Grey Hairs & Live Wires

Hanging out in the tech store is an adventure of a new kind nowadays. There was a time when the generation gap between early adopters and those who have now grown up wholly in the personal-computing age was a crevasse of seemingly un-breachable magnitude. Now, the first generation of techno-babies has come far enough into their majority and the era of common computing has drawn enough of their elders into its mainstream that the paths are beginning to converge again.

It’s most evident in the staffing of technology stores, I think: customers of all ages are finally being served by experts of all ages. It’s an oddly comforting phenomenon to a middle-ground, middle-aged slow learner like me. I’m not as cowed by the expertise of youth, who, like those well-versed in so many other complicated fields, grew up knowing of their art and science’s nuances in ways that earlier generations couldn’t know. Neither am I so dubious of the expertise of people my age and older, who have now had enough years of immersion themselves to become equally, if not so innately, well-versed. It’s no longer that the people who were on the cutting edge of that first computer-building wave are utterly obsolete, but that they are—like my 88-year-old father in law, who worked in computing when it was still a universe of room-sized behemoth machines and basic binary punch cards—so curious as to have now trained into able manipulators of the current tech as well. It is a rich environment in which to learn and practice as I muddle through.

I just wish it meant that I could reboot my own brain, upgrade my mental hardware, and assimilate the new data without having to rebuild my mainframe entirely.Digital illo: Binary Baby

Maybe They *Don’t* Make ‘Em Like They Used To…

Happy Birthday, Dad!Photo: Classic Models

Today is my father-in-law’s natal anniversary. Though I’ve no doubt he sometimes feels his age and then some, as all of us do, he remains marvelously youthful in his wit and charm in general, and like a certain favorite toy car of a somewhat similar production date (one passed around by kids in our family for many happy years), has all the more appeal, truth be told, because of all the stories behind the few dents and scratches.

Not only am I most fortunate among persons in having found life partnership with a best friend who suits me in ways I could never even have imagined, I got a fantastic package deal, his parents being from the beginning the best sort possible. I knew before I met them that they must be rather extraordinary to have produced such a dandy son who really liked, loved, and respected them, so I wasn’t all that nervous about the meeting, a fact all the more remarkable when you consider that I still struggled with a fairly extreme level of persistent anxiety at the time. I was more afraid of meeting my beloved’s then part-time housekeeper, an old-school German lady who clearly thought anyone hanging around with her adopted charge had better meet her rigorous standards. Maybe Irma paved the way to make Mom and Dad Sparks seem that much less intimidating. In any event, from that first time I met them I was quickly falling in love with them, too. In any case, it turned out that I had attached my heart not only to a great life partner but to a great life partner with great parents, who immediately became my parents along with the ones who gave me my birth.Photo: Elegance on Wheels

Our Dad S is a thoughtful, gentle, good-humored, positive person who served honorably in the Army, who with Mom S raised a pair of superb sons, who worked with computers from those early days when a single one still filled a massive, refrigerated room to when they became ever so much smaller yet far more powerful, and even trained for and had a post-“retirement” career as a Myotherapist. He continues to be curious and dedicated enough to keep taking classes, traveling, and beginning new adventures as a seasoned but lively octogenarian. He is indeed a man of a ‘certain vintage’ by now, having had many adventures and being the repository of myriad stories as a result, but never fails to have new tales to add to the inventory because his spirit is so lively.

Most of all, he has as loving and generous a heart as he always did, and makes me hope that he will have not only a lovely and fulfilling birthday celebration (or ten) for his birthday but as many more as possible. He is, after all, a classic.Photo: Classic Good Looks

What is Essential

How the concept of “necessary” tools changes! I can hardly remember how I managed to survive a full day without my laptop, despite the fact that when I was young, personal computers were strictly the stuff of fantasy, and most computers were, in fact, whole rooms full of refrigerated, card-punching machinery. And no, whatever anyone may tell you, I am not a million years old.

Yet here I am, forgetting how to send letters via snail mail when I can email them; wondering how I can Get a Signal in some remote place so I can wirelessly post my daily blog missive off to readers from India to Ireland, from Kansas to Katmandu. All of this, I expect to happen in the blink of an eye—and mostly, it does.

Strange that things so recently thought utter luxuries become so quickly apparent necessities for survival. So quickly we think the newly acquired stuff can no longer be done without. How do we get so spoiled by our wealth that it seems as important as life itself?

It’s not that I lack appropriate appreciation for my many privileges. It’s not even that I don’t think I could keep living a happy and healthy and contented life if I had to give them all up suddenly, let alone that I’d think myself suffering upon losing my high-powered towns and tools for a short while. I will recover, and probably even rediscover some good things about myself and my world if I am smart enough to pay attention.

In the meantime, I am ever so happy to have a clothes washing machine and dryer, running water, a houseful of LED light, flush toilets, central heating, and yes, all of the little electronic goodies that make it possible for me to blog and email, not to mention talk to family and friends overseas, make artworks in space that are able to be brought into the real world as physical entities, and keep other parts of my life in a semblance of order. I do enjoy the privileges of my office!

digital illustration

The original desktop.

Mayday! or, How Telecommuting Saves Lives

digital image from a photoWhen Face to Face Meeting is Obsolete

The business is dead! It’s technology’s fault–

the lighting, AC and the big central vault

Are scrambled and frozen and jolted and jammed–

the intercom’s buzzing, the plumbing is dammed–

Email is blacked out and the network is fried

and what’s in can’t escape or what’s out, get inside–

Alarms are all ringing but signals are dead–

the boss would’ve canned me and then had my head–

The one thing that saves me (although you may scoff) is

she can’t recollect how to get to the office.digital artwork from a photo

The Wild West in the Computer Age

Though the wolves and rustlers may indeed have changed their guises many a time over the years, danger still lurks on every frontier.photo montageTombstone, Parts I & II

I

A heavy pall hung over the brush

And the sagebrush rolled with a whispery hush

Beware! Beware!, the townsfolk cried:

The killer’s coming! Take cover! Hide!

Call in your children, rescue your wife;

Tether the horse if you value your life!

Your grave is marked, man–hold your breath–

For your desktop bears

The Blue Screen of Death.

II

Well, it’s lonesome, lonesome, lonesome beneath the broad blue sky

If he weren’t way too manly, a poor cowpoke could cry-yi-yi

The Ethernet‘s gone silent and left me all alone

My email has been down for days; no voicemail on my phone

Yes, it’s lonesome, lonesome, lonesome beneath the empty sky

I know my days are  numbered and I’ll soon curl up and die-ie-ie

As I slump down o’er the keyboard and draw my terminal breath,

I look up one last time to see

The cold Blue Screen of Death–

Yes, I look up one last time to see

The cold

Blue Screen of Death!photo

Best Hardware-Software Combo Ever

digital collageWhat? People. Easy-peasy. People, people. The most productive combination of ideas and imagination with the support structures to bring them to reality that was ever created. And hey, the human machine is able in turn to create further things. Yes, like hardware and software, among many-many-many others. What a strange invention is the human, the first ‘learning computer,’ yet so prone to errors and malfunctions and full of operational bugs that if we’d been a product, our inventor would’ve gone bankrupt in a cosmic instant.

Despite our messiness, though, we remain marvelous and surprisingly elegant machines. The thought of building structures that are not only composed entirely of living cells that, in health, constantly renew themselves and rebuild but are also able to contain and generate and synthesize and communicate intangibles like belief and imagination is quite astounding. That we creatures are able, as well, to imitate our own invention by being creative ourselves is nothing short of bizarre and miraculous.

How lucky we are, how blessed, to be–despite our fragile and somewhat freakish nature–able to be powerful and lovely in our creative ways too. How grand that we can appreciate this loveliness. And how rich and potent, above all, that we can still recognize how small and fleeting all of this goodness is in the greater scheme of invention that embraces us, our fellow living things, our world, our galaxy, our universe–and all the marvels that are yet unknown to us. We are tiny, we are mighty, and we should always be in humble awe.digital collage