Watched the new D.C. comic superhero film, Wonder Woman 1984 last night, and in a tiny scene with an actor without a speaking part, there was this shot of an office, complete with a computer that made me giggle.
A Commodore Pet1, complete with a built in cassette deck, presumedly for programs as the floppy disk technology wasn’t advanced enough. The computing power in my old iPhone is leaps and bounds more powerful than that desktop. I wonder if this prop was working, or if the green text on it was just printed directly on the screen. Who would know?
By the way, my quick, pointless review of Wonder Woman 1984: meh. Gal Gadot is beautiful2, but superhero films are empty calories. I watch many of them, but I agree with Martin Scorsese that the genre is not great art. Also, the golden suit of armor complete with angel wings was eye-rolly. Graded on a curve, Wonder Woman 1984 was a solid B. Better than Shazam!, the last superhero film I sat through, but that’s not high praise…
Modernization of technology is not always the most urgent task: sometimes the newest innovations are more trouble than they are worth. But as time passes, older technologies become harder to maintain and find parts for. I speak from experience, as my office has an older computer kept around just to run legacy software that has been defunct for about ten years. Not ideal, but I realize eventually, I won’t be able to rebuild the old computer without learning how to solder and program.
The US government has a much greater budget than my humble office, yet doesn’t seem concerned that the nuclear arsenal is controlled by floppy-disk era computers, and even more ancient COBOL routines.
The government is squandering its technology budget maintaining museum-ready computer systems in critical areas from nuclear weapons to Social Security. They’re still using floppy disks at the Pentagon. In a report released Wednesday, nonpartisan congressional investigators found that about three-fourths of the $80 billion budget goes to keep aging technology running, and the increasing cost is shortchanging modernization.
GAO says its estimate of at least $80 billion spent on information technology in 2015 is probably low. Not counted were certain Pentagon systems, as well as those run by independent agencies, among them the CIA. Major systems are known as “IT investments” in government jargon.
The White House has been pushing to replace workhorse systems that date back more than 50 years in some cases. But the government is expected to spend $7 billion less on modernization in 2017 than in 2010, said the Government Accountability Office.
“Clearly, there are billions wasted,” GAO information technology expert David Powner told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee at a hearing.
Although lawmakers of both parties say they are frustrated, it’s unclear whether Congress will act.
Unclear. Right, meaning, Congress has no intention of doing anything between now and election time, other than demagogue and raise money.
Computer Repair LED
America’s nuclear arsenal depends on a surprising relic of the 1970s that few of us may recall: the humble floppy disk.
It’s hard to believe these magnetic, 8-inch data storage devices are what’s propping up the most fearsome weapons humanity has ever created. But the Department of Defense is still relying on this technology to coordinate key strategic forces such as nuclear bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles, according to a new government report.
The floppy disks help run what’s known as the Strategic Automated Command and Control System, an important communications network that the Pentagon uses to issue launch orders to commanders and to share intelligence. And in order to use the floppy disks, the military must also maintain a collection of IBM Series/1 computers that to most people would look more at home in a museum than in a missile silo.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about the military’s reliance on seemingly archaic tech: back in 2014, the U.S. Air Force showed CBS’s “60 Minutes” one of the top-secret floppy disks that helps it store and transmit sensitive information across dozens of communications sites. So to hear from the Government Accountability Office that the Pentagon has still not phased out the technology – and doesn’t plan to until the end of fiscal year 2017 – is remarkable.
For the record, here are some of the systems we are spending $80,000,000,000 a year on:
Among the vintage computing platforms highlighted in the report:
— The Defense Department’s Strategic Automated Command and Control System, which is used to send and receive emergency action messages to U.S. nuclear forces. The system is running on a 1970s IBM computing platform, and still uses 8-inch floppy disks to store data. “Replacement parts for the system are difficult to find because they are now obsolete,” GAO said. The Pentagon told GAO it is initiating a full replacement and the floppy disks should be gone by the end of next year. The entire upgrade will take longer.
— Treasury’s individual and business master files, the authoritative data sources for taxpayer information. The systems are about 56 years old and use an outdated computer language that is difficult to write and maintain. Treasury plans to replace the systems but has no firm dates.
— Social Security systems that are used to determine eligibility and estimate benefits, about 31 years old. Some use a programming language called COBOL, dating to the late 1950s and early 1960s. “Most of the employees who developed these systems are ready to retire and the agency will lose their collective knowledge,” the report said. “Training new employees to maintain the older systems takes a lot of time.” Social Security has no plans to replace the entire system but is eliminating and upgrading older and costlier components. It is also rehiring retirees who know the technology.
— Medicare’s Appeals System, which is only 11 years old, faces challenges keeping up with a growing number of appeals, as well as questions from congressional offices following up on constituent concerns. The report says the agency has general plans to keep updating the system, depending on the availability of funds.
— The Transportation Department’s Hazardous Materials Information System, used to track incidents and keep information regulators rely on. The system is about 41 years old, and vendors no longer support some of its software, which can create security risks. The department plans to complete its modernization program in 2018.
Never really liked any of the names for my generation, but Generation PC is not bad. I first used a computer in 6th grade, learned a little BASIC and Fortran in high school, even owned a Timex-Sinclair that used a cassette player to store programs on, etc. I started writing college papers on a typewriter, but by the end of my time at UT, was using a computer and a dot-matrix printer. In other words, computers were growing up at the same time I was
We PCers were in our teens and 20s in the Eighties (1984-93; not to be confused with the ’80s); and in our 20s and 30s in the Nineties (1994-2003; not to be confused with the ’90s). Our immediate elders — the OGX — managed to squeak through the Seventies without being noticed by lifestyle journalists, management consultants, marketers, and pop demographers — because, according to the statistics, they were the tail end of the baby boom. This made OGXers feel neglected, and they preferred it that way; in fact, they built a negatively-charged generational identity around their non-Boomerness.
A 1993 New York Times story described “the postboom, pre-millennium set” as baby busters, baby boomerangs, New Lost Generation, twentysomethings, Generation X, slackers, 13ers. (All of which were actually attempts to name the cohort I’ve called the OGX.) The NYT writer went on to list some harsher labels — latchkeys, technobabies, videos, cyborgs, posties, protos (for proto-adults), borders, downbeats, mall rats, nowheres, burnouts, remotes — before settling for blanks. All very confusing.
If you ask me, these various latter terms were attempts (by frightened and resentful older Americans) to capture two unique aspects of PCers.
1) PCers were the first American generation to grow up with PERSONAL COMPUTERS.
Personal computers — which were less powerful, and cost much less than (first-generation) business, scientific, and engineering-oriented desktop computers — entered the market in 1977, with RadioShack’s TRS-80, Commodore’s PET, and Apple’s Apple II, all sold for purposes of education, game play, and personal productivity use. In 1981, when the oldest PCers were turning 17, IBM introduced its PC; in ‘84, when the youngest PCers were turning 11, Apple introduced the Apple Macintosh. Although my family had a personal computer, I brought a typewriter to college in ‘86; the following year, the school’s new computer lab opened, and typewriters suddenly became obsolete.
As Time would point out in a “Whoops! We were wrong!” cover story in 1997, we PCers (no longer called twentysomethings, by the perennially confused magazine, but Generation X; this error is compounded by the fact that — this time — Time was lumping together PCers and older members of the Net generation) weren’t slackers, after all. In fact, we were “flocking to technology start-ups.” During the dot-com boom of the Nineties (1994-2003), PC-savvy PCers founded Yahoo!, Google, eBay, Amazon, Razorfish, The Silicon Alley Reporter, CNET, Excite, Hotmail, theGlobe.com, Feed, Suck, Netscape, PayPal, and Tripod (full disclosure: I worked at Tripod), among other pioneering outfits. More recently, PCers have founded or developed: MySpace, Wikipedia, Gawker Media, Second Life, Blogger.com, Fark.com, plus KaZaA, Skype, Joost, others. Oh yeah, PCers also started Linux.
Spike Jonze, Christy Turlington, Rick Perlstein, Philip Rosedale, James Frey, Marilyn Manson, Jason Bateman, David Grohl, Jason Priestley, Bobby Brown, Jennifer Aniston, Chastity Bono, Donnie Wahlberg, Mariah Carey, Arthur Phillips, Paul Rudd, Sarah Vowell, Renee Zellweger, RZA, Everlast, Susan Choi, Aimee Bender, Rebecca Odes, MC Ren, Kelly Link, Ice Cube, Jennifer Lopez, Elliott Smith, Daniel Radosh, Edward Norton, Noah Baumbach, Wes Anderson, Christian Slater, Jack Black, Alison Smith, Dweezil Zappa, Kevin Corrigan, Gwen Stefani, Elizabeth Gilbert, Trey Parker, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Matthew McConaughey, Ellen Pompeo, Jay-Z. Elsewhere: Sophie Okonedo, Cate Blanchett, Edwidge Danticat, Matthew Perry, David Mitchell, Rachel Hunter, Marjane Satrapi, Pankaj Mishra, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Hari Kunzru, Julie Delpy, Linus Torvalds.