The Boston Diaries

The ongoing saga of a programmer who doesn't live in Boston, nor does he even like Boston, but yet named his weblog/journal “The Boston Diaries.”

Go figure.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

He told me that, in his opinion, all the calculations that would ever be needed in this country could be done on the three digital computers which were then being built—one in Cambridge, one in Teddington, and one in Manchester. No one else, he said, would ever need machines of their own, or would be able to afford to buy them.

Douglas Hartree and not Thomas Watson, Sr. as popularly thought.

And according to Scott Hanselman, we might be headed for that future. Only the five computers of Scott's future are not single computers, but five “hives” of computers providing us with most of our services, with Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Sun (with the fifth “hive” being personal computers running shared computing programs like Folding@home).

And while it seems such an outcome is destined to happen, I personally find it a bit scary, although I can't exactly articulate why I find this scary (other than not having control over my own data or computer) and hopefully, we won't end up with The Big Five.


Bunny and I just had a little contest to see who could do the Daily Jumble first—Bunny would do it normally, using her brain and a pen, and I would “cheat” by using the computer. The jumble was:

What the tourists paid to use a cell phone in Italy.

THALC _ [_] _ [_] [_]

SEGUS [_] _ [_] [_] _

RETOAT [_] [_] _ [_] _ _

MEINER _ [_] [_] _ [_] _

[_] [_] [_] [_] [_]
[_] [_] [_] [_] [_] [_] [_]

So, did I have a Jumble solving program? Nope. Just the Unix command line, used like this:

GenericUnixPrompt> grep '^[thalc][thalc][thalc][thalc][thalc]$' /usr/dict/words

I then had to scan the output list (which isn't a very long list) to find the word that actually matches. In this case, the word can't be “catch” because there aren't two Cs, nor can it be “hatch” since there aren't two Hs, leaving the first Jumble word as “latch.”

A couple of minutes, and I have all four words decoded. I then had to take a call on my cell phone. Bunny was still working on word number three.

A few minutes for the conversation, and I start on the solution. By now, Bunny had guessed half the answer, and was working to figure out the last Jumble word (which is “ermine”). I was working to get the final solution, with twelve letters, split between two words, it wasn't easy. A list of five letter words that can be made from the twelve letters of the solution was too large to scan. So was the list of seven letter words. I bogged down, and Bunny was able to pull in the final answer and win.

Just goes to show you that even when “cheating,” you might not always win (now, had I searched the dictionary list for words starting in a capital letter, I might have won, but that thought didn't occur to me).

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