Look Back Look Forward Look Freaked-Out
In Which I Sort Of Mention My Age And A Birthday Soon
Long ago, in a land far from here.
When I was born my family may or may not have had a phone, and the TV was B&W and s-l-o-o-o-o-w to warm up. The winters didn’t. (Warm up.) But - all rugged up in my winter clothes and with Opa drawing my little sled around - I didn’t feel it. Vienna back in the 50s was still very much the old Vienna of elegance and beauty.
Footpaths were still cobbled, I remember - at least in some of the streets we wandered around. Some of the architecture I recall - through the eyes of the toddler I was then - was Victorian but some looked even older, Georgian (or is there an earlier period that could have applied?) and not a lot of it looked modern to me even back then.
At age three and a half I knew that my father had ‘gone on ahead’ and we’d soon follow, and so we did, about six months early due to some disturbing news he received, which I was never told but pieced together once I was old enough to understand relationships and separations.
Having a TV was a status symbol of my Opa Julius’ well-paying job at Hofbauer confectionery works in Vienna. The apartment he and Oma (and for a while, the three, then two, of us) lived in was part of a twelve strong, three floors tall wall of apartments - with a carriage gate and carriage courtyard (!!!) - but by that time, half of the courtyard had been turned to garden because cars occupied much less space, and also not many people in the apartment building had cars yet.
(It was built for carriages. OMG. Carriages. . .)
Cue period drama theme music, foggy streets and surreal mythical creatures that even a hundred years earlier would still have been believed as absolute fact. When I watch good Victorian/Georgian period drama I can actually see what Vienna was like to my three and four year old self.
Grandpa (Opa) worked at a confectionery named Hofbauer. They’re still going today, and I bet they still use some of his recipes that he developed for them. He kept meticulous notes in ink, on paper that quite often bore the marks of some colour or flavouring or other, and some of them still smell of vanilla, or raspberry, or, faintly, of the whole 40s and 50s, to this day.
More important to a toddler, he’d often bring home a new idea he was trialling and get my enthusiastic opinions. We still have those recipes to this day, and I marvel at the thick pack of recipes and how he would have had to write them down as he was developing and scaling the recipes in the factory.
Now, I’m writing this on a computer, a device that really didn’t have much public exposure or acknowledgement back then, but that enables me to work on a document from anywhere in the world, on almost any connected device, and print it to any printer I can access anywhere. It’s pretty cool.
Come to think of it, electric lights were still pretty cool and new back then - and in fact even downright creepy and scary to some people. For instance, farming family that came to Vienna for the first time were known to make a hasty sign of the cross when Opa or Oma turned on the lights. Electric lighting was still new to Vienna, The City Of Music, Culture, and light. . .
Outside, the odd automobile cruised the streets, there was a view of a huge green/copper dome a few blocks away, it was a landmark but I’m not sure which dome it was, Stefansdom seems to ring a bell but hey I was not quite four when we left and my memories of then are over 60 years old now.
By the time I was three, I knew I wanted to work in what we now call STEM or STEAM. And as a pioneer not just a drone. At that age I’d already lost all technical faith I’d had in my mother because she couldn’t tell the difference between string and wire for connecting batteries.
(And later, one by one, around half of my schoolteachers too lost my respect as they demonstrated how ill-equipped some of them were to teach modern subjects.)
That’s not the first two years though. The school on Bahrain was and still is quite well respected world-wide and I arrived in its third ever student intake. I’m still in awe of a system that took me from a German (and some Arabic) speaking student in an English speaking school, and in two years taught me English, French, and Latin, among a whole slew of other subjects - quite advanced for what then was only a primary school.
Bahrain was just a great place for hugely broadening my education, and I might post another article or three on that some day. (Hmmm. . . Maybe on my Ko-Fi account. . .)
And so here I am now. As a three and a half to eight year old, I thought life couldn’t get any better, and yet I’m actually living my best life at this end of my life.
This year ( - and on a day that’s not too far now - ) marks sixty-five of mine, fifty-six of them in Australia, and the last eleven of those have been shared with the love of my life.
My wife and I have been married for over a decade, we manage a reasonable quality of life, and we have the best cats, best love, best affection and respect for each other, best hugs, best shared moments. We’re both living our best life.
I also have great memories of a long line of very beloved cats that shared my path right up to our current crew of Missy, George, Archie, and Pickle.
Back to the potted history.
That I was cool with me being a tiny little pinprick on a small splotch on a planet that was a blue dot in a solar system that was a mote in the Milky Way galaxy and that there were a huge number of galaxies.
But then I had to put that heap of galaxies into something and I chose a giant shoebox. Which some giant kid had found and kept . . . in his room . . .
. . . in a house, on a land, on a planet . . .
. . . and then I went and threw up at the enormity of that thought.
I think that’s when I first wanted to see where the Universe ends, and that drive’s always with me - “What’s over there? And what’s just past that? And past that? . . . “ and I’m glad because it meant that I will never stop striving to learn.
Gyro Gearloose (“Daniel Duesentrieb” in the German Mickey Mouse comics) was my hero and my role model and I aspired to one day to be like him and have an assistant like his made from a lightbulb and wire.
I didn’t get the glass and copper tiny ‘bot quite that directly but as I said - I’m typing this on a computer made of silicon and copper. . .
In High School in Australia I had some of my best teachers and in fact I kept in touch with some of them for the next 20-30 years. After school I worked at a local radio and TV repair centre and earned myself a fair bit of extra pocket money that way.
I got to play with thermionic valves, transistors, B&W TV and CB radio, built myself a 4bit computer from plans in an electronics magazine when I was 17, got a Sinclair ZX80 (graduating to 8bit computers in the process!) brand new when I was in my early 20s, then a VIC20, CPC464, PC-XT, PC-AT, and a range of computers sliding along the scale 16bit 32bit 64bit on the way.
My laptop is connected to a home network with it’s own servers, a printer, a 3D printer, and a reasonable Internet connection on the other side of a medium strength firewall, and we have multiple machines, phones, and tablets sharing the network.
(And we now treat TV thusly: We ignore most of the rubbishy free to air TV and watch only selected shows and the news, treating it as a bit of an intrusion into our lives that we can fortunately just switch off. Sometimes, we stream a Youtube video to the TV.)
A few minutes ago I listened on the actual real radio to a song written and performed by a person who’s in the same small town I’m in. She used the pandemic to teach herself music and songwriting and recording and performing, and did it all using a phone or laptop and various musical instruments.
The finished produced piece of music was sent to the broadcast station as a file attached to an email. A process - a whole suite of processes, actually - that once didn’t even exist or were once totally out of the reach of most people - is now available in your pocket.
I use a video editing suite app on my phone to cut together a video every so often and I remember what a busy TV station used to look like, with a whole slew of people needed to record, edit, caption, voice over, and then broadcast.
Now I can use something like Filmora Go, muck around for an hour, and then post the result to Facebook or Youtube or Twitch to publish it to everyone, or just to email to family, to show them the latest cute thing the cat did.
And in my chequered past I worked on communications gear and in various technical departments, some broadcast AM and FM radio, and finally went IT - all the way from systems and network management to building machines, to troubleshooting systems and network issues for larger businesses - and then had to retire with COPD and a range of other odd but still disabling illnesses.
And that’s when I met my wife online, on a social network site, fell in love, and eventually got to meet her from half a continent away, then moved back there with her, burning pretty much every bridge behind me as I went.
I’ve never regretted it for even an instant, and hope we get a few more decades - maybe even more if anti-ageing technology overtakes us.
Milestones, milestones, and more milestones:
Putting Me In Perspective:
A mere twenty-four years before I was born - and 121 years after the Montgolfier brothers took to the skies in a hot air balloon - two other brothers launched a very frightening looking contraption made of wood and cloth, with a mid-mounted engine and two crazy propellers sticking out in front of the wings, and Orville Wright made the world’s first powered heavier-than-air flight. (After his brother Wilbur barely missed out on that honour when the craft stalled before achieving sustained flight a few days earlier.)
In that intervening twenty-four years, two world wars occurred, the second of them won in some measure by air power superiority. From sticks and cloth and a 40 metre 12 second flight, we got to metal fighter planes, and bombers that could cross between Europe and Britain 30-40ish years later.
And the year I was born, Russia launched Sputnik, then followed it up with a second Sputnik carrying a dog named Laika.
(Which died in space possibly due to getting freaked out and overheating. Or freezing. Or running out of oxygen. Or she was euthanased. We’ll never know, but to me she’s one of the first true heroes of space and I hope Gyro Gearloose adopted her.)
Myself, when I was four, mum and I flew aboard a BOAC turboprop airplane from Vienna to Manama the capital of Bahrain island. Seven months earlier in that year, Yuri Gagarin had become the first human, the first Earthling, to orbit the Earth. A year and a bit later we flew a in sparkly new Vickers VC-10 jet airliner. Which I actually delayed by opening a window while on the ground.
(What? - I was hot! It was a 40C plus day with massive humidity! We’d been in the plane on the ground for hours! . . . )
And of course, then it was grounded for a few more hours while engineers resealed the window and made sure the plane wouldn’t catastrophically depressurise in flight and cause us to freak out and freeze or overheat or asphyxiate.
(I’m sure the techs wanted to euthanase me by then . . . )
A few years later when we travelled from Bahrain to Australia via a large ocean liner (an ocean liner that was only launched and put into service four years before me incidentally) and I was close to turning nine, space was busy with the first two astronauts spacewalking, several Gemini missions launching and performing manouevres in space, and some staying aloft for several days at a time.
Then when I was twelve, Apollo 11 got three Earthlings named Aldrin, Armstrong, and Collins closer to the moon than anyone else had ever been, and two of them landed on the surface of the moon and then they all came back home.
(Meanwhile back in Vienna, there was still a carriage courtyard behind my grandparents’ old place. I *think* that up until about fifteen years ago, the place that I *think* could have been my grandparents’ place was still visible in its old Victorian glory on Google Maps and Earth, but sometime not long after that it was gone, replaced by a more modern building.)
Progress marches on. That building had probably been there from the late 1700s and it was gone and replaced in probably under a year. The huge lumbering heavy TV with the huge glass picture tube in that building bore no resemblance to the LCD screen I was using to search Google Maps / Earth on.
No-one back in the late 50s could have even imagined the laptop computer that the screen was a part of, and the idea that it was connected to a world wide network that offered millions of times more information than all the TV channels of the world of their day could send between them would have seemed impossible, let alone that there would ever even be so much information to send back and forth.
And that happened in (at that stage) a mere forty-and-a-bit years of my life, and then in my next twenty years that laptop shrank into a pocket device that also replaced the telephone, my camera and video recorder and tape recorder, my map book and my GPS, and to a great degree my laptop.
For comparison, and to understand how quickly we’ve advanced, the time of the last dinosaur was closer to my time on the timeline than it was to the time of the first dinosaurs. Queen Nefertiti lived closer to my time than she did to the start of the early Egyptian empires.
The Roman Empire sprang up not long before her time, flourished, grew, and passed, leaving Austria with a (titular only by then) Holy Roman Emperor almost up until modern times. Many of the early Roman roads and works still stand today.
Salyut 1 is considered one of the earliest space stations and it launched in 1971 while I was in High School. Skylab - first launch 1973. In 1976 when I ended my gap years in PNG, Salyuts 3, 4, and 5 had each been aloft for some time and ISS was about fifteen years away. Hubble launched in 1990 and offered an unparalleled new view of the Universe, and the James Webb launched a few weeks back (Dec 25 2021) and it’ll offer an order of magnitude better imaging.
I use space research as a reference because it’s one very public series of milestones on the timeline - but I could have used the extremely drastic advances in even things as basic as hobby technology and science: From crystal sets to home media/data centres and sites on the Internet; From a kitchen chemical volcano to home gene sequencing and splicing; From building kites to building 3D printed artificial intelligent prosthetics and insulin pumps.
“Big” science went from making atom bombs to making nuclear power plant; From medium sized cruise liners to mega-ships for container transport; From x-rays to complex FMRI and imaging that can make out one cell.
I wished I had a telescope when I was five, then built a pretty bad one from a kit in my teens, and now I can buy precision hobby telescopes with complete guidance and photography systems that weren’t even possible for professional use back then.
And professional astronomy has gone from huge ground based domes to space based scopes like Hubble, and now the James Webb telescope is deploying and stabilising up there, promising orders of magnitude more resolution and imaging and a an unimaginably far look back into time.
Also of course, and more relevant to my activities these days, there was the peak of fossil fuel power, of nuclear power; And now sustainable solar and wind power are approaching their peaks very soon as the idea of fossil fuels begins to become extremely unpopular. . .
I’m one of a growing group of people that are looking into ways to manage, recycle, and repurpose all the waste we can because we consider that it’s time we resumed stewardship of the planet, because we consider ourselves Earthlings, not homo sapiens or white or dark skinned, nor in fact anything other than one of billions of lifeforms that all need to inhabit this planet and depend on it.
Organisations are raising money to plant trees. To take plastic waste out of the oceans. To recycle things and keep them out of landfill. To lobby for more renewable energy and a reduction in fossil fuel use.
We need it, the planet needs it, and all those billions upon billions of other Earthlings from plankton to primates, from algae to aspens, need it. It seems that it’s rip, shit, or bust time for us all.
For My Birthday
So for my 65th birthday I ask you all to consider what YOU can do to become a proper steward of the planet, and take care of something, anything, that’s harming the environment and make it into a benefit. Help clean up a patch of land, a beach, a lake, a river, or a sea. Donate to Teamseas or Teamtrees or to PTEC3D or me. It all gets used to make a difference. Join a recycling effort. Find ways to reduce your impact, use less of the things that are damaging the planet, and create beauty that doesn’t cost the Earth.