Monday, October 13, 2014

WYL #26 Change

This is last weeks writing project – re-written. The version that I read to the group was… well… boring. This might not be much better! Sometimes it is hard not to do technical writing! I wasn’t a technical writer by trade, but did my fair share of it anyway…


No matter how many times I stood there cranking the dial through the few TV stations we had,  none of them had anything good on. It always came down to the same choices: Bewitched, the Brady Bunch, or the Beverly Hillbillies. When 6pm rolled around there was only news which was both boring and scary. Now, with a remote in hand, I sit in my chair and flip through hundreds of specialty stations devoted to food, home building, sports, news, documentaries - the list is endless. And still there never seems to be anything on.

When I was young I had a radio that was the size of a deck of cards, with a long antenna that telescoped out. There were a few years that I carried that box of transistors with me all the time. Out of its crackly speakers would spew forth the pop music of the 70s. A few memories are indelibly written in my brain, cued by the first few bars a song first heard on that little radio.

In one of these memories I was sitting with some friends in my tent listening to the radio - Magic by Pilot was playing. Just hearing the first few lines of  "Ho, ho, ho It's magic, you know" transports me back as if I were in a time machine. If I close my eyes I can smell the mustiness of the canvas tent, and feel the hot, heavy air that was trapped inside.

Another time travel moment is spurred by 'Uncle Albert' - then, I am whisked to the street leading from our house, up to Portage Avenue in Winnipeg. I can picture the uneven cement sidewalk (don't step on a crack or you'll break your mothers back) with the giant Elms arching overhead, and my friends talking and singing along. While I loved the that little transistor radio, I was at the mercy of the radio station, unable to cue my own songs.

Then, for Christmas in 1974, I got a boom box - a large boxy radio/cassette player. (for those that don't know, a cassette is a bit of plastic covering two reels with delicate tape spooled between them which is sometimes eaten by the player for lunch). I loved being able to play my own tapes whenever I wanted - the first two I got: a mix of 70s hits, and 10cc, an alternate rock group, were soon worn out from over-play. I still know the words to all of the songs off by heart!  The player was usually plugged into the wall, but could be untethered if I had a constant supply of expensive batteries. I'm pretty sure that my parents had ulterior motives for this gift as it kept me tucked away in my bedroom and not subjecting them to the noise of modern music!

By the 2000s technology had advanced to an mp3 player that fit in the palm of my hand. It could be carried where ever I wanted (it even went all the way to NZ), and stored enough music for several days of non-stop listening. The technology may have changed, but my dancing around the room, singing out loud hasn't!

Back in grade school, I peeked at the back of my scribbler to get the answer for one of my times tables. I just couldn't memorize the numbers, they all jumbled in my head, or worse yet caused a complete blank out. When I got to high school we started using basic calculators and then the Texas Instrument scientific calculator made its debut. The technology may have improved, but I still don't know my times tables!

My initiation into real computing power started in 1981 when I started working. First there was a mainframe computer that took up the floor of an office tower. We used dumb terminals and punch cards (google it!) to send commands.  I remember reading a 1981 Popular Science article that said someday the whole of the Encyclopedia Britannica would be stored in a hard drive the size of a grapefruit - it was absurd! Impossible! In fact, by 2014 it can be stored on something the size of a thumbnail! I get chills just thinking about it.

By the mid 80s, the first PCs made their way to the tops of our desks. Even though they had not much more computing power than a modern toaster, they helped us make huge strides in productivity.

The advent of the internet put information beyond our wildest dreams at our fingertips. My first search was for Alex, an African Grey Parrot being trained to identify objects with words. There he was, right on my screen - I was hooked. In the beginning searches didn't always turn up many hits, but it was exciting to see the encyclopedia of information grow - by the 2000s you were sure to find anything you were looking for (and some things you weren't). The internet is part of my everyday life: finding new recipes, looking up technical manuals, learning about new things - I'd go into serious withdrawal with it.

Summer skies are not the only places to find clouds - the world of the internet has them too. Imagine a data store available to anyone with internet access and you have a cloud. Applications like Goggle calendar make it possible for me to share calendar entries between my own computer and tablet. Even more amazing I can share them with Carm and even my parents, or anyone else for that matter. Before the cloud I would chafe with impatience about managing file versions across devices. I liked to edit documents on my laptop and my tablet, and keeping the versions sorted was a headache. Enter the cloud. I no longer had to manage versions - the cloud did it for me. Thrilling!

Computers weren't the only technology to proliferate during those years. Digital cameras first made a tentative arrival in 2001, with initial quality being not so great. After a few years of improvements, my film cameras were shoved into the basement, and a digital one was slung around my neck. Taking scads of photos, and being able to grab the best ones to include on my website was a boon - newborn foals soon cavorted in cyberspace.

I think I must have been born a gadgeteer as nothing makes me happier than a new piece of technology! I entered my 50s with technology for listening to music, taking pictures, searching the internet, and writing documents (this!). It is unusual for me to go a full day without my fingers on a keyboard. I am addicted!


Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

~Arthur C. Clarke

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