CARS, COMPUTERS, AND CASH: My Top-Three “Necessary Evils”


What things do you most hate to be without? Contraptions and gizmos that, when they work, you’re in love. And, when they go kablooey, you curse the day you ever discovered them? Well, my three are cars, computers, and cash. As David Letterman used to do, I’ll present these from least to most.

Number-threecars. You love when they run.  You fire up the engine, crank up the tunes, slide open the sun roof, and go, go, go. That is, until the needle on the gas gauge hovers below that red “check fuel” zone. Unless you want to walk twenty, ten, or even five miles to work, you gotta swing by the pump. Then, sooner or later,  those pesky tires and batteries rear their heads and twiddle their thumbs, waiting for you to deal with them. And, lest we forget, those annoying inspection and registration reminder.As the late Gilda Radner always said in her Roseanne Roseanna Anna Danna persona: “It’s always something!”

Number two: computers — the second biggest object of my affection/disgust: computers. And why are cars less annoying than computers? Because even if your car breaks down and you are stuck at home, you can always crack open that trusty laptop. Or can you?  Included in this category are printers, particularly the wireless ones, iPhones and I-anything-elses. As a college professor, I can count on my wireless printer to develop Alzheimers at three major times of the semester: the beginning,  the middle, and the end. Around our house, printer cartridges and toner drain like sieves, and printer paper becomes precious as  gold. Before we know it, we run out.  And don’t even trip my trigger about the short life span of even the trustiest laptop. Last year, my faithful,  five-year-old Toshiba — fifth in my laptop lineage– succumbed to a killer virus that rendered the screen totally black, never to light up again. Of course, its untimely demise happened two weeks before payday.

That leads to the number-one “root of all evil”– money.  Without it,  you can’t buy gas, pay for inspection or registration, or other matters automotive. Without “moolah”, you can’t replace the toner or buy paper, or, worst-case scenario, buy another computer. Without “dough”, you can’t buy food or even use your credit cards. In other words:  “no mon, no fun!”

Cars, computers, and cash — the top three on my list of necessary evils. What are the top three items you love until they go belly-up or need maintenance?


MAC AND ME, PART 2: When Learning Curves Turn Into Switchbacks


Being a MacBook Air user for two weeks, now, I can  finally cross “Own a Mac” off my bucket list.  This baby has been fun to hop onto, get stuff done, and then hop back off without the hassles of a ponderous, munching-and-crunching PC. Mac is feather-light in my messenger bag. And, okay, I have to admit I love raising its lid and showing off the signature Apple when I work on it during lunch at McAlister’s Deli.  Oh, but the best part — and my main reason for buying it –is its virtual immunity to viruses.

In short, Mac is truly “Mac-alicious”.

But the learning curve is still there. I still spend more time getting used to it than typing on it. I’ve dealt with the challenges by monkeying around with Mac to my heart’s content. This high-dollar contraption does offer a host of tasty features. Among them, Pages, Apple’s answer to Word.

Pages offers almost the same benefits and works almost like its cousin. Note the key word: almost.

Bottom line: for a writer like me, Word is mighty hard to beat. Our friendship began in 2001, when I downloaded a school disk of Microsoft Office onto my first-ever computer, a laptop I bought secondhand for $75 at Salvage Electronics.  Since that day, I’ve used Word to generate lesson plans, quizzes, and, since 2009, novel drafts. It is still old-shoe comfortable and invaluable, to boot.  In fact, the more I worked with Pages, the worse I suffered Word-withdrawal.

Then, a week ago,  I was scrolling through my school email when I found a  message with a link to Office 365. There was even a version of the program for Mac! Granted, Office is expensive, but this version is free to teachers with valid school email addresses. Well, as you can imagine, I was tempted to go AWOL from my last class, pull up the email, click the link, and download the program.

After two tries, I was once again “Office-worthy”.  Bing-bang-boom — problem solved. Right?

Nope. Not right. Now, maybe some of these problems may not really not Mac-related, but they have seemed to be. When I clicked on the W, an Office box asked me for a product purchase key.  Well, since I didn’t buy it, I had no such code. Another option — to log onto an existing Office account to view my files — turned out about as successful. When I typed in my  username and one possible password after another. Office gagged on every one of them.

I was ready to spit nails. Instead, I spat — no, screamed — in exasperation. Well, the vaulted ceiling downstairs makes for some excellent acoustics in our living room.  Expletives echoed in Surround Sound, flushing my husband, coffee mug in hand, from the office upstairs.

“Hey, babe,” he said, with a snort  “I just learned some new words!”

The  next day was a new one. My exasperation upgraded to determination. I would settle this matter, once and for all, by doing the same as I always did on a PC: uninstalling and then reinstalling Office. At least, It sounded reasonable until somehow, some way, I got confused and downloaded a second copy. Now, my toolbar is super-colorful with two each of the blue W, green X, orange P, and yellow O.

Thankfully, at least one download works. As for the other one? I’ll eventually find a way to uninstall it. Someday.  In the sweet bye-and-bye.




You’ve heard bad luck comes in threes? Well, that ain’t even close.

On Saturday, as I was starting in on a draft revision, up popped a message from Java. Version 7 was available. Although I wasn’t pining away for the newest version, I obediently clicked and waited for it to download.

After all, it’s Java. What could go wrong?


Instead of Java downloading successfully, Spyware Clear, a demonic program  barged in and took over, blocking me from anything I was trying to do: downloading an antivirus program,  checking my email and Facebook, but especially uninstalling it and a Weatherbug app  accompanying it.. Although it didn’t seem so, at the time, the screen going dark and staying that way was actually merciful.

“I need a break, anyway,” I thought, as we set out. “My head will be clearer once I come back.”

Well, as Carol Burnett used to say in her skits, “Wrong-o de-dongo.”

Assaulted by its unwelcome company, my laptop’s mood was even worse.. In fact, the slightest attempt to do anything caused it to go gray and useless. I turned it off, and then on, and then off…well, you get the picture, Jeff even attempted a “system restore”, but my poor machine’s “heart” was barely beating.

On Sunday afternoon, we were on our way home from church when Jeff noticed a funky smell in the car. His nose twitched.

“You smelling what I’m smelling?” ..

I couldn’t believe he asked me that. Anyone who knows me also knows that I — Mrs. No-Nose-Hardly — was born smeller-challenged.

: Here we are, married almost a year. Certainly, Jeff must be wise to my ruse; that I married him for his “nose”.

By the time we got home, we were too tired to play “What Stinks?”. We kicked back, watched t.v., and I continued trying to resuscitate the Toshiba, but to no avail.

This afternoon, when I got out of class, we went out again. This time, we decided to plop the wounded laptop in the Geek Squad’s lap.

“That’s a fake version of Java,” a Squad member informed us. “We’ve had a number of complaints about that.”


They could fix it, of course, for upwards of one-hundred dollars. Even with the laptop fixed, we’d still be crossing our fingers. That in mind, we wandered across the building to the new computers. I wanted one as good as, or even better than my erstwhile-trusty Toshiba.

With the help of knowledgeable sales staff, Jeff and I realized we’d eventually have the same problems with another P.C. After I asked the young salesman what he would sell his own  parents (or grandparents), I asked him to show us the Macs. After all, Macs have always been on my bucket list, but I always thought they would not only cost megabucks but also require  a whole new set of gear.

One hour later, we marched out of Best Buy with our bouncing baby MacBook Air and a protective shell in teal, my new favorite color.

As we pulled into our driveway, Jeff  pointed to the AC.

” Coolant. That’s what stinks!”

Thank God, this is February. Although we have had unseasonably warm weather here in Texas, we’re still not through with winter. What will go wrong, next? I’m afraid to say. What I can say, though, is that at least  one of our problems has been solved .

As a matter of fact, I am typing on it.



GOING THE DISTANCE: the marathon of Distance-Learning Training


On September 4, 2012, I launched into an adventure — Distance-Education training, a course that would last almost a semester.  Although I had to learn a new vocabulary, including the difference between an item and a file, I was optimistic about my race to the Finish Line.

Units I and II started out with the basics: learning my way around the Distance Learning home page, familiarizing myself with the “landscape” of Blackboard, interacting with peers on a discussion board.

“Hey, this is fun!” I thought, as I zoomed from one activity to another. “I might even finish in time to start  in spring, instead of summer.”

Yes, my first month in Distance Learning was like Christmas morning and a honeymoon at the same time. I was fascinated with my new “toy”. Just for fun, I composed PowerPoint lectures and devised interactive true/false and multiple-choice quizzes that student could complete on their iPhones or iPads.Working to Create Lesson Plan

Suddenly, the treacherous terrain of Unit III, “Building Content” caused me to stumble.  Sprinting ahead of the others, at first, I began moseying along at the speed of mud. As Unit III dictated, I built a course menu, devised a storyboard, composed a syllabus, and created lesson plans. Each step in the process was a study in trial-and-error, requiring me to submit and re-submit some assignments, and check my grades, only to see “Not Passed” beside the activity I had worked so hard to finish.

I marveled at the irony. After twenty-three years of teaching “Freshman Comp”, I have learned to bang out lesson plans in my sleep.  To pull them, like rabbits from silk hats,  out of thin air. To walk into a classroom, car keys still in hand, and start “professing”.  In a fit of frustration, I collared Self. and asked her, “Why am I running into these roadblocks?”

“Simple,” she said, “Welcome to Blackboard.”

Even in traditional, face-t0-face classes, we have had to begin keeping our gradebook on this mystifying new tool. We who have never used it before still don’t understand why we can’t use its predecessor, Campus Cruiser, anymore. Life was so simple, then.

Or not?

Two days ago, after submission number-four, I  passed “Adding Content” at last. My next step, “Preliminary Review” — an event in which my lesson plans and course menu are previewed and evaluated by peers. Yawning ahead are Units IV through VII, all due before November 30. James, my instructor,  assures me that I will have jumped over the steepest hurdle. I’ll take his word for it while holding my breath.

However stressful it seems now, this course is a gift from God. I’m thankful it is self-paced (to an extent) and that my instructor has been patient and encouraging with my daily phone calls to him.  Having passed the halfway mile-marker, I’m determined to limp along until I finish this marathon. My fingertips may be calloused; my spirits, trampled, and my nerves, frayed, but I’ve waited too long for this opportunity and the freedom that teaching online offers. 

I can picture myself now: ninety years old,  arthritic fingers typing out lessons  for a whole new generation of students.


Distance education
Distance education (Photo credit: mcwetboy)


Adjunct Orientation

“Kim. I’ve submitted your name to the Dean for Distance Learning.”

Strains of “Hallelujah Chorus” streamed from the ceiling and swelled in the hallways.  Sexual harassment be damned, I  hauled off and hugged my Department Chair.

“Thank you! When do I start?”

I’ve waited for this opportunity since a   friend  started teaching online.

“How do you get on?” I asked her, one day.

“Simple. Just put in your name for it. When there’s a spot, someone will call you.”

Imagining myself  learning the trade at my own pace, setting my own virtual office hours, and teaching computer-savvy students, I wasted no time in tossing my name into the hat.

After a five-year lapse,  the opportunity presented itself  with a shiny, red bow.  My colleagues rejoiced.

“You’ll never have to  worry about not having a class.”

“Even when you’re in a  retirement home, you can teach class from your laptop.”

Now, as I sit in the sparsely-populated Distance Learning Orientation, search for the “Any” key, and read and re-read instructions intended for the Geek Squad, I can identify with my students’ frustration with my well-intentioned instructions for “simply” logging on to the school site or

“What’s the matter?” I felt like asking them, in the past.  “You have photos, diagrams…cave-man drawings…right in front of you, so why can’t you upload  your papers by the deadline?”

Now, here I am in their seats.  Now, I understand.

Once, I saw a movie about a doctor who became more empathetic with his patients after becoming a patient, himself. Wearing the same gaping hospital gowns. Being roused from  a sound sleep for tests in the middle of the night.  Choking down hospital food he wouldn’t feed his dog.  Reclaiming his dignity and self- respect only after he walked through  his own front door.

Last night and most of today, after I nearly pulled my hair out and almost forgot my Christian upbringing over the frustration of having to repeat an activity at least ten times, could I relate with what my students must feel.  I expect that trading places with them for  six weeks will refresh my memory and restore my empathy for those young people  on the sunny side  of  my desk.