BLOG: Those who forget past tech are doomed to be hacked

Robert X. Cringely

Old people can be scary. Who hasn't had a 75-year-old birthday clown wielding a twisty, inflated rubber object scare the hell out of them when they were seven?

Ornery old objects and musty machines can be just as frightening. Take the tattered magnetic strip card I use every day on that weatherproof reader outside the main door of our office building, the giant edifice that houses the Great Cringely Control Center and Coffee Cup Warehouse, aka That Damn Cringely's Cube. It's ancient and as reliable as Old Faithful. Slide it in, hear a beep, pull it out, open the door — day in, day out. Then yesterday, it grabbed my card and shorted with a nasty zotz when I tried to dig it out, like a Stephen King story where your kid's aging Beanie Baby suddenly grows teeth and comes at you crablike, slavering for your Achilles. While the paramedic was restarting my heart, I swear I heard the thing giggle and curse at me in Czech.

Geeks and technology are no different. Ever get stuck in a bar trading shots with a nerd from the '70s? Not today's cool geek, wearing knock-off Prada and hoping to be ravished by swimsuit models because he marinated himself in Axe and yohimbine. I mean the nerd of yesteryear in the short-sleeved Oxford with the faded ketchup stain on the collar and tape on his glasses, a weathered man from a happier bygone era where Xanex was called scotch and nobody shared their feelings.

He constantly complains about his martinis not being cold enough and calls the waitress a "nice broad." He's also desperate to impress you with stories of his adventures with punch cards, how thin computing is really only a repackaging of what he helped invent back in the mainframe days, and his visits to Studio 54 with Vint Cerf and his East German mistress, Slerma von Saftig. (OK, that last one was me, but it's a great story.)

You should listen to those tragic tales more closely next time. Buy the poor bastard a couple more drinks and keep him talking. You'll realize it slowly as he mutters along: These guys are ballpoints in Satan's pocket protector. They've condemned Western civilization by riding an Apollo moon rocket loaded with forgotten technology and fueled by malice right up our gender-neutral boxers.

"Logan's Run" made real
Why is the world so full of data breaches? Because the devices these graybeard yoyos built 10 years ago are considered ancient and forgotten history, just like them. It's not all their fault. I'm sure some have been clamoring for attention, trying to warn the rest of us lemmings and luddites, but they've undoubtedly been shouted down, dismissed as "he just doesn't get it," stuffed in cellars with computers so old they might as well be abacuses, and offered no IPO stock options whatsoever because they think Ruby on Rails is that paunchy stripper who dances downtown near the train station.

1  2  3  Next Page