Thursday, December 1, 2011

We live in the future!

I got my huge box of cyber monday 16GB usb drives in the mail today.  The amazon gold box cyber monday price was 14.99$, meaning < $1 / gigabyte-- I think that's the first time I've reached that price.  I now have 16GB attached to my key ring as a fob that's about the size of a quarter:


We've come a long way since 1946 and ENIAC:


The internet tells me that ENIAC only had about 80 byes of memory. That means that my key fob has 8 orders of magnitude (100 000 000) more memory than ENIAC, and is... well, the size of a quarter.  It cost 14.99 vs. what wikipedia informs me was the 6 million$ adjusted to 2010 dollars spent on ENIAC.  Nerd bells ring throughout the land!  Of course, my usb drive can't do any computations, so even ENIAC's little 385 operations / second would beat it.  

In "researching" this blog post (i.e., reading the ENIAC page on wikipedia), I learned something about ENIAC that startled me even more than its size (1800 sq ft) and number of vacuum tubes(~18,000):  In its original form, it was a parallel computer!  [This fact later confirmed by more reliable sources:  a presentation given by Liesbeth De Mol and Maarten Bullynck at the University of Gent and a conference proceedings from something called "Logic, Theory, and Algorithms"].  The reason that ENIAC's parallel capabilities (limited though they must have been) startled me is that parallel computing has only fairly recently become commonly available even on high end commercial computers in the form of multicore processing.  This matters to me because the method I use in my computational modeling -- parallel distributed processing-- has the word "parallel" right there in it, and, as you might guess, involves massively parallel computation.  Given how expensive and relatively rare parallel computing has been for most of the history of modern computing, I was amazed that ENIAC could do it way back in 1946! 

I ALSO learned that the team that originally programmed the ENIAC was ALL FEMALE!  Given, in 1946 computer "programming" mostly consisted of connecting up the right vacuum tubes and inserting the right punch cards in the right order, but I thought it was awesome that one of the first computer programming teams was made up entirely of women.  

This is the kind of stuff you can only learn when you get a 14.99 16 GB key fob in the mail and procrastinate running your actual parallel simulations by deciding to read all the wikipedia pages on the history of parallel computing.  Maybe I'll get to those simulations tomorrow...

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