Help, please, for a survey about computers, older adults and feelings…

survey guyI am into the last phase of my computing studies at the UEA and would like some help. Older adults’ use of computers is an area which interests me in particular and the subject of my dissertation. To understand more about how older adults, people aged 65+, use computers, and how they feel about them, I am doing a survey.

To collect as much information as I can over the next 3 weeks I need a bit of help and wondered if you could please spare a moment?

Attached are two questionnaires. One can be completed by an older adult in person, the other can be completed by a friend or relative of an older adult. It doesn’t matter if the older adult never uses a computer or is a super-silver-surfer-geek. I also don’t mind if they really hate computers (I won’t take it personally). All information is valuable.

All responses are anonymous and the data will not be made available to any 3rd parties.

It would be great if you could complete the questionnaire(s) and email them back to me – or post them if you prefer.

Please contact me with any questions or if the questionnaire is unclear.

Thank you for your help.

Best wishes


PS – Do forward this message and the questionnaires to anyone you think might be interested in joining in with my survey.

Older Adult Computer Use – questionniare for relation or friend of older adult

Older Adult Computer Use – questionnaire




Pssst…. what’s your password?


“Okay, so my mate really, like, annoyed me so I, like, decided I would really, like, get back at her, so I, like, `borrowed` her Facebook page and, like, shared this picture I’d, like, taken with my phone of her, like, totally beefwazzled and wrote “Wot I really feel about 1D – gutted” and she was, like, really, really mad at me, but I was, like, LOL.”

Get the picture? Not quite “fraped” because the friend had logged in as someone else rather than using their opened page, but pretty sneaky. How do you do this? You simply know, or guess, the person’s Facebook password. And once you know their password the sky can be the limit.

So much on-line protection currently depends on a combination of user name and password that if you don’t exercise some caution you are leaving yourself vulnerable to a range of silly (`beefwazzled`?) and serious crimes.  Banks, government services, shopping, iTunes, games, utility bills – infact anything you “sign up” for and log in to will have password protection.

One of the most common ways of getting into password protected areas is using a technique called “social engineering”. That simply means asking the person (– sometimes in a sneaky way, for example the person that calls you on your phone and tells you there has been a breach of protocol at your bank so could you tell them your password so they can verify it -) and sometimes by simply reading the post-it note you have stuck to your computer screen reminding you of your password. Once they have one password – so understand a bit about how your mind works – it can be a fair bet that you will have used the same or similar passwords for other sites so the baddies can have a guess at the rest. Year after year the most popular passwords are “123456″ and “password”: and we are all creatures of habit.

You should never give another person your password – especially never if they have rung you up and asked for it. If someone rang and asked when the house would be empty because they fancied popping in to graffiti your walls and steal your jewellery you wouldn’t tell them – think of password security in the same way.

Of course remembering lots of different passwords isn’t easy – and thinking them up can be tedious too. Some handy hints include using your car licence plate number, or maybe your first ever car’s licence plate number. Another idea is to take a phrase you often use and combine the first letters, as in “I bloomin’ hate using bloomin’ computers” or “Ibhubc”, even better would be “Ibh!ubc!@6@”… and don’t use the same one for every account. Add in some numbers or punctuation to make it more complex. Having different passwords doesn’t necessarily provide total on-line protection, but it can be a step in the right direction.

Only Connect

poppyIs it indulgent to review a year when the change and developments started in 2014 are only partially completed? Probably. But, to quote E.M Forster from A Room with a View, “Life is easy to chronicle, but bewildering to practice”.

In May I found myself in France with a group of fabulous British and French women – brought together by a project aiming to support women’s continuing professional development (WPCD). It was brilliant to meet a diverse range of women – from young company directors anxious about how to offer their staff opportunities and support without impacting the bottom line; to the stretched middle-agers confronted with demands from children and elderly parents and changing health of their partners AND yearning for self-fulfilment; to older women full of vim and vigour, not prepared to be consigned to pre-determined old people activities. Objectively it is easy to chronicle each similarity and cultural context, wryly observing traditional leitmotifs. But it’s not so easy when you know each person – with all the idiosyncrasies that make her unique.

By being in Caen and walking on the Normandy beach just before the commemoration of the D-day landings I was aware of the shadows left by the men killed there. Each of my sons is on an age where they could have been fighting in 1944. We are lucky.

Endeavouring to take on the challenges of chance and location (and, frankly, taking my own advice to seek employment prospects in IT), I found myself from September at the UEA studying computing. Fair to say it’s not like a being an undergraduate in the 1980s. For a start there’s all these computers…  A doctor friend of mine assures me that the process of learning is not only critical to prevent my descent into decrepitude – but also one that gets better with practice. “It’s like a muscle and the more of a work-out all the little synapses in your brain get the easier it will be to learn more.” I truly hope he is right. It is re-assuring because my progress feel painfully slow – I am hoping for a tortoise-style race win come next summer. The hares will all have made it through the finish posts months earlier. Writing computer code is a skill like any other, you just need to stick at it (OOPS! My unconscious supportive self has slipped out – better than my conscious unsupportive self that alternates between anguish and despair… “You are useless!” and “Why did you think this was a good idea?” being the two favourite mantras of that unhelpful cow).

In November the issue of war and its futility once again had prime place in many thoughts. Seas of poppies extended from the Tower of London to primary schools and beyond. While it is undoubtedly crucial to respect and remember the sacrifices of previous generations, as I reflect on the ceramic poppy made by my daughter I have a strong sense that we have to ensure our young have the confidence and ambition not to be constrained by history. We really are lucky in so many ways, but with such luck comes responsibility to make the most of opportunity. We need to help our young, and ourselves, imagine and build a better future.  A further quote from E. M Forster helps me conclude my thoughts – “Only connect… only connect and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.”


Frozen eggs really the answer to diversity?

frozen dollIt appears that corporate giants Apple and Facebook are now offering to pay for women to have their eggs frozen so that they can delay having children, giving them a chance to advance further up the career ladder before reproduction interferes.

I appreciate the issues of when, how and whether a couple can have children are complex. I’m also not qualified to know what the success of such an intervention might be – though I’m not concerned about using medicine and technology to alter the odds. It’s the overlap between employer expectation and individual freedom that seems worth challenging. We, that’s society, that’s us, should be asking if this is really the best way to encourage women to stick with a career and industry.

Encouraging diversity isn’t meant to entail encouraging women to be more like men because their reproduction window has been extended. Diversity is about embracing differences; extending opportunities for corporate growth; overcoming social, cultural and gender inequality; and being mindful of finite natural resources. A solution that tries to intervene at gender/age is bonkers. Suggesting that women can have jam (babies?) tomorrow in return for advancement on the greasy bread of corporate life today isn’t a solution at all. Women and men are different – particularly when it comes to reproduction (duh! as Bart Simpson might say) and, I would suggest, it is these real, or potential, different life experiences which enrich us all.

Employees of a corporation work for that corporation. They are paid to do a task in order to create a profit which ultimately benefits the shareholders of the company. That’s the deal. It is good business for companies to encourage employees to be healthy in body and mind. An expensive gender specific intervention, however, may create additional obstacles to employing women.

People come in different shapes and sizes – and we are all subject to the laws of gravity and nature. It would be better for people, companies and nature if we could find a way to embrace the range of humanity, not try to subvert it.



Dinosaur Fresher

The_church_of_SS_Andrew_and_Mary_-_St_Julian_of_Norwich_-_geograph_org_uk_-_1547398“I’ll just keep winging it – like I have since I got here” said the young creative writing ‘major’ as he tried to find the Julian Study Centre for his first lecture on Mediaeval history. He had come all the way from university in Kansas – though he had been born in Florida. Given his air of bewilderment, and as Dorothy would have said if she’d landed in the UEA campus instead of Oz “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore”. For a student from Malaysia being in Norwich is apparently like somewhere with the “air-conditioning on outside all the time” (early days).

Rather unexpectedly I find myself back at university – watching Freshers’ week unfold, though not as a real participant this time. I’ve seen the pre-loved pots and pans sale in the Union (which struck me as an excellent idea – though so many of the items looked pristine I suspect they had never been used). The houseplant sale was colourful and, judging by the overheard snippets of conversation, a great chance to understand folk in a new light. The gentle 6ft 5” giant explaining, with relish, “that plant sucks the guts out of flies while you watch” may have been revealing more about himself that he realised.

Wandering through the stands at the Societies Fair I was struck at what hasn’t changed from the early 1980’s. All the political parties were still there, dressed in stereotype (including the Marxists). There were probably more environmentally aware societies – and I don’t remember a Fetish Society at Aberdeen. Games are still popular with new options like Minecraft and Quidditch – but not bridge. Sadly there was no evidence of an equivalent to the infamous Kite Club.

I’m studying computing – and one feature of my age is that, back in the 1980’s there weren’t any laptops – or computers generally that I remember. We used fiche to find things in the library. As the lecturer started a module with a brief history of the development of the internet and the Web, I had a strong sense of being like a dinosaur sitting in on a session about the ice age.

The economics of study are not the same. How lucky my generation was to have had our tertiary education paid for by the state. Paying fees, however, doesn’t mean you automatically get a degree. As the fabulous Spanish course director pointed out “Just because you pay to join a gym doesn’t mean you gonna get a beautiful body – you still have to apply yourself, prepare yourself and participate… see, that’s an APP” (!)

The smell has changed too. The Union bar used to be a solid nimbus of smoke, hiding those in the gloomy corners completely. Cigarettes burned in saucers; the ritual shake of a beer can to check if someone had put a butt in it before your drank; the rank, stale, stink left by yesterday’s ashtray – those days are gone.

I’m a bit nervous about my new adventure and as the young American and I found the Julian Centre I hung on to her confident words from the 14th century “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”


Thinking “Yes”?

MCDONALD family c 1890I was born in Aberdeen. My father was born in Edinburgh to parents who were also both born in Edinburgh…  My mother’s family was from Glasgow, though she was actually born in Birmingham. This family photograph is of her grandmother, my great grandmother, as a young woman (top row, 2nd from left – fabulous lace collar). Elizabeth Nisbet McDonald was one of David and Mary McDonald’s seven children. They lived in New Cumnock and were tailors. Family legend says the family had drifted down there following Culloden. Two of the boys in sailor suits (Hugh and George) were killed in the First War – Hugh was in the Black Watch and George in the Cameron Highlanders. Over the generations my family have travelled. Janet McMurray (daughter of Elizabeth) studied French in Grenoble; her husband William Bruce worked in Java and served in the RAF in Egypt. My Edinburgh relations include a branch that emigrated to South Africa. More recent generations have also travelled extensively. My point is that, not only are my family Scottish – but that we have managed to be educated, be rich, be poor, be happy, be sad, have children and have pride while also being British.

None of us have choice in the circumstances of our births – location, economic situation, religion, ethnicity, date, family are all issues we arrive to and then spend our lives embracing, modifying or rejecting.  How very extraordinary, then, for the voters in Scotland to have an opportunity to change part of that, not just for the people in Scotland, but for the rest of the United Kingdom too. A baby born today in Britain to parents from England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland is entitled to be a citizen of the United Kingdom. A baby born after Scottish independence will not be.

It is not clear to me why there is a need for such seismic change. Of course the relationship is sometimes fraught and iniquitous – but the debate and discussion around the differences is one of our sources of strength and surely not a reason to pull apart. The United Kingdom is perceived as a stable, prosperous, autonomous nation state – made up of components that together are greater than the sum of their parts. The Hands Across the Border project illustrates this so well. Stones have been joining the cairn from all round the world, sent or brought by people who have a desire to see our country stay together. (

I don’t have a vote in Scotland’s future – because I don’t live there at the moment. In so far as I have a voice I want to shout loudly, and with conviction, “PLEASE VOTE NO – I BELIEVE WE ARE ALL BETTER TOGETHER”.

Things you need to be able to read when you are 18

what to read whenYou’d think, after all that studying, that another reading activity was the last thing on an 18 year old’s mind… but the journey has only just begun. Here is a list of things I think an 18 year old should be able to read.

A map – Sometimes the TomTom, sat nav, iPhone etc. may not work, or it may mislead you. You are less likely to be lost if you can read a paper map. The only way to learn this is by doing it.

A recipe – Knowing how to cook and knowing how to read a recipe aren’t quite the same thing. If you learn to follow a recipe (though do start with a clear, tried and tested source, like Good Housekeeping or Delia Smith) then you will learn to cook.

A wine list – Yikes, you’re sitting in a posh restaurant with the potential companion of your dreams, you want to make a great impression. The sommelier hands you a wine list with a haughty expression. As he arches his eyebrows you are under pressure to pick a wine that will go with the meal; be enjoyed by both of you; and not so expensive you have to do the washing up for three weeks. The only real way to be comfortable about this is to learn about wine – a lifetime’s journey that can start in a supermarket. But, back to the restaurant … the simple option is to pick the “house wine” – generally it is less costly and generally it will taste fine because the restaurant’s reputation is vested in it. And as for whether to go for red or white, generally (again) red with meat and white with fish – but if you and your companion have a preference go with that – whatever the food and whatever the sommelier’s eyebrows do.

An invitation – Beyond Facebook and texting there are formal invitations with several things to look out for: date, time and place being the most straightforward. It is the call to action part you really have to watch out for, in particular RSVP. “Respondez s’il vous plait” means please reply, please tell me whether or not you are coming, please let me know that you have received this fabulous invitation. There are different formats for different kinds of reply – for example a formal wedding invitation reply has a traditional format which mirrors the invitation itself – email me for more information on this one because it is quite tricky.  And then there is the dress code: the risk of not reading this bit is that you are the only person at the party not in fancy dress, or – worse – the one dressed for a bbq when everyone else is in black tie.

Small Print – You don’t have to be a lawyer but, especially with things like travel insurance, it is worth reading through the small print to make sure it covers important eventualities, like needing to be helicoptered off a ski-slope

Proof Read – The problem with depending on spell check is neatly summed up in this poem:

Eye halve a spelling checker
It came with my pea sea.
It plainly marks four my revue miss steaks eye kin knot sea.
Eye strike a quay and type a word and weight for it to say
Weather eye yam wrong oar write.
It shows me strait a weigh as soon as a mist ache is maid.
It nose bee fore two long and eye can put the error rite.
Its rare lea ever wrong.
Eye have run this poem threw it,
I am shore your pleased to no.
Its letter perfect awl the way.
My checker told me sew.

The solution is to read through your text, and print it out and get someone else to read it for spelling and grammatical mistakes too: if you start the process anticipating there will be mistakes you probably won’t be disappointed.

Books – The more one reads the greater the likelihood of stumbling across the book that matters to us or that we need to read – whatever our age. I know it is very tempting – and from the best possible motives – to tell people what they should be reading: “On the Road”, “Crime and Punishment”, “Atlas Shrugged”, “The Magus”, “Feel the Fear and do it Anyway”, the Flashman books, anything by Patrick Leigh Fermor… see, I haven’t even started and you’ve probably thought of books I should have included. Better to share the titles and authors that give you pleasure, and give encouragement, space and time for reading.

While thinking about this Blog I quizzed a 21 year old on what he thought he should have been reading when he was 18. “Dunno”, he replied, “but I wish when I got to uni I’d had a better knowledge of the Smiths and Quentin Tarrantino films”. A 17 year old I ask wasn’t much interested in what he should be reading – though he did share his joke which made me chuckle: “Reading Festival – literary society disappointed”……