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Weekend of November 16, 2018 – Hour 2

Tech News and Commentary

Dave and the team discuss they expected high price of Samsung’s foldable phones, social media causing depression and loneliness, a router satisfaction report and the public’s favorites, Stephen Hawkin’s auctioned property, online and mobile holiday sales, Japan’s human replacement robots, Apple v. Qualcomm’s trial, and more.

 


Wayne in Decatur, Illinois listens on 1340 AM WSOY and asked: “I’m aware that NASA – when the Apollo program was going on – used very rudimentary computers. I’m wondering how those computers compare to the computers we use in our homes today – or even in our cell phones. Our cell phones perhaps are more complicated than the computers NASA used when sending the Astronauts to the moon.

 

Wayne, those computers were less powerful than just about any electronic device you can find these days. 

Buzz Aldrin’s personal slide rule that he flew to the moon with him was up for auction about a decade ago. Modern astronauts probably don’t even bother with a calculator, let alone one of those. Times have certainly changed.

The thing is, the computers aboard Apollo, just like the computers that do plenty of specialized tasks those days were single-purpose. Your smartphone can find you anywhere in the world, translate a sign for you so you know if you’re about to walk to a coffee shop or a shampoo factory, and then let you have a live video chat with a friend while you wait for the car you that you requested through an app to come pick you up. That makes them great devices, but it also introduces a very large codebase that’s prone to inefficiencies and errors. 

A lot of very important devices run on relatively simple computers even today

A lot of very important devices run on relatively simple computers even today. For example, ABS brakes run on simple computers, though likely far more powerful than Apollo’s, they can’t outthink your smartphone, but they can reliably stop a car when you ask them too without being prone to spinning around a little circle for two minutes while they figure out what to do next..

The Apollo computers were tasked with a few very select tasks and they did them well, even if they wouldn’t have been able to respond to the astronauts saying “spaceship, play Fly me to the moon” while they were flying to the moon.

You can be sure that any rover, satellite, or rocket that’s been sent anywhere by NASA in recent years is far more updated and powerful, but even they may be less powerful than a smartphone for the simple fact that smartphones are really easy to charge at night, but a piece of metal flying across the void can’t easily reach the electric grid, so it’s better to keep those devices efficient.

If you’re thinking about this in terms of raw power, there are remote controls today that have more powerful brains than those rockets did, and thermostats, and security cameras, and just about anything else you can think of. 

The computer onboard each of the Apollo Command Module and the Lunar Module was called the AGC — Apollo Guidance Computer. Completed in 1966, it was a general purpose machine. If you want to see what the astronauts were working with, Google AGC simulator. You can try it out for yourself and see how it compares to your phone.

In fact, the AGC was one of the first computers that used integrated circuits — you know, “microchips”. Its performance was comparable to the home computers that would arrive on the market 11 years later in 1977, like the Apple II, Commodore PET, and TRS-80. It had about 4kb (that’s kilobyte!) of RAM and 40kb of ROM — the “master program” running the show. Compare that to the 4gb of RAM in an iPhone XR. It ran at 43KHz, while a typical mobile phone tops out at 2.50Ghz! 

There’s a lot of messy details involved in calculating relative power between computer systems, but a ballpark answer: the mobile in your pocket has over 1 million times the memory and roughly 60 thousand times the processing power! But don’t think the AGC was “rudimentary”. By today’s standards it may be underpowered, but many of the innovations built into the computer were cutting edge at the time (remember, typical computers at the time filled an entire room!), and it proved to the marketplace that integrated circuits were a viable component in the manufacture of personal electronics.


 

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Written by Dave Graveline

Dave Graveline

Dave Graveline is the founder, Host & Executive Producer of "Into Tomorrow" in addition to being President of the Advanced Media Network".

Dave is also a trusted and familiar voice on many national commercials & narrations in addition to being an authority in consumer tech since 1994. He is also a former Police Officer and an FBI Certified Instructor.

Dave thrives on audience participation!

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