Saturday, April 19, 2008

Just Like Stamps

I will shamelessly admit to being sort of a Luddite.

More than, "sort of."

A great big stubborn, honking Luddite.

I will not own a bread machine, for instance, because the whole and entire fun and purpose of baking bread is not merely to have bread (if I run out, I can buy bread) but to make bread, and making bread means sifting flour and adding yeast and kneading it and letting it rise and kneading it again and patting it into loaves and putting it in the oven while it makes wonderful warm bread-baking smells and warms the whole house with bready goodness.

The incessantly evolving technology we must interact with --whether we really need it or not -- is frustrating in exactly the same way that stamps are frustrating.

Every few years, the U.S. Post Office raises the cost of stamps a couple of cents. Americans can count on this like we can count on the sun coming up. And every few years, we find ourselves in possession of quantities, large or small, of stamps which have become obsolete overnight. And now we have two choices: let the "old" stamps go to waste and buy new ones, or, sensibly, round up all of the "old" stamps, and buy "upgrades" -- the two-cent make-up stamps you can attach to your letter along with the old one so the letter will arive and so your old stamps don't go to waste. This we do diligently, sometime in the first week or so after the price increase.

But of course you never quite manage to round up every single one of the "old" stamps, and as the next year or so goes by, individual "old" stamps lurk around the house, in your wallet and in your purse, waiting to pounce upon you at any given moment, particularly the moment when you have completely run out of two-cent make-up stamps. Which puts you in the dilemma of saving that one single miserable stamp, and taking it to the post office with you the next time you have a reason to go there, or making a special trip and standing in line to buy one single damn stupid two-cent stamp so you don't waste the old one, or throwing it away, and wasting thirty-nine cents.

And you have to do this every couple of years. Round up old stamps, buy make-up stamps, and get ambushed by individual old stamps over the course of the next year or so.

If the post office was smart, they would raise the price more, but less often. Of course, sometimes I suspect that the Post Office knowingly makes millions of dollars off the price changes by counting on all those old stamps to remain unused simply because it's too damn much trouble for most folks to round them up and buy the upgrades, before they stock up on new stamps at the new rate.

Technology works exactly the same way.

You are forced to buy a new computer widget that has suddenly become "obsolete" even though the thing replacing it is not significantly and profoundly better than the old thing. it may run slightly faster, or have a little higher photo resolution .....

...but it is not massively, profoundly, breathtakingly "better."

Which brings me to my current dilemma.

I have an "old" computer monitor made by ViewSonic (I have issues with the name of the company -- only a very few savants, and people on mescaline, "see" sound, but I digress). The model is UltraBrite A70f+. It is only a few years old, and it still works. However, many, many websites I visit now tell me that I have an "old" monitor, that the screen resolution is too low to fully embrace the pictures they have to offer.

This I do not comprehend. I can see individual fibers in photos of my own handspun sockweight on this "old" monitor. Why does this level of detail need improvement? I do not need to view yarn at the molecular level. I do not have an electron microscope. I am not doing retrovirus research. I just want to look at websites and answer my email, but I am told my monitor resolution is too low. My friend Jake the Computer Guy also tells me this.

Anyway, after enough "error" messages, I informed my husband that all I wanted for my birthday earlier this year was a new monitor.

He offered to buy me a new computer instead. "Your computer is old," said he, joining in the chorus of Jake the Computer Guy. "A new monitor costs a couple of hundred bucks, and for just a few hundred more you could have a whole new computer."

"But I don't want a whole new computer," said I. "The old one works just fine. And also? The last time I got a whole new computer, I had to store my pictures and documents from the previous 'old' computer in a special partition inside the hard drive, and every time I want to retrieve an "old" picture, I have to go to the special partition, and open a whole buncha folders, and sometimes the computer can't even find the picture I need. The old computer still works. I just need a new monitor.

Optimist that I am, I actually thought this might involve simply unplugging the old monitor, plugging in the new one, and perhaps inserting a diskette or CD somewhere for a little program to download so that the "new" monitor could talk to the "old" computer. A universal software translator of some sort, you know -- like the Vulcans have. And then I could see pictures from cameras with a higher resolution than my own, and websites as well. Yay!

So Dave lovingly bought me a new monitor back there in the first week of January and said, "Happy Birthday."

And I plugged it in and waited for a picture.

No picture. Instead, a different error message, which Jake the Computer Guy tells me means that I need a new card inside the old computer so I can look at the new monitor.

"I told you, you should have gotten a new computer" said he.

And this is where it gets just like stamps. I thought I'd done everything I needed to do. I bought the upgrade. But there, lurking inside the computer, was another "old" thing requiring that either I buy the upgrade or go out and buy a whole new thing.

So I bought the upgrade. I was only mildly scolded for being so reluctant to buy a new chunk of technology, but the electronic equivalent of a two-cent stamp now allows the "old" computer to talk to the "new" monitor. Good enough for me.

(...pausing for a breath...)

I wrote the above on March 30th, and didn't finish. Life got strange.

I can't believe that it's been almost a month since I last posted, but getting the whole computer thing sussed out has taken up only a small chunk of the past few weeks, which have also included the much-too-early deaths of two close friends, a wedding to attend, and the sad event of saying goodbye to Tessie, our eldest cat, almost twenty years of age. Her health had been deteriorating, and, in the first week of April, it was time. She could no longer stand without falling, or eat and drink without assistance. The first Thursday in April, we took her to our dear veterinarian, Tom Stuckey, and told her goodbye.

I was a mess that day, and I still am. I know that twenty is exceptionally old for a cat, and we were extraordinarily lucky to have our Tessie as long as we did. She was a good, loyal friend who was with us through good times and some rough times in our lives. She was soft, funny, sweet, and gentle. She had one black toe.

A good cat. We will miss her sorely.

In the same space of time, my favorite college professor, Jules D'Hemecourt, with whom I've remained friends ever since graduation, died suddenly of a heart attack. Before I could pick myself up after Jules' funeral, our old friend Bill Mallory, who I've known since the tail end of the 1970s, also succumbed to a faulty ticker, less than two weeks later.

Jules was an inspiring professor with a scathing wit, an intense love of animals, and, above all, a keen sense of journalistic responsibility. Locally popular as a Cajun humorist and radio personality, he was also (and primarily) a professor of journalism at Louisiana State University. My fondest memory of him was a humble ritual he shared with good students. He kept a bottle of whiskey and a package of paper cups in his desk at LSU, and, if he thought a student had something interesting to say, he'd invite you to stop by his office. He would open his bottom desk drawer, extract a bottle and two paper cups, pour out two generous shots of whiskey, and you'd have a little toast to one another and a nice, long chat.

That first invitation to have a shot of whiskey in a Dixie cup was an unspoken watershed in your career as a student. It meant that Jules took you seriously as a young writer. It was an honor to be cherished.

Bill was an archeologist, a writer, a musician, a rock music historian, an artist, and a kindly friend. In the 1970s and early 1980s he played bass (and occasionally other instruments) for the Shit Dogs, a local band credited with being a seminal influence in the development of punk rock (I'll try to make an audio link; if that doesn't work, please Google for the MP3 of the Shit Dogs' "Not Responsible" and download it for a sample of their work). This obscure four-man band, with only two dozen published tunes, has been credited with influencing the development of punk artists from the Ramones to the Sex Pistols. I well remember standing in packed and smoky college taverns to hear them play, and now two of them are gone (Bobby Swazye died of brain cancer a few years back). One of the band's unique qualities was that the members exchanged instruments for different tunes, playing drums for one song and bass guitar for another.

Bill was one of the very first people I met off campus in Baton Rouge during my first week of college. That Friday, after registration, my roommate and I went to see this remarkable band play at the venerable Bayou tavern, and after the show, the band invited everyone to an after-hours party at the apartment they shared just off campus. I walked in, and Bill handed me a cup of beer. That was my welcome to Baton Rouge.

The lurking presence of death is sobering, and it tastes all the more bitter in the beauty of this particular spring. It's always hard to lose a loved one, but somehow it's more painful when the world around you is full of beauty and new life.

I've been down, and rather disinclined to write anything beyond e-mails and online chat in the past few weeks. It's hard to think of anything witty, or of real substance, when your mind is trying to make sense of the fact that some of those you love will not be around anymore. I'm grateful for the patience of my readers, and I promise to catch up with myself soon.

But, I've been spinning and dyeing to take my mind off things, and drafting patterns. When I return -- hopefully within the week -- there will be news, and perhaps some good photos, of a more knitterly nature.

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At 10:11 AM, Blogger ccr in MA said...

I'm so sorry for your losses, all three of them. It doesn't matter how long someone is in your life, it's how deep they're in your life that matters.

At 1:17 PM, Blogger DianeS said...

I am sorry to hear of all your losses. I think it just continues to hurt worse when they come all together like that. I will be envisioning you with some peace of time to help you cope.

We had to have our 18-year-old Cranky Old Lady cat, Wilma, put to sleep last Monday. We knew it was coming, but it was still hard and we miss her.

At 2:18 PM, Anonymous Chris S. said...

Oh Dez, so much to bear in such a short time. I've had three weeks filled with similar hardships, but substitute April Fools Day in Toronto for the wedding. On March 28 I had to admit defeat with our 17-year old "Ginger" and take his final car trip. I cried all morning after staying with him to the end and for a good part of the rest of the day. Still having bad times and I'm still "seeing" him and his house-brother (Kiwi, gone 3 years almost to the day/month) around the house. I think they are letting me know they are OK. Just little shadows and movement when I turn quickly, but I'm sure it's them. Tessie sounds like a good name for a yarn colour, don't you think? Maybe something will come out of your dye pot that will help you heal. As for lost friends, they are still in your heart, that's all I can say. I will think of you often and pray for you.

At 7:38 AM, Blogger Mary Lou said...

Ah Dez, those losses as we move thru life are tough, aren't they. Sending you good thoughts from upriver. And the stamps? Now the PO sells what they call 'forever' stamps, with no denomination on them. If only we could get forever computers.

At 3:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am glad to hear that you are still here after so much sadness. I'd be tempted to crawl under a rock and stay there.
We will still be here when you feel up to it. Lots of hugs. Heidi

At 3:54 PM, Blogger Ann said...

My condolences, Dez.

Please know3 that you are in my thoughts.

At 4:23 PM, Blogger She Knits Socks said...

So sorry to hear about Tessie and your other losses. Give yourself some special "me" time. We are thinking of you.

At 8:06 AM, Blogger farm-witch said...

Oh, I'm crying for Tessie. 20 years is a long life - but that's just more time wherein this creature and you become one - making the ending all the more traumatic and beautiful at the same time. Much love to you while you pick your broken heart up, dust it off, and try to carry on. You honored your friends, all three of them, very well with your words!

And, on the 'tech' and 'mod' issue - I say - give 'em hell!

At 2:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dez, you're in my thoughts and prayers. I think Chris S. has a good idea - Tessie sounds like a good colorway name. And certainly both friends led lives that might inspire a dyer/knitter to create something unique in their honoor.

I've missed your thougts of late - glad to hear from you, even with the bad news.

Take care.

Carol Lee

At 1:54 AM, Blogger Jo at Celtic Memory Yarns said...

With you all the way.

Working with the hands, creating things that will wrap warmly, does help ease the pain.



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