Thursday, August 23, 2012

Computers - “It’s deja vu all over again*”

* Yogi Berra

According to its web page, “Impecca is a leader in design, development, manufacturing and marketing in portable Audio Video Products … [whose] products are recognized by users worldwide as we continue to lead the industry based on our committment [sic] to innovation and quality.” The company recently introduced several products that fall within the patentECO Industry Index through their use of a renewable material.

As anyone who has the pleasure (or misfortune?) of having a stand of bamboo growing on their property can attest, bamboo is highly renewable, to the point that short of using Agent Orange or a D–5 Cat bulldozer, once it’s growing, you just about cannot eliminate it. Same with kudzu, but that’s a tale for a different time.

Bamboo is a true grass and one of the fastest-growing plants, capable of growing a meter (39 inches) in one day. US-grown bamboo can reach 15–40 feet in height. It can be used for a wide variety of construction purposes including suspension bridges, boats (e.g., Kon-Tiki), scaffolding, housing, and laminated products (e.g., flooring, panelling, fine fly fishing-rods, furniture).

Now we can add computer products.

Impecca has released a bamboo calculator and a bamboo computer keyboard reminiscent of IBM-PC keyboards from the 1980s, but updated to today’s cleantech sensibilities. These products will certainly do their part to enable greater use of renewable resources for product manufacturing, and to reduce the amount of waste from such products when they reach the end of their useful life.

But what about Yogi’s quote?

It’s all been done before.

Several famous slide rule manufacturers including Post and Sun Hemmi used laminated bamboo as the core of their slide rules. The dimensional stability of bamboo, coupled with its strength and self-lubricating properties, made it a very good choice for this purpose. And it was just as renewable in 1895 when Sun Hemmi started making slide rules in Japan as it is today when used by Impecca. Slide rules, used for several hundred years prior to the invention, commercialization, and widespread use of electronic calculators and computers in the early to mid–1970s, are analog, mechanical computers. In fact, prior to 1980, Webster’s Dictionary defined “computer” as a person who computes, typically with a slide rule. For example, see the snippet from a 1953 Pickett slide rule manual.

1962 analog, mechanical computer (Post Versalog slide rule) showing laminated bamboo frames and slide.