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Retro Tech: We want to hear your stories

Molly Wood Oct 22, 2012

I have a third-generation, chunky looking iPod that I keep ticking along through thick and thin. I know how to pry open its case and have changed its hard drive once and its battery twice. Given the culture of upgrades we have in this world, people sitting next to me on airplanes tend to marvel at my iPod’s antiquity. I also have a Speed Graphic press camera from the 1940s that takes big 4-by-5 negatives with aplomb. What do you have?
I ask because I was looking at story in the publication Extreme Tech labeled “Built to Last: Computer Systems that simply cannot fail.” The piece lists things like Curiosity, the Mars Rover, that has a computer that should not need help for earth for fifteen years. I asked the author of that article, John Hewitt, an engineer who has worked on satellites and medical equipment, how to make technology fail-safe. Sadly, he said absolute fail-safe can’t be done.   
Mr. Hewitt then rhapsodized fondly about a computerized milling machine he bought used from Boeing. The unit is from the 1980s and has something called “bubble memory” in it, not even a hard drive. The machine sits by his garage door though every season, sometimes getting damp, sometimes crawling with stinkbugs that seek its warm circuit boards. Fires up every time, Hewitt said.
Don’t we all have retro tech that still gets the job done? No, don’t mention a shot glass from 1979 that is still working for you. We’re imagining a piece of technology from the past that in your view needs no upgrade.

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