I first heard of Hannes Alfvén’s The Tale of the Big Computer when I read George Dyson’s Turing’s Cathedral. That book is readily available: Amazon tells me that I bought my own copy in September of 2013, and not only do I recommend it highly to anyone I think might be interested, I apparently bought four copies to give to others.Continue reading “The Tale of the Big Computer”
In my last post, I told the story of reviving a moribund computer program from 15+ years ago.
In the process, I revisited my stash of moribund computer programs, including a little web page with links to some of them. It was dusty and pathetic and pretty much nothing worked. So I rolled up my sleeves and prettied it up, and if you want to look any of it, you can find it here.
TL;DR You can skip any time to the 20-second movie at the bottom of the post. Spoiler alert: the video will eventually reveal the solution to the puzzle.
Happy New Year! I just returned from a quick family trip to Seattle, and you would think that this post would be about my visit to the Living Computer Museum with my cousin Eric, and programming adventures now 50+ years ago in the RESISTORS. But it’s not, as worthy as those topics are.
Actually it all started when I read a post by Ben Orlin on his Math With Bad Drawings site about Evelyn Lamb‘s Page-a-Day Math Calendar, recently published by the AMS. One thing led to another, and my son Ben was kind enough to give me a copy for Christmas.Continue reading “The Archeology of Computer Programming”
The New York Times has come up with a new puzzle, called “Spelling Bee.” (Sorry, to use that link you apparently need a Times Crossword subscription, which comes bundled with many of their plans.) The idea is simple: they give you 7 letters, with one in the center. Here is today’s.Continue reading “Cheating at Spelling Bee”
Update not all that long after I wrote this: I discovered that if I don’t keep too many tabs open while I’m also running a Windows virtual machine on VMWare, Chrome does not get so slow, so I’m back to using it, which is nice because I like it a lot more than Safari. So please just ignore this post. Continue reading “Mac Browser Wars… and the winner is: Safari! [oops, not really]”
Added later: this is of purely historical interest, if that. I added a category “outdated,” but maybe “obsolete” would be more accurate…
I tend to be a late adopter of operating systems. I went from Windows 95 to XP to 7, skipping Vista, Me, and a number of other dogs whose names I can’t even remember. I would still be running XP except that when my son switched from Linux to Windows 7 I sat up and took notice. Continue reading “Mavericks Upgrade: Go For It”
In the third grade, our teacher Mrs. Smithy read us The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, in which a group of kids find a secret door in the back of a wardrobe and enter a fantastical, undreamed-of world.
In the fifth grade, in 1968, I became part of a group of kids that had found such a door. The group was called the RESISTORS, and the door led to the world of computers and what is now called “information technology.”
The group met in the house and barn of Claude Kagan, an engineer at the Western Electric Research Center in Pennington, NJ, near Princeton, where I grew up. Claude was a complicated guy, by turns fun-loving, cantankerous, generous, childish, and more—but unswerving in his commitment to value of letting young people learn things and above all do things. The principles of the RESISTORS were “Hands On” and “Each One Teach One,” and those principles have stood me in good stead for the last 45 years. (As I side note, last night I read a piece by Atul Gawande in the New Yorker in which he wrote that an essential realization in the dissemination of the medical miracle of oral rehydration was that when teachers fanned out to villages, the teaching was much more effective if the villagers made the solution under the teacher’s instruction than if the teacher “showed them how.” This was one of the first things we learned as RESISTORS: if you are teaching people things, THEY should sit at the Teletype [a primitive 100 bps terminal, which no self-respecting Bangladeshi villager would tolerate today] and YOU should sit next to them, talking them through it.)
We used a number of computers and computer languages, but the computational beating heart of the group was Claude’s PDP-8 computer at Western Electric, which we would dial into from a Teletype in his house. It ran Trac, a computer language designed by Calvin Mooers, an independent thinker based in Cambridge, Mass. The PDP-8 had 4K of RAM. Yes, 4K, i.e. one one-millionth of the amount of RAM in the two-pound MacBook I’m typing on right now. RAM was insanely expensive because it was made of little magnetic “cores” which were hand-strung, reportedly by armies of Filipinos. OK, actually it had 4K of 12-bit words, so technically you could say it had 6K bytes. A “Trac processor” (interpreter) could fit on such a machine, with some room left over for user-written scripts (programs). There is really no computer today so minuscule that Trac makes sense as a language, and even fewer people would ever have heard of Trac today if Ted Nelson hadn’t happened upon the RESISTORS and mentioned Trac in Computer Lib.
So my stepson Walker has a PowerBook G4 that he got from his dad, which stopped booting up. It would get maybe a third of the way through the progress bar labeled something like “Mac OS X” and then it would go to a blue screen (light blue, not BSOD-colored) and hang.
My son Ben discovered that you could boot in single-user mode (holding down apple-S while booting) and repair the disk with “fsck -fy” (perhaps several times), and then rebooting would work. In fact, rebooting turned out to be fine in general, the problem only happened when you powered the thing down. Continue reading “Weird problem with PowerBook G4”
So I’ve had my G2 for a bit over a month now; here are some first impressions.
1. I like it! It’s sleek, it’s cute, it does things. I don’t feel bad for not having an iPhone. The UI is generally well designed, and I’m not easy to please in this regard. Continue reading “T-Mobile MyTouch (aka G2), one month on”
What didn’t work. Well, what did I try before that? Lots of things, with varying degrees of success (from zero to partial). Continue reading “Palm OS to Google/Android, Part 2: What Didn’t Work (4.2)”