Sunday, March 05, 2006

About yesterday’s post. . .

I received a couple of comments that made me think. While I’ve often thought of doing this before, I never have. I thought that maybe, we could open a ‘conversation’ around these two thoughts and see where, if anywhere, it goes.

I always look forward to reading the comments you all leave, it’s one of the biggest motivators for me, to continue writing here. If this dialog, is something you all enjoy, I’ll continue with it whenever asked, or the mood strikes me. Hell, I might just do it because it’s fun!!

Without further banter….

Flash said:
As I read your post, I just pictured you slaving away at a computer that would equal the size of a modern pick-up truck, ribbons and spools of magnetic tape whirring endlessly...I know it wasn't that long ago, but the way you described it, I couldn't help it.

Flash, that’s the way I envisioned it as well, except the actual 360/370 was probably more “tractor-trailer”, than pickup truck sized.

Although, I never actually saw the machine in question, it was housed about 100 miles away on the SUNY Binghamton campus. SUNY Utica/Rome, later the SUNY College of Technology, was too small at the time to warrant its own machine.

I’ve seen plenty since that time, one computer center in particular was nearly half the size of a football field! What’s amazing to me, despite having been involved and working with computers for that past 20 plus years, is that today, on our desktop, or in our laps, many of us have more computing power than those old behemoths had!

Greg said: you know I cut my teeth on one of the first 360/40's in '67 and certainly it could do stuff a bit faster but here's my question: Is the quality of the answer as great as the 40 hour one you refer to?

In human terms of poetry, satisfaction and accomplishment?

Now as you think back on this post, it is the people that mattered afterall

Where is Doctor Dave???!!!!!

First, for those of you who don’t know “Dr. Dave” is what Greg and I have always called Dave Fulton, the original founder of Fox Software and the product that was to become “FoxPro”. Dave signed on with Microsoft as their chief database architect when the company was sold to (merged with actually) them, but then, about 18 months later simply ‘vanished’ from their ranks. It's been written that he left because Microsoft was a 'big company' and he was more of a 'small company' guy. I, for one, really believe that to be true.

We’ve wondered, many times over the years, what exactly happened to him. He was a great man, brilliant mind and fostered an atmosphere of invention at Fox Software. He encouraged innovation and we folks in the “streets” actually got to talk with the developers when we had problems.

I’ve sort of secretly hoped he’d retired to some tropical island, living out his days relaxing in the sun and enjoying the fruits of his efforts. The last thing I saw in the press about Dave is here, he’s in his early 60’s now and I suspect continuing to find things he feels passionately about to fill his time. If you’re interested in what some other developers had to say about Dave, you you can look here.

Now, on to the more esoteric question, the one that addressed the relative ‘quality/value’ of either solution.

In straight business results terms, they’re absolutely equal. The results are identical, repeatable and reliable. In terms of speed to market, the computer solution is definitely superior.

In human terms, believe it or not, I also believe they’re equal.

I know the sense of accomplishment I had when finished with the computer version was even higher than when I finished the manual solution. To complete the computer version I had to learn new things, new methods, apply them properly and monitor the results. It probably took me the better part of a second week to achieve that second solution. Once I had however, all I needed to do after that, was get the data ‘punched up’ and run it through. It made possible, what a week before was impossible.

I know, that the feeling of elation I had when I knew my (and that mainframe’s) efforts would allow us to complete the project not only on time, but early, was genuine.

Is a poem, “less good” because it was written using a keyboard and monitor, than if it was written longhand?

Is digital photography somehow inferior to the older film method?

The true genius, in any work, is in the inspiration, the vision of the person creating it. Not necessarily in the means, or the medium they use to bring it to life (with apologies to Marshal McCluhan). I think beauty, satisfaction, accomplishment are all terms to describe what we feel when we look at something that we, or someone else has created.

I know I don’t find those emotions diminished if the work was done in canvas and oil, or in pixels… In fact, at times I’ve looked at ‘digital art’ and thought of the thousands of hours that may have been devoted to producing it, one painstaking layer at a time, each of the several million pixels each requiring the artist to ‘adjust’ it until it suited him, or her.

Tying both of these comments back together, those old computers were huge, and make no mistake about it, there’s still plenty of “large iron” in place and running major corporations today. There are also millions of “Middle Iron” machines, filling gaps, handling tasks that are better handled in real-time processes, intercepting message queues and handing off jobs to the proper machine, at the proper time.

Behind, on top of, or underneath (depending on your point of view) of both of those tiers is the PC in all its many versions and flavors. That ubiquitous desktop appliance, one that graces nearly every business workspace in the country, more raw computing power is housed in these millions of boxes than in all the large and mid-tier iron combined.

The bigger question, in my mind anyway, is one of are we really any better off?

Is life, as we know it, truly better than the life folks lived 50, or 100 years ago, because of these devices? Have there been improvements, in our level of living, our life satisfaction level, our overall happiness as a result of the way the computer has infiltrated nearly every facet of our lives?

Some would say no, and emphatically say no. They’d argue that life has become too fast, that we no longer have the ability to take pride, to feel the sense of accomplishment we once did. That computers, and specifically robots, have taken that from us.

I disagree. You tell the research scientist who’s finally brought a new drug to market, that because the computers they used allowed them to speed the processing of huge amounts of data, that they should feel less satisfied.

Does a farmer feel less satisfied in a successful year because a computer monitored water and nutrient levels throughout his fields and calculated the exact amounts necessary for a maximum crop yield?

I think, humans (or at least this human) find satisfaction in a job done well, in taking existing skills, learning (or inventing) new skills, applying them to a particular problem and achieving the desired results. I believe this is a universal-ism, that anyone who’s had the good fortune to accomplish anything, especially if they’d been told it couldn’t be done, will find themselves driven to repeat the experience.

So what do you all think, have computers “pulled their weight”?? Brought us good that outweighs the potential bad? Are they essential to you, would you want to go back to a world without them?

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Greg said...

Oh my! got ya goin'.

Anyway, the issue may be false rewards. Is the species any better off? Is the individual, as in all individuals, not just Bill and Paul and their ilk, better off?

I would certainly agree that accomplishment...or better the feeling of accomplishment is important and in a way you have answered my arguement, that the task or technology is NOT the motivator. What is difficult to decern is whether the big "A" ccomplishment has been achieved, are we any further along?
I think about my father who raised, for better or worse eight kids on one salary and still had weekends off and no debt, 2 cars and a 3200 sq. ft. home. Compare that to the modern family of two who can barely get by on two salaries and with their share of the national debt owe $200,000 that they nor their grandkids nor there great grandkids will ever pay back. But, we do live longer but as what 80 year old resource hogs who do not contribute but merely suck? Hey we have more TV stations! We have more garbage! We have more pollution! We have so much more than those before...but of what? what that matters?

Do we have more peace? Do we have more compassion? Do we have more wisdom or insight? Do we have more time...or light? Do we have more love?

Bill said...

Greg - Good questions all... I'll counter with:

What do most of these questions got to do with computers? I don't think anyone (certainly not me anyway) ever saw them as a means towards achieving peace, compassion, wisdom, insight or love.

Time however is relative... we have more 'time' in the workplace, although it's hard to see sometimes as whenever some is opened up, it's quickly filled back in.

I suspect the monetary issues you raised would have developed with, or without, computers.

Obviously computers have no control, or impact, on the amount of light, from the sun anyway.

Greg said...

You said it.
I don't believe computers have much to do with the "answers"...they like most technology seem to be something important and useful but in the end are they just something shiny in the illusion...a bright lure in a bubbling stream?
If we create without regard to the "questions" we have to ask why? Then we have to ask who is really benefitting from our labors and who is getting the benefit of these shiny tools with their sharp hooks...
So my point is if computers don't have anything to do with the big "V"alue of life, in the end what value do they serve? What master do they serve?

'Course I am just the devils advocate.

Bill said...

Greg - Well... the ones I work on serve *me*...

They're a tool my friend, an electronic hammer, or axe... nothing more, nothing less. Like most tools, their "value" is found in the ways they're used.

A hammer can be used to create a beautiful home, or, to strike a death blow... same object, different application(s).

Nearly anything we can think of has potential use for good, or evil, it's not up to the 'object' to determine its use.

Dizzy Ms. Lizzy said...


You said, "I think, humans . . . find satisfaction in a job done well, in taking existing skills, learning (or inventing) new skills, applying them to a particular problem and achieving the desired results."

I agree - - A computer is another tool that I can use to accomplish what I want, or need, to do. I take great pride and satisfaction in a job well done. And, in the process, if I have had to learn (or invent) some new "skills" along the way, even better! Then, I not only have the satisfaction of a job well done, but having learned something new in the process!

This is some of what I try to pass along to my students when I teach my part-time classes - - each class is only 6.5 hours (2 evenings), but each is designed to give the students a "taste" of what can be done with that particular computer program. Once you show them some of the things that can be accomplished, some of them are truly amazed, and a lot of them want to learn more. This new "skill" I have taught them gives them (especially a lot of the 'senior' students, who have never even touched a computer before) the courage to go on, to realize that they CAN learn something new, and that they are having FUN in the process! :-)


Bill said...

Liz - you said:
This new "skill" I have taught them gives them (especially a lot of the 'senior' students, who have never even touched a computer before) the courage to go on, to realize that they CAN learn something new, and that they are having FUN in the process!

It's exactly this, that makes me want to teach again... I miss that nearly instant recognition that my efforts have made a difference in someone else's life!!

The world need more teachers who are motivated like this!! Your students are lucky indeed!

Dizzy Ms. Lizzy said...

Thanks, Bill.

I try to show my students the 'good' things that can be done with computer knowledge. As you said, anything, including computers, can be used for good or evil. It's all in the intent of the user.

My best memory of a student was this old man in one of my Introduction to Computers class last semester. He was 87 years old, his daughter had bought him a computer, but never showed him how to do anything on it except play Solitaire so that he could get used to working the mouse. So, he got 'fed up' with that, and signed up for class.

When we got to the section where we logged on to the Internet, he told me his passion was classical music, one composer in particular, and that he would love to be able to find some information on him.

So we did a Google search. He was amazed at the thousands of "hits" that were returned. I helped him check out a few sites, and then we found one with sound files for some of the composer's songs.

He was as excited as a little kid! He made note of the websites we had looked at, and told me he couldn't wait to get home and tell his daughter what he could do!

I left that night feeling so good - - I don't think my feet were touching the ground! And I will never forget the look of sheer joy on that man's face.

THAT is why I teach part time classes. Sometimes it makes for a VERYN long day, but moments like that make it all worthwhile (and the extra pay doesn't hurt either!)

Bill said...

Liz - It sure seems like there is certainly no end to the number of ‘bad’ things that can be done with a computer, although I still believe the possible number of good things far outweighs the bad.

It’s obvious in all you’ve said that you love teaching, thanks for sharing this story here.

I used to try and explain what I called the ‘light bulb effect’ to folks who had never had the opportunity to teach…. That moment when you can actually see the ‘light’ go off in a student’s eyes, and you know they finally ‘get it’… It truly is one of life’s special moments.

I know, when I can, if I get the opportunity, I’ll definitely teach again!!

No_Newz said...

So when you were talking about slower paced living, you weren't talking about going back to dialup after having the joy of broadband were ya? ;)
Have a great day!
Lois Lane

Bill said...

Lois - I can't believe you used the "D" word!! That my friend caused more frustration, angst and aggravation than any single other computer issue ever, for me anyway!! Hell, I haven’t even owned a phone modem in over 5 years!

So, no, that’s not exactly what I had in mind. :)

You have a great day too!

Greg said...

I suspect your "family" could use some insight into "our" relation ....soon Moses, Neaderthals and the Ark!

Off Balance

At a time towards the end
but not nearly the end
of the last century
In the way life time is measured,
two still excitable
but not quite young men
sat in the bright but dusty Ear Inn
known for its beats and poetry,
It was a Stairway to Heaven certainly,
that filled in between raucous chorus
at the moment my crayons drew
the new altar
and the new god
and, yes,
the scene filled with
acolytes and priests,
such as you and I,
in bright primary colors
and waxy black.

While you could believe,
all I perceived,
was religiosity
not mathematical certainty.
Not willing to fall upon my dagger
but doomed to be defrocked
for failure to recite the mantra.
I suspected mathematics
deals in great generalities
not in precisions and facts
And if the universe
is not meta-physical?
Then the physical has no constant
simply predictive equality
nothing proven Absolutely,
as needs be,
neither you nor I,
not dull colors or white,
not even purest black

Bill said...

Greg - I'm not sure how much insight this actually gives everyone... but it's a nice trip down memory lane for me :)

As I recall we bantered some about the altar, and the 'newest god'... and as I also remember it it was the first time you called me the "great Coupta"...

We continue to live in strange times.. exciting, tenuous and every once in a while truly amazing.

Greg said...

Yes I I recall the great computer being of the day was named Gupta and I was inferring your equality, properly so, I might add.
So Doctor Dave fiddles makes me think of Moriarty. He played the bassoon, Holmes. Indeed he did.

Bill said...

Greg - I do miss those 'glory days' sometimes... I remember likening it to a line from a song... "made enough money to buy Miami, but pissed it away so fast"

They were heady times, full of promise, exciting new ventures and folks clamoring for us to show up... it was sweet while it lasted.

Would have been nice if that brass ring had been a little less slippery, and the fog surrounding it, just a little less dense...

Trevor Record said...

Is a Television show any less of a television show when it's watched on a computer?

Actually, I tend to be sort of a purist when it comes to that sort of thing but I can see where you're coming from.

Bill said...

Trevor - Actually I read an article this week that said TV, as we know it, may be 'doomed'.

THat the ability of folks to watch what they want, on the fly, as in from their personal electornic devices, is already changing television plans.

I'm more a purist also, I don't watch TV, Movies, DVD's etc on my PC. I prefer the comfort of the living room and a respite from the monitor.