Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Bigger is better

There's been a lot of press recently about portion sizes -- the "Supersize phenomenon", where everything you get at a restaurant is bigger. For example, at Hardees the normal hamburgers are now all one-third or one-half pounders and a "medium" drink is now 32 ounces. It used to be that a quarter-pounder (introduced in 1973) was BIG.

The funny thing is, this is happening in every part of our society. For example, last weekend I bought a lawn mower. It's been 20 years since I bought a lawn mower. 20 years ago, if you wanted to buy a normal, cheap push-from-behind lawn mower with a grass catcher, you bought a 2.5 horsepower mower. If you wanted to "step up" you got 3 horsepower. A riding lawn mower had a 5 horsepower engine, and 10 horsepower was mammoth. Today, the standard push mower seems to be 6.5 horsepower, and you can get riding lawn mowers with 25 horsepower engines. So, in 20 years, standard lawnmower horsepower has doubled. [Fun fact: the original Volkswagen Beetle had a 25 horsepower engine].

The same thing is happening in housing. in 1993 the average square footage for a house was 1,875 square feet in the U.S. By 2001 it had risen 10.2% to 2,066 square feet [ref]. Ceiling heights have gone from 8 feet to 9 or 10 feet. I was in a new subdivision last weekend and every house had a 4-car garage. It was a high-end subdivision, yes, but it is still funny that a "three car garage" used to be a big deal, but now the "upscale" standard has moved to a four-car garage.

You can also see it in the size of "big box" stores. The original Wal-Mart store opened in 1962 in Rogers, Arkansas. It was 35,000 square feet (a bit less than an acre). The newest Wal-Mart stores are 200,000 square feet (nearly 5 acres).

The Robotic Nation article talks about how, in 2040, computers will have advanced to the point where they are reaching parity with the human brain. A normal $1,000 home machine in 2040 will be running at 1 to 10 petaflops (quadrillion operations per second) with a 1 exabyte (1,000 quadrillion bytes) hard disk. What if we extrapolate out some of these other trends in the same way? It will be interesting to see where things start to "top out" and stop growing bigger. For example, with a 6 megapixel camera you can create good 11x17 enlargements of a photo. You would think that would be "enough" for any normal photographer. But if a 50 megapixel camera doesn't cost much more, and your home machine has an exabyte hard drive and there's a 10 terabit connection between the camera and the computer, who cares? Why not get 50 megapixels, so you can blow up an image as big as a billboard?

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