Dr. Jerry Pournelle

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Mailbag for August 7, 2006
Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2006 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.

August 7, 2006

Last week's column looked at some of the implications of the new processors and a coming era of computing plenty. Chaos Manor Associate Eric Pobirs had this comment.

Regarding the wealth of computing power, the real problem is that thus far we've only done the easy stuff. Sure, it seemed monumental a couple decades ago but a lot of stuff guys like Minsky thought they'd have in consumer products by now remain the stuff of dreams. The computing version of flying cars for everyone.

Some things are happening, like Roomba. But a lot of the stuff in the R&D labs at Microsoft, IBM, etc., plus garages everywhere need to point the way all of this power can be made useful beyond just bringing access to stuff that used to run solely on $50K workstations to consumer machines.

We're still waiting for the stuff that isn't happening at any cost.

One thing that may be doable if the power usage issue doesn't loom too large is the idea Metcalfe had a few years back. Go beyond cache to systems that attempt to anticipate anything you're likely to do and be ready for it. Right now, it can be annoying if too many apps want to preload, especially if they do it in a way that keeps the machine from being usable almost immediately after booting. But when a PC with 8 GB of MRAM someday enters the consumer field, we'll resent the apps that aren't preloaded and available almost instantly. With enough non-volatile memory an app might be pre-loaded and stay in memory for months or years until it either has to be updated, replaced or something necessitates a memory flush and a true reloading of the OS and apps into RAM.

Even sooner, if the pre-loaders can be made to work without holding up access to the desktop, a lot could be done to make 64-bit systems with many gigs of RAM useful to run of the mill consumers if they observe what users do and make those thing happen quickly. System try to do this now but aren't designed with really big memory volumes in mind.

(Classic moment on the Venture Brothers last year, when supervillain The Monarch explained to Baron Unterbeit, a competing supervillain there to negotiate a combined attack on Dr.Venture, "I have a lot of extensions," when his MonarchOS system was slow to become accessible.)

At least we can take comfort in the continuing unlikelihood of Skynet going sentient and launching a nuclear war, or worse, sending bodybuilders to molest young single women of the 80s.

Good Points. On the one hand, we have Kurtzweil and Vinge confidently predicting "the singularity" when all the trend lines go vertical; on the other, there doesn't seem to be much of what you call "the stuff that isn't happening at any price." The Internet fulfilled my prediction made in 1980 that anyone in Western Civilization would be able to get the answer to any question whose answer is known. That had a number of effects in political and social life.

But so far we're not seeing anything like a singularity. Every year's computer conferences bring incremental improvements, but they're either basic like better cache, faster and larger memory, bigger hard drives, etc., or they're in ever more efficient ways to entertain us wherever we may be.

Dr. Pournelle

On the "net neutrality" issue:


Note the two links (the pieces by Peter Klein and Tim Swanson) towards the end.

-- KE

If Senator Stevens had said "pipes" instead of tubes, he wouldn't have received so much derisive attention. Apparently the lobbyists convinced him that bandwidth is in short supply. That's not true just at the moment - there's a lot of dark fiber in the US - nor is it instantly obvious that government regulators will do a better job of allocated bandwidth than the market.

Microsoft Wireless Keyboard

Hi Jerry,

I've been using a Microsoft Wireless keyboard for more than a year, and have never had to change the batteries (or in the wireless mouse for that matter). Perhaps you have a defective keyboard?




 "Do something you like. Forget about the pay, for Christ's sakes. Regulate your style of living to fit your income. Just have fun in your job, that's the main thing." ~ General Chuck Yeager

That has been my experience; I am not sure why I had what I thought were problems with battery life with the keyboard when I first set it up. My subsequent experience with the Microsoft Wireless Keyboard and Mouse has been excellent. I still wish there were some kind of LED to indicate when the keyboard is connected to the PC, but as Brian reminds me, that's another power drain.

When I sent the July Column Part Five to my associates for comment, that triggered a discussion of how to get books from paper into electronic format.

Eric Pobirs begins:

For what it's worth, when I did my OCR experiment with one of your War World volumes, I estimated I could probably get up to at least 100 pages a day input and proofed if I treated it as a real job and had the use of a serious scanner with an automatic sheet feeder and duplexer. Reading speed and familiarity with the material helps.

My sister had a big project to digitize a mass of printed business records she could legally dispose of but wanted to retain in some less bulky form. She picked up a then $2500 Ricoh scan monster. I never had a chance to get all of the issues worked out because the Ricoh had some serious driver issues but the tests I was able to run indicated it could suck in a de-spined paperback (the same aforementioned War World) and have all of the images ready for OCR in under an hour. Another hour at worst for OCR and it's all proofing from there.

Once they got the hang of it and had the right equipment, the kids you mentioned could make pretty quick work of something like 'Birth of Fire.'

If you need an OCR source for some of your old Galaxy columns, I recently inherited a few decades of Galaxy, Analog, Asimov's, F&SF, Amazing, and some scattered others from a cousin who died a few months ago.

Peter Glaskowsky adds:

I bought a Xerox DocuMate 262 duplexing scanner for the office, to scan in large documents as part of our patent program. This is a sheet-fed model that looks something like a medium-size inkjet printer. Pages stand up in the hopper on top, and emerge from the lower front. It can scan both sides of the page at once, so it's incredibly fast-- tens of pages per minute.


It's moderately expensive, currently $840 at NewEgg, but that's a pretty good price when compared with some of the high-end document scanners out there, like that Ricoh model you mention.


The provided software can produce just about any format you want-- JPGs, text files, PDFs, etc. It makes for bloated PDFs, but the scanner can be controlled directly by Adobe Acrobat which solves that problem (one case where Acrobat produces tighter PDFs than competing solutions).

It's also a one-button operation under normal circumstances. There's a seven-segment LED on top and three buttons. One button cycles the LED through the user-defined output formats, and it remembers the last setting through reboots. The other two buttons are "Simplex" and "Duplex". Push the one corresponding to the document format and the software runs, the scanning finishes, and it shows you the output file.

. png

Eric again:

It's a different story for stuff that cannot be completely sacrificed to the scanning gods. All I could suggest for despined books without enough margin left is keeping it in a ziploc bag of the closest size.

A lot of the old stuff in question can be had for almost nothing from used book stores. I've found that the resale market for the SF mags goes completely in the toilet after the early 80s for some reason. Even before then there are just a scattering of issues with any value. When it comes to new stuff like the pirates putting files on places like alt.binaries.e-books it seems the sacrifice of a brand new hardback is part of the game. They take pride in expending their time and money to negate an author's sales. Because they like that author. Authors they don't have the benefit of being ignored by pirates and selling books.

My sister got the Ricoh back in 2004, but I didn't shop it out. I suspect I could have found a much better buy (like the unit you mentioned) and one that wasn't so resistant to use with a computer. This is one of those tailgate designs that goes from SCSI to FireWire internally and still wants to act like everything is still SCSI. It's like the early HP USB printers that had to first be installed as parallel then reinstalled as USB, only much worse.

Eric Pobirs

The bottom line here is that just about every book published in the past decades is available for piracy, and most can be found online on pirate sites. So far that hasn't greatly affected the publishing industry. People still prefer books on paper to reading them on a Palm Pilot or iPAQ. That may change with the next generation of small computers.

To Be Continued...