June 15 , 1999

Never too old

All stories by ANITA MATTHEWS

 

THERE is a story going around about a father who called up a tech support line to get some help.

``My 10-year old son and I are trying to set up our computer for Internet access,'' said the father.

``Okay sir, could you please get your son on the line,'' said the tech support guy.

Yes, it would seem that the young have taken over the computer world, and they rule the Internet. They can adapt easily to new changes in technology, and they have an uncanny affinity for it.

Old folks, well, they're still struggling to understand how to programme their VCRs.

Not quite true anymore. All over the world, an increasing number of senior citizens are getting into technology, and many are now online.

In.Tech speaks to three senior citizen who have taken technology by the horns. They're still wrestling with it, but they're already warming up to the idea, and are definitely enjoying it.

The instant publisher While most of his contemporaries are enjoying their twilight years in prayer, the energetic 71-year old La Salle brother, Vincent Corkery, has found a new profession as an ``instant reporter.''

And the Killarney-born Irishman could teach his younger peers a thing or two about his craft.

At a recent conference, Corkery recorded the proceedings on his Acer Extensa 500DX notebook computer, and whipped out copies via his Canon BubbleJet for all the participants as soon as the session ended.

``Totally amazing,'' declared one participant, who added that Corkery's record was useful reading for reflection and future reference.

Another participant at the conference said she even offered Corkery a job after she saw what he could do.

The soft-spoken Corkery is a director at the La Salle Centre in Ipoh, and is actively involved with the Brothers Council and Malaysian Catholic Education Council.

Born in the picturesque Irish countryside, he came to Malaysia when he was 29-years old, as the vice-principal of St Michael's Institution Ipoh.

Corkery is modest about his ability, and says his role is to ``monitor'' proceedings. His real interest lies elsewhere.

``Everyone above 60 should be entitled to choose their form of madness, and mine is rock-climbing,'' adds the man who cycles 16km daily to church.

He is not sure how he learned to type so fast as he never had formal lessons, but thinks it has something to do with playing the organ.

``I take great delight in being able to get up from my chair when everyone else does, and hand them printouts of a discussion as soon as a session ends,'' he says.

He is quick to say that the conferences he attends are not typical conventions, but cater to a specific group, and this simplifies his reporting task.

``My work is to listen, and deliver the thoughts that are expressed in simple English.''

Corkery has been using a PC since the early 80s, and feels he has travelled a long way with technology, and with the humble wordprocessor in particular, having progressed from Wordstar to MS Word and PageMaker today.

He ardently believes that the PC is a fun and terrific tool for collecting input. He now also ranges across the Internet in search of useful information.

Have PC will travel Corkery takes immense pride in his ``reporting'' career, which began in 1996. He says he likes information to be presented in a certain way; and his personal style imbues his reports.

``A computer gives you the ability to capture various points together on a single sheet of paper to give you a `total picture.' It then allows you to contract and expand the points according to your choice. You can't do that with a typewriter,'' he says.

Corkery has been finding his reporting experiences very enriching. At a programme in Thailand last year, 100 young Catholic brothers from all over Asia were happy to receive his notes after the conference, as not all of them were that conversant in English.

In May next year, Corkery will be attending a theologians conference in Rome to document the proceedings.

Although he feels he would be out of his depth, a senior official of the Catholic Church was so impressed with Corkery's skill at recording the proceedings of the Thailand conference that he invited the latter to do the same for the four-day Rome conference.

Still, despite his anxiety, Corkery welcomes the challenge of being able to capture the nuances of proceedings that would delivered in various accents, and simplifying it all for everyone else's consumption.

``I pray each time before starting out and constantly surprise myself,'' he says, adding that he feels he's divinely guided.

Multimedia combo Chin Pak Kooi has combined his love for amateur radio with the Internet. He uses the radio to communicate with his friends from all over the world, and the Internet as a way to get additional information for his conversations.

``For instance, when I speak to a someone of a different culture, I take time online to find out about his culture to understand it better,'' says the retired State Education Department financial clerk.

The 60-year-old Chin's fascination with amateur radio began when he was a 15-year-old student at Sekolah Menengah Anderson.

``My father did not encourage this, as he didn't want it to affect my studies,'' Chin says, adding that he finally got his amateur radio licence in 1970.

He says there are many similarities between amateur radio and the Internet, and that ``the main difference between the two is cost. Radio communications is far cheaper as it does not involve telecommunication costs.''

Chin's amateur radio set is also connected to an ancient 286 PC and modem for keyboard communication. He also shares the use of a Pentium multimedia PC with his two daughters and son.

When Chin wanted to set up a relay station in Kledang Hill in Ipoh, he went online for help and to source for components. ``The Net made it much easier to look for parts, as there are special interest groups willing to lend a hand,'' he says.

A frequent participant at electronic newsgroups, he also surfs sites for news and medical, electronics and cultural information. He admits that he's learned about technology through trial and error.

Chin, who also helps his wife sell insurance policies, lists the ICQ chat software and IPhone (a voice over Internet Protocol application) as the closest to offering the instantaneous communication you get with amateur radio. ``Both apps offer voice-like radio communications,'' he points out.

Despite the close similarities, Chin still prefers chatting via amateur radio, saying amateur radio participants are generally more ``refined'' than net chatters.

``You can be chatting amiably online when someone would suddenly make a crude retort,'' he says, adding that amateur radio users are required to sit for exams before they are issued a licence, unlike the Net which is free for all.

Although the Internet is exciting and has a lot of promise, Chin thinks it would take a while before its users treat it with the respect it deserves.

A will to learn You're never too old to learn, says Patrick Tan, a former businessman whose first attempt to foray into cyberspace was spoilt by what he calls ``skirmishes.''

When Mimos first introduced its Internet service more than five years ago, Tan's attempts to get online met with a series of dead ends.

``Mimos was not very customer-friendly then, and its attitude put off newbies like me,'' he claims.

But when he opted for early retirement in 1996, Tan -- who turns 55 this year -- decided try his luck again. Telekom Malaysia has then just introduced its TMnet Internet access service, and he promptly signed up with the new provider.

His two daughters had also just left to further their studies abroad, giving him greater impetus to get connected.

``It just made more sense to communicate with them via e-mail,'' he says.

Getting online opened up a whole new world for Tan, who explored it as eagerly as a kid let loose in a playground for the first time.

Over time, he even stopped buying newspapers and subscribing to foreign magazines, preferring to read them online at a fraction of the cost.

So he opted for popular online news, motoring and photography magazines. Among them were The Australian, South China Morning Post, Sydney Morning Herald, Times, Asiaweek, the Far Eastern Economic Review and Car & Driver.

``In the beginning, I signed up for a whole slew of publications to download and read offline. But it got tedious, so now I read a limited few,'' he says.

When the currency crunch came along, Tan had to stop subscribing to the foreign online magazines as the exchange rate proved too costly.

Free and sharing Tan also downloads and explores a whole bunch of programs -- shareware, trialware, freeware, utilities and just about ``everything under the sun.''

He also enjoys scanning old black-and-white photographs from his younger days, and e-mails them to friends and family to remind them of their early days.

``Sometimes, I take pictures of my wife's cooking on my digital camera, scan them on the PC, and e-mail them to my daughters just to show them what they're missing,'' he chuckles.

Tan still thinks he has a long way to go in the IT world. He only recently decided to learn how to use graphics software to create pictures and posters.

A ``do it yourself'' man, he also loves gadgets and often visit sites with information that can be used to support his mechanical and electronic hobbies.

He spends two hours online daily, and rings up an average of RM200 on monthly Internet phone bills alone.

Next on his agenda is learning how to use CAD/CAE programs so he can combine that with his love for cars.

Tan recently upgraded his old Cyrix to an Intel P200MMX, and treats the PC like any other appliance in his toolbox.

``I really enjoy using the PC and feel that I am just at the starting point. There is so much more to learn and do. And it is fun,'' he says.