An afternoon at the Museum

I’m in Santa Clara for the week, meeting and planning for the next year with my colleagues at the new gig. In order to be here bright and early on Monday morning, I flew in Sunday late morning (when the only non-stop flight between the Bay Area and RDU arrives).

This left me with most of a day to myself, so I went to the Computer History Museum for a couple of hours.

I think it’s reasonable for me to say that I was acquainted with much of the information they cover there–I’ve read a lot about the history of computing over the years–but, unsurprisingly, I hadn’t ever had a chance to see a lot of it; even the section at the Smithsonian for computing only has a small number of (admittedly, very significant) machines.

So yeah, that was a hell of a lot of fun. Never doubt that I’m a geek.

The silliest thing I think I saw was probably the ashtray in a Project SAGE workstation:


The Mad Men era of computing

Most fun to see again, though was My First Computer:


The Heathkit H-8 in all its glory

(Which is to say, my Dad’s first computer, that I used)

During my pre-teen years, I had the sequence you had to type into the hex keypad embedded deep in my muscle memory. I did some spelunking around, and found a page that references it, but I think the person who wrote that up is using a more recent/hacked ROM, so it’s a little different from what I used to do.

Or, perhaps more accurately, My Real First Computer:


Atari ST, how I enjoyed thee

That is to say, the computer I used through high school and took to college–in fact, the computer I used until I bought my first IBM-compatible in late 1993, which means I was using Ataris of some strip for most of a decade (1986-1993).

The computer on which I first programmed in something other than BASIC (Forth, Modula-2, C).

The computer that introduced me to the Free Software community in which I am still deeply involved–I first used gcc and even g++ on this machine. I learned Emacs (admittedly, microEmacs) on it. I used a bash-like shell.

It is my impression that the Amiga community didn’t establish quite such strong ties to the unix-oriented Free Software community, so I’m actually profoundly grateful that I ended up with what was probably the less powerful, less idiosyncratic machine–it set me on the course I’m still heading down today.

Having shown the H-8, let me show the H-1, it’s analog predecessor:


“Analog computing” will always sound weird to me

I just don’t know what to make of analog computers. I probably understand the theory behind them as well as I do that behind digital computers–which is to say badly if at all–but their era was done long before I was doing this stuff, so they just seem like the Duck-billed Platypus of computing. The final picture I got was less about what it was than about who it once belonged to:


Raise your hand if you know who Joe Ossanna was

The culture of Unix is my computing culture, and as a consequence I treasure my copy of Peter Salus’ A Quarter-Century of Unix, which is where I read about Joe Ossanna.

One of the things that distinguished Unix from many other contemporary systems was having fairly comprehensive on-line documentation, addressable with the man command.

One of the things that enabled this was having a markup system that could drive both printers and text output. This evolved out of the roff system that Joe Ossanna wrote, and then rewrote as nroff (new roff) and finally troff. And then he passed away at a relatively young age.

So not only was this a manual from one of the predecessors of the OS on which I’m writing this, it belonged to the person wrote the language in which it was presented, who never got the opportunity to see how this system, Unix, that he helped bring into existence, would eventually become wildly successful and still relevant 40 years later.

I just threw away…

the copy of Microsoft Word 2.0 (with Bookshelf) that came with the Gateway 486dx2/66 that Anne and I bought in 1994.

Yeah, there’s a little bit of a packrat in me.

Of course, I still have the CPU from the system, as well as a 166Mhz Alpha, sitting on my desk. Can’t get rid of the _important_ stuff.

I can certainly understand why people were unhappy about the IBM/Lenovo deal…

And yet, my experience in having my T43p serviced last week–the fan had started being noisy, sometimes obtrusively so, several months ago, but sounded like it was truly dying on Sunday morning–was virtually identical to having my T22 serviced three years ago:

* I called, described the problem, they agreed there was a problem

* They sent a box, which arrived the next day

* I put the laptop and dropped off at a collection point

* The laptop arrived at the repair center the next day

* The laptop was repaired that same day

* The laptop was shipped back to me that same day

* The laptop arrived the next day, fixed

Well, OK, this time I called on Sunday, so the box didn’t get sent until Monday. And then I didn’t have a chance to actually get the laptop boxed up and sent until Thursday. And I didn’t hear the DHL guy ring the doorbell yesterday morning, so I ended up going to the DHL depot to pick it up.

But all of those differences were my responsibility. From where I sit, Lenovo handled this issue just as well as IBM did my last issue, and I once again have a laptop that is virtually silent.

So yeah, I’d buy another one.

Stickers on laptops

You know, I thought I was the only one who did this.

Back in ’01, I slapped a big King Crimson logo on my Thinkpad; ostensibly to make it easier to track it through the then-new airport x-ray dance, but, I suspect, really as a throwback to grade-school. It accumulated a couple of “I Voted” stickers over the next few years, and then I slapped a number of Kerry/Edwards stickers on it while I was in DC.

I was actually kind of sad when I passed the notebook on to someone last year.

So when I bought the T43p, I immediately started decorating it. “Giblets Is My Co-pilot”, a Debian logo and a couple more “I Voted” stickers now adorn it. if I could get a new KC logo, I’d drop that on, too.

Anyway, sitting here in the coffee shop, I see at least four laptops with things on their lids. One “California Republic” sticker, one that says “Don’t Stop Believing”, one with some vaguely skater-looking logo that I can’t read from this distance, and one with a logo for this very coffee shop.

I guess I’m not as unique as I seem.

Another reorganization of the sound system here at Tendentious Towers.

Well, it’s not that much of a reorg, really, other than to remove the ihp-140 from the laptop itself, and attach it to the micro-server, and use “mpd”: on that system for actually playing things.

It’s kinda fun, too, to be sitting downstairs, tweaking the playlist for what’s going on upstairs.

Interestingly, I also get *much* better sound out of the audio hardware on the micro-server than out of the audio hardware on the laptop. Less noise, especially during quiet passages. Now if only the processor weren’t so dang slow for actually encoding to OGG, I’d be all set–the DVD drive is plenty fast for ripping.

Oh, well, if that’s the only price I pay for fanlessness, I’m happy to pay it.

My eyes! The goggles, they do nothing!

If you start on the “project page”:, the garish, hideous, eye-burning truth will sneak up on you. Or you can go “straight to the pain”:

Build your own PBX for ~ $20

John Goerzen points to “an article about building your own linux-based PBX”: This isn’t just some VOIP solution, either–that apparently wouldn’t even cost you $20–but a full-fledged runs-over-POTS-lines system.

Hmm. Maybe if I get that Micro-ATX Pentium-M motherboard that I’ve been thinking about for my little server system, I could then shove the Mini-ITX motherboard back inits even smaller case and use that…

Gigaram sucks?

Hum. “Ironic Design”: runs several machines. We’ve got seven servers for servicing “AnteSpam”:, plus three or four others doing miscellaneous duties, like hosting this blog.

Anyway, having all this hardware that we pretty much keep going 24/7, and especially with the AnteSpam servers, which get driven hard (2 emails per second, which doesn’t sounds like a lot until you consider that means 20x that in various database lookups and inserts (for logging) plus, oh yeah, actually running “SpamAssassin”: means we have some fairly strong ideas about hardware.

Our current systems are all Opteron-based (though we’ve not made the jump to 64-bit mode yet) with “Tyan”: Our storage controllers are all “3ware”: and our drives are all WD Raptors–not, honestly, that I love WD, but I like the 10K performance.

And our ram is all “Crucial”: And, for the forseeable future, it will stay crucial, because so far our one experiment with another vendor, Gigaram, has really sucked. We’ve had two pieces of our very nice ECC ram fail–and one of them we tried in another machine, and it failed there, too.

Now I don’t want to make blanket assertions off of relatively little data, but I will note that it’s going to take a long time for us to consider going back to Gigaram, because we take our uptime pretty seriously, and they’ve had an adverse impact.

James Duncan on the iMac 65

“Read the whole thing here”:

bq. The new iMac G5 that I hinted at a few weeks ago has arrived. Of course, the first thing I did was open it up and admire it like the techno-porn star that it is.