Electronics Barn closing

From: Scott Stevens <sastevens_at_earthlink.net>
Date: Tue Aug 3 23:10:55 2004

On Tue, 3 Aug 2004 02:19:24 +0200 (MEST)
"Fred N. van Kempen" <waltje_at_pdp11.nl> wrote:

> On Mon, 2 Aug 2004, Tony Duell wrote:
> > Alas not over here. The common attidude seems to be 'Why bother to
> > program when you can download it from the net' (whether it's PD/open
> > source stuff, or 'Warez').
> Very true.
> > In fact over here kids rarely seem to create anything much any more,
> > and I can't say I really blame them (note, this is not the same as
> > saying that I am not worried by this). You do not get a well-paid
> > job (or even a job at all) by being able to program, or do
> > engineering, or... You get one by being able ot kick a football or
> > strum a guitar badly.
> I'd like to insert ".. or do The Talk well enough for a sales job".
> Sales is doing well now, since the harder the times get, the better
> they pay (good) sales people.

Sadly, I find myself surrounded in professional life by a lot of people
who don't do anything dramatic or non-standard at all, but thrive on
conforming. They don't play a guitar or kick a football. But they got
through school well, and with high marks, by knowing the right answers
to give, the proper hoops to leap through to attain approval and high
marks, etc. In professional life they are highly rewarded for sitting
through meetings politely, knowing how to 'work well on a team' in
gantt-chart directed efforts toward developing mediocre products driven
by mainstream trends.

There isn't room anymore in such circles for generalists, for people who
ask 'why' at inappropriate times in the meetings, nor for people who
want to understand the whole machine. It's hard as hell to get the
total picture, or even a good deep approximation, of how a 'current' PC
works, for instance. Going back to my first exposure to computers, on
HP Timesharing systems in the mid 70's running BASIC programs, I wanted
to know what was 'under the hood.'

There was a period, in the 80's when it was almost possible to get all
the docs, the era when the IBM Technical Reference manuals had
schematics and the complete commented source code for the BIOS chip
contents, the era when they printed the schematics right in the manual
for the Commodore 64. It used to be able to troubleshoot and repair
about any clone 8088-XT motherboard, from the schematic that was
included in one of the little manuals that came with MBs then (the days
of the TRUE clones, when every Taiwanese motherboard was based on one
knockoff copy of the IBM original, down to the part numbers and layout
of the TTL chips)

Those days are long gone, though. I've got a BUNCH of books and
reference materials, i.e. the Mindstorm book series up to the Pentium
and the PCI bus, but the tech rolls ever forward, and people look at you
funny when you raise questions about punch through abstraction layers
like the APIs to talk to a USB device to wrangle the actual bits in

And it's not really that interesting anymore to know how a PC works.
It's such a piled-on design, more fit for study by anthropologists
studying the engineering culture of compromise and
lowest-common-denominator design than anybody with an appreciation of
technical excellence.
Received on Tue Aug 03 2004 - 23:10:55 BST

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