Those who forget past tech are doomed to be hacked

You can have your smartphone, tablet, wearable PC -- hackers are targeting the legacy systems that power our daily lives

Old people can be scary. Who hasn't had a 75-year-old birthday clown wielding a twisty, inflated rubber object scare the hell out of them when they were seven?

Ornery old objects and musty machines can be just as frightening. Take the tattered magnetic strip card I use every day on that weatherproof reader outside the main door of our office building, the giant edifice that houses the Great Cringely Control Center and Coffee Cup Warehouse, aka That Damn Cringely's Cube. It's ancient and as reliable as Old Faithful. Slide it in, hear a beep, pull it out, open the door -- day in, day out. Then yesterday, it grabbed my card and shorted with a nasty zotz when I tried to dig it out, like a Stephen King story where your kid's aging Beanie Baby suddenly grows teeth and comes at you crablike, slavering for your Achilles. While the paramedic was restarting my heart, I swear I heard the thing giggle and curse at me in Czech.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Cringely peers into the crystal ball and comes up with 10 crazy tech predictions for 2014. | Can we talk? Send your tech war story to offtherecord@infoworld.com and get a $50 AmEx gift cheque if InfoWorld publishes it. We're all ears! ]

Geeks and technology are no different. Ever get stuck in a bar trading shots with a nerd from the '70s? Not today's cool geek, wearing knock-off Prada and hoping to be ravished by swimsuit models because he marinated himself in Axe and yohimbine. I mean the nerd of yesteryear in the short-sleeved Oxford with the faded ketchup stain on the collar and tape on his glasses, a weathered man from a happier bygone era where Xanex was called scotch and nobody shared their feelings.

He constantly complains about his martinis not being cold enough and calls the waitress a "nice broad." He's also desperate to impress you with stories of his adventures with punch cards, how thin computing is really only a repackaging of what he helped invent back in the mainframe days, and his visits to Studio 54 with Vint Cerf and his East German mistress, Slerma von Saftig. (OK, that last one was me, but it's a great story.)

You should listen to those tragic tales more closely next time. Buy the poor bastard a couple more drinks and keep him talking. You'll realize it slowly as he mutters along: These guys are ballpoints in Satan's pocket protector. They've condemned Western civilization by riding an Apollo moon rocket loaded with forgotten technology and fueled by malice right up our gender-neutral boxers.

"Logan's Run" made real

Why is the world so full of data breaches? Because the devices these graybeard yoyos built 10 years ago are considered ancient and forgotten history, just like them. It's not all their fault. I'm sure some have been clamoring for attention, trying to warn the rest of us lemmings and luddites, but they've undoubtedly been shouted down, dismissed as "he just doesn't get it," stuffed in cellars with computers so old they might as well be abacuses, and offered no IPO stock options whatsoever because they think Ruby on Rails is that paunchy stripper who dances downtown near the train station.

Forget about '70s key parties. To the technorati of today, the '91 U2 Zoo TV Tour is a laughable prehistoric legend like druidism or Atari. On with the new and bury the old -- even if it's stuff you use every day like ATMs, 95 percent of which happen to run Windows XP. Ye gods!

Windows XP was a great OS in its day, but as far as its technical life goes, most of its developers have died and been entombed on Mercer Island in sarcophagi lined with solid gold 3.5-inch disk drives. After all, one year in real life equals about 10 years in technorelevance. Security hacks keep getting smarter, but we keep using the same old appliances with the same old firmware that's become dangerously feeble and pockmarked with age. We can't stop Scotch-taping RJ-11 ports to that crusty old crap and connecting as much of it as possible to the wingnut-named "Internet of things" and by extension everything else in our lives, then forgetting about it again. No one wants to think about ATMs -- they want to think about LTE. For frak's sake, didn't anyone see "Space Cowboys"?

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