NPF: VINTAGE

Posted in No Politics Friday on November 11th, 2011 by Ed

Although I find very little interesting about the new rash of car-related TV shows on the air in the U.S. (hey, no one can afford one anymore so let's watch other people drive them!) I did love this clip of a 2010 Toyota Camry beating a 1980 Ferrari 308 in a drag race:

Oh, and a Toyota minivan beats a DeLorean down the track as well, but a kid on a bike could beat a DeLorean.

Sometimes it's amazing how quickly technology moves in such a (relatively) short period of time. What was world-class technology in 1980, unaffordable to all but the wealthiest few, is now the level of performance offered in a car that is the definition of bland, basic transportation. And of course a new Toyota is far safer, more reliable, and easier on gas. The truth is that just about any car you buy today, even a cheap compact, will outdo even the most expensive, advanced cars of the 1970s and 1980s (or earlier) in nearly every way.

On the other hand, how far has the technology really progressed if we're barely beginning to move beyond oil-burning propulsion in cars? It would be as if computers today were still using vacuum tubes, but really advanced vacuum tubes. Of course in reality the field has done away with things like tubes and transistors altogether. I'm sure some of the more tech-oriented readers will find a bone to pick here, but the point is that a computer in 2011 looks and works nothing like a computer from 1950. But even though a modern car is far better than an older one, the basic components are all essentially the same. Just improved.

Back when Intel released the Core 2 processor line, a friend told me that a laptop equipped with that processor would have, for all intents and practical purposes, the computing power of the world's most powerful supercomputer in 1992. Not sure if that's accurate, but it's plausible given how fast that field moves. We've all seen the quips about how the Apollo Guidance Computer, with its dizzying 1.024 mHz clock speed and 2 kb memory, has only a tiny fraction of the capabilities of a cheap home PC today. It's pretty sad, given how quickly some other fields have progressed, that the technology of moving ourselves from point A to point B has accomplished so much but progressed so little in the last 100 years.