Saturday 27 April 2019

The race is not to the swift

Following on from my rant about the virtues of uncluttered web-design . . .

In 1992, it was a close race as to whether it was faster to communicate with the mainframe in TCD using a 300 bps acoustic coupler [example R] or get on my bike and cycle the intervening 10km. Now the pipes of the internet are fatter but the data that's getting pushed down the pipes is bigger too. My pal Rene's second-hand laptop was acting up when I went to visit last week and I was able to get it started in 'Safe Mode' so that at least they could back-up the data before they sent it in for some remedial doctoring. We were reflecting that a decent functional computer could be bought ready-to-go for about €1,000, which is about the same price that we paid for decent functional computers 30 years ago. Today's model is unimaginably faster and has 100,000x the storage capacity but costs the same.

Here's a sweet story from the early 90s about getting in touch quickly <not>. In 1994, the web was barely commercial and pretty slow but the telephone switch-boards in academic institutions could be slow also. The Regional Technical Colleges [which were rebranded later as Institutes of Technology] were strongly unionised and the union insisted that their chaps needed a proper lunch-break. In the middle of a working day in ~1994, my colleague Ken needed to call Dr Michelle Storrs in Tallaght RTC, so he dialled their switch-board. As the line rang and rang, he thought he'd find out if she had a direct line . . . using the internet. The result of this impromptu research project was the finding that there are a helluva lot of Michelles in Storrs, Connecticut!

Those were the preGoogle days when your enquiries on. say, Altavista would be wholly generic. Asking about dry-cleaners in Dublin would top-load you with hits from Dublin, California and Dublin, New Hampshire, because your geography wasn't embedded in the search and there were far more wired-up businesses in Dublin, America than in Boondocks, Ireland. Now Google guesses better what you probably want . . . but that can have a downside if you're trying to kick over the traces and go on an unNannied search across the universe of knowledge.

No comments:

Post a Comment