Getting offline – the good old-fashioned way

offline no wireless symbolI keep thinking about what life was like before the Internet. I know, it’s hard to imagine — especially as I’m writing this (and you’re reading this) online.

The Web has so completely altered how we do things, how we think about things, and what we think about, it’s very difficult to remember what it was like before.

But there was a time before the Internet. I can remember it, however faintly. And I remember how quiet my weekends used to be, when I would spend hours just reading, studying books I had, instead of surfing around online.

I feel very ambivalent about this, to be honest. I do love all the expanded access to research and interesting information that the Web makes possible. At the same time, though, it’s so full of distractions, that I’ve missed a lot of insights about much of the information out there, because something (literally) shinier has popped up in my view before I could digest what I was reading.  Online advertising has not done us a whole lot of good, in that respect. And I think that fragmented, flashy way of hijacking our attention is a seriously Bad Thing.

Especially for people like me.

Interestingly, my electronic life has taken a new turn. A few months back, I bought a new-to-me computer for an amazing prize. A new version costs over $3,000, but I got mine (used) for just a little over $300. Score! Yes, it was refurbished, and yes, there were some “dings”. But it works great. It’s fast and powerful and has a huge amount of disk space, so I’ve been able to transfer all my various files in all my various external hard drives to a single place. That, in itself, is progress, because I have a lot of files, and I need to be able to find  them without sifting through a bunch of different drives.

The only thing is, the PC doesn’t have a wireless card. And it’s on the other side of the house from my router with the wired connection. So, I can’t get online, unless I lug it downstairs and plug it in.

At first, I was pretty upset. I spend a lot of time online, and I need access for a lot of stuff I do. On the other hand, I’ve been increasingly worried about the effects that online life is having on my state of mind, as well as my body. I spend way too much time sitting in front of of social media, clicking links and entertaining myself, when I should really be doing something productive. I can’t even count all the hours I’ve lost to Facebook,  Twitter, and other social media. Even Google News tends to be a time-eater for me.

I’ve been wanting to get away from online life for some time. The thing is, I do a lot of my writing while online (especially here), researching and following leads. That puts me at risk for “squirrel!” syndrome — where I can easily be pulled in by the shiny-flashy lure of some clickbait headline or link. It doesn’t take much, at times, to pull me off-course, and that’s been happening, now, for years.

So much so that many things I’ve intended to do have fallen by the wayside. Because I just got distracted.

That’s about to change. Because my new computer isn’t connected to the internet. Not only am I protected from the prying eyes of people who may mean me harm online, but I’m also shielded from the constant distractions of online life. I’ve been needing to make this change — revert back to my old ways of writing, when it was just me, my ideas, and a keyboard (and yes, I used to use a typewriter, back in the day). Clear out the clutter — the uninvited intrusions that suck away my most precious possession : time, as though they’re entitled to it.

Screw all that. Screw them. They’re not invited. I want my space back, I want my thoughts back. I’ll still be able to write things like this without being online. I’ll still be able to draft these posts and the transfer them to another computer that is connected. I just won’t be constantly distracted by other stuff that has no place in my life and shouldn’t even come anywhere near me.

As much as I love the web and all the connections it gives me, there’s a time to say “enough is enough”.

I’m saying that now and doing the right thing. It was an accident… completely unintentional. But my unconnected computer is totally for the best.

Totally.

Onward.

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Oh, this is so much better

speedometer

If I hadn’t messed up my laptop the other day, it would be slower than it is right now. I had a whole bunch of crap programs running “in the background” that I didn’t need at all.

And now my laptop is much faster. Cleaner. Nicer.

So, it’s a good thing that I messed up in a small way. Because that let me fix things in a big way. Plus, I learned a bunch of new tricks for how to make my computer really work much better.

The main hurdle in my way was my anxiety and thinking that I couldn’t figure it out. But I took my time and was patient with myself and I got a good night’s rest before I managed to fix it. When I stopped worrying and just “worked the problem”, things came together for me.

Bad experience for half a day.

Good experiences to come for weeks and months and years.

It’s hot. I’m tired. I’m going back to bed.

Namibia Desert
It feels like I’m slogging through a desert, sometimes. But there’s an oasis in the distance… I think.

It’s a beautiful day. And it’s hot.

I have been getting about 7.5 hours of sleep a night, for the past several days. I’m behind. I didn’t get my nap yesterday, so today it’s time to try again.

I love weekends like this – when I get all my chores done early Saturday, then I have 24 hours to chill. This afternoon, later, I’ll take care of my last few things.

And then supper.

Then bed.

Then back to it.

I’m really proud of myself. I’ve earned a rest. Yesterday, I did something stupid when I was copying files to and from my computer. I got a prompt asking me if I wanted to do something as an “administrator”, and before I stopped to think, I clicked “OK”. And my computer slowed to a grind. I have NO idea what I did, or how it affected my computer, but I thought I was going to have to take it in to get serviced.

And I have no money to get this laptop serviced. I don’t even know a good place to go. I was pretty panicked for most of the day, yesterday, because this is my new, good computer, and I can’t afford to mess it up.

So, I searched around online a little bit, and I found some basic instructions for some things I could do. Run a diagnostic program. Stop some of the processes that start when I turn it on. Defrag. Check the disk. Make sure it doesn’t have too many things running behind the scenes, to slow things down.

I experimented with some things, and I removed a handful of old programs that were just taking up space. Now it’s running much faster. But I’m pretty wiped out from the anxiety and panic and feeling like an idiot.

Now I get to relax. And take a nap.  I feel like I’ve been slogging across the Namibian Desert, in search of an oasis. I’ve also been concerned about work, and I did some research on jobs that might work for me. I found some, but the money’s not as great as I want. I may have to go back to taking the train to a nearby city, if I’m going to earn at the level I want. That could work. It would give me time at the start and end of the day to chill. Read. Blog.

I’ve got some work ideas to “sleep on”. I’m giving a lot of thought to what I want my next job to be. I can’t make the same mistakes I’ve made before, where I described what I’ve always done, rather than what I’ve always wanted to do. I have a lot of good experience, but I tend to not use my imagination in moving to the “next level”.

I hope to change that, this time around.

And I can.

I’m not being rushed, not being pushed, I’ve got some breathing room. And I’m coming up on my one-year anniversary, which means I can then safely make a move without it looking suspect.

I don’t want to be over-cautious, but I don’t want to be stupid about things, either.

So, onward…

Well, this is nice…

laptop-newI’ve now entered the 21st century with my laptop. I’ve been running Windows XP since I left Windows 3.1 – so that should give you an idea how long it’s been. I have probably been using XP since the late 1990s, and it’s  been getting progressively worse, over time.

First, my old laptop was slow. I mean SLOW. And getting slower. It was partly because the hardware was old, partly because all the new patches and updates to my browsers, software, and different running parts of my system were putting a lot of strain on the system resources. It’s like my computer was having short-term working memory issues – just like me.

And it wasn’t fun.

Eventually, it just got prohibitive. There’s only so much blocking I can handle. Browsers throwing errors all the time, having to wait for updates, everything running slower… slower… slower… And I couldn’t even get a lot of the programs I need to run, these days. These are tools I need to keep my skills up, so I can continue to earn a good living. If I don’t keep my skills up, I am at a big disadvantage. Plus, there are some very cool tools out there, and if I don’t keep up, I’m not only hurting my chances to earn a good living, but I’m also missing out on some pretty cool stuff.

And it’s the cool stuff that keeps me going.

So, I broke down and got myself a new computer — for a fraction of what it normally costs. A new one goes for $1600, but I got mine for $250. And it has a hard drive that’s twice the size of a the top of the line new ones. That’s important, because I do a lot of work with big chunks of data and information, so I need to have enough “overhead” without running out of room.

So, I spent last night setting up my new laptop. I got it all set up with the stuff I need, and I’m adding more as I go. I can now install the apps I couldn’t even come close to, before. Plus, I can get new ones that I never knew about. I now have an email program that pulls in messages from a number of different accounts and lets me keep up on my activity. That’s been a problem for years, because I would need to login to different email addresses, and sometimes I wouldn’t do that for weeks. So, I missed out on important family messages, as well as volunteer opportunities. And I would have to scramble to catch up.

That doesn’t need to happen, anymore.

Plus, I now have a spacebar that doesn’t flake out on me. My old computer had a wonky spacebar that I had to keep punching, to get it to work. I had to press it at exactly the right place, for it to work, and that screwed up my hands, because it was an unnatural position for my thumbs to be in.

Old habits die hard. And when they do, they sometimes screw up your hands.

So, now with my enormous hard drive, and a 21st century operating system, it’s like a whole new day. The sun is rising, and it’s looking to be a gorgeous day. I am keeping my old laptop for traveling, for those times when I just need a way to get online. But this new one… well, it’s pretty sweet. And that makes me incredibly happy.

New day. New ways.

Onward.

DTI went well – now I need to figure out how to look at it

dti-mri-greenI took the afternoon off yesterday to go get my DTI MRI. It went pretty well. I had time in advance to sit and read and hang out… and also rally, because I was incredibly tired.

The test went well – I had imaging in two separate machines, but I didn’t have to get a contrast injection, so that was good. I get sick from the gadolinium, plus it’s nasty radioactive stuff, and I can do without that.

I’m now looking at the images on my computer – and I’m trying to find a DTI viewer that shows the fiber networks that DTI is all about.

That’s the reason this whole thing is happening, and I really need to find some software that will let me do that before the doctors meet with me, just so I have some familiarity with the situation and I’m prepared for whatever they tell me.

Supposedly the viewer that comes with the CD can show it, but I haven’t been able to figure that out. I’ll have to take another crack at it. There must be something there. Or I would think they wouldn’t provide a viewer.

One of the problems is that I have a really old computer. It’s taking forever to just load the images – I left it on overnight and when I got up, it still wasn’t done, so there’s something wrong with that picture. I need a new computer, anyway — one that isn’t Windows XP, which is no longer supported (by pretty much everyone). And now I can find a Windows 7 computer for very low cost. So, that’s my next project. I really need to tool up properly all across the board — and not only for viewing MRI images. For everything.

Onward.

My computer is brain-injured, too

I’m not the only one having troubles, these days…

Yesterday, when I tried to work on my computer, it was much slower than I expected it to be. It seemed really sluggish and took forever to respond (“forever” meaning a second longer than I’m accustomed to). And it kept having to stop to download patches and updates from the anti-virus program I have.

It was so frustrating. Its processing speed was so much slower than I wanted it to be, and no matter what I did, it couldn’t seem to go faster.

How frustrating! It’s bad enough that I have to deal with my own brain-injured system, which is so much slower to respond than I want it to be. It’s bad enough that I myself have to keep stopping to check in with myself and “download” more information about the world around me, so I can get my act together to take the next step. It’s bad enough that I’m so sensitive to fatigue and excitement and, well, life, and that I can’t seem to participate at the level I want to, except occasionally.

But my computer? Now I can’t depend on it, either?

Arrrrgghhh!

I try to be patient, I try to extend my laptop the same consideration I extend to myself, but it’s pretty frustrating. I’m very careful about what I download and install on my machine, and I do cleanup pretty frequently, removing files and then fixing the disk, compressing, and defragging. All in all, I’ve kept this machine going a lot longer than most people do. I’m very frugal with my resources, and I take care of what I have.

So, when nature takes its course and things start to break down a bit, here and there, and I start to think about spending extra money and time on new (to me) equipment, I get nervous. Because I remember all too vividly what it’s like to be in hock, to be so far in debt that my whole live is an exercise in indentured servitude.

I really don’t want to have to spend any more money than I have to.

But it’s not just the money that gets me. It’s the reminder of how things are sooooo sloooooowwww for me, sometimes. I tried to get some more work done last night, after I made myself some dinner, but I couldn’t get myself in gear to make any progress. It’s just as well. I needed to take a break, do some reading, and let everything just kind of sink in. Plus, the book I’m reading is pretty interesting, and it really held my attention all night, till I couldn’t concentrate anymore. But still. I want to be able to do the things I used to be able to.

Once upon a time, I could spend every waking hour of Saturdays and Sundays working on my research projects, and come away with some really great insights. Once upon a time, I could study for hours, learning new computer skills, and be more proficient on Monday morning than I was on Friday afternoon. Now, I consider myself lucky to get to Monday without being more exhausted than I was Friday afternoon.

I had kind of expected things to get better for me, as my recovery progresses. Things are getting better in some respects:

  • I can read again
  • I can hold conversations with people
  • I can keep from blowing up over little things that don’t matter
  • I can recognize when I’m going off the rails and take steps to get myself back in line

But the fatigue and the confusion and the sense of “WTF?!” that has me always wondering, What Just Happened?… that hasn’t really subsided. If anything, it’s worse. Perhaps because I’m more aware of it. Being able to recognize when I’m going off the rails, means I’m more aware of my “deviations” from what I consider the norm for myself. And I have to tell you, it is truly bizarre, to be living life inside my experience, which doesn’t look, sound, or feel anything like what I expect it to.

The one constant through my recovery has been my laptop. My computer, which is now struggling to keep up. Having that go on the fritz is making me all the more aware of my human frailty and vulnerability, and I don’t care for this experience.

I don’t care for it at all.

But here it is. There’s no escaping it, and I suppose the best I can do is just acclimate to the “new me” and get over it. Quit bitching and complaining, suck it up, and just deal with it. People go through losses all the time — friends, family, marriages, homes, jobs, mental and physical abilities, body parts, even their sanity. I’m not unique in this respect. I’ve lost touch with the person I feel like I am, and I miss them. I miss feeling like I know who I am and where I fit. I miss feeling a sense of orientation to life around me. I miss feeling like I know what will happen in my head next. I miss it. Sometimes it’s there, but then when I expect it to be there, it’s nowhere to be found. And I’m adrift again, making it up as I go, doing my best under the circumstances, just happy to be alive and healthy.

I do feel a little foolish, being so bent out of shape about losing my sense of self, but there it is. A lot of us go through it, especially brain-injured folks, but I don’t know about anyone else. Not really. And for me it feels so intense today. Part of the problem was that I really isolated yesterday at home. I didn’t get out much, and although I talked to my parents a couple of times, I didn’t have any live interactions with people. If anything, I avoided them. Because I was tired, and I just wanted to be alone to think.

Someone recently commented here that socialization is a huge piece of TBI recovery, and I totally agree. I didn’t think it was so, but it is. Socializing both challenges us and rewards us. It gives us a chance to interact and acquire new skills. It forces us to think on our feet and make an effort. But when you’re struggling with TBI, socializing can seem like too big a task to undertake.

I know it did for me, yesterday. Everything just felt like such a chore, such a drain. I didn’t want to go out, I didn’t want to talk to anyone, I didn’t want to have anything to do with anyone. I was tired. I was feeling overwhelmed. I was not up for the added work that interacting with others brings.

I just wanted my computer to keep me company.

But it’s brain-damaged, and it was struggling almost as much as me, yesterday. So, there we were, the two of us, muddling through.

Today looks like another beautiful day, and I’ll have to get out for a walk. My water softener seems to be on the fritz, so I’ve re-cycled it, and I’ll go out and get more potassium chloride later. Potassium chloride is better for me than sodium chloride, because the treated water is a little harder, it doesn’t get “soapy” and slick, and it also doesn’t create that rotten egg smell that you can get from sodium chloride. It costs a few extra dollars per bag, but so what? Over the long term it’s more expensive, but it’s worth it to me.

I’ll do the few things I need to do today, make sure I rest up, and really take it easy. I’m still wiped out from last weekend. I’m not sure when I’m going to catch up on my sleep and feel truly rested again. But at least I can enjoy myself at some of the things I do. And I’m already looking forward to that nap.

For now… onward.