The old and the new

Discussion in 'The Common Room' started by Elf, Nov 5, 2016.

  1. Elf

    Elf Immortal Staff Member

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    Cross posted from Nekochan SGI forums in discussing modern vs. old OSes and Windows vs. UNIX etc. as it seemed like an interesting topic of discussion for us.
    (u7:hammer) (u7:hammer) (u7:hammer)

    For me the divide is not only modern desktop OS (Windows 10, OS X 10.11/10.12) vs. older style OSes (BSD, commercial UNIX, VMS), but also modern Internet vs. old Internet.

    Much of what people participate in today (from digital software distribution, to streaming video, to even image and JavaScript laden web applications) assumes un-metered, high bandwidth, low latency connectivity to the Internet, generally only available in population centers. Having intentionally chosen to live in a rural area with no neighbors, affordable connectivity options are severely limited and un-metered broadband is simply nonexistent, I find myself increasingly cut off from the "modern world."

    This is particularly ironic for me. Five days a week I would drive to my (previous) workplace and architect an Internet service provider network where 10GigE (10 gigabit per second Ethernet) ports were increasingly considered slow and old hat, and where we regularly leased wavelengths or dark fiber for distances further than I could drive in a day. Then I would return home to a 10mbit/s Verizon 4G connection where 30 gigabytes of transfer cost $120/month, and $10 each gigabyte thereafter, all because I was a few miles outside the nearest city.

    To put that in perspective, many people I know regularly download modern games (through Steam, etc.) that are 50 gigabytes in size. Not only would obtaining such a game cost me $320 (on top of the games' purchase price), I would be unable to use my Internet connection for anything else that month. Or, I could pay another $300 in overages to obtain my base 30GB again, which is regularly consumed with normal browsing (no streaming video). Alternatively I could bring in a 1.544mbit/s T1 over copper (using poorly maintained Frontier outside plant) for about $470/month, mostly loop cost due to my distance from the Central Office, or a faster Metro Ethernet connection for significantly more than that. If I fully saturated that T1, using it for nothing else, I could download the game in about 76 hours.

    Of course, no modern individual downloads just one game or dedicates their use of the Internet that month to just one thing. Between being constantly involved in social media, streaming music and movies, and downloading software, typical Internet usage would be several times that amount. On a T1 there likely wouldn't be enough hours in a month to support the activities of a modern consumer. Having been engaged with the Internet since before it became commercially widespread, I am amazed at how quickly it has become integral to every waking hour of peoples' lives.

    Needless to say the games we do play are console games shipped on physical media, but with the latest generation of consoles turning into PCs and even games shipped on Blu-Ray requiring double digit gigabytes of day one patches to become operable, that avenue is also closed. The 1990s solution to obtaining things you didn't have the bandwidth for was Sneakernet, but locked-in digital distribution and streaming platforms make that unavailable, demanding that the end-device be the one in direct communication with the service. Increasingly I think modern OSes will become unavailable to me as well due to their large, aggressive patch cycles and mandatory adoption of cloud storage.

    This is merely a set of facts though and not a complaint. Whether it is sour grapes or not, I find that more often than not I don't miss any of it. There are a few gems that go by here and there, but I think a few things come into play:
    • In following the edge of modern culture, 90% of everything new is garbage anyways. I lump modern Internet phenomena like social media into this category. I don't find that there is very much worth saying in 140 characters or less.
    • In looking back retrospectively, the old gems float to the top, and there are certainly more of them than I would ever consume in a lifetime. Likewise, we have a large storage cabinet packed full of DVDs and Blu Rays in place of streaming video. I think the only fundamental differences between consuming things as they come out versus consuming them after the fact is the ability to socially engage on them and the amount of time wasted on things that don't pan out.
    • New developments are usually for consumption rather than production, and even amongst those, the consumptive ones are more expensive. For example, a modern game may be 50GB, but a modern game development toolkit may be less than 1GB. Attaching a cost to things tends to make you examine the motivation behind them in the first place, and on the whole I have always found being a producer to be much better than being a consumer. When it comes down to it, I find producing my own works (however simplistic) to be much more rewarding and engaging than consuming the works of others.

    Likewise with new Operating Systems (e.g. Windows 10, post-Poettering Linux), they may be a mixed bag. I don't see a need to abandon them completely. There are some things that will only ever be practically achievable with the newest software on the most common OS. I use Windows for running Avid and Adobe software. I use Linux with Amazon Web Services where abstraction away from the OS (e.g. through Chef / OpsWorks, Lambda, Beanstalk, EMR, etc.) nearly eliminates my need to interact with it and allows me to hold my nose. I am sure we will buy a Mac again sometime, but I regard the Apple of today as a fashion company that also happens to produce commodity PCs, rather than the innovative engineering company they used to be.

    There are a lot of things that modern Operating Systems are also not so good at; namely allowing you to stay focused on simple tasks. For example, it seems that a modern OS is constantly trying to prove itself useful by notifying you of something. As well, having a web browser, e-mail, and chat client constantly available introduces another stream of distractions. For things like software development or writing, I find that I am much more productive with an older computer (e.g. SGI, 80x24 dummy terminal) bereft of modern software distractions. For writing, I have even gone back to an IBM Selectric. I think the age of Gopher, Usenet, e-mail over UUCP, and BBSes was a much more contemplative time. It may just be memories colored by nostalgia, or it may have been that the more delayed nature of communication forced people to consider their words and actions. Perhaps it was also the technological exclusivity of the early Internet.

    Certainly not all modern developments are bad. Some are truly revolutionary. For example, I think it is wonderful that I can spin up a dynamic EMR cluster and process terabytes of data in under an hour and for the cost of a pizza, all from an IRIX command prompt on a machine built in 1995. I suppose the only thing I find unfortunate about the endless quest for the new is the ignorance of the old.