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Comment Re:Bring back the TRS-80 (Score 2) 200

Yeah, DOS was a great thing to learn on because it was simple and useful at the same time.

tldr: wah, I want the '80s back.

Say what you want about DOS, but it was simple enough that, as a teenager, I could read the printed OS manual and understand almost everything it could do. It was a great way to graduate from the VIC-20 at home and the TRS-80s at school, into "real" computers, whatever the hell that means. So when someone at University introduced me to Slackware and back in '95, I was already primed to deal with that particular learning curve.

I think that simplicity is key to successful skill aquisition. It lets you ramp up the learning curve in bite size chunks. With the VIC, I got to deal with big connectible components, like the Datasette, the RF modulator, power connectors, cartridges, etc. I learned that you have to always turn off and unplug before switching cartridges if you don't want to blow a fuse (ask me how I know this). I also learned how to take apart a VIC-20 and identify, purchase, and change a fuse. And there used to be all kinds of interesting things in Radio Shack to look at, besides all those fuses. Like the Tandy computers at the front of the store, running Shamus. Already having experience with the TRS-80 model 1's and model 3's at my junior high school made me feel like an expert when I sat down at these and played away my after school time. I lusted after these machines, or even just a floppy drive of my own for the VIC, but they were financially unattainable.

So yeah, simple, but usefulness is also necessary. Turtle Graphics in grade nine was boring as hell, because all you could do with it was move the cursor around on the screen. But with BASIC, you could write an actual game that other people could play. I devoured everything I could find in print on programming BASIC. I got, by specific request, the VIC-20 Programmer's Reference guide for my 13'th birthday (my parents must have thought I was nuts) and the Usborne programming books were solid gold. Again, I think it was important that the programming environment of these computers was simple enough that an interested kid could digest and apply the information available. And there were tons of games for them, so you had examples of what was possible. These systems were more than generic computing tools; they came with really good educational documentation, and there was a significant ecosystem around them geared to that end as well.

I remember in high school, seeing MS-DOS 5.0 for the first time, and the paradigm shift that happened when I realized that BASIC wasn't the computer, but rather just another program on a disk. It was sort of all there already on the Tandy, but it didn't really click in my head until I experienced that bare command prompt. This is where I found the aforementioned printed DOS manual. I would sneak into the lab after school and mess around with reinstalling DOS on a bare 10MB hard drive (which I didn't know was a thing, before then). God, I loved fdisk, and all those extra flags on the "format" command. So yeah, there was that second paradigm shift, when I grokked that the OS itself was just another program on a disk. The computer was now interconnected component hardware and the BIOS screen. Too cool. I also brought a screwdriver to school and spent an unauthorized weekend locked in the lab, taking apart and reassembling a couple of the computers. Luckily, they never figured out who burned that one motherboard by forgetting to unplug the video cable from the live monitor.

When I went to University, I was already pretty comfortable with assembling hardware and installing DOS from floppies. Without this, I think linux would have defeated me, or at least taken me more time than I had to spare after classes. A buddy and I spent all night in the Physics Reading Room ftp'ing Slackware onto fifty-seven 1.44Mb floppy disks, and then a couple more nights in his basement installing it onto a partition of his Cyrix 386SLC2 based PC. I remember being blown away on the first bootup, because his computer now had a name ("darkstar", which is a bad-ass name for a computer), it printed a fucking haiku when we logged in, and the output of "ls" was in glorious colour (which we discovered after we figured out that "ls" means "dir" in unix-ese, which happened after we figured out that "man" means "help", and after we found out that there is no program named "win" in linux. Don't even get me started on "\" vs "/" :P).

I guess the takeaway is that I learned all this in a progression of small to moderate steps, with lots of time in between to internalize and apply each step to some useful end. Giving a kid, who is used to an iPhone, a RPi, telling him to "go forth and be fruitful", and expecting something similar is probably unrealistic (and sadly so), if there's no infrastructure of education and culture to tap into. I don't know, maybe it's out there (I hope it is), and I just haven't seen it.

P.S.: The one thing I really wish I could have convinced the parents to spring for, was a modem. I missed the boat on the BBS era because of that.


Donald Trump Obliquely Backs a Federal Database To Track Muslims 608 writes: Philip Bump reports at the Washington Post that Donald Trump confirmed to NBC on Thursday evening that he supports a database to track Muslims in the United States. The database of Muslims arose after an interview Yahoo News's Hunter Walker conducted with Trump earlier this week, during which he asked the Republican front-runner to weigh in on the current debate over refugees from Syria. "We're going to have to do things that we never did before," Trump told Walker. "Some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule." When pressed on whether these measures might include tracking Muslim Americans in a database or noting their religious affiliations on identification cards, Trump would not go into detail — but did not reject the options. Trump's reply? "We're going to have to — we're going to have to look at a lot of things very closely," he said. "We're going to have to look at the mosques. We're going to have to look very, very carefully." After an event on in Newton, Iowa, on Thursday night, NBC's Vaughn Hillyard pressed the point. "Should there be a database system that tracks Muslims here in this country?," Hillyard asked. "There should be a lot of systems, beyond databases" Trump said. "We should have a lot of systems." Hillyard asked about implementation, including the process of adding people to the system. "Good management procedures," Trump said. Sign people up at mosques, Hillyard asked? "Different places," Trump replied. "You sign them up at different places. But it's all about management."

Celebrating 30th Anniversary of the First C++ Compiler: Let's Find Bugs In It 153

New submitter Andrey_Karpov writes: Cfront is a C++ compiler which came into existence in 1983 and was developed by Bjarne Stroustrup ("30 YEARS OF C++"). At that time it was known as "C with Classes". Cfront had a complete parser, symbol tables, and built a tree for each class, function, etc. Cfront was based on CPre. Cfront defined the language until circa 1990. Many of the obscure corner cases in C++ are related to the Cfront implementation limitations. The reason is that Cfront performed translation from C++ to C. In short, Cfront is a sacred artifact for a C++ programmer. So I just couldn't help checking such a project [for bugs].

Comment Re:hmmm... (Score 1) 247

Saying "Don't be evil" isn't a semantically null phrase though. They're not saying it for the benefit of shareholders or the public; it's for the people working there. It's a virtual smack in the back of the head, a way to say "use your common sense", or "think about how you would feel if someone did this to you", I think. "Do the right thing" just doesn't have the same focus on users that "Don't be evil". It feels more... slippery, at least to me.

The Handheld Analog Computer That Made the Atomic Bomb 45

szczys writes: When the physicists and mathematicians of the Manhattan Project began their work they needed to establish which substance was most likely to sustain vigorous fission. This is not trivial math, and the solution of course is to use an advanced computer. If only they had one available. The best computer of the time was a targeting calculation machine that was out of service while being moved from one installation to another. The unlikely fill-in was a simple yet ingenious analog computer called the FERMIAC. When rolled along a piece of paper it calculated neutron collisions with simple markings — doing its small part to forever change the world without a battery, transistor, or tube.

Japanese Scientists Fire the Most Powerful Laser On the Planet 117

Sepa Blackforesta writes: Scientist from University of Osaka claim have fired the world's most powerful laser. The beam was intact for 2-petawatt, pulse lasted just one picosecond. While it produced a huge amount of power, the energy required for the beam itself is equivalent to that needed to power a microwave for two seconds. An associate professor of electrical engineering at Osaka University Junji Kawanaka says “With heated competition in the world to improve the performance of lasers, our goal now is to increase our output to 10 petawatts.”

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You have a tendency to feel you are superior to most computers.