CAN YOU HEAR ME? ARE YOU THERE?

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Going obsolete – or maybe going backwards.

I miss telephones on which you could be sure you had a connection that wouldn’t drop randomly and on which you could actually hear what someone said to you and know they could hear you, too. “Can you hear me? Hello? Are you still there?” It’s like 1915 all over again, only without wires or accountability.

We have all this fancy equipment … but you can’t be sure that a simple phone call will go through. What’s wrong with this picture?

OBSOLETE? I THINK YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT ME!

Going Obsolete

Of the technologies that have become extinct in your lifetime, which do you miss most?


I was declared obsolete about 6 years ago. I had been getting progressively less relevant for quite a while, but after the dot coms went down in flames, the high-tech world changed dramatically. Venture capital disappeared and with it, the exciting start-up companies which had been my bread and butter.

Technical writers were replaced by automated systems. No one cared whether or not documentation produced by the software was in any way useful. Tech support had been exported. Now the same thinking applied to documentation.

I — and it — was declared unnecessary. You could just call tech support. Let your customers wait on hold, get disconnected and finally, let them talk to someone who knows nothing and will give them wrong or worse information. Don’t provide a call back number to make them go through the whole thing again. What could go wrong with this? Who needs writers?

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A lot has gone wrong. Too late for me, companies are discovering that customers who buy expensive gear want manuals too. They get cranky when a $5000 camera arrives without a book to explain how it works.

I never intended to be a technical writer. I was going to be a “real” writer … novels … literature. I wrote books, but only one novel. Everything else was information or instructions. For a gal who barely scraped through basic algebra, I picked up a lot along the way.

I was an editor at Doubleday in the mid 1970s, the halcyon days of publishing. We read manuscripts. Everyone read books and books were important. No one had 1000 channels on TV. Depending on your antenna was, you might not get much of anything except snow.

When I moved to Israel in 1979, I discovered the only kind of writing done in English (not Hebrew), was technical writing. I moved from typewriters to computers and found my milieu. I became part of the development team for DB-1, the first relational database. It revolutionized the information world … and with the creation of data object linking, the guts of the Internet we all take for granted today, was born.

I rode the high-tech wave until I became officially obsolete having been informed that “no one reads manuals.” Which is why I can’t figure out how to change the ISO setting on my camera. I can’t locate the menu. The manual, no doubt produced by a piece of software, doesn’t explain anything. I hope someday I’ll find the setting. But I digress …

I designed my downfall as I worked on “artificial intelligence” systems. The technology evolved fast and came of age in the 2000s. It replaced many people — including me.

This is the world I helped build so how can I complain? But honestly? I miss me.

SPRING HAS SPRUNG! BOING, BOING!

Spring!

Just when I was ready to give up … This morning the sun came out. Two tulips actually bloomed and the Mayflowers are all over the grounds. Ours are blue, but they sometimes are pink or white. They grow everywhere and are the state flower of Massachusetts.

It’s not much of a garden this year. I can see some signs of Solomon’s Seal coming up, but no sign of roses or lilies.

Maybe they will yet surprise us. We have many more tulips up, but there don’t seem to be any buds on the leaves. We still can hope! Meanwhile, there are two bouquets of spring flowers on the woodstove.

We had a few daffodils … many fewer than usual, but better than nothing. The long cold winter took a toll on the garden, but it’s doing its best to make a comeback.

SEEKING LIGHT

To say I’ve spent the better part of a lifetime chasing the light sounds philosophical. Perhaps, on some level, it is because I’ve done my share of looking for truth. Occasionally, I’ve even found a bit of it.

Yellow leaves by the river, photo: Marilyn Armstrong

More often, I’ve been chasing light with a camera, shooting up, up, up into the trees, looking for a perfect ray of sunshine filtering through a leafy canopy, waiting to become a perfect picture.

sun and misty woods

Sunlight in woods

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Sun's rays on little canal

To get the rays of the sun, I don’t use a filter. I shoot into the sun, they move the camera a few degrees of center until I can see the rays in the viewfinder or on the LCD screen. You don’t need a special filter. I didn’t use filters on any of these pictures.

INHERIT THE WIND AND THE SCOPES TRIAL

scopes trial image 2The Scopes Trial, officially The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes and typically referred to as the Scopes Monkey Trial, was a famous trial in  1925. In it, a substitute high school teacher — John Scopes — was accused of violating Tennessee’s Butler Act, which made it unlawful to teach human evolution in any state-funded school.

The trial was deliberately staged in the town of Dayton, Tennessee to attract publicity. Scopes was unsure whether he actually had taught evolution, but he purposely incriminated himself so the case would have a defendant.

William Jennings Bryan argued for the prosecution, Clarence Darrow for Scopes and the defense. The trial publicized the Fundamentalist–Modernist Controversy. This pitted Modernists — who believed evolution and religion were reconcilable — against Fundamentalists, who believed the word of God (as revealed in the bible) was the encapsulation of all human knowledge.

scopes trial image 1

Scopes was found guilty and fined $100, but the verdict was overturned on a technicality. Despite all the publicity and hoopla, the issue was never truly settled and remains a political, religious and emotional hot potato today. Which doesn’t say much about our ability to advance our society.

Fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding.

It’s a great line from a great film based on an historic trial that settled nothing and left the controversy between science and creationism alive and well, as much of a political hot potato today as it was 100 years ago.

Inherit the Wind (1960), was directed by Stanley Kramer. Much of the script was taken from the actual transcripts of the 1925 trial.

With a few minor changes of name, fundamentalism has morphed into creationism. We are stuck in the same conflict today.