'Top Gun: Maverick' should be a hell of a ride…down memory lane

Do you feel it? Do you feel the need for speed?

Assuming you have a pulse and have not yet assumed room temperature, my guess is you’ve seen the new trailer for Top Gun: Maverick. And if, like me, you grew up with fond memories of the original Top Gun, your heart is still racing after hearing those familiar soundtrack beats and watching those truly stunning new aerial maneuvers scenes.

But perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the trailer is how it triggers nostalgia for a bygone era, a time when America’s motives were ostensibly purer, her enemies more clearly defined. The mid-1980s signaled the zenith of the Reagan-era Cold War. It also saw my generation, "Gen X," coming of age at a time of rapid technological change.

For me, the sight of Tom Cruise racing a jet on his motorcycle brings back memories of my very first job in IT. In 1986, I was a high school Junior growing up on Cape Cod ("Go Barnstable Red Raiders!"), and I spent my after-school hours stuffing 8K RAM chips (don’t bend the pins!) into Expanded Memory Specification (EMS) boards for subsequent installation into IBM PC/XTs and ATs.

Yes, I had a need for speed -- but not much by today’s standards. The 8088 CPUs in the PC/XTs I worked on clocked in at a whopping 4.77MHz (that’s millions of cycles per second, not billions like a modern CPU). And since my part-time "assembly tech" gig was for a local Autodesk AutoCAD dealer, I also got to play with the "big boy" PCs -- IBM PC/ATs with the (notoriously braindead) 80286 CPU running at a "blisteringly fast" 6MHz (8MHz on later models).

One of the fun hardware hacks we’d use involved pulling the physical timing crystal from the AT’s motherboard (yes, you could still do that back then) and replacing it with a set of wires connected to a variable oscillator. We’d then crank up the timing signal until the system started freaking out, then dial it back a notch to achieve what can best be described as a primitive "overclocking" of the CPU. Our CAD/CAM customers loved the performance boost, and any instabilities they encountered could be chocked up to "computers being computers."

Of course, at that time the "pattern" was always full (sorry, "Ghostrider") because we had so little storage. Those truly floppy disks you see in computer museums really were flexible (physically) and held just 360 kilobytes of data (later iterations upped that by a factor of 4 or more). My first proper hard disk drive held just 10 megabytes of data. That amount of space will hold maybe a few seconds of a modern 4K video clip, but it felt positively voluminous at the time. And if I really felt the need to "talk to Goose," I’d be running for the nearest wired telephone (perhaps to call the "Psychic Network" -- a popular way to "commune" with a dead relative…or comrade).

Indeed, just hearing those soundtrack beats brings the memories flooding back. And if you can suspend your disbelief and accept that an officer could stay in the Navy for over 30 years and never advance past the rank of Captain ("up or out" has been the policy since the late 1970s), and that an F18 with a full load of JDAMs can pull some of the maneuvers seen in the trailer (my former fighter pilot friends are skeptical), then Top Gun: Maverick should be one hell of a ride.

Summer 2020 can’t get here soon enough!

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