Where’s Paw Paw When You Need Him?
October 28, 2013
Comcast is the devil. The amount of time I’ve spent on hold with them in the past two weeks and then deep in conversation about technical glitches in Alice’s new phone/wi-fi/cable “bundle” (so she can finally have e-mail again) only to be disconnected (on purpose, I think) and then embark again on the twisted, halting path into their evil world in order to find a wizard in a faraway land who might be generous enough to part with some vital kilobyte of information that I need in order to make the whole damn bundle work, and stay working, equals, or maybe surpasses, the time it took me to get a college degree, and that was a very long time (7.5 years) because I had to keep stopping classes to get jobs to save up for more classes, not to mention the fact that I had to pay my parents rent to live in their basement while attending college, payments I resent to this very day, all because my father didn’t think girls needed to be educated, but I showed him!
Amazing, the things one meets while traveling a single neural trail.
I know that length of time business in the first paragraph probably doesn’t make any sense, but this is how time works when the devil gets hold of you. I’ll just cut to the heart of the matter: Alice still doesn’t have e-mail.
She very much misses her contact with old friends and relatives scattered around the country. She lost her WebTV, which was her email connection, in September when WebTV closed down. It was a system that allowed seniors to read and send email using their TV sets as monitors. There was a modem and a keyboard. It was great for Alice.
But given the loss, Comcast wireless and a laptop seemed like the answer. Meg and I found an old laptop at Free Geek.
But what do you know? Comcast wireless didn’t work and turns out to be intermittent. (“Oh, I’m sure nobody ever promised you constant wi-fi when you got your bundle of phone/wi-fi/and cable,” said the calm voice of the devil’s handmaiden safe from my wrath in India.)
So then it was off to buy a goodly length of ethernet cable because the one Comcast provided was only a foot long, but in any case, the real problem turned out to be that Alice couldn’t see any text or images at all on the laptop.
Why not hook the laptop up to the TV set, which is bigger?
Nope, that didn’t work. She couldn’t get her chair close enough.
On to a screen as big, or bigger, than the TV set, which we could put on her desk and she could scoot her chair up close.
“But isn’t that going to ruin the way my desk looks?” Alice asked.
Her desk looks something like this:
Long conversations followed: e-mail vs. desk aesthetics. Much like the hearing aid vs. wig conversations we had.
Finally, it started to sound like e-mail was winning. I borrowed a big screen from friends, Morgan and Jan, and experimented with PawPaw mail, a new e-mail program for seniors (not cats) put together by a kind man for his 90+ grandfather.
The demo showed sample emails. One message said: “Grandpa! i found a frog today and it was brown not green and mom let me keep it.”
Even though I’d brought over the large monitor, Alice wanted to try reading this message on the laptop. The laptop, she explained to me (again), doesn’t interfere too much with the look of the desk.
However, even with the nice dark font PawPaw mail uses, she still couldn’t make out any of the words on the laptop.
I put the big monitor on the desk and plugged it in. She made a face at it. Whoever would want such a thing – a great big screen on top of a perfectly nice desk?
She could make out the words here and there, and I think she’d get used to the interface in time, though initially it overwhelmed her.
Once again, she opened the laptop and tried reading the e-mail message about the frog. She could read it now, she said, because the laptop screen had turned yellow and that made a big difference.
I knew it was her vision that was making it yellow. When it stopped being yellow she looked up at me and asked what happened. Had I pushed some magic button to make the yellow go away? “It was yellow, wasn’t it?”
I reminded her of our recent conversation with her eye doctor, who told us that with macular degeneration all kinds of things go haywire with vision, including color.
She shook her head. “Oh no. Oh my goodness. No. It was yellow.”
This made me want to sit down and hold her and cry. Her vision has failed so dramatically in the past few months. She can hardly find her mail key on her key chain any more. (“It’s so tiny!”) And then she scratches the little key along all the other mailboxes searching for the lock on her own.
I didn’t cry. Neither did she. We pushed on.
We played around with the PawPaw demo for quite a while. At one point she looked at the laptop screen and said, “There’s that bit about the frog again.” She had the sample message memorized.
We have one more thing to try: ZoomText. (MailBug won’t work because you can’t change the font size.) We’ll try the $60 version as opposed to the $599 version. Even this cheaper “express” version lets you change the color of the background. So, for example, I could change it to yellow.
Still, I’m afraid the interface is going to be too difficult for Alice.
Also, she has never used a mouse or tried to follow a cursor. (You can make the cursor very large with ZoomText.)
She’s never had to know about Windows, never had to open an application. I borrowed a large print keyboard for her, but the two or three command buttons she’ll need are not like they were on her old WebTV wireless keyboard. She has trouble seeing the up and down arrow keys and the delete key.
“It’s pretty good of me to want to learn to do this, though, isn’t it?” she asked as I was getting ready to leave.
“It’s very good,” I said. “You’re amazing.”
I came home frustrated, sad, in tears, exhausted, and missing my father, who would have sat next to her and helped her for long spells of time, just as he had done when they got WebTV in the 1990s and she was only 84. (By then he’d changed his mind about the value of educating women.)
When I came in the door, the phone was ringing. I answered, and Alice said, “If you talk to Meg today, tell her I’m so glad I have this solid hand lotion she gave me for my birthday because it’s good for my elbows. It has a big elbow-shaped dent in it. Okay, bye-bye.”
Last week, a generous friend loaned me her house at the beach for a few days and Brio and my friend Kathy and I took a break. One morning I walked with Brio along the beach and had a good cry.
Nova would chase occasionally, if invited.
Now I’m back home and facing the same email problem. The Free Geek computer runs Linux, so I may go buy a Windows computer with Windows 7 on it (I understand Windows 8 is a nightmare). ZoomText requires a Windows machine, and I’m a Mac user. No spare Windows towers reside in my closet for this trial run.
So I’ll plug the brand spanking new and hopefully bare-bones and inexpensive PC into the large monitor and we’ll see what Alice can see. Windows or no Windows, I’m still concerned about the mouse and about her ability to see the cursor, understand the interface, etc.
Telikin looks very good for seniors and other people with vision issues, but it also runs on Linux (like my cheap,and now useless, Free Geek computer).
Any other ideas welcome.