Tech for Me

Jym experiments with making his “new” iPhone 8 do the work of his MacBook Pro.

I love technology. I always have. I love technology like marathon runners and rock climbers love physical exertion. Like politicians and fast traders love money. Today I am indulging my passion over coffee and a cream cheese bagel at Panera. I am attempting to write a blog post using only my iPhone.

Up until now I have been using my laptop to do this. WordPress is my blogging platform. It’s like a combination of a word processor and web publisher. With WordPress you just type up your article, and then with a press of a button, you send your article to the Internet. Then people can see what you’ve written and respond to you. And you can talk back to them about the topic. That’s blogging in a nutshell, and the community of bloggers is called the blogosphere.

The reason I use the laptop for blogging is that I can whip off a 1000 word piece almost as fast as I can think. I can thank my dear old mother for that. By age 9 I had been identified as college material at my small town elementary school, even though my ancestors were farmers, tradesmen, and merchants. One day, unbidden, mom sat me down and informed me that she was going to teach me speed typing, because I would need it in my far off college days. No hunt-and-peck for me, she said. She had gone to business school—her boss, N. E. Kidd, had payed for it—and become proficient in shorthand and typing. Now she had dug out her old textbooks with the intention of equipping her sometimes just a bit too bright son with said skills. The typing skills took; the shorthand did not.

Unfortunately, my typing skills are rendered useless by the iPhone. You need a querty keyboard for speed typing, and lugging one of those around as a smartphone attachment undermines the portability and convenience of these pocket-sized devices. For a long time, dare I say it out loud for fear of turning over peacefully resting mother in her grave, I used the hunt-and-peck method on my iPhone.

Now I am way too impatient to persist in inefficient behavior for very long. I observed that the youngsters had devised a much faster method of data entry on their smartphones: they turned it sideways and used both their thumbs. As it turns out I have a physical challenge that precludes my use of the two-thumb smartphone data entry technique. My right thumb is deformed; it’s too wide and short. I never payed too much attention to it growing up. It didn’t stop me from becoming a whiz on the piano, but it’s way too stubby to poke out characters on the glass screen of a smartphone.

So then I got fairly proficient at “talking” my sentences into my hand-held device. By this I mean that you can use dictation on the iPhone. You can actually turn it on and off as you need it, and your great and glorious gadget transforms your speech into written words. Nifty as this is, you mostly have to do it in solitude. Your husband will complain if you try to use dictation during the evening news (even as he is wont to engage in the very same practice). Besides, your iPhone will probably spice up your literary masterpiece with sentence fragments it overhears from the TV, like “just in from New Zealand” or “showers expected later today.”

Oh, and then there’s autocorrect. Your iPhone thinks it knows English better than do you, and so it often throws in changes to what you have typed or said into the phone. Without telling you or asking your permission in any obvious way. And in social media like Facebook, Twitter or just every day messaging, autocorrect, I think, even makes changes after you poke the send button. This causes many garbled, embarrassing, or confusing communications.

Recently I have been experimenting with two more amazing advances in smartphone data entry: predictive text and something called “QuickPath.” Here’s what Apple says about predictive text: “As you type, you can see choices for words and phrases you’d probably type next, based on your past conversations, writing style, and even websites you visit in Safari.”

In Figure 1 below you can see what my screen looked like right after I typed the last sentence. Predictive text is offering me the choices for starting the next sentence based on past typing habits: Is, The, and Your. Those three “slots” are continually changing as I continue to type. So if I can keep my eye on them as I type, whenever I see the word I want, I can select it, rather than typing the rest of the letters in the word. It can save a lot of time, but I am still far from mastering this counterintuitive practice.

Figure 1.

I am much more excited about using QuickPath to speed up my iPhone data entry. Now you can type a word by sliding your finger from one letter to the next without lifting your finger from the screen. It takes a little practice, but soon you fall right into it. It’s definitely faster than hunt-and-peck, but not so fast as dictation. It has the strong “feel” of cursive writing. Also, by the way, mom, it is vaguely reminiscent of the shorthand that you so tirelessly endeavored to teach me. It’s actually a totally new writing technique made possible by advancing research into hand-touchscreen interface.

I have to confess that I did not finish writing this blog post during my breakfast visit to Panera. No, I carried it home with me. It was my usual busy day, doing laundry, making meals, ok, yeah, napping too, watching TV. But see, I had this marvelous little device in my pocket all the time, and so, ever so often, I could pull it out and work a few more minutes on my latest magnum dopus.

And now I’m finished. I really didn’t cheat; I did it all on my already out of date iPhone 8. Just one of the many reasons that I really do love technology.

On Computer Maintenance

Warning: this blog post is long, it may sound to some like a rant or self-advertising, but I assure you that there are a few morsels of “wisdom” to chew on herein.

I love my computer. I see my computer as a part of myself, indeed, a part of me that extends and enables me in nearly countless ways. And <<blush>> I actually feel more at ease with my computer than I do with people, generally speaking. People who know me, though, know that I am no introvert or anti-social misfit. So here is the story.

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New World of Social Networking

A lot of my contemporaries register reservation, frustration or even contempt for the evolving world of cyberspace. For example, in one social group that I belong to, the median age is about 75. We meet monthly. A couple of the members have just given up on even email. Others struggle bravely with Google, cell phones, or even online commerce. Crashed computers, online failures, and virus problems are rife. Just a few, mostly dragged there by their middle-aged children, are registered facebook users.

I am widely known as a computer guru, but that is quite far from the truth. I really don’t have a quick answer to most problems that people have. Rather, it’s more like, me and computers, we are as close as my index and my flicking finger. Most people see computers as unpredictable. Whaa?!! I see people as unpredictable. Computers I can figure out. I like to have staring contests with computers, I hate that with people.

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Adding a Drum Track

For starters, let me just admit that this is a blatant brag on the Macbook Pro and Apple’s OneToOne system of instruction. When tech gurus debate the pros and cons of Apple vs. Windows, rarely do I see it said that what you get with each Mac computer is about $3000 worth of free integrated, ready-to-use, and intuitive software. Since this blog post could quickly disintegrate into boring technominutae, let me just make the brag very easy to understand.

My vocalist, Heidi, and I have built a home recording studio and produced a demo CD using this Mac and the tools to do it cost less than $500. You can hear the quality of these recordings at our FaceBook page, Just in Time: Heidi and Jim.

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