Friday, November 30, 2012

Public Enemy Number 1

Wednesday is known as "hump day", but for me, Thursday is the really kicker. Yesterday was no exception. I lay the blame squarely on a man named Herman Hollerith.

What? You've never heard of Herman Hollerith?

Here's what Wikipedia says about my nemesis:

Herman Hollerith was an American statistician who developed a mechanical tabulator based on punched cards to rapidly tabulate statistics from millions of pieces of data. He was the founder of one of the companies that later merged and became IBM.

Herman's name came up in our house just a few months back. Tim is taking Computer Skills, a class, interestingly and ironically, that I taught many, many moons ago. Tim had a test on the development of computers. He was studying off scrawled, hand-written notes.

"Who developed the punched cards," I quizzed him.

"Harmon Hollerith," he replied.

"You know, Tim," I told him, reaching into the distant recesses of my memory. "I think the guy's name was Herman."

"It's Harmon."

"I thinks it's Herman. You know, I used to teach this class."

"Mom, that was, like, twenty years ago."

"Tim, you know, the guy who invented punched cards hasn't changed much in twenty years."

We consulted a friend's notes. Herman it was.

(I'm reminded of a quote attributed to Mark Twain: When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years. Hmmmm.)

Herman or Harmon, the guy invented the punched card which led to IBM which led to the microprocessor which led to a wide array of devices designed to save time, money, and paper.

I wanted to torch the whole lot of them yesterday.

I was preparing for my atrium session. I planned to meditate on the gifts of God and to celebrate the start of Advent. I went into Word to print a song sheet and an album page but then remembered that all my files had been temporarily lost when the hard drive on our last computer crashed. Dave managed to rescue the hard drive, if not the computer, and the files now reside on some external drive that this former computer teacher could not access despite prayer, persistence, a few choice words, and no end of frustration.

I gave up on the album page. I looked at the song sheet and thought of three options:

1. I could copy it on our printer --  This would prove to be a  S-L-O-W option and one that would probably require an entire ink cartridge.

2. I could run up the street and use the copier.

3. I could re-type the blasted thing.
I furiously re-typed it, not missing the ironic fact that the first line was "Light one candle for peace, one bright candle for peace."

I arrived home in the late afternoon, wiped out and trying to gear up for a busy evening of dishing up dinner, attending a prayer meeting, and helping Tim with his Romeo and Juliet essay. My twenty minute power nap was interrupted by the phone ringing. Ignore it, I told myself and continued to doze. Then the cell phone in my pocket began ringing.

Somehow, someway I am convinced Herman Hollerith is behind this as well.

It was Dave calling to ask me to fax a letter to his allergist's office. Is it just me or do other people feel their stomach clench at the thought of sending a fax? See, we fax about once every two years. Consequently, we don't know what in the world we're doing. I told Dave I'd give it a whirl, but all the while I was sure on three points:

1. We've moved the printer across the study. The telephone cord wasn't going to reach that far.

2. The chances of me putting my hands on a longer cord were slim to none.

3. Even if numbers one and two proved false, something else was sure to go wrong.

Gosh, I hate being right all the time. I told Dave it would have been faster if I had jumped in the car and driven the letter over to the doctor's office.

And who do you think is to blame for this minor debacle?


I have a delightful collection of letters and columns written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Laura has an essay in which she muses about what happened to all the time they hoped to enjoy when the automobile replaced the horse and buggy.

I wonder if Herman ever tinkered with cars.


Kate said...

It's hard to believe you actually taught computers, Kel!

Anonymous said...

This post made me laugh - mostly the reference to how much time car use would create! Michty me... I think computers are fabulous when they work and when you can use them only for your own (one's own) high-minded purposes such as blogging or buying GOOD secondhand books online. At other times, they plunge me into despair.

I'd love to know the title of your Laura Ingalls Wilder book. I was trying to find just such a book not long ago, but didn't manage to.

Also - what is "hump day"?

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