mm362: Written, as usual, on a Sony PCV-RS620G desktop PC

MUDGE’s Musings

I consider myself technologically sophisticated. Made my living by writing really sophisticated code for; creating applications for; using; and lately teaching the advanced use of; electronic computational devices for nearly 40 years.

Started when the average of such computational devices filled large, refrigerated, raised-floor (to clear the boa constrictor cabling) floor to ceiling windowed but locked chambers.

Large box (think refrigerator sized) with colorful lighting containing the computer itself with its proud array of 64,000 bytes of hand-assembled magnetic core memory. Folks, that was 64KB.

Today’s home PCs are stunted if they have less than 512MB. I recently upgraded the memory in my own PC: bought 2GB (about 31,000 times larger than that 64KB magnetic core processor for which we wrote so cleverly, and compactly!) for about $100.

No keyboard was attached to the central processing unit. It was controlled at a basic level with knobs and buttons and a console typewriter based on the iconic (if you’re my age) IBM Selectric “golf-ball” typewriter; and on an operational level with punched cards from a separate device.

Larger boxes (refrigerators again), each with two vertically mounted reels (supply and takeup) of magnetic tape storage (the latest innovation: vertical glass sliding doors provided access when the tape needed changing, and vacuum columns provided buffering to eliminate stress as the delicate tape was propelled across the magnetic read/write heads).

Squat boxes (think washing machines), containing the latest innovation in high density storage: rotating disk memory. Think of 12 14-inch diameter plates glued together around a metal cylinder (total weight of the disk pack, 30-40 lbs.) providing 20 coated surfaces on which magnetic heads on swing arms read and wrote data. Total capacity of each washing machine: 29 megabytes, for the time, an astonishing number.

And, various spinet and upright piano sized boxes: card readers and card punching and card sorting machines; and high speed continuous form printers.

We cavemen communicated with our dinosaurs using large stacks of 80-column punched cards, generated by ranks of noisily clacking keypunch operators (their machines, not the operators) reading from our handwritten coding forms.

IBM wouldn’t sell such machines; they rented them. I once saw an invoice for the modest sized machine I’ve described: $29,000/month, which works out to $348,000 annually, in 1970 dollars.

2008 equivalent of those 1970 dollars: $159,000/month, or almost $2,000,000/year, to RENT this machine that everyone’s home PC, even several years old, can run rings around.

The windows were for the CEO to show off where so much of his company’s treasure had been spent.


Charles E. Rot/Corbis via MSN Encarta

At the time I first learned this technology, when computers themselves had just recently graduated to solid state from vacuum tubes, to learn the principles of card input and continuous paper form output one actually was taught to program tabulation machines from the 1930s and 40s, which programming was performed via cables with old-fashioned telephone plugs at each end connecting various jacks on heavy, removable plugboards.

For the small IBM System/360 I used, it took mental dexterity, (writing in Assembly language, one slight level above the bits and bytes of the digital machine itself) to get useful work done in 64,000 bytes, less about 25,000 for the Disk Operating System; in those years, yr (justifiably) humble svt had such skulljuice to burn. Today’s developers, it has often been noted, think nothing of writing auxiliary applications (processing images for a graphics package, for example, rather than sending rockets to the moon) that are hundreds of megabytes of code in size. Memory is cheap.

Today, of course, all that computational power of 40 years ago, with additional undreamed of capabilities, can be found on millions of office desktops, on more millions of home desktops, at a tiny fraction of the cost. Personal example: between internal and external rotating memory, my excellent Sony desktop has just over a terabyte of storage, about 345 of 1970’s washing machines!

In fact, more power than in 1970’s refrigerated, raised-floor room filling boxes is today to be found in many purses and pockets, in the form of a several-ounce device known as a smart phone. You know, the Apple iPhone, RIM’s Blackberry, and the like.

Which lengthy prolog brings me to the point of today’s post.

Traveling to Southern California a couple of weeks ago, accompanied by the lovely and patient Mrs. MUDGE and The Economist, the best magazine on the planet, I encountered a piece of information that was dazzling and startling.

I’m an experienced, mature guy, if youthful in outlook: I’m not bedazzled often. I don’t startle easily.

Economist’s special section that week was on the mobile workforce, the people who have moved beyond telecommuting, who work wherever they find a Wi-Fi connection: Starbucks being a widely known such oasis. Indeed, Economist calls these workers, nomads.

Okay, I got that. And, while not a nomad myself (occasional worker from home, an earlier paradigm), I certainly understand the trend.

For example, I understand that a significant number, perhaps 25%, of IBM’s 375,000 global employees have no permanent office space in IBM buildings. They office at home, or at their customers’ facilities (this I do have personal knowledge of), and for those occasional visits to HQ, IBM provides “hotelling” space (chair, small desk for the laptop, power outlet). Imagine the real estate and utility savings.

And so, nomads. An intriguing series of stories, worth checking out. But the introductory section is where I encountered that factoid, parenthetical, actually, just casually dropped into the article.



Nomads at last

Apr 10th 2008 | From The Economist print edition
Wireless communication is changing the way people work, live, love and relate to places—and each other, says Andreas Kluth

… (Five of the ten bestselling novels in Japan last year were written on mobile phones.) …

Is this not dazzling and startling information? When I repeated it to my L.A.-residing career-technologist brother later that week, he’d heard that fact from someone else quoting The Economist the day before. We agreed that it was astounding, even to technically adept people of our generation.

Perhaps not to my children’s generation, however. I’ve written before about my LG en-V phone. I love its many features. However, please understand that it was purchased mainly as a defensive maneuver.

The lovely QWERTY keyboard, pictured in the post linked to above, allows me to more easily communicate with MUDGElet number 3, who when communicating with me on his smart phone, a Blackberry Pearl, mainly texts. Got tired of texting with 8 keys.

So, I text him back that much more fluently with my en-V.

But, could I conceive of writing more than a Twitter message (a “Tweet?” –140 characters) on this device? Never in a million years. But,

… (Five of the ten bestselling novels in Japan last year were written on mobile phones.) …


Lot’s more fascinating insights available, so click the link.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Nomads at last |

I figure if I repeat it enough, I will start to believe it!

… (Five of the ten bestselling novels in Japan last year were written on mobile phones.) …

And, probably while standing for two hours commuting on the Tokyo subway.

Yesterday’s nomads knew how to wrangle camels, and where to find the next oasis in the chartless desert.

Today’s nomads know how to write novels on their smart phones.

Welcome to the 21st Century. As Jeffrey Harrow, that eminent futurist used to write: Don’t blink.

It’s it for now. Thanks,


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