Voice of Bruck News Service

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009


How many of you have moved from one house or apartment to a larger dwelling? Most of us, I assume. And how long did it take to get used to the added space? Conventional wisdom is: ten minutes. That is, unless you've doubled or tripled in size, then it's more like a half hour. You've probably had the same experience upgrading computers as well. The feeling of, "wow, this new computer is really fast" lasts for about the first or second use. The thing about computers, though, is that in real dollars, computing power, for a given investment, approximately doubles every 18 months. This is mostly cancelled out by the Microsoft bloatware most of us are compelled to use, but we're still seeing substantial gains in computing ability for the same or less money, year after year.

Does it bother you that despite the fact that Hawaii and Alaska never ratified the 17th amendment, it's still the law of the land?

The quality of your computing experience is governed by many factors, most notably the hardware of the computer itself, but also the programs you're running on it, the bandwidth of your network connection, and the competing demands being placed on the network. Most computer users don't, and don't need to, understand every detail of the computing system, how its components interact, how to optimize, etc., but they are keenly aware of variations in performance. And this is fine - most of us are not computer scientists or engineers solely focused on improving the state of the art of computing - we just want to accomplish, learn, and create more and better things faster, and our computer's ability to facilitate or impede this is what matters to us. Even if your only use of computers is numbing your mind with the VOBNS, you don't want to wait ten minutes for the blog engine to return your search results for "Savior God-Scientific Allah Breakfast Nachos."

Speaking of which, who else is hungry? Here's my recipe for scrambled eggs ala Bruck:
Ingredients: eggs, milk, herbs and spices
Combine eggs (~2 per eater), milk (one good glug per 4 or 5 eggs), and herbs and spices in a bowl. Stir virorously. Pour into greased, heated frying pan, and keep the slurry moving so the leafy herbs don't clump together. Continue this until the whole thing solidifies to proper consistency; remove from heat and serve.
Herbs & spices: use what seems like a reasonable amount of: salt, lemon pepper, nutmeg, vanilla cinnamon, sage, oregano, minced onion, liquid smoke, cumin, adobo, cilantro, cayenne pepper, celery seed, thyme, paprika, and garlic (only if you're serving the eggs for lunch or dinner - don't eat garlic for breakfast, that's just wrong). You've probably correctly surmised that (a) I'm not a professionally-trained chef, and (b) it doesn't really much matter what hebs and spices you use.

Computing power is typically measured along dimensions relevant to the supporting hardware, i.e., Megabytes or gigabytes of RAM; gigabytes or terabytes of hard disk space; clock speed, bus width, architecture, number of processors, and network bandwidth. Actual performance is determined by additional factors including the operating system and software you're running.

Has anybody else noticed, there's something .not. .quite. .right. about Shania Twain…?

MIPS = million instructions per second. This is one metric commonly used to assess processor performance in computers. "Instructions" refers to processor instructions, not lines of source code or specific commands that you give the computer. Each time you ask the computer to do something, its software responds by executing thousands or millions of actual processor instructions. Windy disclaimer - for all you CS majors reading this, yes, I know that MIPS is a very rough and somewhat obsolete estimate of processor performance, that I should be talking about whetstones and drhystones and all that, but let's not confuse the muggles, okay?

To be honest with you, I'm not feeling too good about computers right now - my main desktop computer's hard disk failed the other day and I'm in the process of copying off its data files before I turn it into a target. So - a question for you bruckies - should I take it out in one shot with a 30-06, or should I make it die a slow death by peppering it with the 22?

A little history: in the way early days of computing, individual instructions were executed more or less by hand, by moving patch cords around on a huge grid of jacks, like an old-fashioned telephone exchange. So at best, we're talking several seconds per instruction. The first computers that Bruck could find any performance info about, whose developers attempted to rate performance in MIPS (KIPS, actually - thousands), were the 1954 IBM 650, at a stunning 0.06 KIPS, or 60 instructions per second, and the vastly improved 1956 IBM 705, clocking in at 0.5 KIPS. By the late 1970s, computers such as the VAX 11/780 and the IBM System/370 were running at 1 MIPS.

The 17th amendment basically says that senators are elected by popular vote in a state, not by the state legislature. It has a few other details in it as well, but who has time to read our country's most important founding document?

Personal computers, based on single microprocessors, have experienced similar growth in performance. The original 8086-base IBM PC is estimated to have produced 0.8 MIPS when it came out in 1982; as PC and microprocessor technology improved through the 80's and 90's MIPS grew accordingly: in 1988 the 80386-based computers boasted 54 MIPS, and by the mid-90's, the first Pentium-based machines were offering upwards of 500 MIPS. Yeehah! Don't let go of the handrail!

Young David, son of Bruck, built a computer earlier this year, from components he researched and bought himself. This computer has 4 gigabytes of RAM, a 250 gigabyte hard drive (actually this is a bit of a moving target, as he keeps changing them in and out), and an Intel core-2 quad processor running at 2.3 gigahertz. It's rated at approximately 50,000 MIPs.

Kayak fishing - when you hook one, try to keep the bow pointed at the fish. Otherwise, you may end up fighting the fish on his turf! Personally, I keep my kayaking and fishing separate, but young David has taken a liking to fishing from a kayak.

So what's the point? Well… there's more computing than ever going on these days, aside from your desktop, laptop, peripherals, and public display of affection, I mean personal digital appliance (PDA). If you own a relatively new vehicle (and if not, go buy one you ingrate), you're driving around with a few computers. Most modren appliances do some on-board computing. Even your cell phone has a couple of different processors in it, one for DSP (digital signal processing - converting your voice to bits and bytes & vice-versa) and one for basic operation. The DSP runs at about 40 MIPS, and the main processor runs at about 60 to 80 MIPS. So… while we ask what the Mrs. wants us to forget to pick up on the way home, or gossip about who's taking whom to the prom, or complain about our boss, or set up our golf foursome, we are holding in our sweaty hand more processing power than the entire Department of Defense had in the early 1970s. And are we better off? ANSWER ME!!!

Okay, the 17th amendment was ratified in 1913, when Hawaii and Alaska were not yet states. Like my new phone?


  • At 9:00 PM, Blogger joan.ekimball said…

    Hi Bruce
    Writing you an email brought on the sudden need to read VOB. Just saying hi bro...

  • At 2:51 AM, Anonymous high pinay said…

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