IS THERE LIFE WITHOUT COMPUTERS?

You see stuff online — Facebook mostly — about “could you live in this lovely (log cabin) house (in the middle of really nowhere) without WiFi? And everyone says “Oh sure! I could live in that great little house — in the middle of a huge woods by a cold lake where the nearest shopping center is 50 miles on dirt roads — forever without so much as a VOIP phone.

Sure you could. NOT.

I know I couldn’t and wouldn’t even want to try. Because that’s not life or at least not my life.

There was a time when I could imagine a life without computers. I think that was before I owned a computer, before every house everywhere had one or many computers. Before every single thing in the house got “connected” and computerized in some way. Before your toilet got so smart you have to argue with it about the whole “flushing” thing. Before we had things in the house that you could talk to and would more or less would run your house for you, even if you weren’t there personally.

To be clear, I don’t have any of those super smart appliances because while I dearly love WiFi, if the power is out I need to know the toilet will flush anyway and the refrigerator will keep the food cold as long as I don’t open the door. I want to be smarter than my toilet or refrigerator. Call me crazy, but I like to keep at least one leg up on life.

Yeats in Sligo
Yeats in Sligo

But life without any computers? Without a way to blog? Oh, I suppose I could use a typewriter …  but what would I do with it after that? There IS no blog without WiFi. And my wrists would not thank me.

Can I survive without Photoshop and Topaz filters? Without a Kindle? Or a GPS?

That sounds more like death than life.  A computer is not just email. It’s all kinds of communications and these days, it really IS communications. Pretty much all communications is electronic in one way or another. Photography and writing. Paying bills, shopping, and entertainment. Games. Keeping in touch with the world and the people in it, without whom life would be incredibly lonesome.

So if I must have a life without computers, I am probably dead. Unless there are afterlife computers. You know, from Comp-AfterLife.com? Those “special” computers so the undead can keep in touch?

MY NOTORIOUSLY NEW PRINTER

I hate printers. I also hate copiers, scanners, and fax machines.

Nowadays, you get one, you get the batch, but I still hate all of them, whether in one package or many. I got my new printer a few days ago and finally got around to installing it yesterday. Maybe I should have waited.

When you are setting up a new printer, what can you do if your WiFi simply won’t “see” it?

It turns out, the most popular technique is highly technical denial. This means you turn everything off and go shopping. Really, any outside-the-house activity will do the job. We went to Garry’s hearing place to see if they have a significantly better hearing aid for him. Not quite. Yet. Maybe it would be a little better, but not $4000 better.

When we came back from the hearing place and having briefly stopped at the grocery store, I realized I had to confront the printer again. Another one of the small aggravations of modern times: new computers — like this one — don’t have DVD players. I bought an external one, but first I tried downloading the setup instructions from the website. This is supposed to work just like the disc, but surprisingly, didn’t.

Probably, because the WiFi did not find the printer. Or maybe there was some other inexplicable reason.

When your WiFi won’t find a device, there isn’t much you can do about it. You can wave your hands in the air like a fan. Maybe that will blow the WiFi in the right direction. You can shake your devices — but this may work to your disadvantage. Then, there’s cursing. For many people, that works well, but for me, it’s a distraction from getting on with the job.

Turning everything off, then turning every back on is one of the most effective ways of convincing something that should be working to really work, but this time, it didn’t. I should have figured if going shopping didn’t fix it, I needed a new approach.

So, after we came home and I quickly realized it hadn’t magically fixed itself (damn), I hauled my laptop and DVD player into the office. There are — as it turns out — alternate instructions which only appear when you click “NO, that didn’t work either”  for the third time. At which point alternate instructions pop into your browser. These are apparently dangerous weapons of mass destruction and can only be used if your WiFi absolutely can not find the printer, even after you wave your arms and plead with the manufacturer.

It turns out, you have to press the WiFi button until the ALERT button flashes twice. Not three times. If it flashes three times, you have to start over. Next, you have to push the start button again, at which time the WiFi button should start to flash very quickly (not slowly … slowly won’t do the job). They also don’t warn you there’s a pause before it starts rapidly flashing — but if you push it again, you have to start over from the top.

If all goes well, at this point, unless your WiFi is actually out, you should have a connection.

Then you push another button while pressing a third button. Which prints a sheet which you will attempt to scan. Which inevitably produces an error message. If you try to do it again, all it will do is keep printing the same page.

I said screw it and gave up. Then, I decided to register the printer. It turns out, I can’t. Because I am a Canon user — but have no idea what my password used to be. I’m exhausted from carrying the laptop around and having to follow all those instructions.

Since the printer was been found by the WiFi, it would surely print if asked. If the WiFi had found the printer all by itself like it should have, I wouldn’t have had to do any of this. Windows would have taken over and installed everything. Immediately.

Good news? The printer says it works. I’m trusting this to be true. I’m not at all sure about the scanner, but I’ll save that for another day.

Have I mentioned how much I really hate printers? I used to hate fax machines and copy machines too, but now they’re all one thing. So I have just one big thing to hate instead of three.

Is this a good or bad thing?

WHEN THE WIFI CLOUD BECOMES TORRENTIAL RAIN

Last night, at just before midnight, the WiFi went down. Which meant the telephone also went out, though it was too late for much in the way of phone calls.

I went and rebooted the modem and router. Once, twice, … then three more times. At which point I figured it was Charter/Spectrum, not our router. I did all the getting ready for bed stuff  … fortunately, the cable was still working thus fending off a genuine crisis.

I fished out our cell phone. Which is when realized the entire point of our cell phone is so I can call Charter when their service goes out. I have a special wireless device so I can call the other wireless company to tell them something is broken.

Except I didn’t have to tell them. As soon as the call connected, they told me that there was a “problem in our area and their expert teams were working feverishly to fix it.”

I went to the kitchen and looked fondly at all the equipment that is not hooked up to WiFi and realized — again — how glad I am I don’t have all that stuff connected to our ISP. It’s bad enough losing the telephone and computers without also losing the kitchen stove and who knows what else.

Am I the only one that feels we are putting far too much faith in our ISPs? Do we really want absolutely everything in our lives to depend on one service provider? Is this a good idea? Talk about all the eggs in one basket!

At around 1:30, the signal came back. I turned off the cell, checked my email and felt a cozy sense of satisfaction that I have independent non-WiFi backup drives protecting my data.

The mobile phone can now rest until the next emergency. You guys can use all the clouds you want. Not me. I want my back ups accessible even if The Cloud turns to torrential rain — or a damned tornado.

A CONNECTED LIFE

A CONNECTED LIFE

These days, connections mean so many things. Our friends and followers on line. Our friends in the “real world.” The plugs and wires that run from our appliances, widgets, gadgets, and other devices to a power source.

It’s cable, satellite, FIOS, WiFi, and 3G.

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Electricity is the bottom line for most technology. But there’s more. The roads and bridges that allow us to drive from here to there. The pipes which bring water from the well to the house. The slot on the computer into which I can plug a memory card, turning digital data into an editable image.

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All these connections are part of the intricate web of our connections. We need all of them to be part of this techno-connected society. The more technology we use, the more dependent we are on our connections.

We take them for granted and barely notice them when they are working.

One day, there comes a storm. It knocks out the electricity. Nothing works. No connections. The well pump stops and there’s no water. The clocks don’t tell time. The background hum of our stuff disappears.

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No beeps, whirs, or clicks. If an outage lasts longer than batteries, there will be nothing. Those of you who depend entirely on “the cloud,” aka “other people’s servers” for music, movies, books … you have nothing even with battery power. Because without electricity, there’s no Internet, no cloud. No iTunes, Amazon, or Netflix.

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The silence and darkness are frightening.

Connectivity is life support. We have forgotten — in many cases, never knew — how to live without it.

YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR – OR LESS

I bought my first media streaming device — the Roku HD Streaming Player, aka Roku 1 in January 2013. It was easy to set up and worked perfectly. Never hiccupped. Always connected to the WiFi and never faltered. I liked it so much, I bought another one for the bedroom a couple of months later. I wrote about it in “Roku – The Little Streaming WiFi Unit That Can” on December 18, 2013. By which time I’d had it for almost a year.

The only problem was the remote. It is line-of-sight. This technology works best in an uncluttered home with fewer dogs. So the remote worked, but it was like target shooting from a long distance with an inaccurate weapon.

FTVstickThis doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it’s the sort of thing that gets on your nerves over time. I replaced the living room remote with an upgraded version. A nominal improvement.

When Amazon came out with their bargain basement Amazon Fire Stick, I said “Oh, what the hell. Maybe the remote will work better,” and it did. Unfortunately, the stick didn’t. In fact, the stick hardly worked at all. As one reviewer succinctly put it, “You deserve better. Don’t do it.” He was right.

I had read the reviews, but I didn’t read all of them. I missed the ones that said the stick would lose the WiFi and sometimes, would never get it back.

From the beginning, it either couldn’t find our WiFi, or couldn’t hang on to the signal.  Even when it was connected, it was like watching a series of stills with sound. Like one of the strip films we watched in elementary school … a slide show with sound. I am told it’s an antenna problem, but whatever the reason, it stunk.

Roku 1

Last week, I gave up and bought the Roku 3 with the “point anywhere” remote. Which also, I’m told, responds to voice commands. We installed it today and it works. No stuttering, no faltering, no loading problems. Smooth as silk and you can point the remote at your own forehead and it will still work.

So, here’s the cost breakdown.

Roku 3 cost $49.00. Plus $4.20 for an HDMI cable. We got two years of service out of it, so it doesn’t owe us anything. And it still works, just not on this television.

The Amazon Fire Stick was a bust. It cost $39.00, was unsatisfactory for all 90 days of its service. The new, improved, wonderful Roku 3 Streaming Media Player (4230R) with Voice Search (2015 model) cost $96.04 (and if I’d waited a few days, would have cost $20 less), but really when you include the cost of the Fire Stick, it’s more like $140.

It reminds me of how I always used to buy the cheaper, less comfortable shoes. Eventually, when I couldn’t walk in the shoes I had bought, I ended up buying the more expensive ones, too.

roku 3

In total, I spent more than $200 on a streaming devices. If I had bought the Roku 3 in the first place, I would have spent half that.

The motto of the story is worth remembering. You aren’t saving money by buying shoes that you can’t wear. If your feet hurt, the movie won’t load, the remote control drives you bonkers? You haven’t saved money if you will have to buy it again.

It’s not cheap if it doesn’t do the job.

FREEDOM AT AN AFFORDABLE PRICE?

I am not trying to sell you this gadget, but I think this little thing and the other things like it are the future of connectivity. It suggests a few months down the road, there will be many more portable connectivity widgets. They will continue to improve, to become more affordable and powerful.

Prices always drop as technology comes of age. Remember when a portable hard drive costs thousands of dollars? When a terabyte of data storage was unthinkably huge?

What this signals is that soon enough no one will need an outside company or an expensive, contracted data plan to use the Internet.

Karma WidgetOur internet service providers have been holding us at gunpoint for decades. They have extorted the maximum money from us while providing the least possible service.

This technology promises freedom. Buy as much bandwidth as you need. Have your own “server.” One that fits in your pocket and goes wherever you go.

Combine this technology with the coming of age of WiFi television … and I prophesy freedom from the pirates who have held us for ransom. They will finally get what they deserve, to be out of business.

Read “The Best Mobile Hotspots of 2015” in PC Magazine to get a peek at the rest of the field.

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No one knows for sure what the future holds … but this looks like an idea whose time has come. I’m not selling this product (or any product like it). Or buying it, either. Not yet. Just pondering all the money I won’t have to pay an ISP in the future.

How delicious is freedom!

I’D LIKE TO THANK …

I had one of Those Days yesterday. I got up feeling pretty good. A bright, sunny day suggested I might want to take a few pictures. I went to open the window … and the shade did a cartoon thing, snapping itself all the way up and curling tightly around the wooden roller. When I tried to unroll it, it fell down and landed in a heap at my feet.

I should have taken that as a sign, but I shrugged it off. Just an old shade to replace No biggie. Thus the day progressed through some electrical? Software? glitch which deleted all my saved emails addressed to me from me. All the saved information carefully put in labeled folders … trashed. Thank you Google! At least you didn’t erase them. You have to be grateful for what didn’t happen. Keeps things in perspective.

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I was still  working on sorting out the mess at midnight when the WiFi went out. We recently replaced the router and since then — about two months — haven’t had a minute of trouble with it.

I sighed. “Guess I’ve got to reboot the router,” I told Garry, who was deep into deciding what to record on the DVR and had problems of his own. I rebooted the router. Came back, but still no WiFi. Went back, did it again, and realized the modem looked unhappy. The lights were blinking, not emitting the steady, solid green glow I have come to associate with a happy, healthy modem. I unplugged it, counted slowly to 25, plugged it back in. Nope.

On a whim, I looked at the telephone. “No line,” it announced. The green light was out.

Charter Communications was down.

I couldn’t call on the phone since the phone runs on the WiFi that we didn’t have. I found Garry’s cell phone, looked up Charter’s number in my paper notebook. After the last few fiascos when I couldn’t get to my contacts because they are online and there was no “online” to get to, I’ve gone retro. I keep a notebook with handwritten contact numbers. The electric company. Charter. My doctor. The two pharmacies. The septic guy. The well guy. My best friend. My cardiologist. Our dentist.

I called Charter. Got the robot. I shouted my answers into the phone, probably waking all the people in the house, but not disturbing the dogs. They are never bothered by whatever mom is doing when she has that thing in her hand. It’s not edible, so it isn’t their concern.

An announcement came. “There’s an outage in your area that might be affecting your service. We assure you we are working as fast as we can to resolve the problem. Would you like us to call you when the issue is resolved? Say “yes” or “no.”

“YES,” I shouted.

“Is there anything else with which we could help you?”

“NO,” I yelled.

They started to babble on about something else, but I’d had enough and disconnected. Closed my computer. Turned out the lights. Went into the bedroom where Garry was settling down to watch something recorded using the big Sennheiser earphones.

“It’s Charter,” I shouted. He didn’t have his hearing aids in.

“What?”

“Charter.”

“Good old Charter,” he said.

I started to laugh and couldn’t stop. “They won,” I said between laughs. “They beat me. Charter. Google. Everything. They can break things faster than I can fix them.”

“Give up,” advised Garry. “Tomorrow …”

“Is another day,” I finished. But I kept laughing until I fell asleep. I had been defeated. Just one of those days. Thank you Charter. Thank you Google. Thank you for reminding me I can’t fix everything and sometimes, the only thing left to do is throw your hands in the air and surrender.


DAILY PROMPT: I’D LIKE TO THANK MY CATS