Relying on old technology



#31

Hello,

Four years ago I bought an HP notebook and signed up for customer service, newsletters and related stuff.

The old gal still works, mainly at home, and is good enough for things like Ofice documents, Web surfing/e-mail, and "special" applications like Mathematica or Linux every now and then.

Las week I received a newsletter encouraging me to get rid of this so-called old technology:

» Replace your old technology now and save
If you’ve been holding on to old PCs, you might not be aware of the hidden costs of operating and maintaining old equipment. Get the facts on how much money you can save with new HP technology.

I was surprised to receive this. My computer is old but still works. It will eventually give up the ghost, like all machines do.

Following this logic, I should have gotten rid of all my calculators. I remember HP including older models in a sort of insurance plan, and I also remember HP issuing notices of discontinuing lab/test equipment; the latter included details about the time during which consumables would still be available. Not anymore, I am afraid. And more than technology, costs are the driving factor here.

This notice kind of assumes I am one of those bean counters or one of those MBAs that led us to disaster, which thankfully I am not.

True, I can ditch the old girl and replace it, but what if she still serves me well and I want to keep her as long as she can be used?

Has anyone received such a message?

JuanJ

Edited: 14 Oct 2009, 1:26 p.m.


#32

Hola, Juan; ¿que tal?

I did not receive such a message, but I did not sign up for any stuff related to HP or any other company.

Quote:
And more than technology, costs are the driving factor here.
I'd go further and say that profits are the driving factor. For as long as you keep the old stuff running, you are no longer a buyer. I keep at least oe of each XT and 80286 Mother boards still working. They are boxed and at least one time a year I plug them into a power supply just to make sure they are still there. My house has no backyard, just a small construction in the back that I use for stocking and as a lab, so I can find a place to save these masterpieces from destruction. Who knows if 100 years from now someone finds them and decides they belong to a museum... or throw them away for good.

Back to calculators, most of my students actually never care about technology unless they can use it without the need of knowing how they work, like automobile drivers who have no idea what a piston, or a sealing joint are for. Fact is that regular drivers actually need no specific knowledge about their cars to drive them, while race pilots take the best of their race cars the more they know how their cars work. Hence they keep track of what engineers are doing to their cars. Here, where I am, we are missing true technology 'race pilots' and designers, while tech drivers are coming and coming...

I hope somewhere else the new guys change this route and go ahead trying to find something new to do with the old tech... As we do, somehow.

I'd dare wishing this does not happen to humans...

Cheers.

Luiz (Brazil)

Edited: 14 Oct 2009, 1:49 p.m.

#33

Quote:
» Replace your old technology now and save If you’ve been holding on to old PCs, you might not be aware of the hidden costs of operating and maintaining old equipment. Get the facts on how much money you can save with new HP technology.
What a bunch of malarky. I still do some of my work on a old '486 PC and DOS, including PC board layout and embedded systems programming, just because it's so reliable. Even the same two hard discs have been in it, running non-stop for 10+ years. OTOH, the power supplies, CD-ROM drives, and 3.5" floppy-disc drives in my newer PCs have gone down right and left.

#34

Yep. New hard drives etc are junk compared to old. I had my first unexpected failure--3 months old--recently, during a backup procedure. Since I didn't double double backup, I lost it all. I was moving rather than copying then throwing out files...

From now on I am even more fanatical than before. I have three hard drives of everything really critical!


#35

Quote:
From now on I am even more fanatical than before. I have three hard drives of everything really critical!

I have always been extra paranoid about my data for years. I used to make multiple tape backups of everything and store 1/2 off-site with the tape vertically.

Then I switched to burned CDs.

Now that HDs are so cheap I have a 16 disk RAID5 array at home. 2 of the 16 disks are hot spares that will automatically repair a failed disk. The probability of losing data is very remote.

However, I still believe in off-site. I have been using Backblaze on my and my kid's MacBooks. For my wife's Windows Laptop I may use Mozy, now I just do disk dups and a network backup manually. My kid and I also have extra HDs for Apples Time Machine backups. Time Machine is a real lifesaver because it backs up snapshots, so you can not only restore a backup, but you can get a certain backup in time. Most useful for user error.

Mosy and Backblaze are $5/month with unlimited usage. I got 200GBs on Backblaze--took 2 months to get it there. Once there only changes are saved, but only the last change, i.e. not like Time Machine. There is an online Time Machine as well, but charges per GB. Too expensive for me.

Unless all of North America gets hose or the unlikely possibility of losing my entire home with me in it and Backblaze being torched I think I am safe.

Edited: 14 Oct 2009, 3:43 p.m.

#36

Quote:
hidden costs of operating and maintaining old equipment

Were any listed?

Only things I can think of:

  1. Software Support. May cost more to call a specialist.
  2. Hardware Support. May need to use eBay to get parts, could be expensive.
  3. Power efficiency. This is a real issue. FLOPS/Watts, bytes/Watts, etc... However, that assumes that your need for storage and speed increases over time. If your performance and storage needs are the same as they were 20 years ago, well then you are probably just as energy efficient with your old gear. But there are minor upgrades that are universal, e.g. replace CRT with LCD.

Edited: 14 Oct 2009, 3:42 p.m.


#37

I've been using old computers and with some cheap upgrade (upgrade that were to expensive in their time) they work wonderful.

#38

My main computer was until very recently a 5 or 6 year old Thinkpad X24, and it worked perfectly fine. It couldn't play HD video, but I didn't expected it to do that.

My philosophy about this is that there are three main things which drive the PC market:
1. Specialty applications which depend on sophisticated software and truly require top of the line machines (3D applications, video rendering and editing, music production, and such.)
2. Video reproduction (by this, I mean HD video reproduction on computers.)
3. By far the most important factor corresponds to sadly uninformed folks which probably only use their computer for email, office applications, and web surfing, and which rely on the "advice" of store sales people pushing new computers down their throats.

As far as I know, 5 years ago there existed applications to do pretty much anything at a professional level, and those applications ran on 5 year old technology. So use a 5 year old laptop with Adobe Photoshop 7, no need to use Adobe Photoshop CS4, because CS4 hasn't added any essential functionality (and by this I mean functionality which you definitely need to perform certain tasks.) It is perfectly possible to use "old" computers and yet be completely productive.

Edited: 14 Oct 2009, 8:48 p.m.


#39

Quote:
1. Specialty applications which depend on sophisticated software and truly require top of the line machines (3D applications, video rendering and editing, music production, and such.)

You missed by far the biggest driving force behind hardware development these days: games. Getting the highest frame rate on the largest monitor with the best graphics. Very big market.

Computers have been fast enough for most other tasks for more than a few years.

- Pauli


#40

You got that right. Can you tell that I'm not a gamer? Scratch that. I like to play old arcade games, the kind of games that run in two Z80 CPUs.

Cheers,

Ruben


#41

Me too, got myself an old arcade cabinet :-)

- Pauli


#42

HEHEHE. Congratulations then. I've been toying with the idea of building a miniature cabinet myself, either using a GP2X (Korean game console based on Linux) or one of the small MiniITX boards (is it Mini?) Can't beat good old Galaxian, Asteroids, etc.

Games nowaday are too realistic, and that strangely detracts from their charm. Old games were like a simple model of reality which you could immerse into. New games though are about as complex as reality itself.

If you haven't seen the movie "The King of Kong - A Fistful of Quarters" I wholeheartedly recommend it. One of its two main characters (not the evil one, but the good one) actually came to give an after-movie talk to my previous employer. Sadly, I missed it due to heavy workload.


#43

Have you heard of the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator (MAME)? It runs on a PC and emulates thousands of arcade games. Add a cabinet, the right buttons, joy sticks and track balls, plus a coin selector, and you have your own personal arcade.

I built one for my wife and it's a lot of fun even though we don't use it much any more.

#44

I'd also add bad and bloated software. The answer to bad software slowing you down is always the same, get faster hardware. And if you upgrade that bad software, well then, it actually can be worse.

Three examples:

  1. Many web sites require flash just to view. Flash requires newer browsers, that require more speed and RAM. Avoiding all flash sites was an option, but not any more. Its getting really bad out there.
  2. Windows printer drivers. I do not know what changed in the last few years but it seem that there is a lot more overhead with ?? printer drivers. Its awful. I don't want my ink levels constantly monitored and sent to ?? so that I get prompted to buy ink. I have to kill the monitors frequently on my wife's Windows box. If she had a newer dual-core machine, then the printer driver could hog one core and she could still work.
  3. Background virus and spyware scanners are getting more and more CPU and memory intensive. I recently had to disable all automatic scanners on my XP VM after an upgrade because it was so slow to resume.

It's only going to get worse. Quad-core, 4 GB+, SSD machines will be the standard for software developers next year.

One of the only ways I have found to combat this trend of bloat is to use Linux. Not that there isn't bloat there, its just not as bad.

Edited: 14 Oct 2009, 10:05 p.m.


#45

That's true, but there is even more to it than what you mention. It's not merely bad/bloated software, but higher level programming/execution environments. Back in the day every CPU cycle counted, so programmers really had a lot of low level work to do interfacing with the computer via machine language. Back then computer time was a very expensive commodity, so companies could afford to have programmers dedicated to the long and arduous task of programming them, just because computer-microseconds were more valuable than man-hours.

Now things are just different, and programmers are a more expensive commodity than computers. Companies can afford to save money by using high level programming platforms which afford a higher productivity rate, but which obviously produce less efficient code. It's the macroeconomics of the software business that drive this whole thing.
Back 50 years ago if you had told a programmer that he would be able to program at the high level that programs are written today he would have probably had a seizure. Not to say that programming is less complex nowadays though, complexity used to grow horizontally, and now it is more of a vertical complexity (so to speak,) where you have a great variety of technologies interfacing with each other, computers communicating with each other through remote networks, and data flowing and being transformed everywhere.

I guess my point is not that the software companies are getting lazy, it's just that they are using the resources that they have the best way they can in order to advance at the fastest rate possible.

Of course, there are still guys like the SpinRite programmer (I forget his name) which do things the old way.


#46

Quote:
Of course, there are still guys like the SpinRite programmer (I forget his name) which do things the old way.


Ah yes, Steve Gibson. I still have archived copies of many of the early versions of Spinrite. Great program and it's still being made and kept up to date for current hard drives.

Bill


#47

Ah yes, Steve Gibson (The name of his company being Gibson Research if I remember correctly.) I've never had to get SpinRite, but I have seen video demonstrations of it, and it is a mighty impressive piece of software. Some people really swear by it.

#48

Quote:
It's not merely bad/bloated software, but higher level programming/execution environments. Back in the day every CPU cycle counted, so programmers really had a lot of low level work to do interfacing with the computer via machine language.

Remember the original Sidekick? It had a complete word processor, communications software, and a few other things thrown in, all in 40k of code!!

#49

Quote:
Remember the original Sidekick? It had a complete word processor, communications software, and a few other things thrown in, all in 40k of code!!

One of my favorites also. I still have the original manual & discs and it's loaded on my Omnibook 430 - a 386 notebook that runs on 4 penlight batteries!

Anothe great program is Turbo Pascal 3.0 - A 40K pascal compiler/editor that will generate COM programs. I still use it for quick & dirty one-off programs.

Bill

#50

I don't remember it because I wasn't into computers back then. But it sounds quite amazing that code so little could do so much. 40Kb don't get you anywhere these days. Heck, most advertisement banners on the internet are larger than 40Kb.


#51

In the mid eighties I was a programmer for microcomputers used in manufacturing. The system was based on a Z80 compatible processor by Hitachi (HD64180, IIRC). The original hardware was developed from a TRS-80 clone. We did some impressive controller applications with this design, all within 64 KB address space! It was based on a realtime kernel that I wrote myself and a CP/M based Z80 C compiler (MI-C, a German development). I had to rewrite the libs as well but it worked. :)


#52

Around 1980, we had a full fledged real time data acquisition and analysis system for nuclear spectroscopy on a pdp 11 featuring 2 hard disk drives (2.5MB each) and a magtape, all programmed in assembler by ourselves, and all well within 64kB. Just the OS was by DEC. Basis was a *small* mini computer, meaning just one 19" rack, some 2m high, and dammn heavy.

BTW, it's a pity DEC is not existing anymore -- they had really good stuff.


#53

College: Dec VAX 11-780, and 11-750. Also in graduate school, University Library database was VAX...unless that was just the dumb terminal model. But we used a Unix system in graduate school, for the academic computing.

I liked finding open sessions at dumb terminals and writing quick code to "take over" the user account--only the appearance of it--when the person came back and logged on, a picture would pop up on the screen rather than merely the username "Login Successful" notice

I remember in 1990 0r so when the computer consultant told me, "come back to the computer room, I have something to show you." So I go back there, and all the "washing machine" memory was gone, the big racks with all the RED LEDS were gone, the air conditioned floor was not yet torn out but idled, and there on a desk, sitting on a desk, was a desktop cabinet with a keyboard and screen, taking up less space than the 286 machines out in the lab. "Say hello to the new 11-780," he said. "No way, that's it? Something of a let-down now, isn't it," I said. "And that's not all," he said, "all of the memory is on this," (shows me a DAT tape) "and a few more over here (empty shelves with three or four DAT cassettes)."

Ah, memories....


Edited: 15 Oct 2009, 6:28 p.m.

#54

Walter, I also used to program on DEC: VAX 11/780 I think, and DEC20. What happened to them? They were great systems to program. I always assumed they were still around today.

Don


#55

Hi Don. Your VAX can live on as a VAXBar: Link to VAXBar

Enjoy!


Regards,

John


#56

A Vax turned into a bar! How the mighty have fallen.

Thanks John.

Don


#57

We still have 12 VAX 4300 series machines that have been in continuous service since 1991. We've only had to replace 2 or so power supplies and hard drives. Very solid equipment.


John

#58

Thank you for sharing this information, it is very impressive! Although not strictly a pioneer of computer programming, your experience goes further back than most people that I know.

Back in the mid 80's my father got me the first computer I ever owned, an Amstrad CPC128 (I believe these machines were sold in Germany under the Schneider brand.) I'm bringing this up to give some context, and also to mention that the computer came with a version of CP/M. Later I learned that CP/M was the brain child of Gary Kildall, who sadly passed away in the early 90's.

If you were developing microkernels in the mid 80's, you must have had exposure to computers much earlier than that, since that is an advanced task. How did you get started?


#59

My first BASIC experience dates back to the age of 16 at the evening school of a friend on a Wang computer. Later at university in the early eighties, I bought my first "real" computer", the Video Genie - a TRS-80 clone. Z80 assembler became 2nd nature soon thereafter.

How do you learn C? Be young enough and buy the K&R book! I had to switch from NewDos to CP/M to run the compiler but it was worth it. My realtime kernel is the culmination of these experiences: a good mixture of Z80 assembler and C. Application development was in C, the kernel and some library functions were written in assembler.


#60

Thank you for sharing your experience with computers. Somehow it seems that back then (late 70s, up to the late 80s) was the golden age of the personal computer (I'm not talking about volume of sales, or even about the capability of the machines themselves, but about something else.) It sounds like back then it was more of a pioneering effort, and because the field was greener everything seemed possible (I'm just imagining this looking back in the past, as my experience with computers back then was limited for the most part to playing games on them and, at most, to writing simple Basic programs.)

I also hold the K&R book in good esteem. I still own the hardcopy version, which hasn't been on print in the U.S. for a few years now.


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