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The Northern Spy
April 2008

Thin is the New Thick

Rick Sutcliffe

The MacVillage Conference

is less well known than some, but that didn't deter iSteve from making it the scene of one of the most important technology announcements of the decade, one the Spy confidently predicts will have major reverberations far beyond the technology industry, indeed that will change the very fabric of western society.

Following the usual bumpfh over some minor iPod, iPhone and AppleTV speed bumps, cosmetic changes, and miscellaneous upgrades, a wee marketing spin from the usual cast of flunkies and flacks, iCEO took the centre stage once more.

"There's just one more thing," he began, to a chorus of winks, knowing chuckles and fingers pounding on keyboards. From an audience point of view, iSteve was unfolding the world as he should.

"You've all seen one of these," he began, holding up an ulta-thin laptop. "Our MacBook Air was revolutionary for its time, the best computer produced to date. Now, it's so last month." He cued the wings and a platform bunny dressed to the nines in a smart business suit with a low neckline strode briskly to the podium, relieved him of the slim white package, carried it toward stage left. She turned to the audience as she passed a large trash can, dropped it in, grinned hugely, and flounced her exit.

"Out with the old," Jobs commented iconically, turning this attention back to the audience. "And now for the new. Today Apple announces a revolution in thin." He reached toward his head, fumbled around a bit, gave a sharp pull, then laid something across the screen of an overhead projector. That raised a few eyebrows besides my own. Didn't think I'd seen one of those old classroom standbys for a while. After all, there's nothing so out-of-it as old technology.

He switched on the projector and the wall screen lit up, showing a narrow black line mid screen. "You want thin? Try the thickness of a human hair, friends. Yes, you understand me correctly. An Apple lab-inspired revolution in microization has enabled us to pack all the components of a microprocessor and a gigabyte of memory into a single filament we call an iStrand. There it is folks." He waved nonchalantly at the projector. "That's no ordinary hair. rather, it's a fully functional single processor Macintosh computer with a gigabyte of memory.

I suppose he was expecting the puzzled looks and desultory applause that followed. Like others in the audience, I didn't know what to make of this. But iSteve wasn't done, of course. "And that's not all, not by any means. By tying together multiple strands with an electronic substrate at one end, our engineers have produced the most powerful computer ever--thousands of parallel processors linked into an ultra-fast, flexible, proprietary bus we've termed 'eHNet'." He chuckled over his little joke. "That's no Canadian product, folks, and we'll tell you what the "H" stands for a little later on in this presentation.

As assembled units, a typical one of these iStrand technology devices is massively parallel, and so powerful it'll take an act of Congress to allow its export outside the nation's capital. Never mind eight-way processing. We're talking not thousands, but tens of thousands of CPUs in a typical eHNet-enabled computer.

"Moreover, with systems built from iStrand and eHNet technology, Apple continues the evolution of attachment-free computing. These new machines have no peripherals, no ports, no wires, nothing to plug in anywhere, even if for some strange reason you wanted to. For connectivity, I'm pleased to present, as an integral part of the eHNet bus, an all new Apple wireless protocol, a development of Bluetooth that will allow data transfer to a Time Capsule or other NAS devices at speeds far surpassing SATA. We believe this new wireless technology deserves to become a new standard in modern connectivity, and to that end Apple is today announcing we will license 'Bluebeard' to all comers free of royalties. After all, what's good for the industry is good for Apple. We plan to grow our share of the market pie, so if the size of the pie increases, we win doubly."

He grinned through a standing ovation, then when relative quiet returned to the Muscovy auditorium, continued his rollout by accepting a headband from a second suit bunny, donning it, then waiting for hushed silence to descend upon his expectant audience while she carefully laid the iStrand iSteve had plucked on a table, then carted away the overhead.

"What about I/O? I'm glad you asked. Multiple cameras and projectors are embedded in our iHeadband enabling you to compute different, the new Apple way." He made a scratching motion over his left ear, and a shimmer appeared in the air above the table. A slight adjustment to his video projectors splashed a holographic keyboard and track pad image on the wall just under the familiar Macintosh desktop images.

"You can't see the actual primary screen and keyboard from where you are because they're holographic, and optimized for the iHeadband operator. That's why we're displaying for you a synched secondary screen through another Bluebeard channel, with, for today's demonstration, camera images of keyboard and trackpad displayed on screen. As the user moves her head, the holographic projections shift as well, always keeping the same relative position. This is of course is not reflected in the wall projection. As you might expect from a quality Apple product, focus and positioning have been optimized and are not user customizable. I'm sure you'll all appreciate that we want to ensure the Apple experience is absolutely standardized for everyone at all times.

Since the screen is always projected in a comfortable position, you may feel free to peruse a book or a website in bed without disturbing anyone--if you read, that is. For those who want to do actual books, the five hundred thousand most popular novels and a selection of electrical engineering and programming textbooks will be available in a special section of our iTunes store starting tomorrow at nine o'clock.

The iHeadband's tracking lasers can tell where your fingers intercept the projected keys." He threw the trackpad holo a two fingered salute and opened Pages, created a new document, then made typing motions in the air. Text appeared on the screen, complete with such misspellings as would require any high school keyboarding instructor to issue a failing grade. Ah well, it apparently wasn't one of his core skills.

While the audience stood and cheered again, he opened, modified and saved a large file. I noticed a couple of drive icons in the desktop upper right corner and was just starting to wonder where he had them stashed in a hair-thin package, when he answered that question too. Great minds, and all.

"Not only is there no removable permanent storage, there is no mechanical storage device or provision to attach one at all, nor even an option at extra cost. The flash memory on each CPU strand is rewritable ROM. We organize this through eHNet as part main memory providing instant on to your previous state, and part logical drive, though the user has unlimited options to stripe or partition this to suit her needs. Total amount depends on the number of processor strands installed, but the demonstration model I'm using has a few terabytes in total, ninety percent of which is striped drive.

If you must have external storage, use a networked device. In fact, we are also announcing for delivery starting in thirty days a new hard drive technology spinning at 12K to handle these devices' high speed data transfers, a technology that is of course wirelessly ready for connecting to your new computer. You can of course join the Internet using our existing products, because all airport technology has had Bluebeard reception built in for the last two years. There was no need to tell you until now. Ladies and gentlemen, Apple is pleased to offer a complete and powerful computer system with no moving parts whatsoever.

He had to wait for quiet again. "Some of you may be wondering about the power supply to run these new ultracomputers. I'm pleased to say an iStrand draws tens of, not milliwatts, but nanowatts. Keep an iStrand at body temperature or above, to about fifty Celsius, or move it around from time to time and it'll self-generate power and to spare for all your system needs. He beamed through yet another ovation, then added, "Apple gives new meaning to the old saying that they'll have to pry your mac from your cold dead hands. It won't stop working unless you do."

"Speaking of which, it should be said that iStrand/eHNet enabled computers are also the greenest electronic devices available on today's marketplace from any vendor. These computers use all natural products, no chemicals are employed in their manufacture, and they will begin to biodegrade in any damp location approximately eighteen months after losing power. I repeat. There are no batteries, magnetic media, power cords or any other dieters to clutter the landfills of the nation. Others sell PCs but these babies are PC personified."

After yet another wave of applause subsided into its collective seats, he resumed on a related theme. "Meanwhile, while the system is powered up, even if sleeping, iStrands and the eHNet substrate are impervious to water, solvents, cleaning fluids, stock market crashes, and most chemicals. They are thin and flexible, but can take a colour coating. And so, I am pleased to announce that Apple will manufacture and sell compatible dye cartridges in aerosol packaging for this purpose at a nominal cost of ninety-nine dollars each, so you may customize your new system to your heart's content.

"This brings me to the final feature of the devices we have already begun to manufacture from iStrand/eHNet technology." He made a coy gesture to the audience. "As some of you might have guessed, what we've had in mind from the beginning is a wearable device. We could have woven the iStrands into a shirt or a sweater. Even a pair of socks would have a sufficient number of iStrands to qualify as a supercomputer by the most stringent definition. Indeed by introducing dye at an earlier stage of manufacture, we could, have made a statement that would have been the envy of Ralph Lorren, Stawch, Stanford, or any Parisian fashion house.

"Apple seriously considered but rejected all these options for our first fashion introduction, deciding instead to license iStrand technology to select leading designers in four countries starting in ninety days. We've chosen the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Liechtenstein, the first three because they're close to home, and the fourth because it's less taxing to set up there." He chuckled at his own joke, which was more than the audience were doing. "Yes, well, back to business. For our own initial wearable product, we felt our core audience would appreciate something both more utilitarian and more cerebral.

You could scoop the silence with a spoon now. iSteve waited for the tension to grow on us, beckoned his two suit babes from the wings, tossed one the iHeadband, and, after a slight pause, threw the other his hair. A list of Apple Store orderable configurations for the new systems flashed onto the screen. For several long moments, no one reacted to the bald pate he'd concealed under the realistic looking rug. Then the woman on his left held up his hairpiece and musically intoned, "Ladies and gentlemen, Apple presents iStrand CPUs, eHairNet integration, and the new Apple HairBook."

Long after the thunder of the seventh or eighth ovation (i'd lost track) had given way to the stampede of reporters to file their stories on iSteve's revolutionary new supercomputers, I remained in the now empty auditorium struggling with what the Spy does best--not meeting deadlines with hot news flashes, but interpreting it all for the reader in a thoughtful, insightful...er...fashion. After some time processing the events, he finally decided to change the title of this little April piece to:

The Emperor's New Computer

--The Northern Spy

Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics at Trinity Western University. He's written two textbooks and several novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers, and he's a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of BC since 1972.

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Last Updated: 2008 04 01