Sunday, October 18, 2015

Technologically challenged

That’s what I am. Hardly surprising at my age. I thought I knew how to use a computer. I was quite complacent. I could cope with e-mails and I always wrote stories and poems straight onto the screen. I have been working on computers for longer than most of my contemporaries and have basked in the admiration of my friends at the Old Age Complex, most of whom can only just manage to send a text message on a cell phone. I didn’t know that there was huge abyss between my limited expertise and the ability of almost anyone the least bit computer-literate

I was made aware of this last week.  I decided to take up the offer of a new version of Windows. It would be free, I was told. It would be so easy to use and would offer all sorts of wonderful new features. This was the carrot. The stick was the threat that I wouldn’t be able to get updates any longer if I refused to upgrade. “What would be the harm?” I thought. I agreed to let Microsoft install Windows 10.

At first it didn’t seem so bad. The screen was prettier. It was simpler to get to my mail and some of my pictures. I found my way to most of my files with ease, but then I found that certain pathways were blocked to me. Icons had disappeared, the printer no longer seemed to be connected and worst of all, Free Cell Solitaire had vanished. Actually all three versions of Solitaire had vanished, but I am only seriously addicted to Free Cell. Being without Spider, caused a mild form of withdrawal which I could tolerate, but I had become used to indulging in a game of Free Cell every evening before going to bed. Doing without my usual fix was causing serious insomnia. 

What had happened to Solitaire? Could I get it back again? Windows 10 offered me various sophisticated games instead, but after trying out one of them I came to the conclusion that my brain was not up to the challenge. Perhaps I should forget about games and sort out the more important problems. I went back to battling with the connection to the printer. After switching the computer on and off several times it deigned to print one page, but then it gave up and resumed its sulk. I tried to find the printer trouble-shooter, but it had vanished too. However in my search for a solution to my printer problem, I noticed the heading: Microsoft Solitaire. I rushed my mouse over to it and clicked. Sure enough, there were my lost beloved card games. But there was a snag. It appeared that I had to have a Microsoft Account in order to access them.  As instructions for getting such an account were offered, this didn’t seem an insurmountable obstacle. I started following the steps that would lead to acquiring my own Microsoft Account. I followed the steps carefully and meticulously – too carefully and meticulously − half-way through, the screen went blank except for a message telling me that the process had timed out.  It was getting late, so I decided to go to bed and continue the operation in the morning.

The next morning, bright and early, I sat down at the computer and switched it on. As usual, the process called “Fast access” didn’t work. It couldn’t recognise my face and as usual I just clicked on the little round icon expecting to see the screen saver appear. Instead the computer demanded a password. It had never done this before. As far as I knew I had never had a password.  I vaguely remembered that one of the steps involved in getting a Microsoft account was entering a password, but the process had timed out before I could confirm it. I tried the password I had chosen. Of course the computer didn’t like it. I tried another one that I often use. It didn’t like that one either, but it did try to be helpful It gave me a url to use. It told me to “Use this link to update your details” or something to the same effect. This was no use to me as I was effectively locked out. I couldn’t use the link. Clicking on it produced a ping from a bell inside the works, but nothing more.  

I switched the computer off  and on and tried again. When things go wrong, this simple procedure often has a mysteriously magic effect. Not this time, though. The computer was as determined to keep me out as any Home Affairs Official faced with a foreigner without documents.

After trying everything I could think of, including banging the keyboard and shaking my fist at the screen, I tried to get help. First I rang the local Microsoft Offices. “Microsoft got me into this let it get me out,” That was my reasoning. But on a Saturday morning all I got was a message on an answering machine, suggesting I sent them an e-mail. Then I thought that perhaps if I used another computer, I could get it, somehow, to talk to mine and persuade it that I was its legitimate owner and not a hacker from the Ukraine. My neighbour has a laptop. I knocked on my neighbour’s door. She made sympathetic noises, but said she was about to go out to a Bridge Drive and wouldn’t be back until late.

The staff at my Old Age Complex were always so busy, I didn’t like to disturb them, but I knew that in the main offices there were several computers. Perhaps the Manager would let me use one of them. I walked over to the Main building.  Just as I reached the reception desk, Christo, the staff manager, appeared.   What a piece of luck! Christo, the Figaro of Evergreen Retirement Village, is a marvel of ingenuity. Christo can fix anything. I told him my problem. He tut tutted about the rashness of downloading untried programmes, (especially free ones), but he promised to come after he knocked off work at lunchtime.

Christo was as good as his word. He arrived at my front door on the stroke of one. He seated himself at the computer desk and fiddled around for a while. Then he told me to enter the password I had used before. It worked! 
“Christo, what did you do?” I asked him. He put his finger to his lips. I thanked him over and over again, but he said it was all in the day’s work for him and he wouldn’t accept anything from me.

Since then I have not had much trouble, at least not more than usual. I am getting used to a new format for Free cell. I am trying not to be put off by the ugly obese Kings and Queens on the picture cards and not to become annoyed at the extravagant explosion of stars whenever I win a game. The printer, I am glad to say, has stopped sulking and I can get on with my writing at last.


Saturday, October 3, 2015

Gertrude Stein

This week Gertrude Stein features in Modpo

A rhyme I learnt when young:

In a notable family Stein
There was Gert, there was Ep , there was Ein.
Gert's writings were hazy, Ep's staues were crazy
And no one could understand Ein.

I would be inclined to say that no one could understand Gert either, but as a poet in the twenty-first century, I should be grateful to Gertude Stein and so do her the courtesy of reading and trying to study her work. By making literary society take her writings seriously, she has freed us, who come after her, to write about whatever we like and in any way we like, too.

Unlike Armentroud, who took snippets of writings and conversations and put them together deliberately in a contrived and artificial way, Gertrude Stein appears to write without deliberation. The pieces from  Tender Buttons remind me strongly of the writings of  my schizophrenic daughter. I could always see that what my daughter said made perfect sense to her although it might have sounded like nonsense to me.  In the same way I feel these pieces make perfect sense to Stein. I liked reading my daughter's  poems and short pieces and could  sometimes enjoy listening  to her  ravings. Not that she was always raving; she could usually talk quite sensibly, but what she wrote was nearly always strange and disjointed. Could Gertrude Stein have suffered from a mild form of schizophrenia, or perhaps been influenced by someone close who was schizophrenic.

Gertude Stein's pieces,  I suppose they should be called prose poems, need to  be read in a different way to the poems we have been studying up to now.  There is no point in trying to extract  conventional meaning out of them. When you read them aloud, the words are musical and pleasant to listen to.  The pieces can be enjoyed on this level alone, but with repeated reading, phrases  will form images, which take you on one train of thought after another. I found I enjoyed Stein's writing more than I enjoyed some of the more self-conscious  poems in the previous weeks of Modpo.

Cynic that I am, however, I wonder whether Gertrude Stein would have acquired her reputation as a writer if she had not been the sister of a very rich patron of the arts and through this connection come to know all the "best people" in the world of Art and Literature. Her close friendship with Picasso couldn't have hurt either.