Do people still write? British study says not so much

You might be a dinosaur if ... you still write things down on paper. (Photo by Eric Pulsifer)

When was the last time you scratched a note out in longhand? I mean take a pen, pencil or pocketknife and wrote something on paper, your hand or a bathroom wall.

If some of the pundits are to be believed, handwriting is a lost art. Another casualty of the digital age. According to an article on the Daily Mail (yeah, British press), the average adult hasn’t handwritten anything in more than 40 days. Anything. And if you take away what used to be the day-to-day jottings of adults — I’m thinking of those notes to yourself, grocery lists, phone numbers on a matchbook cover — only a third of adults actually sat down to write something in the past six months.

Now there’s scuttlebutt that the schools may at some point stop teaching young people how to write. Well, it’d been a while since they stopped teaching youngsters how to think … (Eric, just shut up; you’re going to get in trouble again!)

As I recall it in grade school (and my folks would be glad to fill in any gaps in my memory), my handwriting was beyond horrible. I seemed to lack the coordination (or the interest) to form my letters well, and things did not improve much when we learned the Palmer method of handwriting in third grade. By sixth grade I largely abandoned the Palmer teachings and reverted back to printing, which by then was a lot more readable. To this day I employ a half-printed, half-cursive hand, readable in most instances and instinctive enough that I can take notes without looking at the paper and still be able to understand it later. My penmanship (another wonderfully descriptive word that no one hears any more) is far from elegant, but it’s functional.

As far as my legal signature, forget it. You can’t read it. I got that honestly; Dad’s signature looks a lot like mine, like a Volkswagen that had been hit by a train. But you’re not supposed to read it. Years ago I knew this guy from the Middle East; he spoke fluent English without an accent, was thoroughly westernized. But he signed his checks in Arabic, starting in the middle and working outward. You don’t see anyone trying to forge that, he told me.

But now, there’s little call to write anything down. Pens and pencils may soon go the way of clocks with hands and landline telephones — cool to have, but some training may be required.

Think about it. We haven’t had to write long things out if there was a computer (or before that, a typewriter) handy.

Now we have smartphones. Just tap your note on that, save it to something like Evernote. Don’t need any pen. Or paper. Or pockets, for that matter.

Don’t even need to do much scribbling when you’re dealing with a bank or signing a contract any more. An e-signature takes care of the latter (just type your name), and nearly all bank transactions are electronic these days. The only check I write each month is to my landlord, and that’s only because he’s a Luddite.

I find I’m more of an anomaly these days because I do some of my writing in longhand. Notes are taken on index cards. First drafts go on yellow lined paper. Journal entries go in a leather-bound book, written with a fountain pen.

But more and more, the tech bug creeps into my life and I’m going more to the digital tools. Can’t remember when I last wrote a real letter, and I used to write some great ones. But everything’s by email now. If it wasn’t for my rent check and a few publishers who prefer hard copy when I’m pitching a story, I wouldn’t use the postal service at all.

I can’t rightly say I keep a paperless office, though I’m moving more that direction. A blessing, considering how I am with clutter. But the stacks of index cards and 5×8 legal-pad sheets lying around my desk bear proof that I still use paper and pen.

Reckon if you still write, you just might be a dinosaur.


Some other tidbits, from a study by Docmail, a British stationer. Read ’em and weep:


  • Four in ten Brits rely on predictive text and increasingly rely on it for their spelling, with one in four regularly using abbreviations or ‘text talk.’
  • LOL (laugh out loud), U (you) and FYI (for your information) are the most regularly used abbreviations.
  • Today, creating a shopping list, taking notes in a meeting or even wishing someone a happy birthday are more often done via electronic means.
  • One third said when they do write something down, they often struggle to read their own writing when coming back to it later on.
  • And nearly half (44 per cent) said that their scribing is neither nice nor easy to read.
  • One sixth of Brits don’t even think handwriting should still be taught in schools.
  • One in three Brits describe handwriting as ‘nice’ but not something they would want to do every day.

Do tell. When was the last time you wrote something out? Let me know in the comments.


Old-style e-ink reader is easier on the eyes, sleep cycles.

Being good/bad in bed is probably not the standard I'd consider for an e-reader, but ...

I’m old-school enough that I’d never thought I could enjoy an e-reader. But what’s this thing about downloading books on my old Palm a decade ago, or reading them on my Android phone now?

Never mind these apparent contradictions. I’m a print guy. Plunk my butt down somewhere with music playing and a stack of offbeat books and I’ll call it vacation. Real books that feel like paper, pages that turn, and sufficient margin space for my annotations.

The electronic versions, well, that’s not the same thing at all. Real books do not have pages that glow. Got it?

But then a friend upgraded e-readers and gave me his old Nook. It is, I believe, a first-generation model. It does not emit light on its own, the pages are straight black and white, and I’m loving it.

I’ve barely made a dent in the memory, but I have a few hundred books downloaded already.

The newer e-readers seem to be getting away from the so-called e-ink technology, and this isn’t such a good thing. Cool graphics or not, reading the newer-model Nooks, Kindles and iPads provide all the sexiness of reading off a computer screen.

Shoot, I spend enough of my life staring at computer screens. Must I spend my relaxation time staring at more of them?

Reading the first-generation Nook with the light up, just like Wrigley Field. Photo by Eric Pulsifer.

If I need to read at bedside, I have several options: Turn on a light, or read under the covers by flashlight like I did when I was a young’un. But I have these options because I’m a single man, live alone, and maintaining peace in the household is not a priority for me.

But this Nook came with a snap-on cover that includes a small lamp, like what you see on paintings at the museum. It’s powered by a pair of AAA batteries. Theoretically it should illuminate the page while not bothering the significant other, but I never got around to asking the previous owner how effective it is. It just doesn’t seem right to ask.

I bring this up because of a recent advertising pitch for Nook (now in some strange alliance with Microsoft). In this ad Nook announces its own soft-glowing Simple Touch, which is illuminated by a string of LED’s along the top edge. In the ad Nook calls out Kindle, saying the competitor is “not that good in bed.”

E-readers are a lot of things. But even my own brain, which takes some bizarre angles on a lot of things, still has trouble grasping the good/bad in bed concept.

I do know that reading from an e-ink reader as you go to bed is a whole lot better for you than reading something that lights up. In its most natural state, the human body regulates one’s sleep time by the presence or absence of light. Having a house fully lit up at night does tend to screw these cycles up, and that’s probably why it’s best to pull yourself away from the computer at least a couple hours before the Sandman starts pounding on your door.

That’s my theory, and I’m stickin’ to it.

Anyway, I really like that old-school Nook. It’s not quite the same experience as the printed page (annotation is tough with the on-board keypad), but it’s easy on my poor abused eyeballs.

I can even read it under the covers by flashlight, just for old times’ sake.


Guess I’m not the only one who likes the older e-ink readers. Check out this column by Joe Wikert.





Give up my news habit? Forget it!

Coffee's drained, news is read ... now I can begin.

I saw this article about a Google engineer that makes a practice of giving up something every year — not so much for reasons of faith, but just to see if he can do it. This year, he’s giving up news.

My first thought was, maybe the guy should try something easy. Like cigarettes or crack or caffeine or something else.

Google engineer Matt Cutts gets on a self-improvement thing every year, and in the past he’s taken up marathon running, gone vegan, grown a ‘stache for Movember cancer awareness, and resolved to do a kind act every day. For March he raised the bar by resolving to give up news.

The rationale, he says, is there’s nothing he could do to change the news when it happens, and he burns a lot of mental resources keeping up.

It’s been rough, he says. At first he felt “unmoored” without all this information he’s used to gathering, then he realized he’s getting more important things done without all the constant stimuli. Besides, if a news event is important, someone will tell him about it anyway.

“It’s also interesting to see which ‘news’ stories are reflected back to me second-hand,” he said. “Evidently Snooki is pregnant and Rush Limbaugh did something that has people up in arms. It’s made me think a lot more about my information diet. We need better tools to distill the river of news – or more often, bread-and-circus factoids–down to the trickle of things that really matter.”

Kind of funny when you think about it. This guy works for Google, which made a fortune out of gathering information (some of it extremely personal, critics sahy) and making it available online. There’s no bigger collector on this earth than Google.

I’ve seen studies about how much information a person soaks up in a day, and trust me. It’s a lot. One study broke this information down to gigabytes and figured that if your brain was a hard drive you’d be filling it up awfully fast.

I can write with some sense of authority here, as I am an information junkie from way back. Never was much for TV, but I often had my nose in a book. And even at an early age I read a lot of newspapers. My mom was mystified why my shirtsleeves were so filthy and couldn’t get clean, and at the time I was a loss to explain it. But the closest I could figure out, it was from reading newspapers. The ink on newsprint never fully dries, and if you’re plunking your elbows on a broadsheet you’re going to be wearing a lot of that ink.

Back then, any kind of information was fair game. Newspapers. Magazines. The copy of the World Almanac I picked up every year, from 1968 to around 2000 when I realized I could get it online. Current events. Batting averages. Song titles. My mind was a vast garbage dump then, and it remains so to this day. I’m too old to change now.

With all these electronic tools, I can really get my news on. My most-visited Web site by far is Google Reader, the repository of all my RSS news subscriptions. My most-used smartphone app is one that allows me to access my Reader feeds, and I went crazy trying to find one that didn’t a) suck the battery dry, b) max out all my system memory or c) overheat the phone. I finally settled on one called FeedMe, but if I find a better one tomorrow you can bet I’ll download that too.

I’m just wired that way. According to the Gallup/Clifton Strengths Finder 2.0 test, “input” was one of my top five strengths — my superpower, as it were. Here’s how Strengths Finder describes the high-input person:

“You are inquisitive. You collect things. You might collect information — words, facts, books, quotations — or you might collect tangible objects such as butterflies, baseball cards, porcelain dolls or sepia photographs …” In other words, my brain absorbs 47 times its weight in excess information.

I needed an assessment quiz to tell me this?

For a person like me, indulging in a news habit can be a dangerous thing. I am prone to depression, and one of the real danger signs I must pay attention to is the tendency to isolate. And when I’m spending a lot of time reading news and chasing information, it’s real easy to slide into that isolation mode. That’s part of why I don’t have an Internet connection at home; this forces me to go out to at least download some news. The smartphone allows me some limited news-grabbing and surfing at home, but it’s not quite the same thing.

My RSS list includes many news sites, both mainstream and alternative. It has a handful of tech sites and some that I use to monitor trends — a must for this writer. And I have other sites geared toward the writing trade.

Then there’s Twitter. I have several feeds for local news, industry news and trends. Of all my social media, Twitter is the one I use the most. Gotta keep on top of things.

When I left print journalism in 1997, one would think I can get away from the constant need for news. But it just wasn’t so. I may not have had professional reasons to keep so up to speed on everything, but I still felt the need to do so. Even after all these years I hate to be out of the loop on anything. I guess you can take the boy out of journalism, just can’t take journalism out of the boy. Or something.

OK. Just call it what it is. I’m a news junkie.

Technology has changed things around some. I don’t buy as many books as I used to — haven’t picked up an armload at my favorite used bookstore in I don’t know how long. I think I picked up one newspaper all year, and I used to read several a day. But my Nook is loaded down with at least a couple hundred books and the RSS feed is always active. If I feel like pursuing a story further for this column or a freelance piece I’ll star it in Google Reader, tag it, take a few notes, and save the link in my editorial calendar.

But most of the news I read is strictly recreational.

So you can just forget it. I’m not joining Mr. Cutts on his latest vow. Are you kidding? I’d miss too much, and some of what I miss might be important.

Or not.



Remember these hanging blasts from the past?

Hang in there, baby!

For those of us baby boomers, some things just won’t go away. And it’s not the young folks trying to revive some of the traditions of the 1960s and 1970s either.

Take the wall poster, for example.

I saw this piece in mental_floss showing some of the iconic posters that people my age hung in their bedrooms when they were growing up.

My older brother and I shared a bedroom, and at some point Dad built a wooden retainer wall about four feet high to divide the room for privacy. I think he was trying to maintain a little peace at that end of the house; Rick and I were highly competitive and neither one of us had learned what “stand down” meant. This wall wasn’t high enough to prevent spitball attacks at 2300 hours (I’m saying nothin’ here), but it was a great place to hang posters.

Some say that was really me. Doubt it.

I had one Mom and Dad gave me. Y’all might remember it if a) you’re of the proper age and b) you still have a few brain cells left over from the 1960s/1970s assaults. It was a classic of the day, a kitten hanging onto a tree branch with a truly disgruntled look on its face.

Hang in there, baby.

I have no idea whatever happened to the actual kitten who participated in the photo shoot. Did it eventually live a long life and produce many kittens, keeping the torch active? Did it get its reproductive parts removed? Who knows?

Actually, there were several variations of this poster. Mine was in full color, with the cat hanging off the end of a branch. But the message remained the same. Hang in there, baby.

He really looks drunk.

I got a kick out of seeing Robert Crumb’s “Keep On Trucking” poster. A trucker I knew swears the guy bears a truly remarkable resemblance to me. Maybe it’s my California roots showing.

The Jim Morrison poster is another famous one of the time, and the photographer swears Morrison was slam drunk at the time, running into things and creating all sorts of collateral damage. He does look a little blitzed in the poster, now that I look at it again.

Check out the mental_floss article. Which posters did you hang on your wall? Do you have much memory of those days?




Pardon, your geezer is showing: A bucket list

Bucket lists are real popular these days; so popular you may have found one in your email box or social media platform.

Admittedly they’re fun, and they can be a real eye-opener. The usual response after filling out one of those is something like, “I’m amazed I’m still alive!”

This bucket list is different. The rules are the same as any other — check off those you’ve done — but the results will indicate your true age.

The more you check off, the closer to geezerhood you actually are.

Got that? Have fun.

Have you ever:

  • Changed the channel on your TV without using the remote?
  • Figured out the best position for your TV’s rabbit ears for all three channels?
  • Bought your music on vinyl albums?
  • Bought a single song on a 45 record?
  • Listened to a transistor radio?
  • Put leaded premium gas in your car? (Bonus: For less than 50 cents a gallon?)
  • Stared at a TV test pattern?
  • Licked a postage stamp?
  • Licked a postage stamp that cost less than a dime?
  • Found out how many pages you can stuff in an envelope for one stamp?
  • Written a check for “cash” at the bank or corner store?
  • Played baseball in a vacant lot?
  • Tried switch-hitting because Mickey Mantle did it?
  • Dammed up a creek?
  • Laid your tongue on a cold railroad track to prove your courage?
  • Dialed a phone? I mean really dialed. Punching buttons doesn’t count.
  • (For the ladies) Ever own a princess phone? (If any of y’all guys ever owned one, you automatically flunked. Go away. Quit bothering me.)
  • Used a slide rule to do your homework?
  • Used an electric typewriter for your homework?
  • Or a manual typewriter?
  • Cheated in math by counting on your fingers?
  • Used a hand-cranked pencil sharpener?
  • Brewed coffee in an electric percolator?

The more of these you can say “yes” to, the closer to geezerhood you are. Oh, I already said that? I’m repeating myself? Durn it all. I tend to do that more these days; can’t understand why.

Really, the points don’t matter. It’s kind of like pants on a tool booth collector, no one knows or cares. But it’s fun anyway.

Feel free to post your “score” in the comments section. As for me, I’ll take the Fifth.

— Eric


Talk to me: Any bucket-list items you think totally belong here? Share those in the comments section (along with your scores).


If your phone goes off and it’s nobody, you’re not alone

One of the things that took some getting used to was how active my Android phone gets. It makes noise and vibrates when I get a phone call, an email or a text message. Considering my own online/offline activity — not even counting all those alarms I set to keep my ADHD self on track, that’s a lot of vibrating.

So you can imagine my surprise when I felt my belt vibrate over my right hip, and when I checked it wasn’t for me. It wasn’t for anybody. It didn’t ring or vibrate at all. The phone sat inert in the belt pouch, and I only imagined the vibrations.

Welcome to the phenomenon called “phantom vibration,” which a study by the University of Worcester suggests is a sure sign you’re getting goofy about your phone.
It’s akin to those phantom pains amputees talk about, where a nonexistent foot itches or develops muscle spasms. Purely psychological stuff, and hard to explain unless you’ve experienced it.

Shoot, I feel enough like an idiot when someone else’s phone rings and I’m sure it’s mine. I’ve experienced enough of that to realize I get a little obsessed about that phone.
But when there’s no phone ringing anywhere near me, that’s when I know things are bad. What’s even worse is when I feel that vibration over my hip — while the phone is in my hand.

Turns out I’m not the only one who experiences this. I brought the subject up over dinner with a few good friends, all technophiles who would sooner leave the house without their pants than forget their phones. And all of these friends nodded knowingly when I mentioned phantom vibrations. The discussion became a heavy confession time for a few, and you’d swear a recovery group broke out right then and there. Lots of sympathizing but no solutions, but that’s normal. Like they say in recovery groups, we’re not trying to fix anything.

This study, as cited in the UK Telegraph, says workers who are issued a smart phone for on-the-job use, especially feel the stress that seems to trigger these phantom vibrations. They feel they’re not checking their messages often enough.
Psychlogist Richard Balding of the University of Worcester (why is it the British get to do all the cool research?) says it’s a stress thing — stress if you’re getting messages, and stress if you’re not.

According to the Telegraph:

” … this became a vicious cycle in which the more stressed people became, the more they compulsively felt the need to check their phone, the study showed … Balding, who led the research, said employers should seriously consider the burden that smart phones put on their workers … ‘Smart phone use is increasing at a rapid rate and we are likely to see an associated increase in stress from social networking,’ Balding said.”

(Note to employees everywhere: If your company issues you a smart phone, run like your hair’s on fire. Or negotiate a massive salary/wage increase. Your life is no longer your own.)

Others who use their smart phones as their link to social media may also feel the stress of always being “on,” or the anticipation of another message. Hey, if you get a text from Publishers Clearinghouse saying you’d won a few million bucks, you sure don’t want to miss it.

It’s crucial I stay in contact with the outside world. I do some social media stuff but it’s not a big part of my life. It’s not job-related, at least not related to my day job. But as I try to build something of a business on my own, contact is essential. It might not exactly be Ed McMahon calling from whatever realm he’s hanging out at these days, but potential customers and contacts have me keeping an eye on the phone. My own obsessive nature doesn’t help much either, but we won’t discuss that here.

Whoops. My phone is vibrating, and it’s nobody.



How much does the Internet know about you? (besides a lot)

How much does the Internet know about you?

Probably enough.

You’re surfing your favorite sites, and the ads seem to be for places that are awfully close to where you live, and for products/services you are interested in.

Like the man said about the Thermos bottle that keeps your coffee hot or your sweet tea cold, “how do it know?”

It’s almost accurate to say the Internet is stalking you. It sees you when you’re sleeping, it knows when you’re awake. It probably knows what sites you surf, and what you’re using to surf these sites.

Check out these graphics, and tell me they don’t creep you out:

(Signs by Danasoft – Get Your Sign)

These goofy graphics aren’t anything new. I had these up for a long time on my old blog, and I’ve been meaning to put them up here for some time. Now’s my chance.

Syndicated tech columnist Kim Komando recently ran a piece on this, along with a link to a site that is powered by When you click on the button below, it’ll bring you to the site with some really interesting information. OK, the linked site has the Kim Komando brand all over it, but … well, admit it, she’s not half bad to look at.

Anyway, click this graphic to find out all the gory details:

See What They Know

I copied/pasted the results from when I ran this test myself. For the record, I was using the wireless Internet system from my day job, running my Acer Aspire One with Bodhi Linux and Google Chrome:

* * *

Here’s what They Know

Your location as guessed from your IP Address

As I linked this into a social media site (Google+), I saw some of the values in the above box change. I don’t know if it will keep my information or read back yours. Probably the latter.

* * *

Below is from my own readout, and I excised some information that y’all probably didn’t need to know:

REFERRER (who told you to come to this page)
Default Browser 0
Mon Jan 09 2012 13:18:36 GMT-0500 (EST)

Sites you’ve visited

Hmmm… We were not able to detect any social networking sites that you’ve visited recently.

Sites must exploit a Web feature to see your history. By default, browsers display links you’ve visited in a different color. And sites can see how a page looks on your computer. If a link changes color, the site knows you’ve visited that link. Using special code, a site can check more than 25,000 links per second!

This page only checks to see if you’ve visited a handful of sites. If nothing is listed above, you haven’t visited one of the sites we checked (or you recently cleared your browsing history).

* * *

If you check the ip2location site itself, you might also find it quite interesting.

I saw that Net Speed entry on my readout (it says DSL) and this probably explains a bit. The wireless connection at work is really poky. But it’s a decent fringe benefit.

I will take the rest of the Komando readout to mean my computer is more secure than most. Unknown operating system, default browser, no history of sites browsed. Very good. Excellent, in fact. The more “unknowns” your readout has, the better.

You put enough of your business out there as it is.



Will smartphones trigger a pay phone comeback?

This relic may be coming back, thanks to your high-tech smartphone.

See related story: Android adjustments 2: Preserving battery life.

Cell phones killed the old pay-phone industry, and it appears they might be bringing the old communication icon back.

This may be good news for Clark Kent, who was reduced to finding an unoccupied men’s room to strip off his reporter’s duds and get into his Superman character. But the scuttlebutt is that pay phones may have a future again.

This backwards step comes as cell phones become more advanced and require more power to run them. Android units — which are king among the smartphone set — are particiularly power-hungry, and can suck your battery dry in just a few hours of heavy use.

Understand, this post is partly based on some stuff I’ve read on the net (always a dangerous thing) and partly from taking what I know and making some projections. There’s a lot of speculation here. Again, not the most sound journalistic practice, but I can still see this coming. As phones get smarter (though not necessarily the batteries), this becomes a logical conclusion.

Facebook synchronization and Web browsing will suck a battery dry fairly quickly, and the user is often reduced to some courses of action if he wishes to fire off a fast phone call:

  • Carry your AC adapter and pray you can find an unoccupied outlet somewhere.
  • Carry an extra, charged battery.
  • Make like Superman and find a pay phone.

So far, I haven’t seen any concrete evidence of a pay-phone resurgence, at least not in my neck of the woods. Although I understand pay phones are starting to come back in the larger cities, they’re as hard to find in the South Carolina Lowcountry as they’ve always been.

According to one of my spotters, Ted (the night mayor of Bonneau Beach, SC) his town has not a single pay phone. At all. Out there, cell reception is tricky, but it’s enough that you can at least get a signal.

So you may need to carry a few things when you travel with your Android phone:

  • AC adapter
  • Extra battery
  • Change for the pay phone. Most still take quarters.

Or maybe (shameless plug) just read my piece on preserving Android battery life, in my Random Hacks blog. You might learn something.


Talk to me: Have you ever thought you’d ever use a pay phone again? Don’t you wish one was around when your smart phone battery ran out?

Replacing a cardiac pacemaker battery: DIY not recommended

Prepare for surgery; this’ll only hurt a lot.

Recently my dad, who is 82 now, went in for a surgical procedure that I always wondered how it was done. He had the battery replaced in his heart pacemaker.

This surgery spurred a flurry of email from several corners of the country, as my older brother (upstate NY) and I (South Carolina) exchanged messages with Mom and Dad (California). The tone of the messages was, well, a little different.

My brother and I wanted to know how you actually replace a pacemaker battery, and what size jumper cables you’d use for the job. I’m really touched by all the sympathy that came across in these messages.

“Keep me posted,” I wrote. “I’ve always wondered how they replaced the battery.”

“So do they use tiny jumper cables?” my brother wanted to know. “Or new hamsters?” Sick puppy.

Now, I’m a big do-it-yourself fan. I do my own programming on the computer, built my own perpetual jukebox for the home stereo, and do whatever repairs are needed around the house. Part of it is because, admittedly, I’m frugal. But more important, I’m intrigued by the challenge of doing something myself. Always been that way.
So why not home surgery? I’ve mentioned it a time or two in this blog, and I was only joking a little. But with this Obamacare thing, expect more people to try home surgery using online instructions and whatever tools they may have in the desk drawer. Can’t be any worse than government-run health care, but that’s another rant for another day.

To this end, I went to eHow, the mother of all DIY sites. I’m familiar with eHow. Not only have I consulted that site for various projects. I also used to write for them. Seriously. My work shows up under a different name because, quite frankly, it’s hack work. I really don’t want that crap to be associated with my name. Even the headshot photo I used for eHow articles was designed so you can’t see my face. It paid, though, which is a lot more than you can say about other Web sites.

But enough of that. I did a little checking with eHow to see what articles I could find about replacing your own pacemaker battery. eHow being eHow, I had my preconceived notions:

1) Dash over to Walgreens and get a pacemaker battery. In most stores in the lower 48 states you will find them near the hearing aid batteries and continence supplies.
2) Sterilize a screwdriver, pocket knife, and needle-nose pliers. An autoclave is best for this task, but boiling the tools in spring water will work in a pinch …
… and so on like that.

According to eHow writer China Zmuida (did I mention that few of the writers use their real names?), battery replacement is only done through surgery, preferably by a real doctor under sterile conditions. Well, she didn’t say it exactly like that, but you get what I mean.

Which makes sense and it is the highly-recommended procedure, but really, that is kind of lame. But in China’s eHow piece, DIY surgery didn’t even enter the discussion. Her article had the standard tips and warnings prescribed under eHow’s editorial guidelines, and all of them have to do with not skipping appointments and the usual standard stuff. But the “do not try this at home” caveat appears nowhere in the article.

And there is no “hey, y’all, watch this” anywhere in the article.

The closest I found to a DIY project is a Livestrong piece by Mike Belfiore on how to replace the battery in a heart monitor. Not even in the same ballpark. Livestrong, by the way, is owned by the same folks (Demand Media/Demand Studios) that runs eHow.

I checked out another DIY site, Instructables, which has more over-the-top projects (try applying your own sutures as an example). Nothing there, either.

Anyway, I’m glad my Dad left this one for the professionals. He’s doing well, his color has improved since the battery was replaced, and he says he’ll be around a while to harass the family unit some more.



Stuck to the screen? You’re probably not alone

Wired says nine hours is the norm for how much time adults spend staring at electronic screens.

As a kid I was told that sitting to close to the TV would ruin my eyes. Something about the rays given off by the old picture tube, or maybe it was just adult propaganda. I was also told reading in dim light would also ruin my eyes.

Although I was never a big TV watcher and still am not — I have one that I’ve never turned on — my eyes are no great shakes. My distance vision has always been useless, and just recently got my first pair of old-man bifocals with the little slots at the bottom of the lenses. I was also told I have the beginnings of cataracts; no great shock given my age and family history. But it’s got to be the reading, right?

But for a non-TV watcher, I sure spend a lot of time staring at different electronic screens. In fact, I’m doing it now as I write this.


I’m not alone here. I saw an article in ZDNet’s Between The Lines blog that tells how much time a person spends in front of a screen. According to this poll taken by the PollPosition website, more than half of Americans are parked in front of some screen up to six hours a day.

Now, that doesn’t really say much on the surface, and there’s a whole bunch of wiggle room in these numbers. But here’s a further breakdown:

  • 1-3 hours: 31 percent
  • 4-6 hours: 30 percent
  • 7-9 hours: 22 percent
  • 10 hours or more: 12 percent
  • Spend no time: 2 percent

Drilling down some:

  • Men were most likely to spend 4 to 6 hours in front of a screen at 34.1 percent, while more women (32.1 percent) spend 1 to 3 hours.
  • More democrats spend 4 to 6 hours (31 percent), while most Republicans (38.4 percent) spend 1 to 3 hours.

Whatever it is, that’s a lot of screen time.

Keep in mind, the operative phrase here is any screen. This includes the big-screen TV, the desktop computer, the laptop, the cell phone, the e-book reader, and my cool new Android phone. The quality of the information on the screen isn’t the issue here (reading Plato’s Republic on the Nook counts the same as watching an eager-beaver nudie flick on cable), and it doesn’t even matter whether you’re being productive or turning into a drooling couch potato. Screen time is screen time here.

What gets confusing is that another study, cited in a 2009 story in the New York Times, calls 8.5 hours the daily average screen time per adult. And both Social Times and Wired say nine hours is the norm, though they both quoted the Times piece.

Of course, 88.3 percent of all statistics are made up on the spot. I know this because I just made that one up.

When I read this, I felt the need to take a little personal inventory. I have a number of devices with video screens: An ancient desktop computer I use for writing, a small Acer netbook that I’m using now, the Android, and the Psion Teklogix I use at my day job. But in the course of my day:

  • Waking up: 0.5 hours on the Android, checking my email and agenda on the Android.
  • Morning writing session: About 1 hour on the desktop.
  • Commute: 0.5 hours, reading the news on the Android while riding the bus.
  • Work: 6 hours on the Psion when it’s busy. When it’s not, I’ll break out the netbook and do some research, more writing, or post this blog. The boss doesn’t mind, because my nature is to take care of business first. But busy or not, that screen time is pretty constant.
  • After work: 2 hours, writing and researching on the netbook and wifi signal at the college library. This is really my most productive time.
  • At home: 2 hours, either at the desktop or the Android. I try to shut things down at 9 p.m., but it doesn’t always work that way. I’ll read for an hour after dinner, and while it’s usually a real book it could be an ebook on the Android.

Total: At least 12 hours. Per. Day.


So no, those red lines criscrossing my eyeballs at 9 p.m. are not I-40 and I-26, but it sometimes looks that way.

I try to give all this stuff a rest on weekends. I’ll spend a few hours writing on Saturday, and nothing more than a little lightweight editing and news reading on Sunday. I know it’s good practice to shut the electronics down for one day a week — a Sabbath, if you will. I’m deeply envious of those who can disconnect from that electronic teat for 24 hours without going into withdrawals.

Again, I’m not the only one who lives in front of a screen. What about those cubicle dwellers who live in front of the office PC and need a weather program to let them know if the sun is shining outside?