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Sharing my secrets to buying a new problem-free laptop

Like buying a car, I don’t need to know what’s under the hood as long as it gets me where I want to go as quickly as possible and preferably without shifting gears. A cup holder would have been be nice.

For many of us non-techies, buying new electronics such as cell phones, telecom services or computers is an experience right up there with sticking needles in your eyeballs. As I detailed in a recent blog “Dear Mr. Gates”, (click here to read), it’s a process characterized by dread, stress, sleepless nights, and hours of calls to a third-world call centre where English is spoken only as second or third language, if at all.  Then, there’s the outlay of hundreds or thousands of your hard-earned dollars, not to mention all the bad swears involved. Sadly, the built-in obsolescence inherent in our electronic devices means we are forced to endure this process for some piece of electronic equipment more often than we would prefer.

I packed all this excitement into a double-header recently with the purchase of a new laptop and the conversion from satellite television to Fibe TV —in the same week. I’d been putting off buying a new laptop for more than a year. My old one was taking so long to process functions I could do the laundry and re-shingle the roof waiting for my e-mails to open. Most of my day was consumed by re-booting and waiting.

I purchased every support option available, which means now I probably won’t need it.

My nervous dread turned to relief and amazement when I actually made a successful conversion to a new laptop. That miracle certainly deserves some post-mortem reflection and good-hearted sharing of information. If it worked for me, it might work for you.

  1. Purchase from a reputable retail outlet that will probably still be in business by the time you get home. I selected the Microsoft store in Square One Shopping Mall in Mississauga because, thanks to our one-way e-mail-based failed love affair, Bill Gates and I are tight. And I figured Microsoft would be committed to a fairly rigid lease with the landlord at the mall ensuring I know where they live should things go sideways.
  2. Try to pick a fairly new employee. They’re more likely to still be keen and not totally burned out by customers humping their giant printers into the store because they can’t make them work with their new computer.
  3. Bribery. When I noticed the sales rep was also left-handed (like me), I gave him my Pentel Energel liquid gel ink pen, specially designed for lefties, from my personal stash. How could he forget such a generous gesture. Anything to grease the wheel should not be overlooked in ensuring he never forgets you and will treat you royally. Don’t try humbugs, though. That’s just sad.
  4. At the risk of sounding sexist, I would ordinarily have preferred a female sales rep assuming she would be more nurturing and empathetic. However, young male sales reps can be more easily manipulated when faced with a gush of old-lady tears, which I was totally prepared to employ if needed.
  5. On the subject of old ladies, don’t be afraid to play the old lady card. When you feign complete ignorance and incompetence the sales reps can be very generous with their time and patience. I find it helps if you speak in a soft, shaky voice too.  And make them speak in language you understand, not technical Klingon.
  6. If Item 5 fails, you can resort to mean old crone. That’s what I did. I made the poor guy read my recent blog posting about my frustrations with electronics (again, click here to read Dear Mr. Gates). Then, I threatened him with my enduring presence at his store if my new computer didn’t work exactly like it should the first time I turned it on. I’m not proud of it, but I think I scared the bejeesuz out of the poor guy. That was probably the clincher that ensured all my old data would be migrated seamlessly to my new laptop. Mission accomplished.
Hallelujah. It works!

It could have been any one or a combination of all the above strategies that sealed my successful transition to a new laptop. I can confidently and honestly tell you that my new laptop works like a charm, just like my old one should have. When my tech-savvy friend Mike asked what I got, I replied “It’s silver”. That’s how much I know about computers. It is in fact an HP Envy 365 Intel Core 17, 7th Gen (whatever all that means) and cost more than three times what I paid for my old Toshiba.  And I purchased every support, replacement and tech assistance option available. I only hope it lasts three times as long which should take this old lady until the end of her time, which I would consider a pretty good investment. If only life were that simple.

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A woman’s view of World War II from behind German lines

Whenever I finish a good book I’m often left feeling somewhat bereft. After being emotionally involved in the lives of the characters over a few days or whatever time it takes to read the book, it’s hard to just “close the book”. Even though The Women in the Castle, a New York Times best seller by Jessica Shattuck had a good ending, I still hated to finish. The fictional story about the lives of three disparate German women, Marianne, Benita and Ania is a look at World War II from the other side and in particular, a female perspective.

The topic has been covered in thousands of books but this one focuses on the wives of three women whose husbands were part of the Valkyrie plot to assassinate Hitler in July 1944. The primary character, Marianne is married to a member of the German aristocracy who is the inheritor of a centuries-old castle that becomes an integral part of the plot. Polish Ania has a mysterious background that isn’t revealed until near the end of the story but that’s part of what keeps us reading. Benita is married to a childhood friend of Marianne’s and appears to be the only character that seems out of her depth. I’m not sure why Shattuck characterized her the way she did as an intellectually challenged misfit amongst strong anti-Nazis except perhaps simply for variety.

I’m always frustrated by books that jump around in time, generally preferring things proceed in chronological order. When the author finally lands in the 1950s and stays there, however, I’m disappointed that there wasn’t more of the women’s actual war experiences. But I’m not the author and a best-selling New York Times author to boot, so perhaps I should just say it’s a great book. I really enjoyed it and you probably will too.

To order a copy of The Women in the Castle from Amazon.com, click here.

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Cheerios – not just for little fingers

Gone but not forgotten.

General Mills is missing a major marketing opportunity. I keep filling out customer surveys from Kellogg’s and other companies hoping someday they’ll actually listen to me about consumer preferences. They continue to ignore my pleas to reduce the amount of sugar in breakfast cereals and instead choose to blatantly defy me by offering new ‘honey-flavoured’ or ‘crunchy’ product lines which is marketing speak for more sugar. For years I have been eating Kashi 7 Whole Grain Puffs which contain zero grams of added sugar, four grams of protein and only 100 calories per cup. Add my half cup of organic Canadian wild blueberries with almond milk and a sprinkle of Kellogg’s Bran Buds and I’m a happy girl. While that breakfast sounds reasonably healthy, the shocker is that the seemingly healthy Bran Buds contain a whopping seven grams of sugar (about two teaspoons) in a mere one-third of a cup. That’s just disgraceful Mr. Kellogg.

Consumers must be super-vigilent about what we eat.

The current problem is that no one carries my beloved Kashi 7 Whole Grains Puffs any more, other than Whole Foods and I refuse to pay their exorbitant prices. The solution has been to use my trusty Amazon Prime account and find the cheapest supplier on-line and order a case of ten boxes to be shipped to my home. But that’s accompanied by complications if it’s coming from the United States. The cost of exchange and duty can be prohibitive.

So I spent a considerable amount of time perusing the cereal aisle reading labels to compare ingredients and nutritional value in search of an alternative. Surprisingly, one that came up a winner was every toddler’s favourite finger snack, General Mills Cheerios. One cup of plain, old-fashioned Cheerios contains only 100 calories and one gram of sugar (¼ tsp). With three grams of protein and three grams of fibre in this tasty oat cereal, I think we have a winner.

Works for me. And I’m a tad older than this consumer.

Instead of General Mills targeting only little fingers (Donald Trump notwithstanding) they could and should be marketing to Baby Boomers. Our sluggish digestive systems would enjoy the boost and our budgets would appreciate having more cash freed up for wine. Cheerios are inexpensive and come in boxes large enough to last more than three days (unlike Kashi whose boxes are now so reduced in size at 6.5 oz. they barely stand up by themselves). The boxes are light in weight for hefting home from the grocery store and for those who care, they’re also gluten-free.

I think I’m going to write Mr. General Mills and suggest they redirect their marketing to a previously ignored demographic, Baby Boomers. They may want to consider paying me a royalty. So, if you happen to see commercials on television of a boomer couple sitting side by side in matching bathtubs watching the sun rise over the ocean while munching a bowl of Cheerios, then you’ll know they heard me. I’m no expert but it works for me, minus the tubs. And since I retired, I make a point of not being awake for sunrises. Until then, I’ll hold off investing in General Mills stock. As if anyone listens to me.

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In order to be truly proud, Canada still has work to do

The Canada Day 150 celebrations over the weekend prompted me to briefly relax my television news embargo. Hoping to see a lot of feel-good immigrant success stories (which I did), national coverage of patriotic local events (which there were) and a healthy dose of congratulatory video vignettes (tick that one off too), I tuned in. What I saw also reminded me of why I keep taking regular news sabbaticals.

The one issue that refuses to go away and deeply disturbs me is our government’s treatment of our indigenous people. Watching the mix-up around the installation of a teepee on Parliament Hill was unsettling. That was followed by a story about a group of bullying idiots throwing live fireworks into a group of indigenous women who had set up a peaceful camp to protest the industrial pollution of their source of drinking water. Another story highlighted the tragedy of forgotten murdered and abused indigenous women whose perpetrators were never caught and many of the women never found.

Surely, as a nation we can do better.

What is it going to take to sort out the problems with our native Canadians? The government has a tragic history of mismanaging the issue and there are struggles within the indigenous community itself. Let’s accept there is fault on both sides but the problems remain. Last year I read a moving book entitled “Invisible North” written by Alexandra Shimo, a young female journalist who moved into a northern native community. It paints a grim picture of life on a remote reserve. Basics such as clean drinking water and a supply of healthy food including fresh fruit and vegetables were scarce to non-existent and prohibitively expense in a community where most of the people are unemployed. Various make-work and entrepreneurial initiatives presented by local bands had been rejected by government authorities. Many communities have no local fire department which means over-crowded, small pre-fab bungalows quickly burn to the ground when there is a fire.

Prime Minister Trudeau seems to lend a sympathetic ear but what happens when he walks away from meetings with local bands? I suspect the government continues to drop the ball since the problems are compounding. Solutions are complicated but is asking for progress too much to ask? Is there not someone who can take this bull by the horns and start unraveling the problems and bring employment opportunities to these remote communities? Coal miners in Virginia are being trained to write and program computer code. Can this not be done for our indigenous Canadians? If call centres can be operated from places like India and the Philippines, why not on remote reserves? Norway has managed to build and operate successful greenhouses to grow local produce in Arctic climates. Can we not do the same?

I strongly recommend reading Invisible North. I honestly do not know what each of us as individuals can do to make the situation better but we do need to keep pressure on our government to stop dithering and start doing. Sympathetic handshakes and listening circles do not provide infrastructure for clean drinking water, health and safety services and access to decent food.  As Canadians, that’s the minimum we should expect from our elected leaders.

Click here to read earlier blog:  Better understanding the challenges of Native Canadians on reserves

To order Invisible North, The Search For Answers on a Troubled Reserve by Alexandra Shimo from Amazon, click here.

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