Man versus Machine

Man versus Machine

Posted:- 2018 / 12

man versus machine


move over john Henry!




t was April of 1972 at the Naval Air Station in Lakehurst, New Jersey where I had been sent to become a weather guesser, that is a meteorologist, after the Navy discovered I had a biology class in high school and my previous six requests to go to Viet Nam were denied. Somebody didn't want me fighting commies.

One science was as good as another the Department of the Navy must have reasoned, so despite my three more times volunteering to be sent to the war zone to see what all the fuss was about over there, they sent me to the last place the U.S. government used hydrogen filled dirigibles. The place where the Hindenburg blew up killing about five dozen and injuring nearly everyone else, an incident that was filmed and reported live via radio just as WWII broke out. Happy memories.

I had been there less than a month when myself and another lucky eleven guys and gals, unbeknownst to ourselves, had been randomly selected to be the first amongst U.S. Navy personnel to, voluntarily under orders, participate in a Navy, experimental training program for increased proficiency in data processing and storage.

Formerly known as typing letters and filing shit out.

Like rats in a lab nothing had been explained to us, an administrative oversight I'm sure because the Navy always took great pains to explain to us in fine detail everything to be accomplished so that we would always be as prepared as possible for any conflict or situation we might encounter. Just like in WWI, WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan and ________________ (insert next conflict here).

So early one Monday morning we filed into the small office-come-classroom where all 12 desks were armed with what appeared to be props from the latest Star Trek episode.

As I sat for the first time in front of my very own huge, green faced monster, the size of a Motorola console television set, which I had earlier seen being uncrated and carried into the classroom by two large and husky delivery guys, I had to remind myself that I was under orders from my commanding officer.

In reality there were about 18 desks crammed up against each other in the cramped room which became even more crowded with us in there, but due to the size of the HAL 3000's, which loomed before us, each occupying one and a half desks, we could only get at 12 of them.

At least we had ample elbow room. A fact I failed to appreciate because of the distance it put between me and the cute little, blond corpswave next to me.

Green eyes! SHIT! Why'd she have to be green eyes?!

After an eerie fifteen minutes staring at the boldly printed signs taped to the machines:




Then without warning our clog clad class instructor clopped into the classroom.

Sadly she was a mere glimmer of Miss Marie Watonoyski my five foot, ten inch svelte, green eyed, blond haired typing teacher from which I had sorrowfully departed following high school graduation less than ten months earlier.

Did I mention she had green eyes?

I never understood why Miss Watonoyski never responded to my telepathic messages of love and sexual desire for her. From the first day I stepped into her classroom I knew she needed me, she just hadn't realized it yet. Probably came to her senses much too late after I graduated. Poor creature.

We were then informed we would be spending one full week with Burl Ives the then still semi-known actor and voice of Sam the Snowman in the animated feature Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer. The same actor who had been black listed by crazy Joe McCarthy during the commie hysteria back in the Fifties.

The irony of being taught by a communist reindeer while the navy was at war in Viet Nam against the communists was kind of appealing to me. I'm a firm believer that everyone has something to offer. But I always wondered why his nose was red.

Rudolf's not Burl's.

As the first order of business we were introduced to a thing they called 'the floppy disc'. Although the term 'floppy' was quickly abandoned by most of the male staff and replaced by just the noun, 'disk', which later somehow became 'disc', the wonderment that that little black, eight inch, square disk, (oxymoron alert?), could hold an entire 80kB's and still be used later to retrieve and even edit your saved info was a Big Brother step of significant proportions. I thought of all those poor elderly folks at Weyerhaeuser Paper Industries who would soon be unemployed. No more typing paper or onion skin. No more carbon paper, no more White Out.

Until that moment in time Western civilization had been weaned on typewriters. First manual then portable followed by a huge advancement - electric. Then wonder-of-wonders, the keyless Selectramatic with one line erasable error correct and automatic ribbon rewind! What a marvelous age we live in!

Little could we dream of what these big, lime green monsters looming in front of us foretold.

As per Mrs. Greenbottom's instructions, (actual name), we each picked up and fondly fondled the sample disk, now spelled D-I-S-C for some strange reason, which had been laid out for us on our descs.

"Stand by to activate machines!" We located the green and tan toggle switch to the side smartly labeled 'ON', as instructed, and stood by.

"Activate machines!" Toggles were flicked and, one by one, around the room, scenes from the Twilight Zone ensued as the screens flickered to life and an iridescent, radioactive-looking dot in the middle of the Volkswagen-sized screen glowed and pulsated then slowly grew until it plastered the entire glass surface before suddenly turning a color straddling Kraft American cheese food yellow and lime-puke, green. The color like when you chug five too many green apple Schnapps after four tequilas to impress a girl then run into the toilet looking for Ralph.

The glow intensified causing several sailors to slide their chairs back to a safer distance. A few instinctively covered their genital areas as the off white, Bakelite boxes eerily glowed more intensely and hummed a little more loudly.

"Insert the information disc into the slot labeled, 'Insert disc here'!"

It suddenly became clear that Mrs. Greenbottom must have had an advanced degree in word processing technology.

However, to her credit, she didn't lose her cool when several of the sailors proved to be a danger to themselves and possibly to all of society. Dangerous because they had attempted to think for themselves when they tried to remove said discs from said protective casings thereby reducing said discs to recycling.

Perhaps it had dawned on Greenbottom too late that she should have explained that the disc would slide out of the casing once inside the football field-sized machine.

That's when I realized we weren't the first experimental batch of 'students' as I noted the scrap basket in the corner was half full of mangled discs partially and pathetically protruding in agony from their former protective casings.

I bowed my head and said a quiet prayer to the Circuit Gods hoping that the floppy little fellas had led long, productive lives before their untimely demise.

The numerous clicks and buzzes spewing forth from the machine in front of me post disc insertion clearly indicated what had become of Robbie the Robot form Lost In Space. Some evil genius had shrunk him down and imprisoned him inside this IBM plastic prison. Evil knows no bounds. I knew it was Robbie because he was clearly signaling for help to escape.

"Click-click-click. Buz-buzz-buzz, click-click-click!"

As frustratingly impressive as the situation was, I didn't speak binary and so focused on attempting to read the Morse code message now being silently broadcast by the flashing, square green dot in the upper left hand corner of my glowing, apparently radioactive screen.

Square dot? Squat? Sqot? Whatever it was it was flashing away.

MY GOD! ITS GOT A PULSE! My brain screamed.

'Dot - dot - dot!' or was it 'Dot-dot-dot-dot-dot'? Was it signaling the letter 'S' or the number '5'? I couldn't tell. Maybe neither!

"Type your name." Came the next command. I obeyed and my name dashed onto the screen in slow motion from where the sqot used to be. The spry little dot now pulsated at the end of my name.

As the little blond next to me gradually sent me clandestine signals of interest by continuing to ignore me, we continued taking instructions from Mrs. Greenbottom for the next hour and half when we were told to don the headphones hanging under the desk tops.

Mechanically we obeyed the high priestess of technology and the amicable voice of big Burl Ives introduced itself and then, for the next two and a half hours, took over the increasingly complicated instructions which we would, for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness or in health, (kind'a like Herpes), carry with us for the rest of natural lives.

Finally it was time for lunch.

I considered it my patriotic duty to invite the little blond to lunch. You know, with the war on and all. Unfortunately my patriarchal benevolence was shunned with some lame excuse about being engaged or something like that. Disappointed that she was obviously a lesbian, I dined alone.

Returning from chow that afternoon, due to the fact that the temperature in the room had, through the morning, reached that of the surface of the sun we were told we could remove our now sweat soaked jackets.

Seized by a sudden, irresistible fit of reckless eyeballing, my hazel blues drifted over to the little blond as she artistically slid her jacket off in slow motion with the grace of a Russian ballerina dancing the introductory movement of Swan Lake. It was at that point that I knew she needed me and it was only matter of time before she would come to her senses.

My mind flashed back to Miss Watonoyski who no doubt by now had slit her wrists or consigned herself to a nunnery at having let me slip away and so I vowed to save the little blond corpswave from herself by marrying her.

Our children would be both intelligent and beautiful!

At the end of five continuous days of being hooked up to a machine, without benefit of having been in a crippling car accident requiring life support, we had learned how to write a letter using the first prototype, desktop, well desk and a half, computers. It was months until I was comfortable enough to use the word computer, a word formally used with respect to people who yielded a slide rule and were able to do long complicated computations.

My money was still on pen and paper, but I knew, in time, I would be out gunned by the boys at IBM and our daily existence would come to be dominated by technology. Electronic gadgets it had been discovered were just too profitable and cheap to produce to be gathering dust on a laboratory shelf. Especially when you were under no obligation to guarantee how long they'd last.

I haven't seen Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer or the cute little blond since but I did realize, by the end of that week that, along with the Twentieth Century, the Buck Rogers technology our fathers had been promised back in the Twenties had finally arrived.

Still waiting on those fucking flying cars though!