Doing insanely great stuff with old technology
Aug 5, 2007 12:00 AM
In his fascinating if dryly-titled book The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1990
, science historian at Imperial College London David Edgerton points out that the technology that most of the human race uses every day -- bricks, bicycles, and completely rebuilt 40 year old school buses -- is not new, but old. (And, in the case of those buses -- a staple of mass transit the world over -- may not even include any of its original components.)
This implies that most of the world gets by just fine on solutions that would seem unacceptably primitive to those of us living in the West--which is why I have a certain admiration for purpose-built systems that simply work
, and whose maintainers make no apologies about their vintage nature.
One good example is the onboard computers that run the space shuttle, which haven't been upgraded since 1989
Update: If what follows stretches credulity, that's because, as our observant readers quickly realized and I did not, this is a hoax!
For a not-fake example of someone creatively repurposing old technology as a web server, check out this Mac Plus-powered web server
. (It only has 4 megabytes of RAM!)
But here's my new favorite example, which stretches credulity so far that it seems like an invention from some Bruce Sterling-esque alternate history:
The Tandy Model 100 Webserver
The Tandy TRS 80 Model 100
came out in 1983 and was one of the first laptops. A favorite of journalists, it is so robust that many of them are still in use today
So this guy, whose name is not in evidence on his website, shrank the source code for the Apache web server -- the same code that serves up billions of web pages a day on much more powerful computers, e.g. those owned by Google -- down to 25k, so that it could fit in the Model 100's copious 32k of memory. Really.
For image storage, he hooked the thing up to a Sony Walkman -- by his own estimates, he can store up to 4 gigs of images on one side of a single audio tape.
The mind boggles.
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