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How I Got Into Computers

Nathan Torkington invite people to recount how they became hackers as an inpiration for new generations. I have taken this chance to write my own. It is reposted below.

How did I get into computer programming? I pride myself being a teen computer science theorist. Long before I've touched a real computer, I have already learned a whole lot of Basic programming by reading computer magazines in public library. My first program is really on a Casio programmable calculator. It has a macro function, a random number generator and a conditional branching command. With those I have build a Blackjack game. Later my friend got a Casio pocket computer PB-100. He generously lent me this new toy several days at a time. PB-100 has a great feature that it supports the spade, diamond, heart and club characters. So I got to build a number of card games using Basic.

Then my friend invited me to his home to use his Apple II. By then I have already learned everything about 6502 machine code. I decided my first program should be an assembler. I coded all the machine code on paper and brought it to my friend's home for a trial. After an entire afternoon of debugging it went no where. This became my first abandoned project. Eventually my parents gave in and bought me an Apple II. I have to confess that most of these came from the thriving pirate computer industry at that time. I got to read the pirated Apple reference manual translated into Chinese. It includes the source code of Woz' Basic ROM. That piece of software was really an enlightenment for me.

In time I moved up to Turbo Pascal, 300 baud modem and so on. I was steps ahead of other when I started CS in college.

2005.11.21 [, ] - comments

 

Mac goes Intel

This is my observation on Jobs' speech in the WWDC 05 Keynote.


Thanks Daniel for your coverage on the keynote. Reading this is as if I were there.

Jobs has made a very diplomatic presentation. Going Intel is so touchy that they have to introduce this with great care and sensitivity. The humor and cheerleading that is routine in this kind of event are markedly subdue. In place of it are lot more solemn and contemplative atmosphere. Making light joke on the bunny man on fire commercial and have the two CEOs embrace in front of the audience is a ritual for the past foes to make up. I think the ability to change without getting too entrenched or too religious is especially important for Apple to survive and to thrive.

Perhaps this can be a lesson for political adversaries too?

2005.06.15 [] - comments

 

Mac mini for $499

Hooray! Apple introduced a Mac mini for $499 today. Looks like I'm going to own a Mac for the first time. And my MindSearch project is going to get a Mac version!

2005.01.11 [] - comments

 

tungwaiyip.info Has a New Host

I have talked about small, low power computer previously. Indeed I have walked the talk and have quietly switched tungwaiyip.info to a VIA based PC for a while. I placed an order of a barebone on IDOT PC. It delivered a working system promptly. Next I put Linux on it and then, voilà, it works! Actually it was so smooth that there is almost nothing to write about.

It was a far cry from last year when I setup tungwaiyip.info for the first time. As a greenhorn on Linux I ran into some ominous sign of dark screen in the first install. Linux is reputed to have strong community support and I indeed found many resources on the Internet, some discussing the exact problem I was having. Although it still took many many trial and errors to get it work.

After a while I came up with a theory on the wealth of Linux information on the Internet. Many many individuals have written "How I installed Linux" documents that cover different degree of details. It was hailed as community sharing. Less discussed is that it also reflects that Linux is difficult to work with. People have gone through so much toil to get it work that they are motivated to write a journal afterward. If things work the first time, there will not be so many "How I installed Linux" around. Now that I have a system working and I do not have much to write about, I am happy.

By the way, there is a significant drop in my electric bill after I switched over to the new system!

2004.04.21 [] - comments

 

Cool tiny PCs

Yesterday I have discussed about small, low power computers. While I was researching on the technology I found a number of cool tiny PCs in the market. Although I do not opt for them due to their premium prices, they deserve a honorable mention here.

Before I start, note that I have excluded the popular mini-"cube" PC such as Shuttle XPC. These cube are intend to squeeze the latest greatest hardware into a small box. Instead the focus is on low powered and even smaller PCs.

One of the pioneer of tiny PCs, Cappuccino PC is unbelievably small (157x146x46 mm). There is a series of design using mainly Celeron and Pentium processors. It is a complete system including I/O ports, CD-ROM and hard disk. The PC itself is only about the size of a CD-ROM.

OEM from Taiwan manufacturer Saint Song.

Nimble V5 is positioned as a video conference system, complete with built-in speakerphone. It is tiny, measuring only 2" x 7.7" x 7.7" (in). It consumes 12W and runs nearly silent.

A new entry NorhTec MicroServer HP is a book size box measures only 5.25 x 6.75 x 2.15 inches. It consumes 12.5 Watts with solid state drive and 15 Watts with hard disk. It uses a fan-less VIA processors.

The product that excites me most is the hoojum cubit3. With an anodized aluminum case in various colors, its design is even cooler than a Mac. A great computer to match your modernist home or office. The dimensions is at 147mm(H) x 210mm(W) x 210mm(D),

I find them perfect as Linux based server or intelligent appliances, although their primary market still seems to be as Windows desktop.

2004.01.11 [] - comments

 

Low power computer, disruptive technology?

I am looking at VIA technologies' C3 processor and its mini-itx form factor mainboards. It is a low power consumption x86 compatible processor. These little CPU's performance trails mainstream processors. Their prices are relatively high (very high when other components for a miniature system, such as 2.5" HDD, are accounted). So why bother? C3 are designed for low power consumption, low heat dissipation. This allows them to be packaged in small enclosure. They need small or no cooling fan. So they can run silently.

The trade off for low power consumption is the performance. C3's performance often trail others by a large margin. Is there any applications that can can fill? It was found in some Walmart consumer PCs. But even more interestingly on non PC systems, such as the Emergecore small office server (Crusoe based), or Mirra Personal Server, a turnkey backup system. Some enthusiasts are even using it to build PVR. I plan to build myself one to host web and email and to run an experimental network agent. It should have more than enough processing power for that and should consume much less power than my bulky AMD server.

Now that Pentium's performance has really exceed most user's demand. Would PC users turn their attention to small and silent PC? Would intelligent appliances become a major for CPU maker? Could this low performance CPU become a disruptive technology that challenges Intel's dominance?

2004.01.10 [] - comments

 

Reliable Computing Systems

In this Scientific American article, Armando Fox and David Patterson discussed an unconventional approach to build reliable computing systems. Instead of focusing on improving software and hardware reliability, they consider failures inevitable. Their recovery-oriented computing (ROC) approach focusing on bringing the service back quicker. Some method such as micro-rebooting is considered.

Their study also revealed that operator errors cause most of the system downtime. Perhaps the most important boost to reliability is to improve system usability.

2003.05.31 [, ] - comments

 

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