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Current Topic: Computers

Putting the Floppy Diskette in Perspective
Topic: Computers 1:39 am EDT, Sep 28, 2004

I wrote the following text after class today (Thursday 01/16/1997) in an effort to collect my own thoughts on the current place of the floppy disk in the environment of the customer, the user of the diskette. I explored the issue in a pragmatic manner in order to evaluate the importance of the floppy disk to the customer relative to other secondary storage technologies and its role in day-to-day computer use. This user-centric approach differs from the disk-centric approach that I've taken up to this point. (For example, in previous exercises I explored the exclusive use of the floppy disk without regard to its place in normal computer use.)

I look forward to any comments you may have on the issues presented.


CMPE Undergraduate CS1803A

--- 8< ---

Putting the Floppy Diskette in Perspective

In developing a specification for the 3.5" floppy diskette, it's important to consider the place it occupies in today's varied landscape of secondary storage systems. The floppy disk was displaced as the leader in commodity storage systems over a decade ago. As a result, the floppy disk must assume its place as a last-resort file storage and transfer medium.

Today's hard disks are faster, cheaper, more compact, and more reliable than floppy disks. Actually, this has been the case for several years. Hard disk drives (10 MBytes/sec and beyond) are several orders of magnitude faster than floppy disk drives (250 Kbits/sec up to 500 Kbits/sec). Per unit of data capacity, hard disks (US$0.17/MB) are far less expensive than floppy diskettes (US$0.40/MB). Hard disks store up to 384 MBytes per cubic inch while floppy disks store only 1.10 MBytes per cubic inch. Hard disk drives (300,000 POH - 1,000,000 POH) are also more reliable than floppy disk drives (30,000 - 80,000 POH).

The importance of the floppy diskette's portability is rapidly diminishing with the exponential growth of high-speed, high-capacity, low-cost, high-availability worldwide internetworking technology. No longer is it necessary (or even particularly effective) to use a diskette to transfer a file from one computer system to another. When the two are networked, file transfer, whether intra-system or inter- system, is a simple file copy operation.

In addition to usage considerations, the end of the floppy disk's reign is also readily apparent in the history of technological improvements in design and operation. While form factor, density, and usability have improved slightly over two decades of use, floppy disk recording technology has not. True, improvements were made in disk drive systems to allow the use of double-sided disks without removing and turning over the disk; however, this was primarily an improvement in usability. Also, recording densities have improved from 120 KB to 1.44 MB, or a factor of 12.288 increase in storage capacity per floppy disk. Meanwhile, hard disk drive densities have improved from less than ... [ Read More (0.2k in body) ]

Apres Spam
Topic: Computers 9:20 pm EDT, Oct  2, 2003

A main complaint of email users is that they have to waste time every day deleting spam messages from the servers on which they lease their little online garden plots -- but such deleting is only necessary because the industry has its head screwed on backwards.

In our universe (right here, right now), data storage is dirt cheap and getting cheaper. Disk storage per bit is in effect too cheap to meter, so no one should have to waste time deleting anything, unless he feels like it.

No one should ever have to do anything with a mail message except ignore it, read it, or read and respond.

When I see people "cleaning up" their mail files, faithfully stuffing each message into a folder or otherwise file-clerking for a machine, acting as their computer's loyal (albeit menial) employee, I don't know whether to laugh or cry. (Laugh is usually the right answer.)

Software should be doing this for you. That's why software exists.

It's funny. It's sad. It's true. It's David Gerlenter on spam.

Sharing David's observations with system administrators seems to have little effect on the situation. Users seem to be stymied by the fact that IT and computer science are now completely unrelated fields of study and lines of work.

It boggles the mind, and yet remains somehow entirely unsurprising, that large organizations are knowingly paying skilled professionals to spend valuable time each day ensuring that their mail boxes at no time consume more than ten cents worth of online storage space. If, at any time of the day or night, the accumulation of one's meager and modest intellectual efforts should by some action at a distance happen to consume more than a dime's worth of the world's precious disk space, it should be obvious that the only sensible response -- indeed, perhaps the only humane response -- is to immediately relocate the offending individual to the electronic equivalent of solitary confinement until this monstrous demonstration of conspicuous consumption has been remedied by a prompt eradication of the least invaluable intellectual property currently in one's possession. In order that others may learn well the lesson of this most egregious abrogation of the well-known compact regarding the tragedy of the Common Internet File Server, a stern warning will be issued to all those who would seek to conduct business with the temporarily incarcerated. It is hoped that such proactive measures will encourage all fine, upstanding free speakers to watch what they say and mind their own electronic business.

Apres Spam

Computing's Lost Allure
Topic: Computers 11:02 pm EDT, May 21, 2003

At the height of the Internet boom in the late 90's, computer science talent was in such demand that recruiters offered signing bonuses to students who agreed to drop out of school. Now, spooked by layoffs and disabused of visions of overnight riches, many undergraduates are turning away from computer science as if it were somehow cursed.

Katie Hafner writes about the fall of computing at American universities in the Thursday edition of the New York Times.

Computing's Lost Allure

Microsoft and the Commoditization of Software
Topic: Computers 11:37 am EST, Feb 17, 2003

Stop looking over your shoulder and invent something!

Cypherpunks write code.

Microsoft and the Commoditization of Software

Apple's Quirky Ads Evoke Parodies of Themselves
Topic: Computers 11:23 am EST, Nov 25, 2002

A Sunday NYT article provides URLs for several "switch" parodies, including the switch-to-Canada ad discussed here recently.

Apple's Quirky Ads Evoke Parodies of Themselves

Flirting With Mac OS X
Topic: Computers 9:14 pm EDT, Sep 24, 2002

I was immediately attracted by a very intriguing and pleasant desktop on the laptop's gorgeous screen.

I watched in jealous disgust as the guy next to me fired up a terminal window and ssh'ed to some server and ran a pine mail session.

That's it, I decided. I am going to get a Mac OS X laptop, too.

That was a few weeks ago.

Unix guru Moshe Bar loves his titanium G4 PowerBook (even though he skimped on the RAM). Who settles for 512 MB when you can have 1 GB?

Flirting With Mac OS X

UbiComp 2002 Conference
Topic: Computers 10:59 pm EDT, Aug 14, 2002

There are a couple of interesting papers ...

Approximate Information Flows: Socially-based Modeling of Privacy in Ubiquitous Computing [from Intel, UCB, and U. Washington]

Social Aspects of Using Large Public Interactive Displays for Collaboration [IBM]

Issues in Personalizing Shared Ubiquitous Devices [from Xerox PARC]

Gregory Abowd (Georgia Tech) is a panelist for the closing session on "Ubiquitous Computing in Domestic Environments."

UbiComp 2002 Conference

At Large in the Blogosphere
Topic: Computers 1:52 pm EDT, May  4, 2002

Here's what blogs are not: (1) the super-personalized news filters that social critics fretted would splinter the nation into a million tiny interest groups, or (2) the Drudge Report. Blogs don't limit your news intake, break stories or promulgate rumor, at least not intentionally. They have an only seemingly more innocent agenda. Blogs express opinion. They're one-person pundit shows, replete with the stridency and looniness usually edited off TV.

Needless to say, blogs are addictive. They are not, however, the most economical use of your time. ...

... blogging's advantages over traditional journalism: greater looseness of spirit; openness to more points of view; a more conversational tone; and a compulsive honesty that has bloggers linking to articles in which they found their ideas.

The steady rise in the number of readers of the brainiest blogs suggests that their formula does appeal to a potentially influential sector of the reading public.

At Large in the Blogosphere

Strategic Computing: DARPA and the Quest for Machine Intelligence, 1983-1993.
Topic: Computers 8:07 pm EST, Feb  5, 2002

by Alex Roland and Philip Shiman. MIT Press, June 2002, ISBN 0-262-18226-2. 440 pages.

This is the story of an extraordinary effort by the U.S. Department of Defense to hasten the advent of "machines that think." From 1983 to 1993, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) spent an extra $1 billion on computer research aimed at achieving artificial intelligence. The Strategic Computing Initiative (SCI) was conceived as an integrated plan to promote computer chip design and manufacture, computer architecture, and artificial intelligence software. What distinguished SCI from other large-scale technology programs was that it self-consciously set out to advance an entire research front. The SCI succeeded in fostering significant technological successes, even though it never achieved machine intelligence. The goal provided a powerful organizing principle for a suite of related research programs, but it did not solve the problem of coordinating these programs. In retrospect, it is hard to see how it could have.

In Strategic Computing, Alex Roland and Philip Shiman uncover the roles played in the SCI by technology, individuals, and social and political forces. They explore DARPA culture, especially the information processing culture within the agency, and they evaluate the SCI?s accomplishments and set them in the context of overall computer development during this period. Their book is an important contribution to our understanding of the complex sources of contemporary computing.

Strategic Computing: DARPA and the Quest for Machine Intelligence, 1983-1993.

Bold New Look, Tired Old Metaphor
Topic: Computers 5:01 pm EST, Jan 12, 2002

David Gerlernter complains about how Apple's "innovation" is anything but. He talks about his "lifestream" concept, which seems reasonable and useful. I've referenced a paper about it previously. Phil Agre says that he doesn't see how the "lifestream" is advantageous. You decide.

Bold New Look, Tired Old Metaphor

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