Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ah, the joys of a high-tech existence!

I have, on many occasions, rejoiced about the improvements in technology which occurred during my time off between completing my Master’s and commencing my PhD project. Remembering the joys of working on illustrations for my thesis for the Master’s using CorelDraw version 6 on a Pentium 75 computer, and how I got to the point where I would happily make several edits to a line in a drawing while the screen was still (slowly!) re-drawing the line from the first edit, confidant that even though I couldn’t see what I was doing, the changes would, eventually, catch up with me and (usually) the result would be what I’d intended them to be. Ah the fun in those days, when it was essential to have my printer both plugged into the computer *and* turned on *before* I started the computer if I wished to print something from CorelDraw—if not the program would crash. These days my computer has 2 gigs of RAM (which, I’m betting is not something to brag about anymore!), and I’m running CorelDrawX3, which easily keeps up with the edits I’m making, as I make them, and, should I wish to print it has no complaints with my just plugging in a printer in the middle of other tasks and telling it to do so.
When I did my Master’s all of my maps were done by first scanning in a topographic map, then tracing it into CorelDraw so that I could change the size without distorting it, and then adding in my sample locations by hand by looking at my field map and making a corresponding mark onto the map on the screen. These days I use ArcMap for my sample collection maps—what a joy it is to take the GPS coordinates recorded in the field, type them up, import the list into ArcMap, and with the push of a couple of buttons they show up on the map, in exactly the location I expected them to be. Add a layer from the published maps showing the geology of the region, and it is good to go! (Or, if needed, create my own layer showing my interpretation of the distribution of rock types—slightly more effort, but ever so much easier than drawing it by hand on paper, or in CorelDraw.) And if I wish to know how far apart two samples were collected I can use the handy measuring tool within the program to look it up in a few seconds.
But today’s high-tech advantages come with a price. ArcMap, in particular is not freely available. My university has a very specific, limited number of users at once, license for that program. This means that even though it is installed upon my personal computer, it is necessary for me to connect via the internet to the geology department’s computer (I, like many other graduate students these days, work from home) so that the program can access its license and check to be certain that not too many of us are trying to use it simultaneously. This was all well and fine at my old house, where we had a broad-band, reliable, internet connection. I tended to make that connection in the morning, and leave it on all day (it also being necessary to download my university e-mail or to access other things on the geology departments shared hard drive), and unless something happened to disconnect me whilst I was using it, I tended to forget that ArcMap actually required the connection.
Alas, with our recent budget-saving move to the home of my partner’s parents we’ve entered the world of unreliable, low-speed, satellite internet connection. It took nearly a week of being here before we even managed to get the router communicating with the modem to permit more than one computer in the house access to the internet at once, and now that we’ve got that working, the connection is still not reliable enough to keep my remote connection to the geology department engaged sufficiently for ArcMap to open. I didn’t realize just how often I use that program, until I couldn’t! We are currently attempting to obtain a reliable, high-speed, internet connection for the house. But we are located fully 25 minutes drive away from the capitol city of this state, in a country neighborhood where each house has six or more acres of fields, vineyards, and/or horse paddocks to call its own, and the phone company is proving less than helpful in providing the connection to such a “distant” location. Perhaps in the New Year I’ll get the reliable connection I need. In the mean time, I think I’ll go pick some raspberries from the garden and rejoice that not everything in my life requires technology.

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