Monday, November 12, 2007

Waiting to ‘excel’

By a younger generation, I am considered to be “old school.” The place where I attended high school was certainly outdated and crumbling and well past its prime, and, in truth, was a piece of shit. Still, I got a better and more complete education for the times, than any child in public OR private school today. More on that in a second.
But I digress … I am an old fart – no doubt about it. I will, however, battle like Don Quixote against the forces of technology to keep that crap as much out of my daily life as possible. I’ll win some battle and lose most, which is the track record of most human beings on earth – except for the New England Patriots.
By most standards, I am fairly (but not totally) aged – although not fine, like wine or beef. I have my AARP membership card, but I don’t quite qualify for the Golden Corral senior discount meals. My eyeglasses are as thick as Mister Magoo’s and I possess enough years under my double chins to mimic that cartoon character (and his voice).
When you say “school,” I remember a time when classes had chalkboards and when purple-ish erasers that were pounded in open air to be rid of choking white or yellow toxic chalk dust. I was taught geometry, algebra, calculus and trigonometry with a plastic slide rule and the only “keyboard” we saw was attached to a manual Underwood typewriter, which weighed as much as an anvil. I learned proper English composition, as much American and world history as possible … because it was vital to the future.
In other words, I didn’t grow up in an era where computers reigned or controlled all aspects of one’s life. To me, software was what you wanted your boxer shorts (or briefs) to feel like.
So when I do things, they are usually “old school,” much to the consternation of the long-suffering, computer science-degreed spouse. She likes things orderly and digital. When she makes a list of things to do, or things to buy, or address lists, it is done of some Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.
Here, I always thought “spreadsheet” was something you did to the bed after washing the dirty linens.
No … when Senor Magoo here heads to the supermarket, he carries a written list of the items needed for consumption, done in ballpoint pen (because my Scripto blue ink liquid cartridge instrument is empty) and usually on the back of a legal envelope.
No Excel. No Microsoft Word. No fancy font face. Just good old fashioned scribble that often requires a hieroglyphic dictionary to decipher. Man, you can’t beat it with a stick.
I still enjoy balancing my checkbook with a piece of paper, a pencil and doing the math in longhand. There is no need for a calculator when it is simply addition and subtraction at play. I have always thought it silly for students to compete in UIL Calculator competition (in Texas) when the emphasis should be on knowing what the machine is actually doing. When I took the SAT tests in high school, you were only allowed a few blank pieces of paper to execute the math questions. You HAD to know the process; not just the ability to punch in the numbers.
Besides, you can’t (or shouldn’t) haul a laptop around the grocery store, hitting the “delete” button when you grab a can of tomatoes. There usually isn’t WiFi in the cereal aisle, but I’m sure some snot nose is planning for that in the near future. Blackberries are next to the Granny Smiths, not in your pants pocket, sounding some horrid computer-generated song when they ring every 15 seconds.
And there is NO greater irritant that having to dodge the wandering cart pusher more interested in the conversation than steering. Oh yeah, it’s a conversation you don’t want to hear in the first place.
More digression … I have this theory, which is constantly proven to be correct, that people, while pushing shopping carts at the local grocery store, drive like they shop. Every bad habit that people exhibit behind the wheel of a Chevy, a pickup or SUV, is on full display between aisles 6 and 7 and while parked along side the green peppers. Those who drive while talking on their cell phones pay less attention to the road than should safely be permitted. Those who discuss the differences between balsamic and rice vinegar, while trying to turn a blind corner into the cereal aisle, pay even less attention to oncoming traffic.
Also, ever notice that people never look in the direction of the hand in which the phone is placed? Not only are you distracted by talking to someone else, you loose half of your sight line because that is what people do.
They also seem to do things with only one hand – either because of the cell phone or the ever-present cup of coffee in their right hands. Ever try to shop quickly (or drive) with one hand tied behind your back? Or while sipping a mocho-latte with cream?
Back on subject … The city of Plano, Texas (on the home front) has scaled back its ambitious plan to hotwire the entire 250,000 population under WiFi (presumably grocery stores, too), but someone literally put pencil to paper and determined – in an old school fashion – that it might not be economically viable. A shrill outcry (or ring tone) came was heard among geeks from the Dallas Tollway to Central Expressway.
In my advancing age, I’ve had to learn to adapt. Admittedly, I miss the clickity-clackity sound of a Royal typewriter and the ding of the carriage return. I have gotten use to “keyboarding” – which is akin to waterboarding because it is also torture when your hands are too big for the shrinking keys.
“Old school” should never infer something wrong or bad. It just means a different way to do things. For many, MANY people like me, we’d rather excel than Excel.