Clearly people did not get as excited as I did about the Bossies, the Open Source Software awards, that I wrote about in my last entry. Perhaps it's just not very compelling, or perhaps there is just a general lack of curiosity in such things.
I've had my world shaken and stirred a little with recent events-- in a good way. The first has been my involvement in developing a Knowledge Path for System Z (mainframes) where I have had to dive a little bit into that mysterious world. I remember when I worked at the Texas Lottery Commission and the mainframe guys were "over there". The operators were pretty decent, but the admins were scary dudes.
Picture a scene from an old Clint Eastwood spaghetti western. The sysadmin is dressed in black, with an ornate, but well-used six gun prominently displayed on his hip. I wander up as a wide-eyed kid dressed like Huckleberry Finn. "How do I learn more about the mainframe?" I would ask.
This is met with either a steely-eyed stare as the sysadmin says through clenched teeth "You don't... and pray never have to." He then strides away, the wind whipping his long coat around him, but miraculously having no affect on his hat. Later, there are gunshots.
It has been very nice to come into contact with much less scary people in the mainframe world. People who are excited about mainframes and who reward curiosity, but it is still a precious and rare resource and there are many gateways. It's a shame, because there are many interesting ways in which a mainframe could take the place of a number of computing resources, consolidating them together. Imagine a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) world where I don't have to worry so much about your device being completely secure because I'm not actually running my software there... I'm providing a central resource and using your device as a fancy terminal. How could that make a difference?
In any case, this is very exciting to me and I'm enjoying the chance to see the outstanding engineering that makes the System Z what it is. It is amazing that people were able to think things through so completely... a vast difference from today's rush to market.
The other thing I am working with is a group of hgh school students in a security contest called CyberPatriot. The idea is to get kids interested in technology to have a greater appreciation for how computer security works. I'm a mentor in the group, drawn in because of my Linux background. (Apparently the team was hit with an Ubuntu image last year and they were very confused by being met with a console prompt and a blinking cursor.) It's been interesting, but so far all of the samples have been Windows-based... forcing me to dust off some of my brain cells, since I haven't really had to administer Windows machines with any seriousness for a while now! (There are advantages to being a long-haired techno-freak.)
One of the things that has intrigued me is the difference between how young people approach technology today and how I remember approaching it in my youth. I suppose that part of working with technology in the Eighties was that you really had to know how to make things work or it didn't. Windows was a ways off yet and the blinking cursor on my Commodore 64 or the school's Apple IIe (or the TRS80s) gave you no comfort, no clues as to what to do next. You really had to know something about the moving parts. Interestingly, many of those parts are still there, but buried within all the menus and icons.
It intrigues me that some of these students, who are clearly clever and interested in technology, seem to be experiencing these moving parts fo the first time. Ports and processes were always a part of my computing world. Some of them seem to be discovering these things for the first time. How is that possible? All of them embrace the knowledge eagerly and they are doing great, but it amazes me that one could learn about technology without developing an understanding about how these things work... especially if you are more of a techie type.
Curiosity is one of our most valuable assets as humans. We have always dug deeper as a species, finding out how things work and new ways to apply what we learn. We take things apart. We invent. We misapply what we know in wonderful ways to create new discoveries. It seems to me that some of this curiosity is waning. We seem to be waiting for experts to tell us what to do. Experts are great, but how do you know if they're right unless you've tried on your own?
I encourage everyone to try to dig a little deeper into technology. Don't let anyone tell you that you don't need to understand something and that it will all be handled by "top men", especially in these BYOD days! What you don't know can be used to exploit you in so may ways. Bad guys use it to steal your information and resources. Employers use it to make you give up your Facebook information and spy on your personal computers and phones. Governments and commerical interest use it to accumulate information about you and game you. I don't mean to be alarmist and I think that much of this is done with good intentions... but you can't defend yourself or make your own decisions unless you engage a little.
Technology is our servant. We should all be able to take advantage of mainframes or keep our email safe from bad guys. Solutions are there for the using, but we have to be curious and we have to not take "No" for an answer. Go do a search right now for a technical topic that you don't but would like to understand. The first two or three things may be way over your head, but you will ifnd something that introduces it to you correctly. (Don't be surprised if some of the better ones are on developerWorks.) Dig, learn, play, ask questions, get answers. You will be amazed at what you can find and do.