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Obsolete Technical Skills 603

Ponca City, We Love You writes "Robert Scoble had an interesting post on his blog a few days ago on obsolete technical skills — 'things we used to know that no longer are very useful to us.' Scoble's initial list included dialing a rotary phone, using carbon paper to make copies, and changing the gas mixture on your car's carburetor. The list has now been expanded into a wiki with a much larger list of these obsolete skills that includes resolving IRQ conflicts on a mother board, assembly language programming, and stacking a quarter on an arcade game to indicate you have next. We're invited to contribute more."
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Obsolete Technical Skills

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  • by nurhussein ( 864532 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @06:34AM (#22485946) Homepage
    Systems programmers worth their salt can at least read assembler output. It's a valuable skill when debugging kernel errors.
    • by Zondar ( 32904 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @06:38AM (#22485972)
      I guess they're forgetting about things like optimized device drivers, true performance-oriented embedded systems architectures, microcode segments, and anything to do with hardware development.
      • by DMUTPeregrine ( 612791 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @06:53AM (#22486062) Journal
        From TFA:

        Still used when the utmost performance or very low-level control (e.g. in bootloaders) is desired. Still may be used particularly for small, frequently used sub-routines. On simple processors (not Intel/AMD), it is still viable.
        They didn't forget, it's just a niche skill. Assembly is obsolete for most purposes. You don't see it in application programming. You rarely see it in systems programming. You never see it in web programming. Even games don't use it anymore.
        • by Zondar ( 32904 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @07:14AM (#22486166)
          When you can write a bootloader that fits in the unused sectors on a floppy disc [] using Java or C++, come talk to me and I'll be impressed. Until then...
          • by Monsuco ( 998964 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @12:01PM (#22488896) Homepage

            When you can write a bootloader that fits in the unused sectors on a floppy disc
            If you can find a modern computer that still comes with a floppy drive I will be impressed.
        • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @07:22AM (#22486224) Homepage Journal

          You never see it in web programming.

          Well not reputable web programming anyway.

        • by Nicolas MONNET ( 4727 ) <nicoaltiva AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @07:26AM (#22486260) Journal
          There are probably many times more people capable of programming in assembly language today than in the 70s. Kernel developpers, compiler developers (obviously!), CPU designers, embedded systems developpers and so on.
          On the other hand, there are many times less people capable of making horse buggies than in the XIXth century; that's obsolete.
          • On the other hand, there are many times less people capable of making horse buggies than in the XIXth century
            Citation needed that the population has not grown since then, even among the plain people.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Jason1729 ( 561790 )
            I write my compilers in Bison

            Seriously though, I do a lot of PIC assembly programming. Something like Arduino is fun to play with, but for anything non-trivial in an embedded system, it has to be assembly.
        • by ultranova ( 717540 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @08:52AM (#22486770)

          They didn't forget, it's just a niche skill. Assembly is obsolete for most purposes. You don't see it in application programming. You rarely see it in systems programming. You never see it in web programming. Even games don't use it anymore.

          Niche ? JIT compilers depend on it - to nitpick, they propably product opcodes, but it's not like there's much difference. In fact all compilers which produce machine code depend on it. All systems programming depend on someone writing the assembler routines to actually manipulate the hardware.

          Assembler is a niche skill to a programmer in the same way that knowing how to build foundations is a niche skill to a house builder: you can make do without, but only as long as you get someone else to do the groundwork for you.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          Games almost always use assembler for vector and matrix math functions, because speed is critical and explicitly using SSE is more reliable than hoping that your compiler can figure out how to turn a long list of multiplies and adds into the appropriate SSE instructions.

          However the most common use of lots of assembler is compilers. Not just traditional source->executable compilers, but JIT recompilers are in every emulator that wants a sensible amount of speed.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by slapout ( 93640 )
          You never see it in web programming.

          Steve Gibson does it:

    • by Oscaro ( 153645 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @06:52AM (#22486052) Homepage
      Every programmer should know something about assembly. It gives you a better insight on what the compiler does for you, on how a function is invoked, on how an array is accessed, and so on.
      • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @06:57AM (#22486080) Homepage Journal

        Every programmer should know something about assembly.

        Two hundred million VB, PHP and Ruby programmers want to disagree with you. But you are right. Assembly is as much a part of the system as transistors and stack pointers. My first system had a 6502 with a BASIC interpreter in ROM. The back page of the instruction book had the 6502 instruction set printed on it (lucky it wasn't a Z80). That was much more interesting for a 13 year old than basic.

        • by Oscaro ( 153645 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @07:00AM (#22486094) Homepage
          Also, compilers are written by people, and compilers' output is assembly code.
        • Programming in VB, PHP or Ruby does not make you stupid per se. Capable programmers that understand what goes on under the hood actually use these languages.

          Programming a website in assembly, on the other hand, would be pretty thickheaded.

          My point is that a knowledge of assembly is indeed very usefull for any programmer. I only disagree with your gratitious bashing of script languages and their users.

        • by jcnnghm ( 538570 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @09:19AM (#22486918)
          And this is exactly the problem with computer science education today. I don't think I had a well rounded understanding of computer science until after I learned assembly and implemented my own instruction set on an FPGA. Doing that was kind of like hearing the music when the apes touch the obelisk in 2001. When all you know is Java, it's kind of hard for the computer to be anything more than a magical box that run Java. As soon as you implement jump instructions, everything else seems to fall into place.
      • by PinkyDead ( 862370 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @08:29AM (#22486638) Journal
        I think you could go further and say that the reason so much bloated garbage is produced is because developers have such a thin understanding of the techniques they are using and have no idea of the consequences of their actions.

        For example, data structures such as lists and arrays are used interchangeably without any idea of the pros and cons of each, and the right place to use them. There are plenty more examples of this.

        At the very least, the abstract notion that we should aspire to understand what lies beneath our current level of knowledge and how it affects the quality of code is fundamental to good practice.
      • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) * on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @08:37AM (#22486682)
        Perhaps it is why it is a required course for a Computer Science Degree. I know threw out my work I never do anything close to assembly level coding. But when I see odd behavior I often have a better idea on why it does so.
    • by Thanshin ( 1188877 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @06:52AM (#22486060)
      Without assembly knowledge we'd have uncrackable IP "protection" schemes.
    • by SharpFang ( 651121 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @06:57AM (#22486078) Homepage Journal
      Actually, assembly is very relevant for embedded devices - except i386 assembly that is :)

      Sure 'smartphones' etc start getting programmable in high-level languages but OTOH simple microcontrollers enter more and more of daily appliances. You don't write firmware in assembly for a DVD player anymore, but you write it for a toaster or a bicycle lamp, devices that 5 years ago didn't have any firmware or programming capability. The frontier is and likely always will be assembly, and even though the frontier keeps moving and likely in 5 years the bicycle lamps will be programmable in Java, maybe ballpens will be programmable in assembly.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Aehgts ( 972561 )
        I completely agree with the sentiment, but the examples are a little behind...
        Here's [] a programmable pen, couldn't find a bicycle lamp, so here's a NetBSD Toaster [] instead, for 4096 levels of burned bread and a web server.

        aahh, so you're a waffle man...

    • by Technician ( 215283 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @07:27AM (#22486264)
      I would say understanding and using the manual octal grouped switches on the front of a PDP11/35 is high on the list. Using the halt/run switch is a lost art. []
      Running a shmoo curve on magnetic core memory is an obsolete skill. []
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Opportunist ( 166417 )
      I'm glad to see that the first post already challenged the uselessness of asm.

      But it goes beyond kernel debugging. Any Antivirus researcher worth his weight (or at least a fraction thereof) knows x86 assembler to the core. When the automatic analysis fails, you still toss the malware into a disassembler and you have to find out why the analyser failed. What system did they use this time to foil your analysis attempts?

      Although you do notice that also on the "other side" (i.e. at the people writing those crit
  • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @06:38AM (#22485968) Homepage Journal
    My Dad started out working on valve amplifiers in the 1950's. Now that he has retired I want to start a business with him fixing valve amplifiers.
  • If you have to write bootloaders and a very small number of other programs or routines. For most purposes, yes, it's rather counterproductive.
  • by philbert2.71828 ( 781399 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @06:42AM (#22485990)
    Fortran isn't obsolete. It's still popular in particle physics. Also, "buying an HD-DVD" is on the list. Not that that was ever a "skill." This list is just begging to be filled with joke entries like that.
  • I suppose it depends on your definition of skill, but I think only 4 of the 11 qualify, since although the technology might be obsolete, the "skill" would still be intuitively obvious.
  • It's a crap list. (Score:2, Informative)

    by d3m0nCr4t ( 869332 )
    This is a list that states what the author doesn't do any more, but it's quite arrogant to assume he speaks for everyone.
  • by dave1791 ( 315728 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @06:44AM (#22486006)
    Navigating by compass is obsolete? That's like saying that keeping candles in your house in case of extended blackouts is obsolete.

    Some things on that list are either silly or shortsighted.
  • by Malevolent Tester ( 1201209 ) * on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @06:45AM (#22486012) Journal
    I'm neither a console programmer nor a demoscener, but isn't assembly very much alive and kicking in these two fields?
    • by sqldr ( 838964 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @06:54AM (#22486066)
      Correct. They also missed out one of the main reasons for the demise of assembler though - the rise and rise of x86 compatible CPUs with their shit-awful instruction set and 4 registers. Assembler on 68k, powerpc, risc, cell, hell, anything but intel is still very doable.
  • by edittard ( 805475 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @06:47AM (#22486026)
    Here's mine: writing decent stories for slashdot.
  • by Viol8 ( 599362 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @06:52AM (#22486056) Homepage
    Next he'll be saying we've lost the technical skill of picking up the phone handset because of speaker phones and mobile phones.

    Anyway , here in the UK new and refurbished rotary phones are a niche fashion item. You can pick them up in a number of places for a reasonable amount.
  • Churn butter? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WK2 ( 1072560 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @06:53AM (#22486064) Homepage
    Churn butter is on the list. I guess it just comes that way out of the cow now. Science is amazing.
  • Obsolete skills (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ta bu shi da yu ( 687699 ) * on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @07:01AM (#22486100) Homepage
    I'm looking forward to the day when blogging becomes obsolete.
  • Another one (Score:5, Funny)

    by L4t3r4lu5 ( 1216702 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @07:02AM (#22486102)
    Voting for a democratically elected official?

    Yeah yeah, Troll.
  • by Wingsy ( 761354 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @07:04AM (#22486112)
    I design embedded systems for a living, and this obsolete assembly language skill is what distinguishes my designs from those other companies. True, it takes me a little longer to get the code done, but it runs faster, has more features, and fits into a much smaller memory space than what I could do with C, or anything else. (Not to mention the fact that all the bugs in my code are all mine and none were introduced by a compiler.) I feel like it's to my advantage that assembly has faded from most designer's skill set. I won't deny that this skill is on the endangered species list, but to group it with the skill needed to dial a rotary phone made me speak up. It may be rare but it certainly isn't useless.
  • by OakLEE ( 91103 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @07:11AM (#22486144)
    I have been reading Alan Greenspan's autobiography and he consistently mentions the concept of "creative destruction," which perfectly describes the duality of the capitalist society we live in (even all of you supposed socialists in Europe). It describes both the benefit and burden of the market economy. The benefit of having (generally) free markets allocate resources in society is the innovation they brings (i.e., progress), but a cost of that progress is the obsolescence of things which are now, for lack of a better phrase, useless because of it.

    I've noticed that we on Slashdot seem to struggle with this concept daily, be it the loss of jobs to outsourcing, development and adoption of new technology, reform of IP laws, the slow death of the MPAA/RIAA, and even the subject of this article (which is the perfect example). It is probably a little off-topic, but I think this common thread should in these subjects should be pointed out, because all of our discussions seem to hinge on this critical question: Is the creation worth the destruction?
  • by ThreeGigs ( 239452 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @07:22AM (#22486228)
    Using PEEK and POKE to 'unerase' that Apple II basic program someone erased when they accidentally typed 'NEW'.
    The skill to determine a modem's connect speed from hearing the negotiation sounds.
    'Notching' an old single-sided floppy to be able to make it a double-sided disc.
    Cleaning and/or aligning the heads on your cassette player.
    Terminating or crimping coax.
    Knowing you need to type "DIR /S /AH /ON" without having to DIR /? first.
    Was 'winding your watch' in the list?

    I'd love to see some speculation on what skills you'd expect to be obsoleted by 2029.
  • asm is NOT obsolete! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Alioth ( 221270 ) <no@spam> on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @07:32AM (#22486304) Journal
    Assembly language is FAR from obsolete. Embedded hardware outships PCs by probably 100 to 1, and much of that is programmed using assembly language (especially if you want to get the most out of the tiny hardware). I have modern microcontrollers in my parts box with 64 *bytes* of RAM and 1kbyte of flash (Atmel ATtiny13) - while you can write a C program for this device, you can get much more out of it with asm, and it doesn't really take any longer to write (AVR asm is one of the nicer 8 bit ISAs). Portability is rarely an issue for devices like this, since even the C code won't be portable to other microcontroller architectures.

    Every serious programmer should have some experience of assembly language so they can grok what's really going on. Nothing tells you why buffer overruns are so bad than watching a program written in asm run over its own stack obliterating the return address. It doesn't need to be a fancy 32 bit or 64 bit desktop chip, an 8 bit ISA or one of the classics such as the Motorola 68K is enough to understand the principles of what happens at the chip level. If you want to see what happens when programmers simply don't grok the hardware, just check out The Daily WTF. ...oh, and I have a rotary phone, too. It was first installed in my grandparents home in 1969 when the house was built. It's just the plain GPO phone of the time, but it's a little reminder of them each time I phone someone.

    By the way, get off my lawn!
  • by rbarreira ( 836272 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @08:20AM (#22486576) Homepage
    I'm glad some people think that Assembly programming is obsolete. That way, it's much easier for me to get one of the many jobs which requires assembly programming.
  • by spywhere ( 824072 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @08:52AM (#22486774)
    My father and I worked on old Saabs, way back when they were cool. He was a self-taught engineer: he had a Civil Service equivalency, no college degree, and worked as an engineer for the FAA.
    He was the master at converting 3-cylinder Saab 96 (and 95) models to the newer V4 engine. He had it down to a science, and cars we converted ran all over the country.

    A few of the more mundane skills I learned back then:
    --Setting the dwell angle by adjusting the ignition points, then rotating the distributor to set the ignition timing.
    --Disconnecting the ringer on Western Electric rotary-dial phones, so Ma Bell couldn't detect how many extentions you had (illegally) connected to your line.
    --Dialing only the last 5 digits of a 7-digit phone number: within the same exchange, the mechanical switches at the local Bell office would make the connection.
    --Scraping conducting material off the rotary dial in the cable box to enable HBO and Showtime.
  • by TheRealChuckNorris ( 1207606 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @08:54AM (#22486780)
    I've been thinking about retiring - I'm 34 years old. I think I'd be happier if I'd jump off the bandwagon and started doing something totally different. Something that would not require me to study all the time and be stressed all the time.

    I grew up with home computers. I learned BASIC when I was 11. That is obsolete skill now. Then I got my first PC in 1988 and learned DOS. That's obsolete. Then I learned Borland's Turbo Pascal. That's obsolete. Then I learned Microsoft C programming and started programming Windows 3.1 applications that used Windows menus etc. That's obsolete. I learned Gopher and Telnet in the 80s. That's obsolete. I learned Pine. That's obsolete. I learned to tweak Windows 95 registry. That's obsolete. I learned BEA Tuxedo at work. That's obsolete. Looking at it now - I've wasted countless of hours to something that is totally obsolete now! Had I invested that time into improving myself - learning who I am, how I behave, how to enjoy this life - I would be much happier now I guess.
    • by mrxak ( 727974 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @09:43AM (#22487126)
      Did you not enjoy learning all those things? There's plenty of stuff I know that's obsolete now, but I enjoyed learning it all. I guess if you haven't enjoyed it, or feel it was a waste of time, you should definitely quit and do something else.
    • by Kevin Stevens ( 227724 ) <> on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @11:58AM (#22488866)
      Are you sure its all obsolete?

      Basic programming building blocks- variables, statements, control of execution flow with if/then/else and goto

      directory structures, command line navigation, computer architecture (and how bad design time decisions can lead to decades worth of headaches)

      Turbo Pascal:
      Not too familiar w/ Pascal anymore, but if IIRC, you should have learned how to use functions, namespaces, and the modular programming model.

      Microsoft C Programming:
      Event driven programming models, resource handles, GUI development issues- how to expose just enough complexity to make things useful without cluttering the screen, and the C aspect... you learned the syntax underpinning just about every other major language since and the basics of using structures, pointers, handling memory, the list could go on for pages.

      How plain text internet protocols generally work- and if anything you learned some cool tricks to do a raw telnet session on port 25 and spoof email from the boss.

      Email concepts/netiquette. Was Pine really so hard to learn anyway?

      Windows 95 registry:
      Eh probably the least portable skill here- you at least learned to be comfortable with digging into a blackbox OS and looking under its skirt. The registry is still in use in XP, not so sure about vista, so this is a skill you will get at least 15 years of use out of.

      Bea Tuxedo:
      not too familiar w/ this product, but if I remember correctly, its all about virtualization, which is now one of the hottest new technologies in the sysadmin/IT world.

      Sounds like you learned a hell of a lot. Sure none of these are all that employable *today* but couple that background with a weekend spent with a Java book and I would employ you with a 6 figure salary in a second over some newly minted sun certified ITT Tech grad.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Grishnakh ( 216268 )
      Get off the Microsoft bandwagon, and you'll find your skills don't become obsolete as fast.

      C programming (not MS-specific) has been a useful skill for decades now, with no end in sight. I program in C every day.

      telnet: it's been replaced by ssh, which basically works the same. Command-line UNIX doesn't seem to be going anywhere.

      Pine: who cares? Email programs aren't hard to learn.
  • LILO?!!! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Eudial ( 590661 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @09:26AM (#22486970)
    LILO is not obsolete! They'll have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands. GRUB is the work of Satan!
  • by gelfling ( 6534 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @09:29AM (#22486996) Homepage Journal
    Skinning a hide
    Crushing a Mastadon with a bolder
    Killing your enemies & impregnating their women
    Being a Sun God
  • by Ralph Spoilsport ( 673134 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @10:02AM (#22487284) Journal
    remember those pieces of shite? Remember when you put one in and it would go tickety tickety tickety and freeze up and you couldn't eject it? fuck I hated those things. The technique I found was to unplug it, eject it, then start it up, put in a black drive to see if it's the disk (which it usually was) or the drive that had died.


  • by TFGeditor ( 737839 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @10:06AM (#22487328) Homepage component level with an oscilloscope and DVM. ...calibrating instruments using a precision voltage source, resistance decade box, or signal generator. ...using a frequency counter. ...hand winding precision wire resistors. ...reading resistor color codes. ...writing test algorithms in machine code (usually hex or octal, the language level between binary and assembly) ...making your own application-specific test instruments.
  • by ledow ( 319597 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @10:15AM (#22487402) Homepage
    There are hundreds of obsolete skills. But there is one that NEVER goes out of fashion, never gets obsoleted, never stops coming in handy... the ability to learn quickly, and to remember what you learn. Seriously. I make a point of putting it on my CV (resume for you Americans). Learning quickly means you can adapt to ANY environment quickly. Remembering what you've learned means you can draw parallels and keep "generic" knowledge going. Bung me in front of a particular UNIX server and I might not have any idea how to do much but login. Give me ten minutes to acclimatise and I can be doing ANYTHING on it. TCP/IP is TCP/IP... the places where you change the settings may differ but knowledge of protocols, routing, etc. is the same whether it's a Commodore 64 on the web or a network of virtualised Vista PC's.

    I don't have MCSE, CCNA or anything else because the sheer fact is that by the time you've passed the course and been using it for a year, its content is out of date. Not all of it, but quite a bit of it. Especially on those courses designed for particular bits of software. And they are nothing but memory tests. That's not learning.

    I've done assembly, I've done BASIC and everything in between. My University tried to teach me Java until I stopped attending the lectures for that part and was instead "hired out" to other students as the person to ask about the Java coursework. I'd only ever dabbled in it but having programmed in a lot of other languages it was no more than a curiousity to flick through a Java book and pick up the syntax. I did the coursework myself at home, taught many others to pass the course, and passed myself (good grades for that course) with barely a sweat. I'd dabbled in Java before but it was merely a matter of flicking through a half-decent book on the subject, applying everything else you already know and making sure you have a list of function-method-procedure (call them whatever you like, OO is just a shortcut that saves you typing so much functional-programming code) name changes handy. KMP search algorithms are the same in any language, it's just a matter of learning or merely memorising (which is NOT learning) the differences between languages.

    Similarly, my primary job is being hired by schools to manage their networks. First one was 98-standalones with Ethernet cables basically used for display. :-) The next was a full Windows 98 network with custom management software and an NT server. The next was a 2000 Server and XP network with custom management software. The next was plain 2000 + XP with Active Directory. The next was similar but with some other custom management software bodged to perform some of the more tedious tasks. The next was Server 2003 + XP + Vista. And so on. The last one I had was another "design me a network from scratch" for a school, and so they got Server 2003, XP and Linux for some tasks (it was just easier, made more sense and cheaper).

    Formal training in any of the above OS, network management, network management software or application software? Zilch. Number of networks exploded? Zilch. Number of networks more productive once I had finished with them? 100%. Number of schools chasing me for further employment to work on their next big network, next OS, next suite of applications? I lose count. And these are critical networks - they run everything from the canteen to the staff wages to the legally required paperwork to the student desktops to the fire and security systems. You have no idea how crippled a school is nowadays if its servers go down... lessons stop, systems go haywire and the students get sent home. And they literally fight over getting an imbecile like me in to manage their systems, or even just clean them up so that they can employ a "normal" technician next year.

    If you can learn, you can run any OS, of any age, at any time, in any combination without a problem. If you can't then you're stuck memorising "Windows Vista for Dummies" until the next OS comes out a
  • by kabocox ( 199019 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @10:45AM (#22487778)
    Guys print this out and hand it to your HR person. Here are things every new hire should know.

    Balancing a checkbook
    Clicking on the up and down arrows of a vertical scrollbar
    Extracting square roots

    Handwriting (How to fill out forms and sign stuff and write notes.)
    Having Cash (and how to properly make change)

    Long division?
    Look for a job in the classifieds?
    Looking up a business on the yellow pages
    Local Grocery Store?

    Paying for something with a check
    Playing solitaire with playing cards
    Reading a paper map

    Searching a card catalog

    Using a cell phone to make a call
    Untangling the cord of a telephone
    Using a card catalog
    Using a fax machine

    Using the Dewey Decimal System

    Zipping your pants

    If your new hire can't do any of those, you do you really want them?
  • Phone Books (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Schnapple ( 262314 ) <tomkidd@viate x a s . com> on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @11:47AM (#22488688) Homepage
    I haven't read the article or the Wiki (I'm not new to Slashdot, after all) but I figured this is as good a place as any to post this insane dribbel from my head.

    Back when I was a kid, I grew up in a modest town of about 50,000 people. Too big to be a small town, not big enough to get on most maps. Our phone book was about one inch thick. Small towns had phone books that were essentially glorified pamphlets, about 1/4" thick, and even then they shared it with all the neighboring towns. I knew people from small towns who thought phone numbers were four digits long, since the first three digits were always the same (and the then-optional area code was the same for probably a hundred miles).

    When my family would go on trips we would visit "big cities" like Dallas, Houston, Orlando, Memphis, etc. (yes, I'm from the South) and in the hotel rooms I would notice that the phone books were always really thick. Like 4-5" thick. And sometimes, that was just the yellow pages, the white pages were an entirely different book, itself 3" at least. And they always had these awesome pictures on the front of the local skyline instead of the giant public domain "fingers do the walking" logo that would grace the phone book back home.

    So consequently I made the connection early on in my mind that living in a huge city meant you were a success. And living in a huge city meant a huge phone book. Therefore, having a huge phone book in your home meant you were a success. A tenuous connection, but even then I had big dreams of moving to a "big city" later in life and one of these days I would have a big phone book in my house because hey, that's what big successful people living in big successful cities do.

    Years and years pass. I grow up, go through High School, go to College, graduate, get married, and eventually my Wife and I move to the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. We get good paying jobs and rent then eventually buy a house. Initially the phone books that would appear on our porch would be the same standard one-inch affairs I grew up with because we live in the suburbs and they only cover the suburbs, but then one day a bag with two phone books, a 3-inch white pages and a 5-inch yellow pages, shows up on our front porch. These phone books cover the entire Metroplex. They have amazing photos of the Dallas skyline, with Reunion Tower (the one with the ball on the end) on them (under a stuck-on ad for some ambulance chaser, but that peels off easily enough).

    I'm elated. After all these years, I've finally made it! I'm finally in a good job making good money and living in a big city and hey, like all big successful people living in big cities, I have a pair of bigass phone books. I've arrived! Every time I look at these phone books I'll remember how I'm in a big city.

    So I put these phone books next to the phone and the first thing my Wife says was "Just throw those things away. We have the Internet now."

    I ignore the order and I keep the phone books under the phone cradle for a few years, exchanging them out when a new one comes in. I never tell my Wife the insanely silly "but I've always wanted a big phone book" fantasy because I'm not in the mood to get laughed at (though, apparently, I don't mind that people on Slashdot will laugh at me). I get to keep them in place with the razor thin "well what if we want to look up a phone number when the power's off or our Internet is down?" excuse.

    But then one day I'm cleaning the house and I'm trying to reduce some clutter and it occurs to me that in two years I've never opened these things, ever, and they're just collecting dust and the odds of the power going out or the Internet going down at the same time as my cell phone battery dying and me having to have some obscure phone number are vanishingly small. Oh, and in the years since we moved out here we've switched to Vonage so we couldn't even use the phone in a power outage anyway. And I now have Internet access on my phone (hell my wife has a Treo) so if we needed to
  • by smellsofbikes ( 890263 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @11:55AM (#22488802) Journal
    Very computer-centric, and more particularly, very 1970-1985-computer-centric.
    How about: making wooden wheels, for cars or carts?
    Drilling holes in stone with a hammer and a stardrill?
    Repacking plumbing/steam gasket seals?
    Installing/maintaining lead/oakum plumbing?
    Relashing valve pushrods or regrinding valve seats with a file?
    Filing threads?
    Making nails with a hammer and a header?
    Making wrought iron?
    Making aluminum without electricity?
    Forming lumber with a froe, an adze, and a two-man saw?
    Tanning leather?

    And some of the items, I just flat-out disagree with: making a fire by striking two pieces of flint together? That *doesn't work*. You strike a piece of steel against flint, which throws sparks because the steel is cut by the flint and showers off bits of hot steel. Flint doesn't burn.
  • by amper ( 33785 ) * on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @12:52PM (#22489656) Journal
    What strikes me as astonishing about this topic, other than the fact that the majority of the discussion seems to revolve around the utility of assembly programming, is that the list itself displays a marked lack of understanding of the ongoing utility of low technology devices. For instance, one of the items listed is "Buttoning one's trouser fly". Perhaps the author of that idea has never heard of Levi's 501 Jeans? I submit that the 501's are some of the most popular trousers in the world, and the skill of buttoning them could hardly be considered obsolete. The rest of the list is rife with items that only the most technologically-blinded among us could possibly think of as obsolete.

    Even the summary contains a dubious suggestion, "Changing the gas mixture on your car's carburetor". Perhaps the author is unaware of the vast numbers of motorcycles and small engines sold each year that incorporate carburetors?

    "Cast lead bullets"? Thousands, if not millions, of ammunition reloaders would disagree.
    "Changing vacuum tubes"? Millions of musicians would disagree.
    "Darkroom photography skills"? "Developing photographic film"? Obviously, this person is not a photographer!

    That's as far as I can get without becoming even more disgusted with the state of humanity, or at least the supposedly tech-savvy people who probably are contributing to this list.
  • by Pinback ( 80041 ) on Wednesday February 20, 2008 @03:39PM (#22492434) Homepage Journal
    Using a chip puller.
    Cutting write enable notches in 5.25" floppies.
    Drilling write enable holes in read only 3.5" floppies.
    Replacing worn out switches in Amiga mice.
    Building custom serial cables.
    Re-ordering items in config.sys to optimize the amount of RAM free.
    Monochrome VGA, with 704k free.
    Watching terminal output to figure out serial speed, bits, parity, and stop bits.
    Disabling screen I/O while using punter, to get that extra 5% of throughput.
    Avoiding the zero subnet.
    Working with non-CIDR subnet masks, or masks with zeros in them.
    Deleting enough files on RSX, so that there was contiguous space to put system files on.
    PIP on CP/M. Hiding files using a programmer number.
    Generating Novell remote program loader files using diskettes.
    EMS vs XMS debates. The Intel Above Board.
    Locking up Hayes 1200B modems by hitting backspace.
    Ripterm. Ymodem-G. QWK mailers. Whistling the modem tone to see if a modem was calling you.
    Intentionally misspelling things on a BBS to avoid the profanity filter. (Warez, pron, fcuk, leet, a$$, sh1t, etc.)
    Using high speed cassette copiers. Using Chrome tape.
    Connecting daisychained peripherals. Connecting separate analog and control busses on hard drives.
    Figuring out which drives were RLL capable.
    GCM vs GCR.
    Backing up data to VHS. Cofiguring multiport serial boards.
    Fossil drivers.
    The 5.25" hard disk.

%DCL-MEM-BAD, bad memory VMS-F-PDGERS, pudding between the ears