|A perspective pill at the hands of an old computer engineer, 1993
By Caleb ClarkFlailing around in a blizzard of E-mail, net surfing and information philosophy, it’s easy to loose one’s perspective. I realized that I had lost mine when I met Don Nickell on Construction Net #6, a BBS out of Los Alamos, New Mexico. By focusing ahead, as the nets beg us to do, I had been ignoring what was in back of me. So, for anyone else out there needing some perspective; here’s a dose: Don’s been involved in information exchange since 1953 when he designed the telemetry hardware for a celestial navigation experiment launched by a W.W.II. vintage V-2 rocket. Don worked on data acquisition for the first satellites after Sputnik started the space race in 1957. His first computer had 16K of core memory; and he worked on encryption and bit error for Los Alamos National Labs (LANL) in the early 70’s. He then moved to particle physics at LANL. When he got too old to read LANL’s schematics, Don wrote programs. He retired last year after almost four decades of work with artificial intelligence.
Don: “We’ve done all the grunt work. We’ve developed these tools. No longer do I have to put a bunch of transistors and resistors together to design a modem. I designed the first modem I ever used…before I retired I saw what was happening. I was going to have to become a user, because that’s where it’s at, is using all this technical stuff that we’ve come up with.”
Don: “That’s the shift. I’m an expert in Word Perfect but I couldn’t sell shit because I can’t write. You know the difference between a writer and someone with no imagination who just puts stuff down, I’m that sort of person. So that’s where it’s coming to is guys like you who are using this technology.”
Caleb: “And don’t understand the technology behind it.”
Don: “That’s right, and you don’t care, because if you did, it would just slow you down!”