No less than Moore’s Law

I’m writing today’s post on the train and on my laptop*, though I doubt that’s obvious to anyone at first glance**.  Yesterday’s voice-to-text experiment was not a complete failure, but neither was it a success, at least from my point of view.  Also, correcting the weirdness created by the voice-to-text process exacerbated the arthropathy in the base of my thumbs, and I’ve been fumbling and nearly dropping more things than usual since then.  Also, writing on various paperwork at the office has been more painful than usual.  So, I don’t think I’m going to be doing that again any time soon—at least until the technology improves significantly.

Not that I ought to besmirch that technology too much.  It’s a bit like the old bit about the dog that walks on its hind legs (or talks, in an alternate version):  it’s not that it does it well, it’s that it does it at all that should impress you.

I can still remember when my Dad—who worked with computers his entire career, going back to when they were huge, gym-room-sized megaliths—got our family an Apple II+.  We were the first people I knew who had a computer at home (I grew up in a factory town, after all).  I remember my friend Andy saying he was so “ennnvious” of me.  He said it with a grin, though***, and he and I would soon spend many hours learning to program in Basic and writing games to generate characters for Gamma World, for instance, or calculating the conversion of mass to energy via E=mc2 or getting on BBS services with our 600 or 1200 baud modems.

That computer, which was state-of-the-art for home machines, had the expansion to 64K of RAM!  That was a big deal back then.  As far as I know, there wasn’t a home computer with more RAM than that, though I could be wrong.

By comparison, the little mini-laptop on which I’m writing this has RAM that’s just shy of a hundred thousand times larger.  It almost certainly cost a LOT less, even in non-adjusted dollars.  I don’t know what my Dad paid for our Apple, but I’m pretty sure it cost more than $30, which is about what the one I’m working on would cost in roughly-calibrated 1980ish dollars, assuming a constant annual inflation rate of 5%.

The hard drive in this device—and it is far from the state of the art—is a million times larger than the RAM was on that Apple II+, though comparing RAM with a disk drive isn’t really a legitimate comparison.  It’s like comparing Apples and Verbatims.

Speaking of drives, I’m often kind of blown away by some other effects of Moore’s Law.  I sometimes call people’s attention—when I am able to keep them from falling asleep—to the fact that, when I had finished undergrad in 1992, my then-wife and I had a Mac SE, and we bought an external hard drive for it.  She was going to law school and I was doing post-bacc work to get my med school requirements (having decided to go to med school at the last minute, so to speak), and working at the same time, and it was handy not to have juggle all those old, not-so-floppy 3.5” floppy drives.  It cost us a few hundred dollars, if I remember correctly, and it had its own plug for a power supply, and it had a capacity of—wait for it—one megabyte!  And it was amazing!  I still think fondly of it.

Yet now, I can get on Amazon—or go to an appropriate shop, even sometimes a convenience store, certainly many drug stores—and for twenty to forty dollars buy something that has 256,000 times as much memory as that plug-in device that was as big as the base of the computer—and the working portion of the modern memory device is as small as a fingernail.  Also, its memory is much more durable.

And, of course, for well under a hundred dollars—in modern money—I got an external SD drive for the office that has the memory of my old desktop hard drive squared.  A million million bytes (not square bytes, so I was being a little sloppy there), or a terabyte****.  And let’s not even get into processing speed.

Seriously, let’s not.  At least, I really shouldn’t.  I don’t know that subject well enough to have a very good discussion of it.  I know that FLOP is a “floating point operation”.  Also, apparently the Apple II+ could reach processor speeds of up to 8 Megahertz, whereas my current processor is 1.1 Gigahertz, so about 125,000 times faster.  Again, I’m sure there is nuance here, by it’s the rough idea with which I’m dealing.

The point I’m making, overall, is that I shouldn’t be too dismissive or disrespectful of the failings of voice-to-text technology.  It didn’t exist, as such, even ten or so years ago, at least not in any commercially available form.  Now it’s an automatic, included thing in texting and writing functions on the smartphone in my pocket—which is far from top of the line, but is vastly more powerful than even my Mac SE, let alone the Apple II+.

It’s also not an Apple, because I’ve long since become disenchanted with Apple as a company, though their products are surely still good ones.

Nevertheless, typing is still a more effective way to write a blog post, and that’s what I have done and am doing today.  Oh, and by the way, I did in fact record a little five-minute audio tidbit yesterday after finishing my first draft of the “written” post, before someone else arrived at the bus stop and it became a bit too awkward to keep talking out loud to myself in a way that—to me at least—was obviously not a phone conversation.

However, when I went to edit the audio, the traffic noise was just too intrusive.  It was still possible to hear and understand me, mostly, since I was much closer to the microphone, but the noise of cars and the occasional truck was just too much.  I did my best to reduce that noise using various functions of the program, but to make it tolerable, at least to me, led to my voice sounding as though I were speaking through a tight respiratory mask made of cardboard and papier-mâché.

It wouldn’t have made good listening, even though it was only five minutes long, and I certainly didn’t say anything profound enough to make it worth anyone’s while to muscle through it.  So, I don’t plan to upload that.  If I’m going to do audio blogs—or podcasts, if you will—I’ll do them indoors, or in an outdoor setting where I’m away from the noises of traffic and from passers-by who might hear me talking.

With that meandering, weird, tangential bit of fluff, I’ll call today’s blog post to a close.  I hope you all have a good day and a good remainder of the week.  Take care of yourselves, and if you’re fortunate enough to be sharing your lives with people who love you and whom you love, make the most of that.  I don’t seem to be very good at such things over the long term.  Being bad at and awkward and uncomfortable about connecting with people and keeping relationships working doesn’t mean someone doesn’t want to do so, of course—though there probably are such people.  But for those who do want to but are abysmally poor at the process, it can be very unpleasant.  So, if that doesn’t describe you, try to enjoy it.

*I’m sitting on a seat in the train and I’m using my laptop, to be more precise.  I’m not sitting on my laptop, though in the original meaning, a lap is sometimes an appropriate place on which, or in which, to sit.  Still, how could I sit atop my own lap?  Nor am I sitting atop the train, though I understand there are (or have been) places in India where that happens.

**Which is why I’m telling you.

***And it wasn’t terribly long before his family got an Apple III, if I recall, which was also great.

****A terabyte is a trillion bytes, and a trillion (1,000,000,000,000) is a million time a million.  Just count the zeroes.  Now, I’m sure that there are fine points to the comparison, and the literal multiples are not exactly correct, and I’m sure some computer scientist out there could point out the subtleties, and that would be welcome, of course—learning is always a good thing.  But it wouldn’t really change my point.

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