Memory is Expensive


Now and again, one needs to step away from the practicalities of work, consulting, travel and running a business to celebrate something utterly wonderful and unexpected.  What I am going to tell you about is a living, breathing organism that moves along the road of life in the direction of the Twilight Zone, but not in the manner in which Rod Serling wrote. It is a source of awe and of good, of amusement and surprise.  It returns value in a myriad of ways.  And while I doubt that it is unique, I suspect that it takes a unique set of factors for something like this to flourish. Those factors are in evidence here.

As many of you know, I now hail from a small community on the northern tip of the Olympic Peninsula in the state of Washington.  And while my wife and I have been coming here off and on for nearly thirty-five years, we only settled here fourteen months ago.  In a small community, that makes us newcomers and to a great extent, still outsiders.  That does not mean that folks are not cordial.   Quite the contrary is true.  If I am out walking the dog, I need to be prepared to wave to every passing vehicle because the folks inside will be waving to me.  If I step into the bank to make a deposit, I need to allow time not for a line of people ahead of me, but for a line of conversations.  The pace here is different, some would say slower.  But it is also more personal and it takes time to really build those personal relationships.  Does that sound like one of my main themes?

As part of my local networking, I joined the Sequim and Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce.  After all, while there may not be much Business Intelligence work here right now, I pay a business tax like everyone else and there will eventually be local clients.  Besides, it is always good to be networking, right?  Not long after joining, I was perusing the membership directory and came across the Sequim PC Users Group (SPCUG).  I went to the web site and it looked pretty interesting so I parted with twenty-five dollars for the membership fee and signed up.  The next day, Tom (the President of SPCUG) called me to welcome me to the group and tell me about what they do.  That evening, I had a call from Steve, another one of their members.  Like I said, this is a small community.  Folks talk.

Essentially, SPCUG is a not for profit organization that collects and refurbishes old computers, which they then donate to a variety of places including senior centers, disadvantaged families, low income seniors, and the like.  They also help out at the Sequim Senior Center with computer training and equipment maintenance, and offer a series of Saturday classes at Sequim High School.  In the past, they’ve helped agencies like the Boys & Girls Club, Sequim School District, North Olympic Foster Parents Association and more.  These folks do a lot for the community.

The most astounding aspect of SPCUG is the bi-weekly Monday morning breakfast meeting at Ely’s Café.  The meeting officially begins at 9:00 but if you want a seat at the table, you need to be there by 8:30.  The meetings I have attended so far have exceeded capacity.  The PC Outlaws (officially the planning committee but it seems to encompass everyone) consists of the most amazing confabulation of retired folks I have ever come across.  It is mostly men, but there is at least one intrepid retired businesswoman who is a regular.  And while I myself am pushing sixty, I am the youth in knickers at that gathering.  The mean age seems to be mid to late seventies.  But hold on to your hats and glasses, folks, this is where the magic really happens.

The agenda opens with reports from what they call the Tech Shop, where the computer refurbishments take place. This is followed by reports from the Special Projects Teams.  Then the fun really begins.  Steve (who moderates the meetings) sends out an advanced copy of the agenda with links for us to pre-read.  Here is a sample of topics from a couple of past meetings (with the links).

This is just a sampling.  Where the discussions go from these raw agenda points is even more extraordinary.  These folks are all tech savvy; most are much more so than I.  The privacy search engine topic meandered into a discussion of the Tor network.  (I now have DuckDuckGo as my default search engine on my Linux Mint VM, along with a Tor network connection.)  The XP retirement agenda point evolved into a discussion of the relative merits of Ubuntu versus Mint, with excellent points being made on both sides. During the course of the BitTorrent discussion, Vuze (a BitTorrent client) came up.  At that point, Dick chimed in with a completely lucid technical description of how Vuze works.  “Are you saying that you are a BitTorrent user, Dick?” asked Steve.  “No, I’m saying that I’m a Vuze user,” responded Dick.  By the way, Dick was born in 1920.  You do the math.

During one of the discussions, someone asserted that “memory is expensive.” And while this was not his intended meaning, it struck me at the time what a fitting tag line it is for this group and the value it delivers on so many levels.  Memory is expensive, both to attain and to retain.  It requires deliberate effort.  Consider the following:

  • Memory retained:  These are people who clearly remember their own roots and are now remembering to give back to the community. They devote many hours of their time each week to these pursuits.
  • Memory created:  It takes effort to create memories, so ponder the impact on the children at the Boys and Girls Club and in the Sequim School District of the computer equipment and training that they receive as a result of SPCUG. The club’s efforts make it possible for another generation of children to have its own seminal experiences, hopefully to be thankfully recalled later in life.
  • Memory nurtured:  Most important, SPCUG activities are keeping its members own memories sharp, slowing immeasurably their passage on the twilight road.  They are not just doing, they are learning and applying new things every day. That is what is most impressive of all.

I mentioned earlier that SPCUG might be the product of a unique set of factors.  Sequim is a small community making it easy to find others with shared interests. There is also a higher than average proportion of retirees here, many of whom chose to move from other parts of the country to share the high quality of life (the mountains, the ocean, the light, and the clean air).  And they are generally well educated, have been successful in life, and have a strong sense of value.  Somehow, the group seems eminently bespoke for Sequim.

It strikes me that the habit of staying engaged in both activity and learning are not new to the members of SPCUG. Rather, it seems to be the extension of a habit already ingrained that keeps them out ahead of the pack.  They are certainly out ahead of me in so many ways.  While I blogged about Internet security (Here’s Looking at You, Kid) on June 3, coincidentally just before the NSA data collection began making headlines, I had no knowledge of privacy search engines or Tor.  Nor had I concerned myself with data encryption.  And what about BitTorrent?  I think I may have used it once about five years ago. More than a couple sets of eyebrows went up when I confessed that I did not use it.

I used to think that the best way to stay sharp was to hang out with younger people who are working on the “bleeding” edge.  SPCUG has turned that thinking on its head.  What they have taught me is that I need to be on, and stay on, the bleeding edge myself.  That is the high price of memory:  memory retained, memory created, and memory nurtured.

So my hat is off to SPCUG.  You have inspired me, motivated me, and invigorated me.  You have also written this blog post for me.  And for any of my readers who should happen to get out this way, I hope you will join me for breakfast at Ely’s some alternate Monday morning.  I guarantee it will do you a world of good.

So what inspirational story do you wish to celebrate?  What do you do to keep your memory sharp?

10 thoughts on “Memory is Expensive

  1. Michael Mixon says:

    Great post, Steve. It did make me realize how important it is to stay connected, and that inspiration and value are not always where you expect them to be. It also made me even more eager to move up there…your brief description of the pace and friendliness of the people up there resonated and jives with my own experiences. And finally, it reminded me to check again on whether Seagate has a program for donating drives. I had sent out an inquiry email back when you first emailed me, and then promptly forgot to follow up. My memory has been given a kick and I hope to have an answer to you soon. 🙂

    • bimuse says:

      Thanks, Mike. I agree. More and more I am finding that inspiration and value are everywhere. It seems that a day rarely goes by that someone doesn’t inspire me or add value in some way. Some days it is larger and some days it isn’t but it is almost always there. Cheers.

  2. Ellen says:

    My octogenarian dad’s approach to keeping up with technology is a bit different, though perhaps not as effective. He likes to read the Technology section in the New York Times. A few months ago he read about a wonderful new app that he thought would be great fun for his young grandkids. So out the door he went, walked to the Apple store, found a genius and told him he’d like to buy the app, offering up the clipping in his hand for reference. They were apparently unphased and explained what he actually had to do to make his purchase.

  3. Susanne Taylor says:

    Hello Steve. I related to your blog this week, and have read others that I have enjoyed. I live on Samish Island, and a little over a year ago became acquainted with Anacortes Senior College. Anacortes is like Sequim in that it has a large retirement community for the same reasons you list for Sequim Retirees. Six years ago some of these retirees established Anacortes Senior College. They worked out a collaboration between the Anacortes School District for space, rounded up some retired college professors in a variety of disciplines, and offered classes to “seniors” for a pittance. $30 will buy you six two hour classes. Included in the price are cookies and water at break and an end of the year catered banquet! There is something wonderful about sitting in a room of life long learners, some of them in their mid nineties. They are engaged and contribute bits of their life experiences that are PRICELESS. The fall session of classes just started up this week. I’m taking a class on the constitution, something that I sadly have not had in the past. There is something reassuring about knowing that as long as we continue to use our brains, they will work for us.

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