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Lo, these many years ago, those of us in the early days of the personal computer industry, we who depended on the success of the technology-in-its-infancy for our livelihoods, lusted after something we dubbed “the killer app.” It had nothing to do with actual violence; we longed only for the delivery of a program useful enough to entice the reluctant and the technologically averse to pay what was–in those days–a substantial amount of money in order to bring this desktop-sized computer adversary into their own living rooms.
In those early days, Apple outdid IBM and its clones by a factor of several because it developed its own killer app: the school market. Remember the Apple IIGS? I do.
My dear friend made a healthy living selling them to school districts and families, while I, IBM, and the rest of the industry were still trying to puzzle out a market beyond the corporate. Along the way, Apple introduced VisiCalc. Another “home” killer app. Remember it? I do.
Perhaps the first “killer app” for the PC was Lotus 1-2-3. You have only to ask how many of your friends of a certain age, now Excel users all, still use the Lotus keyboard shortcuts. I do.
There were a few others, of late and sometimes unlamented, memory. Among them, the first–DOS-based–versions of Microsoft Word. Remember how to open a file? ([ESC] (to bring up the submenu at the bottom of the character-based screen) Transfer Load.) I do.
“This is the year of the home computer,” we used to say, starting in about 1985. “It always has been, and it always will be.”
Eventually, though–as history will show–we got there.
Along the way, even though my career, my paycheck, and my livelihood regularly depended on it, I never became an advocate of technology for its own sake. If it couldn’t benefit me, or–sometimes more importantly–the organization I worked for, if it had nothing to offer which might make my life, or its life, better or more interesting, I just couldn’t be bothered, and I could take it or leave it.
I waited, every time, for the killer app before I moved to the bigger, better deal. And I have never deviated from that, either professionally or personally.
Of course, things are a bit different now. But when I look at my iPhone, not so much. What are my installed apps? Well:
Calendar. Banking. Weather. Maps. Camera. Kindle. Audible. Two or three “comms” apps for text/audio/and video communication with those who are important to me. Bird and Plant identification. Night Sky visuals and constellation ID. Apple Watch. A couple of useful medical and veterinary “first-aid” apps. A few “shopping” apps for places I actually frequent. Slack. Fi (my dogs’ GPS, so I know where they are). A couple of news apps. Some utilities, including a compass, measurements converter, and a file browser app which lets me kick things around among the devices on my local network. Sonos, an app which lets me throw digital music stored on my local network at my wired old-fashioned speakers.
And that’s about it. No TikTok (I don’t even have an account). No Instagram. No Facebook. No
I rarely add new apps into the mix.
But last week, I did.
The app I added is called Merlin Bird ID. It’s from Cornell Labs (as is my other birding app, which is based on visual ID). Merlin “listens” for bird songs, and identifies them from that.
It was recommended to me by my stepdaughter, so I thought I’d give it a whirl.
This morning, I set out on my somewhat regular two-mile walk, down the road, turn left, walk along the little stream (ruined by the undermining in 2018 and subsequently wrecked by the beavers, then repaired quite well by the coal company in 2021), turning at the corner, and walking back home. Some of you have even walked it with me over the years. You’ll remember.
I set Merlin to listen, fully aware that it might miss some sounds because it says it works best while you sit still, and I was on the move. However, during the course of a 40-minute or so recording–one in which I did sit–for a few minutes at a time–on a couple of little bridge abutments or on the crash barriers intended to stop drivers veering into the stream, it reported the following bird sounds (think of it, denizens of the PIT, as “longbird”):
Well over two dozen species, only one of which I haven’t observed here over the years. (The green-winged teal–the red dot indicates that it’s rare in this location. But the rest? I’ve seen them all, more or less regularly, yet on occasion rarely, so I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of Merlin, all the more so because the identification of water birds (teal, kingfisher, heron, mallard), only started once I came alongside the water)
And many times today, the app told me that a bird was in the vicinity (kingfisher, mallard, red-tailed hawk, heron) before I actually saw it, and confirmed its presence.
It was great fun! And the fact that the app highlights the song of the bird it’s currently ‘listening’ to is a great teaching tool. I think this might be a better identification guide than my other app, which is pictorial and which often depends on my knowing certain things about avian morphology and coloring that I may not, and involves questions I can’t always answer before it suggests a response.
So–I think, in terms of identifying birds–I think this might be the actual killer app, and I highly recommend it for those like me who are amateur bird watchers.
A small caveat:
This guy is quite annoyed. He’s spent the last few days hollering at great volume, from dawn to dusk, and often into the wee hours of the morning–as he always does, but even more so now–because he’d really like Merlin to ID him.
But it refuses to.
So, a shoutout here–to assuage his hurt feelings–to my Chinggis. Maybe he needs his own post.Published in