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.


Of Numbers & Nature.

Sept. 15, 2003

  • Schedule Note.

  • Listen to this Issue.
       Give those tired eyes a rest...

  • Quote of the Week.
       Of seconds and numbers and light.

  • Size Matters.
       It's not what you think, but WHAT a difference size makes!

  • TeraOPS Fantasies Seem On-Track!
       Commodity teraOPS chips are slipping the surly bonds of science fiction.

  • There's MUCH More I Can Do For You!
       Find out about related services from The Harrow Group.

  • "Biomimetics" -- Another Term To Learn!
       It means mimicking Nature, and there's LOTS for a 'copycat' to learn!

  • Can I Tap YOUR Expertise?
       Are you into 'overclocking' and high-end PCs?

  • From Out of the Ether.
       Disk drives, then and now; follow-ups on GM grass; and a 'digital traffic' wrap-up.

  • Monkey Business.
       Outsourcing overseas is one thing.  Outsourcing over-species could be quite another!

  • About "The Harrow Technology Report."

  • Schedule Note.


    The next issue of "The Harrow Technology Report" will publish on Oct. 6.


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    Listen to this Issue.

    Do you prefer to let your ears do the work of keeping you in-touch with, and thinking about where technology is taking us?  If so, "The Harrow Technology Report" is also available in an audio-on-demand, M-P-3 version. 

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    Quote of the Week.


     "Current Pentium chips process around 3 billion instructions every second (3 GHz).  In trying to get my head around what numbers like that mean, I noticed that 3 billion is roughly the number of seconds in 100 years, give or take 20%.

    It is hard to imagine doing something every second, and continuing to do it for one hundred years, but that is what our modern desktop computers do -- IN ONE SECOND of processing!

    On the same scale it has always been a rule of thumb for me that light travels a foot in a nanosecond (in a vacuum).  This means that in the time it takes to execute one instruction, light can only move about 4 inches.  A tenfold increase in CPU speed would mean that light wouldn't have time to cross the piece of silicon!  No wonder there are difficulties in designing these little critters!"

    Reader Paul Linton

    Indeed there are difficulties, both in the design and in "getting our heads around" such extreme numbers. 

    Of course such "number dislocation" isn't new -- imagine how hard it was for people to first realize that a car could cover the incredible distance of one mile every minute.  Or later, when they realized that they could cross about nine miles every minute in a jet plane.  Or traverse 26 miles every minute in the Concorde (may it rest in peace - not pieces.)  Or cover 288 miles every minute while in the space shuttle, coasting in a typical 186 mile (300 km) high orbit.  (And may the shuttles again fly in peace; not in pieces.)

    And we've only just begun...


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    Size Matters.


    Well, not in the way you might be thinking if you pay any attention to the s_p_a_m that hits your in-box.  But let's consider the 'other end of the spectrum' from the large numbers we explored above, where size does matter a great deal.  When it comes to the tiny sizes of the elements that make up "matter," things work VERY differently indeed down at the nanometer scale (

    "Nano" is becoming a prefix in common use, yet it's still extremely difficult for most of us to viscerally understand and visualize what these new terms, such as "micron" and "nanometer" and more, really mean.  Hope, however, is now at hand in the introduction to a new, in-depth report on nanotechnology from LuxCapital.  It's titled "The Nanotech Report 2003," brought to our attention by reader Dave Hammond (

    What follows is a short excerpt from the freely-available Introduction and Table of Contents to the paper, located at .


    "'Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex and more violent. It takes a touch of genius-and a lot of courage—to move in the opposite direction.'

    Albert Einstein       


    A dime is approximately one (1) millimeter or 1,000 microns thick.

    If we go down one order of magnitude, to 100 microns, or 1/10th of a millimeter, we are at the approximate size of a human egg cell. This means that 10 human egg cells lined up in a row would be the thickness of a dime.

    At 10 microns, which is 1/100th the width of a dime, we are at the size of a human red blood cell. It would take 100 red blood cells to reach the thickness of a dime.

    If we go one order smaller yet, we find ourselves at one (1) micron. One micron is 1/1000th of a millimeter. This is the width of an axon along a neuron. We would have to fit 1,000 axons along the edge of a dime to reach a millimeter again.

    At 100 nanometers, which is 1/10th of the thickness of an axon, we are at a viral cell. We can fit 10 viruses inside the diameter of an axon.

    Significant developments in nanotechnology will occur at a scale of less than 100 nanometers, where we approach a size scale of individual atoms and molecules.

    From a naturally occurring biological perspective, we’re already there. The membrane of a cell is approximately 10 nanometers, which is 1/10th of a virus. A DNA strand is just two (2) nanometers across, and an amino acid is even smaller still. At one nanometer, we’re at the equivalent of 10 hydrogen atoms lined up in a row. Each hydrogen atom is approximately one (1) angstrom, with 10 angstroms yielding a single nanometer."

    I haven't yet read the full 500-page, extensive report.  But if you're seriously into the ", scientific, and technological trends in nanotechnology impacting public and private companies, state and local governments, policy makers, and academic institutions," and if the public introduction and Table of Contents grabs your attention, there's a lot more reading available to soak up your spare time.

    Another particularly interesting (and MUCH shorter) paper that explores the history and potential of nanotechnology is "The Nanotechnology Revolution" by Adam Keiper, at .  Among other topics, he explores some of the differences between the short (pragmatic) initial industrial uses of nanotechnology, and the farther-out vision of where an in-depth understanding of nanotechnology might bring us.  For example:

    "The [more fundamental] Drexlerian notion of nanotechnology [a term coined after nanotech pioneer Eric Drexler] differs vastly from the nanotech products of today. Compare, for instance, how the two divergent visions of nanotechnology would differently affect one small aspect of human life: cosmetics.

    Mainstream nanotechnology will soon be [are already being!] used by cosmetics companies to help their current products—makeup, lotions, sunscreen, and so forth—last longer and work better. But if Drexler’s version of nanotechnology were to come to fruition, the beauty industry would be revolutionized: nanomachines could precisely adjust your hair and skin color to your liking; wrinkles could be smoothed and excess fat removed; one writer suggests it would even become possible to mold the face and body to whatever shape might be desired.

    Each person who cared to could achieve his or her own ideal of physical perfection or, for that matter, whatever frightening or gruesome effect they wanted. Many who never liked their own youthful appearance will opt instead to copy some popular model or other sex symbol. It could become very confusing, with dozens of pop-idol look-alikes crowding the parks and boulevards of our future metropolis. Some may not relish the prospect, but we may never see the last of the Elvis clones.

    So while mainstream nanotech gives you better eyeshadow, Drexler’s nanotech gives you a whole new face—yet these two technologies of profoundly different potential share one name."

    As we can see, there are many directions, and many sources of understandable and comprehensive information about this new realm -- a realm which will almost certainly have FAR more impact on how we work, live, and play than did most of the revolutions in our past.  Don't let yourself be surprised!  In effect:

    Don't Blink!


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    TeraOPS Fantasies Seem On-Track!


    In 1985 the Cray 2 supercomputer churned out an amazing 1-billion Operations Per Second (OPS), or 1-GigaOPS.  Today's top-end commodity PCs, for a thousand rather than millions of dollars, routinely perform at several GigaOPS. (

    Here's another interesting way to appreciate recent commodity computing capabilities, from Apple Distinguished Scientist Richard Crandall in his paper "PowerPC G4 for Engineering, Science, and Education" dated Oct., 2000:  (

    "In the early 1980s, mainframe power was on the order of a few MIPS (Million Instructions Per Second, or call it "megaops" for integer operations, as opposed to "megaflops" for floating-point operations). In fact, a standard unit of computing power—called a MIPS-YEAR—is supposed to be based on what an old DEC VAX 11/780 did in one year.

    As of year 2000, however, not only can a student have something like Apple's Power Mac G4 Cube sitting silently and aesthetically on a dormitory desk, but the G4 Cube has the power of hundreds of 'old mainframes.' 

    Look at it this way:  A G4 performs one MIPS-YEAR of computational effort -- between breakfast and dinner.

    Thus, the G4 Cube is the equivalent of a “bushel of old mainframes.”

    [And that comparison is three years old...]

    Yet if recent news from IBM (brought to our attention by reader Atlant Schmidt) proves prescient, by 2010 we'll have single-chip processors that perform 1-trillion OPS, or one TeraOPS!  (

    Called TRIPS (for Tera-op Reliable Intelligently adaptive Processing System), this work by the University of Texas at Austin and IBM's Austin Research Lab uses a "block architecture" to perform many instructions at the same time.

    Along the path to 1-TeraOPS processors in 2010, they are expecting lab prototype chips that will execute 32-billion OPS, or 32-GigaOPS, in just over 2 years!

    So if you're planning a product that just isn't feasible today due to "mere" 1 GigaOPS or so commodity processors, just wait -- and not for too long.  That's how it's been throughout the several-decade life of Moore's Law, and thus it will (apparently) be.

    Again, Don't Blink!


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    For almost twenty years, as I've been sharing my research on the ever-faster-moving and converging technologies that are changing how we work, live, and play, I've also been working directly with businesses and organizations, large and small, to help them understand and address how these changes may affect them, their customers, and their customers' businesses, through a series of:

    ·    Presentations - Highly engaging, interactive, multimedia, constantly-updated presentations and keynote speeches to individual businesses, internal groups, and trade organizations, helping participants to viscerally understand and appreciate how technology has brought us to where we are today, and where it's likely to lead us tomorrow.

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    "Biomimetics" -- Another Term To Learn!


    We have some right to be proud of the technological advances we've made.  After all, we've come a very long way from the "old days" of only ten decades ago.  Just HOW far, many people in the U.S. and Canada found out recently when the power went out: the water stopped flowing; the food spoiled and couldn't be replaced; waste couldn't be flushed or hauled away; the indoor climate was suddenly uncontrolled; modern medicine - wasn't; cars traveling long distances became stranded when an easy (if expensive) fill-up was not to be had within the miles remaining in their tank; and many realized just how long it takes to walk the distance that subways, cars, trains, and planes make trivial.

    This was not fun, and the economic results are still not yet fully codified.  But it was a good wake-up call to remind us on just how slender a thread (the flow of electrons), our civilization hangs.

    Which, in my opinion, underscores why we MUST continue to expand our understanding and capabilities by: researching the improbable; by looking into spaces not previously explored; and by learning ever-more from a teacher who has been specializing in incredible technologies for far longer than our race has been around -- Nature.


    The All-Seeing Eye.

    For example, reader Raoul Teeuwen brings our attention to recent revelations from Bell Labs that starfish-like creatures called "Brittlestars" grow nano-sized crystals of calcite throughout their exoskeleton -- but not for structural strength alone.  These same calcite crystals are also individual optical detectors, and with so many of them scattered across the animal's surface, their body becomes, in essence, an "all seeing eye."  Federico Capasso, VP of Bell Labs, describes it this way in an Aug. 22 press release (

    "These tiny calcite crystals are nearly perfect optical microlenses, much better than any we can manufacture today."

    "The lenses focus light about 5 microns below their surface. Nerve bundles running through the skeleton underneath the lenses are thought to pick up the light signal. Acting together, thousands of calcite crystals form a kind of primitive compound eye that covers much of the organism's body, and researchers think this must be useful in detecting and escaping from predators.

    The calcite microlenses expertly compensate for birefringence and spherical aberration - physical effects common in lenses that distort light - and scientists hope to mimic nature's success and design microlenses based on the brittlestar model. Such biomimetic lenses may prove useful as components of optical networks, and in chip design, where they could potentially improve optical lithography techniques."

    Nature continues to lead and teach the way.


    Fibers So Good They Bring Tears To Our (Calcite Or Otherwise) Eyes.

    Similarly, we might consider the enormous gulf between today's huge manufacturing plants that produce fiber optic cable, and a 1.5-foot long marine sponge that lives in total darkness deep beneath the sea.  Yet according to an Aug. 20 story in Excite News ( brought to our attention by readers Andrew Scherer, Sander Olson, and others, the only difference is 'who builds the better mousetrap -- er, fiber?'  The winner is not who you might think!

    The high quality fiber that we currently use to gird our world, many times around, is pretty good.  Yet it's also rather brittle.  Bend the fiber in too-tight a radius, and it snaps.  But according to Bell Labs' Joanna Aizenberg, the sponge "Euplectella" (nicknamed "Venus Flower Basket):

    "...grows thin glass fibers capable of transmitting light at least as well as industrial fiber optic cables used for telecommunication."

    "You can actually tie a knot in these natural biological fibers and they will not break - it's really quite amazing."

    One of the reasons that Nature can create these "better fibers," is that the sponge is able to add traces of sodium to the glass as its "grown" at cold temperatures, which is something we can't do with our current, very hot, manufacturing techniques.  According to University of Oregon chemist Geri Richmond,

    "It's such a wonderful example of how exquisite nature is as a designer and builder of complex systems.  We can draw it on paper and think about engineering it, but we're in the Stone Age compared to Nature."


    It's All About NBIC.

    This is the study of "biomimetics" (see -- of using the ever-more sensitive tools and techniques that result from NBIC (the Convergence of Nanotechnology, Biology & Medicine, Information sciences, and Cognitive sciences) to "look beyond the obvious" -- to figure out how Nature already does things.  Done right, we can use such knowledge to get a leg-up on Nature's millennia-long learning curve.

    Today, sprawling manufacturing plants that consume power and generate pollution.  Tomorrow, a field of trained sponges (or the like)?

    Once more, Don't Blink!


    Back to Table of Contents

    Can I Tap YOUR Expertise?


    I've recently begun exploring what is (for me) a new area:  "overclocking" a high-end PC that I've just built for my lab's test network, so that I can better understand the various thermal, voltage, memory, and other limitations that plague PC designers and affect PC users. 

    I'm already intrigued to note that the Pentium 4, 3.0 GHz CPU (using the stock Intel heatsink/fan) on this GigaByte GA-8KNXP motherboard idles at about 39-degrees C (hotter than I would have expected).  Then, within one minute of my starting a utility that continuously exercises the CPU at 100%, the CPU temp. increases to 59-degrees C (the maximum allowed temp. is 70-degrees C).  Once the 'exerciser' is stopped, the CPU temp. immediately heads back down to its idle temp, taking a minute or two to get there. 

    (So don't ever think there's 'something for nothing' under your PC's hood -- it takes POWER to do those billions of calculation; which generates HEAT (more than a 75 watt light bulb in this particular case just from the processor!) which has to be dissipated; and the CPU had best not exceed a maximum temperature specified by the manufacturer.)

    If you already have practical experience in these areas, I'd enjoy having a chat with you so that I can learn more quickly, and then share more quickly with the rest of you.  I can be reached at .

    (By the way, other elements in this system, which will help me to help you to understand the latest hardware trends and how they affect the software we all run, include: 1 gigabyte (512x2) of Kingston HyperX DDR-400 (CL-2.5) memory; built-in SATA and IDE RAID controllers; a total of eleven fans, most Antec automatically thermostatically controlled; an ATI Radeon 9800-Pro 128 megabyte video card; a Houtech Systems "7102" 3.5-inch bay that contains 4 USB and 4 FireWire ports; an Antec True430 power supply (for some reason their TrueBlue480 would not work); some specialized case lighting; and four of the latest SATA (Serial ATA) high speed/high capacity disk drives (both from Seagate and Maxtor) with two mounted in TechArts IN-72 removable drive bays for removable disk-to-disk backup.  And of course I'm always interested in other components that you feel would enhance such a setup.)

    I think this direction will yield some interesting insights in future issues, and I look forward to your input.


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    From Out of the Ether.


    ·        Today's Drives Are Even LESS Expensive... -- In a recent issue (
    we examined Marshall Brain's analysis of the incredible price reductions for hard disk storage:

    "A 10 MEGAbyte hard disk cost about $1,000 in 1982. Today you can buy a 250 GIGAbyte [250,000 MEGAbyte] drive that is twice as fast for $350. Today's drive is 25,000 times bigger and costs one-third the price of the 1982 model..."

    Impressive, to say the least.  Yet it's even more so once we consider the effects of inflation, as did this reader who preferred that his/her name not be published:

    "Adjusted for inflation, $350 for that drive today is the same as $183.86 in 1982 dollars, or about 1/2.

    So in *real* terms, today's [25,000-times greater capacity] disk drive is about (1/3 x 1/2), or 1/6th the price of the drive of 1982.

    Pretty impressive manufacturing efficiencies at work."

    Indeed they are, especially when you consider the amazing tolerances necessary to keep those heads flying so close to the disk drive's platter that a single smoke particle seems like a mountain (and if hit by the head, that "mountain" will cause a physical crash, resulting in the data loss that you might imagine.)

    If you'd like more information on the value of a dollar, check out  .  Also, you can find a simple inflation calculator at  .


    ·        GM Grass? -- Finishing up this thread, quite a few of you have again weighed-in on the issues surrounding Genetically Modified (GM) living things, and their related benefits and dangers, that we discussed in the previous two issues:

    ) .

    Several of you pointed to examples of "tailored lawn seed," most being created from traditional cross-breeding, that produce lawns that purport (caveat emptor!) to do better than we're used to.  A search engine will keep you reading for days (

    Reader Geoffrey Keller points us to an automatic lawnmower that would "seem" to address many of the issues we discussed (I particularly liked its auto-return to its charging socket when its batteries need a recharge - 

    Reader Christopher Coles asks, in part,

    "I wonder whether anything like what you have been mentioning will ever take off.  For one thing, will people like the idea of lying on their grass and knowing that there are grass-eating nanobots crawling around?  And how much harder will it be to keep the lawn in check if the grass doesn't grow beyond a certain length, yet all the weeds grow freely?

    Maybe things work well-enough just the way they are.  Couldn't someone do away with grass completely and concrete-over the ground, and then carpet it with some kind of imitation grass made from plastic or something - then no weeds would grow and you could even vacuum your fake lawn?"

    I'VE certainly wished for Astroturf or equivalent on occasion!  And, if you consider the variety of insects and other fauna that normally crawl through any natural lawn, little nanobots might be a comforting alternative!

    Finally on this subject, reader Peter reminds us that Nature has not been sitting idly on the sidelines of the "lawn" issue:

    "It might interest you to know that we don't need genetically-engineered grass in this corner of Olde England. Nature has already engineered her own solution -- Rabbits!"

    Of course such a solution, when brought into a new environment such as Australia during the British colonial period, isn't without its own problems.  I saw a movie last night that depicted how, about 100 years ago, Australia put up thousands(!) of miles of a "rabbit-proof fence" stretching the length of their entire continent(!), specifically to try to keep an overabundance of rabbits ( away from their farmland...


    ·        Beating The Traffic Across Europe -- Finally, on the subject of our discussions of real-time traffic information becoming integrated with automotive GPS devices, last issue we found that the UK already provides this service through a standardized "TMC" technology (
    .  This issue, reader Tom Vangeffen shows us that the road signs are clearly pointing beyond the UK to the European Union as a whole.  The EU has the foresight, and apparently the will, to implement a standardized broadcast digital traffic information system.  It is, in fact, that same TMC, or Traffic Message Channel.

    As Tom describes:

    "It is even better.  In the European Union, there seems to be an obligation to have a complete coverage of TMC. There are stand-alone TMC-radios [as well as GPS integration], and it effectively works over most of Europe.

    This is as standardized as you can get in Europe   :-) "

     See  .  [Especially, check out the "What is Traffic Message Channel (TMC)?" link on that page.]

    Based on this map from the TMC Forum (you can click on the image for a page containing a larger version),

    Image - Current and planned "TMC" coverage in the European Union -

    TMC coverage within the EU is significant and expanding. 

    Given the potential savings in fuel, pollution, time, and road rage, wouldn't this functionality be valuable in most highly populated areas?  And consider if it were a WORLDWIDE standard...

    By the way, reader Gordon Jolley has just informed me that Japan, as well, has had wireless digital traffic information available for some time, and that it is integrated into GPS car navigation systems (although, of course, it is not interoperable with the European system). 

    Some countries though, including the U.S., remain, shall we say, "stuck in traffic"...


    Back to Table of Contents

    Monkey Business.


    Finally, consider this picture brought to our attention by reader Robert Macauley.  They're not watching a movie -- they're "programming!"

    Image - Monkey Programming School -

    According to an article in "Primate Programming Inc." ( titled "Higher Primates Can Program After VB.NET Training", it seems that Stamford School of Zoology's Dr. James McAuliffe amazed even himself with the results of recent experiments:

    "Baboons and chimpanzees can use computers, do software testing, and even program... 

    ...When male baboons were shown multi-way branches leading to certain GIF, JPG and BMP images of interest, we found the male animals could quickly navigate and recall up to seven levels of deep menu nesting, with each level containing up to 27 menu items. 

    ...That’s about 35 million possible paths."

    And you were worried about programming jobs being outsourced merely to other COUNTRIES!?!

    Find out more about current Primate Programming services and personnel through links on PPI's home page - , and in their faq at .




    (And 'Yes,' this story, along with its Web site, is a  ;-)  .  A very well done one at that!)


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    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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