Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Predicting the Future, Part 5

Between 1998 and 2003, a group of IT staff members at Penn worked together to produce technology vision and strategy documents called PennNet-21. There were 3 editions, published in 1998, 2000 and 2003. Each explored relevant technologies and the steps we hoped to take to deliver better services to our user community. 
As one small part of this effort, I wrote vignettes that helped to describe how future technologies could play a role in improving common workflows. I found them fun to write and fun to look back upon now. There were five in all, and I have been publishing one every few days here in this blog, word for word as they appeared at the time. 
I invite you on a trip back to a “future as seen from the past” in these 5 PennNet-21 stories. As you read them, try to remember the actual technology of the time – a time before smartphones, generally before wireless networks, and before many of the things described were at all possible.

From PennNet-21 3rd Edition, 2003
“Never Down And Out - a story set in the not too distant future (2003)”

Elizabeth, a Wharton MBA student, was sitting in her off-campus apartment living room listening to music and writing a paper on her laptop when the power went off suddenly. Before she could locate the matches and candles in the kitchen, the lights came back on, so she walked back toward the living room and glanced into the back of the hallway closet where her home network equipment showed the flashing lights of a reboot. The closet held the only network wiring, connecting a file server and a wireless access point to the 1 Mb broadband router that connected her home network to the Internet. 

Within three minutes, her personal file server was up and had established time synchronization with Penn's networked timeservers, and the rest of the networked appliances on which she relied began to restore their time and configuration from her file server. Less than a minute later, her personal video recorder was set once again to tape a show on the Discovery channel later that evening, and her networked digital music player which stored over 96 hours of high quality music and played it through her home stereo. picked up right where it left off when the power went out, playing Beethoven's seventh symphony, third movement. 

Her PDA and MP3/MPEG player, which never noticed the power blink since they run on batteries, each checked in briefly with her laptop (which had reverted to battery in the power blink, but was now back on AC power). A few news articles traveled quickly over her home wireless network. 

Elizabeth briefly thought once again about a home UPS, but decided, as she had before, that she was getting along well without spending the extra money. After all, recovery had taken less than five minutes, with no loss of data and no manual reconfiguration of the appliances or computers. Only her old microwave oven was flashing "12:00." 

Story1 / Story2 / Story3 / Story4 / Story5 /
The above appeared as a "PennNet-21 Story" in the 2003 publication PennNet-21 Third Edition. This is the last of the group. Some of what appears in the story may seem corny, some of it describes technologies that we really did have or came to know, or that are now coming of age. Please leave a comment to let us know what you think, and please go back and read the other PennNet-21 stories if you haven't already seen them.

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