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Monday, March 15, 2010

Flying Cars & Trips To Mars

Growing up in the 80's, watching cartoons like The Jetsons with its flying cars gave an ambitious glimpse of what the future may look like. At the turn of the 90's, Total Recall talked about vacations on Mars, and the year 2015 seemed light years ahead in Back To The Future II.

Here we are in 2010; our cars are still on the ground, there is no "Hoverboard", and Mars is still just the "Red Planet" you won't find on Hotwire.com. However, looking back 30 years makes it impressively clear how far we've come. I used to wake up on Saturdays and turn on one of the 12 channels we had on our old console TV. Later, we got "Cable TV" which meant there was now a box on the TV that we'd switch from A to B and we got about 20-30 channels, MTV being the one I watched most often (back when they actually showed music videos). Today, regardless of which service you use, there are hundreds of channels available, now in stunning HD. I first saw a preview of High Definition TV at a Good Guys store in Fresno around 1999, just as expensive as it was impressive. Today, more than one-third of homes in the United States have an HD TV, and the average home has more televisions than residents.

Cars still run on the ground, on gas, just as they did before. However, new Hybrid models use electric cells to drive the engine and fuel consumption is drastically cut, which also helps make the cars run cleaner with less or zero emissions. Just like plugging in your cell phone at night, you pull up to the mall, plug in your car and go shopping. For cars, I think this is about as advanced as we're going to get for awhile, thanks to those greedy folks who do their part to make sure our reliance on gasoline stays strong.

Computer technology is the best example, and most obvious, of the progress made over the past 30 years. We had a small computer lab at my elementary school, and the computer was the Apple IIGS, released in 1986 with a cost of $1000; the processor ran at 2.8 MHz*, with 1 MB** (expandable up to 8 MB) of RAM. When comparing those specs to the computers available today, especially for those familiar with the numbers, it's a miracle those computers even turned on. Today's systems have processors that run 10 times faster (in GHz range). A typical system today runs at 3GHz (*3GHz = 3000MHz) with 3-4 GB of RAM (**3GB = 3072MB), with a cost varying between $600-1000. Resolution was another shortcoming in those days, with the maximum available for the IIGS being 640x200 (# of pixels on screen). One of the more standard resolutions for computer monitors today is 1280x1024; High Definition with 1080p is 1920×1080. As a result of this amazing progress, more people have home computers than ever and the introduction of the World Wide Web in 1996 led to a new way of accessing information and communicating. Social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook have hundreds of millions of users, many of them connected wirelessly from a Starbucks as they read this blog.

Rush singer Geddy Lee sang "invisible airwaves crackle with life", in the song "The Spirit of Radio" back in 1980, talking about radio (obviously). Today, 30 years later, Geddy's words are more relevant than ever, with FM/AM radio broadcasting, satellite radio (XM), cell phones, wireless Internet, and GPS filling the airwaves.

Unfortunately, technology has also led to generations of kids with anti-social behavior and heavy dependence on cell phones and other gadgets, which is covered in another post I've done HERE. Sadly, regardless of all the technology we're now surrounded by, and how far we've come, there is still no cure for AIDS, or Alzheimer's Disease or Cancer; are we really focusing our efforts on the right things? As an Intel employee, I'm surrounded by images and slogans such as "It's not what we make. It's what we make possible", and "Sponsors of Tomorrow". Unless we stop looking for the next big thing and turn our attention to the diseases that are robbing family and friends from us, tomorrow is about as certain as jumping in your space car for a trip to Mars.

*Thanks to Dan Dedekian for the concept/inspiration of this post.*

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