Saturday, February 26, 2011

One piece at a time: Parts 2 and 3

One of the basic pieces of the computer, of course, is the storage. This has manifested itself in a number of different ways across time. The first computer I ever had use of was a TRS-80 that was bought by McLish School back in the late 1970s. Originally, its storage was just the RAM. You keyed in the program and if you kicked the plug out of the wall you lost it. Eventually, we used a cassette to save programs on. In order to put more than one program on, you had to listen to the sound on the tape, which was not unlike listening to a fax machine, and wait for a gap. Once David Stewart, who was in the grade below me, didn't leave enough of a gap between his program and mine and I lost the end of one. It didn't bother me; it's not like I've remembered it for 35 years or anything.

Then came the five-and-a-quarter-inch floppies and then the three-and-a-half. I am leaving out a few details like the double-sided, double-density disks, but the point is we've gone through some changes on storage technology.

Last Saturday, I ordered the hard drive for my twelve-year-old daughter's computer. You can look at it here. It is a one terabyte drive. Let's get some perspective on this. That TRS-80 held 4 kilobytes before it was upgraded. Those three-and-a-half-inch floppies that were just the cat's whiskers when they first came out were one megabyte disks. My first serious computer had a 320 megabyte hard rive. At some point, we started talking in gigabytes. Now this is a terabyte drive. So we have a progression of units kilo, mega, giga, and tera. Usually, we talk about each of these steps being a factor of 1000, but it is really a factor of 1024 because the computer world works in powers of 2 and 2 to the tenth power is 1024.

The 1 terabyte drive I am getting for my daughter holds about a quarter of a billion times more information than that old TRS-80.


Now, as I said, those three-and-a-quarter-inch floppies cost a buck back in the day. They held one one-millionth of what this one terabyte drive holds. It costs $60. That works out to $0.00006/megabyte. The growth in businesses offering to store your data in the Cloud makes sense in those terms. The disk space at least is practically free.

By way of contrast, I feel real richer when I say that if I'd bought this much storage on those floppies it would've cost $1,000,000. And that many floppies side by side would stretch half way from my house in Pittsburg, Kansas to Tulsa.

I had set out a one part a week pace, but Lydia had a hard day on Thursday so we rushed the process a bit and we bought her motherboard. I looked at all the deals taking cost versus utility into account again and bought this one. It was only as I was writing this up that I discovered this was exactly the same one I'd bought for my own itty-bitty box. This is quite affirming in its unconscious consistency, but it's kinds of disappointing as I was wanting to work with a different one.

In any case, this process has made me think about the future of computing. My desire over the years has always been for a bigger computer. I wonder if that is just a function of the fact that I started out working with such a small one that it wasn't useful. The desire for a larger computer was really a desire for a more useful computer.

Now we are in a more mature age where we use our computers as communication devices. It seems to me--and I claim no originality in this--that we are moving towards a day when storage will be largely on the Cloud and we will have small hand-held devices like our cell phones to interface with that cloud on a personal basis. I suppose those of us who do a lot of writing will want a keyboard and a big monitor, so there will be docking stations. Those who use computers for presentations will have a special sort of interface as well, but I've not thought about that as much.


Dave said...

Thanks, Bobby, for getting over that thing 35 years ago!

Bobby Winters said...

I don't even remember what the program was.

Steve Berman said...

I still have my TRS-80 from high school. Glad I never had to share a tape with Ol' Dave LOL. The TRS-80 is "art" now and my wife made me put it in storage. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. My kids will never know a floppy drive of any kind....sigh.