Darkness into Light

It was Monday September 27th, 1993 and I was not even a month into my Junior year of High School. This day started out like most others, and as my Mother was dropping me off for school, one of the Secretaries came running out of the Administration building to eagerly greet me.

While in my Sophmore year I took a Computers elective class that was that was normally only available to Junior and Senior students, but because it was the last year they were offering it, I was able to enroll. This class was at the tail end of the 8-bit Apple computer era in schools, we had a bunch of Apple IIe, and some Apple IIgs computers. The teacher had successfully lobbied to purchase an IBM clone computer, it was a 386DX-25 with a VGA monitor, a pretty nice machine for the day.

I scored highly in the Computers class, probably the best grade I ever got in High School — I think my GPA averaged about 2 over the 4 years. High School was a difficult time for me because I was a teenager trying to find a niche and I never enjoyed subjects such as English. I do not like to read fiction, most of my reading has been non-fiction and technical books. I also did not like homework, and when 30-40% of your grade is based on homework, it’s hard to get good grades even if you score perfectly during in-class assignments or tests.

Anyway, apparently I had gained a reputation while a student in the Computers class and the school administration sought me out when their Novell server crashed. The story about the crash may or may not have had something to do with the Janitorial staff and the computer falling off the shelf it was sitting on.

The hard disk drive had been recently replaced by a parent who also ran a computer consulting business, but when the HDD crashed they were unavailable. The secretaries saw me and called me into the office to see if I could do anything, they had also called another computer repair/consultant who arrived later. The HDD was a Conner Peripherals IDE drive, very common for the era, it had been mounted upside down in a desktop AT case with 1 screw holding it in. Definitely not the quality you’d expect from someone who runs a consulting business, but common for “free” work done for schools on the side.

The other consultant showed up and left once it was clear there was no new replacement drive available, no “emergency funding” to acquire one that day, and a 16 year old High School kid looking over your shoulder. The disk drive was probably a $100-200 part back then, to acquire a new one you’d have to drive to Fry’s Electronics and in good traffic it would have been a 3 hour round trip.

Fortunately they had the old 71MB drive still and they had nightly tape backups that had run before the crash! I set about getting the old drive installed and running, then later restoring the most recent backups. They were working with the old data initially but in a day or 2 they had the most recently available backup data.

I read stories today about High School aged kids that are doing amazing things that blow my mind. The fact that they are so advanced at that age today makes me feel antique.

But then I think back to my time at that age and how we were learning and metaphorically bringing the darkness into light. The Internet was still capitalized and the way people connected and exchanged electronic information was via modems. The fastest modem I had available to me was 9600bps, today the minimum requirement the FCC calls Broadband is 25Mbps — that’s even a stretch for many rural areas of the country.

For those of you who don’t natively understand bits and bytes, it takes 1Mbps to stream mediocre quality HD video (1280×720), it takes about 7Mbps to stream high quality 1080p video, and close to 20Mbps for 4K video. 9600bps isn’t even enough to stream poor quality music, it’s about enough to have a poor quality phone conversation.

So, while I am very impressed with the achievements of today’s youth, I have to remind myself that they have the advantage of growing up with Google and having easy access to modern technologies. I won’t disparage my memories of my youth because we were literally bringing light to the dark ages and forming the foundations for the technologies today’s youth take for granted. I don’t want to be misunderstood, we weren’t any better than today’s youth, they are simply starting from a point that took us a very long time to reach — like a relay race for technology.

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