28 April 2007

Rant(s) of the week

Truly naïve I must truly be, because only in the past couple of days have I been introduced to a major chunk of pseudo-intellectual imbecilic jetsam that has been floating and jetting around for quite some time: the crackpot notion that the 1969 moon landing was a hoax, an elaborate ruse to intimidate the Soviets or boost American prestige. How utterly. . .stupid can people be? McCarthy was only a beginner.

Good grief. With every passing day, I fear that I am turning into one of those hard-core cranks who hates everything. The world doth weird me out--I feel increasingly estranged from everything. Another recent "Steckenpferd" (hobby-horse) is the disgusting whiteboard we're all forced to use when teaching or delivering presentations and briefings. Utterly repulsive; the pens, without fail, give me a headache. Lots of colors, big whup. What the hell was wrong with chalk? It was cheap and came 12 to a box or so. If you broke a piece, it could still be used for a while, and if you lost one, there was usually extra to spare. Whiteboard markers are much more expensive, all the more so because they end up getting lost. They run out pretty quickly, too. And don't forget how easy it is to use the wrong type of marker accidentally, thereby defacing the writing surface permanently. And note how the priggish types who have run out and installed whiteboards (namely, educators and other PC-types) are the same self-righteous clowns who claim to care for the environment. None of them has bothered to stand up and notice that whiteboards and markers use far more oil-based materials and smelly chemicals. A perfect example of how something supposedly "new and improved" is neither, principally because it is a fly-and-sledgehammer use of technology.

By that I mean the compulsion to make something unnecessarily more complicated, when so doing offers only marginal improvement or gains in productivity. There is nothing a chalkboard can't do that a whiteboard can; the latter's sole attraction remains its novelty, while at the same time it has numerous downsides, as enumerated. I confess, for a number of reasons I do harbor something of an anti-technology bias, but when novelty does offer some concrete benefits I can adapt, at least grudingly, and move on.

A good case in point is the computer's superseding the typewriter. I loved typewriters--their heavy metallic solidity, their quirky, irregular and unique typefaces, their margin releases replete with dinging bells, green keys (or, even better, the chrome-ringed ones), non-toxic ribbons. I loved the crinkly, durable onionskin writing paper, and later the IBM "golfball" (no more jamming! multiple fonts!). In eighth grade, I learned typing very well, using a Royal 440, a veritable tank of a machine, and thereafter my handwriting went from bad to worse, as I typed whenever possible. Nevertheless, I concede that computers are an improvement: besides the obvious advantages, the single most important one, in my view , is the quiet. Banging away on a typewriter could get quite strenuous, but the noise was the worst. Half an hour was about all I could take at any stretch, and the noise could also be a real cross for anyone living with a serious typist.

But whiteboard apologists can't make similar claims. While chalk dust might have caused some people difficulty (the extent of which has been grossly exaggerated), for most it was a simple, convenient tool. A significant percentage of people, on the other hand, suffer from bad reactions to dry ink pens--headaches from the chemicals being the main concern. I wonder how much cancerous stuff lurks within. And the clothing stains are no trifle, either; the old professor might have gotten chalk on his coat, but chalk, unlike dry ink, readily washes out. Has anyone actually compared the costs? Just another example of hypocrisy, as all the robots in our major institutions sanctimoniously prattle on about the environment but rush out to equip themselves with inferior and environmentally unsound junk, simply because some corporate shill found a way to peddle it as vital.

Makes me want to puke, literally and figuratively.