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)

 

 

 

 

OCTOBER’S BOOK NOOK: Three Books about WWII

This month, our Book Nook feature writer Abby Pinard provides three selections focusing on World War II.

HHhH

Laurent Binet, 2013

(translated from the French by Sam Taylor)

HHhH

Himmlers Hirn heist Heydrich. Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich.

Reinhard Heydrich — the butcher of Prague, the blond beast, the man with the iron heart – was one of the cruelest and most feared of the high-ranking Nazis. Chief of security and an architect of the final solution, he was named Reichprotector of Bohemia and Moravia, the Czech states annexed by Germany, and was charged with crushing Czech resistance and all vestiges of Czech culture, “Germanizing” the desirable population and eliminating the undesirables. On May 27, 1942, as he was being driven to work in Prague in an open black (or possibly dark green) Mercedes convertible, he was the subject of an assassination attempt by Jan Kubiš, a Czech, and Jozef Gabčik, a Slovak, who had been trained for their mission in London and parachuted into Czechoslovakia several months earlier. “Operation Anthropoid” didn’t go off exactly as planned but the reprisals were as brutal as might have been expected. (Note: “Anthropoid,” a British-French-Czech film based on these events but unrelated to this novel was released recently to mostly positive reviews.)

The narrator of  HHhH, who may be the author, has spent years studying Operation Anthropoid – it would be fair to say he is obsessed with it – and in telling the story presents a parallel narrative about his struggles with how to tell the story. While the digressions might be expected to be distracting, the opposite is true. The narrator’s “eureka” moments when he unearths a key book, his decisions on what to include and exclude, his commentary on other novels based on historical fact, his musings on what drives people to extraordinary acts of cruelty and heroism serve to bring us closer to the story. And when it counts most, as the Mercedes approaches the bend in Holešovice Street where the assassins are waiting, he lets the story take over and propel us forward as if we don’t know what will happen.

At the end of the book, our narrator tells us that Kubiš and Gabčik are today viewed as heroes, celebrated in their homeland. But he describes himself as worn out by his “muddled efforts” to pay tribute to the many people who helped the assassins at great risk and great cost and who remain largely unknown.

…I tremble with guilt at the thought of all those hundreds, those thousands, whom I have allowed to die anonymously. But I want to believe that people exist even if we don’t speak of them. 

Laurent Binet has spoken of them and has written a novel that is both suspenseful and profound. Highly recommended.


Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris, 1932

Francine Prose, 2014

Chameleon Club

In Francine Prose’s popular book about reading and writing, Reading Like a Writer, she advocates “close reading.” Only by slowing down and carefully reading every word can we understand what is said and what is not said – the nuances of meaning that the writer has worked so hard to put into every word and into the spaces between the words. That’s good advice when reading any serious writer and of course when reading Prose. (Is there a writer with a better name?)

Even as Lou’s downward slide was gathering momentum, she prided herself on maintaining certain standards and not losing touch, as many of her neighbors were, with basic human decency and compassion. She was slow to come on board with the measures against the Jews, however much she personally disliked them. She knew that harsh tactics were sometimes required. She’d waited on line at the Palais Berlitz to see an informative exhibition entitled “The Jew and France,” where a display confirmed what she’d long suspected: behind every scandal lurked a Jew. Still, she didn’t enjoy seeing children herded through the streets at gunpoint. Once she was almost hurt by some idiot cops hurling crockery down from an apartment at a terrified Jewish family being loaded into a van.

“Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris, 1932” is the title of the emblematic photograph that launches Gabor Tsenyi’s career. It is a picture of two women, a cross-dressing athlete named Lou Villars, who will become France’s first female race car driver and then an infamous Nazi collaborator, and Arlette, her lover, who will leave Lou for a powerful cop/gangster. This assured, atmospheric novel covers a lot of ground – love and betrayal, good and evil, war and its aftermath, the mutability of truth – and ultimately packs a powerful punch. It opens in 1928 and tracks the transformation of Lou Villars from unhappy child to disappointed lover to monster, a life based on a real woman named Violette Morris. It is to Prose’s credit that we sympathize with Lou even as she betrays the country she professes to love. Other characters are also inspired by real-life figures, including the Hungarian photographer Brassai and there’s a dissolute American writer who resembles Henry Miller.

Prose makes the Chameleon Club the locus of the decadence and desperate good times of Paris in the jazz age and she circles back to it through occupation and war. The story is told and retold in alternating chapters by different narrators through excerpts from a biography of Lou Villars, letters, journals and a memoir, each presumed to be self-serving and unreliable. Taken together they paint a picture that captures the conflicted loyalties of a giddy and terrible time, a picture that surely contains the truth but in whose version? History is as changeable as gender roles at the Chameleon Club and this captivating novel is stunning in its contemplation of its meaning.


Love & Treasure

Ayelet Waldman, 2014

Waldman

This is a solid effort by Ayelet Waldman. She has chosen a subject — unearthing the stories of those lost in the Holocaust — that has too often been taken up by mediocre (or worse) writers and riddled with melodrama and cliché. Waldman does better. She centers the novel on the historical “Hungarian Gold Train,” crammed with millions of dollars worth of gold, jewels, furs, and household goods that have been “collected” from the Jews of Hungary. When the train, on its way to Germany in 1945, is intercepted by the victorious Allies near Salzburg, Austria, a promise is made to return the goods to their rightful owners or heirs but the impracticality of the task, not to mention that the brass have quarters to furnish, doom that intention and most of the items simply disappear in the fog of post-war Europe.

The novel’s primary protagonists are Jack Wiseman, who as a young American soldier was put in charge of the contents of the train, and his granddaughter Natalie, who he asks just before his death to find the rightful owner of a pendant he himself impulsively pilfered. The story is told in three parts: Jack’s stewardship of the confiscated goods in 1945; Natalie’s present-day search in Europe and Israel for an heir of the pendant’s owner; and an entertaining narration by a Viennese psychoanalyst of his treatment of a headstrong young Jewish woman in 1913.

Waldman covers a lot of ground and the plot threads are not all equally well executed. In particular, two love stories are clichéd and unconvincing and the grandfather/granddaughter relationship is toothache-inducing. But she eschews the simplistic good/evil paradigm so common in fiction about the Holocaust and takes a more realistic view of a complex moral universe. Bottom line: This is well-written, absorbing historical fiction marred only slightly by a bit of sentimentality.

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.

 

 

 

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

LEAVE IT TO LYDIA: On the Lighter Side

Season Shifting
Season Shifting

There seems to be an unusual amount of tension in the air.  The weather is changing, and the oil man is visiting for the first time as the seasons shift.  But we can all take heart as we have a host of important, semi-important, and just plain strange things we can look forward to in the coming weeks.  Here are just a few highlights–

Monday October 24th is United Nations Day. Regardless of religion, race, nationality, or political identification, we can all share the hope that refugees/immigrants and stateless people are being fed and have clean water.  Everyone.  Everywhere.

As of Friday October 28th, we will no longer be able to use cash on the Massachusetts Turnpike (the road that our parents finished paying for in 1959).   At midnight, construction crews will begin the 24/7 demolition of the toll booths and their plaza areas, including the underground tunnels used by Turnpike employees.  The work is “expected” to be completed within 30 days.  Yes, that’s right—just in time for Thanksgiving weekend.  Imagine Sturbridge (and the “expected” demolition of its 14 toll booths, seven in each direction) on Wednesday evening, November 23rd.

Perhaps this venture was scheduled for the 28th of October because it is also National Chocolate Day.  There is some kind of nexus there, but unless Hershey bars are free that day, I can’t find it.

chocolate

October 31st  is Halloween, unless your town has moved it to another night in order to supposedly ease  the headaches associated with the sugar high that parents and teachers end up having to cope with on the day after.   And if you are concerned about your own treats, I suggest storing them in an opaque broccoli bag in the freezer.  The grandkids will never find them there.

I dare not delve too deeply into the month of November because the Red Sox aren’t in the World Series, and if there is snow on the ground … well, it might just get ugly.

Speaking of ugly, the Commonwealth, in its infinite wisdom, has chosen the weekend of November 4th through the 6th to close (that’s completely close, as in nada, bupkis) Route 128, the road we love to hate.  And because that is not enough of a sucker punch, we also turn our clocks back on Saturday night November 5th.  November 6th  might be a good time to read every page of the Sunday New York Times because the world—without Route 128 and time having backtracked–will be very different   It could also be a good time to binge watch I Love Lucy episodes–after all, the time to laugh over the cartoons and comedians who have profited from this election cycle will be coming to a close.

And, of course, it could well be time to change the batteries in those smoke detectors and CO alarms.  Which will prepare us for Tuesday November 8th, Election Day.

After a collective deep breath, we will then move to honoring the bravery and sacrifices of our military on Friday November 11th, Veterans Day.   Let’s keep our current soldiers and their families in our prayers that day.

Saturday, November 12th might just be a perfect time to head to the library and stock up on some good books, gas up the car or pick up the phone to order our favorite pies on National Pizza Day.

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And did I mention that it may well be time to change the batteries in the smoke detectors and CO alarms?  (Worked for the State Fire Marshal for 12 years…but I need to be reminded too!)

Lydia Bogar
Lydia Bogar

 

Leave it to Lydia to provide us with entertaining, uplifting items!

 

OCTOBER’S SENIOR MOMENT: “I Salute You”

This month’s Senior Moment comes from Liz David who says:

As I was going through my materials in preparation for my class on “aging,” I came across a letter written from one friend to another in the year 1513.   When I found it, I felt like I had been given a gift.  To me, in these troubling times, it is a reminder of what may/could lie beneath the surface of our lives as they come into the home stretch.

I SALUTE YOU

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                   A Letter Written by Fra Giovanni Giocondo to a Friend                 in the year 1513

I am your friend, and my love for you goes deep. There is nothing I can give you which you have not; but there is much, very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take.  No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant.  Take peace!

The gloom of the world is but a shadow.  Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy.  There is radiance and glory in darkness, could we but see; and to see, we have only to look.  I beseech you to look.

Life is so generous a giver, but we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard.  Remove the covering and you will find beneath it a living splendour, woven of love by wisdom, with power.

Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the angel’s hand that brings it to you.  Everything we call a trial, a sorrow, or a duty, believe me, that angel’s hand is there; the gift is there, and the wonder of an overshadowing presence.  Our joys, too, be not content with them as joys.  They, too, conceal divine gifts.

Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty beneath its covering that you still find earth but cloaks your heaven.  Courage then to claim it; that is all!  But courage you have and the knowledge that we are pilgrims together wending through unknown country home.

And so, at this time, I greet you; not quite as the world sends greetings but with profound esteem, and with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and shadows flee away.

 

Eleanor and Liz
Senior Moment Feature Writers Eleanor Jaffe and Liz David

AND SO, THE SILENCE: PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS, 2016…with Eleanor Jaffe

AND SO, THE SILENCE:  PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS, 2016

election

By Eleanor Jaffe

No subject has more completely dominated my thinking  these past few months than the crisis of our presidential election of 2016.  Not since 1968 when I was a delegate to the Democratic Convention in Chicago from the State of New Mexico have I been more passionate  and worried about the state of our nation and our politics.   In the 60’s, I and many of you were so agitated by the  continuous war in Vietnam and its harmful effects on our families and our entire generation that we were moved to political action.  Today, 2016, I worry every day about where our nation is headed.  I read the papers voraciously and watch the talking heads on television (especially those who support my positions). I wring my hands, write postcards of support for my candidate, but I feel helpless.  From what I can tell,  there is little political action from our generation (except for political donations).  Just a feeling of powerlessness and worry.

This 2016 election is gut wrenching, corrosive, and divisive.  Among our friends, there is uniform agreement:  the political stakes are monumentally high.  Our very democracy seems imperiled.  And how can “the other side” (who otherwise are seemingly good people) believe in the rightness of their candidate and the positions that candidate supports?  A strange political silence falls on our social meetings.  By tacit agreement, the subject of politics doesn’t come up.  It is too hot a potato to bring up in polite social gatherings.  We fear that political discussion with someone whose allegiances are from the “other” political party will result in the end of our friendship.   And so, the silence…. Have you noticed this, too?  (Even here I sidestep naming the two candidates and their parties:  too divisive for a collegial group like ours.  Our cohesion as a group might feel imperiled.)

Ironically, some issues at stake in this presidential election directly affect people in our age group.  These issues have received scant mention and no debate.  Among them are:  Social Security and its future financial viability;  medicare benefits and associated health costs;  and raising minimum wages to $15 per hour since many people in their 70’s need to continue to work in order to survive economically.

Long term care goes undiscussed, although it merits widespread political discourse.  Cokie Roberts of NPR writes:  “Fully a third of households in America are taking care of an elderly or disabled member,” but most Americans don’t anticipate needing long term care until  a significant health crisis develops in their families. Nursing home care costs, on average, $80,300 per year in a semi-private room;  a home health care aide working 6 hours a day costs $45,760.  It is conjectured that this issue has not “bubbled up” from the grassroots because caregivers are completely consumed by their responsibilities.

People in the U.S. who are 71 years old and older form 12% of the electorate, so we form a powerful voting block since a high percentage of us vote.  Many contribute financially to the candidate(s) they support.  We may even exert a more powerful influence on the outcome of the elections than our 12% indicates if we all vote.  The “millennials” outnumber us by far, but we hear they are disenchanted by the presidential choices and may sit out this election.  This is so different from our generation.  When we were in our 20’s in the late 60’s, we were a powerful and energizing political force.  

Let us actively commit to the candidate of our choice and find ways to actively support that candidate.  The stakes are incredibly high.  Could you live with the alternative choice?  Would our democracy survive?

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.

 

 

 

SEPTEMBER’S SENIOR MOMENT: Where Will I Live?

WHERE WILL I LIVE AS I GET OLD(ER)?

By Eleanor Jaffe

seniors-selling-house

When we were young, the question we often thought and talked about was what we wanted to be when we grew up.  And that question led us to thinking about self-image.  Who am I?  What are my capabilities?  Who will I become?  This kind of thinking brought up both hopes and fears—but, when we were young, our options seemed multiple and optimistic.  Now, it seems, the question that often comes up in conversation is:  Where do you want to live when you get old(er)?  And at this point in our lives, thinking about that question seems to bring up, potentially, more fear than optimism.

The fears that seem to accompany aging are multiple:  What will my health be?  What will my abilities be, both mental and physical?  Will I be on my own, or will my mate be with me?  What financial resources can I depend on, and will they be sufficient?  How long will I continue to live, anyway?  Will my children be there for me, or are they too far flung? (We gave them “wings,” remember?) Can I retain my friends and known community? These questions–and more–reveal a lot of anxiety; and, of course, many of these questions are unanswerable right now.

Variations of these questions and more often arise among our friends.  Some are wondering if they can continue living in their homes, the homes full of memories, lots of furniture, room for guests, big gardens to care for, and lots of expenses.  The homes in their known communities, with people nearby on whom they can rely.  Some have begun to discuss retirement communities and have begun to visit these facilities to assess housing options, activities, continuum of care, finances, etc.  Others, often those who have been widowed, are considering moving to live closer to their adult children.  Some may move into “in-law apartments” with their children or find nearby apartments, condos, or retirement communities.  Others are thinking about making the move “out west” or “down south” to be with their extended families but wonder if their children will continue to live in these areas or will need to move elsewhere.

This period in which we consider the next steps in our lives can be a disquieting one.  Shifts in our established routines and expectations for the future can be hard to envision clearly and even harder to put into place.

As for me, my husband and I sold our suburban home and moved to a smaller city apartment about 15 years ago.  We like living in Boston but realize it is not “forever.”  So, we recently decided to ignore reality and bought a Florida condo.  We’re optimistically hoping and planning to enjoy comfortable, warm winters for years to come.  Y’all come!

 

LEAVE IT TO LYDIA: On the First Day of School

ON THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL…

By Lydia Bogar

Waking to the alarm at 7:00 for my first Monday class, I remember that my grandsons are already finishing breakfast and getting ready to catch the bus.  Daddy serves as backup chauffeur.

My bus is a 6 year old Subaru, a vehicle worthy of the Mass Turnpike. Today, I move especially quickly.  As last Monday was Labor Day, this is the first “real” Monday of the school year.  To mark this auspicious time of year, there will be a full moon on Friday.  After 15 plus years of commuting “into Town,” I know the many moods of the Massachusetts Turnpike.  The best drive time ever was 27 minutes from Exit 11  Grafton/Millbury to Exit 15 at Route 128.  Not even remotely possible today.

On this first day of school, I see that the nice people around me in the Gathering Place have new notebooks and pens.  As do I.  As do my grandsons.  A large new LCD monitor graces one wall, heralding upcoming events.  Old friends reconnect.  New members with blue circles on their name tags are greeted and drawn into conversation about their classes, the humidity, the drought, trips to California and Provence.

The snacks on the counter are moderately healthy, salty things and sweet things, not unlike what my grandsons have taken to school themselves.  (Both of the boys attend “nut free schools” where a lot of BOLLI snacks would end up in a kitchen drawer reserved for errant peanut butter crackers and granola bars.)

The boys and I have so much in common today.

They have new sneakers for school–red Nikes size 10.5 for the 12 year old and green Converse size 2 for our second grader.  Nobody seems to have noticed my new Wonder Woman Chuck Taylors, the first pair of high tops I’ve worn in 68 years.  Maybe they are embarrassed for me.

LYDIA'S SHOE

A safe and healthy school year to all!

Meet Lydia Bogar

Lydia Bogar, who joined us last spring, is eagerly diving into this new term and all that BOLLI has to offer.

 

SEPTEMBER BOOK NOOK: Two New Novels of Note

Our “Book Nook” feature writer Abby Pinard brings us a couple of new items to consider…

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos

Dominic Smith, 2016

The Last Painting of Sara De Vos

What a delight!  This is a historical suspense novel with redeeming literary value – character driven, intricately plotted but without contrivance, and elegantly written. With pivotal events taking place in New York in 1958, we are seamlessly brought forward to Sydney, Australia in 2000, and back to 17th-century Amsterdam and the Dutch Golden Age that produced Rembrandt and Vermeer.

The painting at the center of the novel hangs over the bed in the New York penthouse of an attorney whose family has owned it for 300 years. When it is stolen and replaced by a meticulous forgery, the attorney isn’t sure he even wants the original back but determines nevertheless to track down the forger.  The graduate student who had agreed to copy the painting goes on to become a prominent art historian and authority on the artist – one of the very few women among the Dutch masters –  but is haunted by her past.

The evocation of art and painterly technique is fascinating; the portrayal of people driven to actions they will regret for a lifetime is moving without being melodramatic; and the writing is precise and restrained yet compelling, with quotable passages on every page. Here’s just one that I had to read more than once: “…unmarried women make good academics because they’ve been neutered by too much knowledge and bookish pleasure. The world hands them a tiny domain it never cared about to begin with.” Hmm.

Art, deceit, loss…this is a fine novel disguised as a page-turner.

Thanks to Linda Dietrich for insisting that I read this book!

 

The Little Red Chairs

Edna O’Brien, 2016 

The Little Red Chairs

 

 On the 6th of April 2012, to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the start of the siege of Sarajevo by Bosnian Serb forces, 11,541 red chairs were laid out in rows along the eight hundred metres of the Sarajevo high street.  One empty chair for every Sarajevan killed during the 1,425 days of siege.  Six hundred and forty-three small chairs represented the children killed by snipers and the heavy artillery fired from the surrounding mountains.

 A stranger comes to town…   The town is Cloonoila, a rural Irish backwater, and the stranger, soon known as Dr. Vlad, announces himself as a healer and sex therapist. He is exotic and alluring and is viewed with suspicion by the village priest, but the children and especially the women gradually fall under his spell, most notably Fidelma, the town beauty trapped in a cold marriage and longing for a child.

Edna O’Brien doesn’t string us along with tantalizing clues to the stranger’s identity.  The epigraph quoted above signals the truth:   Dr. Vlad is a notorious Bosnian war criminal responsible for the torture and genocide of Muslims and Croats. He is modeled on Radovan Karadzic, who hid for thirteen years before being arrested in Belgrade.  Dr. Vlad has appeared in western Ireland as if by magic.

It has been fifty years since O’Brien’s fiction debut, The Country Girls, scandalized the country with its searing portrayal of the social and sexual mores of rural Ireland. In The Little Red Chairs, her first novel in ten years, she is casting a wider net, tackling broad questions about evil, complicity, and penance.  Her prose is beautiful and brutal as she shatters the gentle, almost mystical aura of Cloonoila with a scene of horrific violence,  Fidelma’s abasement, and her search for redemption among the lost and broken. Powerful and haunting.

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!

 

TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: I.T. Musings

There are many pieces of application software that are available–some you pay for, and others are free.  And then there are some which have both free and pay versions where the latter comes with extra capability.

Today I’ll discuss AdBlockPlus and Secunia PSI.

John Rudy additionAdBlockPlus Whenever you go to the internet, you are inundated with ads. This is because the folks providing you the information you are requesting are looking for ways to derive income from the process. Luckily, a number of companies have developed products to significantly reduce (not eliminate) these ads. I use AdblockPlus, which is free https://adblockplus.org/ Note that it has to be installed separately for each web browser. I use Chrome exclusively, so that is where I have it installed. I’ve had it for about 2 years. In the picture below you will note that it places a small icon in the upper right of your browser, and when you click on it, you learn how many ads it has blocked. When you set it up, you can exclude certain sites and make other choices. Not surprisingly, a lot of companies are unhappy about this, and I frequently get a message when opening up a web page asking me to close the blocker. Here is some recent data. “A new survey of users found that only 41% of those surveyed were aware of ad blocking. But among those who are aware of it,80% block ads on desktops and 46% percent do so on smartphones, suggesting it’s just awareness that’s holding back higher ad blocking adoption.” It has been reported (Wired magazine) that some ad block companies are receiving money from companies to exclude their sites from the block list!

Secunia PSI   There are many reasons to keep your software up to date. The most obvious is that you have access to the newest           capability that the software ofers. But the more important reason is that most software comes with vulnerabilities, and new releases fix them. The problem is that you may be unaware that a new release is available and that you might not know how to perform the update. That is where Secunia PSI (even the free version) fits it. It will check your software against the newest versions and, in most cases, perform the updates automatically. I have set it to run when I reboot my computer. There are some products that require manual updates, and it tells you.   Go to the following site, and you will be taken through the simple process.  The web page has a lot of additional information which you may find to be helpful as well.

http://www.flexerasoftware.com/enterprise/products/software-vulnerability-management/personal-software-inspector/

BOLLI Tech Talker John Rudy
BOLLI Tech Talker John Rudy

John, a longtime computer expert and guide, provides these helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  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)

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