28 July 2014

Why Obsolete Technology Can Save Your Life

So, there's been a lot of ballyhooing about the obsolete technologies our government uses in what are generally thought of as "State of the Art" facilities. As a closet luddite who genuinely misses his old Sears electric typewriter, I have a fondness for old tech, and can even appreciate its myriad advantages over newfangled gadgetry. If you're laughing, ask yourself how many times your PC has crashed while using a word processor e-mail client, think about why those errors occur, and now think about how a typewriter works. 

Okay, yeah, the door being held open by a crowbar is kind of a big screw-up, but using the antiquated computronics is actually rather a stroke of genius and lateral thinking. There's some joke in hacker/computer geek circles that the US Army has the most secure computer network in the country entirely by virtue of the fact they haven't upgraded it since 1992, so not only is most of it offline, but hardly anyone works in it primary programming language, and there's so little RAM to go around that running a virus would likely crash the system before it did any real damage. 

Also, bear in mind the US Army had its ass handed to it in Vietnam by farmers with sharpened bamboo sticks instead of sensible footwear. 

Anyway, going back to the silos...  

Because the floppies are so prone to erasure from interference, they have to be stored very carefully. Removing them or tampering with them would likely corrupt them, making them useless. Considering the way Mutually Assured Destruction is supposed to work, I feel very comfortable knowing our nuclear missiles are most likely to do absolutely nothing. Optical media may not be indestructible, but their relative longevity compared to those disks makes them a liability. In other words, "this message will self-destruct in five seconds." 

As for the computers themselves:

Keep It Simple, Stupid!

Those computers aren't exactly versatile, but the one thing they're literally built to do, they do fine and dandy with a cherry on top. There's a reason why people marvel over their old Atari consoles still working while XBox360s get made the butt of jokes for their Red Rings of Death. 

Richard Garriott, the creator of the Ultima PC games, said in a recent interview that while aboard the ISS, a daily ritual was to reboot the PCs running Windows to reduce their chances of crashing. Similarly, the computers aboard the Space Shuttles had about as much processing power combined as a Blackberry from 2002, but the R&D and Quality Assurance behind their construction is without question because they are made to work. Your average desktop PC has to be a kind of Jack-of-all-trades/master-of-none, but these are purpose-built machines that don't waste time, space, or energy they don't need for their primary function. 

So, frankly, I think all this uproar about old tech in the private sector is unbearably naive and you should all be ashamed of yourselves. As penance, dig out your old GameBoys (or get one if you don't have it anymore) give it a warm, loving kiss, place it on a pillow, and tell it how grateful you are its processing power would have been overkill for the Apollo missions. 

You're welcome. 
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