Technical troubles? Find a teenager.

It wasn’t work­ing. Rick gamely pushed but­tons and I began a ser­i­ous read of the  in­struc­tion manu­al. Still no suc­cess. Behind us I could hear the audi­ence shift­ing restlessly.

We were at the Port Hardy Museum where Rick was sched­uled to present an il­lus­trated talk on his new book, West Coast Wrecks & Other Maritime Tales. The laptop was on and con­nec­ted to the pro­ject­or which was also on. The screen was up but the only thing show­ing on it was Searching for in­put… 

After a few minutes Rick said, “I think we need a young per­son,” and left the mu­seum. I told the audi­ence we were hav­ing tech­nic­al prob­lems and to bear with us. I re­turned to page 12 of the manu­al and wondered how long I’d be stuck at the front of the room on my own.

But in only a few minutes Rick came back with a tall teen­age boy. Josh clicked a few keys, wiggled a few cords and with­in 20 seconds the show was up and run­ning. Turns out we’d plugged one of the cords into the wrong hole.

Okay, I ad­mit Rick and I are of a cer­tain age and didn’t grow up in the di­git­al gen­er­a­tion. But hey, the col­ours on the end of the cord and the hole matched and it fit!

Rick launched into the story of the wreck of the Geo. S. Wright. Then someone vis­ited the ladies wash­room and happened to turn on the light at the ex­act same mo­ment a mu­seum vo­lun­teer plugged in the kettle. The mu­seum was plunged into darkness.

After flip­ping nu­mer­ous switches in the break­er box power was re­stored. But the Power Point show wouldn’t come up. I dashed back to Café Guido where Josh’s boss was kind enough to let him dis­ap­pear again.

As we crossed the street to­wards the mu­seum I asked the teen if he liked books. “I love them,” he replied.

Back at the mu­seum Josh did his slight-of-hand tech­ie ma­gic and a beau­ti­ful rendi­tion of the Geo. S. Wright ap­peared on the screen. The audi­ence cheered and I handed Josh a copy of West Coast Wrecks.

Is he the au­thor? Josh asked look­ing at Rick with a big smile. “Yes,” I said. “And he’ll come over to the café to sign the book when he fin­ishes his present­a­tion.” There was an even big­ger smile this time.

I learned three things from this experience.

#1. Always make sure you have the plug hooked up to the right thingiemejob.

#2. Even in this di­git­al age young people still like real books.

#3. And, per­haps most im­port­ant of all, if you’re ever hav­ing tech­nic­al troubles, find a teenager.



E‑book or paper book, which do you prefer?

In my “book,” any­thing that makes read­ing easi­er and ac­cess­ible to more people is a good thing. E‑books and e‑readers are bring­ing a whole new di­men­sion to the read­ing ex­per­i­ence and who can ar­gue with that?

An amaz­ing fea­ture is be­ing able to read an e‑book in the dark. You can also ad­just the size of the text, high­light pas­sages and look up the mean­ing of words. Best of all, you have ac­cess to tons of books in­stantly and can carry them all on one port­able device.

Yep, e‑books are def­in­itely made for trav­el­ling. The next time I take a trip to a for­eign coun­try, I’ll con­sider car­ry­ing my read­ing ma­ter­i­al on an e‑reader. Just think how much more room I’ll have to pack clothes and shoes if I do away with my usu­al six pack of pock­et books!

But in my heart of hearts I’ll al­ways love pa­per books. To be­gin with, I grew up with them, so they’re fa­mil­i­ar and com­fort­able. I love hold­ing a book in my hands and turn­ing the page to find out what hap­pens next.

If you read pa­per books you get to use cool book marks like the one my broth­er bought me in Morocco. 

Besides, pa­per books are in­cred­ibly ver­sat­ile. As dec­or­at­ing ac­cessor­ies they add col­our and in­tel­lec­tu­al cachet to your shelves. They can also serve as door props, as well as do double-duty as stor­age areas for post­cards from exot­ic lands and in­ter­est­ing leaves found on walks. 

If you’re an au­thor you can dis­cretely place books you’ve writ­ten around the house for vis­it­ors to “dis­cov­er.” And signed cop­ies make great last minute gifts. 

Paper books are for­giv­ing too. They’re usu­ally still read­able even after be­ing splashed with red wine or smeared with chocol­ate. Even a dunk in the bathtub doesn’t have to spell the end.

But most of all, I like read­ing what oth­er people have writ­ten on a book’s flyleaf. A hard cov­er book I picked up at a gar­age sale was in­scribed: “To Edna, with love on our first Christmas to­geth­er. From your Jack. December 1932.”

So e‑books get my vote when it comes to con­veni­ence. But if you’re look­ing for char­ac­ter, pa­per books are the way to go. If you have any doubts, check out Lane Smith’s one minute video, It’s A Book.

The treadmill desk

Okay, every­one knows that sit­ting for long peri­ods of time isn’t good for you. Your bot­tom tends to get big­ger and back pain of­ten oc­curs over time. But I nev­er knew sit­ting could kill me!

Yes, ac­cord­ing to an art­icle in the Mayo Clinic news­let­ter, pro­longed sit­ting can in­crease a person’s risk of health prob­lems and pre­ma­ture death from car­di­ovas­cu­lar disease.

One study re­vealed that adults who sat in front of the TV for more than four hours a day had an 80 per­cent in­creased risk of death from heart dis­ease and stroke than those who watched less than two hours of TV a day.

And it’s not just TV. Any bouts of ex­ten­ded sit­ting; be they in front of a com­puter, at a desk or driv­ing a vehicle in­creases the risk. Another shock­er – ap­par­ently go­ing to the gym after work doesn’t ma­gic­ally erase those harm­ful hours of be­ing on your duff.

So what to do?

The solu­tion,” ac­cord­ing to Dr. James Levine, “seems to be less sit­ting and more mov­ing. Simply by stand­ing, you burn three times as many cal­or­ies as you do sit­ting. Muscle con­trac­tions, in­clud­ing the ones re­quired for stand­ing, seem to trig­ger im­port­ant pro­cesses re­lated to the break­down of fats and sug­ars. When you sit down, muscle con­trac­tions cease and these pro­cesses stall.”

Now I have con­sidered al­ter­ing my work sta­tion so I could type sit­ting down or stand­ing up. In fact, I know an artist who has an ad­justable easel for just that purpose.

But then I dis­covered a cool video on the Mayo Clinic website.

In it, Dr. James Levine, a Mayo Clinic re­search­er, says that people are built to walk. He’s study­ing the be­ne­fits of tread­mill desks, which al­low people to walk while they work.

What we’ve ended up with are ver­tic­al desks that can be per­son­al­ized for the in­di­vidu­al user,” he ex­plains. “They can be used while walk­ing on a tread­mill, they can be used while stand­ing still, they can be used while seated.”

Now this is an in­triguing idea. I could work, re­duce my risk of car­di­ovas­cu­lar dis­ease and maybe shed a few pounds all at the same time. Sounds like a win-win situ­ation to me.

Now I won­der just how much one of those a tread­mill desks costs? And if I could ac­tu­ally type while walking?

Saying goodbye

Oh my God,” he said as soon as he sat down.

I looked over with alarm. I’d hired a com­puter tech to fix what I thought were some minor prob­lems. But this soun­ded ser­i­ous. Perhaps even terminal.

What’s the mat­ter?” I asked.

I’ve nev­er seen such a de­graded key­board,” he replied.

He was right. The y, u, I, h, k, n and m let­ters were totally worn off. They must be used in a lot of words. Not hav­ing them didn’t both­er me. I rarely look at the key­board when I type. But friends and fam­ily teased me about it whenev­er they came to vis­it and used my computer.

One day I re­membered I had a bottle of Sheer Heaven in the bath­room cab­in­et. Working care­fully, I used the white nail pol­ish to paint thick, but legible, let­ters on my key­board. Everyone thought that was pretty funny.

When I got a cheque for Christmas marked “new key­board,” I knew it was time to move on. But it was hard to let go of the old one. I es­tim­ated that dur­ing the six years I’d had it, I’d writ­ten two books and 400 arti­cles. That adds up to 435,000 words or so. No won­der some let­ters were worn off.

Like many people who sit in front of a com­puter all day, I have chron­ic back prob­lems. So, after some re­search, I bought an er­go­nom­ic keyboard.

It was all flow­ing curves and – if I only knew how to use them – had enough bells and whistles on it that I could prob­ably fly to the moon.

But you know what? For some reas­on the er­go­nom­ic key­board made my back pain worse. After three weeks of ad­just­ing my chair and tilt­ing the key­board this way and that try­ing to make it work, I re­turned it.

That’s right; I’m us­ing the key­board with the nail pol­ish let­ters again. It feels com­fort­able but seems an­noy­ingly noisy com­pared to its mod­ern cousin.

A new key­board is still in the works. In fact, I’ve got my eye on a sleek little black num­ber that prom­ises to be easy on the back and ul­tra quiet. All I have to do is say good­bye to the old key­board. Again.