vintage computers in active use

Ian S. King isking at
Thu May 26 17:24:33 CDT 2016

On Thu, May 26, 2016 at 2:53 PM, Noel Chiappa <jnc at>

>     > From: Ethan O'Toole
>     > Might not be a bad idea to make a wiki page somewhere and ... source
>     > generic replacements. This way vendor/part# of modern replacements
> can
>     > be had for old belt drive floppys and computer tape drives?
>     > I think the audio cassette deck enthusiasts do something like this
> Excellent idea. The data can be put on the Computer History wiki; I've been
> putting a lot of PDP-11 info up there. Let me know if you have data to
> post,
> and can't get access.
>     > From: Paul Koning
>     > It clearly is not all that accurate. In a discussion of "old"
> systems,
>     > it mentions a system with "reported age 52 years" but it "runs on
>     > windows server 2008 and is programmed in Java". ... A number of other
>     > examples are similar. For example, a "56 year old" IRS system that
>     > actually runs on an IBM z series machine from 2010.
> Perhaps this is just sloppy writing, and they really 'the application is 52
> years old, but it has been translated into Java'? And the latter one could
> easily be System/360 code from 56 years ago, running on a z series.
>         Noel

Back to the original story: there's another angle on this with government
work.  I once tried to acquire a vintage system through an auction house.
We (LCM) won the auction, but the next day the auction house refunded our
money - apparently the machine was pushed into the wrong room and was not
to be auctioned off.

I begged for it anyway, and was told that because it was part of an active
program (testing for some fighter jet), it was still in use.  When I
suggested modernizing, I was told that changing the hardware would require
*re-certifying the entire workflow*.  In other words, it was far more
economical to maintain a 70's era computer than spec, design, acquire/build
and certify a new system.

I suspect that "journalism" like this is prompted by (and likely paid for)
by companies who profit from getting people on the endless-upgrade
merry-go-round.  But then I'm cantankerous that way. Cheers -- Ian

Ian S. King, MSIS, MSCS, Ph.D. Candidate
The Information School <>
Dissertation: "Why the Conversation Mattered: Constructing a Sociotechnical
Narrative Through a Design Lens

Archivist, Voices From the Rwanda Tribunal <>
Value Sensitive Design Research Lab <>

University of Washington

There is an old Vulcan saying: "Only Nixon could go to China."

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