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.

free geek
The laptop was not actually free but cheap and seemed worth a try.

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:
black desk
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.
Large print keyboard_2
“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.”

Alice examines her new tin of solid hand lotion.

On her birthday, Alice examines her new tin of solid hand lotion.

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.

Later, Brio met someone who seemed worthy of being a friend. Her name is Nova.
Brio meets Nova

Nova would chase occasionally, if invited.

Brio and Nova
But mostly all she wanted to do was dig holes. Brio thought this was very boring.

Brio bored

Ocean and sky were beautiful, and soothed my seething-against-Comcast, against blindness, and against all things technical brain.Ocean and skyKathy loved it too.Kathy at the beach

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.

Or forget about this complicated quest and just go eat some of that Hallowe’en candy. What’s it sitting there for if not to be enjoyed? You can’t wait forever for those tiny gnomes to come knocking!
gnome costume

15 Responses to “Where’s Paw Paw When You Need Him?”

  1. Beth Says:

    Oh, Andrea. I am ready to weep in frustration too. Stupid macular degeneration. Stupid operators who pretend that service is not supposed to be reliable. Stupid meaningless technology shifts. Stupid programmers that don’t solve real life problems like Alice’s but make it easy to follow Kanye and Kim to the ends of the earth. Comcast is the devil, and an expensive one, too. I have no Windows computer bought after 1998, no insights or good advice. I will kick something for you, though.

    Okay, one idea. I’ll try it and get back to you.


  2. Sandra Y. Espinoza Says:

    Without wanting to sound anything but like a friend…all I can think of is to give you a hug…(And I’m sorry, but, Comcast IS the devil….


  3. kim Says:

    Oh Andrea. This made me want to hold both you and Alice and cry.


  4. Katharine Says:

    Of course the frustration is SO deep, and the grief for all things lost and the failure of the one bridge providing access to community is deeply dismaying

    … but my favorite part in this one is “… but I showed HIM!” You and Alice are a tenacious pair and not to be trifled with. You’re still showing all the HIMs of the world, and good on you.

    Glad you got away. Nothing like a beautiful day on the beach with a couple of dogs.


  5. Carol Says:

    I commend your for your patience,Andrea! Ironically, a first big frustration for my niece after moving into her first apartment last week-end was Comcast. She called her mom and said :”I can’t understand what they are saying!”
    My 90 year mom won’t even try what Alice is trying so kudos to both of you!


  6. Meg Glaser Says:

    So glad that at least Alice’s elbows are happy. I wish we could use that soothing salve on this whole situation and wake up to it all being magically fixed. I’ll be thinking of you and Alice as you try the next experiment.


  7. How you needed that glorious walk on the beach! A good cry helps one get up and start again I find. We all rely so heavily on technology these days – I wonder what we’ll all do if we lose our hearing and vision in the future if we are lucky to live as long as Alice? Will some kind soul have invented yet another (as yet unthought of) means of communication? Will we all be able to read each other minds for example? Dreadful thought LOL! Hugs will always help though as long as we retain our sense of touch X


  8. Kerry Says:

    So frustrating! I used to think about getting my mom Web TV, but could never get her to agree. She uses a special machine for people with macular degeneration to see things enlarged, but it is limited. I hope Alice’s hearing aids are better – you have to at least have one – seeing or hearing – to have much enjoyment of life…
    Glad you got to the beach & hope you can make it back there again soon. You deserve sunshine and ocean breezes!


  9. John Says:

    Dearest Andrea… you are so much more patient than I. Mom wanted email, and after about 4 years of being unable to teach her to use AOL email (back in the day), we gave up; until the iPad. We got one a year ago, thinking it would be easy for her to understand.

    I end up too flustered, and have to leave the room. I’ve been trying to get someone to come give her lessons (my mom and I have never worked well together, so this isn’t new). But, you know how it is — people offer, then never follow through. I bought her a book — iPad for Seniors. That didn’t help, because she had to read it — my mom isn’t good with instructions, apparently (which is strange, as she was a teacher for 20+years, and in the military). So, feel proud … you’re a better woman than I am … er… um…. you know what I mean. :-)

    Glad you were able to take some time off. A beach house is the perfect place to relax and unwind.

    P.S. If you have any spare patience, would you be willing to sell me a little of it?


  10. Heide Hendrick Says:

    Everyone’s posts cover all that I wanted to say, only better. I just love you Andrea. I love your spirit, your patience, and your beautiful relationship with Alice. You are a wonderful daughter~xoxo


  11. ComCast even sounds like an evil name, doesn’t it?
    My heart goes out to you in your frustration. It should not be this hard. Wishing you and Alice all the luck in the world.


  12. Cheryl Says:

    Besides being hilariously cathartic, this post is a tribute to the powers of rejuvenation and persistence packaged much more usefully than any package Comcast The Devil could ever dream up. You are a wizard-ess, and so is Alice!


  13. Thank you, everybody. There are days and then…there are *^$@#! days. I couldn’t do the second kind without knowing you’re out there, that you’re on Alice’s side and mine. I wish every caretaker could have the support I feel through you – not only those who graciously comment but those who read and think about commenting, as well as those of you who read these posts and don’t think about writing anything but can relate. Thank you all.


  14. lburt2 Says:

    Thanks for your visit to Wy’East this morning.
    I helped my mom for years with her email, until she could no longer manage any program.
    Take a look at “eldy” http://www.eldy.eu
    I’ve loaded it on my Mac laptop and am playing with it, looks good so far.
    It’s free. Runs on PCs, tablets, Mac version available:
    “preview beta : Eldy 2.2 for MAC (beta, preview, will be published stable in some days)”


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