Monday, February 28, 2011

Family Reunion: Conclusion

Part 1

Dylan had been swimming for several minutes now.  He turned around and could just barley see the house behind him.  He knew his family was looking his way even though they would not be able to see him ether.  Looking around, he took a second to take in how different the city looked from this angle.  He knew exactly where he was, where he was going, but he had never seen it from above.  It’s like looking around the house standing on his head.  Everything looked the same but different.

The journey continued for almost an hour.  Dylan had to rest for quite a while on the hillside.  His continued training must not have been as good as he thought, but he had made it.

There was no one around, no sign that anyone had been here the night before.  The lights must have come from further inland.  He started walking and soon discovered the camp.

The camp was surrounded by sand bags.  Inside the perimeter were a few houses and many, many tents.  A few people could be seen walking around.  A few were wearing normal clothes, a few were in police uniforms, and a few more were in camo.  The soldiers were all carrying rifles, but they were at ease.  It seemed they were just there in case something went wrong in the camp, not because something did.

One of the soldiers saw Dylan standing on the other side of the barrier and called out.  He welcomed the new arrival into the camp explaining that it was created to gather resources and provide a relatively safe place to get away from the flooding.  The cops and the soldiers were only there to help prevent anyone trying to take advantage of the situation.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Why are so many people so bad at computers?

Why is it that even today, decades after computers were invented, so many people have no idea how to use them?

Think of this riddle.  If a plane is on a conveyor belt and the conveyor belt is traveling backwards at the same speed as the plane is pushing forwards.  Will the plane take off?  Think about that for a little while before continuing to the answer.

Some probably instantly say “Mythbusters did that, it’s not a good riddle any more”, but a lot of people still get this wrong.  The plane takes off without a problem.  Why do so many people get this wrong?

The human mind cannot remember everything we see and learn, it would probably be a living hell if we did.  So when we learn something we put it into mental molds.  Newly learned item “B” is like previously learned item “A” so the two are grouped.  Most people get the plane question wrong because they’re use to thinking of how cars work.  The engine spins and puts force on the tires that push against the ground.  If the car was on a treadmill going 50mph and the treadmill was going in the other direction at the same speed, the car would go nowhere.  A plane, on the other hand, spins it’s engine in turn spinning the propellers pushing against the air, not the ground.  The tires spin freely and just spin faster with the treadmill beneath it.

Most people get this wrong due to accidentally putting planes in the same mental mold as cars.  But, I would bet that an aerodynamics expert would just shake his head to the question.  To him the answer is so obvious.  He has a separate mold for planes.

How does this relate to computers?

Computers are unique in the world.  There’s nothing really like them other then more computers.  Where else can anything be copied infinitely without degradation?  Where else can information travel between the US and China in the blink of an eye?  Where else can we take pulses of electricity and turn them into so many things?

People try to put computers in the same mold as things they’re use to; phones, TV, newspapers, letters.  But computers are so much more that, like planes, they can’t be put in the same mold.  You end up with people trying to use a computer like a TV or a phone.  Worse, you end up with people using them like some kind of magical device that can do anything.  They can’t.

A few helpful tips to try and avoid this problem:

1)  Computers are created by people, not fairies.  People are fallible, thus computers are too.
2)  Computers will do everything that the user tells them, to the letter.
3)  200 or so other users have already told the computer what to do before the box is opened.
4)  Computers can only do what they’re told to do, no more.
5)  The Internet is made up of hundreds, if not thousands, of cultures including it’s own.

Edit: 02/14/10
6) Diagnosing a computer is surprisingly like diagnosing an illness.  Give your tech support the symptoms, not what you think is wrong.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Nostalgia

I remember my first PC.  Not the PCs that I had been playing on for years that were my dad’s, but the first PC I could call mine.  It had a 66MHz processor, I can’t even remember if it was a Pentium or something else.  It had a whopping 8M of SDR RAM.  That means that it had to have even numbers of sticks unlike current computers that use DDR and can have odd numbers.  It had a 4M stick and another card that had 4 1M sticks plugged into it.  Oddest looking thing I’ve seen in a computer.  I had a 150M drive ruining DOS and Windows 3.1.  I think Windows came later, I think it was just dos at first.  I eventually added a 500M drive.  The CD drive, back before we started measuring their speeds, was attached to the sound card, not the IDE cable. The PC also had 5.25” and a 3.5” floppy drives.  I even used the 5.25”.  That’s how I learned that the flip at the end of a ribbon floppy cable was how the computer determined what drive was “A:” and what was “B:”

Eventually it was upgraded.  I got a brand new Pentium 1 166MHz processor with 16M RAM.  I remember thinking “I will never get use to this speed”.  I had a similar thought not long after when I got my first 1G drive; “What am I going to use 1G of storage for?”

I now have a phone that has a 1GHz processor with 512M RAM.  It is more then ten times more powerful then my first PC and it fits in my pocket instead of being three feet tall.  My laptop has a Core i7, that’s 4 cores running 8 total threads, with 3G of RAM and a 350G hard drive.  My file server at home presently has 7T total storage.  All that happened in 15 years, maybe.  I no longer say things like “I will never get use to this speed” or “What am I going to use 1G of storage for?”

I wonder if all computer geeks remember their first.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The four trojan of the computer apocalypse.

Ctrl:

I watched as the bit opened the first of the seven firewalls. Then I heard one of the four living programs echo a command like thunder, "Get!" I DIRed, and there before me was a white trace! Its driver held a break, and he was given IRQ0, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on control.

~Skynet 6:1-2
Alt:

When the bit opened the second firewall, I heard the second living program echo, "Get!" Then another trace came out, a fiery red one. Its driver was given power to take stability from the mainframe and to make OS's slay each other. To him was given a large executable.

~Skynet 6:3-4
Del:

When the bit opened the third firewall, I heard the third living program echo, "Get!" I DIRed, and there before me was a black trace! Its driver was holding a pair of algorithms in his hand. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living programs, saying, "A gig of video for a day's wages, and three gigs of music for a day's wages, and do not damage the player and the codec!"

~Skynet 6:5-6
BSOD:

When the bit opened the fourth firewall, I heard the voice of the fourth living program echo, "Get!" I DIRed and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named BSOD, and DllHell was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the Internet to kill by checksum, dump and timeout, and by the wild viruses of the users.
~Skynet 6:7-8