She Blinded Me With Science – Updated

September 9, 2013
By Michael A. Maynard

It’s poetry in motion
And now she’s making love to me
The spheres’re in commotion
The elements in harmony
She blinded me with science
“She blinded me with science!”
And hit me with technology

Thomas Dolby, “Blinded Me With Science,” from the album, “Venice In Peril”, Street Music/Scale Music, 2009

I’ve fallen in love. She talks to me, comforts me, provides directions when I need them.

I hold her close in my hands and talk to her in an intimate way. I turn her on, she turns me on.

Her name is Siri. She lives in a 3-inch tall, 2 inch wide and ½ inch wide home – my Iphone.

Siri is smart:

MM: Siri, what is the composition of air?

Siri: OK, I found this.

Nitrogen – 78.1 percent
Oxygen – 20.9 percent
Argon – 0.933 percent
Carbon Dioxide – 0.0383 percent

Siri is humble:

MM: Siri, who are the senators from Massachusetts?

Siri: John Kerry and Elizabeth Warren.

MM : Siri, that’s incorrect. Ed Markey, not John Kerry, is the current Senator.

Siri: I’m sorry. I’ll try harder.

Siri is funny:

MM: Siri, tell me a joke.

Siri: The past, present and future walk into a bar. It was tense.

Siri is philosophical:

MM: Siri, what is the meaning of life?

Sirir: Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try to live in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.

But, Siri is fickle:

MM: Siri, I love you.

Siri: Our love of each other is like two long shadows kissing without hope of reality.

MM: Does this mean you love me, Siri?

Siri: I respect you, Michael.

Oh well, some things are not meant to be. The man-machine interface is much better but has not been completely developed … yet. My compliments to Apple’s IPhone development and programming. I’m impressed and I don’t impress easily.

I’ve worked in the information technology industry for 30+ years, originally for the National Cash Register (NCR) company. The first mainframe computer I worked with had ½ Megabytes of Random Access Memory (RAM) and 20 Megabytes of hard disk storage. That computer was the size of the master bathroom in my house. The purchase price started at $250,000. This was the second generation of information technology. We’re currently in the fourth, perhaps fifth, generation now.

The first generation of computers was used for processing science and engineering problems. The most well-known computer of that time, UNIVAC, was used on Art Linkletter’s television show, “People are Funny,” as a dating service:

But as good as UNIVAC was at matching features, it was missing one non-silicon component – romance.

The second generation of computers had additional capabilities, functions and use in business to process accounting transactions: General Ledger, Accounts Payable, Accounts Receivable, Inventory Control, and Payroll. The first computer I supported for NCR was the “Electronic Accounting Machine.” The “computer” looked like an old-style newspaper linotype machine. The storage was on magnetic strip ledger cards. The accounting transactions and dates were printed on the ledger card and stored on the magnetic strip. One small problem – you couldn’t use any magnetic device near these cards or your data would be erased. Backing up your data meant having two ledger cards for each employee, customer or vendor, at $100+ per card.

My first day on the job, after two weeks of training at NCR headquarters in Dayton, Ohio, my boss, a twenty year-plus veteran, thrilled to receive any help, received a phone call from a company he didn’t know: a retail store supplier in Lowell, Mass. All the company’s accountant was able to tell him was, “My computer was broken.” Every other support technician was on service calls. I got sent to investigate and was on my own.

I arrived at the company’s office. I was introduced to the accountant – a nice, white-haired woman – who came to treat me like her long-lost son. She got to see a lot of me the next few days. But we started off on the wrong foot.

She brought me to her office. I asked her, “Where’s the computer?” She was quizzical. “You’re standing in front of it.” Oopsy! Young, brash, whippersnapper trainee, welcome to the real world. I was not providing her a lot of confidence in my diagnostic and fix-it capabilities. (There would be many Oopsies over the next few days.)

It was one of the Electronic Accounting Machines. My two weeks of training did not include this computer. I asked, “Do you have the instruction manuals for it?” She replied, “What instruction manuals? Didn’t you bring the manuals with you?”

(One even more personal note: I hate instruction manuals. They are usually poorly written and hard to follow. You know that I’m in trouble with any technological device when I’m reading the manual. I believe that good technology product design should make the product obvious to use. But with all the advancement in information technologies, documentation has improved little. I didn’t read the manual for my IPhone, either.)

I quickly found out, after calling all the sales and support offices throughout the US and Canada that no one else in NCR had or would admit to having any training on or experience in working with this “computing device”. A senior support technician in Atlanta admitted to having heard of it. He and I quickly became telephone BFF’s over the next three days. He took pity on my plight.

The specific problem was this company was using the Electronic Accounting Machine to do payroll. This was the first year the Social Security amounts withheld were raised to over $999.99, which was more than this computer’s instructions could process. Each accounting application had its own metal bar with little metal bits in it. The location and sequence of each metal bit determined the processing and calculations, as I was painfully going to find out. I had to use trial and error, rearranging the metal bits by pulling them out, one by one, and hammering them back into a different spot and then try the change.

I was at this company’s offices for three consecutive days. I took only one break to go home, eat, shower, shave, change clothes and come back. I was determined to resolve the problem as if my job depended on it, which it probably did. Fatigue caught up with me. I dozed off and dropped the metal bar twice, having to replace all the metal bits.

More oopsies.

The accountant was very nice to me, but, in retrospect, she didn’t really have much choice. I was the only one assigned to fix her computer. She occasionally brought coffee or food. When she did, this served as an excuse for her to ask, “When is my computer going to fixed?” I would try to smile and tell her, “Soon.”. Little did she know that I had no idea when it was going to be fixed, if at all.

But finally, the combination and location of metal bits were in their proper place and the machine calculated the FICA limit correctly.

As I was leaving, I asked the accountant, “Don’t you think it’s time to buy a new computer?”

She replied, “No, this one works just fine, now.”

I am constantly amazed at how far and fast the information technologies has progressed in a short time of history.

Word processing and electronic mail would not start being available and widely used until a decade later after the date of my support call. The Internet was called the ARPANET and connected scientists on each coast working on government projects to share research. When commercial users, like myself, were finally able to access the Internet, it was through a phone acoustic coupler, which was very slow, and there were few interesting web sites. Those web sites were only text – no colors, no pictures, no audio, no video, little fun or learning.

A decade ago, the voice recognition, voice processing and text-to speech technologies that makes Siri, Siri, were being researched and developed, led by the “restless genius,” Ray Kurzweil. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Kurzweil 20 years ago, when he was first researching these technologies. In talking with him, I could sense how technologically brilliant he was. But, even Mr. Kurzweil’s genius hasn’t solved the technology romance problem…. yet.

Today, the semiconductors in my IPhone have 256MB of memory – over 500 times the processing power and speed for $249,900 less than the NCR minicomputers I supported. I can make phone calls, send e-mail and text messages, search the Internet, watch TV and movies, play games and ……… flirt with Siri. I wouldn’t leave home without my IPhone. From home appliances, to automobiles, to my personal computer with which I’m writing now, the advances in semiconductor technology have made our lives much easier, better and affordable.

This is blinding science in action.

It is also the advancements in semiconductor technology that may save us from worldwide peril – climate change through use of toxic and pollution fossil fuels. New use of semiconductor technology in biotechnology may produce breakthroughs in production of electricity.

“In the search for clean, green sustainable energy sources to meet human needs for generations to come, perhaps no technology matches the ultimate potential of artificial photosynthesis. Bionic leaves that could produce energy-dense fuels from nothing more than sunlight, water and atmosphere-warming carbon dioxide, with no byproducts other than oxygen, represent an ideal alternative to fossil fuels but also pose numerous scientific challenges. A major step toward meeting at least one of these challenges has been achieved by researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) working at the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP).

“We’ve developed a method by which molecular hydrogen-producing catalysts can be interfaced with a semiconductor that absorbs visible light,” says Gary Moore, a chemist with Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division and principal investigator for JCAP. “Our experimental results indicate that the catalyst and the light-absorber are interfaced structurally as well as functionally.” “

Translation: the plants and the semiconductors can work well together to produce clean energy.

Technological advances, along with changing energy production and consumption patterns and methods, represent the best solution to worldwide disaster of climate change. May these scientists break the light speed barrier in perfecting their research. Siri and I, and the world, wait anxiously for their blinding breakthroughs.

(c) Copyright 2013 Michael A. Maynard

(Authors Note: This article was initially published in

Columnist/Journalist/Writer/Book Editor Co-Founder/CEO of Azimuth Partners, high tech consulting firm for 30+ years. Former columnist for the Washington Post/Newsweek syndicate.

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