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1998 Fools: Bankruptcy Threatens Computer and Net Usage
Bankruptcy Threatens Computer and Net Usage 1st April 1998 MUNICH: In a move predicted to have serious ramifications for the internet, leading maker of binary digits, Bitfabrikenworken Gesellschaft gmbh, today announced that it is filing for bankruptcy. This move is believed to be prompted by the realisation of abnormal losses resulting from unauthorised derivatives trading linked to the collapse in value of the Thai baht. Computer systems consultant Michael J Springhoff, of Anders Arthurson Consulting, believes that the move will have a major impact upon the functioning of the net. "Bitworken was the world's largest supplier of bits, with some 50 to 60 percent of manufacturing share." Bits are the binary digits, representing 'on' or 'off' on which computers and the internet run. "All digital computers use bits to represent programs and data in their memory and all communications protocols on the internet are based on the use of bits". "If BFW [Bitfabrikenworken] ceases production of these bits, which seems highly likely now, then there will be a major shortage of bits. Computers will not have enough to form programs when they boot up and many computers will display error message like "unexpected end of file encountered" or "this computer is running Windows 95". Data already stored on hard disk will not be affected unless it is read in from the disk and the computer then runs out of bits before it can be fully written back. "If your computer loads a file and runs out of bits halfway through, then only some of your file can be written back to disk and the rest will be lost." As a result, Springhoff advises that users not use their computers until the future of bit production is clear. "It would be terrible if you opened up the final version of your thesis or your company's end of year report only to have your computer run out of bits halfway through, leaving you with only the first chapter." If the bit shortage eventuates, the internet is expected to suffer massive failures as computers simply run out of bits to send. "The 'net is like a huge series of pipelines criss-crossing the world," says Springhoff, "except that instead of conveying oil or gas it conveys bits. Obviously, if computers in some parts of the world just run out of bits then there is nothing for the net to send and things will come to a standstill." Worse, some commentators predict a 'negative bit suckback effect' which might affect a computer full of bits that is connected through the internet to a computer which suddenly runs out: the other computer, in a desperate attempt to keep running, could create a 'bit vacuum' which, in effect, will suck bits from your machine to it, probably crashing your machine and corrupting its data in the process. The effect would be worst for those computers connected to the 'net by high-speed and high-bandwidth connections such as ISDN or ethernet lines, but modem users could experience the effects on a smaller scale. The only suggested solution is to refrain from connecting to the internet at all until the world supply of bits can be assured. Major private companies are already turning to countries with a positive bit surplus in an attempt to head off potential problems. Brazil, New Zealand and Iceland are the hot choices as the low level of computer usage in these countries means that many small businesses and government departments have reasonable stockpiles of unused bits which can be bought and transferred to the US and other large users of computing power. "While the exact figure for New Zealand is unknown," says Springhoff, "it is believed that they have some 15 or 16 terabytes of unused bits stockpiled around the country, which is even more per head of population than the number of sheep in that country. If carefully used, it could be a major export for the country and provide much-needed foreign exchange." Other analysts are worried, however, that the bits will be used purely for their electrical value in powering generators in the blacked out city of Auckland. That would be a terrible waste, according to Springhoff, equivalent, he says, to burning 200 year old mahogany wood to heat your house. However, the possibility is quite real if power is not restored in that city soon. The other major winners from this crisis are companies that specialise in recycling bits. These companies, which generally buy old computers and break them apart to salvage the bits inside, are expected to make a killing from the boom in demand for their bits. It is not known how many bits can be provided by this method, but it is estimated that 10 to 20 percent of the shortfall of bits could be made up. However, it is a non-renewable source of bits and there is already sign of possible opposition from environmental groups opposed to the environmentally unsustainable use of bits. A last possible hope would be that the company is either taken into bankruptcy administration or that its bit generation and bit foundry works are taken over whole by another manufacturer so that the disruption of bit production is minimal. So far no overt expressions of interest have been made, although leading Japanese bit producer Wondrous Star Bits Kaisen Kaisha is reported to be interested in some form of arrangement. --- Ben Kremer firstname.lastname@example.org http://users.ox.ac.uk/~magd0672/ Copyright (c) 1998 Ben Kremer. All rights reserved.