My company is replacing our desktop computers with dual processor Linux boxes at almost 2 GHz.  It was my turn last week, and I now have a very nice machine.  After using the system for several days, I had occasion to notice that I was now the proud owner of a gigabyte of memory.

A gigabyte!

I haven't said much in these pages about the details of my job, but suffice it to say that I've been a programmer (and sometimes manager of programmers) for several decades.  The first computer programs I ran were punched on cards and given to clerks to be fed to computers the size of small houses that cost $5M and up.  I was an early adopter of time sharing, and when minicomputers were developed, I was near the front of the line, too.

So I think back to, I guess it was 1971 or so, when a dozen or more of us were sharing a PDP-11 with 16K bytes of memory for uses, and another 16K dedicated to the operating system.  Everyone was in pain trying to work in such a small space.  We decided to buy some more memory.  After much agonizing, we decided to buy another 16 K bytes, so both the user and system could increase by 50% to 24K bytes.  When the memory came, it was like Christmas--all of a sudden, the opportunities seemed limitless.

16K bytes.  That memory cost 20% of our annual capital budget, about $20,000 as I recall.  In today's dollars, probably worth two or three times that.  $1.25 a byte.

That little system lies in an unbroken line that has led to the Linux system I'm using today.  Even the programs I'm writing on the two systems have some similarity.  But now I have a gigabyte of memory.

In 1971 dollars, that's couple of billion dollars of memory!

And you know what?  It feels that way.  I change my program and the compile happens faster than I can see it.  I can move from change to compile to test to change to compile to test in an unbroken mental motion--no pauses while I struggle to keep my mind on task while the computer groans through my compilations.  Now what was I going to test when it was finally compiled?  I am operating at the highest efficiency of my life right now, because, after waiting for 30 years, I finally have a machine that runs faster than I can think.

It feels so wonderful...  And it encourages me to think ever faster...  

I work with several other old farts, and we get together from time to time and swap war stories, with the occasional put-down of the younger generation ("I used to write operating systems that used less memory than one of his variable names!").  We figured out that my gigabyte would be a card deck a mile high if we punched it out (think of the rubber band technology that would require!).  It's not always easy being on the older edge of a technology wave--many of my fellow travelers have dropped out and are now teaching Java in community colleges or managing a horde of Dilberts who spend more time doing paperwork and attending meetings than they do coding.  It's a struggle to stay current, and it's a struggle being perceived as not being current even when you are.  But it's been worth it.

Because now I'm a billionaire!

Thank you for reading.

Copyright © 2002 Pete Stevens. All rights reserved.