Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Just who IS the Tool in the Technological Age?

   Those that know me are aware of the fact that I’m kinda ‘Old School’ in most of the things I undertake. I guess this comes from being an ‘Old Dog’, a member of Gen-WTF. As such, I tend to regard technological ‘advances’ with a healthy dose of skepticism.

   I mean, c’mon. How many versions of the i-phone or i-pad are still remaining to be released? Couldn’t they make one to last more than 6 months?

   It’s not that I don’t use and enjoy technology, I do, but I tend to treat it in the way it’s meant to be regarded, as a helpful TOOL, rather than intertwining my life around it.

   (By the way, GAMERS should quit reading right now!)

   Let me give you some true-life examples of what I’m referring to…

   I was spending some time with my nephew one day not long ago, a 13-year-old that rarely goes outside other than to catch the schoolbus, and I suggested to him we should get a little exercise by playing some baseball. I had a couple gloves in the car and was delighted to hear his enthusiastic cheers as I went out to get them…

   Then imagine my horror when I came back in and he had set up a baseball game on his PS-3.

   Okay, here’s another example, one that’s a bit more frightening…

   I had the opportunity a few months back to get in some ‘stick time’ (flying hours) on a Gulfstream G-550, one of the most advanced business jets currently in service. My check pilot was a 28-year-old whiz kid that was busy the entire time expounding the virtues of the ‘glass cockpit’, the LCD digital displays that replace the more traditional dials and gauges on the instrument panel. It had auto-everything, and I'm certain that the avionics alone cost well over a half million dollars.

   Now I’ve logged enough hours in various aircraft types over the years that all these technological ‘advances’ don’t really affect me, and I know that there are several redundant safety measures built in to (hopefully) prevent any catastrophic failures. However, I also know that 'feces occurs', and I said Alan Shepard’s prayer (Please, God, don’t let me fuck up) as I taxied toward the runway.

   Takeoff was uneventful, and I turned on a westerly heading, climbing to level 150 (15 thousand feet), then sat back to enjoy the moment. I mean, here I was flying a Gulfstream, the pinnacle of aviation technology, and I was handling it as well as someone that had years on the stick. But considering that it’s ‘Fly by Wire’, that really isn’t a major accomplishment.

   After a couple hours, we found ourselves heading back, and I was on left base to enter traffic, when the LCD display for the inclinometer, or ‘artificial horizon’, went dark. I cycled the buttons, but the result was ‘No Joy’. My check pilot began to furiously check the breaker panel, hoping to find the problem, but nothing he did could resolve the issue. “What are we going to do?” he asked me, as if I held the answer. “Declare an emergency?”

   We were (thankfully) on VFR, Visual Flight Rules, and I had most of the other instruments still functional, and I had a good, clear visual of the runway threshold, so I took a grease pen and made a line on the windscreen to act as a reference point, allowing me to visualize if I were climbing or descending. I ‘went dirty’, dropping my gear and flaps, and within 20 minutes we were back on the ramp, my undies unsoiled, but my pucker factor up in the red zone.

   “That was a cool trick,” the check pilot told me as the tech weenies swarmed into the cockpit to find the offending problem. “Where’d you learn that?”

   “When’s the last time you were in a real airplane?” I asked him.

   “Ten years maybe,” he said with a look of contrition. "But shit like that rarely happens." 

   And this guy is gonna be a commercial pilot? Not on any flight I'm on!

   Technology can always fail. Usually, it’s something no worse than losing a paper you’ve been working on, or refusing to let you see ‘Avatar’ on Blu-ray. But every so often, because so many of us have become dependent on it, the failure has the potential to be devastating, and hopefully, most of us still know the ‘old-fashioned way’ of doing things.

   So, learn more about how things were done before all the technological ‘advances’ came into being and made us dependent on it for most aspects of our daily lives. Write a letter to a friend rather than sending them an e-mail. Go to the library and check out an actual book, rather than reading Snooky’s biography on your Kindle. Get outside and play catch with your child rather than hooking up the Wii to play Res-evil.

   But most importantly, learn to use technology as it was meant to be; a helpful tool, not a lifestyle.

   Sic vis Pacem, parabellum (or is that visual enhancement?)

   Wiley (Coyote)


Friday, March 2, 2012

"Is that a real fire?"

   People that know me personally know that there are 4 things I enjoy doing more than anything else; writing, flying, shooting, and Civil War reenacting, and the order varies according to the mood I’m in at any given time.

   Flying and shooting are my ‘de-stressors’, as well as a couple of the things I’ve done for so long that they’ve just become a part of my personality.

   Writing, well, it’s what I DO, my job as it were, but it’s a job I enjoy.

   Which leaves us with Civil War Reenacting.

   Okay, admittedly, up here in frozen New England, it’s kinda hard to explain to people why I, a Southerner by birth, want to relive the 1860s and sleep in a canvas tent, cook over an open fire, then go out and ‘play army’ with a bunch of guys (and gals) in what is still to this day the single most controversial period of our nation’s history.

   I do it because of that, the HISTORY.

   There are a myriad of myths and misconceptions about the Civil War (or War of Northern Aggression, as we Southern folk say), and I’m not going to belabor them here. Suffice it to say that 2 armies went into the conflict, and one nation emerged.

   I’ve been in the hobby for over 20 years, portraying members of both the Union and Confederate armies, and I have to say, that it’s one of the most entertaining aspects of my life, not just for the public, but for us, the reenactors.

   I first got into the hobby after doing my time in the military, and I think it helped me to become reacquainted with civilian life.

   But that’s another story.

   At a typical reenactment, most of us arrive on Friday afternoon, events in New England conveniently scheduled for the weekend, and go about setting up camp. After the tents are pitched, the fires lit, and the vehicles out of camp, I often venture over to the Federal side of the battlefield to see friends I’ve missed since the last time we did this.

   After a beer or 2 (or 6), I return to camp, stagger into my tent (okay, USUALLY my tent), and try to discover some well-deserved sleep.

   Saturday morning comes early for me, as I am in charge of ‘Morning Gun’, the cannon that fires at 6am, alerting the armies to the fact it’s time to get up and get ready, usually setting off a few car alarms during the process as well. Then it’s a quick breakfast, roll call, morning report, and then drill, drill, drill, all of this right before the public arrives…

   Then the fun begins.

   First, I have to endure the fake ‘Southern’ accents some of my unit’s members try to incorporate into their respective characters, not easy considering that many of them are from Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. And while I have managed to no longer need an interpreter to understand those thick Boston accents, it’s all I can do at times not to ask “What the heck did you just say, sir?”

   After we ‘De-FARB’ the camp, hiding or removing non-period-correct items, the public makes its way in, usually beginning over at the Federal side of the battlefield, then a few of them come over to check out ‘us Rebels’.

   Okay, I’m learning that most Yankees don’t really know squat about the Civil War. I’m hearing stuff like “These Southerners came up here and tried to take over the country, and we sent them back home.”

   Wrong... on several counts.

   Then there are the questions. “Is that a real cannon?”, “Is that wool hot?”, “Were you in the Civil War?”, “Why were so many battles fought at National Parks?”, and my all-time favorite…

   “Is that fire real?”

  Suffice it to say that, at times, the smartass in me emerges, and begins to have a little fun at the expense of the poor college graduate with a degree in underwater basket-weaving asking any of the aforementioned, and I’m usually pretty convincing, often letting them know that “The National Parks had lots of open spaces, perfect for battle, and the commanders of the armies decided to fight there.”, or “Yes, I was one of the youngest men to fight in the Battle of Sharpsburg.”, or even “No, the fire is battery-operated. Looks pretty real, don’t it?”

   I guess the point, if there is one, that I’m trying to make is that the average citizen has become alarmingly out of touch with American history and the way that many people went about their daily lives 150 years ago. Not really that long a period, considering that the average college grad knows more about the 2000-year history of Darfur than they do about their next door neighbors.

   The so-called ‘educational’ system in the U.S., under the control of the Department of Education, a government bureaucracy that I had the fortune to grow up without, has manipulated and censored so much of this country’s history that it is small wonder that many people don’t realize that the War began as a political issue, and, as is so often the case, young men had to fight, and die, for the benefit of the politicians.

   640, 000 dead.

   640,000 young men who simply took up arms to fight for what they believed, ON BOTH SIDES. And that’s not counting civilian dead, the numbers of which may never be known. The fact that the War occurred cannot be disguised, nor should it be politicized with perceived causes and after-effects. It happened. It shouldn’t have, but it did.

   So, if you have the opportunity to go to a reenactment at some point this year, or the next 3, brush up a little bit on your history. Not that found in texts, but the real history. Visit your local museum. Or scan the web for articles. Once you wade through the politics and mythology, you might find a few little-known, fascinating tidbits that you can arm yourself with before you come into my camp and I tell you about how the Union had developed an air-cooling system for their uniforms, and we Rebels were trying to capture this technology.

   Sic vis Pacem, parabellum, (or is that sick of this weather?)

   Wiley (Coyote)

   To learn more, please visit the unit’s website:

The‘battery-powered’ campfire