Sunday, July 27, 2014

Becoming a Professional Nerd

When I was in college in the 1960s, trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life, I read an article about computers becoming one of the emerging new technologies and that there would soon be a big demand for programmers. It sounded exotic and potentially lucrative so I decided to become a computer programmer.

Getting in on the ground floor of an emerging technology wasn't a bad idea. I started writing programs in 1965, when IBM cards carried 80 characters of data and a 4k computer was the size of a Buick. By 1977, I had become an independent computer programming contractor and, in 2001, I began teaching college computer courses. It's been a good run.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) recently published a list of 10 emerging technologies. If you actually find this comprehensible and exciting, you may have what it takes to become a professional nerd.

1) Epigenetics – At any given moment, a single human cell may have 20,000 active human genes. Chemical modifications can interfere with the process of the creating protein thereby shutting down the genes. Epigenetics is a branch of genetics examining such chemical variations and diagnosing cancers at the early stages. 

2) Nuclear Reprogramming – Biologists believe that stem cells will be beneficial in treating such diseases as Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis. They're attempting to produce the properties of embryonic stem cells without destroying embryos, thereby placating Christians who consider research using human embryos to be immoral.

3) Universal Authorization – The development of an online identification system to protect the privacy of Internet users and online businesses. This involves an "interoperable authentication system" that would allow users to sign on just once then go from website to website, or access multiple sites, securely.

4) Cognitive Radio – Wireless devices, such as laptops, cell phones and sensor networks, are becoming increasingly more common. However, the bandwidth range allotted by the FCC for such gadgets is limited, thus mathematical modeling based on game theory is required to allocate unused spectrum areas among devices.

5) Diffusion Tensor Imaging – As a newly developed variation of MRI, this allows scientists to study the connections between different areas of the brain, and differentiate between normalcy and schizophrenia.

6) Nanobiomechanics – The study of minute mechanical forces on a human cell allows medical researchers to view ways in which diseased cells differ from healthy cells. This is particularly helpful in detecting cancer cells.

7) Comparative Interactomics – In molecular research, an array of interactions among genes, metabolites, RNA and proteins is known as the interactome. By comparing the pathways of the interactomes of different species, biotechnologists hope to discover new drugs without the need for experiments done on animals.

8) Nanomedicine – Through the use of multipurpose nanoparticles, medical researchers hope to diagnose and treat cancer, as well as most other diseases. An injection of nanoparticles would make it possible to locate cancerous or inflammatory cells, latch onto them and change them (or destroy them) directly.

9) Pervasive Wireless – Pagers, cell phones and other wireless gadgets employ a diverse array of protocols (distinct codes). In an attempt to tie collections of protocols together, these devices would be linked to a pervasive wireless network making them compatible (and linked) by utilizing a common protocol.

10) Stretchable Silicon – First, electronic circuitry was embedded onto rigid silicon chips. Then it became flexible by stamping organic semiconductors onto plastic sheets, thus "smart" credit cards could carry bendable microchips. The next step is allowing complete electronic circuits to work properly when bent or stretched.

One of the problems with a technical profession is that it's always changing and you must continue to keep up or be left in the dust. After 40+ years of computer technology (programming, systems analysis, managing and teaching), I've had enough. I'm down to my last nine brain cells and am saving them for the next time I do taxes.

Technology doesn't always make life easier -- I'm still trying to figure out how to use my new can opener.

Quote for the Day -- "The future is not a gift -- it is an achievement." Albert Einstein

Bret Burquest is the author of 10 books. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and has given up writing computer programs for writing books, blogs and tweets.

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