My kingdom for a dash

By Daniel Dunkle | Jul 25, 2013

I do not always have the most recent version of Flash on my computer.

This is partly because I do not really know what that is, and partly because they apparently release a new version every hour on the hour.

For this reason when I go to YouTube to learn how to play "Sweet Child O' Mine" from a kid with a guitar who was not even born when the song came out, I cannot play the video. So I update Flash. Again.

Sometimes this is not good enough. Sometimes I have a problem with my plug-ins. I check the wall and see the computer is connected to a power source. When I look back to my screen, however, a new window has popped up informing me that my computer will automatically restart in a few minutes so that the latest version of Adobe something-I-don't-use can upload important updates.

Giving up on the computer for a while, I head downstairs to the living room. Here my 47-inch flat screen TV reminds me that I have failed somewhere to get my priorities in life straight. I forgo watching the 20 channels of regular television that come in through the cable. I only use those to watch the news.

Instead, I want to get my instant streaming on Netflix, Hulu, YouTube or what have you. The worldwide web streams directly into my TV through my PlayStation.

As soon as I boot up the hardware, the screen turns black. In white lettering, I am informed that I do not have the most recent updates for my PlayStation, and/or the media I wish to access there.

So I click OK. Sometimes there's a contract on the computer for me to "read." Have you ever read one of these things? I just hit OK to accept the terms of this legal document, not knowing whether I just willed my birthright to Nigerian princes, agreed to a variable-rate mortgage on the house or sold my first born to Rumpelstiltskin. I just assume whatever the device is trying to do is OK. Surely the moral people who brought first-person shooter games and "Saw IV" into my house are trustworthy individuals!

A thin white bar begins to scroll across the screen. Estimated time to completion, five minutes, no wait, four minutes, no just kidding, seven minutes. Oh wait, there was a solar flare... it's up to two hours now.

Of course, anyone with a PlayStation knows the first bar is just to mess with you. Once it finally finishes, it tells you, "Do not shut off or unplug your machine" and a green bar starts going across.

Finally, an hour later, I'm ready to watch a 10-year-old movie or stale TV show which is somehow a "recent" addition to the Netflix catalog.

No worries though. I have a new laptop from work. I can get some work done right on my lap while my kids have a contest to see who can chew the loudest.

Maybe I'll write a column on my laptop. Of course, I'm used to using a Mac, one of Steve Jobs' babies. Steve Jobs, the one guy in a billion who simultaneously refused to settle for anything but the highest standard and maintained power in a major company. We won't see that again anytime soon.

We live in a society of two-party systems: You are a Republican or Democrat, drink Coke or Pepsi, prefer Beatles or Rolling Stones and choose PCs or Macs.

Well, I'm a Mac guy, but my new laptop is a PC. Not a big difference, I tell myself. I can adjust.

So I'm writing along and I need a hard dash, also known as an em dash. Any cranky old copy editor will tell you this is the most overworked punctuation mark in the newspaper industry. We reporters cast em dashes recklessly into our writing much as sailors of yore chucked harpoons into whales.

But I can't find the thing on my laptop keyboard. Even on a Mac, you have to hit three buttons in a certain combination to get the dash. Why we cannot just have a button on the keyboard for it is one of the great mysteries of my life — that and what happened to pudding pops.

I called the editor of The Camden Herald, demanding help. She said, all you have to do is hold down "alt" and punch in 0151 on your number keypad.

That and you need two guys from the missile silo in Fargo to break open the classified red case, get the codes, punch them in and turn their keys to launch at the exact same moment. Also, if you punch in one number too many, Skynet will become self-aware and send a Terminator to your house.

Oh and joy, there's no number pad on my laptop!

After nine hours of trying, I get the dash to work with a separate keyboard attached, but by then my uploads are complete and I can go back to using my other computer.

Only problem is, I don't have the latest version of Flash.

Daniel Dunkle is news director for Courier Publications. He lives in Rockland with his wife, two children and the ghost of his former cat. He can be reached at

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Roxanna Morse | Aug 06, 2013 16:34

I too love the dash!  I use two hyphens.  Thanks for addressing this issue--more important than many realize.

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