Dan Bowman kindly pointed out to me that former Commodore engineer Bil Herd wrapped up his discussion of the ill-fated Commodore TED machines on Hackaday this week. Here in the States, few remember the TED specifically, but some people may remember that oddball Commodore Plus/4 that closeout companies sold for $79 in 1985 and 1986. The Plus/4 was one of those TED machines.
What went wrong with that machine? Commodore miscalculated what the market was doing. The TED was a solution to too many problems, and ended up not solving any of them all that well. Continue reading The curious case of the Commodore TED machines
A rather hastily written and sloppily edited piece showed up on Slashdot yesterday morning that caught my attention, because it was about the Amiga 2000. The Amiga 2000 is a dear machine to me; in 1991, our family upgraded to one from a Commodore 128. I still have both machines, and there isn’t much that I know today that I didn’t first experience on one of those two machines.
Although I think the piece was little more than a used computer store’s effort to unload some hard-to-move inventory, I do agree with the premise. For a machine that had a tremendous impact on the world as we know it today, the A2000 is criminally unknown. Continue reading The forgotten computer that changed the world
The NSA’s spying on Linux Journal readers is precisely what’s wrong with NSA spying. Why? It paints with an overly broad brush.
Eric Raymond’s views on many things are on the fringes of what’s considered mainstream, but he’s not the kind of person who blows up buildings to try to get his point across.
And here’s the other problem. Does Eric Raymond even represent the typical Linux Journal reader? Odds are a sizable percentage of Linux Journal readers are system administrators making $50,000-ish a year, or aspiring system administrators who want to make $50,000-ish a year, who see knowing Linux as a means to that end.
It’s no different from targeting Popular Mechanics readers because someone could use information it publishes in ways you don’t agree with. Continue reading Linux is unrelated to extremism
In the wake of Truecrypt’s sudden implosion, someone sent me a link to this curious blog post. I can see why many people might find the timing interesting, but there are a number of details this particular blog post doesn’t get correct, and it actually spends most of its time talking about stuff that has little or nothing to do with Truecrypt.
What’s unclear to me is whether he’s trying to say the industry is deliberately sabotaging Truecrypt, or if he’s simply trying to make a list of things that are making life difficult for Truecrypt. His post bothers me a lot less if it’s just a laundry list of challenges, but either way, the inaccuracies remain. Continue reading Curious conspiracies… or maybe just progress all at once
Neocities has decided to do something about Net Neutrality–shunt the FCC into the slow lane, and post the code for doing it so the rest of us who run web sites can do it too. The original was written for Nginx; I need to give serious thought to implementing the Apache version.
Net neutrality has nothing to do with the political bent of the content–the people you may hear talking about it on the radio are wrong, which is why they’re yakking on the radio and aren’t working at ISPs or IT departments–and everything to do about raising prices. What we’re seeing now is telecommunications companies, who are already ultra-profitable, gouging companies like Netflix. And Netflix is doing exactly what a company that suddenly has to pay new taxes would do–raising prices.
The difference is that it’s old-line companies doing the taxing in this case rather than a government. That’s all.
The other objection I hear is that lots of innovation happened on the Internet without regulation, so why regulate now? The difference is that the environment in the late 1990s, when the seeds of all of this were planted and started to sprout, was very different. Back then we had hundreds of ISPs, all of whom participated in building out what we have now. None of them wanted to charge both subscribers and content providers, and none of them could have anyway. If Earthlink had tried to shake down Ebay and Amazon and make them slow, people would have switched to someone else–one of any number of regional providers, or equivalent services run by companies like IBM and the old AT&T (prior to its re-merger with Southwestern Bell). Today, many people live in areas only serviced by one broadband provider. Most people have two, but that’s not like the old days.
If I could have anything, I’d like more competition. I’d love it if the average U.S. citizen had a choice of a dozen or so broadband providers. Then we could have a truly free market. Instead, we have duopolies, a situation much like the situation with electricity and natural gas in most municipalities, and broadband providers face far less regulation than power companies do, even though as they grow in importance.
“Oh, so you think you’re Mr. Genius Man,” the crackly voice said, drowned out by static caused by his cheap VOIP connection. “Enjoy your broken computer, Mr. Genius Man. Goodbye, Mr. Genius Man.”
So ended 23 minutes of my life that I’ll never get back, but I figure it’s 23 minutes he wasn’t spending scamming someone else. I don’t do it often, but my kids were playing nicely and we were all in the same room, so I guess I don’t regret it too much. Continue reading Windows Technical Support calls me again
It was 50 years ago this month that IBM released the first modern mainframe, the System/360. The System/360 was notable for being the first series of systems built with interchangeable parts, rather than being custom-built. It’s also notable because its direct descendants are still in production: In the 1970s, it became the System/370, the System/390 in the 90s, and the z series today. The systems originally ranged from 1 MHz to 50 MHz in speed, and came with anywhere from 8 KB to 8 MB of RAM. To put that in perspective, the low-end model was comparable in power to an early Apple II desktop computer from 1977, and the high-end model was comparable in power to the 486 PCs we ran Windows 3.1 on in the 1993-94 timeframe. Or you could compare it to one of my souped-up Amigas, if you prefer (I do). But the same software that ran on the low-end model would run on the high-end model, and there’s a pretty good chance that software from the 1960s will run on a modern Z series mainframe today, with little to no modification.
Twenty years ago this architecture was supposed to be on its way out, but it never really went away. IBM keeps modernizing it, so I expect z/OS has a long life ahead of it. It’s entrenched, and when technology gets entrenched, there’s no getting rid of it.
There isn’t much new, young mainframe expertise in training these days, and it turns out there are certain jobs that mainframes do better than smaller PCs do. Most large companies have at least one mainframe, and it’s not going anywhere, but the people who can care for it and feed it are retiring fast. If you want some job security, you can do a lot worse than learning everything you can about IBM Z series mainframes in addition to the other things you know.
I’m reading a book called Trade-Off, by former USA Today technology columnist Kevin Maney. It’s primarily a marketing book.
Maney argues that all products are a balance of fidelity and convenience, and highly favor one or the other. He additionally argues that failed products fail because they attempted to achieve both, or failed to focus on either one.
An example of a convenient product is an economy car. They’re inexpensive to buy and inexpensive to keep fueled up, but don’t have much glitz and you probably won’t fall in love with it. A high-end sports car or luxury car is a lot less practical, but you’re a lot more likely to fall in love with it, and gain prestige by driving around town in it. Continue reading The trade off of fidelity and convenience in marketing, and how it doomed my favorite company
I read Andy Grove’s Only the Paranoid Survive last week. I always figured it was an autobiography or memoir, not a business book. But it’s a business book. A very good one.
I avoided it because I didn’t like Andy Grove. I’ve never been a fan of Intel’s business practices during the 1990s and 2000s, including using payola to keep competitors’ chips out of large computer systems, but after reading this book, I’m more disappointed than anything. Whichever company had Andy Grove wins, period. No need to cheat. Continue reading Getting past your own biases
Articles like Top 10 collectibles for value, from the Post-Dispatch this week, frequently make me nervous, mostly because of statements like this one:
[D]id you know that computer parts can bring home cash, too?
Statements like that tend to get people’s hopes up way too high. I find the timing interesting though, seeing as a TRS-80 Model 1 sold at a St. Louis estate sale this past weekend. The estate seller’s reaction? “Normally you can’t give that stuff away.”
Continue reading The Post-Dispatch may be giving the wrong idea about the dollar value of vintage computers