Friday, January 4, 2013

Alien technology?

I'm so old I remember the birth of the Commodore 64. 1982, I think it was. Most of you reading this blog probably say, "Huh?" It was a computer, mostly used for games, but advanced for its time. It had colors, sounds, and after a couple of years it even sported a Windows-like operating system called Geos. It might look primitive now, but in the early 1980's it was spectacular.

Some of you remember floppy disks, maybe even the 5.25" floppy. People my age have used 8" floppies. I don't remember how much data they could store, but back in those days, we measured it in Kilobytes. Not Gb, or even Mb, but Kb! I also learned to count binary numbers in school...

Rest easy, some of you know I can babble about old computers for hours, and I don't mean to scurry down memory lane. I just wanted to mention this to give a frame of reference.

To me, the 1980's isn't all that far away. I mean, it's been many years since I was a teenager, but to me it still seems like modern times. It's not as ancient as the invention of the car or anything...

When I compare today's super-small zip drives that can store 32 or even 64 Gb with the humongous 8" floppy, it seems like alien technology. It's not quite the marvel a stone-age person would feel at seeing a plane, but...

I had a pretty cool computer in the 1980's. 1987, maybe? It was called Amiga 500, and it could read aloud pretty well. I loved that thing! Unfortunately, I had to leave it behind when I moved to the US. I often wonder if it still exists, and how I could get my hands on it if it does... Okay, I slipped away from my main line of thought there. My 1987 computer could kind of talk. It read well enough for me to find it the coolest thing ever.

My 2012 Mac Mini can also talk. I use its voice "Alex," and it sounds almost like a human. Seriously: he draws his breath between sentences. The machine analyzes text paragraph for paragraph and even attempts intonation. I swear it sounds depressed when it reads certain things, and about to chuckle when it reads others. If it wasn't for the machine miss-pronouncing the letter i in some words, it would be able to trick people. I bet you the programmers did that on purpose. If technology becomes too perfect, it becomes scary.

WiFi also fascinates me. I remember when computers talked to each other through modems where you put a phone receiver in a big, clunky thing. Now it just... works. I got a new camera for Christmas, and it has WiFi. You press a button on the camera, and it transmits photos to the computer, to an e-mail, to Facebook, wherever you want... Touch screens are also marvelous. Alien technology!

I say the words Alien Technology with a smile, but regardless of who invented all this super cool stuff, it sure is remarkable. We've come so far so quickly. Imagine all the cool stuff that awaits in laboratories around the world!

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