Young people, a tech tip for you. Listen up!

I had a great chat with some students in Michigan yesterday, who for some reason were interested in my career – the level of feigning interest was excellent, I gotta say, well done – and it gave me a chance to share my favourite tip for coding students.

Young people: listen up:

Everybody in the computer business enjoys nothing more than complaining about how tough it was when they were getting started compared to the luxurious and inexpensive computers of today.

These devices you’re using now? They will be the lamest, shabbiest, most underpowered computers you’ll use for the rest of your life.

I hope I’m still around in 30 years to attend a seminar that one of you are giving, and you hold up a dusty old iPhone 13 Pro Max and say – “Look what I had to use! Look how thick it was! It only had one measly terabyte of storage! And sometimes you had to “plug in” a “wire”.”

the big tip

So here’s my tip: Save some piece of tech you’re using today! Set it aside next time you upgrade, so that in 30 years you can pull it out as a prop to illustrate your ‘Here is what WE had to use, back in MY day’.

Behold, for instance, the CARDIAC! The Cardboard Illustrative Aid to Computation!

the CARDIAC

Cardiac
This is how they taught coding to us when I was in the seventh grade.

Because your school didn’t have a computer. Why would your school have a computer? What are you, NASA or something?

The comedy value of pulling out props to show the Youth of Today what You had to Deal With Back In Your Day should not be underestimated.

Here, BTW, is an IBM Port-A-Punch. A portable keypunch so you can do your FORTRAN coding on the bus on the way to visit the computer.

the Port-A-Punch

PortAPunch

And of course, everybody* loves the story about how you paid $2000 for a 300 Meg drive on your NeXT cube in 1988, and last week you bought a 5 terabyte drive for $150, and I can’t wait to hear the 2052 version of this story.

  • hardly anybody, tbh.

Ancient NeXT Cube and modern hard drive

So, anyway, this thread is my attempt at justification for why I haven’t cleaned out a lot of the detritus in my office.

But, please, save something from today’s technology. You’ll love showing it off in the future.

Now. where did I put my slide rule. Hmm.

speaking of careers

career:
move swiftly and in an uncontrolled way in a specified direction: the car careered across the road and went through a hedge.

Yeah that definition sounds about right.

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3 Replies to “Young people, a tech tip for you. Listen up!”

  1. Another brilliant and interesting post!

    Some time back I remember running across the CARDIAC. I believe it was published by AT&T … actually Bell Labs.

    Truth be told, it speaks to the brilliance of the people of Bell Labs to introduce such an elegant tool to teach concepts of computers. These are the same people that invented information theory, the first transistor, the laser, C, Unix, C++, and so on.

    In fact, I would argue that a physical tool like this can be more valuable than a real computer when starting out because it allows the student to “see” the relationship between the instructions and the registers they affect. By analogy perhaps a slide rule can help students develop an intuitive “feel” for technology in a way that a calculator cannot. Of course they can move on to digital things later, though. A tool like this might help elementary school kids learn both computational and quantitative reasoning more effectively than rote memorization of both math tables and procedures such as those of arithmetic.

    Speaking of calculators, I think that when one realizes that there was less computer power onboard the spacecraft that landed men on the moon than there is in a typical calculator, one wonders about that those same scientists and engineers could do with today’s technology.

  2. Yup. “Bell System Educational Aid, Developed by Bell Telephone Laboratories.” and inside: “cardiac developed by David Hagelbarger”.

    It’s kind of sort of a Turing machine! Imagine that, your first introduction to coding involves writing values on a paper tape and moving the read/write head back and forth.

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