ARE WE LIVING IN THE SAME WORLD?

Terminal Time

You’re at the airport, your flight is delayed for six more hours, and none of your electronic devices is working. How do you pass the time?


netflix for books

I don’t believe it. You genuinely don’t know what to do without electronic gadgets? You are lost without your cell phone or tablet? Really? You’re not kidding me?

If you don’t have an instant answer to this, perhaps we come from different planets. Because me, I would simply reach into my carry-on and pick out a book. If none of the books I’ve packed appealed to me, I’d take a walk to the nearest shop (airports are full of them, in case you haven’t noticed) and buy something to read. A newspaper (yes, they still print them). Maybe a couple of magazines. Or — a book!

If all else fails, I might consider chatting with other passengers who are waiting with me. I have had some of the most interesting conversations of my life in terminals, waiting for planes, trains or buses. Although I know you usually text, the organ into which you insert food has a dual purpose and can be used for conversation.

Despite rumors to the contrary, direct communication between living people can prove a pleasant — even enlightening — way of passing the hours. If you’ve never tried it, this would be an opportunity to expand your world! I strongly recommend you give it a try.

You really need to think about this? Seriously?

FOOTNOTE: I’d probably be taking a few dozen pictures too. Airports and the people in them make great subjects. I don’t take pictures using a phone. In fact, I don’t carry a cell phone (what? say that again? You heard me … I don’t carry a cell phone). I use a camera, a device dedicated to taking photographs. And I carry enough spare batteries to get me through two weeks without electricity, so I don’t care what anyone says. My camera WILL work, no matter where I am!

 

HOW TERRIFIC WERE THE GOOD OLD DAYS?

Once upon a time, I cooked rice in a pot with a lid. I used a manual typewriter and if I wanted a book to read, I had to go to a book store or the library. Televisions received (maybe) half a dozen channels — fewer if you lived in the country — and none of them came in clearly.

For your listening pleasure, you bought vinyl records and played them on tinny record players or, if you were lucky, on a hi-fi. You had to defrost the freezer and when the temperature rose in the summer, you turned on a fan. And sweated.

When you were away from home, you were out of touch. Completely. Nothing beeped, rang, dinged or vibrated.

iPhone 4There were good things and bad things about those pre-gadget days. The best part was not having a cell phone or beeper because if you got on your bike and rode off with your friends, you were free. Until you came home. Which better be in time for dinner or you’d be in big trouble.

The other stuff? The first time I got my hands on a computer — really, it was a dedicated word processor — and realized I could correct mistakes without re-typing the entire document (again), I said to myself: “This is a better way.” Almost 40 years later, no matter how annoying computers can be, I haven’t changed my mind. It is a better way. No way do I want to return to carbon copies and changing ribbons. And endlessly re-typing drafts.

About 12 years ago, I got my first rice cooker. I had a Chinese friend and she said that if I cook rice often and like it a lot, I simply had to have a rice cooker. “What’s a rice cooker?” I asked. And she told me. My first rice cooker did exactly what you’d expect: it cooked rice.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy latest rice cooker is also a slow cooker and will perfectly bake cakes, steam veggies and who knows what else. Mostly, I use it to cook perfect rice, every time, without needing to stand over the stove-top with a timer. It’s my all-time favorite kitchen appliance. I can imagine — remember — life without it, but it’s better with it.

Televisions are much better than they were and certainly the quality of the video is light-years ahead of those old TV sets. I’m not convinced the quality of television shows is better. My 1000 channels gives us about half a dozen channels we really watch. Just like in the old days, but now we can record stuff and zap commercials. That’s big! Commercial clusters have gotten increasingly annoying and intrusive, but DVRs and TIVOs let us ignore them. It’s an ongoing war between viewers and corporate owners.

TV equipment at home

The best part of today’s television are movies. Sure, we got movies in The Old Days, but they were usually of poor quality, frequently interrupted by commercials. As often as not, they were chopped up by bored engineers who mindlessly removed chunks of film. A lot of the movies I saw as a kid, now that I’ve seen them again … it really is seeing them for the first time.

My least favorite modern development is the ubiquitous mobile “device.” You can’t really call them telephones because they aren’t any good at making phone calls. They do manage to be extremely intrusive. You never get to genuinely disconnect from the world because buzz, ding … it’s the phone. A text? A reminder of something you need to do? Whatever it is, most people are electronically leashed.

It’s just like 1984 … only we did it voluntarily. Pity because we’ve surrendered our privacy. We gave it away for toys.  We’ve lost the rapture of silence, the pleasure of being far away and out of touch. Sure it’s nice having emergency communications, especially when you are on the road, but I’m not sure it was a good trade. We need time to be disconnected, unreachable and unavailable. A time to recuperate from the endless noise of the world where we can rediscover ourselves and enjoy the moment undisturbed.

That being said, I can’t imagine going backward and doing everything “the old way.” I love computers. Probably that’s why I have so many of them. I love my Kindle, my big screen high def TV and so many other things. Life is easier with technology. Maybe what I’d like back is just being young. I wouldn’t mind a bit of that.

CHARGE! – Marilyn Armstrong

To keep the world running, I have to charge things that recharge and keep a stack of AAA and AA rechargeable batteries ready to go.

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My world — the entire world and now, my heart too — runs on batteries. Mostly rechargeable batteries, except for my pacemaker which needs new batteries every 4 or 5 years (I think) and I do hope the batteries are very high quality.

Add 3 laptops, 2 Kindles, a couple of tablets, cellphones, 5 (6?) cameras, voice recorders, mouses (mice have fur and make squeaky noises, mouses attach to your computer), a wireless keyboard, a GPS, various clocks, flashlights, who-knows-how-many remote controls, electric razors, tooth cleaning machines, and a mind-numbing array of miscellaneous devices I can’t remember off-hand.

I have never lived in a house that had enough electrical outlets for things like lamps and televisions, much less a way to accommodate these chargers. So, I own power strips.

They are everywhere, snaking around corners, between dressers, behind the sofa, on each side of the bed and of course near each computer. They are also hiding in a lot of places you might never think to look. Throughout the house, in every room, power strips keep chargers charging and electrical devices functioning. From high-end hubs with surge protection to whatever was on sale at Walmart that day, every one is full or nearly so.

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Most power strips are designed by people who don’t use them. I have reached this conclusion based on the design that presumes you will never have anything larger than a lamp plug that needs a socket. Not even a vacuum cleaner cord fits properly, much less a power supply.

Typically, power strips don’t leave room to fit more than 2 or 3 chargers in a strip designed for half a dozen plugs. There’s no allowance for odd-shaped power supplies that will use half a strip.

 

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I don’t understand why chargers have to be so inconveniently shaped, or why they can never make a 3-pronged plug that will fit into an outlet without a fight. Why do most chargers require that you insert them at the end of the strip. No one ever seems to consider that there are only two “ends” and only one without a cord in the way. There’s some kind of Murphy’s Law that say if you are going to need two wall outlets, both devices will need to be on top or on the bottom.

I have 2 electrical sockets in the bathroom and 2 devices that require electricity. Only one can fit. The other socket is always unusable. The one charger blocks both outlets. Always.

The first day we moved into this house, two events occurred that have since defined our lives in the Blackstone Valley. The toilets backed up and the power went out. The toilets backed up because the crooks who sold us this house parked their van on the septic system’s outflow pipe and crushed it. The power went out for the usual reason: heavy rain, high wind, and lightning. Getting to know my neighbors meant figuring out how to find an electrician and plumber before I’d unpacked.

I don’t notice how dependent we are on batteries until I’m packing for a vacation. Half a carry-on is allocated to chargers … just for things we use while we travel: laptops, accessories, a pair of Kindles, his and her cell phones, mouses, portable speakers and more. I used to pack this stuff carefully. Now I just shove the chargers and wires in a bag and untangle as needed.

High tension wire, golden maple leaves framed by an azure sky.

If you think our civilization can survive anything, ponder this. All our stuff depends on batteries and electricity. Without electricity and batteries, life as we know it would end in about a week or two, at least in cities. It might go on a little longer in rural areas. After that?

Life will be a jungle in where every man, woman, and child will fight to the death for a working AA battery.

 

It’s Not Your Equipment … It’s a Lack of Documentation! – Marilyn Armstrong

Maybe I should just give up, but I spent my career writing material to help folks use complicated equipment and sometimes very obscure software.

I should probably start by mentioning that I’ve fought this battle for long years … and was utterly defeated. About 7 or 8 years ago, high-tech companies, in a money crunch and driven by that bottom line that seems to be the only thing that matters anymore, began to eliminate technical writers. Entire departments were dismantled and eliminated. Jobs disappeared and what remained paid so badly it was insulting.

A decision had been made at the corporate level: YOU don’t need documentation. No matter how complicated or expensive the equipment or software you purchase may be, don’t need documentation. Companies provide the minimum the law requires or they can get away with. Quality is no object nor usability. Information is limited to basic stuff like how to install a battery and if you are lucky, where the compartment is.

I was a technical writer for about 75% of my career, the rest being divided between journalism, editing, promotions and advertising. But mostly, I wrote documentation and I though my work mattered. Probably naive, but I believe that if I documented a system, it should be well written, clear, organized, and useful., When a user needed to find something, it would be in the book and in the online help. It would be easy to find. I carefully avoided using mysterious search parameters that could be deduced via a psychic link to my brain. If you knew what you wanted, I made it easy for you to find it.

I was proud of my work. I still believe the fundamental goal of documentation is to make complicated things simple. Not necessarily easy because sometimes, the product was not easy to use, but that didn’t mean that it had to be hard to understand. My documentation was good for another reason: I used the product and tested what I wrote to make sure it was true. This testing makes the difference between a pile useless gibberish and a manual.

Thus, when you get something that appears to be documentation, stop and read it. Appearances are deceiving. Most “manuals”  are generated, not written, and never checked for accuracy or usability. Such “manuals” are as likely to increase your confusion as provide illumination.

I bought a PEN EP3 camera from Olympus. Seven months and hundreds of photographs later, it remains one of the mysteries of my world. It takes wonderful pictures, and it has hundreds of functions. I haven’t the slightest idea how to find most functions and have no idea what to do with them if I could find them.

I grew up in a pre-digital world. I know F-stop, depth-of-field, shutter speed, aperture and focus, film speed and composition. I have a good eye. I’m no genius, but my pictures are pretty and I enjoy taking them.

He solves the problem the way most do: Automatic everything, then shoot.

New digital cameras have a vast and overwhelming array of functions, most of which you or I will never use or need. I believe they are there entirely to impress us with the super high tech-ness of the equipment. I doubt that even the designers — especially the designers — expects us to actually use them. Which is good, because I don’t know what they are supposed to do anyhow or why I would need them. Ansel Adams didn’t need them. Neither did Edward Weston. Neither do I. But, the more you pay for a camera, the more of these obscure functions you get and I figure that the least they owe me is an explanation of what these setting do and how to find them.

I’m not sure whether to curse or say thank you. Maybe if Olympus provided a manual that explained these options, I’d be grateful, but that is not happening.

I spent half our shooting time trying to find the menu to change the ISO.

This is true of cameras, but the lack of documentation on your computer is actually worse … much worse because most of us depend on our computers. We need them to work and we need to have some control over the environment in which we work. Configuration of our computers to suit our needs is not a minor detail: it’s the difference between having a tool that does what you need and one which is a burden … an enemy with which you do daily battle.

I spent all last night — until dawn — trying to figure out how to turn off the touchscreen functions of my monitor. Before Mac users jump in and point out that it’s because Windows doesn’t work, that’s irrelevant and untrue. Windows works fine. It’s just that the company doesn’t provide any written documentation. There is embedded information in the operating system, but much of it isn’t logically arranged. It’s rather like looking for your car keys after you’ve dropped them someplace you don’t normally put them. You know they’re in the house, but where? It could be years before you find them..

On a new computer, you typically get an “introductory” video and that’s pretty much it. I watched it. It showed me in exquisite detail how to do what I already knew how to do.

Operating systems are designed to be used the way the system’s developers expect you to use it. If you prefer a different setup, trouble starts. The only way to figure out how to do something differently is to keep querying the system and hope you’ll stumble on the right  key word — the word that will bring up the information you need. What is most frustrating is that you are sure it IS there, but whether or not you will ever find it is a different issue.

If you are sufficiently persistent and a bit lucky, you will eventually find a mystery menu after which you fix your problem in a few seconds.

Last night, I searched, searched again and again. It didn’t call Dell because I knew the support person wouldn’t know the answer either. They pretty much never do.

So I tried one word combination after another, recombining them in the hope that it would lead to a menu buried in the system. There had to be a way to deactivate touch input.

Around 5 in the morning, I found it. It took me less than 30 seconds to eliminate the problem that had been driving me nuts since I got the computer. Now, it’s a monitor. A great, high-definition, 23-inch monitor that’s a joy to work on and makes photo editing a pleasure. No more configuration by crawling insect. I am mistress of my virtual world at last!

A technical writers earns less than an entry-level developer. I understand the guys in India who provide telephone tech support work cheap, but I bet a tech writer would cost less than a network of telephone support no matter how cheaply they work.

Assuming you are under warranty and you can get through the voice mail  maze … and further assuming you get someone who understands the problem and don’t get blown off because software is not part of your warranty (Note: If someone can tell me how, without using software, you can determine if you have a hardware problem, I’d like to hear it) … Round and around you go.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Would it blow the budget to hire a competent technical writer to embed online help that will live on even after the warranty period is over? Wouldn’t it be nice to help users avoid needless aggravation and not wind up with angry, frustrated, exhausted, and homicidal customers whose problems remain unsolved?

Granting that many home users have a limited understanding of how their computers work and for them, it wouldn’t much matter what documentation you supply. Most problems result from insufficient understanding of a product or process. If you are talking about a novice user, perhaps more information wouldn’t help. But …

I’m not inexperienced and I still can’t find essential information I need to configure my monitor. Wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect a menu on the control panel that I could use to configure the monitor’s capabilities, not merely its resolution but any other functions it may have. Functions not available on a particular model could be grayed out. How about that?

There is nothing wrong with my computer that better organized and easier to find information would not solve..

Every issue I’ve had over the last 5 or 6 years was ultimately fixed with a few clicks of the mouse. The problem was never something broken. It was always lack of documentation.

That pisses me off. Because tech writers — even highly experienced ones — work pretty cheap. Users do need documentation, and not just for software and computers. We need documents that let us use our cameras and telephones and DVD players and all those other pricey little devices that we own and often, don’t know how to use. Online FAQs are insufficient.

This is an old battle I’ve already lost. I know it’s hopeless. I find it infuriating that I can barely figure out my telephone without customer support, so rather than spend time on the phone with customer service, I don’t use anything I can’t easily configure.

I had to buy a separate book on how to use Photoshop and another for my first camera. I was able to get some help from a fellow user of my new camera, but that only goes so far. For my PEN P3 camera, there IS no customer support nor any after market book. I depend, as Blanche DuBois said, “… on the kindness of strangers.”.

My camera will remain a mystery until someone writes a “Dummies” book for it. Hopefully I’ll still own the it when the book finally gets published.

It’s not fair. The reason they get away with it is because we let them. Think about it.

So how did I finally figure it out? The “monitor” menu should have been a gateway, but was useless. The only thing you can the “Monitor” menu lets you do is lower your screen’s resolution. That’s useless.

Finally, I typed: Touchscreen.

Up came something that I hadn’t considered. Flicks. Now, for me? That means the movies. Having never used it, I had no idea it had anything to do with the monitor or its touchscreen technology. Once I got to “Flicks,”, I started opening menus and voilà, there were two check boxes allowing me to toggle an option:

  • Enable finger as pointing device.
  • Do not allow finger as pointing device.

I un-checked the first one by checking the second. I clicked “Apply.” As the sun rose in the east, my problem was solved and I went to bed, to sleep, perchance to dream  … of murder, destruction and vengeance.

ROKU – THE LITTLE STREAMING WIFI UNIT THAT CAN

Every once in a while, someone invents something that makes life a little brighter. Let me introduce you to the Roku.

Roku is a little streaming device that works off your wi-fi connection so you can stream movie and premium channels, free and subscription-based to your television. I wanted  to get Netflix and Hulu Plus, but I don’t like watching movies and other stuff on my computer and have no use for a pricey gaming device. I have a living room with comfy chairs and a big screen. That’s where I want to watch movies and television.

The Roku comes in different flavors — although they all work the same way. More expensive “advanced” models offer additional or augmented options, such as high-definition streaming, gaming, and earphone connections through the remote control.

In our case, there wasn’t much point in getting a very advanced model. Our high-definition television is an older model and only has one high-definition port — is already occupied with the connection to the cable box. So we weren’t going to be able to take advantage of Roku’s 1080P capabilities and we have no interest in gaming.

The price is right: the entry-level model is just under $50 (currently on sale for $39), the next model up — the one we bought) sells for around $50 right now. The top of the line is under $100, less than any gaming device. It’s small and connecting it is so easy that I could do it without help (though there were some nervous moments).

Basically, you plug A into B, B into C, C into D then follow the prompts. The instructions promise that this will bring out your inner geek. My inner geek is not hiding. I just don’t like dealing with hardware. I still don’t really believe that electricity isn’t going to spill out of the walls.

I got it put together and by golly, it worked. Despite appearances, there are only a very few free services. Most of the services are by subscription. I already belong to Amazon Prime, so I had one to start with. I wanted Netflix and was willing the pay the $7.99 a month for it. I haven’t decided about Hulu Plus yet. I figure I’ll jump into this slowly. Roku really is as easy as they promise. It works. And keeps working.

The bad news. It is what it is and that’s all it is. It is not configurable. There are no options to make it easier to use for people with special needs. There’s no help for the hard of hearing or visually impaired or anyone else who isn’t nimble of finger, sharp of eye and keen of ear.

The “search” capabilities are primitive and don’t deserve to be called “search capabilities.” The tools, such as they are, are clumsy and slow. Although there has been some improvement since I originally bought and installed it, the improvement is not substantial … and in some ways, actually makes it more difficult to use. It’s at best klutzy and at worse, brings out my resentment of poorly designed software.

It’s easier to find whatever it is on your computer than go back and pick it up on the television. Keep your laptop handy because you’ll need it. Closed captions are available on some channels, not others. You can’t set it so that any channel that offers closed captions will display them. You have to turn captions on for each channel individually. Not all stations offer close captions at all. Shame on them.

All that being said, the Roku is a fine piece of equipment for the price. It does what it promises. It’s worth the money, whether you buy the ultra economy model or top of the line.

Is it going to replace your expensive movie packages from your cable or satellite company? Maybe yes, maybe no. It depends on your viewing habits, your technical aptitude, creativity and how your cable company has structured their prices. They don’t make it easy to delete pieces of your package. However, if you currently just can’t afford movie packages from your local cable or dish provider, this is a godsend. It’s affordable, easy to use (really as easy as they say it is) and it works.

Roku needs a better, more sophisticated user interface and a more efficient way of searching. There is a great deal to watch but finding it isn’t easy. Practice helps. It takes a while to get used to it. I’m fine on Amazon because I can set up my watch list on the computer and it is automatically available on Roku. You can also set up favorites and preferences for Netflix via the computer (easier than doing it directly on the Roku). I believe Hulu offers a similar option. You need a computer to get the most out of the Roku, but most of us have a few of them.

Standard set up couldn’t be much simpler.

Roku Instructions

Eventually, I will figure out how to find what I am looking for more efficiently. I figure Roku will also make a few improvements to the interface. In the meantime, it beats out the competition by several country miles (unless you are absolutely married to iTunes) and the price is more than reasonable. You get a lot of bang for your buck.

You need one unit per television, but you don’t need a different account for each Roku. One account works on all your devices: Roku, gaming devices, computers, tablets, telephones, and so on. It’s a pretty fair deal, especially compared to the price-gouging of traditional providers. Check them out. You may find it is exactly what you’ve been waiting for.

It’s on sale all over the place right now for Christmas and it’s a great gift for yourself or any friends that have a WiFi connection.

15-MONTHS AND COUNTING – MY KINDLE FIRE HD

Amazon launched its new generation of Kindles this week. I built up a nice head of new gadget enthusiasm looking at these latest greatest Kindles. They have even higher resolution, more memory options and a faster processor. Then, I turned on my Kindle Fire HD and realized I don’t need a new one. This one is fine. No hiccups. Handles everything I throw at it. For a little tablet, it’s a workhorse that never quits.

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There is no question in my mind that the Kindles are the biggest bargain in tablets on the market. Even the most expensive top of the line new versions are remarkably low-priced. I have two Kindles and use both, though I use the Fire most.

The Kindle with the keyboard is still a great book reader with an astoundingly long battery life — weeks of reading on one charge. It doesn’t do everything, but it does what it does perfectly. The Kindle Fire HD is much more versatile. It is a portable entertainment center. It travels everywhere. I use the other one primarily when I just want to read and I don’t know when I’ll be able to charge the battery.

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The Amazon Kindle Fire 7″ HD is fun, a complete mini entertainment center in a convenient, purse-sized package. It’s almost too much fun. I intend to read, but end up watching a movie. I get distracted by the plethora of choices.

It’s a fine reader. You may need to adjust the brightness to suit your comfort level, but that’s easily done. Adjusting the size of the text is a mere finger pinch. In bright sunlight, it isn’t as good as my 2nd gen Kindle, but I rarely read outside. I do, however, read in bed and the built in backlighting is very convenient.

The sound is remarkable. It’s hard to believe you can get that much good quality sound from such tiny speakers. The quality of the video is also amazing. I watch movies and TV shows on my  7″ Fire HD — something I was sure I would never do.

As an Amazon Prime member, there are a great many movies and television shows available for free; it will be a long time (if ever) before I need to buy anything. I have a huge library of books for the Kindle and all the books in my Audible account are automatically available on my Kindle too. I’ve gotten great “box sets” of Beethoven, Mozart, Debussy at amazingly reasonable prices. Any music CDs I’ve bought since I got the Kindle appear automatically under the music menu.

75-KindleReader-NK-09The Kindle HD links to the older of my 2 Audible accounts. You cannot link an Audible account that isn’t under the same email address as your Amazon account nor can you link multiple Audible accounts. If you have multiple Audible accounts under one email address and it is the same address you use for your Amazon account, you can consolidate libraries into a single account. If — as I did — you have more than one Audible account under separate email addresses, you can only link one. I gave up and closed my second account. If you are having problems with your Audible library, you will need to call Audible. They have excellent, friendly tech support and are a pleasure to work with.

The Kindle is great for listening to audiobooks, in my opinion better than an MP3 player because I hate earphones. The audio quality is good and the sound is plenty loud enough. The Kindle is small and light and fits easily in my purse. The HD is heavier than my older Kindle reader, but it’s still a very acceptable size and weight. You can use it with earphones if you need to. It sounds great. Really, I’m not kidding.

The available memory is only 16GB, plenty unless you want to download movies. Streaming uses no memory, so no problem. Regular “print” books are small; you can carry a whole library with you (I do). Music and audiobooks take up a lot more memory, but you can stream music. You can’t stream audiobooks yet, but maybe eventually. They’re working on it. There is no way to expand the memory. The Kindle has no slot for an SD chip nor port for a flash drive. Why not? If they would add one, I’d probably trade up! But, at the price — which has now dropped to a new low — it’s hard to complain. So I won’t.

Still, it wouldn’t have been that difficult to include slots for one or both. Just saying. Buying a 32 GB version doubles the amount of resident memory, but there’s still no option to expand beyond whatever is your preset limit.

You can work around the limits, but you need to accept the limits of the device or you will become very frustrated. It is what it is. It’s a lot. It’s just not everything.

Audiobooks can be large. You can keep a few on the Kindle, but probably not all 57 hours of  “Lord of the Rings.” Listen to a book, delete it then download the next. Unlike when you download from Audible to your computer, you cannot download a multi part book in sections. It’s the whole book or nothing. A book that is in your Audible library in multiple parts will download in a single section to the Kindle. If the book you want to load is LOTR or Winds of War, make sure you have enough room. I have not successfully downloaded anything that long. Actually, I haven’t even tried. It would be silly. Those books I listen to on one of my three other computers. I can live with that.

You can store everything you aren’t actively listening to, watching, or reading on Amazon’s cloud servers. Thus when you delete a book you never lose it, something that’s true of the entire Kindle line (not just the HD). You just move it off the device.

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You can retrieve it when you like. All is well if you have WiFi. It’s an issue if you lack a WiFi connection. Serious road warriors should probably spend the money and get a Kindle with 3G that automatically switch when you don’t have WiFi. That’s pretty much covers the world, with the exception of Jackman, Maine, where neither WiFi NOR 3G are available. I suppose there are other dead zones but I don’t know of any.

You can do most things you would want to do on any tablet on the Kindle. You won’t be editing pictures or writing your novel, but I don’t think you’d be doing that on any tablet. Or at least, I wouldn’t. For those things, I want a lot more RAM, a real hard drive, the right application and most important, a full-sized keyboard.

The manual — such as it is — is useless. Amazon has good customer service, real people who know the device and will stay on the phone with you until your battery runs out … but who wants to have to call customer service to figure out how to delete a book or movie? Or for that matter, turn the unit on? It’s simple, but even if you actually find the manual (I had to call customer service for that, too), you won’t find a listing for “delete,” “remove”, “turn on,” etc. Amazon, hire a technical writer. We work cheap. Give a job to someone who needs one!

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I bought the $199 version (much less now!) with advertising. I’m don’t find it intrusive. You can get rid of adverts for $15 if they annoy you, but they show up only as offers on the splash screen before you actually turn it on, which is why I find all the comments about how annoying it is puzzling. Have the people who are complaining seen how it’s done or are they assuming the ads show up on your reading screen? Once the unit is on, the ads are gone; you can only access them via the Offers menu. They aren’t in your books, movies, music, games, email or anything else. Just the splash screen you see before you turn it on.

Thumbs up for overall quality, sound, video, and speed. It’s a good-looking compact device. Accessories are affordable. Definitely get the Quick Charger ($9.99); you will be very glad you did. I also bought some inexpensive styli and use them occasionally. They’ve turned out to be useful for my iPhone. The touch screen is sometimes too sensitive. Usually it’s easier to use your fingers than a stylus, but the stylus does come in handy. A cheap stylus will work just as well as an expensive one. I have both and I can’t see any difference between them.

Fingerprints are not a problem. I buy lens wipes at the drug store. They clean the Kindle, my camera lens, my computer and my eyeglasses. Don’t bother with a protective screen; it’s a waste of money.

Get a cover. It provides protection and keeps dust and dirt out. Most of them let you prop your Kindle like an easel to watch a movie or listen hands free. Many covers also turn the Kindle on and off when you open or close it. Since the on/off button is a bit hard to find by feel, a case that turns the unit on and off is a plus.

The Kindle Fire HD does a lot more stuff than you expect and does it well. I’ve had it for more than 15 months. I’m still a very happy camper.  I’ve discovered I can listen to music while reading or playing Scrabble. I can listen to an audiobook while checking email or doing something else online. I’m finally starting to coördinate audiobooks and Kindle books, so I can listen and read the same book. Kind of cool. As the narrator reads, the books come alive and the text highlights with the narration. Neat.

The Kindle wakes up instantly. Zero boot time.

It’s the best deal in town — even less expensive now that the next generation has been released. I will probably get a new one eventually but not soon. I have yet to experience a single problem with either of my Kindles. They both work as well today as the day I got them. That’s saying a lot. I only wish everything in my world of widgets and gadgets worked this well.

Daily Prompt: Off the edge and the ledge

What keeps me off the edge and the ledge? Not one thing, but a set, human, creative … and furry.

There’s photography, more important with each passing day. My creative outlet, the visual side of me. I discovered it when painting  become too much of a hassle with 4 cats, a toddler and no studio. I loved not only shooting. I loved working the darkroom, the magic of the shadow show. Choosing the perfect paper. Trimming and mounting prints. I even liked the smell of the chemicals.

Then life happened. I fell back on writing, ever been with me. For decades, I did no more than take an occasional snapshot.

In the 1990s, suddenly there were digital cameras. I bought the first Sony digital. The Mavica. It used floppy disks. Remember? Big clunky cameras. By today’s standards, primitive. I liked the easy availability of disks. The quality, for its time, wasn’t bad. They were solid. Sturdy. Rocks amidst fragile flowers. I gave the second of them to a doctor who liked the Mavica to record images of patients in the office. Computers still used those plastic not-so-floppy disks. Now, I suppose not. We don’t even have a disk reader in our computers and I have long since thrown away the old disks.

Cameras

Then came a leap in technology. Every day, the pixel count, the lens quality went up while prices went down.

Now  I have digital cameras up the wazoo and no doubt will have more. I’m deep in lust for the latest greatest. My world is digital. Bet yours is too. How did we survive all those years without digital, without WiFi? How primitive.

Photographs are how I show my world to the world when words aren’t enough or are too much. I keep a camera in my purse, another on my desk. To handle emergencies, when I suddenly need to take a picture.

You’d be surprised how often such emergencies arise. Without warning, I absolutely must take a picture from the deck, of the garden, of a doll, bear or window decoration. I grab the nearest camera and go create.

Then, there is writing. It’s like breathing. I write because I can’t imagine not writing. Always, from when first I understood words I have written. I hear words in my head before they go through my fingers into a keyboard.

Other components to sanity. My friend Cherrie. The fur kids. I think they sense when I need them. Maybe they don’t know what it is they sense, but they sense something. And I love them. My amazing husband, though his passionate devotion to the Red Sox is sometimes troubling. I believe he’s angry with me, but the ominous glower and frowning countenance is aimed at his team.This is what we call “a guy thing.”

Movies. Silly games.

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Books. Reading. More books. Audiobooks. Kindle, hardbound and paperback. The smell of printer’s ink when I open a new hardbound book. The soft crack as the spine gives way. How delicious is a new book. I caress it. Sniff it. Look at it, feel it. I send it love. It’s alive, a world to explore.

Take everything but books and the people I love. I’ll get through.

Charge! Address the Mess!

My world runs on rechargeable batteries.

Three laptops, two Kindles, two cellphones, six cameras, four mouses (mice have fur and make squeaky noises, mouses attach to your computer), wireless keyboards, GPS, various clocks, flashlights, who-knows-how-many remote controls, electric razors, tooth cleaning machines, and a mind-numbing array of miscellaneous devices I can’t remember off-hand. To keep the world running, Other than those things that run on AAA and AA rechargeable batteries, everything else uses some kind of proprietary battery. I do not understand why camera makers feel obliged to use a different battery for each camera model. Surely they could design at least all cameras of one type to use the same battery.

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I don’t always realize how dependent we are on batteries and chargers until I’m packing for vacation. Half a carry-on bag is entirely allocated to chargers and wires. And that’s just for items we use while traveling: laptop accessories,  Kindles, cell phones, mouses, portable speakers, cameras and accessories. Laptops and cameras have their own cases … but there’s never enough room for the chargers.

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I used to pack all the chargers and wires carefully, all coiled and tied to avoid tangling. One day, I gave up. Now I shove the chargers and wires in a bag and untangle as needed.

At home, I have to keep track of what needs charging and which chargers they use. There are so many I finally was unable to remember which batteries went with which gadget. I really had to address the mess.

The floor of my office is covered with wires and power strips. I’m afraid to walk anywhere because I might step on something fragile.

I did what I do best: research. There are solutions. Not all power strips are the same, and there’s a whole new generation designed to address exactly the problems we all have with too many chargers and power supplies. Some of them are quite pricey, some more affordable. It’s still cheaper to buy a generic strip at Walmart or Target. But you may actually wind up with more usable space if you pay a bit more and get a strip designed to accommodate various sizes and shapes.

These deal with the problem of oddly shaped and variously sized chargers and power supplies, both strips and as wall sockets.

Let’s start with the Belkin Pivot Surge Protectors. These are available in a 3 versions: a 6-outlet wall mounted version, plus 2 corded versions (6 and 8 foot).

There is extra space between sockets and most also pivot and rotate to let you use all the outlets without waste. Belkin products are usually high quality and they are well-known for their surge protectors. Of course, you may or may not actually need surge protection, but most of these units include it.

I put surge protectors on computers and printers. Battery chargers are cheap and easy to replace and anyway, surges aren’t my problem. Power outages are more likely to be the problem, but a surge protector is no help with that.

Lightning is a problem. Surge protectors are useless against lightning.

We’ve been hit by lightning on three occasions. The first strike was on a utility pole in front of the house. It took out two computers and a printer. The second took down a tree, but no equipment. The third strike killed the well pump which is more than 450 feet underground. That’s how I learned that lightning can strike underground. Apparently the combination of electricity, metal, and water is very attractive to lightning. Well pumps are expensive and not necessarily covered by home insurance.

Lightening is incredibly powerful. Anything plugged in when lightning strikes will get fried. The only thing that will protect against lightning is having your equipment physically unplugged when it strikes. Just a bit of advice from someone who has learned her lesson the hard way.

Insurance will replace equipment, but no one will replace lost data. For that you need a backup on a separate drive.

Prices for the Belkin surge protectors (on Amazon) range from about $18 for the wall-mounted unit, to $25 for the 12-outlet unit with an 8-foot cord, to $27 for the 8-outlet surge protector with a 6-foot cord. The 8-outlet is a very different design and lets you rotate the outlets so that you can use all of the outlets regardless of the size or shape of the chargers or power supplies you want to plug in.

The design of the 8-outlet unit spreads the outlets along a round, wand-like strip that lets you configure the sockets to fit a wide variety of variously sized and shaped chargers and power supplies.

Quite a bit of creativity has gone into some of the designs. By the way, all of these are available on Amazon.

The creative solutions don’t end here. The Kensington 62634 SmartSockets 6-Outlet 16 Foot Cord Table Top Circular Color Coded Power Strip and Surge Protector looks like an electrified lazy Susan. Designed to put in the middle of a conference table so participants can all plug their laptops in at the same time, you could as easily use it on the floor.

It’s rather pricey at more than $40, but it is very cool and if you need a table top strip, this is probably a good choice.

For 25% less, Quirky makes something similar. The white Quirky Pivot Power 6 Outlet Flexible Surge Protector Power Strip costs a couple of dollars less than the identical unit in black. I have no idea why.

Though not cheap, it is not as expensive as the Kensington or Belkin units, nor as fancy. The sockets rotate, but don’t swivel. If you can live without swiveling and color coding, you can get one of these for just under $30. Exactly what will work for you, whether or not any of these will be right for you, depends on the shape of the space you have and how many devices and chargers you have.

If, like me, your charger problem extends into your kitchen and bathroom, there are wall-mounted units for that let you rotate outlets.

360 Electrical 36035-W 4-Outlet Rotating Surge Protector

You can keep your electric razor and water pic plugged in and still have somewhere to attach the hair dryer or curling iron. And if, like my husband, you want to play the radio while you do your daily ablutions, you have a plug for that too. At about $15, it’s a real problem-solver. There are other versions made for kitchen appliances that come with more outlets in some fascinating shapes.

My personal favorite and what consider the most power strip for the least money is Ideative’s Socket Sense 6-Outlet Expandable Surge Protector, 3-Foot Cord. It’s simple and costs just $15. You can set the spacing as needed. Since the equipment in our life keeps changing, I’m attracted by a strip that I can adapt to changing requirements. I have two of them and need one more.

Ideative Socket Sense 6-Outlet Expandable Surge Protector, 3-foot Cord

Ideative’s strips are comparatively simple. No rotating or color coding outlets, but you can make the space between outlets larger or smaller, so most things should fit easily. The sockets are angled to make it easier to plug stuff in.

There are more. Tripp Lite makes a series of high voltage surge protecting traditional strips that have as many as 24 outlets.

They are expensive and much higher tech than I need, but it depends on what you need … and the size of your budget, because those babies cost upwards of $50 apiece.

Below is a cord splitter, one alternative to a strip. I have one in my office and it has the advantage that any size device will fit into any plug. These are also sometimes called hubs and may include special sockets for charging USB devices, or hooking up phone lines. I also have a hub like this on my desk that gives me an extra five USB outlets. Just be aware that not every device operates properly through a hub; some devices need to be plugged directly into the computer.

Civilization probably wouldn’t survive the loss of electricity, but until the world as we know it comes to an end, at the very least we can make life a little easier. All you need is willingness to do the research … and a credit card. With some credit on it.

Like so many problems in life, if you throw money at it, you can make it to go away. More or less.