Going Electronic in the New Millennium?

This Space will unembarrasingly exploit the Y2K craze in its last publication of the century and "old millennium", if there is such a thing. Even though it seems that everyone's talking about the change, network television news has been recently running spots on people who are growing tired of the whole "Y2K" phenomenon. Indulge me one last reflection upon this event by asking this question: Are you going electronic in the new millennium? This question might likely be posed to someone during a New Year's Eve cocktail party before watching the sacred "ball drop" in Times Square with Dick Clark counting down the seconds.

The idea came from my annual ritual of changing calendars in my Day Timer; that slightly worn leather-bound binder that rules one's many activities, consisting of class times, college and departmental meetings, scheduled trips, addresses, and the ever present grocery list of things to buy at the store for the week. This year's change, however, was different. Lately, while cleaning out a catch-all drawer at home, I came across an old "electronic diary" a friend gave to me a few years ago. While nothing like the newer versions of today, such as the Palm Pilot, the unit was still functional, so I decided to give it a try and drop the hard copy calendar I'd been carrying for years and decided to "go electronic" in the new millennium myself. If you're like me, this was no easy task. Questions came to mind like "What if the unit breaks down? What if the batteries go dead? Can electronic calendars like this really be trusted? The answers to these and even more questions could easily be dismissed by the ultimate question: "What if I misplace my trusted Day Timer? The answer is, and always has been, you don't! With this realization, the exchange was completed. I was going electronic in the new millennium, at the very least, with my calendar. Colleagues chaffed me at meetings when I pulled out the electronic diary to enter times or events. It became evident that the easiest response to such banter was, "I'm going electronic in the new millennium. Aren't you?"

A very cliché' rejoinder I know, but it did prompt me to consider my question more seriously. What about our lives in the year 2000 is not electronic? I know there is much -- much more than the following list, but allow me to review some of the occasions where we are, and have been, electronic for quite sometime now.

Going to the bank...

Who actually goes into a bank anymore to make deposits, withdrawls, or transfer funds? All the previous transactions are large part of one's typical and regular banking practices. A colleague traveled to a small eastern Nevada town a few years ago, consciously not taking any cash because they planned to make a withdrawl from the Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) when they arrived. It didn't take long to discover that the town had no ATM's and a unplanned trip to a larger community just down the road (Nevada distance) was in order to insure dinner and gasoline for the trip home the next day. The person later commented that they didn't even think about the town not having an ATM.

Baking bread...

I was asked to bring home-baked French bread to a recent faculty gathering. I made mention of the fact that Santa brought me a Kitchen Aid stand mixer for Christmas and that in my first attempt to use it to make bread dough, it worked wonderfully. My kids even said it looked and tasted like French bread. I was honored to be asked and set out to replicate my first try at baking, now for a larger crowd. Since my daughters also wanted French bread, I decided to throw a box of French bread mix into the bread machine I was trying on loan from a friend. Long story short, that evening at midnight, I ended up with two baked-but-still-raw dough sticks that did not even come close to what I had accomplished a few nights before and a perfect loaf of French bread from the bread machine. It's still hard for me to say -- bread machine. Being very frustrated at this point, and still needing the bread for that night's dinner, I dumped [if you've used a bread machine, you know that when I say "dumped", that's it - dumped!] another bread mix into the machine and went to bed, rising the next morning to yet another perfect loaf of French bread. The machine even kept the loaf warm for me. I'm considering not becoming a bread baker.

Cordless Phones/Cellular Phones

Enough said, especially if you have teenagers. Blessing or a curse [meaning the advent of the cordless and wireless technologies, not your children]?


Here's something that has hit the majority of us "going electronic" -- video camera recorders and players. No longer do we have to rush home from the office to catch The News Hour with Jim Lehrer. VCR's have given us the opportunity to bend time to fit our schedules. Monday night programs can be watched on Sunday. Family photo albums have been amplified with motion pictures and sound, light years away from the vintage Super 8 Kodak movie cameras complete with those light bars that would light up a football stadium.

And finally, Star Trek, the original series, complete with Captain Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, Bones, and Scotty. How many times, since the series first aired, have you heard the phrase "Captain, I'm giving her all she's got!" The next time you're channel surfing and come across am original episode, look closely for anyone on the program using pencil and paper. Fast forward to your last faculty or staff meeting. When setting meeting dates, how many of your colleagues reached for their Palm Pilot electronic planner? Perhaps, creator Gene Roddenberry was more of a prophet than we thought.

ABM (Anything but Microsoft)

If you've been following the anti-trust discussions surrounding Bill Gates and Microsoft, then perhaps you've heard Sun Microsystem's Scott McNealy also support the "ABM" theory. McNealy, along with Netscape, were the first to cry "foul" when Microsoft began packaging its web browser (Internet Explorer) within its Windows operating system. Rather than trying to re-educate the masses and overtake the market, McNealy decided to purchase "Star Division Corporation and its wholly-owned subsidiary, StarOffice Softwareentwicklungs GmbH. Star Division Corporation designs and manufactures StarOffice -- a robust, fully-functional office productivity suite."

The Sun Mircosystems web site also goes on to say:

You can download StarOffice for free from the Web. You pay for only the services and support you need. The StarOffice suite runs on multiple operating systems, and integrates all office suite applications into one easy-to-use desktop. It can be run on a PC, a workstation, or a server across the network. And in the near future, StarOffice software will be available through Internet portals, accessible by any browser-enabled networked device. So regardless of which platforms you're using, you can benefit from the same productivity solutions. In fact, Sun plans to make StarOffice the first fully open office suite, and will work with the software industry to create a development community for StarOffice software.

Hmmm, let's see. A fully-functional piece of software, comparable to Microsoft Office 2000, that runs on any computer and platform, that's free? When I first heard about this from one of our local help-desk computer jocks, I thought he was pulling my leg. What really started this whole discussion was when the same computer jock came to my office to try and repair, yet again, my pc. He mentioned that Microsoft Windows seemed to crash on his machine almost daily until he switched his computer operating system to Linux.

"Oh," I replied, "that must be something like Unix."
"Yes," he said, "but Linux is much easier to use and gives the user the freedom that Unix offers if they so choose. It's free and comes with free software. The code that Linux is written in is an open code -- free to all who want to use it to improve the quality of the software written in Linux. You can even run a Windows-like Linux program that won't make you feel to far from home."
Sure, I thought.
"Here's a few websites that offer Linux software," he said. "I'll get back to you about changing over to Linux." 
Change over I thought? What would a day be like without my blessed Microsoft Office suite? Upon scanning our UNR computer help page recently thereafter, I noticed that we had an institutional license for Star Office. What the heck? I went to our campus library and requested a copy. While waiting for the "head" computer jock at the help desk to get me my software, I asked, "So, what do you think of this whole Linux-thing?" Without saying a word, he simply turned his monitor toward me and replied "Hasn't crashed once in the 3 months since I loaded on my computer and removed Windows."

"What about word processing?" I asked.
"Let me show you," he replied and promptly fired-up Corel Wordperfect for Linux. "Oh, and this was free, too" he finshed.
What? The head computer jock is Microsoft free?
I said, "Yes, but without Windows, how can I run my little checkbook balancing program on my pc?"
He replied, "Here's a list of Linux websites. For each Windows program, you can find a Linux program that will do the same. Many new titles are released everyday."

I thanked him and took the StarOffice software back to my office and loaded it onto my pc. It included everything: e-mail, a word processor, a presentation program (like Powerpoint), a spreadsheet, and more. I was impressed...and all for free.

This is -not- a commercial for Sun Microsystems. Let me try to make my connections to the short story above and the EJSE.

As stated in the EJSE's mission statement:

The Electronic Journal of Science Education is the first peer reviewed electronic journal of its kind devoted to the timely sharing of science education information via the World Wide Web. Using communications technology, information and research related to science education issues, K-16, are addressed. All reviewing, editing, and publishing is done via e-mail and the Web, allowing for both quality of product and increased speed and availability to all readers free of charge. The long term mission of the EJSE is to continue to offer quality information and research to the science education community at no cost and increased global availability to the articles within each issue of the EJSE.

Upon re-reading this statement the other day, it struck me that Scott McNealy and the EJSE have similar visions and goals. McNealy believes that in the not too distant future, desktop pc's will be replaced by terminals that will access servers to run programs. No longer will we need individual pc's or software packages. We will simply access the same server and do what we need to do. This same idea could happen not only in the workplace, but also in your own home. Far fetched? You did hear about America Online (AOL) buying Time Warner. This gives AOL access to broadband cable systems and light speed computer access on the web. My belief is it's just a matter of time. Individual pc's will be replaced by network servers. Look what has happened with the introduction of "e-machines." The computer is virtually free -if- one signs up for web access over a contracted period of time.

The EJSE shares a similar vision. Scholarly electronic publishing will continue to move more and more into cyberspace. Perhaps, national science education organizations will begin to offer differentiated memberships -- those members who want the ever-rising costly print journals and those who would pay far less and receive the same content via the World Wide Web in a fraction of the time a print journal would. The web versions, by the way, can feature full motion video, instant interaction between the authors and their readers, full color charts and graphs, as well as full color graphics at no extra charge. Electrons are electrons, unlike different printing presses. Differentiated memberships to organizations, however, is a point of discussion for another editorial.

The EJSE is proud to be the first publication to offer this new and exciting technology to its membership -- the whole of the science education community, K-16, keeping true to the vision of Scott McNealy and many others. If you haven't considered "going electronic" in the next century, please consider doing so and submit a manuscript for publication in the EJSE. We look forward to supplying the science education community quality articles and standards-based science teaching lesson plans during the next century all no cost to our readers.

Now, go get your own free copy of StarOffice and give it a test drive. If it doesn't stand up to your needs or standards, just hit the "delete key," just as with each issue of the EJSE. We hope that's not the case and strive to bring you only the best our community has to offer.

[Editor's note: October 11, 2004 -- Free versions of StarOffice no longer exist, but have been replaced by a OpenOffice (Open for "open-source," i.e., free). Click on OpenOffice to go to their site.

Thank you for your continued support.

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