From radical technology to gadgets we can’t live without
EMOTIONAL WEATHER REPORT - Jessica Zafra (The Philippine Star) - November 11, 2012 - 12:00am

In 1984, a group of computer distributors and resellers joined a privately-organized exhibition of computer equipment in Manila. It was a disappointing experience: not a lot of people came to the show, probably because the organizer was charging an exorbitant fee of P50 “to discourage usyosero.” The participating companies decided that they could put on a much better exhibition themselves. In fact they could form a trade association that would not only do expositions, but also work with IT providers and users, the government, and the private sector to make computers affordable and available to the masses.

Affordability was a big issue at the time. IBM had launched the first personal computer in 1981, setting the industry standard, but equipment prices were prohibitive. A Radio Shack eight-inch hard disk that had all of five megabytes of memory cost US$1,500. (5MB was huge because the memory of a regular PC was 16KB.)

Those pioneering exhibitors including Abenson, Phil-Date, Microcircuits and Wordtext formed the Computer Manufacturers, Dealers and Distributors Association of the Philippines (COMDDAP). In 1985 the first COMDDAP exhibition drew crowds of computer enthusiasts and executives who wanted to see how IT could help their businesses. “In the beginning it was a showcase for tech novelties,” says current COMDDAP president Juan Chua. “You couldn’t go online to check out the latest gadgets.”

You couldn’t go online, period — the Internet was a US defense network, Cold War tech designed to survive a nuclear war. Then in 1990 Tim Berners-Lee got an HTTP client and a server to communicate via the Internet, thus inventing the World Wide Web. Even after this marvelous innovation, you still had to use modems with phone couplers connecting at 300 kilobytes per second to access an electronic bulletin board. (And we fly into a rage when the connection is a doddering 2 MBPS. Wrap your heads around this, kids: your smartphone is faster and more powerful than a mini-computer from the 1980s.)

Today we all use the Web to access and exchange information in a few clicks; 30 years ago the very idea of doing that was, to cite Arthur C. Clarke, indistinguishable from magic.

The COMDDAP exposition became an annual event highlighting radical changes in technology. “One year the Singaporean founder of Creative Technology presented the first sound card,” Juan recalls, “And the people in the audience said, ‘Why would anyone want a computer with sound?’”

Other innovations included the VisiCalc electronic worksheet, which turned the cute Apple II computer into a serious contender in the business arena. There was the first portable computer, the Osborne 1, father of laptops. It had a five-inch screen flanked by two floppy disk drives, weighed 20 pounds and had the exact dimensions of airline carry-on luggage. Hence its nickname, the “Osborne luggable.”

The introduction of new technology required some adjustments in behavior and thinking. In the early ’90s Juan’s company installed the first IT network at an esteemed educational institution. That was the year of the daily brownouts, so the network required a generator. The users complained that every afternoon at four, the network would shut down. The technical team found that at the same time each day, the voltage would drop drastically. What was causing this weirdness? It turned out that all the professors were plugging in their coffeemakers at 4 p.m. “Couldn’t some of you turn on your coffeemakers at 3 p.m., 3:30, 4:30?” Juan suggested. “We can live without your network,” the professors replied, “but we can’t live without our coffee.”

A couple of weeks later Juan was summoned by the same professors. “You’re starting a revolution here,” they complained. In the past, whenever they had disagreements with each other, they would dictate angry letters to their secretaries who would then type up the letters, make photocopies, and bring the letters for them to sign. In the meantime their emotions would have cooled and the letters would never be sent out. “Now all we have to do is hit ‘Send’ and the damage is done, we can’t take it back,” they grumbled. Suffice it to say that they could no longer live without the network.

In the last 15 years IT devices have gotten smaller, way faster, and much cheaper. People have become more blasé about technology. IT has become a fact of life—not just a business tool, but a lifestyle necessity. A child who wants to know about the latest gadgetry can access the Internet and get the information in minutes. “We’ve changed the nature of the COMDDAP exposition to reflect the developments in computers,” Juan explains.

COMDDAP Expo Manila 2012, which will be held from Nov. 16 – 18 at the World Trade Center Metro Manila, will still have free seminars and workshops, competitions and tournaments, but it’s essentially a big bazaar offering discounts of over 50 percent. Every day from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., gadgets including tablets and mobile phones will be on sale at huge markdowns, or in the case of bundled items, given away outright.

This year’s highlights include PCX Gaming Expo 2012, a tournament featuring four of the latest titles—DOTA, League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth and KOS/Point Blank. There’s also the ASI TEchnovation Challenge, where competing inventors present designs and prototypes utilizing Arduino software. Microsoft is offering free seminars on the new Windows 8 on Nov. 16.

For more information on COMDDAP Expo Manila 2012, call the secretariat at 810-3814 or 815-6531 (fax), email exhibit@comddap.org or info@comddap.org or visit www.comddap.org or its Facebook page.

A RADIO SHACK ARTHUR C COLD WAR COMDDAP COMPUTER COMPUTER MANUFACTURERS CREATIVE TECHNOLOGY EXPO MANILA
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