Rob Schaap rws at
Wed Aug 16 22:38:55 PDT 2000

Is there a gini coefficient and ranking for the once-promising Land of Oz?

Cheers, Rob.

>On Wed, 16 Aug 2000, Doug Henwood wrote:
>> I'm wondering what you all think. Is software quality
>> improving vastly? And is the actual performance of computers
>> - their output, whatever that is - really increasing at the
>> kind of speed suggested by the price indexes (or, even more
>> extravagantly, by Moore's law)? Or is a lot of the speed
>> and power increase just taken up by bells and whistles?
>I'm a lapsed physical scientist and former programmer that works
>doing sysadmin stuff for a narrow market scientific instrument
>(a ,heh heh, *biotech*) company. Our field (crystallography --
>which by the way, is a field that has more than a few socialist
>luminaries including Linus Pauling, J.D. Bernal, Dorothy
>Hodgkin, and some more) is one that really had to wait for kick
>ass computing power to be able to crunch data that instruments
>were capable of collecting 50 years ago. We can always use all
>the CPU cycles the silicon can throw at us and we will
>frequently use software with really crude interfaces as long as
>we can crunch lots of numbers. Fast.
>But hardware is always ahead of software. Advances in hardware
>drives interest in doing new things in software because they
>suddenly become possible. Crudely put, this is the tendency of
>programs to "grow to fill available memory", which is itself a
>corollary of the notion that "work expands to fill available
>Software cannot keep up. You only get close to using all the
>new hardware capabilities in a new platform if the software is
>something that is compute bound to begin with. Something like a
>non-linear least squares with a couple of 100k observations and
>a few thousand variables. Or a huge finely gridded Fourier map.
>But user interfaces, which are very difficult to design (design
>*well* that is: crappy ones are easy and are everywhere) and
>are not necessarily compute bound -- and don't scale up quickly.
>Unlike, say, a modeling computation that just chugs away until
>finished, a UI doesn't get better just because you execute it
>Better UI's are needed to get more people using software to do
>any kind of task (cetus paribus, of course). Those better UI's
>take more effort, collaboration, and time than faster
>sillycon does to produce.
>In short, I believe in Moore's law for melted sand, but not for
>the overall 'computing experience', because software is so much
>harder than melting sand.
>Oh yeah, I never speak for my employer, even when I send e-mail
>from their computers. I'm paid to be a nerd, they pay other
>people to have opinions. Your mileage may vary. Close cover
>before striking. Unleaded fuel only. This product may cause
>birth defects. Consult a professional before reading this
>message. Rinse thoroughly after use.

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