Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Blogging in Paradise

It is 104 degrees, the wind is blowing at a soft 5 miles an hour from the northeast and I am sitting in the shade atop a 65 foot house boat along with the favorite beverage of Jimmy Buffet. A 12-year old young man just walked by with a digital camera in hand saying, “This should be good, my mom is going to ride the 550 Jet Ski.” The kids with us do not realize we adults were once young too. 300 yards out, “Mom” stood up and rode across the lake. Much to his surprise, he said, “She did better than I did.”

You may ask yourself, why is a person sitting at Lake Powell writing a blog? Easy, I have time and I have discovered I enjoy writing. Over the next several days, I will hide out atop this boat and blog or write articles to post on my blog when I return home.

As you know, I try to keep my blog focused to Education Technology and I will try to stay true to form over the next few days. However, I am reserving the right to stray a bit right now.

One of the first things that struck me before we even left town was the amount of technology we needed just to take this trip and it made me wonder how we did it in the past. This post will focus on technology used on this trip and maybe at some point I will be able to pull all of this together and again focus on Education Technology.

As we left town the first tool we needed to communicate was a cell phone or should I say phones. A common tool to most people today, we actually used this device to communicate the location of the five families. In years past, the only way to communicate was the use of the “wired” telephone and this only worked while you were at home. Once on the road, it was the Citizen Band (CB) radio that allowed us to communicate and those were only good for 5 miles or so. While none of these tools turned out to be perfect, it sure beat sending up smoke signals.

Once on the road, I found myself making the statement I have heard from my father so many times in the past. “Don’t give me a reason to pull this car over” Ironically, each child had their own portable DVD player sitting in their lap while mom and dad drove shuffling songs on the video IPod.

In years past, we would have never left home without a suitcase full of cassette tapes and recent years a notebook full of CD’s. Shh, do not tell anyone but we still have a notebook of CD’s on the boat. Some people are just not early adopters.

Then there is the case of the portable DVD players. What parent in their right mind would buy DVD players for each kid. Ones who take long car rides is who!

Six hours later, 15 phone calls, three movies a the trip to the infamous Mc Donald’s in Flagstaff and KFC in Page, we were just waiting for the sun to come up before we set out on our waterbound adventure.

The houseboat, while 15-years old has all the modern convenience one would expect. It has a ship to shore radio, two refrigerators, a deep freeze, AM FM radio, CD player, TV with VCR and DVD player, generator, hot water, gas pump, shower, two sea going toilets and Air Conditioning. Where we are currently anchored, we even have cell service. Rugged, we are not!

Even with all the comforts of home, we still found something to complain about. As we compared house boating with motor homing, we noticed that the black water holding tank didn’t have a level meter. (For those of you who do not know what “Black Water” is, I will try to describe it as gently as possible. When you wash your hands or take a shower, you produce gray water. When you do that other thing people do in a bathroom, you create black water.) Because of this inconvenience, you have a choice, use the bathroom until it is full and you find out the hard way or take it to the pump station. We chose not to wait.

Now most people do not associate technology with anything other than computers or electronics. However, if you look around a bit, you will find technology everywhere. Even at a black water pumping station 34 miles up the lake. On this lonely floating sewer, you will find two impressive technologies. The first of course is the pump itself. I will not go into details, just understand it removes black water from the houseboat. Are pumps new technology? Not at all, they have been around for years. Never the less, old technology or new technology, it was still an advancement for its day. However, in 2007 we complained that we had to pump the lever manually. The other technology on this floating island was the fact it had lights. Mounted on the roof you will find several solar panels, that charge the batteries to power the lights, which allow you to find this island in the dark. With all of this technology, why then am I hand pumping sewage? Okay, I will stop complaining, I am at the lake.

24 hours later; I am again atop this houseboat and I am watching another old school piece of technology jet across the water operated by a child who is younger than the ski she is riding. For those not familiar with personal watercraft they have changed quite a bit the past 30 years. The old school stand up ski this young woman is riding is of 1985 vintage, the fact that it is running is a testament to its quality. Sitting on shore at the moment are three new school sit down skis which are less than two years old. What is technical about either of these types of machines? Don’t ask that question to a mechanical engineer!

While it is true, these two machines run on a water-jet technology and they have similar running characteristics, they also differ quite a bit. The old ski, has a throttle, choke and a start and stop button. If you want to see how much fuel you have left, you have to remove the hood and look at it visually. The new school skies have tachometers, fuel gauge, miles per hour and a heat sensor. I found that out the hard way. The new skis also run over 50 miles per hour. A speed we only dreamt about back in 85. By the way, 50 miles per hour on water is similar to 100 on a motorcycle. I will not go into that story, after all, this post is about the lake.

It is now two days from the last time I typed words on this keyboard. It is also the last day of the trip, the sun is setting and I am trying hard to get words down before the sun sets. Not that I don’t have lights on this boat, I just want to go fish.

In the past two days I have been most thankful for yet another piece of old school technology and new school as well. First off, I am most thankful for the generator aboard this boat. It is old and tired but it does run and it kept the deep freeze cold along with several of our meals. It also ran the blender for which I will not go into the reason I am happy. The other piece of technology I am grateful for was the portable DVD players. (Note that was plural.) These little machines sent down from heaven kept our little ones (seven of them under 8) busy for a few hours each day. Okay, truth be told it was 20 minutes here, 20 minutes there.

The final item of technology I am grateful to have with us was the marine two way radios which allowed us to tell the marina we had a motor which no longer ran. It also allowed us to communicate between two of the boats as we looked for a place to camp on our last night here.

The sun has now fallen on our last day of vacation and I hope I have given you a chance to see just how much technology is used in our daily lives and what we often take for granted.

As I make an attempt to tie this back to Education Technology, I think the best message for anyone to read here is this.

Technology is all around us and it has been around in many forms for many years. We as educators need to look beyond the computer, Smartboard, digital cameras or the latest flavor of “Cool” software on the market. We also need to take the time to point out tools that were once cutting edge and are now common. By looking at our past, we have a better understanding of our future and certainly a better appreciation for the present.

Thank you, and good night.

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