December 2017

I saw a mention on Facebook of Xanga. I really do miss Xanga—it was a circle of blogs who I read on a regular basis, and I just came to know people, if only by their internet pseudonyms. Yes, I made the transition to WordPress eventually, and I did import all of my Xanga archives from back then, but I think it’s always been a bit different. It kind of put an interruption on my blogging.

I suppose it’s not fair to say that it was all Xanga’s fault that I mostly stopped blogging—I met [CM] around the time, and I guess I just started getting busy as our relationship got more serious. It’s now a bit under a decade later, and here I am, coming back to the blogging a bit, even if it’s just for a quick hit and run.

 

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I don’t really consider myself old, but I do feel that sometimes, I find myself in positions that I’d normally think were occupied by “adults”.

Just a week ago, I sat down two of the paralegals at my law firm, and decided to give them a crash course in basic networking. The internet hardware sort of networking, not the hand shaking and baby kissing sort.

It was a bit surreal.

I found that I just took a lot of concepts for granted, because I grew up having to learn some basic coding. When I had a Commordore 64, I learned BASIC just because I wanted to be able to load up games to play. I made simple programs with the QuickBASIC years later, and I was fortunate enough to have a family friend, [Swongy], who took an interest in lending me a whole ton of books on programming… I never got all that far, because it was just a self-taught hobby, but I even went as far as learning some rudimentary C just so that I could program custom mods for Duke Nukem 3D.

Back then, I had to learn by books—computer books were always at least 2 or 3 inches thick back then, and weighed a good kilo. I remember in Montreal, there was even a computer bookshop in Philip Square—I can’t remember what it was called, but it was near Crazy Irving’s, which was one of the biggest shops at the time. It used to sell 3 ¼” diskettes with software, including relevant stuff at the time like Montreal area Bulletin Board System (BBS) dialup numbers.

So when I was talking to the paralegals about how to wire a router to a printer… they were transfixed. Well, I mean, sure, I’m technically sort of their boss, so the things that I was telling them, it’s pretty much their job to pretend that they’re interested. I don’t think it was that (this time) though. They just genuinely seemed curious—they were asking the “right questions” that showed they were engaging with the topic.

It turned out that I had to backtrack a bit. Forget about Local Area Networks for a moment… what’s the difference between a phone cable, and an ethernet cable? What’s the difference between a wireless modem, a wireless router? Why is it that we say that our phones get wireless internet, but then, our wireless router needs a phone jack?

 

It occurred to me as I was basically giving them an explanation of things that a lot of it has to do with how internet and technology companies in Australia market things, and how in the IT world, usage of English is neither great nor consistent.  For example—what do you understand when I say wireless modem?

Do you mean a modem that gets it’s WAN connection by some sort of 4G or 3G connection? Or do you actually mean a mode/router or a router, that casts an internet connection for LAN use, in the form of WiFi? It’s really not obvious from just reading the boxes or brochures of technology.

 

The fact that millennials “grew up with Facebook” gives them an interesting sort of technology problem—they are at their heart, end users, who are adept and accustomed to adapting end user experiences. Give them a bit of motivation and some time, and they will practice their way through most of the functionality of simple, contained apps with confidence. But they’re often pretty limited in terms of the technical stuff beyond being asked to enter a username and password, and click “save”.

Which makes it all the more a stark contrast to the generation older than me, that of my parents and grand parents. At least in my family, these generations have strange respect for technology, in that sometimes they fear it as the thing that will replace their jobs. They still don’t quite distinguish fake ads and scams from legitimate system messages. They can sometimes get phished by con artists asking for credit card details. But on the other hand, they understand wires—the analogy to them is that if some sort of information is going to move, it’s going to be by a wire, and wireless is truly a wire without wires.  So when I explained to my mom the chain of internet from the wall, to the modem, to the router, to the VOIP ATA, to the phone, she understood it, and was able to troubleshoot it. Different sized cables? No problem for someone who grew up in an era televisions and stereo systems characterised by RCA jacks, coaxial cables, y-fork connections for television rabbit ear antennae, and more recently, the jump from fat headphone jacks to 3.5mm.

In many ways, video gaming drove my self-education in terms of a lot of technology. I had to learn how to set up dial-up connections so that I could do early 90s multiplayer games. I needed to set up a wireless bridge in my home so that I could play games in the basement. I needed to figure out a healthy amount of suspicion so that I could go to the right peer-to-peer sites to download games, I learned to use various Linux builds so that I could put older computer systems to use in the family.

I’m nowhere near as tech proficient as people who do this kind of thing for a living… but I appreciate that technology is a tool, and like any tool, it is meant to make our lives easier. Like all tooks, there is also a certain amount of craftsmanship involved in its usage—craftsmanship being, in my book, a kung fu type continual development that can be a way to develop discipline and a sense of community.

I say discipline because, to this day, I think in terms of algorithms—I think in flowcharts (I used to have a stack of flowchart drafting paper when I was a kid, which one of my uncles or aunt’s gave me from their time working at IBM). My problem solving is like troubleshooting code—I isolate variables, test inputs against results, and try and figure out bugs. Rinse and repeat.

It’s really actually quite similar to the way one learns techniques and applies them in martial arts.

 

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The latest thing that I’ve been getting excited about is upgrading our small office network… we’ve recently bought a much better router, which has failover and load balancing capabilities (multi-WAN support) which we’re using to get around the horrid internet service in Sydney CBD. We’ve also recently started working on a NAS/server setup (apologies to those of you who actually know these things, as I’m probably not using the terms properly).  Hence why I was bringing the paralegals up to speed on how some of the connectivity works, so that they can help me integrate the network plans.

 

 

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On a personal level—CM and I bought ourselves a Nikon DSLR for ourselves for Christmas. This will be the first time since Korea about a decade that I own a digital camera. And, although it’s digital now and not film, it will be the first time since college that I use an SLR.

I still have binders full of negatives from when I used to do work in darkrooms in black and white film. A few youtube videos later, and I’m starting to wrap my head around aperature priority and shutter priority shooting. It’s a completely different way of conceptualising the controls compared to my old manual Nikon F50.

And now, rather than thinking about binders full of strips of negatives, I’m thinking about a home NAS—because where else would you dump all those photos?

 

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Times change… some things stay the same foundationally, just enough so that if you’re paying attention, you can see the themes, the inspiration of the parents in the children, the philosophies before they diverged– and this change is what makes the nostalgia bittersweet and sometimes wonderful.

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