just grab one.

Eight computers are in daily use and only 5 people live here. I feel that we will soon need to get computers for each of the dogs. For all I know, whenever we are out, they go on-line and order stuff. I’m sure Bonnie the Scottie has at least a thousand Facebook friends.

A brief interruption of cable service leaves us wandering around like wraiths, without form or function. Five of the seven primary computers are less than 2 years old  so I figured we were set for a few years at least … but then everything started changing. Again.

Today, it’s all about “the cloud.” It’s still the same old Internet, but “cloud” is the “in” 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 instantaneous because your computer doesn’t have to load services and applications. You don’t have to maintain and upgrade big expensive applications and volumes of data. You won’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 the Hell out of 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 busy or crashed? The times when their — or your — servers are inaccessible because of maintenance, repair or upgrade. Or those ubiquitous hackers. What if you need a critical piece of data from a server while its offline? It does happen.

My bank was hacked and they had to send me a new card. Several places I shop — Land’s End, for one — were hacked and I had to redo my accounts because they’d been compromised.

If your ISP is down, you are 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? Facebook and Google already have trouble keeping up with the demands on their resources. How will they manage when they have thousands of times more data and tens of millions of users depending on them for everything from email and applications to data retrieval?

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 that overloaded systems can go down like dominoes. I am all in favor working together with my fellow human beings throughout the world, but at a certain point, when does inter-dependency make us excessively vulnerable?

If you put the world’s eggs in one basket, if the basket falls, that’s a hell of a lot of broken eggs. That’s not an omelet — just a mess.

I worked for more than 35 years in development. That was my world and although I’m not an engineer or developer, I know what’s behind a user interface. For example, modern word processors embed commands in text, but behind the interface, it’s entering the same commands I entered directly on the huge IBM mainframe by hand. It’s faster and prettier now. You get to see how your document will look when it’s printed, but it’s nothing but an elegant wrapping on an old familiar box.

My concern is not the graphical user interface (GUI) that overlays our computer (regardless of operating system), but that these new operating systems are designed to work with “The Cloud” … a meaningless term that represents servers located anywhere and everywhere. We don’t have to know where they are; they’re in the Cloud … kind of like Angels and God. We are being herded toward using external storage and we aren’t supposed to be alarmed that we have no control over it.

We use services consisting of server farms located somewhere on the planet. There is where we store our bank records, personal correspondence, photographs … everything. We use these servers directly when we use “the cloud,” but we also use it indirectly because that’s where our bank, our vendors, the places from which we buy goods and services store their data … or more to the point, our data as it pertains to them.

We assume the people from whom server space is leased are dependable, not criminals looking to steal identities and data … and their infrastructure is secure and won’t collapse from a power outage or hacker attack. And finally, we trust our ISPs to deliver the goods, keep us online so we can access the stuff we need.

Charter Communications is my cable company and controls my high-speed internet access, as well as my TV and telephone. I have difficulty controlling the wave of rage I feel when I think about them. How do you feel about your cable company, eh?

Even if the servers that store your stuff are safe, you can’t get there without a high-speed connection and that, my friends, means your local ISP … cable, telephone, satellite, whatever you use. They already have you by the short hairs. You are not independent and you rely on their services. Does that sound like a great idea? It makes me sweaty and itchy.

Anybody anywhere can build a server farm. It’s a great business that requires a bunch of servers, a climate controlled place to put them, and a few IT people to tend the equipment.

Where are these places? Most are in countries whose government is, by any standards, unstable — possibly dangerously so. How good is the infrastructure? Are they in the middle of a war? Are their electrical generating facilities dependable or sufficient? What protection against hackers do they provide? Are they trustworthy? They could as easily be a bunch of criminals and the data they collect is the mother lode.

I’m not comfy with the idea of entrusting a lifetime of my work to unknown, nameless entities. Google uses servers everywhere, as does Amazon. So does every other “cloud” provider. Your data and mine is unlikely to be in one place, either. It is broken into many pieces that are stored wherever it went when you saved it. You will not know and cannot discover where your data is, was, or will be.

I won’t get into how links and pointers let us retrieve data, but the potential for error, loss, and piracy is huge. So, I’m not buying into the Cloud, at least not for anything that really matters to me. Call me cynical, even paranoid … but I think that the computer-using public is buying snake oil. I want my stuff on my own drives. Use the “Cloud,” whatever it really is. But have good, dependable external drives too.

Or, as the Arabs say, trust in God, but tie your camel.

Weirds I cant spiel and other cruel jokes

A fellow blogger recounted reading a badly proofread manuscript wherein the author was talking about billboards and looked up to see 20-foot tall feces. By the time she realized the author meant faces, the image of the 20-foot feces was firmly embedded in her brain. It signalled the end of any production relationship between her and that book. I pointed out we now share the same image. It is firmly stuck in my mind, so thanks for sharing. That’s why I’ve passed it along. Something this good needs to be shared, don’t you think?

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There are so many categories of text errors.

There are the incomplete words when I don’t type the final couple of letters, tradition for traditional, ever instead of everywant instead of wanted. Nope, spell checker won’t find these.

How about brain glitches, the ones that happen when your conscious mind intends one word, but your fingers type a different one. I sometimes look at them and wonder, “Where did that come from?” It’s particularly embarrassing if the word is a homonym — too for two, you’re for your, one for won. It makes you look ignorant. I know perfectly well what it ought to be. But I had a glitch, a little power flicker of my cranial function. Oops.

Then, there is my nemesis: or for of and vice versa. It’s my mega typo. It happens so often it’s scary. I almost never catch it. It slips past my proofreading. I find it months later when I’m reading old posts. The spell checker won’t find it because the words are correctly spelled but are the wrong words. That’s the problem with spell checkers. They only check spelling. They can’t (yet  … but I live in hope) figure out what you meant to say.

Some of this stuff only happens to touch typists. Fast typists. The fingers speed on ahead of brain functions.

Time to add those cut and paste errors. You know, when you delete text, but leave a little snippet or two behind? And, of, the, but, then or whatever, little words hanging around like tiny grenades. Guaranteed to make you look like a moron.

Among the darkest of my dark secrets are the words I can’t spell, my assassin words. These guys are out to get me. No matter how many times I use them, I don’t get them right.

Desperate? Desparate?

Visable? Visible?

Dependent? Dependant?

Assistent? Assistant? 

Drought? Draught?

If I can spell chrysanthemum, how come I misspell truely (I mean truly sorry) 90% of the time? Truly looks like its missing its “e.” It does. Really. At least these are actually misspelled so the spellchecker will catch them.

And so, dear readers, my imperfections lay exposed to your cold glare. I mean to get it right. I try. I just … don’t.

 

FOR THE PROMPTLESS: BRAND – Charter (Name Brand) the Cloud

Promptless Branding

It started yesterday evening, but I didn’t get to really thinking about it until this morning. I got up a lot earlier than I needed to. My husband was trying to be quiet. But I’m a light sleeper and I heard him tiptoeing around the bedroom and realized I was hearing Heart and Soul in my head. Not a good sign.

I was humming it while pouring my coffee. It just kept looping until I wanted to scream at myself to shut up. I have an Energizer Bunny (brand name) brain that keeps going and going and going.

Philco Clock Radio CD

When My Brain is unhappy it wants me to hum. My mother hummed constantly, probably for the same reason I do. It’s calming. I do it when I’m worried, even when I’m angry. I don’t choose the song; it chooses itself. Apparently humming inane tunes calms the Brain while annoying me. Never mind. Anything to make Brain happy.

The problem? A series of events starting when, a few minutes after midnight, Charter Communications (brand name) went down. Charter (brand name) is a wretched organization. It controls our lives by controlling our connectivity including the telephone and TV. It has an unbreakable monopoly in our area, a position it uses to charge exorbitant prices while doing a genuinely inept job and providing horrible service.

Charter’s (brand name) signal has been erratic for at least a week, but now, it was gone. No Internet. No telephone. Barely television. I heaved a sigh. After expelling three small dogs and a collie from my lap I stood up, groaned to let the world know how much I suffer (I don’t believe in silent suffering). And went to reboot The Modem, hub of my universe.

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I rebooted. Which is to say I unplugged it, counted, plugged it back in and waited for the lights to come on. For the magic to happen. The lights flickered then faded. So I did it again, counting longer and a bit slower while unplugging and replugging the router too.

Same result. I looked around for something else to do. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything. I didn’t know if the problem was hardware or Charter (brand name) or some bizarre issue I hadn’t yet thought of. The router and modem are both Cisco (brand name) and not old. Until now, totally dependable.

When things go wrong with techno stuff, I have Dark Thoughts. I know too much but not enough. If the modem won’t reboot, is it dead? How long will it take to get a new one? Installed? Dark Thoughts indeed.

To prove I had not failed in my duty as 24/7 tech support for the household’s 12 computers (five people, 12 computers including three tablets but not counting iPods (brand name), iPhones (brand name) and other small WiFi-based devices such as the Roku (brand name). I turned off all the computers on this floor (seven) and then tried rebooting the modem again. Because amidst the many messages telling me to reboot the modem, I’d gotten one that said two computers were trying to use the same IP address and I should talk to the administrator (me). I figured if I rebooted all the computers, they’d do whatever it is they do and that would take care of the IP problem, if indeed there was one (there wasn’t).

Panic. Fear. Trembling. I starting humming loudly. Heart and Soul. Heart and Soul. I fell in love with you. Heart and Soul.

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I do not panic quickly or easily. There are two things on earth which do it to me. Finding a spider in my bed and losing my WiFi connection. Otherwise, I’m pretty level-headed. I have put out fires including putting out a friend in flames. I have dealt with a husband having a heart attack and a child having a seizure without panicking. But losing WiFi? Irrational, frantic, don’t-talk-to-me-I’m-a-crazy-person panic.

I figured I ought to call Charter (brand name), except how could I get their telephone number without the computer? Then I thought I might have it in the address book of my iPhone (brand name). Which made me wonder when I’d last charged the phone (last week?). Where is the phone? I couldn’t do what I usually do and call it from the house phone because we didn’t have a house phone. No cable. No modem. No signal.

I found the phone, remarkably enough right where it belonged. Hmm. Imagine that. I plugged it into life support (electricity) and called Charter (brand name). I hate calling Charter (brand name). I hate Charter’s (brand name) so-called customer service. I know everyone hates their cable company but that’s not comforting. The whole “misery loves company” thing eludes me. Miserable company doesn’t make me happier. It just reminds me I’m miserable.

I called Charter (brand name).

After I got through the robot wall of prompts (press 1 or 2 or 7 or 9 or STAR to do what?) and finally got a person by shouting “AGENT, AGENT, AGENT” into the handset until the robot said “Oh FINE, I’ll connect you with an agent.”

And the agent said “Oh, yes, uh huh. There’s an outage. A big one. Your whole area is out.”

She didn’t seem to find this alarming. She had no idea how long it will take to fix. I found that alarming. “Would you like us to call you with updates?”

I said my phone was out and all I had was a cell phone. She offered to call my cell phone. I said sure, why not because by then, everything would be fixed and who would care anyhow? She said “Have a nice evening and thank you for using Charter Communications (brand name).”

I was humming Heart and Soul very loudly and rocking.

I gave up and went to bed. I couldn’t read the book I wanted on my Kindle (brand name) because it’s somewhere in Amazon’s (brand name) cloud. I can’t get it delivered without WiFi. It got me thinking (again) about abandoning internal and external hard drives in favor of putting everything in The Mythical Cloud. How dangerous and stupid it is. BECAUSE THERE IS NO CLOUD.

There are just lots of huge servers all over the world storing your data. When we put our stuff and our faith in “the cloud,” we are actually handing our stuff over to corporate servers. You and me and everyone else will be at the mercy of whoever owns the servers. How honest are they or their employees? How safe is your data? Who manages the servers? And where are they? Pakistan? Russia? Kyrgyzstan? China? Anyone can run a server farm anywhere without any kind of license. You just need a climate controlled space and equipment.

After we’ve given up control of our files, photos, music, books and videos, we need a high-speed data line and we need it all the time. If you think you are dependent on the company which provides your connectivity now, after you are locked into The Cloud, that dependency rises to a whole new level. Too high for me.

Still feel like trusting everything to the Cloud? It’s a scam and we’re buying it. As soon as enough of us are in their clutches, the “free cloud storage” won’t be free. Worse, the big brand software companies — Adobe (brand name) Microsoft (brand name) and many more — are already refusing to sell their products outright. We will have to rent from them and it isn’t cheap. How does $49/month for Photoshop (brand name) sound to you? Sounds like a big piece of my fixed income to me.

We won’t own anything, not our files, software, nothing. In addition to the mega-bill we already pay for cable or other high-speed service, we’ll pay a monthly fee for each piece of software. Our cost of living will keep going up, but not our incomes.

Remember, you heard it here on Serendipity (brand name).

 

Daily Prompt: Earworm — Heart and Soul

Stuff comes together. Not necessarily in any logical way. Usually, things sort of glue themselves into a messy ball then have to be dealt with, avoiding all the stick’um. Yuk.

Energizer Bunny

Energizer Bunny (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I got up a lot earlier than I wanted to this morning. Heart and Soul was still rolling around my brain. It latches on to bits of music and replays them interminably until I’m ready to scream. I have the Energizer Bunny of brains,  and apparently, it likes music but has very poor taste. Actually, this means Brain is not happy about something. The music is supposed to have a calming effect, but just irritates me.

What’s was the real problem? Oh, right.

A few minutes after midnight last night, Charter Communications, a remarkably poorly run organization which controls our lives — connectivity, telephone and television — in an unbreakable monopolistic grip and does a particularly inept job while charging exorbitant prices experienced an outage. That’s cable-speak for no nothing. No WiFi, telephone and very minimal TV.

Panic time.

I heaved a sigh, expelling three small dogs and a collie from my lap and with a groan, stood up. The groan is to let the world know how much I suffer. I don’t believe in silent suffering. Then I went to the office to reboot The Modem, hub of my universe.

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I rebooted (that is, I unplugged it, counted to some number or other, replugged it) and waited for the lights to come on. For the magic to happen. The lights flickered weakly, but nothing more. So I did it again, counting up more numbers (a bit slower) and also unplugging and replugging the router.

Same result. I started to look around for something else to do. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything more I could do. I didn’t know (yet) if the problem was hardware (dead modem?) or Charter or some bizarre other issue I hadn’t thought of. The router and modem are both Cisco and newish. Until now, totally dependable. Still no lights, or not the lights I wanted to see.

To prove to myself that I had not failed in my duty as 24/7 tech support for the household’s 12 computers (five people, 12 computers including three tablets but not counting iPods, iPhones and other small WiFi-based devices because I lost count of them years ago), I turned off all the computers on this floor (7) and then tried rebooting the modem because amidst the messages telling me to reboot the modem, I’d gotten one saying two computers were trying to use the same IP address and I should talk to the administrator (me) and frankly, I was flummoxed. I figured if I rebooted all the computers, they’d do whatever it is they do and that would take care of the IP problem, if indeed there was one (there wasn’t).

My World

My World

Panic. Fear. Trembling. I starting humming loudly. Heart and Soul. Heart and Soul. I fell in love with you. Heart and Soul.

Very few things cause me to panic. I have put out fires including one flaming friend. I have dealt with a husband having a heart attack and a child having a seizure — without panic. But losing my WiFi? Panic. Irrational, hysterical, don’t talk to me I’m a crazy person panic.

I thought I should call Charter, except their telephone number is on the computer, but then I wondered if I might have it in the address book of my iPhone, then contemplated when I’d last charged the iPhone (last week?). Where is the phone? I couldn’t do what I usually do and call the cell from the house phone because we didn’t have a house phone. No cable. No signal. Breathe, Marilyn, breathe.

I found the phone, oddly enough where it belonged. Imagine that. I plugged it into life support (aka electricity) and called Charter. I hate calling Charter. I hate Charter’s so-called customer service. Everyone I know seems to hate their cable company but that’s not especially comforting. The whole “misery loves company” thing eludes me. Miserable company doesn’t make me happier. It just reminds me I’m miserable.

I called Charter. After I got through the maze of prompts (press 1 or 2 or 7 or 9 or STAR to do what?) and got a person, she said oh, yeah, there’s an outage. A big one. No idea how long it will take to fix. Would you like us to call you with updates? I said my phone was out and all I had was a cell phone. She offered to call my cell phone. I said sure, why not because by then, everything would be fixed and I wouldn’t care anymore.

She said “Have a nice evening and thank you for using Charter Communications.”  I was humming Heart and Soul very loudly and had begun to rock back and forth, rhythmically, mindlessly.

I gave up, hung up and went to bed. I couldn’t read the book I wanted on my Kindle because it’s somewhere in Amazon’s cloud and I can’t get it delivered without WiFi.

It got me thinking, especially when I got up this morning and all the computers were very funky and needed multiple restarts because Microsoft sent down a ton of updates overnight and they seemed to have gotten stuck, that this whole concept of abandoning hard drives and personal storage and putting all your stuff up in The Cloud is moronic and dangerous because (are you ready?) — THERE IS NO CLOUD.

There are just lots of great big servers all over the place that store data, some better than others, who knows where, accessible to who knows who. Worse, all of us — you and me and everyone — is entirely at the mercy of whatever company provides our high-speed connectivity. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Pass the pipe, while you are at it.

Heart and soul, heart and soul. 

Heart and soul, I fell in love with you,
Heart and soul, the way a fool would do,
Madly…
Because you held me tight,
And stole a kiss in the night…

Heart and soul, I begged to be adored,
Lost control, and tumbled overboard,
Gladly…
That magic night we kissed,
There in the moon mist.

Oh! but your lips were thrilling, much too thrilling,
Never before were mine so strangely willing.

But now I see, what one embrace can do,
Look at me, it’s got me loving you,
Madly…
That little kiss you stole,
Held all my heart and soul.

Still feel like trusting your world to The Cloud? It’s the biggest scam ever! And we’re buying it. How many kinds of stupid are we? You know as soon as we all are safely in their clutches, the “free cloud storage” won’t be free. Adobe and Microsoft and other companies want to stop selling us our software and rent it to us, so we won’t own anything at all, not our own files, software, nothing. In addition to the mega-bill we pay for our high-speed services, we’ll also be paying separately for each piece of software we use. Our cost of living will keep going up, but not our incomes.

Remember, you heard it here on Serendipity.

Try Windows 8.1? I think not.

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.

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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 application I can share on a network. And I don’t want to lease or even buy it. I want it to be part of the operating system. I want dependable, easy access to the Internet and in particular, this website. 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 this operating system. 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 forseeable future.

XPS 10 Tablet Details — Dell Windows 8 Tablet - Dell

Does Windows 8.1 work? Probably with a lot of bugs. Eventually Microsoft will fix it. They usually do, though not nearly fast enough. Two very 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 really looked. I want to want it. I want to like it.

Sorry, Microsoft. Not happening for me.

 

To try Windows 8.1 or not … THAT is the question!

I got an email from Microsoft asking me if I would like to try the new Windows 8.1. It came out in Beta today. I am not, as you probably know if you’ve been following me for a while, thrilled about Windows 8. I like Windows 7 and can’t see a single reason why Microsoft can’t support both a standard interface operating system — Windows 7 — plus their new tablet operating system, Windows 8. They have supported more than one operating system before and are doing it now. Why not let us — their customers — have an operating system with which we are comfortable and familiar? Why force us to relearn everything when we don’t (a) want to, and/or (b) don’t need to.

Gar14Z-Open-2

I work on my computer. I process photographs. I blog. I edit. I write. I design. I don’t see what I have to gain from Windows 8. It seems to be aimed at stuff in which I have no interest.

But here’s the dilemma. I’m not the kind of reviewer who writes about products she hasn’t used. I wouldn’t put Windows 8.1 on any of the three computers on which I depend, but I have an entirely functional, if emaciated 10-inch Dell notebook. It doesn’t have much horsepower. But, it has a full Windows 7 operating system and it works. There’s nothing wrong with it except it was never powerful enough to do anything except light surfing and email.

Maybe I could install Windows 8.1 and use it for testing? It has a 1.7 GH board, just 1 GB of RAM, but a 320 GB hard drive, so it is a real, if slow, computer. I don’t use it any more so it’s just sitting in a bag getting old. What do you think? Should I give it a trial and see if there’s anything in Windows 8.1 I might like?

Waiting for Dystopia

I’m bemused and a bit bewildered at the furor over how the NSA is spying on American citizens. As a long-time faithful fan of NCIS, Law & Order and so many other cop shows, I’ve become familiar with how easy it is for government agents to get our phone and computer records. Our photos are easy to find on traffic cameras and security footage. It’s the meat and potatoes of television crime shows, so I can’t believe there’s anyone over the age of 5 who doesn’t know when someone is compromising evidence or has forgotten to wear his or her gloves at the crime scene.

Portrait of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. (no ...

Feared FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover – Rumor has it he wore a dress when he wasn’t accusing Americans of being Communists.

We know there are cameras trained on us everywhere we go. It’s even more intense in Great Britain and most parts of Europe, so this isn’t just an American aberration. It’s everywhere.

It must have been 20 years since we first learned about the trap door in Windows. You remember. That’s the security hole designed to let the government peek into our computers. All operating systems have holes in them. Any 14-year old hacker can find them, so surely the FBI can do almost as well. Did anyone think that the holes in our operating systems have gone away? Been patched up? Really?

Blaming one political party or the other, one president or another for extending and expanding the surveillance that’s been ongoing  for decades is pointless. It’s not going to stop no matter what they say or who is in the White House. The agencies that run the surveillance will merely improve their ability to camouflage their activities. Our governments are not going to stop monitoring our computers, telephones, bank accounts, or anything else. We can’t even stop Google and Facebook from having their way with us, so what makes you think we can stop the FBI or Scotland Yard?

It is wrong that governments spy on their citizens? Isn’t that a gross violation of our privacy? In theory I agree. They shouldn’t listen to our boring phone calls. I think it’s possible the cruelest punishment of all would be monitoring the phone calls of adolescent girls, but I digress.

My opinion is (a) it’s not up to me or you, and (b) we can’t have it both ways. We can’t demand more and better security yet expect the government to accomplish it without compromising our privacy.

So, we are faced with a theoretical (but not real) choice. Do we want security or privacy? As for the theoretical but not real aspect of the choice: it’s not up to us. In the United States, agencies of the government are in charge of national security. It’s their job. This didn’t start with Obama , Bush or even Regan. It goes back a long way, at least as far back as when J. Edgar Hoover was The Man and probably long before that too.

This is not an area on which we get to vote. It has been this way since before any of us were born and will continue to be this way after all of us are dead and gone.

Continuing to whine and bitch about it isn’t going to change anything. If you don’t want to be monitored, stop using the Internet. Give up your cell phones. Keep your money under the mattress. Live on a farm in the middle of nowhere. Grow your own food and generate your own electricity. Don’t have a mortgage. Pay all your bills in cash. Better yet, don’t have bills.

Don’t work a regular job and move frequently. Don’t collect social security, Medicare or for that matter, file an income tax return. Don’t register a car and don’t vote. Should you have kids, home school them. Even if you do all these things, if THEY want to find you, they will. Because sooner or later you have to interact with other people and people talk.

75-FireAndIcePoem

I have friends who are awaiting the end the civilization, if not the world. They are planning against the day when they will live in the Dystopia of their nightmares. They want to make sure they have enough guns.

Personally, I think lots of bottled water and canned goods would be more useful. And blankets, first aid supplies, and warm clothing. But I’m not expecting the world to end, and if it does, I figure it will just wither away. Not with a bang, nope, uh-uh. I’m leaning toward the long, tired whimper.

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Daily Prompt: Do Not Disturb — Through A Prism

Author John Scalzi in his blog Whatever posted what I think is a sane, intelligent answer to the uproar and outrage over “discovering” that the government is spying on us. The article is titled Hey Scalzi, Don’t You Have Anything Angry to Say About That PRISM Thing? He points out that we all know the government is spying on us. We certainly have to know that Google and Facebook are spying on us. Microsoft has been spying on us for years as has Apple and Amazon. Depending on the security level of your home network, your entire neighborhood could by spying on you. There’s nothing new about this and if you had for some weird reason assumed your government which has been ramping up surveillance activities for more than a decade is not spying on all of us, it leaves only one question: How naïve are you?

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...

Living where I live and doing what I do, I recognized long ago there is no “off the grid” for me. Unless we were to go live in a cave in the far northern reaches of somewhere or other — if you know Garry and I,  that’s about as unlikely a scenario as anyone could create — I’m no cave dweller. The idea of living anywhere without a high-speed Internet connection gives me the willies.

That the government is using its capabilities to keep an ear and an eye on our transmissions, just in case something sounds suspicious and/or terroristic not only doesn’t surprise me, it would surprise me if they weren’t doing it. Land’s End monitors my purchases and browsing to create advertisements likely to lure me to buy from them. So does L.L. Bean, Dell, Amazon and everyone else from whom I shop. Google probably knows what color underwear I put on this morning. They’ve got my email and every photograph I’ve ever posted. Moreover, like most of the rest of you, I have a blog. Everything I write, every picture I publish goes off into cyberspace where it lives forever. If I Google myself, I find that like a mosquito captured in amber, my previous identities are still floating around out there, unchanged by time.

Years ago I accepted reality. If I want to belong to the world, I’m will be exposed to and by it. If you think otherwise, you are in denial.

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

All of those agreements we sign because if we don’t, we can’t use the software or that website, explicitly say we are granting permission to collect information, read our posts, access our applications and mine our data. I am mindful of what I post on the Internet. I write a lot, but I never post anything online that would embarrass me if someone announced it from the pulpit in church. If I have secrets, they stay secrets by the simple, primitive expedient of keeping my mouth shut.

Living out here in the middle of nowhere, we are less invaded by cameras and spy satellites than more heavily populated areas. It’s not because we aren’t as likely as anywhere else to be engaged in some kind of nefarious activity. It’s simply a matter of using available resources. There are only so many cameras and people to monitor them. We just aren’t worth the effort. Besides, if you want to know everything that is going on in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, drop by. Hang around the grocery store for a couple of hours. You’ll know everything and everybody in very short order.

The truth is that I don’t have much to hide. There’s stuff I did in my past that could potentially embarrass me, but it wouldn’t land me in jail. Probably my husband knows more interesting stuff than I do, but he was a reporter for a long time. And he isn’t talking. Not to me, not to anyone. He subscribes to the belief that a secret is something you don’t tell anybody. I’ve been trying to worm information out of him for more than 40 years. He just smiles and keeps watching whatever show is on TV. You have no idea how frustrating I find it, but comforting too. Because he’s not telling anyone my secrets either.

English: The logo of the blogging software Wor...

The government isn’t looking for me. I’m not buying guns, building bombs or selling drugs. I’m not traveling anywhere much, unless you count the occasional friend and doctor’s appointment. You could monitor my telephone traffic 24/7 and learn absolutely nothing because I don’t spend any time on the phone except when arguing with customer service reps, usually the cable company. And while it might be entertaining, it isn’t likely to be particularly exciting or enlightening. It certainly has nothing to do with anybody’s security, not even mine.

Spying? I’m more worried about Facebook and Google, WordPress and Amazon. They really do want to know what I’m doing so they can sell me stuff. They are very good at doing it, too. If the government were to question them, I guess the entire U.S. Government infrastructure would know my shoe size, what software I use to edit photographs and write, and that I still dress in essentially the same styles I was wearing 40 years ago. They’d know what dogs I’ve got, what food they eat. What food we eat, for that matter and probably what medications we take. I cannot imagine what use they might find this information. It doesn’t even interest me much.

This is the world we have chosen, designed and bought into. We have GPS units that broadcast our location to anyone who wants to find us. Virtually all of us have cell phones that are easily tapped and tracked. All of our bank transactions can be accessed by Lord knows how many people. If we are on Social Security and Medicare, the entire government is aware of our income, medical issues and who knows how much more. That would be assuming they are actually interested enough to look, which frankly, I doubt.

My office by window light

My government is not hunting for me. If they were, all they have to do is give me a call or drop by the house. They know where to find me. They know where to find you, too. That they can collect mountains of data is one thing. I very much doubt they have sufficient personnel to sift through more than an infinitesimal percentage of it. And if they are as efficient at mining data as they are at everything else, your guilty secrets are safer with the government than with your best friend.

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A Nifty 10″ Tablet: The XPS 10 is a sweet machine

Last week, in the wee hours of the morning … the darkest hours before the dawn … I ordered a Dell XPS 10 tablet that runs on Windows RT. Windows RT is not Windows 8, though they certainly belong to the same family. Kissing cousins. RT was designed as an operating system for a tablet. It does not let you install any standard PC software anymore than an iPad lets you install standard Mac software. It is a nifty tablet.

Dell XPS 10 Light Windows 8 Tablet

Immediately after I bought it, I went to the Dell website and read some dreadful reviews. Mostly I discovered people bought it expecting it to replace their laptop. They were disappointed. It is not a replacement for your laptop. When all was said and done, I knew it wouldn’t satisfy my mobile computing requirements, not because it is a bad piece of hardware or a bad operating system. It’s simply not what I need.

XPS 10 Tablet Details — Dell Windows 8 Tablet - Dell

So, I bought the Inspiron 14Z which only cost a little bit more and arranged to return the XPS 10 when it arrived. As it turned out, the day it arrived — the day before yesterday — Dell was upgrading their systems, so I had to wait.

Today, I called Dell, explained I wanted to return the XPS 10 because I didn’t believe it was right for me. He offered  me a $50 discount. I hesitated, then said, “No,” because I have already ordered another computer. I mean, how many computers do I need, really?

He offered me $100 discount, which also meant a refund of some of the sales tax … bringing the whole thing in for under $400. I had ordered a pretty high-end configuration, including the keyboard which doubles the battery life to 18 hours, and the 64 GB flash memory. And it came with Office RT installed … everything except Outlook.

“Maybe,” he said, “Your husband would enjoy it?”

I gave that some thought, but he really doesn’t need it. On the other hand, I have a son. I told Owen about the tablet. He could try it. If he didn’t like it, there would be no problem returning it.

The Configuration

  • XPS 10 Tablet – Windows RT
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 1.5 GHz DC processor with 64GB Flash Storage, WiFi Only
  • XPS 10 Mobile Keyboard Dock – US English
  • 10.1″ HD Display (1366×768) with capacitive multi-touch
  • Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013 RT

I handed him the box, he opened it and set it up. It asked questions, Owen answered them. The email started working immediately. It took 5 minutes to figure out how to use the home screen, get into desktop mode, set up the weather and the maps (it has a fast GPS).

The keyboard has a great feel. It locks securely in place with a satisfying click. With keyboard attached, it becomes a small, well-built laptop. The keyboard is heavy enough to hold the XPS 10 upright so you can watch movies or videos hands free. The keyboard is 92% of full size, large enough for email and whatever documents you may want to create on it. If you have huge hands, well … you know who you are. For most of us, the keyboard is fine. The screen is bright and responsive, the speakers work.

And off he went to work, taking the XPS 10 with him.

By the time he got home, it was obvious that the only way that tablet was going back to Dell was if I pried it from his cold dead hands. He was in love.

What’s are the problems?

The cyber world has not embraced this tablet even though the XPS 10 is a great little machine. After using it, I think I understand the issues, the reasons people are not flocking to it, nor “taking” to any of the new Windows operating systems.

(1) Most people have no idea how to use them.

(2) Microsoft has failed to explain the capabilities and limitations of the operating systems. There’s a black hole of ignorance being filled with rumor, innuendo, and lies.

(3) Microsoft has done a terrible marketing job. Instead of reassuring customers, they adopted an antagonistic big brother attitude.

If you’ve heard this song before, feel free to join in the chorus. Touchscreen technology is not new. It has its place, but under the best circumstances, touchscreens become insensitive through use. Big, little, no matter how it’s made, touchscreens have a lifespan much shorter than non-touchscreens. If you get a few good years out of a touchscreen, you’re doing well. Not everyone wants to replace their equipment every two or three years. It’s not merely inconvenient. It’s costly.

Touchscreens are inappropriate and hard to use in a vertical position. Terribly hard on wrists and shoulders.

Fingers are not precision devices. The cheapest mouse, trackball, or stylus is more accurate and versatile. Not to mention easier to use.  Touchscreens in an office environment? Why? What advantage does it offer? Telephones? Okay, but I preferred the keyboard on the Blackberry. I hate my iPhone.

Cameras? I would prefer buttons and dials. When I’m shooting in cold weather I can barely feel my fingers much less hit tiny little points on a 3 inch LCD.

Tablets? Ah. The sweet spot. And the Dell XPS 10 is a fine example of how good it is when you marry two well matched technologies.

Customers have unrealistic expectations and are doomed to disappointment

After spending years trying to convince us — unsuccessfully — to believe that tablets (any tablet, take your pick, it doesn’t matter) will replace other computers, it isn’t true. Tablets are great for some things, useless for others. They are — not to put too fine a point on it — good for what they are good for, but that’s far from everything.

The propaganda that we don’t need our “big” computers and can do it all using a tablet  convinced many (most?) people to buy tablets expecting they would be using  it to do everything they used to do on bigger more powerful machines. If their primary computer activities are internet surfing, emailing, taking snap shots, Skype, playing music, listening to audiobooks or reading ebooks, it could be true. For the rest of us? Not really. It is a nice complement to bigger equipment, but not a replacement.

Last — far away from least 

Hire some technical writers to produce documentation so everyone can look stuff up.

Rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, we don’t want to call customer service to find out how to change the background on the screen. Make manuals as friendly as an average “Dummies” book and folks will use them. No manual for either new Windows OS is (thank you Benjamin Franklin, wherever you are) penny wise and pound foolish. There are professionals who know how to write this kind of stuff. I’m one of them. We work cheap. Hire us.

SnapIt-84

Would it have killed Microsoft to include a manual for the operating system? Acquainting people with how (and why!) it works before they bought it would have saved a lot of negative feedback because RT works beautifully on a tablet. I wouldn’t want it on my desktop or laptop, but on the XPS 10? It’s great.

So, what can (and can’t) you do with this tablet?

You cannot install standard PC software on Windows RT. You can’t use a wired router. It only works on WiFi or 3G if you ordered it.

You can’t store all your files, but there’s cloud storage available. It has two USB 2.0 ports and a slot to install a mini SD card. You can access other computers and download music and other stuff. There’s a Kindle reader application. Netflix runs on it. Music sounds pretty good, as do voices.

Dell XPS 10 Light Windows 8 Tablet

My son could not figure out how to change the background and asked why they don’t include documentation? The Billion Dollar Question. They have a couple of booklets and probably somewhere on the system, a manual. I wouldn’t be optimistic about how useful the manual is. Most of them are generated by software, not written by the likes of me.

I bet most problems people have with the operating system(s) and tablet is not having instructions on how to use it and not understanding what they bought. I found it easy to figure out, but I have a tablet and I’m computer savvy.

What you can do on the Dell XPS 10

  • Email
  • Surfing the net
  • Playing music
  • Skype
  • Netflix and other movies
  • Take pictures
  • Play games (lightweight)
  • Light photo editing
  • Listen to audiobooks.

If you are a photographer, don’t expect to do serious editing. You can view your pictures, crop them, fix them up a little. You’ll have to save the heavy processing until you get to your other computer.

Dell’s XPS 10 comes with MS Office RT installed. You can do most office tasks, smooth as silk. I wish I had a legitimate excuse to get one for me, now that I’ve given it to Owen, but I don’t need it. For me it would be a toy. For Owen, it will take care of most of his computing needs. We occupy different places in the cyber world.

I am an old dog, but I can still learn a few new tricks. I apologize, Microsoft. It’s a sweet operating system and Dell has made a smooth, functional tablet with superb battery life and a fine keyboard. You can even attach a mouse if you want.

I like it. The XPS 10 is a sweet little machine. I can tell from the gleam in my son’s eyes and the way he keep saying “Cool!!”

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So I ordered another one: Dell Inspiron 14Z Ultrabook

Inspiron 14z Ultrabook™ Non-Touch

I was surprised at the large number of the bad reviews the 14Z has gotten. That has not been my experience with this computer. After reading all the bad reviews, I believe I have a better grasp of the issues. Perhaps it’s unwise to automatically believe every reviewer.

There was one review — really a complaint — that exemplified why you need to evaluate the reviewer as well as the review. He had given the 14Z a one star review because he had ordered the computer (he said) with Windows 7, but when he turned it on, “this thing comes up and says Windows 8.”

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“What,” he asked, “Does that mean?”

About 20 people had written to suggest he return the computer and buy an Etch-A-Sketch. I suggested if it said Windows 8, he could be reasonably sure it’s Windows 8. Either he was sent a computer with the wrong operating system or he ordered the wrong operating system. Given his cluelessness, I can’t see how it would make any difference which operating system he has.

The Etch A Sketch Animator

Next, there was a one star review by a woman who complained she couldn’t get the WiFi to work because “I have a wired system and don’t want to waste money getting wireless.” She felt the computer should run WiFi anyway. What can you say to that? Remember, these people are allowed to vote. Frightening.

I have read reviews that complain of the keyboards failing for no reason, of monitors or screens breaking — again for no reason. That the back “just fell off” the computer.

I’ve been using computers since the early 1980s. I’ve never had a screen or monitor break at all. When my keyboards stop working, it’s because I dropped my jelly sandwich on it.  And really, you’re telling me the back fell off the laptop? Just like that? You didn’t unscrew anything or maybe drop it on a cement floor?

In over 30 years of using computers, I’ve never had a monitor or screen break. Never had any computer, no matter how cheap, fall apart. It doesn’t happen.

The people who are most likely to write reviews are those who are having problems. Many have no idea how to use a computer but that doesn’t stop them — or even slow them down. People do dreadful things, then panic and blame the computer. Then there are the people who, rather than call customer service, write a bad review. It doesn’t solve the problem, but I suppose it makes them feel better. Maybe they’re afraid if they call customer service, someone might ask how the back really came off. Sometimes, the problem is the user, not the tool.

I bought a Dell 14Z for my husband more than a year ago. It has Windows 7 as its OS with 4 GB of memory. It’s not a super computer; he doesn’t need one. It’s just a good, dependable machine that does what he needs to do and doesn’t break his back when he takes it with him.

The 14Z is the economy model among Dell’s lightweight computers. It’s classed — by them — as an ultrabook, but it’s a bit heavy to be a true ultrabook. Weighing in at 4 pounds, it is lightweight, but to be an ultrabook, it should be closer to 3 pounds. In compensation, the 14Z has a DVD read/write, a full-size keyboard and good sound — so it’s a more than acceptable compromise at a reasonable price.

My husband’s machine has operated for more than a year completely trouble-free. I took it out of the box. I installed Google Chrome, added his email accounts, installed and/or downloaded whatever applications he was likely to need. He’s been using it ever since. There hasn’t been any reason to call customer service because there haven’t been any issues to address. I don’t know how long the battery would last because he usually plugs it in. It must be easy to use because he is not especially computer savvy and if he were having problems, I would know about it.

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The 14Z is light. It has a bright high-definition screen. The speakers are good, loud for a laptop. They aren’t as good as those on my XPS laptop — those are very good — but significantly better than typical laptop speakers. Overall, I’ve found that Dell laptops have better than usual sound. Even my little 10″ Dell mini has decent sound.

The 14Z plays videos without complaint, runs applications, boots, sleeps, wakes, reboots with never a hiccup.

Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to figure out what to do about getting a more portable computer. My mini still works, but it can’t handle much beyond basic email or maybe an audiobook. It just doesn’t have enough juice.

I never go anywhere without a computer, a bunch of camera and accessories, my Kindle and of course, the ubiquitous cell phone and associated chargers, cords etc. I’m beginning to feel I need a fork lift to get from the car to wherever we are staying. I usually haul my hefty XPS with its anchor-like 9-cell battery when I think I’ll need Photoshop or some other installed application. But for short trips I would like something less weighty. No matter how I figure it, no tablet is going to do it for me. It’s either too expensive, has the wrong operating system, no real hard drive, too slow, too small and typically, no keyboard. I need a keyboard. And USB ports.

I love being able to play my own media. I prefer having a DVD player. I can’t work without a keyboard.

And then I realized the solution was obvious. Buy a 14Z. For me. Dell is still offering the 14Z with Windows 7, so I can have my cake and eat it too — so to speak.

I have a houseful of Dell computers. Literally. Why do I keep coming back? Dell has gone through a lot of changes. For a while, customer service was awful and I actually bought two Gateway laptops. They were okay but when I needed a new desktop for myself, I came back to Dell. However dubious their customer service has been sometimes, their computers are really well-built. They last. Moreover, Dell has addressed most of the customer service problems of the past and while they aren’t perfect, they offer the best standard warranty in the business. When I had a bad hard drive on my desktop, Dell sent a guy to fix it. He not only replaced it, he also re-installed all my applications and transferred the mountains of data from my dying hard drive to the new one. It was above and beyond any obligation he had under my warranty, but he was a really nice guy. I was incredibly grateful. He saved me long days of additional work.

Since then, I’ve bought two more Dell laptops, the 14Z for my husband and the loaded XPS 15 for me. Now, I’m getting a 14Z for me, also with Windows 7 and I’m pleased with my choice. It’s not a powerhouse like my XPS, but I don’t need another powerhouse. This will handle anything I usually need to do when I’m away from home — editing and writing this website, downloading photographs and light photo editing.

I’m sure that there will be more terrible reviews by customers who are disappointed that the 14Z isn’t an XPS.  But I already know that, so whoever is writing the review won’t be me.

Pros: light, fast, good speakers, great monitor, full-size keyboard, comfortable to type on.

Cons: None

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Daily Prompt: Say Your Name — My name is Marilyn and I’m alive.

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My name is Marilyn but you can call me Teepee. I am alive, if not always well. I plan to remain alive as long as I have the option. I apologize for any inconvenience.

A while back, I got another blogging award. It was given to Teepee12. When I started this blog, it was never my intention to hide my identity. I automatically, without thinking, entered my familiar Internet “handle” when WordPress asked for my username. I’d been using this name since 2007 when my book was published. Teepee 12 derives from the book’s title, The 12-Foot Teepee. My real name wasn’t (still isn’t) available. There are a lot of Marilyn Armstrongs out there. Most of them are more accomplished than I am and many are deceased.

I began using the Internet in prehistoric days when modems ran at 1200 BPS and no one was sure what a computer virus was. We each had a handle. No one used real names. I think it was a hangover from CB radios. I’d had a variety of handles over the years, but once the book came out, I wanted to be identified with it and so began using Teepee12. It was a poor choice. No one can spell it. Auto-correct alway changes it to Steeper (damn you auto correct!). I wish I could go back and do it over, use my real name or something close to it. But it’s hopeless.

Last I looked, there were more than a dozen of me on Facebook alone. When I Googled myself, I wound up reading a lot of obituaries with my name on them. This can be troubling. The most interesting discoveries were that all my past incarnations still exist in cyberville. I am listed as living every place I lived since 1987 when I came back from Israel. My age ranges from early 40s to mid fifties (nice). I have two Boston telephone numbers, own three houses, including one on Beacon Hill (we only rented that one), another in Roxbury.

Being oneself carries no weight. You need a computer to identify you and it can’t be your own computer, either.

A friend of ours was trying to correct his Wikipedia entry. It showed him working at jobs he never held, in states he’s never visited. Wikipedia wouldn’t let him make the corrections. It told him he didn’t have sufficient credentials to correct the entry. Being himself was not enough. You need expertise and me being me, him being him, doesn’t count. Yet  I corrected a bunch of information about some movies we watch. When asked for my bona fides, I merely said I have watched the movie a few times. That was apparently sufficient expertise. I don’t have a personal Wikipedia entry, so I don’t have to worry about it, but Garry’s brother does and I tried to correct it, but being close family doesn’t count as bona fides either.

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My mother wanted to name me Mara, but that means “bitter” in Hebrew and her whole family objected. It’s the Hebrew root for Marilyn, Mary, Mireille and a bunch of other names, so actually Marilyn means “bitter” anyhow. Technically, I should have been named Queen or something awful like that, because my real name is Malka, which means “queen” in Hebrew. I was named after my recently deceased great-aunt Malka. It’s a tradition in Ashkenazi families to name babies after recently dead relatives, even when no one was particularly close to them. Maybe especially when no one was close to them … to keep their names alive. Certainly I never heard any humorous anecdotes of adventurous Aunt Malka — or any stories at all. I doubt, other than my name, any memories are attached to her by anyone living.  I’m her memorial.

I hated my name as a kid. It was a stupid name and no one else had a stupid name like mine. All my friends were Susan, Carol, Mary or Betty. Marilyn Monroe did not make me feel better because at no point did I bear any resemblance to her. I renamed myself “Linda” for a while because it meant “pretty” and I thought it might rub off. Then I decided Delores was much more romantic. By the time I was a young mother, I told everyone to call me Spike, but no one ever did. I never even had a proper nickname. People too lazy to say all three syllables call me “Mar,” but that’s not a nickname. That’s just a shortening of a longer name. Why won’t anyone call me SPIKE?

Instead, I have become Teepee, which is a very peculiar thing to become at this late stage in my development.

75-ME-MirrorPortraitHPCR-1

I’ve been blogging for a while now and I can’t quite figure out how to get my name back. I’ve put my name on Serendipity’s header and in the “About Me” section. I sign my name when I write to people. But it apparently doesn’t matter. I have become a teepee and a teepee I shall stay. A 12-foot teepee, which is the smallest possible teepee that isn’t a miniature. I suppose I don’t really want to become Giant Teepee. That would carry other implications.

For the record, my name is Marilyn Armstrong. I wrote a book titled “The 12-Foot Teepee” and my online ID is Teepee12 whether I like it or not. Marilyn Armstrong is not available and I would have to be MarilynArmstrong00054 or MArmstrong876987 or something and that sounds too much like an android or robot … so for the forseeable future, you can call me Teepee.

Teepee12 — that’s me.

No niche for iPad: A cautionary tale on ‘needing a purpose’ | ZDNet

See on Scoop.itBooks, Writing, and Reviews

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After almost two weeks with the latest iPad, I walked back to the Apple Store in Grand Central, New York and handed it back to the blue-blazoned staff hipster who greeted me at the top of the stairs.

“Was there something wrong with it? And, do you need a replacement? We can get you a replacement, no problem,” signaling to holler over a fellow colleague. But I declined.

“There’s nothing wrong with the tablet,” I said. “I suspect it’s actually a problem with me.”

Within the 14-day period in which Apple consumers are granted a stay of financial relief on their purchases, I returned my tablet not with a heavy heart but nonetheless with a feeling of disappointment in myself. It’s not that I didn’t like the iPad. The build quality was excellent, the software functionality was superb, and there was nothing but the highest of intent for burgeoning productivity potential.

It was that I simply didn’t need one. And not just an iPad, a test case as it turns out, but any tablet for that matter.

Cue the back story.

I fell into the Apple ecosystem. At first, anyway. But I don’t think of myself as an Apple user. I am the kind of person who will use whatever tools that are necessary for the job in hand. It just so happens that I’ve become accustomed to the way these devices work together, just as other same-brand ecosystem devices do.

Almost two years ago I bought a MacBook Air. Still to this day, it has become a crucial, necessary, ultra-portable laptop that has, granted with its occasional failings, has served me well. The battery life is acceptable, so long as certain conditions are met, but in spite of the likely unique gripes rather than hindrances, it’s a fine piece of kit.

But above all else, OS X was the driving force for change. Gone are the days where apps weren’t available. That’s the cloud’s business now. And thanks to the App Store, many previously unavailable apps have migrated to the Mac.

Pleased with the design and the quality, but above all else the OS X operating system that had become so simple to use yet powerful by design, I ripped out the cords on my desktop machine — that whizzed and whirred in the corner of my home office with a subtle yet constant background-fading drone — and I replaced it with a Mac mini.

It was all too easy. I looked for a catch, but there wasn’t one.

A staunch Windows user for my adolescent and early adult life, there should’ve been a level of discomfort and disconcertedness. But there wasn’t. With fond memories of blue screens and translucent windows, I began to prefer a sense of simplicity

The last step was my eventual move to the iPhone, albeit for a second time. The first was not the best of experiences but as a result of my confidence in the Apple ecosystem, I thought it was at least worth another try. And it was worth it.

We can tick off the MacBook Air, the Mac mini — and all the peripherals to really go all-in — and the iPhone. (In between, I’d also bought an Apple TV, but it just makes sense when you’re downloading TV and movies). The next logical step, surely, was to get an iPad.

With glee and excitement, I picked it up from the Grand Central store the following day on my way to work. I configured it, I synchronized my music, my pictures, apps and everything else.

And then I went back to work.

Not on my iPad, but my MacBook Air, which I take with me to work. I took my iPad home and it was sat there on my coffee table for three days until I picked it up again. It wasn’t that I was avoiding it, and I wanted to use it, but I didn’t have any particular reason to use it.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the iPad. And, I suspect there is nothing particularly wrong or different with any other tablet. It simply doesn’t fit into my lifestyle.

My iPhone is my primary email communication device, plus my music. That sticks me firmly in the “prosumer” category. But because of my job, I require a keyboard. Granted, typing on the iPad is not the most difficult thing to do in the world, but it’s less natural than a keyboard. I’m automatically drawn to a keyboard.

That said, it’s a fine device but I have, as part of my one-brand ecosystem, other devices that at least for me are better suited for purpose.

Even for “play” and non-work reasons, there was nothing drawing me to it that I couldn’t already do on my ultra-portable iPhone, my keyboard-enabled yet still light and portable MacBook Air, or my work-personal life separating Mac mini that allows me to walk away from it at any point.

If I were a financier, a marketer, or an artist, a tablet may be perfect. But not for me.  And you know what? That’s OK. It’s my problem, and not the fault of the tablet.

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:

I find myself increasingly confused. I want something small and light that will do the basic stuff I need to do when I don’t want to haul the big heavy laptop. Usually, that is a trip on which I will not need Photoshop. But nothing seems quite right. What to do?

See on www.zdnet.com