23 March 2007

TeraBytes at Home

I just purchased a 1TB external disk from LaCie for about £230 (ex VAT). This will be primarily used for backups at first and directly connected to our laptops. Longer term, I may use it as a NAS-type device (a networked disk perhaps using Apple's AirDisk). But the 1TB figure seemed pretty monumental to me, and got me thinking back to how quickly this has developed.

A few years ago after an article in the Independent by "Cursor" claiming that disk drive technology had seen 200 times compound growth, I checked their calculations (which were wrong) and showed that in fact, disk drive size had doubled approximately every 11 months versus chip technology which had doubled every 18 months (the infamous Moore's Law). I got a quick reply and correction from Cursor (Charles: are you listening) admitting a rushed job on doing the exponentials.

We all agreed nevertheless that doubling every 11 months had been phenomenal and was still 63% better than chip technology. I think since that time disk drive technology might have slowed a small amount (though chips have continued to develop along Moore's Law lines, albeit with a slowing down in clock speed advances). Of course, at this time, the real star is NAND Flash storage that is growing at a faster rate than either.

But 1TB at home seems just amazing. To put that in a few perspectives:

- 1TB for £230 is equivalent to 23pence per GigaByte, or just .023 pence per MegaByte.
- 1TB is 12,500 times an 80MB disk (that was the size of my first major disk purchase (for a Mac II in 1998 which cost more than this).
- 1TB disks come in a size no bigger than the 80MB disks of old, and are also better in every other respect - power, seek time, reliability, transfer time, noise etc.

That is some achievement. Interestingly, the transfer time of this disk in Firewire800 mode is such that it can transfer over 80MB in one second, which is conveniently equal to the full size of my first hard disk!

Of course, back in the 80's nobody would have thought that the average consumer would require terabytes of data storage. But with uncompressed storage of music, storage of our digital photo collection, and increasingly video storage, it is quite easy to see 10TB being necessary in the not-too-distant future. What about the 1PetaByte home? That is 1,000, million, MegaBytes! Is it really that far off?

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08 March 2007

Government, its (Cycling) Citizens, and the Internet

In my experience of our government's use of the internet to improve services, the scorecard is pretty low so far. Just yesterday I noticed that my favourite rail information site operated (strangely) by Wandsworth council could no longer be found. This site used to be incredibly fast, and give you information on any route in the UK including stops, and including all the stops the train took on each journey, the trains ultimate route etc. It was timetable nirvana. Only missing were prices. Why Network Rail could not take on this brilliant piece of work I don't know.

However, I have a good example finally of how a service can be delivered to everyone's benefit, and on my sample size = 1, appears to do the job.

A curse for cyclists is the state of some roads where subsidence, damage etc can result in a serious jolt and in fact be quite dangerous. We have been powerless to do much about this unless you have mountains of time and inclination to pursue through letters or waiting in phone queues.

Just recently, the CTC introduced FillThatHole.org which allows anyone to create a problem report for any road in the UK, including identifying it on a map and even including images. The report is then filed with the appropriate authority.

I thought I'd give it a try for one I noticed in Kensington and Chelsea, not expecting much. I got a confirmation back that it had been received, and another one that it had been forwarded on (yeh, so what!). But I was genuinely surprised that within 10 days or so, the repair had been made quite thoroughly. Even better, I got an email back within another day telling me that the hazard had been reported as fixed. Very cool.

Now, I have given credit to government for this, when in fact most of the credit goes to the CTC. And, I repeat, my sample size is 1. But, this is a great example of the sorts of things our governments (local and national) COULD be doing across their whole services portfolio to engage with its citizens. I'm sure it's not a huge system, but what I particularly liked was the way it kept you informed throughout the process, and closed it all off at the end.

Three cheers to the CTC, and one and a half cheers to the people in government somewhere who have at least allowed this to work!

UPDATE (9th March): The one thing missing from the system was the ability for the original reporter to re-open the case if the fix had not been made or not made satisfactorily. Within a day of me suggesting this feature, the CTC had added a button to do exactly this. So, that means four cheers for the CTC!

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Kristin Hersh Live

We went to see Kristin Hersh at the Koko Club in Camden (a lovely compact venue).

Kristin is a founder of the Throwing Muses group (Indy/Alternative genre). I particularly like her solo work however which is in various flavours from rock to almost country, heavy to acoustic. Her most recent album - Learn to Sing Like a Star - is just out and is a return to the heavier side, and has some cracking songs, including Ice, Vertigo, The Thin Man and In Shock.

You can get some (free) downloads of her material from the Throwingmusic.com site linked to above. Interestingly, 4AD - the UK record label is offering many of her albums in un-DRM'd AAC 192kbps for £7.90.

Anyhow, Kristin showed how good a musician she is, even if the mixing seemed to lose some of the subtleties (and a terrible resonance in the theatre for some bass frequencies!).

As an added bonus the support band were the McCarricks - Martin and Kimberlee. A cellist and violinist respectively I didn't know what to expect (this also expsoses my lack of knowledge too). But with the aid of a projection screen showing specially made short films accompanying each track, and with the underpinnings of the track on tape, the performance was different than anything else I've seen, and we both really enjoyed it. A sort of hybrid of Kraftwerk, Laurie Anderson, Depeche Mode, Dead Can Dance etc. though way different than any of the above. The two (husband and wife, rather than brother and sister incidentally), also played throughout the whole Kristin Hersh set.

A quick search for Martin McCarrick gave very little at first - just a Wikipedia entry. But that was enough for me to realise that I SHOULD have liked their work anyway. Martin has a great history working with bands I also love - including a long period at Siouxsie and the Banshees, Dead Can Dance, Marc Almon and also with both Throwing Muses and Kristin Hersh throughout the 90's. He was also a key member of Therapy, though I have to confess not being familiar with them. I later found a myspace site for mccarrickmusic and this has some of the tracks which give a good indication of their music. But I would say that I found their performance live (with added video) even more compelling and I would welcome a DVD of their films set to their music.

Anyhow, Kristin only has a few UK dates left, but if you get a chance in Sheffield, Manchester or Glasgow, and you're an Indy music fan, do make an effort - I'm sure you won't be disappointed. Europeans have an opportunity too before she heads home to the US.

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04 March 2007

A wonderful sight

It's often the case that we miss good astronomical events in the UK due to weather. But not last night!

This was the first time I can remember seeing a complete lunar eclipse, and indeed it was a lovely sight - by naked eye, with binoculars, or through a telescope.

The moon looked particularly eerie - like a slightly red ping pong ball hovering in the sky, and it was amazing to see how the rest of the stars shone like they never get to do on a normal full moon!

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