About bits and pixels

I’ve just been looking at the pixels on my 13″ Mac Air and thinking how nice would that retina display be, and then I thought: when I got my first computer, 320×200 was considered high resolution, and that was on a TV set. You know, this kind of stuff:

Today’s equivalent? Something like this:

The crazy thing is not what we had, but what we thought people will have in the 24-th century, in the Star Trek next generation, DS9 and Voyager; basically, the LCARS operating system is a touch operated thing that looks very much like iOS, Android and Windows 8, and the only places where we lag behind are the voice recognition systems and strength of the AI.

Just take a look at the LCARS operated PADD device:

In the 1990s, we thought people would have that in the 24th century, and most reactions were “no way you can make a powerful computer that thin”. Today we have this:

I don’t know about you, but from where I’m standing, our today’s stuff is better. But we need to have one important thing in mind: when the Star Trek designers invented the LCARS touch interface, contemporary computers looked like this:

Remember, the IBM PC compatibles were still running MS DOS, because Windows 3 wasn’t yet out, and the best desktop machine of the time was Apple Mac II, which had stuff that Win 3.0 yet had to release to the wider PC market – 24-bit color, for instance.

My first computer was a Commodore 64 with a 1540 floppy drive, a daisywheel printer and a B&W TV set adapted to serve as a monitor – it looked something like this:

What could it do? Well, you could play games, and my father actually used it as a word processor; it could work with documents ten or so pages long, which was much better than a typewriter, in that you could correct the text without retyping it.

I soon saved enough money to buy my own:

It was a BASIC-programmable pocket computer that could double as a scientific calculator. The main limitation was that I didn’t have a storage device for programs and the single 24-character line was a serious limitation. The funny thing is, the difference between the computers I had and the computers I was drooling over but couldn’t afford at the time, was negligible. I wanted Apple IIe and had Commodore 64, I wanted HP 71b and had Sharp 1403 – but they were all more-less the same, which means they could do next to nothing.

Today’s stuff is so advanced, that in the 1980s I could imagine stuff like that, but I could imagine the aliens having it. That I could sit outside and write this article on a wireless laptop more powerful than all the supercomputers of the 1980s, more powerful than most SciFi computers imagined at the time, and for it to be visible to everybody who is interested, the second I press “publish”… that would be just too much. But that’s where we are:

And here I am, complaining about the screen resolution on that computer, because I can actually see the pixels.  🙂