3.317 MIPSy workstations; multitasking (153)

Wed, 2 Aug 89 21:22:38 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 317. Wednesday, 2 Aug 1989.

(1) Date: Tue, 1 Aug 89 23:21:05 EDT (15 lines)
From: amsler@flash.bellcore.com (Robert A Amsler)
Subject: Use for 12.5 MIPS workstations

(2) Date: Wed, 2 Aug 89 00:32:08 EDT (57 lines)
From: sdm@cs.brown.edu
Subject: MIPS for humanities

(3) Date: Wed, 02 Aug 89 09:40:13 CDT (14 lines)
From: "Michael S. Hart" <HART@UIUCVME>
Subject: Re: 3.313 MIPS for English? "gild the lily"? (42)

(4) Date: 01 Aug 89 21:36 -0330 (37 lines)
From: dgraham@leif.mun.ca
Subject: Multitasking

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Tue, 1 Aug 89 23:21:05 EDT
From: amsler@flash.bellcore.com (Robert A Amsler)
Subject: Use for 12.5 MIPS workstations

What seems to be the intent is that we will eventually have
to have all this speed to support display postscript output
(i.e. scalable graphics and multiple fonts at high resolution
in a multi-window environment).

If you could see what those capabilities take out of the current
workstations, you'd understand the need for the extra power.
However, the disturbing element for any monetarily tight
situation is that even if the hardware comes cheaply, there will
be more expensive maintenance, software and extra peripherals
for the SUN than for the Mac.
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------65----
Date: Wed, 2 Aug 89 00:32:08 EDT
From: sdm@cs.brown.edu
Subject: MIPS for humanities

In an earlier note, Paul Delany mentioned that his department might be able
to get a 12.5 MIPS SPARCstation, and he wonders if there are practical uses
for "all that power." There are, or at least there should be.

Consider first the size of the SPARCstation display, which is 1152 by 900
pixels. That makes it possible to have two 80-column windows side by side
without having to resort to a font that will make your vision blurry after
an hour or so. The Macintosh II, I believe, has less resolution, so you
can't pull that trick. For example, as I write this note (on a color
SPARCstation), I've got my editor on one side of the screen and a terminal
window on the other side of the screen, and I have full access to both
windows. With the font I've got, each of those windows could be up to 63
lines long, which is wonderful for showing me lots of context around
whatever it is that I happen to be looking at. As it turns out, however,
I've got lots of other stuff on the screen (e.g., a clock, a mailbox,
etc.), so my windows are a bit smaller.

An even more compelling argument for a screen like this is its ability to
display photographic-quality images. For example, we have scanned images
of paintings that are displayed using 256 different colors, and to the lay
viewer, they might as well be perfect. I like to imagine what they'd be
like in a hypermedia environment. I also like to think of the kinds of
analysis that might be performed on them, because they can be manipulated
and examined using software on the machine -- which is one place it pays to
have 12.5 MIPS at your disposal. The Macintosh II has neither the
resolution nor the horsepower to handle equivalent tasks.

On a more mundane scale, note that a faster machine means that tasks that
used to be impractical suddenly become practical. Searches that would take
too long to be worth the trouble on a slower machine become tractable.
The same is true of textual (and image) analyses, comparisons, and other
similar jobs.

To be fair, Paul's original query asked about "available software," and I
haven't restricted my comments above to software that I know to be readily
available. Nonetheless, the software certainly *could* be developed, and
if it were to be, would it not be better to be in a position in which one
could take advantage of it? In fact, might it not be the case that being
able to use it might actually lead to its development?

In short, my advice is for him to get the best machine he can afford, and
not to lose any sleep wondering if applications will be found for it. It
might be worthwhile to bear in mind a well-known homily in the Computer
Science community: user demands always rise to swamp out all available
computing power.

Scott Meyers

PS - I have no connection with Sun and no vested interest in seeing the
SPARCstation succeed. I do, however, have lots and lots of experience
on both Macintoshes and Sun workstations, and all I can say is that
the Macs are SsssssssssLllllllllllllllOoooooooooooooooWwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------23----
Date: Wed, 02 Aug 89 09:40:13 CDT
From: "Michael S. Hart" <HART@UIUCVME>
Subject: Re: 3.313 MIPS for English? "gild the lily"? (42)

re Paul Delaney's request for decision making information on the possibility
of getting a Sun vs a Mac: I would think the main consideration would be
software - availability, price and support. Is the value of the powerful
Sun hardware going to be aided by a sufficient multiplier of software to
compete with the lesser hardware but greater software available to the Mac?
Not to mention the familiarity and ease of the operating systems. Will people
shun the Sun just because they are unfamiliar with the hardware, the software
or the operating system?

(Paul - let me know how this comes out)
(4) --------------------------------------------------------------42----
Date: 01 Aug 89 21:36 -0330
From: dgraham@leif.mun.ca
Subject: Multitasking

I don't like to quibble about concurrent, preemptive or other
multitasking, but I'm struck by one or two things in Eric Johnson's
postings. Surely any multitasking worth its silicon involves
something which needs to run in the background, i.e. while you're
doing something else with the computer, and so (for example) having
two copies of a word processor loaded at the same time is not while I
would call useful multitasking, unless you can operate two keyboards
at once. Mind you, a word processor that can have only one document
open at a time is not what I would call a useful word processor...
And don't many if not most WP programmes now offer more or less
constant access to such amenities as style and spelling checkers,
thesauri and so forth without having to launch another programme?
Many of the operations Johnson quotes as examples strike me as being
sequential rather than concurrent, and so I would not call them
'multitasking', but perhaps my definition is too narrow?

What sorts of things *do* Humanists like to have running 'in the
background'? In my case, it tends to be big file transfers (Kermit
running under MultiFinder), or string searches (using Gofer as a DA).
But I should think that the text indexing and sorting operations that
Johnson mentions would be excellent candidates too, as would most
database searches. How badly do we need multitasking, anyway, and how
many of us are already using it every day in some form or another, and
what for? [I'm referring only to microcomputers here, not to minis or

To Johnson's suggestion that "All of these programs should be
available to the scholar at the same time with no more trouble than
stacking one open book on top of another", I would add only that many
of them already are.

David Graham