Filed under: Rich Internet Applications | Tags: Air Force, CIA, Curta, DARPA, Flash, Flash Media Server, mechanical calculator, USAF
I know that I’m a difficult person to shop for — but if you want to get an early start on this Christmas and beat the rush, I’ve been looking longingly at this beautiful piece of technology ever since it was featured in an article in the January 2004 issue of the Scientific American.
I’m glad that you asked what it is. No, it’s not a pencil sharpener. And no, despite the lynch pin at the top, it’s not a grenade either.
It’s a mechanical calculator, invented during World War II by Austrian Jew Curt Herzstark, who was imprisoned by Hitler — to make this device for the benefit of the German army.
While you might dismiss this as trivial, or at best mildly interesting, it’s quite possible that a successful deployment of a mechanical calculator in the field could have tipped World War II in Germany’s favor — just as today, another set of portable calculators, usually referred to as GPS satellites — give the U.S. and its allies a significant advantage on the battlefield. For evidence, look no further than Iraq. Previous conflicts in the middle east resulted in invading forces quickly becoming disoriented and lost in the desert. No more.
By the way, Curt (at least by his account), intentionally held off finishing the invention until his liberation by Allied forces. Many of these calculators are still in operational condition today and while they only do trivial math operations (add, subtract, multiply, divide) — they are accurate to 15 decimal places while state-of-the-art digital calculators today are only accurate to 10 or 12 decimal places.
Why is this even remotely relevant to this blog? Like the Curta, Adobe’s Flash-related technologies transform organizations, processes, cultures and the human potential in ways that profoundly defy it’s humble appearance.
I’ve worked on projects with DARPA, the USAF and even more secretive 3-digit acronym organizations in D.C. — successfully leveraging the Flash Player and Flash Media Server — to create incredibly sophisticated counter-terrorism simulations and decrease battlespace reconnaissance cycles on the B1 and B52 bombers from 24 hours to 5 minutes by streaming live video and sharing other sophisticated information using the Flash Media Server.
While I’m generally a left-leaning moderate – I was comfortable doing this work because I was quite clear that, political beliefs aside, it would result in savings lives (on both sides of the battlefield).
The question that I have is that, as developers and designers, what is our ethical and moral responsibility when engaging on projects — and the question that I’ve been asking myself lately is — what I could be doing to apply these technologies to cause ‘good’ in the world? There is no doubt in my mind that Adobe’s technologies have the ability to radically transform how humanitarian organizations fulfill on their mission — allowing cultures worldwide to share stories, beliefs, their personal voices — allowing world-wide organizations to powerfully collaborate and align on their commitments, priorities, and plans — increasing our global understanding and appreciation for every community on the planet.
Let me know your thoughts.
Oh, and for Christmas, I’d prefer the Type II Curta — but beggars can’t be choosers. 🙂
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