Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Wow, that stuff sure is old

Posted by Trixter on June 14, 2012

Much of the retrocomputing hobby today is about looking at old stuff and saying Wow, that stuff sure is old!  Things sure were different back then!  Well, screw that.  For me, retrocomputing falls into two required categories:  Learning and Doing.  If your website or podcast just shows old things without either 1. Extensive history or 2. Drawing some conclusions about the item and/or relating it to something relevant, then you’re just wasting everyone’s time.  “Doing” feeds into “Learning”, because there’s an entire level of information hidden from you until you touch it.  Don’t just look at the damn thing, make it do something!

There are generally two types of retrocomputing snobs:  People who think that “computers were better back then” and just want to reminisce because today’s world is complicated, confusing, and scary, and people like me who think that there should be a point to the hobby.  There are way too many of the former and not nearly enough of the latter.

On that note, this is probably a good time to announce that I’ll be working on an “oldskool PC” podcast late this summer.  There are many podcasts dedicated to the C64, Apple II, Amiga, Atari, etc. machines but none* that cover the first decade of IBM PC and PC clone retrocomputing.  That’ll be me.

Suggestions welcome, but I already have about 30 topics I plan on covering, like hooking an old PC up to the internet, archiving data off old machines and floppies, interesting programming quirks, music and sound, and of course games and gaming.  Because I dislike long rambling podcasts I can’t consume in short bites, each episode will likely be under 15 minutes in length, and extremely dense.  If you’re curious what I sound like, I recorded my very first podcast for Hacker Public Radio last year, which you are free to point and laugh at.  (Unfortunately, I rambled a bit in that one, but hey, first podcast.)

* There are a few, but they deal mostly with gaming and not with retrocomputing itself.  I’m also familiar with the Retro Computing Roundable, but they only rarely cover PC/clones.

3 Responses to “Wow, that stuff sure is old”

  1. I guess I’m not a “snob.” I love old computers; I even have an Epson QX-10 & QX-16 as part of my collection. I don’t think computers were “better” back then, but it is (to my mind) amazing how much they accomplished with so few resources, especially before megabyte-plus RAM systems became popular.

    On the other hand, I don’t see a need for a “point” to the hobby. Appreciating “classic” systems is an end to itself, in the same way one may appreciate (say) WW2 iron birds vs. modern jets, tube amps & tuners vs. solid-state, and so on.

    I do enjoy discussing the history of a particular machine, and why designers made certain choices, such as the Heath/Zenith series. Some pretty odd birds there, with a passive backplane and the cpu/memory on a separate card. Good idea in theory, but didn’t work out well. Or the IBM AT I have with a Cyrix numeric co-processor that Nortons IDs as some sort of 386. Not to mention the Compaq Portable I have that someone souped up with an Intel 386 Inboard processor and an ST-238 hard drive, along with a 720K floppy. Alas, the power supply of the latter has died and I don’t have the money or resources right now to replace it.

  2. Optimus said

    I totally feel what you say. Here in my home place, some very big retro forum communities have evolved and I am surprised at how many hundreds of people are discussing about all stuff retro and reminiscing the old times, yet I can hardly find even a single person that actively codes on a retro platform. Of course a lot of these people understand and respect what I am doing in my hobby but it doesn’t hide the fact that I feel like a hermit. We have some fun talking about how awesome the Amiga was or remembering the games we played on Amstrad CPC but then I have this personal urge to do something more interesting with these machines that lacks from the big majority of retro fans. I understand it’s much harder for people to be motivated to code for old stuff, but besides retro coding which is an art for the few, at least some people in our community are trying to salvage some old rare stuff, write articles about history, and make a good archive and that’s still good. But I’d wish I could meet some other retro coders near my home place. I only have some old scene friends who have quit coding for CPC since years.

    I will be looking forward for your future podcasts too. I have heard that one about emulators and was quite interesting and funny :)

    • Trixter said

      I guess only the old guys care about coding for old machines. Well, wait, that’s not entirely true — there is a CMU group that has done demos for the Apple Lisa (including a color output hack) and the Vectrex, and they’re college-age, so I guess I don’t really know what to think. They’re coding demos for machines older than they are.

      I’m astonished you caught the emulator one :-) I’m actually somewhat ashamed of it as I didn’t have a script or notes or anything and rambled quite a bit. Oh well, first try.

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