Strange Brouhaha

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Old, old tech

I realized today that I've been in the technology industry for almost 14 years now. I left the Music Store in fall of 1994 to start at the School District. I had been using computers long before that of course, but that's when I really started getting paid for it.

You know how a pocket calculator has more computing power than the spacecraft that took our astronauts to the moon? I'm pretty sure that my cell phone is more powerful, pound for pound, than the computers I worked on when I was at the School District--and that includes the file servers. It definitely has more storage space.

I've been in computing long enough to have gotten screwed by Apple TWICE during processor changeovers.

I've been in computing long enough to remember when a 486 DX2/66 was the top dog.

I've been in computing long enough to remember when a 14.4 modem was an exotic, rarely-seen creature. It's an exotic, rarely-seen creature nowadays, too...but for an entirely different reason.

I remember Micro Channel and Token Ring. I loved Token Ring because if you set your TR card to the wrong speed, you could--if you didn't fix it quickly enough--take out all of the computers in the school. (And they could see it at the operator's console downtown, too.)

I remember configuring XFree86 by hand in Slackware Linux, and having to dig out manuals to find the horizontal and vertical refresh rates of the monitors I was using.

I remember when Windows 95 came out, and we all had to scramble to try to make it work on our machines. And then we had to scramble to find a way to deploy it throughout the District.

When I worked at the School District, we were all issued cassette carriers (remember audio cassettes?) that we crammed full of floppy disks containing drivers for every device imaginable, floppy disks containing fresh copies of MS-DOS 6 and IBM DOS 5, boot disks for several different machines, NetWare boot disks, Windows 3.1, Microsoft Office, you name it, we had it. Those disks and a set of screwdrivers were really all we needed to keep 6,000 workstations more or less running most of the time. All of those disks would fit on the USB thumb drive I have in my pocket. With room to spare.

When I worked at the School District, we did server backups on an old plasma-screen luggable. Kids: plasma screens mean something entirely different today than they did back then. Those backups were great; we never did them very regularly because they took a long time, and usually setting up a backup would involve having to go back to the school early in the morning--because doing a backup would also involve taking down the entire network. Once, we discovered that we needed to restore a server from backup. That was the same day we discovered that our thousands of backup tapes were no good. Oooooops.

When I worked at the School District, I met some interesting people. None of them was as interesting as the kid who insisted on showing me his Pez dispenser collection. I sometimes wonder what that kid is doing now; that was long enough ago that he's probably graduated from college and working somewhere. I hope it's at the Pez factory.


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