Off North Road

Latecomer to the electronic age

By Russell Hoxsie - November 15, 2007

As a child of ten or twelve while visiting my grandparents, I watched my first airplane glide and soar over Ware River at eyelevel on Gramp's porch high on the riverbank. The pilot, a homegrown kid in 1930s Gilbertville (Mass.) and air Corps Reservist, thrilled the towns folk, particularly his parents down the road and us on Gramp's porch. We wanted to wave flags and shout hurray but he always passed the house too fast. Then he dipped his wings and we knew he'd seen us.

This experience became one of the looked-for thrills of summer vacation, but, along with the air display we loved Gramp's old Reo, shined to the nines and always ready for a drive out of town into the orchard country or around the old Gilbert Woolen Mill, closed in the great depression, leaving Gramp out of work and on WPA. His car featured one of the first automatic starters, which relieved the owner of painful and exhausting work of cranking the ignition upfront by hand. Occasionally the thing backfired and broke a man's wrist.

Despite age, both the Reo and Gramp stuck to the road in their stolid majesty. We waved at allpassers-by. With all these thrills, none of us could have imagined that future skies would be full of behemoth jet planes or roadscrowded to stand still on holidays with automobiles, buses, and trucks of all descriptions, airconditioning, motor-driven windows, seats and elevated lifts to hoistwheel chairs to a roof ramp for disabled drivers.

Last week I went to the grocery to carry bundles for supper and the weekend. The day was wet and I sat in the car remembering how the first President Bush puzzled over electronic markings on individual packages which recorded instantly price, code number, size, andother features of theinvoice within a nano-second. Then Mary Ann appeared at the checkout. I left my wool-spinning to help with her bundles and hopped out of the car, placing the car keys carefully on her seat so she'd have no trouble seeing them.

Oops! I should have known when I closed my door that I had sealed our fate. The keys were locked inside. With a sinking feeling, I felt the humiliation of pulling a dumb trick in front of all the good shoppers coming through checkout whose keys were safely in pocket or secure in a zipped purse. Biting my lip, I asked the store manager to call the police station for someone to help us out. I had vowed many times to delete the automatic locking feature, which operates whenever the car starts up and moves on. The screaming safety belt alarm followed us half-through the parkinglot until Mary Ann fastened her belt and I fastened mine for good luck. The irritation of the alarm was nothing compared to the smiles of several friends who hadstopped by our stalled car to say they had done the same thing several times. Well, that was no excuse, I thought.

Not everything inventive and new but inscrutable to us happens in the automobile. For one, the automatic ice maker in the fridge is at once a marvel and mystery. The peculiar rushing noise of water filling the ice unit is disconcerting for a short while and ice cubes tumble and click without touch of human hands. A challenge to the man of the house is the inability always to maintain uniformity of temperature with a forced hot-air furnace, whatever the outside temperature and winds are doing. In our old house, one maneuver of a thermostat would start the furnace blowing hot air to the registers and the opposite motion would stop theblower and allow the heat to dissipate. Of course we had peaks of heat when we removed sweaters and depths of cold when we retreated with goose flesh to extra blankets and awaited the variable times for husband and wife to arrive at a degree of comfort.

Our new thermostat sports a more defined and delicate system. The operator must assess the large number on top, which reads the current room temperature and then decide what direction to change course, hot or cold. Push the up-button for more heat and stop at the reading you desire. The number on the face switches quickly back to current air temperature, which makes you think nothing has happened. Of course, the air temperature will take two or three hours to assume the temperature you desire. Be patient, folks, or your frequent poking the arrows up or down may confuse the whole system and you'll live in an alternating state of too hot and too cold.

An almost perfect innovation is the motion-sensitive light switch applicable especially in outside spaces at driveways and doorsteps. Only two or three tiny red LED bulbs glow under the lamp fixture near the eaves of the roof, but the moment motion from a passing person or animal occurs within the light zone, bright lights flash onto the spaces previously dark and gloomy. This device may or may not be welcome in northern New Hampshire where my sister lives. A black bear is her frequent visitor, which approaches close enough to the house to peer into the bay window. He probably does not realize he could take out the whole sash with a mighty lunge of one great paw. His footprints have been found in the morning on the window. Sister still loves to watch him. I am amazed at how much we love to associate with wildlife.

Nearly all of the appliances or machines noted in this piece utilize "LEDs" (light emitting diodes) and I was preparing to use these tiny marvels as focus for this article but after a few ventures out into cyberspace surfing for moreinformation, I need to return to graduate school, or perhaps high school, to refresh my thin knowledge of physics. So, please breathe a sigh of relief that I will save you from that exercise for the present. It is enough to say at your next dinner party when someone asks what LED stands for, just tell her simply "light emitting diode." Then you can begin your own research. And call me!