Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

One of the interesting things about working in a large organization – be it industry, government or academia – is the absurdities you run across from time to time.

I have had to go into my benefits plan to change one of the categories and halfway through the process was greeted by this screen:



It took me a second to read the screen and realize what it said. Since obviously the process was not going well, I phoned our benefits people for help. We walked through the screens together and when we got to the ‘cancel’ screen, I asked about it. The reply was, “oh yes, you are not the first person to comment”. However, it would appear the magic number of people commenting has not been reached, so the screen shall remain. Cue the face palm.

The scariest thought … this makes sense to someone!


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I phoned our organization’s IT help desk this morning for an issue with my laptop. After explaining my problem to the person on the other end, there was a bit of a pause and they asked what time they could phone me back … their PC was freezing up and they were waiting for tech support on their end. I wonder how long they had to wait for a resolution to their problem 🙂

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I am an early adopter. I started with working with computers in 1972 in a stats course at York University using APL (a programming language). My bachelor’s thesis used a computer model, written in Fortran, to estimate pollution dispersion from a point source. My first personal computer was a home-brew that ran CP/M (control program for mircocomputers) as an operating system – it predated DOS. And I was using the net before the World Wide Web – back in the days of Freenets and Compuserve. This is not to brag – I have just been around this technology for a long time.

So what do you do when an elderly relative (not a close one, mind you) discovers the wonders of the Internet and insists on sharing everything and anything he comes across. My Dad’s cousin is in his mid-80s and at least once or twice a day, I receive the mailing list post of his interests – which unfortunately don’t have any interest for me. It wouldn’t be so bad if the e-mails were limited to beautiful landscapes or puppies and kittens. But included in the flood are borderline racist observations, misogynistic jokes and rants about things that he either doesn’t understand or can’t abide. I have asked him to stop sending me these posts and while they stopped for a time, they are back and more frequent than ever.

I understand we live in an amazing time. Our world is now available on our desktop. I can fly to anywhere on the planet courtesy of Google Earth and in many instances see where my friends live. We have up to the second access to news and sports. As I have said before, this is Star Trek come to life.

I also understand the attraction in sharing these marvellous times. However, when we are just carrying on with old prejudices and sharing them with light speed, I wonder how far any of us have come. Sorry Jim, your posts are no longer welcome and won’t be read by me. Sad in a way – given the power of communication that the Web affords.

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Firstly, in the interest of disclosure, I carry a Blackberry as part of my job and I own an Android smartphone. My Blackberry goes off the minute I get home and only goes back on the next morning. My Android is used as a phone for the most part – the applications that get the most use are the New York Times and the weather apps.

This morning, Gizmodo ran a piece called “Yes, You Can Live Without Your Goddamn Smartphone“. I was going to write my own post about smartphones after a couple of experiences in the last couple of weeks, but this piece captures many of my concerns very nicely. I encourage people to read it.

This week, I was sitting at a red light when a young woman wearing earphones and tapping on the keyboard of her smartphone walked into the intersection. And at that moment the light turned green for us. She jerked her head up and actually fell back into the sidewalk as the cars in our lane started towards her. She obviously had no idea she was about to walk against a red light in a downtown intersection. The consequences could have been disasterous.

A couple of nights ago, an old friend and I went out to play pool. (I am not very good at playing pool but I enjoy the pace of the game and the social side of playing.) We had been playing for about a half hour when a young couple started playing at a table near us. They took a few shots and when I looked over again, they were both seated beside the table and busy texting on their phones. Now, this struck us as very strange. Were they texting each other? Is this how a modern date is conducted? If so, we needn’t worry about population control … they would be too busy on their phones. This all strikes me as turning off from our surroundings – the very nature of the world around us. Sometimes Wall-E seems a little too close!

My friend told me about his daughter accidentally dropping her smartphone and it stopped working. He said her reaction was one of utter horror … her life was in that little box.

I understand the utility of these devices. But they are just that – devices. Perspective people, please.

An Update

The New York Times this morning published a similar story about smart phones entitled Turn Off the Phone (And the Tension). A trend perhaps?

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My friendly phone company sent me a note recently to gently remind me that my ordinary phone was now out of contract. This apparently means it is about to self-destruct and I should immedately upgrade. You have to appreciate I got my first computer in 1979. My undergraduate thesis was a simulation done on punch cards. My first CD player cost $500! So technology is not foreign.

At the urging of my kids (peer pressure), I gave in and now own a Samsung Galaxy smartphone. I have to confess it is pretty cool. But I probably appreciate it in a different way than most younger folks. One of the first apps my son suggested was TuneIn. It essentially means I have radio stations from all over the world in my hand. I’m sorry, but this is Star Trek stuff. I grew up with a rotary phone, black and white TV and AM radio – this technology is mind-blowing. From the context of growing up in the 1950s, this is what I read about late at night in my pulp science fiction magazines. And still, there seems to be an expectation that all of this is quite normal by younger folks. I think we are just missing ray-guns right now and they won’t be far behind. Brave New World indeed!

First picture taken with the new smartphone


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I am far from being a Luddite – I bought my first computer in 1979 and it didn’t even run DOS. But I find myself a little overwhelmed with all the technology today wanting my attention. I find myself not turning on my cell phone (not a smartphone) when I am out. My work Blackberry goes off as soon as I get home – even though it has this really annoying habit of turning itself on when left off for a couple of days – I wonder if it is lonely. I know people that live on Facebook and can’t spend a half hour without having to check if they are still in contact with the rest of the wired world.

Which nicely brings me to the this article from the New York Times today. Sad when a New Year’s resolution is to spend a half hour a day without technology … how far gone is that. It is a good article that makes the point that maybe our creativity isn’t being served well by all our electronic masters. I’m just saying …

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There are days, cloudy days and good cloud days. Today was a good cloud day. A very interesting sky during different times of the day.

Cirrus patterns in the late afternoon

And then we were rewarded in the evening with some beautiful highlights courtesy of the setting sun.

Highlights at sunset

Earlier this year I purchased a used Canon G11. My main camera is a Canon 20D DSLR, which I have a number of lenses for. The G11 is sort of a point and shoot on steroids. I have really become attached to the G11 with all its features, compact size and very good lens. I think of it more as a snatch and shoot since it is the camera I can grab on the fly when something catches my attention and know that I am going to have control over my images and get good results in the process.

It was definitely a good cloud day.

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