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Memories are made of this

Mon, 07/31/2006 - 8:00pm
Walter S. Ciciora, Ph. D., Recognized Industry Expert on Cable and Consumer Electronics Issues

Memories are delicate, fleeting and hard to manage, and will become an increasingly important part of cable's future. Human memory is the most delicate of all. It quickly fades, giving rise to personal embarrassments and to taking friends and things for granted. This gets worse as we get older.

Walter Ciciora
Making a personal "timeline" is a good idea for dealing with fragile memory. One way to do it is to use an Excel spreadsheet to enter important events in rows. A column can be assigned to the dates. This allows filling in information as it occurs to you, and then using the "sort" function on the date column to put things in order. You might consider using the various sheets for different purposes. One sheet might have personal information such as births, deaths, marriages, (divorces?), graduations, etc. Another sheet might have your employment history.

Other interesting facts include the automobiles you've owned and the homes and apartments you've lived in. If you can remember what you paid for these things and what your income was in various years, you can use a Consumer Price Index (CPI) calculator to reflect monetary values to a common date, such as today. Then you can get a better appreciation of the true evolution of costs and wages (see http://minneapolisfed.org/Research/data/us/calc/).

While making a personal timeline is an enjoyable pastime that might have some personal benefits, you should also make a technological timeline on one of the sheets of your Excel workbook. Enter the dates of significant technical events in your personal experience. Also, enter historical technical events such as the date of the analog television standard. And, when did HBO go on the satellite? When did the first VCR go on sale? When was the digital television standard set? When does Congress want to shut down analog broadcast TV? When did you get your first computer? Your first laptop? Your first cell phone? There is a lot more you can put into this timeline. How many transistors were there in the major version of the Intel personal computer processor? How did the price of computers come down? What about the size of RAM and ROM over time? How have hard drives progressed?

Pondering this information will help create a feel for the pace of technology's progress and a better ability to project where it might be going. I know that I have learned to be much more careful about pronouncing something to be impossible. I've seen too many impossible things become reality and then commonplace.

There is little that is more aggravating and frustrating than the failure of the memory in a hard drive that has not been backed up. That's a truly delicate memory! Hard drives come in two types: those that have crashed and those that will crash. It might be a good idea to back up your hard drive this weekend. It seems that nothing motivates a good back up more than an inopportune disc crash. But that's redundant. When would a disc crash not be inopportune? We take hard drives for granted. There is a shocking Web site describing hard drive capacity versus cost (see http://www.alts.net/ns1625/winchest.html). Add this information to your spreadsheet!

The Web site begins with the prediction from December 1981 that 128 Kilobytes of memory would soon cost less than $100, and it observes that at that price, 256 megabytes comes to $200,000. Today, I look down on a memory chip of that size for my digital camera. I want at least double that! And the price is so cheap, I buy another, rather than bother to transfer the pictures to CDs. The cost per megabyte on the Web site drops below one cent in 2000, and the rest of the information is given in megabytes per penny! The Web site stops in 2004 at almost nine megabytes per penny.

The challenge for us is to understand what this means for cable services, both in the set-top box and in portable devices. Terabytes will be available in consumer-priced products within a few years. Computer enthusiasts can assemble terabyte-sized memories at reasonable prices today. What sorts of opportunities and threats will memories of this size mean for our industry? How much entertainment and information will be stored on personal hard drives?

As a diversion from serious headache-producing thought, browse some of these other Web sites for the fun of it. And you can add a lot of this to your spreadsheet.

Here's a site on the chronology of personal computers (http://www.islandnet. com/~kpolsson/comphist/). This site is interesting because it has only a teaser and requests $20 for the whole timeline. Do you think you can come up with a timeline good enough to get people to pay you? The following site has an interesting computer timeline (http://www.computerhope.com/history/).

And, of course, there's Moore's Law (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Moore's_law). Enjoy playing, and learning about the pace of technology's progress by building your timeline.

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