The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

November 7, 2007

Influential Technology – The Greatest Technlogical Influences in My Life

Filed under: Technology — Brian Lutz @ 2:37 am

Over at Daily Pundit (via Instapundit,) Bill Quick has made an interesting post about some of the changes that technology (among other things) has made to his life, followed by a number of interesting comments on the subject.  This got me to thinking about the influence that technology has had on my life, and rather than make a list of the ways technology has affected my life (I’m pretty sure all of my responses to the question would be covered by someone else by now) I thought I’d approach this question from a different angle, and make a list of some of the technology that has had the greatest influence on where I have ended up today.  With no further ado, and in no particular order, I present this list after the jump.

My first PC.  I don’t recall exactly when it was that my parents got our family’s first PC, but if I recall correctly, it was around 1991 or so.  At the time, I was no stranger to computers, having been exposed to the TRS-80s at the elementary school I attended, the Apple IIe (and later Apple IIgs) systems that replaced them, the Commodore 64 that a family friend had at their house, and eventually the Macintosh SEs that soon became the de facto standard for computers at school.  In spite of this, until this time, my exposure to PCs was extremely limited, and the DOS-based platform wasn’t exactly known for its user friendliness (although the recent arrival of Windows 3.0 had begun to change this.)  That first PC was a 386SX running at 20MHz, with 2MB of RAM, an 89MB hard drive, dual floppy drives, a 1MB Trident VGA card and a 2400 baud modem.  This package, which also included DOS 5.0, Windows 3.0 and some obscure word processing/spreadsheet/database suite for DOS, cost nearly $1,500 at the time of purchase (which, although not the cheapest system you could get at the time, was still considered an “entry level” system.)  To this was later added a single speed Sony CD-ROM drive with a proprietary interface requiring its own ISA card, and number of software titles included (if I recall, that package cost an additional $400.) 

Although there was nothing particularly special about this system compared to others (with the possible exception of the CD-ROM drive, which was somewhat of an early adopter item at the time) I quickly learned the ins and outs of the system.  In spite of that, it is unlikely that I would have ended up where I am today if it wasn’t for the school librarian at the junior high school I attended in Los Alamos, NM.  By merit of having a PC at home, somehow she made the determination that I was qualified to work on PCs, and asked me to do some hardware work on the systems in the library.  Somehow, I managed to put a sound card into the system without setting anything on fire, and as she moved to the local high school the next year along with my class, I continued to perform troubleshooting and maintenance on PCs in the library and throughout the school, and as a result continued to work with PCs after leaving high school, setting me on a career path in which I am still working today.  (Incidentally, if by some chance Mrs. Morhart happens to find this, thank you for all that you have done.)

The Internet.  My first exposure to the Internet also came when I was in high school, and several years before it hit the mainstream.  One of the more interesting parts of living in Los Alamos (aside from the extra background radiation exposure) was having a big government lab next door, with a whole bunch of big expensive supercomputers sitting around.  To burn off some of the spart cycles on the big iron machines (or a good chunk of taxpayer money, I’m not entirely sure which) they put together a program called the Supercomputing Challenge, which gave high school students throughout the state access to supercomputers, as long as they could think of some interesting scientific project to do on them.  At the same time, the high school I was attending received a surplus Sun 4 workstation from the Lab, which was used to connect the school to the Internet (this was in 1994, several years before the Internet really caught on in the mainstream.)  Granted, there wasn’t much to see at the time (there were only a handful of websites in existence, and Mosaic was the only browser you could view them on.  Most of the action was on Gopher, a hyperlinked menu system which all but disappeared completely with the rise of the Web.)  In a pinch, I later found that some of this content could also be reached via CompuServe, albeit at great expense (as I learned after running up a $75 CompuServe bill one month, which didn’t exactly please my parents at the time,) but it wasn’t until after I graduated high school in 1996 that we got an Internet connection at home on a blazing fast 14.4k modem.  It was at that time that my first website was born, and from there, I’ve hardly gone a day without the Internet.  Of course, I could quit anytime if I wanted…

The Atari 2600.  All throughout my childhood I had some sort of affinity for video games, especially those found in the arcades, although it was rare that I would get a chance to actually play any of these games.  Although a number of systems had been around as I was growing up (these included an Odyssey 2, a TI-99/4A and a particularly obscure system called the Emerson Arcadia 2001) it wasn’t until we got an Atari that I really started to play video games at home.  This was in 1986, a couple of years after the crash of ’84, which meant that the systems could be had cheap, and huge piles of crummy games could be had even cheaper.  In retrospect, I probably could have found better uses of my time, and hindsight informs me that I probably shouldn’t have spent so much time on the 2600 versions of Pac-Man and E.T., but 20 years later, I have accumulated a fair number of hours and days (even months, in some cases) logged in various video games.  I also somehow ended up with a full size arcade cabinet in my office, but that’s another story.  I’m not saying that this is necessarily a good thing, but for better or for worse, I’ve spent a significant amount of time on video games over the years, and the Atari 2600 is the system that got me started on it.

The Dell Axim X5.  As a long time technology junkie, I’ve had a number of various gadgets and gizmos come through over the years, but among these, my Dell Axim X5 stands out partly because nearly five years after I bought it I still use it on an almost daily basis, and partly because although I didn’t know it at the time, it would have a significant impact on my career path.  At the time, I was looking to purchase a PDA in order to gain some mobile computing ability, and although I had been looking initially at Palm devices, the advent of the Axim put a PocketPC device into a price range I could actually afford.  For quite a while, I used the device mainly for basic PDA functions, but as I finished up my community college degree, an opportunity to work as a software tester on a PocketPC application came up, and having prior experience with the PPC platform was one of the things that allowed me to be hired to the position.  Over the course of the next several years, I would end up doing quite a bit of work with Windows Mobile applications, which has led me to where I am now, set to start a new contract test position on the Mobile Devices team at Microsoft early next month.  Sometimes it’s the little things that end up having a much larger influence than they might suggest, and this is definitely one of them.

These four items are probably the ones that have had the greatest long term impacts on where I have ended up today.  There are others I could list, but none that I can think of have had nearly as much influence.  Of course, aside from technology, my parents and family have always been a far greater influence on me, and have done far more than any technology ever could to make me who I have become, and for that I am grateful.  It doesn’t matter how many shiny gadgets and gizmos you have, you’re never going to replace the influence that loving parents, brothers and sisters are going to have on you.  Of course, that doesn’t stop people from trying…

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