Earth on Fire: The Overheating Planet

Earth on Fire: The Overheating Planet


The reason some popular posts are tagged ‘no title’ is not because they have no title—they all do—but because the old Blogger embedded the title at the top of text, and the new software does not see that. You can see the titles in capitals at the start of each snippet. (It would be nice if Blogger introduced an upgrade program that could fix this little problem.)

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Tuesday 27 December 2005


Back in 1974 IBM decided to get into the market for telephone exchanges. To achieve that it wanted a computer--'The Telephone Machine'--that could handle 300 calls per second, which needed 12MIPS of processing power (millions of instructions per second). That was then a huge number--IBM's mainframes chugged away at only 2MIPS on a good day. IBM set up a team under Dr John Cocke at its Thomas J. Watson Research Centre in New York, and the result, astonishly (because IBM had never before had the technology to match its brutal marketing muscle), was a world-beating chip, using what we now call RISC technology (Reduced-Instruction-Set Computer). Even in emulation it ran faster than a System 370 mainframe; it zapped along at 4.5-6 MIPS. But IBM then went off the idea of making telephone exhanges, so it stopped calling the chip the Telephone Machine and renamed it the 801, the number on the research team's building.

By 1978 the team had on paper, and could have launched in 1979, a 3MIPS RISC PC. But to their dismay, and fury, IBM cancelled the project. No wonder. That machine would have outrun its mainframes and midrange machines, and thus would have killed its golden goose. The fact that it would have created a platinum goose did not dawn on IBM's purblind bosses. One person, Joel Birnbaum, was so angry that he left IBM and went to Hewlett-Packard, which a few years later launched what it called Precision Architecture, later renamed PA-RISC. A 3MIPS IBM PC would have wiped out Apple, DEC, and a heap of other companies. But IBM's hierarchy could not see past the outrageous profits they were making on their mainframe/midrange junk.

Then when that same hierarchy saw that Apple was making zillions out of little machines, then called microcomputers, or micros, because IBM hated seeing someone else making money that it considered its own, they decided to make their own micro. They ignored their world-beating 801 chip, and because they wanted a machine that would not, could not, threaten, their mainframe/midrange empire, they deliberately built what they subsequently called the Personal Computer from off-the-shelf, low-power, third-rate bits. They used a chip made by Intel, the 8086, which was only a tweak or two away from the chip that had been invented by Victor Poor, Harry Pyle and Jonathan Schmidt in 1967 at a Texan company subsequently called Datapoint. Datapoint had given the building of the chip to Intel, which explains why other companies can make clones of x86-based chips: Intel did not invent the thing.

And for an operating system IBM went to a boy called Billy Gates--because the then chairman of IBM, Thomas Watson Jr, knew his mother. Billy Gates had a miniscule company called Microsoft, because it wrote software for microcomputers.

To IBM's astonishment when the little machines were launched in 1981 they took off, but because they were built from other companies' products, other companies could use the same products to make better IBM-compatible PCs than IBM. IBM ended up bleeding multi-billions. It resurrected its RISC technology, but it was too late. The world had run after mediocrity.

I IBM had made and launched its RISC PC in 1978-79 the whole Intel/Microsoft thing would never have happened, and the PCs we would have now would be far ahead of what we do have. The world went after IBM PCs because they had IBM on the front, not because they were good. So the world is being held back to the level of its stupid decision in 1981, a decision built on IBM's stupid, greedy decision in 1978.

Big companies get caught up in their own existence, their lust for good quarterly results, their fear of making a loss, their legacy pension-schemes, their self-induced short-sightedness, etc. They lose sight of the real world, they lose sight of aiming for the best, they make things just good enough to con enough people to keep Wall Stree happy this month. Sooner or later they die, because a small company comes along which sees that what the Big Iron is putting off can be done now.

Big Iron is also lazy and greedy. When Sony launched the first portable CD player it was powered by Motorola's 68000 chip. Why not the 68003, which was then the latest version? Because the thing had been born in the Sony's labs about ten years earlier--and if you launch on old technology you then have an easy, cheap upgrade path, and you can keep making the old products obsolete and thus making zillions out the poor suckers who trail along after you buying new models every year or so.

Which is all a roundabout way of leading up to the EStarCar. A fuel-cell vehicle (FCV) can be built now. The Big Iron carmakers pretend it can't, but it can. All the necessary bits and pieces can be bought off the shelf, from here there and everywhere. So watch for an Apple, a small unknown that zooms past the Big Iron, look for a small Walter-Raleigh type of ship that sails nonchalant rings round the big, unweildy Armada monoliths.

Which is exactly what EStarFuture intends being. It has the designs, the mockups, the passion and a vast amount of research under its belt. It lacks only the dollars, which is why it has gone to the people of the planet, because it is their future that is being maimed and broken by the Big Iron carmakers for the sake of corporate bottom lines and blind greed.