My first computer was an Apple Macintosh SE. I bought it in 1987 to help with my school work. It had 2 3.5″ floppy disk drives, no hard disk, 1 MB of RAM, and a processor running at a whopping 8 MHz (yes, that is M: 8 MILLION per second!). It had a 9″ monochrome display, and the whole thing with a dot matrix printer (total necessity in those days, because there was no hard disk to easily save files). It cost roughly $2,500, about the same as most of the 10-20 computers I’ve owned since then. There was also no internet that I plugged into until my first year or so in grad school.
Since we were dirt poor, raising 2 kids, and struggling to get by on part time work in a luggage repair shop, I felt very guilty about this computer indulgence!
My current iPad Air has 128 GB of storage and a processor with a clock speed that is listed at 1.3-1.4 GHz, 175 times faster than my old Mac SE. I just measured, and the screen on my iPad Air is actually a bit bigger than the old SE.
This weekend, I finally made a nice version of a case for an iPad Air. It was a bit more challenging than for the iPad II, because there is more screen and less other stuff for the case can hold onto. I’m happy with it and will soon start making a few more.
Back in 1988, I used my Mac SE to apply to graduate schools. After first planning on going to medical school, via an Art major, I finally was completely set on grad school in chemistry or related field. All the application materials were typed out and printed and then at fairly great expense sent to about 8 major universities. Unlike my experience transitioning from high school to college, where I didn’t get accepted into any of my choices, I got into all graduate schools…except one.
University of Washington, Washington State, University of Chicago, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Cornell University, Georgia Tech, and University of Utah had all accepted me and were even offering perks. By the time I was required to make a decision, I still had not heard anything from University of California-San Diego. I was a bit upset, because each application cost at least $50 and some time, so I sent UCSD a (paper) letter requesting that they refund my application fee. About a week later, I got my rejection letter from UCSD!
I had unofficially picked University of Wisconsin-Madison, because I loved the town, I loved the university when I visited, and I loved the lab that I was planning on joining. I ended up applying to the Biophysics program at UW, because that was a better fit for my interests.
While I was in Madison, and the day that I had decided that I would pick UW for grad school, cold fusion was announced at the University of Utah in my own chemistry department! It was on all of the national (and international) news shows. I heard about the wonders of cold fusion from my hotel room in Madison.
When I returned to Utah, I decided that I would visit Stanley Pons, who was the acting chairman of my department. Pons and his colleague, Martin Fleischmann, had made a “discovery” that would have revolutionized the world, had it been true. They claimed to have established a nuclear fusion reaction with a desktop apparatus with very inexpensive materials. People and news reports were talking about unlimited clean energy, filling car gas tanks up with heavy water. The entire planet could be supplied with abundant energy, it was claimed.
It was hard to think about leaving University of Utah, just as it was to become rich beyond belief. The entire department was surrounded by media organizations for weeks, and it was somewhat intoxicating. Even my dad thought that I was crazy not to go to Utah and reap some of the benefits. I managed to get a 10 min meeting with Dr. Pons, and he had several calls from places like CNN while I was talking with him. I asked whether cold fusion would help my graduate education in biological chemistry. His answer was honest and helpful in that he didn’t promise anything much different than before cold fusion for my area of interest. To my dad’s (minor) disappointment I officially picked Wisconsin.
Cold fusion was a fiasco, and it did great damage to the University of Utah and probably chemistry and science in general for a few years. The president of University of Utah resigned after it was discovered that he made “anonymous” donations to a cold fusion research center established by the university. These donations were meant to entice other investors, and it was part of a long list of big mistakes that were made. Shortly after I got to Wisconsin, I read the book “Bad Science” by Gary Taubes. This is a very interesting book that is worth reading by any scientist, because it outlines how a series of small mistakes can really spin out of control when money and fame are in the mix.