Saturday, January 24, 2009

Never Trust a Computer You Can't Lift

So the Apple Mac is 25 years old today. 'Didn't Steve Jobs looks well?' is one's first thought on watching that vid. 'What a long way computers have come in that time', is one's second thought. One's third thought is, '25 years is roughly a third of a human life and, in fact, that first Mac did more or less what computers do know. Computers haven't come far at all.'  Duration and change are hard to measure because human life is always shorter than we think it is. So 25 years is only a long time if you happen to be a human being. For everything else it's a single tick of the clock or, rather, it's nothing at all because everything else does not perceive time. This raises doubts about the distinction between objective time and subjective time. Probably there's only time and we invented it. I hope Steve's all right. I like Macs and only he can make them.


  1. Did anyone ever get the early Macs to print? we never could.
    The next computer toy for the well heeled will be a Cray, now building PCs at $60000 plus.

    There was a science fiction short story about a man who's entire life had consisted of a handfull of short periods running in normal time and the rest flashing by at an alarming rate, fairly normal today maybe?

    Anyone have a spare nuclear device to hurl at this lot ?

  2. Ah, Malty, you never fail to raise my spirits.

  3. Yep there is something beautiful about Macs, ive never owned one ive had everything else since the Sinclair zx80, but I do love them. for some reason.

    I have the obligatory ipod, in fact I have three, but I bought a Sony Walkman the other week and I have to say the sound is much much better. If only I could use i Tunes with it.

    $60K for a super computer malty, you've been had. $10K tops and falling.

    Tesla D870 deskside GPU computing system looks like a winner to me

    Anyway Malty, No need for supercomputers if you are going down the WMD path, Fullers earth, some nasty infected fleas and some sort of shell to fire should do the trick.

  4. Think how many hamsters you could buy for £10K tops. My first computer was an Apple II. Then a Mac Classic and three further Macs. But ... the dark side beckoned. Now I use something mostly done by some folks in Germany.

    I rather like the classical idea of temporal or unequal hours measuring the time between sunrise and sunset. So the hours last longer on those long, lazy summer afternoons and those on grim winter days pass more quickly. If we had no sense of time there'd be no sense of passing, so I wonder if we'd ever be sad or have regrets. Perhaps we've invented those too. Must dash - many hamsters to feed.

  5. Our good ladies tend to run with different clocks to ours, particularly noticeable when passing through retail portals.
    Like the Idea Mark, just a little dial at the side, say in front of the ear, turn it down, turn it up. Human nature being what it is though wouldn't we become stuck in the happy hour, permanently.

    The beauty of the Cray pb, is it's ability to run all operating systems side by side, and switch instantly between them making the use of virtual machines unnecessary.

  6. you think in typos.

    Yes, when your computer goes down for a minute, it seems like an hour.

  7. Yes, computer minutes are like normal hours. Also, one's attention span shrinks absurdly. Very hard to watch a whole youtube video if it lasts more than say, two and a half minutes. And yet offline I'm able to read things like Our Mutual Friend without feeling the urge to open three other books in separate windows.

    I note that the Times has changed slightly radically today. Have they been following your advice to go upmarket Bryan? They've split The Knowledge into a trendy Guardianish A5 tv/listings mag and a Telegraphish broadsheet review thing. I don't like all this change, though change does make life last longer. At least, that's the message from Travels With My Aunt, which is one of my favourite Greene novels even though it is atypical. Change makes years seem like decades. So do blogs for that matter; blog-years are much longer than real ones.

    So will computers will make our lives seem longer, perhaps? I expect Bryan knows the answer.

  8. Macs, now you're talking. We had one of the first in the UK, as part of a Apple development programme, to replace the less portable, less popular, pricier but nonetheless iconic Lisa.

    And printing ... one of my most exciting days of programming was on one of those little smiley things connected to a very early Laserwriter, the first affordable laser printer. With the first PostScript language manual in the UK open in front of me. Finally producing that bendy text, looking so fine at 300dpi, for the first time, was a wonderful thing. Not just a nerdy thing. It was where all that met art, in some sense, for me.

    As for all that time, 25 years is a mere 83% of the 30 over which we are now told weather changes to climate. Based on no known evidence, this is the magic tick of the clock when the most unpredictable thing known to man, ancient and modern, becomes so wholly under control that our Prime Minister confidently says he knows how to keep the average global temperature rise down to 2 deg C (if and only if we succumb to this tax and that). If you're old enough to enjoy Mac nostalgia and want to understand faith in the modern era, you have five more years to meditate on that true miracle. Whether the earth will actually be warmer then ... I notice everyone's now hedging. Cool, as I think we should all say.

  9. Malty as I understand it the Cray CX1 is powered by the Nvida tesla as soon will be Dells supercomputer offering.

    In anycase I think the OS is dying what we are headed too I think is a virtualisation layer tied directly to the microprocessor and other related hardware of a computer or your fridge.

    Any ideas what we could use them for in the home? I suppose having multiple terminals instead of PCs would be a start, it will make a stunning home server. It will probably end up being used for port and word.

  10. 25 years ago last week, I moved job to Acorn Computers Limited.

    Those were the first days where I (and at Acorn everyone else) had a computer on the desk at work. In fact, being in R&D, I had 2 computers on my desk at work; being involved in government grant applications, I also has a computer on my desk at home, so I could draft grant applications long into the night. Today I still have 2 computers on my desk at work/home, and will shortly be moving the third there from the adjacent desk.

    However, I dispute there has been no significant progress. Typical desktop computers 25 years ago executed around one million instructions per second, had significantly less than 1 megabyte of random access memory and used 5" floppy discs with 360kB or 720kB capacity, has a bus bandwidth around 1MB/sec. Most desktop computers had no hard disc. Although many computers supported graphical display, it was extremely crude by modern standards, in all of functionality, the size of image (pixels) that could be displayed, and in availability of colour (palette size). Local area network availability was rare, and wide area networks were very expensive for the tens of kilobits per second bandwidth. Colour printers were between rare and unknown.

    My general feel for the improvement is that many things (eg processing power, disc space) are commonly available at around one or so million times the amount for a lesser price (compared to average standards of living) than then. Obviously some things are available now that were not then.

    I know it is terribly dry and boring to say these things in response to Bryan's (presumably more considered) third thought that included "Computers haven't come far at all.", but it is a view with which I strongly disagree.

    Desktop computers and, through them, the Internet have changed the world substantially in these very 25 years. Now we can have Bryan's thoughts instantly rather than weekly, and also our view on them.

    As with all technology, the change and benefit to society comes from its increasingly widespread use (intermingled with the incremental enhancements and cost reductions made possible by the very success of that use) rather than just the invention of the original concept.

    Best regards

  11. It wasn't so much a rational assertion, Nigel, as a description of a state of mind in relation to time and one's life. It's the sort of thing one occasionally feels without it ever rising to the level of an opinion or assertion. I find these important aspects of my imagination and that's why I like blogging. It allows a certain type of unformed idea to be expressed.

  12. I felt I knew exactly what Bryan meant. And at once intuited: "This kind of unformed idea is exactly what makes blogging good."

    The paradox I suppose is, as Nigel says, few of us could have dreamed about blogging 25 years ago.

    Something strange going on. As always, the way this IT stuff interacts with psychology, sociology and history.