Saturday, October 3, 2009

The struggle between big and small.

No, this isn't a post of interest to My People, advancing Our Agenda. It's about technology and where it is leading.

Moore's Law states that the number of transistors we can pack into any given space should double every two years or so. We've seen the impact in many ways. Gordon Moore first made the statement in 1965, when the transistor radio seemed like the ultimate in the miniaturization process. Since then, we've seen video games go from clunky 8-bit graphics to something that looks almost but not quite lifelike, all because of the advances in computing power due to miniaturization. Cell phones have gone from the size of the walkie talkies first seen in World War II to the size of the communicators on Star Trek. They would be even smaller, but the manufacturers realized that just having a phone wasn't enough, and it's a much cooler object if it has a screen. Here is where small struggles with big. The public want a nice visible screen, but they also want portable that fits easily in a purse or a pocket. People also want buttons that can be pushed using fingers, not dental cleaning tools.

Without a screen or some input mechanism, electronic gadgets can be made crazy small. Here's a one gigabyte flash drive the size of a paper clip.


Actually, not cool.

Flash drives are great. To think about that much portable storage in such a small object is remarkable to a guy like me who remembers when floppy disks actually were floppy, before the Mac made the hard plastic around a 3.5 inch disk the industry standard. The problem is losing flash drives. In general, they are carrying data from one computer to another through the process we old-timers coined "sneaker net" back in the day, so losing one shouldn't mean losing everything. Even so, you might not like these things falling into the wrong hands, and they are smaller than car keys, which people lose all the time.

They don't wear out and store massive amounts of data. I can't imagine who would really need more than a few for personal use, a dozen max. The manufacturers make more money if we think of these things as disposable.

Once again, it's capitalism versus the planet. Guess who is winning at halftime?

We have another disposable product due to tiny size that shouldn't be disposable, and that's the MP3 player. These things are roughly the same price range as flash drives, from a low end of $10 to a high end of $30, and once again, no one should need more than a couple of these things, tops. They shouldn't wear out, there are any moving parts, but how are people supposed to keep track of valuable things the size of Chiclets?

Obviously, it would be really useful to tag these things with beepers. Just press a button and your flash drive or mp3 player would beep at you, giving you a chance to find it as long as it didn't fall out of your pocket when riding on the bus.

The problem with this solution is obvious, though. How big is the beeper activator going to be?


Distributorcap said...

never thought of these things in the terms you describe

i have all my pics, movies, papers, music etc all backed up onto a couple of flash drives and CDs (which i am told do not last forever - dust, scratches and just age)

CDP said...

The beeper idea is excellent. I can't tell you how many times I've misplaced car keys or another small non-phone object, and my first move has been toward the phone, to "call" the lost item, like I call my cell phone when I misplace it. Then, there's the disappointing realization that my car keys will not in fact ring, even if I had their phone number. Your solution is perfect.

dguzman said...

I remember some device from the early 80s that you could use as a keyring, and I seem to remember that you could whistle and it would beep back at you or something -- am I just dreaming? Of course, I also remember that it didn't work very well at all.