Friday, August 21, 2009

Time Out Now...

I was supposed to write about my second and third day in the UK today, but none of that. You'll see why.

The gerbil running in my head will die of an asthma attack if I don't stop, that's why I want to write it down here. You'll probably think I'm crazy, I don't care.

Today, there was nothing to do at work, so I spent my free time cultivating my personnal knowledge. When that happens, be prepared to hear the weirdest/stupidest questions ever, most of the time regarding very abstract subjects. Why abstract and untangible subjects ? Because I have trouble with that concept. Everything that doesn't have a graphic interface (I'll come back on that after) or cannot be touched or seen is hard for me to get. I was awful at school in math. I was ok with sciences, as long as we could demonstrate the concept with an experiment.

So I started researching the first computers, and looked up the history of Internet. INTERNET ! The most used tool in the world, but yet, what is it ? What is it made of ? And that lead me to look up the older computers. ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer) was the first fully electronic (digital) computer ever made. It was announced for the first time in the press in 1946 and was referred to as a "Giant Brain". This really got me thinking. How did people think of that. What was their need ? Why couldn't that need be met with something else ?

And then the further I got into my research, the more my brain was hurting. DATA ? What in the world is data. How was it created, what combination of materials and knowledge would lead people to create a data storage device ? And mostly, how did they make it work ? What major factor made the EUREKA! possible ? How did they create data, basically.

But let's go back to Internet. Why did some guy think about a way to create a link between computers ? How did he manage that ? Computers didn't have screens at the time. How did it look ? How did they transfer data ? And mostly, WHY did they think about that. WHY WHY WHY all the time. So many questions without an answer because the only people who could tell are the ones who invented it.

I actually did get some answers from my mum this afternoon. (Regarding things that people who worked with those computers could tell, not the things happening in the inventors' heads) Internet started being used by universities and colleges around 1972-1975, right when my mum was still studying. I first asked her how it was. What did they do in her computer science classes ? She wasn't studying computer science, but studying to be a laboratory technician implied that students had to at least know how a computer would work. So I decided I'd ask. First, did they have a screen ? Keyboard ? Mouse ? Keyboard yes, screen, no. Don't even think about a mouse. They would punch in the commands to get it on the other side, out of a printer. That would have been way too abstract for me, but it is so interesting to know !

And then the 100K $ question : Mum, was there any link between the computers ?

Yes, there was.

My mum actually knew what the first version of internet was. How it worked and so on. NO SCREEN !!! No websites, no nothing ! Just a command entered into a computer machine, transmitted to another computer machine that would print it out.

Ok enough, the gerbil is hyper ventilating. But please do think about that next time you load your favorite webpage or you Facebook profile. We went from a big computer taking the space equivalent to 680 square feet made with "17,468 vacuum tubes, 7,200 crystal diodes, 1,500 relays, 70,000 resistors, 10,000 capacitors and around 5 million hand-soldered joints." (Source : to tiny machines but oh so much powerful ! You can now even carry your computer on your back or in your pocket. (Think about your Blackberry or Palm Treo, that's one mini computer !)

And by the way, check that WIKI link about ENIAC. It's really interesting, but generated too many more questions for me !

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