Communications History – The Telephone

The Car Guy took a consulting job this past January. It was supposed to take only a few months of full time work, but that was not to be. Seven months in, and there is no end in sight. He is more than ready to retire again. It isn’t that he doesn’t like the project, or the challenge. What is really getting him down is how hard it is to get away from the job after work hours now that he has a company issued Blackberry phone.

Communications have changed considerably since he embarked on his career in the 1970’s. When he first started working, he spent much of his time in remote locations. At that time, reports were hand printed on a form, then voice relayed to the head office by mobile radio. Land lines came later, and with them came the addition of a fax machine which enabled information to be sent back and forth much faster.

black push buttonThe phones in use at that time had rotary dials, but by the 1980’s most businesses and homes had moved up to the push button phone. (The one in this photo lives here at the Red House, and has been in service for about 40 years.)

With the advent of Computers, then the Internet and Cell Phones, communication speed increased. Messaging became instant and some would say more and more invasive. The demarcation line between home and office blurred, then disappeared.

When The Car Guy retired, this line had not yet been crossed. But today, he is subjected to the never ending nagging presence of mail on his Blackberry. The expectations of his co-workers, and the job, never end. Not only that, but everyday communication with family and friends is reaching the same level of immediacy. One of my children has suggested that I buy a smart phone, and learn how to text message. “Just think,” she said, “You would be able to get text messages from us even while you are at the cabin!” (We don’t have a phone there, nor voice cell phone coverage unless we walk about 1/2 a mile and sit by the dumpsters…)

But I kind of like the idea that the cabin is part of a time warp zone of silence. It takes me back to the days when The Car Guy would phone me after 2 weeks of silence to say, “I’m coming home tomorrow. Pick me up at the airport, okay?” The days where we lived for weeks at a time by Marriage Rule #1 – No News is Good News!

How to Go Hunting for Computer Viruses

You have just received the “Novice Hacker Virus”. As we ain’t got no programming experience, this virus works on the honour system. Please delete all the files from your hard drive and manually forward this virus to everyone on your mailing list. Thanks for your cooperation.
– Source – Internet –

Wednesday wasn’t a real good day. I woke too early, couldn’t get back to sleep, and finally got up to begin a task that isn’t all that much fun – troubleshooting a problem with the computer. In this case, several computers, because I didn’t know which one had possibly been compromised by a Virus. Yes, I was going on a Malware hunt.  Let there be no confusion about my intent here. I was going to be armed, and I was prepared to kill.

But first I had to get dressed. I pondered what to wear for this distasteful job, and finally decided on the baggy look. Comfort first is my motto. And since I had exactly four delicious muffins to potentially eat, but I couldn’t predict how many muffins this job would take, I chose some baggy sweatpants. No point wearing something that wouldn’t expand to accommodate muffins.

I had no doubt I would be successful eventually, so I chose a T-shirt that expressed that. In fact, this T-shirt accurately depicts the full range of emotions that occurred during the day. From left to right:
– the ceremonial morning greeting of all in attendance (in this case the computer and whatever lurked in it);
– the eager pursuit of the prey;
– the mid-day panic when all the muffins were gone;
– and the expression of triumph when the task was completed.

By late afternoon (after multiple scans by multiple products on multiple computers) I was fairly confident that none of our computers had been infected by anything, and that the Norton Malware Software had not been breached. So I began the search for an answer as to why The Car Guy’s Yahoo Mail account had sent out invitations (to most of his contacts) to use Viagra or some such similar product. I eventually decided that because his contact list is stored on the Yahoo server, his account must have been hacked either through an external computer he had used, or perhaps from within Yahoo itself (if claims that this can happen are true.)

I know The Car Guy was upset that his contact list had been high jacked, but I felt that it was a bit ironic that the spam message that was sent out was a better match to the target audience than say Breast Implants or Gucci Handbags…

What my iPad2 has Taught Me

Meet my new iPad2. It has a handy four segment folding front cover (I chose red, of course) that flips right over to the back side to form a little stand. When the cover is closed across the front, it puts the iPad to sleep. A very light sleep. It pops awake almost instantly if I lift the cover even a tiny bit. I know all this because I’ve tried to catch it off guard.

I’ve had my iPad for just over a month now, and I’ve learned a lot about the world of iPads and Apple Apps. No, let me rephrase that. In relative terms, I know hardly anything, but compared to what I knew before I got my iPad, I know a lot more. Briefly then, here is what I have learned:

– Not to put a bunch of hand lotion on my hands just before using the iPad – makes the screen very greasy, very quickly.

– There are over 90,000 Apps. There is no way to wade through that many choices in order to find what I might want. I get recommendations from friends or from trusted internet sources.

– While I can change the background for the desktop, the App icons line up in rows and columns, 20 per page and there is no changing the size of them or the number per page… I don’t think, anyhow. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but it just is a bit of a reminder that one does things in a certain way in the Apple world.

– I tried out every App that came pre-installed on my iPad. I don’t advise anyone over the age of maybe 25 to open FaceTime, unless the magnified view of your own face is something that doesn’t startle you. Scared the hell out of me…

– An App called PaperDesk Lite has drawing tools. I’m sure I will find other drawing Apps later, but this one was the first I tried because it had a free version. I’m not an artist with pencil and paper, and I’m less of an artist with my finger on the iPad screen. Never the less, I was quite pleased with my first drawing. I called it Red Stick Man. His neck is a bit long, and his left knee has a deformity, but I didn’t want to start erasing things in case I broke the flow of the lines… I was going for a happy-go-lucky look, and I think I got that right.

Now it is your turn – what indispensable Apps have you put on your iTouch, iPhone, or iPad?

Clean Your Computer Day

Did you know that there is a National Clean Out Your Computer Day? It is the second Monday in February and it was originally sponsored by The Institute for Business Technology. The task for the day is to do all the maintenance things that keep a computer running well, including giving the physical equipment a good dusting.

Personally, I think this needs to happen more than once a year, which is why I’m reminding you to do one small task today. Wipe the grunge off your keyboard, and dust the monitor. I’m not saying you should attack it with disinfectant cloths. Just wipe the coffee and jam stains off the keys with whatever you can find. And then go give your hands a good scrub too. They will probably need it.

Now, sit down at your computer and admire your handiwork. A clean keyboard and monitor is like a fresh page of paper and a favourite pen. A new start, where the potential is limited only by… the cluttered distraction of all the stuff around you. Maybe you need to clean off your desk a bit too. When you are done, come back and try again.

There that is better. Now, doesn’t it feel just like the first day back at school, when you had new pencils, new scribblers, and a new teacher who didn’t know your reputation?

How to Improve Your Cell Phone Manual

170-cell-phone2A 91 year old Moncton New Brunswick man by the name of George Williams owns two computers, an iPhone, and a new BlackBerry Playbook. “It’s always been a challenge to me,” he says “to sit down with the owner’s manuals to figure them out.”

The Owners Manuals – some people read them, and some people don’t. Even the best manuals can be a challenge to decipher. Several years ago I bought a simple Unsmart Phone. It came with a 37 page manual of tiny print that was best read with a magnifying glass. The first 11 pages were filled with preliminaries, including the advice “do not use the phone when blasting is in progress”. It also suggested that the phone should be used in “normal position” and “not to touch the antenna unnecessarily.” There were health cautions too. The handy little Scroll Key could be hazardous because it “may contain nickel.” And if it does, it “should not come into prolonged contact with the skin.”

I wasn’t aware of how dangerous these little devices could be, and that was before I had even turned it on and exposed myself to the so called effects of radiation! Turn it on – yes, that was next. I suppose I should have known that the button with the red phone on it was the on/off key. But red symbols usually indicate caution or danger, so I went back to the manual for confirmation. I finally found it on Page 11. The Red Phone button was the “End key and power key.” The Green button, which I had optimistically thought was the on key, was the “Send key.” Okay, good to go!

On Page 13 I learned how to Make a Call. That took a whole paragraph, and included directions about how to enter numbers, how to initiate the call, and how to end the call. I pretty much knew that already, but it was nice of the manual to include that information.

Text Messaging, which I didn’t have a clue how to do, was considerably briefer: “Select Menu – Messaging – Create Message – Text Message.” Then there were brief instructions on how to turn on Predictive Text, how to add a space and how to add a number. That was it for instructions. I tried to text The Car Guy (who was on a business trip in Aberdeen). It took me several hours to figure out how to do it. His phone didn’t get a text, just a message that I had called. By then it was late at night his time, and he got worried that I had called him, so he phoned me…  I crossed Texting off the list of things I would use this phone for.

The User Guide got shoved into the filing cabinet and I got out a pen and a piece of paper and wrote my own little manual. It is about 1.5 by 3 inches, and has 6 handwritten pages. It tells me everything I will ever need to know about my phone should I need a refresher course. I keep it in my purse, right next to my address book and a small pad of paper and a pen. I jokingly refer to this little cache of items as my PDA!

iPad 2 – A Six Day Journey

It is not that I don’t embrace new technology. It is just that I don’t adopt it very quickly. My cell phone is a good example. Sometimes I turn it on, phone The Car Guy to tell him that I survived a shopping trip in The Big City and I’m on my way home to eat the hot supper he is making. That gives him time to go get some take-away. Then I turn the phone off for a few months.

So when The Car Guy asked me if I wanted to have an iPad, I looked at him skeptically. The thing had only been out for a year. And it was an Apple. Why would I spend that much money on something that might be only a fad, and would require me to Cross Over to the Dark Side? He replied, “We aren’t getting any younger. I’ve got some extra money this month. Let’s live on the edge.”

And so it was that we made the pilgrimage to the Apple Store and looked at all the wondrous things they sell. No iPads though. All sold out. Then we tried every other store that sells them, and the story was the same. No iPads, no idea when they would get them.

The Car Guy, not easily deterred from a goal once it is firmly lodged in his mind, navigated to the Apple website and discovered he could order one online and it would be shipped for free. I would have my iPad in about a week or so if all went well. Frankly, I found this claim amazing. I once mailed a letter in the town nearest to me, and it took a week to be delivered to The Big City that is a 1/2 hour drive south of that. And Apple was telling me that my iPad would arrive at my door in about a week?

So The Car Guy filled in all the blanks on the order page, then asked me, “How do you want it engraved?” I get engraving too? I thought for a few minutes, then said,

iPod, iTouch, iPad, iBroke
The Red House

And so it was that the order was placed on the evening of May 4, 2011, with shipment scheduled for May 7. Once we had a FedEx tracking number, we could watch my little iPad make its way all the way from Shenzhen China (Map location 1).

Maps ©

From Shenzhen, it travelled through Lantau Island (2) and Chek Lap Kok (3), both in Hong Kong.

From there it flew to the United States, landing in Memphis, TN (4). And it was still May 7.

In Memphis, my iPad rested for a day. Maybe it took a trip to Graceland or went on a downtown bus tour. During this wait, the FedEx agents were busy doing all the paperwork in preparation for entry into Canada. This took until May 8. Then my iPad was on the move again, entering Canada in Mississauga, Ontario (5).

From Mississauga, my iPad headed west, passing through Winnipeg Manitoba (6) before arriving on its final flight in The Big City nearest us. Then it was loaded on a truck, and delivered right to the front door of The Red House shortly after lunch on May 10.

Six days to to get all the way from China to my door, with three of those days spent waiting on paperwork. I’m impressed… with the delivery. Not so much with all the paperwork.

Some Very Silly Spam

The Spam Catcher sometimes wants clarification from me as to what is, or what is not, Spam.

120-spam-catcherSpam 1 – The Spam catcher wanted me to read this, just in case it might be a legitimate comment:

“Attractive section of content. I just stumbled upon your site and in accession capital to assert that I acquire actually enjoyed account your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your augment and even I achievement you access consistently rapidly.”

Since I have absolutely no idea what this person is saying, nor how to reply to this comment, I marked it as Spam and deleted it. If this wasn’t Spam, I apologize to the writer and congratulate them on their spelling. I hope they “achievement you access consistently rapidly” too, I think.

Spam 2 – The Spam Catcher asked me to review another comment today. It was concise and to the point. Not concerned with punctuation or capitalization, it read: “check it out bro”. Unfortunately for the writer, I don’t happen to have a bro living in my blog nor do I have a need to use the  Dating Service website. Delete.

Spam 3 –  The Spam Catcher had a quiet few days. But this morning, from a smoke filled room, it asked if I might be interested in: “cheap marlboro cigarettes online” I googled these words, and there are hundreds of different websites that contain these exact words, so I can see why the author of this spam would want to expand the advertising into another market. No Thanks. Delete.

iPad – The Slate Comes Full Circle

In early schools, children used book sized writing slates to practice penmanship and to do lessons on. The use of a slate required children to be good at memorizing, because once the slate was wiped off, the writing was gone. An entire classroom might only have one textbook for the teacher to instruct from!

By the time I started school, lead pencils and paper had replaced slates. Textbooks were readily available, but the back pack to carry them in hadn’t been invented yet!

Today, I watch my grandchildren lugging a pack full of stuff back and forth to school each day, and it makes me think there has to be a better way of doing things. There should be a way that children can return to yesteryear by carrying a simple tool such as a slate, but a slate with modern technology. Enter the tablet computers. I think these are going to be the next big thing in education.  To see one in action, you have to look  no further than the Apple iPad.

The iPad doesn’t pretend to be a full fledged computer. It is a modern version of the contents of a child’s school pack back. At home, or at school, the iPad could be plugged into a computer to download a book, a lesson, or an App (tool) to do some specific job. When the book, lesson or App was no longer needed, it could be offloaded onto the computer and new content can be loaded on. That is how it could work, but that is not where the education system is yet.

But nearly 15 million iPads have been sold since their launch in April 2010, so what are people using them for? A study done by Resolve Market Research indicates that the iPad is being used as an e-Reader, a portable Gaming Device, a Netbook or a Laptop and an MP3 player, among other things. It is quite remarkable that this mini-computer can be so many things to so many people. While the iPad comes preloaded with a good suite of software, the most significant feature is the ability to download Apps. With categories such as Social, Travel, Sports, News, Business, Education, Entertainment and Games, it is possible for each and every iPad owner to customize their iPad experience.

Just think of all the different groups of people who are using those 15 million iPads – travelers who don’t want to pack along a suitcase of books; business people who don’t want to carry a big briefcase anymore; seniors who want to keep in touch with the family; the Cook in the kitchen looking for a recipe; children who want to watch a movie or two while dad does the marathon vacation drive…

As I mentioned in my last post, an iPad came to our house for a few days. In that short period of time:

  • a child watched a movie
  • two adults watched some incredible talks on Ted
  • three adults laughed at some YouTube clips
  • I became the supreme player of Mr. Giggle
  • the Cooker listened to music and caught up on some reading

Apple is currently the industry leader for this type of product, but many more manufacturers will be introducing products this year. It is going to be an exciting year for the tablet, and it only took technology a few hundred years to get back to building the old familiar slate!

iPad How-to Lesson #1 – i Encounter i Things

Nate Beeler is a cartoonist with The Washington Examiner. The caption of one of his Toons is “iMac   iPod  iPhone  iPad  iBroke”. What does ibroke cost? In Canada, an iMac starts at $1299. iPods cost between $59 and $429. An iPhone  and an iPad both start at $549. So, entry level iBroke is about $2500.

We have a few older iPods and an iTouch, but we haven’t made the giant leap to iMac or iPad. In our household, that would be going to The Dark Side, a place we aren’t prepared to go to yet.

An iPad was a house guest this past few days (along with one daughter -The Cooker- and one granddaughter – Wild Child), so it was inevitable that I would learn a bit about it. I had no option. I couldn’t let an 8 year old grandchild think I was a computer illiterate. I was okay not knowing how to play Angry Birds but I was not okay with being unable to turn the iPad on to find Angry Birds.

My daughter, The Cooker, gave me a few quick lessons, then handed over her precious iPad. “Go play for awhile,” she said. She went off to help The Car Guy cook supper. I retired to my comfy chair to explore an alien world. After looking around for a while, and not wanting to snoop too much through personal documents, I discovered the games section. I immediately recognized my old friend, Tetris. Many years ago we bought the kids a Game Boy. Long and boring car rides were enlivened by playing Tetris!  Tetris on the iPad is pretty much the same game, though it took a while to master the tapping finger concept. My head still thinks in terms of pointing a mouse and clicking.

After a while, with supper no closer on the horizon, I moved on to an addictive game called Mr. Giggle. The graphics are cute, and I eventually mastered the very highest level that is available on the free version of the game. Then I tried a few of the Solitaire games, and called it a day. My eyes didn’t feel like playing any more…

The next day I was ready for Angry Birds. It was in the folder of children’s games. I opened it up, and was greeted by a bird in a slingshot. I pulled back the slingshot and sent the bird off into space. It slammed into a wall, slid down to the ground, and expired. I was sent back to the beginning  screen to try Bird 2. Bird 2 was also successfully launched, only to be obliterated before it could inflict any damage on the green blobs, that turned out to be pigs. Bird 3 met the same fate, and suddenly the game was over, and the screen told me I was somewhat of a Loser. Clearly I was missing something, so I hunted down The Wild Child for further instructions.

She quickly showed me the correct angle of inclination for each bird, then deftly removed all the pigs from the first playing field. Then she moved onto the second playing field, and showed me how to tap the bird in mid air to make it multiply into several projectiles. At this point, we had entered into somewhat of a competition as to who was going to launch the birds, and who was going to tap them. Then, impatient with the outcome of my launching technique, she quietly removed the iPad from my hand, and said, “Here, I’ll do it for you.” With that, I was banished from further play. I, however, have a later bed time than she does, so I will return to Angry Birds.

What is interesting about many of these games, is that there are very few instructions. It is up to the player to investigate things, chase things, touch things, and explode things, each time learning something new to help them move onto a new world. A lot like real life I guess, except the exploding things part.

Computer that Thought it was a Groundhog

The QuipperySomewhat like the groundhog this past Wednesday (Groundhog Day), the Business Computer came on, blinked a few times, then retreated back into a black hole. I spent most of the rest of the day trying to convince the computer that it was time to wake up and get back to work. I would not have been quite so concerned if I had backed up the computer really, really, recently, but I hadn’t. All our email correspondence was at risk. That was when I wished I kept our emails in the Clouds, and hadn’t downloaded them all.

I can’t say for sure what happened, but Windows was clearly upset about something. This otherwise faithful operating system went into an endless loop of starting up then closing down. I tried all sorts of measures, (good thing I had another computer to look for solutions) and eventually resorted to a complete Windows reinstall. Remarkably, that went without a hitch. Of course, then I had to download a kabillion Windows Updates, but when the dust had cleared, all our business files were right where I had left them. I promptly backed them up.

The lesson, then, is this. Someday your computer will fail. You will feel much better about it if you backed up all your documents quite recently. You will feel much, much better if you have the disk that lets you reinstall Windows if need be. You will feel much, much, much better if you have the disk that lets you reinstall all your applications too.

Back up my hard drive? How do I put it in reverse?
– Author Unknown –

Yesterday it worked
Today it is not working
Windows is like that
– Margaret Segall, 1998 –

Computers are like air conditioners. They work fine until you start opening windows.
-Author Unknown –

If Bill Gates had a dime for every time Windows crashes… oh, wait a minute, he already does.
– Author Unknown –