Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Where's My Jet Pack?

At some point, I'll outgrow the wonder of new technology, but I hadn't by this weekend.

My bedside computer is a Dell mini-10 netbook. I've had it a week. Two gig of memory, 160 gig of hard disk, three pounds. The 6-cell battery lasts for hours. Whoof.

I bought it, on-line, from Wal-Mart, who delivered it in three days. Same week. I installed three different OS's on it, and settled on Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic Koala).

Ubuntu is a lineal descendent of Unix, which I first installed on an IBM PC/XT, of which this Dell is, itself, a lineal descendent. The XT had an Intel 8088 processor, 256Kb of memory, and a 10Mb hard disk with another 10Mb expansion chassis to give it enough space to host multiple users. Those, and its cathode-ray-tube screen, took up a big chunk of a desk.

A megabyte, for those who don't rememeber them, is a milli-gig. A kilobyte is a milli-meg. "You had ones *and* zeroes?"

Kristina doubled the netbook's memory with a kit, also from Wal-Mart, helped by a call to a friendly Dell tech support guy, in Chennai, India.

Let me just pause to say that again: a phone call to Chennai, India. My mother's childhood phone number was 1. They had the first phone in Haynesville, Louisiana. To call my grandmother, we talked to operators. "I think Stella's down 't the beauty parlor. I'll ring down there."

This weekend, on my computer, I watched Spartacus, in bed. I downloaded and read a Kindle book, bought on-line from Amazon.com, with "Kindle for PC." I made a Skype video call to my sister, Jo, in Oregon. I did a software release at work from my living room while I was arranging for a barbershop quartet, from the Boulder Timberliners, to come seranade Kristina for Valentine's Day, at a restaurant I took her to.

I arranged it on my cell phone -- you know, the phone I carry in my pocket? The one running Linux? With the videocamera in it? That I get email on? That could give me turn-by-turn, voice directions to get to the restaurant? Which it could do by knowing where I was from the signals it was getting from the GPS satellite, in outer space?

My father helped open Vandenberg A.F.B., America's first operational missle base. He had computers with big cabinets that held tape drives with 7" reels. The computers and drives and disks took up big rooms and had their own air conditioning. They had bugs, too. We watched the first Atlas ICBMs launch, go astray, and then blow up. Made for cool sunsets.

Of course, we drove to the Valentine's Day dinner in a car. When he was a kid, my father's little sister was run over and killed, in Brooklyn, by a horse cart.

Time to get up and shower, so I can find out what new things I'll see today.

I feel like Duck Dodgers.

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