Technology: The good, the bad…

30 Jan

The ugly? Haha. I think this title appropriately sums up the week I’ve had and how technology has flavoured it, both positively and negatively.

I always say that technology is a double-edged sword; great when it works and a pain when it doesn’t (I guess so does everyone else). I experienced both, but it’s funny that technology usually picks the worse time to fail. For me it was on Thursday, which was the first day of semester 1 exams. For the last few years I have been using response technology on the multiple choice sections of my exams. While there is some inherent laziness, since I do not have to mark, the “clickers” allow me to analyze the data and use it to improve my teaching/questioning. Last year I switched to a new system, the CPS Pulse by eInstruction. Everything went fine, as did the trial run I did on the Monday before the exam. However, when my period 1 class arrived (Grade 10 Canadian History, Academic/AP split), the program would crash when I tried to activate it. After many restarts and failures, I told the students to go to plan “B” and use the answer sheet. Shortly thereafter, it started working. ????? There were a few choice words muttered to myself but I was glad it was working (worked fine for the most part for the next 2 exams).

On the upside, there were some great things that technology did for me on the research front. I have spoken before about how great the digitization of old books has been and the impact it has had on researchers like myself.  This past week has been a flurry of discoveries, which unfortunately had an impact on the article writing I was supposed to do (sorry Lee). However, I could not resist the temptation to continuing digging, which is clearly more my forte than writing. I began probing a site that I had visited before, but now I’ve realized that there is way more material available than I initially thought. Hathi Trust has been an absolute gold mine of information and I continue to find more and more material (I was just on it prior to writing this and looking up Poor’s and Moody’s Railroad Manuals). You must download each page individually, but that isn’t such a terrible problem since you never really need more than a few pages from each book or article. Everything has not been entirely perfect, as there are a few sources that are not available even in a digital format. Take for example the 1897, Volume 67 issue of Railway News which has some very important information. It cannot be downloaded and the closest library that has copies is in Kansas City (1250km from my house in case you’re wondering). I’ve tried to get a copy from that library, which hopefully works.

The one by-product of all this new research is that it has left me with stacks of paper that needed to be properly filed. They have been accumulating for a few months now and on the weekend I decided it was time to organize it all. I ended up with 21 piles of paper; I couldn’t resist taking a photo. It started me thinking about the time and money I’ve devoted to this project. There are hours on the internet, in the library and in particular tromping through the bush in the heat and bugs doing field work. Cost? I can’t even begin to calculate what I’ve spent on printing, gas and in the “old” days postage and film developing. Some people golf, some people drink…I research a “dead” railway (that’s what my wife calls it). We all have our vices right?

So speaking of this vice of mine, I finally decided to try to complete some of the critical research that needs to be done before I can contemplate any real writing. For years I have been making plans to visit the National Archives of Canada in Ottawa where some of the most important railway files are located. I also need to go back to the Archives of Ontario in Toronto and re-examine some of the material I looked at in 1999. I am very fortunate that my job allows me to take a deferred salary leave and pursue this goal. Therefore, if everything goes smoothly, I will be off from February to September 2016! I know it is a long way away, but I’m sort of excited already. Now the big decision is going to be how many days do I need in each city?

I guess the last thing I will leave off with this week is the fact that there are some really great people who share my interest in the railway. In the past few weeks I have received some awesome pictures of the railway and some of its associated history. First was a picture from Brett showing an aerial view of Trestle Bay on North Lake, where you can clearly see the pilings left from when the 1000 foot bridge burned c.1909. Today it was a series of pictures from Don of the old Bishop’s property also on North Lake. North Lake is a bit of special place for me as it was where I first encountered the railway way back in 1990. The photos showed the old Bishop’s cabin where I stayed on my first moose hunting trip. It also makes me think about how fragile history is and how quickly it moves and changes. Maybe this is what motivates and drives me; just as these gentlemen have shared history with me, I want to share history with others. Until next week…

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Posted by on January 30, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


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