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Monday, January 31, 2011

Dad Explains


Dad explained his mechanical abilities: "I am limited by what I can see, touch and feel."

What is unseen, or hidden does not fascinate him.  The astronomical, the microscopic, or the logical computations of an electronic computer, its polymorphic languages, mind constructions, which are neither tractable, nor traceable by eye or hand, nor are ergonomic in design, have no appeal to him.

He is visual, and tactile, completely.

Technology, and science, relate to man's sensual experience, by extending it. Instruments extend the gaze of scientists into realms larger and smaller where human senses cannot follow.

The mechanical pencil sharpener, the airplane, the movie camera, these are mechanisms we can watch and understand, and interpret the meaning solely with our eyes, ears, and sense of touch.

My eyes follow Andy going aloft in Byrd's airplane on the fire watch, north to Potsdam. I do not go, though there is a seat offered. For some reason I refuse it, now partly I regret it, though I do not know why. Byrd taxis the airplane halfway down the lake, turns and takes off. He is a hundred feet in the air as he passes over our heads. The wing dips, we wave and make motions from the ground which we we'll talk about later, when they come down. To reach them now would be difficult. A radio would be needed. They are in a different time, now, for this hour and a half, their world is a different world.

Long talks with Andy about computers, programming, the inner world of the integrated circuit, command languages and massive data storage solutions. Long conversations about processes that take minuscule bits of time to be completed. The inner world of the computer is a man-made world, whose time is different from our own. The micro and nano seconds are children of our minds but those children goes where we cannot. They must return to us something unusable in our time, which is slower.

Now it is quiet. I have used the airplane to gain peace for myself. Andy and I cannot resume our talks until it returns.

The battery driven electric clock ticks on the wall by the breadbox.

I hear white throated sparrows chirping in the tamaracks at the front of the camp.

I hear swallows twittering as they dive for insects.

I heard the wind whooshing in the grass and branches of the trees.

I hear my own typewriter keys, each with its own sound that comes from my fingers, and my thumb beating the spacer bar down between every word. I hear the bell ding at the end of every line.

I hear floorboards creak, and the stove tick as it cools off, having just heated up my water for tea.

I heard the wind beating the side of the camp, a soft mattress thrown against the walls.

I saw the sun come from behind clouds and restore the lake to a brilliant blue and the lawn grass a bright yellow green, and put the shadows beside ever tree on Baldy Mountain.

I see it go behind clouds again, an all is restored to slate grey.

This is blackfly season. Though I would like to I cannot go outside to the porch swing for a nap, I would wake up badly bitten. The insects are the reigning force at this time of year - they are in command - because of them we do not venture outdoors for long.

Dad comes into the kitchen. "Don't move that lamp," he says, pointing at the brass oil lamp that sits in a stand by the kitchen sink window. "I love it," he continues, "But I fear that the oil lamps are doomed."

He is right. Now there are battery driven fluorescent lanterns. An integrated circuit inverts the direct current of the battery and produces a low current high voltage AC. "Ginny has one, it puts out so much light, it's great for guests."

I have entered a period of not recognizing my own work. I do not know if this is good. I'll be honest and say I am somewhat frightened by it.

A tiny insect screams in my ear. I waved it into the air in front of me. How it resembles that airplane when it went above our head, and disappeared from view! A distant speck, an outline of a miniature symbol, that holds distant for us, a world to which we are denied direct access. Alas, we are not, nor cannot become insects. We can peruse them beneath microscope objectives, imagine their genetic codes with the help of computer analyzers, we can even inject into their bloodstream organic molecules that will affect an entire generation, bringing death, or a promise of new life. Yet we are not them.

The piano in the living room has finally gone out of tune. I no longer take pleasure in playing it. Yet why should there be only one tune or adjustment to a piano? Does that not reflect more on my own mind, and my understanding of music? Don't I insist to myself that music should sound a certain way, and when the instrument is totally incapable of sounding that way, no matter how well I play it, I give up? This piano is unplayable, I say, until it is retuned.

Is not this my opportunity to invent a new type of music?

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