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September 2, 2010

High Tech & Greenies

Norman M. Covert

All this hoo-doo about green this and green that has become ridiculous to the point that it recalls the myth that massive investment in computer technology will significantly reduce the use of paper and ‘save the trees.”


Reality is a tough thing for “Greenies” to chew considering they, too, are going through the trees with abandon, purveying anti-waste-to-energy facility flyers at my doorstep.


Just as we will always have the need for personal papers (at least two-ply), we will continue to have the need for the document’s paper copy – technology be damned.


This also means we’ll still want and need newsprint – I love it. So will the newspaper publishers, who survive the current spate of faux journalism in their daily deliveries.


All this “green” talk brings to mind what to do about official records, legally required archives, or even historical records which may need to be accessed by club members, historians and others simply interested in reading such records of our lives and activities.


I am convinced that technology is wonderful and convenient, but it can never replace the stability of the original printed record. What to do in the preservation of records required by the Internal Revenue Service, for instance, or the church’s marriage and death records. Digital format is a constantly changing repository.


What a find it was some 20 years ago when I went into the Isle of Wight County (Va.) Court House in search of genealogical information. A statewide effort to preserve priceless documents dating to the founding of the Virginia Colony required an initial huge outlay of funds.


The result is original documents treated to prevent further deterioration and laminated for stability, allowing researchers to read original documents, not copies. My family history volume is printed on acid-free paper, the new industry standard.


Many recording secretaries produce their minutes and other documents on one or more versions of the word processing programs. Not me. I write them on Pagemaker™ which allows me to produce them on letterhead and store them in a folder on the hard drive. What a convenience not having to dig into the hard copy files – which really haven’t been maintained with any diligence.


Over the years I have meticulously backed up these digital files. First there were floppy disks and expensive backup systems about the size of a new central processing unit (CPU). A variety of durable floppies up to 1.5MB were used and more generations of diskettes. As each came into being, records were transferred to the new technology.


Now it’s the “thumb drive” and companies that can back up your entire computer remotely. What to do?


Thank goodness for the Army techno-mathematicians at Aberdeen Proving Ground who developed ENIAC in 1949 from their initial electronic calculator which was meant to track artillery rounds.


Closer to home, we transcended the Radio Shack TRS-80, with its two floppy disk system, to the “massive” 20-megabyte hard drive of the Zenith, IBM, Packard-Bell and other name computer makers at the outset of the mid-1980s personal computer boom. ENIAC is now dwarfed by my outdated-but-improved 2004 model Gateway with its 4GB of ram and 80GB of hard drive space.


In 1980 Fort Detrick Information Management guru Charlie Crum sought a director willing to introduce his staff to the modern computer. Charlie had seen the future quicker than many government managers and eventually became the operator of the National Cancer Institutes amazing Cray super computer, it is so fast that when I put its specs here you missed it.


Charlie said linking up operations with the huge central computer would become that first step toward speeding administrative operations and making them more cost efficient, not to mention the possibilities for information products like the post newspaper and other information handouts.


My public affairs office threw its hat in the ring and Charlie’s IT team lugged in a huge teletype-like CRT display terminal. It had an appendage called a cradle in which the user was required to insert the telephone receiver after dialing the number for the main frame.


It took some learning for those used to the IBM Selectric™ typewriters or even those of us who first plied our craft with an L. C. Smith, or Remington typewriter. The CRT terminal rocked side to side especially in print mode, a result that frightened an older temp employee in the office. She refused to use it unless I was there.


By 1983, most offices of U. S. Army Garrison were equipped with the Zenith Z-100, which was replaced with newer more efficient models within three years. It was an MS-DOS system which served well into the 90s with the introduction of the Windows™ Operating System. It competed with the new Macintosh, a totally different operating system which became the standard for desktop publishing. Their new compatibility is the latest wonder.


So, with all that background on the wonders of technology, how easy it is to write and store all your documents on the computer with backup storage units.


I’ve lost track of all the CDs and DVDs I have bearing photographs, music and loads and loads of data. I’m not a great labeler, but it is a challenge to list everything on these 4.7GB and more units. Thus, my searches can take hours.


Suffice it to say, archivists, historians and others, who understand the importance of information and information retrieval, agree there is no better way than an original on acid free paper, stored in a fireproof cabinet or safe. No one else among my community group colleagues seems to have Pagemaker™ on his computer. Another uses Word Perfect™ still, not Microsoft Word™.


Tsk, tsk. The challenge of incompatibility. It recalls the continuing feud among Apple/Mac users and the MS-DOS/Windows/XP and even the proponents of the operating system UNIX (My son tried it and gave up).


So we must begin to plant more trees and understand they are a renewable resource. Only old Boy Scouts understand the difference between the environmentalists and conservationists. One is political; the other is practical and a savior for the planet.


Pardon me while I start printing all these minutes from the past decade and find a place to store all those cardboard file boxes that doesn’t include my office, basement or garage.


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