Thursday, January 20, 2011

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Meet My New Friend Zamzar

Yesterday my book group discussed Stones into Schools by Greg Mortensen. It's the sequel to Three Cups of Tea and tells the unbelievable saga of building schools primarily for girls in extremely rural and impoverished areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Those girls are thrilled to have a roof and a pencil and with those simple items are bringing change to their world.

What would those girls think of my most recent 24 hours?
---What magic transports pictures and fun messages to my telephone?
---How can I read a 300 page book on a screen on a 4" x 6" piece of metal?
---How can the clerk at the store magically put money back in my account by waving a gun-like device over some marks on my receipt?
---How can I watch a TV show, fast-forwarding through the commercials and backing up when I don't understand a phrase?

What would those girls think of the day I just spent almost entirely in front of my computer.
---First was figuring out how to re-order and delete items from my bookmarks. No more wasted moments while scrolling to the end of the list to get to Facebook in order to achieve plenty of wasted moments looking at Facebook.
---On to my new best friend, Zamzar. ALL BY MYSELF I figured out how to access video files, convert them, download them to my computer, file them where I can find them, and imbed them into Power Point presentations. Man, I was proud of myself!
---Not content to be just a blogger, my text task was to explore glogster. Yes, I have made a glog! A few short years ago, my students happily made projects describing themselves using---gasp!---poster board and markers! On a glog, one can make a virtual poster with a choice of numerous background designs, numerous interesting "balloons" in which to write information, numerous decorative items that jump up and down or blink on and off, buttons to click to link to a blog or website, ways to import pictures and photographs, and buttons to play what you recorded. My glog isn't half bad....I just could not figure out how to erase some advertising, so there's a giant hand pointing at a Christmas ad under my picture.
---Next I explored Wordle and Tugxedo. I struggled a long time with these cool programs before realizing they just weren't going to work on a Mac. What fun I'll have, however, if Ken allows me access to his PC. How have we ever lived without being able to get a visual representation of words in a text?--the words used more often are physically larger than those used less frequently and the words are grouped in various interesting shapes.

So, today I explored three ideas out of the dozens of new ideas presented at a technology workshop I recently attended. I didn't do more than some minimal things around the house and, except for going to water aerobics, didn't leave the kitchen table all day.

I'm delighted to feel less like a dinosaur after my technology day and I know we're not going to go back to the pencils and simple schools of Afghanistan....but, Man!, that was a lot of time for just a small step forward into tech-land.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Carols 2010

There is a radio station in Chicago that plays 100% Christmas carols beginning before Thanksgiving, and being 24/7, this station doesn't restrict its music to beautiful Mormon Tabernacle choir renditions of traditional carols. One hears "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch" and "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" as often as a lovely version of "O Holy Night".

Some folks, of course, hate the 24 hour barrage of Christmas music - especially the songs that really have nothing to do with the birth of Jesus. My church is one that continues the tradition of Advent, meaning that we sing "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" and other anticipatory hymns through the weeks leading up to Christmas, saving Christmas carols for the Christmas season that just begins on December 24--in spite of the world view that Christmas is over on the 25th. It's common to bemoan the idea that children "don't learn traditional Christmas carols anymore" because they are no longer sung in schools and churches don't sing them until--gasp--Christmas.

This year I have become quite mellow about carols as I have experienced the power of carols of all types in unusual ways.

(1) Yes, there was a Christmas program at church and, yes, the little three year old "sheep" dozed off on the steps, the "kings" announced their arrival quite off-key, and the mics weren't always able to catch the older children's voices as they spoke. The grandparents who traveled through treacherous snowy weather that afternoon loved every minute of it. The dads stood in the aisles videotaping their children. It was as it should be.

My friend, who lost her husband Thanksgiving weekend, sang along with the adult choir that day and, in the midst of grief, remembered and celebrated the reason for the season. That was also as it should be.

(2) A few days later adults and children from church caroled at a local train station during rush hour. Commuters exited the train in the required "Don't look at anyone and walk quickly to my car" fashion, but every one broke that commuter rule and gave a big smile as they walked past our anything but professional group. It was as it should be.

(3) Later that week we attended the holiday party at the nursing home. The residents and their guests represented a wide variety of religions and cultures,but all were obviously touched by the traditional melodies they heard. When Santa distributed a specially chosen gift to every resident, the excitement was palpable. Seeing a resident's huge smile over a "snugli" or piece of costume jewelry was at least as exciting as watching our own young children years ago attack a pile of gifts. Christian, Jew, Muslim or atheist; cognitively aware or not; surrounded by family or not; disabled or not; all got caught up in "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" and it was as it should be.

(4) Last night was our regular night to serve at the "community kitchen". As the guests waited, one of the staff members sat in the corner playing his guitar and singing carols somewhat off key. The macho type men pretended to ignore the music, but heads were bobbing in rhythm. A middle-aged woman who uses a power chair wheeled herself to the front of the room and, in a beautiful soprano voice, sang harmony and the room became silent. Later the cook was called from the kitchen to hear her favorite song, "Frosty the Snowman". Then we were into José Feliciano's "Feliz Navidad" and many servers and guests spontaneously were literally dancing in the aisles. A group of strangers, servers and those served, became one and it was as it should be.

As a Spanish teacher I used to rail against "Feliz Navidad" being the song everyone knows when there are so many stunningly beautiful traditional Spanish carols to sing.

Last night, it was the most beautiful carol in the world!

I will love singing religious carols in the cocoon of my church later this week, but treasure these reminders that Christ comes in many unusual ways and in unlikely settings. ¡Feliz Navidad!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

I Don't Really Believe Things Come in Threes....but

My last post referred to the death of Bob, a church friend. His church family is still reeling from that shock.

First thing this morning I was informed of the death yesterday of Vic, husband of a close Des Plaines teaching friend. Vic was not doing well, but this was a surprise.

A couple of hours later I heard that John, the husband of a Northbrook teacher/church friend passed away this morning. This wasn't a surprise but still comes as a shock.

Losing two friends in twelve hours is a bit overwhelming. Three newly widowed friends is also extremely sobering. Widowed friends who are in my age range are extremely sobering.

The men and their wives are all people of faith. Their families, friends and church families will embrace them and God will see them through their grief. How does one get through these saddnesses without that assurance?

Meanwhile, I made an appointment for my husband's overdue routine medical test and he's going to get a few extra hugs.

Two funerals the week before Christmas, tho tragic, will sure put the Christmas focus where it should be this year. Why bother with all the hoopla of Christmas if we don't remember that Christmas is just the beginning of the story. The real importance is what happened on Good Friday and on Easter.

Bob, Vic and John are experiencing that Easter story now....and that's what it is all about.

Friday, December 3, 2010

I Have Emerged Victorious

Last December first, Kevin and I became "smart". We purchased iPhones and life is forever changed.

Kevin, the super techie, uses his phone to graph every bicycle ride-including his altitude - of course, in Chicagoland the information he gets is that he has ridden at an altitude of 14 feet - but, yes, it's cool. He can use it as a GPS unit on bike and car. He can video-tape a performance or practice session and then download it to his computer and analyze his performance ad infinitum. The texts fly all over the country as he keeps in touch with percussion buddies and he has several thousand pictures and songs on the ready.

I'm not quite at Kevin's level, but LOVE having access to e-mail and texting when I'm out and about, especially when traveling. Early on I thought it was cool to hear "ping" every time I got an e-mail. After a while that novelty wore off - especially when I had a visceral urge to check my phone at every ping only to discover yet one more Viagra ad - so my phone now sits obediently quiet and I'm much less likely to get either a ticket or, worse, have an accident while driving. I don't have video, but love having iTunes, Pandora, Fandango and a host of cool apps including my new favorite, Farkle.

Recently Kevin's phone wouldn't take a charge. He was given a new phone by the kind Apple people because the first year warranty was still in effect. He also found out that a replacement phone in year two of our plan would cost upwards of $600 even though our original purchase cost much, much less. Suddenly the $69 for a second year warranty seemed like a good deal.

So, having become so much more tech-savvy in the past year, extending my warranty should be a piece of cake, right? Wrong.

Ordering the new warranties on line was a piece of cake. Registering them was not.

Yesterday afternoon I spent two hours on this simple project. Remembering my Apple password was the first challenge but, after an e-mail , was assigned a new password and then was able to change it to a password that I actually WROTE DOWN for future reference!

Back to the registration process..... After finding and then entering phone ID numbers and registration numbers - "simple" 14 digit combinations of letters and numbers - I was informed that my phone was not activated. Funny, I seem to have been using it for a year. After a trip through the AT+T website, Apple seemed satisfied that my phone was, indeed, activated.

Next the Apple site tells me that "this device is not eligible for activation" but, if I disagree with that assessment, I can send them my proof of purchase. So, after a hunt through the filing cabinet, I find the agreement and go downstairs to scan it. No problem with the scanner, but, when I tried to e-mail it to myself (from downstairs desktop to upstairs laptop), nothing happened. Although the desktop says the e-mail has been sent, nothing arrived on my laptop. Three arrivals.

Oh, I also get an e-mail from A+T thanking me for changing to paperless billing. Huh? I guess somewhere in the activation snafu that got changed.

At that point, I had to leave all this fun to go to a wake. Although I am very saddened by this friend's death, I must say that the wake was actually a better experience than my computer frustrations.

Later that evening, I discover that my scanner document did arrive on my phone's e-mail. So I forwarded my phone e-mail to myself and, this time, it arrived on the laptop.

After water aerobics to prepare my cardiac system for an Apple re-try and the funeral to get my priorities straight, I again went to the Apple site this afternoon. By now, Kevin had sent me his phone's ID number, so I tried to register his phone. Bing, bing, worked! No effort at all!

OK, I thought, piece of cake. My phone should be easy! Wrong! My phone, purchased on the same day as Kevin's, is still ineligible.

So, here's where I picked up the phone....the land line, no less....and, after answering the robot's many questions, finally talked to a human being. Who solved my problem in about two minutes.

A second call to AT+T restored my paper bill in about one minute.

And I'm now free to drop my phone in the toilet, run over it with my car, or accidentally cook it in the microwave....until next Dec. 1 when I'll have to start again..........

Sunday, November 28, 2010

What Really Matters

Our church friend Bob died unexpectedly yesterday morning. This morning people were very saddened to lose someone too soon and we all were "circling our wagons" to support Bob's wife and family through their time of grief.

As I drove home from church I heard a particularly distasteful commercial for an expensive watch. This ad asks, "What does your watch say about you?". Obviously, this line of thinking works because the ad runs daily. Someone is buying those expensive watches or else the company couldn't afford to run ads on the city's strongest radio station!

Hearing that ad while still thinking about Bob was thought provoking. What did Bob's life say about him? Bob didn't wear an expensive watch, in fact I rarely saw him "dressed up", but his life spoke more about him than any expensive watch ever could. Bob will be remembered as a low-key physician who practiced in an ordinary Chicago neighborhood. He will be remembered for his post-retirement identity as "Builder Bob" who, hammer in hand, encouraged congregants' assistance with Habitat for Humanity projects. He will be remembered for his often funny "yeah, but" questions at Bible study. He will be remembered for creating great fellowship on men's fishing trips. He will be missed greatly as husband and dad.

What a strange society we live in. We are bombarded with messages that tell us that what we own will make us a better person, yet at the end of life, does anyone care that you wore an expensive watch or lived in a McMansion complete with a turret?

Bob's funeral will be sad, but it will also be a celebration of a life well lived....a life that had nothing to do with watches or turrets...and a celebration of Bob's eternal life in which Bob has probably already been told, "Well done, good and faithful servant.".

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Totally Unimportant Rant About Dentists and Opthamologists

Two weeks ago I went to my internist. Rather than negotiate on the phone with a receptionist about possible appointment times, I had been able to see what appointment slots were available and make a convenient appointment on-line. No having to call during office hours or having to listen to annoying announcements while waiting! At the appointment, both the nurse and the doctor accessed my medical records, easily added new data and placed orders. My new prescription was immediately sent to the mail-order pharmacy and arrived in my home a few days later. My blood work results were available on-line within a few days and my doctor wrote me an explanatory note which also appeared in my in-box. If I follow up with a specialist the doctor recommended, he or she will have immediate access to everything on my chart. How cool is that!

Fast forward to today when I just happened to have both dental and an eye-doctor appointments. Both offices required me to update my information. On paper. With a pen attached by a very short leash to the RIGHT side of a clip-board making it virtually impossible for a left-handed person to use. Asking me to rewrite everything that was already on the chart from previous years. Giving me one line on which to list the five long-named medications that I take. And why I take them. And what is the address, phone number and shoe size of my pharmacist. And doctor. And bookie.

OK - I'm a compliant first child and did what I was told.

However, the evil twin hiding inside me was dying to write....
....the reason I take high blood pressure medication is because of the wrath caused by short pen leashes attached to the RIGHT side of clipboards. pharmacist is the guy standing on a corner in a shady part of town. And he wears a size 10 1/2 shoe.
...I've entered the witness protection program and have a new name, address, phone, marital status and shoe does my husband who, lucky him, gets to be responsible for my un-paid bills
....but now that I've told you about all the changes, I'll have to back to the witness protection office and get a new identity.

I get that each hygienist doesn't need a computer terminal in her cubicle and the eye doctor flits between about ten different rooms, but what's so hard about making a print-out of last year's information and just asking me to make any changes? While waiting for the ancient phone hook-up for the credit card to connect, the hygienist could easily enter any changes into a computer chart.

Both dentist and opthomologist could rent out the giant rooms they currently have filled with row upon row of brightly colored bulging files. Both could save the expense of buying those awful clip-boards usable only by normal right handed people. Neither would ever again need to buy pens with giant flowers erupting from the non-pointy end.

And, while they are throwing out things, the opthomologist can toss the noisy TV that no one is watching in the waiting room.

Ah, a woman can dream.