St. Helena Airport
> Your average flight from Washington, D.C. to St. Helena Island, located in one of the most remote parts of the world, would be a very arduous affair, a flight that would take nearly two full days, and at least three distinct layovers along the way—first in Ghana, then in Johannesburg, then a refueling stop in Namibia—before you got to your destination. If there’s a delay at any of the three stops, it might compromise the entire trip, because if you don’t make your connecting flight, you’re screwed. And once you’re there, you’re not leaving for a while. I’m endlessly fascinated by these far-off connections, these obscure airports that few people would ever think to travel to—and St. Helena is somehow more hopelessly obscure than the rest. But you’re going to know a lot about it by the time you finish reading today’s Tedium. Strap in—we’re talking about odd airports.
All Penn, No Teller
> Why Penn Jillette kind of makes sense as a tech magazine’s back-page columnist
> But Jillette was something different. He was already famous—certainly more famous than Pournelle, an established science-fiction author, thanks to being a regular fixture on television during much of his career and starring in a legendary Run-DMC music video—and he likely did not need a nationally distributed computer magazine column to make a living. Jillette simply liked computers and knew a lot about them, which meant that he could rant about the details of an Autoexec.bat file just as easily as he can about politics. He gave the tech writing form something of an edge, while maintaining the freewheeling nature established by fellow pre-blogging voices like Pournelle.
Some good quotes and links here.
Doing Things The Wrong Way
> Rules have a time and place, and “doing things wrong” is just a matter of your opinion, man.
Planned Obsolescence: Innovation Versus Preservation
> We keep making old stuff significantly less useful in the modern day, sometimes by force. We cite problems things such as security, maintenance, and a devotion to constant evolution as reasons for allowing this to happen. But the net effect is that we are making it impossible to continue using otherwise useful things after even a medium amount of time. I’m not even exclusively talking about things that are decades old. Sometimes, just a few years does the trick. Today’s Tedium ponders planned obsolescence and how it theatens preservation.
Smartphones, Except Landlocked
> Phone lines, while not initially designed to transfer binary data, turned out to be a good enough way to do so—up until the 2000s, at least. From sending faxes to browsing the Internet, people relied on effectively the same copper wires they used with Ma Bell-leased telephones. But while most of the personal tech evolved towards greater connectivity, landline phones mostly got better only at the ergonomics of calling and dialing. Today’s Tedium is dedicated to the few ones which dared to be smarter.
Plus this great anecdote:
> The mild criticism (“not proving the success that Sir Alan Sugar had hoped” was all that was ever written about the phone) pushed Sugar to send a message to all 95,000 service subscribers, asking them to send an email to Charles Arthur, the newspaper’s tech editor.
Adventures In Interactivity
> That book was Creating Adventure Games on Your Computer by Tim Hartnell. The book taught me how to make rudimentary text adventure games on my Apple ][ as a kid and prompted a recent adventure of revisiting the classic text adventures of the past. So grab a torch and get your map making tools ready because today’s Tedium is an exploration of text adventures through the years. Try not to get eaten by a grue along the way.
New Emails, Old Tech
> What makes an email different from a web page? Depending on how it’s presented, not a lot—but they also might be miles apart. Things that might have taken a few minutes to lay out for a website can take significantly longer to do when targeting an email client, and with a lot of pain in the middle. With that in mind, I felt like it was good to talk a little bit about the process that goes into email, and where it’s really falling short. Today’s Tedium is an email … about email. Particularly where it needs a little modernizing.
GeoWorks GEOS History - The Other Windows
> Back in the early ’90s, it wasn’t a sure thing that Microsoft Windows was going to take over the market, even though they had a clear lead over many of their competitors, thanks to MS-DOS. In fact, one of the iconic GUI-based experiences of the era, AOL, hedged its bets for a while, creating and maintaining a DOS version of its iconic pseudo-internet software using an GUI platform few were familiar with: GeoWorks. It was an operating system for an era when it wasn’t even a sure thing we’d have a modem. Today, we do a dive into the world of GEOS. It’s a pretty fascinating place.
How OS/2 Powered the NYC Subway
> Vintage technology has powered the innards of the NYC subway system for decades—and sometimes, it surfaces in interesting ways. This one’s for you, OS/2 fans.
Old Computers, New Inspiration
> I’m not a newbie when it comes to conferences—I’ve attended many over the years, big and small, and my day job includes an element of regular conference attendance. But I’ve never attended an event quite like VCF East, the long-running computer festival that brings out so many old computers out of the woodwork that it’s not even funny. (It also brings out their fans, a distinct breed of human that isn’t afraid to futz around on something old for a while.) This past weekend, I got a chance to head up to New Jersey to check out the world of vintage, and I got to set my eyes on some fascinating old tech. It was my first go-around, and perhaps it won’t be my last. When I go to events like this, I tend to focus less on reporting and more on inspiration, tone, and taking something back with me—and with that in mind, I wanted to speak to a few things at VCF East that inspired me. Let me nerd out for a little bit in today’s Tedium. I promise you won’t get bored!
Enter The Matrox
> A fast GPU is a must for video processing and other image-heavy productivity tasks, but GPUs are really known for their ability to push the limits on popular 3D-driven games. There’s an obsession with this kind of performance, in fact—hence why folks can’t stop talking about whatever Nvidia and AMD are putting into their graphics chips next. But two decades ago, these two companies had a competitor—and that competitor did something unusual and surprising: The graphics card maker Matrox decided to simply drop out of the market for consumer graphics entirely—a move that seemingly would have sunk any other company. So what happened to Matrox? Well, let me tell you! Today’s Tedium talks Matrox, the misunderstood graphics firm that could never quite get 3D right.
The Ghosts of Windows 3.1
> The Philips CD-i was not a good system.
> But for some bizarre reason, the folks at Tandy, the parent company of Radio Shack, apparently didn’t get the memo and thought that it was worth mimicking the CD-i model for all it was worth.
> There seems to be evidence that Microsoft planned for Modular Windows to be used beyond Tandy’s devices. A 1992 InfoWorld article highlights the existence of a software development kit specifically for Modular Windows, which one would imagine Microsoft would not create for a single device that was already not selling well.
> 1994 The year that Microsoft released Windows 3.2.
The Sound Of Nostalgia
> The Sega Genesis, with its “Blast Processing” and blue mascot (who is getting a questionable movie makeover in the coming months), stood out for a lot of reasons, but one of the most subtle is something that it contained in at least one of its variants that not a lot of its competitors did—a headphone jack that could produce stereo sound. In a way, it was a nod to its sound chips, which were some of the best to be found on a video game console at the time and had more in common with the era’s sound synthesizers. Reliving those sounds in their best form hasn’t been easy in the modern day, however, due to challenges in emulating the console correctly. However, a challenger appears: The Analogue Mega Sg, a field programmable gate array (FPGA)-based console aims to recreate the experience. Today’s Tedium is a review of that console—and a little backstory on the biggest problem it tries to solve.
The Perfect Container
> Sometimes, it’s possible to create something that’s too useful, that is designed for a niche purpose but is so well-attuned to that purpose that it attracts other people, who find a similar value but different use case than was intended. And because of the sheer prevalence of said useful tool, it suddenly is everywhere—finding purpose as a cheap alternative to a trip to the local department store. If you’re the maker of that too-useful something, whaddya do? Well, in the case of the dairy industry, you use your political influence to try to ban all those college students from using milk crates. In today’s Tedium, we talk about the bizarre legal status of the plastic milk crate.
> “They are looking for people who are doing even the smallest crime, because, what we’ve learned is, those who will go out and steal a milk crate, for example, are the same people who are probably breaking into cars, breaking into your house.”
The Squeal of Data
> My favorite sound in computing is one that I haven’t actually had to use on a computer in nearly 20 years. The modem was a connection to a world outside of my own, and to get that connection required hearing the sounds of a loud, abrasive handshake that could easily be mistaken for Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music. I’d like to compare it to another kind of sound for a little bit—the noise of a “straight key” used for a telegraph. Both technologies, despite more than a century in age difference, seemingly turned data into sound, then into electrical pulses, and back into sound again. It’s no wonder, then, that you can actually trace the roots of the modem back to the telegraph, and later the teletype machine. Data and wires, simply put, go way back. And it’s not the only example of the telegraph’s quiet influence on modern computing. Today’s Tedium draws a line between the modern computer and the pulses that inspired it.
The Internet of Food
> You know something you can’t get through the internet’s wires, at least not on its own? Food. We’ve been working on it for years, but no, we’re not at the point where we can deliver nourishment directly via the series of tubes. But food has always been something of a means to an end—a way of driving the internet forward, making it something people would actually like to use.
Plus tons of links.
A Kernel Of Failure
> The name of IBM’s endeavor? Workplace OS. The mission? To become the operating system at the center of every other operating system, no less.
> As IBM had interests in numerous operating systems at the time—beyond OS/2 and Taligent, it also had legitimate say in the direction of MS-DOS, Windows, and the operating system standard POSIX, along with its own in-house operating systems OS/400 and AIX—it was perhaps the closest thing to the center of the world of operating systems at the time. And with interest in microkernels rising, in part due to their perceived reliability benefits, IBM was in a position to push forth its vision, which it attempted to drive in part because it felt it could save money by having a standard base for its different operating systems.
> (Saving money was expensive, however: As University of California-Riverside researchers Brett D. Fleisch and Mark Allan A. Co noted in a 1997 post-mortem, IBM spent nearly $2 billion trying to get Workplace OS off the ground, approximately 0.6 percent of IBM’s total revenue over the five-year period.)
Plus even more other plans and ambitions.
Let’s Save Blogging
> The independent blog has been in decline for years. It doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s why you should start a blog in 2019—and host it yourself.
I liked this a bit more than the average take on the subject.
When a Chain Breaks
> What a blogger learned from a year of traveling to restaurants that used to be part of much larger chains before being forced to fend for themselves.
Counting All Cars
> Pondering the evolution of electronic tolling, the system that doesn’t slow you down even as it charges you to use it. It has roots in the theremin—sorta.
RFID from the great seal bug to your windshield.