Saturday, August 24, 2013

Being an Old Man in a Technological Golden Age

We live in a truly remarkable age of technological "miracles." As I think about what's happened in my little orbit in just the last month it gives me pause to reflect upon a few of those miracles.

It might be useful to describe my definition of "miracle" in this context, since the word gets tossed around a lot without the needed context. If we were to discuss the miracles of Jesus, like turning water into wine, walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee or raising Lazarus from the dead, we would say they are events without a logical explanation.

What I am talking about here is something akin, so stunning based upon technological advances that they also defy explanation. My finite simple mind likens them to "miracles" as a way to explain them.

In the last six months my vision has deteriorated rapidly due to cataracts that have developed in both eyes. I was warned a year ago by my optometrist that I needed more than an adjustment to my optical prescription for glasses. Now, she said, I needed to schedule an appointment with an ophthalmologist to have the cataracts removed surgically. But like most things in life I suppose I tend to let things slide until they reach crisis stage. Especially when they involve someone slicing into my eyeballs with a laser.

Crisis stage was finally reached with advancing double vision and blurred vision, and my glasses rapidly became obsolete. An impending date with the eye exam for a driver's license renewal also started pressing down upon me because I knew I couldn't pass it even with my glasses. Such are the realities of old men.

One of my favorite missionary companions was Phil Hoopes. We were only together for one transfer over Christmas way back in 1967, but we made the most of our time together in West Hartlepool on the northeast coast of England. Today Phil is a renowned eye surgeon practicing here in Salt Lake City. Even though we hadn't seen each other since then, I sought him out. Gratefully, he remembered how I'd shared my Skippy peanut butter (a rare commodity in those days). How old is OLD? I asked his eldest son to perform my eye surgery, since Phil Sr. has "retired" from cataract surgery.

Acrylic MICS-IOL in holder
I'm halfway there at this writing. Phil Jr. performed an intraocular lens implant on the worse of the two cataracts about a week and a half ago. Post-op exams have confirmed my youthful 20-20 vision has now been restored. My glasses are gone. The whole procedure took about seven minutes and I was awake throughout. On Wednesday of next week I'll have the same thing done on my other eye. The contrast today between the two eyes is stunning. I feel to say, like the young man Jesus healed, "One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see." (John 9:25).

So I would call that a modern-day "miracle," defying a logical explanation from one like me who has no knowledge of the scientific explanation.

Another example. Some of our sons have suffered from male infertility. Through means of a grant the University of Utah Medical Center is now conducting a genetic study on our family to see if they can help unravel the mystery of male infertility not only in our family but also in the larger population.

This month one of those sons with the aid of in vitro fertilization has announced he and his wife have been successful with their second pregnancy. Their first was a "miracle" birth defying all the medical odds they would conceive naturally on their own. Certainly, by my definition of having no scientific knowledge of "how" it is done, the ability to replicate the natural sequence of events scientifically outside the womb to produce a viable fertilized egg, then to implant it into the mother's womb to produce another living soul is a "miracle." (In this case they may possibly have TWO living souls - time will tell on that). It's nothing short of "miraculous" to an old man like me who never had a moment's difficulty in fathering thirteen healthy children.

And finally, a third example. I have never considered myself a tree-hugging liberal on social issues, nor do I give much credence to global warming enthusiasts. I think Al Gore is nothing more than a money-grubbing opportunist playing on people's fears. However, that said, I am becoming increasingly more aware of my ability to reduce my personal carbon footprint and this week I made a decision to give up style for practicality. I am no longer in love with those interlocking four rings of silver on the front of my Audis. That alone would qualify as a "miracle," but I am now speaking about reducing my consumption of gas by 50% (at least) with the aid of modern technology.

2012 Toyota Prius
Another son and his wife gave us an old Saturn they had outlived several months ago. It finally gave up the ghost at the top of Parleys Summit on Monday morning at 187,000 miles. As I said, I tend to wait until the engine blows up before seriously considering a car purchase decision. In a rapid chain of events, working through our good friend and "adopted son" Clint Page at Western Fleet Sales, we found a more "politically correct" vehicle, a 2012 Toyota Prius. Give Clint a call whenever you're looking for a used car solution. Why would anyone ever buy a new car if they know Clint? He's the best.

What led to that decision was the shining example of Packsize's CEO, Hanko Kiessner, who perhaps owns the largest private fleet of Prius cars in the US. The Packsize portfolio of cars has been growing over the years, but now totals around 70 on any given day. Hal Johnson, who runs the fleet internally, told me all they've done in the way of major repairs is to replace a fuel valve at around 200,000 miles on average. Other than oil changes and tires, they are essentially maintenance-free and Packsize consumes as little gas as possible. The fleet policy was to drive them until they hit 200,000 miles, then trade them in, and now they've extended that to 250,000 based upon their favorable performance. Anytime you can benefit from a sample size that large, it's hard to ignore. At least it was for me. I find it amazing! We just turned over 300,000 miles on our Audi A-6 wagon, but I replaced the engine and the transmission on it. Because I'm not "on the road," I don't qualify for a company-owned Prius, but this was an e-mail I sent to Hanko yesterday summarizing my first week's experience in driving one:

"So, here are some interesting data points you asked for. I bought this 2012 Toyota Hybrid Prius (non-electric) for $19,900 through a friend who buys direct from the auto auction here in SLC. That price includes the leather and heated seats kit he is adding for $1295. It had 27,852 miles on it, and now it has 28,360. When he delivered it to me on Tuesday this week, it didn't have a full tank of gas in it. I’ve driven 508 miles, used 8.5 gallons, and that translates into 59.76 miles per gallon! [Hanko cautioned it will likely be reduced in winter conditions to about 46-50 mpg]. I drive about 100 miles per day up and down Parleys Canyon. There is no loss of power going uphill. I’m stunned at the early returns. Now I’m wondering why everyone on planet Earth isn’t buying the Prius."

Hanko's been buying new cars with a fleet discount through the Larry H. Miller Group, but when I told him about Clint my guess is he's going to rethink spending significantly more than he needs to on new ones. I still haven't bought gas this week, and the range indicator says I've still got 63 miles left to go on this partial tank. And by the way, it's not "cute." The Prius has to be one of the ugliest vehicles on the road. But you've got to love the efficiencies in the hybrid technology. I have become a true believer, and I've swallowed Hanko's Kool-Aid.

In case you missed it, here's his explanation of his sustainable business model.

So, once again, this old man is still learning lessons about modern-day miracles. My knowledge of cars and what makes them tick is limited. I know how to put gas in them, change the oil and buy new tires. That's about it. How that hybrid engine works to produce twice the mileage on a gallon of gas, effectively reducing my consumption by 50% or more is nothing short of miraculous.

I'm an old man in awe of what technology hath wrought.

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