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Russia’s Retro Lenin Museum Still Runs on Decades-Old Apple II Computers (atlasobscura.com)
114 points by c89X 12 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 65 comments





If it gets the job done, it gets the job done.

One of the CNC machines in our workshop was controlled by a MicroVAX until recently. Did what we asked it to.


Right there is the problem with a lot of newer things. It does things other than what you ask it to, like upload telemetry, consume your bandwidth to deliver advertisements, or reboot for updates.

The problem is when it stops doing its job.

How much are Apple II parts? How easy is it to find people with the know-how? How much do they charge? How about 10 years from now?

Long term tech is hard. We haven't had time to figure it out yet.


The Apple II is one of a few computers that you could build a brand new one from parts if needed, they're not complex machines.

or run on an emulator

the article makes it clear that you need to interact with special cards to control the exhibits

That problem could probably be solved using an FPGA (or even simpler tech)

Given the specs, an AVR could do it.

How easy is it to find people with the know-how? How much do they charge?

I'd think you'd find dozens of qualified volunteers willing to work pro-bono to keep a Apple ][-powered museum running.

How about 10 years from now?

You'd find slightly fewer.


Still safe to leave the old stuff running if they get the job done and you don't want to add any new feature to it. And make sure you build your new stuff on a future proof platform.

It really depends on the roadmap.


I do worry that the power consumption might be far too high for the amount of value you're getting out of it. I mean, a Raspberry Pi Zero probably has more computing power than an Apple II, while using a small fraction of the power. You could probably retrofit the software to work relatively well on an Apple II emulator on the Raspberry Pi, for that matter.

Increasingly I've been getting a bit worried about these "it gets the job done" mentalities; are the environmental externalities actually being properly accounted for?


Sure, but what's the carbon output to recycle the Apple II? What's the carbon output to build new rPIs? What's the carbon output to rebuild whatever software to run on the rPI?

Until we can measure these things with extreme precision, it's kind of a shot in the dark. You might be able to make some estimate of it currently, and then you could graph the cost of making an rpi and recycling the Apple II vs the power usage of the Apple II over time (- the power usage of an rpi).

So I agree with you, but there are externalities to replacing the Apple II with an rpi that need to be accounted for as well.

This would be a cool data experiment.


> I mean, a Raspberry Pi Zero probably has more computing power than an Apple II

Probably? A single raspberry pi zero can do more calculations per second than every Apple II ever manufactured put together.

Edit: sorry, had a brain fart. You would need more like 100 pi zeroes.


If the museum is unchanged since 1987, then presumably the central heating (and the lightbulbs!) would be much juicier places to go looking for fat to trim.

It never crossed my mind, in 30+ years living in Moscow, that you can get off central heating, but you actually can![0] - although, it's unpractical for a private owner, living in the city.

But the museum in question is a village house, I'm pretty sure they don't have central heating.

[0] (in Russian) https://www.garant.ru/news/1155577/


Isn't central heating more efficient than private heating though? Central heating usually works by using heat from a nearby power station, which would otherwise have been wasted, no?

Heating costs me about as much as if I ran a 1kWh setup 24*7 for my 56m2 apartment. Short googling suggests, that I could do better on my own, but not so much better to actually do anything about it.

Efficiency of any infrastructure depends on it's physical condition, and technocratic abilities[0] of local governments; both are ok where I live, but mostly much worse in smaller cities.

[0] for the lack of better terminology. I can't talk about "quality" of Mayor's work in general, for it should include not stealing votes, representing actual people etc.


Interesting figures. BTW, the terminology is a mess, but I think what you're describing would most clearly be called "district heating", as "central" often just means that your house has one burner in the basement (as opposed to a fireplace in each room, originally). I hadn't stopped to think what the museum would have.

And, somewhere in here there's a parable about capitalism. The engineers are correct that the district heating plant has economies of scale... but it's only as clean as your town's politics, and even a squeaky-clean mayor has to make a terrifying giant decision about whether to upgrade it, once every 30 years. Instead of every owner gossiping with his neighbors about what works & what breaks, and whether double glazing was worth it.


"I do worry that the power consumption might be far too high for the amount of value you're getting out of it."

Those processors barely used any power to begin with. Most don't even have a heat sink. None of my systems had a heat sink until my 80386.


Yeah because we all got usb, wifi, bluetooth and run x86 those times. Better start worrying why most people still commute single in cars to work they could do while sitting in their homes.

The cost of rewriting the software will surpass any energy costs of the working solution. Not to mention crafting the new hardware and utilizing old computer will harm ecology too.

Well, as I said, potentially an Apple II emulator might actually do the job depending on what the software is doing.

This might be a fun thing to compute the numbers on.


> The Apple II personal computer was introduced in 1977. One of its features was a compact, fanless switching power supply, which provided 38W of power at 5, 12, -5, and -12 volts

Unless you are using Apple 2 emulator on Raspberry Pi, you won't get any modern computer working on 38W.

Actually it has less power consumption than a lightbulb that is needed to light up the room where it stands.


That's not really true. Pretty much any laptop these days will use less power -- much less if the display is off and it's not doing anything particularly demanding.

> you won't get any modern computer working on 38W

Nitpicking, half of modern laptops consume something close to that, e.g. surface pro 4 36W, macbook air 30W.


Considering that a CNC mill almost certainly has a custom hardware interface, its unlikely its possible to emulate with any kind of existing emulator.

yeah worked with a win3.1 box for a long time that was never shutdown on purpose (on a ups and we had back up generators). we ran midi tests of our hw with it. it was shutdown permanently in some time in 2010.

Aren't newer CNC machines much more effective,and slowly replacing older machines ?

Sometimes, sometimes not. CNC (as someone noted) is just a control mechanism. For some use cases, the cams and levers of a World War II-era Screw Machine are faster and far more cost effective than a new, or even used CNC mill/lathe.

There are shops out there that will buy up old automated machine tools and dedicate each machine to a particular setup or product that they make in bulk. That 60 year-old hunk of cast iron and steel might have cost an eyewatering sum when it was new, but because CNC is all the rage now, it's available for the cost of scrap now and it may still be as precise as the day it was built.


Many CNC machines in operation are retrofits of WWII era manual lathes and mills. There are so many of those still in existence, and the demand for small scale machining is so small in the US these days that the market for high quality machining tools have effectively segmented into huge modern CNC machining centers worth hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, and many decades old refurbished tools for small scale, simple one offs and hobbyist tools.

CNC is a way to control a tool, and the tools that can be controlled are so wide ranging that it's weird to talk about the efficacy of CNC, rather than the capabilities of the tool you're controlling.

Exactly what I wanted to post.

It isn't called a retro museum for nothing!

(also, this is very symbolic. every former soviet union citizen knows that Lenin foresaw the advent of thinking machines, calling this as inevitable as an apple falling down from a tree - from Lenin Collected Works, letter to Julius Martov, 1903)


Is there an English translation of this somewhere? I googled around and couldn't seem to find it.

It is a made-up joke, partially grounded in a soviet tradition to supplement any thesis by some quote from Lenin Collected Works. Since Vladimir Ilyich had lots of opinions and was a very prolific writer - 5th edition of Collected Works ran 54 volumes 650 pages each - one could find virtually anything there. ANYTHING.

That's what I thought of when I read this in George Orwell's "1984":

"Big Brother is infallible and all-powerful. Every success, every achievement, every victory, every scientific discovery, all knowledge, all wisdom, all happiness, all virtue, are held to issue directly from his leadership and inspiration."


There was a thread about how to write zero maintenance apps, feels related.

Isolated, stuck in time envs are a must.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21192885


Al Eisenstat, who accompanied [Steve] Jobs, recalled him talking about creating AI simulations of Soviet revolutionaries: “The one thing we can’t do is to ask them a question and get their current thinking. Ahh, but in the future you are going to have artificial intelligence and you’ll be able to ask Mr. Lenin a question or Mr. Trotsky a question.”

>in the future you are going to have artificial intelligence and you’ll be able to ask Mr. Lenin a question or Mr. Trotsky a question.

giving the amount of Lenin's writings https://www.cmlt.ru/getUserImage?id=17690783

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vladimir_Lenin_bibliography#Co... :

"His Collected Works comprise 54 volumes, each of about 650 pages, translated into English in 45 volumes "

i wonder what future we can already preview by training GPT-2 on it. Add to that a voice model built using his voice recordings and upload the combined model as a "Talk to/Ask Lenin" skill to Alexa... Caused the memory to dig out that USSR propaganda slogan - "Lenin is more alive than anyone living" (i kid you not - "Lenin zhivee vseh zhivyh").


the translation doesn’t seem correct to me. it would be more along the lines “if lenin is alive then everyone is alive”


I don't speak Russian, but assuming GP does: Maybe it's a pun? Both meanings convey propaganda about him.

>Maybe it's a pun?

In the years when it was produced the pun here would have resulted in "10 years in GULAG without right for communication with outside world". Not even speaking about intentional pun, to get how fearful people felt about making just accidental mistake - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirror_(1975_film) for example has a scene showing it pretty well.

I'm surprised by GP's translation and insistence. The translation is just simply incorrect language-wise. Just ask any Russian. While so totally incorrect the translation though has very deep Zen like qualities to it which would sound pretty profound in some other contexts and about some other persons. USSR and Lenin is just very far from Zen :).


your phonetic russian quote is not the same as what’s written on the poster.

sorry you're wrong. The poster has "Lenin i teper zhivee vseh zhivyh". I skipped the "i teper" which isnt really necessary there - it translates as "today, these days, present time, this moment, ..."

"You look for the person who will benefit, and uh, uh you know, uh you know you’ll uh, uh well...you know what I'm trying to say."

- AI Lenin


Ah, I can relate. While not as old as these, all the interactive stations at my parents museum still run on ancient win nt 4 boxes connected via bnc. Guess who they call when one breaks again...

I worked on at a company that was running all their billing software on DOS with FoxPro (I was there in 2012).

We eventually "upgraded" them to a VM running OS/2 on a Windows XP machine (I wasn't able to get it working with DosBox or FreeDOS)...Management didn't want to give us budget to rewrite it in a modern language, sadly.


> ...Management didn't want to give us budget to rewrite it in a modern language, sadly.

I fully agree with the management. The problem with software developers of today is that instead of being engineers and getting shit done they are more like script kiddies trying to do cool 1337 things. There are some golden rules in engineering: never touch a running system, if ain't broke, don't fix it and don't reinvent the wheel - just use it.


I don't think I agree with that at all. There aren't security updates, older hardware becomes harder and harder to get fixed.

It's easy to say "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", but in effect everything is breaking all the time. Hard drives fail, processors burn out, security holes are discovered, and the more out-of-date something is, the harder it is to replace or fix. If there were periodic attempts to modernize stuff, the blow of this is less severe.

Example, I'm sure the people running the Target POS devices five years ago had the mentality "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", and it led to a huge breach.


> There aren't security updates

From the story i get that this doesn't matter as it is a single isolated DOS program they run inside a VM.

> older hardware becomes harder and harder to get fixed

I'm sure you'll be able to find billions of computers that can run OS/2 in a VM both now and in the future.


> I'm sure you'll be able to find billions of computers that can run OS/2 in a VM both now and in the future.

Fair enough, I probably could have gotten it working in DOSBox at some point as well, further increasing the compatible devices, but that still doesn't deter from the fact that no one really knows Foxpro anymore. It's hard to fix bugs in dead languages.


AFAIK FoxPro is part of the xBase family of database systems and while these aren't as popular as they used to be, there is still a lot of information about them out there (and they were meant to be easy to learn and use). There are even some open source implementations (Harbour). So it shouldn't be that hard to fix things, at least for a good programmer.

The hard part would be convincing said programmer to work on it :-P.


I'm surprised it couldnt be migrated to a new version of foxpro with minimal work.

There's a chance that it could have been; none of the engineers still at the company knew anything about Foxpro and none of us really wanted to learn it; typically I (or anyone else suckered into fixing stuff) learned the very minimum required to find a bug.

However, until we finally got sign-off to do it in a VM it was a pretty big pain to log into the DOS boxes and fix stuff, so we were even less incentivized to become competent.

Even we had ported it over to Visual Foxpro or something, it was discontinued in 2007, meaning it would probably still have problems now...more even, since I'm reasonably certain that I could have gotten DosBox to work given enough time, which would at least effectively allow permanent free "operating system" updates.


About 10 years ago I saw a Soviet clone of IBM/360 in a mid size Russian investment bank

Those probably are Pravetz 82 [0] - the Bulgarian clone of Apple ][.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pravetz_computers


I also thought so, but in the article it says they are original Apple IIs imported via a front company.

Unrelated: I always found the II ][ and // naming so confusing...


Elevetors in our building(SF fin. district) runs even older ones.

Reminds me of this article about an old Amiga computer running the AC system for multiple schools: https://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/infrastructure/a...

Wonder how the replacement is going.

In my fantasies it's running an IO card on a Raspberry Pi with the UAE Amiga emulator.

Back in the 80s I worked in a place running on Apple IIs

The biggest problem we had then was floppy disks physically wearing out, as they were running all day

Did someone corner the market in 5 1/4 floppies to handle cases such as this? Does this museum have enough supply to keep running?


There are floppy emulators now, they could use those. Also if the diskettes are read only once per boot, they don't get much wear.

I hope they don't update to Catalina if they want the old software to run /s



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