On the Shoulders of Giants


I had a nostalgic moment this morning, and yet at the same time, it made me feel so humble.  It was one of those moments that those of us who are technical longtimers would get – and shorttimers might not even recognize.

When I went to bed last night, I was going through the database of session proposals for the #BIT14 conference.  The whole process is just taking so long – there are so many good proposals and only so many timeslots.  We collected the proposals on the web and I had downloaded them to my computer and was going through the list for what seems to be the 100th time.  The proposals are in .xlsx format and I had them open in LibreOffice as I read.  It was late, and as I typically do, I just shut the lid on my computer sending it to sleep before I joined it.

When I woke, it was time to pick up where I left off.

The only difference was that there was an update to the LibreOffice program.  

Oh boy!  At 181MB, this is going to take a while.  My “high speed” high speeds have been well documented.  I might as well get it started.

There were lots of other things to be done so I initiate the download and moved on.  I didn’t time it but there came a time when the download was done and I installed the new software.

It was there that I had my first aha! moment of the day.

The 181MB download is actually compressed and, in reality, the application is ~580MB.  I think we’ve come to expect that things are going to be compressed for our benefit.  But, in the beginning, it wasn’t always so.  You had to work very hard at compressing and decompressing files.  After all, you were squirting them through a 1200 baud modem and every byte  counted.

Compression is now everywhere.  But there was a time when you really had to work at it.  For me, it was a product called PKZIP.  It was shareware but you just had to throw a few bucks their way to get the functionality that you needed.  You could archive entire directories, compress them, send the resulting file to someone else who would reverse the process and have the exact same installation that you did.  It was an electronic version of magic.  You could encrypt the archive with a key, add a comment to the archive, and even fix some broken archives.  PKWare is still around today and their product line has evolved to reflect our current realities.  

Check out archive file formats.  Do you know them all?  Compression is such a fascinating concept.  I can recall working with Run Length Encoding at university.  We were making the magic!

Compression isn’t just for shipping archives.  It now does disk images, makes graphic files smaller, allows for efficient distribution of movies and television shows.  We’ve come to expect that our files are smaller and efficiently transferred from one place to another.  We’ve even become willing to accept compromises in quality for speed.  We’ve got used to utilities that optimize things for us automatically.  Can you remember working with Photoshop to get the best compromise of quality and size to make your website just speed along to any visitor?  Is it the same in today’s drag and drop world?

It’s worth pausing before the next download to appreciate all that these giant thinkers have offered to us.  Where would we be without their vision of makings things smaller and faster?  It’s hard to imagine a world and a digital routine without it.

I’d still be downloading that update.

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OTR Links 05/14/2014


Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.