The General Approach to Computing - A Ramble

Eric J Korpela korpela at
Thu Apr 23 17:27:59 CDT 2009

On Thu, Apr 23, 2009 at 1:04 PM, Warren Wolfe <lists at> wrote:
> That many
> orders of magnitude of complexity have come and gone since the IMSAI days
> are good, in terms of what one's money will buy today, but bad in that one
> is much less likely to be able to fix one's own equipment to component
> level.  It's not as satisfying to say "Hmmm.  You need a new video card" as
> to hold up the offending transistor and cackle.   Or is that just me?

Maybe I'm seeing this from a different angle... I don't see a lot of
difference besides the complexity of the devices.  A transistor is a
device that you buy because you can't make one yourself without
spending way too much money.  A video card is essentially the same
thing.  You can make one yourself.  Some day we will be forced to in
order to keep our machines running.  The main difference is that the
theory of operation of a transistor can be expressed in a 1 page
document.  The theory of operation of a video card is a small book
that requires references to other books.

I guess it all depends on your concept of what a component is.  I'm
sure there were people in the early days of the last century who were
disappointed about newbies that didn't build their own capacitors or
wind their own resistors.  And they probably complained that nobody
was able to build things out of discrete components anymore.    "These
days people don't try to repair their capacitors, they just buy a
whole new one!  It's shameful!"
 (And, in case you are wondering, I have at least built variable
capacitors and variable resistors out of discrete components.  Why?
As a kid I found an old book on building a radio receiver, and thought
it looked like fun.  But I cheated and used a semiconductor diode
detector rather than trying to make a point contact diode.)

And in the next round, I'm sure the complaints were about people
buying prebuilt vacuum tubes, and then about how nobody was building
their own amplifiers, but were buying prepackaged ones.  Kids these

Well, I gotta go, I'm reverse engineering a hardware RAID system
today.  No, I'm not rebuilding it out of TTL logic.  I'm writing
software to do the job.

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