Throwback Thursday: Tree Frogs!

Let me tell you the tree frog story from Lake Welsh.

Photo credit: Randy Andrews

Back in the 1960s my birth family had four children and therefore vacations when we did anything other than camping were rare. Our typical getaway involved loading up our large Ford “Country Squire” station wagon with a large tent and camping gear, plus canned and packaged food for a week.

Our usual destination was a place called Lake Welsh.

Lake Welsh was part of Harriman State Park, which also contains Bear Mountain State Park. Below is a map to give you vague idea of where was in “downstate” New York: north of New York City, but south of the bulk of the rest of New York State.It was a two-hour ride from our home in the center of Long Island, New York, depending on traffic. So it was even a convenient destination for long weekends.

It was especially nice to get away to Lake Welsh during our fiendishly hot summers, because although we lived near the Atlantic Ocean beaches they were almost inaccessible due to traffic consisting of people streaming out to the beaches from New York City. And Lake Welsh had a beach; in fact, it was where I learned how to swim. Plus you could go fishing there (we were regulars at the bait shop), and there were nearby places where for a nominal fee you could go to a drive-in movie or jump up and down on a trampoline. In short, it was a perfect place for a family vacation.

But this post is about tree frogs.

Once my sister Kathy and I were old enough to be allowed to walk around the edges of the lake on our own, albeit using a buddy system in case someone fell in, we reveled in the freedom of being able to explore such a beautiful place in our own. There was a very nice path around the edge of the lake, and our mother was pleased to have us occupied while she was trying to put together dinner.

For some reason we showed up that year when tiny green tree frogs were all over the place. My sister and I had never seen them before, and we decided to bring a few back to show the rest of the family. So we found an old plastic cup and proceeded to put some of the tree frogs into it. Quite a few. In fact, we ended up filling it to the brim.

But when we got back to the campsite no one was around. The car was gone, so we assumed that mom and dad had taken our younger brother and sister and gone to the local market to buy something they’d forgotten to bring. We shrugged, put the cup full of tree frogs on the center of the table, and covered it with a weighted plate. We could always show the rest of the family our prize when they got back. Then we ran off to the local playground to see how high we could make the swings go.

The playground wasn’t far. And we found out that our family had come back to the campsite when we heard hysterical screaming. It seems our unflappable mother had knocked over the innocent looking cup that was in the center of the table while she was setting the table for dinner and about 100 miniature Kermits had exploded in her face and covered the table with gumdrop-sized froggy madness.

My sister and I still laugh about it to this day.

The Robots Among Us

We are surrounded by robots.

They have not taken the form we somehow expected them to take. Oh, sure, there’s the Roomba–a vacuum cleaner that runs around your ankles like a cross between a remote control car and an annoying pet–and there are those lifelike looking experimental humanoid robots in Japan. Don’t have either. Not sure I want either. But there are still robots in my life. Most of them either had something to do with manufacturing what I own, or are software robots.

Software bots bring me my email and filter (or send) my spam. They constantly sample the temperature in my house and adjust the heating or cooling within a certain range, and they inject precise amounts of fuel into the combustion chambers in my car (or perhaps your furnace). They search for my cell signal. They run my power station. They try very hard to figure out my buying habits based on my browsing history, and then suggest which ads might be useful. They account for much of the volume of stock trading. Automated software system bots surround me. And you.

Physical robots–machine arms and devices. computer driven–manufacture many of our goods. We call these types of robots productivity enhancers, and lament the jobs they take even as they make our lives easier (if we can afford our easier lives without that job.) They take assembly lines an exponential step further and do things faster, safer, and better that mere humans. It makes our goods cheaper, yet somehow cheapens many of the final products. We know this, or why the ad campaign that promoted the benefits of, “turkey, not technology” ?

We have met the future, and it is odd.

For my part, while hardly a Luddite, I rebel in little ways. I cook my food from scratch whenever possible, and raise much of my own produce. I buy things made by craftsmen and artisans. I heat my home with wood. I dry my clothes on a line (except the towels – line drying does not do ‘fluffy.”) I watch the sun rise. I ponder the stars and spend time face-to-face with loved ones and friends. And I spend time enjoying silence or the purr of my cats, or small joys like cool water on a hot day. Because I fear that too much dependency on technology will cause me to lose much of  what makes me human.

Children of this age, this is why your parents urge you outside and away from your computer games. Because the bots are taking over our time and lives, ever so slowly, and all for our own good. Robots running the world? It’s not going to happen with some sort of mainframe computer in a central location: that’s a fantasy. It’s a distributed revolution, a cloud coup d’├ętat, an individual choice we all have to make on a daily basis. Especially as Americans, with our lamentable addiction to entertainment, we have to ask ourselves daily – are we drifting along on a sea of algorithms, fed, cosseted by, and marketed to by expert systems? Or are we fully alive, fully human, living in the present with our eyes open? 

On my deathbed, I rather doubt I will mourn the fact that I did not spend enough time with software.  I pray I will not mourn ignoring the living, for robots.

Book Quote Wed. Rides Again

Today’s #bookqw keyword is “Dream.” Here’s a quote from my book, Writing the Entertaining Story:

Writing the Entertaining Story is free on Kindle Unlimited, or you can buy an ebook or paperback copy. Look inside, for free, here:

The first half of the book is useful things to know about your writing itself, and the second half of the book is about marketing. Enjoy!