The Harrow Technology Report

Insight, analysis, and commentary on the 
innovations and trends of contemporary computing, 
and on its growing number of related technologies.

An ongoing journey towards understanding, 
and profiting from, a world of exponential 
technological growth!

Copyright © 2001-2005, Jeffrey R. Harrow.  All rights reserved.


Twenty Years From Now...
Jan. 20, 2003

  • Listen to this Issue.
            An alternative way to get your 'technology fix.'
  • Quote of the Week.
            You MUST strive for the 'impossible!'
  • Chill-Out Storage...
            Petabyte storage arrays, and the
            problems of so much data.
  • Tidbits...
            More on the 'Orange and the Floppy.'
  • There's MORE I Can Do For You!
            Get a sense of other services that I can
            provide to your business!
  • Christmas, 2020-Style.
            The holidays, and life in general, in 2020-2050.
  • Pennies From Heaven...?
            Technology is getting out-of-this-world!
  • About "The Harrow Technology Report"

  • Listen to this Issue.

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    Back to Table of Contents

    Quote of the Week.


    "All major scientific breakthroughs were scoffed at when they first debuted... 

    To move forward, a scientist has to explore the seemingly impossible."

    Marc Millis, researcher at NASA's
    Breakthrough Propulsion Physics project.
    from the May 11 Wired News
    brought to our attention by reader Paul Hoffman


    Back to Table of Contents

    Chill-Out Storage...


    Reader David Taylor brings our attention to an interesting massive-storage-array concept from IBM, called "IceCube."  In essence, IceCube plans to use compact "storage bricks," each of which contains disk drives (or their future equivalent) and a processor.  Each brick communicates with adjacent bricks on all six sides through a capacitive (wireless) 1 gigabyte/second data stream (a large "pile-of-bricks" will have a throughput of potentially terabytes/second).  The system administrator simply stacks the bricks into an ever-growing cube.  Each brick then reaches out and touches its neighbors, and indeed ALL of the bricks within the storage array, through a "high bandwidth, three-dimensional mesh connect..., making the location of data within the cube nearly irrelevant." (


    Image - IceCube -

    The goal is "to build large assemblies of simple components and distribute functions in such a way that the failure of even a significant fraction of the components does not destroy the functionality of the overall system."  In effect, the IceCube's built-in software will manage the data transparently to the "mere human administrator" [my words] who oversees up to one petabyte of data within the IceCube.  Data will be automatically replicated across other bricks so that's it's never lost, and is always quickly available.

    That certainly sounds like a good idea.  And conceptually, the idea of software managing our data in ways that the average person would never want to know about, much less understand, has been the case for decades (only dedicated individuals understand the ways in which Windows, for example, manages low-level on-disk data). 

    Keeping Things Safe.

    But one nagging concern did come to mind as I read about this, although it's not specifically related to IceCube:  As society and businesses continue to march forward from paper records unto bits, the increasing complexity of how that data is stored puts our records at increasing risk of a "software accident." 

    As you probably know, most computer storage systems don't store a given file sequentially on a disk drive; instead, the sectors (think of them as fixed-sized buckets) on the disk which contain all of the bits of a file are scattered across the surface like dandelions on the wind.  A complex multilayered "map" keeps track of where each piece goes and reconstructs them all back into its original form when you open the file. 

    When it works (which is almost always), this approach to file management is very powerful and beneficial to most computing tasks.  But when it fails, even a tiny little bit, the words of Robbie the Robot come to mind:  "Danger, Will Robinson!"  If the "map" gets corrupted, a new file might be written over segments belonging to an existing file, or existing files might find they're missing the data from some sectors.  Bad news.  (This is why it's rarely a good idea to stop ScanDisk or equivalent low-level disk repair utilities that are trying to find or repair such a glitch.)

    This brings me to my generic concern, that our storage systems are getting SO large and SO complex that even today, it's a rare human who can untangle and repair a corrupted disk drive if and when it fails.

    A Look Back.

    At the dawn of microcomputers back in the early 1980s, I had a system that used 8-inch floppies (which really were "floppy"), since hard disks were virtually unattainable.  At that time, all of the sectors of a file had to be in-order, right next to each other (contiguous), on the disk.  Very simple, but it meant that you always had to have enough contiguous free space to hold the entire file you wanted to store; if you'd already created and erased or edited several files, your disk could easily be fragmented enough that you couldn't save a new file, even if the entire amount of free space on the disk was sufficient (there was no single free area that was large enough).  So "defragmenting" these disks was a necessary and constant task. 

    The only problem was that these early defragmenting utilities were very stupid (and resource-constrained), and defragmented in-place, meaning that if the process was interrupted or failed, the data on the disk was left as scrambled eggs.  Of course, that's exactly what happened to one of my disks that contained a rather important file.  Gone.  Zapped.  Dead.  (And now you know why I've taken "backups" so seriously in subsequent years!)

    Happily, back then the on-disk structure was simple enough that I could write a sector-level editor that allowed me to read each sector of this hundred-or-so page file, and manually reassemble them into the original document.  It took a week, but I succeeded.  (And since this was my wife's Thesis, succeeding was a Very Good Thing.) 

    Today, even though it is "possible" (and some businesses do this form of data recovery -- for a price), the outcome could well be different. 

    Today's on-disk structures do contain more redundancy, and use other tricks to make such low-level recovery unnecessary most of the time.  But imagine if the IceCube (or similar) concept moves forward:  what happens when that one tiny, miniscule, unanticipated event happens, and your business' (or your government's, or your own) petabyte of data becomes scrambled?  No manual process is likely to ever save such a situation, and even the best disk-recovery software is only a tool that may help.  The integrity of mass storage subsystems MUST be fail-proof.  Automatically.  Period.

    Just a "failsafe" thought, for when you design or purchase the increasingly business-critical mass storage systems of today, and of tomorrow...


    Back to Table of Contents



    ·        Orange & Floppy Redux -- Last issue, we explored the improbable but after-the-fact-obvious concept that there's little different between an orange, and the software on a floppy (
    .  Which caused reader Jeff Martin to direct us to a quote from Richard Dawkins' "The Blind Watchmaker" (
    ; it supports this same concept in an intriguing way:

    "It is raining instructions out there; it's raining programs; it's raining tree-growing, fluff-spreading, algorithms. That is not a metaphor, it is the plain truth. It couldn't be any plainer if it were raining floppy discs."


    Amazingly, he first published this in 1986!

    This idea, of considering the code at the heart of DNA in ways similar to the code at the heart of our computers, is powerful.  So powerful, that I expect it will likely change our world FAR more than the first generation of computer code.  Dramatically.  And look how far just that FIRST generation of code has taken us...

    Don't Blink!


    ·        Higher, And Lower -- What's higher than a cell phone tower but lower than a Low Earth Orbit Satellite (LEOS), yet performs the same function?  In this case, it's the "Stratellite," a 262-foot diameter spherical airship that is intended to float serenely at 62,000 feet in a mesh of airborne telecommunications platforms. 

    Image - 21st Century Airship text vehicle. (picture modified)

    According to the Dec. 16 Toronto Star (
    , "21st Century Airships" of Newmarket, Ontario ( has received a $36 million contract from U.S. firms Telesphere Communications and Sanswire Technologies (
    to place ten of these platforms in the air -- during 2004 -- to provide cell phone and Internet coverage across the U.S. and into both Mexico and Canada (instead of the 14,000 traditional cell phone towers, at a cost of $123 million, that would be required for similar terrestrial coverage.) 

    [I'm more than a little skeptical of the first article's implication that ten platforms, even at 62,000 feet, will provide full-continent coverage.  What could the footprint of a 62,000 foot "tower" be -- perhaps several hundred miles?  But perhaps they meant these ten airships as only the first step along that continent-wide road...]

    Interestingly, because the helium keeps the airship (and its 4,400 pound telecommunications payload) aloft without expending energy, a VW diesel engine plus solar cells provide all the motive power needed, so it's anticipated that each airship can remain on-station for about a year before coming down for maintenance and refueling.

    If their vision does work out, imagine how this will change the rules on current telecom companies.  And also on our expectations of "anywhere, anywhen" communications.  This could be most interesting...


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    Back to Table of Contents

    Christmas, 2020-Style.


    Having just experienced the 2002 holiday season where I spent some time mulling over the (relative) simplicity of computing only 20 years ago, my mind then took the logical leap to wonder how TWENTY MORE years of technology's exponential growth might change the holiday season of that year.  Will ANYTHING under the Christmas tree, and beyond, be the same?

    Serendipitously, Ian Pearson of BT Exact Technologies (, whose extrapolations into future probabilities have my greatest respect, has just addressed this very topic in "The Future of Christmas, 2020-Style," located at .  With his kind permission, this article is reproduced below for your thought-provoking pleasure.


    The Future of Christmas, 2020-Style.
    by Ian Pearson, BT Exact Technologies

    [Subheadings have been added.]


    Christmas is a Christian festival - a time of celebration and merriment, a time for sharing with family and friends, a time for giving and receiving presents and a time of great excitement for millions of children. It is unlikely that this will change. What will change is the detail.  Imagine Christmas in the far future. Many of the things in this article will be ready by 2020, and certainly all of it will be feasible by 2050 at the very latest.


    You are having a turkey dinner, synthetic of course, as most people will be vegetarians by 2020. We won't need to eat real turkeys any more, we'll be able to synthesise turkey meat by using genetically modified bacteria, much more humane. Basically, we will just put some ingredients into a machine and out comes mass produced turkey at the other end. Nanotechnology could do this too around then - biotech and nanotech may use very similar techniques. We will understand the molecular processes needed to convert raw materials into turkey sufficiently well to make a good replica by then, with none of the ethical quibbles involved in conventional turkey farming. The same goes for any other ingredients that we need for the meal. For a change, Dad has put the meal together instead of the household robot, just for old time's sake. He did have some assistance from the various information systems, giving him real time instructions and monitoring the cooking to make sure all goes well.


    Reaching Out and Touching.

    The kitchen walls are screen lined, and to give a more traditional Christmassy feel, the displays now make the kitchen look like a setting from a Dickens novel. The kids' grandparents are there too, on the screen, with similar screens in their own houses. Even though they live on a different continent, they can all virtually share the same table for the dinner, just as lifelike as if they were all together. The traditional family arguments caused by seeing too much of each other over Christmas are missing though. With telepresence, you see just enough of your family. Tomorrow will be a new day.


    A Doll's Life (Really!)

    The kids have a great time with their presents after dinner while mum and dad try to have a nap. The girl got a Furby for Christmas, one of the latest genetic engineering fashions. They have cute personalities, never show aggression, and are easy to look after, the ideal toy for a five-year old. It is already getting on well with the red and yellow striped cat they bought last year. She also got a new Barbie doll. It walks around, behaves just like a miniature human being, with all the intelligence and abilities of a human blonde. She is already spending half her time chatting to Ken from next door on her doll's-house video-wall. Her invention was something of a headache for the ethics committees, who insisted on various rules that the manufacturers had to conform to. Barbie thus sees being a doll as her role in life, has no pain receptors, strictly limited emotional capability, and has her mind continuously backed up on the network so that she can be repaired in case of abuse. Her 5-year-old owner can watch the world through Barbie's video camera eyes in a virtual environment, so the toy overlaps both the physical and cyberspace worlds. She and her friends have orchestrated an entire virtual soap, with their dolls all having complex pseudo-social lives that involve other dolls, software entities, and real people. Few of the parents understand what their kids are up to, they are from a much simpler age when dolls were dolls and people were people.


    NBIC And 'The Interface.'

    She can interact with the entire smart environment in the street through her arm interface. This uses the latest active skin technology. It started years ago with the first video tattoos, but quickly progressed to active make-up, skin based consumer electronics, and eventually nerve links. Plastic keyboards are very passé; the combination of finger-top tracking and inbuilt sensor pads now allows all the interface to be either in the skin or floating in free space on a virtual controller. When Barbie interacts with her dolls house, the girl can feel Barbie's feelings via the haptic sensory link.


    One Toy, To Bind Them All...

    Her older brother got Micro-Mechano, the latest construction toy. This is a fractal metal toy, made of cubes made of smaller cubes made of even smaller cubes. They can all slide across each other, rearranging to make any shape the boy can design, all fully dynamic of course. Various chemical cartridges are included and a micro-assembler allows a wide range of other materials to be fabricated. The Robodyne Nanotechnology Corporation that makes it, is one of the largest on the planet. This year their intelligence module is great! It is programmed to extract whatever knowledge is necessary from the superhighway to assist in the construction of almost anything.

    The Matrix (the all-pervasive network intelligence) ensures nothing illegal is constructed and supervises the actions of the resultant constructions so that no-one can come to any harm. Its software is confined in a secure virtual machine - earlier terrorist attempts to crash the networks using peer to peer networks and evolution engines made such precautions essential. Software can now only be run within national boundaries of the country of fabrication, unless it has passed strict interactive quarantine sessions.

    The boy has already made two armies of tiny soldiers that are slugging it out on the kitchen floor. One follows the strategy he worked out; the other follows his friend's strategy. With all the miniature tanks, planes and missile launchers, it looks very realistic. Just like his sister, he can take part in these battles in a virtual environment.

    He had an active skin implant a couple of years ago that replaced the ancient active contact lenses his parents still use. Images are written at high resolution straight onto his retina via corneal embedded surface-emitting lasers and micromirrors. He can also record anything he sees continuously on his memory belt, again through the corneal skin implants. Next year he is hoping his parents will let him have the full-body sensory collection onplants, with carbon nanotube connections to his nervous system collecting and recording every sensation he feels, 24/7. His parents can't afford it yet.


    Into New Realms.

    Mum and Dad are now well rested, thanks to their noise cancellation and alpha-wave induction sets. Mum tried out the interactive dreamer she just got. This uses a combination of emotion detection and thought recognition technology to figure out what she is dreaming, and then uses active contact lenses and earphones to put images and sounds into this setting. It is like a cross between virtual reality and lucid dreaming, and is superbly good fun. Her dream knight has just rescued her on his white charger. The main difference between this dreaming and the more traditional variety is that the Knight that just rescued her is in fact a guy from another country, who is also plugged in and dreaming away. Network based telepathy is commonplace in many areas of life in 2050. This dream interaction feels quite real, and is based on real human minds, not synthetic, though they will probably never meet in reality. Sadly, the charger was synthetic. These mental-space relationships are much more fun than the old-fashioned cyberspace variety!

    Dad just wants some good old-fashioned sleep.


    Parties, The Easy Way.

    When they wake up, it is time to get ready for the party. Almost all of the organising has been done by the Matrix, so they ask it who is coming, what time the food is arriving and when to expect the guests. The public transportation systems have already scheduled their collection. The pod will arrive any minute now. About the only matter they have to worry about is what to wear.

    The kids go out to their friends, Mum and Dad are quite happy that they will be well supervised by the Matrix.


    Parties, (And You!), The Way You Want It.

    It's supposed to be an informal nostalgic do so Dad puts on his old video T-shirt. But mum says he reminds her of Tinky Winky, so he settles instead for the new suit made of reactive fabric. This continuously monitors the transmissions from emotion badges and uses micro-actuators to stimulate his skin accordingly. The old fashioned hug when someone has come in the door takes rather too much effort but he still feels it when one of the guests think a pleasant thought about him. It all helps avoid the embarrassment of actually being seen playing with someone you shouldn't. The emotion badges all talk to each other and pair people off with others that are likely to be exciting companions for the evening, making sure no-one is left out. The badges pick up thoughts quite accurately most of the time. This pairing off is greatly enhanced by the active lenses that are able to overlay the real world with synthetic images, so that the person you have been paired with can look like whatever you want them to look like.

    Richer people with full active skin enhancement don't bother much with real relationships any more, they live almost all the time in a totally synthetic world where real relationships are too low quality to be worth bothering with. When synthetic personalities are based on AI with six figure IQs, and are available as cosmetic personality surgery to those with enough money, society has become a two-tier affair, with the elite inhabiting an enhanced world with better people, better bodies, better friends, in better environments. There is no going back. Only ordinary people still have to bother with the limitations of the physical world, with all the mental hang-ups and mess in the un-enhanced human social world.


    NBIC + Fashion.

    Mum has chosen a shimmering dress that constantly changes colour, making beautifully designed patterns, but he doesn’t dare suggest that she resembles a cuttlefish. This provides a beautiful background for her new active tattoo of a butterfly. She finishes her outfit with multimedia jewellery that changes colour, shape and sound according to how she is feeling. She puts on her make-up using the smart mirror that shows her a digitally enhanced image of her face, showing her options until she decides how she wants to look when finished. Having selected one, it guides her through the make-up by numbers routine.

    She had decided to use this makeup only because it was a nostalgia party. Her usual makeup is fully self-organising and context sensitive. Chips in the environment and on her person provide data on social context, personality profile emotional state. Makeup uses the latest nanosomes to create the correct appearance according to where she is, who she is talking to, how she feels, and what image she is hoping to present. It is all electronically controlled. All she has to do is apply it, the manufacturers sort out the appearance remotely via the network.

    Just like at dinner time, a few guests can only attend in video form. Alongside them, a synthetic band plays on a synthetic stage that is all just the video wallpaper, but the music is composed in real time by the Matrix. The mixture has been chosen according to the tastes of the people present, so that all of them like most of it, and it continuously adapts to the mood throughout the party. The food was negotiated by the guests' agents well in advance. It is all a bit like Woody Allen's 'Sleeper', and yes, the Orgasmatron is there too, directly stimulating the septal area to create the ultimate pleasure.


    Instant Replay.  And To All A Goodnight.

    The party goes well, everyone enjoys themselves, and their experiences have all been recorded by the Matrix, ready for enhancing their next interactive dream. Time for bed!

     ----- End of the Article -----

    Now that you've read the Ian's article, consider:  Is this Science Fiction?  Or does it describe a virtual certainty, given the increasing rate of innovation over the next twenty years? 

    If you can't imagine that these changes could become real, try this experiment.  Set your personal WayBack machine to 1981, the year that the IBM PC was introduced, and try to envision what is commonplace today.    Then, consider how the growing convergence of Nanotechnology, Biology and medicine, Information sciences, and Cognitive sciences (NBIC) is beginning to demonstrate the same type of exponential growth, yet across a broad range of fields that will intertwine and generate unexpected solar prominences of innovation. 

    Now -- does "Christmas, 2020 Style" still seem that improbable...?


    Back to Table of Contents

    Pennies From Heaven...?


    Finally, as described by this excerpt from the Jan. 8 NewsScan Daily and a related Reuters article (
    table=newsletter&dateissued=20030108#7428 and
    , cell phone usage in Italy is now going, well, 'out of this world...'


    "Italians can now find spiritual advice and comfort just by checking their cell phones several times a day. The country's largest mobile phone operator, TIM, has launched a service to offer customers SMS (text messaging) services featuring "the prayer of the day," "saint of the day" or "gospel of the day." The service costs about 15 cents for each message -- a new twist on the concept of pennies from heaven.

    In addition, a number of Italian Web sites offer religious-oriented content, including "Angels online," which explains everything you ever wanted to know about the 72 angels and archangels, and includes a section on "The contract with your Guardian Angel."

    Meanwhile, the Vatican Web site, which made a splash when it debuted in 1997, is powered by three host computers named after angels -- Raphael, Michael and Gabriel..."

    I wonder if God has a cell phone -- yet...


    About "The Harrow Technology Report" 


    "The Harrow Technology Report" explores the innovations and trends of many contemporary and emerging technologies, and then draws some less than obvious connections between them, to help us each survive and prosper in the Knowledge Age. 

    "The Harrow Technology Report" is brought to you by Jeffrey R. Harrow, Principal of The Harrow Group. .

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    Copyright (c) 2001-2005, Jeffrey R. Harrow. All rights reserved.

    Jeffrey R. Harrow maintains that all reasonable care and skill has been used in the compilation of this publication.  However, he shall not be under any liability for loss or damage (including consequential loss) whatsoever or howsoever arising as a result of the use of this publication by the reader, his/her/its servants, agents or any third party.

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