Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Archive for December, 2012

The IBM PC 5150: What if?

Posted by Trixter on December 27, 2012

Did you know that the IBM PC was  not originally designed around the i8088?  Various sources conflict somewhat (including offline sources such as “Blue Magic: The People, Power and Politics Behind the IBM Personal Computer“), but the general consensus is that early 5150 designs considered CPUs that were both less powerful (such as the MOS 6502 and Zilog Z80) and also more powerful (such as IBM’s POWER predecessor 801, or the Motorola 68000 CPU).

I find this fascinating to daydream about sometimes.  What if the IBM PC had not been built around the 8088?  How would have the personal computer industry progressed in the 1980s?  Who would the leader(s) be today?

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Posted in Vintage Computing | 12 Comments »

Maze Generation In Thirteen Bytes

Posted by Trixter on December 17, 2012

Update 12/7/2012 @ 13:46: Peter Ferrie smashed my record by a single byte, so the record is now held by him at 12 bytes.  Congrats, and I feel like a fool for missing it :-)  I’ve tacked on his optimization to the end of my original post.

Update 1/7/2013: herm1t further smashed the record, down to 11 bytes!

Update 1/7/2013 @ 18:00: Peter bounces back and reclaims the record with 10 bytes! It kind-of breaks my target platform (uses an undocumented opcode that only works on Intel processors) but hey, a record’s a record! I’ve updated the article below.

In the past, when I’ve had a democoding breakthrough, I kept quiet and either used my discovery in a production, or just bragged to my demoscene friends privately.  However, my opportunities to achieve democoding “world firsts” are just about gone, and size coding compos seem to be dead, so I’ve decided to just write a blog post about what I’ve done instead: I’ve written a maze generator in only 13 bytes of x86 machine code.

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Posted in Demoscene, Programming, Vintage Computing | 29 Comments »

Sleeping in a Mall

Posted by Trixter on December 12, 2012

Just now, watching some 80’s music videos, it dawned on me that today — the second Wednesday of December — is the 25th anniversary of the time I slept overnight in a shopping mall.  I keep meaning to write about that night, but keep losing interest… but today being the 25th anniversary of that night is too much of a coincidence to pass up, so here goes.

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Posted in Family, Sociology | Tagged: , , | 7 Comments »

Anthropomorphising Computers

Posted by Trixter on December 4, 2012

A recent comment on a Slashdot story actually got me to laugh out loud at work enough to attract some attention, and that’s pretty rare for me (laughing at something I see on the internet).  What got me to laugh?  Human characterization of a computer.  It makes me laugh because I do the same thing — I give machines personalities when I think about or work with them.  (To those researching autism spectrum disorders, you might want to scribble something in your notebook right about now.)

Most people trying to comprehend what this is like would probably imagine something flamboyant and animated, such as Eric Schwartz’s tribute to the Amiga.  While such characterizations are creative and nice, that’s not what gets me laughing.  What does it for me is a computer that acts like a fallible human.  Here’s the post that got me laughing, paraphrased slightly (for the uninitiated, ext4 is a method of storing files in a Linux system, and the context is an application “talking” to the operating system):

I don’t quite trust ext4 for writes.

app: Hey, can you write this data out to
ext4: DONE!
app: Uhh, that wasn’t long enough to actually write the data.
ext4: Sure it was! I’m super faGRRRRRRRRRRRRRst at writing too.
app: Wait — did you just cache that write and report it written, but then not actually write it to disk until 30 seconds later?
ext4: Yeah, so?

I routinely do this sometimes when dealing with a unix server that is hurting, such as having so many spawned threads due to an unforseen condition that there are several times more threads running than there are CPUs to handle them.  I imagine each CPU as a juggler frantically trying to keep 20 pins in the air at once, sweating profusely, and calling out to the other CPUs for help only to have them yell back they are just as screwed as he is.

Does anyone else do this, or is it just me?

Posted in Sociology, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »