A visit to the Large Scale Systems Museum
> I didn’t expect to find two floors filled with vintage computers in a sleepy town outside Pittsburgh. But that’s the location of the Large Scale System Museum, housed in an abandoned department store. The ground floor of this private collection concentrates on mainframes and minicomputers from the 1970s to 1990s featuring IBM, Cray, and DEC systems, along with less common computers. Amazingly, most of these vintage systems are working. Upstairs, the museum is filled with vintage home computers from the pre-PC era.
The PDP-7 Where Unix Began
> In preparation for a talk on Seventh Edition Unix this fall, I stumbled upon a service list from DEC for all known PDP-7 machines. From that list, and other sources, I believe that PDP-7 serial number 34 was the original Unix machine.
Fixing up KA9Q-unix, or "neck deep in 30 year old codebases.."
> Anyhoo, I’ve finally been mucking around with AX.25 packet radio. I’ve been wanting to do this since I was a teenager and found out about its existence, but back in high school and .. well, until a few years ago really .. I didn’t have my amateur radio licence. But, now I do, and I’ve done a bunch of other stuff with a bunch of other radios. The main stumbling block? All my devices are either Apple products or run FreeBSD - and none of them have useful AX.25 stacks. The main stacks of choice these days run on Linux, Windows or are a full hardware TNC.
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.
And it was Uphill Both Ways
> In fact, shortly after I made my own personal home page, full of <marquee> tags, creative abuse of the <font> tag, and a color scheme which was hot pink and neon green, I showed it to a friend, who condescendingly said, “What, you didn’t even use frames?” He made me mad enough that I almost deleted my Geocities account.
Nice look back at how we used to do things.
> In this era, we’d call stuff like this “DHTML” (the D is for “dynamic”), and we traversed the DOM as a chain of properties, doing things like document.forms.inputs to access fields on the form.
How did MS-DOS decide that two seconds was the amount of time to keep the floppy disk cache valid?
A Eulogy for Objective-C
> With the birth of Swift, we face the passing of Objective-C. To mark this historic moment, long-time Objective-C developer and trainer Aaron Hillegass delivers an impassioned eulogy for a language he knew well.
This is a nice recap of the development and early days.
Reverse-engineering precision op amps from a 1969 analog computer
> We are restoring a vintage1 computer that CuriousMarc recently obtained. Analog computers were formerly popular for fast scientific computation, but pretty much died out in the 1970s. They are interesting, though, as a completely different computing paradigm from digital computers. In this blog post, I’m going to focus on the op amps used in Marc’s analog computer, a Simulators Inc. model 240.
> An analog computer performs computations using physical, continuously changeable values such as voltages. This is in contrast to a digital computer that uses discrete binary values. Analog computers have a long history including gear mechanisms, slide rules, wheel-and-disk integrators, tide computers, and mechanical gun targeting systems. The “classic” analog computers of the 1950s and 1960s, however, used op amps and integrators to solve differential equations. They were typically programmed by plugging cables into a patch panel, yielding a spaghetti-like tangle of wires.
Plus some good references to more about analog computers.
Ken Thompson did some of his early programming on an early analog computer, although I’m unsure of which model.
What Remains Technical Breakdown
> What Remains is a narrative adventure game for the 8-bit NES video game console, and was released in March 2019 as a free ROM, playable in emulator. It was created by a small team, Iodine Dynamics, over the course of two years of on and off development. It’s currently in the hardware phase as a limited batch of cartridges are being created from all recycled parts.
> The game plays out over 6 stages, wherein the player walks around multiple scenes with 4-way scrolling maps, speaking to NPCs, collecting clues, learning about their world, playing mini-games, and solving simple puzzles. As the primary engineer on this project, I faced a lot of challenges in bringing the team’s vision to reality. Given the significant restrains of the NES hardware, making any game is difficult enough, let alone one with as much content as What Remains. Only by creating useful subsystems to hide and manage this complexity were we able to work as a team to complete the game.
> Herein is a technical breakdown of some of the pieces that make up our game’s engine, in the hopes that others find it useful or at least interesting to read about.
> Nearly all retro game systems generate colors in some variant of RGB encoding. But the raw pixel colors are often designed for very different screens than those that emulators typically run on. In this article, I’ll walk through the importance of color emulation, and provide some example code and screenshots.
The Enigma Machine
> The Enigma Machine was one of the centerpoints of World War II, and its cryptanalysis was one of the stepping stones from breaking codes as an art to cryptography as a science. The machine encrypted messages sent between parts of the German army – operators would type a key on its keyboard, the machine would scramble that, and a letter would light up on the top.
> This notebook simulates an Enigma Machine and visualizes how it works. The Enigma Machine is an especially neat thing to visualize because it was electromechanical. As you used it, it moved. Instead of circuit traces, it had beautiful real wires connecting its pieces.
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.
In Memoriam: J. C. R. Licklider
Two papers. Man-Computer Symbiosis and The Computer as a Communication Device.
The first argues for interactive systems. The computer can’t be an extension of our mind if it’s not responsive.
The second is a vision for networked communications. It sounds a lot like today, but more optimistic. Where did we go wrong?
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.
ASCII table and history
> To understand why Control+i inserts a Tab in your terminal you need to understand ASCII, and to understand ASCII you need know a bit about its history and the world it was developed in. Please bear with me (or just go the table).
> Most teleprinters communicated using the ITA2 protocol. For the most part this would just encode the alphabet, but there are a few control codes: WRU (“Who R U”) would cause the receiving teleprinter to send back its identification, BEL would ring a bell, and it had the familiar CR (Carriage Return) and LF (Line Feed).
Spacewar - Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums
> 7 December 1972
An account of the first computer game tournament.
> The trend owes its health to an odd array of influences: The youthful fervor and firm dis-Establishmentarianism of the freaks who design computer science; an astonishingly enlightened research program from the very top of the Defense Department; an unexpected market-Banking movement by the manufacturers of small calculating machines, and an irrepressible midnight phenomenon known as Spacewar.
> Reliably, at any nighttime moment (i.e. non-business hours) in North America hundreds of computer technicians are effectively out of their bodies, locked in life-or-death space combat computer-projected onto cathode ray tube display screens, for hours at a time, ruining their eyes, numbing their fingers in frenzied mashing of control buttons, joyously slaying their friend and wasting their employers’ valuable computer time. Something basic is going on.
Plus the beginnings of Xerox PARC.
> “You get just a few more agates in that group and you’ll have all the marbles.”
> The chief marble collector is - well, well - Bob Taylor. When he left the newly restricted ARPA he spent a year at Utah decompressing from the Pentagon and then went to Xerox and there continued his practice of finding and rewarding good men for doing pretty much whatever they considered important work. Freedom to explore in the company of talent is an irresistible lure. In two years Xerox had twenty of the best men around working. Toward what? Well, whatever.
A followup from 2016: https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-news/stewart-brand-recalls-first-spacewar-video-game-tournament-187669/
The Internet's Old Guard
> So we gathered around a circle of old timers and listened to them reminisce. The man who’d called the gathering guided the conversation. It slowly dawned on me that he was Lee Felsenstein, who’d set up the first public-access computer in Berkeley and helped start the Homebrew Computer Club, which incubated Apple and the personal computer. He was managing this conversation with the skills he’d learned from moderating the HCC meetings for years. I’d read about his story in Steven Levy’s book Hackers. Sometimes you’re reminded that history isn’t something that happened elsewhere, it’s an ongoing story we’re still living in.
Plus some other characters.
Survey of Alternative Displays
> The purpose of this article is to collect and consolidate a list of these alternative methods of working with displays, light and optics. This will by no means be an exhaustive list of the possibilities available — depending on how you categorize, there could be dozens or hundreds of ways. There are historical mainstays, oddball one-offs, expensive failures and techniques that are only beginning to come into their own.
There’s more to life than the LCD.
Interview with Bill Joy
> The following interview is taken from the August 1984 issue of Unix Review magazine.
A lot of text editor history here, featuring of course, vi.
> I think it killed the performance on a lot of the systems in the Labs for years because everyone had their own copy of it, but it wasn’t being shared, and so they wasted huge amounts of memory back when memory was expensive. With 92 people in the Labs maintaining vi independently, I think they ultimately wasted incredible amounts of money. I was surprised about vi going in, though, I didn’t know it was in System V. I learned about it being in System V quite a while after it had come out.
Plus some commentary on other topics.
> The point is that you want to have a system that is responsive. You don’t want a car that talks to you. I’ll never buy a car that says, “Good morning.” The neat thing about UNIX is that it is very responsive. You just say, “A pipe to B” - it doesn’t blather at you that “execution begins,” or “execution terminated, IEFBR14.”
> The trouble is that UNIX is not accessible, not transparent in the way that Interleaf is, where you sit down and start poking around in the menu and explore the whole system. Someone I know sat down with a Macintosh and a Lisa and was disappointed because, in a half hour, he explored the whole system and there wasn’t as much as he thought. That’s true, but the point is in half an hour, almost without a manual you can know which button to push and you can find nearly everything. Things don’t get lost. I think that’s the key.
The AI of GoldenEye 007
> GoldenEye 007: one of the most influential games of all time. A title that defined a generation of console gaming and paved the way forward for first-person shooters in the console market. In this article I’m winding the clock back over 20 years to learn the secrets of how one of the Nintendo 64’s most beloved titles built friendly and enemy AI that is still held in high regard today.