30 June 2008

O Brave New World!

The Atlantic's on-line archive of articles includes one from 1982, James Fallows's "Living with a Computer." It includes this trip down memory lane:

When I sit down to write a letter or start the first draft of an article, I simply type on the keyboard and the words appear on the screen. . . . It is faster to type this way than with a normal typewriter, because you don't need to stop at the end of the line for a carriage return (the computer automatically "wraps" the words onto the next line when you reach the right-hand margin), and you never come to the end of the page, because the material on the screen keeps sliding up to make room for each new line. . .

My computer has a 48K memory. Since each K represents 1,024 bytes of information — each byte representing one character or digit — the machine can manipulate more than 49,000 items of information at a time. In practice, after allowing for the space that The Electric Pencil's programming instructions occupy in the computer's memory, the machine can handle documents 6,500 to 7,500 words long.
Very exciting. I look forward to upgrading my computer to 48K of RAM. But it's not just RAM: we've also got hundreds of kilobites of external storage:
When I've finished with such a chunk, I press another series of buttons and store what I have written on my disk drive. This is a cigar-box-shaped unit that sits next to my computer, connected through a shocking-pink ribbon cable containing thirty-four separate strands. Inside the drive is the floppy disk, which is essentially magnetic recording tape pressed into the shape of a small record and then enclosed in a square cardboard envelope, 5 1/4 inches on each side. . . . Each of the disks in my system can hold about 100K of information, or more than twice as much as a full load from the computer memory. If one disk is full, I pull it out and snap another in.
It dawns on me that my students have probably never touched a 5.25-inch diskette, have never measured the memory of anything in kilobytes, and have never handled tractor-feed paper. Damn punk kids — I've got socks older than they are.

11 June 2008

Intelligence [sic]

It's good to know our British friends are doing their best to make US intelligence operations look competent by comparison. Heaven knows we need it.

Secret al-Qaida report found on London train

Highly classified intelligence documents relating to two of the most sensitive issues involving Britain's security interests - al-Qaida in Pakistan and the situation in Iraq - have been found on a train near London, it was disclosed last night.

The documents, including one marked Top Secret, are believed to be detailed and up-to-date assessments by Whitehall's Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC).

They were found on Tuesday and handed to the BBC's security correspondent, Frank Gardner, who reported the loss. The BBC said the documents were left on the train by a senior intelligence officer.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said last night that the documents' high security classification meant they would have had a limited circulation. "There has been a security breach, the Metropolitan police are carrying out an investigation."

The Guardian

04 June 2008

Immortality through Inebriation

Good news from the New York Times:

Red wine may be much more potent than was thought in extending human lifespan, researchers say in a new report that is likely to give impetus to the rapidly growing search for longevity drugs. . . .

In earlier studies, like Dr. Auwerx's of mice on treadmills, the animals were fed such large amounts of resveratrol that to gain equivalent dosages people would have to drink more than 100 bottles of red wine a day.

The Wisconsin scientists used a dose on mice equivalent to just 35 bottles a day.
A mere thirty-five bottles every day? After following doctor's orders by trying to drink my recommended hundred bottles a day, I fear it won't be easy to cut back.