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It was early May.  The weather was turning, and mornings were getting cold.  I was lying in bed, no motivation to get up into the cold air, and lacking energy (not realising it at the time, but later that day I would be whisked into hospital for a blood transfusion).  There was a knock at the front door, and a few minutes later, my husband appears with a large package.

“Do you know a Maria from Maryland?” he asked puzzled.

“Oh yes!” as I leapt up, remembering that we were partners in a project on FB where – back in December – we had rashly promised that we would make things for each other – and three other people.  The recipients of my gifts would be “the first three people who respond to my status.”  They were then asked in turn to post this and make something for the first three who commented on their status.  I hope they did!  Reflective of my internet life, I had taken the idea from an English friend in Devon, who I first met on the internet.  My first three responders were 1) a friend I first met 34 years ago when we were exchange students in Thailand but now from Maryland, USA, b) my niece’s cousin from Malaysia (though she had stayed with us a year or two earlier), and c) a blogger friend also from the US (Missouri) who I have yet to meet.

The gifts could be anything, as long as they were home-made.  If my friends lived closer I’d make them my Ras al Hanout mix and give them some baking, but those things are a little hard to post!  But that’s okay, I committed to the project knowing what I was going to do. Sort of.  I sent off the first gift at Christmas, via my sister-in-law who would deliver it to her niece who stayed with us last year. That was gift number one, and I was impressed how quickly I made it, and sent it off. Free postage is a great motivator.  Although my haste meant that it wasn’t quite the quality I would have liked.

The second and third recipients are still waiting. I am procrastinating you see, indecisive about which angle I should take. I like personalising gifts you see, and I can be a bit of a perfectionist at times. I’m wondering if I should appeal to the exotic, or the familiar, or the things we have in common.   I have until the end of 2014 to deliver, but now there is some urgency.   The bar has been set very high.

I opened the box, and pulled out an amazing quilt.  Quilting isn’t really a big thing in New Zealand, but I know a couple of my US friends are keen quilters.  This is a beautiful one, and the first one I’ve ever owned, let alone been given.  It was appropriately lined with a wine bottle print!  (I’m wondering what kind of impression my FB friends have of me.)  And some squares were definitely related to my wanderlust in particularly.  It was a wonderful personal gift, and I can’t imagine how long it took to make.  And if that wasn’t enough, there were knitted socks too.  And they fit!  They were warm and comfy.  The timing was perfect, as winter arrived, and a few days later I had surgery.  In my recovery, I have reclined on my couch with the quilt keeping me warm.  But even better was the warmth and comfort from a friendship that has endured over 34 years, and across a planet.  Thanks Fe!

 

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i have had many more positives than negatives out of technology. I still appreciate the simple technologies that have transformed our homes – our central heating, the automatic washing machine, and dishwasher. (Oh, how I love my dishwasher.). But of course, the most dramatic transformation has been in information technology and communications, namely my computer and internet. And I have had much joy from these modern communications. Sharing my travels with friends and family, chatting online with friends on the other side of the world, skyping, and of course blogging. But as you all know, the computer has enormous power to infuriate and confound, as well as delight and enlighten. And of course, it impoverishes as it enriches.

The usual list of things infuriate me – the need to update software when your machine or device is working perfectly well, the programmes that insist they know what you mean to do when in fact you want to do the opposite, the autocorrect that gets it so badly wrong, or thinks I want to spell things US style, and Google insisting that I must want all my web pages in Italian, Slovenian, German, or Polish just because I am visiting countries where those languages are spoken. It’s as if Google and Microsoft and Apple all have “Infuriate and Confound” as their corporate mission statements. Yes, there are many times when I swear at my computer.

Today is annoyingly one of them. Yesterday was a good day. I set up a new wi-fi printer, and we managed to print off laptops, desktops and ipads from all over the house. I added in a new wireless mouse too, as my husband hates doing anything on my left-handed mouse. Everything was working perfectly. I set my laptop to do an AVG scan, which I have done dozens of times before, and left it. Today, however, I could no longer connect to wi-fi. It recognised my wifi network (along with a new and strange wifi that called itself Police Surveillance Van – surely that defeats the purpose of police surveillance?), but could not connect to the network. Our desktop, iPads and cellphones had no problem. (I realised we have six devices in this house that connect to the internet!). And so I set off trying to troubleshoot, going through the Windows and other help options. Except that most of these help options require a connection to the internet. Doesn’t this seem like a fatal flaw? The Husband helped as well, investigating the driver that was identified as a potential culprit, and confirming that it seemed to be operating fine. So now what?

So tomorrow it seems I will have to call the guys at Geeks On Wheels. Fortunately, on a walk the other day, I passed a Geeks on Wheels vehicle. Cleverly, attached to the back window, they had a box filled with business cards, inviting us to take one. S I did. Serendipity, or tempting fate?

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  1. Ideas (or lack thereof)
  2. Writing something, then reading a better post on the same topic  (which turns out for the best, because I lost the first post anyway)
  3. Not getting around to posting in time, then losing the momentum, the faith in the ideas, losing the words
  4. Backing up the entire contents of one laptop, finding where certain software hides my precious files
  5. Transferring said contents to a new laptop, finding new software to do what old software won’t do on new laptop, etc
  6. Cleaning up messages and folders on mail client – a once-in-three-years activity
  7. Researching the best smartphone to buy, debating with myself what “value for money” actually means, determining difference between “wants” and “needs”
  8. Learning how to use new smartphone (i.e. playing with new toy), after finally entering the 21st century
  9. Travel planning, dreaming, wistful thinking
  10. Bursts of language learning, looking for work, and corresponding with friends and family

Hopefully normal transmission will be resumed as soon as possible.

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In desperation at finding some blog topics, and a mind focused on other things currently (Christmas shopping, aging mother, board meetings), I have turned to the newspaper for my posts this week:

Apple Maps and Aussies

Australian police are warning travellers not to rely on Apple Maps.  Apparently the maps have dangerous mistakes, and could lead to you ending up in the middle of nowhere in Australia (and the middle of nowhere in Australia is really and truly the middle of nowhere!), in danger of running out of petrol, water, and succumbing to the incredible heats they can get in the summer.  Obviously, resorting to a paper map or reading road signs (let’s face it, Australia isn’t that heavily populated that road signs can’t direct you to your destination) is something that in this high-tech age is considered unnecessary, or perhaps, too difficult.  Likewise, something similar happened to a couple of tourists in NZ a few years ago.  They were driving from Christchurch to Nelson, and must have programmed the GPS for shortest route, rather than fastest route.  They got taken along obscure dirt roads rather than on the main highways.  In the end, frightened and lost in the middle of the night, they rang emergency services.

My husband and I don’t have GPS.  Frankly, in New Zealand – except perhaps Auckland – it really isn’t necessary.  But when we travel overseas these days, we always book a rental car with GPS.  GPS is wonderful when navigating your way through a busy foreign city.  But we also like to back it up with a paper map.  And use our eyes.  We found this useful in Spain, as our GPS lead us astray from time to time (including in a busy, foreign city).  Instead of following the GPS on a secondary road, we’d take the newly constructed highway that didn’t yet register on the rental company’s GPS software,  The GPS unaccountably detoured us off the main road as we drove into Gibraltar.  There was only one road to the border, and it was dead straight.  But the GPS took us on a detour around small, back roads, until we gave up in frustration and followed our eyes.  After all, the Rock of Gibraltar is hard to miss when you’re approaching it.  In South Africa though, my husband decided he knew better than the GPS, and we ended up detouring back to Cape Town airport via Stellenbosch (getting stuck at morning rush hour) and Muizenburg down on the coast.  We were lucky we had given ourselves plenty of time to get to our flight.  Next time we will buy ourselves a decent map.  GPS has also steered me wrong in Italy, when I was navigating with my friend Wendy.  Again, instincts coupled with a good, hard-copy map proved invaluable.

It makes me wonder how you can rely only on the GPS, and not at any stage engage your brain.

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Nomophobia is the fear of being out of mobile phone contact (No-Mo(bile)-Phobia). And apparently, almost 70% of people suffer from this. My husband thinks I suffer from it. He doesn’t like his phone, doesn’t like being in contact so easily for business, and has no interest in being in contact with people once he’s left the house. Yes, he gets called a dinosaur or troglodyte quite frequently. Usually by me. So he thinks anyone who uses their phone more than he does is an addict! (He has much the same view towards my need for coffee).

For the record, I do not suffer from nomophobia. I don’t use my phone very often, though I like having it … you know … just in case. I coped quite well in Turkey – a country where it isn’t easy to get global roaming access – for over two weeks without my phone, but of course, even in our cave hotel, we had internet access with our iPads so we weren’t out of contact completely. After going to a movie, and dutifully turning off my cell phone, I forget to turn it on again, sometimes for a couple of days. I happily leave it upstairs when I am downstairs, and frequently miss calls. I like to have my phone with me most times, but I don’t get a lot of calls, and I don’t make a lot of calls. In fact, when I was the Chair of a company, I actually objected to members of staff phoning me on my cell phone rather than at home on my land-line. If I can’t answer my home phone, then I am out and I’m busy, and I either can’t or don’t want to talk business. This is one of the reasons I’m in two minds about getting a smart phone. My phone is six years old, still looking good and working perfectly. It can take photos and send texts, and that keeps me happy. I’m not sure that I really want all my emails following me, wherever I am. Most of the time, I like being able to only deal with emails in my office, or at least, when I can get wi-fi. And I don’t like some of the behaviour around cellphones/smart phones – the obsessive email/message checking, the taking calls regardless of who you’re talking to in real life, etc. I don’t want to become like that. I don’t think I will (I haven’t yet, even with my six-year-old Motorola). But I like new gadgets, and I don’t like feeling old and out-of-date, so I’m thinking this year might be the year of the smart phone. But it worries me.

It worries me because I can understand the nomophobes just a little bit. I remember feeling extremely distressed a number of years ago when we lost internet access at home for a few days. I can’t remember the details – whether it was my computer or our local internet provider – but I do remember the feelings of panic, anger, and yes, real anxiety when I realised I couldn’t get on-line. My poor husband was on the receiving end of my stress. Writing this now, remembering it, I am surprised at the strength of my reaction at the time. But back then I was going through a difficult time and was very reliant on the internet for emotional support. Of course, after a few hours or a day I realised I was coping just fine without my internet contact. But this is just further proof that I could have addictive tendencies. So do I really want a new smart phone?

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I first started taking my own photographs when I was on my AFS exchange in 1980. And I didn’t get a digital camera until 2004. Writing that date surprises me; I love my digital cameras so much that I can’t believe I have had one for only seven years.

My first digital camera was a small, point-and-push Sony, with a maximum image size of 5 megapixels, and a 3 times zoom.. My current camera is bigger, bought for Christmas in 2008 for shots of animals in the distance. I was amazed at the difference only four years made. It is a Panasonic, 10 megapixel, 18x zoom. It’s a bit bulky, a bit awkward to shove into my hand-bag, but I love all the features (which I’m still learning to use). Now, only three years later, we bought a camera for my husband. Another Panasonic, this time 14 megapixels, with a 16x zoom, and it is tiny, but it can pretty much do everything my bigger Panasonic can do, at half the size, and in more detail. I am stunned at how quickly this technology has developed.

And I love what I can do with these cameras. For example, this shot of a bird,

Lilac breasted roller on a branch at the very top of the tree

became this shot after zooming in.

Lilac breasted roller

So I love the world of digital cameras. My Travelalphablog shows the stark contrast between digital and film photographs, both in terms of quality and quantity. (Compare my most recent entry for Ho Chi Minh City using a film camera, and the previous one for Gibraltar 16 years later using a digital camera).

Digital cameras allow me to take multiple shots, and not have to rely on one or two. If one is blurred, I probably (though not always) have one that is not. If someone walks in front of me just as I press the shutter, it doesn’t matter, I can do it again. This freedom probably means I snap away too much now, but I do try to just to stop and admire the view too.

Equally I love the software that enables you to manipulate the photographs. Though the downside is that now, whenever I see any photograph that looks shocking, or amazing, I wonder “was it digitally manipulated or enhanced?” I am now deeply suspicious, and know that we can’t believe what we see anymore.

I use GIMP (I’ve written about it before) to edit my digital photos. I dearly love it, not because it is the best photo-editing software, but because it is MY photo-editing software (and I understand it now), and I guess mainly because it is free. Hear that, Adobe Photoshop? Free!

It gives me the ability to take a photograph that is disappointing, and perk it up, make it reflect what I saw, or what I remember.

A hazy day in the Jura, above Geneva. But not quite THAT hazy.

We saw the little church, clear in the haze. This is more realistic.

Or it enables me to edit out unsightly wires, or even people. The photo of the Clapper Bridge in my Devon Travelalphablog entry originally had my husband standing on it.

Or I can compose a photograph better, or zoom in a bit further, or boost the colour.

Tropical flowers, but nothing special

Cropped, zoomed, colour intensified, and a cute insect as a bonus!

I also love my Panorama software. I can take photographs that individually are nothing special, but together make you (or me, at least) say “wow.”

Santorini in Greece. Nice, but nothing special.

About five photos stitched together, and you can see what I could see from the ship. (Imagine you have a glass of champagne in your hand.)

I certainly don’t claim to be an expert or have any talent. And I’m sure none of this is new to you. But it is a continual source of wonderment to me, as I manipulate my photos to look the way they should have looked in the first place.

So yes, I spend a lot of time at my computer improving my photographs. What do I do with them? Watch this space.

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My husband and I (as the Queen likes to say) are both keen readers. My husband devours books, and although I don’t read as voraciously now as I used to, always have at least one on the go. Just shy of a year ago, I got my first e-reader, a Kobo. I gave my first impressions here after reading my first e-book. Shortly afterwards, my husband couldn’t resist taking a bite of the Apple, and we got our first iPad.

I was always a bit of a purist. I have always loved books for their aesthetics as well as their content. There is nothing like the feel and smell of a new book. The smooth cover, the pristine, unspoiled pages, the promise of a new world, exciting discoveries, wrenching emotions and new friends all waiting for me between the covers. So I really wasn’t sure what I would think about using an e-reader. I was prepared to try though – I’m always open to new technology.

These days at least 50% of the books I read are probably e-books, and I’ve read a number of books on both our e-readers. I see others debate the value of e-readers versus books, so thought I’d wade in. (I’ll compare the Kobo and iPad in another post if anyone is interested).

What I prefer about e-readers:
The Kobo (very similar to a Kindle) is very light. It’s brilliant to take when we are travelling. And you know we like travelling. I just load it with a bunch of books, and my bag is several kilos lighter. It’s also lighter in my handbag, and I don’t have to worry about the pages getting bent. An iPad is heavier, but takes the place of a paper diary, notebook for meetings, laptop etc, so does double duty.

An e-reader (Kobo or iPad) is much easier to read when eating or drinking. I do a bit of reading in coffee shops, with a nice cup of coffee. The other day I was having breakfast in a cafe, and was keen to start a Hilary Mantel book a friend had loaned me. After two pages, my coffee and toast had arrived, and I put the book away, and pulled out my iPad. I couldn’t keep it open to read, AND eat or drink at the same time. An e-reader just sits there, and the page turns with either a press of a button or the swipe of a finger.

Shopping is so much easier. I keep a list of books I want to read, as recommended by friends or when I hear reviews on National Radio. When I shop for books, I’d either write down a few titles, or print out my whole list (from Goodreads), and go find them at my favourite bookstores. Buying a book was a deliberate act. I rarely bought books on impulse. Now though, I can (and have) bought books on impulse. I can buy books when I’m in bed, using my iPad and connecting to Amazon or another site. If I run out of books, I don’t have to wait till I can get to a bookstore. I have them all at my fingertips.

E-books are cheaper. Yes, I miss the cover art, and the reviews on the back. But I’m prepared to sacrifice that if it means my books are about 30-50% cheaper (often more), and I can buy more of them. Books that were published some time ago are actually very reasonably priced as e-books, and so I tend to buy books I wouldn’t purchase otherwise. It actually widens my reading experience.

Holding an e-reader is actually easier, whether it’s in bed, at the breakfast table, or on the couch. I don’t have to keep the pages apart. I have arthritic tendencies in my hands (a genetic issue for me), and recently found reading a paper book to be quite uncomfortable.

I can change the font and font size on an e-reader. As I age, and my eyesight changes, this is a real advantage. It means I can read and watch TV at the same time, and not need to take my glasses off.

I can highlight phrases (on Kindle/iPad) or passages that I love, and want to go back to, and they’re really easy to find again.

On Kindle e-books, I can just select a word and look up its meaning instantly. This is particularly helpful when reading anything written by Stephen Fry. Though he even manages to defeat – quite frequently – the Kindle dictionary.

I don’t need the light on if I’m reading on the iPad in bed late at night.

What I prefer about books:
I can see them on a bookshelf. I like bookshelves. Once archived, I could forget I owned an e-book. But it’s hard to forget I own a paper book when it’s on the shelf.

I can loan out books, but not e-books (much to the chagrin of a friend of mine), although there may be a way to do this if we both had e-readers. I’d have to figure that out.

They’re more attractive – if it’s a good cover. But then, our bookclub always gives an annual Best and Worst Cover award. We frequently find there are a lot of ugly covers out there. And we rarely agree on the best. To each their own. Still, I miss the artwork in an e-book.

The proof-reading seems better. I’ve found a few formatting and even spelling errors in some e-books. Annoying! This rarely occurs in a paper book, though occasionally you come across pages that haven’t been cut properly.

A book doesn’t need to be re-charged, and you don’t have to wait on a plane until they say you can switch on electrical devices to be able to read a paper book.

I know when I’m coming to the end of a paper book. I recently read Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel – A Pale View of Hills – as an e-book. I forgot to look at the gauge that shows how far through the book I am. (It is easily over-looked). And suddenly, I found myself on the last page. I gasped. I had been completely absorbed in the story, and felt as if a bucket of cold water had been thrown over me. The abrupt ending was a rude shock; it would have been much kinder in a paper book. (I found myself tempted to say “real” book, but that’s not fair to e-books, even if it shows a bias).

My conclusion:
E-books are much more practical and convenient. I love my e-readers, and would totally recommend them. Yes, there is a degree of romance and nostalgia about an old-fashioned, paper book. But don’t dismiss e-readers just because you are attached to the smell and feel of your books. After all, the important elements of a book – the story, the characters, the landscape and the language – are the same in both. Give an e-reader a try. You might like it.

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