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Posted by on Oct 26, 2008 in At TMV, Science & Technology | 1 comment

Let Computers Wake Up at Human Speed

News arrives in today’s Times that the computer industry is working to introduce computers that boot up faster. This work is in response to human impatience with the time it takes a computer to boot up. Those three minutes, the impatient humans say, feel like “an eternity.” 

Let me go on record as believing this is not a good idea. For more than 65 years I have been operating a computer that makes the PCs and Macs look like a box of cotton wads. Operating at what researchers say is only 10 percent of its capacity, this computer provides me five, and sometimes six, senses, a huge memory cache, and an ability to turn blankness into thought into action at astounding speeds. 

Yet there is one thing my computer is not very good at, and that is starting up. When I wake up in the morning, it may be not three minutes, but four or five, before I am alert enough to swing my feet over the edge of the bed and search for the floor. Then I hear my computer issuing sort of DOS commands: “Stand.” “Walk.” “Bathroom.” “Kitchen.” “Coffee.” “Sit.” It may be a full 10 or 15 minutes before the computer is ready to check email. 

I know my computer can boot up a lot faster, but it doesn’t like it. When I was in Army officer training, at 5 a.m. lights went on and voices boomed commands and threats of what would happen if we weren’t outside and in ranks in 60 seconds. I think the point was to teach us that we could boot up that fast if we had to. I also knew, standing in ranks, that it would be another couple of minutes before I could point a rifle and hit anything. 

Living in Southern California, I have been awakened by earthquakes, and the process was the same. Quick response, slow reaction. Computers have no choice but to jump at the first surge of electricity, but they stay groggy while circuits hook up. Functions in those moments are prioritized. So it was in the first moments after the 1994 Northridge quake: “Stand!” “Run!” “Warn children!” Not until I banged on the door of my teenaged daughter and step-daughter and, when they opened the door, followed their eyes, did I become aware that I was totally naked. I take solace, knowing they were also booting up, that they probably didn’t register me very well. 

I have never known, certainly never lived with, a human who could boot up in seconds, and I expect the first one I see will be in either a science fiction or an aggravation movie. It seems unreasonable to me to expect it of PCs and Macs, which, compared to our onboard models, are third-rate systems second to none.I do feel the annoyance of being personally up to speed, then starting up my PC and twiddling my thumbs while it wakes up. It’s the same annoyance we feel trying to get children out of bed. 

But we have to watch what we wish for. Given the choice, considering the past decade and peering into the next, I think we’re better off if we engineer computers to wake up like sleepy people, instead of engineering them to be instantly up and dressed and ready to work, thus allowing the digital age to whittle our patience even closer to the bone. We still will live in the analog world, and patience is the analog world’s cartilage.

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