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I'm almost 55 now and I thought I would open a topic here that might concern some of you: OldGeezers.

When I started out in college (1964), I was proud of my 12" Sun slide rule in its cool leather holder. How thing's have changed. Plus, they're changing faster now that people can collaborate on the internet.

I've gone through the BASIC, 6502 assembly, Fortran, Pascal, Algol W, Turbo Pascal, Visual Basic, HTML, PHP3, mSQL, JavaScript path (your mileage will vary).

Now I'm wondering: how do others in my age bracket keep up? What interests you? How can you contribute? Where do you see things going? Are you having fun or drowning? -- FrankBrooks

Add Smalltalk, FrameMaker? MIF, InterLeaf? Lisp to your list. Now we're both ready for XML/XSLT.... Uh-huh....

I'm 58, been free lance tech writer/programmer for 35 years, and I'm ready to do some serious snowmobiling and pulp-cutting. I may even take up ice-fishing. I'm going to keep up by opting out. The only language I want to learn now is Esperanto. -- JerryMuelver

Esperanto (from www.dictionary.com): An artificial international language with a vocabulary based on word roots common to many European languages and a regularized system of inflection.

Why Esperanto? Why not English? Isn't English the Lingua Franca of the world now?? -- FrankBrooks

De facto Lingua Franca, but not one of the factos that makes much sense. Maybe I and UseMod can change that -- http://unumondo.com/ -- jm

Opting out... keeping up... stop the world, I want to get off...

That's what I like about Wikis... the barriers to getting involved are low and the output value is high.? -- FrankBrooks

I only found out about wikis a week ago, and I've put up four already. UseMod is a helluva piece of code. This can make computing fun again. Maybe I won't retire after all. -- jm

Sheesh... I thought I was a geezer. Every time I tell these YoungWhippersnappers? about my 300 baud modem, routing email by hand, or "3583 BASIC BYTES FREE" geezers like you talk about punchcards or toggle switches or vacuum tubes. At least I learned FORTRAN in high school--do I qualify as a YoungGeezer?? :-) --CliffordAdams

Yup, I think you're probably a YoungGeezer?. I wrote my first program in Fortran IV with Watfor at Dalhousie University in Halifax NS in 1967 using punch cards and and an IBM 360 mainframe with 16K words of main memory, if memory serves. The 360 and the maintenance staff were actually behind a glass wall; we handed in our punch cards and picked up our printouts through a bank teller-style slot at a counter.

Things really picked up in late 1978 when my company bought an Apple ][ with 16K RAM and Steve Wozniak's integer BASIC. It wasn't till later that we got one of the first 5.25" floppy drives; I still have the manual for it... it's stamped PRELIMINARY on the front.

What seemed like a frivolous purchase of a complicated toy (it didn't even have a text editor) all of a sudden seemed like a stroke of genius when VisiCalc came out and we were soon doing all kinds of 'what if' calculations for the General Manager of our small company.

If you want to read some good OldGeezers tales, try John Walker's site at http://www.fourmilab.ch. He's the brains behind the fantastically popular and powerful AutoCad? drafting/design program.? -- FrankBrooks

It was a blast when I got my first calculator round about 1973 or 1974; I thought I had died and gone to heaven. The slide rule became obsolete overnight. I still laugh to myself when I think about it: calculating by rubbing two sticks together!!? -- FrankBrooks
"Got" a computer? I had to build my first 8-bit computer by myself. Around 1952 I ordered a kit from an ad in the back of one my comic books. The kit had a masonite pegboard, about 10x18 inches, two disks about 8 inches cut from the same material, a spool of wire, a D-size battery holder, and eight little flashlight bulb holders. Mount a bunch of metal screws on the board in a pattern, wire the screws to the bulb holders. Mount clips on the disks so they bridge gaps across screwheads when the disks are turned. You mount the disks on the board with pins in their centers. Turn disk, light bulbs in sequence. Turn two disks variously, and various bulbs light. Turn left disk to "4", right disk to "6", and bulbs go "00001010".

I came up a list of patterns to designate letters of the alphabet, used it to write messages in code to pass to a buddy. Other kids only had Decoder Rings, which didn't work on our messages. We were coolest of the cool. We shrewdly abandoned further development as a child's game with no practical future, and turned our lust towards the acquisition of typewriters, where the real future was. -- JerryMuelver

You got me there, alright. In 1952, I was heading to kindergarten or grade one. In 1953, I saw my first TV show, Our Miss Brooks with Eve Arden.... she was fantastic.? -- FrankBrooks

In the good old days (late 70's, early 80's, having a microcomputer (they called them that then, since the PC didn't come out 'til 1981), and keeping up with things was a relatively simple thing. There was a handful each of successful hardware and software companies, and all the software was simple, memory bound and limited in the number of titles. Like Sir Francis Bacon of the 1600's, you kind of felt you were on top of things.

By about 1990 (and probably much earlier), any fantasies of keeping up had completely disappeared. This feeling increased ten-fold when Netscape exploded onto the scene in 1995.

Now, with young bucks coming out of school educated up to the eyeballs with the latest and the greatest, as an OldGeezer, it's becoming increasingly difficult to keep up. What do you focus on? How do you make a living? How do you avoid being trampled by hordes of younger experts with the latest training? Like the Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times.? -- FrankBrooks

What you do is shift over from relying on acquiring knowledge to disseminating wisdom. You can't get deep enough into any one topic to become an expert to compete with the highly trained and highly focused young bucks, and you can't learn enough across the spectrum of technology to become Master of Your Domain, so you reach into the accumulated depths of your wisdom and offer guidance on the human factors in technology application, cross-disciplinary thinking, and the flow of information rather than the control of data.

The value of wisdom is the reason the OldGeezers aren't all tossed over The Hurling Cliff at age 50, regardless of the fondest wishes of the younglings jostling for higher position. -- JerryMuelver

Ah yes, it's so obvious when you say it in such a profound and succinct manner. I'll have to swirl these ideas around in my head to translate this into some kind of action plan or approach for myself. Separately, I found a lot of help in reading the Seven Habits of Highly Successful People by Steven Covey. (See http://www2.bc.edu/~caser/32-44.html (deadlink 16 June 2008))

Covey irks me with his chatty digressions and lack of focus. "Traits" looks at qualities, not implementation. I like to consider what I call First Principles, values you can use as a Sieve of Behavior, much as you use the Sieve of Eratosthanes to find prime numbers. To that end, something like the quick overview on http://www.allspirit.co.uk/buddhism.html works better, for me, than Covey. -- JerryMuelver

I've already had one pass over the Hurling Cliff and I'm slowly crawling back up. -- FrankBrooks

One day, my [story of life online] will be considered ancient history. Does that frighten you? -- SunirShah

Not a bit; eventually all of us and our individual stories will be ancient history. What is frustrating is being hurled over the cliff when you feel you've still got a lot to contribute and enjoy. The challenge is to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, pick a point on the horizon and go for it. Fortunately, the internet provides us with far wider horizons than ever before.

With rapid technological advances, skill sets learned early in life become largely irrelevant, causing Future Shock. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, a blacksmith's skills remained useful and valuable for the younger generation to carry on. Now you've got to re-invent yourself continually or learn to apply your wisdom in the manner suggested by JerryMuelver above. How does a blacksmith apply his wisdom when the automobile makes his skills irrelevant? -- FrankBrooks

The wisdom is not in the skill. It's in the life built while using the skill. The blacksmith uses his wisdom to build a new business applying his skills to bodywork and auto collision repair. We internet old geezers do the same. When we finally wake up to the various realities involved in the equation, we begin to use the tools of the digital age for communication and relationship-building, instead of burning our energies and youth in the effort to build the tools for others to use. That's what we're doing here -- showing others the benefits derived from selecting and using good tools, while leaving the tool-inventing and honing to those whose intelligence is still too green and rambunctious to be shaped into wisdom. -- JerryMuelver

I'm grateful for you OldGeezers. At 37 I've been around long enough to know that keeping up with technology is a young man's game. I remember sticking the telephone handset into the cups on a 300-baud modem to connect a Decwriter to some timeshared mainframe to run Basic programs back in high school in 1979. The first microcomputers I saw in college ran CP/M and had 8" floppies. On my first job I was exposed to the old Run compilers for FORTRAN on CDC mainframes, and fixed-point flight computers with 64K RAM. But I'm actually looking forward to the wisdom-dissemination role. What makes us think the young turks will even listen to us? I've already had some that wouldn't. Another question: did you guys ever feel like you wanted to have a few unqualified successes before you hung up your spurs and began dispensing wisdom? --RandyStafford

The young turks will listen when they become wise enough to appreciate wisdom.

That's wise. :-)

The are no unqualified successes for those on the bleeding edge -- there are only demonstrations of lessons learned from qualified failures. The feeling that you are never quite ashore, that the water is still too deep for you to touch bottom and walk the rest of the way to the beach, is the background radiation that surrounds early adapters. Those on the very forefront, the leaders and gurus and movers and shakers, may even suffer from Imposter Syndrome -- "Yeah, I'm good. But what if they find out how much more I have to learn before I'm REALLY good?"

If you're lucky, and smart, they never find out. -- JerryMuelver

The bleeding edge. Hmmm. I've been on it. But I haven't really had that sensation that the water is too deep. Instead I've had a sense of frustration that every project has had a "but"; a footnote; an asterisk that reveals why it was only a qualified success at most. Why can't there be a project without a footnote? I used to have this discussion with an OldGeezer vice president of a company in a past life. He'd ask me if I'd ever seen this movie called The Endless Summer. Apparently the surfers would hang out, waiting for the perfect wave. But it never came. My retort to him was that they just didn't wait long enough. Or maybe they were surfing the wrong beach. "Perfection" would be idealistic; realistically, I'd be happy with even "well-executed". What's your wisdom? --RandyStafford

Perfection vs 'good enough' has always been an issue in my life. In 1972, I started as a cable TV plant designer, using a simple calculator. I was frustrated whenever I had to add 60V power supplies to the network, since I didn't know the optimal location for them, nor the exact voltages and currents at each amplifier. I was frustrated by the inadequacy of the methods used, which seemed to be just gut feel, rules of thumb and experience.

Later, I solved that by writing the 'perfect' program for calculating voltages and currents in the tree structure of a cable system. It was hard work, taking possibly a couple of years. I did most of it on my own time. I had to learn about Pascal, linked lists, trees, recursion, all kinds of neat things. When it finally worked, it was 'perfect' according to my own standards. What a rush! It did remarkable things for my self-esteem and confidence. I didn't care if I got rich from it or not, I had done something perfect that other people I knew in the industry also recognized as perfect.

Other things in my life have not been perfect, as they usually are. Compromise and 'good enough' often anger me, especially when others appear not to care about producing sub-standard results. Truth be known, though, perfection is usually not affordable (in a business sense.)

(I think that Steve Jobs of Apple likes to make computers that are perfect according to his standards, but personally, I don't agree with his standards and I don't buy his computers.)

As I've gotten older, I've learned to relax about things not being perfect, but I still savor the feeling of accomplishment that I felt when I made my perfect program. -- FrankBrooks

Thanks for the thoughts, Frank. I think there is a continuum out there of perfection vs. excellence vs. good enough vs. don't care. What angers me is when people accuse me of being a perfectionist - that means they really don't understand the continuum. I gave up on perfection (not sure it's definable), but I sure as hell do strive for excellence. It rankles me when people don't care, or stop at good enough. I did some ranting about this on Wiki:JustaSoftwareEngineer. --Randy

Examples of people I admire who were accomplished, young perfectionists who later turned into OldGeezers with an acute sense of satisfaction were Albert Einstein (e=mc^2) and Werner Heisenberg (Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle http://www.aip.org/history/heisenberg/). My contribution, however, is scant, compared to theirs. But my feeling of accomplishment is probably equal to theirs. (As an OldGeezer, Einstein plugged away, trying to go from the Special Theory of Relativity to the General Theory of Relativity, but never quite getting there.)

Notably, I think perfect results seem to be created mostly by individuals; I think it's rarely achieved by groups. An exception might be the Constitution of the United States, but even this needed to be patched up with Amendments. The election situation in Florida last year may have illuminated more flaws. -- FrankBrooks

"Excellence" is a relative measure - it means doing better than your fellows - and as such it doesn't really interest me. I think the interesting issue is "Once and for all" versus "Doing it over". "Good enough" isn't really good enough if we keep having to return to make corrections, or if we having niggling doubts that it is wrong even though we don't take time to fix it. -- DaveHarris

I am mildly surprised at how little stuff changes. My concerns today are much the same as they were 15 years ago. Smalltalk is still hot, as it was in 1980 or even 1972. Arguments about static versus dynamic type checking, or automatic versus manual garbage collection, still fill the newsgroups. We don't have to worry about traffic between disk and RAM any more; instead we worry about traffic between RAM and the L1 cache. -- DaveHarris

I wonder if I could qualify to be an OG. I started programming at school in Salzburg (Austria) at the age of 15. This was in 1970. We wrote our programs to FORTRAN forms that were sent by mail to the university computer center in Vienna, punched into cards and executed. The printed results, usually errors, were sent back to us. It took us 2 months to get a simple program running. Later our school bought a miracle: a $10.000 OLIVETTI Programma 1001. It had a numerical keyboard, a single line display, about 200 Byte of (some kind of electronic loop-) storage split to 5 registers and about 100 steps of programming memory. Clever programming made it calculate pi to 10 decimal places within about half an hour. You never waste memory again if you ever tried to get the maximum out of such a machine. At university we programmed FORTRAN and ALGOL using punched cards on a UNIVAC 1100/80. The first terminal, the first microcomputers (Commodore, Apple II), the first PCs (Sirius, IBM). Assembler and BASIC, PASCAL and C. 20 years of technical and commercial software develoment. DOS, Win16 and Win32. HTML, Java and Perl.

Now I'm 45 and consider myself a dinosaur. Do I qualify as an old geezer? -- HelmutLeitner

You are automatically considered a member simply by asking the question. ;-) -- FrankBrooks

I am 31 now, w/ 2 kids and all that. However, I went done got another degree, and socially I'm still in the university. When I talk and spend time with people ~20 most of the time, I don't feel old. However, there's a 12-year-old freshman who is in my LinuxUserGroup, and he makes me feel old. --DaveJacoby


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