Friday, October 21, 2016
Publication Date: 08/1/2008
Archive >  August 2008 Issue >  Tech-Op-Ed > 

Eight Gigabytes of Gold
Walter Salm, Editor
Technology can do some strange things to our lives. We all know how technological advances have shaped what we do, think and how we do it. But in my life, a tiny object weighing less than an ounce has become the focus of much of my daily routine — a little black USB memory chip or "dongle" attached to a black lanyard.

It's the largest capacity dongle I own, clocking in at 8GB, and it holds not only the complete text and photo files for this issue of U.S. Tech, but also a number of other important files, both business and personal, plus several .exe files and other software, and still has about 4GB left over. That little black dongle cost $47 about 4 months ago, and can now be replaced for under $30, and at that price, it has to be the biggest bargain in my life, especially considering how important it has become.

Not too long ago — actually it was quite awhile, around 1965 — I recall using a wonderful photo on the cover of International Electronics magazine showing ferrite memory beads being strung on a wire matrix. It was part of a mainframe computer memory back in an era when 32kB of RAM filled an entire room. Today I am able to carry more than 40,000 times that amount of storage in a jewelry-size capsule weighing a mere 0.4 oz. (11 grams). Amazing, and I have watched and written about a great deal of this technological revolution as it was taking place.

Right now, our coach is parked an area where my Verizon air card works, but ever so slowly. When it comes time to do a major download (or upload) of some large graphics — anything over 200k becomes a major roadblock at these crawling speeds — even checking my bank statement, paying my bills, or ordering something from — I pack up a notebook computer, get in the car and drive to a free WiFi area about a mile away. Yes, it's a pain in the backside, but it works.

The other day, I got there and was all set up when I realized that my 8GB black dongle was not hanging around my neck. I was in the middle of a download, so I asked a friend who was on his way out if he could drive down to my campsite and ask my wife Elizabeth ("B.J.") for the dongle. I called her and told her where it was. It wasn't there. She couldn't find it. So I packed up the computer, got in the car and was about 200 yards (200 meters) down the road when she called to tell me she had found it — on the floor! I apparently had dropped it on the way out. And she was giving it to Craig, the friend I had asked for the favor.

I immediately turned the car around and went back to my WiFi station. Craig arrived a few minutes later and handed me the black dongle and lanyard. I thanked him profusely and looked at the dongle with shock and dismay; it was the wrong one! Not only was it the wrong one, it was one I had never seen before! It was black all right, but it was only 1GB and was of a brand and style that I did not own.

I hated to be so impolitic as to question the favor he had just done for me, but question it I did, and after a few seconds, he broke out in a wide grin and handed me the correct, missing dongle. Turns out Craig is a big practical joker, and he just couldn't resist this chance for a laugh.

If anything, I learned a couple of lessons. I learned that as part of my routine of packing up a notebook computer for a trip to the WiFi hotspot, I had to make certain to hang the dongle lanyard around my neck. No matter what. That little black capsule is black gold as far as I am concerned. I also learned to be careful when asking for favors, and that anyone at all could be a joker in disguise.  

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