For the Birds Radio Program: New Computer

Original Air Date: Jan. 2, 1995

When Laura goes high tech, she brings Bullwinkle along. 4:13 (Date confirmed)

Audio missing


Al Gore may believe America has entered into a Brave New World of high technology in this Information Age, but I’ve always pretty much plodded along the bicycle lane of life. That is, I did until this Christmas, when our family joined the mainstream American trend and bought a fancy multimedia computer. My old computer was—and I am not making this up—a Whole Earth computer. We bought it from the Whole Earth Catalog in 1988, and although it was a simple and slow little thing, it did everything I wanted it to do. I was pretty sure I’d hate a new computer, and thought that writing about the simple pleasures of birds wouldn’t work on a fancy machine, but I’ve changed my mind.

It turns out that my new computer is just as easy to write on–probably easier–plus it can do lots of nifty things that my old computer couldn’t even imagine. For example, back in the old days, whenever I was lost in thought trying to figure out how to write something, the curser would sit there blinking on and off until I came up with a solution. This got irritating after a while. The hole time I was working on a clever line about chickadees, that stupid cursor would be doing the equivalent of tapping its fingers like an impatient person waiting for me to hurry up. But no more. Now if I get stumped for longer than two inutes, a special program called a screensaver jumps to the rescue, and suddenly bright pictures of Rocky and Bullwinkle light up the screen. And thanks to the wonders of multimedia, I can even hear their clever dialog as I must about Blue Jays. Every now and then as I type along, at random intervals, a bugle sounds and Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties rides across the screen. This is exactly the image I want to see when I’m working on a script about Gray Jays, once known as Canada Jays and still nicknamed the Whiskey Jack, a name I’m sure Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties would not approve of.

If I want to get sidetracked for a while, I can plug in a CD encyclopedia called Encarta ‘95 and look up different birds. This is supposed to be a fantastic advance of the information age, but frankly, I find a lot more information, and more accurate information, in my good old books and journals. Some of the bird entires in Encarta do come with recorded songs, but the editors’ choices seem rather peculiar to me. For example, there’s the call of an Osprey but not a Bald Eagle. When I want to find an entry for “chickadee,” it sends me to “titmouse.” This article makes a few references to our good old Black-capped Chickadee, but the only illustration and recording are for the Great Tit, a European bird that looks like a tiny Blue Jay. Frankly, chickadee calls sound a whole lot better.

The word “multimedia” conjures up images of moving pictures of birds. After all, these are among the most animated of all creatures, but the only illustrations I’ve found on Encarta are flat and uninspired. They didn’t even use photos for some of the birds. The picture of a cardinal is a simple drawing like one would find in a very old elementary school book.

There’s a lot of software packages designed specifically for birdwatchers–different programs for maintaining bird lists, and even some new ones to help with bird identification, with photos, moving film, and calls provided. Now that we have the kind of computer that can actually understand that kind of software, I’ll eventually have to check it out, but for now, I’ll stick with my good old field guide and faithful old recordings. After all, even the most high-tech people of all never go out birding with a computer.