Originally created 06/05/06

Buck Rogers, you need an iMac

When I was a growing up, supposedly studying the three R's, I was actually in training to be a spaceman.

My career took sharper focus when the first astronauts were selected. I was going to become an astronaut, which was even better: a spaceman with a steady paycheck.

Could my future get any brighter?

Before Washington and NASA ever announced their plans, I knew our nation would land a man on the moon, and I was certain I was the boy who would become that man.

For practice, I built a rocket ship from scrap boards and plywood in my yard. Huddled in it at night, I studied the stars and plotted my grown-up journeys.

Earthbound, I undertook my early flights through the pages of science fiction books and the reels of fantasy films.

I identified with Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon and countless other rocket jockeys. An armful of treasures from the library was my ticket to Mars, the asteroid belt and the neighboring galaxy - all without ever pulling free from the gravitational field of my own front porch.

Those movies and books would begin, more often than not, with the countdown to blastoff of a sleek needle-nose rocket, and they would conclude with an alien encounter, the exploration of brave new worlds or a spectacular war between species.

I devoured the stories of Bradbury, Heinlein, Asimov, Nourse and Clarke, who drew word pictures of spacesuits, robots, death rays, time machines, dimensions and, last but not littlest, gigantic computers that filled a room and spat out endless data on punch cards or magnetic tape.

There, in the form of the ENIAC and UNIVAC mainframes that started the whole thing, is where science fiction dropped the ball with computers.

In all the stories I read or saw in movies, computers were big, Buick-like machines. I don't remember ever reading a fantastic, futuristic story that told of a spaceman cozying up to a personal computer the size of a typewriter or a laptop model even smaller than that.

I don't recall a star trekker sitting down to type an e-mail to a fellow traveler: "By the way, Commander, we've just discovered hideous, two-headed vampire beasts on the planet's surface, so do be careful."

Although I read story after story about exotic diseases, space fever, hallucinations, mutations and mutilations, I don't recall a single account that dealt with a computer virus attacking the spaceship's communications system, rendering it useless until it could be debugged.

Moreover, I am fairly certain I never came across the stirring saga of Technician Bill, whose duties were crucial to the mission's success: "Captain, I'm going to get you through this crisis so you can regain control of the ship and navigate us away from the sun. Here's what I suggest you do: Turn off your computer, wait 15 seconds, then turn it back on again."

Even much later, when there appeared the talking computer aboard the Enterprise and the gone-postal HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey, they were big machines, not personal computers that could be accessed by any number of handheld devices.

No, science fiction's crystal ball failed us. Writers did well predicting much of what has become commonplace today, but when it came to computers, they drew a blank. No wonder I never made it into space.

Reach Glynn Moore at (706) 823-3419 or glynn.moore@augustachronicle.com.


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