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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Old School meets New Tech

Once again, Christmas has arrived, hung around, and moseyed on the way to next December. In its wake a trail of minimal destruction bobs gently along.
Regular readers may recall my mentioning a lack of technological adeptness.
My Jeep is low-tech; a cassette player in the dash is the apex of entertainment technology.
A little more than a year ago I got a smart phone. I choose the lowest-tech smart phone I could find. The only reason I got a smart phone is the absence of a not-so-smart phones.
We have satellite TV, with a DVR. I know how to turn the TV on, turn it off, change channels, raise and lower the volume. I even know how to press the “record” button.  Play and pause a live program? Record one thing and watch another? Find something I have recorded to view again? You have just sent me to the technological equivalent of the Okeefenokee Swamp. Without the benefit of a compass.
I can use a compass. One of the old, liquid filled orienteering compasses. The one which is hiding in my phone, however? Not so much. It is fun to play with, trying to get the needle to read 0.0 degrees North, 90 degrees East, all the way around back to North again.  I wouldn’t bet my life on the thing way back in the Alleghenies, though.
When the computer acts up, and I have exhausted my wealth of knowledge (and patience), I tend to lean toward the HIWAB repair technique. This consists of locating a rather large, leather-bound book. War and Peace does nicely. While grasping said book, smack the side of that tall, skinny thing attached to the screen a few times. Hence, the origin of the acronym; Hit It With A Book.
Should this fail to work, I then employ the fool-proof “the dog did it” defense. Works wonders! Just don’t tell my Lovely Bride.
I have a GPS which I program before taking a trip. I then take an old dog-eared road atlas with me as well.
I was dismayed when the 35mm film camera rode into the sunset on the back of a Conestoga wagon. I have to admit, LB’s state-of-the-art digital camera is pretty slick. I like being able to immediately see the photo, rather than waiting for the prints to come back to Wally World.
I suppose if I was born a hundred years ago, not only would I be really, really old, I would probably have been reluctant to send Ol’ Bess to the stable, and get a new fangled horse-less carriage.
I would have been the one saying this whole electricity thing would be a passing fad. I would have eschewed that Bell feller’s invention as just a rich-man’s toy.
I think you get the idea…
So, it was somewhat amusing to observe the irony of my Christmas.
Some may recall my lack of enthusiasm with today’s digital, electronic watches. Take a look at the column “Time” from November of 2013, for a refresher. I miss the old style “pull out the crown to set, and then forget” watches of my younger days.
I have several neat, cool, feature packed watches. One tracks my heart rate, calories I have burned, just about everything but my credit score. Another tells me the time in both digital and analog form. It lets me know the phase of the moon, in case I am too lazy to look skyward. It also lets me know the best days for hunting and fishing. It fails to take into consideration the fact my buddies and my Lovely Bride all agree my skills “stink”. I have others that blink, beep, (especially when I don’t want them to beep; such as in church, or serious business meetings), and so on. They all have instruction booklets that average 10,000 words in length. All these little booklets share a common bond; they are masters of escape and evasion.
Within 20 minutes of setting the manual down, they assume various forms of camouflage, such as a utility bill, a sheet of tablet paper, even the wood grain of the desktop. Surreptitiously, they sneak off to where ever the microwave manual, TV instructions, clock radio directions, and various other booklets have assembled.
Upon that semi-annual ritual of setting the clocks, I search high and low, hither and yon, far and wide; only to come up empty handed. This in turn forces me to access the internet and search under “How to set the time on a Fluglemeister all-season sport watch”
I gleefully click on link after link, only to realize half the population of Montana is trying to sell Fluglemeister watches!
Finally, upon clicking on an “instructional video”, I realize this was apparently filmed in a cave, with a single birthday candle for illumination. The narrator speaks marvelous Chaucerian English, with an Italian accent.
I collapse on the verge of tears. “Why can’t someone make an old-fashioned watch?” I wail…
I am a writer. By definition, I write, with a writing instrument and paper. My preference is the tried and true, expressive, imminently fulfilling, fountain pen.
I don’t have anything against ballpoints. I don’t have a grudge against roller-ball or felt-tip pens. I just like fountain pens.
I learned cursive writing (or hieroglyphics, according to LB) with a fountain pen. I remember my first pen well
It was a student pen made by Schaeffer. It had a green body (selected because I am Irish) with a silver cap. One unscrewed the writing end or “nib” and dropped an ink cartridge-kerplunk-in the barrel. One then screwed the nib back in place, and commenced to write.
The old Schaeffer student pens were a marvel unto themselves. Not only could they leave gracefully formed letters upon the old, stiff, off-white school paper (the stuff still had chips of wood in it!), they also had a peculiar ability to leak when least expected.
More than one shirt and pair of pants were ruined by the pen’s capricious desire to leave miniature blue-black renditions of Rorschach’s inkblots on shirt pockets, pant legs, even the unwary necktie.
Ahhh… all the fond memories of one’s thumb, index, and middle fingers being permanently stained by ink.  Just the faintest of smudges resides upon one’s left hand and wrist; the result of placing them upon a too recently written line.
Such simple, enjoyable pleasures, a distant memory.  
Now, alas, my writing is mostly produced while tapping at a key board while staring at a computer screen. There is little room for expression, no sweeping lines or flowing sentences. Cold, sterile, impersonal electronic blips on a faux page of white…. How dull….
Then, along comes Christmas, and both these conundrums are unwittingly addressed by generous family and friends.
A package arrived from our son and daughter-in-law in Florida.
I set it upon the kitchen table. LB and I looked at it wonderingly.
With a snap, I had my pocket knife out, and began working at the packing tape.  Inside were two smaller packages, one marked “Dad”, the other “Mom”.
I tore at the paper, to reveal a box emblazoned “Wenger”. I carefully opened the lid to find a Swiss Military watch!  I opened the little booklet, searching for the section about setting the instrument. The booklet said….oh glory…. It said “Grasp the crown, and gently pull out two clicks. Rotate the crown until the hands show the desired time. Gently press the crown in until it clicks.”
A watch I can set without the aid of a NASA engineer!
A few days later, my best buddy, Jim O. handed me a box, claiming it had fallen off a UPS truck.  I was puzzled by a return address I didn’t recognize.
Again, trusty knife in hand, I opened the box. Nestled within was a Dragon 12 speech-to-text system! Now, I can simply speak into the headset, and the words appear on the screen!
What a wonder!
At this time, I am still learning how to tame the Dragon. A clean-up of extraneous files had to be performed on the trusty old laptop. I have Dragon loaded up. Now, I just have to get the hang of it. I assure you, though; you will be reading speech to text columns in the near future.
All in all, it was quite juxtaposition; an updated old-school watch, plus a cutting edge writing tool.
And…no ink stains on my shirt.

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