No, Your Computer Isn’t Slow

It’s really frustrating when you are sitting at your computer, staring at that stupid hourglass, waiting for… whatever. Everybody hates when a computer is slow to download. It’s really inconvenient.

But when I hear someone complain about this, I have to laugh inside. I can’t help but think, as I’m trying to send that e-mail, that 100 short years ago, if I had wanted to get that message delivered, a whole different process would have to occur.

You’d write the message. You’d give it to a delivery person, or deliver it yourself. You’d go outside. You’d saddle your horse. You’d hop on. You’d ride across town. You’d deliver the message. You’d probably be obligated to socialize. You’d then return home, where you’d groom and feed the horse and clean his stall. It’s amazing that anyone got anything done.

Suddenly a slow e-mail doesn’t seem so bad. Even at its worst, it sure beats saddle sores. Try not to forget that.

I feel the same way about microwaves. How can we possibly get impatient with a microwave when a century ago you’d have been sweating in a hot kitchen, after having spent months raising your crops and/or your livestock, then going through the monumental hassle of preparing, cooking and serving the meal? And lest we forget, no refrigeration. We should kiss our microwaves.

We are able to do everything so much faster these days that somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten about patience and appreciation. I’m not sure that sacrificing those qualities for the sake of convenience was a fair trade.


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Another Extinct Job

One of my sisters is 9 years older than me. When I was little, I watched her grow up and enter the working world. I think in her first full time job she earned a hundred dollars a week, and I thought she was rich beyond my wildest dreams. That should give you some indication of how old I am.

I always admired her so much. She was beautiful, and cool. I tried to dress like her. And she had a cool job.

The first job I remember her having that I had any understanding of whatsoever was for our local newspaper. She was a Paste-Up Artist. She went on to do that job for a variety of newspapers in three different states.

The job no longer exists. That makes it even more exotic in my memories. It’s so exotic, in fact, that it actually merits its own Wikipedia page.

Basically, she would design the layout of the paper from day to day. Sometimes she just created the ads, choosing the borders, and making the art the proper size to fit the column. Other times she designed the whole page, choosing the font, getting the set type and pasting the type in, breaking the columns in appropriate places.

I got to go see where she worked at the Orlando Sentinel a couple of times. She had her own workspace. She knew her way around. People knew her name. It was exciting. I wanted to be her.

I thought it was cool that she got to earn money from being creative. She would often bring the paper home and show me what she had done. I was very proud of her. I remember that she took pride in making all her borders meet at perfect 90 degree angles. She even let me choose the border once. It made me think of a newspaper as a thing of beauty, and my very own sister was the one to create that beauty. People looked at her work every day. She did that.

Now, of course, all that work is done on a computer, almost as an afterthought. In fact, here I sit, laying out my blog post every day.  Everything is automatically at 90 degree angles. I hope she’s proud.

Most people today probably don’t even realize that once upon a time, someone sat at a drafting table and used an exacto knife, sometimes drawing blood, and glued things together to create what they read. It’s weird to think that the job you do, the job that allows you to live and eat, the job that causes you stress and/or makes you feel glamorous for having a talent that others don’t have, might someday disappear like the dinosaurs.

paste up artist

I wish I had my sister do the layout when I wrote a book!



Rebooting Oneself

Decades ago, I was walking my dog after a hard rain and I slipped on a wet, grassy slope. My feet flew above my head. I went down hard. I mean, really, really hard. It knocked the wind out of me. As I helplessly slid down the hill, everything went bright white. I couldn’t see, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move, and for a second there I had the strangest feeling that my brain was completely shut off. At that moment, I didn’t know how to see, breathe, or move.

That experience only lasted a second or two, but I’ll never forget it. And I definitely won’t forget the 9 months of pure agony I went through in its aftermath, while getting the resulting herniated disc diagnosed and treated. Good times.

As a friend of mine says, rebooting your computer can fix a multitude of sins. But a personal reboot such as the one I just described is no fun at all. I do not recommend it.

Unexpected catastrophic events can definitely make you do a reboot in terms of reevaluating your life, and they can cause you to change its trajectory. Death. Divorce. Job loss. Natural disasters. Totaling your car.

But these aren’t the only kinds of reboots I’ve had in my life. The intentional ones are fantastic. Driving across country for a new job in a new state, and therefore completely remodeling my life, was a reboot par excellence. So was buying my house and moving in. Vacations are mini-reboots, and I would argue that they’re really critical for mental and physical health.

I also consider purging toxic people from your life to be a reboot of a kind. You really don’t realize what a negative influence someone has been on you until they are gone. It’s like taking off a shoe that’s two sizes too small. Feels. So. Good.

If you have a chance to voluntarily reboot, even if it’s something as minor as a haircut or a manicure, I encourage you to do so. I also fervently hope that there are no involuntary reboots in your future. But the rain falls on us all sooner or later. May you weather the storms and revel in the sunshine, dear reader.


Here’s a good reboot: Take the day off. Read my book.

My Love/Hate Relationship with Cortana

I have finally managed to upgrade to Windows 10. The year-long delay was not for lack of trying. I’d upload it for about 5 hours, then try to install it for another 5, only to be told there was some sort of error, which, when researched on-line, seemed to be some catch-all code with no solution.

I must have heeded their nags and tried to upgrade about a dozen times, because I hated Windows 8. (And what happened to Windows 9?) It reached the point where I was sorely tempted to drive up to the nearby Microsoft compound and throw my laptop at the security guard. “Here. You figure it out.”

But then about two weeks ago, after I’d long since given up all hope, I apparently clicked on something without even realizing it, and the next thing I knew, I had Windows 10! Oh, happy day! More or less.

Yes, there’s a learning curve. And I had to iron out quite a few glitches. And I STILL can’t get Google Chrome to work properly, but over all, I’m liking what I’m seeing.

The feature I am having the hardest time getting used to is Cortana. You’ve got to understand. I’ve got very humble electronics. No smart phone. No Siri. Nothing that responds to my voice. The GPS in my car often exasperates me. So this trend toward anthropomorphizing our gadgets is relatively new to me.

But Cortana is trying really hard. She talks like the perfect friend. “Ask me anything,” she says. “Hi! How can I help?” “Anything I can do for you?” “What’s on your mind?”

So just out of curiosity I asked her, “What is the meaning of life?”

She sent me to Wikipedia. Sigh. I have to say that this was one time when Wikipedia didn’t give me a satisfying answer.

Don’t get me wrong. I doubt any of my other friends would have been much help, either, but at least we’d have had an interesting conversation about it. It would have given us more opportunity to bond.

So, Cortana, don’t get too comfortable. I still don’t consider you my bestie, even if you act like you care, and you’re always willing to be there for me. Keep trying, though. You never know. You might grow on me.


Take a Minute

My computer just took forever to boot up. I was sitting here tapping my foot and grumbling to myself until finally it started working and I had access to the whole wide world yet again. I feel much better now.

Every once in a while I have to laugh at myself. Where does this impatience come from? I remember what life was like before the internet. I remember going to libraries to look things up in encyclopedias. I remember rummaging through card catalogs and then burrowing into the stacks to find books that were often misshelved or already checked out. I remember using microfiche machines, watching entire newspapers scroll past my eyes as I tried to find one particular article. Even if my computer took 15 minutes to boot up every time, it would still be a godsend compared to all that.

I see the same impatience when I open my drawbridge. On average it’s a four or five minute delay, and taking a detour will often eat up a lot more of a driver’s time, and yet there is still always a certain percentage of people who insist on doing a U-turn and rerouting. Your blood pressure would be a lot lower, people, if you took those few minutes to step out of your car and enjoy the view. And, too, how can you be so outraged when you know your route takes you across a drawbridge? You have to realize that they occasionally open. Don’t take it so personally.

And I sometimes find myself impatiently standing in front of the microwave. I mean, seriously? It’s a microwave. It was invented to speed up the cooking process, and it does. And yet I’ll stand there and say, “Come on… come on…” If I took the time to anthropomorphize my microwave, I’m sure I’d endow it with a lot of righteous indignation. “What do you mean, ‘come on’? I’d like to see you heat up a lasagna this fast, woman. Sheesh.”

And you’re worried about not getting an instant reply to your e-mail? There was a time when people were impressed at the speed of the pony express. It only took 10 days to get a letter from coast to coast! Imagine that!

Don’t even get me started about standing in line. How can I get irritated at the grocery store when 200 years ago I wouldn’t have even had access to oranges, let alone have a convenient way to purchase them if they were available? And lest we forget, cashiers used to have to ring up each purchase individually and often didn’t get everything right.

What a spoiled brat we have become as a society.

Thanks to Deborah Drake for giving me the idea for this entry!

Traffic backs up as I open my drawbridge. I try not to let this power go to my head.

Defragging My Life

You know you’ve put off defragging your hard drive for way too long when the software says, “Estimated running time: > 1 day”. Oops. My bad.

All of you computer savvy folks can skip the next two paragraphs. For the rest of us who struggle with the subtle nuances of all things technical, this is how defragging was explained to me:

Imagine you have a shelf of encyclopedias. (Remember those?) But you also have a house full of lazy kids. One of them has left volume S in his gym locker. Another one has Q propping up a table leg. B got loaned to a random friend. So now you’ve got a shelf of info with some gaps, and books scattered all over hell’s half acre.

Now imagine you have to access information from several volumes. You can’t just look on a neatly ordered shelf. Oh, no. This is going to take more time and effort. This is how your computer feels, pretty much daily. By defragmenting your data, or “defragging”, you’re putting order back on your shelf, and therefore speeding up your computer. It’s a good idea to defrag now and then. Most of you probably have defragging software on your computer already, but for those of you who can no longer find it (Thanks a lot, Windows 8!) you can get a free version called Defraggler here. End of lesson.

Anyway, while watching my computer defragment itself for hours and hours and hours, I started thinking. I really need to defrag my whole life. To say that I live in a state of barely controlled chaos is a gross understatement. I used to be so organized. At what point did I lose all control? I have no idea.

I have a pile of things on my nightstand that urgently need to be dealt with, but it’s been sitting there so long that the things on the bottom of the pile have long since lost their urgency. I have a room full of boxes that I’ve yet to unpack from when I moved to Seattle a year and a half ago. I have books that I haven’t read in years and I know I never will. Why do I keep them? I have tons of things that have sentimental value, but the older I get, the less sentimental I seem to become. I need to get my act together.

The funny thing is, I know that I feel better about life in general when I’m more organized. I have no idea what’s holding me back. Pure laziness? It feels more complex than that, but I can’t be bothered to figure it out. I just need to keep chipping away at it and hope that someday I’ll reach that magic tipping point where I actually have a handle on things again and life gets easier.

A girl can dream, can’t she?


What Have I Gotten Myself Into?

Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d utter: I just put a profile on one of those computer dating websites. Yep. It’s come to that.

And so it begins. For the first hour or so, it was kind of exciting. About 30 men read my profile. But then none of them contacted me, and I suddenly realized I had just been rejected 30 times. Ouch.

Then I became aware that I was doing the exact same thing at a dizzying pace. I was looking at tons of profiles, and skipping over most of them based on arbitrary things. Conservative. Uneducated. Thinks books are “Okay, I guess.” Looking for someone athletic. (Pity.) Smokes. (ABSOLUTELY NOT.) Scary, scary serial killer looking photograph. (I can’t help it. I have to trust my instincts.) Still has kids living at home. (Run!!!!)

Then came a deluge of men wanting to chat. Cool! But they were in other parts of the country. Why on earth would you want to talk to me? Ohhhhhhh. I get it. You want to “talk” to me. No thanks. I’m not going to take some hard-earned business away from a phone sex operator. Or here’s an idea. Go talk to your wife. I’m sure she’s right in the next room.

And I came across some crazy, crazy profiles that made me wonder what kind of men are walking the streets of this town. One said, “Any woman I’m interested in has to keep herself clean and smell nice.” It sort of reminded me of the serial killer in Silence of the Lambs. “It rubs the lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose again.”

Another listed a bunch of attributes and then said, “If you don’t have ALL these qualities, then you’re wasting my time. And I don’t take kindly to having my time wasted. But I really am a nice guy!” Oh yeah, I’m sure women are beating down his door!

But the most painful moments are when I read a profile of someone I think has potential, and I reach out to that person and he ignores me. I know if he’d just give me a chance, he’d see how great I am. But he can’t get past my body type or some random thing I say in my profile to see that. I feel like a poorly advertised product on some dusty shelf. “Buy me! I’m good! Really. You’d like me.”

I don’t know if I have the strength for this.


Obsolete Jobs

Sometime within the next four years yet another of the drawbridges that I work on here in town will be replaced by a fixed span flyover bridge, thus putting quite a few bridgetenders out of work. Bridgetenders worldwide are becoming as rare as hen’s teeth. The only chance you have of any future in this job is if your bridge is extremely historic and quaint, and if the shore is too built up in the area for new construction. I’m going to miss this bridge when it’s gone.

That had me thinking of other jobs out there that are disappearing.

  • Once upon a time in New York City there were people whose full time job it was to do nothing but keep pigs from wallowing in the muddy streets so as not to block the horse drawn carriages. Can you imagine?
  • When’s the last time you saw a milkman make a delivery? Same with ice men, rag collectors, coal deliverymen, and knife sharpeners.
  • Fuller brush salesmen are a thing of the past, as are encyclopedia salesmen and vacuum cleaner salesmen.
  • It used to be that a “computer” was a person who sat around making calculations.
  • I know someone who used to run a VCR repair shop, and someone else who was trained in computer punch cards.
  • And what about those people who went around emptying coins from payphones?
  • You don’t see nearly as many human beings directing traffic or taking tolls on the highways. Most of that is mechanized now.
  • The number of trained librarians has been reduced worldwide, and I think that’s a tragedy.
  • Newspapers seem to be disappearing, and ethical, unbiased journalists are nearly extinct.
  • I’m sure there must have been a whole industry making iron lungs for victims of polio.
  • I can’t remember the last time I saw someone delivering a telegram.
  • Are there any gas stations left where you don’t pump it yourself?
  • Drive in movies, and thus the people who worked in them, are for the most part a thing of the past.
  • It’s a lot harder to find a travel agent these days, and good luck coming up with a doctor who makes house calls.

For every career that goes the way of the Dodo bird, there are large numbers of people who have fond memories of it. These people are left scrambling to find work or retrain themselves, and many of them never fully recover. The march of progress has a tendency to trample anyone standing in its path.

Dodo Bird

The Dodo Bird — Poster child for obsolescence.

[Image credit: Wikipedia]

Populating Fields

I think my laptop knows more about me than anyone else does. Disturbing, but true. And your computer does, too. It knows your likes and your interests, it knows who your friends are, it even knows what you look for when you job hunt. If you have some kinky propensity that you haven’t shared with even your best friend, rest assured it knows about that, too.

Think about it. It finishes your sentences for you, as if you’re an old married couple.

When I open my browser and start to type in a web address or something in my Google search field, I often don’t have to type more than one or two letters. What’s interesting is that every single one of us can do this and it will yield completely different results. If that doesn’t equal a digital representation of who we are as individuals, nothing does.

Here are some of my keystrokes and my computer’s helpful suggestions for web addresses. I’ll let you decide what this says about me.

  • t =  (of course!)
  • f = Facebook
  • y = Youtube
  • h = Hulu. (Are you sensing a trend? I don’t really lead an exciting life.)
  • d = (and you thought I was a confident writer.)
  • j gives me my local public library. Yay books!
  • k sends me straight to, although I have no idea why. I haven’t been able to travel in years. Wishful thinking on my laptop’s part?
  • m takes me to Mapquest. I may not get to travel, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still get lost.
  • s  = Second Life. Even though I don’t have much of a first life, my second one can be rather exciting.

And here are some of my recent search terms on Google, apparently.

  • A is for Aborigines and Ad blocker.
  • B is for Barack Obama, Bobby McFerrin and Bear Hibernation.
  • C is for Capricorn and Carpe Diem.
  • D is for Dogs for Defense and Daddy Saddle (Only for research purposes, I swear. It’s a long story.)
  • N is for Nelson Mandela and Nutrasystem, which is kind of an ironic juxtaposition.
  • P is for Philip Seymour Hoffman and Pete Seeger, may they both rest in peace.
  • Q yields nothing. Poor neglected Q.
  • T really reveals my eclectic nature. It gives me Trepanning, TED Talks, and The Peeling Garlic Trick.
  • W is for Wizard of Oz and a ton of questions that start with What.

There is really no need for interrogation in the modern world. To find out who someone is, where they’ve been, and what their intentions are, simply look to their laptop and all will be revealed.

computer meme

The Gift of Friendship

I watched my laptop hit the floor and I heard it break. I stood there for a minute, not wanting to actually open it up and look, wanting to hold on to a few more seconds of being a person who had a computer, and knowing I was about to become a person who didn’t have one.

Upon closer inspection, I discovered that I had actually bent the battery. I didn’t even know that was possible. And the screen was shattered and partially separated from the keyboard. It was a lost cause. So that was it, then. I was done. No money to replace the laptop, which meant no more blog, no more extra income, nothing to keep me sane during the long, lonely graveyard shifts on the bridge.

Oh, how I cried. And I felt kind of stupid being so devastated over an inanimate object, especially at this time of year when I’m even more conscious of the pervading, insidious societal urge toward crass consumerism, but I have come to rely on my laptop, and I honestly and truly had no idea what to do.

Then my friend Ray stepped up and loaned me one of his old ones. What a relief. While it didn’t solve the problem, it took the pressure off until I could figure out what to do. And it kept me connected and working and writing. Ray kept me going, as he so often does. I’ll always be grateful for that.

So I trundled on like that for a while, but I knew I couldn’t use his laptop forever. Not that he was putting any pressure on me at all. Quite the contrary. It’s just that I needed to have my own computer. If I was going to risk dropping something on the floor and destroying it, it should be something I own. But I was still at a loss. It’s not like a big sweaty wad of cash was going to drop out of the sky.

And then a miracle happened in the form of my friend Martin. Martin, who I’ve known for seven years, but only in the virtual world of Second Life. I was lamenting my situation to him, and he offered to buy me a laptop. Just like that. He said, “I can afford to help you, and I want to.” That generous. That kind. That rare. My instinct was to turn his offer down. It was too much. But he wanted to give me this gift. He wanted to, and I needed help.

So here I am, writing this on my brand new laptop! A laptop given to me by a true friend. The thing itself is not what’s valuable, even though it’s fantastic and a complete life saver. No. It’s the love behind it, the decency, the unselfishness, the spirit of giving. Every day when I use this laptop, I will think of Martin and what he did for me, and I’ll remember that there really are people in this world who are willing to go the extra mile, the extra thousand miles actually, for a friend.

I hope someday, when my head is actually above water financially, I can pass on the bounty to someone else in their time of need. In the meantime, though, I will do my best to be there for friends in other ways, such as being a good listener and a source of support, and I can delight in the fact that with friends such as these, I’m rich in the only way that truly matters.

So I’ll leave you with this quote from the movie It’s a Wonderful Life: “No man is a failure who has friends.”

Happy Holidays, dear reader.

Simulat with Art

[My dear friend Martin in Second Life, standing in front of one of his artistic creations. I’d include a picture of my friend Ray, too, but he’d kill me if I did.]