Why this Web page...

Simple. I have stuff on my mind that I'd like to share with whoever cares to read it. Once you've read this, you'll likely understand why I've got some unusual links here.

On the industry in general: In 'Dragonheart' (a pretty impressive movie, though the sequel blew it out of the water!), Dennis Quaid (who played Bowen) was a 'Knight of the Old Code.' Well, in one sense, I am (as are others who share mutual interests) an 'Engineer of the Old Code.'

What does this mean? In the simple sense, it means that I always do the best job I possibly can when I design, build, restore, repair, or upgrade something. It means that I have no problem with spending a little more than 'normal' if it means doing a better job. It means that, just because an item of hardware is a year old, or five, or even ten or more, I do NOT immediately consider it to be "obsolete."

As far as I'm concerned, an item does not truly reach obsolescence until it is no longer useful to anyone, anywhere, any time, for any purpose.

There's a more complex side to it though. If you follow what's happening in the computer and electronic industry to any degree, you may have noticed some long-term trends that I, and many of my friends and colleagues, find both sad and disturbing.

As an example: find a piece of computer or electronic hardware that was made, say, in the early or mid-1980's. Compare that item with a functionally-equivalent item made in the last five years. Specifically, compare the quality of the materials, attention to detail, quality of documentation, etc.

Sure, the later model device may have more bells and whistles than its earlier relative, but how well does it work given what it is supposed to do? How much abuse can it take? How long will it last, in terms of being fully functional, compared to the earlier model? Maybe just as long, and just as well -- or maybe not even half as long, or as well. In short, durability, serviceability, and long-term reliability are, in my eyes, far more important than a pretty package.

I don't think of myself as a Luddite, or standing against the idea of getting a better product for less money. Far from it! What I am against is the obsessive pursuit -- perhaps 'worship' would be a better word -- of the Almighty Dollar at Any Cost, including the sacrifice of a device's technical merit, or 'engineering excellence' in a given design.

I'm also firmly against the idea of working in any field, especially electronics or computers, simply because its a paycheck to you. If you do not truly enjoy being in this field, simply for the sheer fun of it, then you would be well advised to make a career change as soon as you can. I'm actually ignoring my own advice at this moment for the sake of getting my BSEE degree, but I do indeed plan to make a serious career change within a couple of weeks after graduation.

On computer upgrades: I see nothing at all wrong with upgrading your computer or software if the upgrade is well thought-out and adds significant (and USEFUL) functionality to an existing setup at a fair price. The problem today is that many so-called "upgrades" are sold and installed solely on the basis of some company's marketing department claiming that the product is "better" (and priced to whatever the market will bear).

Said marketeers will rarely give specifics; when they do, it is often a case of quoting laboratory test results that could almost never be duplicated in the real world. Worst of all, the end products will often perform at less than optimum.

In short, don't make the mistake I once did and catch "Upgrade Fever." Think about what job you want whatever you buy to do. Don't sell yourself short; Buy the best you can possibly afford.

On computers and the Internet in schools: Another major problem I see is how our kids are being taught about what computers are, what they are for, and what they can do. This may not seem very important to many parents. However, think about the constant advances in technology and computer science. Just about every job that comes along, from now until (probably) the End of Time, at least in our society, is going to require varying degrees of computer skills.

There's a big push right now to get the public schools wired for Internet connectivity, and to get computers installed in the classrooms. Am I against this? No, not if it's done for the right reasons and implemented well. Unfortunately, it seems that some computer manufacturers, along with some companies that do network wiring, see this as nothing more than an opportunity to make more money at the expense of both taxpayers and our children's education.

What, exactly, are our children being taught in these wired classrooms? Are they being taught about the basics of computer science and electronics? About basic networking? About why the Internet is there, and why it came about? No!

Are they being taught that there is a lot more to the 'net than just the World Wide Wait? How to interface with things like the Usenet newsgroups? No!

Are they being taught how to be responsible 'netizens?' Taught to take things found on the 'net with a grain of salt, and to think for themselves well enough to verify what they find? No!

Are they being taught about anything, in the field of computer science, that could possibly help them prepare for the kinds of career choices they are going to see in the next century? Not that I see as worthwhile!

All they're getting is an hour's recess with the computer. What are they doing with it, for the most part?

Playing games, despite some teacher's instructions to the contrary. Many will grow up believing that games are all a computer's good for, and that it is simply an expendable box to be thrown away like yesterday's garbage when it's no longer "cool." I've already come into contact with a number of kids who see things just that way. Many more will likely grow up completely unaware of the rich and varied history of computing, and they'll never learn why something was done a particular way, or why that way was important.

Perhaps worst of all, they may grow up believing that computing outside of a "Microsoft World" doesn't exist. They may never learn about alternative OS's, and non-PC platforms, such as Unix, Linux, BeOS, and systems like Sun, SGI, and HP.

In essence, they risk being left completely ignorant of what a fantastic tool a computer can truly be.

Take it from one who knows: You do NOT have to be a rocket scientist, or even a high-school graduate (I didn't 'graduate,' in the form of my GED, until I turned 36), to learn enough about electronics, computers, and networking to use the Internet responsibly, or to find yourself a great job in the field, or to fully protect yourself from any computer sales shark or perform your own upgrades and repairs.

What you do need, for any field, is curiosity, a desire to learn what may be unfamiliar (and even scary, in some cases), and a good head for simple logic and common sense. Most importantly, you need faith in yourself that you can do whatever you darn well please with your life (including learning what the power switch really does rather than just where it is).

I'm sorry, but I just don't see these philosophies being taught in a whole lot of places.

For technical reading, here are some good references that can at least get you going..

'The Radio Amateur's Handbook,' published by the American Radio Relay League

'The Winn L. Rosch Hardware Bible, Third Edition,' by Winn L. Rosch, put out by Brady Books.

'Upgrading and Repairing PC's,' by Scott Mueller, put out by Que Books (the Fourth and Fifth editions are the best. The book started going downhill, IMO, after that).

'The Book of SCSI: A Guide for Adventurers' by Peter M. Ridge, No Starch Press.

And, for a much-needed alternative perspective on computers and the 'net: 'Silicon Snake Oil' and "The High-Tech Heretic," both by Clifford Stoll.

Thanks for reading.

Return to Table of Contents

Last Updated Sep. 27th, 2000 by Bruce Lane