It IS the Size That Counts
by Brian Dunning
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know that a person's worth is measured by his total cylinder count.
Take all motor vehicles (cars, boats, planes, motorcycles), add
up the number of cylinders from all engines, then throw in such
miscellaneous objects as chainsaws, weed whackers, lawnmowers,
generators, etc. Totals in three digits are not uncommon, but
even the lowliest of aficionados will have a count of forty or
more cylinders to command any respect within the gearhead community.
Then there are the FileMaker developers who consider a large
number of files to indicate a solution's high quality. This is
somewhat akin to determining the excellence of a meal by the number
of utensils it is served with. I do not subscribe to this philosophy.
No, I prefer to consider a count of total megahertz to be the
true measure of a techie.
Only computers that you own, and that function properly, count
toward this total.
I set out to calculate my own megahertz count. I have two laptops,
a G3/400 and a Pentium 333. Then there are my wife's G3/300 and
my son's iMac 266. Daughter's talking Winnie the Pooh probably
doesn't count. Total so far is 1,300 megahertz. Not very impressive.
Too bad I can't count the stuff at the office.
So I began to scrape, and scrape hard. I found my Palm Vx and
an old Palm III that still works. A Color Classic no longer on
the physical premises, but that I technically still own. Chalk
up a big 16 megahertz there. I don't even know what the Palms
run, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and tally up
20 megahertz to this whole group. Total 1,320; could be worse.
While discussing this subject around the beach bonfire one evening,
my friend Dan pulled out his HP calculator (yes, it was handy
even there on the beach at night), pressed an obscure key combination
and frowned critically at the readout. "My total megahertz
count is 32.9," he said.
"What, that's all?"
"It's the only computer I own," he said apologetically.
We all laughed. Some threw things at Dan or struck him. His calculator
case was hurled toward the phosphorescent surf. Not a respected
FileMaker luminary Don Wieland then gave his total. A blue &
white G3 at 450, an eTower PC at 333, and a reliable old Performa
6400 at 180. "My total is 965," he said, which prompted
a few minutes of debate about his arithmetic, and finally settled
into grumbling acceptance of his pedestrian megahertz count.
Some, like Geoff Ryle, achieve respectable totals by piecing
together all sorts of modest machines, some that most would be
embarrassed to include on their list. But look at me, I threw
in a Palm III. Geoff counts a couple of decent boxes on his desk,
a G4 desktop at 450 and a PowerBook at 266, but it goes downhill
from there. A PC from CompUSA at 190, an old StarMax Mac clone
at 160, a Quadra and a Performa both running at 33, an Atari reputed
to run at 30, and get this: not one, but two PowerBook 140's (remember
those?) at 16 apiece. Geoff's total megahertz count, the number
that defines him as a man, is 1,194.
Venerable Chris Moyer posts a surprisingly weak showing. Although
he starts strong with a Titanium at 500 megahertz, he drops off
quickly to a P233 desktop, a P90, and a 33 megahertz Performa,
for a modest total of 856. Moyer was undaunted by this damning
expose of his low worth as a person. "I like to feel that
I have value as a human in other ways," he began, but was
quickly drowned out by laughter and sprayed beer.
Noted developer Greg Lane was not physically present there at
the bonfire, being located in Missouri and all, but he was represented
on a PowerBook screen via satellite link. "Let me see now,"
said Greg, and looked around his office (out of our view, of course).
He proceeded to list his P3 running at 733, a beige G3 at 266,
a bronze PowerBook at 500, an iBook 333, a Toshiba Portégé
P120, an IBM ThinkPad P100, a CTX 486/100 laptop worthy of any
science museum, a homebuilt Cyrix 166 tower, and how's this for
creativity: killing two birds with one stone, a PowerMac 6100/66
with a 486/66 DOS card built in. All told, he tips the scales
at a healthy 2,450. His megahertz count is pretty big too.
Immediately there was suspicion and accusation, since Greg was
not physically there and these numbers could not be verified.
But nobody else, except Dan, had their machines present either,
and so the inquisition lost steam and dispersed.
Once this big number was thrown out, the charlatans and wannabes
came out in force. Trainer Bob Harrington stood, shook the cool
nighttime sand off his 1985-era Jams trunks, and held up a hand
to command silence. When he had everyone's attention, he announced
calmly that his personal megahertz count was over ten thousand.
There was awed silence for a few seconds, until the jeering started.
It quickly came out that Bob was including the 24 IBM ThinkPads
he travels around with for his classes. Pretty lame, Bob! He was
driven from the bonfire with stripes.
This whole time, everyone had their eye on David Haney, who occupied
an entire log on one side of the fire and looked immovable, like
an ancient Buddha you'd stumble upon inside a forgotten vine-entangled
temple on a foggy Chinese mountainside. He puffed serenely on
a cigar and was not about to volunteer anything. He confidently
waited to be asked, and knew that he would be. But nobody had
yet, because we all knew that David's vast megahertz count was
the result of an insane obsession and would be untouchable.
Finally there was no one left, and the bonfire was getting low.
"All right David," I said, "let's have it."
Of course he made us all wait for a couple more cigar puffs.
He allowed the pause to last just long enough to build drama,
but not so long that the audience grew annoyed. At last he began.
"Well if Bob can't count his training computers, I guess
I can't count my 38 Pentium laptops. 400 megahertz each, over
15,000 right there." He said it in such a way calculated
to make us all feel guilty unless we counted them. So we did.
"I have five G3 PowerBooks. I just can't seem to throw anything
"How fast are they?"
"Well, there's a 233, a 266, a 300, a 400, and a 500."
We all shifted uneasily. Then he continued:
"I have thirteen iMacs at my house. I think six of them
are 333's, and the rest are 400's. Then there are the G3 and G4
towers. Three 266's, three 300's, and three 400's. I have eight
Pentiums, four 800's, two 500's, and two 300's. Then there are
all the little guys."
He paused for a reaction, but no one would meet his eyes. He
grinned involuntarily, but checked it and stuck the cigar back
in to continue.
"It's just a few. A PowerWave 180, a 10 megahertz Mac IIci,
and a 40 megahertz Quadra 700. I think that's about it."
The gentle whoosh of a wave washing high up the beach broke the
silence and announced the rising tide. People collected their
stuff. The last scraps of woods were dropped onto the embers.
Some left without a word, a few said "Good night," or
"See you later." Buddha stayed behind for another satisfying
Nobody bothered to add it all up.