May 19th, 2006 | researchmaterial
While I was in London I spent about Â£50 on a gadget. Like all too many modern gadgets it’s basically a silvery plastic box with an aerial socket and a couple of LEDs, and it’s made in Taiwan. This one still requires a bit of DIY assembly on the part of the owner, but nothing much more complex than replacing a light bulb. You need to buy a laptop-size hard disk drive and install it in the box, then add electricity. (Not too much of the latter, if you want to avoid letting the magic smoke out.) The box contains an embedded system-on-chip computer running Linux, and it’s about as powerful as my 1996-era desktop workstation. It’s got a WiFi base station and it basically turns the hard disk into a wireless-aware file server, accessible to any computer that’s got the password and a wireless network connection. We have a technical term for this: Network Attached Storage. (Prepend “wireless” to taste.) It used to cost thousands of pounds, oh, five years ago. Now it’s a cheap-ass gizmo you take with you so that you can stream digitized movies to your personal media player. Doubtless Bruce Sterling would have something pithy to say about it’s Spime-worthiness, but for now I’m almost at a loss to describe what it means to me â€” it’s vastly significant and simultaneously completely meaningless. I must be growing old, or something.