Monday, May 4, 2009

An indispensable window to today's world

I GOT acquainted with my first computer in the mid '80s. It was an Amstrad and it ran on tapes. It took ages to start up and was quite noisy too.

Later, I got an Apple IIe which had a small monitor that spewed green- coloured text.

It ran on two 51/4-inch disks and had a memory smaller than today's handphone.

And it was just as slow.

Then came the 31/2-inch disk revolution, and a couple of Windows later, a flurry of devices that were founded on the evolving computing technology.

Most of them were designed to either make you work more efficiently or improve your life, or both.

But many were just as exasperatingly unpredictable as their predecessors.

People in the publishing business, I believe, were among those who had experienced firsthand the technology changes.

I recall magazine designers who had scoffed at the desktop publishing system (DTP) when Ventura Publisher and Pagemaker were released.

Some refused to learn the new system, called it a fad and continued using the point chart and pica ruler.

Only those farsighted took the stride forward.

And when typesetting houses adopted full DTP use, the latter had the last laugh as their critics were either retired by technology, ended up becoming proof-readers, or forced to embrace the new system.

Technology has come quite far since the early days of the Beyond 2000 television series, especially where pointing you in the right direction is concerned.

Take for instance, the global positioning system (GPS) receiver that is fast becoming a status symbol of the tech savvy today.

Slightly bigger than your pager, this device, when switched on, seeks out the satellites above you and gets them to tell you exactly where you are on the ground.

Advanced models could even track you as you walk or run. Leave a breadcrumb on your trail and you will be able to find your way home if you got lost.

Even those born with the most impeccable sense of direction can benefit from the GPS receiver.

It also has a built-in mobile directory -- restaurants, petrol stations, hospitals or even the nearest police station can easily be located with just a tap on the touch screen.

Of course, the accuracy would depend on how well the maps are updated.

But save for the occasional dead ends and uncharted monsoon drains, you could still, with some common sense, make your way to unfamiliar destinations, like how I did recently when visiting SMK Bandar Sunway for the first time for the BSRA-NST Streets Family Day '09.

In fact, GPS technology is already used in most mobile phones and some receivers are already part of the accessories package for new cars.

Those who scoff at this are gently reminded to look at how the mobile phone has evolved.

From being a status symbol the size of a brick, it is a necessity today.

In future, it could even be the only thing you will ever need to carry around when leaving home.

Fears expressed by consumer associations that prolonged use of the mobile phone is detrimental to health have yet to be conclusively proven.

You only start losing your mind when you lose your phone and try to figure out the number to call home.

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