Monday, February 28, 2005

Imagine a Use For Old Computers

Imagine a use for old computers, the ones that people throw out or leave in cupboards gathering dust. One that was free for everyone involved, took very little effort to implement, involved no running or maintenance costs. One that also provided on a massive scale, free, unregulate connectivity for all. Take an open source distribution of linux and cut it back to the bare-bones, giving it simple networking tools, allowing it to act as a wireless router. Remove all unnecessary cards and devices so that it's power consumption was reduced to a minimum and add solar power or some other free energy source.
Then take this box, and find a blind spot in the network and drop it there, leave it to connect to others, providing a grid of interconnectivity. Soon this would cover vast spaces. ISP's wouldn't like it, because you would be passing on a paid connection, so go around them. Write a new open source protocol: internet v2.0 - open source. Would this be breaking any laws? Would it be morally or ethically wrong in any way? The only legal problem I can see is that in these security conscious times unattended boxes all over the place could be a nuisance.
These machines could also have excess computing power, it doesn't take much to be a router. Maybe they could be under-clocked to save more power, but when the sun is out and there's no need to, they could donate their spare cycles to Seti@home or another of those types of program, again, becoming useful rather than becoming trash. Let's give ourselves a slightly larger budget and things get even more interesting, for example if we install a bluetooth adapter (they're all over eBay for a couple of pounds). Then imagine a kind of peer to peer music streaming, you wear a bluetooth ear-piece, and the PC streams your favourite songs to it, switching automatically to the nearest node, looking up your playlist from your website, or a centralised website where you enter your favourite songs. The songs could reside on your PC, or each node could hold a few, becoming a distributed library.
This is what distributed computing could be, but it won't. It will be RFID chips monitoring sales patterns and shoplifting, and it will be expensive pay-per-use wifi connectivity owned by ISP's and telephone companies.

If you have another use for old computers/hardware then please post it on our new forum, i'm going to try and compile enough ideas to write an essay on it.


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