Hardware Hobbyists vs. Emulator Jockeys (was: Re: UNIX V7)

Tony Duell ard at p850ug1.demon.co.uk
Tue Jun 16 13:13:49 CDT 2009

> Tony Duell wrote:
> > I am also interested in old clocks and old (valve) radios, and none of 
> > the magazies devoted to collecting/restoring those seem to think there's 
> > much a problem. The 'pool' of both of those items is surely finite too.
> It's just a matter of degree.  I suspect there were very many more valve 
> radios produced than classic computers, probably a couple orders of 
> magnitude.  However, even those will be, for all practical purposes,

Ture, but I wonder what the relative rates of survival are for valve 
radios and classic computers. Certainly computers are a lot newer (which 
counts in their favour), and they were more expensive to start with which 
means they may have been kept. 
> gone in time.  While it won't have any effect on you or me, run the 
> clock ahead a hundred years...  and very little of either will remain.

While that is almost certainly true, it's hardly a reason for not 
obtaining such machines now while you can, and enjoying them -- if you 
wnt to run such a machine. If you don't, well fine...

> > No it's not free. Even if the emulator software is free, the machine to 
> > run it on is not. Period. You have, alas, touched a nerve here, I object 
> > to this attitude that 'everybody' has a PC/cellphone/MP3 player/digital 
> > camera. I don't, nor do many people I know.
> You've got to look at the numbers...  When the IBM PC was first 
> released, fewer than 5% of homes in the U.S. had computers.  The number 
> went over 50% in 2000, and has not looked back.  Do the math.  10 times 
> as many people have computers now, as did then.  If everybody wanted a 
> classic computer, even a personal classic, there aren't enough to go around.

Ture. And I douvt there are enough valve radios or antique clocks around 
for _everybody_ to owen one. But there are probably enough for those who 
want one to own one if they can afford it.

> More than half of current households have a PC.  What percentage have 
> o'scopes?  Quite small, I'm sure.  The chances of a person being able to

So? 'socpes are not hard to find, if you wsnt one. Ditto for all the 
other tools and equipment you might need.
> run an emulator are significantly better than their chances of being 
> able to work on old hardware and fix it.  And, for those who do not have 

I've always had the attidude that if I can't do something but need to do 
it, it's time for me to learn how to do it. Not give up. That's why I 
learnt (and am still learning) how to fix SMPSUs, how to understand 
microcode, how to use machine tools, and so on.

Put it this way, I'd rather learn how to do something like that than run 
an emulator on an undocumented (to the sort of level I call 'documented') 
machine under an OS that I don't have the source for. If I have problems 
with that I can't solve them logically. If I am using tools/equipment 
that I am capable of understnading and things go wrong, I can use a 
logical procedure to sort it out. And I much prerfe that.

> the requisites, what is the cost?  What's the cost of an old PC 
> machine?  I see them all the time for less than $100.  What's the cost 
> of an electronics shop?  I spent thousands, and was still lacking many 
> items.

So have I. But I expect all my tools and mcuh of my test gear to outlive 
me. I wouldn't expect a PC to do that. I suspect the total cost of 
owenership over my lifetime is cheaper for the electroncis stuff than PCs.

> It's clearly true that not EVERYBODY has any of the items  you list.  
> However, most people have access to most of them, and the percentages 
> keep rising.

It doesn't stop me getting annoyed when it's assumed I have them. The 
next time somebody tells me to 'upload my photos', I am liable to use my 
monorail camwera as a substitue clue-by-four :-)

> > In fact for me to be able to run any of the emulators at a sensible speed 
> > it would cost me more than I've spent on any one of my classic computers. 
> > OK, I was lucky and got many of them before they became collectable, but 
> > I've bought interesting machines (to me) in the last year or so for a lot 
> > less than I'd spend on a machine to run an emulator.
> >   
> I think you're assuming you need a new machine to run an emulator.... 

It would be new for me.
> Not true!  A five-year-old PC is quite cheap.  Not useful in the "speed 
> demon" sense, and not yet "classic," they sit at the nadir of their 
> value.  Fish THERE for cost effectiveness.

That's not the total cost of ownership as well you know. Do I have to 
poitn out that to keep such a machine running I would have to 
significantly upgrade some of my test gear _and_ spend a lot of time 
working out how it should work so I can fix it when it doesn't. 
Personally I'd rather keep classics working.

> Oh, no, that doesn't sound crazy.   I share your interest.  I just don't 
> always want to HAVE TO solve problems before I can accomplish 
> something.  My current set-up is much more reliable than the IMSAI 

Nor do I. I expect my tools to work properly, if they don't, I fix them. 
But I don't class my clasisc computers as tools.

For example, one machine I've been working on recently is an HP120 -- a 
Z80A-based CP/M box. I assume it could run something like Wordstar. But I 
am not going to use it as a word processor, I'll stick to LaTeX on this 
machine for that. The HP120 is an interesting machine to investigate and 
get running, it's not a machine I am going to do real work on.


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