Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Saturday, June 13, 2020


Looking back...
Over the last few weeks I have been sorting stuff, re- purposing or throwing out stored material of various sorts. Over the years I have kept things that "I might find useful some day" but have reached the stage in life when I can fairly safely say, "Probably not now." On Friday morning I delved into a final area of the garage/workshop. When we moved into the house over 30 years ago there was in the garage a concrete block "box" area that was used for coal storage. We were not going to be storing coal, so I put some things in the box and an old door on top of it. It became a storage area in the workshop for boxes and other bits and pieces. Well I decided it was time to lift the door and look into what I had shoved in there over the years. I found some off cuts of carpet, some timber pulled out of rooms at some stage, an old clock, an old water heater and an old toilet cistern. I cleaned up the timber, de-nailing it or turning some into firewood. I tried to get the clock going (unsuccessfully), pulled bits I wanted off the water heater and deconstructed the toilet cistern. It was made of copper sheet and inserted into a wooden outer box. It had solid brass fittings that I am sure still worked fine. It was made in 1968 and I had pulled it out of the toilet and replaced it with a "nice looking" modern plastic one when we redecorated our bathroom. As an ex-plumber I looked at the parts of this old cistern appreciating the workmanship. The valves had a basic simple mechanism that worked well. The washers could be easily replaced. 52 years ago it was an extremely well made unit. These days modern ones wear out easily, seem to continue to have problems with the mechanism, and if they break down, you can't repair it, you just replace it.  Is it really "Progress"? This old one would go for another 50 years if I accepted having old fashioned plumbing fixtures in my bathroom. I decided, no it was not progress. It is marketing... this old copper cistern I have deconstructed, was a far better unit than modern systems!
I could not discard the copper tank of the cistern. I reckon I could re-use it somehow, for old time's sake.
I use computers obviously. I appreciate what a computer can do. But they are always changing. I am being told to update my applications all the time. Often there are no real improvements. Blogger is going to change soon and I looked at it, and thought, "But it is not better?" I am told to change my operating system. Skype is forever changing. Pretty soon programs I have are out of date and my old computer and the operating system cannot run them. Is it progress? I know firms that update their systems, throw well trodden paths and ways of working out the window, and staff have to cope with the "amazing" new change. Just a few years later more money goes down the drain again because newer systems are replacing the "old new system". (Which every body knew and was working fine?) Is it really progress?
I know a firm which when I was first involved with it, used basic old manual systems. They were intriguing to watch and the people operating them felt like craftsmen. They have gradually changed their systems. They became more and more computerised. An older long serving electrician employed there could not keep up, so was made redundant. The "craftsmen" learned to sit in front of a computer and their job was dictated by computer programs, and machines did much of what they used to do.  But was it really progress? The workers felt less like craftsmen. Others were frustrated.  I recall an engineer saying to me once, "I trained as an engineer, to work with tools, pipes and machines. Now before I can pick up a spanner I have to sit at a computer and sort out how I'm doing it, health and safety issues, and permits to work. Half my time is sitting in front of this 'f....g screen! In the time it takes me to do the computer work for this job, I could have finished the job!" Is it progress?
 A local worksite is in the news. The international firm had spent millions linking all their plants in Australia and New Zealand together with a fancy computer system. It was amazing, people in Australia could know what was happening in NZ. Distance was no barrier. The computer systems keep in touch with everything that is happening throughout the whole international firm.
But..... last week some hacker has apparently broken into the system somewhere and mucked up the whole production system in all their plants. They had to send workers home and there apparently is a mad rush happening as they work out the problem, and try to work out how to do their production  manually until they can sort their computer issues out. They will lose millions I suspect. Is it always progress?

Now I know I sound like some old fart from the dark ages, but I think more often than we do we ought to be asking, "Is it progress? Is it really progress?" When we were put in Lockdown many people struggled with getting food supplies. We, being old were not allowed to shop. Our daughter did grocery shopping for us. But it was not often needed. We have an extensive vege garden, we could feed ourselves for many weeks without groceries if need be. We have grown and chopped our own firewood. We did not really depend on modern prepackaged food. Old fashioned, yes, but when things go wrong, so so handy.

I just think what we call "Progress" needs to be questioned more often than we do.

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