Saturday, February 25, 2012

Techno Tyranny!

I am the proud owner of several techno gizmos that know more than I know. This can be a bit disconcerting at times. I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey at a young age, lounging on the top of a '68 Mustang with my friend Dede at the local drive-in. Her dad really wanted to see the flick - Dede and I, in the throes of early adolescence, entertained ourselves by calling Hal names and asking a lot of questions about the monkeys.

My very first laptop was a proud purchase. It is a little red Dell. I liked it because it was red and on sale with a student discount. The guy at Best Buy told me it was a fantastic deal. What he didn't tell me was that it had NO CD Drive and that the software was only free for 90 days. The CD Drive I should have checked, but the software thing made me crazy for several weeks with ominous popup warnings and strange sizzling noises. But I was lucky: A coworker took my machine home and "somehow" got all the software on it that I needed. I asked no questions. She told me no lies.

I bought an external CD drive early this summer so that I could use educational software in the classroom. This external CD drive no longer works. No reason, nothing spilled on it, no acts of terrorism by small child, it just... stopped working. Work stoppage with a computer accessory often means union issues. If one thing doesn't work, then the other things conk out in sympathy and commiseration.

So, of course the internal wireless thing stopped communicating with anything wireless. This might be because of a student and a water bottle. He owned the mistake, but the wireless still didn't work. So, I bought an external wireless thing. It worked once and never worked again. The wireless thing must have gotten to it and communicated the work stoppage order. This is one reason I dislike unions. The school's handy I.T. Wizard brought me a cord to connect to my phone so that I could upload my attendance - a multiple step process that is on-beyond irritating. Then the other I.T. Wizard, trying to make my life easier, brought in a work horse printer. She attached it to the phone line. Now I am afraid to disconnect it and reconnect the little red Dell. Something might explode. Union espionage.

The printer was brought in because my classroom printer just stopped scanning. Suddenly, without any warning. I had used it for less than a year and treated it very well. The Copier Dude took one look at it and called it a nasty name, but I paid for it myself so I was not amused. Did I mention I paid for it myself? Yes. I wanted a working copier/printer for my classroom since I could not connect to ANY printer network at the school. The why and the wherefore remain unknown. The little red Dell has many enemies. I believe they are jealous of its cuteness. (That or my union conspiracy thing.)

Since I cannot go online with the little red Dell, I cannot take attendance using the school's adopted attendance program that hails from the deepest bowels of hell. I must either borrow a computer or weep copiously in frustration. The latter proves ineffective.

I have a school-issued Macbook that is so dang pretty it almost hurts the eyes to gaze upon it. I love this computer except when I need to do anything with a spreadsheet (Numbers isn't speaking to Excel. Jihad has been declared.) One might think this piece of Apple artistry could take attendance since the hellish attendance program is very widely used. SURELY this company would have a plugin for the newest Macbooks, right? WRONG. No plugin. This means no attendance can be taken on this beautiful machine.

So I borrow an older Macbook to take attendance. But get this: I have counted and it takes exactly 11 steps to submit attendance on the older Macbook. Eleven. I have counted them while my precious recess potty break time slips away. I have commiserated with the owner of the older Macbook. She reminds me we should be grateful we don't have multiple class periods for which attendance must be taken. She has a point.

My original iPod disappeared from the classroom. While I suspect union thuggery, the fact remains that I had no tunes for the classroom. I received a gently used version from my daughter in law, but the capacity is less than half that of my pretty purple Nano. So I can't find things that easily. Everything iTunes-related is on my iPad, but, naturally, the iPod docking station will not work with the iPad2. Who knew? The docking speakers are dreadfully pricey. Why? Because Apple is in cahoots with the union thugs and knows that teachers with missing iPod Nanos MIGHT just want to use an iPad instead.

And the last thing? My beautiful Macbook will NOT play the CD software I spent good money on so the children could practice number bonding. It doesn't like it.

It's bad enough that I have to keep the two machines separate, out of sheer jealousy. But now, the little red Dell does appear to connect to my home wireless but my attempt to send important documents through eMail are for naught. Nada. It ACTS like it is sending, but in reality, it fakes it. This is because it won't cross the picket line. Only a few hours later does the Mailer Daemon tell the truth about this latest bit of techno tyranny.

I am going to read some articles about how to "cord cut" television services. I will read them the new iPad2, mine for only ten easy payments. I have to remember to hold it 'just right' so the screen remains stable and to be careful not to accidentally touch any advertisements.

Or maybe I will just watch cable and drink whine. I mean wine.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Fronds and Elephants

This morning I awoke to a sky that is cloudy-gray and white. Against this backdrop, through the bedroom window, are the fronds of a palm tree, planted on a whim back when the house was new. The breeze blows and tree moves, imitating a life of movement, the only movement it will ever have. I am reminded of the backdrop in a snow storm - the eye sees nothing but the surrounding gray and white, the falling of the dense and foggy source, and that feeling - that pure sense of solitude, of being apart from the world.

The funny thing, of course, is that solitude is a sense, a perception, a state of mind. I am looking from the window of a second story bedroom, from the warmth and comfort of bed, a night of dreams, and the simple pleasure of a good book. It is a book from which I look up often because it makes me think. I glance outside by pulling the paper-thin shade towards me and I ponder. I think about the book and I think about the tree and then I read.

That palm tree reminds me of a story about a blind man and an elephant. There are other versions; one that comes to mind is a story in a well-loved basal reader about seven blind mice. The moral, which resonates in science, literature, the arts, and just life in general, is that you have to know when to get in really close and when to take a step (or 2 or 3) backwards - to get the big picture. From the window, what I see of the tree is melancholy and beautiful. The fronds are a dark green, with ribbon-like tendrils that move with the breeze like the fingers of a dancer - not separate from the hand, but with their own movement. I think about getting my camera. I am framing a shot. There is no light for this picture but it is a photograph nonetheless. Like most photographers, I am not so much seeing the dulled contrast of the green fronds and the gray and white surround, I am trying to capture an experience.

But from the ground, this tree is a tall, thick trunk that grows straight up. Dead fronds are pressed downward against the upper reaches of its trunk, dying fronds are beginning to lay back, away from the top, away from the sun, giving up green and succumbing to the inevitable process of death, sacrificing itself so that other, newer fronds can grow. The tree is not ugly - it is rather pretty. From the sidewalk, it is impressive in size and height. But the beauty of its canopy does not resonate on the ground. It is a suburban palm tree, planted two decades ago. It looked interesting as a young tree. It lacked the harshness of the mature tree's trunk. The fronds were small, green, and looked nice in the hunter green of the nursery's plastic pot.

From the window, on this morning of rain and wind, the upper reaches of the tree engage me as I think about what I am reading and pondering meaning. Surely my mind, always active to the point of insomnia and strange, inter-connected dreams, is seeking meaning. There is an allegory here, a story. What is it? The elephant? We can't change stories that belong to other people. We can only imagine the elephant walking away, leaving a befuddled blind man or seven mice pondering what the animal's presence meant. The tree? It isn't in a story. But it cannot walk away or leave anyone befuddled or amazed. It just moves in the breeze.