More About Computers

Posted on 04/05/2011. Filed under: Discussion/Comments, PushBack Blog | Tags: , , , |

The previous post mentioned computers and some of the frustrations that result from using and owning this kind of a device. I’m not a stranger to these insidious devices. I graduated with a degree in electrical engineering in 1958 and joined a company called Univac located in St Paul Minnesota.  I had heard of computers before joining Univac, but had never really seen one. Univac had developed one of the first commercially available computers and it filled a large air conditioned room and used vacuum tubes to perform the binary on-off functions.

When I arrived at Univac, all of the designs on the drawing boards were using a new-fangled component called the transistor. When I graduated from South Dakota State University, the electrical engineering department offered one course in solid state transistor technology. It was an introductory course and I had room in my final quarter schedule and took the course. Like the vacuum tubes used in early computers, the first transistors were a single switch, packaged inside of a small metal can; a large improvement over the vacuum tube in size and power consumption. That millions of such switches would be put into single packages on a single silicon chip within the next twenty years had been incomprehensible at the time.

Related technologies were going the same way at the same time. A precursor to the hard drive, the magnetic drum, had a rotating element a foot in diameter and four feet long that shook the floor when it rotated.  The drum had a single head that moved along the length of the drum to pick up tracks for reading and writing.  I worked on a state of the art hard drive in the early 1980’s, a device packaged in a cabinet the size of a small washing machine and with a platter about a foot in diameter and with a capacity of an amazing hundred megabytes.

Despite this background, partly because technology continues to move at breakneck speed,  I am no more adept at working with current computers than the average teen-ager. However, I do believe that the industry could make computers and related technologies more user friendly if they adhered to what we used to refer to as the KISS principle.  KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID.  I suspect that many of the bells and whistles’ added to hardware and software are seldom used and add to the devices complexity. It seems that some changes are made for sake of making a change. It is like moving women’s skirt length; it doesn’t improve the product but does attract attention.  Then of course there is the suspicion of planned obsolescence, the intent being to drive sales more than technology.

In the end, rapid technology changes and the resulting obsolescence is driven by you and me. We all like to have the latest toys and the technology industry is more than happy to supply them.

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Computer Upgrade

Posted on 03/31/2011. Filed under: Discussion/Comments, PushBack Blog | Tags: , , |

I have been busy, but not in a very productive way. One of my excuses for this lack of a reasonable return for the effort is that I am replacing my out- of- date computers with new ones. For me, upgrading computers is a traumatic experience. Normally, buying something new such as a new car, cloths are  uplifting experiences. Not so with computers. I always dread the need to replace information processing devices which I have finally mastered and am comfortable with. A large part of the anxiety is related to software and data retention. Of course I have a whole boatload of software loaded on my old computers, much of which won’t run on the new computers and in addition, much of  the data generated  by the obsolete software will no longer be accessible.

I have had the desk top computer for seven plus years. I should have upgraded sooner but put off the inevitable for a couple of years.  My excuse for the delay involved the publishing of a book. The book has been published and I am barely into the start of another book. No more valid excuses.

I normally maintain two computers; a desktop and a laptop.  My new portable computer is called a notebook.  I don’t understand the difference between what is now a laptop and a notebook. My new notebook has much more memory capacity and computing power than the desktop computer that I am retiring and has close to the capacity of the new desktop.

Although I find updating computers and software frustrating, I also know that in a few months I will have adapted to the new and then will dread the day when it will need to be replaced.

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Do Deficits Matter?

Posted on 11/20/2010. Filed under: Discussion/Comments | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

What could be the result of the United States not getting its fiscal house in order? PushBack provides a possible scenario.

One of the surprises in the book reviews and media interviews has been the concentration on the story setup where the United States Union dissolves as a result of an economic crisis. Only a few paragraphs in the first chapter deal with the collapse and the reasons for the collapse of the United States government, yet  reader and media attention is focused on that aspect of the book.

One interview question has been how a nation as powerful and rich as the United States could collapse so suddenly? I had looked at historical precedence when writing the story to convince myself that such a scenario would be possible. World history is replete with the rise and fall of dominating empires. Some fade slowly, some suddenly. The German and Japanese empires faded rapidly due to being on the losing end of a war, while the English empire, a war winner, also collapsed over a short period of time. The mighty USSR collapsed suddenly over the period of a few months. Power and wealth are one way equivalents. Nations cannot have power without wealth. When the United States has to borrow money from foreigners to finance its government and maintain its standard of living, it exchanges its strength for the use of foreigner’s wealth. It is a prescription for the loss of power and potential collapse.

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