Saturday, October 18, 2008

There are some things about computers I really don’t miss…

 

There are some things about computers I don’t think I’m ever going to miss. Nostalgia has limits.

I’m not going to miss:

  • Programming machine tools using paper tape and a ({{Information |Description={{w|Friden Flexowriter}} |Source={{w|Wikipedia:Contact us/Photo submission}} |Date=April 2008 |Author=Godfrey Manning |Permission={{PermissionOTRS|ticket=https://secure.wikimedia.org/otrs/index.pl?Action=AgentTicketZoom&TicketID)Flexowriter, and copying the paper tape to Mylar tape for production. But only if it was a good program, one that didn't drill holes in the wrong place on an expensive casting or smash the machine tool spindle into the tooling fixture and break really expensive stuff.
  • Submitting a punch card deck to the mainframe operators, waiting four hours for the batch scheduler to compile and run the program, only to find a syntax error. Especially for a required assignment the last week of the semester.
  • Waiting for a goofy little homemade PDP-8 to assemble, link and load a 50 line assembler program (about 40 minutes of watching tape cartridges spin, if memory serves.)
  • Booting CAD/CAM systems by toggling bits and loading instructions from front panel switches. And then programming complex machine tools using a strange path description language, a pen plotter, a teletype, and punched tape. State of the art, at the time. The plotter even waited for you to put a new pen in every time it needed to draw a line in a new color.
  • Running CAD/CAM systems from floppies. (A CAD system that could do 3D wire frame views no less). Floppies though, were a vast improvement over paper or magnetic tape. You could access the data on them randomly. Amazing.
  • NetWare 2.0a server kernels, each one built from object modules custom linked specifically for the hardware using a linker and modules spread out over boxes of floppies, some of which had to be inserted more than once, and dozens of menu choices, including IRQ's, I/O ports, and memory addresses. If any of them were wrong, the kernel didn't boot. If the kernel didn't boot, you started over with disk #1. If it DID boot, you bought a round at the local pub, because life was good, and celebration was required.
  • NetWare client installations, when the Netware drivers were custom linked to match the I/O, IRQ and memory jumpers on the network card. Move a jumper to avoid an IRQ conflict and you'll have to re-run the linker and generate a new driver.
  • Using NetWare BRGEN to build routers, and linking the kernel of a four-port Arcnet router made out of an old XT and using it as the core router of a campus network. It worked though, and best of all I didn't have to walk across the building to manage departmental servers. And yes, it was possible to allocate IRQ's and I/O ports for four Arcnet cards in a single PC.
  • CGA graphics. The choices were four colors at 320x200 pixels, or two colors at 640x200 pixels(!). For serious CAD/CAM graphics, the 640x200 black & white mode was the preferred choice.
  • Endless hours spent moving jumpers on ISA cards, trying to get all the video, memory and interface cards to work together without IRQ, I/O port and memory address conflicts.
  • ROM BASIC
  • Electronic Typewriters. The ones that cost you two weeks of wages and had one whole line of memory.
  • Even more hours spent trying to get the drivers for the interface cards all stuffed into 640k and still have enough memory left to run AutoCAD or Ventura Desktop Publishing.
  • Recovering lost files from damaged floppies by manually editing the file allocation table. (Norton Utilities Disk Editor!)
  • Writing programs and utilities using 'copy con' and debug scripts copied from magazines.
  • Abort, Retry, Fail?
  • Early Mac fans and their dot-matrix printed documents that had eight different fonts on a page. Just because you can…doesn’t mean you should….
  • Sneakernet.
  • Running Linux kernel config scripts, hoping that the dozens of choices that you made, not knowing what most of them meant, would compile and link a bootable kernel. (Bootable kernels tended to be far more useful than non-bootable kernels).
  • Installing Linux from Floppies.
  • Patching Linux kernel source code to block Ping-of-Death so the primary name server would stay up for more than five minutes.
  • Editing X config files, specifying graphics card and monitor dot-clock settings, hoping that your best guess wouldn't smoke your shiny new $2000 NEC 4D 16" monitor.
  • OS/2 installations from 30-odd floppy disks, then another 20 or so for the service pack or PTF (or whatever they called it). CD-ROMs were expensive.
  • Broadcast storms.

 

I’m pretty sure that a hole bunch of the things we do today will look pretty archaic a decade or two from now. So what’s this list is going to look like twenty years from now?

7 comments:

  1. When having a working CD Rom hinged upon a complex and obscure line in config.sys which involved mscdex.exe with lots of switches

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  2. I forgot about mscdex.

    I can't remember the name of the CAD/CAM software that ran on the Data General either.

    Getting old................

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  3. In 20 years...

    Typing stuff in using a keyboard & using a mouse!

    Passwords

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  4. Who can forget - even as much as you might want to - those old CPM based dedicated word processors like CPT. Enormous cabinets with 8-inch floppies and all. Just like maintaining a Stanley Steamer. Only the Steamer was faster and quieter and way more reliable.

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  5. Holy crap, I know what each and every one of those things is.

    Time to retire.

    (Did you have the Novell LSL-ODI driver sequences?)

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  6. If I remember correctly, the LSL/ODI stack replaced the custom linked ipx.com and DOS version specific net2.com, net3.com, etc.

    It was definitely an improvement.

    I also remember debugging a state-wide IPX routing loop. An IPX route table with a thousand-odd announcements going around in a big circle.

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  7. I remember each and everything man but anyway thanks for sharing this blog with us as it made me remember the old memories of my first computer and it’s structure too with the long rectangular shaped floppy drives

    ReplyDelete