MARILYN GETS AN IPAD

Between the old router going bad and installing the new one, something caused the troubled laptop in my bedroom to go bonkers. It decided every certificate for every application and website I have ever used, or will use, was fraudulent. Although I did my best to fix it and I sort of did, but editing certificates is delicate and tricky.

Google Chrome went berserk and refused to let me connect. To anything. Even after finally finding a way to uninstall Chrome, it took a lot of coaxing before I could get Internet Explorer to run. In this case, the problem turned out to be IE. Its awful design. A feature, not a bug.

ipad3-image

I tried to use my 7-inch Kindle Fire HD to do everything, but it’s too small. I can’t load my website. Since (I believe this fits into the “irony” category) WordPress has “improved” their software to make it “mobile friendly,” it has become actively hostile. WordPress sites used to automatically resize. Now they won’t load at all. I could buy a cheap PC, but they run Windows 8, which I hate. Microsoft says I should want it, but I don’t.

That left me with three choices: Chrome, Kindle, and Apple. I’ve got an Alienware super laptop which I love, so all I need is something basic. To download and listen to audiobooks, check my blog and email, maybe play a game, and take a peek at Facebook.

My first choice would have been the big brother of my Kindle Fire HD, the 9″ version — about the same size as the iPad. But it has limitations. I need to be able to run multiple Audible accounts, which Kindles can’t do. Something to do with the Kindle OS. After a little research, I knew a Chromebook was too limited. It’s not a computer, just a way to connect to the web. Fine, if that’s all you need, but I need more.

I always thought the iPad was overpriced. I still think so, but I found a brand new 64 GB  iPad 3 for the same price as a big Kindle. I’ve had friends extolling the virtues of the iPad for years. I figured I’d get this thing. It would leap from its box and embrace me. Configure itself (like the Kindle really does), then clean my house and cook dinner.

Not exactly.

The iPad comes nicely boxed without any instructions.

These are ALL the instructions that came with my Apple iPad.
These are ALL the instructions that came with my Apple iPad.

If this is the only piece of Internet capable hardware in your possession, you’re shit out of luck. Everything you need is online … where you can’t get until after you set up the iPad. Not as easy as the lack of instructions would suggest.

Our nearest Apple store is more than 60 miles away and you have to make an appointment. They also need an attitude adjustment. The last time I was there, I wanted to install my iPhone into one of their bodily orifices. The limited service combined with their attitude made me less than eager to invest in their equipment. But Microsoft and Windows 8 had me cornered. I ran out of choices.

ipad3-specs

My new iPad did not leap out to embrace me. It was harder to set up than my laptop and much more difficult than the Kindle which doesn’t need any set up. The iPad lost the first two passwords I set. Unlike my PC, you can’t not have a password. You need layers and layers of passwords for everything. When it decided the password with which I’d replaced the initial password also didn’t exist, it asked for my birth date to confirm that I’m me. It then told me my birthday isn’t my birthday.

I don’t know much, but I know my birthday. I’m not sure what to do about it. Lacking any instructions, I can’t get into the computer to correct the misinformation it locked onto. It’s lucky I’m clever with computers. In the end, all computers are more alike than different. Interfaces vary, but under the hood, they work do the same stuff. Including the iPad.

I worked around its refusal to acknowledge my birthday, though I know I’m going to bump into the problem again. If anyone knows how to deal with this, I’d sure like to know. Meanwhile, on my fourth password, it acknowledged it and I moved on. I don’t understand why everything on an iPad requires a password, but it does. Apparently not every time you use it, but when you activate or install anything, it requires one, two, or three passwords. I swear I entered passwords 100 times or more during setup. It fought me tooth and nail about connecting to this website, but when I was ready to fling it out into a snowdrift and leave it for the dogs, it must have heard me thinking.  It gave up the fight and connected. It took another long battle to convince it to accept multiple Audible account, but eventually, it let me download books from more all my accounts. If I could have done this on Kindle, I wouldn’t have gotten the damned iPad.

I installed the latest operating system (8 point something) and it’s working. It only took most of an afternoon, which these days is rather a lot of configuring for a modern computer.

I was so pissed off with it for giving me a hard time, I didn’t want to use it, but I had to give it a fair try. For the last three days, I’ve logged several hours a day scooting around the Internet, downloading books and audiobooks. Listening to books.  Installing stuff. I’m not thrilled with Safari. It’s a bit clunky, though far better than IE. It’s not hard to be better than IE.

It is a great size. Nice big screen. Amazing battery life. Audio is good, though not loud enough. Graphics are high quality. It resists fingerprints better than a Kindle.  It’s slower than my other devices. Surprisingly sluggish when opening applications, downloading, and connecting to the net. It gets there, but I’m not used to waiting.

My expectations may have been unreasonably high. It’s not entirely my fault. With Apple enthusiasts telling me how fantastic the iPad is, how perfect, I expected fantastic.

What I got is a nice, serviceable tablet. It’ll do the job, though I prefer a keyboard and a mouse. My hands are not what they were. Poking at it puts more stress on my arthritic hands than does a mouse. I don’t like virtual keyboards. My fingernails are always too long, fingers inaccurate, imprecise. And the iPad requires a solid poke to respond.

Do I love it? No, but it has a potential — and it isn’t Windows 8.  I’m sure I will make peace with it, but I wish I liked it more.

Would I recommend an iPad? It depends on what you need. I think I made the right choice, maybe the only choice. But if Microsoft would get their act together, I’d gladly return to the fold.

BIRDS IN THE BUSH

Sunday morning, I woke to a blanket of snow across the landscape. Maybe 5 inches. Not a mega storm, but enough to cover the branches of the trees, the lawn, and the forest floor.

TimeToRise-Poem-72-0125_13

I went out to take some pictures. Maybe it was the time of day … it was just a little past eight in the morning. There were dozens of little birds heading for the big forsythia bush. The birds love that bush. They love it in summer and spring and fall as well as in the winter. I don’t know if there is something there which they eat, or they just feel safe in its twisted branches.

We used to try to control it, but in recent years, it has quite gotten away from us, completely hiding the chain link fence that is the demarcation between our yard and the woods.

I was able to get some pictures of the little birds, something that usually eludes me. I don’t know what they are. Some kind of wren or finch. There are so many and they look very much alike. Our garden birds, sharing our world.

DOG BONE SOUP — BETTE STEVENS

DOG BONE SOUP Launch Banner

THE REALITY OF RURAL POVERTY 
A RIPPING GREAT TALE OF GROWING UP AND TRIUMPH OF THE SPIRIT!

DOG BONE SOUP is not only the title of Bette A. Stevens’s debut novel; it ranks high among the paltry meals that the book’s protagonist, Shawn Daniels, wants to forget. Plodding through mounting snow and battling howling winds, Shawn is ready to leave it all behind — living in poverty, Dad’s drinking, life in foster care, the divorce, the bullies….

Travel with Shawn Daniels through the guts and the glory of life. It’s all in DOG BONE SOUP, a Boomer’s coming-of-age saga. Available now at AMAZON.

From the Reviewers

“Dog Bone Soup is the poignant tale of a dysfunctional family struggling to survive in America in the 50s and 60s, when most others were on the crest of a wave. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry. But most of all it will make you glad you read it.” ~ Charlie Bray, founder of the Indietribe

“In Dog Bone Soup, Bette Stevens captures the feeling and images of growing up in hardscrabble times perfectly.” ~ John Clark, librarian and author

DOG BONE SOUP

READ the opening Excerpt from Chapter One right here…

DOG BONE SOUP BW Border 2015The postcard arrived four days before my eighteenth birthday. All I had to do now was sign the final papers and light out for basic training. I could hardly wait to leave this place behind.

There were six of us ready to become soldiers. The other five guys were headed to Fort Dix. Soon as we were inducted, the sergeant who swore us in started calling us a bunch of lily-assed bastards and worse. When the jerk marched the other five guys off, I was happy as hell I wasn’t one of them.

Lieutenant Richards called me into his office. “You’ll be heading out tomorrow, Private Daniels. Here are your tickets.”

We sat in his office and talked about my future with the U.S. Army. Then he handed me a schedule for the next day’s journey and we went over every detail.

“Now let’s get you home so you can get a good night’s sleep before you fly off to serve Uncle Sam, soldier.”

“Good luck Private,” the lieutenant said when he dropped me off at the house. We saluted and I stood there watching until his car disappeared over the hill.

I’d always liked army people. They called me Mr. Daniels and even sir sometimes. Now I was officially a private in the U.S. Army and I was ready to start a new life. I pictured myself in an officer’s uniform one day—a lieutenant, a captain, maybe even a general.

Mum and I didn’t get much more than a few winks of sleep that night. I don’t know how many pots of coffee she perked while we sat at the kitchen table and talked the night away. Of course, it was Mum did most of the talking. Once she opened her picture books, I felt like I was drinking in the life I wanted to leave.

Mum took all of those pictures with her Brownie—that camera was her pride and joy. None of us kids was allowed to touch it unless she supervised a picture-taking every now and then. If Dad wasn’t around, it was me peeking through the lens. Mum was fussy about taking pictures just so.

Five books were piled on the table and we went through them one page at a time. Mum had a story for every snap shot. Some made me laugh so hard that I doubled over.

It was two minutes shy of three when she closed the last album.

“Thanks for staying up. I’ve got the alarm set for six and I know that won’t give us much sleep.” Mum pulled out her hanky, sniffled and hugged me before we turned in. My leaving would to be hard on her.

Willie was snoring away, likely dreaming about cars. I slipped in next to him and pulled away some puffs and huddled under them.

The minute I closed my eyes I started dreaming about my new life. No more freezing to death up north. I was headed for southern sunshine and I saw myself soaking it all in.

Bzzzzzzz. I jumped out of bed, threw on my clothes, grabbed the suitcase and headed for the kitchen. Mum already had breakfast on the stove, so I ran outside to do my business and came back in to grab a hot biscuit and down it with a cup of steaming coffee.

I was half-frozen and snow was whipping around me in circles when I headed out on the three-mile walk into town to catch that bus.

I shook flakes big as quarters from my jacket when I climbed the steps of the Greyhound. Two hours and I’d be boarding a plane headed to Fort Jackson. South Carolina was sure the place to be, especially in February.

### end of excerpt

About the author

BAS Author logo stamp 2015Inspired by nature and human nature, author Bette A. Stevens is a retired elementary and middle school teacher, a wife, mother of two and grandmother of five. Stevens lives in Central Maine with her husband on their 37-acre farmstead where she enjoys writing, gardening, walking and reveling in the beauty of nature. She advocates for children and families, for childhood literacy and for the conservation of monarch butterflies (milkweed is the only plant that monarch caterpillars will eat).

Bette A. Stevens is the author of award-winning picture book AMAZING MATILDA; home/school resource, The Tangram Zoo and Word Puzzles Too!; and PURE TRASH, the short story prequel to DOG BONE SOUP.

Find out more about the author and her books right here on “YOUR AMAZON”

GLORIA MUNDI! NEW ROUTER, NOT SICK!

Our intermittent connection problem went critical. We had been having connection issues since before Christmas, but I thought it was an outside problem. Charter being Charter, as it were.

netgear ac750 router

It took a bit of tracking down, but eventually, we realized that the old Linksys was in its sixth year, which for computer gear so critical to everything we use, is ancient. And it was failing.

Charter has been ramping up their broadband speed for the past year, so I knew it was likely the old router couldn’t handle the higher speed. But it was more than that. It was not broadcasting a strong enough signal. Diagnosis: Tired old router needs replacement and honorable retirement.

Amazon isn’t cheaper for everything, but for electronics, they usually have the best prices and selection. If you have Amazon Prime, they are offer the fastest delivery at no charge.

I’m a real fan of Amazon. They honor their promises. If you don’t get your package, they send another. If the product doesn’t work, they refund your money or send a replacement — your choice. They are nice when you call with a problem. Rather than go over to our local Best Buy or Walmart, we went online.

We were right. Amazon had great prices on a huge selection of routers. There were so many to choose from … and the technology has changed so much since the last time we installed a router … most of our time was spent trying to figure out what the descriptions meant, and which router was the right one for our house.

Owen said NetGear was easiest to install. Even though we’d been using Linksys for so many years. Since he was doing the installation, I saw no reason to argue the point.

We settled on NETGEAR AC750 Dual Band Wi-Fi Gigabit Router (R6050). At $81.99 plus tax, with free 2-day shipping, it seemed likely to do the job. We ordered it Saturday and surprise! It arrived this morning, Monday. No, I didn’t pay extra for speedy shipping. Amazon is very fast.

It’s installed. It took about an hour, including some hassling with the wireless printer and some more hassling with the Roku. There’s one more Roku in the bedroom I will have to reset plus three Kindles. Owen’s has hooked up his laptop and tablet. My three computers and Garry’s two are also up and running.

Do you think we have enough wireless stuff around here?

The router works really well. No dead spots in the house anymore! Not one, not anywhere. Finally, we have full coverage through both floors and in every room.

What could NetGear do to improve the experience? Provide better instructions!

Every problem we encountered was not a problem. It was just something for which no instructions or explanation is provided. I know everyone thinks tech writers are obsolete. I AM a tech writer. But seriously, folks. How much could it cost to hire a tech writer for a couple of days to write proper, English-language instructions? We work cheap!

Reading through reviews on Amazon, I’m betting 90% of the complaints were failures to understand what to do. Better instructions would solve the problem.

Can you say “Happy Ending?” Sometimes, things work out better than you expect. This is one of those times!

Mirrorless cameras trends in 2015 and forecasting the future

Marilyn Armstrong:

The technology is moving fast. I’m not always as quick to realize what’s happening as I want. I rely on good reviewers to keep me on my game! Here’s an excellent roundup of the latest, greatest mirrorless cameras. My favorites have been the PEN line of Olympus cameras, which I expect will continue since I have acquired a pretty nice selection of lenses for it.

However, if I was going to invest in another system, it might be the Pentax Q. The tiny Pentax sounds really intriguing. I looked it up online. It’s a lot of camera in an incredibly small package … an interchangeable lens system that is genuinely pocketable. It’s actually smaller, at least the camera body and basic lens, than my Panasonic Lumix compact. Lighter too.

Originally posted on atmtx photo blog:

Now the successful mirrorless companies have steadily moved to the higher end. All cater to either DSLR owners scaling down or getting a second, lighter system. Let’s look at the mirrorless companies garnering the most attention, Olympus, Fujifilm and Sony.

Olympus started with the lower cost and smaller Pen cameras but they found greater success with the premium OM-D line. Starting with the E-M5 but breaking through with the E-M1, Olympus has steadily brought higher-end mirrorless cameras to market. The same goes for lenses. With the low to mid-level lenses covered, Olympus is busy filling out their Pro line, weather-sealed, constant f2.8 zooms.

Fujifilm has built a noteworthy lineup of X cameras, starting with the unexpected success of the X100. They quickly moved into interchangeable mirrorless cameras with matching premium lenses. And while they have some entry-level X-M1 and X-A1 cameras, they don’t seem to garner much press. The top…

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WAITING TO BE BORN

WHAT KIND OF IDEA ARE YOU?

From Salmon Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses”:

What kind of idea are you? Are you the kind that compromises, does deals, accommodates itself to society, aims to find a niche, to survive; or are you the cussed, bloody-minded, ramrod-backed type of damn fool notion that would rather break than sway with the breeze? – The kind that will almost certainly, ninety-nine times out of hundred, be smashed to bits; but, the hundredth time, will change the world.

Play close attention to the phrasing.  The prompt does not ask whether you tend to compromise or not.  Compromise, dealmaking, and survival mean and imply different things when an idea is at issue.  Therefore, before jumping into your response to this prompt, you should consider reflecting on what it means for an idea to compromise (etc.) and how that might translate into human actions.


I don’t fit in a category. Not me, not my ideas. The concept of “compromise” as wrong bothers me. Not because I “go with the flow.” I have no idea what “the flow” is. Or who is doing the flowing. I’ve never been in touch with popular thought because I don’t care what’s popular — or unpopular — or even hated. What I believe is subject to lots of varying forces. What you might call compromise, I call being in touch with reality.

The world and I have undergone dramatic change with the passage of time. Isn’t that the way it is supposed to me? Is not life a learning process? If life does is not growth, what is it? If my ideas are fixed and cannot change, they will become ridiculous. Irrelevant. Stupid. And so will I.

What might make anyone think their idea is “The Idea?” Or that it will be adopted by the “world?” (Whatever that is.) What historical thing, event, process, cultural trend, would make someone expect righteousness (as they perceive it) to prevail? Throughout human history, exactly the opposite has been the invariable human experience. I don’t see it changing.

When reality bites, I don’t stand around waiting for it to eat me. I think. I test my ideas to see if have legs to stand on. If not, I try to figure out what can I do to make them sturdier.

Some call it compromise. I call it smart. I know people who can not change. Refuse change. Are stuck in a fixed belief system. Maybe their system made sense. Then, not now. Today, they are relics. Laughable parodies of who they once were. We find them pitiable, that they can’t let the light in. They’ve locked the doors and drawn the shades of their minds. So sad, we say.

For most of my life, I believed everything could be fixed if we kept trying. Fifty years later, the world is no better.

slouching towards bethlehem yeats poetry

My generation is weary. Our children are trying not to drown. Their children — the grandchildren — are even more cynical.

So what kind of idea am I? What kind of idea are you? I am not an idea. I’m alive and constantly changing. If that makes you judge me weak or unrighteous, too bad. Holding to ideas that don’t work renders them meaningless. Ultimately, renders us meaningless. Written or shouted from a rooftop, it is just noise.

Rigid ideas of good, bad, right, wrong, evil, and righteousness are the problem. They will not save the world. Not now, not eventually. Not. Ever. Nor will they lower the heat of hatred and rage threatening to engulf us.

Rigid ideas are destroying us, marching us in lock step to nothing and nowhere.

TRUST IN GOD, BUT TIE YOUR CAMEL

DAILY PROMPT: IN GOOD FAITH

I’ve come a long way since I originally wrote this. It’s interesting, like mental time travel. You get to see who you were “back then” versus who you are today.

Life changes. Change is the only constant in our world. Change can be good, but as we age, it tends to be … well … difficult.

72-FebSunrise_06

I broke my back when I was a kid. I was reconstructed when I was 19. For the next 35 years, I refused to pay any attention to my spine. I was not going to be disabled. Not me. It was mind over matter. But, it turns out, mind over matter only takes you so far.

I began to have trouble walking. My balance became erratic. I lost sensation in my feet and miscellaneous reflexes disappeared. I went to doctors. All of whom said I needed a new spinal fusion, the old one having fallen apart.

That explanation and solution made no sense to me. After surgery, I’d be in more pain. My spine would be stable, but spinal instability was not my problem. My problem was pain and stiffness with the accompanying limited mobility.

I believe in miracles because I’ve experienced a couple of them. Nonetheless, I don’t count on them. If you could count on them, they wouldn’t be miracles, now would they? In lieu of prayer, I took my case to the top spine guy in Boston.

He said I did not need surgery, nor would it solve the problems I was having. (See? I was right.) “Ignore my colleagues’ scare tactics,” he said. “Your back got you through this far. It’ll take you the rest of the way. Pain control, gentle exercise, and recognize your limits. Don’t do anything stupid.” Like fall off a horse? Lift heavy packages?

Since then, there has been so much more yet finally, I’m beginning to feel better. My back isn’t better. That’s not going to happen, but the rest of me is beginning to feel — younger.

Faith can help get you through times of trouble, but faith in what, exactly? Yourself? Your loved ones? Your friends? It need not be a deity (though I often think it would be nice to really believe that someone was watching out for me from on high), but faith in something, that there’s a future worth living. That’s a big part of getting through life-threatening stuff.

Faith is a tool, not an all-purpose band-aid. You don’t apply faith like a salve and it heals all ills. Contrary to popular mythology, it does not mean you don’t have to take care of yourself, nor will it make you young again, or stop your joints from aching. It won’t pay your mortgage or make you immortal, but it can offer you a context in which to see yourself and your problems, make you realize that you really do have something to live for. That is no small thing when the going gets very rough.

After a lot of intellectual dodging and weaving on the subject, I believe there is something, but I have no idea what. I don’t believe we have individual guardian angels looking out for us. It would be nice, but ridiculous. Nor I am not willing to commit to nothingness. To suggest I know the answers would be an extraordinary act of hubris. So I’ll let others duke it out on the details while I remain unaffiliated.

Meanwhile, whoever or whatever has helped me get this far, I’d very much appreciate it if that Force would stay with me.