Monday, August 15, 2016

Technology Blues

“I will stop wearing black when they invent a darker color.” Wednesday Addams

Technology will be the death of me yet.

Now, I’m not a Luddite by any means, and I do enjoy computers far more than is probably healthy for anyone here when there are fish to catch, but still, there is a limit to what any one person should have to endure in his or her life.

I was sound asleep when my phone (which serves as my alarm clock) came to life to inform me that it was time for a major update, and asked if I wanted to proceed with the update now or wait.

Now, we are told there is no such thing as a stupid question, but that’s obviously a lie.

For one thing, it was two o’clock in the morning. How can anyone make a reasoned decision at that hour? I don’t wear my glasses to bed, so all I could see was the bright screen lighting up the room. Two or three synapses began to fire off low-voltage responses that mostly resulted in a muffled, “Wha …?”

My eyes began an arduous journey, making every effort to uncross and gain focus, and just as the App’s query began to organize itself into something resembling words, the screen faded back to black. I have learned that mean’s “Time’s Up” and the phone has no desire to fiddle around awaiting a reply. Sigh.

I closed my peepers and pondered the mysteries of life for a Nano-second or two and went back to sleep. The phone’s sensors, being well-programmed to look for signs of sound sleep (or death), leapt into action – trumpets blaring, klaxons clanging, lights flashing, and buzzers buzzing: “Major Update Needed … Do it Now?  Wait Until Later?”

I knew I had only moments to make a decision that would affect the future of life as we know it on this planet. Groggily, I started to weigh the benefits of updating now (to get the phone off my back) or pressing the WAIT button, which meant it would likely go into hibernation for another five minutes before going to Defcon 1, insisting on a different response.

I know how computers think. I don’t even know why they ask the question, because they consider any answer other than “Yes” to be an insult. They are like a three-year old. They do not like “No”. They do not like waiting. They have no sense of time or of timing.

Why on earth would the cell phone want to update its system at two in the morning, I wondered. Is there some programmer over in Helsinki who’s just gotten to work in her Dilbert Cubical, cup of coffee in hand, fluffy pink slippers on her feet, whose sole job is to press the SEND button on her computer interface when it’s 2:00 a.m. in Montana (because that’s when the bars close and people can make optimal decisions)?

Who knows? I don’t even know why they give people an option, because there really is no option. It will poke and prod and annoy the heck out of the user until they agree to do what the phone wants to do.

So I decided to update my device then and there. I could visualize little coal miners going to work inside the cell’s power pack, shoveling teeny bits of coal into the tiny steam engines that make it work, and over the next few minutes the device flashed on and off, alternatively plunging the room into darkness, then bathing it in a beautiful lightshow (broadcast straight from the Aurora Borealis, I presume), all the while humming and buzzing and bleeping away to its little heart’s content.

After a few minutes it finished the floor show (missing only a brass pole and dancer), told me it had successfully completed its task, then went back to sleep – something I was no longer able to do. Sigh.

I guess that’s why it’s called a cell phone. You may be “free” from a landline’s tether, but you’re shackled to five ounces of a digital Bubba who is NOT to be trifled with.

I suppose it’s a small price to pay for progress, but is it really worth it? That’s what I want to know. Stay tuned; I’ll let you know tomorrow at 2 a.m. with an update in this, our valley.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Dog Days of Summer

If one cannot be sustained by smaller loyalties then will one be capable of solidarity with the whole of humanity? – Timothy Radcliffe, OP

We have reached the dog days of summer. I know, because the dog across the street has become more vocal.

I used to think the dog days of summer were named after the cranky attitude dogs get when the weather is hot and sultry, but the fact is they are so named because of a star – Sirius. Sirius is the nose of the dog in the constellation Canis Major, and in late July or early August it rises just before the sun, so the Greeks referred to this time of year as the Dog Days of Summer.

Interesting, eh?

But still, I think there is some truth to the crankiness of dog theory I’ve been hounded with all these years. The weather is hot; the sun rises and wakes me up earlier than I want to really get up; the house is hot and stuffy when I want to trundle off to bed, so falling to sleep is a trifle more difficult. My temper isn’t quite as calm, cool, and collected as it normally is the rest of the year, so the egg shells upon which the world must walk are more readily found underfoot.

And as it turns out, I’m not the only one who feels that way.

The other day my wife and I had to run into Butte to take care of some business. We dropped off some parts to a copier drum kit I couldn’t figure how to put together, and left them to be installed by the friendly photocopier guru located across from the Courthouse, and while he did his incantations and wand-work, Barb and I went down to a local coffee house for some tasty tea and scones.

When we got back to the shop a bit later, Steve (the repairman) admitted the reason I hadn’t been able to figure out how to make the parts fit was they had sent me the wrong parts to begin with. Ach du lieber! But hey, stuff happens, and so that didn’t bother me at all. I’d been wanting to take in the sights and sounds of beautiful downtown (or is it uptown?) Butte for some time, anyway.

What got my goat, though, was Barb started spinning around the shop like a whirling dervish and complaining something was biting her. For the life of me, I couldn’t imagine what it might be, but I got her to stop her twirling for a moment and as I pulled back the collar on her shirt, out popped a yellow-jacket about the size of your basic, run-of-the-mill, AH-64 Apache Attack helicopter (fully armed).

Now, I must admit my identification of the varmint in question may not be completely accurate as I smacked it down with an astonishingly quick lightning slap of my hand, simultaneously pulverizing it underfoot with every ounce of my being.

Never-the-less, I knew it wasn’t a honey bee, for it had stung Barb several times and hadn’t lost its stinger. Furthermore, it is the sworn duty of honey bees to protect a hive’s honey; attacking my honey would have been an unthinkable act of treachery for an Apis Apini.

Anyway, I cannot imagine why a yellow-jacket, wasp, or hornet would have attacked the love my life unless it was due to a crankiness induced by the dog days of summer.

We thanked Steve for his efforts, and he promised to order the correct part and get it to me as quickly as possible. “Copy that,” I said, and we got back into the car and drove around Butte for a few minutes to see if the stings would produce an allergic reaction requiring medical attention. It didn’t, so we returned home, leaving Butte and the Vespula’s corpse in our rearview mirror.

I have come to realize there is no such thing as a boring day in Montana, unless it is a stinger doing the boring. Every day brings something new and unusual to see, hear, do, or experience. Sometimes those experiences are painful, but they are mostly opportunities to experience life in its fullness.

God is good in this, our sometimes cranky valley – even in the dog days of summer – and for that, I am “Siriusly” thankful.