Archive for Thursday, June 7, 2007

Clutter gobbles up memory

June 7, 2007

From our high school physics classes we remember such concepts as "the entropy of an isolated system not in equilibrium will tend to increase over time, approaching a maximum value of equilibrium."

I thought of this wording recently when I noticed a work habit of mine that seems to be shared by others. It is the tendency for computer files to fill with unused or forgotten items over time, approaching a that a state in equilibrium to their usefulness. (I would call this tendency information entropy but that term is already taken. It don't think it has anything to do with my concept. I say "don't think" because I didn't have the mental wherewithal to understand what it was about when I read a definition.)

Once a month or so, I create a new file. I mean it to be limited to a few important items or a place where I can park items while I multi-task. Invariably, these files fill with works in progress I didn't finish or completed and saved somewhere else without trashing the original. Also filling the files are notes or story ideas or outlines I want to keep around for a future story or reference. Anyway, whatever the reason, the files become too stuffed to be convenient, and I start another one.

Now it wouldn't be a law if it where just me. And I have evidence that it's not. I work with several shared files, and they too show the same tendency to become as stuffed as a Christmas turkey.

People find a convenient place to store or transfer stuff and suddenly there's 20 files where once five once were stored. There's files in there I know haven't been touched in a year, still filled with the same forgotten items collecting digital dust.

This concept is particular to computer technology, as many attics have proved through the years. But simply, we store what we see as valuable items only to ignore them as they become clutter, and they attract more clutter.

It bugs me because I'm sure there is more wasted memory on my desktop alone than NASA used to send men to the moon.

Which brings me to the advocacy that whatever that oft-sited quantity of memory is, it ought to be introduced as a new measurement more meaningful than megabyte or gigabyte -- kind of like how light years help make astronomy measurements understandable.

In this case, your new toaster, for example, would have 2MTs (moon trips) of memory. Computers would be sold with 5,000 APs (Apollo Programs -- the total amount of memory used in all moon landings).

All this would impress us about how far we've come since those memory-deprived 1970s. Until we consider no one younger than 35 was alive when we last landed on the moon -- a reality that kind of topples the whole concept of progress.

The moon landings were the cool thing about the 70s. Unfortunately, with war, shortages and political misdeeds we seem to be reliving the decade without the cool stuff.

But those lessons from the 70s seem to have been lost in the memory hole.

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