A Happy New Year. I hope 2023 will kickstart a new chapter of the "work" I have been doing for more than three decades, in the area of human empowerment and technologies. Here is my story in 2023.
I remember having my first computer in 1983. It followed me to Hong Kong from Malaysia. It was a Sinclair-ZX81 home computer - gift from my eldest brother. To program I had to use a tape recorder for the code exchange. This experience was my first taste of how a personal computer work! In 1984 I bought a DiY Apple II clone computer - it was built with parts from the "Silicon Valley of HK" ( the Golden Shopping Complex in HK that still exisit today). Apple II was more functional with floppy disk as storage media. It became my word processor for my Master's thesis when I was studying in HKU. It went to become my first work computer after graduation in 1985.
The "hacking spirit" came to me to go beyond word processing - to use the personal computer for work automation for mental health assessment. With an addon graphic card plugged into the Apple II motherboard it was able to render Chinese characters. I befriended an engineer at a local HK Polythenic to make an external input device that can emulate 4 level of key responses - my client can then press one of the 4 large buttons to indicate his choice response. I learning enough to understand BASIC language to modified codes (yes they were VISIBLE and not compiled) to insert statistical data into an application software that runs on floppy disk.When it finally work, I was able to sit my client in front of the Apple computer for automated assessment. The computer will display a total of 566 questions in sequence to my client - all he has to do was to tap the external buttons as response. I would then go for tea and when I return a profile report with plotted graphs would be printed out from my dot-matrix printer connected to the computer. Bravo it was exciting time!
I did not know that more possibilities were waiting for me next with new generation of home computers that was coming out into the market.
I bought my first DOS based PC in 1986. It had a modem card which allow me to dial into HKU computer centre to submit a batch job for statistical analysis by mainframe computer. It was the beginning of early days of remote working. When I left HKU a year after graduation I worked in a medical rehabilitation centre. There I met a young man who became quadraplegic after a car accident. He was a tough guy since he was an army officer. We talked about his past work and began exploring if a computer could be helpful for him in his rehabilitation. If he could not write with his paralysed hands perhaps he could type with a head pointer onto a computer keyboard. In the end he learned how to type Chinese with a PC and felt very empowered by his new skills despite being a tetraplegic. The idea that one could work from home with a computer dawn upon me from my experience with modem and telephone line at the University.
The rest is history when we experimented with Bulletin Board System (BBS) to remotely connect disabled person from home and have access to information from oversea newsgroups. Electronic Self-Help Group was born in Hong Kong and the real meaning of "Disabled but not Handicapped" became a reality when we formed the HK Computer User Group (HcUG) for People with Disabilities. Our disABLED person were in the news. RTHK made a film based on our story of how we changed the culture of medical rehabilitation to bring hope to people with disabilites. One of our highlight was the pure joy of connectivity that enable 6 people remotely chatting by text in Chinese on the computer connected by modems and telephone lines. It was the social network before internet was born.
I left HK at the peak of my career in Medical Rehabilitation in 1995 when Internet access was just starting. I returned to HK in 1997 and started a new career in the HKU Personal Development and Counselling Centre (PDCC). My clients were now young bright studemts who have to learn with digital tools and connectivity. It was here in HKU that I coined the term Digital Leadership (DL). Nobody understood what I was doing and got into the bad books with University adminstrators when I stood firm that my DL course was not to teach word processing, spreadsheet, etc (that is Computer Centre role) BUT to help students use exisiting digital tools and applications to lead and collaborate with others. Those were the days of ICQ, forums and e-mails. Unfortunately, this incident was used by the Dean of Student (my boss) to discredit me - he said complaints from students in my personal file regarding the DL matter reflect badly on me. Since I was at the mercy of a contractual job for 9 years the door closed on me in 2006.
In 2008, I came to know about the global One Laptop Per Chid (OLPC) project. In Hong Kong I received my first Give One Get One (G1G1) XO laptop that changed my life. I committed myself as OLPC volunteer!. What I have done for a decade is documented in the blogs here. In summary I gained insight into children development and the role of technologies for their growth. I realised the importance of low cost devices for millions of children to learn how to learn. This new challenge became my obsession for years to "Get IT Right" till today.
Having seen more than 3 decades of evolution in the world of computing, what we computers we had in the past are legacy equipments. Today I am seriously considering what tools/devices I still have in my garage should be kept (not disposed) and displayed to narrate a history of change in the world of computing and people empowerment. Let the force/karma be with me on this.