Mister Eclectic (howeird) wrote,
Mister Eclectic

Computer History Museum lecture

Last night I went to what looked to be an educational panel discussion called Wireless Sensors: Inventing the Future at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View (down the block from where I used to work). The announcement blurb was very vague, and I had never heard of any of the panelists, but that's sometimes a good thing.

The member's reception was well-attended. One can always judge the popularity of the lecture by how quickly they run out of Swedish meatballs, and how stressed the caterer lady is. This time they not only ran out of meatballs, they also ran out of most of the other nibbles. Unlike most of the receptions, people actually came up and chatted with me. I'm a real wallflower at these things, pretty shy about making the first effort to meet people. For example, I recognized Phil and Kathleen Gust, of BayCon costuming fame, and was tempted to tell Phil, who was wearing a jacket and tie, that I had never seen him in such an exotic costume before. But I was too chicken.

There were three panelists, the dean of Berkeley's engineering college, who was there mostly to tout a business venture he and one of his students have started in the wireless sensor field; a research director from Sun who was plugging a sensor/software thing called SunSpots, and a teacher from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, (who is about as Scottish as Ben Kingsley) whose area of research is micro chips. Their individual presentations were brief and to the point, and all through the presentation I was laughing at how they are talking about the next step towards nano-engineering, but never once even hinted at that word, and never mentioned Eric Drexler. The idea is to have computers so small that they can be airborne. They talk to each other via wireless technology, and may not require a base server - the idea is a swarm computer. Scary stuff, when you consider things like privacy and health. The visitor from Scotland noted that the small chips are made from arsenides, which are toxic. Not the kind of thing you want to release a swarm of into the air.

The Sun guy showed a couple of examples of his wares, which were primitive robotics-by-wireless-waldo. Amusing, but not impressive. Berkeley guy showed a sensor the size of a golf hole, designed to wirelessly communicate to a groundskeeping system the amount of water in the ground, and maybe more. It's bulky and rather old technology, including the concept of wireless. I worked with those kinds of things at HP in 1990.

As soon as they got into the conversation part of the panel, things got boring. Booooooooring. To add insult to injury, the museum's ace A/V staff had trouble figuring out what camera they wanted on the screen (the front wall, actually) and the wireless mikes kept crapping out. How appropriate. And it did not help that the fellow sitting next to me was on speed or something, and kept moving around in his seat and making a variety of unsavory noises under his breath.

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