Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 2nd Jun 2016 20:41 UTC
Hardware, Embedded Systems

This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of a home computer built and operated more than a decade before 'official' home computers arrived on the scene. Yes, before the 'trinity' of the Apple II, the Commodore PET and the Radio Shack TRS-80 - all introduced in 1977 - Jim Sutherland, a quiet engineer and family man in Pittsburgh, was building a computer system on his own for his family. Sutherland configured this new computer system to control many aspects of his home with his wife and children as active users. It truly was a home computer - that is, the house itself was part of the computer and its use was integrated into the family's daily routines.

"It is not easy to be a pioneer - but oh, it is fascinating! I would not trade one moment, even the worst moment, for all the riches in the world." (Elizabeth Blackwell).

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precisely predictable
by fabrica64 on Thu 2nd Jun 2016 22:05 UTC
fabrica64
Member since:
2013-09-19

Jim Sutherland's wife Ruth got to the point:
"Therefore, one source of frustration to the homemaker is relieved because she is working with a device that is always precisely predictable."
That's why there will never be any real creativity from a computer, just repeating what it is being told to do = no A.I., at least not the creative and independently judging part.

Reply Score: 1

Counting is hard
by boudewijn on Thu 2nd Jun 2016 22:07 UTC
boudewijn
Member since:
2006-03-05

Especially when it comes to years. Here's a quote:

" Formatting changes and page numbers could be automatically added to printed documents and, in 1975, ECHO IV was used to format a 516-page scholarly book on post-Revolutionary War land grant surveys. Here again is Gibson’s ‘unevenly distributed’ future – it would be decades before people would be doing word processing at home on their own computer."

Decades? _Decades_? Decades from 1975 would be, like 2010 or so, multiple amounts of ten years. In fact, in 1975, word processing was common, just read Pournelle's Chaos Manor column in Byte. In 1982, seven years after 1975, we had the ZX Spectrum, and there was word processing software for it. And it was late to the game, but that was the computer I used back then.

Reply Score: 4

RE: Counting is hard
by daedalus on Fri 3rd Jun 2016 08:04 UTC in reply to "Counting is hard"
daedalus Member since:
2011-01-14

Yes, there were home word processors for most 8-bits. The BBC Micro even had one baked into ROM. But could they process a 516 page document? It was probably the late '80s / early '90s before home computers were doing that sort of thing. Still pushing it to call it "decades", but makes a little bit more sense to think about it that way.

Reply Score: 3

RE: Counting is hard
by jal_ on Fri 3rd Jun 2016 08:50 UTC in reply to "Counting is hard"
jal_ Member since:
2006-11-02

Decades? _Decades_? Decades from 1975 would be, like 2010 or so, multiple amounts of ten years.

The ECHO IV was operational in 1966, not '75.

In fact, in 1975, word processing was common, just read Pournelle's Chaos Manor column in Byte. In 1982, seven years after 1975, we had the ZX Spectrum, and there was word processing software for it. And it was late to the game, but that was the computer I used back then.

I'm not sure what you're getting at. Are you really claiming that in 1975, before even the PET and ilk, word processing at home was common??

According to Wikipedia, in 1984 8.2% of all US households owned a home computer. Even if all these people used it for word processing (which I'm sure they didn't), that's still not "common". I don't think word processing at home was common before the late 80s, early 90s, when many people owned either a PC or an Apple computer.

Reply Score: 4

RE[2]: Counting is hard
by bosco_bearbank on Fri 3rd Jun 2016 11:12 UTC in reply to "RE: Counting is hard"
bosco_bearbank Member since:
2005-10-12

... in 1984 8.2% of all US households owned a home computer. Even if all these people used it for word processing ...

I bought my home computer, a Basis 108 (Apple II clone with onboard Z-80 card) in 1982. Used to run Wordstar on it, but never tried to deal with a 500+ page document.

Reply Score: 2

RE[2]: Counting is hard
by kryogenix on Sun 5th Jun 2016 18:34 UTC in reply to "RE: Counting is hard"
kryogenix Member since:
2008-01-06



According to Wikipedia, in 1984 8.2% of all US households owned a home computer. Even if all these people used it for word processing (which I'm sure they didn't), that's still not "common". I don't think word processing at home was common before the late 80s, early 90s, when many people owned either a PC or an Apple computer.


WordStar was common on expensive CP/M machines is the late 70's and through the early 80's. A lot of people bought CP/M boxes specifically for spreadsheets, word processing, database apps, etc. Before the PC took over, CP/M machines were basically the only game in town for serious business software. That's why the Microsoft Z80 cards for the Apple II sold so well.

In the early 80's, my family had an Atari 800 and did use them for word processing, BBSing, etc. By the mid-80's they had Atari ST's and used the hell out of them for everything from graphics work, word processing, and even serious GUI-based desktop publishing.

My grandfather wrote an entire book using WordStar on a KayPro II.

Believe it or not, the 8 and 16-bit machines were serious computers that could be used for real work if you got a decent one. Toys like the ZX81, Spectrum and Coleco Adam don't count.

I had friends that even did real work on a C64 but the floppy drives were very slow and painful, the OS sucked and the CPU was much slower than my Atari.

Reply Score: 2

RE: Counting is hard
by dionicio on Sat 4th Jun 2016 01:29 UTC in reply to "Counting is hard"
dionicio Member since:
2006-07-12

" just read Pournelle's Chaos Manor column in Byte" The old Jerry. Thanks for calling the memories, boudewijn.

At X aniversary they brought biggest IT minds [on line!] to chat about future. Read and smile, interminably.

Reply Score: 2

Distribution of Technology
by Alfman on Thu 2nd Jun 2016 22:28 UTC
Alfman
Member since:
2011-01-28

It's amazing that today, anyone with a little skill can build better things out of a raspberry pi. But back then having access to industrial process control computers would have made you very special indeed ;) You'd quite literally be one in a million.


The adventurer in me feels like the unexplored is so much more intriguing than the explored, which is why in spite of the obvious evolutionary technological progress since the then, sometimes I can't help but feel that technology must have been more exhilarating & revolutionary for earlier pioneers than it is for us. Even today's billionaire space programs are retracing the footsteps of space pioneers from decades ago.

I'm curious if anyone else feels the same way?

Reply Score: 1

RE: Distribution of Technology
by jal_ on Fri 3rd Jun 2016 08:50 UTC in reply to "Distribution of Technology"
jal_ Member since:
2006-11-02

You'd quite literally be one in a million.

I'm sure you were more like one in 5 billion ;) .

Also, yes, I think I've been born too late. In the 80s I was still a child, and computers today are hardly anything to get excited about.

Edited 2016-06-03 08:51 UTC

Reply Score: 2

DeepThought Member since:
2010-07-17

Also, yes, I think I've been born too late. In the 80s I was still a child, and computers today are hardly anything to get excited about.


That's why I work in the embedded business. From time to time there are nice thinks on my desk like the Xilinx MPSoC+ :-) Brings back the old hacker feelings *sniff*

Reply Score: 1

RE[3]: Distribution of Technology
by jal_ on Fri 3rd Jun 2016 10:20 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Distribution of Technology"
jal_ Member since:
2006-11-02

Yeah, I've been making a simple RISC CPU + graphics chip in an FPGA, so I can have back the "oldskool feeling".

Reply Score: 2

RE: Distribution of Technology
by dionicio on Sat 4th Jun 2016 02:17 UTC in reply to "Distribution of Technology"
dionicio Member since:
2006-07-12

"Even today's billionaire space programs are retracing the footsteps of space pioneers from decades ago."

But Space Programs are really order of magnitude better in most aspects than former. Settling for Moon by Now is an act of humility, of intergenerational and international thinking, -financially believing on long term planning.

True pioneers at better & cheaper access, stricter Science, entrepreneurship, participation, sharing, companion, heartfelt motifs.

The new generation of Space Explorers is not chasing a dream, but a future.

.....

Back at IT ranch, possibilities are thousand times those of Jim Sutherland. Now we can start on five bucks, as a first example. The better, could try not to mix big money with personal motifs.

Reply Score: 2

RE[2]: Distribution of Technology
by dionicio on Sat 4th Jun 2016 02:45 UTC in reply to "RE: Distribution of Technology"
dionicio Member since:
2006-07-12

A 3KW Stereo Control Panel!

What's a 'Stereo'? To begin with, youngsters could ask.

Reply Score: 4

RE[2]: Distribution of Technology
by dionicio on Sat 4th Jun 2016 21:34 UTC in reply to "RE: Distribution of Technology"
dionicio Member since:
2006-07-12

"I see this as a way of democratizing space; we're trying to make it accessible to as many people as we can," McComas said. "We want to give back and spread our knowledge to these students. You can talk theory all you want, but when you have something like this that is tangible, it captivates the students' attention and they want to learn more."

http://phys.org/news/2016-06-students-nasa-satellites.html

These are our new Pioneers.

Reply Score: 2

No more "small man's revolutions"
by DeepThought on Fri 3rd Jun 2016 07:21 UTC
DeepThought
Member since:
2010-07-17

I honestly feel sorry for the youngsters today. There is practically no more revolutions a 14 year old can take part.
Sure they can get hands on an Arduino (clone) and dive into it. But there is no more reason since the development environment just hides the "ugly" things.
I am glad, I was born just right to be part of the computer/electronics revolution and I wouldn't like to miss even the hard moments.

Reply Score: 1

jal_ Member since:
2006-11-02

My children are scratching their head when I tell them I used to put together a computer by plugging cards into a mother board.

Reply Score: 3

DeepThought Member since:
2010-07-17

My children are scratching their head when I tell them I used to put together a computer by plugging cards into a mother board.


I guess even the wording makes them wonder. :-)
Cards ? Mother board ?

Reply Score: 1

feamatar Member since:
2014-02-25

Some people did that, some people had a C64 or an Amiga and laughed how lame are PCs.

I put together my first complete PC in 2014. I did not bother with the notebook screen replacement this year, but I saw the guy doing that, and maybe I will try next time I get a broken one.

The opportunity was and is always there, the question is whether you live with it.

Reply Score: 1

Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

feamatar,

I put together my first complete PC in 2014. I did not bother with the notebook screen replacement this year, but I saw the guy doing that, and maybe I will try next time I get a broken one.


Yes, some of us like doing this, it's just not what I'd call pioneering. It's the difference between designing and building something oneself versus merely assembling it as an end user.

Funny thing is because I'm an IT guy, friends and family come to me to fix their computers, even though it has very little to do with my IT skills. Once I fixed a laptop by soldering a new component onto a mainboard. Another time I fixed a power supply. I get the "yay, it works" feeling, but to the people who brought me the computers, it was a "meh" since I merely met their expectations.

Reply Score: 2

feamatar Member since:
2014-02-25

My comment was going more to DeepThought and jal, that there is no more revolution in hardware and that in the past people had to tinker, which for the most part are not true.

Reply Score: 1

dionicio Member since:
2006-07-12

Just diverge out of the ways and see new horizons. One man' horizons.

Reply Score: 2

feamatar Member since:
2014-02-25

we just had the drone revolution, home robotics was never as cool as now.

Reply Score: 2

DeepThought Member since:
2010-07-17

we just had the drone revolution, home robotics was never as cool as now.


But who really programs drones? Besides the ones that sell them.
Years ago my colleague build one and did all the control logic (gear, tilt, speed etc) himself. But even for the motor control he bought a pre-build PCB with an ATmega on it.

Reply Score: 1

feamatar Member since:
2014-02-25

The opportunity is there. It is not different then 10, 20 or 30 years ago. When I was a child in the 90s in rural Hungary, I got a C64, and it was no different than buying a boy a phone today. If there is no help from books and people you won't get further than LOAD''*'',8,1 . And what is different in your friend choice in using a prebuilt PCB compared to building an Altair 8800, but use someone elses BASIC interpreter for that? At some point we all start reusing existing components.

Reply Score: 2

tylerdurden Member since:
2009-03-17

Well, maybe you should feel sorry for yourself for missing the revolutions that are happening right now and will surely continue to happen.

Reply Score: 2

total PITA
by unclefester on Sat 4th Jun 2016 08:58 UTC
unclefester
Member since:
2007-01-13

Having some personal experience using teletype terminals on minicomputers I would imagine that the user experience would have been been quite painful. Why anon-geek would want to use one totally baffles me. The simplest task, such as writing a letter or balancing a cheque book, would be harder and much slower than doing it manually. Just turning on the computer would have been a minor ordeal.

Edited 2016-06-04 09:03 UTC

Reply Score: 2

RE: total PITA
by dionicio on Sun 5th Jun 2016 13:04 UTC in reply to "total PITA"
dionicio Member since:
2006-07-12

"The simplest task, such as writing a letter or balancing a cheque book, would be harder and much slower than doing it manually"

The 'ordinateur': From concept, a machine for Batch Tasks.

Reply Score: 2

ECHO Technology bought!!
by cjcox on Mon 6th Jun 2016 18:09 UTC
cjcox
Member since:
2006-12-21

I think I heard that the Nest division of Alphabet had acquired the ECHO IV technology for an undisclosed sum...

Reply Score: 1