My first computing experience was with a 360 mainframe at
San Diego State College.
I was part of a group of high school kids enjoying a summer
at San Diego State, courtesy of the
National Science Foundation.
We spent a few weeks programming in FORTRAN IV using punched
cards. After this experience, there was no doubt what I would
study in college.
Monroe Monrobot XI: I still had my senior
year of high school to get through. Benjamin Cardozo
High School in Bayside, NY had a computer for us to play on.
when we got it, the Monrobot XI was built into a desk.
It had drum memory of 2K 32-bit words, a 10 CPS typewriter
for output and a 10 CPS paper tape for storage. It had no
divide instruction, instead offering a reduction operation
that would repeatedly subtract the divisor from the dividend.
So division by 1 took a long time and division by zero never
terminated. We used to write hundreds of lines of straight
hexadecimal machine code, using the letters S through X for
the extra digits.
Xerox Data Systems
Sigma 6: At college I got to use a real computer, a
Xerox mainframe. The Sigma supported both terminals (10 CPS
Teletypes with rolls of coarse yellow paper) and punched cards.
We used everything on that system: Basic, FORTRAN, assembly
language, COBOL, APL, custom systems languages like XPL and
XPLS and a simulation language called GPDS. I wrote games for
Tektronix storage tube
terminals and chat and email systems for members of our little
users' group. RIT gave us
Computer Science majors
unlimited computer time, and I took full advantage.
minicomputers: At the same time that I was keeping the
Sigma busy, I was getting my first taste of minicomputers,
courtesy of an HP 2116B in Electrical Engineering and a Digital
PDP 11/34 in Computer Science. These were both closer to the
metal than the Sigma allowed, as I wrote device drivers and
programmed DMA channels and reentered bootstrap programs from
the toggle switches. I still have the front panel from a PDP
11/34 in my living room, a gift from a friend who used to
work at Digital.
IBM 370/155 &
370/158: RIT was
(and is) big on actual job experience. I spent a couple of quarters
as an operator, babysitting the county government's mainframes.
This mostly consisted of feeding card decks (and occasionally
forgetting to remove the rubberband first), mounting tapes and
disks, tearing off printouts and checking every fifteen minutes
for yet another failure of the transaction processing system.
Aside from the fun of placing stuff on the printer cover and waiting
for it to run out of paper (the cover would rise like Godzilla from the
sea and dump said stuff all over the floor) it was a mighty dull
few months. Fortunately, it was also the last time I had anything
to do with a mainframe.
The Real World
Eclipse: After graduation I went to work for Data General
and had to learn all about Eclipse minicomputers. I had never used
a DG system before working for them, a pattern that I would repeat
throughout my career. I started with RDOS, a foreground/background
operating system, and graduated to the AOS timesharing system when
it first became available.
I bought my own first computer around the time I left DG. Based on the
same 6502 microprocessor as the Apple II, the Atari 800 was the original
computer that got no respect. I did a little assembly language
programming and played a lot of games. I also bought a
ludicrous amount of add-on hardware, a pattern that I would repeat
many times over the years to come.
II:My next professional platform was a Tandem Nonstop
system, which I programmed in two different dialects of COBOL.
The less said about this experience, the better.
3600: My next platform was the most unusual: a Lisp Machine.
For those of you who missed all the hype, a Lisp Machine was designed
from the ground up to run Lisp efficiently. Everything was in Lisp:
the operating system, the window system and the applications. In fact,
there was no real transition from one to the next. We all believed
that we had seen the future and it was us. Three years later reality
started to intrude in a big way.
Macintosh SE: It was time to lose the Atari and get a
real computer. Thanks to a friend who worked for an official
Apple Developer, my girlfriend and I managed to get twin Mac SE's
for half of retail. That still made them ridiculously expensive,
but love is blind. Over the next few years I surrounded that
already-obsolete system with stuff, including an external disk,
a portrait monitor and an ink jet printer.
Sun 3 &
SPARCstation: In my six and a half years at Sun I went
through five systems: a Sun 3/160, a 3/260, a SPARCstation 1+,
a SPARCstation 2 and a dual processor SPARCstation 10. Leaving
that SS10 behind was my one big regret at leaving Sun.
Macintosh IIvx & Centris 650: After six years of
my Mac SE, it was time to upgrade once again. Apple had just
announced the IIvx, which would turn out to be their
product since the Apple III. I bought one and then watched
as its price dropped by 30% almost immediately. When the
upgrade to the 68040-based Centris became available, I bought
it. Over the next few years I upgraded just about everything
but the skins: a Daystar Digital 100 mHz PowerPC processor,
32MB of RAM, a Radius 24 bit color card, a gig and a half of disk,
two CD-ROM drives (an internal 2X and an external 4X drive),
a 270MB SyQuest removable, a PCMCIA reader (for my
digital camera), an
HP color DeskWriter, a LaserJet 4ML and a Fujitsu scanner.
T4700CS: Before I joined
Borland, I had a high
degree of contempt for PCs and Microsoft Windows. Once I arrived
I discovered it was far worse than I had imagined. My frustrations
as I tried to get my Toshiba notebook to talk to our Novell
network and my failure to get Windows 95 to talk to much of
anything confirmed my belief that if I never saw another
Microsoft product it would be okay with me. Sadly, that was
not to be.
Indy: My primary work platform at SGI was a step up
from that PC: a 200mHz Indy with accelerated 24 bit graphics,
digital audio and video input and a real (i.e. Unix) operating
system. Now this is what a workstation was supposed
to be. And the best part was that it wasn't beige!
Macintosh PowerBook 540c: The Borland experience
taught me one thing: if you're going to travel, having a
computer to take with you is a big win. (It also taught me
that having a non-Wintel computer is an even bigger one.
I guess I learned two things.) So I used some of my Borland
severance to buy a PowerBook. It joined me on a few of my trips,
keeping my expenses up to date, storing and letting me view images
from my digital cameras and
giving me games to play when I got bored. So for a while I was
a two Mac household. Does that qualify me for techno-yuppiedom?
Silicon Graphics O2:
No, that isn't a breadmaker next to the monitor; it was my demo
system. The O2 was a graphics-accelerated workstation. With v
ideo input and output and a 175mHz R10000 processor, it made a
nice system for showing off OpenGL applications and development
tools or manipulating images for my web pages. The O2 (Yakko
by name) spent at least some of its time sans disk; it was awfully
convenient to carry around a fully configured system on a drive
and then pop it into whatever system was handy when I arrived.
The O2 was a neat system; it's also awfully cute. I kept wanting
someone to produce adhesive Mr. Potato Head parts to give it just
a little more personality! (Other people think it already has
enough personality; how many computers have
haikus written about
Power Macintosh G3:
Five years of major surgery had taken its toll on my old desktop
Mac. So the time came to consider another upgrade. Would I sell
my soul to Microsoft and Intel? It sure looked that way for a
while. But then I had a chance to try out a G3 PowerMac. It was
just what I wanted: something faster (233mHz G3 PowerPC, 24x CD)
with a lot more capacity (4GB disk) and the ability to accept all
the software and peripherals I'd accumulated over the years.
(Plus a few new bits: a SyQuest SyJet 1.5GB removable drive, an
Olympus ES-10 slide scanner and an Epson Stylus Photo 700 color
Installing the new system was effortless; paying for it wasn't too
painful either. So I've held the demons at bay at least a little
longer. And isn't peace of mind worth something?
Dell OptiPlex GX1:
Somewhat against my will, I found myself responsible for SGI's
interoperability story, in particular
the issues involved in making IRIX boxes play together with Windows
NT. So after many months of arm twisting I got permission to
order an NT box so I could actually see some of these interop
products in action. (Or inaction as the case may be.) When they
wouldn't get me a laptop (too logical, I guess), I had to settle
for this little tower system. And, true to my record, I managed
to destroy Windows NT within a few hours of the system's arrival.
Shortly afterward I was concentrating on Linux and ignoring
interop. And the Dell? It got used for PowerPoint, the odd
Word document people insisted on sending me and reading
newsgroups (never mind which ones). The rest of the time it ran
PointCast displays of
world news. And then it would run out of memory. I thought
this NT stuff was supposed to have been debugged...
With all the PowerPoint presentations
I suddenly found myself doing, I decided it was time to get another
laptop. I focused on
subnotebooks, wanting something light but with an acceptable
keyboard. Comdex in Las Vegas
gave me a chance to try out all the different models. I settled
on Mitsubishi's incredibly small and light Amity. Not the
fastest box by a wide margin, but fast enough and cheap enough
for my purposes. And yet again I managed to destroy the
Microsoft OS within an hour of opening the box. This time there
was no recovery; the PCMCIA CD-ROM drive I bought wasn't
supported by Mitsubishi's boot disk. (Lesson: never buy a PC
that doesn't come with a CD-ROM.) I ended up shipping the
whole thing to the manufacturer for a reinstall. And now I'm
very careful about what I do to the system. It worked
well enough for my requirements: presentations and email on the
road. But I still hate most everything about Windows in all its
incarnations. Windows 95 was bad, but running Windows Me on this
little box was worse. It's now running Red Hat Linux, which it
does badly, although not nearly as badly as Windows Millennium (Bug)
Compaq Presario 5714:
Leaving SGI meant leaving my Indy behind. (I offered to buy it
before I left, figuring that a fully depreciated four year old
machine couldn't cost much. But Systems Remarketing never
bothered to call back with a quote.) In my next job there were lots
of Suns. But not for me; when you're the second Marketing person
in a tiny company you get what the other Marketing person has.
Which meant a PC and Windows, in this case the 98 vintage. The
computer was a Compaq
Presario, whose name is a small improvement over the
condom-inspired era of
Contura. It wasn't an
awful machine, I suppose, even if needed more memory to
run less than my old Indy. And at least I still had the comfort
of a few old friends. Like the Korn shell and Perl and Emacs
and Gimp, which worked surprisingly well and made me feel just a
little less homesick for my Unix days. And I could finally run all
the software the rest of the world has come to know and love. And
best of all, I could hook up one of those insanely cheap USB
scanners, something you Unix people can't do. Come to think of
it, neither can those Windows NT lusers...
Compaq Armada M300
One advantage of working for a PC company like Compaq is that you
get pretty good hardware, even if you work for the
big system division. My laptop
was a beautiful little three pounder with a second unit for all the
peripherals. And aside from a slightly scratchy sound when I played
DVDs and a trackpad that drove me to distraction, I liked it a lot.
Microsoft had even released an acceptable operating system in Win2k,
although I still prefer Unix/Linix or the Mac. When I quit Compaq
after two and a half short but deeply frustrating months, leaving
that computer behind was my biggest regret.
After Compaq it was another startup and another laptop. But what a
shock to go from the svelte and elegant Armada to the fat, dumb and
not exactly happy life of a seven pound Micron. It may not be possible
to love a Windows box. But I think tolerating this bulky and balky
was about the best I can do.
I had finally reached the point where my next personal system would
be a Windows box. Much as I hated the idea, I knew it was time.
Then I made the mistake of visiting the 2001 MacWorld and falling
in love with the brand new Titanium Powerbooks. Practicality
intervened; I really didn't need a laptop, even one as
beautiful as this one. So I settled for Apple's second most beautiful
computer, the incredible G4 cube. It's fast, small and, once I picked
up some adapters to turn SCSI devices into USB or Firewire, does
everything my old G3 could do, only faster. And the DVD drive and my
new flat panel are perfect for watching
Farscape episodes when I should
be working. I even discovered that
Adaptec makes a SCSI to USB adapter
called the USBXchange
that can handle my old Olympus slide scanner, something the Olympus
support line assured me couldn't be done. Hah! And my old Mac? It
has a new home at UC Berkeley's
Lawrence Hall of Science,
where it'll get used by little kids as part of a Mac lab.
As it turns out, there was a TiBook in my future after all. All it
took was a few months of begging and pleading. But one of the
benefits of a job at Apple was great equipment. The notebook they
gave me was
fast, light, easy to use, incredibly capable and, best of all, free.
But neither it nor the job lasted. So...
Apple Titanium PowerBook:
Giving back my TiBook was a lot harder than losing the Micron from my
previous job. But before I left Apple (or, to be more accurate, it left
me), I got my order in on a new high end TiBook, one with a DVD burning
SuperDrive. Before it arrived, Apple announced its new 12" and 17"
aluminum PowerBooks. And they even offered to let me change my order
and keep that generous employee discount. But I still think the 15" TiBook
is just right. It's a fast and convenient tool for my
video editing. And it makes a heck of a fine
DVD player for
those long trips of which I'm so fond.
A new job means yet another new computer. At this particular
firm, the standard platform for road warriors is this small,
relatively lightweight Wintel box. It's something of a good
news/bad news joke. The good: it's half the weight of that
Micron monster of earlier days, a lot faster and not nearly as
quirky. (Whadayamean there's no audio for the modem?) The bad:
a separate DVD drive, a tinny mono speaker. Oh, and Windows.
XP Pro, which is the best version of Windows Microsoft has ever
done. Isn't that like being first in your class at
My Dell adventure lasted a little over six months. Then a
combination of engineering people insisting on PowerBooks and an
extremely kind IT Director let me trade my little Dell for a 15"
PowerBook. Apple calls this model a PowerBook G4. Which is
exactly what they call my home computer. But that PowerBook G4
is different than this PowerBook G4. This one is
faster. And it has a keyboard that lights up when the room is
dark. And it's aluminum, not titanium. And it's just a tiny bit
heavier. But I'm not complaining. Although if Microsoft's Mac
Business Unit, the guys responsible to the OSX version of
Office, would talk to the Windows Office people a little more
often, I'd be grateful. The two sets of applications are
just different enough to be aggravating. Not enough to
make me want to go back to Windows, you understand. No, never
Yet another job and yet another Dell. (Dude!) Not
much difference between this one and the last one; same
separate DVD drive and useless audio. And a memory maximum of
1 GB. Which seems a lot until you see the software my company
does. Which meant that a couple of months after they gave me
this one they replaced it with a...
Bigger. Heavier. With acceptable sound, especially if you've
never owned a PowerBook. And 2 GB of memory, a usful thing
when you have to run multiple copies of BEA WebLogic on your
laptop. Which isn't anything a sane person would do, not that
sanity has much to do with the sales process.
They may force me to use Windows for work, but they can't
destroy my spirit! I knew I needed to replace my Macs; the G4
Cube was both underpowered and losing bits of itself (the
hard drive gave up the ghost, which isn't Apple's fault), and
the TiBook was becoming both slow (1 GB really isn't enough
the way I use apps) and unreliable. So I thought about the
right thing to do, decided I really didn't need another laptop
(two Dells is enough; heck, it's more than enough) and went
for the Mac Mini and a 20" flatscreen display. My Mini has
dual cores and 2 GB of memory. So far that's sufficient.