A Nearly Perfect Circle

I imagine that Dick Ireland, were he alive today, would be surprised to learn that a former student fondly and frequently recalls his old geometry and physics teacher nearly thirty years later. Once our mortarboards arced through an overcast spring sky and clattered onto the asphalt parking lot, I never returned. Nor did I bother to contact any of the instructors who were an integral part of my life all those years ago. Somehow the thought of keeping in touch with my alma mater and its faculty seemed like moving backward instead of forward. Yet in a minor irony that I never foresaw as a teenager, I eventually became a teacher myself.

Like most educators, I wonder about the lasting impact of my instruction and guidance. I hope that when I sign off on my last report card, I will have made a net positive difference in the lives of my students. But I’ll never really know. Students move on, just as I did. It took me years to truly appreciate what the best of my teachers had given me, just as I had to reach a certain level of maturity to understand how and why the worst of my teachers had shortchanged me. Good or bad, my lasting impressions of them have little to do with the content they labored to teach me. Read More

Pulling The Plug

The news came while I was at work, courtesy of a text message from my wife. It was not unexpected. We had been discussing the issue for months, but it took a surprising amount of courage to see our decision through to its implementation. Staring at my phone, I sighed with the knowledge that what was done was done, and life would never be quite the same. “It’s official,” read the message. “Our land line is no more!”

Maintaining a phone line into our home was costing us $420 a year, an expense that was hard to justify now that everyone in our family of four carries a dedicated cell phone. There were few advantages to keeping things as they were. We did liked the peace of mind that came with communication redundancy, the smug assurance that should sun spots interfere with satellites and cell towers, we still had a sure-fire means of making and receiving calls. Also, it was easier to have someone just pick up an extension rather than engineering a three-way cell phone call. And it’s nice to hear the phone ringing throughout the house and be able to answer it quickly without being tethered to a device. But $420 for such luxuries? We realized that never would we have taken on the expense as a new expenditure, and it became clear that we were keeping a land line mostly because we had always had one. Not much of a rationale for spending money that could be better used elsewhere.

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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

The World Is Flat


Baby got back:  A profile shows the massive 18″ rear end of obsolescence.

The great, hulking beast that was our RCA 32″ television is dead.  Purchased specifically because it amply filled the cavernous interior of our corner armoire, the technological dinosaur gave no hint of its impending demise.  Maybe we had been working it a little too hard by our constant streaming of The Office on Netflix.  Whatever the cause, our old TV was unresponsive one afternoon, and we knew that the time had come for us to say goodbye to picture tubes and enter a new televisual frontier.

I was born at a time when accepting the demise of a television set was preceded by valiant attempts at resuscitation.  To simply say, “Well, the TV isn’t working; time for a new one,” was unthinkable.  If you were reasonably handy and had little fear of electrocution, you might have removed the back panel and pulled out a vacuum tube for a quick diagnosis at the corner drugstore’s tube tester.  At the very least, you would have called a repairman.  Not until the grim-faced technician signed the death certificate would a family concede that a replacement was necessary.  It was, after all, an expensive proposition. Read More

Please Rewind


Do the abbreviations SP, LP, and SLP mean anything to you?

The year is 2009.  The setting:  an elementary school.  During a break between classes, I dart into the office and scan the staff mailboxes.  Lurking in my apportioned slot is a shrink-wrapped, rectangular box of vaguely familiar dimensions.  I retrieve the item and turn it over in my hands, noticing the logo of the publisher that sold us our recently adopted textbook series.  Good heavens!  I exclaim mentally, as an archaeologist might upon uncovering an ancient artifact. This is a VHS tape!  I stand there bewildered for a moment, puzzling over the fact that a major educational publishing house has issued new product in this archaic format.  It’s a little like having an auto dealer hand me a crank to start my car.

Though VCR’s still doggedly fast-forward and rewind within the dusty, pre-fab entertainment cabinets of many homes and upon the media carts of outdated classrooms, the formerly ubiquitous devices are in terminal decline, destined for exile in an archival land of film projectors and 8-track players.  DVD’s are already experiencing their own heyday, with clouds of streamable digital content predicted to make those aluminum discs obsolete.  If it weren’t for the voluminous amount of existing VHS tape preserving all that has yet to be digitized, getting your hands on a functioning VCR might be as difficult as tracking down a vintage pair of parachute pants.  One day soon, they’ll be as quaint as turntables, available exclusively as a means to transfer precious analog moments to your hard drive.

I can still remember the twinge of jealousy I felt when I heard that the Walsh family down the block had a VCR. Read More

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