While gas prices continue to climb, it is helpful to see how much technology is a bargain these days. In doing some research for one of my speeches, I poured over some old computer magazines that I have, especially their ads, in a walk down memory lane. (I have been doing a lot of public speaking: today I am in Vegas, next week I am off to do a speech at my alma mater Union College.)
As short as ten years ago, a typical base price for a 16 MHz PC was $5,500, with 40 MB of disk storage. I think greeting card CPUs have more disk and clock speed than that old school PC. By the time you got a monitor, all of 12 inches in diagonal (try to find something that small today!), and some more RAM (2 MB sold for about $1,700), you were closing in on 10 large. Today, you would be hard pressed to pay more than $2,000, and you can get a decent laptop for less than half that.
When I first started doing IT work for Monolithic Insurance, I had to buy memory boards that were just the boards, devoid of any memory chips on them. This was back in the Jurassic era of computing, when 640 kilobytes was the maximum RAM we could use. We had to then “stuff” them with the little RAM chips, and make sure we didn’t bend their numerous pins as we were doing so. Those were the days. Now, a one gigabyte memory “stick” is about the size of my finger and no assembly is required, and can be had for less than $100. Just to put this in perspective, my daughter’s iPod has more storage than any of the PCs that I have owned up until a few years ago.
But it isn’t just that prices have come down. Lest we forget how important Internet connectivity is, two recent stories from the news show you why you wouldn’t want to leave home without it. After a woman’s Mac was stolen, its owner was notified that the thief was online and using her IM account. She then used the built-in camera and remote control software to capture a picture of its thief – who turned out to be two people she knew. The police were able to capture them and return the computer to the owner. And an Eye-Fi equipped camera, stolen in Florida, automatically uploaded the photos taken by the thieves to the owner’s Web site. Too bad the photos didn’t reveal the location or the identity of the criminals.
I am not making this up. What this says to me is that Internet connectivity has become so intrinsic to the PC that we forget not too long ago you had to jump through all sorts of protocol hoops to install it and configure it. Now we just open up our laptops no matter where we are and usually can get a connection, and a free one at that.
But as I stumble down memory lane, I am beginning to feel my age. Some of these tech gadgets can be downright annoying, and I am starting to see how some of these thieves mentioned above feel when I go into the average public bathroom. Even though I am surrounded by technology during my business day, I don’t want to have to rely on my engineering degree to do my business. With all of its electronic sensors and other technological wonders that are part of Bathroom 2.0, it can be frustrating even for the uber geeks among us. How about the soap dish that so nicely dispenses just two drops of soap, or the automatic faucet that splashes an inadequate amount of water on my hands? The final touch is the automatic paper towel (or air dryer), neither of which can deliver the goods. The former often presents me with a square of paper that could barely be used to dry one finger, let alone both hands, while the later either blows just enough air to move the water around your hands or shuts off after a few seconds, leaving you wet and frustrated.
So it is great that you can get a 32 GB USB thumb drive for less than $200, about half of what it went for a couple of months ago. But it sure would be nice if we could spend a little more time on making all this stuff more usable too.
- ► 2010 (39)
- ► 2009 (55)
- ▼ 2008 (40)
- David Strom
- David Strom has looked at hundreds of computer products over a more than 20 year career in IT and computer journalism. He was the founding editor-in-chief of Network Computing magazine, and now writes for Baseline, Information Security, Tom's Hardware, and the New York Times.