I was waxing eloquent on the new gzip compression program when Guru Hemal turned to me, a twinkle behind his soda glasses.
“I can tell you how to compress any file of any size, down to”, he waved his hands with airy nonchalance, “8 bytes. Or 16, at the most.”
“OK, I’ll bite”, I said warily, wondering if a bar of unit length and an infinitely sharp pin were about to make an appearance.
“Imagine an infinite disk”, he said, “give me any file – I’ll copy it there and give you a unique index number for that file on the disk. Whenever you want it back, just present the index number and I’ll retrieve the file. See?”
I saw. “With 16 bytes, you could store 2^128 unique files and we could never produce that many… of course, there’s still the small matter of the infinite disk…”
“Moore’s law!”, he handwaved again, “just you wait!”

This was in the early ’90s, when 100 MB disks were considered big, the web was still a glint in Tim B-L’s eye, and Usenet was the Great Time-Eater. Today, the infinite disk is a palpable reality. With Wowbaggerian resolve, Google decided to suck up the world’s information and – this was the part they really decided to grit their teeth over – make it universally available. Many a conversation has, in this age, been compressed to a pithy, dehydrated phrase. Just Add Google for it to spring to full and lush meaning.

Not only does the infinite disk exist, it is addressable in human language. It is a measure of how deadened we are to the pace of technology that we do not wake up every morning in utter amazement and awe. I vividly remember trembling with excitement when first summoned the ftp daemon behind sunsite.unc.edu, half a world away and – in real time – it asked me for a username and password. Today, I routinely use the Google genie – still half a world away – for trivial math, just because it would require a few extra keystrokes to fire up the local calculator program.

This is not an unmixed blessing – any pretensions to original thought, which a poor education might have enabled you to sustain indefinitely, are swiftly and mercilessly killed. Someone, somewhere already had your “original” idea, and expressed it much better than your crude attempts to rub two metaphors together and produce a spark of… see what I mean?


4 responses to “Cprsn

  1. I still use bc – which immediately betrays my affiliation to hidebound Unix orthodoxy 🙂 Now tell me something… if you were not running WinBloze on your laptop, would you really be using Google for trivial calculations? I’m betting on bc, Python or Perl, in that order.

    Oh, and was Guru Hemal’s idea BV or AV? (V as in Venti)?

    And yes, it’s still pretty much true that if you have an interesting idea, there’s a better than 50% chance of someone else having done it before you – as I’ve found out on several occasions in the past year, several quick jots in notebooks, wikis and mobile phones notwithstanding. Sigh…

  2. Oh, and forgot to tell you.

    Blog more often 🙂


  3. You lose your bet.
    I use bc -l for regular calculations
    gdb for decimal to hex to binary conversions – p/x 65536 is so much easier than mucking with ibase and obase in bc
    … and google for unit conversions. 58 f in c is so much easier and nicer than units. I don’t like units.

    [tubelite@socket ~]$ units
    2084 units, 71 prefixes, 32 nonlinear units

    [see? it’s already trying to intimidate you]

    You have: 58 f
    You want: c
    conformability error
    2.9979246e+08 m / s

    Doesn’t it sound like Marvin the robot? “Brain the size of a planet, and they want me to convert F to C, whatever that means”.

  4. Interesting, the use of gdb as a calculator 🙂

    I wrote shell-wrappers around bc that I call “hex” and “dec” to do the obvious!

    Yeah, I never liked units either – Google wins hands down there.

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