Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Walk in the Lisha Kill Preserve - Tall trees and misplaced technology

After yet another rainy morning, and an aborted trip to the disc golf course, I got out this afternoon for a walk in the Lisha Kill Natural Area, in nearby Niskayuna.  There were no other cars in the lot, and I Iooked forward to a quiet walk.

Shortly after leaving the car, I came upon a sign like this one, but with the #1 on it.

For the uninitiated, which up until a few weeks ago included me, that funny pattern at the lower left is called a QR code, a specialized form of bar code.  Most smart phones, including my new one, come with a code scanning app that can read these things, and perform some action like opening a web page for further information.  The Nature Conservancy has installed a series of signs like this throughout the preserve as a means of providing an audio tour to those carrying such a smart phone.  I'll get to my thoughts on this in a minute, but first the experience.

I scanned the code with my phone, an easy thing to do, and was taken to a web page in the phone's browser.  Here's the link it took me to:   CLICK HERE   It would have been better if it had taken me directly to a page for that particular numbered sign, but oh well...

On that web page are several supposed links to MP3 files containing the audio for each tour stop.  The links aren't numbered on that page to correspond to the signs, so that was part two of my first complaint.  Second, I was unable to zoom that page in my phone's (Android) browser, despite that working OK everywhere else.  That made the links exceedingly small and hard to tap the correct one with my fat fingers.  Strike 2.  Finally, once I did tap one of the links, I got the following message instead of any audio file:

Strike 3, and you're out.  No audio tour for me.  But then I started thinking about it.

-- begin soapbox--
In many ways I was glad this did not work.  I'm actually more of a technogeek than most, and at first the very idea that this was even possible was somewhat fascinating, which was why I just had to try it.  But the other half of me found the presence of this capability here somewhat jarring.  Maybe not so much the technology itself, but the medium.  I can see the potential educational value of something like this, but I don't think audio is the right approach here.  It seems out of place, an intrusion on the quiet and majesty of this forest.  It would have been a lot worse if I'd happened upon someone listening to one of these snippets through their phone's speaker.  And let's face it - how many people are normally carrying headphones when they go for a quiet walk in the woods?  Not me.  An audio tour like this would be a great idea at a museum or historic site, but I found I didn't like it here, and did not consider it an improvement at all.
-- end soapbox --

I e-mailed myself the URL of the web page, and tried again when I got home, with the same result - something's broken, or you have to donate to get the audio.  I won't be trying to find out which.  For those who are interested, this web page DOES contain the correct links for the audio if you'd like to listen to them from home.

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