No More Fried Geckos ~ How I Use Computer Technology

I’m going way off topic with this post about how we have moved past desktop computers and into the stratosphere – I guess it is called Cloud Computing. If you just want info about our shipping container house, sorry, move along, nothing to see here. And sorry, no photos this time. I’ll be back in a week or two with a house post.

The other day, I was thinking about how different the technology that Cynthia and I use now is verses the technology we used only about two years ago. I know, I know, many of you are light years ahead of us, adopting new technology years ago. But for a dinosaur of a guy who bought his first computer in 1984 and learned the DOS operating system by reading the DOS manual, I’m catching up.

Two years ago, we each had a desktop computer. If you are too young to know what these were, I can tell you. They were big things that sat on and under your desk. They didn’t move, and pieces and parts were tethered to each other and to the earth by things called wires. Lots of wires. Dust bunnies lived in and around all this hardware. Geckos, too, loved the big box of parts; they would make little nests in the open spaces that were supposed to allow air to flow around all the hot equipment, sometimes perishing there, melting on the video driver board or on the massive hard drive.

Our desktop computers were old and we had to do something. Neither one of us liked the little laptops that were being sold. We like the full-size keyboard and we habitually rely on the number keypad on the right side of the keyboard. So I went looking for another option. But I am getting ahead of myself.

I guess that it all started in June of 2012. We were headed to a hospital in Texas to seek relief from the seizures and neurological damage caused during Cynthia’s open heart surgery at the Cleveland Clinic in 2010. I did some research and purchased a Samsung tablet for the trip so that we could talk with family via Skype while we were in Texas.

While we were in Texas, I also used the tablet (connected to the WiFi in the hospital) and a map app to find local restaurants and Whole Foods. The hospital food was dreadful, so I kept busy seeking good takeout for us for the week that we were there.

We also watched a couple Netflix movies on the tablet and the experience was pretty good. Viewing the movies on the small screen was an intimate affair, although we had to remain cognizant of the fact that there was a man in another room watching Cynthia 24/7 on a large-screen monitor. No hanky-panky even though she looked sexy as hell with all those electrodes indelibly glued to her head!

As far as we were concerned, the tablet paid for itself in just that one week. In hindsight, I think that the only shortcoming was that it didn’t have a GPS and a data plan to use the mapping app in the car, although I didn’t know such a thing existed at the time. This experience got me thinking about technological advances.

A year-and-a-half ago, in March of 2013, it was time to replace the desktop computers. After a lot of Googling, we chose two, giant HP 19-inch laptops. They each have a full-size keyboard plus the number keypad. We like the large monitor and the illuminated keyboard. The advances in miniaturization made the laptop every bit as powerful as a desktop. We tricked them out to be vast and fast. For us, it is like using the old desktop computers without all the wires.

Remember the wires?

I thought that the transition to a laptop would be arduous, but it really was effortless. As to the laptop-on-steroids size, we don’t commute or travel with the things, so small and portable wasn’t a major concern. Cynthia had to go to the States, so we bought them online and she brought them back to Panama when she returned.

To fill out the computer transition, I bought a wireless WiFi printer. One wire connects it to the router. Nice. Now we can both print to the same printer without hassle.

Next came the phone. We each had a simple cell phone. Mine didn’t even have a camera if you can fathom that. I was loathe to upgrade to a smartphone because with the little beater phone I could commingle the phone with nails, screws, coins, and pocket lint, all in my pocket. The plastic covering the display was scratched and cracked, but it worked, battery life was good, and at $22.95 who cares?

But a smartphone – I’d have to treat it with kid gloves. Also, the privacy issue stakes would be raised with a smartphone, and if we lost one or it was stolen, $$$ouch.

But bit by byte, we saw how a smartphone would help. I purchased a Samsung S4 and haven’t looked back. Some of the things that I use the “phone” for include:

  • an app to track a flight in real time, to know when to arrive at the airport to pick up Cynthia
  • the Google Translate app to find out how to say something is Spanish
  • our Stateside Skype number now rings in my pocket. Anywhere I am except in the shower of course because I didn’t buy the waterproof to 50-feet, bullet-proof case which you might have expected that I would buy.
  • a currency exchange app is helpful on vacation in Colombia
  • I can check AirBnB reservations and emails with the AirBnB app
  • I can electronically hail a taxi in Medellin with the EasyTaxi app
  • an electronic compass heads me in the right direction when on foot in unknown territory
  • the SpanishDict dictionary app is always useful and at my fingertips
  • take good quality photos and video
  • use the GPS and Google Maps to find my way around, well, anywhere
  • listen to Internet radio
  • connect the smartphone wirelessly (Bluetooth) to our Bluetooth-enabled stereo to listen to Internet radio or a music service
  • read an e-book on the smartphone instead of on the Kindle – I actually like it better not to have to hold the huge Kindle…

It is funny how all this power and mobility has changed my habits, and I have to say that I think it is for the better. Neither one of us spends hours on social media sites, so the smartphones aren’t draining minutes and hours and days from our lives. I rarely check email or the news unless I am bored and waiting for an oil change. But the tools, the apps, are really useful several times every day. I’m happy that we made the switch to the smartphone.

But that’s not all, and here is the part of our new use of technology that I am most excited by. In the past couple of weeks I have installed Evernote on our two computers and on my smartphone.

Evernote, if you don’t know, is a program that stores electronic data in the cloud and synchronizes that data between all your devices. It makes everything available to you anywhere, anytime. Except in the shower. You can make virtual notebooks with Evernote, and then put notes in the notebooks. Just as you used to do with paper.

I think that one could make the argument that there are other ways to keep track of stuff. But Evernote is everything in one spot. Photos, videos, audio notes to self, copies of passports, birth certificates, auto insurance policies, car registration, photo of the printer toner package, photos of furniture that we want, clippings from web pages, photos or scans of big purchase receipts, shopping lists, to do lists, important reminders – there is no limit, really. And it is all searchable, even text on a photo.

Here are a couple ways I have used Evernote so far:

  • We have a checklist note called “Shopping List.” At my computer I can add “kitty litter” to the list. At Cynthia’s computer, she can add “kalamata olives” to the list. And when I am not near my computer, I can add “Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream” to the list with the smartphone. Then, when I go on a solo shopping trip to the city, I have the list. Cynthia can even add to the list from her computer while I am driving to the city. We used to have a paper list but it was always messy or lost or forgotten at home.
  • Set up reminders to register the car, pay taxes, wash the dog, whatever.
  • Scan and save important papers and instruction manuals for safekeeping
  • When I drive into town to buy stuff, I often return having forgotten something. Now, I can make a note anytime I am near either of our computers or my phone. I am making a new habit of checking the shopping list when I am in town.
  • Make notes, include web clippings, include YouTube videos, save photos from the Internet, etc. for our next vacation and put it all in a notebook named, um, “Vacation.”
  • When I am at a store, I can snap a picture of something. The photo synchs instantly to Cynthia’s computer where she can give me feedback in the form of a note. No opening attachments.
  • Jot down a note about an idea for my blog.
  • Cynthia is going to use Evernote to store kiln firing programs and outcomes for her art projects.

Evernote seems to be making a big impact in my life. I feel more organized. I don’t need to keep many, random pieces of information in my brain or pieces of paper in my pocket. I like Evernote. I also like how I have moved away from the static way of the desktop computers to a more fluid, but organized, way of using technology to help me through my day.

And I can’t say that I miss the wires, dust bunnies, or the kind of cool gecko skeletons. I wonder what is next?

How do you use technology? Or not? Feel free to leave a comment.

Thanks for stopping by.

13 thoughts on “No More Fried Geckos ~ How I Use Computer Technology

  1. you two have made great progress on your house AND in technology! I, too, started with DOS, around 1988 for me… and I also love Evernote… I use it, plus their Skitch app for marking up images, and the web clipper for Chrome (Android is now built-in in the app)

    Saludos from Chile,
    John, Ximena, Sarah, and Emma

  2. Hoo boy, you REALLY started something… I will have to go online and see how to INSTALL this wonderful sounding tool Evernote. Problem is that I am already OUTSMARTED by my smartphone, and dont have a GREAT relationship with it as a result. I will check it out, undaunted…thanks. The house is looking STUPENDOUS!!!!! Cheers

  3. Fred, what wonderful information presented in such a clear manner with your terrific sense of humor included as a bonus. Thanks so much. I’m going to forward it to John for a reference point as we research the type of phone we’ll get once we’re back in the US.

    Embracing these changes are what keeps the “dust bunnies” from our brains, right?

    • Hi Joan,

      Thank you very much. I agree with you about keeping the dust bunnies from our brains. Embracing new technology and learning Spanish and working with it on a daily basis, for example, is challenging. Sometimes I get tired of all the learning and all the physical labor. But it sure beats the alternative of watching reruns of The Golden Girls. Lack of motion is death and I really don’t think that we have a choice but to keep going, working and thinking hard. A good retirement in a Lazy Boy is a myth. Keep going my friend! Fred

  4. Thank you for that post. I’m always looking for ways to use my smart phone.
    Your house is beautiful.
    I enjoy all your posts.
    Your vacation definitely looks like a place we would like to check out some day. Dixie

  5. I’ve been lurking here for a long time fascinated by your project. We are retiring in a few years and looking at the El Valle area as a possible location to rent for part of each year. We will visit there sometime in the next year or two to check it out. Anyway, I’m posting here to suggest an app for the phone. Clinometer + Bubble Level (by plaincode) would be perfect for a guy like you and it is free. Thanks for keeping me entertained and the place is looking great.

    • Hi Kevin,

      Welcome, and lurk away. El Valle is a very pleasant place to live. Not perfect, nothing is, but certainly worth a visit to see if you like it. We just celebrated our seventh year here and there is a lot to like. It pleases me that you are enjoying my blog; Cynthia says that I should have been an entertainer so I guess that I am doing my job! Thanks very much for the tip about the app, I can use it today. Thanks for your comment. Fred

  6. Hello Fred,
    I had to read your blog post to my husband Jim, he also had to decide if he wanted to upgrade..I am an apple girl, but he is a Windows guy. I love technology and had to learn things on my own..although my son who teaches digital immersion to his high school students, he says for “Mom’s”‘my age, that why Safari has a help button..I use it often…if you are patient, you can almost always find a solution. I have a Mac, iPhone, iPad IPod touch, know about Face Time, Skype, Bluetooth, Kindle, Evernote, all of these help me keep in touch with my siblings and friends…that is the best part!
    I really enjoyed your furniture shopping photos and how the balance of your house is coming along. Cynthia sure has a talent with glass. The pendant light are totally industrial bling!
    We sold our home here in AZ, and now going to spend 3 months in Panama at three different locations starting in January, so we get a really good feel of the area.
    Thanks for sharing your wonderful sense of humour and the care you take of your workers, you can just tell how special they are to you.
    All the best, love that you donated the Christmas tree, the photo is wonderful.
    cheers,
    Dagmar

  7. Fred & Cynthia,
    I’ve really enjoyed watching your progress for the last year or two. I found a link to your blog on the “Gringo Trail”. We spent one night and part of a day in El Valle last March, we came through while on a tour with Barefoot Panama (We wanted to see as much of Panama as we could in a week). Sadly, We didn’t spot your place while we were up there or we would have tried to say hello. The wife and I are seriously looking at retiring in Panama, your pictures and stories are thoroughly enjoyed. Please ask Cynthia to continue posting pictures of the yard, flora and fauna for the wife as she has time. She’s thrilled at the possibility of being able to successfully grow things where she has failed here.
    One last thing, you mentioned the translator app you had for your phone. I’d like to suggest one called “Word Lens”. I won’t spoil the surprise but you should be pretty impressed! It’s a huge upgrade from the norm.
    Best Wishes and keep up the hard work!

    Carl & Nancy
    Baton Rouge

    • Hi Carl & Nancy,

      Thanks very much for your kind comments. Sorry that you didn’t have time to visit, but I know how the tours go at such a non-stop pace. Plants and gardens are good here, but there are hazards. The leaf-cutter ants and the giant grasshoppers do there best to devour our greenery. And do watch out for the spiny caterpillars that cause your skin to burn like fire if you brush up against one — they like to hide on the backside of big leaves. But the hummingbirds and yellow fly-catchers provide a counterpoint to all the destruction.

      We lost Internet for a day or two, but today I looked at Word Lens and it looks good. I see that Google has acquired it and integrated it with Google Translate and it no longer will be supported as a stand alone app. Thanks for the tip.

      Glad you like my stories. Fred

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