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Journal Journal: Belonging to a different era 1

Feeling a little nostalgic at the moment, but also beginning to sense a serious part of why I feel like a dunce today when it comes to computing when once I felt like a genius.

Quick wall of text on the Nostalgia bit

That article on Vector Graphics the other day reminded me a little of the S-100 bus, and the whole move to the PC ISA that came just before I really got into computing. The first computer I really touched was our school's RM 380Z, which was a proprietary CP/M based system, but exposure to that at school was mostly a "You can book 15 minutes to use it at lunchtime but otherwise the school maths teacher will use it to demonstrate things now and then." So the first computer I learned anything from was a friend's VIC 20. I then used a variety of cheap single-board-computers until my Amiga 500+, the most powerful of which was a Sinclair QL.

So... I never touched S-100. And I didn't really touch the PC until there was literally no other choice that was viable. S-100 was never an option for two major reasons: it was expensive, and it was crap. I mean, seriously, awful. S-100 survived because the home computing establishment's equivalent of the Very Serious People decreed it was Serious, and it was Serious because it was "standard".

A typical S-100 system consisted of the S-100 box itself - a dumb motherboard (very dumb, the only components on it were the edge connectors and a few capacitors and resistors to do all that magic EE specialists understand and I could never get my head around) enclosed in a card cage, plus a CPU card, a completely separate memory card or three, a completely separate disk controller, and a completely separate serial I/O card. The disk controller would be hooked up to a disk drive it was designed to control (yes, proprietary), which would be unlike around 90% of other disk drives out there - that is, if you were lucky. And the I/O card would be hooked up to a terminal that frequently was more powerful than the S-100 computer it was hooked up to..

Each combination of I/O and disk controller cards required a custom BIOS so you could run CP/M with it.

The bus itself was essentially the pins of an 8080 turned into a 100 line bus. So you were essentially wiring each card to an 8080, or something pretending to be an 8080, in parallel. This required quite a bit of hardware in each bus to make sure each didn't conflict with other S-100 cards.

Now, technically, you could get graphics (and maybe sound) cards, but that was unusual. Likewise, you could get more exotic CPUs - though getting software for them was a problem. But the typical S-100 system was text only with a Z80, and the typical S-100 system owner spent rather a lot of time trying to figure out how to order a "standard" CP/M application in a form that would run on their "standard" S-100 system, taking into account their disk drive that only 10% of the market used and their terminal that used VT-52 codes rather than VT-101 codes or (insert one of the other popular terminals here.)

Did I mention this is expensive? While the original Altair 8800 was $500 or so, it came with nothing but the card cage and motherboard, the CPU card, and a little bit of memory. And even on this, the makers barely broke even, expecting to make the profits on after sales. Useful memory, a terminal, an I/O card, a disk controller, and a disk drive, pushed up the prices considerably. Realistically, typical "useful" S-100 systems cost somewhere around $4,000.

Given all of that, it's not really surprising it got supplanted by the PC. Much is made of the fact IBM was taken more seriously by people outside of the personal computer industry in 1981, and that undoubtedly helped, but I can't help but feel that S-100 couldn't have survived for much longer regardless. You could buy a complete system from Commodore or Apple that was more capable for a third of the price even in 1981. The PC didn't need to be cheap, it had IBM's name behind it, but it was obviously more capable than S-100, and it was obvious that if the architecture was adopted by the industry, machines based upon it would be more standardized.

The "Feeling like a dunce" bit

So anyway, that was my train of thought. And it occurred to me that the fact I even have opinions on this suggests my mindset is still stuck there. Back then, even when you programmed in BASIC, you were exerting almost direct control over the hardware. You had a broad idea of what the machine did, what memory locations were mapped onto what functions, and every command you typed affected the computer in a predictable way. The computers themselves were (mostly) predictable too.

As time wore on, especially with the advent of multitasking (which I welcomed, don't get me wrong) you learned to understand your software would be only one party to how the computer behaved, but you understood that if you followed the rules, and the other programmers did too, you could kinda get your head around what was happening to it.

And you felt like a genius if you understood this. And I say "if", because it was possible.

At some point that stopped being possible. Part of it was the PC ISA, the fact an architecture from 1981 was still in use in the mid-nineties by which time it was long in the tooth and needed serious work. Its deficiencies were addressed in software and hardware. Intel essentially replaced the CPU, leaving a compatible stub there to start older applications, and the industry - after a few false starts - threw out most of the PC design and replaced it with the PCI architecture, again, like Intel leaving compatible stubs here and there to ensure older stuff would work. And Microsoft worked on making Windows the real interface software would use to access the hardware.

After a while, there were so many abstractions between your software and the underlying system, it really became hard to determine what was going on underneath. If I program, I now know there are rules I can follow that will reduce the chance of my application being a problem... today. But I don't know if that's the case for the next version of Windows, and all I know is how to reduce the chances, not how to eliminate them. I don't know if the Java I'm writing will generate a webpage that contains Javascript that will contain a memory leak that'll cause the part of the process managing the tab its in to bloat up an additional 100M or so. I can hope it won't, and use mitigation strategies to avoid things that might cause problems, but there are so many things outside of my control I have to trust now, it's just not practical.

Logically the right thing to do under the circumstances is to take back control, to use lower level APIs and simpler sets of rules, but in practice that's just not practical, and doing so means that my tools no longer fit inside the ecosystem with everyone else's. So it's not the right thing - it's actually the worst thing I can do, and if I tried to do it, I'd be shunned as a developer.

I was a genius once because I (mostly) understood the computers I was programming. I feel like a dunce today because that's just not possible any more.

User Journal

Journal Journal: whopper of the week 4

"Star Trek wasn't political." -- William Shatner

Back in the real world, ST is one of the most political TV shows of all time. It embodies multi-culturalism, feminism, passivism, anti-capitalism, and environmentalism, as those just off the top of my head. TFMSNBCA uses the term "progressive", which I would only nitpick at in the capitalization of the first letter.

I enjoyed the original series, less so the later ones, and most of the movies, but let's face it, ST is a communist institution in America. Beside there being a whole movie devoted to the old Leftie "save the whales" thing, we had the Ferengi for goodness sakes, an alien race developed to portray how ugly private enterprise makes us!

But aside from Mr. Shatner's farcical statement, I had been rooting for The Donald for prez, but I'm warming to Ted Cruz after this. He's right about how how in TNG they split Kirk up (and I would say later brought them back together into one in Voyager; which reminds me, include Native American/primitive (i.e. non-successful, non-Christian, non-Western Culture) cultures worship in the list) into the ass-kicker (Riker) and the pussy (Shjon-Luke).

See, they even gave them kick-ass and pussy-sounding names, respectively. And of course the Republican had to be subordinate to the Democrat, as it should be in any good, forward-thinking society amiright.

p.s. As an added extra bonus to this JE, there's also the most metal item of the week.

User Journal

Journal Journal: license plate frame of the week last week 11

"It takes a lot of balls"

"To play golf like me!"

p.s. WTF is up with Left's twinkie defense in the Planned "Get yer baby parts here!" Parenthood brouhaha? The argument seems to go that this pro-life group has been after them for so long, somehow that means this revelation shouldn't count! Like they should get a do-over. What was exposed doesn't count because it was no-fairzees. Because they've really been after us.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Hey, these retards are like the ones I work with 5

http://romancescams.org/ Scroll down to the quiz. The Yes/No choices are not represented by radio buttons (or some other single-selection-only UI element), but by checkboxes. So WTF does it mean if I check both Yes and No to a pretty much binary question.

Kind of like the morons at my work that represent an action with a checkbox. A checkbox represents state, a pushbutton advertises an available action. So we have checkboxes that then visually (along with their label) signal a certain state, even when the application is no longer in that state.

When I brought this up, and said a pushbutton would be more appropriate, I was told that technically I have a point, but that they don't care.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Well if it's about health care, then it's okay 2

(Who could be against something that's just part of health care?)

In "health care", "patients" sometimes want to "donate" "tissue" to scientific research...

I used to think the death panels in our future would be just about controlling costs. But now I see that there'll also be the "humanitarian undertaking" part of it.

p.s. I'm not an "anti-vaxxer", but if the government can require you to put things in your body it means they own your body more than you do. They can decide it's time for you to give up your organs, because "medical breakthroughs".

User Journal

Journal Journal: yum, feet

So in Panera tonite I noticed they have a new kind of bakery dessert they're promoting. It's a flip-flop cookie.

You're supposed to pick up this day-glo green item that looks like some dirty open footwear that someone's skunky sweaty feet have been wearing, and stick it in your mouth and tell yourself you're enjoying eating such a thing.

Maybe it actually tastes pretty good, but it's a horrendous metaphor for something that's supposed to be edible(/palatable). What next, a dirty underwear cookie? With a cute little crotch stain made of fudge. How whimsically delicious!

p.s. And if you thought this JE was a waste of time, eat my shorts.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Strange SQL Server 2014 behavior 7

I have a Select Statement that returns 4 rows. When used in a stored procedure as input to an Insert Into, though, it was returning five rows. I commented out SET NOCOUNT ON; which is added by the SQL 2014 template. It then returned 4 rows. To test that was what was really going on, I uncommented out SET NOCOUNT ON; and it is now returning 4 rows properly.

I made no other changes.

Anybody else ever run into anything like this??

User Journal

Journal Journal: what I want in my next car 2

Remember the motorized retracting radio antenna option that some cars had back in the 70's/80's? Well I want something like that, only on the driver's side of the car. And I want it to be a pipe with an elbow that can be raised like a submarine periscope. Only instead of lenses, I want it to be hollow. And instead of being an air intake like those snorkels on Hummers and Jeeps, I want it to be connected to the exhaust system and have a valve that can be actuated from a control in the cabin.

This way when I'm stopped at a traffic light, and next to me on my left is a big-ass truck jacked up off the ground with its "tailpipe" aimed right at my driver side window, smogging me out, I can flip a switch and return the favor and redirect my noxious emissions into one of *his* windows. (Or even better, a rubber hose that can be extended out from the car sideways to slip over the offender's tail^Wsidepipe, and reroute their own exhaust back at them!)

p.s. Speaking of automotive "why is this shit even legal?", how come motorcycles don't have to have mufflers? I have to notice one coming up on me and quick stick a finger in the appropriate ear so that blood doesn't shoot out of it when the guy roars by. I can be just about to fall asleep and one will go by on the main street down the block from me.

So I guess I also could use a 125 dB loudspeaker, which is just the threshold of pain but no real damage, on a turret on the car's roof, that automatically tracks an above-average loud noisemaking object, and when in range delivers a massive sound pulse of this.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Catholics have jumped the shark 16

I'm not Catholic, but even if I was:

1) I do not recognize this ball of mud in space as "our Sister, Mother Earth". How long before Catholics, who already come dangerously close to or cross the line into worshipping false idols, refer to it as "the Blessed Holy Mother Earth"? Water is blessed to make "holy water", so when will dirt be? Say three Hail Gaia's and you're absolved of your sins against "her"? I'm envisioning a creepy earth cult a la the movie Avatar. Stop the madness. Stop making little godlets out of other people and mere things.

2) This "sister" is not now crying out to us nor never has, because it doesn't have vocal chords and it's not alive. It's a giant dirtclod that has living things on it, most of them soulless/not made in God's image and therefore as valuable as the rock they live on.

3) I will not say a prayer for "our Earth". I don't pray for inanimate objects. Nor do I deify them.

These are based on an article I read at lunch about it this week on ArsLeftica. I ignored what the author said about the Pope's writing, and refer only to the quotes. Which appalled me enough; I don't care to read the original source on this one. (I don't want to know fully how bad it is.)

p.s. Note that I consider Catholics to be my fellow brothers in Christ. Same with Mormons. I trust that our acceptance of Jesus will enable us to go to the place that's the best. (Where I guess it'll all be straightened out.)

User Journal

Journal Journal: solidarity vs. feeling like you need a shower 32

My dad made an interesting point in the car on the way to lunch today. He wondered how my bro-in-law's folks, who are dedicated Liberals, could buy Toyotas, when they don't use union labor.

It's a bit of a conundrum. If you're a Leftie, you have disdain for anything American. Yet the Japanese automakers dodge unions like Wal*mart.

While it's still a capitalist system, how's a socially conscious person supposed to support the labor movement without also indirectly supporting their (private) employers.

User Journal

Journal Journal: you dirty girl 8

Driving home from work Thu night I was at a stoplight behind a minivan with a PBS supporter license plate frame. The minivan had a large rear window, and I could see part of the taller SUV in front of it, with a Ron Paul for president sticker! I'll bet the minivan driver was road-raging in there!

The week before I was behind an SUV with a/an "If you're gonna ride my ass, at least pull my hair" license plate frame. I had to pull up next to the driver at the next light to see the person standing behind this statement. It looked like the lady from that pitbull rescue TV series.

That same afternoon another lady had a license plate frame of "Look out, Mary's driving". I wonder if that was self-bought, or if it was a "gift". She seemed to be driving just fine.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Winduhs

I think the whole mobile operating system thing has screwed up GUI design to a certain degree. Microsoft, Ubuntu, and GNOME have both been brave and tried something new, but what they ended up with ended up being highly unpopular on the desktop. And to be honest, I think only Microsoft ended up with something truly good on a touch interface, though I admit to not using Ubuntu or GNOME in those contexts, just being aware that they've not really encouraged an ecosystem for applications to work well in a tablet environment, leaving users with only the main shell being friendly. So the loss of optimization for the desktop lead to no significant gains elsewhere.

The way I'm seeing it, Windows 10 seems to be genuinely exciting, and a decent modern desktop, that also encourages cross interface design. Microsoft has learned from the mistakes it made with Windows 8, kept the good parts, and put together something truly great and modern.

I don't really want to be stuck with Windows though as my primary OS. I'm hoping Ubuntu et al actually learn from it.

This is something you'll never normally hear from me, but perhaps they need a Miguel type figure to take a lead in either GNOME or Ubuntu. At this point, at least to me, it looks like Microsoft is the one with the good ideas about how a UI should work and the relationship of an application to the UI frameworks of the underlying OS. I don't want anyone to clone Windows, but it would be nice to learn from it, at least.

Back in the 1990s, nerds like me put together our own "desktops", running random window managers, app launchers, and file managers (if that) that seemed to go together. I'm feeling like the FOSS "desktop" is heading back to that era, of stuff that doesn't really go together, being shoehorned to fit, with no real philosophy binding the system together.

Slowly and surely the unix crept up on the Nintendo user ...

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