Every year my family has a reunion near the beach, and last week we allgathered in Cape May. Marybeth and I sailed there from our home inBaltimore. 20-some siblings, spouses, children and my parents had a fewdays of sun and fun in a hundred year old house situated in an evenolder neighborhood.
Two couldn't make it ” my son, in school in New Orleans, and one ofmy nieces who is studying in Australia. But Katie did make an hour-longvirtual appearance via video Skype . The laptop'swireless link let it run untethered in the garden while horse-drawncarts, carrying tourists down the street, hailed back to an earlierera.
My 80-something parents were amazed. They had no ideas suchtechnology exists, and reflected on how even a plain old telephone callbetween states was a house-rocking event not so many years ago. Iremember how the words “it's a long distancecall! ” would electrify the family. Long distance! It was soexpensive that we never, ever made inter-state calls.
An hour-long video chat with someone on the other side of the worldwas truly unimaginable to the oldsters. Neither could fathom how it allworks, and both marveled for a day about the technology.
Yet in 1866, within the lifetime of my great-grandfather, it cost$100 to send a ten word telegram through Cyrus Field'stransatlantic cable. A nice middle-class house cost $1000 atthe time.
Later I ferried my dad and one of his equally old friends out to ouranchored sailboat. There they both exclaimed about the GPS and AIS (a system that tracks shipsvia signals they transmit every fewseconds ). Jim had been a sailor all of his life but had neverused aGPS.
“You mean it's accurate to a few feet?” he asked. Yet both of thesegents had been engineers in their careers; both had been in thebusiness of creating incredible new technology, one in the spacebusiness, the other as a chemical engineer.
My dad was born in 1927, the year Hubble figured out those blobswere galaxies, not clumps of gas, and the year the Atlantic was firstbreeched non-stop by air. It was just a year after Schrodingerrevolutionized quantum mechanics. The neutron hadn't been discovered.
In a single lifetime the universe grew from a single galaxy to 100billion, and the microscopic expanded from two fundamental particles toan entire zoo of quarks, muons, neutrinos and more.
A few people were privileged to travel at a breathtaking 100 MPH; bythe 60s a few people had traveled at 25,000 MPH. Perhaps also withinthat single lifetime Virgin Galactic will send tourists ” tourists! – into space for less than thevalue of the Lindberg's Orteig prize, in inflation-adjusted dollars.
In “The Boy In The Bubble,” PaulSimon sings:
These are the days of miracle and wonder
This is the long distance call
Most of us blithely accept the amazing new technologies withoutwonder and go about our lives. I sometimes get a bit frustrated withdealing with my folks' computer problems, but their sense of awe aboutwhat most of us view as commonplace makes me realize just how rightPaul Simon is: These are indeed the days of miracles and wonders.
Jack's Embedded Poll Question for you this week is “What's the most amazing invention? “To vote, go to theEmbedded.comHome Page.
Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embeddeddevelopment issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helpscompanies with their embedded challenges. Contact him at . His website is .