My 8-Bit Beginnings
Frustration plus fascination drove me to explore the insides of my ZX Spectrum RGB Interface that connected to TV to my home computer.
I wasn’t seeing full colour on my 14″ monitor and deemed the RGB interface the culprit.
At 11 years old, playing on the computer was far more important than watching TV.
Horace Goes Skiing, Frogger, Paperboy and Spy Hunter isn’t much fun on a fragmented, hotch-potch split-screen of 2″ pink and green columns, and thought something needed to be done.
By yours truly.
Armed with a Philips screwdriver and magnifying glass I decided to investigate. Just a quick visual, nothing more; I didn’t really know the ins and outs of what lay inside but felt an investigation was necessary.
Inevitably, I spotted nothing obvious.
No blown circuits. No melted resistors. Nothing recognizable in the otherworldly, mega-city of micro-structures dotted around a board of green and brown.
Lifting the hood did however, unlock a world of genuine interest.
The Yesteryear Role Models
My curiosity to explore and learn, test and resolve can be credited to the hours spent hanging around my dads workshop as a youngster.
Via osmosis or actually paying attention, the trials and errors of my dad – chief tinkerer and improviser extraordinaire did nothing short of inspiring me to discover what caused stuff to fail.
He wasn’t an engineer by trade (he worked for the immigration department) but his motivation, I later learned was impelled by necessity. practicality and pragmatism, and if we are anything like each other, curiosity and working to a budget.
Save money, do it yourself and learn something – a maxim he bellowed frequently. And one I still adhere to.
He is mechanically minded and simply gets on with challenges thrown his way. I’d dare say he enjoyed the nitty gritty despite the limited resources available; compared to the wealth of information at our disposal today his resourcefulness was pretty darn amazing.
And yes, there were a few times he needed help, be it to double-check a diagnosis or just source a spare part. His go-to man from way back when was Uncle Bob.
A jovial mountain of a man, his tips n’ tricks got dad out several fixes. Forty years plying his trade as bus & truck mechanic, he knew a thing or two about mechanics. I recall eternally lengthy conversations that started with the matter at hand before flowing into laughter and making plans for their family do.
Never be afraid to call on help.
If in doubt, ask – it’s all part of the upwards curve.
From taking our first steps as toddlers to pursuing the meaning of the universe we have an innate desire to learn.
Inquisitiveness. Aspirations. Curiosity. And ultimately a desire to succeed.
As a 7-year old handing out tools to my dad, and watching him toil whilst scratching his head then finally bringing some part of a system to life was simply fascinating. It looked like he was actually doing something. Injecting life into a bunch of cogs, rods, wheels, wires and all sorts of bits appeared nothing short of a miracle.
Through many cold days and even colder nights I stood around, providing meagre but vital assistance. But just being there, filling a small, albeit engineered role gave me purpose, and more importantly allowed me to spend time doing something worthwhile with my father.
Being motivated – Doing what we love
Foundations of logical progression, I believe, along with innovation and gumption are core components in mental health and mental stimulation and key to how we should evolve. We surf a transmogrified world often with minimal input or little control.
Believing we need stuff, has polluted our minds. And worse still, believing we need to dispose/replace the stuff we didn’t need in the first place, due to not having a conditioned response to investigate the cause and effect is of deep concern.
More of this and better versions of that. The answer is, we don’t NEED it.
And let me reiterate – I AM NOT AGAINST DEVELOPMENTS IN MODERN TECH. Anything that improves our lives, our well-being, our ability to enjoy really connecting with our acquaintances, friends. and family gets my vote.
I genuinely love and embrace innovative technology. If I feel it can better my life, and can afford it, I always consider how much value it will add before parting with my hard earned.
My point here is simply.
Invest, just a bit, and find out what these pushers are peddling.
Delve a bit deeper rather than passively benefit.
I’m completely aware how the computer lexicon can be utterly confusing and downright intimidating. Technobabble, is baffling to most, I get it.
Most marketing teams break it all down.
They highlight what’s relevant to get things up n running, list general product details and offer disclaimers so us laymen can grasp the operation & maintenance basics.
Breakdowns of whats-in-the-box and ‘this is how I did it’ instructions are nothing short of revolutionary. Prior to Youtube, a truly seminal site, Instructables, How Stuff Works, et al paved the way for this new, pragmatic form of education. But, and herein lies the problem, how many people are accessing these sites to actually learn, garner interest and potentially grow in addition to what they initially needed to know?
A few? definitely. Many? not really.
Youtube is a brilliantly fabulous portal for sharing and connecting.
Virtually anything ever done or referenced can be sourced through motion picture. It’s the daddy of resources.
This winter I had the misfortune of one of the headlights blow a bulb on my car, and not wanting to pay someone to fix it, my obvious resource was the aforementioned Youtube and its bountiful wealth of treasure. The search wasn’t prolonged and indeed found a number of suitable videos to replace the part, albeit with mildly contradictory accounts of the best method.
As I scrolled through the recommendations I came across a rogue 4-minute music video watched over 60 million times. Nothing new there. But I then did a bit more searching.
There were scores more in my immediate view with viewing figures going into the billions! THE BILLIONS!!! A little bit more digging unearthed a multitude of videos showing footage of gameplay, most attracting a modest 1 million views.
Looking back through my own recent history I found a number of videos relating to guitar equipment, philosophical debates and a series of Royal Institution lectures by prominent and influential scientists.
The latter are to me, priceless.
Such amazing facts and wonderful experiments, presented by dedicated scientists who are passionate about the wonders of their field. Viewing figures barely touch the 100k mark.
I love my music and have absolutely no objections to anyone indulging into arguably the greatest art form ever but in relative terms, to barely even glance at the bonanza of amazing and important educational information on offer is a sad indication of priorities and a genuine microcosm of 1st-world society in general.
Social skills, standards and core values have been jettisoned in favour of cheap thrills and parrot-fashioned solutions. The core of the new norm is sustained high-level thinking and laughing at someone failing.
It’s not everyone, of course not but I’ve seen this attitude way too often.
This cannot classified as an anomaly in society.
And a mere generation ago, retro-futuristic fantasies promised us other-worldly, Back To The Future II-esque solutions, providing not just practical ways to simplify life’s routine chores but also added a sense of ambition.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m unlikely alone in the quest for a device that actually vacuums the house as you would; without cutting corners. One that takes itself up the stairs or a contraption that tidies up all your mess, putting things in place exactly how you’d want them.
This type of appliance are, in my opinion, worth the effort of pursuing as they genuinely free you up to work on more interesting things.
Watching shows like Tomorrow’s World gave so much hope for future technological wonders. Playground discussions as a kid usually involved what we watched on TW. The enthusiasm was electric and was instrumental in inspiring me to take up engineering.
Then the digital age really arrived and a revolutionary switch was flicked. An in the space of a few years the had world changed. Communications changed. Broadcasting changed. Transactions and interactions changed. Access to information changed. Everything changed.
We stopped thinking – software did it for us.
We stopped moving – interweb communications meant getting anything you wanted whenever you wanted.
And we stopped talking – email, SMS & social media took care of that function and spawned a generation of virtual, long-lost friends and keyboard warriors.
In just over two decades we’ve succumbed by choice or simply force of habit into becoming all but dependent on the multi-conscious might of the digital guff in the digital age. Its omnipresence stretches everywhere regardless of caste, class, cost or creed. Slowly but surely the foundation laid by the founding fathers has penetrated all four corners of the matrix and its impact has literally changed minds.
Digital influence in society is often portrayed as the panacea for bettering our lives.
Of course, there are some truly breathtaking, life enhancing developments provided by digital advancements across the technological spectrum, from health care and entertainment to buying stuff and finding our way around the planet but on the flip side, and the this is a significant flip side, there has been a serious cost to ourselves.
We’ve forgotten how to be.
So invested are we in apps, games, channels, feeds, chats, posts, tweets, etc that our immediate focus is to gaze, blankly 12 inches in front of our noses and succumb to the governance of a 2 x 6 screen.
All answers are there.
And perhaps they are – technology is truly brilliant.
But let’s not forget – so are we.
Call me a semi-ludite but occasionally I really don’t want my journey to be as easy as 1 2 3 clicks then I’ve bought something.
I actually want to learn how stuffs works. The process. Perhaps even see the thing I’m working towards or buying. Sometimes I need to think deeper through a situation without the ‘Buy it Now’, ‘Click to Continue’ or ‘Next’ testing my will power or prompting snap judgements.
The means of making a transaction is amazing brilliant, simple and dangerous.
We need to think things through, talk to people before clicking away, and in some cases, get permission before proceeding. Do we really understand the implications of our long-term decisions?
We have the ability to conduct business, buy anything we want and even break-up with someone in a matter of clicks and a few swipes.
How do we test our aptitude? And build our character.
If engagement with other humans is being excessively virtualised day-by-day do we really know beyond the superficial?
I want to be challenged by the mechanics. Furrow my brow in deep thought at the systems and sub-systems. Spend time on unravelling reasons behind a decision or conclusion.
Or simply bask in the minute satisfaction of actually having worked something out to make a difference.
Am I missing the point or just missing being human.
Forget the obvious cliches around social media and friends you never see. Make a point being with your friends. Have tangible interactions. Make plans and stick to them.
Do something, together. Have fun. Build something. Talk face to face. Not face time to face time.
Indifference to Making a Difference
The common factor in all of this is that of having a role model. Someone who influences, encourages yet also gives you the freedom to make your own mistakes. My old man would rather not be messing about with broken equipment but when called into action he was thorough and saw things through, wind, rain or snow.
There have been enough DIY home makeover shows and YouTube videos that should motivate us. We occasionally venture into territory out of necessity but why let these be one-off adventures!?
If you can follow the instructions of someone dedicated to a trade or simply someone who just needed to change a car headlight and uploaded a video, be inspired. Be grateful that someone wants to share. Someone wants to teach, to educate.
The veneer of 21st century owes a huge debt to the previous vanguard of pioneers, innovators and believers.
Patience, perseverance and belief = success