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If you can't beat the speed of light, change it

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

If you can't beat the speed of light, change it

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1987, The Syracuse Newspapers

The International Substandards Organization is about to release its second annual list of proposed changes in areas affecting consumer electronics. As I did last year, I am reporting on the activities of this secret group to further the public interest.

As was the case last year, the ISO is releasing its report on the first of April. An advance copy was secured by a source inside the ISO.

According to documents left on one of the coffee tables at the conference, chief among the concerns of ISO members from the United States and Japan is the need to secure faster computing speed in the latest generation of personal computers.

Early personal computers, such as the IBM PC, worked at what by current standards could be called a slow "clock rate.'' Computer designers worked hard to speed up the "clock'' in these computers, and were quite successful.

But as computing speed increased, it became increasingly clear that computer chips could not be speeded up past a certain point—that point being, as all school children know, the speed of light.

In their debate over this issue, delegates from ISO's member nations said design engineers had reached the limits of their know-how, and one delegate told the group "it was time nature did something to help us out for a change.''

The delegate then proposed changing the speed of light to a more useful figure, and his motion was approved without dissent. The change is to take place immediately. The ISO then renamed the existing units for measuring the speed of light, and came up with these terms instead:

Present speed of light: 55 megaphotons per candlepower.

Proposed speed of light: 65 megaphotons per candlepower.

My source said many delegates had refused to approve the higher limit until they were assured that it was to be allowed only in those chips that were uncongested. Chips used in urban computers will continue to follow the older limit.

He added that the first computers designed to use the higher "natural'' clock speed should appear this fall.

On another topic, a proposal to ban black-and-white televisions from the market was narrowly defeated after complaints from manufacturers of pocket sets, who said color models that will replace the tiny B/W sets are not yet readily available.

The ISO is expected to vote again on the ban next year. The ISO's opposition to B/W sets is based on medical evidence that deprivation of color leads to deep-seated ambivalence. ISO members have been of two minds about the issue for some time.

Another change that the ISO turned down would have allowed sales personnel at hi-fi shops to implant newly developed bone-conduction headphones on customers. ISO members said most hi-fi store employees do not have the experience needed to perform the implantation, in which a tiny loudspeaker is sutured under the skin behind each ear.

"The sales people at the store I go to can't even find a 6- by 9-inch speaker in a box full of parts,'' one ISO delegate said, according to my source. "How am I supposed to trust them with a surgeon's knife alongside some customer's head?''

The issue will come up again next year. Health authorities in some countries have already said they are opposed to the implants, unless they are performed by doctors who know something about hi-fi.

That's this year's report. As always, please do not ask me for more information, as I have already told more than I know.

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