Listen to this
Give those tired eyes a rest...
Quote of the Week.
Of seconds and numbers and light.
It's not what you think, but WHAT
a difference size makes!
Commodity teraOPS chips are
slipping the surly bonds of science fiction.
There's MUCH More
I Can Do For You!
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from The Harrow Group.
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
Disk drives, then and now;
follow-ups on GM grass; and a 'digital traffic'
Outsourcing overseas is one
thing. Outsourcing over-species could be quite
Harrow Technology Report."
The next issue of "The
Harrow Technology Report" will publish on Oct.
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"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%.
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!
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!"
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
Back to Table of Contents
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 (http://www.theharrowgroup.com/articles/
"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
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
dime is approximately one (1) millimeter or 1,000
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.
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
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.
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
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 "...financial, 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
interesting (and MUCH shorter) paper that explores
the history and potential of nanotechnology is
"The Nanotechnology Revolution" by Adam Keiper,
. 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.
"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:
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:
Back to Table of Contents
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
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.,
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.
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
Look at it this way: A G4 performs one MIPS-YEAR of
computational effort -- between breakfast and
Thus, the G4 Cube is the equivalent of a “bushel of
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
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
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!
Back to Table of Contents
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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
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 --
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
"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
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
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
It's All About NBIC.
This is the study of
-- 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
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
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
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
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.
Back to Table of Contents
Today's Drives Are Even LESS
Expensive... -- In a recent issue
examined Marshall Brain's analysis of the incredible
price reductions for hard disk storage:
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
"Adjusted for inflation, $350 for that drive today
is the same as $183.86 in 1982 dollars, or about
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
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
If you'd like more information on the value of a
dollar, check out
http://www.bls.gov/cpi/home.htm . 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
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
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,
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
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:
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!"
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
As Tom describes:
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
This is as standardized as you can get in Europe
. [Especially, check out the "What is Traffic
Message Channel (TMC)?" link on that page.]
on this map from the TMC Forum (you can click on the
image for a page containing a larger version),
coverage within the EU is significant and
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
Finally, consider this picture
brought to our attention by reader Robert Macauley.
They're not watching a movie -- they're
According to an article in
"Primate Programming Inc." (http://www.newtechusa.com/ppi/pressroom.asp#higher)
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
...That’s about 35 million possible paths."
And you were worried about
programming jobs being outsourced merely to other
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!)
Back to Table of Contents
"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
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
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