Techno Fun, Again

When I walked into my office this morning, something was chirping. Sounded just like a cricket, but it was in fact the dying protest of the Uninterruptible Power Supply tied to my computer. The big black brick hadn’t actually worked in some time, but at least it had been quiet. No more. Turning the UPS off stopped the chirping, but of course it also shut down the computer. Having proved that, I prepared to crawl under the desk and do something about it.

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Aha, I will use the flashlight function on my wonderful all-purpose smart phone that I hardly ever use for actual phone calls. That’s when I discovered I had left my phone on the kitchen counter, thirty miles away. So I found a real flashlight, crawled under the desk, and fumbled among the cords (hey, when did I unplug the monitor?) until I had the UPS disconnected and the computer running. (The UPS weighs approximately a ton, by the way.)

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That’s about when I discovered that the third ceiling fixture in my long narrow office was flickering madly. The middle one, a fan that hasn’t been turned on since I started work there in 2003, lost its light function some weeks ago. Fortunately the light above my desk still works. For how long is anyone’s guess.

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It hasn’t just been at work, either. A couple of weeks ago my dryer stopped cold (well, no, actually, it was quite hot, and smelled like burning lint, and I’m probably lucky it didn’t catch fire) in the middle of a load. I bought it from Montgomery Ward (defunct since 2001) sometime in the early 1990s, so I really can’t complain about its life span. I bought the matching washer at the same time; it still works but I’m pretty sure its days are numbered. So I strung a makeshift clothesline on my back porch (where even tee shirts take two days to dry in the coastal Texas humidity) and did some research.

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My new washer and dryer will arrive on Friday. The same size as my old machines, with much bigger drums and no agitator in the washer. I have no idea how to run them. There are no knobs or dials on either one, just a few dozen mysterious little touch pad things. I hope they come with good instruction books. I don’t think a “quick start guide” is going to do the trick. But by the weekend I’ll have plenty of laundry to experiment with.

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Yesterday I got a letter from Comcast telling me that they’re going to upgrade my cable boxes at no charge! Well, except that I have to figure out how to go on line, or through the TV, or by telephone (no, not that, anything but trying to find a human to talk to at Comcast) to arrange the exchange, or unspecified dire things will happen to my TV channels. Of course I’ll lose everything I’ve recorded on the DVR, so I’d better plow through that before the deadline sometime in October. Given the failure rate of my cable boxes over the years, some of them failing to ever work at all, it may be worth it to pay for a service call. Last time I did it myself it took me two hours to get the color right on the DVR. No, it did not hook up exactly like the old one. Let the technician figure it out.

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And as for my forgotten phone—for many years I carried a simple Tracfone with me, because I drive a lot. Only once, about a year ago, did I need it for a road emergency, and trying to phone AAA on that little phone, at twilight, was what convinced me to buy a smart phone. There must be an app for this. Indeed there is, although I hope I never have to use it. (Fortunately the car started after a few minutes.)

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So I was much relieved to arrive safely at home this evening. As with umbrellas and windshield wipers, one really misses a cell phone when it isn’t there. After only a few months with my smart phone, I feel surprisingly disconnected without it, even when I don’t need it. Tomorrow I won’t leave home without it.

A Few Days in the 20th Century

As I write this on Tuesday morning, I am beginning my sixth day with no Internet access on my home computer. Last Thursday morning some Verizon technician accidentally pulled the plug on my line, possibly in connection with a minor change in my account bundle. I have no idea if it’s just me or a mass outage—I can’t go on line to ask around—but this is not what I call acceptable customer service.

The story keeps changing. On Thursday night it was an upgrade, and everything would be fine on Friday. When it wasn’t, another long call generated a service ticket and the information that it was a physically mismatched line. Verizon was committed to having it fixed by 5 pm on Sunday.

That came and went. Monday morning I was promised service in two or three hours. It was a network problem, and they were working on it. That didn’t happen, so Monday afternoon I called again. By this time, the Verizon voice mail tree put me through to a human immediately. After forty-five minutes, mostly on hold, I was told it would be twenty-four to forty-eight hours.

I’m far angrier at Verizon than I am at the lack of Internet. Even if it is a widespread outage (which none of their heavily-accented call center people will admit to), this is a ridiculously long time to wait for repairs.

It has given me some interesting insights on my Internet usage. I work at the Scorekeeper on Tuesday through Thursday, so when I get to the office this morning, I’ll be able to catch up on my email, most of which will consist of various Yahoo loops, ads from Amazon and BookBub, and possibly a few business emails from clients, which I would not have addressed until today anyway. I’ll pop into Facebook long enough to tell friends why I’ve missed their birthdays and book launches this weekend. I spend way too much time down that rabbit hole anyway.

I use the Internet for lots of silly things every day. Checking the TV schedule (what’s on? have I seen that episode? where have I seen that actor?), reading comics on the Houston Chronicle web site, playing games.

But not everything is frivolous. This morning I can’t check the traffic before I set off on my thirty-mile commute. This weekend I hit a wall on a freelance project because I can’t access on-line references. I haven’t been able to order prescription refills or check my banking or credit activities. I’d like to review a couple of books I’ve finished reading. I won’t be able to post this until my Internet comes back. I trot over to the computer to look something up more often than I realized. It’s almost like reaching for the light switch when the power is off, an ingrained habit.

I did get a good bit of freelance work done on Friday, until I needed to get on line with it. I did my weekend shopping. I mowed the lawn and weeded and did the laundry. I read a lot. I watched TV. I did not fade away from lack of the Internet. But I was conscious of every ad, every news story, every newspaper article that ended with some variant of “visit us on our web site.”

I miss my morning ritual of email, blog, comics, and Facebook, although apparently I could have slept another hour instead. Yesterday morning I made an early call to Verizon, but I’m not going to bother this morning. I won’t be here most of the day anyway. But if it’s still down tonight, they’ll hear from me again, squeaky wheel and all that.

And then I’ll give the billing department a ring.

Postscript: 215 emails waiting this morning, which I picked my way through in the course of the day. I managed to vent a bit on the Verizon Facebook page, too. When I got home this evening, all the lights on my modem were green and my email popped right up. My voice mail isn’t working, as I discovered this morning, but that shouldn’t be too hard to fix. Not tonight, though. I’m happy to be connected to the cyber world again, but maybe I’ll remember a few time management lessons learned while I wasn’t.

Writer Wednesday: Three Searches

Our Writer Wednesday assignment this month is “Show us your last three searches.” I’m afraid if I WW Augusttook that literally, you’d be reading about searches for TV show cast lists (What is that actor’s name? Where have I seen her before?) or lactose intolerance in cats. After finishing the first draft of my latest work-in-progress, I took a little break, so I haven’t been researching for a writing project, either, or searching for anything that might draw the attention of law enforcement. (If Facebook knows I’ve been shopping on line for a new bedspread, heaven only knows what the government knows about me.)

The little “Get Windows 10” icon continues to hover on my computer, and recently the HP help system chimed in, offering to help me install the new operating system. So I’ve searched various aspects of Windows 10. Results: I haven’t made the jump yet. My computer is about five and a half years old, probably strong enough to handle the new system, but I’m happy enough with Windows 7 for now. There was a time when I jumped on new releases the moment they were available, but these days I’m on the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” team.

Yesterday my dentist, who has known me for more than thirty years, asked me to recommend authors a fan of Christine Feehan might like. No, he’s not a fan of dark paranormal romance himself, but his wife, whose health problems keep her at home, is, and being as good a husband as he is a dentist, he shops for her. Dr. B. was installing a new crown in my mouth at the time, so I was neither quick thinking nor articulate. But when I got home I searched “if you like Christine Feehan, you might like . . .” Results: a list of eight or ten names I sent to his Facebook page.

I’ve been doing some proofreading lately, combing through the files of some twenty-five year old Regency romances which have been scanned in preparation for a digital rebirth. I’m good with spelling and punctuation, not so much with Regency slang. Fortunately I have copies of the original books, tiny of print and a bit yellowed, to check against. I’ve found a few typos the original proofreader missed, so when I hit the word nuncheon and found it in the paperback as well, I thought I might have found another. But, hey, those Regency folks spoke their own language, so I searched. Results: yes, my dears, nuncheon is a word, meaning (according to Meriam Webster on line) “a light midmorning or midafternoon snack consisting typically of bread, cheese, and beer.” I have a feeling the characters in the story were not guzzling beer, but they were definitely enjoying their nuncheon.

For more stories of Internet searches, visit the other Writer Wednesday bloggers: Historical romance writers –    Wendy LaCapra  |  Sweet and Inspirational writers –    Kristen Ethridge  |  Novels with Romantic Elements –  Jean Willett  –  Natalie Meg Evans  |  Romantic Suspense –  Carol Post  –  Sharon Wray  |  Paranormal writers  –  Pamela Kopfler  |  Contemporary romance writers –    Kat Cantrell   –  Priscilla Kissinger 

And don’t miss this month’s new release from Kristin Ethridge: The Doctor’s Unexpected Family.

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Scrivener & HTML

I’ve finally downloaded the latest upgrade to Scrivener for Windows, after putting it off for several weeks. Normally I download Scrivener’s upgrades as soon as they are available, always on the lookout for the frequent small improvements the programmers at Literature & Latte send out.

This time, however, the first item on the change list was the announcement that Scrivener would no longer include HTML coding on clipboard output.

To be honest, I had no idea that copy-and-paste from Scrivener included HTML, but I had noticed that as soon as I began writing my blog posts in Scrivener and copy/pasting them into WordPress, my WordPress posts appeared in 14 point rather than 12 point type. I habitually write in 14 point Times Roman in both Scrivener and Word, much easier on my eyes, but trying the same copy/paste from Word only produced 12 point type in WordPress.

So when the Scrivener upgrade said it would no longer put HTML on the clipboard, I realized what was happening. Sure enough, when I looked at one of my WordPress postings in the “text” view (rather than the “visual” view which I use to finalize posts) it was loaded with HTML coding, way more than I would ever have the patience (or knowledge) to do by hand.

I was pretty sure I had seen something in Scrivener that would allow me to export individual documents in a variety of formats (rather than go through the rather complicated Compile feature), and after searching through most of the menus I finally found it (in the most obvious place): File/Export/Files (or Ctrl+Shift+X, for the keyboard-oriented).

Unfortunately, that didn’t work. It produced a file that opened with Internet Explorer, but when I copy/pasted it to WordPress, none of the HTML coding came along.

So I went to the Literature & Latte web site forum section and hunted around until I found a post from someone dealing with the same question, where I learned that there is a “copy special” item on the Scrivener edit menu that allows copying several different formats to the clipboard. After several attempts I have discovered that Edit/Copy Special/Copy as HTML will get me most of what I want, if I paste it into the WordPress “text” editor rather than the “visual” editor. Then it took a trip to the WordPress forums (via Google) to learn that it takes “Shift+Enter” to add a blank line in the visual editor.

I don’t know why the clipboard output in Scrivener has been changed. From the description in the change list, I’m guessing it must have been causing a problem for people copy/pasting to Word or other word processing programs. I’ve spent way too much time finding a work around this morning—but then, time spent learning something new is never wasted.

Another Computer Adventure

Last night when I went to bed, a few minutes before midnight, all was normal on my computer. The background was a lovely beach scene. My email was open and ready to handle all those important communications that come in overnight (mostly ads). All was well with the world.

This morning I got up with plans to accomplish all sorts of things. I only go to work on Tuesdays through Thursdays, so I have four days for reading, writing, shopping, whatever. High on the list for this weekend is judging three long entries for a writing contest and emailing them back to the coordinator (in Australia!) by Monday night. I was halfway through a printed copy of the first one, but the other two were waiting on my computer.

I was not entirely surprised to see a black screen on my computer monitor when I rounded the corner from the kitchen this morning. Happens sometimes, when the monitor goes to sleep. But this time no amount of hitting Enter or jiggling the mouse restored the screen. Nothing there but the cursor.

So I turned the computer off. Had to do it with the on/off button, since I couldn’t see anything on the monitor. When I turned it back on, I saw the Hewlett Packard welcome screen, so I knew my lovely big HD monitor hadn’t died (actually, the cursor proved that). But that’s all I saw, and then it disappeared, leaving me with the black screen again.

So I hit the button again and tried starting the computer in Safe Mode, not entirely sure what to do when I got there. That gave me reassurance that the monitor was working properly, but it didn’t get me into Windows. I tried running the memory check. Took forever, and found no problems.

So the next time I restarted the computer I hit the system recovery key, which took me to a section of the HP help software I’d never visited before. From there I could try System Restore, which also told me that there had been an update from Microsoft during the night. Apparently that update didn’t work, and as far as I can tell, the non-working update was the source of all my problems.

Alas, System Restore didn’t help, either. I tried that twice, using the two latest restore points. Back to the Help Screen. System Recovery was definitely a last resort, since it would wipe out my files and any programs installed since the original set up. The computer is almost five years old. Although I recently ran a USB drive back up of my documents, and I have an external hard drive back up system in place (although I’ve never had cause to restore anything from it), restoring the whole system would be one heck of a job.

Start Up Repair looked promising, so I tried that next. By this time I was looking up computer repair services in my local phone book (see, phone books still have their uses!). By the time Start Up Repair had run twice without success, I had called one of the numbers and gotten a promise of a call back when the phone person found a technician available. I set Start Up Repair running again and retired to the couch with the morning newspaper (which I much prefer to the on line version).

When the phone rang a few minutes later, it was a political call, from a real live person, and I’m afraid she got a rather short-tempered response from me (even though she was with the party I plan to vote for). The Start Up Repair program continued to run, the little green bar going back and forth, restarting the computer once or twice, while I worried about all the things that might not be on my recent back up. How long would it take to reconstruct all the information in my password logger? At least my email, including those unjudged contest entries, was in the cloud. If I had to, I could go into work (thirty miles away) and use the computer there.

By the time an hour and a half had gone by, I was back at the phone books. The Start Up Repair program was still running, and I was seriously considering hitting cancel, thinking it was caught in some sort of circular trap, when suddenly I heard the familiar sound of Windows starting up. My beach scene was back. My calendar program appeared. I called the computer service to cancel.

I still haven’t had breakfast, but I’ve printed out those two contest entries trapped in my computer. I’ve made back ups (both digital and printed) of my password program. I’ve run yet another USB drive back up. The attempts at System Restore said no changes had been made, but I had to reinstall Adobe Reader and the icon for Word has mysteriously changed. But my current work in Scrivener is intact and nothing else seems to have been affected.

I have not rebooted the computer or attempted to reinstall those pesky Microsoft updates. I’m not going to do either one until I’m forced to. I’m just glad to have my digital life back.

And I’m wondering if it’s time to get a wireless router and a back up laptop.

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Routing the Cat

I went a few rounds with my work computer this morning, and in the end came up with a remarkably low tech solution (and without the help of the fellow with the thick foreign accent who called out of the blue claiming to be from the “Windows support service”—I didn’t stay on the line long enough to find out how he thought he was going to fix a problem that we didn’t have).

The problem we did have seemed to involve QuickBooks, the bookkeeping software we use for almost all our clients. I’d been having occasional problems with QB locking up or otherwise misbehaving lately, but I just blamed it on the ever-increasing size and complexity of the software. This morning I had entered several long, complicated deposits when the software began locking up on me and then, after I closed the program and/or rebooted the computer, coming up with one excuse after another to keep me out of the client file. QB couldn’t find the file, or I didn’t have permission to use the file, or there wasn’t enough space to record the transaction. Or there was just plain no connection to the office WiFi network and the client files stored on another computer.

After numerous rounds of frustration (and after losing the long, complicated deposit twice), I realized that all the trouble might be related to the network connection. So I went into Jo Anne’s office to see if she was having problems. She was working on the cloud-based version of QB. She hates the cloud-based version, but it was working.

Kiko playing paperweight

Kiko playing paperweight

When I looked around the office to the network connections a few feet from Jo Anne’s computer, I saw Kiko the bad-tempered calico, one of our three Scorekeeper office cats, sitting on the wireless router. She loves the tangle of cords and cables under that table, and Jo Anne and I don’t understand the mess well enough to move the router and the print server to a less feline-accessible location (assuming, of course, that such a place exists). Kiko has been suspected of disconnecting my computer from the print server by sitting on that, so I shooed her off the router, set it upright, and went back to my desk, perhaps thirty feet away. The bars on my network icon had jumped from two to four.

I tried moving the router to the top of a nearby storage carton, but Kiko sat there staring at it, clearly plotting to drag it back down as soon as I turned my back. “Put a box over it,” Jo Anne suggested.

That required laying the router back down on its side on the floor—it may be a “wireless” router, but it’s connected to the rest of the tangle by at least two cables—and covering it with a smallish cardboard carton.

I had no more connection trouble for the rest of the day.

We have no idea what draws Kiko to the router and the print server—warmth? vibrations? secret electronic messages from feline aliens headed this way in spaceships resembling empty grocery bags?—but when I left work this evening, she was sitting on the box over the router. I have a feeling my low tech solution may not be permanent.

The Computer in the Closet

I’ve known for a year or more that the City of Houston sponsors an electronic waste recycling drop off in my area once a month—on the second Saturday, when I go to an RWA chapter meeting forty miles away. When I decided to pass on the meeting this month, I remembered the recycling day.

I had two computers, with all their accessories, that hadn’t been turned on in years, the older one stuffed in the storage closet of last resort, the other still set up but gathering dust in the library (that sounds better than the junk room, and there are books in there, on shelves and in boxes, mostly Jack’s).

The computer in the library went out of service in January 2010, when I bought my current system. I kept it set up at first in case I needed something I’d forgotten to transfer. That happened a few times, but the computers couldn’t talk to each other easily. The old computer had only 3.5 inch disk drives for output, while the new one had only USB drives for input. My work computer at the time fell between them in age, and had both, but transferring a file required several steps, three computers and two locations. The library computer stayed set up for another four years because I had nowhere else to put it.

That computer had served me well for seven or eight years, and it still worked in 2010, but its memory and storage capacity, which had seemed vast when I bought it, couldn’t handle most new programs. The jump to my current computer, with its giant hard drive, Windows 7, and a DSL Internet connection, was an adventure.

the current computer, and then some

the current computer, and then some

The computer in the storage closet was even older, going back to the middle 1990s, but it had weathered the Y2K non-event. I have quite a few files on my current computer that I can trace back to it.

I’d owned, and gotten rid of, at least three computers before that one: an early PC clone (which had minimal memory and storage, no hard drive, a tiny gold-on-black monitor, and a daisy wheel printer, and cost about $5,000—a business expense—in 1984) and two Tandy PCs (in which I had installed 32-megabyte hard cards myself). There may have been another one in there somewhere, and Jack had an early (and very heavy) laptop that he never really learned to use. I have no idea how we got rid of those, concern about recycling electronic waste not being a major concern back then. I probably gave the pieces to some computer-tinkering friend or just threw them in the trash.

I had ambitious plans this morning for getting rid of both old computers at once, thus furthering my general, if slow, war on cluttered closets, but even the roomy trunk in my Toyota couldn’t handle that. I’d forgotten how big—and how heavy—that old CRT monitor in the closet was. The tower was big and heavy, too, and then there was the defunct printer. By the time I tucked cables, keyboard, speakers and mouse into the corners, the trunk was pretty well full.

But the storage closet was considerably less so. I’d even thrown out a couple of old pillows, although there were still several of Jack’s old metal detectors, several boxes (some empty, but you never know when you might need a shoe box), a nice wooden rack—for cassette tapes, and a set of dog steps (I don’t have a dog) in there. But there was plenty of room for the smaller library computer and its flat screen monitor.

So I still have a computer in the storage closet, and the closet still needs cleaning, as does the library (more boxes, some full of books, some empty, one full of minor computer junk, two cartons of West Houston chapter archives, and a seldom used vacuum cleaner). But I’m making slow progress, and I’ve done my ecological good deed for today.

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