We recently traded for a new car, so we are slowly getting used to some new things about cars unlike what we had before.
It has been said that old people don't like change, and I will agree that in many ways that is true. I do want to argue that it is not just that we are old-fashioned and set-in-our-ways, it is partly that we have gone through so many changes in our lives that we wish at least certain things would stay the same. One of the car changes that I am not yet accustomed to, even though a few weeks have passed now, is having a button to push to start rather than turning a key to start. Actually I have a key, at least I have this thing in my pocket. It is kind of magic, in that if the doors are locked and I approach the car with the key in my pocket and I touch the door handle, it will unlock and open. I guess that is good; I'm not yet sure. Then, so long as I have the key in my pocket, I can put my foot on the brake, push the button on the dash, and the engine starts.
I'm recalling that back in the 1940s you started your Chevrolet by turning on the key, pushing in the clutch, setting the brake if you were not on the level, pushing the accelerator partially down, and while holding your heel on the gas pedal, you pushed down the start pedal on the floor with the tip of your toe, and the engine would probably start. If it started but then died, you probably needed to set the choker for a little richer mixture. Well, we don't have chokes to pull anymore, most cars don't have clutch pedals, and more and more things are automatic.
My new car seems always to beep as I back out of the garage and move past my pickup on the driveway. I'm not sure why that is, but apparently it is warning me that I am backing up near my pickup there in the driveway. I thought I knew that, but I get the notice anyway. I'm still reaching in the wrong place for the door handle for the door behind the driver's door. Our previous vehicle was a mini-van, and was equipped with a door that rolled on a track. The door handle was at the front of the door.
On the new car, I reach for that door handle and nothing is there. I finally found how to shut off the audible road directions. That constant chatter was maddening. However, I do rather like having a map on the screen in the middle of the dash, even if I already knew that Patton Street passes at the north end of our block. I do really like the way the transmission in the new car shifts. I never liked the pattern in the van in which as one started up a steep hill the transmission would shift down by two ranges from the top range, so the motor raced and I had to nurse the gas pedal to convince it to shift back up one range. The new car has not done that kind of downshift; it just shifts one range at a time, step by step, and I like that.
My friend Charles Crabtree asked me yesterday if I had a Hemi in the new car?
I told him, No, I'm not sure about the shape of the combustion chambers, but down below I only have half a Hemi. It's funny how much has changed about vehicle engines, especially with the application of computer technology, but today, more than a hundred years later, we are still running four-cylinder internal combustion piston-and-crank engines.
They had those in the first decade of the 1900s.
Thinking about other technology changes -- a few months ago I bought a new laptop computer. I had resisted taking on the new Microsoft Operating System, since I had heard that lots of people had had trouble adapting to Windows 10. I kept Windows XP for a long time, until the computer that was running XP went kaput. Then, for a number of years I stuck with Windows 7. With my new laptop, it's Windows 10 after all.
Well, I did discover that you can reconfigure things to get a rather traditional desktop and set of screens. I do discover that I greatly dislike touchpad mouse control. I'll take the old-fashioned mousy mouse any day. Accidental or inadvertent touches are always taking me to places I don't want to go.
I started out with computers in the days well before Microsoft Windows and even before Microsoft's MS-DOS. That was back in the days when we had names like Commodore, Compac, Leading Edge, TRS-80, and others. Some had their own in-house operating systems, some had a DOS offered by IBM, some had CP/M, and so on. Those were not what we call Graphic User Interfaces or GUIs. The norm was text screens, usually 25 lines and 80 characters across. So they didn't do pictures or graphics for the most part unless you bought a special package for graphics.
There were no mouses. Menu control, if menus were provided, were selected by using the arrow keys to pick the one you wanted, and hitting ENTER to select it. Many operating systems were controlled by command line instructions which the user typed in. When you are accustomed to those and have become proficient in them, the Windows methods with its bells and whistles and mouse pointers don't seem that big a gain. I do remember Windows 3.1 and 3.11, which I used for a long time. That was back when Windows was not an independent operating system, but ran on top of MS-DOS. It was easy to switch from Windows to straight MS-DOS and vice versa. Over the years, Microsoft has been pretty nice to its users who like to have access to the old MS-DOS commands to get file work done. But they seem to be more limited in the later versions of Windows.
We've been through lots of changes, and in lots of areas besides these.
Things keep changing.
Editor's note: This column was originally published Feb. 20, 2008. Jerry Nichols, a native of Pea Ridge, is an award-winning columnist, a retired Methodist minister with a passion for history. He is vice president of the Pea Ridge Historical Society. He can be contacted by e-mail at [email protected] centurytel.net , or call 621-1621.