Category Archives: BOLLI Monthly Features

Each month, special features appear on the BOLLI Matters blog. These include “Tech Talk” with John Rudy (computer and technology related issues); “Senior Moments” with Eleanor Jaffe and Liz David (issues related to transitions, healthy aging, etc.); and “The Book Nook” with Abby Pinard (recommended items you may have missed). Yet to come, “The Screening Room” (recommended movies and videos you may have missed).

MARCH SENIOR MOMENT with Liz David: Legacy Letters

LEGACY LETTERS

by Liz David

As we age, we begin to think about legacy.  We write health care proxies which may or may not include ”do not resuscitate” orders. We may designate  a family member or independent person as having our power of attorney.  We write wills as to how we want our financial assets distributed and include lists of those we wish to receive our personal items such as precious jewelry, family heirlooms and special, meaningful, possibly sentimental items.  We may agonize about who should get what and how much, who should receive this or that item, or who even wants anything!

Some of us offer our children and grandchildren these items as we age, before we die.  “Thank you, Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa–but we don’t have any room.  It just doesn’t fit.”  Or, worse, “it isn’t our taste.”  Or, even, “You still have a lot of years ahead, and we want you to continue to enjoy the item” of the moment while you still can.

There is another legacy, though, that may be even more meaningful than the above and doesn’t depend on legalities or whether or not anyone wishes to receive the item.  It is a “Legacy Letter,” or, as described in ancient times, an Ethical Will.  A Legacy Letter is a letter we write to our loved ones, either to be opened after death, or shared whenever you decide the time is right.  It is a way to synthesize our thoughts and feelings in a meaningful  and loving way. It is a way to transmit our love, our special stories, anecdotes, and the lessons we have learned over a lifetime.

As older adults, we consciously, or not, are models. Our behavior, attitudes and values are transmitted to those around us.  We teach by our lives, our examples, our deeds, our spoken and unspoken words. It is normal for us to think about what is important for us to transmit to those in our sphere, our family, loved ones, closest friends.

Don’t get me wrong.  Keeping our relationships “current” should be a top priority, either through confronting difficult subjects or, simply, giving a peck on the cheek as we walk out the door, knowing that, given life’s unpredictability, we may never see that person again. It may sound dramatic, but it’s true!

Here are some guidelines that I’ve used  when helping Legacy Letter participants through the process.

  1. Are there specific things you wish to say to specific people?
  2. What are the important teachings, messages, etc. you would like to leave as your legacy?
  3. What qualities in the people you are writing to have given you pride or pleasure? What do you want to affirm about them?
  4. If you have a life partner, would you want to give him or her encouragement to re-couple?
  5. What acts of charity would you like survivors to do in your memory? Do you want money donated? To a specific cause
  6. Discuss funeral plans. Remember funerals are for your survivors.

Do’s and Don’t’s

  1. Do include your favorite jokes and memories of the good times you’ve shared.
  2. Don’t scold, criticize or use this as a guilt trip to punish people.
  3. Inform loved ones where you have stored your Legacy Letter.
  4. Update periodically

Regarding whether to write your Legacy Letter on the computer or handwritten–I suggest you do both. There is nothing so precious as receiving a handwritten letter,  and it will reflect your style and personality in ways that will be appreciated beyond measure.

May you go from strength to strength.

Senior Moment feature writers Eleanor Jaffe (left) and Liz David (right)

When we were in our 40’s, my husband and I bought a sundial with the saying “grow old along with me–the best is yet to be.”  I then felt a “calling” and, at age 45, earned my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees and became a bereavement counselor.  Later, a friend encouraged me to join BOLLI where I began to offer courses in which we discuss our aging–from the physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual aspects of our lives.  My passion is to help others to gain deeper understanding of themselves and the changes, losses, gains, and glories of aging.  So, “grow old along with me–the best is yet to be.”

FEBRUARY TECH TALK with John Rudy: MAKING TRAVEL PLANS

THE NEW WORLD OF ONLINE TRAVEL PLANNING

It used to be that, whenever I wanted to take a trip, I drove into Lexington and visited Colpitt’s Travel where Marilyn would help us make reservations.  Unfortunately, she often had to deal with airlines that didn’t answer the phone and hotels in places she hadn’t visited.  The situation today is very different, and most of the readers of this blog already probably take advantage of some of the tools out there.  The purpose of this entry is to provide you with some ideas you might not be familiar with—and, of course, what I provide here is just a small piece of what is available.  Be sure to use the comment box at the end to add your ideas and/or ask questions!

Step1:

Where/when do I want to go?                                                                                 Do I want to arrange for airfare or a package with car and/or hotel?     Do I have flexibility for travel dates, times of day, locations?         What am I willing to give up for the lowest price out there?                 Do I want trip cancellation insurance?

Step 2:

Pick one of the travel tools that are available online.  Various review sites contrast the different tools, but there is some consensus that www.booking.com is the best overall site and www.Priceline.com is the best for last-minute deals.

Other popular sites include: Expedia, Cheap Air, Travelocity, Trip Advisor, and Kayak.

These sites allow you to 1) search across many different airline or select specific ones; 2) deal with specific or flexible travel dates; 3) sort information by date, price, time, and number of stops.

Be sure to look carefully at car rental information, especially at drop-off fees.  Also be sure to note whether or not the site will alert you if there are price changes and if you will be able to take advantage of that information.  Be aware, too, of the busiest airports.  Smaller airports (like Providence) may be available near your destination—prices, though, might be higher, and they might have less availability.

Get Money for Change Flights

Airlines overbook assuming that they will have no-shows.  Many times, they provide offers for volunteers willing to take different flights.  Offers go up when there are no takers.  But be sure to ask questions.

Sometimes, the offer provided can only be used with a full-fare ticket.  The offer may not apply to your whole group.  What if the next flight is also fully booked?  Ask for a flight guarantee within X hours.  If the delay to a substitute flight turns out to be X hours long, will they reimburse an overnight hotel bill?

Many years ago, I met someone who located the busiest American Airlines flight to LA and booked it to visit the grandchildren.   He always got bumped.

When Should I Fly?

Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the least expensive days on which to fly; then Saturday.  Fridays and Sundays are the most expensive.  Very early morning, late night, red-eye, and mealtime flights are cheaper than other flights.

When Should I Book?

According to FareCompare.com data, the best time for booking in the U.S. is on Tuesday at 3 p.m.  Many airlines release their weekly sales late on Mondays or early on Tuesdays.  By mid-afternoon on Tuesdays, then, the competing airlines have matched the lower prices.

U.S. domestic tickets: Shop between 3 months and 30 days before departure. International fares: Shop between 5 ½ months and 1 ½ months before departure. Peak travel: During peak seasons such as June, July and August or the December holidays, purchase tickets two months in advance.

The large companies from whom we used to buy travel books now have elaborate, comprehensive web sites.  These are particularly useful when trying to get detailed data on a location.  Browse them and see what is available.  These include, but are not limited to:  http://www.fodors.com/  and https://www.viamichelin.com  as well as https://www.lonelyplanet.com

One last item:  Google is pretty good.  If you type in, say, “American Airlines 145,” you will get the status of that flight.  If it is already airborne, you will get its ETA and the arriving Gate Number–some airlines even make it possible for you to track their in-air flights!

BOLLI Tech Talker John Rudy

John, a long time computer expert and guide, provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide questions on this month’s or any other computer/tech topic that you’d like to know more about in future Tech Talk articles.

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402

JANUARY “SENIOR MOMENT”: The Superagers!

“Use It or Lose It—-THE SUPERAGERS”

by Eleanor Jaffe

“How to Become a Superager,” (a recent NY Times article) gives added credence to the well-known phrase, “Use it or lose it.”  The author, Lisa Feldman Barrett, recommends that we elders work HARD at intellectual and physical challenges.  She writes, “If people consistently sidestep the discomfort of mental effort or physical exertion, this restraint can be detrimental to the brain,” since, “all brain tissue gets thinner from disuse. If you don’t use it, you lose it….so work that brain.” What is more, she says, “The discomfort of exertion means you’re building muscle and discipline….superagers excel at pushing past the temporary unpleasantness of intense effort.”   (To access this article, click here)

This is great advice that we BOLLI members follow in our course work—right?  But we are, after all, “seasonal learners” with long  interruptions between semesters.   When I started to think about how to keep building brain muscle during BOLLI’s course breaks, I discovered that even vacation can keep us superagers going.

EXERCISING MY SUPERAGER BRAIN WHILE ON VACATION!

I’d like to think that the luxury of being able to purchase and outfit a new vacation condo in Florida has given me and my husband a multitude of opportunities to exercise our superager brain muscles. The challenges of setting up a new apartment are multiple, even to experienced hands like us.  Here’s what I mean:

Let’s see.  First of all, how shall I equip my now empty condo?

I start by making a floorplan and a color chart.  Next, I decide what furnishings we need and make a master list. It doesn’t take long before I have to look for the often misplaced list, but when I find it,  I tend to revise it.  Then, I take it with us when we go shopping.  Back home in Boston, I dig up unbreakable furnishings (linens, trays, small rugs, etc.) that we could use in Florida. I pack them up and ship them down.  (I should have made a list of them…)

Next, I explore the resources my new surroundings have to offer.  What stores carry the things I will need?  How do I find those stores and websites that reliably provide “stuff”?  I consider the advice of the other newcomers we meet about how they achieved the same goals.  I learn about “consignment shops” where “lightly used” used items of often good quality are sold.  Sarasota has about 35.  And this kind of shopping offers adventure!  You never know what you may find—or how quickly someone else will spot that terrific bargain.  I’ve learned to be prepared to purchase on the spot.  I’ve also learned to schedule deliveries so that I will be at home when these purchases arrive.

But furnishing a new space isn’t all that this kind of relocating involves.  Our superaging brains get lots of exercise as we memorize lots of new code numbers: beach locker number, house entrance number, security number, cell phone number, etc., etc., etc.   I have to write them down. (And then look for this list later, too.)  We also have to learn directions: east, west, north, and south–especially difficult for me since I am–and always have been–“directionally challenged.”  We have to learn the names and locations of new streets, highways, restaurants, movie houses, parks, beaches, etc.

And, of course, probably most important of all, we need to think about how to create a new social life.

We make lists of activities that seem like they will be fun or worthwhile.  We locate the best lifelong learning center in the area so we can continue to do classroom learning.  And all along the way, we make new friends.  (The challenge, of course, is to remember their names.)  And, of course, we make sure that we stay in touch with old friends—they are the best.

We also need to schedule visitors.  And that takes special planning—how many and how often is too much?  Of all my tasks, this one seems to be the most challenging to me.

I am reminded of a hint from the renowned psychologist, B.F. Skinner.  He said that as we age, we forget a lot, and we ought to routinely equip ourselves with a pad that we wear around our necks that contain our “lists.”

Do you think pads around the neck could become the new fashion accessory for us “superagers”?

 

Eleanor and Liz
“Senior Moment” feature writers Eleanor Jaffe and Liz David

Eleanor says that, “As I grow older, I am more interested in the conditions, changes, services, culture, and even politics affecting me, my husband of 53 years, my friends — and my 102 year old mother.  What does it mean to be growing older in today’s society?  To satisfy my growing curiosity, I created and taught three different classes about aging issues over the past several years at BOLLI.  My experiences as a social worker and as a high school teacher of English–plus a lot of reading about aging and loss—and, of course, living to 80 (so far)–have prepared me to write this blog.

JANUARY “BOOK NOOK”: Two BIG Novels

As the winter cold sets in,  Abby offers ideas for some good long-term reading time.   Here are two items you may have either missed along the way or might simply want to re-read.

THE FORSYTE SAGA

John Galsworthy, 1921

“He had long forgotten the small house in the purlieus of Mayfair, where he had spent the early days of his married life, or rather, he had long forgotten the early days, not the small house, – a Forsyte never forgot a house – he had afterwards sold it at a clear profit of four hundred pounds.”

There you have it. Nine hundred pages of delicious soap opera wrapped around sly commentary on the acquisitiveness and striving of the British upper-middle classes around the turn of the twentieth century. The Forsytes aren’t landed aristocracy like Lord Grantham of “Downton Abbey.” They’re only a couple of generations removed from farmers. But they’ve been successful in trade, in publishing, at the bar, and they live in ongepotchket Victorian splendor, faithfully served by retainers and housemaids, in London and its environs.

Galsworthy was himself the product of a wealthy family and trained as a barrister before traveling abroad, meeting Joseph Conrad and envisioning a different life. He fell in love with the wife of his cousin, an army major, and married her after a ten-year affair and her eventual divorce. He was among the first writers to deal with social class in his work and to challenge the mores and ideals reinforced by the Victorian writers who preceded him. Notably, but not surprisingly given his personal life, he defied the standard view of women as property and defended their right to leave unhappy marriages.

“’I don’t know what makes you think I have any influence,’ said Jolyon; ‘but if I have I’m bound to use it in the direction of what I think is her happiness. I am what they call a “feminist,” I believe…I’m against any woman living with any man whom she definitely dislikes. It appears to me rotten.’”

It is the unhappily married woman referred to here around whom much of The Forsyte Saga revolves. Irene (I-reen-ee), disastrously married to a “man of property,” is the antithesis of a Forsyte. She represents beauty and art and passion and free will. Before reluctantly marrying Soames Forsyte, she extracted a promise that he would let her go if it didn’t work out. His failure to do so drives the story and a multi-generational family estrangement. While Galsworthy thoroughly develops the other primary characters, Irene is a beautiful cipher at the center of the novel. We never get her point of view; we see her through the eyes of others and can only infer her thoughts and feelings.

The Forsyte Saga features a huge cast of characters but the family tree that accompanies most editions is needed only at the beginning. To Galsworthy’s credit, we quickly get to know the main characters and the chorus of peripheral relatives that swirl around them. There are births, deaths, betrayals, couplings, uncouplings, recouplings, and generational upheaval, all conveyed in deft, eminently readable prose, a short 900 pages. This is a sumptuous wallow of a book with redeeming social value.

EARTHLY POWERS

Anthony Burgess, 1980

A monumental novel that stuck in my mind for thirty years as an all-time favorite but needed to be reread to remind me why. An octogenarian British writer, said to be loosely based on W. Somerset Maugham, is tasked to attest to a miracle that will support the canonization of a Pope and writes his memoirs, giving us a personal tour of the 20th-century through his life as a homosexual, lapsed Catholic, successful but mediocre writer, and exile. Examines morality, the nature of evil, the role of religious belief and more. Linguistically playful and full of historical inaccuracies courtesy of its unreliable narrator, the novel features one of the best opening lines in literature* (sure to send you to the dictionary), and is funny, painful, thought-provoking, entertaining, challenging and rewarding. Shortlisted for the Booker prize in 1980, it often appears high on lists of best British fiction of the late 20th century.

*”It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.”

 

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 8.50.58 PM
“Book Nook” feature writer and Book Group co-leader, Abby Pinard

Abby is a lifelong book nut who retired from a forty-year computer software career in 2007 and ticked an item off her bucket list by going to work in a bookstore. She is a native New Yorker who moved to Boston recently to be among her people:  family and Red Sox fans.  She is a music lover, crossword puzzler, baseball fan, and political junkie who flunked Halloween costumes but can debug her daughter’s wifi.

 

 

 

 

NOVEMBER’S BOOK NOOK: Short Takes

Every now and then,  Abby opts for a “sextet of shorts” instead of her more in-depth “trios” of reviews.  Here is her first eclectic batch.

BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK

Ben Fountain

billy-lynn

A brilliant novel about war that takes place far from the field of battle at the annual Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving Day football game, the culmination of a “victory tour” for a squad of young grunts whose heroic actions in Iraq have made them a marketable commodity to drum up support for the war.  Hilariously skewers the culture of instant celebrity, politics, patriotism and power, and poignantly conveys the senselessness of sending young men to war. Five stars.  (Ang Lee’s movie version arrives in theaters this week.)

THE WOMAN UPSTAIRS

Claire Messud

messud

Nora Eldridge is angry.  How angry?  “You don’t want to know,” she tells us in the opening line of this searing psychological study.  Four years ago, she was finally shedding the Nora who was “the good friend, good daughter, good teacher, doormat….Miss Nobody Nothing…” to become more fully alive,  the artist and special person she always knew herself to be.  She was brought to this euphoric but precarious state by falling in love with (pushing her way into? getting ensnared by?) a family: a glamorous, recognized artist, her professor husband, and their beautiful eight-year-old son.   Could it possibly end well?  A novel that grabs you and won’t let go.

 

THE LAST REPORT ON THE MIRACLES AT LITTLE NO HORSE

Louise Erdrich

erdrich

In 1912, Agnes DeWitt adopts the cassock and persona of a Catholic priest who drowns en route to his missionary post in remote North Dakota. For almost a century, Agnes binds her breasts and, as Father Damien, lives a “sincere lie,” ministering to the Ojibwe people she comes to see as her own.  This novel, written in 2001, is the sixth in the series that began with Love Medicine in 1984 and features many of the same members of the Ojibwe clans in the earlier books as well as Louise Erdrich’s elegant, lyrical prose and mix of realism, fable, and humor. The devotion and passion (both earthly and spiritual) of Agnes/Damien hold it all together, despite some sluggish patches in the Ojibwe stories, and make this an emotionally affecting novel.

ONCE UPON A RIVER

Bonnie Jo Campbell

once-upon-a-river

After she is raped by her uncle and her father is killed, teen-aged Margo Crane takes to the (fictional) Stark River in rural Michigan to look for the mother who abandoned her several years earlier and to find out how to live.  Margo is a crack shot,  knows every bend in the river,  lives off the land and is sometimes treated well and sometimes badly by the men she meets.  Beautifully written, especially if you enjoy description of the natural world and wilderness survival tales, which I don’t.  I was more interested in Margo than in how to skin a muskrat, but I was interested enough in Margo to enjoy this book more than I expected to.

OPEN CITY

Teju Cole

open-city

This critically acclaimed debut novel has no plot to propel it forward, just the ruminations of the solitary and possibly unreliable narrator – a young Nigerian-born psychiatrist – on identity, art, literature, music, death and more as he wanders the streets of Manhattan and has occasional interactions with friends and strangers, most of them immigrants like himself.  Beautiful prose, with crystalline descriptions of the city and crisp sketches of people.  Surprisingly compelling.

THE RADETZKY MARCH

Joseph Roth

radetzky

Written in 1932 by Joseph Roth, the under-appreciated Austrian-Jewish writer who died young of alcoholism in Paris a few years later, The Radetzky March depicts the waning of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the years before World War I.  It begins in 1859, at the Battle of Solferino, when a peasant-born lieutenant saves the life of the young Kaiser, Franz Joseph I, and is rewarded with elevation to the nobility.  The novel follows successive generations of the now-aristocratic von Trotta family into the bureaucracy and the military and into eventual disillusionment that parallels the collapse of the Empire.  Roth’s prose evokes a lost world on every page, not as nostalgic reverie but with a portrayal of the deadly effects of the monarchy on its subjects of all classes and with vivid, detailed descriptions of everything from the landscape to village life to an old man’s cuffs.  Brilliant.

 

ABBY P
BOOK NOOK Feature Writer Abby Pinard

Abby is a lifelong book nut who retired from a forty-year computer software career in 2007 and ticked an item off her bucket list by going to work in a bookstore. She is a native New Yorker who moved to Boston recently to be among her people:  family and Red Sox fans.  She is a music lover, crossword puzzler, baseball fan, and political junkie who flunked Halloween costumes but can debug her daughter’s wifi.

NOVEMBER’S SENIOR MOMENT: A New Role Model for Aging

A NEW ROLE MODEL FOR AGING—THIS TIME FROM CHINA

by Eleanor Jaffe

A new role model for aging has emerged from China.  Known as China’s “hottest grandpa,” Deshun Wang still works as an actor, artist, disc jockey, and designer.  Last year, at the age of 79, he added “model” to his resume when, for the first time, he strode down a fashion runway, shirtless.  As one reporter put it, “His physique caused a national sensation.”

deshun-wang-runway

Deshun’s approach to life defies Chinese norms for growing old.  Although many Chinese exercise early in the day, he reports that his exercise time is from to 3 to 6 pm and that he swims about one-half mile per day.  “Morning,” he says, “is my learning time. I read books and news.”

deshun-wang-3

In a society where the legal retirement age for women is 50 or 55 and 60 is the retirement age for most men, Deshun Wang defies all stereotypes for aging in China, present and past.

Early in the 1980’s (not so very long ago),  I traveled to China with my husband on a trip sponsored by the National Education Association.   I vividly recall one of our stops at a worker’s home.  Men and women, all of whom worked in nearby factories, lived in the large complex made of four-story apartment buildings that we visited that day.  Once retired, these workers remained with their extended families, taking care of their grandchildren.  We met one such family.  Four generations lived in a single small apartment—an elderly grandmother, her son, his retired wife, their grown son and daughter-in-law, and the younger couple’s small child all shared the space.

It is the grandmother who remains most vivid in my memory.  She was a tiny, frail, aged woman, and she sat perched on a high stool.  She had been born and raised before the communist Revolution, during the time when young girls still had their feet bound.  Those bindings grew more restrictive and painful as girls grew from latency to young adulthood when they would be married.  Bound feet were considered beautiful, an asset in the marriage market.  This old woman (who was in her 70s or 80s, whose son was about 55), wore no shoes, and her feet did not resemble any human feet that I had ever seen:  they were tiny, but the toes turned way under the arch reaching toward her heels. They were extraordinarily deformed, like claws or talons which seemed to be growing into the fleshy part of her heels.  Her feet could not possibly have supported her.  I doubt that she could walk at all.  Yet, this old woman represented, for probably hundreds of years prior to the Revolution, the image of what women should be like. An age-old model for aging.

I look forward to the day when China celebrates a new female role model:  energetic, striding forward toward the future, regarded as just capable as men, perhaps even a government leader.  Until that time, though, Deshun Wang is providing a new model, literally, for successful aging at least for men.

deshun-wang-1
Deshun Wang, print fashion model

He has some words of advice about aging that, for me, transcend our cultural differences:

“One way to tell if you’re old or not is to ask yourself, do you dare try something you’ve never done before?  It’s about your state of mind.  It’s not about age.  Nature determines age, but you determine your state of mind….People can change their lives as many times as they wish.”

deshun-wang-2

Thank you, Deshun.

To access The New York Times article, click here.

 

TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: Searching is Not for the Faint of Heart

This month’s tech offering is all about the art of searching the internet–which is not really as daunting as it may seem.  

search 1

Let’s start by getting a bit of terminology out of the way.

web browser (commonly referred to as a browser) is a software application for retrieving, presenting and traversing information resources on the World Wide Web.  The most common are Chrome and Internet Explorer though there have been many issues with Explorer so Microsoft is switching to Edge.  But Edge is not ready for prime time.  I suggest you all use Chrome though Safari and Firefox are good alternatives.  Chrome has about half the market.

web search engine is a software system that is designed to search for information on the Web, returning pages that meet specified criteria Google is the clear winner here.  Bing and Ask are becoming intrusive and sometimes you’ll find them taking over (the subject of a much longer discussion.

pie chart

There is a lot of data out there to search.  The following snippet is old and is probably off by a factor of 10.  BUT  ….   Luckily Google runs “web Crawlers” at night to make it easier to find data amongst all this.

search question 1

It is expected that by the end of the year there will be a zettabyte of bytes moved every year.   That is a million times bigger than a Petabyte.  Most if not all of you use Google but it turns out that you can use it better.  There are books and articles with hundreds of examples of things that you can do; I’m just going to mention a few.

  • Put your most important search term first
  • “George washington” (caps don’t matter) is NOT the same as George Washington.  Putting quotation marks around the words indicates that you want to find the two words together in the page.
  • Take advantage of exclusion. “George Washington” –bridge will exclude all references that include the word bridge
  • Google makes a lot of smart guesses. Delta 1431 will get you the status of the flight.  02420 will get you the zipcode and bring up a map of Lexington.  781 will bring up the area code.  You can even put in Fedex or UPS numbers.  Put in Red Sox and you will get the information on the current game including a link for box scores, etc.
  • When you return a search, the words Search Tool is near the top. Click on that and you will see the words “any time” with a downward arrow.  Click on the arrow and you’ll see that you can restrict the time range for the search.  This is very important as it removes a lot of obsolete information.
  • For those with a mathematical bent, you can set up a Boolean Search, viz: snowmobile and (snowblower or Green Bay). But you don’t need the “and”
  • The asterisk is a wild card. The search for three * mice will allow any middle word
  • Define happy goes out to the dictionary for the word happy.  (I used that a lot when I was reading The Iliad.)
  • You can do math or currency conversion . You can even say 176 in roman numerals, and it returns the right answer.  1 a.u./c returns 8.31675359 min, with “a.u.” meaning “astronomical units” and c is the speed of light.
  • If you type in a location, you can get directions, a map, and  markings for traffic problems. You can even ask for a walking or bicycle route rather than a car route.
  • You can ask questions: double quarter pounder with cheese has * calories

search 2

This is just scratching the surface.  We could have a 1-2 hour talk on the subject!

BOLLI Tech Talker John Rudy
BOLLI Tech Talker John Rudy

John, a long time computer expert and guide, provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide questions on searching or any other computer/tech topic that you’d like to know more about in future Tech Talk articles.

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402)

 

 

 

 

TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: Additional Security Issues

TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY:  ADDITIONAL SECURITY ISSUES

tech talk

In August,  I talked about the importance of proper passwords for your computer life and stressed that using the same password for everything risks that someone able to find it has access to your whole life.  I also said that simple passwords like your spouse’s first name or the name of your first pet are too easy to crack.   Thanks to Facebook and easy hacker tools, data about you is readily available so you have to come up with complex passwords at least 8 characters long.  So how can you remember all this?  The first step is to get them off paper and into a computer file, like an Excel spreadsheet.  But don’t name the spreadsheet “passwords” and put it into a folder called “important computer information”.

Any file on your computer can be encrypted.  Yes, I know that is one more password to remember.  Depending on the version of Microsoft Office you have, there are somewhat different processes, and you can Google to find them.  For Word 2010 or Excel 2010, click on FILE, then on INFO, then on PROTECT DOCUMENT and you can supply a password.

IMPORTANT: practice this on some test documents until you are sure you remember just how to do it.

Quite a few companies sell password Managers (protected by a password) where you can store all your passwords and information about the passwords.  These managers make it easy to retrieve the password you want from a variety of devices (desktop, laptop, smartphone, and tablet).  Here is a review from PC Magazine of the best password Managers in 2016.  There is a lot of interesting material in this article and it is interesting to me that the PW Managers most talked about a couple of years ago are no longer on this list. http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2407168,00.asp

To switch topics …

I received a note asking me about the unsubscribe link found at the bottom of many emails sent by commercial companies. The question (reminds me of Marathon Man) was “Is it safe?”  Well, that depends.  If you are certain that the email is from a legitimate company, then the unsubscribe is a perfect way to stop getting their email.  But sometimes, the email is unsolicited and might be what is called phishing.  It looks like it is from a legitimate company but is not, and the unsubscribe is a trick to get you to click on to a link that will import malware to your computer.  But let’s say that the email is from a legitimate source.  Then hitting the unsubscribe tells the sender that you are real, and that may give it information about you that is tucked into your response, setting you up for other advertising from complicit companies.  I recently got an email containing an unsubscribe link.  The source address on it was UNO@unoinsiderclub.com.  I suspect it is okay, but anyone can buy an address like that.  The UNO home page is unos.com so I would have been more comfortable if I had received the email from that url or a subset of that url.

Next month’s talk will be on travel, but before we get to that, here is a reminder: Take out all the credit cards and other stuff (like SS card and license) in your wallet and place it on your printer.  Take pictures of both sides. Then take a picture of your passport.  Put these pictures in your safe deposit box and another safe place in your house so if your wallet is stolen you know what the crooks have.  Why not limit it to your safe deposit box?  Because if the theft is Saturday at 4pm you won’t be able to get to the safe deposit box until Monday morning.

 

 

 

TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: Passwords

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We are pleased to inaugurate our new monthly technology feature!  On the first Friday of each month, John Rudy will provide us with good, solid, practical, hands-on (and off) information and advice about our computer use.  Be sure to respond with questions and topics you’d like to have John address in future articles.

Today’s subject is PASSWORDS.

Almost everywhere you go in the computer world, you are asked for passwords, but there have been enough articles recently to convince everyone that, despite this mandate, many files are not secure. So let’s hit the basics.

  • To be secure, a password must be long and complex. Using “123456” or “johnrudy” will be cracked almost instantaneously. That is why you want a minimum of 8 characters and should use upper and lower case, numerals, and special characters. That gives about 75 options for each position.
  • Do not use the same password for all your accounts. If you do, when it is cracked, you are open totally.
  • Not everything has to be protected in the same way. Worry about money. So bank accounts, brokerage firms, and any site that has your credit card should be protected most carefully–and each must be different. (Using “123456” for your high school will probably result in little damage.)
  • Passwords must be written down. That does NOT mean having a file titled PASSWORD.doc on your computer or a written list in your desk top drawer. This is really the subject of a subsequent article, but if you store them in a file, the file must be encrypted with a password; and if you write them down, store them in a non-obvious place, like with your cheesecake recipes. There are a number of good, automated programs that can address this issue. Another solution is to place this file on a thumb-drive.
  • Give your password file to your heir. This is not a joke. Someone you trust needs to be able to step in when memory issues, incapacitation, fatal illness occur.

And finally, when you dispose of your computer, remember that merely deleting a file does NOT, in fact, remove it from your system. Best Buy and other places claim that they fully wipe your drive when you give them an old computer. Here is a good article on the subject from a reputable source.

http://pcsupport.about.com/od/toolsofthetrade/tp/erase-hard-drive.htm

John Rudy
BOLLI Member and Tech Wizard John Rudy

John, a longtime computer expert and guide, provides this helpful hints in this monthly feature in BOLLI Matters.  In the comment box below, provide questions on passwords or any other computer/tech topic that you’d like to know more about in future Tech Talk articles.

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402)

 

 

JULY BOOK NOOK: Three Books about Immigration

Book Nook reviewer Abby Pinard is back–this time, with three books about immigration.

A REPLACEMENT LIFE

by Boris Fishman, 2014

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Slava Gelman is a junior staffer at a magazine that isn’t but might as well be The New Yorker, where his assignment is to ferret out and crack wise about absurd news items in small-town newspapers. Slava lives on the Upper East Side, which isn’t but might as well be on the other side of the world from “Soviet Brooklyn” where he landed as a child on arrival from Minsk (as did Fishman), where his grandparents still live, and which his parents fled for suburban New Jersey. When Slava’s grandmother dies, he treks via subway to Brooklyn and before long is trekking regularly, roped by his scheming grandfather into crafting (he’s a writer, isn’t he?) a fictitious claim to the German government for a slice of the reparations pie earmarked for Holocaust survivors. So what if Grandfather didn’t suffer precisely as required to be eligible? Didn’t the Germans make sure to kill those who did? So begins Boris Fishman’s darkly comic and very impressive debut novel.

Fishman pulls off a difficult feat in a first novel, even one so closely grounded in his own experience. He has written a book that is both funny and genuinely moving. The Jews of Brighton Beach, who survived the Nazis and the Soviets through cunning, luck and sheer force of will, are a brilliantly drawn tough lot, re-inventing themselves once again in a place where you can “afford to be decent.” Slava wants to free himself from “the swamp broth of Soviet Brooklyn” and earn a byline by writing elegant prose but in borrowing true elements of his dead grandmother’s life to fashion false narratives for his grandfather and his grandfather’s friends, he is drawn more deeply into the past and into the community he has longed to escape.

Poor, confused Slava, torn between past and present, loyalty and honor, skinny uptown Arianna and luscious childhood playmate Vera… Is he being followed? Will his fraud be uncovered? At what cost? Will he do the right thing? I loved this book. Fishman tells a good story, one with moral ambiguity and conflicting loyalties, and his prose crackles with irony and wit. If you were in any danger of thinking that the immigrant experience has been exhaustively mined in fiction, think again. Boris Fishman is a welcome voice and A Replacement Life is a wholly original and worthy contribution.

 

PANIC IN A SUITCASE

by Yelena Akhtiorskaya, 2014

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“The morning was ideal, a crime to waste it cooped up. They were off to the shore. That means you too, Pasha — you need some color, a dunk would do you good, so would a stroll. Aren’t you curious to see Coney Island? Freud had been. Don’t deliberate till it’s too late. Strokes are known to make surprise appearances in the family. Who knows how long…? Now, get up off that couch!

 “Pasha had just flown in last night and didn’t feel well…fourteen hours strapped into an aisle seat near the gurgling lavatory of a dented, gasoline-reeking airplane, two layovers…would have been tough on any constitution and Pasha didn’t have just any constitution but that of a poet…If he’d been smart, he would have been born a half-century earlier into a noble family and spent his adult life hopping between tiny Swiss Alp towns and lakeside sanitoria, soaking in bathhouses and natural springs, rubbing thighs with steamy neurotics, taking aimless strolls with the assistance of a branch, corrupting tubercular maidens…

“Instead Pasha was born in 1956 to a family whose nobility was strictly of spirit.”

Meet the Nasmertovs in 1991, all but Pasha planted in Brighton Beach two years ago but pining for Odessa. Scraping by in circumstances significantly reduced in status and income (both grandparents had been physicians), three generations live under one roof in a neighborhood that replicates home, even in its proximity to the sea. Gently, hilariously and mostly brilliantly, Yelena Akhtiorskaya, herself born in Odessa and raised in Brighton Beach, captures the struggle between striving for assimilation and yearning for home. Despite their urging Pasha to emigrate and join them in Brooklyn (where he won’t have to do anything but sit on the couch so they can look at him), he is their connection to Odessa, keeper of the apartment in a prime location and the beloved dacha. Fifteen years later, Frida, the youngest Nasmertov, now in her twenties and at loose ends, visits Odessa and despite finding life there no rosier feels drawn to a place she barely remembers and that her parents and grandparents fled.

Akhtiorskaya has said that her next book might be fantasy or sci-fi. Thankfully, she wrote this one before forswearing further fiction based on her family. She is a talented writer and it will be interesting to see how she applies her talent in other realms following this fine debut.

 

I PITY THE POOR IMMIGRANT

by Zachary Lazar, 2014

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This is a book about identity.  Its characters — some fictional, some historical — are actual or metaphorical immigrants, products of the turbulence of Jewish history. Meyer Lansky flees pogroms in Eastern Europe, becomes a notorious American gangster and, denied citizenship by Israel, returns to the U.S. to face charges. Gila Konig, concentration camp survivor and Lansky’s mistress, never at home in Israel, emigrates to New York but always feels herself a refugee. Hannah Groff, a journalist who travels to Israel to investigate the death of an Israeli writer, unearths her own family’s history as she pursues her story and wrestles with her own feelings of rootlessness.

Underlying the displacement felt by the characters is an examination of the moral underpinnings of the state of Israel and its place in the world today. Was the writer murdered because he depicted King David as the forebear of the Jewish gangster and because he compared the founding of Israel to the vision Lansky and Bugsy Siegel had of building a shimmering city in the desert of Nevada? As a plot device, that’s an easy question to answer. As a moral/political question, it’s a heavy burden for a novel to bear and it’s not always easy for the reader to stay afloat.

Lazar skillfully weaves together multiple narrative threads across oceans and decades. When I finished the book, I was thinking that all those narrative threads were confusing and the angst suffocating. On second thought, I became more comfortable with the author’s ambition. The reflection in modern Israel of the brutality and existential threat suffered by Jews over centuries makes this more than a complex story about characters looking for a home. The novel is difficult but fascinating and ultimately satisfying.

Abby Pinard is a lifelong book nut who retired from a forty-year computer software career in 2007 and ticked an item off her bucket list by going to work in a bookstore. She is a native New Yorker who moved to Boston recently to be among her people:  family and Red Sox fans. She is a music lover, crossword puzzler, baseball fan, and political junkie who flunked Halloween costumes but can debug her daughter’s wifi.

Comments are most welcome–just jot your thoughts in the box below!