Technology Bytes Sometimes

By Vicki Hughes      Posted December 2, 2013

I have been using a computer daily since about 1992. This in no way makes me a techie, but I have spent my share of time on the line with tech support, and I know the drill: Turn it off. Turn it back on. That fixes about seventy percent of my technical difficulties. Men should learn this when dealing with women, seeing as how they sometimes forget that all important second step.

The other day it occurred to me that I am credited with far more technical savvy than I feel I can honestly say I possess. However, I remain strangely in charge of more and more technical devices. This is much the same way I hated math in school, yet most of my adult jobs have been heavy on the math. It doesn’t seem fair, but it’s the way it is.

Here are some startling facts about my lack of technical savvy:

I have no idea what LTE is on my phone, but if I felt compelled to solve the mystery, I’d Google it. Most everything I know how to do with a computer, I’ve Googled. I’m still very fuzzy on RAM and gigabytes and the relative importance of processor speeds and memory. My primary concern is, can I get on Facebook, shop on Zappo’s and download books from Amazon? If the answer is yes, I have what I need.

Whenever I use iTunes, I try various random maneuvers, and I am never entirely sure,from one attempt to the next, what worked and what didn’t. When it works I do a little fist pump, and when it doesn’t work I curse my ever growing dependence on all things electronic, and feel tears of frustration pricking at the backs of my eyes. And then I always marvel at the literal millions of people who apparently are much better at this than I am, and then I weep for realsies.

Sometimes when I am typing a Word doc, it disappears entirely, for no reason whatsoever, and then I have a tiny meltdown. I have been known to have a very strange effect on electronic devices, including making wrist watches run backwards. When things glitch out around me, I attribute this to my animal magnetism.

In spite of this I am notoriously bad about backing up my data. It usually only happens when my computer takes matters into its own hands and simply refuses to let me pass go or collect two hundred dollars until I back some shit up. This generally follows a period where I have been systematically ignoring some pop up window, vaguely telling it, “Yeah, yeah, I’m sure.”

If you ever join us on a night when we are attempting to watch a DVD with my Mom, and I am trying to get the Closed Captioning to work, pack a snack. This endeavor alone will explain to you why I have a favorite martini glass. Our very long suffering daughter usually has to intervene before somebody says something unfortunate.

My iPhone has that clever Siri to help me with a variety of tasks. Why can’t my TV simply respond  when I say, “Turn on the friggin’ Closed Captions, will ya? I’m not getting any younger over here!” That’s a feature I’d pay extra for. And I’d love it if my remote was all voice activated, and would respond to questions like, “Remind me again what happened last week with that snarky guy on Revenge? I was texting during that part, and missed it!”

I occasionally pass along a techie tidbit to someone frighteningly less adept than I am. I recently shared a contact with a friend, meaning I forwarded someone else’s contact information from my phone contacts directly into a text message. All he had to do was click “Add New Contact” to magically have that person’s info. He quietly took me aside, and as though we were passing state secrets, he said from the corner of his mouth, “How did you do that?” I showed him the drill, and then we both felt smarter.  But these tiny sparks of hope are so rare.

Any device that needs to be plugged into the back of our TV, DVR or DVD player with a red white or yellow cable, is probably going to make me twitchy, and say things like, “Maybe this is not my calling.” And the words next to those ports, printed in black on black? Could those be printed any smaller?

I have angry, angry thoughts towards the maps function in my iPhone, and it has caused me on more than one occasion to long for the simplicity of a paper map, and a compass. Or a homing pigeon. Nevertheless, I keep using it.

Passwords that contain capital letters, symbols and numbers make me increasingly hostile, and in my opinion will be the catalyst to convincing the masses to accept the mark of the beast, simply to avoid having to use such absurdities to do things like rent a movie or order vitamins online. Why does my vitamin ordering history need to NSA levels of security?

There are tiny icons on my phone RIGHT NOW that I am completely unfamiliar with. One looks like paperclips in love. I have no idea what it means.

I’m contemplating buying a new tablet, and this is stressing me out. I’m fraught with despair because I’m convinced that whichever one I buy will lack the one feature I truly can’t live without, but will have forty-seven I don’t even know exist.

In spite of it all, when I am enjoying a glass of wine, and weather stalking my friends around the country, comparing our ten day forecasts, I’m all in. When I am texting friends and loved ones all over the USA, while the alfredo sauce gets happy, I am in love with this technology stuff. I am convinced it is here to stay. Happy Cyber Monday.

© Vicki Hughes 2013

Heating Pad Weather

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By Vicki Hughes      Posted October 25, 2013

My best friend introduced me to one of the most comforting aspects of my life, the joys of a heating pad. Many years ago, I kept hearing her talk about using her heating pad, and this happened a lot. Finally my curiosity was piqued. I asked her, “How often do you get your heating pad out?” She looked at me quizzically, and she said, “I don’t get it out, it stays out.”

That was when I realized I had an antiquated heating pad belief system. I had adopted the “good china” approach to using my heating pad. Rather than keep it out and use it all the time, I had it wrapped up, with the cord tied around it, in the deep, dark recesses of a cabinet in the bathroom. I only pulled it out for special occasions like cramps, strained muscles or a back ache. (Not that these are really special occasions.) But I was not inclined to keeping my heating pad close at hand.

Mistake, colossal. After my friend opened my eyes to the possibilities, I went to the cabinet, and pulled out my heating pad. I looked at it, and then realized one reason I had possibly relegated it to the cabinet was the tacky blue cover. So I sat down with some fabric, and made my heating pad a cute cover with flannel on one side, and chenille on the other. Then, I slid my heating pad into it’s cozy new outfit, and turned it on. It suddenly had charm. That was when I realized what I had been missing. I became a heating pad convert. I no longer save it for “special occasions,” it lives in a basket right next to my favorite chair. My oldest, smallest dog is a fan of this development. As the weather turns into what I think of as Heating Pad Weather, he starts giving me the eye. He sort of cocks his head and waggles his eyebrows at me. If I don’t catch on fast enough, then he does some pathetic shivering to get his point across. Then as soon as he sees me turn it on, he launches himself onto the ottoman, snuggles in between my calves, and waits to be draped with the Mantle of Warmth. (His words, not mine)

And so it has begun. This third week of October has returned us to Heating Pad Weather. If you are saving yours, I beseech you, get that puppy out and keep it close by. Give it a snappy makeover if necessary, but for Pete’s sake, use your heating pad. You can’t take it with you.

© Vicki Hughes 2013

A Better Forty Bits

By Vicki Hughes               Posted Sept. 20, 2013

“When you mentally practice something whether it’s a thought or an action, and whether it’s positive or negative, your brain increases a cortical output signal for that thought or action-that is, it becomes more proficient at creating that result.”
Shawn Achor from Before Happiness

What thoughts and actions have I been practicing mentally? What am I training my brain to do better and more proficiently?

Am I practicing how to succeed or fail? Am I training all of the synapses and neurons in my brain to see solutions or problems?

Here’s what I’m discovering about how it applies to Gratitude:

When I mentally practice being grateful by listing five things a day for which I’m thankful, I’m training my brain to scan for more to be thankful for.

I develop my capacity to recognize what is going well and devote more precious brain resources to the thoughts, ideas and actions that serve me. It also helps me reduce the resources I’m devoting to scanning for problems.

Scientifically our brains can only process forty bits of information per second out of the 11,000,000 bits it’s receiving.

The things we choose to mentally practice are the major determining factor in which forty bits we will pick out of those 11,000,000.

As for me I’m planning to take in a better forty bits today.

(If you’d like to get updates about my upcoming book on Gratitude in The Workplace, please Share on your FB page)

© Vicki Hughes 2013

Carving Out Time

By Vicki Hughes               Posted Sept. 11, 2013

I am writing a book. (Have I told you that yet?) The subject matter is Gratitude, in case that isn’t obvious from my complete fascination with the subject. As I get a little further down the line, I will be sharing more with you on this, but here is what has been on my radar.

I’ve been researching my book, and that means I have been nose-to page in books whenever I’m not at work, which isn’t very often. I have book-books and Kindle books, and of course, a herd of my own journals that I’m constantly scribbling in, like mad.

On most mornings, I try to set aside at least one hour to write. That one hour is rarely all spent writing, but sometimes it really gets rolling, and then I have to put the brakes on the writing train so I can get to work on time.

More and more, I am learning to make time. I carve it out intentionally, and part of that process is identifying the little things that rob me of the time I need. This has caused me to see how I have managed to not write a book in the past, simply because I was under the illusion that I would do it once I found the time.

Recently I felt a tiny, Thomas Edison-style light bulb appear over my head regarding time.

Here’s something to think about if you’re prone to putting things off until you find the time. Finding time is like finding money. It’s nice when it happens, but you can’t rely on it. Both money and time, to be available when you need them have to be made, and then protected, not simply found.

So. A big part of me getting this book written is making the time to write a book. As my mentor, Jim Rohn was known to say, “The don’t give out big trophies for small efforts.”

Time is passing, regardless of what I choose to do with it. I can maximize mine or let it get away. Today I intend to use it well.

 

© Vicki Hughes 2013

Developing Gratitude

By Vicki Hughes             Posted August 13, 2013

Gratitude will change you. It will also change your circumstances. It’s really quite magical. It reminds me of taking a photography class in Junior High School. I took a photography class when I was about thirteen. Part of our job in the class was to take photographs to be used in the yearbook.

This was back in the pre-digital age, so we used a 35mm camera, with black and white film since our school couldn’t afford the equipment to develop color film. Besides, black and white is cooler and more artsy. Just ask Instagram.

When we finished a roll of film, we would take it into the closet in the school library that was our designated darkroom. We would take the film out of it’s tiny metal cylinder and treat it with a development solution. Then we would look at the negatives, and put them on a contraption that would allow us to fire the negative onto a sheet of white photo paper. That paper was pricey, so we had to really be sure it was a picture worth developing.

Then we’d bathe the photo in a development solution, and watch for the picture to begin to appear. Magic. The trick is to allow it to develop, but not over-develop. It takes some practice, some skill, and a good eye. if you do it very much, you start to fall in love with the process. Digital cameras are cool, and allow you to do things you’ll never do with a 35mm camera. For pure joy, printing a photo off of your computer will never hold a candle to developing one in a darkroom.

Which brings me back to gratitude. When we begin to tune in to things we are thankful for, and especially if we take the time to jot them down, to capture them, it’s like snapping a picture with a 35mm camera. We’ve caught the moment, and it’s stored there, Later, we get to come back and take a peek, as if we were examining a long strip of negatives, looking for what was there, what was really amazing.

Recording your gratitude, much like taking photos, will surprise you at times. You may capture things in the background, that turn out to be more important than what you were originally focused on. You thought you were focused on being grateful for a new job, but six years later, you look back at that moment and realize it was where you met your best friend. That was in the shot, but you couldn’t see it until it developed.

Gratitude, much like the process of developing film and pictures, reveals things with a bit of a time delay. I love that word, developing. We are smack dab in the midst of a world that is forgetting how development works, growing accustomed to the instantaneous. But development is crucial to that which can stand the test of time. Value and longevity and quality are not available to be zapped in the microwave, or dropped in a toaster. Things that develop over time have staying power. And so, the continued practice of gratitude has proven to me.

Four years into my personal mission to focus daily on what I am thankful for, by noticing, and writing it down, things have developed. More importantly, I have developed. I have developed the capacity to notice and appreciate the things that are right in my life, in the midst of what is not. I appreciate the opportunities, which helps me step over the adversity. I can bolster my own spirits with the written reminders of all that I have been blessed with so far, which reminds me there’s more good stuff waiting just out of sight, but on it’s way.

I have watched my gratitude move people around me to appreciate their own blessings, big and small. I have seen my finances respond to my thankful attitude, as well as my physical well being, and relationships with people. I have watched as gratitude has propped open doors of creativity, and as new opportunities have shown up at my door, wagging their tails.

So today, I am thankful for all that being grateful has taught me so far. And now, if you will excuse me, I need my gratitude journal.

© Vicki Hughes 2013

Food Porn

By Vicki Hughes   Posted August 5, 2013

I love Pinterest as much as the next girl. It is my saving grace when I’m too lazy to read, and John has the SyFy Channel on. But I have to tell you, I stay off of the food boards. Hanging out there is just an invitation to a full on food-porn addiction.

I stay safely over on the humor, crafts and photography boards, and even there, I’m not entirely safe from delectable food posts. Yesterday on a humor board, someone posted a picture of a mock up of Outback Steakhouse’s Alice Springs Chicken. It appeared to be four innocent chicken breasts in a Pyrex dish, that had first been trussed in bacon, then held down against their will while four pounds of cheddar cheese was dumped on them, and then broiled. There could be roadkill possum breast under there and you’d eat it. You’d eat it, and you’d like it.

Last week, as John was fiddling with the DVR (presumably to search for more shark movies), my head swiveled up from my book as I heard a food competition contestant say, “I’m making my Maple Bacon Cheesecake.” Really? can we get you a side of queso to dip each bite in? Perhaps a tiny ramekin filled with chocolate sprinkles to really make it sing?

Let me just say, I love food. We cook at least six nights a week, and we eat well. I didn’t join Weight Watchers for nothing. But come on. Unless you want to get winded from brushing your teeth, or have to drive to the mailbox to check your mail, you have to smarten up. Delicious, attractive food does not have to be breast stroking through a channel of melted cheese. Cheesecake does not need additional bacon. Ever.

If a Big Mac and a supersize fries and Coke require seven hours of walking to burn off, imagine the hike to Maine it would take to work off that cheesecake. Considering that most Americans don’t walk seven minutes a day, I think it might be wise to take Maple Bacon Cheesecake off the menu. Unless you’re hiking the Appalachian Trail, in which case, go for it. I’m sure the bears will appreciate the break from Snickers Bars, trail mix and Slim Jims.

Everytime I see an ad for the latest and greatest pizza…”Stuffed crust with fourteen different meats and no pesky vegetables to slow down your heart attack!” all I can think is, “Just what America needs.”

 

Flashbacks

fiero

By Vicki Hughes      Posted July 31, 2013

I recently spent my day off, culling the clutter and various flotsam and jetsam that was rendering John’s “office” un-useable. I’m not really sure why we call it an office, because it’s main purpose is to house his Bowflex, surfboard, inversion table and a giant dog bed. It does have a table that could serve as a desk, and the obligatory bills, invoices and random warranty paperwork to things we no longer own. So, sure, we’ll call it an office. Why not?

One reason I’m not especially good at this sort of thing is my tendency to become distracted and absorbed in the family artifacts I discover. I found, among other things: keys to cars we no longer own, Christmas cards bearing photographs of people I don’t recognize, (but clearly cannot throw away,) a grocery bag containing newspaper headlines from the day the Japanese surrendered at the end of WWII, saved by my great-grandfather (why I was entrusted with these, I have no idea) and a few pictures that took me back to the year John and I married and moved to Georgia.

He proposed to me in 1985, the night before we left on a Hawaiian vacation, two months after we began dating. You could call it a whirlwind romance, except we’d known each other for six years, him being my best friend’s older brother. Older, wilder brother. Older, wilder brother with fast cars and an Australian accent. What girl could resist, really?

Two months after the Vegas wedding, we loaded up his Chevy pickup, hauling a questionably road worthy travel trailer. The plan was for me to follow in my extremely adorable Pontiac Fiero. These vehicles contained all of our worldly possessions, which I can summarize here: A rocking chair, a ceiling fan, an extremely neurotic cat, a cornucopia of my Mom’s old pots, pans and dishes, forty-nine plastic trash bags filled with my clothes and shoes, and one bag of John’s clothes which entailed one or two pairs of underwear, several terry cloth polo shirts, which we must never speak of again, and his “cruel shoes.” Clearly, we were ready to storm the castle.

With his friends humming the theme song to The Beverly Hillbillies, and two full tanks of gas, we set off. We had our AAA map with the route from Tehachapi, CA all the way to Peachtree City, GA clearly marked with a highlighter. We were Louis and Clark, going backwards, cluelessly, without cellphones. What could go wrong?

The full details of this trip are a story for another day, but here are the highlights: It took us four harrowing days, with stops in many fun and educational places including Albuquerque, where the only hotel room available had a waterbed set to 110 degrees, Oklahoma City, where I continually got myself lost, and the frighteningly narrow bridges of Mississippi, where I first laid eyes on kudzu, and immediately imagined it covering many corpses of people who “Ain’t from around here, are ya?” We had to disengage the air conditioning in the truck, to prevent it from overheating, which really does very little to keep the occupants from overheating.

Rural Mississippi in June also made us aware of the fact that it can rain so hard that you will begin to wonder if you have inadvertently driven into a lake. After helplessly following behind John over a bridge built for covered wagons, I could only say “ogod, ogod ogod,” as the trailer behind his truck did a herky-jerky fishtail, as a semi truck blew by us going about 110mph in the opposite direction. My mouth and eyes all formed perfect O‘s as our trailer came within a redneck’s whisker of flinging a cyclist who was out for a lovely bike ride, off of the Bridge of Doom.

At the next available roadside shoulder, the truck and trailer pulled over in a dramatic cloud of red dirt and gravel. Pre-cell phone, remember? I cautiously parked behind him, and waited for him to approach my car with a much needed cigarette, thinking it might be wise to allow a bit of the drama to fade before making conversation. After a minute or two, when he didn’t appear, I turned off my car, got out and approached the driver’s side of his truck. And he wasn’t in the truck. But he hadn’t gotten out of the truck. I blinked, and looked again, and there I saw him laying on the front seat of the truck with his eyes closed.

Leaning through the window, I put on my most encouraging, newlywed smile, and said, “Hey Babe. You okay? That was insane.”

With eyes calmly closed he replied, “I go no further.”

We then had a more lengthy discussion about the complications of setting up our new household on the roadside in Mississippi, the fact that this was no place to raise a family, how he was the best driver since Mario Andretti and for the love of Mike, is that a banjo I hear? After several shaky smokes, and the promise of air conditioning at our final destination, we continued.

Upon our arrival in the veritable civilization of Peachtree City, Georgia, we set about finding a place to rent. We chose a townhouse in Twiggs Corner. I should explain that “townhouse” was the technical real estate term for, “Front door at ground level, and then carry all your crap up a huge flight of stairs, where the rest of the apartment is.” We were so young, so in love, so naïve. So not prepared to meet the herd of Malathion-resistant roaches who were waiting in the empty unit next to ours to welcome us to the neighborhood. Roaches are very hospitable in the South. They kindly wait until you are unpacked to come a callin’.

John had a distinct advantage over me, in understanding the locals. His Australian upbringing had trained his ear for the twang-y, deep south dialect that left me straining forward with furrowed brows. He’d talk to a cluster of guys in overalls, and they’d carry on, and he’d smile and laugh and then say, “No shit!” I’d politely smile, and then wait till we got home to flip through my copy of “How to Speak Southern,” searching in vain for the term, “Dern de dern dern dern.”

I slowly began to keep a mental list of the vernacular, so I wasn’t always asking people what they were talking about. Buggies were grocery carts. Cranking the car was starting it. Cutting on the lights meant turning them on. I was catching on! Your Mama and them, was the sum total of everyone you were related to, and ’midity was the air you could see, feel, breathe and wear as a protective coating. Fried was the state that all food must be converted to in order to make it edible, banana puddin’ was health food, water was the second main ingredient in sweet tea, and sweet tea was the reason God made water. For etiquette’s sake, lest you speak out of turn, liquor stores were the place where Baptists suffer from both blindness and amnesia. And my all time, favorite southern term ever was, “Get up out the floor,” which translates to, “Get your tiny, three year old ass up off that floor and act like you have some sense before I beat you!” I kept notes.

 

Why Lists May Not Be Helping You Remember

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By Vicki Hughes    Posted July 2, 2013

I’m growing ever more concerned about all the things I’m expected to remember. I have lists for home, lists for work, lists for family members, several calendars to coordinate, and I’m supposed to remember the last time the dogs had their flea medicine. I have all sorts of note features in my iPhone. This provides a false sense of security, as if putting it in there is an ironclad guarantee that I will magically put the reminder on the right day, or that my phone will actually be fully charged, with the ringer “on” when the alert finally comes through. This is all wishful thinking, and should not be trusted.

I’ve noticed a strange phenomenon regarding certain very important items on my grocery list. Some of them are memory resistant. These are not random, weird things like foie gras or clotted cream. I’m talking about very important stuff we actually need, things like deodorant, or laundry detergent, or Tonic water. Even when plainly written on my list, some of these items somehow elude capture. I can’t explain it, but it’s as if, while I am looking at the list, the primary item becomes written in invisible ink, but only until I return home, when it will suddenly re-appear.

I’ve identified part of the problem as the large amount of brain bandwidth that I’m expected to allocate to log-ins and passwords. I especially love it when I am required to create a password with a capital letter, a symbol, a number, a gang sign, the molecular structure of sand and my favorite color when I was twelve. Oh. And for proper security, NEVER write it down. Ever. Yeah. Right. You know who remembers passwords like that? Cyborgs. That’s who.

People are known to cry out over the ignorance of today’s youth about history. I’d just like to say, I personally forgive young people for not knowing more about history. There’s a lot more history now than there used to be. The history of the Internet alone could be a college level dissertation. I think we could all calm down over the youth of America being a little fuzzy on eighteenth century tariffs and who the greatest railroad barons were. Let alone ancient history. Holy crap. Do you want these kids to remember Caesar’s last words, or develop you an app to help you find your phone when you shut it in the bathroom drawer with your toothpaste?

Do you remember that Steely Dan song, “Hey Nineteen?” The guy at the bar is bitter because the sweet young thing he’s chatting up doesn’t know who Aretha Franklin is. First of all, it’s her loss. Second of all, stop being the creepy old guy at the college bar. Let’s not forget, it’s far more depressing that she is unaware that a coffee can be made at home for under five dollars, or that he’s got boxer shorts that have more real-life experience than she does.

When you reach a certain age, there’s a fun game you get to play with people in your same general age bracket. While listening to the music of your youth, you get to play, “Name That Band!” Here’s how we play at our house.

“Who is that, 38 Special?”

“No, it’s 10cc.”

“Yeah, I knew it had a number in it.”

The music plays on…

“Is that Bread?”

“No, it’s Cream.”

“Ehh. I knew it was something edible.”

We continue to chill out to Pandora.

“That’s The Animals, right?”

“Nope. The Zombies.”

“Shit! I knew it was something plural.”

Suddenly one of us jumps up with a fist pump.

“That HAS to be The Animals.”

“It’s The Turtles.”

“Turtles are technically animals.”

We continue like this until one of us says, “I don’t want to play this game anymore,” or until we need more wine.

Because I make my living in the hospitality field, I count it a blessing that I’m good at remembering names. I know lots of people who are not, but I have a feeling they are the ones who manage to get home with all the items they wrote on their grocery list. Really, I don’t think it would be fair for any one person to be good at both. Someone like that shouldn’t be trusted…Cyborgs.

© 2013 Vicki Hughes