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An '80s-era Amiga controls the heating for an entire school district

Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
June 14, 2015
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Think the Windows XP workstation you use at the office is ancient? It doesn't hold a candle next to what the Grand Rapids Public School district is using to control its climate systems. All 19 schools covered by the authority depend on a nearly 30-year-old Commodore Amiga 2000 to automate their air conditioning and heating. It communicates to the other schools using a pokey 1,200 baud modem and a wireless radio so behind the times that it occasionally interferes with maintenance workers' walkie talkies. Oh, and a high school student wrote the necessary code -- if something goes wrong, the district has to contact the now middle-aged programmer and hope that he can fix it. It's a testament to the dependability of the Amiga in question, but you probably wouldn't want to trust the well-being of thousands of students to a computer that's probably older than some of the teachers.

There's a good reason why the school district has been hanging on to this vintage solution for so long. Replacing it with a modern system could cost up to $2 million dollars, which isn't exactly chump change when an HVAC controller upgrade is usually low on the priority list. There may be relief in sight, however. If the electorate passes a $175 million bond proposal, the district will have the cash it needs to replace its Amiga with a computing platform that was built sometime this century.

[Image credit: Marcin Wichary, Flickr]

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