Category: Computers


CI may be of a pre-baby-boomer generation, but that does not mean I’m afraid of computers. I was hand coding in FORTRAN on punched cards for an IBM 360 forty-five years ago. My first home computer was a Kaypro running a CP/M operating system, with two 64 K floppy disks. (Really floppy; no hard drives or even the plastic-cased “floppy” disks then.) I learned HTML in the days when Netscape 1 was state-of-the-art, and the first page I made is still (with some editing but looking much the same) up on the web. I created an extensive website, still referenced, on Shetland Sheepdogs, Border Collies and canine coat color genetics back in the last decade of the 20th century.

At the time I retired, thus cutting off daily meeting with other geeks, there was no such thing as social media, aside from email.

Then I published my first book, Homecoming, with iUniverse.

Left to right: my MacBook Air, iMac, internet screen for iMac, motor for aod GE Mac (pre-USB.) Not shown: G4 MacBook I use if I need to transfer a file from the G3.

Left to right: my MacBook Air, iMac, internet screen for iMac, monitor for old G3 Mac (pre-USB.) Not shown: G4 MacBook I use if I need to transfer a file from the G3. Don’t you hate “upgrades” that leave your files  and programs useless?

I knew that my best bet for publicity, living where I do in Alaska, was the internet. I knew how to make web pages but not how to find a place to post them, and I’d never heard of social media. One of the few iUniverse publicity packages I’ve signed up for that was worth the cost was web publicity.

They set up pages for me on facebook, MySpace, Goodreads, Twitter, an email account (which I didn’t really need; I’ve had email for years), LibraryThing, Flikr, an author webpage and a WordPress blog. Yes, the one you’re reading now.

I have to admit that most of them have fallen by the wayside or get occasional auto-posts. (I discovered HootSuite on my own.) Twitter (@sueannbowling) and facebook get a daily quotation (with a challenge to identify the context.) The two still really active are my author website (the ongoing science fiction story and backdrop to my published science fiction, Jarn’s Journal, is regularly updated there) and this blog.

I’m not 100% happy with the mechanics of the blog, though at least I finally figured out how to get WordPress to send notifications (including follows on other WordPress blogs) to the email address I actually read. What infuriates me is that in order to change the type size (I’d like it larger) I have to get in and edit the cascading style sheet, which is something they invented after I learned HTML. And the latest problem: the option to open a new page/tab has disappeared from links from images. (Things are changing fast here; I did learn how to use an image in my sidebar to open a new window for a linked blog.)

Would anyone like to help me?

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Typewriter (Morguefile)When I learned to type, it was on a typewriter. Not a sleek little electric portable, or even a mechanical portable, but a big, clunky machine with keys that had to be pushed hard enough to flip up the letters through a mechanical linkage, and a lever that had to be pushed over when a bell signaled you were approaching the end of a line. And what I hated worst was threading in a new ribbon.

It wasn’t a cartridge, it was a spool of ink-impregnated fabric that you had to thread through a finicky little gadget that held it where the lever with the letter on its end could strike the ribbon and leave a letter on the paper. It was impossible to thread the ribbon without getting ink all over your hands, so I generally used a ribbon as long as possible – until the letters it produced were getting too light to read.

Probably that’s why I try to do the same with cartridge ink and even toner.

No longer.

I’m not sure whether it’s bad design because of not thinking or bad design because the company wants to sell more ink cartridges/toner. In either case it’s bad design as far as customer usability is concerned.

My current inkjet printer is a 3-way HP Photosmart. It serves as a color copier and a scanner as well as a printer. I would have killed for a copier back in the days before Xerox when you layered paper with carbon paper to type, and woe betide you if you made a typo. Especially on the first page of a long document! Likewise a scanner – my first one was a standalone that cost far more than my printer. But having all three together is a great way to save space.

Unfortunately, there’s that design problem I mentioned.

All of my printers, laser or inkjet, now decide for themselves when the toner or ink cartridge is low, often before I even notice any reduction in quality, and simply quit working. Usually they send me a message that they need a new cartridge. Usually this is in the wee hours of the morning when all the stores are closed and when I cannot find the spare ink I’m sure I bought. When it’s a matter of printing something I usually just sigh and put a cartridge on my shopping list. But why on earth does the lack of a black inkjet cartridge keep the combo from scanning? Especially when I need to scan a signed contract and send it off by email, and I promised to do it right away?

It does not help at all that the exact name of the printer, and the size of ink cartridge needed, are hidden inside the machine, and it’s not obvious how to open it.

I finally went to the HP web site, looked for the machine that looked most like mine, and downloaded the instruction book – again. I still can’t find the one I’m sure I downloaded before, but I was able to find the instructions for opening the ink compartment, which (a) confirmed that I’d downloaded the right instruction book and (b) finally allowed me to figure out what kind of replacement cartridge to get.

I still think it’s bad design.

It’s Award Time Again

I received two awards last week: The Kreativ Blogger from Chris Kelworth at the Kelworth Files, and the Liebster from Cindy Brown at Everyday Underwear. I’m a bit conflicted about these awards. On the one hand, I appreciate receiving them, and I have no problem thanking the bloggers and linking back to them. On the other hand, both are the type that say “pass it on to x number of other bloggers”, and I know too much about exponential functions not to be aware that this is another version of chain letters, Ponzi schemes, population growth, or the failure to recognize limits in economic theory. (Yes, they all depend on exponentials, or rather on most people not understanding how exponentials work.)

I am not going to post another chart showing how many iterations of these awards it would take to reach the entire population of the world. I’ve already done that for awards passed on to five, seven, and eleven other blogs. And I’m going to follow my own advice on the Liebster: since this is the second time I received it, I’m not passing it on.

The Kreativ is also a “Pass it on to seven others” award. I will confine myself to passing it on to one which I really like, but I will follow the other conditions. The first, thank and link back to the awarding blog, as I’ve done above.

2. Answer the seven questions or alternatives. (I’ll provide some alternatives.)

3. Provide 10 random factoids about yourself.

4. Pass on to 7 others? Nope. See above on exponentials. I will, however, pass it on to one I like, and leave it to her to pass it on to seven if she wishes.

The Seven Questions:

1. What’s your favorite song? My alternative, Who are your favorite vocal artists? That one I can answer: Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocceli.

2. What’s your favorite dessert? Unfair to ask a diabetic, but now and then I have a chocolate cocoanut crème brulee from Wolf Run. My alternative, What’s your favorite comfort food?

3. What do you do when you’re upset? My alternative: what sort of thing upsets you? Actually I don’t get upset easily now that I’m retired—except about politics and the way the world is going, which when you really think about it ought to upset anyone.

4. What is your favorite pet? I’ll have to use past tense, because when my last Sheltie died of old age I reluctantly decided that at my age and with poor balance, I really shouldn’t try to replace him. But the one that really was my heart dog was my first, Derry. He was a singleton Sheltie who I really think never figured out that he was a dog, and there’s a post about him in his puppy days on my Sheltie site. He was my first tracking dog, had titles in three activities in two countries, and I really ought to write more about him. My alternative: what do you look for in a pet?

5. Which do you prefer, black or white? The alternative given was do you prefer white or wheat bread? I’ll go a step farther in my alternative, and say what kind of bread do you prefer? Not white or wheat bought in the store! When I eat bread, it’s what I bake myself in the bread machine – apricot-almond and ricotta cheese being my two top favorites. Or Brioche bread. Blue corn bread with sunflower seeds and ancient seed bread are pretty good, too. Maybe I should post some recipes?

6. What is your biggest fear? Blindness. At the time of my retirement, diabetic retinopathy had left me blind in one eye, and the treatments had left my other eye such that I see a straight line as wavy. It seems to be fixed now except for limited peripheral vision, but I’m still worried. The alternate given was name one of your strong points or special skills.

7. What is your attitude mostly? I’d have to say laid back, I guess. Definitely not outgoing or sociable, I’m quite happy to be left alone, and downright uncomfortable in a crowd—though that’s partly due to my vision. The alternative given was Do you think it is better to help people or leave them alone?

Finally, 10 random factoids:

1. I can’t find shoes that fit.

2. I am perfectly happy living by myself. I’ve lived by myself since my second year of college.

3. However, there are times a third hand would be useful.

4. I remember (vaguely) the election of Truman.

5. When I went to junior high, girls had to take a semester of sewing and one of cooking. Boys had to take shop. I envied the boys. In retrospect, shop would have been more useful. I didn’t learn anything in sewing or cooking I hadn’t already learned from my mother.

6. I’ve lived in Alaska for almost 50 years.

7. My first home computer was a KayPro running CP/M and relying on two (literally) floppy discs, one for system and program and one for files.

8. I learned to code FORTRAN on punched cards long before the KayPro. Dropping a deck of 1000 cards was a disaster!

9. I live on a dirt road, with my own well and septic system.

10. I wish I had a dog that would alert to low blood sugar. Which leads into the one blog I plan to pass the Kreativ award on to: Sarah at Animals Help Heal. I love her post about seeing eye horses.

My computer screen lit up with a message Tuesday morning. Your Bluetooth mouse could quit at any time — change the batteries. Fine – I’ve finally figured out how to change the mouse batteries with the computer on, though it does require attaching my old USB mouse to re-connect to the Bluetooth mouse with fresh batteries. (If there’s a keyboard command for find Bluetooth mouse I haven’t found it.) The problem is that I had changed the mouse batteries the day before.

I use rechargeables, and I try to keep some plugged in and charging all the time. Now rechargeable batteries eventually reach the point where they won’t hold a charge, and I think mine have reached that point. I checked them out on the battery tester. The two I took out of the mouse, which just came off the charger yesterday, tested as weak, and I added them to the sack of dead batteries. (I’m not sure dead batteries are actually recycled locally, but I do turn them in separately to try to keep them out of the landfill.) Guess I’d better put rechargeable batteries on my shopping list; I’m going to have problems the next time the keyboard needs batteries. (It takes three.)

Battery tester–good, fresh battery, but my insulin pump won’t accept it.

That was not my only battery problem recently. My insulin pump runs on one AAA battery. This powers not only the pump itself, but also the backlight, the warning beeps and the vibrator if I don’t respond to the beeps, which I generally don’t hear. The manufacturer recommends non-rechargeable alkaline Energizers, simply because the pump is programmed to respond to their power loss curve as they slowly wear out, in order to give me a timely warning. Because I go through so many and have to have them on hand, I purchased a couple of large packages recently. (I didn’t need a twenty-pack and a twenty-four-pack, but I put the twenty-four pack away and then couldn’t find it until after I bought the twenty-pack.) Both had manufacture dates of 2010. Both claimed a shelf life of seven years. Last time, when neither of the two I tried from the twenty-four-pack worked, I managed to find one that my health supplier shipped. Recently I was out of the extras, and tried two more from the twenty-four-pack. Then three from the twenty-pack. The third one worked, but I now have six AAA batteries that show up as good on the tester but won’t work in my insulin pump. (They are working just fine in my anti-mosquito clip-on.)

I know the pump is picky, but only one battery out of seven? Shall I call Medtronics, or Energiser?

Are we getting too dependent on batteries?

The Perversity of Inanimate Objects 1 4/10/10
Insulin Pumps 5/20/10
Wars With Word 5/28/10
The Perversity of Inanimate Objects 2 6/4/10
Float Chair (fictional) 6/24/10
Tricycles are not Bicycles 8/8/10
Why Temperature Remembered doesn’t match the Record 4/5/11
Does Banking Software Work? 4/21/11
My New Toy – an iPad 2 5/12/11
Before Computers 6/5/11
How do you Eat a Salad? 4/28/12
Battery Woes 5/12/12
Printer Woes 6/14/12
Adult Proof 9/8/12
Digital Cameras 9/29/12
Who Needs a Nightcap? 9/3/13

500+ posts is too many for me to keep track of, and quite a few are “reference” posts, such as the ones on planet building or horse coat color genetics. So I’m putting in a new feature, an index page that links to posts linking to the posts on a given topic. (Sound confusing? Try doing it!)

These indexing posts start today (see below) and will appear occasionally until the reference posts are all indexed. After that I’ll just be updating the index posts, which will be accessible from the Index tab above.

With 550 posts as of today, I’ve started to have problems remembering what I’ve already put on here. This is particularly a problem with posting existing content such as poems, short pieces from the Summer Arts Festival, or science explanations originally written for the Alaska Science Forum. I can’t remember which books or DVDs I’ve posted reviews on. It also is starting to be a problem when I want to link to a previous post and can’t remember when it was put up or what the title was. And there are posts on this blog that have permanent information, like the series on planet building and the one on horse color genetics, or the book and DVD reviews. I want to make it easier for my readers as well as myself to find things.

I made a start some time ago by adding an index page, which can be accessed from the menu at the top of any page. Right now, the only links are to index pages on my author site. This takes you out of the site and sometimes back in, which is rather clumsy. The index list is also incomplete.

I’m going to start posting an occasional entry which is strictly an index of past posts on a particular topic. These posts will be linked from the index page, and will link forward to the individual blog posts. As it takes a while to find all the posts that belong together, this will be a slow process—probably extending over the next few months. The first in this series, on DVD reviews, is already queued for January 3. Others will follow, most on Thursdays.

I probably won’t be indexing every post. Some, like those early posts which were simply glossary entries for my books, are on the author site and really belong there. Others, like the regular Monday updates on North Pole weather starting in November 2010, can be found easily enough just by using the calendar on the site. But I hope that by the time I have finished this, older posts of interest will be easier to find.

My New Toy — an iPad2

I finally decided to take another step into the digital revolution. I’ve bought an iPad. I’ve had it all (well, not quite all) of three days, so this is hardly a complete review, but I’ve already found some things it does very well, and some that are huge disappointments.

Photograph of the iPod (not a screen shot) with a page from National Geographic.

It’s great for magazine subscriptions. I’ve wanted New Scientist and National Geographic for some time, but I’m too much of a pack rat to throw them away, and I don’t have room to store them. They are beautiful on the iPad, and the subscriptions are far less than paper. I can enlarge or reduce the size as I need—not just the text, but the pictures as well.

Books are in some ways better than on my Nook, especially those with illustrations. I don’t think I am going to be able to enlarge charts, which is the main complaint I have with the Nook. No problem enlarging the reading text, but figures and maps? Forget them. (I should remark that I am one of those people who finds reading on a computer screen easier that reading on paper.)

The only games I have are Shanghai and Sudoku. The latter is actually easier for me to play on my iPhone, but the former is great on the iPad. It helped while away the time in the doctor’s office today quite nicely. (Normal reading with one’s eyes dilated is not easy.)

Disappointments? One major one at this point. One of the reasons I bought the iPad was so that I could use it to carry the Excel spreadsheet I use to track my blood sugars, insulin dosages and exercise to my doctor without having to lug along my laptop. I was assured that the Numbers app could read my Excel spreadsheet. It apparently can’t. I may try having Numbers on my main computer read the Excel file and turn it into Numbers before transferring it, but the heart of the spreadsheet are time graphs of blood sugar, for which I sum date and time of day for the horizontal axis. Numbers apparently can’t do this, so none of my graphs (except the histogram of frequency of various blood glucose levels) can be read in Numbers.

I haven’t had time yet to try adding the PDF of Homecoming (which I have on my main computer), or Word files. The word files are supposedly readable in Pages, though after my experience with Numbers I’m wary; PDF’s on my computer rather than in iTunes might be a problem.

Calendar and Address book seem to have transferred over just fine.

Finally, I’ve had a bit of fun with the Photo booth effects—as you can see.

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