An App For That

Look, Ma – no graph paper!

My father-in-law was an engineer for General Tire, not long retired when we first met. His natural flair for design and problem solving demanded expression whether or not it was earning him a living, and thus he filled his leisure hours with an assortment of engaging projects, from fashioning his own golf clubs to creating custom stained glass windows for his front door. He wrote with a precise block printing style suitable for labeling blueprints or lettering comics. And always, there was graph paper handy to work out the next challenge.

Having mastered his profession before the dawn of personal computers, Dick’s first impulse when contemplating a task was to grab a pencil and a scrap of graph paper. Sometimes the printed grid was necessary, sometimes not. I remember the draftsman’s zeal with which he tackled the chore of assigning seats to guests at our wedding reception. Out came the graph paper, upon which he sketched a scale blueprint of the reception hall and began to maneuver cutout banquet tables until he determined the optimal arrangement. When he was finished, we had a little map featuring the thoughtful arrangement of each guest according to his or her familial and social affiliations. He might have achieved virtually the same end without having applied such methodical precision, but I think the process of working it all out was what he truly enjoyed. His was a world of pencil-and-paper solutions. Read More

Future Shock

My ten-year-old self would have died at the revelation that this was coming one day.

Dear Bob:

If this letter reaches you sometime around the summer of 1979, then you have already wondered what it would be like to receive a letter from your future self. Well, wonder no further, because this is it. That’s right, Bob – I am you in 2011, thirty-two years in the future. As I recall, your summer days consist of reading a lot of MAD Magazine, listening to Alice Cooper, and watching as many Brady Bunch episodes as you can find on TV. They say the child is the father of the man, and in our case it’s true. You’ll still be enjoying those same interests in 2011. But you won’t believe how things have changed.

Some of what I say may be hard for you to understand, because the technology you use is going to change so fast that whatever dazzles you in ten years will be obsolete a decade or two after that. For example, take your record collection. By the time you’re in high school, most people will listen to their records less and less, preferring instead to take their music with them on portable cassette players. In college, you’ll see your first compact disc, a little silver record smaller than a 45 that is read by a laser instead of a needle. The sound will be incredible, and you won’t need to flip a disc over to hear the whole album anymore. What could be better than that, right? But that’s nothing. In 2011, I hardly use compact discs anymore. I have an mp3 player, a little box about the size of a wallet, and it has far more music on it than you currently have in your entire collection. Read More

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