ALPHA v0.3

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Topic: programming



Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, the top physicists in the universe (plus a couple of programmers) struggle to perfect "Dynamo Ada", the very thing on which the future of the company hangs like a terminal. The vice president of the division has bicycled in for a conference with the scientists, to be briefed on the progress of this critical project. (Later, he will attend a meeting of the board of directors, where he will criticized on the progress of this brief project.)

"How are things progressing?"

"Well, not so hot. We have in fact produced an Ada a zillion times faster (approximately) than any previously seen, but there is a slight technical glitch when we actually try to run it."

"What kind of glitch?"

"Well, it has to do with the Theory of Relativity. The new Ada compiler is so fast that it begins to approach the speed of light."

"Are you fellows trying to befuddle me with technical jargon?"

"Oh, no sir. You're befuddled enough to suit us just as you are. Now as I was saying, when something begins to approach the speed of light, there are some relativistic effects. The mass of an object is affected, but more importantly time begins to run slower. The effect, which is called time dilation, has never been used in any commercial product except ketchup." The Vice President was now beginning to show great interest -- not in the scientist's explanation, but in a piece of lint on the sleeve of his jacket. "For instance, if a rocket travels to another star at nearly the speed of light, the trip might seem to take a hundred years to an external observer, but the occupants of the rocket would only perceive it as having taken ten years, and would only age ten years." The Vice President was nodding now. Soon he would be completely asleep.

They entered the next room, where a programmer sat before a terminal, completely immobile. He did not even appear to be breathing. "This man is compiling a five-million-line program using Dynamo Ada. From his point of view, the compilation takes forty-two seconds. But for an external observer, like us, almost two days have passed."

"Very interesting, very interesting," said the Vice President. "Is it time for lunch yet?"


(two years later)

Scene: the same research installation. The Vice President of Bizarre Products Development has arrived to discuss a matter of great importance. He is met by Zeke Einstein, a double Ph.D. in Quantum Physics and Computer Science, who escorts him into the building.

"I was afraid you wouldn't be here," says the V.P. "I thought the company had stopped doing pure research."

"Oh, we don't do pure research here. We do 80% research and 20% playing practical jokes on each other."

"By the way, what on earth have you got all over your forehead?"

"We'll get to that. Over there is Biff Einstein. He's our top man in computer relativity."

"Is everybody here named Einstein?"

"No, but whenever we get a chance to hire a physicist named Einstein, we do it, just to be on the safe side. Over here is Bill Blooper. He's the Director of the research center."

"Guten tag," said Blooper. "Ich bin Ein Stein."

"Einstein? I thought you said his name was Blooper!"

"His NAME is Blooper, but he thinks he's a German beer mug. He's completely mad, of course, but that's just what it takes to stay on the cutting edge of today's fast-moving technology. Now, you wanted to talk about relativistic computer technology?"

"Yes. I don't know too much about it, so I'd appreciate it if you'd fill me in."

"I thought your organization had already developed a product based on the technology. That was almost three years ago, wasn't it?"

"That's true, but I wasn't in charge when it started, so I'm not clear on all the concepts. The only engineer who really understands it is currently finishing up the Unit Test, so naturally he's a bit difficult to talk to right now ..."

"Well, let me start at the beginning. You're aware of the fact that all data is composed of quantum particles, which sometimes act like waves, in a manner similar to photons?"

"You mean bits?"

"Well, not quite. The particulate nature of data means that you can never have one and a half bits of information; it has to come in quantum-sized packets. The term "bit" refers to the measure of information, but the subatomic particles themselves are generally called logons or offons. Now, the fact is that logons travel at the same speed as light. For instance, when data is passed through a wire, even though the individual electrons propogate along the wire very slowly, the data itself moves at light speed."

"That doesn't sound reasonable."

"Well, I can demonstrate it to you quite easily. Here, hold this wire."

"What are you -- Yow! You gave me a shock!"

"Well, yes, of course. But how FAST did you get it? One of the new technologies we're investigating is the possible existence of an anti- logon particle. If it exists, we would be able to construct retroactive memory chips with an access time of up to negative 30 microseconds."

"And if such a particle doesn't exist?"

"Well, we'll have to invent one. That will more expensive, of course."

"I don't seem to be getting all this."

"Well, of course not. As I said, information particles behave a lot like photons. For instance, a mirror reflects almost all of the light that hits it, whereas a black surface absorbs almost all of it. In the same way, different materials reflect or absorb data particles at different rates. The human head, we have found, is one of the most perfect data reflectors in the universe. However, just let me put some of this data-absorbing paint on your head and you'll begin to understand me much better."

"Careful. This is a brand new suit."

"Oh, it washes right out, don't worry. Now, I was saying that with an anti-logon particle we would be able to construct memory devices with negative access times."

"There would have to be some programming changes there, to allow for reading data out before it's been written."

"Now you're getting it."

"Can I have some of this paint to take back with me? I know some people who could use it."

"Of course. That reminds me. One other thing I've been warning people about. We're now entering an era where gigabytes of memory are not uncommon."


"We're not certain yet, but we're afraid that a large enough gathering of logons in very close proximity may cause it to reach critical mass."

"What happens then?"

"We don't know. It could mean another Big Bang. Or the formation of some sort of object similar to a black hole, from which no data ever escapes."

"But what about relativistic programming? We're getting off the subject."

"Well, the thing of it is that at a high enough computational speed, you get effects similar to those produced by an object moving at close to light speed. Time dilation and so forth."

"That's why it's taking so long for this Unit Test phase, as I understand it."

"Exactly. To the tester himself, things seem to be going along quite quickly. But to an outside observer, it seems to be moving very slowly. Time proceeds at different rates. Probably the developer himself appears smaller."

"Well, I didn't know him before, but these days he's about two feet tall, so I suppose you're right. Anyway, what I came here to discuss is the possibility of producing more products using the technology."

"Why would you want to, if you can't get them out the door?"

"Well, the customers seem to be impressed with them, as long as they're affected by this relativity thing. The only real problem has been test time. And we think we have a solution to that."


"Rigorous code inspections. If we remove all the defects by inspection, we don't have to do much testing, and we can ship the products the same century we build them. Do you see any potential problems with that?"

"Well, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle would seem to imply that, if you know the value assigned to a logon, it may be impossible to determine for certain that a program assigns the value you wanted."

"But does the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle apply to data particles?"

"I'm not certain."

"Is there anything else you want to tell me?"

"No. Let me know how you make out with your new products."

"Certainly. And let me know when you find an anti-logon."

"Actually, since it will allow us to print and mail the report before we write it, you may know about it before we do."

"That's enough. I've got to get back to the office."


ALPHA v0.3