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

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

alienware side view computer

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

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

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

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

What to do?

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


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

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

72-Computer in use_06

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

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

Garry in his office

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

The symbol appeared and I signed up.

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

Office by window light - Photo: Marilyn Armstrong

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

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

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

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

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

computer and keyboard

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

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

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


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

Olympus PEN PL-5

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

tablets kindle iPad

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


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

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

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

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

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

About your next novel

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

alienware side view computer

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

It’s a big world

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

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

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

One size does not fit all

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

IMHO – The Daily Rerun Prompt


When Garry came into the bedroom, I was staring at the radio. Garry takes his hearing aids off at night, so we have bedtime conversations at high volume. Shouting, really.


“Why are you staring at the radio?”

“I’m trying to figure out if it’s on. Oh, it just started to make noise. It’s on.”

“But why are you staring at it?”

“I thought if I stared at it for a while, it would start to play. Or not. One way or the other, I would find out what the red light means.”

“What red light, and why are you staring at it? How will staring at it help?”

“That’s how I figure things out. It didn’t come with instructions.”

Pause. “Have you taken any drugs?”

“No. See, there’s the red light. I didn’t if know the red light means the CD player is on or off. I had to wait to see if it started playing. I was pretty sure a blinking red light means pause, but I wasn’t sure what a steady red light means. I waited when there was no light. Nothing happened. So I tried it the other way. Now it’s making noise. Therefore, the red light means it’s on. It’s slow getting started.”

radio and coffee cup plastic BW

I wasn’t trying to be funny, but Garry started to laugh and couldn’t stop. “That’s the sort of thing I would do,” he said,

“Well, how else would I know what the red light means?”

He laughed some more.

Garry thinks I know a lot of stuff I don’t really know, especially about technical issues. I push buttons. If staring (and waiting) doesn’t fix what’s broken, I push another button. Or push the same button again. Or hold the button for a couple of seconds and see if it does something different.

While I’m waiting, I watch. Intently. Maybe I’ll get a message. Isn’t this how everyone fixes stuff? I used to look things up in the manual, but since no one supplies a manual anymore, it’s more art than science.

My husband finds this hilarious.

I spend a lot of time staring at computers, waiting for something — anything — to happen. Hoping an idea will occur to me or for the system to reboot. To see if a blue screen will recur, or the diagnostic will tell me there’s no problem, even though I’m sure there is. For a message.

I must be doing something right. Beethoven is playing on the CD player/radio. And most of the time, the computers work.


Around 3 this afternoon, something happened.

I know when it happened because the big clock radio on the end table started blinking and began counting from noon, which is what it does when it loses power for as much as a nanosecond. I didn’t notice for hours because the cold drink cup was blocking my view of its screen. It’s an angle thing.

Philco Clock Radio CD

Hours later, I noticed my computer’s battery was low. It shouldn’t have been because it’s plugged in. So, I looked down and saw the big surge protector into which everything is plugged, was off. I turned it on.

At some subsequent point in time, I searched for a saved email (in Gmail) which contained information I needed. It was missing. I checked in other folders, in case it was misfiled. That was when I realized every email I ever sent myself and saved in labeled folders, was gone. The folders weren’t empty. Email from anyone who wasn’t me was still there.

Only emails in folders were affected. Only emails addressed to me, from me, were deleted. The kind of thing I couldn’t do intentionally if my life depended on it. I’m not sure it’s possible to do it on purpose. Supposedly putting emails in labeled folders protects them from exactly this kind of disaster.

Lucky me, they hadn’t vanished entirely but had been moved to the trash.

For the past  seven hours, I’ve been sifting through trashed emails, nicely blended with actual trash. I have to find my saved data, contacts. Conversations with authors, friends, utilities, banks, bloggers … everything I’ve done, ordered, negotiated. All the stuff thought I had backed up by saving the emails.

alienware side view computer

How could a global delete from all folders and sub-folders occur while leaving my inbox untouched? Yet it happened. Did one of the dogs step on the surge protector and turn it off? Did that somehow trigger a global delete of emails addressed to me, from me? How? What else happened that I haven’t yet discovered?

I’m tired. I’ve got a headache. I can’t empty my real email trash until I’m sure I’ve retrieved all the stuff that matters. Thousands of emails are sitting in the trash folder awaiting my attention. I’ve restored a couple of hundred, but haven’t looked at the rest. It’s overwhelming.

What happened? Anyone have a clue? I’m all ears.


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.


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.


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.


Pens and Pencils – When was the last time you wrote something substantive — a letter, a story, a journal entry, etc. — by hand? Could you ever imagine returning to a pre-keyboard era?

72-alien-102914_14 computer keyboard

I learned to touch type the summer between sixth and seventh grade. Even though the New York city schools, at that point in time — heaven only knows what they teach these days — required every college-bound student to take a year of touch typing, that wasn’t enough for my mother. Typing wasn’t optional for her. She typed to my young eyes at a million words per minute. As far as I could tell, she never made a mistake. No white-out for her!

She believed typing was a necessary life skill, right up there with ironing. We disagreed about the ironing. I hated it. Still hate it. I’ve actually thrown away clothing rather than iron it. Oddly, though, while I was serious about collecting vintage and antique dolls, I spent days repairing, hand-washing, then ironing tiny, frilly dresses, coats, and hats. Life is full of paradox.

I wouldn’t iron for myself. When I married Garry, there was a codicil to our vows: for better or worse, but no ironing. Fortunately, Garry irons well and sometimes, if I grovel and prostrate myself, he will iron something for me.

typewriter with glass sides -2

After I learned touch typing, I never wrote anything by hand. Except notes on cards. Those could hardly be called substantive. Lists. I write lists by hand. On paper. I have a little notebook I carry with me in which I jot down information I might need when I don’t have a computer nearby. Almost everything in my world lives somewhere on my computer or worse, online, on somebody else’s server. A single day without WiFi — or worse, minus electricity — and my world would grind to a full stop.

I admit it. I’m hooked.

I don’t have a handwriting anymore. I make weird errors when I write by hand, even weirder than the mistakes I make on a keyboard. I omit words and letters. I don’t leave space between words, sentences, and paragraphs. My writing slants up or downhill. As often as not, I get to the edge of the page in the middle of a word. Not the kind of place where a hyphen can be inserted. My words begin crawling up (or down) what ought to be a margin.

Fifty years ago, I forswore writing by hand. I doubt I could go back to writing by hand even if I wanted to, even if, by some horrible magical, nuclear, dystopian, catastrophic end-of-the-world scenario, all keyboards disappeared.

There’s history here. I fell madly, passionately in love with computers the moment I met one for the first time. It was 1982. Although I had earlier encountered word processors and of course, the big computer at my alma mater, this was my first personal, face-to-face with one of the Big Guys. Of course now, anyone’s smart phone can do more than that giant mainframe could do … but back then, it was a miracle.

We never forget that moment of first love, right? I had begun work with the development team of DB-1 at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel. I was given a work station networked with the university’s main frame. When my finger caressed those keys, my mind screamed the message:


I’ve never looked back. I never will.