The General Approach to Computing - A Ramble
lists at databasics.us
Fri Apr 24 00:25:51 CDT 2009
I'm glad my first post on this topic started some discussion. I'm less
glad that I apparently didn't do a very good job of communicating. Let
me clear up a bit, if I may.
First, I'm not a Luddite, or troglodyte, or anything similar. I love
using the finest, newest devices of all kinds, including computers.
And, while I like playing with the old computers, and fixing them,
nothing beats screaming speed in a personal computer.
Teo Zenios writes:
You can fix anything sold today if you want to spend a bunch of
money for equipment to deal with surface mount chips (BGA type
equipment is not cheap). You can get spare parts (or boards to
desolder parts from) at a recycler or ebay. Most people do not go
that route because it is not economical and they don't have the
skills or time to do it anyway. It is also much easier to
troubleshoot something that only has a few chips on it, compared to
the older stuff. I have an Atari 65XE in parts currently and a
Commodore 1750 REU in parts waiting for sockets to redo the RAM. The
65XE was broke when I got it and I want to fix it, it would be
easier just to buy a working one but I like to tinker anyway.
My background is as a National Institute of Standards and Technology
Calibration Technician. Call me fixed in my ways if you like, but I
prefer finding a (small) failed component, getting a replacement for
under a dollar, and spending an hour or two troubleshooting and fixing
equipment. I no longer have the spare space to keep a few dead copies
of all my live equipment. I never cared much for cannibalizing
equipment. It seems somehow... sacreligious.
Now, if I find the bad component, it's likely to be a $50 chip, compared
with a new $60 board replacement. While it gets things working again,
it's just not as much fun as it was to find a part that was close to
free to replace, and replace that part... a personal taste issue, that.
I didn't expect I'd need to explain that mind-set HERE, of all places,
I don't want to go back to the old days when machines were slow and
unreliable, when you had to fix a machine just to be able to use it.
Neither do I. On the other hand, I tend to think hardware progress has
been TOO fast, and that software, because of the speed of the hardware,
is immensely sloppy and inefficient, to a degree I find amazing. Some
years back, I was looking at a setup for a Microsoft programming
environment. It came on five CDs, IIRC, and I couldn't help thinking of
Turbo Pascal for CP/M, wich came on a single floppy, and had an editor,
compiler, and debugger in about 56 K of programming space. The
efficiency factor difference is stunning. I believe that a bit more
time at each 'watermark' of hardware progress would result in tightening
of software efficiency to improve product performance, rather than just
waiting for the next generation of PC hardware to hide one's
poorly-written code. Again, that might just be me...
There are millions of people driving cars that have no idea how to
do anything other then put gas in it and maybe change the oil. Why
should computer (another tool like a car) be any different today?
Think about what you're saying... There ARE people who like to futz
around with their cars, like I like to futz with my computer. All the
people like that I know are not happy about computer control of the
engine, as it makes it difficult to the point of near impossibility for
an individual to work on their own car, and expect good results. That
*IS* like a car, isn't it? There is something to be said for simplicity
enough to be within one's skill set to repair with objects at hand. One
of my friend's father was stranded in the desert with car trouble, and
used a couple of gum foils, a paperclip, and a couple of rubber bands to
patch it up until they could get to a service station. How cool is
that? Today, unless someone is packing a spare CPU for his model car,
one would be coyote bait in the same situation.
We have not progressed smoothly -- rather, each area has gone off on its
own, totally separate from all other areas. I could get behind a
technology base where you could carry a few spare processors, and
program them with your cellphone to run your car, or your PC, or your
GPS unit, just by loading the correct program into it. But, nothing is
even similar, let alone identical today. I can't help but think we took
a wrong turn dictated to us by hyper-speed progress.
Efficient progress would have dictated that we make the most of a much
smaller number of available parts, each with multiple uses. Is that so
hard? Somehow, I think not. And the benefits would be amazing.
Hardware leaping ahead of software has given us a dictatorial Microsoft,
and stifled the development of software better than Windows for many
years. Slower hardware development (25% improvement per year, perhaps)
would have forced competition on software vendors, to the detriment of
Microsoft. It would be interesting to compare the two, but the world
doesn't have a "control."
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