I need some speed, and fast

IS Guerrilla

If that’s true, I’m gonna live forever. Irony upon irony. I’ve loaded a VPN (virtual private network, if I’ve got my acronyms right) on my PC, with the wild and obviously outrageously optimistic view that I could synchronize my e-mail in a reasonable period of time by “tunnelling” out to my own server through my client’s network.

Yes, it works.

No, it’s not anything close to reasonably fast.

Here’s where the irony part comes in – while I was waiting for my MS Outlook to synchronize over this abomination known as an extended network (granted, my e-mail messages had to make the long trip from an office in Philadelphia all the way to a server somewhere in Calgary and back, obviously by Pony Express), I had time to cross the street, walk down a block to my hotel, pester the concierge and pick up a fax that a trusted correspondent had sent to me. And buy a newspaper. Got back just in time to find my e-mail…still synchronizing. Damn.

The fax turned out to be an article from a recent edition of Scientific American on the historical emergence of interactive computing.

Interactive computing. Sounds like it just might have something to do with the idea of “reasonably speedy” computing.

Turns out, in fact, that the Holy Grail of real-time computing has been on the minds of computing-type folks like us since 1944. The need for electronic flight simulators, the need to compute intercept trajectories for American fighters tracking potentially-inbound Soviet bombers, air traffic control, and antiballistic missile defense requirements – all these applications demanded something approaching real-time computing capabilities as early as the late 1940s and early 1950s.

And to think that I was writing Cobol applications that processed batches of accounting transactions overnight well into the 1980s. And waited patiently for my inelegant programs to compile.

I’ve become so much less patient in the years since – to me, the promise of real time means I shouldn’t have to wait. At all.

All I want from my computer is a fast mathematical calculation, my e-mail to synchronize over dial-up in less time than it takes me to have breakfast, and the download of a file bigger than 2MB faster than I can run a mile – I’m not asking it to divulge the meaning of life, translate Ancient Greek or expound on the origin of human consciousness. I just want don’t want to wait for my machine to slowly, painfully move from message to message in my inbox.

Scientific American says that 7 million Americans have electronic tags on their car windshields that can be read by radio-frequency waves as a car flies by at 70 miles an hour. And I can’t get my e-mail to synchronize over VPN in less than 10 minutes.

Yes, stuff can be done fast, and yes, we now have computers that can play chess as well as a grandmaster.

But all this technology stuff won’t be really helpful until people no longer have to wait for it – I don’t care if it’s the phone lines or the PCs or the little hamsters that drive the flywheels in my server – if technology sets expectations for speed, it should either deliver, or quit making the promises.

Like they say, the chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Right now, the combination of technology that I live with is feeling a lot like a weak link.

Hanley is an IS professional in Calgary. He can be reached at [email protected].

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