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Old 4th July 2020, 06:42 AM   #1
Blue Bubble
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Operatings Systems: reminiscences

Recent posts in the "Dear Users... (A thread for Sysadmin, Technical Support, and Help Desk people)" thread have prompted a number of us to post about things that seem to have become ingrained in our minds from many decades ago.


Examples include weird stuff about IBM JCL, its syntax, and strange incantations that would simply baffle younger generations.


Since I have only just retired (http://www.internationalskeptics.com...d.php?t=345114), I think such reminiscences will pop up in my mind more and more.


So, who can come up with (probably-)useless stuff from the Olden Days?
I'll start with saying I can still remember that IBM 3330 disk drives ("DASD") had a track-size of 13,030 bytes (it was not fixed-length 512 byte blocks as nowadays), which you needed to know in order to get the maximum usage for whichever datasets (files) you were creating (e.g. for card-image files, 12,960 was the optimal blocksize). The IBM 3330 had a capacity of 100 Mbytes. Similarly, the larger IBM 3350 had a track-size of 19,069 and a capacity of 317 Mbytes.


I remember my first programming in 1969/1970 - my school (Bo'ness Academy in Scotland) had a very good maths teacher who could foresee the future of computing and its importance. So we learned Fortran-IV and ALGOL 60WP in parallel. One of my first programs made use of the random number generator function in Fortran to simulate a roulette wheel, and fellow classmates would place small bets on various numbers/colours/odd-even things. We'd fill out programming forms, and these would be sent off to the University of Edinburgh, where they'd be transferred onto 80-column punched cards. The program would then run on an IBM System/360 Model 50WP, and any syntax errors were costly (turnaround time was ca 1 week !)


Alas, that's when I discovered that the "random" number generator would generate the same numbers if given the same seed value ... the first run of the program was to make sure it worked, the second run of the same program was the real-deal with the small bets placed. I had to return everyone's money
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Old 4th July 2020, 07:58 AM   #2
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At the other end, my bud had a Corvus 10Mb HDD, external, that he used with his Macintosh. It plugged into the external floppy and mouse port simultaneously, and sounded like a jet engine when it started up.

Not knowing what to do with all that storage space, he made it into 6 partitions, each the size of the Mac's floppy.
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Old 4th July 2020, 09:18 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by Blue Bubble View Post
Since I have only just retired (http://www.internationalskeptics.com...d.php?t=345114), I think such reminiscences will pop up in my mind more and more.


So, who can come up with (probably-)useless stuff from the Olden Days?

I could teach you to set a link on a bulletin board.
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Old 4th July 2020, 09:24 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by Childlike Empress View Post
I could teach you to set a link on a bulletin board.

Hee hee ... and I could teach you a few things about the Chaos Computer ClubWP, Wau Holland, Hagbard, Pengo et al (from experience)
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Old 4th July 2020, 09:36 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by Blue Bubble View Post
Hee hee ... and I could teach you a few things about the Chaos Computer ClubWP, Wau Holland, Hagbard, Pengo et al (from experience)

You've met Wau Holland? Go tell, he was someone who clearly died too soon.
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Old 4th July 2020, 09:44 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by Childlike Empress View Post
You've met Wau Holland? Go tell, he was someone who clearly died too soon.

He visited my house in Heidelberg when we were being interviewed by a journalist/book author. It was around the time when The Cuckoo's EggWP by Clifford StollWP was published. I'll say no more on the subject (it's not difficult to discover my real name).


ETA: I feature in the book.
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Old 4th July 2020, 10:08 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by Blue Bubble View Post
He visited my house in Heidelberg when we were being interviewed by a journalist/book author. It was around the time when The Cuckoo's EggWP by Clifford StollWP was published. I'll say no more on the subject (it's not difficult to discover my real name).

I've read that book but can't find it in my most precious data, the eBook library, right now. Didn't mean to stalk you anyway, just interested in some first-hand experiences with a great beard of the early digital mindset.
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Old 4th July 2020, 10:14 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by Beerina View Post
At the other end, my bud had a Corvus 10Mb HDD, external, that he used with his Macintosh.
I had to read that twice to realize that you weren't talking about a Corona Virus HDD.
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Old 4th July 2020, 10:15 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by psionl0 View Post
I had to read that twice to realize that you weren't talking about a Corona Virus HDD.

Me as well.
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Old 4th July 2020, 10:32 AM   #10
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My first OS was Unix Version 7 on a PDP-11/34. 64K RAM. Four 8" 1MB platters for storage. I learned to code C with the line editor and CC. What other coding tools would one need?
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Old 4th July 2020, 10:47 AM   #11
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For me it was just how... non-integrated things like DOS and even early versions of Windows were. For the longest time an OS wasn't something you like like spent any real time on your computer working in. It booted the computer up and did some maintenance and admin and setup tasks but that was it. That's why the feel so un-user friendly to so many modern users, but they weren't really meant to be. You didn't just boot your computer up and leave DOS or Pre-95 Windows up while you did stuff.

I even remember "Boot Loaders" briefly when PC gaming where really high end games bypassed the OS entirely and booted directly so they didn't have to share overhead or PC resources with the OS.
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Old 4th July 2020, 11:20 AM   #12
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For about a year, I, a mechanical engineer, somehow became responsible for the care and feeding of a VAX-750. Even got it upgraded to a whopping 8MB of memory and 500MB of disk space! Wrote batch files for it, although IIRC they were called something else.
Came in useful for learning MS-DOS!
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Old 4th July 2020, 11:41 AM   #13
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I remember toggling in (literally) the boot loader on a PDP-8 at Poly, so the OS could be read in from paper tape.

And a couple of years later, we got a brand new ICL mainframe, with, IIRC, 256K of main memory! It was running VME-K, and emulating an IBM mainframe, my first experience of virtual computing. ICL stopped supporting VME-K shortly afterwards, and they had to supply extra hardware to enable the computer to have the same capacity running VME-B. I had started working at ICL by then; I used VME systems there, but worked first on a new system that was cancelled, then on a UNIX based modular system. I believe I once saw George Felton, after whom the GEORGE operating systems were named (I used one running GEORGE 3), in the canteen.
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Old 4th July 2020, 02:44 PM   #14
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I really feel I should be participating in this thread. Thanks Blue Bubble.

But I don't know where to start. The first computer keyboard I entered data on was that of a Burroughs E-101 in 1960 or so when I was calculating wing loads for the Canadair CL-44 airplane as an engineering assistant one summer while I was at university. No OS, just a big plug board.

It's on this site: https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/172122016986966061/

The interesting sad thing is how many of the other computers I recognize at that url.

Some days I do feel old. :sigh:
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Old 5th July 2020, 06:59 AM   #15
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Several years ago I acquired a couple boxes of these. I use them as bookmarks for larger books. I've been leaving a few in the Little Free Libraries around the neighborhood.

I should probably look at selling some batches on eBay as they look to fetch a nice price.
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Old 5th July 2020, 07:37 AM   #16
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Doing some fancy weaving, are you?
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Old 6th July 2020, 01:46 PM   #17
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I discovered, entirely by accident, that the Windows NT 4.0 command prompt supports redirecting standard error with the "2>&1" or "2><file>" syntax. This is the convention for UNIX / Linux Bourne Shell and derivitaves (i. e. Korn Shell and BASH). I discovered it when I used the syntax by mistake, as I was doing quite a bit of work in UNIX systems at the time. I immediately thought to myself, "That doesn't work in Windows, dummy.". but to my surprise, it did work exactly as it would have in a UNIX shell. This was not documented at all that I ever found in the Windows help files for NT 4.0, or any other official Microsoft documents for that OS that I ever found. The feature also existed in XP (and all later versions of Windows) and was documented in the help files for XP (probably later versions too, though I haven't looked for it recently.
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Old 6th July 2020, 01:52 PM   #18
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Another one: Back around the turn of the century, my workplace transitioned from using Novell Netware file servers to Windows servers. At the time, my workstation ran NT 4.0. After all the servers I used had been moved to Windows, I uninstalled the Netware driver from my workstation, which resulted in a huge boost in performance. It was like I had gotten a brand new PC with a much faster processor.
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Old 6th July 2020, 04:28 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by CORed View Post
I discovered, entirely by accident, that the Windows NT 4.0 command prompt supports redirecting standard error with the "2>&1" or "2><file>" syntax. This is the convention for UNIX / Linux Bourne Shell and derivitaves (i. e. Korn Shell and BASH). I discovered it when I used the syntax by mistake, as I was doing quite a bit of work in UNIX systems at the time. I immediately thought to myself, "That doesn't work in Windows, dummy.". but to my surprise, it did work exactly as it would have in a UNIX shell. This was not documented at all that I ever found in the Windows help files for NT 4.0, or any other official Microsoft documents for that OS that I ever found. The feature also existed in XP (and all later versions of Windows) and was documented in the help files for XP (probably later versions too, though I haven't looked for it recently.
Some years back there was a stink among geeks that MS had ripped off the BSD TP/IP stack for NT. Someone found some clear identification of BSD in a debug dump IIRC. This was never really contested, and of course this explains why the net on NT worked reasonably well.

It wouldn't surprise me if much of the working code in MS products has been stolen from Unix.
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Old 6th July 2020, 06:07 PM   #20
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I was proud of myself learning how to use DOS.
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Old 6th July 2020, 08:49 PM   #21
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Ah yes, the joys of installing CD-ROM drives in DOS. I remember back in '95 and there was a whole thing about the new Windows 95 operating system sending data to Microsoft, remember that? Well, I remember when I first got my hot little hands on a Windows 95 machine and had to install a CD-ROM drive. I was prepared for the worst, but I'd heard of this new concept called "Plug and Play", so I cracked the box, plugged in the drive, and switched it on. "New device found" said Windows. "Installing new device... Device ready." It. Just. Worked. It was like magic.

Ahh, those were the days, eh?
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Old 6th July 2020, 09:23 PM   #22
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My early exposure to any sort of computing was in the late '70s, playing with a programmable calculator my BIL gave me when he moved on to a better one. That inspired me to take a few programming classes at the local community college, and by '83 I got my first desktop, an IBM PC clone. (Leading Edge Model "M". Half again the clock speed of an IBM PC and it was a good enough clone that it could run Flight Simulator, the acid test for clones.)

It ran on DOS 2.11, and one of the things that sticks in my memory was that one of the early things I had to do was hack the operating system.

DOS 2.11 had a hardwired (and tiny) environment space, which limited the number of flags you could create and set. I wanted to set up the (rather voluminous and complicated) batch files needed to run a smoothly operating Fidonet dialer and tosser, which required more flags than 2.11 could handle. (Flags were used to overcome the omission of batch files to be able to use recursion, among other things.)

There was a fix which required using debug to patch the OS, changing the space allocated for the environment.

Things have become simpler since then in many ways.
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Old 6th July 2020, 09:58 PM   #23
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Originally Posted by eerok View Post
My first OS was Unix Version 7 on a PDP-11/34. 64K RAM. Four 8" 1MB platters for storage. I learned to code C with the line editor and CC. What other coding tools would one need?
I have a copy of the original Bell and Ritchie source code book for UNIX 6 by John Lions, plus the commentary book.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikiped...tary_Unix.jpeg
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Old 6th July 2020, 10:00 PM   #24
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Originally Posted by alfaniner View Post
Several years ago I acquired a couple boxes of these. I use them as bookmarks for larger books. I've been leaving a few in the Little Free Libraries around the neighborhood.

I should probably look at selling some batches on eBay as they look to fetch a nice price.
At a recent computer museum working bee, we found several large cartons of these - tens of thousands. Alas, some were badly water-affected.
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Old 6th July 2020, 10:43 PM   #25
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Originally Posted by Norman Alexander View Post
At a recent computer museum working bee, we found several large cartons of these - tens of thousands. Alas, some were badly water-affected.

Would that matter if they weren't folded, spindled, or mutilated?
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Old 6th July 2020, 10:46 PM   #26
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I have this expertise in programming terminate and stay resident programs that was of absolutely no use after Windows 6.

My first OS was TRS-DOS, developed by Microsoft. I learned C, COBOL and assembly language on that machine (Tandy Model 4P)
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Old 6th July 2020, 10:48 PM   #27
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Originally Posted by alfaniner View Post
Several years ago I acquired a couple boxes of these. I use them as bookmarks for larger books. I've been leaving a few in the Little Free Libraries around the neighborhood.

I should probably look at selling some batches on eBay as they look to fetch a nice price.
My brother had to submit all his university programming assignments on these. I would never have been able to cope with that.
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Old 7th July 2020, 12:23 AM   #28
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Originally Posted by quadraginta View Post
Would that matter if they weren't folded, spindled, or mutilated?
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Old 7th July 2020, 03:52 AM   #29
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Originally Posted by Norman Alexander View Post
I have a copy of the original Bell and Ritchie source code book for UNIX 6 by John Lions, plus the commentary book.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikiped...tary_Unix.jpeg
All I had to work with were some photocopied articles from Bell Labs and the man pages. Then finally K&R's book came out for C.

Well, I had a guru in the other room as well. He had a martyred expression much of the time, and I'll take credit for that.
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Old 8th July 2020, 04:00 AM   #30
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When reading a dump from IBM's MVS-z/OS OSes I know why you should often ignore the PSW on the dump summary and look at the RTM2WA OPSW due to the way addresses are loaded in the PSW and especially for address translation errors.
I have a lot of addresses stored in my head from writing so many routines (in assembler and rexx) that chain through storage. When people asked me to explain what "psa = 0x" or "cvt=storage(10,4)" meant it rarely went well. Apart from one time where I think I convinced someone that the 10,4 was stolen from CB radio.
Working as a java programmer on linux makes all that irrelevant. But I still have my System/370 XA Reference Summary from 1984 in my desk.
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Old 8th July 2020, 08:43 AM   #31
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Originally Posted by Blue Bubble View Post
He visited my house in Heidelberg when we were being interviewed by a journalist/book author. It was around the time when The Cuckoo's EggWP by Clifford StollWP was published. I'll say no more on the subject (it's not difficult to discover my real name).


ETA: I feature in the book.
I remember the episode of a TV series covering the events. I think it was called Science Fiction and they took stories like the Cuckoo's Egg and the discovery of the hole in the ozone layer and semi-dramatized them. It's an absolute bugger to google though.

aha IMDB FTW link
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Old 8th July 2020, 08:57 AM   #32
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More "interface" than OS if we're being technical, but if you go back and use any GUI before... I dunno probably about 1985, 1990 or so they always have a simple "Point" interface, rarely a "Point and Click" or "Click and Drag" style interface.

I remember because in my earliest days of computing as a kid it seems like the industry wasn't sure if "Light Pens / Touch Screen" or "Mouse" was going to become the primary pointing device.
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Old 8th July 2020, 12:14 PM   #33
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Nobody else had the harrowing experience of trying to learn Commodore DOS? Eventually I gave it up and just used it as a games machine (for which it was excellent).

I also spent a whole lot of time making floppy book disks for each game that I wanted to play on my old 386-40 in the early-mid 1990s.
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Old 8th July 2020, 12:26 PM   #34
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Originally Posted by Brainster View Post
Nobody else had the harrowing experience of trying to learn Commodore DOS? Eventually I gave it up and just used it as a games machine (for which it was excellent).
In the early- to mid-80s I had an Apple II+ with CP/M on a Z80 card. I even had an 80-column card, but no shift key. I bought my first PC in the late 80s.

I know a lot of people had the C64, but I managed to miss it.
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Old 8th July 2020, 12:41 PM   #35
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Old 8th July 2020, 09:03 PM   #36
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Originally Posted by Brainster View Post
Nobody else had the harrowing experience of trying to learn Commodore DOS? Eventually I gave it up and just used it as a games machine (for which it was excellent).

DOS, then 6502 assembly (VIC 20). The 6502 instruction set was bare bones.
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Old 8th July 2020, 10:46 PM   #37
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Back in the early 1980s in college the primary system used by the Computer Analyst/Programmer course was an HP 3000 running MPE. While I remember very little of it now, I recall that as a student it was a nice system to work with.

In my first job I was working with IBM Series/1 systems running EDX (Event Driven Executive.) Its primary programming language was EDL. The S/1 was a very different beast from the System/32 (and /34, /36 and /38.) It was a multi-tasking and multi-user system right down to the hardware, but had no memory protection. A careless programmer could overwrite the operating system's storage and crash the whole machine. The funny thing about EDL was when I started writing programs in C, a lot of things I learned writing EDL nicely transferred over to C, such as the ability to refer to the same memory locations as string data, words, or doublewords if that was needed.

I recall one program I was working that had an extremely tight memory constraint because other programs loaded above it in the memory space. The partition size was 64K and could not be altered. We already had programs that bumped up against that, so I couldn't add even 256 bytes to the program I was working on. The change required I read in a sector from disk—a calamity because the minimum size of a disk buffer was 256 bytes, and to now the program hadn't needed to do that. So I rearranged some of the storage to put needed variables lower in memory and initialization variables higher. When it came time to read the 256 bytes from disk, I put them into a short buffer that overwrote both the initialization variables and the program's initialization code, right up to (but not including) the read instruction that I was executing.

Kids these days don't know how easy they got it.

By the way, even though IBM withdrew the Series/1 from marketing in the early 1990s the US military is still using them. They're part of the nuclear missile launch authorization system. Sleep well, everyone!
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Old 8th July 2020, 10:52 PM   #38
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This thread seems a good place to repost this for those who haven't seen it yet. I'm suspecting it will resonate with a few people.

The Story of Mel (originally posted to Usenet in 1983)

Quote:
A recent article devoted to the macho side of programming
made the bald and unvarnished statement:
Real Programmers write in FORTRAN.
Maybe they do now,
in this decadent era of
Lite beer, hand calculators, and “user-friendly” software
but back in the Good Old Days,
when the term “software” sounded funny
and Real Computers were made out of drums and vacuum tubes,
Real Programmers wrote in machine code.
Not FORTRAN. Not RATFOR. Not, even, assembly language.
Machine Code.
Raw, unadorned, inscrutable hexadecimal numbers.
Directly.

Lest a whole new generation of programmers
grow up in ignorance of this glorious past,
I feel duty-bound to describe,
as best I can through the generation gap,
how a Real Programmer wrote code.
I'll call him Mel,
because that was his name...
Read on at the link.
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Old 9th July 2020, 08:06 AM   #39
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Originally Posted by eerok View Post
Some years back there was a stink among geeks that MS had ripped off the BSD TP/IP stack for NT. Someone found some clear identification of BSD in a debug dump IIRC. This was never really contested, and of course this explains why the net on NT worked reasonably well.

It wouldn't surprise me if much of the working code in MS products has been stolen from Unix.
My understanding is that much of the original NT was derived from VMS, but I'm sure there was plenty of UNIX stuff in their also.
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Old 9th July 2020, 08:25 AM   #40
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Compiling the core

On early versions of Linux (I don't remember which core version introduced modular kernels), an annoying task was recompiling the kernel. The early versions had a monolithic kernel (loading it into memory at boot was an all or nothing proposition), and at that time nearly all hardware drivers were contained in the kernel, so distros usually came with a kernel containing drivers for every bit of hardware the kernel supported. You could free up a lot of system resources (PC's didn't have nearly as much memory then), by recompiling, from source, a kernel configured only for the hardware you actually had. This involved a configure script for which you had to respond yes or no for a long list of hardware devices and other options, after which the compile process would run, taking maybe as long as half an hour. Then you had to reconfigure your boot loader to offer the option of booting the new kernel, reboot, and hope it actually worked. You could (as you can now, but with many fewer bells and whistles) set up the bootloader with a little menu where you could select the kernel you wanted to boot, so if the new kernel didn't work, you could revert to the original). IIRC, you had to go through this process with each kernel upgraed, too. Somewhere around the turn of the century (maybe earlier), the modular kernel was introduced, which allowed you (or the installer for the distro) to configure the kernel to load only the hardware drivers you actually needed.
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