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Hard On The Eyes

Ralph Waldo Emerson once noted that “People only see what they are prepared to see.” I reflected upon that after cataracts led me to have new-fangled lens implanted in my eyes. An esteemed older friend who’d recently had the same operation opted to have one eye adjusted for reading and the other for driving so he wouldn’t “have to put on my glasses when I get up in the morning.” A lifelong myopic, I decided upon the same path, but not being able to sight target was an unanticipated side-effect. Good thing I’m not a Viking.

Last week a Viking sunstone found off the English coast was certified authentic in a report to the British Royal Society. Sunstones were pieces of Icelandic spar that fractures naturally into rhomboids, “a parallelogram with unequal adjacent sides,” according to the American Heritage Dictionary. Icelandic spar, according to a BBC.com article citing French researchers from the University of Rennes, has the “property of diffracting light into two separate rays … the scientists proved that by rotation it was possible to find where the two beams converge, indicating the direction of the Sun. They say it worked on cloudy days, and when the Sun has set.”

Seems like that’s hard on the eyes, but sometimes, as Shakespeare wrote, “When most I wink, then do my eyes best see.” Winking’s useful in dispersing tears to reduce eye irritations, a prime source of human tears, or lacrimation, from “lacrima,” the Latin word for tear. Strong emotions, sunlight, laughing, and yawning also make us tear up. There are three tear types: basal tears are the most common type, with 0.75 to 1.1 grams of them lubricating the eyes daily, and they contain infection-fighters like lysozyme, which dissolves bad bacteria’s outer coatings. Reflex tears, the second type, are triggered by sunlight, onions, teargas, and other foreign particles, and are linked to yawning, coughing, and vomiting. Psychic tears, better known as crying or weeping, come from strong emotions or physical pain. They also have a different chemical composition from basal and reflex tears, containing more protein-based hormones.

“I learned not to blink in a close-up,” Frankie Avalon once recalled, “because if you did, they wouldn’t use it.” Frankie’s patience seems a dying skill, especially after reading “For Impatient Web Users, an Eye Blink Is Just Too Long to Wait,” a NY Times article by Steve Lohr. Apparently 400 milliseconds, “literally the blink of an eye,” is too long for a computer to respond to a Website click, according to Google researchers. Microsoft speed specialist Harry Shum stated that “Two-hundred-fifty milliseconds … is close to the magic number now for competitive advantage on the Web.” By comparison, a baseball pitched at 99 mph reaches the plate in 417 milliseconds.

Computer-users’ impatience is apparently growing. A 2009 study “found that online shoppers expected pages to load in two seconds or fewer, and at three seconds a large share abandoned the site, but in the 1960s scientists found people would wait ten seconds. We’re more patient downloading videos, and it takes about nine seconds to load a Webpage on a mobile phone. The worldwide average download time for personal computers is six seconds, and in the U.S. 3.5 seconds, but I bet Interior Alaskan downloading’s far slower.

Many local residents rely on the public library’s computing services for downloading books, videos, and music, as well as simple connectivity. It’s increasingly common for Internet access to be required to deal with the government and many businesses. The library subscribes to powerful and eminently useful databases that would be far beyond the financial reach of most of us, and runs over 125 different software packages. Librarians help computing newcomers get started, and library computer technicians help people figure out why their personal laptops, e-readers, and other devices aren’t working correctly.

Twenty years ago “experts” predicted that computers and the Internet meant libraries would soon become outmoded, yet now they’re more popular and vital than ever. They didn’t consider that librarians have always helped acquire, handle, and utilize information, and the Internet is nothing but information. “It’s easy to see,” as far-sighted Ben Franklin, the inventor of bifocal eyeglasses pointed out, but “hard to foresee.”