As a student at The Evergreen State College from 1983-86, I wrote many papers; one of which was entitled "From Pebbles to This" ( "this" being a computer)! At that time I had access to university libraries all over the country. The facts of that paper were credited to be true at that time. I want to share part of that that paper, written in January 1984, as my first blog entry ...
"Hundreds of years ago, men used notches in sticks or scratches in the sand to help them remember numbers. Smooth round pebbles made handy counters ..... so a handful of pebbles was the first calculating "machine". It is a long, long way from pebbles and marks in the sand to modern, electronic computers. But the methods of calculating have remained the same. It is the kind and complexity of the tools ... that have changed. One of the earliest kinds of computers, the abacus, is still in use today in most of Asia." ( the author of that quote is lost! ... but to continue in my own words)
It was not until the 1940s that the computer was first made available for commercial use: its primary tasks being those of solving mathematical problems. More generalized uses of the computer have developed rapidly during he past 40 years and it is that rapid development that is responsible for me sitting here for the very first time before this machine and its various attachments, determined that my very first words from our personal computer should come written about science and technology!
I thought to myself, as I faced the keyboard, of anxieties of the past that I had somehow managed to master: math to some degree, science, having my ears pierced!, handling our sailboat by myself ... all of which for some reason at this stage don't seem quite so "ominous" or quite so quantum a leap as I have made by taking the time to sit down and actually make out how to get "that thing" started up and going and to make it do what I want it to do!!*
The encyclopedia I was reading (ah ha! definitely pre the Internet and Google searches) speaks at some length about the "sequence of operations" that a washing machine makes when it washes a load of clothing. The washing machine even "makes some decisions" along the way: when the water reaches a certain level something is tripped which then sets another function working and amazing to me to realize that it is the very same feedback operation that works the computer I am using today. It is the feedback that I give to the machine that makes it carry out the functions I choose. That is of course unless I operate it incorrectly or give it a wrong command!
Electronic computers perform these functions on a very grand scale. Automatically they are able to run through numerous sequences of steps ... . and it was in reading about one of the basic elements of computing that I found where the pebbles on the beach turned into electronic pebbles!!! This basic element is called a flip-flop circuit. Included in this circuit is a pair of either tubes or transistors which are connected to each other in a manner that ensures whenever one is on, the other is off. ... Today I have played with those "electronic pebbles" and it will no doubt take me some period of time to injest the meaning of this new mastery. In no way have I mastered this computer, hardware and software, but I have with the aid of my son, the manual, and a couple of semi hysterical calls to the computer dealership,managed to get the muddled thoughts from my head onto this piece of paper .........."
How much of this writing is still true today is uncertain. I have recently witnessed Chinese merchants using an abacus with which to count and at the very same time I know that less than 10 years following the above writing the entire country of China was electrified providing access to all manner of communication.
I am awestruck that I can hit publish on the keyboard in front of me and, thanks to my friend Alicia, make my ramblings available for countless people to read ( or to laugh at) around the globe and at the same time very mindful of the clutter of the internet. Whether or not I feel this is a way I want to communicate, be visible, remains to be seen. For now I need to surrender to the electronic pebbles and simply push ... publish post!
The fresh New Year of 2010 is upon us and my wishes for anyone who reads this are for good health and great joys in the coming year.