Friday, February 7, 2014

Changes in my Lifetime

Are You Ready For Change?  It's a Commin!  Faster than you can visualize!  Get ready!  

In a previous post on Accelerating Change, I mentioned a few changes that my grandmother saw in her nearly 101 years from 1892 to 1993.  After re-reading it, I decided to try to list some of the changes that I have witnessed in my lifetime, only a bit over 1/2 of her lifespan [so far...].  Yes, I have seen a lot of change.  Yes, many changes have been radical.  Yet we don't realize how radical change has been been until we stop and make a list like this and reflect on what we have witnessed.

I spend most of my time in front of a computer, so that is where I decided to start my analysis. When I was born, computers typically had thousands of vacuum tubes and ran Fortran (1953).  Yet to be invented were:
  • integrated circuits, 
  • microprocessors, 
  • operating systems including UNIX, Linux, DOS, and Windows, and,
  • the Internet. 
Companies that were created after I was born include almost all modern technology companies including Microsoft, Dell, Apple, Red Hat, Google, Sun, Oracle, and many more.

When I was young, the state of the art included the Project Mercury computers in the first realtime network with computers capable of 100,000 floating point operations per second costing millions of dollars (your cell phone can run BILLIONS of floating point operations and costs a few dollars).  My dad and his partners were taking delivery of a mainframe in the early 1970s which would have taken up several rooms in their office and have been very expensive, but would have allowed them to really grow the business (later, at age 16, I helped throw out many boxes of punched cards and some cable harnesses when dad was moving out of that office).  Today a single server has many times the processing power of that computer, costs only a few thousand dollars, and can do far more work using free, open source software including Linux, Apache, MySQL, PostgreSQL, PHP, Perl, Drupal, and many other software packages.

  Solid state computers (UNIVAC, 12/1958)IBM 7090 (1959, 100Kflop)
  Integrated circuit (first built in 1958)
  Optical disc (invented 1958, CD 1981, DVD 1995)
  Floppy disks (late 1960s)
  Computer mouse (1965)
  Virtualization (1965, Vmware 1998, XEN 2003, Linux KVM 2007)
  SQL (described in 1970)
  Microprocessor (Intel 4004, 1971)
  Unix (1972) and Linux (1991)
  DOS (1970s, MS-DOS 1980)Windows 1.0 (1985), leading to Windows 95, NT, etc.
  Digital cameras (first CCD camera 1975)
  Public key cryptosystems (RSA 1977)
  Flash memory (1980) leading to solid state drives
  Creation of the GNU project (1984) leading to Open Source Software
  X Window System (1984)
  Computer companies including Microsoft (1975)Apple (1976)Oracle (1977),
      Sun (1982)Red Hat (1994)Google (1996)
  Android (started 2003, first products 2008)
  Computer languages: C (1969-73)C++ (1979)Perl (1987)Java (1995)JavaScript (1995)

Science also has progressed radically.  I decided to just focus on physics.  When I was born physicists had an inkling that sub-atomic particles were themselves composed of something smaller, however Quarks and the standard model all came after I was born, as did the concept of the Higgs Boson and its recent discovery.  I won't even try to address biology and medicine which have witnessed only a few small advances like medical imaging, Star-Trek inspired monitor systems, DNA sequencing, and the Human Genome Project.

  LASER (first demonstrated 1960)
  Theory of quarks (1964), discovery 1968, last discovery 1995
  Cosmic microwave background (CMB, 1964)
  Supersymmetry theory (1966)
  Electroweak interaction (theory 1967, proven 1983)
  Discovery of pulsars (1967)
  Evidience for Dark matter (galaxy rotation 1960s, gravitational lensing 1979)
  Dark energy (1970s, term in 1998)
  Standard Model of particle physics (1973)
  Gravitational lensing imaged (1979)
  Quantum computers (theorized 1980, still experimental 2014)
  Accelerating expansion of the universe (1998)
  Higgs boson (theorized 1964, found 2012)
  Hubble Space Telescope (1990)
  Discovery of first exoplanet (1992)
  Large Hadron Collider (operational 2008)
  Lunar water detected (LCROSS, 2009)

A few other areas that have witnessed radical change are communications (rotary phones to the smart phone), and travel (Interstate highways and space travel).  Some examples are below:

  Loran C completion, use on aircraft (1963), shutdown (2010)
  DTMF (touchtone, 1963)
  The Internet (first node 1969)World Wide Web (1990)
  Mobile phone (handheld, 1973)smartphone (1994)
  GPS (first launch 1978), Russian GLONASS system (1982), European Galileo and Chinese Beidou
  VoIP (voice over IP, 1995)
  PABX phone systems (1960s), computerized (late 1970s)

  Most of the Interstate Highway System (started 1956original part finished in 1992)
  Modern, safe jet travel (Boeing 707, 1958)
  Nuclear aircraft carriers (Enterprise started in 1958, commissioned 1962)
  Rocket planes X-15 (1959-1970)Space Ship One (2004)
  First man in space (4/12/1961)
  Supersonic transport (1960s to 2003)
  Apollo moon landings (1969-1972)
  Space shuttle (1981-2011) [I saw both the first and last launches]
  Self-driving cars (demonstrated 1980s)
  Rovers on Mars (Sojourner 1997, 2003, 2011)

While putting this together, I found a link to 50 science sagas in 50 years which has a very good roll-up of scientific changes the past 50+ years.  Happy reading!

With the recent discussion about the 50 years since the Beatles came to the US I thought about this list.  All except the first few items I listed (solid state computers, LASER, first man in space) happened AFTER the Beatles invaded the US in 1964!  

I challenge you to create a list of changes in your lifetime in a field that you are interested in (for example medicine or photography).  I especially challenge kids to look at the changes in a single field since they were born, for example my son Wess was born in 1993 prior to the explosion of the Internet, advent of smart phones, fixes to the Hubble, and about the time of the discovery of the first exoplanet.

I challenge you to post the following in the comments to this blog:
  • When were you born?
  • What is your favorite subject?
  • List 10 major changes in this field in the last 50 years.
  • List 10 major changes in this field since you were born.
      [However, good luck if you are an English major.]

In a future post, I have a thought experiment on change that I will describe!  Lots more to come....

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