Technical Difficulties from on Top of the Mountain
2004-03-07
  Travelling back in time
Hmmm. 1985, that's a pretty easy year to remember. I graduated from high school that year. (Man, I'm getting old.)

Reagan had just crushed Mondale in the last presidential election (with largest electoral vote majority: 525 to 13). Reaganomics was on a role, and fading Presidency of Jimmy Carter was still a bad joke. Gas prices were down to under a dollar (on and off), and I was packing up my life into a toyota pickup to head down to LA for college.

Computers was the area of study, though it was a far different field than today. Computing was either done on mainframes like the PDP-11 and its bigger brother the VAX 11/780, or this new thing called the microcomputer (best represented by the Apple 2, though there were rumblings about a new offering from IBM, called the IBM PC). Chip venders were pushing the envelope, integrating tens of thousands of transistors, producing such notables as the NS32032 (national), the Z8000 (zilog), the 68000 (motorola), and the 8086 (as well as its low cost trailer-park cousin the 8088 which was being used in the new IBM PC for price reasons).

Local networking was accomplished with the high tech "serial line" which ran as fast as 9,600 baud under ideal conditions. Modems were used to connect to bulletin boards, usually at 300 baud, or at 1200 if you were really rich. The fax machine was still not very common, probably more people were still using telex. High tech wireless communication was alphanumeric paging, but forget about two way. War Games had come out about a year back, and had popularized much of this. The geek's magazine was Byte Computing back before it decomposed, featuring such notables as Jerry Pournelle from Chaos Manor, and Steve Ciarcia's Circuit Cellar. Steve was my favorite and had I more than a few dollars at my disposal, I would have gladly spent them all trying to build those circuits. (I already was blowing what limited funds I had buying project kits and grab bags of parts from Radio Shack and occasionally Jameco.)

As I came over the grapevine (Interstate 5), I was rewarded with quite a spectacle. The edges of the LA basin were impressive as a start, with air easier to see than to breath. Unfortunately, I started off with the wrong impression of the LA freeway system, which is to say a good impression, because I was taking a brand new section of the 210 from I5 to pasadena and no body else had discovered it yet, so it was smooth sailing.

I got to college, and immediately discovered that there were a lot more people smarter than me than I had first realized, and that I should have just left my Atari 800 back in Clovis, as we were inundated with technology. The computer equipment I had in my own room that first year represented more than twice my tuition, and some of the computers over in the computer center that I had access to were worth more than my house is. It was great. I'm amazed I was able to tear myself away from all these toys and actually get to class once in a while.

1985 was a much better year than 1990, or 1995, or 2000. Things were simpler, the world was on a more even keel. The Russians were still the bad guys, but nobody was taking them very seriously any more. America seemed to have the upper hand. A lot of it was just ignoring the signs of changes to come, and some of it was being 18 and having no real idea what was going on in the world; but it was a golden age for business, technology, and a great backdrop for the start of my college education.

 
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Feb '04
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Mar '04
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Apr '04
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May '04
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