Names more precious than oil

Higher driving and heating costs, attributed to supply-demand imbalances, are a reminder that energy is increasingly a scarce resource. Or is it? On one hand more oil reserves have been generally discovered than consumed each year, but on the other hand we may be about to exit that phase. So what's a man to do? A man is to forgo trying to predict the future, and buy energy positions that neutralize the cost of living impact of these runaway costs. Granted, serious imbalances would disrupt our way of life in ways that no hedging position can restore, but that is a bigger problem than a humble blogger can solve.

Having hedged the energy (and health care costs while at it), a man can then pour a glass of Cabernet and ponder about other scarce resources. We could worry next about the electromagnetic spectrum. Borrowing lines from real estate agents, they don't make spectrum any more, it does not grow on trees. Spectrum is crowded by radios, TVs, cell phones, garage door openers, wireless hot spots, radars, you name it. I am ever impressed at our ingenuity for getting more out of a limited spectrum over time. From the AMPS cellular system introducing frequency reuse with variable cell sizes [Bell System Technical Journal, 1979], to spread spectrum (CDMA) and the way it packs more information in the same channel band.

I have bored many an audience by repeating that we are essentially dealing with Claude Shannon's upper bound on amount of information per channel by exploiting the computation enabled by Moore's law. Shannon vs. Moore to 12 rounds. We have applied this to wireless links, to data center wiring, and even to processor chips input/output interfaces. Through Moore's law, God gives us the transistors to store and crunch information, but doesn't give us the pins to get all that information in and out of these circuits.

We fought valiantly against Shannon's tyranny. 1000BASE-T moves Gigabit Ethernet bits over Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP Ethernet was 1000 times slower when it started around 1987), EV-DO pushing a couple of Megabits of packet data into the existing 1.25MHz CDMA spectrum could become a global wireless DSL of sorts (no more hotel Internet access fees!), and SERDES technology for 5Gbps and beyond (per pin pairs) in and out of ASICs and processors. All this enabled by signal processing at the transmission line endpoints, in the form of sophisticated coding and modulation, adaptive equalization, clock recovery, echo cancellation, path diversity, and so on. But Claudes will be Claudes, and eventually we'll reach the bound, or a point of diminishing returns. We can go then to higher capacity channels, like optics for cabled applications, and like Robert Drost's work on Proximity Communications for future processor chips immediate interfaces. No more sleep lost over scarcities other than the scarcity of sleep itself.

For those of us that always find something to worry about, I'll mention a really scarce resource in our global world: Names. Good names for our classes, methods, and variables. Good signal names for our ASIC's RTL. Good names for our children. I, for one, didn't consume a middle name when our first boy was born, we kept good names dry for later. Actually the first born, like a processor with a single register, doesn't need a name until a second baby arrives in the family. We couldn't quite convince the nurse, and had to name him before we could take the baby home.

Given names are contested, ask me, I share mine with a Mermaid and a German detergent, but they are nothing compared to the stakes around brand names, trademarks, or domain names. Armies of lawyers descend. A land grab for those easy-to-remember, short-to-type names, devoid of negative connotations in most of the 2800 languages spoken on the planet. That is global scarcity. To make things worse, perfectly good names are condemned by unfortunate events, a "Titanic", an "Enron", get out of circulation, because human memory has no cold reset input to make us forget.

The creative pace of high-tech aggravates name scarcity. Think about project names, about industry initiatives, about technologies. A chronic name deficit forces name reuse, name overload, or even worse, acronyms. Incidentally, the cool CMT (Vade Retro, an acronym!) technology we just launched with the productization of the UltraSPARC T1 processor platforms was internally known for a while as Niagara. Not a bad name. Relatively short, no residual meaning inside Sun, and even visually metaphoric for throughput. A minor weakness, Niagara rhymes with a prescription medication of singular use, but outside adolescent circles, who would have the poor taste to bring that up. (Breaking news: a three letter competitor spokesperson brought the medication up, our competitors must be employing adolescents).

But the best part is the name efficiency of Sun's CMT play. No namespace clutter, one powerful technology, one name to remember UltraSPARC T1, one multi-core processor, one socket. This simplicity helps my strained memory. So strained that when I am asked about how UltraSPARC T1 stacks up against our Intel based competitors, I have to pull out an Intel roadmap cheat-sheet to be sure. Do they refer to Bensley with Lindenhurst, or the Truland platform, Paxville or Tulsa, Dempsey or Woodcrest, Sossaman through Whitefield on a Conroe platform or all the way to Dunnington. The casual listener thinks I am doing a public reading of Harry Potter, and I haven't even invoked the Itanium namespace.

Energy, Spectrum, and Names. On the good side of each scarcity. CMT power savings, tackling Shannon, and wrapping it all up in a single name. I'd love to write about what we are bringing next to the Moore vs. Shannon fight, but you'll have to wait for the next round gong, or invite me for a preview.

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