Thursday, November 24, 2011

Ramble of the day... Starting with Why we need general purpose computing

The end of general purpose computing has been written about before, but with the trend towards devices like the iPad and tablets running "apps" of all shades, we're rapidly moving away from running code of our choosing, and moving toward a word of walled gardens of curated choices for software as a service.

The underlying problem pushing us towards this unpalatable end is security. We're giving up our freedom for security, and it seems like a good trade for many. As long as there is a heavy counterweight of machines which can run anything, it's likely to remain a good trade, as you can always move back. However, this option will be closed off, just like the Borders bookstores that were no longer profitable because people chose to actually make their purchases at Amazon while browsing in their stores.

The fact that it's pretty much impossible to keep a computer virus free, and the DLL hell that people aren't even aware of (it manifests itself when you install a program and everything else stops working, and you can never get back to normal), combine to make general purpose computing a very unpalatable choice. Unfortunately, the only way we can maintain our civil liberties is to keep ownership of our information, communications, and privacy. This is not possible in a world where were everything is a closed up "app".

It doesn't have to be this way... really.  Computers can be secure, easy to use, and general purpose. The problem is the underlying design choices made a few decades ago that are baked into all of our operating system choices.

It's a more general problem that just our computers... we're in the middle of a long rush towards being a consumer of everything, with no effective means of production, which is like being a turkey on a farm. Lots of great food every day from the nice supplier, then a very unpleasant ending.

We need to be smarter than the turkey... really.

We need to be able to make everything we use, all the way up and down the supply chains, lets they become chains of bondage.

We need to be able to repair instead of replace for a larger percentage of cases.

It's looking to me like the "cold fusion" of the 1980s is actually close to fruition. If (90% odds) it works out to be true, there are some economies of scale which will fall apart, making new opportunities for their replacements.

If power can be supplied locally at a lower cost than the grid, there are lots of towers, cables, transformers, pipelines, generating stations, etc... that will need to be decommissioned. The amount of scrap metal will be immense. Of course, the supply requirements to build millions of generators may more than equal this...

If you had free electricity, by the megawatt, what could you do that is not currently feasible? Extracting metals from minerals comes to mind as one of the first things that would be far cheaper.

It's worth revisiting the natural abundance of elements to see what is really available if energy isn't an issue.

Facebook is another example of the trend towards a service, blogging used to be something done by those that had their own web sites, then blogger became popular, then RSS made it easier to keep up with many sources, and now Facebook is the biggest aggregator of them all, and blogging is fading away, a bit.

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