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Saturday, August 27, 2005

Gameboy Advance and Apollo 13

Right now History Channel is showing Apollo 13: one of the best movies ever made in my book. Still remember seeing this at the theater on the Fourth of July in 1995.

Watching it now reminds me of some illustration I used to do when I was teaching website design to middle-schoolers. On the first day of each term I started the lessons off with what we can do with computers now, and how far along they've developed in so short a time. Like, in 2002 the World Wide Web was ten years old and a decade earlier there were probably less webpages on the entire net than you could count on both hands... and ten years later we were at like 10 billion.

The thing that really struck them in awe was the Gameboy example. I held out my Gameboy Advance and told them how there was more computing power in this one small handheld unit than there had been used in all the Apollo moon missions combined. And, it's literally true: there wasn't all that much raw computing that went into each mission. Most of it was simple telemetry. Otherwise, NASA's computers were acting like glorified calculators computing trajectories and engine burns.

Sitting on your desktop, right now, is probably the potential for more mathematical calculation than all of mankind had ever done up to about twenty years ago.

This is the kind of thing that crosses my mind when I'm awake at night...


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