Technology 4/3/19

By Richard Bleil

To be completely fair and honest, I am just the perfect age to have seen some amazing technology transformations.

We had a television when I was young. It was big, bulky, and heavy unlike the flat-screen televisions of today, and ran with vacuum tubes. What’s more, it was black-and-white (no color). What’s more, I am old enough to remember what I believe to be the last radio drama on the air (The CBS Radio Mystery Theater). If it wasn’t the last one, it was close. Very late at night, I was often permitted to stay up to listen to it since there was no school the next day. It was a marvelous way to utilize creative visualization to “see” the story in my mind as it progressed.

Although I’ve never had to utilize one, when I was in school, remnants of the slide rule were around. You would find enlarged versions on the wall, pocket slide rules (about the size of a ruler) available, and even chapters on how to use them in books. But, when I was in school, calculators were just becoming common. They were big, bulky, and they added, subtracted, multiplied and divided along with this strange thing called “square root”. They were seriously cool, with glowing red displays, and by typing in 71378 and holding it upside down, it even spelled my name.

Of course, I wasn’t allowed to use calculators in school. They were reserved for the “honors students”, who carried them in big bulky pleather pouches that hung from their belts. I never understood that; if they were so smart, why were they the ones that had the calculators?

Computer technology was just developing when I was in school. When I was quite young, there were rumblings of the personal computer, but certainly nothing that was commonly found in homes. In college, I did learn the basic programming language. I wasn’t around for the “card readers”, but there was one in the Unix lab where we had class. (But to be fair, there are those who say I never had class!)

On graduating, I purchased my first home computer. It didn’t have a hard drive; instead, I sprung for the extra money to have two (count em!) 5.25″ floppy disc drives, so I could put the operating system disk in one of them, and have the other for the program disks. It had a whopping 512 K of memory, and even the optional math coprocesssor. My favorite thing about the computer was the monitor. Built using similar technology to the old television, it was “monochromatic”, but mine wasn’t the usual ugly green monitor. Nope, I had an amber monitor!!!! It was seriously cool. I even had a phone-modem, with a baud rate of up to 9.600!

Phones were different beasts. The phone in my home as a child was always “rented” from the phone company. In fact, it was illegal to own your own phone. It had cables to the wall and hand set, and a dial instead of buttons. I was around when the rotary dial became push button, and phone ownership went private. This gave rise to various styles, including the clock radio phone (which I had), then wireless where the transmitter was still cabled to the wall but the handset was not. Eventually, if had the money, you could get a bulky phone for your car, then the cell phone that did nothing but voice calls, then the texting cell phone, and eventually the phone I am watching a movie on now.

Cars have not changed so much, although the technology within them have. My first car was a 1971 Dodge Dart Swinger. The car saved my life when I was at a stop light and rear-ended by another vehicle traveling 60 mph. The steel construction and quality manufacturing is the only reason I’m still here to blog today. (Sorry about that!) The engine was a 357 HP powerhouse in a very conservative looking family vehicle. Today I drive an Infiniti Q60, and was the top-end model with 300 HP at the time (currently there is also a 400 HP model). The power/weight ratio in the Swinger was superior, but, the bells and whistles of the Infiniti are leaps and bounds beyond what was available to me. The Infiniti has adjustable transmission settings, allowing me to conserve fuel, drive it like a sports car, and everything inbetween.

Along with a variety of apps, there is also a navigational satellite system. Maps were the only navigational aids (along with signs on the highway) when I first started driving, but to be fair, gas was also only $0.70/gallon. My first GPS was a portable device that plugs into a cigarette lighter, which I purchase, oh, maybe fifteen years ago. Today, they are built into cars, and quickly approaching the level of “standard feature”.

We’re not done. My advice to you young punk kids reading the blog is two-fold. First, pay attention. Things are moving quickly, and fancy high-tech today is old and outdated tomorrow. It makes life a little bit richer if you keep an eye on these kinds of advancements. And two, get off my lawn, you darned kids!

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