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Geeky Grandma Goes to Muckrack

posted Feb 5, 2018, 1:31 PM by Cherie Dargan

A couple of months ago, I noticed that my articles published in the Waterloo Courier were appearing on another website, called Muckrack. com.  I decided to do some routine maintenance on the Geeky Grandma site earlier today, and did a search on the Courier website to find a missing column, and saw again that my most recent column on Technology was popping up on Muckrack.com. Not only that, I had an opportunity to create a profile, start a portfolio, etc. It seems to be a brave new world for journalists and writers. 

If you publish articles in a newspaper, you should check it out. 



Time for a tech tuneup

wcfcourier.com — It’s a snowy January day in Iowa and the wind is howling outside as you contemplate how to spend your day off: A Netflix binge of "The Crown" or grab your iPad and see who is posting on Facebook? How about using the time for a home tech tuneup? 

Last updated on Feb. 5, 2018

Time for a Tech TuneUp

posted Feb 5, 2018, 1:06 PM by Cherie Dargan

It’s a New Year: Time for a Tech Tune-Up


It’s a snowy January day in Iowa and the wind is howling outside as you contemplate how to spend your day off: it’s tempting to head to the couch to check out Netflix for a binge of The Crown or grab your iPad and see who is posting on Facebook. However, as tempting as it is to just relax, this is also a great time for a home Tech Tune-up, with six suggestions from techlicious.com and Popular Science.

First, think about how technology dominates your family’s daily routine, including bedtime. With mobile devices, it is easy to move from one screen to another one all day and into the evening. Experts recommend that you avoid screen time before bed: screens emit blue light which can disrupt sleep, especially in children, so ban screens for the hour before bedtime. If that isn’t possible, follow the guidelines from a recent study at Mayo Clinic which recommends you switch to night mode on your phone and then hold the device at least 14 inches away.  If you have children using mobile devices, use a ruler to illustrate how far away they should be holding those tablets and phones, and check their settings: under settings and brightness, you will see night shift set from 10 pm to 7 am. If you use your PC late at night, download the program f.lux which adjusts the brightness of your display according to the time of day.

Second, think about your backup strategy. If you have multiple computers, and several people creating documents, downloading photos, or creating presentations, you need more than a flash drive to archive files. Your important files and photos should be backed up with a two-part approach. First, invest in an external hard drive for each one of your computers (Seagate and Western Digital are great picks) and then use a cloud-based storage service such as Drop Box, Google Drive, or iCloud. You might also use Google Docs or Microsoft Office 365 which allows you to create documents and presentations online and store them online, which also means you can access them from any device, anywhere. If you use a smartphone to take photos, your photos are backing up to iCloud if you use Apple and Google Photos if you use Android (https://photos.google.com/). However, do you ever look at your photos online and delete blurry photos? You may be taking up space with photos you don’t need. You can also share photos, do minor edits, and create photo projects.

Third, clean up your computer by taking out the trash and deleting files you don’t need anymore. I have a teacher friend (who will remain unnamed) who used the trash can icon on her first Mac laptop to store her files: don’t be like my friend. Spending an hour looking at your documents, creating file folders to make it easier to find things, and deleting older drafts or duplicates is time well invested. Decluttering your computer will do wonders for your morale and make you more productive.

Once you’re done with your computer, tackle your mobile devices and clean them up as well. You may have an iPad, Kindle Fire and iPhone or Galaxy and have a number of apps taking up space that you never use. When was the last time you synced those devices? Do you have a dedicated place to charge your devices and does it need some attention, with a tangle of half a dozen charging cables? While you’re at it, grab a microfiber cloth and treat all of your screens to a nice swipe.

Fourth, protect your computer with an antivirus program like Windows Defender to avoid losing your data, and protect yourself from malware with a program like Malware Bytes. Malware can wreak havoc with your computer and data after you visit a website, download software or install software. Unfortunately, not all anti-virus programs detect malware. 

Fifth, please stop using the same password for every account! That is simply an invitation to get hacked. You might use a document or spreadsheet to track passwords, or rely on luck, using the same password for all of your accounts (hopefully, it is not “12345” or “password”). Take time to look at your list of accounts and change passwords from time to time, and weed out the accounts you no longer use. Consider using a password manager like Last Pass, or if you already have a Gmail account, check out Google’s Smart lock, which tracks your passwords. To see your list of accounts and passwords on smart lock, visit www.passwords.google.com. How do you use Smart Lock? First, you need to use the Chrome browser: then, when you logon to a website like Facebook, a little popup window will ask if you want Smart Lock to save your login info: if so, click on save.

Finally, is an upgrade in your future? Think about the best use of your old technology: can you repurpose it, should you use it for a trade in, or is there someone in your family or circle of friends who could use it? For years, I kept my old iPhone handy for shopping trips with my daughter in law and grandsons: if we go clothes shopping, I could play a game or watch a video with one grandson while his brother was trying on clothes. I have also taken it with me to read an eBook while waiting at a hospital or airport, to save my phone’s battery. An article on the Popular Science website listed several other ways to use an old phone: as an alarm clock, a security camera, e-reader, radio, music player, or media library, using apps and features built-in to those devices. In addition, older laptops and tablets can generally be used for word processing. If you decide to discard devices, first get any pictures or data copied off, and then wipe it, using the settings for each device, and contact the manufacturer for where to recycle it.

This tech tune-up will help your 2018 be more productive, protect you from malware and viruses, and safeguard your documents and photos. Starting the year off with good tech habits just feels good: maybe you can reward yourself with an episode of The Crown after all.



F.lux – available for Windows and Mac


Stokes, Natasha. 10 Tech Resolutions for 2018. December 29, 2017.



Nield, David. 12 bad tech habits you need to resolve to stop doing this New Year.

December 29, 2017


This article appeared in the Waterloo Courier, on Jan. 19, 2018




Reflections on popular book titles, characters & themes

posted Feb 5, 2018, 12:58 PM by Cherie Dargan

Remember when it seemed that all you needed to write a great book was a title that included “girl?” (Think of The Girl on a Train, Diary of a Young Girl, Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, etc.)  In fact, Goodreads has a list of 100 such book titles. Or, how about books about Amish love stories? Goodreads has a list of 415 such titles! Another popular genre features zombies: Goodreads has 98 titles in one list, called Zombie Romance. However, books about vampires beat out books about zombies with over 1,078 titles. Disturbingly, for me—I’m a wuss—there was also a link to OTHER VAMPIRE LISTS, so there are many more books in multiple categories.

I have become a huge fan of eBooks over the past 5 to 7 years, as I acquired iPads, iPhones and Kindles. Retirement has given me more time to read: when I was a full time writing teacher, I was lucky if I could read a book a month for book club and possibly part of one more. Grading, prep, committee work, and researching my monthly column consumed my days. I loved to read at night, because it relaxed me to go to sleep. Now, I am often juggling a couple of books and love it. However, if I can’t get a book through the library, my reading habit can become costly. So, I have also become a big fan of websites like bookbub.com that offer free or low-cost eBooks. I subscribe to a daily email and get a list of books each day from the following sources.

https://www.bookbub.com/launch  Free and low-cost books

https://www.bargainbooksy.com/    Not free, but bargains

https://www.freebooksy.com/          Free books

https://earlybirdbooks.com/  (to sign up for your daily email and see great deals)

Amazon will also email you with its Kindle Daily Deals

First off, I have to admit a pet peeve about e-books and an emerging subgenre in the mystery category: over the last few years the “cozy” mystery subgenre has emerged, generally referring to mysteries with good clean language, not a lot of sexuality or violence, etc. Unfortunately, a number of self-published cozy mysteries have problems resulting from not having a critical reader or editor. I have found numerous typos, wrong words, screwy punctuation, and other glitches—such as a switch from third person to first person for a few paragraphs! As you can imagine, this is disconcerting for a former English teacher.

Now, let’s take a look at what I have discovered from looking through lists of eBooks over the past few weeks. From reading the titles (and sometimes, the descriptions), main characters include some interesting patterns:

·        I found a lot of references to witches, zombies, people who see ghosts, ghosts of people, vampires, vampire hunters, aliens, senior citizens, young adults, among others.

·        Many novels feature soldiers or veterans, as well as scientists, archeologists, doctors, researchers, grad students, law enforcement officers, ranchers, etc.

·        The main characters in cozy mysteries tend to be young women (or middle aged women, or older women) who clean houses, bake cookies, run small businesses, or own Bed and Breakfasts while moonlighting as amateur detectives, who work with hunky Cops, FBI agents, sheriffs, or other law enforcement types.

·        Other main characters are Biker outlaws, lonely ranchers, cops, sheriffs, grandfathers, newspaper editors, business owners, mayors, teachers, etc.

·        A new subgenre focuses on Alpha males, Submissive women, and the words “Submission” or “Domination” are often used in the titles, which often include the words “Dirty, Dark, or Dangerous.” Covers feature lots of naked, well-toned male chests, with or without tons of ink/tattoos or couples in a sweaty clench of sorts. (Obviously, those Fifty Shades of Graybooks and movies made an impression on a few writers—and readers).

Supporting characters include:

·        Feisty grandmothers (think of Stephanie Plum’s grandma)

·        Gay friends or coworkers

·        Siblings

·        Best friends since childhood

·        Spouses, dating partners, and sometimes former lovers

·        Animals (cats, dogs, horses, and in one story set in Alaska, a moose)

·        Surrogate parents, foster parents, adopted parents, and grandparents

·        Ghosts or other paranormal creatures

In terms of plots and storylines, themes emerge as well--

·        Yes, AMISH love stories live! Often the love interest is a non-Amish person who must meet certain tests to be accepted, or the Amish person must choose between an Amish person or an outside person for a mate. Or, a couple must overcome obstacles to win approval of the Amish community and family. Or the Amish person has left home and must make his or her way in the outside world.

·        Returning to one’s home town and having to overcome obstacles to find happiness, while trying to make a small business go—and then needing to solve a murder to clear someone falsely charged

·        Inheriting a house, bakery, hotel, B and B, bar, or other business or residence after the death of a parent, uncle, aunt, grandparent and having to struggle to make it work

·        Recovering from a broken heart, having moved to the big city for that job he/she thought was perfect, only to be lonely and then confronted with a reminder of the past

·        Trying to find ways to thrive in small towns while solving murders and coping with eccentric family members, unreliable boyfriends, and sympathetic coworkers

·        Fighting for survival after a global disaster, usually leaving the planet in sad shape with few survivors who must compete for resources or travel to find safety, while fighting the bad guys hogging the food, water and shelter

·        A supposedly “dead” twin appears and leaves the surviving twin questioning everything

·        Alternative history stories—what if Lincoln survived? What if Kennedy lived? What if the astronauts had been stranded on the Moon?

·        A man (or woman, teenager, senior citizen, or zombie) on the run, meeting kindly strangers along the way, while trying to avoid the bad guys looking for them

·        Arranged marriages and brides traveling out west by stagecoach or train in the 1800s

·        Old boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses, roommates, or former bosses, showing back up at inconvenient times—generally when things are going well for the main character

·        A curious phenomenon of lonely billionaires looking for love (these are young, hunky versions – not the typical 80-year-old men you might associate with billionaires)

·        Lots of dystopian societies (think The Hunger Games or Divergent) with repressive regimes, ridiculous and cruel rituals and tests, and plucky individuals who resist those in charge

So, there you go – some of the ingredients for great reads! Unfortunately, it is one thing to analyze components and another thing to actually undertake the hard work of writing and revising a novel.  After seeing numerous Amish love stories and Vampire romances, I once joked that the perfect book might be about a young Amish woman in love with a Vampire who was conflicted over his own strange family history that included a South American dictator, reality TV Stars, and a singer from New Orleans. I just haven’t gotten around to fleshing it out yet.

Lists mentioned:

 Last updated January 25, 2018

It's been a "Flu" Christmas

posted Feb 5, 2018, 12:54 PM by Cherie Dargan

I was getting over a sinus infection when I came down with the flu in mid-December. Since I always get a flu shot, I was surprised. I had not had the flu in many years; however, the doctor at Urgent Care told me that it proved to be only ten percent effective this year. I will continue to get the flu shot, and encourage you to do so as well.

However, I have had lots of time to rest, read, and watch Hallmark channel movies, among other things. Here then is my list of ways to cope with the Flu at Christmas.

Top ten tips for coping with the Flu at Christmas

1.      Stock up on Kleenex, canned chicken soup, and citrus (we’re hooked on cuties).

2.      Claim your spot in a comfy chair: add small pillow and blanket and TV remote, and you're set.

3.      Hot tea and lemon anyone? Keep hydrated.

4.      Lemon drops soothe a cough about as well as anything, but candy canes work too.

5.      Thank goodness for Netflix and the Hallmark Channel.

6.      Order a packaged meal from Hyvee to avoid trying to cook a big meal.

7.      Scale back your holiday expectations. My Christmas cards sat in the car for four days before they got mailed out. when I began to feel a little better. 

8.      Load up the Kindle with holiday themed e-books.

9.      It’s a good time to sit back and take a nap: the flu left me exhausted and after several weeks, I still tire more easily.

10.   Remember that nothing lasts forever, not even the flu!

       Also posted on my Blogging Basics Blog

Last updated December 30, 2017

Gifts for Geeks, part two: Gifts for the Grown up Geeks

posted Dec 8, 2017, 2:31 PM by Cherie Dargan   [ updated Dec 8, 2017, 2:33 PM ]

            The Nerdmuch website, above

We already discussed gifts for the geek kids in your life.  What about the adult geeks? Every family has at least one person who is obsessed with comics, board games, and movies like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, or those about Batman, Spider Man, Thor, or other Super heroes. What do you get for these people for Christmas?

               Start with what he or she likes: if a fan of a specific movie franchise, TV show, or comic, go to thinkgeek.com for inspiration. You will find an astonishing array of gifts there, including t-shirts for Dr. Who fans, measuring cups that look like R2D2 in Star Wars, sweaters with a variety of geeky graphics, coffee mugs with geeky sayings, light saber chopsticks, or fun socks, like the “Sock It To Me Circuit Board” Men’s Crew Socks.

               Geeks have a lot of gadgets that require power, so how about a cool power bank? PC World did an article on the best Power banks of 2017 and found a variety, ranging in price from $20 to $99.  Some of the popular brands include Mophie, MyCharge, APC, Tzumi’s Pocket Juice, and Atomi. If you look on Amazon, you can also find gift sets that include a wireless mouse, power bank, and touchscreen pens. Some geeks have serious storage needs, and we’re not talking Tupperware here: maybe a Stormtrooper USB flash drive would be helpful to archive documents or photos, or help transfer them to a new computer.

               While you’re at it, why not give EVERYONE on your shopping list one of the most practical stocking stuffers ever? Several years ago my husband gave me a charging cable with four heads, so that you could charge up both an IPhone and an Android device at the same time, or your IPhone and older IPad at the same time. It was made by Case and costs under $10; it’s great for taking on trips because it’s like having several cables at once.

Do you have a geek in your life who constantly misplaces his or her keys, wallet, or other things? If so, check out the Tile, a tiny Bluetooth tracker that you attach to your keyring: then use the smartphone app to locate your keys. They come in multiple packs: the more you buy, the cheaper each tile becomes. Find them at Bestbuy for around $24.

Pet lovers who want to keep track of their pets while the owners are at work would love the Petcube, a Camera with Video, 2-Way Audio, Night Vision, and a Laser Toy, that works with Alexa (around $169.99). Watch your pet play, talk to it, and hear it bark or meow back.

Science Geeks might like the Clip-on Microscope by Kingmas, which magnifies up to 60X and provides some light via a built in LED light, powered by batteries. It turns your smartphone into a microscope for under $10.

With a new Star Wars movie coming out, there are lots of Star Wars themed gifts, from stuffed animals to clothing to the Star Wars Lightsaber Heat Change Mug ($13.99 on Amazon) or Lightsaber BBQ tongs. There is also a cool droid that looks BB-8 from The Force Awakens; it’s described as a remote control robot toy.

Kids of all ages will be interested in toy drones, which range in price and feature. Amazon lists one for under $20 and others for $129 and much higher, but many suggest starting out with a cheaper one to learn how to control them. In addition, reading the reviews is helpful in selecting the best model. 

Need more gift ideas? Here are a few suggestions from Nerdmuch.com, which includes a link to purchase the products.

·        Google Home is a device similar to Amazon’s Echo that works with voice activation: it can play music, answer questions, and tell you the weather.
·        Gaming headsets range in price from $50 to $200 or more. They recommend the Logitech G633 headset, which sells for around $99.
·        Zombie Fridge magnets will please those Walking Dead fans for around $10.
·        The Kymera Magic Wand Remote Control lets you use hand gestures to control devices and should appeal to Harry Potter fans. The wand costs around $65.
·        Nerdy backpacks: take your pick from one looks like the Tardis to those bearing the icons for comic heroes, Star Wars, Minecraft, or Nintendo, among others.
·        Remember those annoying Where’s Waldo books? Now there is a new version, for Star Wars fans: Where’s the Wookie, for around $10.
·        Super Mario Odyssey, available for under $50 on Amazon Prime, looks to be the hot video game this season.
·        Forget the Jelly of the month club: consider signing your friend or family member up for Loot crate, which offers a monthly membership for a box of geek and gamer gear valued at $45 for under $20 a month.
·        Gamers would also love the Nintendo Switch, a new home console/handheld hybrid. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is only available on Switch, so the folks at the nerdmuch website were enthused about trying it out.

What if your geek is a girl? Here are a few ideas from thinkgeek, nerdmuch and Amazon:

  • ·        “I love you more than Pi” coffee mug or cute t-shirts with geeky sayings.
  • ·        Books and games based on favorite TV shows like the Big Bang Theory
  • ·        Jewelry based on a favorite TV show or movie
  • ·        Infinity scarves featuring science, math or literary themes
  • ·        Accessories for phones and tablets: a stylus for touch screens and power banks
  • ·        “Best Mom in the Galaxy” coffee travel mug
  • ·        Magnetic poetry features a kit for Geeks: you can use the phrases to write a poem on the refrigerator
  • ·        A clip on lens turns a smartphone into a better camera
  • ·        Adult coloring books for fans of Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, and Dr. Who.
  • ·        Deals on Amazon devices – it’s hard to resist a $29 Kindle Fire or Echo Dot
  • ·        Boogie boards – simple low tech drawing boards with a button to erase. There is a small model perfect for a purse, with stylus
  • ·        Marvel comics dress and pumps (from nerdmuch)

Finally, if all else fails, remember that gift cards are a great idea as well, because it lets your friend or family member decide what to buy. And try not to feel too guilty if you have found one or two gifts for yourself in your search: you aren’t alone. According to the National Retail Federation’s survey of Christmas 2016, about 6 in 10 shoppers bought items for themselves last year. So, if you happen to be a geek, you probably saw at least a couple of things you liked in this column! Happy shopping!

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This column appeared in the Waterloo Courier.

Last Updated Dec. 4, 2017

Gifts for Geek Kids

posted Dec 8, 2017, 2:24 PM by Cherie Dargan

Each year, Thanksgiving ushers in the season of serious shopping: this year, we have five weekends before Christmas Day. Instead of gathering at the mall at 4 am on Black Friday, many of us stayed home and shopped online at our favorite stores’ websites, and we’re still shopping. Let’s face it: some people are a challenge to shop for, including the geeks in our lives, whether they’re children or adults. So here are some gift ideas for your favorite geek kid and many of these are for toys.

Whether you buy the toys online or in your favorite local store, it’s a great idea to do some research first online. Toy manufacturers identify a recommended age, use a system of 1 to 5 stars to rate the toy, include reviews by people who purchased the toy, and offer a detailed look at what you get, as well as well as how to use the toy. Many come equipped to work with apps from mobile devices.  You will also see lots of bargains from your favorite stores, great deals on shipping or free pick up at the store.

This season, there are lots of interactive toys like the Hatchimals, which come packed in eggs and need to be held, loved, and encouraged by children before they hatch. If you haven’t seen these, go to Youtube and watch as an adorable baby animal pecks its way out of the shell to meet its child.  Hatchanimals are cute little stuffed animals with eyes that light up, cost around $60 and are designed for children aged 5+. Once hatched, the toy needs attention and develops from baby to toddler to child.

Other popular toys are Robots like the Cozmos robot which looks like a funny little vehicle with a mechanical face of sorts and arms: it’s designed for children ages 8 and up, Cozmos is on sale for around $150 at Target or Walmart. It can express emotion, move around, pick up its power cubes, and get to know its child. Children use a mobile app to program Cozmos, so it is very educational.

Another great option is the littleBits Star Wars Droid Inventor Kit, which is described as a toolkit to create a droid using electronic building blocks that snap together with magnets. So children get to assemble the droid, which looks like R2D2 from Star Wars, and then program him using the app and the little bits, to do different tasks. They can also redesign the toy, which fosters creativity. This toy was rated 4 ½ stars, is designed for children 8 and older, and is on sale several places for $79. Reviewers were enthusiastic about this toy!

Be aware that many toys have flooded the market, being labeled as robots or looking like robots when they are just remote controlled toys that can move around.  For example, Walmart is offering a great deal on a toy called Star Wars Smart R2-D2: originally $99, it is on sale for $39. Children 6 & up use an app to send the Droid on missions; however, they aren’t programming and the toy isn’t “learning” based on their actions.

Lego’s building sets are always a great choice, and sets feature Star Wars, Batman, and Lord of the Ring. Another popular building toy is Magformer’s magnetic building blocks: I ordered a similar set off Amazon and my grandsons want to play with them almost every time they visit. Pieces come in a variety of shapes, such as triangles, squares, and rectangles, and are magnetic, so fit together to create a variety of objects.

If you’re an Amazon user, don’t overlook the popular Kindle Fire tablet: the 7 inch model is on sale at $29 after Thanksgiving, so you’ll be tempted to buy one for lots of people on your list. Kindle also makes one for kids, with a year of access to apps and games, videos, books and educational content from PBS kids, Nickelodeon, and Disney. It is geared for kids 3-12 with friendly apps, durable covers, and lots of ways for parents to customize and control content and usage. It is on sale for $69, down from $99. In addition, Amazon has an amazing array of toys, gadgets, and books for kids in its STEM section. Some of the products here include a talking microscope, a roller coaster building set, robots like Cozmo, and kits to build a robot and program it.

Another hot toy this season will be small remote controlled drones like the RCtown NH010 Mini Drone 2.4GHz 4CH Mini UFO Quadcopter Drone: available for under $20 on Amazon, the manufacturer advises that it is suitable for children ages 7 and over. Much pricier drones, equipped with cameras, are available, of course, but beginning users can easily crash their drones the first time out, so why not start out with a simpler model.

A low tech option is the Boogie Board; this thin plastic board is the size of a small tablet and comes with a stencil. You can draw on it, write a list, draw a picture, and then erase it with the button at the top. You can also use an app to save your creation (or simply snap a photo with your smartphone). They come in several models, including one for children that comes with four small drawing tools. Find them at Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, or Staples for around $30. They are great for families on the go: kids enjoy creating things, playing simple games, or drawing something.

If you want to find unique clothing, toys, or gifts for your geek child, go to thinkgeek.com. You will find a variety of clothing, backpacks, toys, gadgets, and other products featuring a variety of characters and themes from Minecraft to Star Wars to Star Trek to Dr. Who. You can find Little Golden books retelling the six Star Wars movies for kids, for example, or plush toys for the Star Wars characters. They also have Stem toys, such as Kano’s Build your own Computer kit, with Raspberry Pi3, allowing kids to learn how to code and build their own computer to play games and more.  The website is easy to navigate, with lots of options to search for gifts for your geek kid. As you browse, you’re sure to find the perfect gift for all of the geeks in your life—and you may end up finding a couple of gifts for yourself.  

 Last updated November 24, 2017

This column appeared in the Waterloo Courier.

Don’t ask me, “Do you know about the internet?”

posted Dec 8, 2017, 2:21 PM by Cherie Dargan   [ updated Dec 8, 2017, 2:25 PM ]

(My Devices, above: iPhone 6, IPad Air2, Kindle Paper White, and Kindle Fire)

As a recently retired Community College teacher who taught online for 15 years, helped pioneer computer classrooms for teaching writing, and piloted the class showing education students how to integrate technology into their lesson plans, I consider myself a girl geek. I’m married to a man who managed all of the technology in two public libraries, started using social media almost a decade ago, and manages a blog. When we moved into an “active retirement” community, it was a given that we both needed places to work, so his office is in the front bedroom and mine is in the large four season porch.

However, our “geek” credentials were not apparent when we visited a local store to shop for a new office chair for Mike. We looked at the small group of office chairs and the young man helping us saw that we were not happy. He said, “We have more models online….” Then he hesitated and looked at me somewhat dubiously, “Do you know about the internet?”

I took a breath. “I’m a retired college teacher,“ I said. “I manage four websites and a blog. Mike would have gone to Amazon to pick out a chair, but I thought it would be nice to go into a brick and mortar store instead. So, yes, I DO know about the internet!” My husband sighed and we made an exit; we came home and he ordered a nice chair from Amazon.

I find the major downside of being retired is being seen as “old.” Ageism is not a pretty thing, and businesses would do well to encourage young workers to be respectful and not assume that everyone over 50 is lacking in technology skills.

According to a Pew Internet report issued in May, almost 7 in 10 seniors use the internet and half of older Americans have internet access at home. In addition, 4 in 10 have smartphones. Another 3 in 10 use an iPad or Android tablet and almost 1 in 5 have an e-reader. Overall, younger seniors (ages 65-69) who are college educated and more affluent are more likely to be technology users.

I recently had lunch with a small group of women in my active retirement community: they were friendly, talkative, joked about the challenges of aging and retirement, and shared some of their attitudes about technology. I was the youngest one there; however, they made me feel comfortable. As we chatted, several mentioned that they had smart phones to keep up with their busy families, who preferred text to phone calls. Several talked about how much they liked their iPads or android tablets. Not all of them used Facebook, but several did. Overall, they fit the description painted by the Pew Report.

Technology has evolved greatly over the past three decades: many of the seniors today were the pioneers who first used technology in the workplace. I remember the first email system that I used as a technical writer at a large insurance company in Des Moines in the early 1990s: we used a main frame computer and our email messages were formatted in ALL CAPS. In the classroom, I began typing up my notes and putting them onto overhead transparencies, which saved me the tedium of writing the same information on the chalkboard several times a day and also helped me to record my notes and improve them. Later, I would project those notes from a laptop onto a screen.

I began using a free discussion board called Nicenet.org; it let me post announcements, short text documents, and links to web resources. I wrote a grant for my own Gateway laptop and wheeled it from classroom to classroom in a two wheeled cart. I had to hook up cables to a device to switch the image on my laptop to the television in the classroom to show my power point presentation, announcements, or class agendas. I also taught on the ICN, Iowa’s innovative distance learning telecommunications system, which connected hundreds of classrooms together using fiber optic cable.

When John Deere decided to get rid of their Mac desktops and laptops in 1997, they donated them to Hawkeye Community College; my Communications Department begged for 25 of those desktops and established the first Computer Lab devoted to Composition classes. Later we would add five PCs with internet access to our computer lab. One of my friends, Lavonne, and I pushed for faculty websites in the early 2000s. Shortly after that, we began using Course Management Systems like WebCT, Blackboard, Angel, and Canvas and I spent 15 years teaching fully online classes, as well as integrating technology into my face to face classes with those class websites.

With the advent of our class websites, more and more of my work as a Community College teacher consisted of adding content to the website, checking work submitted to the website, reading discussion boards, updating the online gradebook, answering messages from students, posting announcements and links to web resources, and monitoring the very sophisticated statistics that let me know who was participating and who had not logged on in ten days. My face to face students met in computer classrooms, where we had time to interact face to face and then work on assignments.

When I got my first digital camera—a gift from the boyfriend I would marry—I began taking pictures of my students the first week to learn their names. I took pictures of activities to post on my faculty web page. Later I would get an IPad and use it the same way I once used my digital camera. I piloted an Education class about integrating technology into the classroom and asked for an IPad cart in 2012; we soon began to explore apps for their lesson plans and found a number that not only engaged students, but helped to teach the curriculum.

At home, I’ve been using a Kindle to read most of my books for more than five years.  In retirement, I’ve become an active volunteer and host some committee meetings at our condo where I am able to use our large television to project what is on my laptop using screen sharing. I now manage my own website, plus three for other organizations. So, if you have a young person in your life who works in retail, please remind him that his generation didn’t invent the World Wide Web: please don’t ask “older” customers if they know about the internet!

 Side bar


Anderson, Monica and Andrew Perrin.  May 17, 2017

Last Updated Dec. 8, 2017

This column appeared in the Waterloo Courier.

Retirement musings

posted Dec 8, 2017, 2:18 PM by Cherie Dargan

I took early retirement in August 2016, and the months have flown by. What have I learned?

1.      I have come to realize that you have to have a purpose—a reason to get up in the morning, such as working on a website, writing a blog post, babysitting a grandchild, or volunteering.

2.      I love having more freedom to read or write more – but someone needs to buy groceries, do the laundry, and cook meals, so there is still a balance of work and play.

3.      Having more time for family – especially our grandchildren – is a wonderful bonus, and makes me realize how fortunate we are to live so close to our grandsons and son.

4.      I recognize how much my parents did during their retirement years to help me as a young single parent, and how close they got to my children. Not every child gets to know his or her grandparents that well! My parents sacrificed to make my dream come true of graduating from college and grad school. I want to pass on that gift to my children and grandchildren.

5.      Having time to look through all of the stuff from my parents and grandparents is very bittersweet. I have letters, photos, memoir pieces, aprons and linens, as well as quilts.

6.      Remembering the family stories – and telling them to my children and grandchildren – is important. Retirement is a great time to write them down, too.

7.      I spent almost a year decluttering to move into our condo; however, after two years, I’m looking around and seeing that I need to begin working on another round of decluttering. Books, magazines, and papers seem to accumulate. Grandchildren outgrow toys and clothes. Closets get full. So, I am tackling it one closet, one drawer at a time.

8.      Connections to friends from my old workplace are precious: I belong to a book club of teachers from my old Communications Department at Hawkeye Community College, and I look forward to getting together every month. Our shared gossip, history, jokes, and friendships mean a great deal to me, and discussing books is an added bonus to getting together.

9.      Now that Mike has retired, days take on a different rhythm. He is starting to get more involved in a service club and volunteer work of his own. It’s fun to watch him make his own adjustments to retirement.

10.   Time management still counts. I bought a really nice planner for 2018, because between doctor appointments, volunteer work, babysitting, and Board meetings and community events, I feel busier than ever!

 Last Updated Dec. 8, 2017

A Traveler’s Tale: Comparing Hotels

posted Nov 8, 2017, 9:18 AM by Cherie Dargan   [ updated Nov 8, 2017, 12:45 PM ]

hotel logo la quinta
holiday inn express

We’ve just returned from nine days of travel, staying in six different hotel rooms in five cities in four states. We stayed at three major chains and saw real differences between those hotels bearing the same name. Our first stop was in Indianapolis for our daughter’s wedding; we’ve been there a number of times and generally stay at the same hotel, The Hampton Inn, but this time it was completely booked so we had to use an online service to locate rooms. After reading reviews and looking at the photos and description, I chose La Quinta Inns; however, we soon learned not to trust online photos and reviews! I made a list of issues we noticed: you may have noticed them, too.

Since we both have bad backs, I asked for an accessible bathroom and was intrigued with the results. Almost all of the rooms provided at least one grab bar in the bathroom, usually at the side of the tub; however, two rooms stood out for their many features that made them more comfortable and safer. One (Holiday Inn & Express) had a walk in shower and multiple grab bars; it was also at least twice the size of the other bathrooms and would have accommodated a wheelchair. The other had multiple grab bars and a more conventional tub but had been designed more thoughtfully, with a bath bench (Best Western). Hotels need to reconsider their definitions of accessible: it implies more than a single grab bar!

Almost all hotel rooms come with one luggage rack, even though many of us travel in pairs with multiple bags. When we asked for a second luggage rack in our first hotel, we got it within minutes. When we asked for a second one later on, however, we were told that there weren’t any additional ones available—in spite of the hotel being lightly booked, based on the parking lot, so really, the person at the desk simply needed to go to a room not being used and borrow its luggage rack. A third hotel solved the problem with a long built-in bench beside the desk and dresser.

Most modern hotel chains are catching on to the public’s obsession with mobile devices by building in charging stations and providing extra outlets; however, this is not yet the standard. So I still take along a small charging station with several USB ports and several plug ins. Even so, I had to hunt for a plug in at least one of our rooms, while others built them into lamps on the desks.

Every room had microwaves and refrigerators, but all had Styrofoam cups which I do not like to put into microwaves, so it would be nice if hotels still put china cups into rooms for those of us who would drink some tea if we trusted the cups not to melt.

We checked in much later than usual in our last hotel, and wished for a magical list of nearby restaurants. Hotels would do well to provide guests with help locating nearby services, including the nearest ATM. However, not all of our rooms included any kind of written directory, and not all had very robust WIFI, making searching for services more difficult.

One of the simplest things I look for in a hotel bathroom is having a hook for my robe, but only half of the rooms we had supplied this basic need.

On the positive side, there were some wonderful surprises along the way.

hotel room on 6th floor

Our first room in Indianapolis was the room from hell: when we got off the elevator, we were astonished to see bare, scarred floors and walls. Obviously, they were renovating the floor—so why were we going assigned a room there for four long days? In addition, it turned out that the Future Farmers of America were having a major convention in town, which was why all of the hotel rooms were booked before we tried to find a room. (The picture above was taken to show the view from our door, looking down the hallway).

On top of this, one of the two elevators at the hotel was broken, and the remaining one seemed less than robust; I said a prayer every time we used it, so it did increase my devotional life. We checked in, had a late supper with our daughter, and returned to the hotel to find swarms of overly energetic young people running around floor six, where it seemed we were the only adults. At midnight, I called the front desk to complain about the noise, but it continued for at least another hour, with doors slamming, young people running up and down the hallway chattering, and lots of loud music.

In the morning, the real fun began when the construction workers began hammering a little before 8 am. When we went down to breakfast, I pushed my red rollator to the front desk and asked to speak to a manager. As I explained my frustration with our room, I added, “Look, if the other elevator breaks, how do I get up and down from the sixth floor? We’re here for our daughter’s wedding and it’s supposed to be a happy time!” She apologized and said that most of the guests up there on the 6th floor were in town for the FFA convention. She was surprised we had been given rooms there and promised to move us.

Not only did we get moved, with the help of our daughter Mikki, who had just arrived, we were given a King Suite, with two bathrooms, a sitting room with a long wet bar and a large, lovely bedroom. We were assured that there weren’t hordes of hormonal teens down the hall and slept much better for the remainder of our stay. Mike had a roomier place to hang out and watch television while I helped the bride run errands. The second bathroom became the place to steam out the wrinkles in our Renaissance costumes and let them hang until the wedding.  Life lesson: don’t suffer in silence. Speak up! 

We were sorry to check out from our suite, but we had more adventures ahead of us, taking us south to see several Civil War battlefields or museums as well as the George Patton museum before we headed back to Iowa.

french doors
French doors connected two room suite; each room had a bathroom and TV. Mike's checking his email.Looking from the bedroom to the sitting room. View of sitting room with wet bar.

Every lobby offered complimentary coffee, tea, and water. The Holiday Inn Express had an assortment of fresh baked cookies. Most provided a daily newspaper. This made us feel welcomed.

The Holiday Inn Express also featured a roomy sitting area with a chaise lounge and small side table that could be lowered or raised as needed. Most rooms featured artwork or framed photos. We used pools and hot tubs in two of the hotels, but the pool was closed for sanitary reasons in the third hotel and we arrived too late at night to use the last hotel’s pool.

Every hotel included free Wi-Fi, parking and breakfast; however, the differences in quality were evident. At several places, the Wi-Fi was not adequate, which surprised me. Both of us had our iPads and Mike had his laptop as well, but we resorted to using an iPhone for a hotspot on at least one occasion.

Breakfasts also varied: only one place offered a lovely stainless steel container of hot oatmeal, while the rest had hot water and packets of instant oats. Almost all offered scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy, waffles, juice, coffee, and cold cereal, but only a few had fresh fruit. The first place we stayed had a large container of canned fruit cocktail and I never saw anyone take any, and wondered how long it had been there.

All in all, we had a great trip. We swung south into Kentucky, Tennessee, and back into Missouri and Illinois on the way home to see a couple of museums and Civil War battlefields or memorials. After unloading the car multiple times, however, I vow to learn how to pack lighter and not take so much with me when we travel. (The picture below is not our car, but it felt like it when loading and unloading!)

I would like to blame it on being a Girl Scout, and wanting to be prepared for anything, because I have a tendency to take along a lot of stuff: however, my ancestors traveled by covered wagon, so maybe it is in my genes!

So if you happen to know anyone in the hotel business, please remind them that weary guests would love that extra luggage rack, or space to put our suitcases, a hook on the bathroom door for our robes, real cups for the microwave, fresh fruit and real oatmeal, and reliable high speed internet. We would also like to know if the hotel we booked online from hundreds of miles away is undergoing renovation, hosting massive numbers of energetic teenagers, or has broken elevators. From now on, those online reviews and photos will no longer will be taken as seriously by Geeky Grandma. When possible, I will select hotels from the handful of chains that I have found reliable in the past.

Last updated November 8, 2017

15 Fun Things about My Daughter's wedding

posted Nov 6, 2017, 9:07 PM by Cherie Dargan   [ updated Nov 7, 2017, 7:15 AM ]

1.      Before the wedding ceremony began, the DJ played the music from Lord of the Rings.
2.      Her brother, Jon, walked her down the aisle: Jon wore a renaissance style white shirt, with a cool double belt and authentic sword.
3.   Mikki’s wedding dress was created by a friend of hers, and modeled after one worn by Galadriel in Lord of the Rings. It was gorgeous! Sean chose to wear a new suit and looked handsome.
4.      The bride entered to the music of Han and Leia's theme from Star Wars instead of the classic wedding march. 
5.      My two grandsons were the ring bearers – dressed as a huntsman and a knight, carrying their pillows very carefully, and taking their jobs fairly seriously.
6.      Mikki and Sean actually had problems removing the ring from one of the pillows—then Sean came to the rescue with a pocket tool.
7.      The flower girl was dressed up like Princess Daisy from the Mario Brothers video games, in a pretty yellow dress that was just made for twirling.
8.      The Wedding cake was both delicious and delightful to look at, with layers of pumpkin, vanilla and chocolate and had a star wars theme.
9.      The Wedding venue was a German American club banquet room that had lots of European touches, with dark woodwork and beams on the ceilings. The couple had eaten at the restaurant downstairs there early in their courtship and loved the food, live music, and atmosphere.
10.      At least 20 of the guests were dressed up in various costumes, and Mike and I went in Renaissance style clothing.
Mike and Cherie in Renny costumes

11. One of the decorations was a set of three peas in a pod: it represented Mikki, Sean, and their faith in God. Their centerpieces were simple and elegant: a stack of books with some flowers, a candle, and a framed photo of them.
12.  Instead of a traditional guest book, guests signed a large poster.
13. Jon took a selfie at the reception. "My sister is married!"
14.  The wedding arch was just gorgeous, with sheer curtains and flowers interwoven into the arch. Several family members and the friend who made the cake worked for several hours to create the arch, which really made a lovely focal point.
15. Every part of the wedding was created with love by Mikki and Sean's many friends.
I heard several people say that it was the most unique wedding they had attended, and I would agree.
To see a few photos, visit my Blogger account at https://bloggingbasicswithcherie.blogspot.com/2017/11/15-fun-things-about-mikki-and-seans.html
Last updated November 7, 2017


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