BASIC My Dear Watson

I had missed David Brin’s Why Johnny can’t code way back in 2006. The main point is the lack of something like BASIC as a default program/learning tool included on every computer, as was the case for so long in the past. I can see how that could be a problem, leading to fewer kids gaining elementary knowledge of coding early. For my part, my first exposure to BASIC was on a friend’s Radio Shack computer in 1978. I somehow picked up a surprising amount without trying. Next I played with it on a similar computer someone my stepmother worked for had about 1982 – 1983. Might have seen it elsewhere, but don’t remember. Then I had a Radio Shack PC (Pocket Computer) I got for Christmas 1983, and it wasn’t good for much without using its abbreviated version of BASIC. For instance, using I instead of INPUT as part of its command set. 1K of bubble memory required being lean.

Somehow this was capped off by my ending up in Microsoft Visual Basic support, initially supporting VB3 and the final version of each of the DOS BASIC variants, then supporting each VB release through 6. At the end I was one of the two technical supervisors and ran the training.

In any event, it was in conjunction with seeing mention of Brin’s article above that I saw a pointer to Quite BASIC, and online answer the the lack he showcased. I didn’t dive into it, but thought it worth noting. I have kids who are liable to be interested in this sort of thing before you know it.

A Look Back At OS/2

This ends up being a look back at the entire history of the PC, to do it justice and give it context. Via Bill Quick, who used OS/2 more than I did: Half an operating system.

In my case, I had a friend who ran a BBS that gave me my first online experience, and he was an OS/2 fanatic and Microsoft detractor. One of the newsgroups he carried (or maybe it was a Fidonet group) was Team OS/2, for fans and users of the OS. This was int he lead up to the release of OS/2 Warp 3.0, which I went out and bought. That was just before Windows 95 released, after I’d been doing Microsoft Word support for nearly a year. After fifteen months in Word support, I moved to Visual Basic support, but not until I’d received pre-release training on Windows 95. I was blown away by 95, especially given the quality training and a degree of relatively inside insight into the OS.

I gleefully bought Warp and installed it on a 386 I was able to spare for the purpose. In retrospect, I was not sure this was entirely fair, as I installed 95 on a 486. I thought OS/2 was cool, and it installed without real issue, apart from duration. Thing is, it crashed readily. I was shocked it was so unstable, given the hype among the fanatics. By comparison, 95 was a rock. It took almost no time for me to abandon even playing around with OS/2, but I always felt that they could keep trying and it would be great to have the competition.

Some of the details in the article are news to me. Some are not. The heavy hand of the mainframe division of the company was always a factor in the PC division, and even more deadly when it came to OS/2. What a shame. I hadn’t realized, or at least hadn’t remembered, that there was ever any connection between Microsoft’s NT effort and OS/2, apart from competing. I know Microsoft spent what was a staggering sum at the time on developing NT from scratch, which paid off brilliantly.

Finally, it’s easy to look back more dispassionately on Microsoft, now that they remain big and powerful but are no long scarily “monopolistic” in the post-PC era.

Heal Thyself

Wow. I’d been meaning to post about other things, but now my main computer has died. Fascinating problem. Main problem being I’d rather not have to deal with it, and I can’t afford the cost of any replacement parts, or any parts or software required as a cascade effect.

The machine is a P4 3.2 GHz, 2 GB RAM, Intel D945GPM motherboard, running Windows Vista Ultimate. Yeah, I know. The last Windows I paid retail for before Vista was Windows Me. Guess you should all hope I don’t decide to buy a retail copy of Windows 8. Which is allegedly great, but looks silly to me. I built it, well, when Vista was the current release. Missed 7 by a couple years. Heck, has it really been that long? This would be like buying Windows 95 in 1996 and still running it in 2000. But seriously, never any problems with Vista, and that is not the issue here, apart from the inevitable requirement that it be “activated” or replaced.

The problem was the machine turned itself off, then would not turn on for more than a blip. Almost like an overheating problem. Or a power supply problem.

Fast forward to having troubleshot everything. I have a perfectly good power supply. I sure hope I have good hard drives, RAM and CPU. Looks like it’s the motherboard, but in a weird way.

The machine powers on if the 2×2 power cable is left unplugged. If it’s plugged in, over by the CPU where it’s supposed to go or the machine won’t turn on, the machine acts like it’s not plugged in. The power supply works correctly in an alternate environment. Resetting the CMOS and all that did no good.

It’s bizarre.

My preference would be for a direct, exact replacement, but D945GPM boards are unavailable. So at a minimum I need a board that will fit my CPU and RAM, will support SATA, and maybe all would go fine bringing it back up. I suspect I may really need a new hard drive, so the OS can start from scratch and all files on both existing drives will be accessible. Many but not all important ones are duplicated between the two drives in that machine, or are only on the secondary drive, added specifically to have room for files. Particularly pictures of the kids. Still, I’d rather not have to wipe the boot drive to get it back to reality.

The really unfortunate part is it’s the only computer in the house, or computer carcass, as most of them are, that uses SATA drives. I’d not thought of that as a problem with my backing up photos between drives on the same machine…. needing THAT MACHINE to read one of the drives. All our pictures before the last few months are also on another computer’s secondary drive. And that’s the other dead computer of the moment, with a bad boot drive that’s currently undergoing the most dire-looking chkdsk I have ever seen, while attached as a slave to a spare computer. That spare also has a backup of some of the pictures. What I really need is to make systematic use of a file server in the house, with appropriate redundancy/backup systems, and topped off with more systematic copying of selected pictures (and other important files, like taxes, which are on the motherboard-free computer and could be needed as we thrash out some issues) to cloud storage. Hey, I’d been thinking about it and tentatively planning! One of those things for when I had the money.

I am typing this on an old laptop someone gave me. It has XP Home and is functional. Or it was once I disabled as much as I could of Norton Security Suite. It’s one of those ones that came with no disks and if you need to restore, the OEM put all that in a special partition you can access at boot. Except… not. When I tried to do that, it prompted for the CD that came with the computer. Not. So it either stays the same, or it gets a new OS. If the latter, then it may become a Linux machine. Between that and a spare 1.6 GHz XP Pro machine that has almost no drive space (the one doing chkdsk on the rogue drive for hour after hour today), I kinda sorta can muddle through. It’s not fun, though. You get comfortable with the way things are. Indeed, the Vista box didn’t become my primary until my old Windows 2000 machine had problems I didn’t take the time to diagnose fully, but which probably meant hard drive failure.

In all this, I am paying for being a leading and ongoing economic indicator. I ran out of money in 2007, and some of it was smoke and mirrors before that. It’s gotten too little better, too slowly. What should be avocation to the point of vocation, spending on technology, is a huge luxury. It needs to change Real Soon Now. That I could believe in.

Something is Rank Here

This blog has been in Page Rank penalty for quite a while, making me even less inclined to post or upgrade than I might otherwise have been. I couldn’t figure out what I might have linked to get it down and keep it down so long.

Yesterday I found myself looking at some of the actual posts, since I didn’t think even the obsolete blogroll links could be a problem. Just a few posts back was one that linked to an article about malware causing a false accusation of something heinous, and I named that heinous thing with the two words it is known by, a normally innocent one followed by “the P word,” as well as repeatedly using the P word itself in my post.

Could that be it? Seems like a reasonable possibility. So I edited each instance of the P word to be spelled with a number replacing a letter, in hopes that would be enough. I may also update WordPress and the theme, but I’ll be watching to see what happens even with the one little change. If it’s stubborn, I’ll kill the post, which should not be necessary. It’s a good post and a good point about security.

Stay tuned. If I succeed, maybe you’ll see more here. Or I may go ahead and start a new tech blog as I’d been thinking I must.