MAKE Asks: Obsolete Technology

MAKE Asks: Obsolete Technology

Make: Asks is a weekly column where we ask you, our readers, for responses to maker-related questions. We hope the column sparks interesting conversation and is a way for us to get to know more about each other.

In the past two years I’ve recorded over fifty original mix tapes for my own personal enjoyment. I just can’t give up on a medium I love.

This week’s question: What obsolete technology or media do you still use on a regular basis, and why?

Post your responses in the comments section.

66 thoughts on “MAKE Asks: Obsolete Technology

  1. Brandon Shockley says:

    Super Nintendo—the sistine chapel of video game consoles.

  2. Ronan O'Driscoll says:


  3. Keith Wheeler says:

    My Tektronix 465 oscilloscope and 500 series modular gear. Yes, I have access to better/newer/more powerful when I need it, but that gear is my first order “go to” for many things in the lab.

    1. wmcgown says:

      I still use my 465 as well! Just and FYI: It came out in 1973 and cost $1725. Today, inflation adjusted that would be almost $9,000! No wonder I waited to get mine surplus 15 years ago for $150. Tnks for the ‘memory lane’ thoughts!

  4. Ethan Dicks says:

    I still use real parallel ports and real (not USB dongle) serial ports for interfacing to home-built I/O devices. A USB “parallel printer” dongle will let you print to a printer, but it doesn’t work if your code bytes at 0x378 to light LEDs, drive MOSFETs to drive motors, etc. A USB serial dongle will let you connect at certain speeds and in very middle-of-the-road ways, but it won’t let you implement a Dallas 1-wire network that’s powered by a 4-diode-and-resistor interface off of a real RS-232 port and directly (with no external microcontroller) read a string of DS1822s.

    I still have fully working parallel-port programmers for EPROMs, MCUs and GALs, sparing me from shelling out hundreds of dollars to “upgrade” them to a USB-interfaced programmer that might only ever work with a specific version of a Microsoft OS because the company that made the programmer only ever made one kind of driver before abandoning the product and moving on to a new, more expensive and incompatible replacement.

    Real ports for real work!

  5. Rahere says:

    Windows XP, by MS’ own definition. Because I swore after the ninth upgrade never again.

    1. JP says:

      Windows 2000 SP4. Very stable, very reliable, last one without the pesky Activation call back to the mothership. I forgot how many times I have had to reformat and start again after doing something dumb to my computer. Nowadays it lives perfectly virtualized on my Linux system for whenever I need to really do something under Windows (like play old games).

  6. Tien Gow says:

    Plain old non-smart cell phone. It’s tiny, folds to protect against damage, fits in the pocket, and makes phone calls. That’s all I need it to do.

    1. Norman Rabek says:

      My Casio G’Zone Boulder phone for the same reason. It makes calls, the battery lasts for days, and it is indestructible. I don’t need/want to be internet connected at all times. I just want a reliable phone that is not dead or damaged when I need it.

  7. Mr ESharp says:

    Paper. The most customizable word processor.

    1. Helgi Mar Magnusson says:

      Paper, pencil, ruler and eraser. I even use them to do simple math. :)

  8. Jo001k says:

    Ny Newton MP 2100

  9. john says:

    Slide Rule… Show my son how we survived without calculators and computers

    1. Kevin Crowley (@caohaoim) says: Even has a section for making your own sliderule.

  10. Billy Stevens says:

    I haven’t been able to use it yet (no clue how) but I found a Memo-scope 104 oscilloscope . It’s from 1967 (30 years before my time) and still uses vacuum tubes! I wish I had some clue how to use it but at least I know it turns on.

    1. Kevin Crowley (@caohaoim) says:

      Hope this helps. This a pdf of the manual

  11. Dan W says:

    Oberheim Matrix-1000 synthesizer. Nothing like true analog!

  12. Sr. Wences says:

    Books. Leather bound. Smell great.

  13. Nick says:

    I’ve a Roland MT-32 MIDI synth from 1987. Music synthesis has improved dramatically since, but this was the pinnacle for an era of PC adventure games of my childhood. Sadly the synthesis method is still proprietary; there was a project to reproduce the synthesis in software making use of a ROM image, but Roland cease and desisted. I picked one up used for about $40 a few years ago, far cheaper than the unit’s original $600 price tag.

  14. chuck says:

    I have a small digital projector, but for big vertical jobs I still use an ancient J Y Taylor Spotlight opaque projector. I absolutely love that thing- sharp lines with great contrast and none of the jagged aliasing of digital projectors. I also have an old Delta Lab Effectron reverb unit (the kind used on Bauhaus’s Bela Lougosi’s Dead as well as a lot of the Studio One dub and reggae recordings) and a Suzuki Omnichord. My soon to be favorite piece of obsolete technology (if all goes right) is the huge homemade plate and spring combo reverb I’m working on. I can’t wait to share it with folks!

  15. Arron Smith says:

    Anything that has utility is, by definition, not obsolete.

    Which is one of (though by no means the only) reason you frequently encounter people using tape machines, scopes with CRTs, protractors/compasses/french curves/et al, obscure rugged 80s computers with real serial ports, amplifiers with valves, &c &c &c.

    1. Kevin Crowley (@caohaoim) says:

      My thoughts were quite similar.

  16. jamesbx says:

    The only truly obsolete technology is MS-DOS on my CNC machine, and an Alesis SR-16 drum machine.

    These mostly fall into the category of, “stood the test of time”.
    Hand planes, chisels, marking gauges, tri-squares, and other hand tools for some woodworking.
    Strike-anywhere matches
    A hammer and anvil for forging steel.
    Beeswax as a metal finish.

  17. NeXT-Generation says:

    Windows 98 computer. LEGO MindStorms RCX. Books. Paper. Pens. Pencils. A cell phone that only makes calls.

  18. Balloondoggle says:

    Analog standard definition TV. 2 of them, actually, and one may be nearly as old as I. Just can’t see replacing them when they still work just fine.

    1. jamesbx says:

      I forgot to add my TV to the list. I’m still using a 15 year old JVC standard def 31″ tube. With the S-video input, high def video renders as nice as the new flat panels: I think the luminance is actually better in some cases. I’ll replace it when it breaks.

  19. James1214 says:

    I only listen to LP’s at home. There’s just something alluring about slipping a record out of the jacket, looking at album art at the size it was meant to be, dropping the needle and listening to a physical manifestation of the music i love, in a format that if taken care of will last forever.

    1. Aud1073cH says:

      I think I own more music on vinyl records than on CDs or digital formats.
      My bookshelf setup was less than $50 – all from second hand stores or given to me.
      SHURE cartridge > Technics SL-D2 > Dyna stereo tube amp > monster speaker wire > a/d/s bookshelf speakers

  20. Chris says:

    Windows 2000, whenever still feasible. Extensive X10 home automation. Analog TVs throughout the house, fed by coax cable and an RF modulator, so I can watch stuff from my computer in any room. I only replaced my ancient Nokia dumb cellphone this year out of absolute necessity. I regret replacing my 20 year old microwave oven last year, it probably still had more life left in it than the new one.

    Long live obsolete tech!

    1. ChrisB says:

      I also use X10 on an early Win XP system Home Automation with DS7000 home security, CM15 home controller, and XTBR-II dual phase replicater and signal amplifier. Cheapest system around – though the X10 manufacturer in China finally shut down so suppy is becomming scarce. I have enough to last me a while before I end up upgradding to insteon or z-wave or whatever is the next great thing to come.

  21. Bart Patrzalek says:

    a fountain pen! nothing better than writing with a true pen, they are impossible to find in stores and for a nicer model you have to shell out big bucks but they are worth every penny!

    1. Scott says:

      You beat me to it Bart. I love fountain pens and have a [very] small collection of them, including on my father used in college in the 60’s.

      1. Thomas Coates says:

        Look up Noodler’s Pens. Made in Vermont, inexpensive, REPAIRABLE!!!

  22. David says:

    Dial phone: excellent audio, phone-company-powered in power outage, and I choose the features and it still works on any line.
    Cell phone: Nokia Shorty for plain phone calls and durability.
    ’64 VW Beetle: ‘nough said.
    Manual pruning saws: When my two gas saws are too much, won’t reach, too noisy, too dangerous/awkward/fast and handling gas is a drag.
    Hand files and hack saws.
    Vacume tube short-wave radios: unlike most digital, have antenna tuner, Radio Frequency Amplifier before mixer, etc.
    Microsoft XP: It takes years to get the bugs out so why upgrade too soon?
    Desk-top: more room for sturdier components, easier to access innards.

  23. Tom says:

    I still use a VCR and not have digital television or DVR. I think the VCR makes it cheap and easy to record the one or two OTA TV shows I want to rewatch at a later time.

  24. adamtheautomaton says:

    I build, repair and restore traditional wooden boats for a living. Many of the tools I use are the same as those that would be used 100 years ago. Block planes and such. They are still the best tools to carve rolling bevels on plank edges.

  25. sewinsl says:

    1965 blackface Fender Showman.

  26. Ryan Adney says:

    Typewriter. Not one of those wacky USB-enabled ones that act like keyboards. Regular old Royal desktop typewriter. Paper is the future!

  27. Doug says:

    Oh My, where to start?
    My Grandfather’s hand tools from the 1880’s through 1930’s.
    Kit-made band saw from the early 1900’s.
    Atlas 12″ lathe from the 1930’s.
    Telequipment D61 ‘scope from the 1970’s.
    Tripplett multimeter from the 1960’s.
    Pentax Spotmatic.
    Pentax screw-mount lenses on my Pentax K20D.
    Home-made short-proof bench power supply (out of Pop’tronics).
    Gould Biomation 16-channel logic analyzer from the 1970’s.
    Sony 8″ reel-to-reel tape recorder.
    And so on…

    1. jamesbx says:

      I keep reading through other people’s list, and seeing things I use. I’m running a 1939 Delta wood lathe in my shop, and like it.

  28. Ted says:

    I work with this ancient microbe called yeast, and make all sorts of interesting beverages! Been around since the 18th century I think… still tastes damn good though!

    1. Allen says:

      Ummm – beer has been brewed since at least the 5th millennium BC. It was being produced in what is now Iran back then…

  29. Steve says:

    Wire wrap wire, good for little projects. Assembly language, why to it I’m 50 MB when you can do,it in 1KB? DIP parts, no tweezers required. Vacuum tubes, 1500 watt variety.

  30. MAKE Asks: Obsolete Technology Dave W says:

    Real cameras with real black and white film in them – including a 100-year-old folding Kodak Brownie, a couple of nice medium-format cameras, and a large-format (5×4) wooden camera I built myself from a kit. I develop the films myself in the bathroom, and print them in my own little darkroom at home. There’s nothing like watching pictures appear in a tray of chemicals under a dim red light… and the feeling of holding a piece of film in your hands that was physically “there” when the image was captured. That stuff will last 100 years, and be viewable by anybody with eyes, which has to be easier than digital formats!

    1. Christian Restifo (@restifo) says:

      I fondly remember my photography class in high school and doing stuff like that. A friend of mine gave me all his old dark room equipment. If/when I have time, I’m going to set it up and show my kids how to use it. I think they’ll get a kick out of it.

    2. professoryoga says:

      Ah, that wonderful darkroom smell. Perhaps that’s why real photographers like those so called Salt & Vinegar, stop bath potato chips.

  31. Kevin Crowley (@caohaoim) says:

    There is no “obsolete” technology. There is merely the best choice of technology for the given circumstances or preference. Arrowhead making has been superseded generally by metals and plastics. What if you need an arrow and there is none? Answer: You have to make one. If you need a technology to do the task at hand it is not obsolete. The correct question would be: “What older technologies do you use?”

  32. Paul Bertram says:

    1) My old Boston hand-crank pencil sharpener. It never needs batteries or recharging. Mounted to the wall in my shop, patiently waiting for its next meal of cedar shavings, it has worked flawlessly for almost 40 years.

    2) Real cedar pencils – not plastic, not “whitewood”, not some weird composite pretending to be wood.

    3) Real leather belts with brass buckles. I’m so tired of “genuine leather” that’s really the particle-board equivalent and scented vinyl strips with pot-metal hardware.

  33. Drifter Smith says:

    VHS movies and VHS player/recorder.
    I’ll never finish catching up on all the old movie classics available on VHS, commonly found in thrift stores and at yard sales for fifty cents or a buck. When my next to last VHS player (from Walmart) died after a little more than a year, I got a much better one nearly new in a thrift store for $15…

    I do sometimes watch movies on DVD (usually from the local library) but I find that they frequently have trouble playing due to damage, and in any case movies made these days are often not worth my time, compared to older classics.

    – Drifter

  34. John Honniball says:

    I must first of all agree with the comment that anything which has utility cannot be obsolete. Having said that, I use many things which have been superseded, or which are beyond their usually expected lifetime. For instance, HP, AVO and Tektronix test gear (HP 3310A, 4204A, 1980B, 3456A, 427A, 5326A, Tek 5440, 575, 191, 833). Then there’s the computer gear like the Compukit UK101 that’s still a fun machine to program on, and assembly-language programming on the 6809 and 68000 chips. I regularly take a flat-bed pen plotter to the UK Maker Faires. In the garage, there’s a 1950s Lane micro-lathe and a Burgess band-saw of only slightly more recent manufacture. The audio-visual setup includes Betamax, LaserVision, MiniDisk reel-to-reel and 8-track.

    BTW, some of my obsolete kit is on my Old Sad Things page:

  35. Wade says:

    Cassettes. Because CDs take a beating in the cars I’ve owned. Plus all the albums I own are just as good as anything that’s come out on CD or digital. I’ll even make mixtapes with a number of different formats – CDs, vinyl, mp3 or other tapes.

    My car’s tape deck, which is the most intelligent one I’ve ever owned. The seek button works great, plus whenever it realizes there’s a large chunk of dead air it will fast forward to the next song or next side.

  36. Ken says:

    PDP-11 my first “personal” computer.

  37. Bill says:

    I still use my Palm Tungten PDA (remember those? They’re like smart phones without the monthly bill…or the phone). I have an iPod Touch, but the Palm just seems…better.

    I still listen to casettes and vinyl records, and sometimes even watch a movie on VHS.

    The AM radio in my ’65 Mustang has vacuum tubes in it.

    I replaced my ’79 Zenith console TV with a high-def rear projection model in 2002. Now they’re both obsolete, but the rear-projection TV still looks great and sounds great. It has real speakers unlike these lame little flat-screen TVs now!

    My kids play with my old Capsela building set. When they’re a little older, I’ll dust off the Atari 800 ($750 back in the day) and the Indus GT floppy drive ($420 when I bought it, but heck, it was double density!!!) and we’ll see how many of those game disks still work.

  38. Martin says:

    Does my 64 & 1/2 Mustang count? It came out just as silicon diodes were becoming a good choice. As a result it has a DC generator under the hood instead of an AC alternator.

  39. GoodHart says:

    I still occassionally work with tubes and cardboard/wax capacitors……the fuzz in an amp or radio comes with a “warm glow” :-)

  40. bhtooefr says:

    Here’s what I work with on a daily basis that’s obsolete:

    IBM Model F 122-key keyboard from 1984. Adapted to USB using Soarer’s firmware for the Teensy 2.0.
    Fountain pen, although I’ve been using Bic disposable fountain pens lately
    Intel Pentium III. My server’s 11 years old, and is my most reliable computer, so why change? (Although some of the stuff I run on it slams the CPU a bit hard… might want to go for a 1.4 Tualatin…)

  41. Allen says:

    Windows XP/UBUNTU 9.4 Newer operating systems are slower, have left out features I am using, are harder to use and don’t offer anything new that is useful.
    Cars – what ever happened to the jet pack I saw a live demo of 45 years ago??? How come I’m still commuting in a combustion engine monstrosity that was invented in the 19th century??

    1. Phil says:

      Your jet pack still exists. And it still flies for 22 seconds before running out of fuel.

  42. Dug North says:

    I use a vintage Webster-Whitcomb watchmaker’s lathe. Beautiful machine.

  43. John Putnam says:

    I just started using my old Walkman (audio tape version) because I have some old tapes to use. Also I put a new belt on my turntable so I can listen to my old Beatles, Stones, Quicksilver and Kingsmen records. The sound is qualitatively fuller. And a young friend from India wanted to actually handle a record for the first time.

  44. professoryoga says:

    AM radio, or for that matter any analog radio signal that comes out of the air.

    I also like, though hard to find, audiobooks on cassette. Cassettes never, ever, lose your place in the book — even if the power goes off or you eject the tape and come back to it later.

  45. Duncan says:


    Particularly the “What if…” variety.

    What if somebody presses both buttons at once?
    What if somebody plugs in a 20V wall wart rather than the correct 9V?
    What if I don’t have a laser cutter, cnc or 3D printer? (I don’t)


    Probably because I grew up making radio chassis by soldering old biscuit tins, learning to use hand tools, repairing things rather than throwing them away and served a real enfineering apprenticeship…

  46. Phil says:

    I think ‘obsolete’ is meant in the modern, ignorant usage.

    1. Solder containing lead, tin and rosin. Cheap, melts and wets easily.
    2. Crystal radio. Also AM sets generally.
    3. Acorn BBC Microcomputer. Boots up in the time needed to say, “booBOOP”.

  47. eric says:

    3d pantograph [scripta], manual bridgeport milling machine, gravers and chasing tools, 400 ton hobbing press

  48. Ds7000 Security System | Good GE Home Security says:

    […] MAKE Asks: Obsolete Technology – Make: Asks is a weekly column where we ask you, our readers, for responses to maker-related questions. We hope the column sparks interesting conversation and is a way for us to get to know more about each other. In the past two years I’ve recorded … […]

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In addition to being an online editor for MAKE Magazine, Michael Colombo works in fabrication, electronics, sound design, music production and performance (Yes. All that.) In the past he has also been a childrens' educator and entertainer, and holds a Masters degree from NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program.

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