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Acorn kit found running Science Museum

Published: 4th Jun 2006, 17:43:27 | Permalink | Printable

Time to introduce them to MOS 1.2's descendants?

BBCs at the Science MuseumIt's a major tourist attraction for people visiting London. Hosting some 300,000 items, it saw 2 million people through its doors in 2005. But few will know that backstage, it's run by some rather humble British technology.

The Science Museum's Space Gallery, located on the ground floor of the building, shows off satellites and rockets to explain the development of space flight and exploration. And, as seen in a photo recently taken by one of the museum's staff, it's run with the help of some old fashioned Acorn BBC B microcomputers.

A news mole who reported the find said: "Just come across this photo of a back room at the Science Museum and spotted several BBC micros."

The picture was taken by Dave Patten, who heads up the new media department of the Science Museum. The institution is looking for people to overhaul its exhibitions with more modern technology, such as Macromedia Flash - which means the above photo could be the last we see of Acorn hardware running one of the museum's top galleries.

Dave said: "At the moment I am particularly interested in interactive webcasting, VJing software, electronic voting systems, visitor feedback systems, SMS, MMS, generative art, content management systems, electronic signage, electronic graffiti and handheld technologies."

Which could perhaps be solved by a little ARM9 powered system called the A9. Its developers, AdvantageSix, hope to get their kit into next-generation museum exhibitions, and similar environments, by hooking up mobile phones to interactive displays and so on.

• Acorn co-founder Andy Hopper has been interviewed by New Scientist magazine. He started off managing two dozen Acorn engineers, and is now running the computer laboratory at Cambridge University.


Backstage at the Science Museum

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I knew they were using beebs there at one time, and its nice to see they are still going. I wonder if any other systems would still be running continuously for 20 odd years with no additional cooling, any PC would have crufted up years ago. It would be great if the A9 took over (RISC OS would need better flash support though), but I dount if even they would give the same longlevity of service due to the use of a harddisc, would be worth using solid state flash drives instead.

 is a RISC OS Userdruck on 5/6/06 9:23AM
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Solid state drives are looking increasingly feasible. I can now buy a 4GB CF card for less than I paid for a 4GB hard disc drive a few years back (which I'm still using, by the way).

I wonder how long flash memory would last though? According to wikipedia, these days you're looking at something in the order of 100 thousand to 10 million read-write cycles before failure - which would mean something around 100 read/writes a day if it were to fail (on average) after 20 years. Hmm, that might be okay for a system that doesn't rely on virtual memory like RISC OS.

 is a RISC OS Userninja on 5/6/06 12:46PM
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"I am particularly interested in interactive webcasting, VJing software, electronic voting systems ... MMS, generative art, content management systems, electronic signage, electronic graffiti"

My buzzword-o-meter just exploded.

 is a RISC OS UserHertzsprung on 5/6/06 2:13PM
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ninja: More usefully, I thought it was the writes that were the problem. On a system such as this, it's likely to not do many write operations. So - yes, theoretically the lifespan might be able to match the Beeb.

 is a RISC OS Usermd0u80c9 on 5/6/06 2:47PM
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From memory, it's not the write cycles that is the limit with Flash devices; it's the erase cycles. Individual bits in a Flash memory can be programmed from 1->0, but to get them back to 1, you need to erase them. Old devices use sector erase commands; I'd imagine that this is still the case, but the sector sizes have gone down to 512 bytes (I haven't looked at a datasheet for a while now). Since this is difficult for the general punter to understand, just saying the write-cycles is much easier.

I wrote a filing system that was specifically designed for Flash devices a few years back; it wasn't generally released though (a read-only version was used in a project with NCs). It relied on programming 1->0 to mark areas as used/unused/deleted, and needed the occasional "compact" where the sectors were erased and rewritten with the deleted data removed.

Modern devices abstract this away, and all you see is a bunch of sectors you can read/write.

 is a RISC OS Usertribbles2 on 5/6/06 10:44PM
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