Friday, June 29, 2018

In Defense of Obsolete Technology

How quickly technology becomes obsolete, and how truly sad. Our college was gifted several boxes of hardware Daisy players from a training program which became defunct. The idea was that they could be shared with students but the only person they could find who knew enough Daisy to unravel the mess was me -- so I got them.   We have several varieties of Plextalk and Telix things and a pile of original desktop Victor Readers, plus a trio of Book ports and some clunky gizmos that I haven't yet identified.   I got boxes and boxes of them, together with power supplies, which I'm still matching up to the players, plus boxes of CDS, some were books made in-house by a college, others from Recording for the Blind. This was before a hardware Daisy player could handle books from NLS or bookshare, and the book port is the only thing with a memory card. (Daisy 2 didn't handle the digital content from bookshare -- which is Daisy 3 and NLS books are play-protected, though not copy-protected.)   Their old NiCad batteries mostly don't hold a charge -- who thought special-purpose batteries which would eventually loose their charge were a good idea anyway -- and some of them need the battery to work minimally even when plugged in. That's because the charging circuit isn't bypassed when it's connected to AC.    Gives turn of the century a new meaning eighteen years later.    The training program that used them didn't bother to save the original boxes, manuals, and  many cases the master CDS that might have come with the products. Surfing the web, it is impossible to find documentation for the original Victor Reader, and for Book Port I found a user guide but no transfer software, which is needed to make the book port useful. (Luckily I did find a copy of the book port transfer software in the box of college-produced Daisy books, but so many of these players have lost their instructions.) Even when software and drivers exist, it's often for an operating system that is obsolete too.    Thousands of dollars were spent on this stuff; I know for example that the Plextalk PTR1 was around a thousand dollars, and now I have 4 of them which nobody wanted. I have a dozen literally of the original Victor Readers, and haven't got a single one to charge up yet.     And look at the Dectalk Express, something many of us poor blind folks lusted after. I now have five of them, not because I am a hoarder, but because I just can't bear to toss them. And they used a funky cable nobody has these days, which in a completely unrelated coincidence my husband had a box full of the same cables, simply because he used to work for Dec and they were a standard connector there.   But today's standard is tomorrow's  forgotten connector; my ability to understand CTS and DTR, IRQS and I/O ports is no longer a marketable skill! Oh well, maybe I really am a hoarder!   But look at the TeleSensory Navigator, a Braille display from the 1980s. When I worked for TeleSensory and they literally threw their remaining stock in a dumpster, my sighted husband and I snuck back in the middle of the night and "reclaimed" it. Today, the Navigator is supported by Narrator in Windows 10 but you need to be kind of geeky to figure it out. Who knew I could ressurect mine again!   I guess the moral of this rambling is that you really shouldn't go throwing away all the supplementary stuff that comes with today's hot gizmo. But then again, the websites on which they depend to download content or firmware updates will disappear, so who knows if the future will want it.   My husband -- same husband restores old Digital Equipment corporation hardware. Many of his collector friends scan old manuals and put them up on sites for other collectors to download so they can configure the old computers, install software and get them running like new again. When you restore an old car, you just need gas to run; when you restore an old piece of technology you need a manual, software, and the media on which the software lived, which might be old 9-track tapes or 8-inch floppies. And you need hardware that works to run the media to get the software to boot the hardware to make it work!   Even in my current job when I try to retain all the material that comes with a new Braille printer, video magnifier  or scanner, someone usually comes along to complain that I should throw all those extra boxes out because it looks so "cluttered". They want to lock the master CDS in a cabinet which will be forgotten, or the key will get lost, or maybe only the serial number will disappear because someone threw out the box on which it was printed. I dutifully de-clutter, but when I retire, woe to the person who replaces me and has to try and put all the bits of the obsolete technology together again. They'll probably just toss it in the dumpster!   Luckily I'm happily married to a guy who gets it. When he buys the farm we know collectors who will lovingly maintain his collection of old computers from the 1970s and not throw out the manual just because its pages are gray!

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