GOOGLE GOOGLED ME

happy birthday from google

The weirdest and funniest “happy birthday” of the day? I opened Google after midnight and there was a picture of a birthday cake and other goodies. So I said to myself, I wonder who else’s birthday it is?

When I hovered the cursor, it said (still does) “Happy birthday, Marilyn.” I think it must only work on my computer, but that’s the picture.

How do they do that? It’s kind of spooky, but cute! I know it’s software, but still … out of the millions of people using Google, how do they know to make that header show up on my computers?

Isn’t technology grand?

HAPPY BIRTHDAY SERENDIPITY – 2 YEARS OF BLOGGING

Two years of blogging: February 4, 2014

So I was sitting here, watching one of the last Jay Leno Tonight Shows and suddenly it came to me. I thought “I must be approaching my blogging anniversary.” So I went to look it up, which turned to be more difficult than I expected.

Finally, I went to the trophy thingie on WordPress and saw that I had an anniversary icon … dated today.

It’s exactly the same as my one year icon. Identical. Be that as it may … it’s been a mad, mad, mad, mad, mad, mad couple of years:

  • 126,000 hits
  • 18,560 comments
  • 1,927 posts
  • 1,677 blog followers — not including followers via Twitter, Facebook, Tumbler, Google and comments.

My top post in terms of hits is still that odd post about the TV show, Criminal Minds. It scored a whopping 10,135 hits, something I don’t think I’ll match. It was a fluke that Google put me on the top of their search engine for that show. You can read it and wonder — along with me — why in the world it was so popular: The FBI can’t do a simple Google search?

I finally got Freshly Pressed. It was a lovely surprise, especially since I didn’t expect it. After all that blogging without having gotten the nod, I didn’t think it would ever happen. Never say never. You can read about it in HOLY EXPLETIVE! I AM FRESHLY PRESSED! and WRITING FOR THE RIGHT REASONS. The post that did it was most uncharacteristic of my usual stuff — by far the creepiest thing I ever wrote: GONZO GEORDIE HAD AN AX.

I posted at least once per day for all of last year, not counting that unfortunate week on Cape Cod when I had no WiFi.

Thanks to all of you who’ve been my faithful friends and to all my new friends. I hope we can all celebrate when the next anniversary rolls around!

HARRIET TUBMAN (1820 – 1913)

98f/41/hgmp/12611/mp306From Google, this is dedicated to Harriet Tubman, Activist, humanitarian, African-American abolitionist, humanitarian, and Union spy during the American Civil War. (See Wikipedia for more.)

She was born in 1820 in Dorchester County, MD and died on March 10, 1913, in Auburn, NY. Married to Nelson Davis (1869-1888) and John Tubman (1844-1851), she had one daughter, Gertie Davies. She was the child of Harriet Greene and Ben Ross.

There is a huge amount of information about Harriet Tubman available in libraries and across the Internet. Today is the first days of African-American History month. Google Harriet Tubman to find out wonderful things you will love to know.

Not all heroes wear uniforms.

EVEN WEIRDER INTERNET SEARCHES

Not every day yields a bonanza of weirdness. but there has been a small epidemic recently. Today we have two winners!

gonzo xxx water sake

sake2me-all-four-products-black-bg-MASTER-TNI wrote a post with the word GONZO in the title … as did anyone else who responded to that writing challenge … so why did this one come to me in particular? And what might an XXX WATER SAKE be? It’s the XXX that has me most concerned. Clearly this water sake is one bad sake. Not “for heaven’s sake,” surely. And not the sake you drink with sushi at a Japanese restaurant because that sake is yummy in the tummy.

This is a lurid and evil sake, perhaps a spirit sake, dangerous to ones soul. I can but speculate on the nature of XXX water sakes and what they have to do with me. It’s not right, them creeping up on me this way.

And then there is … (trumpets, short drumroll) …

doleful porn tube

I am willing to take suggestions. I’m clueless. Three little words, connected only in the bizarre mind of some Internet searcher. Porn? Maybe, though I don’t think this site even rates a PG, much less as “porn” of any kind — though if you put it together with the XXX water sake, you might have something going there …

Tube? Porn tube? An x-rated tube? Like … inner tube? Highly inner tubish?

inner tube

Stay tuned for more. Peculiar things lurk in cyber-space and they converge at Serendipity — the website where you can be as strange as you want because nothing surprises me. Maybe I shouldn’t say that.

TOP 3 SEARCHES ON MY SITE LAST WEEK

Seriously — who are these people and how did those searches land them on my site?

it_sick_computer

pic of sick face

What does this mean? Picture of a sick face? What do you mean by sick? And why did it end up here, on Serendipity? Who are you calling sick?

googleexcerpts from unxead pool

All I can say is huh? What? No idea what this means. Oh, wait. I bet it’s The Undead Pool, the new book by Kim Harrison coming out next month. I’m looking forward to it … but surely this search should have taken them to Kim Harrison’s blog or Amazon? Why me?

Doesn’t the inability to spell the title disqualify the search?

wyatt earp clothing

I swear I have never written anything about Wyatt Earp’s clothing. I mentioned his gun I think. A long time ago. In context of a review of Tombstone. But I never said a word about his pants. Or any other article of clothing.

So was it the gun you think?

GOOGLE SHMOOGLE OBIGAZOODLE

Google Chrome

What’s Google good for?

Need to know the latest headline news? The weather in Boca Raton? A quick answer to a simple question, like: “Hey, who won the Best Actor Oscar in 1997?”

Need a picture of someone famous to put in your post? You’ll find it on Google, no problem. Need a portrait of an actor or politician? Need a painting of a giant cockroach cooking dinner? Google it! Google will give you lots of choices, a few of which are presumably not copyright infringements.

Need to get some information about an obscure medical condition? Want to know which hospital has the most up-to-date treatment for it? Google may have the answer. It’s not a substitute for a diagnosis, but it’s a jumping off place. Want to know the side effects of your new medication? Google will to give you more information than you really wanted. You probably won’t like most of it.

What else is Google good for? If you believe a lot of recent blogs, you’d think Google is  the route to all knowledge, the all-purpose cure-all for every question, every problem. Recipes, diets, travel, reviews, buying, selling … you name it, you can do it on Google. Or can you? Really?

Google can help you get a good idea where to look for more serious information. If you are serious about learning and want to do more than scratch the surface, Google is the place where you line up your water fowl and figure out which are geese and swans versus the real ducks. After that?

Google shmoogle

I look for books to buy. For example, you cannot learn anything of value about ancient Chinese porcelain on Google. All you can find are additional sources which might lead to better material.

You can learn the rules of baseball by Googling it, but if you want to play the game, you’ll have join a team. Some things, you’re better off asking someone. “Grandma? Could you show me how to crochet?” Or take a class.

You are not going to really learn a language on line, not well enough to really communicate, but you might find out who gives courses or where to find a tutor.

History? Ornithology? Identifying wild flowers or butterflies? Buy a couple of books or borrow them from a library. Anyone who is even slightly serious about drilling deep into a subject knows  Google is the where you commence the search. It isn’t where you end it.

Google is intrusive, ubiquitous, careless of privacy and copyrights. It is many other bad things. But when you need basic information pronto, Google is the best way to get going.

Imperfect it may be, but there isn’t a better way. Or even a reasonable alternative.

SEEK AND THOU SHALT FIND … USUALLY ON GOOGLE

What was I looking for and why? Seriously? Why would you care? Why would anyone care? Searching for something, finding it and moving on are kind of like breathing in and out. As natural as plugging a lamp into a socket. As normal as expecting your refrigerator to be cold.

Google Chrome

So there I was, answering a prompt. I needed a picture of Sidney Poitier and another of George Hamilton. It took about 10 seconds to find each of them, another second or two to pick them out, save them, and insert them in the post.

I doubt this is exciting news to anyone. This is how and why people use Google. Are we descending into serious levels of deep triviality here or what? Just saying.

I have a great idea for The Decision Makers of WordPress. Let’s do “What did you have for lunch and why?” next time. That’ll really get our creative juices flowing!

WHAT’S THE SECRET?

Closing in on 2 years of blogging, with more than 1500 posts and over 100,000 hits … I’ve think I’ve finally figured it out. The secret to getting more readers, more followers, more hits, better stats is that there is no secret.

Just do it.

Post interesting material often. Include graphics. There is a direct correlation between number of hits and number and quality of posts. Although some posts go bigger than others — often not the ones you expect — the difference isn’t huge, more incremental than geometric. Most of my posts get reasonable hits. Some do better, some get ignored (I rerun these, often with much better results second time). A few posts generate big numbers. Every once in a while, something hits a hot button, but typically the number of visitors per day doesn’t change much. What changes is the number of articles each visitor reads when they visit.

Some of my biggest days have been those with low visitor counts, but when each guest accesses 3 or more posts and/or pictures.Visitors average around 100+/- 15 — so between 85 and 115. Hits that come through the Reader or email do not count in the totals so you can reasonably assume you have more people reading you than stats indicate.

If guests hang around and read a lot, open pictures, poke around, you get the bigger hit counts.  I’m betting the same people come almost every day. If they find interesting things to read and view, they hang out. Which is what you want them to do.

75-BooksHP

There are slow days of course. Everyone has them. And hyper-active days. We all have them, too. On a very active day, I might get 150 visitors, but that doesn’t mean the hit count will be 50% higher than on a day when I get 75 visitors. On a high visit count day, each visitor may only read (hit) one post while on a different day, each visitor may hit 3 or 4 times.

For example, on a day last winter when a blizzard was on the way, I had more than 250 visitors, but each one only read one post … the one about the coming storm. So it was a good day, but not extraordinary. My highest hit days were specific posts where a lot of people — thousands — came to see a single post. Every other high hit day included a normal number of visitors who spent more time exploring my site. No hocus pocus, no magic recipe.

Putting out the welcome mat.

The design of your website matters. You will absolutely get more people to stay long, read more stories, look at more pictures if you make it pleasant and easy for them. Make it easy to find past posts by subject, date, key word search. The more ways you help your guests find stuff that interests them, the better.

When I am on a website and can’t find a search box, no list of previous posts, no keyword search, I give up and go elsewhere. The web is infinite and gives us uncountable choices. Make your site accessible — transparent — and visitors will stay.

What I’ve figured out.

I know a few things and here they are:

  1. Articles about technology have a long shelf life. Reviews of cameras, computers, telephones and other techie stuff don’t get a lot of hits when they are first published, but continue to get hits for months, sometimes years. As long as the technology is in use, people who are shopping will look for reviews.
  2. Book and movie reviews (unless they are particularly “hot”) don’t usually go big initially, but will continue to get hits forever, as long as the search engine can find them.
  3. News and current events get a lot of hits when first published, but have no long-term interest.

If you are in this for the long haul, the backbone of your blog will be articles of enduring interest. Perhaps not the sexiest stuff you write, but stuff that contains information people need, reviews people look for. Pictures — properly tagged — get hits forever.

LOGOMANIAC-2

Buried treasure.

If you post a lot, older posts become hard to unearth. Even when you know the name of the post and search for it by its name, items older than 6 months old may not turn up. I don’t know if there’s anything you can do about this short of opening a new site.

What I do? I sift through archives, pick out the best pieces. Re-edit and re-publish them. Doing this prevents them from disappearing forever.

How often is often enough?

I’m going against common wisdom. I am sticking my neck out here and saying that a post a week isn’t enough. One single post per week, unless you are brilliant, writing about a subject with a guaranteed audience, are already famous so anything you post will get lots of attention — once a week isn’t enough.

Who makes a success of once-a-week blogs? Historians. Scholars. Well-known authors (though most of them post much more often). Newsletter writers. Everyone else?

You need to make visiting your website worthwhile. That means stuff to read. Entertainment, information. Great pictures. If you really don’t have time to create sufficient material to feed your readers and keep your site humming, maybe consider joining forces with other bloggers and take turns producing content? Without enough content, your site isn’t going to do much.

The formula is simple. Write well. Post often. Include pictures.

And finally: HAVE FUN! If you aren’t enjoying it, making friends, forming relationships, what’s the point? Successful writers and bloggers have verve and enthusiasm. You can’t fake that.

 

Daily Prompt: Are you being served? Chaos and Madness at AT&T

Shortly before Christmas, Garry and I went somewhere and I forgot to bring my cell phone. I asked Garry if I might use Blackberry Torchhis. I was appalled when I could barely hear anything, even with the volume full up and using the speaker. I realized if I could barely hear it, he couldn’t hear it at all. Which brought me to the inevitable conclusion that Garry needed a new cell phone.

Good wife that I am, I figured I’d get him a new phone with better sound so he would not be stuck trying to hear on a phone with such awful audio.

This was early December and Christmas was a couple of weeks off. How long could it possibly take to get a new cell phone, right?

I went online at AT&T, our long-time carrier. I checked to see if he or I was entitled to an upgrade. It turned out both of us were entitled to upgrades, but my phone is just a year old, I don’t use it very much and although I’m entitled to a new phone, I don’t need one. Garry, on the other hand …

This seemed a fairly straightforward process. I checked to see what phones were available on super special, discovered he could get an updated version of the phone he already has for $29.99, with the usual 2 year committment, but we’ve been with AT&T forever anyhow and I don’t see that any of the other carriers are better … so why not? It was the middle of the night, but I called AT&T and was going to order the new version of the Blackberry Curve … but they wanted a credit card and I was already in bed, so I said I’d call tomorrow. I was too tired to get up and deal with it right then.

When I tried to access the website the next day, I couldn’t. Eventually, I called and discovered it wasn’t me, wasn’t a bad password or my computer. AT&T’s servers were being upgraded. I should have guessed. I should have sensed the crackling of crisis in the air. Why they picked early December to do a massive server upgrade is anyone’s guess. It would not have been my first choice.

Mar-iPhone-0nWhen I started to place the order, AT&T assured me that they needed to charge me $36 for the upgrade fee. “What upgrade?” I asked. “We already have all the services we need. The only service you are providing is putting the phone in a box and mailing it. You said it’s free shipping … but $36 is a shockingly high shipping charge. Since you aren’t providing any other services, that’s the only thing it could be.”

The young lady to whom I was talking said she couldn’t do anything about it, she was not responsible and everyone had to pay the fee. I said that I was not going to pay the fee and frankly, we’ve been long-term customers and this was shabby treatment indeed. I next learned that I was going to have to pay sales tax on the full list price of the phone, even though we all know that NO ONE pays full retail on anything, much less a cell phone upgrade. Thus this $29.99 had spiraled into around $100 …. which is more than our ultra tight budget could afford.

I said I wanted to talk to a supervisor. I was transferred and eventually, disconnected. Called back, went through the whole story again, was told — again — she couldn’t help me. Said she was transferring me to a department that could help me. When I got to that department, I was told it was the wrong department and I was going to have to go back and talk to the original people who had now two? three? times told me they couldn’t help me.

I would have been laughing but time was passing. I had started this on Sunday night and it was Tuesday. Christmas was creeping up on me and I had yet to actually place an order.

I don’t remember all the people I talked to, all the supervisors to whom I was transferred, all the deals I made only to find that the next person I spoke to had never heard anything about it. It has mercifully become a blur. My husband was cranky because he felt, since he hadn’t actually asked for a phone, I had no reason to expect a lot of sympathy or support. I pointed out he did need a phone and just being his wife ought to entitle me to sympathy and support.

It had indeed been my idea to get him a new phone based purely the uselessness of his old one. But that’s sentimental twaddle. I should have waited until he actually asked me for a phone, preferably begged me on bended knee. Generosity. That was my first mistake.

As the tale continued, it became the story without end. So many departments, so many disconnects. I ran down the battery on my cell phone and on the handset of my house phone, then switched to the other handset  And still, no order.

Finally, it was Friday, December 21st. AT&T agreed to waive the charge, give me back a few bucks to compensate for the insane sales tax, and include free shipping. By now, I’d changed from the Blackberry Curve to the iPhone 4 which was on clearance for $0.99 and they swore up and down the east coast I’d have the telephone in my hands on Christmas Eve. Shortly after this amazing promise, I got another call from someone who said whoever promised me Christmas Eve delivery should not have made such a rash promise because who knew if I’d really get the phone? It could be weeks away. Maybe never.

We had been planning to be away from the day after Christmas through the following weekend. If they delivered the phone during that period, it would sit outside in the ice, snow and slush until we got home. But not to worry, she said. If that happened, I could “just send it back.”

I could not cope with the idea of returning the phone. This was bad. Doing it twice would be unbearable. I had been on the telephone with AT&T for more hours in one week than I had been on the phone with everyone else I know during the entire previous year. Granted I’m not on the phone much, but this had eaten at least 25 hours of telephone time … and there seemed to be no end in sight. Ever.

Somewhere during this period, our plans for visiting friends post-Christmas were cancelled because my friend was ill. Despite assurances there was no way I’d get the phone by Christmas Eve followed by equally passionate assurances I definitely would get the phone by Christmas Eve, I simply had no idea when or if I was getting a phone. Would you like to take a guess?

I got the phone Christmas Eve. There it was, a little white box in a bigger brown box. Delivered by FedEx. No bubble pack. Just the phone banging around inside the shipping box. So I waited until the day after Christmas and called about the lack of padding in the box because I didn’t want to wind up with a dead iPhone 4 being told it was somehow my fault. I was assured by someone somewhere that this wouldn’t happen, so I went ahead opened the box and tried setting up the phone.

Nothing worked. What is more, due to the endless legal battles between Google and Apple, Garry’s gmail contact list could not be synchronized with the iPhone.

The first tech support individual, from AT&T, told me that Garry would have to enter all the information by hand. I said “up your nose with a rubber hose” or words to that effect. Garry’s address book has at least 300 entries and I think I’m being conservative. I pointed out that the iPhone is supposed to sync with Outlook and by now, a few disconnects later, I was on the phone with Apple tech support and my cell phone was recharging, the battery having run down to zero again and I was on the second of the two “house phone” handsets, having run through the first phone’s battery. We finally doped out, between him and me, that we had to delete the “cloud” function and NOT synchronize the two email addresses linked to Outlook because it created a conflict and would immediately spew error messages.

When I finally got the iPhone to synchronize with Outlook’s address book, it started demanding a password for voicemail. My head began making a funny buzzing sound that kept getting louder. Were those voices talking to me? Possibly … if only the buzzing would stop and let me think …

Neither Garry nor I has ever needed a password for our voice mail. Not his, not mine, not ever. We didn’t have any passwords to give them. When the Apple tech guy said I’d have to call AT&T to get it sorted out, I went into full meltdown. I could not face another long wait, multiple disconnects … and trying to interface with who knew how many morons before maybe … by New Year’s … I could get through to someone who would  know what the problem was and fix it.

Finally, the fellow at Apple who actually seemed to have at least a pretty good knowledge of the product managed to get the address book issue dealt with … said he himself would call AT&T and put us in a conference call and we’d sort the whole thing out. He said he’d call me back and I begged … I think groveling might better describe it … that he really call me back and not leave me hanging.

This was the day after Christmas, the busiest day of the year for tech support what with everyone getting a telephone, tablet, computer, or some other electronic widget under the tree. Likely this didn’t help. But he called back with a man who was obviously not an entry-level tech support guy. He was a Big Gun. You just knew it. He fixed it. He said it was a software artifact from older phones and he was going to delete it from the system and it would never trouble me again.

Then he gave me a $40 credit giving me a small profit on the transaction unless you count my time as being worth money in which case I’m far behind. Far, very far behind.

Garry has a new cell phone. He said “thank you,” and I said “you’re welcome,” but personally, I think I’ve earned a medal at the very least.

Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

So for all the people who told me to “Get a Mac” to solve my problems, I will agree the iPhone is a fine, well-made phone. Was it easy to set up? No. Did it have fewer glitches than my other phones? No. If anything, it had more issues. I got it for a great price and it has, as I had hoped, very loud speakers so Garry can hear it. Hopefully, he’ll get used to the virtual keyboard.

I hate it even more than I hated the tiny raised keys on the Blackberry. I never voluntarily write anything on a cell phone and why Garry does is beyond me.

This whole trial by fire has made me aware of how pathetic my older Blackberry Torch (first generation) is and how I need a new phone. When I’ve recovered from this experience, I will think about replacing it. Why do cell phones need replacing so often? They are so expensive, shouldn’t they last more than a year? Just saying.

Meanwhile, I need to rest and recover my perspective. I have to wait until the story gets funnier. At least until I find my misplaced sense of humor. Then I’ll buy another cell phone.

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

LadyInTeepeeARTO-16X20-300-72

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

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

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

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

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

“Fine,” said my mother. “Marilyn.”

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

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

96-Me Young in Maine

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

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

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

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

Marilyn and Bonnie

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

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

Teepee12 to you.

The Barrymores: Show Business’ Royal Family

220px-John_Barrymore_Hamlet_1922Drew Barrymore has been working regularly on Turner Classic movies with Robert Osborne talking about classic movies and introducing them. Her face has changed quite a bit in recent years. I realized she finally really looks like a Barrymore.

That’s no small thing because she is this generation’s only representative of what is the longest running act in show business.

Several families have two or three generations of actors and a couple of families have three or more generations of directors. Only one has been on stage and screen for more than 100 years. The royal family of the theatre, the Barrymores.

The Family

  1. Herbert Arthur Chamberlayne Blyth (aka Maurice Barrymore)
  2. ∞ married Georgiana Emma Drew, and had three children: Lionel, Ethel, and John.
    1. Lionel Barrymore
      1. ∞ Married Doris Rankin (first wife), and had two daughters. Marriage ended in divorce.
        1. Mary Barrymore (died at infancy)
        2. Ethel Barrymore II (died at infancy).
      2. ∞ Married to Irene Fenwick (second wife, until her death)
    2. Ethel Barrymore
      1. ∞ Married Russell Griswold Colt, and had three children. Ethel’s children also acted, primarily on the stage.
        1. Samuel Peabody Colt
        2. John Drew Colt
        3. Ethel Barrymore Colt. ∞ Married John Romeo Miglietta, and had John Drew Miglietta (born 10 September 1946)
    3. John Barrymore
      1. ∞ Married to Katherine Corri Harris (first wife, divorced)
      2. ∞ Married Blanche Oelrichs (second wife, divorced), and had:
        1. Diana Blanche Barrymore
          1. ∞ Married Bramwell Fletcher
          2. ∞ Married John R. Howard
          3. ∞ Married Robert Wilcox
      3. ∞ Married Dolores Costello (third wife, divorced), and had:
        1. Dolores Ethel Mae Barrymore (living).
          1. ∞ Married Thomas Fairbanks (first husband, divorced) and had a daughter Hillary Klaradru Fairbanks (living), who ∞ married Thomas Randolph and had a daughter Isabelle Harrison Barrymore Randolph. Also she had a son Anthony John Barrymore Fairbanks who ∞ married Dianne Zaninovich and had a daughter Samantha Mae Barrymore Fairbanks.
          2. ∞ Married Lew Bedell (second husband) and had two children Dore Lewis Bedell and Stephanie Mae Bedell
        2. John Drew Barrymore (Jr.)
          1. ∞ Married Cara Williams (first wife, divorced)
            1. John Blyth Barrymore
              1. ∞ Married Rebecca Pogrow
                1. Blyth Lane Barrymore
                2. Sabrina Brooke Barrymore
              2. ∞ Married Jacqueline Manes
                1. John Blyth Barrymore IV
          2. ∞ Married Gabriella Palazzoli (second wife, divorced)
            1. Blyth Dolores Barrymore. ∞ Married Antonio Gioffredi and had two children Gabriella Gioffredi and Nicole Gioffredi
          3. ∞ Married Nina Wayne (third wife, divorced)
            1. Jessica Barrymore
          4. ∞ Married Ildiko Jaid (fourth wife, divorced)
            1. Drew Barrymore
              1. ∞ Married Jeremy Thomas (first husband, divorced)
              2. ∞ Married Tom Green (second husband, divorced)
              3. ∞ Married Will Kopelman (third husband)
                1. Olive Barrymore Kopelman
      4. ∞ Married to Elaine Barrie née Jacobs. (fourth wife of John Barrymore, Sr., divorced)

As of this writing, other than John Drew, Diana, Drew, and John Blyth, none of the other members of John Barrymore‘s family entered the entertainment industry.

Louisa Lane Drew 1840-48

Louisa Lane Drew 1840-48

Drew’s family

Family of Georgiana Emma Drew, mother of Lionel, Ethel, and John, also quit acting.

  1. John Drew, actor
  2. ∞ Louisa Lane Drew, actress
    1. Georgiana Emma Drew, ∞ wife of Maurice Barrymore and mother of Lionel, Ethel, and John.
    2. John Drew Jr.
      1. Louise Drew, ∞ married performer Jack Devereaux; their son John Drew Devereaux was a Broadway stage manager
    3. Sidney Drew, known for the Mr. & Mrs. Sidney Drew comedy act
      1. Sidney Rankin Drew, left his acting career to join the Lafayette Escadrille, and was killed in action
    4. Louisa Drew, actress

What got this post started? Garry and I got to talking and speculating how many genuine acting dynasties we could think of with at least three generations where at least one member of each generation has done something noteworthy as a performer. Not a director, producer or writer. An actor. Only.

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Define “noteworthy” please!

It started when we noticed a Capra listed as a crew member of an NCIS episode. Garry wondered if this was a fourth generation of Capras. There was a Frank Capra I, II and III, so it seemed likely to be a member of the same family. However, they are all directors. No actors. So they don’t count in this particular equation.

If you want to play movie trivia with Garry, you play by his rules. He declared that in order to count as an actor for that generation, he or she must have “made a mark,” that is, have done something that in Garry’s opinion counts, eliminating families like the Osbournes which probably should be eliminated on principle anyhow. Reality shows, no matter how popular, do not count. Nor does working as a reporter. Don’t argue with Garry about this. You will lose.

This genealogy got a lot more complicated than I expected. The members of acting dynasties marry each other, divorce each other, have children by each other as well as with other partners. Then there are the adopted and step children of everybody’s former marriages. It gets hard to keep track.

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It turns out, following the Garry Guidelines, there are not as many families as I thought. Plenty of two generation families, a handful of three generation families — and only one family that has more than three generations. Barrymore.

Chaplin @ Barrymore Theatre on Broadway

Of this great family, Drew is only working member, its only current representative.There are many other members of the family. Although none of them are acting, it doesn’t mean they or their offspring won’t enter the family business in the future. It’s quite a legacy to live up to. Talk about pressure.

If you want to see the other families or at least most of them,  you can look them up; just Google “multi-generational acting families”. The Wikipedia entry omits several significant British acting families. This link takes you to an alphabetical list of show business families. The intricacies of the marriages, divorces and resulting complex relationships will make your head spin.

The Barrymore family reigns. No other family comes near the prominence or longevity of this family of actors.

The Wikipedia entry on the Barrymore family tree includes actors and non-actors. There are quite a few family members who are not in show business. The acting family members are in blue. Most of the Barrymores  married no more than once or twice, so it’s easier to track them than some other families.

Daily Prompt: If you feel successful, you are.

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You can’t write about success  without defining the term. Success is relative, after all. When I started blogging, success was ten hits in a day, five of which were no doubt my husband. Then, as numbers rose, I  began to get the hang of it. The election kicked into high gear and a monster storm battered the east coast. I wrote about them and began to see pretty large numbers. My expectations rose accordingly, while simultaneously, my definition of success subtly altered.

September 8, 2012

September 8, 2012

Driving home last night from the Cape, I began thinking about where I am these day with my blog. I passed 90,000, close to 91,000 now. When it gets to 100,000 … I’ll celebrate. Maybe. Or when my followers, now at 476 (more or less, last I checked) hit 500.

The thing is, my numbers have slowed. Or maybe stabilized … sort of. I could push to speed them up … but I don’t want to. Because that would mean I’d have to write about things only to pull people in rather than what I feel like writing about. If I do that, I won’t have so much fun. My readership seems more or less steady. I’ve got friends out there. Maybe that is success.

My most popular all time post was written during a five-minute commercial interruption of the 2012 première episode of Criminal Minds. Over a thousand hits came pouring in for it in about an hour plus another few hundred over the next few days and many more in the months since. It remains my highest drawing post. When the season première came around in England, I got 1400 hits in one hour. It’s time has, I think, finally expired. I used to get a steady 50 or more hits a day from it, but it no longer makes the top 10. Just as well. It was a false statistic and only obscured the more important numbers.

I always know when the episode is playing somewhere because each time it shows, anywhere on earth, in rerun or as a new series, I get another thousand or so hits. The last time was the middle of June when a rerun of the episode was on cable and I got just under 900 hits in about an hour and another 300 the next day. Sure does goose up those stats, eh?

June 2013

June 2013

What have I learned from this? If you want to be popular, write about television shows. Be lucky. It helps if Google has you at the top — or near — of the search results. I wrote a little piece quickly, published it within a couple of minutes. It accounts for 10,111 total hits: The FBI can’t do a simple Google search?

In second position for all time hits, with a solid showing of 5,043 hits is a joke about cell phones and Albert Einstein. I copied and pasted it from Facebook: The man who saw the future …

Other very successful posts (in a viral kind of way) include reblogs, tech reviews, and photo galleries. The pictures never go “viral” like writing can, but good pictures get looked at. Nice and steady.

August 2012

August 2012

And well-written articles get read. Not as much as pictures get looked at, though. In the grand scheme of things, probably 75% of my followers come for photography. Which is okay. I make pretty pictures. Photography has been an important hobby for more than 40 years, though writing and editing has been my profession. I’ll bet a lot of people who follow me don’t think of me as a writer at all, but as a photographer.

We have, some of us, many lives. I have one friend who still thinks of me as a musician. When we were closest, back in college, we were both musicians. He stayed a musician, or at least, music has remained the center of his world, even if performing is no longer how he earns his daily bread. Me? I didn’t entirely abandon music, but I went back to writing — my first love, nearest and dearest to my heart. And stayed there for nearly 50 years. I took pictures too. But never professionally.

December 2012

December 2012

The thing is, I write about what I love and many of them, being books, are not my most popular posts. I also write about history and love those articles because ferreting out obscure historical stuff is fun. Doing it makes me feel like “The Time Detective.” If only numbers counted as success, these not-so-popular posts would disappear. Sure, I wish more people read them but I don’t write just for numbers. If that were the single reason to keep blogging, it would be work.

Blogging would stop being fun — and I would stop blogging. I would be poorer for my loss and maybe, here and there, a few others would note my disappearance.

Fortunately, there are times and areas where high interest (on the public side) and my interest (on the writing end) coincide. That’s when things get a little “hot.” Comments and hits roll and it’s fun, but I know the curve will continue to roll up and down and I have to live with that or become something I don’t want to be.

The real bottom line success is I love writing, love the interchange with readers. Love the conversations, pictures, life stories, new relationships. I love reviewing new books, even though they are my least popular posts.

The Best Moment Award - April 2013 from Mike Smith

The Best Moment Award – April 2013 from Mike Smith.

I am mad about books and being even a tangential part of that world makes me happy. That IS success, though there’s no statistical way to compile it.

I’m not a one-subject, focused blogger. When big events or issues are in the news, I write about them and reap a statistical bump from them. I enjoy it when it happens and if I can tie in news and other trendy stuff to this blog, I do. But I won’t force the issue.

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Getting hits for being relevant

If you’ve ever worked as a reporter — or any kind of researcher — the instinct to follow a story persists. Sometimes, it pays off. For me, the turning point of this blog was when I got thousands of hits on a reblog about hurricane Sandy in November 2012.

November 2012 was something of a super month for bloggers. Between the presidential election and Hurricane Sandy, activity on the Internet was much greater than usual. Even people who were normally not especially interested were hopping online to follow current stories.

The thing was, the article that started bringing in all those hits was a reblog, or more accurately, a scoop. Anyone could have as easily read the same article on its original site. I was not at the top of a Google search. I tried using the phrase everyone else was using and Serendipity didn’t come up. At all. So people were seeking me out. Rather than reading the original article, they came to my site. Even giving me a point or two for attractive presentation, there were more than enough stories on the same subject all over the Internet. I’m not being modest. I wanted to know: why me?

Coney Island post Hurricane Sandy.

Coney Island post Hurricane Sandy.

I decided to analyze what I did better or differently than others. I looked at the total content for days when my numbers were very high. I realized all involved current events that were unusually high-profile. My best days involved Hurricane Sandy (November 2012), the blizzard Nemo (February 2013) and the days leading up to and immediately following the storms. Also the beginning of the new television season, the Oscars (before, after and during) and (of course) the election. And sadly, the bombing at the Boston Marathon (April 2013). Plus every time they play the première episode of Criminal Minds.

When major events occur, I write about them. Not one story, but a series of posts. I start with an article that covers the main story, then add to it. If the initial story was reblogged — often the case — I add graphics and photographs. I add commentary and analysis. My additions are typically longer and more detailed than the original. I don’t alter the original author’s text and I always give credit, but I build on it.

Nemo blizzard, February 2013

Nemo blizzard, February 2013

In this case, the original post was a reblogged (using ScoopIt) standalone post. Using it as a jumping off point, I followed a trail. I gathered pictures, stories about hurricanes and other storms. I wrote about them from my perspective, if I remembered them. Then, I asked Garry — my personal treasure trove of first-hand experiences — to talk about his experiences during the Blizzard of 1978 and other storms.

New York during the The White Hurricane, The Blizzard of March 11, 1988

New York during the The White Hurricane, The Blizzard of March 11, 1888

I roamed the web to see what was happening in various places being hit by the storm. Although I focused on Sandy and it’s impact on Coney Island, I discovered many other places along the coast which were equally affected. I posted what news I could gather about these areas.

I kept gathering and adding information, especially photographs, historical background and apocryphal stories. I just did what I always do when something interests me. I get into “bloodhound mode” and I followed the scent. The circles kept getting wider and including more locations, more events.

I eventually included stories not directly related to Sandy but which were thematically related. Other monster storms have paralyzed the Atlantic coast, some relatively recently. I love history so it was fun digging up historical information. Research can keep me glued to the computer for very long stretches. It’s how I learn.

I googled “hurricanes past 100 years East Coast” and could have filled an encyclopedia with the results. Research became stories. I hunted down historical photographs. I remembered stories I heard from relatives and friends about storms. My husband covered every storm to hit New England for more than 30 years, so he is a nearly bottomless repository of great first person experience.

Stranded cars on Route 95, Blizzard of 1978, Boston.

Stranded cars on Route 95, Blizzard of 1978, Boston.

I ultimately produced a series of stories over almost a week.  News, mood  and background stories, data, photographs. I stitched them together. Each post was separate, but they formed a continuity. One thing led to another. When I thought about this storm, I remembered other storms, wrote about the storm that hit on my birthday in 1888 … and I offered facts, stories, and historical background, sidebars, and photographs.

The combination worked. Folks came to read one story and stayed to read many more. Some of them signed on as followers. It turned out that I didn’t have such a huge volume of visitors, but everyone who did visit stayed and read as many as five or six stories. A lot of hits.

Since then, I have more visitors on a regular basis and most of them read at least two or more stories. It’s not complicated:

  1. Be current. Don’t ignore major events. You don’t even have to write the stories yourself. Which brings me to the next point.
  2. If you don’t like WordPress’s reblog format, try ScoopIt. It seems a waste of time to write an essentially identical story when someone else has already done a great job writing it. Being relevant doesn’t mean you have to write it, but at least include it by reference.
  3. When something signficant or interesting is going on in our world whether it’s a national election, a hurricane, tsunami, the new television season or the upcoming Oscars, pay attention. You don’t have to write about just that subject, but maybe you shouldn’t completely ignore it either.
  4. It’s fine to march to the beat of your own drum, but it’s good to also pay attention to what the rest of the band is playing. If you march alone most of the time, occasionally it’s not a bad idea to join the chorus … or sing counterpoint.
  5. If you can’t be relevant because there are no big stories, be entertaining. Use those lemons to make delicious lemonade.
  6. Include lots of photographs.

Ivory towers can lonely. If you want company, you need to associate with the rest of the world and pay at least some attention to what interests them. If you write entirely for yourself, it’s a diary, not a blog.

A Book Junkie’s Confession

If reading were illegal, I’d have spent my life in prison. The most frightening book I ever read was Bradbury’s Farenheit 451. I couldn’t imagine anything more terrifying than a life with no books.

As a kid, I literally read myself cross-eyed, but today, I have been redeemed by audiobooks. Praise the Lord and don’t make me give up my subscriptions to Audible.com. Early during the 1990s, I discovered audiobooks. I was a “wrong way” commuter, which meant my commute started in Boston and took me out to the suburbs. This was supposed to make the drive easier than going the other way.

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Reality was different. Traffic was heavy in all directions, from Boston or from the suburbs. The east-west commute was nominally less awful than the north-south commutes, though coming from the north shore down to Boston was and is still probably the worst commute anywhere.

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When we lived in Boston on the 17th floor of Charles River Park, we had a perfect view of the Charles River … and an even better view of 93 northbound. We could look out the window any time of the day or night. It was bumper to bumper as far as the eye could see every day of the week, any time of day or night. Garry had a 5 minute walk to work. I always drove somewhere. You’d think at least once during the more than 20 years Garry and I have been together I’d have found one job near home. Funny how that never happened.

In New England, you do not measure a commute by distance. Distance is irrelevant. It’s how long it takes that matters. No one talks in terms of miles. The mall is half an hour away. Boston is about an hour in good traffic, who knows how long in rush hour traffic. It can take you 2 hours to go six miles, but maybe you can travel 15 miles in half an hour. In which case 15 miles is the shorter commute. Ask anyone.

My commute was never short. Wherever my work took me, it was never anyplace convenient, except for those wonderful periods when I worked at home and had to go to the “office” only occasionally.

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The 1990s were serious commuting years. Boston to Amesbury, Boston to Burlington, Boston to Waltham.

It got worse. By 2000, we had moved to Uxbridge. It’s never easier to get from Uxbridge to anywhere, except one of the other Valley towns … and I never worked in any of them. Probably because there is no work there …

As jobs got ever more scarce and I got older and less employable, I found myself commuting longer distances. First, Providence, Rhode Island, which wasn’t too bad. But after that, I had to drive to Groton, Connecticut a few times a week — 140 miles each way — a good deal of it on unlit, unmarked local roads. It was a killer commute and unsurprisingly, I was an early GPS adopter. Even though I didn’t have to do it every day, Groton did me in.

Hudson was almost as bad, and Amesbury was no piece of cake either. The distance from Uxbridge to Newton was not far as the crow flies, but since I was not a crow, it was a nightmare. On any Friday afternoon, it took more than three hours to go twenty some odd miles. On Friday afternoons in the summer when everyone was taking off on for the weekend, I found myself battling not merely regular commuter traffic, but crazed vacationers, desperate to get out of Dodge.

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The job market had become unstable, and it seemed every time I turned around, I was working in a different part of the Commonwealth or in another state entirely. If it weren’t for audiobooks, I’d probably have needed a rubber room.

First, I discovered Books On Tape. Originally intended as audiobooks for the blind, me and a million other commuters discovered them during the mid 1990s. They were a godsend. Instead of listening to the news, talk radio, or some inane jabbering DJ, I could drift off into whatever world of literature I could pop into my car’s cassette player.

I bought a lot of audio books and as cassettes began to disappear and everything was on CD, Books On Tape ceased renting books to the consumer market. Fortunately, audiobooks had become downright popular and were available at book stores like Barnes and Noble. Everybody was listening and most of us couldn’t imagine how we’d survived before audiobooks.

In 2002, along came Audible. At first, it was a bit of a problem, figuring out how to transport ones audible books into ones vehicle, but technology came up with MP3 players and widgets that let you plug your player, whatever it is, into your car’s sound system.

Audible started off modestly, but grew and grew and having recently been acquired by Amazon (a company that, like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Verizon, is plotting to take over the world and succeeding pretty well), is getting bigger by the minute. For once, I don’t mind a bit. The company was well run before Amazon, and Amazon had the good sense to not mess with success. It is still easy to work with them, literally a pleasure doing business.

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Five years ago, I became too sick to work anymore. Would that mean giving up audiobooks? Not on your life. When I was nearly dead, I listened to books and they distracted me from pain and fear, kept me company when I was alone and wondering if I’d live to see morning. Sometimes, they made me laugh in the midst of what can only be described as a place where humor is at a premium.

Today, I listen as I do everything except write. I can listen to books as I play mindless games on Facebook, edit photographs, pay bills or make a seven letter Scrabble play. I admit I cannot listen and write at the same time. That seems to be the point where multi-tasking ends. Actually, I can’t do anything while I write except write.

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I get a lot of reading done while accomplishing the computerized tasks of life, not to mention turning hours of mindless messing around into valuable reading time. I am, in effect always reading.

Reading in Bed: My Guilty Pleasure

I read at night on my Kindle because reading in bed has always been one of my guilty pleasures. Oh how I love snuggling into bed with a book, electronic or paper, I don’t care. A book is a book by whatever format.

I remember reading in my bedroom under the covers using a flashlight, or worse, trying to read  from a sliver of light from the hallway nightlight, or, if everything else failed, by the light of a bright moon.

“You’ll ruin your eyes” cried my mother who probably had snuck books into her bed and read by candlelight.

To this day, I don’t know why she didn’t just let me turn a light on. She had to know I was going to read anyhow. She was always reading too! In fact, if books were my addiction, she was my dealer. Even in today politically correct world, giving your kid too many books to read is not yet considered child abuse. Aren’t we glad!

So my love affair with books continues. My tastes change, favorite authors move up or down the list. I go through phases: all history, nothing but fantasy, a run of thrillers, a series of biographies. Getting older has few advantages but there is one huge gift — time.

I have time to read. I can get so involved in my book that I look up and realize that oops, the sun is coming up and I’ve lost another night’s sleep.

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It doesn’t matter. Because I don’t have to commute anywhere anymore. I don’t have to leap out of bed with 10 minutes to shower, dress, make up, and get out.

I can stay up too late reading, or writing, or watching movies and for the rest of my life, no one can make me stop. And that, friends, is really, truly, my fondest dream come true. And in the end, it doesn’t matter to me what form the book takes. Kindle, paperback, hardbound, audio or printed … the story, the author, the book is the thing. Everything else? It doesn’t matter. Not even a little bit.

You must remember this … Techno Memories

I wonder if operating systems will be relevant a few years from now. Change has been a synonym for technology for the past 30 years or more. Change has driven the computer industry. Change is why we need to buy new software, hardware and operating systems.

Change can make things work better, but it’s not unusual to discover that your “upgrade” is a downgrade because what used to work no longer does. You pays your money, you takes your chances.

I grew to adulthood in a pre-computer society. I started working before cable TV, when encyclopedias were huge heavy sets of books and a computer was gigantic and needed a whole building for itself. It ran on punch cards and used machine languages — COBOL and FORTRAN. Decades later, personal computers were still just one step removed from a doorstop, floppy disks were 5-1/2 inches across and really flopped.

Those early machines (personal units, not mainframes) — I hesitate to call them computers — didn’t do much. They didn’t have hard drives. There was no software and no user-friendly interface. I don’t think the concept existed. No WYSIWYG. What you saw was a black screen with lurid green letters that made you feel like you were going blind after an hour or two.

Then everything changed. First there was Apple and then Windows. Windows didn’t work very well at first, but it got better. And even better.

In the beginning, there were different players in the marketplace and many more choices of operating system. Wang and DEC plus a crazy quilt of dedicated word processors and computers made by Commodore, Atari and many others. For a while, I had an Amstrad, a European machine that was almost a computer, kind an intelligent typewriter with a screen. It spit out paper.

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

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

You could send electronic mail — email — if you had a friends with computers. You sent them messages over old copper telephone wires and everything happened in slow motion.

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

Then suddenly there were ISPs popping up all over the place. I got a super fast modem that ran at a whopping 2400 BPS! Imagine that. I worked in California from my home office in Boston. Cool! Telecommuting was the cat’s pajamas.

By the time my granddaughter was born in 1996, everybody had a computer or two. In her world, computers have always been fast, the Internet has always been the world’s shopping mall. Ebay and Amazon are no big deal.

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

For a brief interval, the rate of change slowed. We drew a collective breath and didn’t have to buy new computers for a couple of years. High speed connections arrived, though most home users didn’t have it right away. Everything kept getting faster and soon, with cable modems, no one could even remember what it was like to try to get onto the Internet using an old telephone line.

Every time you looked around, there was a  new generation of processors, bigger and faster hard drives, amazing super high-definition monitors and speaker systems to knock your socks off.

The Internet became a world-sized shopping mall and overnight, catalogue shopping became website cruising. The Internet was a world unto itself; I played bridge in real-time with a partner who lived on an island off the Pacific coast.

We have computers all over the house and what isn’t a computer is run by a computer or contains a mini computer … microwave ovens, smartphones, digital cameras and GPS units. I have three computers — in my office, living room and bedroom. My husband has two. My granddaughter has 3, but I think a couple of them don’t work any more. My son has two, my daughter in law has one but if she wants another, we have a spares and she can just grab one.

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

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

Today, it’s all about “the cloud.” It’s still the same old Internet, but “cloud” is the “in” word for stuff stored on external servers. We’re going back to where we began, to using stripped down computers with no hard drives. Instead, everything is stored on someone else’s computer — out there. In the “cloud.” Our data might be anywhere. We have no way of knowing where it lives.

Am I the only one who finds this unnerving?

I can see advantages. When you eliminate memory sucking operating systems and cumbersome installed applications, your computer will run faster. Start-up is instantaneous because your computer doesn’t have to load services and applications. You don’t have to maintain and upgrade big expensive applications and volumes of data. You won’t need ever bigger hard drives, more memory and video RAM. You wind up with faster computers that are less expensive and easier to maintain. It’s a win-win, right?

Or is it?

How much do you trust your Internet service provider?

If your cable company has a bad day or the servers on which you store your critical data go down — even for a short while — you have nothing. As long as everything works like it’s supposed to, it’s hunky dory, but Murphy hasn’t left the building yet.

Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, and will do so at the worst possible time.

Maybe it’s my age showing, but I would prefer to have data on hard drives that I control. That I own.

The idea of entrusting everything —  from my photographs to the manuscript of my book — to an unknown server somewhere in the world scares the Hell out of me. What if the building in which the server storing my stuff burns down? Gets hit by a terrorist attack? Taken down by hackers? You have no way of knowing what country your data is in, how stable its government is, or how good an infrastructure it maintains. You financial data could be in Pakistan, Indonesia, or Kuala Lampur. Or next door.

Is there a compromise possible? Because when I think about entrusting everything to a cloud, I begin to twitch.

How many times have you been unable to access a web page because servers are busy or crashed? The times when their — or your — servers are inaccessible because of maintenance, repair or upgrade. Or those ubiquitous hackers. What if you need a critical piece of data from a server while its offline? It does happen.

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

If your ISP is down, you are out of business. If you think your cable company has you by the throat now, how much worse will it be if everything you need to run your life and business is dependent on their services? Facebook and Google already have trouble keeping up with the demands on their resources. How will they manage when they have thousands of times more data and tens of millions of users depending on them for everything from email and applications to data retrieval?

Those of you who are old enough to remember the great Northeast power blackout in the mid 1960s know what I mean when I say that overloaded systems can go down like dominoes. I am all in favor working together with my fellow human beings throughout the world, but at a certain point, when does inter-dependency make us excessively vulnerable?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Googling Me

Everyone should Google his or her own name. Not every day, but now and then it’s fun. In a weird way. Just because.

If you have a very common name — or relatively common name — you may get so many hits you don’t know where to start. I’m sure Mike Smith would get tens of thousands of hits. Even with careful filtering, it’s a bit much.

SnapIt-133My name is just right. It’s common-ish in the sense of not rare, but not extremely common. If I Google me, I get a fair number of hits, but not an overwhelming number. Most of the hits are me, largely because of this blog, or reviews I’ve posted on Goodreads, Amazon and other places. Other references involve jobs I held, articles I published, my book … stuff I did in another life and world.

Thus, in some far corner of the vast universe that is today’s Internet, I am forever young. I am still living in downtown Boston and Roxbury. I have made peace with my former selves, frozen in virtual time. I’ve gotten fond of the various Marilyn Armstrongs. She’s done well. I am glad the ghosts of times past linger on as neo-Dickensian wraiths.

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It turns out that some of me have died. Several times, in various places. I was old and covered with honors, or not so old but nonetheless covered in honors. I am glad my many children and grandchildren miss me. I am pleased I got my doctorate in several subjects, including psychology, social work, and something unpronounceable and scientific.

I am and have been highly successful and have practices (medical, legal and psychological) in two California cities, Orlando, Florida, somewhere in Oklahoma and a few other places. There is at least one British me (probably more) and another in Alberta, Canada. I am highly educated in all my incarnations, far better educated (more talented and accomplished too) in my other incarnations. Even those in which I am deceased.

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I was particularly pleased to see that I am currently a well-known and well-regarded Aboriginal artist in Australia. That was unexpected and I am delighted to be doing such lovely work. I like my art and wish my namesake the best of luck.

Now, if only I cold actually migrate between my various selves. How cool would that be?