Vol. 3 No. 4

November, 2003


Fat Programs

iToon on RIAA Baby

Internet Junkies

iToon on Music Labels

Man's Best eFriend

iToon on cyberpuzzle

Short Takes

iToon on Future Email Icons




Fat Programs

With age, everyone adds a few pounds. It is natural. In technology, speed and features are the selling points for new program upgrades. However, there is one glaring problem with the push to add new code to existing programs. The programs get fat. Really fat. Obese.

In attempting to determine whether it was time to upgrade the home computer, I spied an interesting piece of software. I read the tech specs to determine what the requirements were needed to run it. New OS, a lot of hard RAM, and then the jaw dropper - - - 5 GB of hard disk space. I thought I had misread it at 5 MB. No, it was 5 Gigabytes!! Now that is planetary fat.

The standard hard drive on a new computer is 40 or 80 Gigabytes. If the program itself takes up an eighth or so of the available hard drive, what will the running application of the program eat up? Another 5 GB or so?

Now compare this stunning requirement with the old computer antiques that litter the homestead. An old baseball game simulation program runs off an 800k diskette. I fired up a Mac SE to run it since the Cubs were suddenly in the post-season playoffs. Since 1989, I had used that old program to “run” the series before the first game to get a prediction. In the past, the program accurately predicted the winners of each series, and the losers, which were the Cubs. In 2003, the program predicted that the Cubs would beat the Braves in Round One. (Prediction: Correct) Then, the program predicted that the Cubs would have a 3 games to 1 lead in the pennant series against the Marlins. However, the program concluded that the Cubs would beat the Marlins in game five. So did the rest of the real world. But in the harsh lore of reality, the Cubs fell a part and the Fish won the series and eventually became the Champions.

There has been no real substitute for MicroLeague baseball program. That is why it still is on the library shelf. It does not contain the play-action graphics of a Madden football game, but it could churn out box scores and managerial moves in an unbiased fashion.

But if a programmer had 5 gigs of program space to use, I guess a baseball game program could actually draw the beads of sweat on a player's forehead after a double in the gap.

There was a story a long time ago, when a computer company programmers were brow beaten by the fact that the start-up boot took too long. The CEO ranted that for every second saved, for every computer sold, millions of seconds would be saved per day, and the world would be a greater place. The only way to accomplish the task was to economize the program to boot faster and cleaner.

But we live in an age of SUPERSIZING everything. Fries. Soft drinks. CEO perk and compensation packages. Computer hard drives. Software code.

Most of the code is merely adding, or lathering on, to the existing software program. For each new feature, there is another massive code segment. A long standing OS or office application is like a municipal garbage dump; each truckload of code is piled (or compiled) on to the old code--- building a mountainous program (of sometimes--- garbage.) Does anyone on earth use EVERY feature of EVERY program they own??

Slimming down is hard work. In real life, the pounds need sweat to shed the dead weight. Shedding dead weight in a computer program is as complex as the enzymes reacting to the alleged health shakes hitting the lower intestine. It is easier to pay for the lipo, or write a new shell program and attach it to the existing code and hope and pray that it functions as diagrammed in the lab.

The elegance of the tight, compact and functional software program appears to have been left to the paraprofessionals, the shareware writers who still play an important niche in the computer world. A focused utility program is still an artform.



Where One Man's World Meets the Blog Generation


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Internet Junkies

The DSL line went out at work, again. It was on a Thursday, after a short power disruption. The DSL router was connected to a circuit breaker power strip; but it did not reboot when the power came back on.

After numerous telephone calls over the next four days, with a regular telephone tech coming out to say that there was a clear signal on the hard wire coming into the office, so it is not a line problem. A second tech finally came out with a power book; plugged his unit into the box and found he could not connect to the WAN.

He put in a diagnostic program. Apparently, when the power went down, the router reset itself to the factory default. The factory default was zero WAN users. Now, what company would default their router to zero??? The whole concept is to have multiple concurrent users of the DSL.

I was out of state on business during this tech setback. I arrived for the last few days of non-DSL interconnectivity. Four days on the road and four days at work without normal high speed access.

Speed, in all forms, is addictive. The internet is no different.

However, I can honestly say that I had no withdrawal symptoms from being disconnected for almost an entire week. The focus on the trip took my mind away from the usual surfing business sites. It was lucky that I did not need to have access to research links or email in order to finish the business trip. When I returned to the instant access homeland, there was no great pull to surf the day or night away trying to catch up on lost surfing.

So the verdict was that even though I use the Net more and more at work, I am not one of those Internet junkies--- who need to be on-line 24/7. The laptop, the cellphone, the Blueberry, the Blackberry, or whatever electronic jam flavor of the day.... email alerts, email news alerts, web pictures, web links . . . an attempt to hard wire the mobile Internet access modes into a human being like the Borg.


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Man's Best eFriend

It was five a.m. Running through the deserted potholed streets of the Little Italy neighborhood of San Diego. Trying to backtrack to the car rental agency that was squeezed in between Interstate 5 and the BNSF railroad tracks. In Southern California, if you do not meet your rental return time, the agency reports the car stolen. I did not need to be detained, figuratively or feloniously, when I had a very early flight to Chicago.

I arrive at the rental area before the six a.m. deadline. To my surprise, the place was open for business. A couple had just checked in and they were waiting for the shuttle van driver. Good timing is rewarded.

The fast dash to Terminal 2 took mere minutes. In the customer service counter in seconds, to find no dreaded line for check-in or boarding passes. Since the last time I was here, AA had added five e-ticket self service machines. Excellent. One person waiting; I get my boarding pass and ready to go to security. The line shoots straight back over the passenger gateway almost to the parking lot and tax curb. A forty five minute shuffle down this line of groggy travelers.

I lug my two bags, including the ones under my eyes, through the concourse to the departure gate. It is fairly empty; no attendants on duty. So I park with an hour to spare across from the gate jetway entrance. In the next fifteen minutes, the passenger terminal fills with business travelers walking or running to further gates. The Chicago gate begins to get traffic waiters.

In the next bank of seats, a guy with a laptop sits working the screen. Then he takes out a small black duffle back from the ground and pulls out a computer puppy and sets it on the concourse carpet. He goes back to laptop work as this moving pup begins to wander into the passengers passing by our seats. I thought to myself how pathetically odd that a guy needs to bring that much attention to himself.

A few moments pass. One or two passengers moving by notice the pup with a double-take. When it wanders a little too far, he goes down on the carpet and reels it in. Instead of turning it off, he gets down on the carpet and begins to play with it! How much more public ATTENTION does ONE NEED? He takes out a series of flash cards and points it at the Snoopy shaped head. The pup begins to chirp noises and flash lights on its back; then begins to wander again. An old guy passes by and chuckles loudly at the sight. For the next twenty minutes, about one-quarter of the passer-bys take a look at this odd situation. The others were probably rushing to get to Bloody Mary's Restaurant at the next gate for an morning eye-opener.

A member of a group of company employees waiting for the flight crosses the concourse to engage the dog owner in conversation. “How do you like it?” the man asks. “I love it,” replies the guy between flash cards. The curious passenger has some basic computer knowledge, and begins to ask questions about its memory or programming. The man on the floor rises to explain everything. He works for Sony, and this is the prototype new AIBO ERS-7 Entertainment Robot.

It now makes perfect sense. Drop a weird piece of technology in a crowded airport concourse to generate looks, responses and maybe some good public relations marketing.

For the next half hour he answers questions from various people who inquire about the computer toy. This upgraded version, he explains, is targeted for the 8 to 12 market. Just like any electronic device, it is not advisable to drop it from a height of four feet. But it was designed to take little knock-overs that a typical 7 year old would do with his pet. Sony has been programming many facets into the robot: alarms, voice commands, picture memory, protocols for the dog to recharge itself, reward behavior and other “fun stuff.” The artificial intelligence program is designed to pattern itself after a real pet and its behavior.

The model will be on sale, he said, for this holiday season. The price is $1,599.00. An expensive show piece would be an understatement.

The price break point did not seem to affect the attitude of the people who liked AIBO. Maybe they realize that this is the first small step for mankind: an electronic man's best friend. How long will it take until Sony develops a humanoid version?

A Dog's life with an Attitude. DOGLEG





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Short Takes

One can paint oneself into a corner. Once. Then you remember to always think before painting the floorboards. The same can be said of computer programs. One can paint themselves into a corner by relying on the stability and functions of an old, trusty computer program or database. They are called legacy programs. Software industry has matured in such a fashion that developers have come and gone, and early licensees of their products which have been integrated into their business core cannot change without starting from scratch with a huge loss in data, time, resources and productivity.

It is now official. I am at least 2 full OS versions behind the Times. With Apple's release of Panther, I am falling farther and farther behind the Cutting Edge. However, there is no great desire or need to change. In the homestead computer zoo, the museum pieces are as follows: one on System 7, two on System 8, two on OS 9. At work, four are on OS 9.x and one OS 10.2 (Jaquar). However, I find that the OS10s clunky and quirky in its execution.

Operating three web sites as a hobby-relief valve can be taxing at times. Especially when the remote server implodes at the end of the month requiring a complete reload of all the site files. On a slow land line. Two and one-half hours of babysitting the crash and burn freezes during this synch process. Then I decided to rework, rewrite this issue of cyberbarf two days before the upload because I had some new ideas. So I discarded some of the existing outlined essays, and reworked the page under the self-imposed end of the month deadline pressure.


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