Stealing CPU Cycles from Pointless Pen-Pushers…

HP LaserJet 4

Way back in the dim and distant past when the pointer ruled the world of computing,  I worked with a chap called Bob.

Bob was a proper geek, not a 19 year-old with acne and poor social skills, Bob was what Brian Blessed would have been like if he’d developed an interest in the P-N junction, not Shakespeare.

Bob liked Apple Macs, which hadn’t been a problem because we’re talking about the early 1990s and it was still possible that Apple would win the war for the office desktop. Only the company we worked for had previously plumped for the IBM PC Compatible and Macs had not been supported for a couple of years. Bob was not happy, he loved his little Mac but it ran like treacle.

We were trying to simulate the kind of distortion that happens to microwaves because of atmospheric conditions. The mathematics was very, very seriously serious indeed. The poor little CPU in Bob’s old Mac wasn’t up to the job and he was not just unhappy, he was downright miserable.

Suddenly though, he changed and became much more animated. He muttered at his keyboard. He forgot to take breaks. He forgot to go home. All the signs were that Bob had got himself a problem that he could really get his teeth into.

Then the admin team started having issues with the printers. Not just one, but all the printers on the floor. They kept saying “busy” and refusing to print for some considerable time.

It was my then boss who first figured it out, probably because he knew that Bob could program in Forth. Forth is a very similar language to PostScript and all printers we had were the latest PostScript ones.

At some point it had dawned on Bob that the processing power of just one of these shiny new printers was considerably greater than his Mac. But he hadn’t stopped there, Bob had massively increased his processing power by putting together a rudimentary parallel processing network using PostScript fragments running on the printers.

The one thing that turns genius into sheer brilliance is the ability to think laterally. Bob was brilliant, I consider myself very honoured to have ever worked with him.