An idea for Apple

I’ve been a user of Macintosh computers almost since they began, that is, since the mid ’80’s. All along, I have been dismayed by their ability to remind me how old I am, and how far into old fogeyhood I have penetrated. For about twenty-five years now, a whole generation, I have been consistently outpaced and outmaneuvered by callow descendants and other youths who keep up with the giddy pace of change because they were born to it. They just do naturally what I have to work my butt off to do. When I get stuck, all too often they come, and with a flick of the wrist, bingo, the problem is solved.

It isn’t fair. In the natural order of things I should be the central repository of wisdom in the extended family. It is I, who have lived through so many more crises and changes than they have, who ought to be charting courses. But with computers certainly, and too many other features of modern life, it doesn’t work that way.

Every time Mac in its wisdom decides on another system upgrade it leaves things behind, like a major tectonic event leaves behind all sorts of flora and fauna that had adapted to the old regime. The kids haven’t much of anything to lose because either they weren’t there or they were to young to have contributed much. But I, in the fullness of my slightly mildewed maturity, have been spreading seeds of wisdom all over the place, in the form of documents that are enshrined in applications that the new computers no longer recognize. It’s fine when you ask them to read something written in their own language. But when it is written in MacWrite or WriteNow or some other equivalent of Chaucerian English (from their point of view) you hit a dead stop. Your new Mac tells you rather snottily that the subject at hand is “not recognized”. In effect, your latest pride and joy is telling you to forget about all this ancient history, let’s get on with what is hip and cool, and what do you think of the latest i-Gizmo? In other words, your computer is sending you the same message as your grandchildren, and in either case I find that message frustrating, infuriating, and deeply dispiriting. Why did I knock myself out during my first half century, doing my bit to build a braver and newer world, just in order to have to put up with this sort of crap?

Enough preface, let’s get to the point. I’m all for upgrades, Mac has led the charge and without them we’d be far behind our present situation. But, HOW ABOUT SOME DOWNGRADES??? Let’s say, we have OS X Tiger, let’s also introduce a new concept, the revolutionary downgrade “Kittycat”that will let us history buffs and other archivist access all the old programs the Apple people led us down the garden path into using when we were all a lot younger?? Apple caters to all sorts of minorities these days, including People who speak only Finnish, and people who make their living retouching other people’s photographs, what about we old retirees who have nothing much to offer but insights into history?

I know, we already have little fungi that nest in modern systems that permit you to translate a document from an archaic format into a more modern one. I also have “MacLinkPlus Deluxe” which does the same sort of thing more elegantly. But it’s still a hassle getting what you want out of old documents, as I find repeatedly as I try to access my older material. And when I get beyond the printed word, say in music notation, I still find unbridgeable gaps. I really do want a machine that works for me rather than the other way around. If as they say the people at Apple have the same objective, why don’t they just come up with a super application that just looks at an old document, any old document encoded according to some older and abandoned computer language, and asks me which of the newer formats I want it to be in, and then creates the new document?

We could get halfway there with an application that has translation software built in for virtually all abandoned programs used in the past to create digitized documents. The same or a similar program could be made to include photos, film, and music. This would be little more than pulling together existing code.

A more ambitious project would involve borrowing code from sources that might be a bit sensitive, like applications for code-breaking. A computer with that kind of capability ought to be able to look at a document in a completely unknown format and figure out how to translate it. If a few phrases were already translated the problem could be made very much easier; it would be like giving the computer the equivalent of the Rosetta stone.

Such a program could exist in a few more years and would be a welcome addition to the extraordinary bag of tricks Apple already builds into its laptop computers. Along with improved voice recognition and a few related features, this kind of capability could enable a future generation of i-Pads to maintain Apple’s momentum and mystique right up to the outer fringes of human imagination. And it would reassure us that the young frontiersmen breaking the sound barriers recognize their debt to the folks back in the interior who still are plodding along trying to understand and record the past, the better to provide them a sense of where they are coming from.

CSCoon 2/16/2010

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