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Unless you were there, you really cannot appreciate how much damage Intel did to the PC ecosystem with the 286.


The 286 was the successor to the 8086 and 8088 CPUs that powered the original IBM PCs. It offered a huge step forward from them.

Those older chips always ran in "real mode," where memory locations had fixed addresses, and any running program could modify the contents of any address. This meant that you couldn't have two programs running at once, because one might try to use a bit of memory the other was already using, and blammo!

The 286 introduced "protected mode," which prevented programs from being able to mess with memory allocated to other programs. Instead of addresses corresponding directly to blocks of memory, in protected mode they were treated as "virtual" addresses, and mapped to memory allocated just for that program.

Protected mode meant the days when one program could reach into another one and mess with its memory would be over. And that opened up all sorts of possibilities. You could have real multitasking! A whole range of crash bugs would be instantly eliminated! Suddenly the PC began to look like a machine that you could put against a UNIX workstation with a straight face.

But there was a problem. To maintain backwards compatibility with the old chips, the 286 had to boot into real mode. It could then shift into protected mode on demand. But -- and this is a big BUT -- once it was shifted into protected mode, IT COULD NOT SHIFT BACK. The only way to get back into real mode was to reboot the PC.

Which was a problem, because every PC user owned a huge library of DOS software, much of which could only run in real mode. So the 286 gave you multitasking -- but if you ever needed to run a real-mode program, you had to reboot your PC (and lose all the other running programs) to run it.

This was, as you may imagine, not ideal.

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It's quite sobering to think that the Internet is an infinitely malleable frontier of consciousness where humanity can build literally anything we can dream

and yet, one of the things we dreamed, and then agreed was a good thing to actually make, is Sharepoint.

I predict Strange New Worlds will, over the next season or two, gradually introduce all the rest if the main characters from TOS. Then when Pike meets his inevitable mishap, Kirk will take over as Captain, leading directly into the next chapter. Which I assume will be called Star Trek: The Unoriginal Series. And which I’ll probably quite enjoy.

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Trillion dollar computing idea:

A C++ variant called Calvinball.

The language spec will be a living document. Every month it will update with new features. All compilers will automatically download their source code and recompile themselves. This will be mandatory. Running an outdated compiler will automatically block you from being able to compile, as will using deprecated language features.

The compiler source code will be written in the next month's variant of Calvinball, of course.

Still enjoying Strange New Worlds, but beginning to suspect it’s being written by an AI trained on TOS and TNG. With a couple of Alien movies tossed in, possibly by mistake.

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Hey Charlie Brown, I'll gather and collect data and you save it, okay?

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Real message of Pixar's Ratatouille:

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The Cyberpunk Computer, longer read 

Text version:

The Cyberpunk Computer

by Lee Felsenstein, February 1990

The “Cyberpunk” overly-personal computer design is both a computer and a metaphor. The equations read as follows:

PHYSICAL: Not very powerful

METAPHORICAL: Requires imagination and cunning for proper use.

MEDIUM-DENSITY (720 x 256) MONOCHROME GRAPHIC DISPLAY: Invites a “high-suggestivity” approach to symbol presentation. An image language waits to be developed, perhaps similar to Kanji (oriental ideograms) based upon Western metaphors.

NO CABINET; THE CYBERPUNK IS MADE UP OF A SERIES OF CIRCUIT BOARDS THAT PIGGYBACK THROUGH STACKING CONNECTORS: Group acquisition. Pieces exchangeable as desired. Procured in pieces by people with low disposable income. Community resource. Scroungers always welcome.

PERSONAL/PORTABLE “BAT” CONFIGURATION (HANGS FROM THE BELT). USES COMMONLY AVAILABLE MONOCHROME VIDEO DISPLAYS AND LCD PANELS: Assumes common availability of video displays and laptop computers for cannibalization. Application of post-capitalist “junkyard world” concept.

NOT NECESSARILY COMPATIBLE WITH ANYTHING: For use by people who consider themselves outside the “mainstream” and who don’t particularly want in.

OPEN ARCHITECTURE: Rewards self-sufficiency in a context of mutual self-reliance.

The concept of the Cyberpunk design is natural enough to anyone who went through the early days of personal computer development. “Computer Power to the People” was our slogan back then — never mind that the people weren’t clamoring for it. We knew that Americans could handle the most complex gizmos provided that they believed that the gizmos are actually simple and that it’s only a bunch of self-serving elitists trying to convince them otherwise. Ten thousand of us sent in $2 for the plans to the “TV Typewriter” when a how-to-build-it article appeared in Radio Electronics in 1973. The editors considered twenty letters a large response to such an article. Something was moving! Even IBM came around to our “open architecture” way of sharing information. They had to. The closed architecture personal computer they first fielded was a failure.

Somewhere along the line, though, the suits got hold of it and rebuilt it in their own image. Software companies “shook out” and restructured themselves along the lines of Soviet state industries — vast hives of seeming activity with miserable kluges appearing as products, accompanied by overblown propaganda that only the truly naive could believe.

What I’m now proposing is that the true believers of personal computing pick up the thread — after the parade has gone by — and resume development in the post- IBM, post-Apple universe. Those companies have levitated to the higher spheres of cost and usership, leaving us mere mortals behind. At least we can learn from their mistakes.

There’s room for a simple, elegant design with about a megabyte of memory, using components found in the litter of the junkyard that we’re inheriting. It will have bit-mapped video good for LCD or CRT display, making use of old monochrome monitors and abandoned laptops. It will be modular so that people can create many different variations to their whim. It will invite the creation of elegant, expandable operating systems with an object oriented approach to language and control structures. It will accommodate the most advanced communications peripherals (LAN controllers, radio modems, IR links, store-and-forward communications) reduced to their essentials. It will be usable in a personal, portable environment as well as gussied up sitting on a desk.

It will develop the reputation of being an attractant for unqualified kids with antisocial attitudes. It will be seen as an impractical, underpowered design that can be made to do a few nice tricks, but is definitely “unprofessional” and thoroughly irrelevant to the bigbucks world.

That’s fine, big-bucks. Just keep making the junk and throwing it away. We’ll catch you later.

In the meantime, it’s time to do some REAL marketing research. If you would be willing to send $15 for the plans (inflation, y’know) when such plans are ready, write to me at the following address to indicate your willingness - SEND NO MONEY, at least until we tell you to. An adequate response will start the project running.

Address: Dept. C, Golemics, Inc. 2831 7th Street, Berkeley CA 94710. •

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New power supply arrived today from 8 Bit Classics ... And the IIc has come to life! Time for some Battle Chess 🙂

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Just re-watched the TNG episode “The Inner Light”, 30 years to the day since it was first broadcast. Still one of the best ever.

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