When my dad passed away, I went through his computer to help my mom figure out what to do with it. I say it was to help my mom, but really it was one last conversation about computers with my dad. I pored over the projects he was working on, and the books he had open on his desk. I remember thinking that this was the last language he'd use, the last modern framework he'd be working with. I remember feeling sad that no one would get to use this last project he was building.
So I see the old OS's popping up in the virtual machines described in the article, and all I can see is my dad. It starts to feel like grief, but then that feeling mixes with appreciation for everything my dad shared with me over the years. I didn't go into programming professionally out of college, but my dad's passing is pulling me back into it. I wish for one more day's conversation with him, to share what I'm doing these days.
We all love programming for many reasons, but at the end of the day it's really about how our work with computers and programming brings us into close circles with some of the best people we'll know.
He lived alone, and when he passed away a couple of years ago I went through the process of clearing his house and I really got to see the extent of it. Two BBCs, two Amigas, a ZX81, a dragon32 and it seemed like every floppy disk from my childhood. So much of it reignited memories I didn't realise were still in there. Old floppy disks with my handwriting on, some for games which I recognised from the disk even if I didn't remember the title, 3.5 inch floppies with a hole punched in the corner to make them high density (remembers that?)
Despite always trying to encourage him to clean up his house I was so glad he kept it all. This time I took lots of pictures, donated the computers to a charity who takes old one, and most of the floppies are now in my loft. I tell myself I'll look through them at some imaginary point in the future. I also recovered over 40 hard disks from the various PCs in different states of repair. I went through about half soon after he died, and will go on with more of them when I feel the need. Like you say, it feels a bit like checking in with him.
I must have been 5 or 6 years old and I vividly remember staring as a screen of BASIC of some sort on a computer he'd brought home from a car boot sale or somewhere. I was trying to figure out how to assign a number to a variable. B = 1. Got that. B is now 1. But how do I add one to it? B + 1? Hmmmm, why doesn't B change? etc etc. I went straight from school to code, and I have no idea what I'd be doing now if it wasn't for having computers around as a kid.
It makes me think about the footprint I'd leave for my kids to discover now. It'd be pretty much all digital, but with storage being so plentiful these days, and with gmail's archive and things like Dropbox and cloud storage, you'd think it would stretch right back to their birth. I'm not deleting emails which I think might one day tell something about who I am, and am dumping the occasional thing in a Dropbox dir, so if I got hit by a bus there's be plenty of info to tell my kids about me.
I'm sure you already know this, but, if you're serious about looking through them, please don't wait! I found an old cache of floppies myself a while back, and looked forward to a nostalgic stroll through their contents, but after less than 10 years almost half the content was corrupted.
It probably won't make a huge difference after all this time anyway, but please at least archive to a more durable medium while you wait!
(Of course, maybe I've missed the point and just the pleasure of having them is worth more than any data you might get off them—in which case, don't mind me.)
I don't remember that. I remember the trick of punching a hole in a 5¼ to make it double sided though.
I love my children but they've all sort of gone various directions none of them are quite the uber nerd I am. They call me once in a while "dad my sound isn't working" etc. I've always sort of been their tech crutch, providing them with answers, trying to teach them each time but in general they just say "Yea dad just fix it please". LOL
The greatest gift of being a father is knowing just how much mine had to love me because he didn't kill me while I was growing up. I'm sure it was no different for your father as clearly he wanted to share his wonderment with you and hoped like I do that for just a small flash of time that you understood a bit of what excited him in his life.
Why not finish it?
I had one last lesson from my dad, from that afternoon looking through his projects. My dad went through his career with a mindset that you build your projects to perfection before releasing them, and you don't talk about them much until they're complete and ready to share. I realized that if I kept any shred of that mindset, none of my projects would ever see the light of day. So I resolved right then and there to build stuff that sees actual use. Shortly after that I decided to start attending tech conferences, and learning to polish my practice enough to release usable software. That has opened doors I never imagined, and now I'm starting to build a second career in software development. That's what I wish he could see - that I'm taking the skills he gave me and starting to build things that others use. I really appreciate that final lesson.
I feel no amount of planning an getaway vacation or getting a great project at work etc can bring me back that feeling of just kicking back with my friend jacking around with HIMEM.SYS to play Falcon 3.0 while we waited for duck tales to come on...
I miss you Nick - I wish you never found that gun.
Later, after he got home from serving six years in the Air Force, he would still come by my place and want to play Final Fantasy VII and Soul Calibur together. Those were some of our strongest bonding periods in all those years of dealing with opposite personalities. We never got along one hundred percent of the time, but we loved each other the way all brothers should just the same, and enjoyed that time spent on our favorite pastime.
We still don't know why he took is life; he never left a note or any clues that anything was wrong. But he left a hole in our hearts that will never be filled.
As for Nick - In the summer before starting high school we were playing with some other friends and he found his dad's handgun. He thought it wasn't loaded.
I think if it hadn't happened I'd be working in the oil field like the rest of my classmates. When that happened I was very reclusive in high school. Never went to prom, dropped out of band. After writing all this though it made me realize I should appreciate the now moreso than live in my mind's past.
Seriously, call your brother. Today. Right now. I don't know the nature of your relationship with him, but I have a feeling that even if he acts awkward or annoyed by it, deep down he'll realize that you took a moment out of your day just to think about him.
"Windows is the Superbowl Halftime Show of operating systems. Given what everyone got paid, and how many people were involved, you’d think it would be a lot more memorable."
As someone who spends a lot of time with Windows...yeah. But the post is really an amazing blend of technology and sentiment, kind of reminiscent of Neal Stephenson at his best. Makes me want to dust off my PDP-11 emulator and take another crack at Unix V6.
>It is a very weird experience. It feels like a machine for monks or nuns. Baffling. But there is this weird sense of raw power . . .
Edit: It's hard to distinguish someone's tone on the internet, but I did not intend to be captious or mean spirited. My point is that there are enough differences between LISP and Lisp Machine Lisp, a descendent of Maclisp, that the two are not interchangeable.
Only the frontpage says:
I especially liked how you could patch a running kernel, but only if you entered a specific keystroke sequence the right way the first time. If you muffed it, a flag got set and the system would disallow future attempts even if you got it right later. It's more like a puzzle in a text adventure than an OS security mechanism.
And, of course, the command shell was a machine code debugger, but that really wasn't hugely weird in itself.
I have had a relationship with computing like many of the commenters here. I remember our kindergarten teacher letting us take turns grounding ourselves under the keyboard of an Apple IIe. I can't explain it but I could tell from that moment that I had a thing for computing technology.
I remember playing games at a friend's house on an IBM PC. Her dad worked there and we would just mess around and had no idea what we were doing in the game. I just loved interacting with the thing.
I remember long nights playing games on my cousin's C64. Playing Archon and some racing game. Doing basic programming.
I begged my parents for a computer and we eventually got one in 1993. It cost around $2,000 back then and was 33 MHz, had 8 MB RAM, and had a 207 MB hard drive. No sound card, CD ROM, or printer at the time. Game over from that point on. I knew I had to do something in computing technology for a living.
Things seem so figured out these days. I wonder if kids get that same feeling of novelty we got back then?
My question exactly. My son recently saved up his lawnmowing money and bought himself a couple-year old HTC phone. We put cyanogenmod on it and he's figuring out which games will run on it and how to extend the battery life and I think, maybe, he's having a similar sort of experience. I don't know though, it doesn't seem the same as sharing floppy disks, playing Trade Wars on the local BBS, and installing your first Soundblaster.
I have fond memories of learning how to interact with the family PC but nothing close to what I read about the original days when home computing and hacker culture was growing. It makes me envious to a degree, like I love programming and all that comes with it but when I read pieces like this that evoke so much fond emotion attached to the skill...I don't know...its a little foreign. To me programming and computing in general is this thing that I am good at, that brings me happiness because I like to solve problems but to people like the author it seems like something more. A dear loved one that will always warm their heart.
I'm not sure it will ever be the same as it was back then, to be a pioneer...
Nostalgia is a wonderful thing, especially in technology because the industry moves so fast that all the effort seems ephemeral. But it's there. It's there in old floppys, CDs, hard disk and memories. Remember that 33 kbps modem you used to connect your Windows 95 to the Internet and that weird sound it made? Well someone invested their time in building that and probably they had an incredibly good time doing that.
This article also resonated with me because of its recurring, underlying theme of sharing. The open source community is a living, breathing example of that the inherent, unstoppable need for humans to share isn't going away. Capitalism has its way of affecting thinking and motives of many passionate people (admittedly, including me), but I'm glad there are people who value and celebrate sharing.
Thanks for this article. Really felt very happy reading it! Sharing with my entire team.
I'm just as bad really but I've kept it down to a mere 18Gb and it spans back to my first serious programs on Acorn RISCOS in BASIC and ARM assembly. I still fire up and emulator and fix bugs in them occasionally. They are still useful despite being old.
Nostalgia is painful sometimes however as not all those files are readable and perfectly preserved.
Well, when i was 4, my dad bought a trusty XBox. you know, the first, ruggedy, blocky one from 2001. we had tons and tons and tons of fun playing all kinds of games together - until he died, when i was just 6.
i couldnt touch that console for 10 years.
but once i did, i noticed something.
we used to play a racing game, Rally Sports Challenge. actually pretty awesome for the time it came.
and once i started meddling around... i found a GHOST.
you know, when a time race happens, that the fastest lap so far gets recorded as a ghost driver? yep, you guessed it - his ghost still rolls around the track today.
and so i played and played, and played, untill i was almost able to beat the ghost. until one day i got ahead of it, i surpassed it, and...
i stopped right in front of the finish line, just to ensure i wouldnt delete it.
"If we do not have children, we will move somewhere where there is a porch. The children who need love will find the porch. They will know how to find it. We will be as much parents as we want to be."
I'm sorry, I think I have something in my eye...
This piece of his is also incredibly beautiful and moving: http://www.themorningnews.org/article/the-age-of-mechanical-...
I'm always trying (and occasionally succeeding) to recapture that feeling of catching a glimpse of some amazing thing in a game magazine. The wanting and imagining was always better than the thing itself, which is probably why I generally seem to prefer watching screencapped videos of the games to actually playing them.
The amazing thing about it was, that I had BASIC and so I taught (with the help of my dad) myself to write easy games on it (you know: Guess the number and such).
I just right _now_ discovered that the thing has an RS-232 interface and you could use PEEK, POKE and CALL. Oh my, the missed opportunities; But hey I was just to young at that time.
I think I know what I'll do, when I get home for christmas: Grab that PC 1401 and try out the RS-232 to see what's possible. Good times.
This may come in handy:
Amazing now how much processing power you can carry in your pocket for almost nothing...
I've often joked about Digital Archaeology to my kids, told them they'd have to get a masters degree in it to review all the digital cruft I will leave behind. I thought this was all good and fun until she passed, and wading through all this stuff just tears at me. This trail of floppies, some I couldn't recover all of, some blank but I could see files that were deleted in hex dumps of the raw images. It was all very surreal like looking at old photographs of our life together but much more visceral for some reason. It’s like digital items don’t have dust on them, they look exactly like they did when you made them 30 years ago. You don’t boot an old floppy and see a fuzzy or yellowed and crinkled screen. It’s perfect in every detail, like the second it was last booted.
Logging into her MMO account and seeing the toons she was playing when the cancer started to take over her brain just killed me. I knew how much she loved these games both of us were gamers over the years and she loved to level to the end game and join guilds, run raids.. To be the center of attention in her online world. We deleted the toons, figured it was the closest thing to reality, she was gone now her digital form was gone, nobody would login and play those characters ever again and no need to make others wonder where she was. She had a large list on-line social network outside of Facebook, guilds in all sorts of games where she was a central figure. Her passing is known to us and those who where on Facebook, but out there somewhere is someone who she touched who’s wondering why she’s not logged into the game for a couple months.
How strange “Death” is in a digital age, sure our minds might stop working and our bodies no longer function but the perfect lines we drew in the digital sand continue on forever.. Or at least until a floppy finally gives up that final bit, or a hard disk somewhere crashes. As our digital world evolves into a place where bits really can live forever these thin digital lines left behind will remain forever etched in the digital world.
I often wonder what will happen to the petabyte that will be my digital impact when I go, will some AI some day in the future consume it in a matter of minutes and derive anything of value? Or will it just sit silently being copied from one storage medium to another forever without anyone thinking about why and what is in it?
Many years ago a customer of mine did a storage assessment and they realized it was cheaper to buy more disks then to ask all their employees to delete unused files.
I knew then the digital lines would go on forever, being copied from one storage system to another because it’s just cheaper to keep it...
Well, given how large portions of our DNA is seemingly meaningless sequences, I'd say "probably yes". Albeit slowly suffering random errors, much like DNA.
So, so very relatable. Thank you for this. Now I want to figure out where I put my old archived BBS, unpack it, and take it for a spin in the dark.
[edit: url. Just in the window!]
I am also a recidivistic emulator. Sometimes a Super Nintendo. Others an Amiga 600, like the one I got for my 10th birthday.
I do it because I miss the games, maybe.
Or maybe I do it because I miss being 10.
I have an Apple //e on my home work desk. It's running nicely, and it has a spiffy card that allows me to plug a USB flash drive in, boot from an image file on it, and reenter the first real computing world I started with.
Prior to the Apple, I got to flirt with a TRS-80 Model 1 a neighbor owned. Writing a few BASIC statements and actually having the machine respond was intoxicating for me. Loved it, and I knew right there and then I would be doing things with and on computers.
The Apple //e machine represents a whole lot of that early discovery time we all are thinking about. It was open, had a monitor, mini-assembler, reasonable BASIC, and, and, and...
I got bootstrapped onto computing and the magic of assembly language on that machine. And there were others, but that one really was the first. The friends I made, stuff we did, things we learned were like magic. I miss it all.
So, I boot that machine every so often. Really, I always just want to know if it still works. Then, I decide I want to write, play, code, and I do.
When I write, I can do it on that excellent keyboard, with the machine and it's memorable feel. The whole thing takes me back in time, and I do remember. And then I can get it back onto a modern machine with that same USB stick and wonder at such a gap, still being useful.
I was moved by the idea of keeping in touch with the little kid part. Yes. I have a great memory of my childhood, and can tell you many events, times, places, things, people. To be honest, I draw on it an awful lot. Sometimes it's to realize new perspectives for what they are, not as they are framed up, or colored to be. Other times, it's to remember that spark of interest and the drive to learn and explore.
Play. That too.
I love these machines and I love all the people I've come to know related to them. To me, I can understand a lot about somebody when we share a computing experience, be it retro, modern, or maybe something of a hybrid, like embedded.
@japhyr, I don't do it professionally either. Though I have done a few projects, drivers and problem solving. As you are aware, it's a bug that bites deep. Doesn't let go. Have fun. Remember. Your Dad would be happy with you doing just those things.
Does anyone think that some "retro programming" tutorials would be of any interest?
I'm over-thinking this, but it honestly transports me to old web fora and Usenet newsgroups and late nights with a modem, stumbling around in alt. and coming across spammed chapters from "The Trance-Formation Of America" is pretty damned creepy at 3 AM when you're the only one awake, and learning about the deep C secrets in chatty posts is amazing when your only other source is "Learn Java in 21 Days For Dummies", but O'Reilly books come close.
Names come back. Dan Pop. Chris Torek. (I'm pretty sure they're still alive.) From a different group, Pascal Bourguignon, whose name I spelled right the first time although I'm sure I still can't pronounce it.
Strange typographical quirks. That's all it takes.
I found a copy of Reader Rabbit at a thrift store, and my 3-year-old son has enjoyed playing it on the Tandy. While I'm certainly not going to deny him access to the progress we've made in technology and education over the past three decades, I think that there is something about the simplicity of that machine that is valuable.
I'm currently trying to "reintroduce" AmigaOS into my life via AROS (AROS is an open source AmigaOS re-implementation). There are challenges - while there are lots of features in it I miss dearly, there are also so many things I have come to expect from Linux that is not there. So I'm taking the approach of running AROS in a docker container, let it mount my home directory, and bring it up on its own work space, so I can work on filling gaps in AROS to let me spend more and more time in it. I don't necessarily see myself using it 100% of the time, but thankfully a combination of a decent window manager, workspaces and docker makes it trivial to get an environment where I can mix and match AROS with Linux.
The only thing that has really changed is how we consume media (movies, music, news, books and so on) and how software is delivered. For all the rest of it we could be back in 1987 dialing into some video text service but with better graphics. 1200/75 Looks so much faster than 180/20 anyway.
The real net revolution is still waiting somewhere in the wings, when it hits we'll be remembering the days before it on the web as the pre-history and some kind of distraction from making real progress for more than two decades.
Roads have interesting properties, they enable all kinds of activities that were previously impossible because each and every idea started with 'first we have to build these roads'. Pretty soon we'll have multiple megabits upstream from just about every locality for a relatively low cost.
IPv6 will re-establish the peer to peer nature of the net and will (hopefully) get rid of the biggest stumbling block to launch the next level of application: the NAT (the biggest kludge on the net aka a poor mans firewall).
We can hope. But I'm not optimistic. Legacy kludges like NAT have a habit of sticking around for a long, long time. And ISP have come to rely on NAT basically -- like you say -- as a firewall for their less technically-inclined customers.
It's too bad, IPv6 could have opened up a world of p2p apps.
 "Such a strange way to say goodbye. So here I am. Imaginary disks whirring and screens blinking as I visit my old haunts. Wandering through lost computer worlds for an hour or two, taking screenshots like a tourist. Shutting one virtual machine down with a sigh, then starting up another one. But while these machines run, I am a kid. A boy on a porch, back among his friends."
> It changed the world economy by being all things to all people.
> That said: Windows is the Superbowl Halftime Show of operating systems. Given what everyone got paid, and how many people were involved, you’d think it would be a lot more memorable.
What more did the author want? Getting pretty damn close to being all things to all people is quite an impressive feat. I'm reminded of the classic blog post "How many Microsoft employees does it take to change a lightbulb?" by Eric Lippert:
In particular, this summary:
> Getting software right -- by, among other things, ensuring that a legally blind Catalan-speaking Spaniard can easily use the feature without worrying about introducing a new security vulnerability -- is rather expensive!
Things like internationalization and accessibility really matter.
And this brings me to the real head-scratcher from the OP:
> You can no longer be all things to all people when it comes to computers, but Microsoft keeps trying.
Presumably this is a dig at the poorly executed attempt to target both desktops and tablets in Windows 8. But Microsoft might actually pull it off in Windows 10. More worrisome to me, though, is the implication that the level of universality achieved by Windows is no longer worth pursuing in software development. If that attitude prevails among developers of software that is used in business or education, then pity the aforementioned hypothetical legally blind Catalan-speaking Spaniard who needs to use a particular application to do her job or complete some coursework.
It may not literally be possible to be all things to all people. But Windows has shown us that a piece of software can get pretty close. And I say it's still a worthy goal.
Sadly not something that I can put in a box and hang on to. They've talked about replacing the building for years, and once it's gone that smell will be lost forever.