NO SAFE PLACE?

JerusalemOldCitySepia-3It was an ordinary day in the suburb of Jerusalem where I managed a weekly English-language newspaper. I had fallen into the job when the previous editor quit — after his paycheck bounced. Twice. Me too, but I wanted the paper to succeed, and was willing to work for free if we might save it. Most of us kept working without pay. We were optimists in the midst of disaster.

The newspaper was broke. No money to pay anyone, but I loved running a newspaper. It was the most fun I ever had — professionally. I had an editor, a proofreader, and an art director … and a bankrupt publisher. Her money had kept us in business for a year. We hadn’t gotten the advertisers or investors. Not surprising. The Israeli economy was a disaster.

The lira was in free fall. 180% inflation is hard to imagine. The value of your paycheck disappears between breakfast and lunch, so your best bet is to spend every cent immediately, then spend more.

Israel was in turmoil, Years of bad blood between Arabs and Jews, an awful economy, soaring temperatures. The predominantly Arab areas were seething. The Jewish population was none too happy either. It was bad, but when has it been otherwise?

Jerusalem’s diversity is part of what gives it its unique character. The Jewish population is diverse — from secular and anti-religious, to ultra-Orthodox and everything in between. There are also Christians of every stripe, every flavor of Islam. Bahai, Samaritans … and sects I never heard of plus more than a few wannabe Messiahs. I sang along with the Muzein when he called the faithful to prayer. I loved the chanting, loved the traditions, the clothing, the markets, everything. Not everyone loved me.

French Hill, where I worked is a pleasant neighborhood at the northeastern edge of Jerusalem. Good schools. It’s atop a hill so you can catch a breeze, if there is one. In the summer, Jerusalem simmers as the khamsin, super-heated sandy air masses from the Sahara, turns the city into a sauna.

It was August, perhaps the 10th day of an extended khamsin. Almost nobody had air-conditioning in those days. Under normal weather condition in the desert, when you step into shade, the temperature drops 25 or more degrees. The air is so dry it doesn’t hold heat.

During khamsin, heat never eases. The air is thick, hot, sandy. Night is as bad as day. Airless. Fans make it worse. If you can’t get out-of-town, find a pool or get to a beach, your best bet is to close your windows and lie on the tile floor wearing as little as possible trying not to breathe. People get crazy when it’s that hot, even people who are normally friendly to one another.

Trying to keep the newspaper alive, there was no escape for me. Except for my car, which was air-conditioned. It was a Ford Escort with a tiny 1.3 liter engine, but the A/C worked pretty well. Which is why I volunteered to take the pages from the office to the typesetter in Givat Zeev.

Jerusalem sits atop a mountain. There’s a rumor the city has just one road, but it winds a lot. If you keep driving, you’ll get there eventually. Not quite accurate. You can get close — but close can be far.

I’ve no sense of direction at all. When I hear the words “You can’t miss it,” I know I definitely will miss it. This is how I wound up in downtown Ramallah in the middle of a mini-uprising in late August 1983  I didn’t know what was going on, but I was pretty sure I shouldn’t be there. Fight? Uh, no, I don’t think so. Flight? I was lost. Go where? I stopped the car, pulled to the curb and sat there. No idea what to do next.

A few moments later, two Arab gentlemen jumped into the car with me. That’s right, I didn’t lock the doors. If they wanted to break into my car, they might as well use the doors as break the windows.  Was I about to be murdered? Abducted?

“You are lost,” the man in the front seat said.

“Oh, very much,” I agreed. The two men conferred in Arabic. I picked up a couple of words, one of them being “American.”

“Okay,” said the man in the front seat. “You need to leave. Now.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” I responded. We swapped places. He took the wheel and drove me back to French Hill.

“You must be more careful,” he chided me. “You mustn’t go into dangerous places.” I thanked him with all my heart. He smiled, and the two of them headed back, on foot, to Ramallah. Offering them a lift didn’t seem quite the thing to do.

I never felt endangered, though probably I had been. It was the end of the times when Arabs and Jews could talk to each other, even be friends. I am sad when I think of friends I had in Bethlehem who asked me to stop visiting them because it put them in danger to have an Israeli in their house. There came a time when I could no longer go shopping in the Old City or Bethlehem, when Jewish children could no longer safely play with Arab children.

I lived there for nine years. There has been so much wrong on all sides for so many years it’s impossible to figure out a solution to which all would agree. I don’t see peace on the horizon. There are not just two sides to this conflict; there are an infinite number of sides. I chose to come home to the U.S. The longer I stayed in Israel, the less I understood.

I arrived in Israel in 1978 believing I had some answers, that I knew something. By 1987 , I knew there were no answers and I knew nothing.

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

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

Dell XPS 10 Light Windows 8 Tablet

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

XPS 10 Tablet Details — Dell Windows 8 Tablet - Dell

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

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

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

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

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

The Configuration

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

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

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

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

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

What’s are the problems?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Customers have unrealistic expectations and are doomed to disappointment

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

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

Last — far away from least 

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

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

SnapIt-84

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

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

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

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

Dell XPS 10 Light Windows 8 Tablet

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

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

What you can do on the Dell XPS 10

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

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

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

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

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

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Too much of a good thing? Richelle Mead’s Storm Born

Eugenie Markham — AKA Odile Dark Swan — fights creatures from the Otherworld for a living. She a shaman and she’s at the top of her game. It’s one Hell of a game she plays. Even so, she find it slightly disturbing to discover her name has become public knowledge in the Otherworld. Her true name, the one by which she can be summoned. It becomes even more disturbing when she realizes every bizarre creature she meets wants to mate her or rape her. Except for those who would rather just kill her. Not that she’s unused to danger, but this is a bit much.

When she meets an incredibly handsome, sexy veterinarian and falls into bed with him — not normally her style at all — then realizes that he’s not entirely human … well, that’s one unpleasant surprise over the line.

The shocks keep coming. Eugenie learns that she is not who she thought she was. In fact, hardly anyone or anything is what she thought it was and she has a lot of readjusting to do. Her most fundamental beliefs about good and evil, right and wrong are up for grabs. What she has to learn is overwhelming, but what she needs to unlearn is even harder.

This is a sexy, fun romp through the land of the Fae, or as they like to call themselves, “The Shining Ones.” There are Kings and Queens, battles, shape-shifters and plenty of sex. As in most fantasy books, all the guys are incredibly handsome. The women are astoundingly beautiful.

Sex makes the world explode. Magic is everywhere. There were times when the story reminded me more of something by Terry Pratchett than Richelle Mead. There’s a hint of wackiness in the story that made it sometimes extremely funny, clearly intentionally.

Storm Born is the first of a series that also includes The Thorn Queen,  Shadow Heir and Iron Crowned. All are available  as paperbacks and on Kindle, and as audiobooks from Audible.com.

I listened to this as well as reading it. Although I got through it, I did not at all like the narrator who was stiff and rather stilted and seemed miscast. I was disappointed in the audiobook and suggest that you might be happier reading this on Kindle or paper.

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