Day 3: Bill

Bill lives in a small apartment in San Francisco, 5 miles away from his sister, his only living relative. He is 62 years old. The apartment is always impeccable, like a military barracks just before inspection. This is only natural, since Bill has been in the military since he was 18. He started as a soldier, moved up the ranks, was decorated three times in Vietnam, and remained in active duty until a knee injury forced him into a desk job 10 years ago. Then last year, he suffered a stroke and was finally forced to retire. His right arm does not move at all, and his left hand shakes for reasons that no one has been able to explain. 500 people came to his retirement party. He knew all of them personally.

Bill uses an old laptop that runs Red Hat Linux. He browses the web with Mozilla, and reads his mail with Evolution, although he does not know this. The computer (and its applications) were a retirement gift from his sister, who is really good at this computer stuff. The laptop is one of those old laptops that is perpetually stuck in 1024 by 768 resolution, despite its 13 inch screen. Bill can see just fine, thank you very much, although his eyes do occasionally get confused and lose track of what they're reading. This started with the stroke, and his sister thinks it's getting worse, but she is obviously mistaken.

His one big computer-related indulgence was a keyboard extension that gives him a second set of arrow and PageUp/PageDown keys, so he can more easily reach them with his good hand. $29.99, with a $5 mail-in rebate, which he mailed in.

Before his retirement, Bill had never been online, but now he is finding more and more reasons to stay there. He spends four hours a day reading web sites and talking to old and new friends. Encouraged by his veteran buddies, and with technical help from his sister, he has started an email newsletter on veteran's rights. It already has 200 members.

Bill can type a surprising 10 words a minute (next year it will be 15) by steadying his left hand against the base of the keyboard and only moving his fingers. However, he can barely use a mouse at all, and mostly navigates with the arrow keys, the tab key, and a dizzying array of keyboard shortcuts that his sister has shown him. His sister also taught him how to activate a special program so he can move the cursor with his arrow keys, but this is so painfully slow and fraught with error that he rarely bothers.

Although he doesn't know it yet, next year the newsletter will turn into a weblog, and the year after that, the weblog will turn into a political action committee and become a major political force. Politics, after all, is all about who you know, and Bill knows everyone.