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Tech Torment

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Today's high-tech is tomorrow's dreck

By Bob Harris

I'M CONSTANTLY amazed at how rapidly technology advances. My degree is in electrical engineering, which sort of sounds like a big deal, but all it really means is I once spent four years and $40,000 just to find out that college girls really don't dig scientists.

Fifteen years ago when I was in college (a depressing introductory clause if there ever was one), I went to one of the better engineering schools in the country. And we didn't have cell phones and fax machines and laptop computers. We didn't even have portable phones or consumer copiers or even the 3-inch floppy disk.

We lived like animals.

The state of the art in home computing was the Commodore 64, which had enough memory to handle a graphic. Singular.

The Commodore had only slightly more processing power than the box it came in.

I spent months and years of my life studying computer languages like Fortran and Algol and APL. I would have been better off learning Aramaic. I'd be more likely to use it in my current gig, and I would have met the cute girls from the liberal arts school.

My senior project was designed around state-of- the-art million-dollar technology that you get now as a bonus when you subscribe to Sports Illustrated.

My degree means nothing. I have an honors level of knowledge about technology from 1984. Today, that means I am fully qualified to plug anything in-- two-prong, three-prong, polarized, phone jack, you name it.

My VCR actually tells the correct time.

That cost me only $40,000.

That's why I became a writer. What you do as a writer doesn't suddenly become completely obsolete. It's not like you turn 30 and some kid right out of college looks at you and says, "You're still using verbs?"

I'm a low-tech guy now, largely because I know that nothing high-tech I learn or buy is going to be worth anything in five to 10 years.

So a couple of weeks ago, the Galaxy 4 satellite suffers brain freeze and rotates a few degrees off axis. I do the same thing when I see Toni Braxton. But the Galaxy 4 lock-up was a little more important. One computer glitch, and suddenly 40 million people can't function without pagers that they didn't even have five years ago.

If we don't learn our lesson, next time can only be worse.

How much you wanna bet that one computer error someday crashes the whole human race, because no one will be able live without a device that you and I have never heard of yet?

Forget Deep Impact and Armageddon. The real end of the world will be titled Cancel, Abort, Retry.

FINALLY, if you get so excited watching TV sports that you scream and high-five and generally act like a guy in a beer commercial, there's a good reason for your behavior:

You're on drugs.

Which isn't to say that just because you're a big Olympic snowboarding fan you knowingly dabble with societally unacceptable mood alteration. Just that the reason you enjoy sports so much is probably related to a kick in your brain chemistry.

At least that's what new research from the University of Utah indicates. And folks in Utah know a lot about altered brain chemistry. These people thought Donny & Marie were an actual musical group.

See, labcoats have known for years that male athletes get a major testosterone boost from winning a competition, while the guys on the losing team actually suffer a drop in testosterone levels. Y'know that whole deal where guys in a big event freak out a little and take things too seriously, like their manhood itself is on the line?

On a neurochemical level, it actually is.

And it turns out that the same thing is true for couch potatoes at home just watching the game on the drool box. You root for Michael Jordan, your testosterone levels get a 20 percent boost. Root for the L.A. Clippers, and you go home feeling like four-fifths of a man.

The exact data will be published soon in a journal called Physiology and Behavior, but the big picture is already clear. Ever wonder why winning fans often go downtown and riot, while the losers (who you'd think would be acting out their frustrations) sit quietly at home and whimper into their herbal tea?

It's the testosterone. The winners are drunk out of their minds on it. The losers are running about a quart low.

Maybe next year the Florida Marlins can carry Viagra at the concession stands.

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From the June 4-10, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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