Could our ingenious technology run amuck?

The Martin Mars had a contract this summer to train a group of Chinese pilots who will be flying some new 4-engine tankers currently being built in China. Then virtually within sight of the Mars bomber base, Dog Mountain caught fire. Although the Mars wasn’t quite ready to fight the fire, as they didn’t have a contract, public pressure did prod the authorities into giving a one-month fire-fighting contract to the iconic aircraft. The Forest Service’s spin the last two fire seasons has been the Mars is not as efficient as smaller more modern aircraft. Sadly that decision resulted in the loss of an entire mountain on Sproat Lake when the zippy new land-based airplanes couldn’t control the blaze. Thousands in BC are hopeful the Mars will now be given a five-year contract.
However, one can still see the government’s reluctance to include the Mars in their toolbox of forest fire fighting aircraft. Is it my imagination, but whenever there’s a media report relating to the Mars the cost of the contract seems to be always mentioned? In all fairness the cost of all the other contracts should be published as well. Yes, the Mars likely costs more but it has proven its worth over the decades and can dump more water and gel on a fire in a shorter time span than any other aircraft.  
As of this writing the Mars has attended several fires in the province and has been doing an outstanding job. Follow the Mars at

Photo: Our daughter-in-law Jessica Booker took this photo from our float as the Martin Mars was landing on Sproat Lake. 

I’ve added another flag to our float flag pole. On top of course is the Maple Leaf, below it the flag of the Colony of Vancouver Island and below that the newly minted Martin Mar’s flag.

The upper half of a burnt tree from the Dog Mountain fire. When the lake starts to rise in the fall I fear tons of similar debris will be floating on the lake. Hopefully someone has a plan to remove these safety hazards. Meanwhile the BC Forest Service continues to allow the fire to burn itself out, a decision many lake residents find unacceptable with the Mars Bomber available to put out hotspots within the fire’s perimeter.
Could our ingenious technology run amuck? 
I remember when personal computers were first introduced into the public school system. I wasn’t overly impressed with what the machines could do. However, one had to pay attention because the government was willing to dole out substantial funding to teachers willing to figure ways to incorporate computers into their programs. I was convinced it was just another passing fad and things would soon return to normal. Boy was I wrong! Today I embrace technology as much as anyone.
Yes, computers can do wonderful things but of late, many people are starting to fear them as well. Even Bill Gates, who is responsible as anyone for putting computers into our homes, stated recently in a Newsweek article that artificial intelligence is dangerous and could doom humanity.
There are so many things that computers have replaced in our lives that it boggles the mind of someone like me who was a child of the 1930’s. My career choice became that of a musician. I often think of how computers wiped out the jobs of thousands of professional music copyists. Before the advent of computers, committing musical notes to paper using distinctive fountain pens was almost an art form. Then came computer programs tied to the Internet that enable musicians to record studio quality performances in the comfort of their own home and sell the created music worldwide, eliminating almost overnight a studio based recording empire.
The computer incursion into our lives continues today at an ever-increasing rate. Today the very art of writing language longhand is threatened as elementary schools across the country downgrade cursive writing to make room for keyboarding lessons. Learning to write in my elementary school years meant having to dip a straight pen into a glass inkwell fixed atop my graffiti scarred wooden desk. Meticulously my classmates and I practiced daily to scroll so very carefully all the letters of the alphabet. Thinking about it calls to mind my mother’s beautiful longhand style that was pure artistry. Computers have obliterated that era.
Youngsters these days can’t even write their own names.  I recently read a newspaper article where an Ontario father was in a state of shock when he realized his teenage son didn’t how to sign his name in longhand on the Canadian passport application. The boy needed the passport for travel to Europe on a school field trip.
And let’s be frank. Does anyone know how to spell anymore? As I write this blog Microsoft Spell Check is silently churning away, letting me know the millisecond I’ve misspelled a word and offering suggestions to correct my flub. Unfortunately for poor spellers, the program doesn’t recognize the difference between words like  "your" and "you're". No matter, in this world of Smartphone texting, today’s youth simply avoids the effort and types “ur.”
Going back to Bill Gates’ remark that, “artificial intelligence is dangerous and could doom humanity.” Referring to computer-controlled robotics, he stated “at first the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though, the intelligence will be strong enough to be a concern.” And another really smart guy named Stephen Hawking has declared, “the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” especially since “humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded.” Wow! Given that brilliant people the likes of these are expressing such concerns should alarm us all. Is our future to be placed in the hands of a bunch of robots? There won’t be a decent job left for a human to do.
Steam Days at McLean Mill National Historic Site (Port Alberni)

My wife Pat and I continue to work as conductors aboard the Alberni Pacific Railway that travels between the Port Alberni downtown waterfront and the National Historic Site McLean Mill in the Beaver Creek area east of the city. The weekend of July 24/25 was called Steam Up and Antique Machinery Show Days and featured steam operated equipment from various points of Vancouver Island. Here Pat and I are in charge of a much smaller train than we’re used to, a model railway steam ride brought to the McLean Mill steam weekend by the Vancouver Island Model Engineer Club based on the Saanich Peninsula north of Victoria.

 Can you imagine dragging this monstrous steam operated saw around in the bush to buck up a fallen tree? The photo was taken at the recent Steam Up and Antique Machinery Show at the National Historic Site McLean Mill.

 The notorious Beaufort Gang continues to harass the Alberni Pacific Railway, periodically getting away with the entire payroll for McLean Mill employees.
There is a scenic spot in the Alberni Valley known as the Hole in the Wall. Oddly, taking into account the many decades I lived in the valley, I can’t believe I never got around to visiting the locally known gem until this summer. At long last on a blazing hot afternoon last week, Pat and I decided to hike in and have a look. 
We began by parking Pat’s loyal Toyota Camry in a small pull-out on Highway 4, directly across from Coombs Country Candy where one begins the drive up the hump. Being a very warm day, walking the first section of the trail through a shade-less replanted logged off area was somewhat desert-like. However, within a short distance the trail passed into a cool forest of second growth. Unfortunately there was no signage to tell one which of several forks in the trail led to our goal Hole in the Wall so we found ourselves backtracking at one point. However, with some direction from other hikers we soon located our destination.
The watercourse running through the area is Roger Creek. Considering the drought conditions this summer I was surprised the small waterfall tumbling out of the hole hadn’t been reduced to a trickle.  The little information I could find online said the gaping hole had been blasted through the massive wall of volcanic shale to provide a direct delivery route from a reservoir that was the source of drinking water for the Town of Alberni before it amalgamated with Port Alberni in 1967.  I spotted several old wooden pipes wrapped with wire exposed alongside the trail which I deduce carried the water into town. Our visit to Hole in the Wall was well worth the trek and every bit as impressive and picturesque as I’d been led to believe it was by others. A second visit has been added to my bucket list.