This Story Is Not About Skateboarding.
“Perhaps one day you’ll be able to make me a new brain”, she said, “Either that or you’ll destroy the world”.
Having spent much of my childhood twisting wires together, taking electrical things apart and burning my fingers on the soldering iron, my choice of career was fairly certain. Yet, it was a movie that would give me the final nudge in the direction I find myself today.
Back then, there were two movies that inspired me; Back To The Future and Terminator.
Strangely enough, the scene in Back To The Future that had the most impact on my decision making was not related to technology at all. It was Marty’s rather poor effort on a skateboard.
As an avid “street-skater”, Marty’s high-street, car-dodging antics had me believing that perhaps my future was as a professional skateboarder, and I decided to set about trying to develop my skills not just on the street, but on ramps too. However, my ventures at mastering the “vert” were rather short lived.
Standing three meters above the ground, looking down at a sweeping gulley of plywood that seemed to drop infinitely away from me, I gulped and stomped my right foot down hard on the front of my skateboard….
This is what I had hoped for (although without YouTube, I was trying to remember the VHS video I had watched a few days before)
Now, I should say that having previously learnt the perils of not “fully committing” to this moment, I stomped down very hard. In fact, as it would turn out, just a little too hard. At this point my body went just passed the desired semi-horizontal position, my feet and skateboard left the vertical section of the ramp behind me, and I catapulted over the gradual curvature of the ramp beneath, into a bruising collision with the almost flat surface at the bottom of the “transition”.
So, in summary, I made both Mistake Number 1 and Mistake Number 2 that Tony Hawk describes in his very useful video above.
Although this didn’t end my love affair with skateboards, it did make me somewhat more receptive to the lure of Terminator and cyborgs.
The Terminator is a 1984 American science fiction film directed by James Cameron. It stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as the…
Even though Terminator was released a year before Back To The Future, given my age at the time (and the lack of streaming video), getting access to the movie took some effort. By the time I got to see it, it was indeed, after the much more accessible adventures of Doc and Marty, and fortuitously, after my character-building attempt at skating halfpipes.
Terminator was mind bending, in a way that only three other films have ever come close to for me — and if you’re wondering, those other three are The Matrix, Fight Club and Inception.
Coming to the end of my further-education, I started thinking about what I’d go on to do at University.
Terminator was in my blood, and even whilst studying my A-levels, I was making things that did stuff on their own, things that moved, and things that controlled over things. So when it came to choosing a degree, my first thoughts were robotics.
After visiting a couple of universities that offered robotics degrees, I hadn’t found what I was looking for, and someone (whom I can’t remember and therefore can’t thank properly) opened my mind to the idea that programming might be a useful skill to have when thinking about robotics.
So I now searched out Computer Science degrees. Alas, nothing sparked. That was until I found a course that combined both robotics and computer sciencey type things.
Quite frankly, I wasted a lot of time searching for this course and the prospectus should have really said “if you like Terminator this course is for you” just a few more times. (I seem to remember it mentioned that exactly zero times in the literature)
Cybernetics (and Control Engineering) was to be my future. The official course title didn’t have the parenthesis in it, but to me that was all “blah blah blah” back then, and in fact I read Cybernetics with less “…ernetics” and more “…orgs” at the end, to such an extent that my family all thought I was the Cyborg Builder of the future.
Dropping me off on my first day, with a teary farewell, my mum comforted me (well, herself more than me, I think) and said, “Go on, enjoy yourself. Be good, study hard and perhaps one day you’ll be able to make me a new brain. Either that or you’ll destroy the world”.
Well, I’ve done neither sadly/thankfully* so far. (*delete as appropriate) But I did build a robot that learnt to move and hunt, using all the power of a computer processor they used to use on the space shuttle, the astonishing Z80 (running full-tilt at a blistering 50Mhz).
A Z80 manufactured in June 1976 according to the date stamp General Info Launched March 1976 Common manufacturer(s)…
Since then I have seen a lot, created a lot and done a fair bit to advance various technologies we all use in our daily lives. Maybe if you find this story interesting, I’ll write more about those too.
Nowadays, I pass the days looking for interesting technologies doing good in the world and writing about them on my website in a way that my mum can understand (even without the cyborg-enhanced brain she was expecting by now).
So why don’t you pop over to Well, That’s Interesting Tech, and do let me know if you want to hear more about what happened in the two decades between.