Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Not all technology is advanced.

Back in 1978 a neighbor invited me over to see the latest in technological advancement, a Radio Shack computer. It used a cassette tape as a drive. My neighbor wanted to show off his computer game, “Star Trek.” I looked at the black and white display and saw nothing but a number of blurry, white dots.

“That’s interesting,” I commented, not wanting to hurt his feelings. “What are you doing with it?”

“Well, I’m cruising in the U.S.S. Enterprise, of course.” His tone assured me of how technologically inferior I was.

“That’s cool. Where is it?”

“Right there in the middle of the screen!”

I strained my eyes and made out the shape of a triangle, just slightly larger than the “stars” floating around the screen. I was about to ask if the view was always from two galaxies away, but he cut me off.

“There it is! THERE IT IS!” he shouted as he began tapping wildly on the keyboard.

“What is?” I asked, frantically searching the screen for some indication of what I was supposed to be so excited about.

“The Klingon ship, of course,” he snorted. “You aren’t much of a computer person, are you? It’s the ship on the left side of the screen.”

I squinted to examine the second triangle. It was identical to the other triangle, except it was moving in the opposite direction. “How do you know it’s Klingon?” I asked. “It could be a Romulan ship, or maybe another Federation ship.”

“Because in this game, there aren’t any Romulans or other Federation ships. It’s the Enterprise and Klingons. Period.”

I watched Mr. Computer pound away on his keyboard for a few minutes, with no visible changes to the screen, then excused myself with the explanation that I was expecting our cat to heave up a large hairball at any moment.

Four years later I listened to my friend extol the virtues of personal computers. According to Bill, in the very near future computers would become so commonplace and reliable, they would run our lives. We would bank with them, make house payments, order goods, control the environment in our homes, watch movies, listen to our favorite music; you name it, and the personal computer would do it. My response was a declaration that no computer would ever find its way into my home.

Evil, brutal artificial intelligence
Four short years later, our first computer set up residence. It was a color Atari, and a melding of science and beauty, a real powerhouse with 500 Kb of RAM. Just boot that puppy up with a 3.5-inch floppy (none of those outdated 6-inch floppies for something so advanced) and you could really do some amazing stuff. Paired with an Okidata dot-matrix printer, which was louder than my chainsaw, there was little that couldn’t be accomplished. Perhaps, I thought, Bill had been right.

What Bill didn’t foresee is how dependent we would all become on computers and how reliability would not keep pace with the technology advances. We have become slaves to our machines, and a computer freeze in today’s households results in the same kind of panic exhibited by households in 1212 A.D. when the Mongol Hordes appeared on the horizon.

Generic beginning: “WE’RE DOOMED! THE END IS NEAR!” End of statement in 1212 AD: “The Mongols have encircled the city and we can’t get water!” End of statement 800 years later: “The computer froze and I can’t get to my Scrabble game!”

The existence of artificial intelligence manifests itself in today’s computers, but the artificial intelligence is malicious in nature. Computers plot against us. They know when we are vulnerable, and use that to keep us in computer bondage. They sap our spirits through the nefarious application of seemingly random misplaced zero’s and ones. Ha! Random, indeed!

Even more than our spirits, computers suck our time.
Computers suck away not only our spirits but our time. In the never ending quest to make everything effortless, via computer, we work harder to do less than ever before. The latest example at our house is the addition of a new wireless printer.

With three computers in usage at the house (Yes, I know. I not only capitulated on the computer front, I defected. Bill would be proud.), waiting to use the single printer was the source of much lost time. First, the printer had to be free for use, then there was the hassle of plugging in the USB cord, then ejecting the device. Good Lord! The whole process could waste twenty seconds! The answer? A wireless printer.

Cutting to the chase, between getting the wireless network to accept the new printer, and getting the printer to recognize the computers, then giving up on the dinosaur desktop computer and routing a USB just for it, better than three hours was spent in getting things to work.

Let me see… three hours equals… 10,800 seconds. We swap the printer connections about three times a day… 10,800 seconds divided by sixty seconds…  Why, in just six months, we’ll be saving time!

1 comment:

  1. Our wireless printer mocks us. We ask it to print. It accepts our request. When it prints it is at its discretion. Sometimes immediately. Sometimes the next day. Depends on its mood I suppose. :)