It's cool to be old school

5 January 2006


A Blue Perspective: It's cool to be old school

When you're working in a technology field it always seems like the motto is "newer is better". Having just turned the Web 2.0 corner, we're now looking ahead to Web 3.0, and dreading Web 4.7. Don't use PHP, use Ruby on Rails. Not DHTML, it's AJAX. Gameboy? PSP! MD? MP3!

But there's just some things that don't seem to get any better. Products from days past that they'll never seem to top.

A couple of months ago, my keyboard died. This, my friends, was a sad event. 101 keys is precisely where it's at – it's the optimal balance of features and precision. Any less, it's incomplete; any more and you have a device that's littered with dangerous finger landmines that can easily pop-up an OS dialog in the middle of a life and death rocket duel.

So, it was with great trepidation that I trekked down to my local computer emporium to purchase a new one. Needless to say, it was a great disappointment.

When I'm typing, I like people in the next room to think that they're under siege by an M240G machine gun. I like keys with a spring action that could launch a small Russian satellite into low earth orbit. Furthermore, the whole assembly has to weigh enough to cause a small bulge in the fabric of space-time. Cheap plastic knock-offs from Crapco don't have this. They do have buttons that can change the volume on your lawnmower and open up the preferences menu in your dwarf throwing simulator, but no machine gun audio, orbital action, or gravity multiplying sturdiness.

As desperate as I was, however, I had to fork out for one of these flimsy knockoffs and then struggle to type on it for the next two weeks – its featherweight build moving all over the desk, its confoundingly placed shortcut keys reducing productivity by an estimated 47%.

When my parents later reminded me that there was the carcass of a 486 in their basement that I could butcher, I was in raptures. The weight ... the spring ... that weirdly off-colour plastic shell. Keyboard heaven.

Sure, it's part nostalgia and part resistance to change that makes these old school items seem unbeatable, but there's also an undeniable quality to them. I'd like to know: what's your old school obsession?


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  1. 1/37

    Jan commented on 5 January 2006 @ 18:22

    Oh, do I know how you feel. I'm typing this on an IBM keyboard from 1998, which has exactly the qualities you describe. I tried several others (including the Dell keyboard that came with my PC, and one of these new Microsoft keyboards), but keep coming back to this one. Luckily, it was built to last for at least another decade! :-)

  2. 2/37

    Ben commented on 5 January 2006 @ 19:31

    I was exactly the same under Windows - I had an old 486 keyboard that was spray painted the black of the rest of my setup.

    Then I went Apple, and they are sheer keyboard heaven.

  3. 3/37

    Aleksandar commented on 5 January 2006 @ 20:56

    Yes, spring rules...

  4. 4/37

    Graham commented on 5 January 2006 @ 22:11

    Coding HTML in MS Notepad is my old school throwback. I still love it!

  5. 5/37

    Zeerus commented on 5 January 2006 @ 23:13

    My oldschool obsession: this old Gateway computer I've been using for years. It's running on Windows 98, and I find it to be much faster than all of my other XP computers. This christmas we switched it with my sister's XP tower (she got a notebook for Christmas), and after about two days of getting annoyed with the built in security notices, we ditched it and went back to our Gateway.

  6. 6/37

    Thibaut commented on 6 January 2006 @ 00:47

    Switching one of my Atari ST or Amiga is always a great moment, and I feel like if I still was 15, even if I turned 30 three days ago... I don't know if my hi-tech PC will bring me so much joy after 15 years...

  7. 7/37

    andreas commented on 6 January 2006 @ 02:43

    My old-school obsession is not in the computer realm but anyway: people around me are happily switching to PDA computers and doing all kinds of things with them.

    Although I usually like new technology, I much prefer my full-leather filofax ( which I got five years ago for my birthday and which alread has a wonderful patina. I'm much quicker entering dates etc. with a pencil than I ever would be with a PDA.

  8. 8/37

    François commented on 6 January 2006 @ 03:00

    Hopefully, BBEdit still has something Mac OS 9-ish about it.

  9. 9/37

    Jesse commented on 6 January 2006 @ 03:45

    Strangely enough, I have several of the same old school favourites as those people who commented above.

    1 - I love my old school IBM PC keyboard. Those things are built like tanks. I love them for the exact same reasons stated above. My current one has lasted through 3 PC's and over 8 years. (I've found additional ones at my local Thrift store)

    2 -  My Amiga 500. Even though it's been several years since I've turned it on, I do start up the WinUAE emulator a couple times a week to get in some old school gaming.

  10. 10/37

    Beto commented on 6 January 2006 @ 05:09

    I have had an affair with analog audio machinery ever since I was a kid and took apart and rebuilt my parent's stereo countless times. I also began collecting vinyl records in 1990 and haven't stopped since. iPods (and digital music in general) just sound so bland, lifeless and sterile when compared to the dynamics and warm sound of good ol' wax. Kids today don't know what they missed from music (Ignorance is bliss?). Next thing, I'm getting into tube-based amplification.

    Needless to say this is a way to keep my sanity among the whole web 2.0 and gadget-happy craziness I deal with everyday..

    I also agree current keyboards suck. I got here a Logitech thingie that has like 300 buttons for everything. I don't need some cutesy-poo button to fire up IM or email - I'll do it myself as always, thank you. Less is more for me. 

  11. 11/37

    mattymcg commented on 6 January 2006 @ 08:23

    My old school obsession is Lego. Not this new fandangled sell-out Hollywood-aligned mechandising business, but the "ignore the instructions and combine a bunch of different bits together to create the most ultimate awesome drag-racing moon-walking flying hovercraft thingy with pop-off escape capsules".

    Oh, that and text edit fields that work in Firefox 1.5. Is one of my extensions breaking it or is it on the "piss off I know about it and will get round to it eventually" list ?

  12. 12/37

    JAbbott commented on 6 January 2006 @ 08:42

    An old school obsession that just crept up on me recently is with pencils.  I've written about it on my blog and read about it on Pencil Revolution.

  13. 13/37

    Tim Lucas commented on 6 January 2006 @ 08:45

    I'm with you on this one!

    If you're a Mac user you can grab a <a href="">Tactile Pro</a>, which is just like the old-school spring loaded keyboards but includes USB ports etc.

    Only downside is that they're AU$185...

  14. 14/37

    Lucas Chan commented on 6 January 2006 @ 10:20

    Much respect Cameron.  :)

    I have been using my clickey Honeywell keyboard for 10 years now.  I swear I would die without it.

    I have a spare one safely stored away at home too; for when the day comes that I need to replace my current one (they don't make them any more, doh).

  15. 15/37

    patrick h. lauke commented on 6 January 2006 @ 10:58

    i'm an old IBM keyboard fan as well. if there's one thing i hate, it's spongey keyboards. i've also never felt the need to get a PC mouse with more than 2 buttons and a scroll wheel, while some of my colleagues seem to think that they're more productive with their 5+ button ones (which, when i use them, usually means that i'm triggering options and shortcuts inadvertedly).

    other than that, i still love my collection of more than 40 analogue cameras.

  16. 16/37

    Natalie commented on 6 January 2006 @ 12:54

     Old fashoined keyboards rock. I hate new keyboards. give me an ancient honeywell any day!

    I am also fond of those old green army bags that we used for school - that we would texta all over AC/DC ROX etc.

    Old manual cameras - none of this automatic winding stuff.

  17. 17/37

    Sébastien commented on 7 January 2006 @ 02:47

    I have a vacuum tube amp as my main audio amp, you could fry an egg on. Kinda old school I guess.

    I've also had the same MS Pro mouse for over 6 years, it's all worn out and yellow but I can't work with any other mouse.

  18. 18/37

    Andrew K. commented on 7 January 2006 @ 14:08

    100W of late 70's tube amp + early 90's Strat + (1954 Akai stereo reel-to-reel + sticky taped loop). 

    Rock out. :)

  19. 19/37

    The Man in Blue commented on 7 January 2006 @ 22:48

    I thought your old school obsession was that hair, Andrew :P

  20. 20/37

    qzio commented on 8 January 2006 @ 09:24

     If you want old-skool style keybord: keytronic ergo Force I looooove mine :)

  21. 21/37

    ScW commented on 8 January 2006 @ 12:56

     That's an awesome post... very Dave Barry-like.  Rock on!

    That's my old school obsession... using 80's lingo like any use of the word "rock" in a sentence... or "pysch" or "not!".

    A year or two ago, I sold my old Commodore 64 stuff on eBay.  Now to satisfy my occassional need for the old BASIC commodore blue screen, I fire up a C64 emulator like VICE or similar.  But I wouldn't call it an obsession.  It's more like a nostalgic appreciation for my technological knowlege roots...

  22. 22/37

    The Man in Blue commented on 8 January 2006 @ 16:54

    > Keytronic Ergo Force

    Even the name sounds old school! Like some '80s b-boy posse.

  23. 23/37

    Ben Buchanan commented on 9 January 2006 @ 10:04

    I think my refuse-to-upgrade-just-because-the-contract-is-up mobile phone would count: my trusty Nokia 3310 has served me well for years now. It has a simple interface, voice dialling (great in the car), good predictive text input, distinctive ring... what else do you need, really.

    I may eventually be enticed away when someone makes a decent digital camera with a phone in it (as opposed to expensive phones with shit cameras).

  24. 24/37

    Michael J. commented on 10 January 2006 @ 10:06

    Logitech Bus Mouse circa 1993 or 1994, square body, square buttons, impossible to break. Had a proprietary ISA adaptor. Worked perfectly fine with every Windows version starting from 3.1, while OS/2 Warp was not able to detect it neither as bus mouse nor as Logitech mouse nor as PS/2 mouse. After two days of struggle I dropped the idea of running OS/2 and had not touched it since.

    Used this mouse until they stopped making system boards with ISA slots. Still have it, but cannot use. Bummer.

  25. 25/37

    daniel commented on 19 January 2006 @ 05:36

    exact same thing. i have three old IBM keyboards inherited from an old job. they must be close to 10 years old and have another 10 years left in them. the way they yellow, it's like they've been hovered over by a chain smoker...erm, maybe they have... 

  26. 26/37

    nicky commented on 19 January 2006 @ 05:57

    nice :-)

  27. 27/37

    Marco Alan commented on 19 January 2006 @ 08:49

    Great site! I've read your AJAX tutorial on Sitepoint. I'm (still) a newbie in XMLHttpRequest.
    Best wishes.
    Marco Alan.

  28. 28/37

    Robert Ames commented on 21 January 2006 @ 05:58

    Hand Drill.  No batteries.  Nothing to break.


  29. 29/37

    Votie commented on 25 January 2006 @ 23:54

     Uh ... oldschool really rules ;-)

    My oldschools are, sometimes:

    - still coding HTML 4.01
    - still want Websites to see in
    as much Browsers as possible
    - about 20 Computers from the 80'ies
    I have ... (but no more place....*sigh*)

    Not so much Oldschool, but in these
    Days: Old Apple Powerbooks (Wallstreet running with Mac OS X --- I called the machine oldschool himself).

    Very nice Blog and very very great

  30. 30/37

    Johnny commented on 1 February 2006 @ 04:32

    Dell makes a multi-media keyboard that is really just a big, heavy, LOUD keyboard with a volume control in the corner.  It's cheaper than the replacements for the cheap keyboards that come with their PCs.  I think it's louder than my old 97 IBM that you could rob a store with.

    My brother teases me that he can hear this Dell over the phone, and it sounds like -- as you say -- we are under seige when my wife types on it.

  31. 31/37

    David McDonald commented on 9 February 2006 @ 23:46

    Getting back to keyboards, what about the Dvorak keyboard? I've never tried it, but apparently it increases accuracy and speed.

  32. 32/37

    The Man in Blue commented on 10 February 2006 @ 00:30

    It's too scary to contemplate Dvorak. Years of ingrained learning have combined to make me a QWERTY monster.

  33. 33/37

    michele commented on 22 February 2006 @ 17:44

    Hi there...

    well, 12 years old keyboards without those nasty extra windowskeys, volume-kicker and all those stuff...
    They are just the best thing in life... but my real opsession is the sound of Modems.... i think you know all the satisfying sound... in times of DSL, ISDN and Cable, i really miss that sound.... it gives me a touch of "i am connected". That is my obession....

    but.... also, i love Keyboard-Shortcuts... when i visit friends or customers... and when i see how they copy&paste or switch task .... well.... all thos windows-kidz... Command-Prompt, that is what rules....

    even when i configure Servers.... i hate such windows servers... you wont find what you need.... i love *.cfg, *.ini or *.confs...

    thats life.... and my Texteditor for coding :)

    so far....


    PS Sorry for tht crappy english :)

  34. 34/37

    David J. Bradshaw commented on 2 March 2006 @ 00:59

    You can still buy new 'old' IBM model M keyboards, with optional windows keys if you like from a company called UniComp. This company was I think formed by a management buy out from IBM of the production line. They just brought out a USB version last month as well and for an extra 10 bucks offer a customisation service.

  35. 35/37

    Doris Dippel commented on 6 March 2006 @ 04:07

     Nice as a GUI interface is, I still fondly remember the joy of using DOS. Pretty basic, yes, but so full of memories.

    And my first computer, a PC jr with one floppy drive!! I added a second one AFTER IBM dropped its support. Third-party vendors filled the void as a  great example of the camaraderie that prevailed during the inception of personal desktop computing. 

    The "Man in Blue" bespeaks that friendliness!!


  36. 36/37

    glocK (Fr) commented on 16 April 2006 @ 06:26

    Windows 98 and the old keyboards !

    Who cares if they're "outdated", they still work great years later...
    Oh yeh...... who really needs those useless windows keys ?

    I'm glad I'm not the only one to think that old stuff is sometimes better than new one!

  37. 37/37

    Mike Birch commented on 14 May 2006 @ 13:46

    My old-school obsession is writing with attention to spelling and grammar. I have no problem with colloquialisms and slang, but it amazes me how many writers sprinkle their copy with random apostrophes and can't tell the difference between "there" and "their".

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