The Guardian from London, Greater London, England on March 14, 1985 · 15
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The Guardian from London, Greater London, England · 15

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Thursday, March 14, 1985
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FUTURES pOCi GUARDIAN Thursday March 14 1985 15 Bridge is a social game so what do you do if you run out of partners? Mitchell Symons gives a guarded welcome to one electronic solution An expensive way of developing your talent, preserving your ego, and protecting your reputation FOR THE newcomer, a bridge club is often like a geriatric squash club: snarling, elderly men working out their aggression at the bridge table. As an average club player. I've had my parentage questioned, my sanity doubted and my ego destroyed merely for taking a finesse the wrong way. Imagine the effect that this might have on a sensitive soul seeking to progress from friendly "kitchen" bridge to club standard where the stakes and the slander can be high! With this in mind, the BBC Bridge Companion, launched last week and available by mail order, is a welcome addition to the plethora of aids and words currently on the bridge market. Introducing the Bridge Companion to a gathering of distinguished bridge writers- Compuiters that read youir mimal You know roughly what you want, but you can't program it. Don't worry, says Jack Schofield. The looming generation of micros will be able to do the hard bit GIMME DA BILLS" might be a perfectly good command in a 'tfourth generation" computer language (4GL). This fact is. mirrently obscured in a morass of jargon result-orien-pted programming, demand-level adaptability, user rhachine insulation, applica- ton expandability, work-ation environment and the ct that no one actually knows what a 4GL is. KThe first generation programming language was machine code, groups of bina-iy numbers. 'On the original WITS Altair micro, launched In 1975, machine code Was entered directly byte by byte by lipping 'switches on the con- S)ie. ine second generation as assembly language, where mnemonics are used instead. jDA means "load the accu- ulator with." ADC "add with arrv." and so on. Third gener ation languages are nign-ievel ahes'sucn as Fortran, Cobol, Basic, Pascal and Forth. Whatever 4GLs may be, they must represent a considerable step up from these. And the key fact is that they are non-procedural. What the first three generations have in common is that you have to tell the computer exactly what to do, i.e. program it. A program is a set of procedures; each procedure has to be followed step by step. In a non-procedural language the user can tell the computer what he wants, and the software works out how to do it. A typical program might be "Show all salesmen's expenses for February where sales lower than January: calculate bonus; deduct 10 per cent." The user's definition of what he wants constitutes the program (result-orientated programming). As users will vary in expertise, the.;software has to cope with many, different levels of request (demand level adaptability): .Once the "program" has been written, the user is likely to want to know or do more, so it has to be possible to extend it (application expandability). However, the user has to he protected from all the fine detail of running the application, such as opening and closing files (usermachine insulation). Also, it must all be doable from a desktop, and not require the direct involvement of a data Playing Keith Devlin returns to all sorts of number bases I'N previous instalments of this column 1 have talked about the use of different number bases for representing numbers. The most familiarsystem to us is, of course, the decimal system. This makes use of the ten digits 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. 8, 9 to represent numbers, and in our arithmetic we require a units column, a tens column, a hundreds column, and so on. Computers make use of the binary system, where there afe just two binary-digits (or bits) 0 and 1, and where arithmetic requires a units column, a twos column, a fours column, an eights column, and so on. In decimal arithmetic we must "carry" whenever a multiple often occurs in any column, in binary whenever a multiple of tjfyo occurs. Mankind makes use of decimal notation because people have ten fingers; computers use binary notation because a computer is, at heart, a two state machine, the current in a circuit being either on or off. The main problem with the 'binary system as far as humans are concerned is that it takes impossibly long "words" to demote even moderately large numbers. For instance, the number 229 expressed in binary notation is 11100101. Starting from the right, i.e. from the units, this number is: HlxlH (0x2) (lx4H (0x8) ' (0 x 16) (1 x 32) -M 1 X 64) (1 x J 128)- 229. and players, Bryon Parkin, Managing Director of BBC Enterprises, declared that "the BBC only puts its name to quality products." For once, this was actually an understatement. A remarkable innovation a computer solely for bridge only accepting specific cartridges written in its own, high-level language: bridge Machine Code the Companion affords the user the ability to learn or brush up on the basics and to progress, via new cartridges, to an advanced standard of play. As Jeremy James, presenter of BBC TV's Bridge Club, said: "To use a golfing analolgy, it will turn a 24 handicap golfer into an eight handicap golfer." Programmed with the aid of Jeremy Flint, the bridge writer and world master, the first cartridge. Bridge Builder, of processing department (workstation environment). This contrasts with the way mainframe applications are normally implemented. First the user has to write a report to his boss, showing need. Eventually this winds up with the data processing (dp) manager, who puts a systems analyst on to the job. The report is rewritten to make it feasible in computing terms, flowcharts and schedules are.drawn up, and programmers assigned to the job. After a considerable amount of coding and debugging, the program is eventually completed and run. Unfortunately the programmers have produced what the systems analyst thought the user wanted, which is what the dp manager thought was possible, based on what the user's boss thought he ought to have. Probably the program does not do what the user wants at all. But anyway, two years have passed, and the user now wants something different, or else he has more likely either left the company or bought his own desktop micro. 4GLs avoid these problems by letting users do their own programming in their own language. The time when you can sit down and type 'Do payroll' is as far away as ever It is obvious that the great mass of professional' Cobol and Fortran programmers are not going to be thrown out of work overnight; 4GLs only really apply to what IBM calls "information centres," not to computing in general. The time when you can sit down and type"Do payroll" is as far away as ever. There must still be (again, in IBM's terms) a "development centre" where new applications are written and old ones maintained, and a "production centre" where bread-and-butter tasks like invoicing and stock control are run. However, when it comes to fishing information out of a database, 4GLs represent a huge step forward, and for this reason they are important. Un-rortunately, as mentioned, there is no agreed definition of what a 4GL is, and numerous products are proclaiming their 4GL-ness. the negadecimal Consequently, all modern computers have built-in routines which automatically convert numbers from decimal form to binary and back again, allowing human operators to communicate with the machine in everyday decimal form. But sometimes it is necessary for the programmer to handle the numbers in the machine in the form (i.e. binary) that they are stored in the memory. This can be made easier by utilising the so-called hexadecimal system, that is the number system with base 16. This has the effect of replacing four columns of binary by just one column of hexadecimal (because 16 is the size of the fifth column in binary, starting from the right). In other words, every hexadecimal digit specified by the programmer determines four binary digits in the computer. There are fifteen hexadecimal digits: 0,1,2,3,4,5.6,7,8,9, A,B,C,D,E,F. So, for example, the hexadecimal number 1BF5 represents the number . - (5x1) (15x16) (11x256) (1 x 4096), i.e. 7157 in decimal notation. (Because 256 16x16 and 4096 16 x 16 x 16.) In practice, programmers usually need to make use only of hexadecimal numbers involving two hex digits. This is because the bits that make up a computer word are grouped into bytes, collections of eight consecutive bits. Two hex digits completely specify all the bits fers five different playing modes: Introduction, Bid ding. Playing The Cards, Defensive Play and Bidding Practice. Of these five, only the last provides a random selection of cards with an estimated thousand million hands. For the rest, even on brief acquaintance, one begins to recognise, and therefore remember, Mr Flint's perfectly correct, yet nevertheless necessarily idiosyncratic, bidding. Within each mode, however, there are several choices reflecting the breadth of the game, so the machine would seem to have plenty of life. For example, within Bidding, the user can choose between Competitive Bidding, Pre-Emptive Bidding, Responses To Pre-Emptive Bidding, Strong Hand Bidding and Slam Bidding. From the microcomputer point of view, the first 4GL was Forth, which would have been called "Fourth" except Charles Moore's IBM 1130 would only accept five-letter filenames. Though powerful. Forth is now generally agreed to be a third generation language. The next4GLs were program generators: they actually generate programs in other languages such as Basic and Cobol (which in turn generates machine code). Examples are Sycero (System C), The Last One (DJ AI Systems) and Codewriter (Codewriter Ltd). While these are productive and easy for non-programmers to use, they are still like Forth procedural. The computer still has to be told step by step exactly what to do. On mini and mainframe computers there are numerous report generators and application generators that work in a similar way. System Builder (Cosmos) and Powerhouse (Cognos) are examples. They are used mainly by programmers to implement applications more productively. But this is still some way from having the end user push all the buttons himself. Better candidates for the 4GL title are products like Mapper (Sperry), Focus (Information Builders), Ramis II (Mathematical) and Application Language Liberator or ALL (Microdata). These mini and mainframe products are all now available on micros. Mapper the name is derived from MAintaining, Preparing and Producing Executive Reports was initially developed on Sperry Univac 1100 series mainframes. Later Sperry launched a mini, Mapper 10, dedicated to running the system, and then the 68010-based Mapper 6 and Mapper 7 micros. Ramis IIPC is a version of the Ramis II mainframe program designed to run on IBM's "baby mainframe" the XT370 (a hard-disc IBM PC souped up with a couple of extra 68,000 chips). Microdata's ALL can be run on a small 80186-based micro developed by Convergent Technologies. PCFocus in one byte. So far, I have only been talking about positive whole numbers, of course. Fractions can be handled by specifying a decimalbinaryhexadecimal point. There are various ways of doing this, but that is another story. What I want to look at now is how negative numbers are handled. The most common method used in computers is for one bit of each computer word to be reserved to denote the sign of the number (say with a 0 denoting a positive number, a 1 a negative number). Calculators usually work like this, except that on the display a minus sign appears at the left-hand location instead of a 1, and nothing appears when the number is positive. The computer hardware is then constructed to keep track of the signs of numbers during arithmetic operations. But other methods have been considered. Anyone who has used one of those mechanical calculating machines that used to fill offices 20 years ago will appreciate one of these methods. On those ancient machines (which worked in decimal arithmetic), if you subtracted 1 from 0, the machine would display an entire row of nines. This is because, as far as the machine was concerned, this really was 1. Ifyou added 1 to a full string of nines, you would get a carry all the way along the number, and off the left hand end, leaving zero; (1) 1 0. similarly, in a computer, a complete row of ones could be used to represent 1. In both these systems, it is easy to see Ttio iinitrarcnl taohninskl rriti- cism, that vulnerability was, not always stated, has apparently been remedied in time for the machine's public launch. The Bridge Companion cleverly turns its main disadvantage, that it can't bid and play randomly dealt hands, into a virtue: it does not seek to obviate playing bridge with people: This is a primary objection to the machine's very existence: bridge, unlike chess, is a "personal" game where luck, psychology and instinct all play their part No machine, and the Bridge Companion (unlike its inferior American counterpart) doesn't attempt to, can replace the interplay of human beings. The BBC's effort can be welcomed as long as it does not do for is a mainframe program which has actually been re-written to run under the IBM PC's standard operating system, PC DOS. All these become real 4GLs through the use of ancilliary "front-ends" such as Ramis II English, Table Talk (Focus) and Natural Language (Microdata.) When you sit down at a Microdata M-1000 workstation, you identify yourself to the system and it opens a PKF on you a personal knowledge file. Thereafter it remembers what you tell it, and tries to work out how you use words. If you type "Show me all the outstanding bills," it will construct its own database search routine to try to do this, then ask "Was this what you wanted?" If not you can try again. If stuck it will ask for synonyms for words it doesn't recognise, or to be allowed to ignore them, or offer a multiple-choice selection, of options as a prompt. As you work, it learns. It means you don't have to learn a computer language, you don't have to get the syntax right, and you don't even have to be able to spell, since the system will make an intelligent guess in cases of doubt "Gimme da bills" is a perfectly acceptable command. The only thing that the system requires, for ease of use, is that your idiosyncracies are reasonably consistent. So far, you will have noticed, you need a hefty bit of kit with a hard disc to run a 4GL. The average hardware Cost is about 6,000, and the software is also pricey. PCFocus, at $1,595, is cheap only compared with the cost of the mainframe version of the same program, which is $110,000. However, this summer Atari is threatening to launch 68,000-based micros of comparable power with 512K of RAM, disc drive and monitor for under 1,000, with hard discs at around 400. And as the prices of Motorola 68020, Intel 80286 and National Semiconductor 32016 32-bit chips fall, clearly this kind of system will become common. As before, advances in hardware will lead to more powerful, more "user-friendly" software. With mainframe power available at micro prices, fourth generation languages should at last enable ordinary people to exploit it. game how any negative number could be represented, not just Even more intriguing is to use a negative base in the number representation. For instance, you could represent your numbers in the negadecimal system, where the base is 10. In this system, the number 211 is equal to the decimal number 1 (1 x-10) (2x-10x-10), i.e., 191; 35 in negadecimal is the same as the decimal number 5 (3 x-10) -25. So in negadecimal, negative numbers (like 25) can be represented without negative signs being necessary. In fact, any number can be written out in negadecimal notation, and regardless of whether the decimal number is positive or negative, no sign is necessary in negadecimal. It is quite amusing to spend a few minutes converting numbers from decimal to negadecimal and back again, and to work out how to perform addition and multiplication of numbers written in negadecimal notation. An ordinary mi-crocomputercaneasily be programmed to act as a calculator for numbers in negadecimal format, and this makes a nice exercise in computer programming. The negabinary system could be used as a basis for computer hardware design, and this would mean that it was not necessary to have a sign bit in computer words. Though this has been seriously considered, I am not aware that it was ever used in practice. bridge what television light enienainmem aid ior ine music hall, The other caveat is the price. It costs 179.50, for which you get the Companion plus the Bridge Builder cartridge. Compared to the cost of a micro-computer plus peripherals, this is not much especially since new cartridges will be priced at around 30. On the other hand, for what is after all a social game, 179.50 seems rather high: you could afford to make many mistakes at a bridge club and put up with a lot of shouting for that sort of money. One wonders who exactly will buy it. The BBC are pitching it at, amongst others, people in the country who live too far away from bridge clubs. Somehow, I doubt it How Glasgow leads What would John Knox say about a memory chip that lets you read five Bibles in eight seconds? Peter Large reports BRITISH research is set to produce computer chips so -microscopic that about 4 million words the contents of the Bible five times over can be inscribed on a pinhead. A team at Glasgow University, led by Professor Chris Wilkinson and Dr Steven Beaumont, is already routinely carving lines into silicon and gallium arsenide which . . . and how freewheeling electrons offer a shortcut to the future THE Glasgow research and similar work around the world looks likely to provide machines that will do what we want but by means we cannot follow. This will bring microchip-pery full circle. The root of it all the invention of the transistor at Bell Laboratories in 1947 was itself based on the work in quantum mechanics which got seriously underway in the 1920s. Without that understanding of how electrons in metals are free to move and conduct electricity, the chip would not have been born. But, until today, when those quantum effects have impinged beyond the basics in working chips, they have usually been a hindrance, not a help: electrons have tunnelled off to do their own thing and messed up the works. Personal computer networks: an executive briefing from the pioneers. Ever think about what would happen ifyou put a personal computer on the desk of every key person in your organisation? And then connected those computers so they could share the same data? At Nestar, we did more than think about it. Since 1979, we've been shipping products that do it: The PLAN Series of local area networks for IBM and Apple personal computers. Now, we've written an information booklet for executives that explains the key economic, philosophical, and technical issues surrounding personal computers and local area networks... in nontechnical language. You can get one by returning the coupon below, or simply calling us. Economies of scale There are sound economic reasons why your company should look into our Personal Local Area Network (PLAN) concept. To begin with, our PLAN Series allows a group of people to share expensive hardware: mass data storage units (Winchester hard disks), high-speed . and letter-quality printers, modems for communication over telephone lines, and so forth. In addition, since the PLAN Series is based on personal computers, your people can use personal computer software, which is very inexpensive in comparison to the software available for large computers. For example, well known spreadsheet programs retail for under 200. Comparable programs for the IBM 4300 minicomputer cost over ten times as much. The reason, of course, is economies of scale - the "scale" London TfnwAVPf nnnrf frnm thaca two reservations, the BBC Bridge Companion is that rarity in the bridge technology line: a machine which lives up to its promises. Having seen and tested bridge programs for all the main micro-computers, one is left with a justifiable cynicism: yes, they do what they claim to do but take an eternity to get going and require the same manual dexterity as a game of Space Invaders; and the graphics are dreadful: instant myopia. The Bridge Companion, with superb design and graphics by Tony Reynolds, is simple to use, responsive and, even if it does cost as much as three putative television licences, is probably worth the money. BBC Bridge Companion are only a millionth of a cen-timetere across. That means that about 6,000 memory cells storing a chip's information could be fitted into the width of the average human hair. On that basis Professor Wilkinson has produced his calculation of five Bibles on a pinhead. Already there are memory chips on sale from which the contents can be plucked at a rate of more than one bit of ba'sic information every 30 billionth of a second. Therefore (in abstract theory) those five bibles could be read in less than eight seconds. But that is the speed for silicon chips. Gallium arsenide, one of the 111-V compounds, is a material in which electrons behave more friskily that they can in silicon, and that material looks likely to Now, at this new level of ultra-miniaturisation, quantum mechanics can come into their own, with the electrons choosing their own obscurely logical paths along which to do our bidding. The Glasgow team is cooperating with Nottingham and Warwick universities in the physics involved, and Dr John Barker (who commutes between Warwick and Colorado State University, where he is affiliate professor of theoretical physics) has explained some of the possibilities. He envisaged chips made from gallium arsenide in which there are no human-devised physical roads for the electrons to follow. Those chips would only contain "quantum pits" for the electrons to fall into, plus a few directional walls pointing the way home. The electrons this time being the booming personal computer marketplace. The culture of sharing Beyond the obvious economic benefits, there is another powerful reason for making the PLAN Series part of your corporate culture: the sharing of information. In today's information economy, knowledge can have enormous value. The PLAN Series facilitates the circulation of knowledge within organisations. PLANs replace the slow, rigid, centralised solution to information problems with a quick, flexible, do-it-yourself approach. PLANs give people access to databases in existing mainframe computers (with appropriate security measures, of course). PLANs permit data processing and MIS managers to manage and control the boom in personal computers without thwarting individual initiative. Technical superiority All of Nestar's PLAN Series products - the PLAN 4000 for large corporate offices, the PLAN 3000 for medium- Please send me a copy I Personal computer I I Name-Title Company I Address; I Telephone- Amsterdam Copenhagen Hanover Milan New York Oslo Stockholm Vienna Zurich a shrinking world replace silicon for the top speed de-luxe chips of the 1990s. Dr Beaumont says he is confident that the Glasgow work leads the world in miniaturisation in gallium arsenide and, to his knowledge, only Bell Labs rival them in silicon. The team has already built field-effect transistors a tenth of the size of the "state of the art" in commercial production. But Dr Beaumont believes they are at the foreseeable limit of miniaturisation for real engineering. Nevertheless, they expect to be creating full circuitry within a year, and microchips proper in five to 10 years. They have been given a further grant of 500,000 for the next three years from the Science and Engineering would tunnel their own diverse routes and do so more quickly than by following today's carved roads. Dr Barker says that in experimental work so far electrons have tunnelled through gallium arsenide from one chip cell to another, 20 atoms apart, in one third of one tril-lionth of a second. He points out that it is impossible at that speed to measure what is happening even in dimensions 25 times cruder than the Glasgow achievement of five Bibles on a pinhead. And even if it were possible to do so, it would be disastrous because any measuring method would destroy the work going on in that microscopic world. Therefore, our knowledge would be confined to what information, and what instruc of .. Network. jn executive Dncniiy. Research Council. Half of that will go on new equipment, including a one-off enhancement of leading-edge commercial production equipment. The method they are using is electron beam "writing." An electron microscope's emitted beam is controlled by computer to transfer the design patterns into the chip's surface. It is one of several techniques that have replaced the chemical etching methods which had become inadequate for a microchip's density of circuitry before the end of the 1970s. In those ancient days the debate about the number of angels that could dance on a pinhead was as uncertain in solid-state physics as it was in medieval theology. Now the counting has begun. tions, had been fed into the chip. What was actually happening to that information, and where it was at any given instant, could only be known by statistical theory. But Dr Barker points out that long before we get down to those levels, we can produce self-organising chips that arrange affairs for themselves in ways that are somewhat similar to the workings of biological cells. Research chips have been made which contain no rigid logical sequence of operation. They are collections of processing and storage components which not only work in parallel but can also manage themselves, so that if one part ceases to function the rest take over of their own accord. In essence, the electron has already taken over. sized organisations, and the economical PLAN 2000 for branch offices and other small companies -represent leadership technology in the field of local area networking for personal computers. Our new booklet gives you the background you need to understand that technology. We're happy to explain how it works, because the more you understand, the more likely you are to choose Nestar. The computer revolution is happening now, and you don't have to be a technocrat to get involved. Take the first step. Return the coupon to Nestar Systems, 122 High Street. Uxbridge. Middx. UB8 7JT. or give us a call on (0895) 59831. Rank Organisation Company Paris San Francisco

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