Moving mountains with tweezers

I saw a cartoon once in which a rabbit is searching for something time consuming to do. He elects to move an entire mountain from A to B with the aid of tweezers. I laughed. Maybe because I was a kid at the time.

I'm feeling a little more like a kid at the moment than I normally do. I have just taken delivery of my first ever MP3 player and I'm something of a giggling wreck. It can hold about 5,000 songs. I just plug it into the back of my machine and hey presto!

"So what? Big deal!" says your average twenty-something. "Where have you been for the last few years man, Mars? This stuff is commonplace.".

Indeed. Indeed it does seem to be commonplace, but it is no less remarkable for that. We should savour the sweet smell of progress that has crept up on us.

I am not talking about progress in music industry terms. I'm not going there. I did not buy an MP3 for music. I bought an MP3 player to perform two functions for me. Firstly, to allow me to listen to lectures and tutorials from geeks and computer scientists that are available in MP3 format from sites such as and ITConversations. This stuff is great to while away the hours travelling that go with the territory if you are a customer facing, consultant-type person.

Secondly, some MP3 players are great backup devices. The one I have purchased has a 20 gigabyte hard disk.

Let me replay the last part of that sentence for you in slow motion:

"...has a 20 *gigabyte* hard disk."

My life's work as a software developer and author can fit into a small corner of that disk. On top of that, the entire package fits into my shirt pocket!

It's really quite incredible. I remember when lifting a machine with a 20 megabyte hard disk was a hernia risk. In the time that elapses from starting to shave every day to getting grey flecks in your beard, the storage scene has changed beyond all recognition.

We are hitting the point where any self respecting geek or audio lover is packing a good 20 gigs of storage secreted discretely about their person.

Awesome though this is, the process of filling the device with stuff off the Internet brings me back from Mars to Earth with a bang. I'm sitting here on a Saturday morning with an ADSL line all to myself. I'm downloading 20 MB MP3s of Knuth, Lessig, Stroustrup, Schneier and getting about 100K per second download speed. It sure feels fast compared to my normal 64K line experience. However, a quick back-of-an-envelope calculation tells me that it will take about 50 hours to fill my MP3 player at this rate!

I am a rabbit. I am moving a mountain with tweezers.

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Sean McGrath

IDG News Service
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