“I love old tech,” or, “I hope this doesn’t make me a hipster”

Maybe because I have a tendency towards being a platonistic‎ romantic idealist, but I really like old computer tech. There is a certain element in it that allows you to just work – or just play. True, the components were highly restrictive. The limitations that they had back then are more than enough to make most current programmers scream with agony. In a TED conference, David Pogue said this about the original Mac OS, “The entire operating system fit in 211k. You couldn’t put the Mac OS X logo in 211k!”.
Engineers are clever folk and come up with the most clever solutions. The Macintosh team baked most of the routines into ROM to save space on the floppies and because the disk i/o was so darn slow. To simplify electronics and prevent cheating, Nintendo’s technique for the Zapper was to would push a black frame, then a back frame with the target in white. The Zapper would then detect the changes in brightness, tell the system if there was a hit, and the game would then progress. In an interview with Adam Christianson, Leo Laporte recalled how he took advantage of an unused video interval on the original Macintosh to run a dialer daemon.

That said, my favorite use for older tech is writing. Why? Because the limitations, once again, forced programmers to crete simple, minimalistic, distraction-free solutions that took advantage of every cycle and byte. In them I’m allowed to concentrate in what I have to say. Isn’t that why some folks flock to the terminal with vim, emacs, or pico at full screen, or to WriteRoom, or OmmWriter, or Google Docs on a full screen tab? Modern OS environments are not just multitasking environments, they are also wired to the world – the temptation of Facebook, iTunes, and what not is too great; just switch to a different tab or app for a moment, and there goes a portion of attention that will never return. How about command line mode? Command line mode in a modern display is a pain: tiny super-bright text on a high res display – no thanks.

For simple tasks, simple tools. There is no need for a jackhammer or a nail gun where a hammer would do just fine.

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