Sunday, January 23, 2011

IBM Centenial: 100 Years x 100 Innovations

Here is a YouTube video well worth watching if you are an IBMer (as my wife and I were) or if you have used IBM equipment, or been affected by the computer revolution.

Men and women who were born 100, 99, 98, and so on years ago describe the progress of the IBM corporation and the computer industry, as marked by IBM innovations that occurred in the year of their birth.

Ira Glickstein


Howard Pattee said...

Ira, the You Tube summary of IBM history reminded me of the year I spent as a consultant to Art Critchlow who was in charge of developing what we now call hard drives. In 1952 IBM opened its first West Coast lab in San Jose that quickly expanded to the Cottle Road, Almaden Campus which was designed specifically for research. The site was chosen in part to take advantage of Stanford University and the rising Silicon Valley enterprises. It became the center for hard drive development resulting in “the world's first magnetic hard disk for data storage called
RAMACfor “Random Access Method of Accounting and Control.” The RAMAC had 50, two-foot diameter disks (see photos) that stored about 2,000 bits of data per square inch and had a purchase price of about $10,000 per megabyte. Today a gigabyte drive costs ~$100. (Note: “Random-access” is usually reserved for storage where the time to access an item is independent of its physical location in memory, which is not the case for disk storage.)

I had no direct work on the disk drive, but I watched it develop in the lab. Critchlow wanted to make sure magnetic storage was the best, so my job was to work out the limits of optical, UV, x-ray and electron beam imaging and recording ― areas in which I was working as a physics PhD student at Stanford. Today, optical recording is competitive, but in 1953 there were no lasers. Ted Maiman, who invented the laser, was a contemporary of mine in the physics department. (He dated Mary Ellen, now my wife.)

Ira Glickstein said...

Thanks Howard for revealing yet another side of yourself that I did not know about.

I remember the large magnetic disks that were permanently mounted in those drives, and those units were the size of a refrigerator! The photo you linked to must have been an earlier or larger version of the large disk drives I saw in the IBM Owego computer center, because it looks like three refrigerators worth..

It is instructive that they hired a PhD physics student -you- to calculate the theoretical capabilities of optical, UV, x-ray and electron beam imaging and recording. You say there were no lasers at the time. Did you and the others know of the possibility they would be developed, and did that figure in your calculations?

Your cost and size comparison is also instructive. From $10K per megabyte to $20 for an 8 gigabyte flash drive, which works out to 20 x 1000/800,000,000 = $0.000025 per megabyte! That is 400 MILLION times cheaper. WOW! Of course, if you include inflation since those olden days, the cost reduction is somewhat less.

When I worked at IBM-Owego, we had a general rule that electronic equipment cost about $1000/pound. A $20 flash drive weighs a tiny fraction of a pound and the RAMAC disk drive unit probably weighed hundrds of pounds, I wonder if the old $1000/pound rule still works?

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

Correction: I said a gigabyte drive costs ~$100. I meant a terabyte. That's a 1000 times more.

A $1000/pound is high. A six pound laptop cost about $600.

Ira Glickstein said...

Good point, Howard. I guess the $1000/pound rule worked only then, and only for high-reliability military electronics that was able to withstand the environmental rigors of vibration and temperature. Also, the stuff we made and purchased was produced in relatively small quantity.

The price of things like a laptop for a few huundred dollars should amaze us more than it does. When I bought one of the few Apple II home computers in 1978, we paid around $5,000 (equivalent to around $20,000 in todays inflated money) for a device without a display (we had to use a TV set), with low resolution, a floppy disk drive, and far less processing power and no Internet!

Of course, what makes modern consumer electronics so inexpensive is modern mass production and off-shoring of much of the hardware and software.

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

Ira, I agree with you that the “price” of laptops “should amaze us more than it does,” but I think this is a symptom of a serious culture problem. Most users don't have a clue about basic science, math, complex technology, and skilled manufacturing processes, all of which are necessary for such amazing devices to exist.

I complain about anti-intellectuals and anti-academicians because their lack of intellectual curiosity and their lack of respect for experts threatens the entire culture. One problem is that to be efficient (and sell) all devices must be “user friendly” which usually means “user ignorant” of what’s going on inside. The problem is real, because what’s going on inside is beyond comprehension except by a hierarchy of highly trained experts. (Years ago, Alan Newell defined six design levels necessary for modern computer architecture.)

Medicine has the same problem. Primary care physicians depend on clinical specialists who depend on image-interpreting specialists who depend on technicians operating imaging devices designed by engineers and physicists who are specialists. Biochemical and genetic tests have similar layers of specialists. (Have you figured out the cytogenetics of CLL?)

So, where does all this specialization end up? I don’t know. The Hawking Plan makes good imaginative predictions, but it doesn’t face the psychological response to this “hierarchical technical priesthood” problem. The Hawking world is the ultimate technology-controlled world, but I think laypeople will revolt. I would feel threatened by it. I won’t be here to find out, and that’s fine with me.


Ira Glickstein said...

Howard, thanks commenting on my free online novel The Hawking Plan. I agree with you that there is more and more specialization and fewer and fewer of us who have a substantial level of knowledge in areas from basic physics and math to language arts and history and religion to the sciences to engineering and technology to government, and so on.

I think that is inevitable given the tremendous progress that has occured over our lifetimes. It used to be that a doctor could know, or at least be familiar with, virtually all the medical knowledge that existed. Nowadays it is impossible.

You ask about my knowledge of the cytogenetics of CLL (chronic lymphocytic leukemia, which I have). Well, when first diagnosed about six years ago, we went to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville and had genetic testing done and spoke to an expert who was kind enough to email me his Powerpoint charts on the subject. He gave me the good news that the genetics of my CLL were such that I probably had 30 years, so it is more likely that I will be killed by a careless driver while bicycling (or a jealous husband).

So, I have surface knowledge of the structure and funuction of cells and the possibility my CLL will mutate and do me in. But, what benefit would it be if I had knew more? My local labs do white blood counts and local doctors review the results and will refer me to real experts if and when necessary.

When technology was confined to mechanical devices and simple electrial circuits, that too could be compassed by a single mind.

In your field, physics, the Newtonian level is really pretty simple, but when we get to Maxwell's equations that are on the edge of a physical understanding, and then into "quantum wierdness" and "spooky action at a distance" all most of us can do is simply accept that things work according to QM, but no one knows why, and perhaps no human will ever know why.

So we have moved from "know why" to "know that". To confidently operate a PC or a cellphone, you only have to "know that" pushing certain buttons and typing certain words will yield the desired function. What value would there be if everyone had to know how liquid crystal or light-emitting diodes or the operating system or html works?

When writing was invented those skilled at oral history worried that the younger generation would lose memory skills. When low-cost calculators came available (in my generation) they were banned from schools because students would forget how to do long division.

I can still do long division and use a log table and write raw html, but what value is that? I know how to sweat solder copper pipes, but they have been replaced by plastic, and so on. Instead of lamenting the loss of that kind of knowledge in the younger generation, we should celebrate the progress!

And, while we are at it, how long would you and I be able to survive in the wilderness, or even in the city without supermarkets and restaurants? Yet, you and others don't give Sarah Palin credit for being able to hunt that caribou, skin and roast it, and serve it with home-grown veggies and home-made brownies!

Thanks for your comments on my predictions in The Hawking Plan and please have a look at more detailed predictions. I tried to be as objective as possible and predict what I think will happen, rather than what I would prefer to happen. I'd love it if you and others would comment in detail and add your own predictions either here or in comments at those websites. advTHANKSance!

Ira Glickstein

Deardra MacDonald said...

Ira, Just wanted to let you know what a great idea it was to post the YouTube video on IBM. It made me realize how 100 years can go by so quickly!!! I can see why IBM stands out as a very respected company. The comments you and Howard made really brought the video to life because you both understood the step-by-step technological advances and worked with that technology. I only knew IBM by the products I bought in the stores. I especially liked the comment made by Howard about The Hawking Plan being the ultimate technology-controlled world. I also thought of The Hawking Plan as I watch the video. It reminded me how highly advanced technologically can happen right before our eyes without the masses being aware or having any understanding of it, other then buying the product in the stores!

Today’s Corporations that use highly technical advances and hire the world's top scientist to develop questionable new prototypes, medicines, herbicides, candy tobacco, etc, etc, . These well known Corporations also have that same ability of putting their products on the market and in the stores, and keeping the masses in the dark about the unknown potential end result. Stephanie Goldenrod the flawed heroine of The Hawking Plan was able to pursue a brilliant plan to spread human life and civilization far and wide into space. I was stunned but captivated by how cunningly The Hawking Plan got control of the Written Word, Heads of State, World Media, and the masses. It is an eye opener for me to see how easily it is for questionable corporations to take over the masses in today’s highly technological market. The Hawking Plan is a must read! I also see the ending of The Hawking Plan as inevitable… Note: those small steps of deception are happening in our corporations today, right before our eyes! I agree with Howard when he said, "that ultimate technology-controlled world happens, I won’t be here"

Ira Glickstein said...

Thanks Deardra for your kind comments.

You agree with Howard's comment:

"The Hawking Plan makes good imaginative predictions, but it doesn’t face the psychological response to this 'hierarchical technical priesthood' problem. The Hawking world is the ultimate technology-controlled world, but I think laypeople will revolt. I would feel threatened by it. I won’t be here to find out, and that’s fine with me."

So, neither of you would want to live in such a world. But, according to my (and Spinoza's and Einstein's) deterministic view, the future is as inevitable as the past.

As you know, one of the main characters in the novel is a literal-believer Christian. When he and another major character, who is a non-believer, get into a life-threatening situation, the believer says, "Don't worry about the future, God is already there!"

Ira Glickstein