Morning Ed: Classic Technology {2017.12.25.X}

[CT1] Old school portable drives.

[CT2] Wasn’t this a thing in Dave?

[CT3] Matt Shapiro says if you want something to last, digital isn’t the way to go.

[CT4] The history of Minitel, the French government’s web before the Web.

[CT5] Everything you ever wanted to know about the invention of dynamite.

[CT6] Before there was Facebook, there was CollegeClub. Did anyone else use that one? It was pretty central to my life for a year or two.

[CT7] If you’re above a certain age, you might remember OS/2. Turns out it’s still around in some limited capacities.

[CT8] Watch a double-decker bus get totaled.

[CT0]


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Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter. ...more →

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14 thoughts on “Morning Ed: Classic Technology {2017.12.25.X}

  1. CT3 – I seem to remember a proposed print edition of OT’s predecessor The League of Ordinary Gentlemen. Seems that might have been the way to go?

    And Merry Christmas everyone!

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    • I used to have lunch with the woman who ran the technical library at the giant telecom I worked for and we would discuss longevity. I am still convinced that she was correct in her assessment that if you want to be part of the source material historians use 125 years from now, you should be writing (or printing) on acid-free paper using pigment-based inks. Preferably stored in a dark dry place. She claimed that 125 years after the Vietnam War historians would simply lack the kind of materials about soldiers’ day-to-day lives that we have from the Civil War — not because it wasn’t written, but because it was written on high-acid wood-pulp paper with dye-based ballpoint pen ink.

      At some point in the early 1980s, while I was working for Bell Labs, I visited a display at the Smithsonian. Part of the display was one of Alexander Graham Bell’s lab notebooks. I started laughing so hard I had trouble stopping. After the friends I was with — none from the Labs — got me around the corner and back under control, I opened my knapsack and showed them the Labs’ notebook I had tucked in there — identical to AGB’s, right down to the uneven red page numbers.

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  2. The only piece of antique computer technology I keep around is this bad boy. 20 MHz 386SX processor (no hardware floating point). 4M main memory upgrade (painfully expensive). 60M hard disk. An early version of Linux and Bellcore’s MGR windowing system.

    UNIX on workstations had — and to some extent, still has — a distinctive look. (Nothing says “geek” like overlapping independently-scrolling text windows.) Early in 1992 I nearly started a riot with this machine on an evening flight from New Jersey to Denver. Someone on the way back to his seat from the restroom stopped beside my aisle seat and then shouted down the length of the plane, “HEY, THIS GUY HAS UNIX RUNNING ON A LAPTOP!” Thundering herd of nerds resulted. The flight attendants were not happy.

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  3. [CT4] I remember using Minitel to look up transit directions – it had some features that at least until recently put Google maps ahead of its competitors.

    You used street addresses not transit stops as your end points. You could choose options including
    – fastest route
    – minimal walking
    – minimal transfers between transit
    – minimal transfers between modes of transit (metro to bus or vice versa)

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  4. CT1: You get a work out to with those things.

    CT3: I think that NASA uses less than cutting edge technology for their computers in space among other things because the older technology is tougher and can withstand the rigors of space better.

    CT4: The argument on whether or not the state has any role in economic development will continue forever. I’m pretty sure that a free marketer can look at Minitel and find endless ways it feel short. Proponents of more government activity in the market will see Minitel as a great success and find arguments to support them.

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  5. CT3: When contemplating a book purchase, one consideration I make when deciding between paper and ebook is whether I think I will want to read this book again twenty years from now. My guess is that Kindle books will still be readable in twenty years, but I am less confident of this than I am of paper books.

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    • I have been converting all of my fiction to a single ebook format: EPUB with no DRM. There is no question that I’ll be able to read one in 20 years, barring the disappearance of computers, because it’s an open format and if push comes to shove, I can write my own reader. When I buy a new ebook from Amazon in AZW format, the first thing that happens is that I break the encryption and convert to EPUB format. A copy goes into the archive.

      To be honest, I don’t ever read the AZW file. My reader app of choice only does EPUBs. It’s my app of choice because it does such a good job of handling layout using my rules, not the style rules included in the file. Lord, there are some ebooks out there with miserable style choices.

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      • I think in terms of longevity one must distinguish between consumer formats and those earlier developed for government and branches of industry. A lot of the early tech was high cost and restricted to a few places. It did not provide backward technology also. However consumer tech does tend to exhibit backward technology. Consider for example that today there are services that will read from 5.25 floppies and move the data while there do not exist such services for 8 inch floppies. 3.5 inch usb floppy drivers are still for sale however. I suspect that dvd drivers will retain the ability to read cds as it is mostly software to modify the behavior of the drive to do so. So then the question is lifetime of the media, which of course could be extended by keeping it in the fridge. We do not yet really know the lifetime of usb flash as it has not really been around long enough, but again I suspect keeping them at fridge temps helps. USB will be backward compatible likley for a very long time as it has now 4 generations of backwards compatibly. For programs there are the various simulators that run on new machines and emulate older ones starting with Virtual Box for pc’ s which will run WFW 3.11 and dos 6.2 which by 2020 new pcs will not do. There also exist simulators for a number of older machines, so the problem will be more getting the data off old media than running the software that extracts.

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        • Re media life vs format life…

          Good points all along. Been there, done that, on both kinds of failure. Sometime in the next couple of years I’ll be experiencing another example of the longevity (and transparency) of analog media. When my daughter was small we started a story about some cartoon characters called “the little monsters.” (The main character is a princess monster who gets kidnapped by a wicked witch, and is working on her own escape while the rescuers bumble along. Original, we weren’t.) She outgrew her interest before we got more than a dozen line drawings in. Her oldest daughter is now approaching the age where she’ll be interested in continuing the work. I dug out the folder with the originals the other day and they’re in good shape.

          My drawing skills, OTOH, are pretty rusty.

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