Tag Archives: DECUS

Odd-numbered Bits

The Leap-launch of the 64-bit Raspberry Pi 3 yesterday set me thinking: if I’d been born 4 years later, my life it bits could have been very different. I might have been in at the start of the PC revolution and progressed  through the 8, 16, 32 and 64 bit Intel architectures with everyone else. I’d be one of those people who considers Windows PCs to be Real Computers. I find that concept hard to grasp.

I actually used 24 and 36 bit computers at university and started work on a 32-bit, virtual memory machine. We got free software from other people like us, via the DECUS library.  I’ve never had to worry about allocation of physical memory, like some kind of primitive savage. Since the mid-80s, I’ve been waiting for the world to realise that they took a wrong turn and I finally think it might be happening.

Free software happened. Real Operating Systems became available for ‘desktop computers’ (so we could shove them under the desk and stop worrying about regular access to the reboot button.) We got always-on Internet access and now we’re starting to think about parallel processing and functional programming again, like we were in the 80s. If I had the chance to choose a time to start computing, it would be now, at the age of 6.

We were worrying about nuclear annihilation, over-population and running out of fossil fuels then too. Maybe we’ll remember those soon too, now our houses are full of stuff.

“What did the capitalist dream ever do for you Grandad?”

“It wasted my precious time, Best Beloved.”
(sweet because stolen from that nice Mr. Kipling)

….and maybe Mr. Dylan:

“I ain’t a-saying you treated me unkind
You could have done better but I don’t mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don’t think twice, it’s all right.”

20 Years Since Historic Brum Linux Event – ‘A storm was coming’

I did some Twitts this morning:

“The history of Welsh computing: Inmos Transputer, Raspberry Pi. Impressive. Whatever happened to parallel processing? Or druids.”

[At this point I did a search to check ‘David’ Cox’s name]

“…I should probably have included Alan Cox’s networking contributions to the Linux kernel in between those two.”

“… At least I now know what happened to one of the druids.”

[When I saw the photos, I thought 2 of them were a young RMS ]

“…I just learned that Alan Cox comes from Solihull, which may explain why I think I may have met him at the first Linux event I ever attended”

[Then I went back to the search Window and found this link]

“…Isn’t The Internet good? This meeting!

[18th September but which year: 1994? The first release of the kernel was in 1991.
but http://www.ukuug.org/about/timeline/
shows MH was UKUUG newsletter editor 1995-6.
Are we approaching 20 years of Linux (or “Free Unix”) in Birmingham?]

Yes kids, my first Linux distro was Lasermoon. Martin Houston also wrote the magazine article that caused me to be there and started SBLUG.”

Martin Houston was a quiet, unassuming programmer who first brought Linux to the attention of me and probably most people in Britain who’d heard of it at that point. He was “the organiser” of the UK  Unix User Group Linux SIG. I think his article in one of the DEC magazines was the first time I ever saw Linux mentioned and this meeting was at DEC’s office on the Birmingham Business Park, organised by the DEC User Society, DECUS. They must have been trying hard to recover from Ken Olsen’s accusation that Unix was snake-oil.

Soon afterwards I went to either the first or second meeting of the South Birmingham Linux User Group. Martin understood the importance of marketing and coined the phrase “A storm is coming and its name is Linux” which,  for 1994, showed remarkable foresight and possibly misplaced confidence. A few years later, Martin turned up at Powergen in Coventry as a contract programmer but I haven’t heard of him since.

I remember that the demonstration of a Linux installation on a “portable PC” (they didn’t fit on your lap then) by Colin Bruce of Coventry University involved floppy disks and a parallel port network adapter (‘portables’ didn’t have a network connection. What do you think this was, The Future?)

And yes, Linux kernel hacker Alan Cox, famously Welsh, is a Brummie.