Remembering computers the way they were…

The personal computer. Not a room filling massive computational system that modified the trajectory of Apollo 11. But something that sat on your desk and has subtly changed the way the world works, forever.

I wonder about the name though. Back in the day the Mac was more personal. You could customize (easily) backgrounds on the Mac quickly. You could on the PC but it took some wandering and creative disk swapping. Plus the memory issue meant the PC had to have very poor graphics as your background.

But I am not writing to compare rather to remember. Not just to remember what was, but also the dreams that we had back in the day. I used to try to connect just about everything to the computer. From MIDI devices (which were very expensive at the time) to well just about everything. Today that is so much easier than it was (Wi-Fi and Bluetooth). But it isn’t as fun as it was.

First off computing was once about your ability to swap disks. Usually in the middle of a though if you were writing. The flopping containing the application would need to be swapped into the drive. Even with two Floppy drives you still did a lot of swapping. Enter the dream, the hard drive. Another game changer that ended up evolving rapidly as a new and better way to store files. But those first computers were filled with promise and frustration (SCSI chains – a maximum of 7 devices and you had better terminate them properly).

I was a computer tinkerer, still am. So I learned the reality of patience when it comes to computers. When things don’t work the way I want them to, I fix them. I look at the problem and evaluate the options I have. I consider the impact and then I try to fix the problem. Knowing what I know, from the dark days of compute past I can usually work my way though a problem. Setting up a virtual machine in AWS or Azure is not that much different than building a PC from scratch. What I don’t have is the nomenclature. I don’t know the words. So I use my peon and Google them. But the words aren’t in my head. The process the concepts and ultimately the steps you need to take to fix problems, build systems and design what will be, that’s in my head. There is a great concept called learning from your mistakes.

But if you have broken a SCSI chain or beaconed a token ring you wouldn’t think to look there. If you grew up in the age of the internet, then the network is always up. You never lived through the pre-internet reality of the network may be up but IT DOESN”T CONNECT TO ANYTHING ELSE. Remember that it isn’t just about solving the problem in front of you. It is also about building systems that are aware of what has been so you don’t miss an easy fix.

There is a higher order thinking skill involved in troubleshooting called memory. If you have never experienced something then you experience a shock and awe impact. If you have experienced a lot of bad things there is less shock and awe impact. Just because the senior engineer in the room doesn’t remember the names for an AWS VPC or how Azure Machine learning works, pay attention. They may be able to tell you why the computer connecting to your beautiful new cloud solution doesn’t actually ever get anywhere near your CSP.

Blend the old and the new. Remember to pay attention to those that built the system. Yes everything is new and shiny but remember there are people that were building before new and shiny existed. listen to them, sometimes they can fix problems you don’t see. I call this concept Brittle Computing. Originally I applied the concept to solution themselves. I have come to realize that it applies as much to organizations and people as it does to the solutions they are running. Brittle sometimes means resistant to change.

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Old IT Guy