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Posts Tagged ‘technology’

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:

Cancel

 

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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Consumerism

Gizmodo today had an article about a refridgerator introduced at CES by Samsung that not only keeps food cold, but has an LCD screen, baby monitor and Ever Note. Creating a demand where there isn’t any.

samsung-t9000

Franken Fridge

When I was in the States this summer, I stopped at a Wal-Mart to pick up a few things and ran across a display for Hanes underwear that featured – and this was on the packaging in big letters – NO MORE LABEL! Yes, they were marketing the fact they had dispensed with the label on the waistband. The label had been replaced with an iron-on sticker on the actual fabric. So, being the avid consumer, I bought a package – they were cheap – and sure enough, there was no label. Instead, the sticker was so indistinguishable on the fabric that every morning I now have to search for the front of my shorts when I getting dressed. Progress!

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My maternal grandmother lived to be 100. We were chatting recently about what she must have seen introduced in her lifetime. She told me she remembered seeing the first car in the small town where she grew up and the introduction of electric lights. Since I am getting more advanced in age, someone asked what I had seen new in my six decades. Upon giving it some thought, I was a little surprised at some of the big and small innovations that had I experienced. In no particular order:

Jet Airplanes – A neighbour of ours in Toronto worked for American Airlines and when I was around 7 or 8, I was invited to go with their family to see the first American Airlines Boeing 707 land at Malton (now Pearson International). In what may have been a taste of the future, the plane was late and I never did get to see it. But, I remember the huge hanger and all the free food that was set out for the dignitaries.

Push-Button Phones – You had two choices for phones when I was young – a wall or desk phone. And they were rotary dial phones. Push button phones became popular in the early 1960s. I recall going to the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto and seeing the Bell exhibit where two people could “race” to see who could dial faster – the rotary or the push-button phone. Of course, the push-button phone won every time and this was touted as a big marketing feature. In an early adaptation of the portable phone, Dad installed a 10 foot long coil cord on the kitchen wall phone – so you could walk around the kitchen and talk at the same time. It was the future!

On a side note, my father and I sounded very much alike on the phone. My Dad had the habit of answering the phone, talking to my girlfriend at the time and then exclaiming “Oh, you want my son”. My Dad had an interesting sense of humour.

Colour Television – As I mentioned in an earlier post, we always had a television in the house from the time I can remember. But in 1968, I went on a 10 day canoe trip with some buddies and came home to find a colour television in the front room. We had made the big time. Of course there was no cable at that time so you were at the mercy of the weather gods to how good a signal you would get, but colour television was a big deal – no matter that the colours weren’t always the greatest or the most accurate.

Records to Cassettes to CDs – I wish I had a picture of my first record player. It was from Eaton’s Department Store and the turntable sat vertically and folded down when you wanted to play a record. My parents were really quite understanding (that may be the wrong term) in that I could ‘customize’ my stuff. I installed jacks off the speakers so I could hook up a set of headphones. Hi-fidelity it wasn’t but it was mine. My first album was a Hard Day’s Night by the Beatles, which I won in a contest on CHUM-AM (I was in the CHUM Bug Club). After working at my first few part-time jobs, I purchased a proper stereo set. It was a Telefunken and I still have the speakers – they have stood up that well.

The Telefunken had a cassette deck which was huge because the next purchase was a cassette deck for the car. Now we could have our music on the road. I recently went through the cassette tapes made during the 70s and most are unplayable due to the tape deteriorating. I had some good music on those tapes. My first CD player was a Sony that I bought in 1985 for $500. It had no remote and had a single drawer for discs. Finding CDs at that time was a real challenge and whenever I went away, I was on the hunt. Sam the Record Man in downtown Toronto was a favourite haunt. And at that time, CDs went for around $20 where an album would cost around $8. But the sound was worth it! And the CDs were indestructible (or so we thought – there were some painful lessons learned around that point).

Computers – Probably the biggest changes over my lifetime have been in computers. I first started using mainframes in university in the early 1970s. My undergraduate thesis in 1975 was a computer dispersion model of pollutants from a point source on the Lake Ontario water front. The program was painstakingly typed on punch cards and then submitted to the computer centre to run. The output was on huge reams of paper. I made a mistake on one run and was greeted by a stack of printout over three feet tall and a note saying to “see the operator”. That run alone cost over $600 in computer time but the strange thing was that the geography department wasn’t on a budget for computer time that year so really no one cared. In fact, they asked me to run the program again with the same mistake (I had left out a period on one of the cards) so they could run up the numbers for the following year when they were to go on a budget.

I got my first computer in 1979. It was essentially a rack with electronic cards placed inside. The CPU, the video, the RAM memory was all on separate cards. The output was a monochrome CRT monitor and the operating system was CP/M (Control Program for Microcomputers – a forerunner of DOS). I still remember getting very excited when I upgraded the RAM from 32K (yes K) to 64K. I went to an electronics supply store, bought the memory chips and installed them myself. Those days are long gone.

My first store-bought computer was the Commodore VIC-20. The programs were loaded by using cassette tapes. By this time I had moved to Edmonton, but every time I went back to Toronto, I would hit the computer stores to find programs that just weren’t available out west. It was an interesting culture back then – it was a very small group of people that were into computers at first and there was a do-it-yourself mentality around your equipment.

These were a few of things that I recall changing over my lifetime. So as I sit writing this on a quad core desktop with a 21 inch LCD monitor and Office 2010, I can’t but smile over what I have seen and wonder what my kids will experience during their lives.

(And the ironic part is that as I am writing this, I am listening to Jefferson Airplane from 1967 – some things just don’t get old.) 🙂

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Smartphones

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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