Sunday, September 20, 2015

Wearables and beyond

I can't remember the first time I heard the word computer.  I do remember my grandfather, who read Popular Science, my dad read Popular Mechanics, I loved them both, talking about com-poo-ters.  Yes, that was his pronounciation.

At the University of Wyoming there was a class, just a one-credit course, on computer languages that I took just for the heck of it.  We used punch cards and a huge full-room computer called a Philco 2000.  Because I had that knowledge of computers I was hired to initiate the use of computers in a federal office in Alaska.  About that same time the son of a co-worker who worked with an engineering firm in Anchorage invited several of our office to see his IBM1140, I think it was.  It was about the size of a deck, much smaller than the one in Laramie.

Later that year I traveled to the regional office of our federal department and saw the spinning tape and discs of an IBM360.  Then the office bought an IBM selectric typewriter that could storage keystrokes on a magnetic card.  By the time I left that job in 1977 we had a printer, the key punch for punching cards, and we used an computerized accounting program.  The program was run on a computer in DC but we could print it in our office.

In '77 we moved to remote Alaska where we built a simple home and started making wooden toys for financial income.  On a trip around the states in 1981, I saw my first desktop computer, a HealthKit using a audio cassette for memory.  Soon after that we bought our first Apple II which we used to inventory our little wholesale grocery business.  After that things moved too fast, an Apple GS, a Mac for Marc when he went to college in '91.  A Mac at the new job at Jamestown College, a Mac laptop, it weighed a ton.  Then there was a Power Mac, an iBook, several MacBooks, iPads, and iPhones.

If you jumped into the middle of this short history some place you may not have sensed the great changes from no computers, just manual adding tools to devices that you wear on your wrist and can be involved in almost everything you do.

I've remained intrigued with the possibilities of computers over the years but more recently have become frustrated with the gap between expectations and promises and reality.  I don't remember the mechanical adding machine to ever make a mistake although my first electronic handheld calculator didn't do square roots correctly consistently.  But now it's like a user is problem shooting almost constantly, or at least several times a day.  Of course, in my attempt so be a diverse person with many interests, activities and skills, the computer becomes a part of almost each one of them.

So today I will prepare for the class that I will teach this fall, a class using computers, coding and the Internet, by using a computer.  I will organize pictures from my past, using the computer.  I will research and write family history using the computer.  I will do several arts and crafts projects using a paintbrush, a bandsaw and, yes, the computer.  I will send greetings, answer questions and ask questions of friends, family and associates using the computer.  I will cook several meals in some cases with recipes from the Internet.  I will calculate my exercise using a mini-computer, my iPhone.

As someone who played in the dirt with make-believe characters as a child, I still cherish those activities and work toward a balance of computers and dirt.  I now leave the com-poo-ter to work in the dirt.