A look back at 1988

View west towards the Brixton Tower

Many a moment from the past is relived while scanning and eliminating reams of old documents and photos.

Based on surviving papers and documents alone, each person’s evolution might be divided neatly into specific periods of their life, usually grouped around locality and what they did for a living at the time. It also goes without saying that most anyone can nail certain past events down to an exact year (or even the exact month) in a heartbeat or can recall the moment that led them down a certain path.

1988 was one such watershed year.

While the previous year, 1987, was spent worrying about final exams and how to dodge conscription to go fight the commies or other such teenage high school trivialities, barely a thought was wasted on the direction my long-term career was supposed to be taking — let alone which industry!

So I stepped into the future.

Dov Fedler, 1981

This flyer could hardly have been more prophetic.

There was no way I could’ve foreseen how the telecommunications industry would change the world as we know it. Little was I to know that, after months of introductory tests and training the way that only a stodgy government utility can deliver, I would actually get to spend several months working at the Hillbrow Tower. There was no way I could’ve predicted that the HP-85B computers I encountered there and the silly programs we wrote with them (and printed on a plotter) would plant the seeds for obsessions that would last for years to come.

Here, for instance, is a scan of a Polaroid photo taken of the screen output drawn by a program that we discovered on some random tape.

The HP85 girl

Suddenly I was expected to be an adult.

Yes, 1988 was the year I started working. I started earning a regular salary. I now had to pay taxes. My parents started charging rent. I bought a camera and snapped a few pictures from a platform that few were privileged to step onto. For a while I was dating a girl who appeared in Cosmopolitan.

1988 was the start of a career that’s had me personally careen from coax- and microwave-based analogue FDM technology via optic PDH and SDH, pen-, paper- and mainframe-based fault management, database support and network provisioning through to ISDN/NGN and DSL support, and now VoIP/IP  benchmarking and statistics — on a laptop that runs on battery for hours on end while VPN-connected to the corporate network from any suitable Wi-Fi hotspot or 4G/LTE base station.

It’s been 26 years that these two technical disciplines — telecommunications and computing — have been running as concurrent interests in my life. The gradual addition of multimedia capabilities to the latter had me long ago predict that “connected” computers would someday be invading our living rooms — except that they got called “set top boxes” or “PlayStation” and run some flavour of Unix. Cameras got digital, phones got mobile. TVs got bigger and flatter while everything else has become portable and smarter. Phones have operating systems with names like “Jelly Bean”.

My, how far the fickle telecommunications industry has come!

And for what? So consumers can share food porn and “like” cat pictures.

Image credits: Scans by hmvh DOT net, the Basement Archaeologist

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