Jun 28, 2008

The joy of small electronics

There is much to be tickled and awed by on the web and if you read sites like Neatorama or Boing Boing or even Cute Overload, you've already seen a lot of the stuff. Thanks to link curiosity via something else Neatorama posted, I came across this little video on machine mimicking nature.


Robots Inspired by Animals - video powered by Metacafe

Seeing robots instantly made me think of electronics (robotics being a combination of electronics, mechanics and programming) and got me thinking. In my first full-time job out of high school, I was introduced to computers, or more accurately: Data entry operating. It was a keyboard and a screen with green letters on black. I was terrified at using the thing but after learning how to correct mistakes during my first afternoon with it, I was in love. My second full-time job was as a secretary in the branch office of a mini-computer corporation (a mini-computer back then being the size of a washing machine). I was a whiz at programming the page height on tractor-feed dot matrix printers (it was purely mechanical, using a perforated tape). Later on, the trick was to know the DIP-switch settings to get a desktop dot matrix printer to print from a pre-Windows PC.

Both printers and computers have come a long way since 7" 8" floppy disks and dedicated word processing machines. Miniaturization started with the transistor. A transistor radio featured strongly in my childhood and even as a kid, I understood that its 3x4 inch size was special. Especially since it picked up any AM radio station under the sun.

When my parents separated, my mother's parents took me in. We rented a house in the desert where my father's parents lived, and Grandma and Grandpa rented out their home in San Pedro. We lived in the desert for about 18 months. Then Grandma and Grandpa got serious about their plans to retire in Europe, and shipped everything they wanted to keep (dishes, cutlery, record albums, the heavy pale blue drapes from the living room in San Pedro, the bunny-on-a-cabbage cookie jar, and the car). As they and I walked through their emptied San Pedro home, I discovered a little black object on the kitchen counter. Grandpa figured that their tenants had forgotten their transistor radio and let me have it.

It ran on two AA batteries and went to Norway with us, becoming a fixed feature in my room. It introduced me to Radio Luxembourg and the world of rock and pop music. I opened it on more than one occasion, trying to make sense of the tiny little circuit board and the wires and some other unidentified metal bits. Grandpa was an engineer, but his specialty was diesel engines, not electronics. It was a new world to him. It was to be my world.

Though I have a bit of Luddite in me (I prefer having a grease monkey rather than a nerd fixing a car, but I may be biased since I grew up around tool boxes and oil changes), I see that today's electronics can do marvelous things, like helping a prosthetic limb function more naturally, or by identifying a stray cat or dog, or by being the"e" in "e-mail". So I watch the video showing robots seemingly behaving like living creatures, and it makes me delighted and very curious about what will happen next with our technology.

3 comments:

Sravana said...

Great post, Keera!
That video absolutely killed me. People are so inventive...

I'm amazed that there was such a thing as a 7-inch floppy disk - I started learning about PCs when the 5 1/2 inch disks were the standard. I suppose the 7-inch ones were used on mainframes? No, those used magnetic tape, I can remember the pics.

Anonymous said...

7-inch didn't exist but 8-inch was used in both mainframs and minis.

--
Jon
Melbourne

Keera Ann Fox said...

8-inch it was, Jon. Thanks. We used those on the Wang word processor.

Glad you liked my post, Sravana. To comment on storage: Tapes were used for installing, transferring and back-up purposes; they're still used for back-up. The mainframes and minicomputers of my youth used over-grown brown LP-records (it looked like) in stacks.