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Do You Really Need 4 GB of RAM to Type a Letter?

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Battar
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Not likely
Battar   7/17/2014 6:00:10 AM
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Not likely to print the letter in N copies, stuff them in envelopes, glue a stamp and walk down to the post office, are we? Those fancy typewriters still have to communicate the output by electronic means, and that requires data transfer. 

You could always take your computer offline, though.

RogueMoon
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decentralizing, going old school
RogueMoon   7/17/2014 9:23:54 AM
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It's a good point about technology overkill.  The Germans and Russians have cited security concerns and it's a very valid one.  Computers with cloud-based apps and data storage do not give a solid sense of security.  We get plenty of assurances from the same software companies about how secure their cloud is.

Elizabeth M
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Interesting concept
Elizabeth M   7/17/2014 6:00:36 AM
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Chuck, this is a really interesting idea that you've posed here, and I completely agree with you. I think the idea that people in offices all need their own personal computer is a bit outdated. If I think about when I worked in the office, I really only used the Internet and a word processing app (and sometimes other content-management apps, depending on the publication), and that was it. I bet a lot of people only use the Internet for Facebook or browsing, and really only need certain apps at their disposal for their particular job. I think perhaps tablets could be a good option for some offices, or other less hack-friendly, scaled-down workstations for people. There was an exploration of this in the early 2000s if I recall when I was writing about the tech industry. Perhaps it's time to revisit the situation, as these governments are doing. Very thought-provoking piece!

Daniyal_Ali
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Re: Interesting concept
Daniyal_Ali   7/17/2014 9:39:28 AM
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Nice idea Chuck. I agree to most of the points, but going straight away to the type-writers might not be a good idea. What we can do is what Liz said; give the employees the device equal to their type of work. If a person can work well with a very little RAM and less storage space then there is no use giving him a laptop with all the updated specifications. The software developers on the other hand could be given technically superior laptops depending upon their usage.

Elizabeth M
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Re: Interesting concept
Elizabeth M   7/21/2014 4:42:06 AM
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Daniyal, you have outlined in a really clear way exactly what I meant in my post. Everyone gets the machine equivalent to what they need to do. There was some talk of doing this with computer OSes in terms of permissions to applications, but still that required giving people the whole computer. I think giving people devices equal to what they need to do their jobs--for example, some people might just need smartphones--is the best way to go. I feel like it would be a massive cultural adjustment, though--some people might not know what to do without sitting in front of an actual computer screen!

Charles Murray
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Re: Interesting concept
Charles Murray   7/21/2014 6:19:20 PM
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Liz, your suggestion is the sensible one -- give them the right machine for what they need to do. That said, I think economies of scale will win out. A general purpose machine will usually be cheaper...unfortunately.

Elizabeth M
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Re: Interesting concept
Elizabeth M   7/22/2014 6:02:20 AM
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You're right, Chuck. While it's a good idea to give people only what they need, it's also more complicated. Homogenization always wins because, as you point out, it's not only simpler, it also comes with a better price tag.

Elizabeth M
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Re: Interesting concept
Elizabeth M   7/22/2014 6:02:52 AM
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You're right, Chuck. While it's a good idea to give people only what they need, it's also more complicated. Homogenization always wins because, as you point out, it's not only simpler, it also comes with a better price tag.

Nancy Golden
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Re: Interesting concept
Nancy Golden   7/17/2014 6:37:34 PM
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The most telling observation in the article for me was "The first thing most people do when they get to work is turn on their computer, check their email, get on Facebook, and waste 45 minutes." I find this so true in my own experience and it is something I am fighting against. I have taken the first step and acknowledged the problem and that I really need to manage my time better. it is so easy to get pulled into unproductive pursuits that waste our time with technology. Facebook is a prime example - while it certainly has some benefits - it has also become an idol that people bow down to throughout the day. Balance is needed. As a test engineer, I always make sure functionality comes first and bells and whistles come later if there is budget, time and it provides a logical enhancement. Consumer products seem to work backwards on this premise and it is causing a lot of problems that could be avoided with a reversed paradigm.

Charles Murray
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Re: Interesting concept
Charles Murray   7/17/2014 7:36:09 PM
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I agree 100%, Nancy. Ed Michael's statement about wasting time in the morning is a great one that most of us can relate to. Kudos to you for applying some discipline to the problem. Admittedly, I haven't completely solved that problem myself.

Nancy Golden
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Re: Interesting concept
Nancy Golden   7/17/2014 7:44:02 PM
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Charles, smart phones make it even harder. Have you ever grabbed your phone while sitting on the side of your bed and checked email and/or facebook? When I caught myself doing that one morning, I decided it was time to re-evaluate my priorities...now I ignore my technology with intentionality until it is a reasonable time to use it and I have even decided that I do not have to answer every phone call if I am engaged in something else. It really is a much more healthy way to live with the technology that is constantly vying for our attention...

fm
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Re: Interesting concept
fm   7/18/2014 11:49:29 AM
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Nancy, good start. It takes discipline to maintain that, tho!

Case in point: my daughter recently asked me for the ancient laptop (Compaq, monochrome screen!) on which she used to write stories. She wanted it because when using it, she  could concentrate and avoid the distractions of FB, email, IM, .... I discouraged it only because once you write the story on it, you can't get it off! No USB, a parallel printer port, and a 3.5" floppy (that may or may not work anymore). She certainly recognized the need to eliminate distractions, but sometimes you just have to go for the old fashioned hard work!

Nancy Golden
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Re: Interesting concept
Nancy Golden   7/19/2014 10:51:11 AM
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@ fm, actually - you made me very nostalgic for those days. We spent a lot more time tinkering with our computers since not everything was integrated onto the motherboard and you could add a card for an extra serial port, upgrade your video card when you wanted to, add your own RAM, write batch files and the list goes on...

You can easily find a 3.5 floppy to USB converter online...

Charles Murray
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Re: Interesting concept
Charles Murray   7/18/2014 4:13:13 PM
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I have to admit that although I'm the electronics editor here, Nancy, I don't use my smartphone for e-mail. In fact, I rarely use it to connect to the Internet. I fear that if I do, I'll be hooked.

Nancy Golden
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Re: Interesting concept
Nancy Golden   7/19/2014 10:54:10 AM
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Good for you Charles - continue to use the force and resist the temptation of smart phone internet connections or you will indeed find yourself on the dark side!

Zippy
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Re: Interesting concept
Zippy   7/18/2014 10:43:20 AM
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Nancy, as a good design engineer, you are focused on what the customer needs, but the financial goal is to build what the customer will buy.  Since we are conditioned as consumers to be attracted to the bells and whistles - well, you see where this is going...   :)

Nancy Golden
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Re: Interesting concept
Nancy Golden   7/19/2014 10:40:51 AM
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@Zippy - yes, indeed I do. Every once in awhile we are able to talk sense into a customer (at least sense from an engineering perspective) and while bells and whistles can actually be a lot of fun to design in when you have the time - cost and wasted resources (again depending on your perspective) is also a factor. If I get a C# with a healthy budget (which means the customer is paying for the test set and has deep pockets) I still feel some responsibility to maintain a balance between need versus bells and whistles although from a non-engineering standpoint you are so right. Your observation is right on target - the evolution of cell phones is a prime example of need versus bells and whistles and what sells.

far911
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Re: Interesting concept
far911   7/20/2014 12:56:09 AM
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It reminds me of my office routine also.

tekochip
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Same General Theme
tekochip   7/17/2014 9:01:10 AM
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I work alone, and I like to listen to the radio while I work to remind me that I'm not the last living being on the planet.  When the station started streaming on the web, I quickly adopted the practice of streaming to avoid all the reception issues of those pesky analog systems.  This has worked great for the last ten years or so, but suddenly I noticed that listening to music on my PC was dogging the machine's performance.  It turns out that Radio.com has started opening video ads on the web page during commercial breaks and also running the ads without audio while the music is playing.  Huge full screen videos are being streamed to my PC just so I can listen to the radio.  I monitored the traffic and saw that the 64kb/s required for the audio codec turned into 7Mb/s to stream the full page ads.  I've written to radio.com a few times and tried to explain that the lack of visual stimulation is why radio has remained a popular form of entertainment for over 100 years.  After all, I can listen to the radio in my car and still drive, but if I start watching high definition video clips I will probably become excessively distracted.  Same thing at work; I minimize the web page, and don't even see the huge videos.  I continue working, or even walk over to my bench and and build something while the audio streams away on my desktop.  Not to mention, some IT folk may be a little upset if you steal 7Mb/s of bandwidth, but wouldn't care to much about 64kb/s.
 
I stopped using the service on my desktop and found that I can safely listen on my phone because they haven't polluted that with video ads...... yet.


Battar
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Re: Same General Theme
Battar   7/17/2014 9:41:37 AM
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Teko,

        Let me get this straight - you switched from listenting to your local radio station on FM to listenting to the same station on the web? When you switched over, did you happen to notice that on the web (at my last count) you have a choice of about 21,000 radio stations from all over the planet, and most of then don't plug visual ads? You could also invest in a dedicated internet radio, or convert an old smartphone into one - using your own phone drains the battery PDQ.

tekochip
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Re: Same General Theme
tekochip   7/17/2014 10:02:12 AM
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There's only one station for me, WXRT, Chicago's Finest Rock.

 

Actually, no, streaming radio over the phone barely makes a dent in the battery life.  I figured it would nose dive too, but the phone design uses suprisingly little energry to decode the audio over WiFi.

Battar
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Re: Same General Theme
Battar   7/17/2014 10:29:37 AM
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Teko,

         The phone needs the power to drive the tx/rx wifi link continuously and the audio amp drinks power to drive the speakers/headphones - the headphone output isn't matched to an amplifier input, you'll need a matching circuit for that.

By the way, there are plenty of cool classic rock radio stations out there - worth taking a look. They all seem to play the Allman brothers "Jessica" at least twice a day, though.

naperlou
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only three numbers
naperlou   7/17/2014 11:34:42 AM
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Chuck, I am reacting to the title of your article.  I was taught that there were only three numbers in computer science.  There are zero, one and infinity.  If you need more than one, than any number you pick will be exceeded.

Cabe Atwell
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Re: only three numbers
Cabe Atwell   7/17/2014 3:32:03 PM
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Yes...

I need the 8-core processor, 16GB of RAM, two screens, and dual graphics cards I have to type a letter. 1200W to write a letter!

But, it's mainly all the other task I can do to support said letter. Like the 30 windows and 200 tabs I have open that were used to research the info in said letter. (This is an important message, it seems.) The video chat with someone. The video playing. And the ambient music soundtrack playing. 

Just a thought.

C

Chuck_IAG
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going back to typewriters.
Chuck_IAG   7/17/2014 5:08:41 PM
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My last typewriter, purchased in about 1981, reconditioned, from Sears, had about 64k of memory and an LCD screen that displayed about 60 characters (not surprisingly).  When you exceeded the memory buffer it automatically printed out onto the paper until it regained the buffer.  You could fix typos before they printed (or after they printed with a correction cartridge).  No spell check, but my spelling is pretty good.  But going back beyond that, to the old IBM Selectrics and their ilk, with my typing skill level, would end badly in a broken window and pieces of typewriter scattered across the lawn.  Not pretty. 

There's a reason we have software suites.  Plenty of folks don't just sit at their desks browsing ebay during work hours.  I've seen people actually do stuff, using a variety of mainly Microsoft products.

Not to go beyond my pay grade here, but I've observed that tech types always want to pawn off crippled machines on the general user but still maintain cutting-edge equipment for themselves.  It's kind of transparent, like lawmakers passing laws that conveniently don't apply to them.

I'd probably be classified as a "power user" due to my job activties (programming, database management and the like).  But what I've noticed is that such users are better able to maximize the potential of their equipment through judicious use of resources.  The average PC user probably really needs overkill because they lack the skill sets to recognize when they are maxing out the machine with 300 windows open simultaneously.

Stuxnet-type viruses are, in my humble opinion, urban legend.  If you unplug the machine and restrict its communication, you virtually shut down the security issues.  You also reduce productivity, but hey, so will typewriters.  Going back to the typewriter is like bringing back the Model T because you don't trust lane-keeping equipment in cars.  With all due respect to the Germans and Russians, I think it's a little nuts.

Charles Murray
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Interesting side note
Charles Murray   7/22/2014 6:23:46 PM
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An interesting side note: The typewriter shown in the photo has a transparent enclosure. This style is often used in prisons because the transparent body prevents typists from storing contraband inside the machine.

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