The lost art (Was: The VAX is running

Ian King IanK at
Tue Apr 7 15:55:07 CDT 2009

> -----Original Message-----
> From: cctalk-bounces at [mailto:cctalk-
> bounces at] On Behalf Of Gordon JC Pearce MM3YEQ
> Sent: Tuesday, April 07, 2009 1:16 PM
> To: General Discussion: On-Topic and Off-Topic Posts
> Subject: Re: The lost art (Was: The VAX is running
> On Mon, 2009-04-06 at 18:28 -0400, Charles H Dickman wrote:
> > examples? First, how could anybody get anything done with an assembly
> > language.
> I get stuff done with assembly language every day.  I had much the same
> comment from someone at a BCS meeting once, who was ranting about
> assembly being irrelevant and everything should be written in Java.
> He got quite upset when I asked him how he planned to squeeze a JVM
> into
> 1024 words of ROM, along with the application.
My first programming job was writing 6800 assembly code for a video information product.  Yes, that's 6800, not 68000.  One of my favorite memories was an incident that demonstrated the fragility of this new technology: we learned that in certain mask sets of the processor, one could not set interrupts (as I recall - this is a lot of years ago) without first issuing a NOP instruction, evidently to normalize the processor state.  Also, the development system had a system of linear assignment of blocks on its 8" floppies.  If you forgot to delete an unneeded file right away, eventually someone had to take the time for the monitor to physically move all of the newer blocks to fill in where the old file had been.  (Floppies weren't cheap, so we couldn't afford to waste room on them.)  Moreover, the assembler did not spool its listings.  If you were doing a major revision to the core of the system, it took over an hour to assemble because the print job controlled the pace of assembly!  Those were the days....  

I think it's a shame that too few kids are learning assembler or C anymore.  Working in Java isolates them from the 'vagaries' of real hardware so they can focus on algorithms and data structures, but ultimately they will have to work on... real hardware!  But it goes back to the comment I made about computer science vs. software engineering.  CS most often doesn't want to know about real hardware.  That's not a flaw, that's an expression of scope.  After all, some of the core theories of computing were developed before real hardware existed.  One might say we had to build the hardware to test the theories.  -- Ian 

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