Digital Direction

Six Day. Running a bit behind, mostly due to slow cognition. Anyway, ran across this article [Link] entitled “This Guy Made a Replica of The Computer That Helped the Robinson Family 50 Years Ago” yesterday and my thinking was led to the picture more than the effort of the individual.

Seems the fellow made a replica of an 1950 Burroughs box (mainframe?) that was used in numerous television programs as the computer character. This led me to consider what we should be doing with computers.

(The above is not, I believe, the replica because the article has an embedded video and I don’t need the overhead that goes with.) This is what we used to call a “Geblinkenen Kluge”. 

By the time I got to university, these Rube Goldbergs were pretty much replaced by metal pastel hued boxes on isolation flooring in frigid glass walled rooms. Some of them had as much as 64Kb of RAM. Hard drives were the size of refrigerators and cost as much as a college education. And you coded in FORTRAN (nerds) or COBOL (bog-geeks.) What we did was number crunching. The nerds were doing science and engineering stuff and we spent more time studying numerical methods than languages. The bog-geeks were doing accounting or inventory stuff and I have no idea what they studied since it was taught in the Business schule which was on a side of campus I only visited in summer term to watch old movies. The only things controlled by computers in those days were terminals and plotters.

In 1984, I bought my first box, an IBM PC with an 8086 CPU, 64Kb RAM (16 Kb on the MB) and two floppy disk drives. In 1986, after two years of budget whining, I got funded to buy a (generic) PC for half the folks in our organization. I had to have a blessing from the IT Tsar of the post, which took over a year, and I can recall him asking me “What can you do with one of these toys that a terminal off my mainframe can’t do better?” I answered “Are you going to let me run a word-processing program on your mainframe?” At which point he turned to his deputy and asked “What the H**l is a word-processing program?”

Once told the answer he cursed bluely for five minutes while trying frantically to approve my purchase.

Nothing, in my opinion, symbolizes the PC so much as word processing. Even more than spread-sheeting, word processing – not coding – is the epitome of the PC stage of computing. 

In those days, most STEM graduates learned to code in college. Their bosses either on-the-job or not-at-all. That was the peak of computer literacy. Since MegaHard took over the cardiovascular system of the corporate organization, it has been downhill to planned illiteracy.

So today, in the slablet age, computers have gone from tools to appliances, providing either entertainment or controlling our machines. Number crunching is arcana. Coding is a blue collar craft, if that.

So where did we go wrong?


Despite what my colleague Normal Angular Momentum claims, sometimes our mistakes surprise us. They fall into a category I label as wait-long-enough-and-you’ll-do-it-again. One such is being a chair – general, program, … – of a conference. There was a period in my life that I got mousetrapped into doing such. I found the long-enough was about five years. That was how long it took me to forget the pain and suffering enough to get talked into being a chair again. 

Anyway, the one that is the subject of this blot is Canonical and their tribe of ‘buntu. Canonical, with the help of competent volunteers that they are perpetually micturating, maintains a group of Linux distros/versions differing primarily in their GUI-Desktop. They all share at least some of the bedrock of a somewhat mutilated version of Debian.

The thing that bites is their over-the-internet updates. These occur every six months for most versions releases but every two years for the corporate long-term-support versions. Years ago they offered two ways to update: a downloadable ISO that one burned to a DVD/CD; and an over-the-web stream. Over a period of years I learned that the probability of failure in upgrading via the first method was very low, o(0.01) while the probability of failure using the over-the-web method was almost exactly 0.5. 

The level of my deep OS surgery skills is so low that when an upgrade fails I have to reinstall from scratch. That’s what comes of my priorities and I accept the burden. But I still rebel at Canonical’s negligence in this matter. I have run lots of other distro and none of them have failure probabilities greater than o(0.03). So when it comes to upgrade failure Canonical is the Linux equivalent of Alibam.

But I have this OLD Dell Latitude D420 lapbox that I like because it has a goon volume and mass and keyboard – unlike all more recent lapboxes except maybe the Lenovo just mentioned, I it had version 12.04 of a ‘buntu variant on it and I was a bit concerned of replacing.

So I did an update to 14.04 yesterday. Slow but successful.

Did an upgrade to 16.04 this morning. Slow and catastrophic.

Absolutely modal sampling, isn’t it?

Anyway, so I loaded the 32b version of LMDE on a stick, which is one of the few existing contemporary distros supporting 32b and non-PAE – that is, OLD boxes – and had it up and going in thirty minutes. It’s a bit slow but so was 14.04 and I can live with. And enjoy another five years of repulsion and horror for Canonical.

Stercus for OS

Winders has really become a crappy OS.

Last week I ordered a refurbed Lenovo lapbox off Woot. Came with WX. Specs far in excess of price, as expected with refurb.

Got into the box yesterday. Wasted two hours trying to get WX to set itself up and then convince it that it would let be get to the “BIOS”.

Finally rebooted and noticed a brief message. Rebooted again with ESC key downheld and was rewarded with access to “BIOS”. A bit of recon revealed Lenovo had already enable the box for dual boot.

I suddenly identified with how Nailand Smith must have felt admiring the devious Oriental mind of Fu Manchu. 

Spent ten minutes yanking out the WX HD and replacing with a shiny new SSHD I had bought on sale. Meanwhile putting ISO on stick. Then fifteen minutes from inserting stick, downpushing power button, and doing one time Boot order change to finished install of SolydK on the box.

And then an hour doing updates for the period since the ISO was made. But that’s not a downer. 

Timed the second reboot. Seventeen seconds. 

Winders has really become a crappy OS.

Friendly Advice

I freely admit that I used to use Winders as my primary OS. I still have to do a bit since FD SCP uses Winders – W7 I believe – and I have a special WXP box that I only run Scientific Word on because the manufacturer lied about having a Linux edition of the new version. So that company fits in well in contemporary corporate Amerika.

But after I retired – sorta – from the civil service I tried Linux and have not looked back since. It doesn’t do everything, and much of what it does do requires more knowledge and effort, but it is a much more satisfying OS and its SW is much more productive.

Except, of course, for the lack of a decent LaTeX editor. Lyx tries but fails.

Of course, there are lots of things that I don’t do on my computer. I was reading Lifehacker yesterday and they had published their list of Linux SW, which I avidly read because they – Lifehacker – are a moderately worthwhile journalistic source. And I discovered that about half of what they listed as recommended SW was orthogonal to what I do on a computer.

And, of course, a lot of what I do wasn’t covered by their SW. Like a code editor of ANY form. Or a compiler. Or Symbolic Algebra Engine.

That’s why they are only moderate.

But this morning I ran across an article [Link] entitled “Should you upgrade to Windows 10 for free? Here’s what you should know.” It’s from a news service that isn’t anywhere near moderate but I primarily use it on my cellular phonelet.

From what I have read of WX, the best thing is evidently that it isn’t as bad as W8. It’s never been compared to WFW, WXP, or W2K. Probably for good reason. MegaHard probably bought off the really bad things that can be said.

Despite this, if you are a Bog Winders User, I want to encourage you to embrace the WX. You can switch to Apple if you want. But whatever you do, don’t try Linux.

It’s a good system but we don’t want it ruined any more than the Canonical people already have dumbing it down for Bogs.

It’s also OK for you Bogs to give up on computers entirely and live with slablets.

But don’t try Linux. It will give you mind cooties.

Pretium Sterci

Price of S**t – that’s the title translated for those who may not have Latin as one of their languages. For those who do, my less than sincere apology for the liberties thereof.

Why do I say this? I came across an article [Link] this morning entitled “Reminder: Windows 10 Home Will Cost $119 Starting July 29th.”

I also remember an article I referred to within the last week or so about how WX had proven to be a disaster.

This latter was a validation of my own analysis, hence warming and repellent simultaneously. 

On the other hand, I consider Winders to be a BOG moderator in much the same way that firearms are. The latter, of course, kill, but not very well. What they do well is damage and maim. But they have the sterling quality of keeping Bogs from getting their hands on truly deadly weaponry. 

IOW, a diversion. And, perhaps, a amelioration of various insecurities. 

And given the population demographics, almost certainly more likely to maim and cripple other Bogs than real people.

Winders serves the same function. It keeps Bogs from getting their hands on a real OS.

Contemporary Disappointment

Two Day. Back to gym. Sparse. Lost day. At least the good clerk is returned, complaining greatly about having to return from holiday. Sadly, this is the contemporary state. No one seems happy nor content with their work.

On the opposite tack, I ran across an article [Link] entitled “Scientists suggest a PC to solve complex problems tens of times faster than with massive supercomputers.” The title is a bit whacked. What these wonks in Russia found was that running their code on a GPU on their PC was orders of magnitude faster than running them on a supercompiter. 

Not surprising. Some of the game graphics rendering is a lot nastier than most simulations. And than well posed physics codes.

Nonetheless, such posing is an art form and I have known very few Amerikan STEMs – especially Computer Science types – who were very good at it. They kept wanting to either use library routines or what was in the rather inadequate textbooks on the subject. SO much of their ineptitude is not their fault, but that of their education. 

I should like to say that this is what comes of the overemphasis/dependence on GUI, but that is only part of it. Ultimately the key component missing is the time and effort to find (or develop) the best algorithms and write all the code for efficiency. 

One doesn’t do well trying to kill flies with ten pound sledges.

Caves of PC

Two Day.Pleasing breeze this morning. Gym again sparse and the podcasts acceptable if not memorable. The Guardian science podcast episode was an interview of some fellow who had written a book on radiation and based on his performance in the interview came across as rather lame and unreadable. His explanations were not inaccurate just rather Barnumish. Still he must have decent credential for the tome to be published by Princeton’s press.

So I had a bit of time to cogitate on an article [Link] that I saw yesterday entitled “All the Times Science Fiction Authors Have Shilled Random Products.” Given Lifehacker’s horrible standards of scholarship I think we can ignore the “All” as one of the egregencies of contemporary journalism. What riveted me was not the article per se, but this picture:

Somehow I managed to miss this – the holy Isaac (number 2) pandering Tandy bits. Not as bad as the holy Isaac (number 1) pandering feline sanitation products, complete with celebrity wig, but bad enough because I missed it. Or it didn’t register? Naah!

As I recall, the handheld that thI is holding was actually made by SHARP? I know I had a SHARP with exactly the same layout except the URH logoing. It was rather a disappointment. Now I had access to real (?) computers: a CDC 6600 and an HP 9830 or 9845. So I wasn’t in dire shortage of number crunching capability. So I noodled with it a bit and after a month it was back in its original box growing dust on a shelf. Couldn’t really compare to my HP calculator for utility.

I did buy a computer from Radio Shack.  It was a small thing called a Color Computer, as I recall, that programmed in BASIC. I got some limited use from but could never get the cassette deck interface to work properly. But it did get me well started on use-once-throw-away code that I somehow excelled (no pun) at. If was replaced in 1984 with an IBM PC and the parting was untearful.

Also frustrating until Phillipe Kahn, the REAL enabler of personal computing, brought out Turbo Pascal and the process of code writing ceased to be so natteringly administrative. Up to that point – this was the DOS days – you loaded a text editor, keyed some code, saved it in a file, closed the text editor, invoked the compiler (FORTRAN mostly in my case,) loaded the text editor again, looked at either the failure dump file, made notes of the relevant intelligence, closed that file, opened the code file, and modified the code,… or looked at the output file and ….

With TP all you did was load the program. Editor and compiler were built in and you stayed in the one program. Time was saved. And ulcers were minimized.

But I still don;t remember Asimov being mercantile.