Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Redundancies of Technology

Remember your first electronic gadget?

Mine was the electronic version of the game Simon Says. It was a big, bulky black plastic flat-dome shaped toy, with a red, a blue, a green and a yellow light pad.

You’d turn it on, flip the switch to select your level of difficulty, and then one or more of the coloured pads would light up. As each colour lit up, a very low tech buzzer would hum, slightly differing in pitch for each colour.

The object of the game was easy, simply do as Simon did, immediately after the toy flashed its buzzing colours, you had to press each colour in the exact same way. All levels started easy, say green, green, green. But eventually, it got all the quicker, until the different colours seemed to blur into one.

I miss my old electronic Simon Says game – back then electronic toys were simple. Technology hadn’t advanced to the point we have today, with all the 3-Dimensional graphics, the seven-to-one stereo surround sound, and the life-like animations.

There isn’t much use for my old Simon Says game anymore – though I bet if I still had it, and it was in somewhat decent condition, it’d fetch a good price on eBay by some collector.

I started thinking about all this out-dated technology recently, when I popped an old disc with some video content I wanted into my computer. The video was recorded back in the late 1980s, just as CDs were entering the marketplace. The video files were standard AVI format – something that has been around a long time. But my Windows Vista, with the latest version of Windows Media Player couldn’t play it. It gave me an error message, saying I was missing the CODEC to decode the video files.

So, I clicked on the link provided in the error message, but was told the CODEC was no longer supported by Windows Media Player. Imagine technology that goes bad just like the milk in your fridge.

Being a bit of a geek, I just shrugged it off, and began trying other media players – I tried Windows Media Centre with the same result. RealPlayer, even Nero’s Show Time video player – none worked. On my last legs, I decided to try Apple’s Quick Time, and hey – it worked.

The video was 15-frames-per-second, pretty crappy compared to today’s standards, but it worked.

But now I was concerned – and you should be too – what to do with all your old technology?

Audio tapes have been long since replaced with CDs and MP3 players. Good old fashioned VHS tapes have been replaced with DVDs, and DVDs have now gone the way of the technology grave yard, being replaced with Blueray discs. Some people reading this blog may never have even seen a record before, yet they know what a record store is.

It isn’t all that complicated to plug in your tape deck, VCR or DVD player to your computer, record their content digitally onto your hard drive, and then burn them to a more current format – say a Blueray disc (provided you have the right software, hardware and cables).

There are other cool technological solutions to some of these historic forms of storage. I’ve seen new record players, with USB cables, allowing you to play a record, and record the audio digitally onto your computer’s hard drive. Many sound editing applications even have filters, allowing you to clean up the old “raw” and scratchy sounds produced from playing the record, so that it doesn’t sound much like a record at all. It won’t be nearly as pristine and perfect as a pure digital file, as the original recording was made using analogue technology – but it will be sans the hiss, which is often caused by the friction from the needle hitting the vinyl.

Needle? Vinyl?

YOU KNOW – R E C O R D S! Those black shiny round things with grooves?

Oh forget it!

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