Barb's Mom at her desk top computer.
#1 Home for the (Techno) Holidays....

Mother to Daughter: “I’m no techie.”
Creating a festive Christmas event for my mostly-homebound 96 year old mother was THE reason for taking a 1 month break from our hiking adventures in the sunny SW and returning home to the wet and cold Pacific NW. Of course there was visiting with friends and catching up on medical/dental appointments too, but seeing Mom was the central activity. Surprisingly, she immediately echoed what would be the unplanned theme for our holidays, which was technology.

Not expected to recover from her coma or live more than 48 hours after her series of hemorrhagic strokes 2 and half years ago, she awoke after those first 48 hours and said “I want to go home.” Just as startling after a long, slow recovery of being “pleasantly confused,” she continues to amaze us all, such as with her opening line when we saw her the week before Christmas which was about ‘the cloud’ and 3D printing. Needless to say, that diagnosis of advanced dementia that they tried to stick on her 2 years ago slid right off.

Her very poor hearing made for difficult conversations but every visit included the latest thing she had learned about 3D printers until one day she announced “I’m not a techie; I’m done with that.” The new project was writing her thank-you cards; the previous project had been tracking the latest satellite expected to fall out of the sky; we’ll have to wait to see what comes after the cards.

Bill's new 'tower' & wireless keyboard improved the ergonomics of his iPad.
By New Year’s Eve, we were Apple’d-out. Bill had bought his MacBook Air in September and began the complicated process of transitioning to it from his 5-year-old Dell laptop known as “Baby.” During our fall trip to the SW while he was juggling his new and old computers, he vowed to treat himself to a more entertaining iPad by Christmas.

Since their introduction, I’d scoffed at iPads as being extravagant toys unsuitable for real work done by serious retired people like us but of course, he longed for one as any modern male did. He snapped one up and was simultaneously in love with what it could do and horribly distraught by its shortcomings of being heavy and an ergonomic nightmare. (How many people do you see with their iPad in their laps, greeting the world with the top of their head?)

Bill went into a tailspin. Was it a foolish purchase? Should he instead swap the big screen and snappy response time for a less functional but easier to live-with mini-iPad? But unfortunately, his life was made even more complicated in iPad-land before he even bought it.

On one evening a week before we arrived home in mid-December Bill announced: “Your hand-me-down iTouch with all of your thousands of history notes and other files has become too obsolete, it MUST be replaced and soon.” For months he’d been reviewing security programs for our passwords and account numbers and decided it was time to upgrade to a more sophisticated program, especially since ours had recently started scrambling numbers. But my antiquated iTouch wouldn’t support the upgrade; it would have to go for us to more forward.

As he had done several times before and been rebuffed, Bill approached me in a low, serious voice “If you want an iPhone, this would be the time to get one.” He knew it was an idyll offer because I’d always rejected the high cost of the annual service contracts that made no sense since we were out of the country for 9 months of the year. Bill just about passed out when I said: “Get me one.” “But, but...what color?” “Black.” “That’s it, you’ve decided?” “Yup, get me a black iPhone--the latest.”

Transitioning to 2 MacBook Air's, an iPhone, & an iPad from the old PC laptop, old iTouch's & $20 phones.
Moving up, actually catapulting, to an iPhone hadn’t consolidated as a decision in my mind prior to that moment but all of the preliminary decisions had been made so it was easy to say “Yes” when his latest offer came around. We were now only overseas 3 months of the year instead of 9; our poor call-quality $20 cell phones were tolerable as our only phones for 3 months out of the year but not for 9; and I’d recently decided that we’d technically become “left-behinds” and it was time to pay the big bucks to catch-up.

So, as soon as we hit town and triggered my 96 year old mother’s update about 3D printers (thank goodness she didn’t want one for Christmas) Bill was on overload. Suddenly his “To-Do List” included buying and setting up an iPad for himself and an iPhone5 for me and then struggling with whether to have an iPad at all, to live with its shortcomings, or replace it with the mini.

From Hardware to Software
And of course, part of the holiday techno-frenzy was driven by the increasingly urgent need to upgrade to a more sophisticated and stable security system, so that transition began immediately before the hardware issues were resolved. Worse than confronting a neglected sock drawer, we were suddenly face-to-face with 300 entries made into our security program over the last 14-15 years, the first entries being made on our original Palm handhelds.

One of the first realizations was that about 20% of the entries didn’t need to be secured. Those entries, like hardware serial numbers and activation keys for software, had been made because the program provided a central depot for important though perhaps little-used information when were were launching our overseas traveling life. At the time, it was a harmless way to simplify our lives by consolidating our then small amounts of stray access information.

Suddenly we had to simultaneously evaluate the relevance of our precious numbers, learn how to use the new security software, and keep refining the proper sorting of our entries into their new categories. And we had to steel ourselves for plowing through all 300 entries.

Working through our password files from A to Z was like looking at an old photo album because of the stories that were told. We could trace the burgeoning of identity theft by the ensuing evolution of our passwords. Early on there were the 4-6 letter, easily remembered words like “shoes”; later our passwords were a word with a number stuck on the end; those codes gave way to ones that had a few numbers and symbols sprinkled in; and finally we were using senseless strings of more than a dozen characters generated for us by the new password program.

The wireless keyboard & touchpad also improved the ergonomics of his laptop.
Many old and forgotten entries were passwords created for 1-time retail purchases. Some of the companies had gone under; some had been folded into other companies, and amazingly others still held the record of my last purchase in 2004 like it was made yesterday. The undertaking was a mix of amazement, amusement, and hair tearing, but above all, it was incredibly tedious.

We spent hours and hours working on the password program project though I found I could only bear to do 10-15 entries at a time and often only that many in a day. Half way through my portion of the project I realized I needed to revisit every new file I had created in order to check for a learner’s mistake that only affected a few files, but I didn’t know which ones. Bill discovered that some of his entries made into one section of the ‘vault’ needed to be relocated to another area but could not be transferred, they had to be recreated. The learning curve wasn’t so steep but hundreds of entries had to be evaluated and possibly rekeyed one by one and of course, since they were our passwords, they had to be right. And despite our big push, this would be a project finished while traveling in the SW.

This burdensome examination of account numbers and passwords reminded me that my Outliner program with the thousands of history and general information files that began on my Palm handheld at the same time as the passwords had also become unwieldy. It too was in serious need of revamping so I began the slow, long-term project of restructuring its files.

And as often happens with any deep cleaning project, yet another neglected project reared its ugly head: the now 3-year accumulation of travel photos destined for electronically generated photo albums. BIll had been plugging away at his end of the photo album project but I’d dropped the ball on mine. His techno-project list was longer and more rarified than mine, but I was now swept up into the flurry of getting all of our electronic houses in order.

One of the lessons learned wasn’t new, which was that there is an endless string of “shoulds” in our lives, but the new realization was that sifting through and reorganizing physical objects stashed in old boxes is in some ways easier to cope with than dealing with neglected electronic ‘stuff’. It certainly is more gratifying to look at a reorganized closet or an empty spot on a shelf were a near-abandoned box of treasures once gathered dust than it is to look down at your smart phone and know that your password file is tidy.

I soon found myself longing for the physical hard work of shelf and closet cleaning versus the stillness and eye strain of endless computer projects. We also realized that with our lives increasingly being consumed, or perhaps managed, electronically that we could no longer rely on visual cueing to keep our house in order. When the drawer no longer closes, it’s time to sort through the T-shirts or socks but its easier to ignore overstuffed and outdated electronic files. With the ringing in of the New Year came the harsh reality that we needed to develop a new discipline: regular and deep electronic housecleaning.

Of course, there was also a goodly amount of “oooing & ahhhing” at the amazing new technology now in our hands. Bill kept the “not be left-behind’s” in mind when shopping and bought the latest Apple phone for me, an iPhone5. What a delight to actually hear more than half of the words spoken on a cell phone call rather than to be left guessing as to what was being said.

Bill quickly capitalized on the Siri voice recognition/search function on the phone: “Show me Portland traffic” accompanied every drive from our Vancouver apartment so as to track traffic snarls real time. Too cool. And we immediately saw how much there was for us to catch-up on. We’d not been texting, sending photos, or engaged in any of the other ordinary smart phone basic functions. Now all I have to do is learn how to fully utilize my new phone while on the road before it becomes obsolete.

Bill kept insisting that it wasn’t his iPad but our iPad and he wanted me to love his new darling. Clever lad, he knew just how to hook me: one of my Christmas presents was an iPad program (already installed of course) of anatomy. We’d been foot-obsessed with all of our barefooting, so 1 program was of just the foot and ankle, the other was the muscles of the entire body.

I was instantly mesmerized: looking at the anatomy graphics on the iPad screen and peeling back and adding layers of muscles was as powerful of an aid to understanding as going to the Body Worlds cadaver exhibits. Very, very cool. And he quickly learned how to make the iPad a useful tool for easing my process of selecting photos to insert into the webpage as well. Time-pressure however dictated that further exploration of the iPad’s features would be postponed until we were on the road again.

A Brief Antidote
We made a big push on New Year’s Eve Day hoping to get the upper hand on our electronic chores. It was an “in” day, with no appointments or errands. We kicked-off the morning with the killer, 90 minute P90X Yoga workout and breakfast. Then it was staring at the computer screens, with breaks about every 20 minutes to keep our muscles from getting stale. The mini-breaks were for timing slicing in regular activities, like popping vitamins, brushing teeth, taking a shower, making a phone call, and sorting mail.

By dinnertime, it was clear that we needed to alter our screen-obsessed reality, so we went retro. Back in the days when we had our first handheld computers and were making the early entries into our password files, we would play Scrabble on New Year’s Eve. Bill dusted off the Scrabble box that had seen no action in over 12 years and set it up on the floor, which is where we always played. Touching the wooden tiles and reaching to place them on the board was a relief from staring at a computer screen and only touching keys. Having spent enough time being precise, we decided to agree upon the rules of play rather than taking time to refresh our memories by looking at the rule book. Using our brains in such a different way provided the welcome change of pace we’d hoped for.

Back At It
The big nerd-out helped, but our techno-challenges weren’t over on New Year’s Eve. Just like cleaning out the garage or storage cupboards, electronics housecleaning begat more and more spiffing. Next we committed to fully converting our expense records for the IRS (like prescriptions and co-pays) to a 100% paperless system. That meant a more complete database to record the transactions, photo’ing the receipts for documentation, and improving the ability to find the photo'ed items in the electronic archives. We discovered that “on hold” moments, like while waiting in line at the store, could be used for deleting obsolete entries in our Contacts lists. There seemed to be no end to what could be done to improve the tidiness of our electronic lives, the only limit was our patience.

As we trudged through our mounting techno-housecleaning, we saw that we hadn’t left our data scrambling problem behind us, it had only moved. We were abandoning the few jumbled numbers on our password program only to discover that my telephone and email Contacts lists had merged in an unsavory way resulting in phone numbers and portions of notes filling-in where email addresses should have gone.

I finally understood that one odd looking phone number had had the area code lopped off and a date from a note tacked on the end of it. I was able to quickly correct the spurious information there and in the other corrupted files that announced themselves when I sent out a webpage update announcement but there surely was more to do. In my idyl moments I’ll start reviewing the content of my Contacts list from A to Z looking for similar glitches that were likely the result of a prior automatic transition between devices.

Movie Time
The first Harry Potter movie may be the last movie we saw in a theatre, and that was in Croatia. So 2 invitations, OK, 1 plea from my mother and an invitation from friends, to see a movie while at home for the holidays was another unplanned techno encounter for us.

Being experienced travelers, we took earplugs to modulate the audio environment and a cloth tote bag to stow our hats, gloves, and scarves, but that was the limit of preparedness we achieved.

We haven’t really even sat and watched a TV program in years; when we do have access to a TV we usually catch the news while cooking dinner, washing dishes, or doing exercises. So still sitting in front of a giant screen as captive audiences for several hours was intense, to say the least. Our muscles may be buff but our brains definitely weren’t conditioned for the realties of contemporary movie-house movies.

We saw our first 3D movie, “The Life of Pi” with friends and “Lincoln” was my mother’s choice. The option of online reservations was a surprise as was the pacing of the movies. I was startled by the odd juxtaposition of techno-intensity with seemingly elongated stories. I’d expected the techno-bias to have brought with it an MTV type of pacing and tempo, but that wasn’t the case with either of these 2 selections.

We confirmed that we are indeed neurologically out-of-shape for being in movie theaters and will definitely favor matinees over evening shows to improve our odds of sleeping that night. And should we take in another flick, we’ll keep our earplugs handy for the excessively loud trailers. These were simpler lessons learned at the theaters than with getting Apple’d-out, but they were also important steps in continuing to realign with our culture after being overseas so much of the last 12 years.

More Usual Undertakings
In addition to going to 2 movies, we did manage to break-away for some of our usual ‘at home’ chores towards the end of our stay. I sewed 2 small pouches and replaced the spent elastic in 3 pairs of leggings I made 15 years ago. Bill bravely tackled several boxes and a growing mound of “We’ll deal with it later” stuff. With every visit home, we strive to cull a little more, putting a constant downward pressure on the number of belongings in our possession.

I saw a new health care practitioner while at home who suggested that my cholesterol of 117 was too low so I began the enviable task of adding more saturated fats back into my lean diet. Unfortunately Bill’s cholesterol is right where it should be, so his challenge will be to avoid the temptations I create by bringing long-banished butter and coconut back into the kitchen. And with any diet recalibration, we’ll both be at risk for putting on unwanted pounds.

Getting Out the Door
We always feel like run-aways when we depart on our journeys because we leave in a hurry. But to our surprise, this departure was preceded with a sense of calm and accomplishment in the final few days. That calm gave way to frustration on departure day but at least careful priority setting had resulted in an interval of calm before unraveling at the end.

It was easy to see that we had at least another month’s worth of chores to do, but nonetheless we were leaving with a better sense of order than ever before. More things were ‘tied up with a bow’; more decisions had been made as how to streamline our record keeping; and we felt like we were starting to fit more comfortably into our small apartment (despite storing newer things in it like our truck’s tail gate).

Bill’s endless project of downloading the remainder of his substantial CD collection onto his computer wasn’t quite done but we decided to make room for the remaining 80 CD’s in the camper. We’d leave a trail of CD’s behind us in the SW as they were transferred, on the book exchange shelf of a campground and at non-profit thrift shops.

Hoping to make Mom's life easier with the more compact Dell laptop.
We concluded that Bill’s old laptop might suit my mother better than her desktop days before we were scheduled to leave town so Bill rushed to complete his transition off of it. That thought process reminded us of the 2 obsolete laptops languishing on the closet shelf. The new plan for taking the CD’s with us inspired squeezing the 2 old laptops into the camper too so they could be ‘neutralized’ and recycled on the road.

The finishing up the CD and old laptop projects were the types of nagging chores that rarely made it on to the “A List” when at home between overseas trips but our forced domestic travel focus now allowed us to find intermediate solutions. Space is precious in the camper but certainly not a dear as on the bikes. And how wonderful it will be when we return in May to see the holes on the shelves where the CD’s and computers had idled for too many years.

Too soon it was time to bundle up the CD’s, the obsolete laptops, all of our new electronics, a To Do List of all the projects in process, and head out. Daily checking of the weather forecasts in between major projects the week before our departure resulted in the last minute decision to head west to the Oregon coast instead of east to Yellowstone for our trip to the SW. So, though it was late afternoon by the time we drove off, we headed for the beach with no plan other than eventually ending up at Big Bend National Park in Texas and returning home in May--without the CD’s or old computers.