A Pilot's Perspective.

     By Barry Meek. 

January 2014     

  Never Stop Learning

      I'm writing this article on a computer that is so old, it won't connect to the internet any longer.  But, at least I can still work "off-line" with it.  It is a laptop running Windows 98, which I decommissioned in about 2008.  There was no other reason apart from "old technology" that caused me to put it away.  It would still do everything I needed it to do, but Microsoft Corporation had other ideas.  They pushed me along, as if I were just another piece of trash in front of a broom, while they advanced their technology.  Windows 98 was a dinosaur already to any computer tech, and Microsoft was not supporting it any longer.  So, reluctantly I moved along to Windows XP, which in hindsight, was a step I could have skipped.  My computer knowledge at the time was very, very limited.  But the world is changing, and we all needed to at least be familiar, if not comfortable with using computers.  They were necessary for our work, and eventually became central to our private lives to a great degree.  

       At some point, my knowledge level became just 'very' limited (from very, very limited).  There was a big increase in my confidence level when clicking around the device and while surfing the internet.  In fact, there was a short period of time when the bond between man and machine (in my case) became quite amiable.  That all changed last week when my computer "crashed".   It may not be dead, and 'crashed' might be the wrong term to someone more computer literate.  But the fact is, after five years with Windows XP (I managed to skip Windows Vista & SEVEN), there came a point when I had nothing.  The machine won't turn on any more.  

       Thus, I'm back to square one.  It's very humbling opening my newest computer to see something so foreign, so different, so intimidating that I'm reminded of the early days of that old one and Windows 98.  Now I'm facing Windows 8.   Microsoft, for whatever reason, has decided that what we've finally become comfortable enough to live with, even accept, is not right for us.  New computers are now loaded with Windows 8.  There is no choice in the matter. They call it "advanced" technology, and it may be.  But the way we interact with computers is, I suggest, not outdated.  It doesn't need advancement.  We're all forced to go back to school on this, and at this stage, I simply don't want to go back to learning to operate a computer all over again.  

         All pilots learned the basics of flying at some point in their lives.  Back in the early days it was all about stick & rudder skills.  Pull back, you went up.  Push forward, you went down.  A little more power, you could go faster ... and so on.  As time passed, and as computers got more powerful, so too did airplanes.  They're nothing like they were in the early days of aviation, but the basics are still intact.  Other than using an auto pilot, there is nothing much different controlling an aircraft made in 2012 than there was in 1920.  Every time something new comes out in airplanes, we don't have to learn all the basic skills again to operate it.  The same can be said for the much more advanced cars we have today.  Yet we don't have to learn to drive all over.

      It is not inconceivable to think that someone has figured out another, possibly more efficient way to operate an aircraft.  But for some reason, that has never been the goal of airplane manufacturers as advancements are made.  Better radios, more powerful and reliable engines, systems like FADEC and EFIS, efficient drag reduction technology and so on .... these are all positive steps that have evolved without the need to change the way we actually pilot the airplane.  

      I have a daughter who has a college education in computer science.  When she was younger, she showed great potential in flying an airplane.   It crossed my mind that someday she would be in the left seat with a big airline like Air Canada.  Maybe it's fortunate for me, given the cost of that ride, that she never showed a keen interest in flying.  Putting her through computer college cost me a small fraction of the flying career.  Now it's about to pay off in another way too.  I will commission her to do the magic of a computer geek and harness the power of this new Windows so that an old pilot can operate it.  Apparently there are ways to outsmart Microsoft.  I'm told there are "utilities" or "software" that can be downloaded which allow users who learned computers just a few years ago, to operate them as they were taught back then.  By this time next month, I might finally be using my newest computer, and this old boat anchor will be back on the shelf, at least for a few more years.  

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