26-Dec-08: Roughing it

Here in Oregon, over the past two weeks, we’ve had a winter storm (snow and ice) that is the worst such event in 40 years.  The last time this area experienced such an event was in 1968, right during the prime-time of the electronic calculator era.  In 1968, HP introduced the HP 9100A – undeniably a major benchmark in the history of electronic desktop calculating…and the beginning of personal computing.  Along with HP’s earth-shattering introduction, calculators that utilized integrated circuit logic started to become more commonplace.

I vividly remember the 1968 snowstorm.  My parents’ home had snow drifts that went up and over the house.  The wind was blowing the snow so hard that it was blowing snow underneath the garage door such that foot-tall snowdrifts formed in the garage!  Both my parents’ cars were completely buried in the driveway.  My uncle, who was living with us at the time, had to dig a tunnel from the back door of the house to get out.  He hiked about 2 miles to a grocery store to get food, as the cupboards were running bare.  It was quite a time.

The current storm created quite a stir where we live.  We were without electricity for a period of almost four days – making the situation much more difficult.  We live in a very rural area, with only electricity, phone, and DSL as utilities.  We have a well for water, and propane for heating and cooking.  Fortunately, just before the storm started, the propane people came and filled the tank.   Without electricity, though, the furnace doesn’t run, and the well pump can’t run.  That means water becomes a real precious commodity, and heating has to be done by burning wood.   Living like this makes one really think about what it must have been like to live in times before electricity, phones, Internet, and central heating.

Such events make one really appreciate the benefits that technology have brought to us.  Technologies that we all take so for-granted really start to make their importance known when they are taken away.

Sometimes technology can be such a pain in the butt.  It can also be used in ways that are not beneficial to mankind in general.  But, it truly is amazing how technology has so dramatically changed our lives in the last 100 years.   It’s even more mind-boggling to think just how technology is going to change our lives within a timeframe even as short as the next ten years.  The rate of advancement of technology today makes the days of “rapid” advancement of calculator technology look glacial in comparison.  While I find the wonders of the technology of 1968 completely fascinating, I can’t help but be dazzled by the technologies of the near future.  Things like biotechnology, nanotechnology, quantum computing — these things have just as much, if not more, chance of radically changing our lives.  I just hope that the changes that come from these things end up being of as much benefit to mankind as the advances of technology in the late 1960’s.

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