Growing up in a sleepy New England town, I frequently thought about the mystery that was our weather. The sun would go up and down every day, yet for some reason, it was frigid and snowing one month, then hot and humid a few months later. Like most proper New Englanders, my family watched the daily news. One day, the weatherman stated that the primary reason for the seasons changing had to do with the tilt of the earth as it rotates around the sun. That little fact sparked in me a desire to learn more and explore other mysteries, one of which was tucked away in my childhood home.
The mystery box
Growing up, I loved our attic. It was a magical space where I could explore old family heirlooms, look at pictures, and play with old technology like a projector and cameras. To start my visit, I would grab the kitchen chair and a few copies of the Yellow Pages to reach up and pull the ladder down from the hallway ceiling. Ascending the rickety ladder, I savored the feeling of entering a special place where I could escape from everyone to think and enjoy the quiet.
We did not live in a large house, but it was long, and the attic stretched from end to end. It was dark, dusty, and not all that safe. Standing up, a plank of wood was always ready to smack a bruise on my head. Walking around, I had to remain in the center, or my feet would go through the ceiling below. There were two small windows on each side of the house, and they were just large enough to let a few rays of sunlight through at just the right hour. Two uncovered lightbulbs somehow seemed to cast more shadows than provide actual light.
One day, rummaging through the attic, I found a dusty old cardboard box with my mother’s name on it. Opening the box, I expected to see an old pair of shoes or some hastily placed books, but instead, it contained something out of the ordinary. Our attic was full of old-timey knick knacks, clothes, and half-forgotten memories, but here, my mother had a box of tightly packed items that felt modern and complex. Immediately, my little young mind went into high gear thinking about what peculiar things my mother was storing — no, hiding — up in that attic.
Those items were another mystery, just like the change of the seasons, and I needed to solve it. For a few weeks, I would wait for those special times when the family was otherwise occupied and rush up to the attic, pulling items out, investigating them, and trying to piece together what it all meant.
One day, when I returned home from school, my mother was waiting for me with the contents of the box sitting beside her. Knowing my mother’s facial expressions and fastidious nature, I could tell she was mostly upset I made a mess than worried I stumbled upon a dangerous secret. That was a relief because my little mind and giant imagination had my mom pegged somewhere between a secret agent (which would be super cool) or a spy (maybe still cool, but scary if she was aware of my knowledge). Perhaps the question of what the box contained would not lead to an explosive new understanding of my mom, but instead, there was a more straightforward and decidedly less intriguing answer. It turns out; the answer was somewhere in between.
A bug outside the box
Before my mother and I could discuss the subtler points of going to the attic alone and not cleaning up after myself, I had to satisfy my curiosity. “What are those things?” I ask. “They were the software program I had to create in college,” she answers.
Wait! What? My mother used computers? I had only seen those things on PBS (look it up), and they were expensive and took up a whole floor in a building and were so very cool and probably the future. “But how are those cards a program?” I wonder aloud. “They are called computer punch cards. I had to solve math problems by punching holes in them and feeding them through a computer to get the results,” my mother replies.
The thought of using computers always excited me and to know I was looking at an actual computer program was pretty neat. But there was an issue with what my mother said, and it was looming in the back of my mind until I slowly untangled its meaning.
What was it my mother had said? “They were a software program…” Oh. As my mother and I silently looked back and forth at each other and then at the jumbled pile of punch cards, I felt a pang of guilt. By removing all those cards and strewing them about the attic floor meant one thing: the program will not work because the cards are out of order.
So, as it turns out, I created my very first software bug without even touching a computer. Sorry to mom, but also thank you to mom for stirring my interest in computers, software, and technology.
Learning in the age of fast-paced change
Fast-forward to today, where I am finalizing this article on a computer smaller than my Trapper Keeper, and realize I have come so far but there is so much more to learn.
A podcast to keep on pace
The TechGenix T-Suite Podcast is a series I created to learn the past, present, and future of technology. I will speak with industry experts in various industries to learn new topics and better understand how technology is evolving.
The first few podcasts have wrapped, and I am recording more each week. (You can find the first one here.) Every podcast will contain a short article here on TechGenix, and I will also keep you up to date on Twitter (@billraymonde) and LinkedIn. The Podcasts will be available via the TechGenix website or anywhere you download your favorite podcasts.
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