Tuesday, February 12, 2008

More Irony or Ironworks



My father is a retired electrical engineer. He's pretty big on science, specifically physics and math. However, it took me a really long time to understand what he did for a living. When I was 5, we went for a drive one day to the site of where a transformer station was being constructed. Big coils, lots of power lines, and a fence with big warning signs to stay out. There was also a moat around the site where they were going to install drainage. And mud. Tons of mud and muck (it was under construction after all). Dad pointed to the site and said, "This is what I do. I help build those things".

To a 5 year old, that means hammer and nails, physically putting something together. So for years I thought my father actually put those things together but couldn't understand how he never brought home any mud or dirt. For weeks after that I would inspect his shoes for signs of dust at least, but there was no evidence that he "built" those things. I never considered that he might be have lied to me so I was even more amazed that he could build those things and not get dirty. It wasn't until I was 14 or 15 I finally understood what my father did for a living.

I was a pretty quick study with most subjects in school but some things seemed to just be beyond my comprehension. They took me longer to get. Fortran! OMG, in 1981 I took Fortran at university and flunked it. Took it a second time and managed to pass it, but God only knows how. It wasn't until a few months ago that I realized Fortran is a language. I thought it was math! If I had known in 1981 I was studying a computer language, I might have passed the darn thing the first time. I just couldn't reconcile Fortran with math.

We all have mental blocks that prevent us from "getting" something, be it Fortran or some other concept. I have a mental block with technology that I sometimes get teased about at work. I am the first to admit it. The fact that I have started and maintain a blog never ceases to amaze me as I can crash a computer faster than you can say "binary code". But I passed a milestone tonight.

I "Skyped" with Charles from msbpodcast. He has recorded our conversation and hopefully we have begun what will be a fun and informative partnership for some of his podcasts. Not that they aren't fun and informative on their own, but the partnership thing is new to the both of us. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for my debut on internet podcasting.

It's hard to believe this technology allows us to talk over the internet. OK, all you techy types who are right now laughing at me...STOP IT. I'm a Luddite. Just like the two little hand painted iron figures I keep in front of me at the computer.

S.

8 comments:

mdmhvonpa said...

Luddite indeed! I was a few years behind you and had the benefit of more .... kindly computer languages.

Charles-A. Rovira said...

FORTRAN (computerese for FORmula TRANslation) was my first Formal Language.

I haven't been norm... uh, the same since. :-)

But I learned it back in 1975.

EBNF (Extended Bachus Naur Form) wasn't even fully formalized back then. (I've got some geeky stories I could tell you... Yeech... :-)

In my day, (the mid-seventies,) you often had hand-coded assembler, toggled in on rocker switches on the computer front panel, (before you could pull in the paper tape on a KSR-33 teletypewriter.)

You have no idea how friggin' glad I was when the Macintosh made its debut. (Tough to be fair, I had discovered the WIMP [Window, Icon, Mouse, Pointer] interface four years earlier in the August 1991 Issue of Byte Magazine.)

Diane J Standiford said...

Hmmm, I took a class...30yrs ago...xx's and oo's or ii's, I remember thinkig:"This will never catch on." Sigh. podcasts scare me..."Pods." ewww Bravo for you though! You go and i'll hear about it.

BRAINCHEESE said...

WooHoo! Ain't technology grand?!? (Until it turns on us)

Linda D. in Seattle

Shauna said...

Pa,
I left computers behind for many years after that....until about 15 years when I was replaced by one. At least I learned how to use 'em.

Charles,
THAT's what Fortran means! If even that little bit of info had been explained to me, I might have had a better understanding.
I was always asking folks (like lab instructors) to explain how computers worked but they all would say "You don't need to know that". In hindsight, I didn't, but if I had asked more specific questions, i might not have melted into a puddle of tears once a week trying to understand why all my punch cards were in the wrong order or missing.

Diane,
I suspect that like most things, podcasts are scary at first. But I guarantee you, if I can do it, anyone can.

Linda,
You've been watching too many Terminator movies. Or Star Trek...I do like Arnie and 7 of 9. Is my geekiness showing?

S.

Shauna said...

And by the way, for anyone interested, technically my little iron people are mennonites, not luddites, though by definition, the mennonites are kind of luddites as well.
S.

steve said...

You think you had issues with math and computers? Check this out - it took me three tries to pass the very brutal 6 hour qualification exam to obtain my certified financial planner designation. The exam had 2 parts - 3 hours in the morning - 3 hours in the afternoon. Why I would want to know the formula for calculating corporate bond liquidity ratios, I have no idea. We have computer programs to figure that out. When they work, great, when they don't, the entire office basically shuts down for 2 hours or longer, depending on when the I.T. people deem it worthy to show up, or to pass time at a local Tim Hortons.

Give me pen, paper and an old fashioned calculator any day.

Happy Valentines y'all!

Shauna said...

For those who don't know, Steve is a good buddy from university, is fluent in Hungarian and has a remarkable resemblance to Father Guido Sarducci from Saturday Night Live.
And he's a big softie....
S.