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Hardware Technology

Living Fossils: Old Tech That Just Won't Die 388

jfruh writes "You might think that flat files, VAXen, and punch card readers are things of the past — and you're right, for the most part. But here and there, these fossilized technologies have found places where they can survive in production use."
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Living Fossils: Old Tech That Just Won't Die

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  • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @12:38AM (#39950575)
    ...I don't want it replaced before it's no longer doing its job effectively. The Navy system, for example, was finally replaced when the actual PDP11 hardware was no longer viable, and given the expense of the control software to develop, it probably was more cost effective to simply emulate a PDP11 to keep the existing code viable.

    Reinventing the wheel only because a technology has been around for a long time is not cost effective, and replacing technology because viable machines are simply old is also not cost effective. This same logic makes me dislike programs like Cash for Clunkers, as the cost to develop and build a car, plus deliver, is high enough that taking cars off the road that are still viable, almost without regard to fuel economy, is not cost effective. Use it until repairing it is financially impractical, especially considering the expense of buying another new one.
  • Re:Technology (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 10, 2012 @12:42AM (#39950601)

    Actually, I've found that people are more likely to be the opposite. They see something new, and they say...well, the old way was better. Old cars, because they hate all these fancy engines that they can't just fix, old televisions because they can't stand those black bars, old light bulbs because those curly ones are too hard to understand.

    Too many people assume everything should be frozen at a point in time, because of well, some human factor that results in a resistance to any change or improvement.

    Because it might not be perfect, but the old ways, they WERE better.

    Don't get me started on the people who think that they're hearing about more murders and killings today, so it must be more than it was back when they were young! Even if you produce statistics showing the opposite, or if you point out the numerous children who survive because of modern medicine, or anything else that shows it's not all bad.

  • by Mashhaster ( 1396287 ) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @12:48AM (#39950625)

    It just fades away into obscure applications that most people never know anything about. I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say tape is dead, or the desktop is dead, and yet people still use NDMP to back up data from company desktops over fibre channel to LTO tape drives as recently as right now, and still will tomorrow and the day after that.

  • Re:Technology (Score:5, Insightful)

    by qu33ksilver ( 2567983 ) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @12:49AM (#39950631)
    Absolutely, never forget your roots. We would be fools to discard our past because that's what led us to where we are now.
  • Re:Technology (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ThePeices ( 635180 ) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @12:54AM (#39950659)

    "I've never understood why people think that just because something is newer makes it better"

    Thats because 9 times out of ten, newer DOES equal better.

  • Flat Files FTW! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wrook ( 134116 ) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @01:11AM (#39950739) Homepage

    Developers who think that *everything* needs to be in a database scare the crap out of me. Sometimes flat files are a really good idea. Sometimes putting something in a human readable form that can be viewed and edited with a normal text editor is a really good idea. There are many, many things where I don't need to search vast amounts of data, where I don't need atomic commits, where I don't need rollback, etc, etc. For those things I use a flat file.

    Admitedly, I know the difference between regular, context free and context sensitive grammars and I know how to write a parser. Unfortunately, this isn't always common knowledge in a software team :-P

  • Re:Technology (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <slashdot@w o r f . n et> on Thursday May 10, 2012 @01:19AM (#39950787)

    I've never understood why people think that just because something is newer makes it better. We may mostly be on high speed internet connections running through cable, or xDSL, wireless, or other technologies, but that doesn't mean the forerunner to those technologies are without purpose anymore. Modems are still used in ATMs because landlines are incredibly cheap to install and not a lot of data needs to be exchanged.

    SOmetimes you have to. I mean, I have a bunch of stuff I love to use, like my Palm T|X. Problem is, accessories are REALLY hard to find. I had to replace the LCD, and it cost a few bucks. I'm thinking of picking up a few spares to keep it alive, but then you have to wonder if just switching completely is better.

    It's just like PATA hard drives. I have lots of stuff that use it, but just try finding PATA hard drives. They're *expensive* - like $100/500GB expensive. ($100 can buy 2TB on sale, if SATA).

    The old gear may work, but keeping it working can cost a lot more than migrating to newer technology.Even just to keep functionality the same.

  • Re:Technology (Score:5, Insightful)

    by houstonbofh ( 602064 ) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @01:20AM (#39950795)
    KDE4, Gnome3, Windows8, Vista... Sometimes change is just change, not improvement.
  • Re:Technology (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TWX ( 665546 ) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @01:44AM (#39950881)
    I think that people may say that they miss the old days, but based on people's fickleness when it comes to how they communicate (letter, phone, e-mail, myspace, facebook, etc), how they want new TVs even though tubes are arguably superior in both contrast and refresh rate (not to mention multiresolution capable), and that they sell millions upon millions of cars annually, they don't actually believe that the old days were better.

    The old days were simpler, not better. When one has less choices it's often easier to choose. When old technologies are cobbled on to, like all of the additions to the otherwise-ancient Otto-cycle internal combustion engine, those additions are what make some old things more complicated and arguably worse in at least the maintenance aspect. If we see actual technological revolution though, not only is the base technology replaced, but all of the other cobbled-on parts are too.
  • Re:Technology (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BenJCarter ( 902199 ) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @02:11AM (#39951001)
    The flatfile, like the flatworm [], will likely survive eons of evolution...

    XML FTW!
  • Re:Flat Files FTW! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wvmarle ( 1070040 ) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @02:21AM (#39951045)

    I would write a data reader/writer module for the program.

    This would handle the data storage, and if later requirements change it's a relatively small part of the program that changes. The rest of the program doesn't have to care how it's stored externally: it just cares about having function calls available to do a read, write, maybe search. This makes it also relatively easy to expand.

    And when in future there is a need for say more sophisticated search options, you can rewrite that one module so it starts to interact with a MySQL or Postgres database or so. Even the data format conversion becomes a breeze that way as all you do is read from the old system and write to the new system.

    Further in the future maybe your external db goes out of business, and again it's a relatively easy change to a new db.

  • by Bert64 ( 520050 ) <bert@slashdot. f i r e n z e> on Thursday May 10, 2012 @02:24AM (#39951061) Homepage

    Generic uses like simple document creation aren't actually any quicker than they were years ago... Sure the hardware is quicker, but the software is considerably heavier resulting in a user experience that while prettier, is around the same speed as it always has been.

    For most uses, the old software was actually perfectly adequate, and old lightweight software running on modern hardware would be the ideal scenario.

  • Re:Technology (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @03:38AM (#39951359) Homepage

    That old Vax might still be pumping transactions out for a very long time; replace it with something new, and the same might not be said.

    By the time the new thing breaks you'll be able to run a VAX emulator on something that costs $100 (and it will run faster on a tiny fraction of the power and fit on a shelf...)

  • Re:Technology (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Stormwatch ( 703920 ) <{moc.liamtoh} {ta} {oarigogirdor}> on Thursday May 10, 2012 @03:47AM (#39951401) Homepage

    Yeah, pixels have gone backwards because, whereas computer monitors were once far better than TVs, now they're the same components. Imagine if they built computers using only Xbox360 parts!

  • Re:Flat Files FTW! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by KlaymenDK ( 713149 ) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @03:49AM (#39951413) Journal

    I would write a data reader/writer module for the program.

    Quoted in lieu of an upvote. This is the #1 step in optimising file system access -- store it in a flat file first, with a proper wrapper, and then you MAY update to a higher-end system later on IF it's needed. Don't underestimate the bandwidth and accessibility (as in: hacking data for testing, etc.) of the flat file! :-)

  • Re:Technology (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @03:58AM (#39951459) Homepage Journal

    A conversation I had some time ago:

    Zealot: XML is brilliant! With XML your system can automatically send orders to suppliers and invoices to customers. No printing, no envelopes, no stamps!

    Me: You mean like EDI?

    Zealot: ED what?

    Seems it's not just sex & rock'n'roll that each generation reinvents.

  • Re:Technology (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @05:07AM (#39951737)
    I get annoyed when people just jump straight to making a database for everything. Sometimes flat files are just a better option, so long as you don't need to run any searches.
  • Re:Technology (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @05:39AM (#39951825) Journal
    I've been watching TV on and off for 5 decades, there was a sweet spot in the late 70's - early 80's where TV's came on instantly.
  • Re:Technology (Score:5, Insightful)

    by YttriumOxide ( 837412 ) <yttriumox&gmail,com> on Thursday May 10, 2012 @05:43AM (#39951829) Homepage Journal

    I get annoyed when people just jump straight to making a database for everything. Sometimes flat files are just a better option, so long as you don't need to run any searches.

    Absolutely agreed. My day job is writing software and if I'm storing data that I know will never exceed a few MB at absolute most, has no requirements for search, and is a fairly simple structure; I FAR prefer to use CSV to any kind of database.

    The best example is a single application translation table for around 25 languages. 100 strings, 25 languages - it may in theory grow up to 50 languages or so eventually and if the app gets much bigger, up to 200 strings. 200*50 = 10000 strings. At an average of around 15 bytes per string, that's ~150KB of data.

    As a UTF-8 CSV text file, I can hand edit it in a run of the mill text editor; loading it in the application takes milliseconds of application startup time (at which point the whole thing sits in memory while the application runs, so it doesn't re-read it again); parsing it is trivial; and any errors introduced somehow aren't going to kill the whole file (perhaps just make one string wrong; or at worst corrupt one language (a single line of the file)). I can't count count the number of times people have told me to convert this to a SQLite database "because it's better"... very sad.

  • Re:Technology (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Miamicanes ( 730264 ) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @09:55AM (#39953545)

    In a state like Florida, where just about all grass is basically some variety of cultivated crabgrass (northern-type grass is almost impossible to grow year-round because some part of the year is inevitably too hot, wet, or both), you'd be hating life completely if you had to cut any meaningful lawn with a push-type reel motor. Or even a rotary-blade mower without power-assisted wheels.

    Power motors with reel blades exist, but without major protection, they're a HUGE safety hazard. And they break a lot, because there's more blade for things like stray bark chunks from mulch to get jammed in. A rotary blade has fewer places where an object can wedge into place. A manual reel-blade mower might be perfect for cutting the grass of a British (or American) townhouse with a small yard, but commercial landscaping companies that depend upon speed to give hundreds of lawns their weekly trims could never depend upon them. They're too much labor, and require too much maintenance.

    As for electric cars being cheaper to operate & maintain, that's true up to the point where you have to replace the battery. Then the economics go out the window. That's why at least one new hybrid (Leaf?) was designed so that if the battery poops out when the car is old and within months of getting junked anyway, you can just flip a switch and tell it to forget the electric subsystem even exists instead of having to cough up more money than you could actually sell the car for (WITH a new battery). The economics of electric cars also depend upon governments not finding ways to tax electricity used for vehicle power the way gasoline is taxed. And if you need more than a hundred miles of range, you have two choices: wait a long time to recharge, or run from a gas generator whose efficiency is less than half of what you'd get if the engine were driving the wheels directly instead of generating electricity.

    Real stone is a terrible flooring material. It stains, it cracks, and it requires expensive skilled craftsmen to install (vs some homeless guy the contractor pulled off the street and pays $7/hour to throw down). Ditto, for genuine hardwood. You see people on HGTV who proudly show off the beautiful vintage hardwood floor they spent a month restoring. You don't see them covering it up a year later with laminate in disgust because their dogs destroyed it with their nails, and their chairs & shoes scraped it up within days. It's just too much ongoing work to keep a real hardwood floor looking good.

    Carpet didn't become popular until the invention of vapor barriers and vacuum cleaners. Even in ancient times, wealthy people had rugs in places like their bedroom. The invention of vacuum cleaners and mass production is what enabled poor people to have it, too. In more recent times, the fusion of inkjet printing with porcelain tile has enabled the production of floorcovering that's ideal -- the appearance of natural stone (or wood), with the indestructible nature of porcelain. The only thing they haven't *quite* figured out yet is how to make tile whose CUT edges can maintain the chiseled look of the best porcelain tile. In a middle-class bathroom, that's what inevitably gives away the fact that it's not real travertine (unless the builder went the extra step and used crown molding and wood edging to cover and hide the cut edges of the tile).

    Timber frame and mud brick homes aren't coming back in style... homes with fake timbers and veneer brick glued to the outside that LOOK like timber frame & mud brick homes are coming back in style (at least, in the UK). The same phenomenon is visible in the US, where houses have brick street-facing facades, but anything you can't see from the street is covered with cheap vinyl siding or blow-on knockdown-textured fake stucco. Nobody is going to build a genuine brick structure today, because it would be cost-prohibitive. In scenarios where masonry construction is desired or required, they'll use concrete blocks & affix veneer brick to the outside. Classic all-brick construction re

In less than a century, computers will be making substantial progress on ... the overriding problem of war and peace. -- James Slagle