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Journal Journal: Belonging to a different era

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 2 2

"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 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: Trump vindicates damn_registrars 7 7

"Wisconsin is in turmoil," Trump told a boisterous crowd at a rally in Iowa. He pointed to the state's roads, schools and hospitals, which he said were all "a disaster."
Walker, who is leading polls in Iowa, remains one of Trump's biggest rivals in the race.
"I hear the only person beating me in Iowa is Scott Walker," he said. "I can't believe I'm in second place. Folks, will you please put me in first place so I feel better?"
Trump told the crowd Saturday that he had helped Walker win his race because he admired the candidate's "fight," but didn't know what he was fighting for. "I've been very nice to him," he said.
But after Walker's fundraising email went public, Trump declared: "I can finally attack."

I think Trump is a buffoon, but, if the Vichy GOP put up JEB, I'll cheerfully vote for His Donaldness.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Hey, these retards are like the ones I work with 5 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: Google, my Hero! 6 6

Yeah, I said that.

Many, many moons ago, anyone that knows me that long might remember me asking about where to find a two-page advertisement that Sun Microsystems had put out some time around 1998. It had a picture of Sally Struthers and a caption that said something like "Thinking of running your critical apps on NT? Isn't there enough world suffering?"

Well, it's been found in the November 23, 1998 issue of InfoWorld, on pages 8 and 9.

Needless to say, I'm very happy. :)
User Journal

Journal Journal: Shout out to the Nematodes 25 25

I'd like to ask the worms on here to defend that scumbag Chisholm, but such would require vertebrae.

It is utterly clear that the special prosecutor has employed theories of law that do not exist in order to investigate citizens who were wholly innocent of any wrongdoing. In other words, the special prosecutor was the instigator of a "perfect storm" of wrongs that was visited upon the innocent Unnamed Movants and those who dared to associate with them. It is fortunate, indeed, for every other citizen of this great State who is interested in the protection of fundamental liberties that the special prosecutor chose as his targets innocent citizens who had both the will and the means to fight the unlimited resources of an unjust prosecution.

I rarely feel genuine shame over my country, but this is an example of a source thereof.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Well if it's about health care, then it's okay 2 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: No wonder the Left foams at all orifices 168 168

Imagine winning three elections (one being a recall election that public sector unions poured thousands upon thousands of dollars into) in four years in the deeply divided blue-collar progressive Utopia of Wisconsin. Imagine breaking the back of the organized heart and soul of the Democrat party and dispatching AFL-CIO leader Richard "Morrie The Wig Salesman" Trumka back to the White House to show the President the "W" shaped scar carved into his forehead as a warning to anyone else who stepped foot in the state.

Imagine doing all this after Democratic state legislators fled for the safe harbor of Illinois to avoid voting on your legislation. Imagine having woken up every day to phone calls relating tales unionized shock-troops on your parentsâ(TM) front lawn and threats not only on your life but the lives of your kids. Now imagine having the real heroes, the brave national media, mock and ridicule you over this. Imagine accomplishing all of this while a partisan Milwaukee District Attorney authorizes the illegal invasion of the homes of your friends, supporters and aides, lawlessly confiscating private property, all while colluding with Lois Lerner and the IRS.

I happened to catch his announcement speech live on OANN yesterday. The Left will be invoking Cthulhu in most maniacal tones trying to call down some unfortunate demise on this Walker.

User Journal

Journal Journal: It just keeps getting WI-IRS 32 32

The two most egregious examples of government interference in recent elections may share a link. More than two years after it got exposed, the IRS' partisan probes of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status remains unresolved, thanks to the obstruction of the IRS in producing the relevant records to Congressional investigators--and the refusal of Lois Lerner, the central figure in the scandal, to testify. The status of the John Doe probe in Wisconsin that also attempted to derail conservative groups from participating in elections is similarly unresolved, but has been halted by judges who may end up killing it and the law on which itâ(TM)s based altogether.

Stipulate that
- There Is Nothing To See Here, Move Along, and
- Nuremberg Defense, and
- Conservatives Are Just Lightweight Metallic Headwear Aficionados, and
- If The Tea Parties Hadn't Worn That Short Skirt To The Bar Where The Violent Illegal Alien Was Cleaning The Federal Agent's Hog-Leg, The Tea Party Probably Wouldn't Have Been Ventilated.
Those zany conservatives. Always going for the victim narrative.

Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it. -- Perlis's Programming Proverb #58, SIGPLAN Notices, Sept. 1982

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