Retired software engineer. "What is that?", you may ask. It's someone who has time to blog about the weather...
By: Bogon , 2:40 AM GMT on June 13, 2012
In 1951 I was born into a different world. It was the Atomic Age. During my first year of life the world's first H-bomb was detonated on Eniwetok. As a child the image of the mushroom cloud haunted my dreams.
The pace of technological evolution was increasing. It was also the Jet Age, which soon segued into the Space Age. Combine the Atomic Age with the Space Age and you get ballistic missiles, which meant that no place on earth was safe from prompt nuclear annihilation. Learned and authoritative men such as Henry Kissinger and Zbignew Brzezinski reassured me that our international policy of Mutual Assured Destruction was working.
No wonder that one of my favorite movies is Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb!
Then there were the wars. I might not have worried so much if the earth had been a peaceful place. There were endless World War II movies for impressionable young kids to watch. John Wayne could be counted on to shoot the Krauts or blow up the Japs. Or you could turn on the news and hear about the Korean War. At first there was only AM radio, but around the time I was old enough to start school Dad brought home the family's first black and white television. Soon after that we got a high fidelity FM stereo receiver/phonograph. These spiffy new electronic devices were built with vacuum tubes. They were massive furniture. (Mom still has the stereo. By now it's pretty much in the same category as Grandpa's Victrola.)
Back then we got two snowy channels on the teevee. Still, that was enough to enjoy the effect of video, which enhanced the immediacy of current events. By the time LBJ escalated the Vietnam War (guns and butter!), we could view the carnage in living color.
That was life during the Cold War. The main event was the ever-present nuclear Sword of Damocles, but there was always a hot brushfire burning somewhere in the background. We talked peace, prayed for peace, sang praises to peace and goodwill, but there was always a war. There still is. I have stopped worrying about the hypocrisy of that. What's a little hypocrisy compared to the threat of Armageddon?
* * *
The national news was no more encouraging. A series of charismatic and capable leaders and spokesmen got gunned down, erased: John and Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Lennon. Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and John Belushi all dropped dead. I'm probably leaving somebody out here. These lists were compiled from my decreasingly reliable memory. Leave a comment, if you like.
Perhaps these people were too good for us here on planet earth. Perhaps we didn't deserve them. Perhaps we weren't ready yet to hear what they had to say. When will we be ready?
* * *
The news at a personal, local level is better. In a single lifetime my grandfather went from horse and buggy to jet plane. He lived to see NASA astronauts land on the moon.
By the time I started school, my father had earned his Ph.D. His formal education was complete. He spent the rest of his life giving back to education. When I graduated from high school, he was superintendent of schools here in Burlington. He held that job during the period of mandatory desegregation that followed the Supreme Court's decision Brown v. Board of Education. He managed to satisfy federal requirements to end segregation in the city school system, while keeping the schools functioning and maintaining peace in the community. I recall that he was subsequently invited to appear before members of Congress in Washington, DC, to explain how he did it. In numerous other locations around the country the same process did not end as well.
If I were to pick one thing to represent my father's legacy, that would be it. Thanks to people like him, black people in the South get a better deal today than they did in my grandfather's time. There's more work to be done, but a lot of progress has been made. Heck, a black man is President. It gratifies me to see bright, well-spoken people of color in my community, who look you square in the eye and smile when you say hello.
My sister-in-law has adopted a black child. She tells me that they get funny looks sometimes, when they go out together. I look forward to a time when skin color will be no more meaningful than the color of your eyes or hair. Perhaps, one of these days, such externalities will all be equally adjustable. In that world little green men would not necessarily be alien.
* * *
It is the Information Age. My first hands-on experience with computers came when I went to college in the early 1970s. Somewhere along the line I elected to take an introductory programming course. I discovered that I enjoyed learning programming languages. The logical thinking came naturally. I did not enjoy the process. At that time each line of code had to be punched into a paper card, the cards stacked into a deck, and the deck dropped into an In box to be queued to a card reader. Eventually your program would be allocated slices of processing time on the university's mainframe. The machine would generate fanfold output (usually just an error message, until you got the program debugged) on a line printer. The printout would be wrapped around your card deck with a rubber band and deposited in an Out box for pickup. Each iteration of this process took hours, and it was inherently error prone. I was not motivated to pursue this activity as a career.
Fifteen years later I bought my own personal computer. It was a miracle of microelectronics. The processing power of that desktop machine was comparable to the room-sized mainframe I had used at school. The difference was in the interface. The PC had a console. Feedback was immediate. Awesome!
At first my interest in personal computing was avocational. Playing with the machine was fun. I learned how to do stuff, how to make it go. This was back in the days of DOS. All I had was a command line, plus whatever commercial software I was willing to purchase on a hobbyist's budget. One of the most useful packages ever slotted into my floppy disk drive was called ProComm. With that and a 2400 baud modem I could go on-line. I could connect to bulletin boards, where I could download information and free software.
Gradually computing began to absorb more of my time and energy. Then I hit a mid-life crisis. I began to rethink everything, my whole setup. I floundered around for a while (years!), but the outcome was that I went back to school for a computer science degree. Since then I've had a tiger by the tail.
The rate of technological change in the field of computing outstrips anything I might have dreamed as I was growing up. The internet — who could have imagined the internet? (Well, William Gibson had a vision of the digital future in 1984. J. C. R. Licklider foresaw the possibilities way back in 1962. I reckon Lick wins the prize.) Now I'm talking to you across it. Pretty neat, huh?
Okay, I've probably talked long enough. Your ears are going to wear thin, and I'm liable to get hoarse. C U L8r!
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