Sunday, November 21, 2010

Snow, Muses of an Old Techie, & Searching for Rita Buchanan

“O the weather outside is frightful…”

Not really, but the volume of snow that fell on Thursday night had me humming that old chestnut under my breath driving home from the curling rink. And the roads in Vernon are truly frightful, with their layer of ice under the dry snow. Co-worker Barb likened it to trying to walk in wool socks on a highly polished linoleum floor that someone has dusted with flour. That brought back a memory of my mom in just such a situation … but that’s a story for another time.

There are several cm of snow on the ground now, but the sun is valiantly trying to come out from behind the clouds of the past two or three days.

I was cruising through Facebook one night this past week. I’m not a big Facebook fan but it does keep me in touch with a lot of people I otherwise never hear from, like my cousins. Reading through their wall posts is something like rubbering in on a party line.

Remember party lines, my children? We still had a telephone party line at the homestead up north until … hmm, when did we get private lines, Fay? Probably 1990, 1991. Oh the memories of listening to Dave Taylor’s chickens clucking over the line when he’d answer the phone out in his layer barn, move into the house to complete the call, then forget to hang up the phone in the barn.

Listening in – rubbering - was a favorite pastime for many farm people of idle intent to listen in on their neighbours’ telephone conversations. When there were up to seven phones on a party line, there was ample fodder for gossip.

To return to the point, I was reading cousin Carrie’s Facebook page, looking at photos of her daughter’s recent wedding (nice pics, Eugene!). Scrolling down the page I saw an entry made by Kelvin, the youngest cousin in the pack, who wrote “I’m surprised to see my older cousins have such advanced computer technical skills” or something like that. What? Because they can post something on Facebook?!

I’m sure (I truly hope) it was a mouthy line made in jest.

I truly hope.

Because sonny boy, I was already computer literate before you were toilet trained.

Let me tell you about mainframe computers and modems that were units you placed the telephone handset into after you’d dialed the mainframe telephone number. About writing programs in BASIC because there weren’t prepackaged programs. About Dynabyte 64 computers with A & B drives, A for the program and B for the data because those early desktop models didn’t have internal hard drives. About 5 ¼” floppy disks and our delight when the compact 3 ½” were introduced. Remember formatting disks? Oh, and the joy of ZIP disks!

Don’t get me started on dot matrix printers, so noisy that they were often placed in a separate, insulated room. In fact the computers themselves were in separate, controlled rooms to protect them from contamination in the main office areas. Those were the days when people were still allowed to smoke at their desks. Woe betide the non-smoker working beside a chain smoker with only a cubicle partition to offer protection. Owen Prince, wherever you are, you owe me a quarter of a lung!

I was the default IT person ( apparently an intensive three day course in Edmonton, during which I had to share a computer with the Grande Prairie district engineer, qualified me as the lead technician) who introduced the first desktop computer to the Alberta Transportation office in High Prairie in 1984. I had to load everything into what was an empty IBM – the operating program, the working programs, everything. And then I had to train the other staff, kicking and screaming, on how to use it because I was pregnant and leaving employment there in the next six months. They were terrified of the computer and wouldn’t come near it until only a few weeks before I left. I took their tri-weekly tech support calls at home for three months after our son was born before I told them that beginning now, my consultant fee was $200 a call. I didn’t hear anything again until almost six months later when a panicky Monica called to ask how to retrieve information following a computer crash.

“Load the stuff from your backup disks.”

Long, long pause.

“You have been making backup disks, haven’t you?”

They had not.

I imagine it took them a long time to re-enter about six month’s worth of data.

I’ve gone from DOS to Windows, from dot matrix to laser printers, from dial-up to high speed DSL. I’ve crashed hard drives, upgraded from 8MG to 80GB of RAM, and learned to be quite fearless throughout it all.

For the past 15 years I’ve made a living as a graphic designer using cutting-edge computer graphic and design software. Now I also design and layout books, not only locally but overseas. I worked on a daily basis with people in other locations whom I’ve never met face-to-face.

The only frontiers I haven’t entered are video and web design, primarily because I have absolutely no interest in them. In fact, I’ve been leaning retro these days and showing an unhealthy interest in woodblock and lead type. There’s a fellow in Vernon who is rebuilding lead type presses and producing chap books. I’m hearing the siren song.

Funny how these things are. I live in a cyber world at work and to some degree at home, yet my primary recreational pursuits include spinning and weaving and sewing, some of the oldest arts in history. (There’s a fabulous book I bought years ago called “Women’s Work: the First 20,000 years” that explores fibre arts.) There was a time back on the homestead when I was trying to download a program on dial-up and passed the hour (or more) by spinning so as to keep one eye on the computer (in case the connection failed and I had to retry….again). Computer to one side, spinning wheel and wool to hand on the other. The dichotomy of my life.

What was the name of the woman from Pennsylvania who used to teach workshops on using computers to design quilt patterns? I took a course from her at the Alberta Handspinners, Dyers and Weavers conference in Fairview 20 years ago. She also brought a fascinating slide presentation about her search for indigo block printers in Eastern Europe. Margaret something… some of you out there know the name I’m digging for, have probably met her. I thought of her when in Erfurt, Germany standing in front of the Indigo Guild’s house in the old city.

And can anyone tell me what the spinning diva Rita Buchanan is up to? I had the great privilege of taking a two day master class in spinning from her at that same Fairview conference. What an experience. And I’d love to get my hands on a copy of her one-off metal drop spindle.

Ah, apparently we're off to do some shopping. The Head Chef has been perusing the Fabricland flyer that arrived this week and found a fabric that I simply must make up into a shirt for him. Why not? I need a new project.

Tally ho!

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