Thursday 9 December 1999

Old floppy, new zip disk

Pic of the day: This old floppy disk holds 1.44 MB. This new zip disk holds 250 MB. I guess it's time for some data migration Really Soon Now...

Cold sores and so Forth

Was a peaceful day at work. Most of the people were off on some kind of learning experience related to their work, not mine. There were a few left, but they made little trouble. A quite relaxing day, and the work was mainly batch jobs on the database server. I could do this kind of stuff all day. :) The machine does all the hard work.

Staffman was left behind too, and had envisioned a great spreadsheet in Excel, of which he has learned only the barest basics and hardly that. (There hasn't exactly been set aside a lot of time for training.) Personally I detest spreadsheets, which I find to be an unnatural way of looking at the world of numbers. Databases are the true voice of knowledge. Ahem. Anyway, we had to cooperate to make a nice looking spreadsheet for the region. (Kristiansand and three surrounding counties.)


Cold sore looming on the horizon: I can feel a loose, tender ridge on the inside of my left cheek. (I only have cold sores in my mouth, in case there be any misunderstanding.) From experience, I expect the ridge to collapse into a longish and somewhat painful crater in a day or two. If I had some Acyclovir, I could have stopped it now. But I don't. It is basically the safest way to stop a retrovirus in its track, and this is the ideal time to use it. But I can't, so I'll just try to get some more sleep and let my body shake it off as best it can. Cold sores (oral herpes) are not considered dangerous, only painful. They break out when the immune system is temporarily faltering, such as during the course of other virus infections. That's the reason for the name cold sores ... when you've caught a cold, your immune system is already engaged elsewhere so the herpes virus has some freedom to act. In my case, however, lack of sleep is the most common reason. I understand that this is quite common, as many people today sleep less than the human body was designed for.

For the uninformed reader, the herpes virus in cold sores is not the same as in the herpes virus, Herpes Genitalis. They are related but usually not interchangeable. Cold sores are somewhat easier to transmit, and will joyfully follow bottles and such around. Which is pretty certainly how I got mine. I don't generally have the fear of sharing stuff that many other people have. I think I had when I was a kid, and there are still very few people I would lend my tootbrush. Which, in light of the above, is probably just as well - for them.


It seems that some people get much less sleep than I. For instance today Tormod Hermansen, CEO of the nearly joined Norwegian/Swedish telecoms almost-monopoly. After having shoved and kicked a reporter from the Norwegian National Broadcasting, the CEO explained that he thought the young man was a junkie and the microphone was a knife. I think the guy needs to catch up on REM sleep. Hallucinations like that are typical of severe sleep deprivation. Soon he may see faces on the walls, and hordes of insects swarming over him. Delirium can even be fatal ... one guy around here jumped out the window to escape the hallucinations, and broke his spine. He died not long after.


Speaking of breakdowns and windows and such, I'm starting to get a bit nervous about my 12 MHz 80286 computer from 1987. It gets a lot more sleep than I do, but it is like the equivalent of a 110 year old human. There just ain't many left of them. Each day when it is started, it has to be told what disk drives it has, and what graphic card, plus the date and time of day. I'm not sure I'm going to tell it when we count the year 00, because it just might freak out.

More worrying, it is my last computer with a 1.44 MB diskette drive, from the time when floppies really were floppy and 5.25 inches across. It so happens that I have reams of stuff stored on those old floppies. I don't even know how long the material in those platters last, and the machine is getting old too. Several of my best unfinished novels (not that this says much) are on such disks. And also some of my old but good software. The old UTAH COBOL for personal computers, and two public domain versions of the computer language Forth, for instance.


The rise and fall of Forth tells a story about the computer industry, and about how old I am, I guess. Back when the language was made, it should have had the name Fourth (generation). But due to the space constraints at that time, one of the letters had to go ...
Hardly a fourth generation language at all, Forth was actually a lower level language than Basic and Pascal and the other third generation languages. It could be scaringly close to assembler at times, much like C (especially before the advent of C++). Forth relied extensively on the use of stacks, a concept I trust is familiar to any assembly programmer and microprocessor engineer. Due to the machine-near nature of Forth, it was quite fast. And the executable code took very little space, sometimes less than assembler code.

And then came faster processors and cheap memory and storage. The accomplishments of the Forth language were pretty near worthless. Sloppy programming became the vogue, as it is today. Because almost no matter how bad your code, there will be some processor that can run it fast enough at a reasonable price. As long as you get the math right, even if you do it in a painfully stupid way, it will run. And run fast. We who pored over every cryptic line of code, we have gone the way of the dinosaurs, we and the tools we used. Soon the last old floppy drive will grind to a halt, and our works be written in the dust of history.

Workplace music: Lamentations by White, Tallis, Palestrina, Lassus & de Brito.

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