The End of an Era

NASA unplugged their last mainframe this week. I remember those machines.  There is something special about programming a machine in assembler, and knowing the registers, op codes and byte order.

There were no objects to be oriented, there were no apps to download, and Unix was a young and untested technology.  Rather, a client appeared at your door for consultation, and a server brought you drinks at the bar.

Those were the days!  Life was simple, computing was simple. We knew how every little bit of the program and the computer worked. Now we don’t.

It’s true that any one of today’s PCs is infinitely more powerful than the best mainframe from a decade ago.  Those machines were themselves amazingly powerful upgrades compared to the computers available to NASA when the moon program was being planned.  Those outdated behemoth’s demand huge amounts of power and could generate enough heat to warm an entire building.  A really big building.  There is no app for that.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of modern computing, and I live on the Internet.  My mainframe from yesterday has been replaced by the planetframe of tomorrow.  It’s a great thing.

It’s also impossible now to really know how everything works.  No single machine contains it all.  No single network delivers it.  No single company designed it or implemented it.  A single modern web server integrates technology from thousands of sources, some open and some proprietary.

It’s no wonder that no one really understands everything about anything anymore.

Maybe, just maybe, there will be an app for that.


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