Saturday, April 2, 2011

Mountain View downtime

We are parked at one of our regular spots on the street in Mountain View, California (map). This is another one of those places where the area's truck drivers have discovered they can leave their trucks overnight; we recognize the flatbed double behind us from several previous visits. He appears to haul mostly cardboard recycling, and there are now a few dump trucks here as well. The former HP campus here is still vacant after many years, as is the county work-release center across the street. Both are for sale.

One of the great things about this spot is that it is just a few hundred feet from the light rail station, although with our borrowed car on this visit we have not needed it. It is a short drive or light rail ride to downtown Mountain View which has become a veritable mecca of dining establishments; we've had two dinners there in three days, one al fresco in the lovely weather of the past few days. Tuesday night we parked at Jack's house in San Jose, just ten minutes from here, where we also had pizza and a good turnout for my belated birthday celebration.

The last few days Louise has been making the social rounds of her girlfriends while I hung out at home doing battle with my new smart-phone. I needed to confirm absolutely that I would be keeping it before the 30-day grace ran out, and once I started that project I wanted to just get it all set up as I like it. Moving from a Blackberry with barely enough memory to run stock apps to a full-blown pocket computer has been something of a challenge, mostly due to climbing the learning curve.

My new phone is an Epic 4G, which runs on Google's Android platform. I've been tweaking it to remove the software bloat and spyware that Samsung installed at the behest of Sprint, mostly to try to improve battery life. Unlike the Blackberry, which I could charge every two or three days, this beast barely lasts a full day. It does not help that, while display sizes have mushroomed to enormous proportions, and speeds are now blazing fast, the batteries in most smart phones are no larger than those of much smaller models with slower processors and smaller displays.

In reading through the unending stream of help, advice, and complaints on the 'net, I have to chuckle at the level of whining. I got my first cell phone in 1984, when it took a car to power it. My first handheld models a few years later were the size of bricks and also did not make it through a full day on a single charge. Today I am running a modified operating system release honchoed by a 19-year-old -- cell phone batteries have never lasted less than a full day in his lifetime, never mind having no memory of a time before cell phones.

For the record, I spent the early part of my career working on mainframe computers. These were the size of a truck, and required roughly 15 kilowatts of three-phase power, with cooling to match. Generally, 60-100 people were using these machines simultaneously. I thought it would be interesting to compare those machines to the tiny computer I now wear on my belt:

1980s Mainframe
My Cell Phone
Clock (cpu) speed
30 megahertz
1,000 megahertz
System Memory
18 megabytes
1,536 megabytes
Disk storage
<1 gigabyte
16 gigabytes

The disk storage back in those days consisted of half a dozen machines the same size and shape as, and bearing an uncanny resemblance to, full size clothes washers, and contained actual rotating disks, whereas my cell phone has a solid-state storage card, but it serves the same purpose and is even described by the same decades-old jargon ("mounting" a "file system"). And, of course, unlike the mainframes of the 80s, a cell phone supports only one user at a time, so I have access to 100% of those resources, and not 1-2% as did a mainframe user back then.

Making a configuration change or loading a new operating system version on those machines required weeks of planning, work, and testing in the wee hours of the morning before things were stable, and so I suppose I can't complain that I've spent perhaps a dozen or so hours getting my new phone set up. Neither can I complain that a battery weighing two ounces can only power a system ten times larger than my first mainframe for a little less than a day.

I think I have another day or so of fiddling ahead of me, and then the old Blackberry goes up for sale on eBay. In a few minutes, our 72-hour clock here will expire, and we will head back to the marina in Redwood City. We'll have dinner with our nieces tonight and we've been invited out on the boat tomorrow with Martin and Steph.

1 comment:

  1. At least your Blackberry made it to the end and still works in order for you to sell it. Both of ours died untimely deaths. My wife's to a dab of water in a dish pan, and mine lost its display to a gray haze of backlight without any legible information on it. The phone still works, if you can remember the keystrokes to make a call. The speed dials are still there, and you can answer a call, but without a screen it is rendered mostly useless! Nice post to remember our old mainframes and all that twinax that connected them all over the building. What we wouldn't have given for wifi! Rod


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