I inherited my geekiness about gadgets from my father. You might not expect an infatuation with small electronic devices (what I call “gadgets”) from a person who was born in 1926 and raised in the rural part of southeast Texas, but he always showed a fascination with equipment like that. He was, after all, trained as a quartermaster in the Navy. Plus, he was an avid amateur photographer at a time when personal cameras were not all that common.
We have a picture of him, taken sometime during the end of WWII, his shirt off, drying rolls of some film on the deck of his Navy ship.1 The film is unusual; certainly much bigger then 35mm, it also appears to be much longer than the average roll of 6.5cm film (which is usually only a dozen or so shots). This looks like there could easily be fifty images in the 6.5 or 4.5cm format.
We were the first family in the neighborhood to get Pong, and we were the first people we knew to get a VHS video camera. He encouraged my interest in electronics and that interest is almost certainly the reason that I have the career that I do.
For me, however, it all started at the Christmas of my 7th grade year when I received a very early Texas Instruments calculator.2 With this astoundingly expensive gift (the retail price was $149.99 at the time), I was the envy of all of my school friends. With this magical3 device, I could take the square root of a number without tedious calculations. Sadly, I no longer have the SR-10, but I now own a collection of high-end calculators that I’ve acquired through the years.
I wrote some of my first computer programs not on a “computer” per se, but on a programmable calculator.4 I may be one of the few people who moved from calculators to the slide rule, and not vice versa; in high school, as a freshman, I joined the University Interscholastic League5 slide rule team. By the time I was a senior, however, the slide rule competition had been dropped in favor of a mathematics competition that permitted the use of a calculator.
I was one of the first people to acquire the original Palm Pilot, and I’ve certainly kept up with the gadgets through the years. To me, it is fascinating to see how much power can be held in the palm of your hand. While most of us take such things for granted, it’s worthwhile to pause occasionally and reflect that our smartphone has more raw computing power than existed on the entire earth in 1970.
Imagine if people of that era could see the astounding things we do with so much power at our fingertips: Angry Birds! Facebook! Twitter! With all seriousness, however, we have so much power available to us at so little a price that we can afford to spend much of it on games and amusements.
An LST, or “Landing Ship Tank,” a very large amphibious craft intended to deposit tanks on the shores of the numerous Pacific islands. ↩︎
Probably the SR-10. ↩︎
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” —Arthur C. Clarke ↩︎
An HP15C, which is now available as an app for the iPhone. ↩︎
UIL—this organization was run by the University of Texas system and moderated all competitions, both athletic and academic, across the state of Texas. ↩︎