Main Our Graphics Will Suck In The Future Discussion

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03:18:47 PM May 3rd 2012
What's it called when retro graphics are applied on purpose? For example, Instagram produces digital photos, but they look an awful lot like polaroids and other vintage photos...
05:45:16 PM Oct 28th 2010
Cut out the Real Life section. Most of it is Tech Marches On. If someone who knows better feels like pruning it, here it is.

     Real Life  

WARNING! The following contains potentially lethal levels of Techno Babble! Those not fully acclimated must clear the area now for your own safety!  *

  • To a small degree this is Truth in Television — for all the high-tech wiz-bang interfaces on our modern home PCs, cars with tape decks are still common as muck, since cars tend to remain in service for quite a while. The same goes for a lot of military hardware, especially in countries outside of the United States. Commercial hardware often also takes a while to update.
    • This is kinda a weird backwards example, as cars with tape decks are arguably better than CD players now, since everyone and their dog has an iPod which can be plugged into a tape deck (but not a CD player).
      • Fortunately, most new cars are now putting AUX IN jacks in their sound systems.
        • Just remember to ask for an iPod input.
      • Many aftermarket car stereo headunits include USB ports now and can read music directly from thumb drives.
        • Too bad some cars are built such that their stereos cannot be swapped out for an after-market set. The marketing division of the car company claims that there're many benefits to such designs (i.e. not desirable thus ignored by thieves because it will not fit any cars other than the one it was designed for, interior of the car looks more uniform), but the end result is that the customer suffers in that they have limited if no upgrade options. Bought a car with a stereo that has no AUX IN jack and want to upgrade to one that has? Your only option is to visit the official car workshop to have it changed, and be charged an arm and a leg for it.
  • Fun fact: Even as recently as 2009, the most popular microprocessors in the world weren't 32/64-bit monsters like x86, PowerPC, MIPS or ARM — they're 8-bit microcontrollers not much more powerful than the Beeb, specifically 8051 and 6805/6502 derivatives.
    • In fact, for most small electronics projects you don't need high-power CPUs. You can do a lot in 8 or 16-bit if you know what you're doing.
  • Multi-million-dollar space rockets that send high-tech satellites don't use anything more powerful than a 486 - partly because of the development time (they use the tech available at the start of the project), partly because older chips are better debugged, and mostly because it's easier to make older chips radiation-hardened. A new chip might be 10 times faster, but it'd also take twice as much shielding to keep it from failing due to cosmic rays. Since processing power on the ground is cheap and lead shielding is expensive (to ship up), they go with old chips.
    • Further fun fact - your Pentium of 2003 could run the entire Aegis air defence system of a US carrier group.
    • And there's that infamous episode when NASA had to buy an 8086 on eBay in 2002 for Space Shuttle equipment.
  • Z80 has a very long life even in serial products, but at least its features (by St.Wiener, ports array output command!) suggest that it was first designed for powerful embedded applications, not just ZX Spectrum.
    • It was indeed intended for embedded designs at first, and another feature it had (a built-in DRAM controller) made it very popular for low-cost products. Also, Zilog introduced it in 1976, and it has never left production.
  • The White House computers. "Like going from an Xbox to an Atari", according to an incoming Obama staffer.
  • The Motorola 68020 processor, introduced in the 80s and found in early Macs and Amiga 1200s and CD32s is another processor still in common use. It's used in the TVM430 cab signalling sytem used on the French TGV network and in the Channel Tunnel, both on the train and on the ground, and also in the flight control systems of Airbus planes and the Eurofighter Typhoon, and the European Ariane Rocket. Similar processors (like 386s and 486s) are found in many safety critial applications from railway signalling interlocking to Nuclear Power station controls.
  • Spotted in a How It's Made episode: A first-generation ("unenhanced") Apple IIe, working in a piano-player roll factory, punching out the rolls on a large automated punching machine. The episode was first aired in May 2009, making the Apple somewhere around 25 years old.
  • Some small libraries, especially those in high schools, still use the same DOS-based cataloging program they would have used during The '80s, presumably because of the problems people would have trying to transfer a complete catalog database from one program to another.
  • A number of industrial applications must be run on Windows 98 or older systems, because XP does not allow access to the older ports needed to interface with the machines.
  • In professional flight simulation (i.e. pilot training), it often happens that a system to train the pilots of a particular kind of aircraft is commissioned and built using state of the art technology at the time - and never upgraded during the multi-decade lifetime of the aircraft. Versions of Irix, HP-UX, AIX and Digital Unix (yes, it wasn't called Tru64 yet back then) that came out in the early nineties are still in use because no one's going to spend money on upgrading a system that mostly works (and an upgrade would almost certainly break, calling for a major re-development effort). Keeping it working is becoming more and more expensive, of course...
  • DOS still does quite well doing a well-defined set of tasks and almost never crashes, unless the user does something or the hardware breaks, which is why it is still in use to this day. For example: If you have ever sent or received money from Western Union you have indirectly done this. To this day the terminals use an MS-DOS-based menu system, with features such as "format disk in drive A" on the main menu.
  • Many of the "primitive" tactical displays are Truth in Television. Military command systems emphasize ease of reading information over flashy effects, which often means distinctive wireframe geometric shapes and primary colors. Even in 2009, modern situation systems would not look out of place compared to a 1980 Tempest arcade game.
    • Speaking of which: The Toyota Prius is a good example of this. The older models used a big, brightly-colored LCD to show what the hybrid system is doing. The 2010 model uses monochrome and two-color VFD panels, something that wouldn't have been out-of-place (and indeed was available on certain Fords) in 1990. (They're also the easiest displays to read on the entire dash.)
  • Unix, now almost 40 years old, underlies the flashiest operating system of the 21st century, OS X. If it's not Windows, a game console, Big Iron, or a digital watch, your computer is probably running some form of Unix.
  • VMS is a 30 year old operating system that makes even hard-boiled Unix grey-beards recoil in horror. It's missing even the most basic convenience features of a modern command line and bears almost no resemblance to any modern operating system. Despite that, it's absolutely rock solid, still developed and used to run major industrial and transportation computers.
    • Oddly enough, modern versions of Microsoft Windows are indirectly based on VMS due to Microsoft hiring VMS's designer away from DEC in the late 1980s — something DEC actually sued Microsoft over. You'd never see the resemblance unless someone pointed it out to you, but it's striking.
  • The underpinnings of "Big Iron" mainframe systems, particularly those from IBM, are more than forty years old, developed for computers using punch cards and batch processing. Today, the mainframes developed by IBM today can still use COBOL and FORTRAN code from the 1960s with little or no modification.
  • If you look at the bottom lines of the checks you get from the bank you'll see your bank's routing number and your account number in an odd numerical font. Those numbers are what the check sorting machines scan in order to process and sort the checks. The technology to do that has barely changed in the last 30+ years, and it's likely the machine that processes your check has been in operation all that time.
  • Many scientific instruments tend to last for decades and there is little point in upgrading the attached computer if the one it started with has sufficient processing power and there might be compatibility issues from changing it. For that reason, it's easy to find examples of the Acorn Risc PC, old IBM machines running Windows 3.1 and so on in a science lab.
  • Law enforcement still uses a messaging system developed in the 1960's. The software got better though.
  • In many developing countries, it's common to see businesses still using Windows 98/NT/2000. Specially places where software has a long lifetime (there are banks and stores in Brazil that still use Windows NT 4 and Windows 2000; for the few apps they use - Word, Excel and their own software - it's OK). They see themselves forced to upgrade when they can't buy Windows 2000/XP-compatible computers anymore.
  • Most of the world still uses the programming language C and it's object oriented derivative C++. The former was developed in 1972 and it built Unix, one of the oldest operating systems around. The latter was developed almost ten years later. In spite of more "friendlier" languages (Java, C#, etc.), these two have remained the most popular.
    • Justified: pretty much every CPU (from 8-bit microcontrollers to high-end 64-bit CP Us) has a C compiler for it. Thus, writing an operating system, libraries and programming languages in a widely-used language makes porting them easier. Being a simple and fast language, it is also widely used for writing scientific software, of which there's already a very large amount of.
    • Two other languages in relatively common (not really mainstream though) use are Lisp and Fortran, both developed in the 1950s.
  • The next time you're in a store, check out the display on the cash register. Some chains are starting to switch over to newer software, but an awful lot are still in the distinctive monotype font and four colors of early 90s computers—and some don't even have that, being fully old-school black-and-gray command line programs! Justified to a degree, though, in that you really don't need flashy graphics just to calculate prices, print receipts, and store sales.

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