These pages follow my interest and work in technology in the last 30 years.
It's a mix of critique, cool looking shit, elegant beauty and awfulness.
Science and tech is a cultural practice, and I also make things (art and
automobiles, elsewhere on this site). I have no interest in boundaries between
disciplines, it's all one big practice to me.
This document is loosely broken out into before, and after. The internet of
course. Pre- and post- matter because of how people worked, collaborated, and
communicated radically changed, before and after.
Bad links, old data, and meaning
29 feb 2020
Keep in mind some of these documents pre-date the internet, or are from the
earliest years thereof. The current permutation of the intertubes ("it's not a
big truck!") believes itself to be, acts as if it is, an idealized seamless
fabric of links. A perfection not yet realized? Or a self-defeating delusion
maintained by a deluded culture? YOU DECIDE. Old documents with dead links
spoil the illusion, and sites with bad links are punished by the search engines
to enforce the fantasy.
Documents from 20+ years ago are from a world that no longer exists. What to
do with their old, bad links? Yes yes yes, they're errors, obviously. But they
collectively refer to the inter-linking of their time, and even bad links are
meaningful within that localized reality. Do we delete old movies or books
because they contain outmoded ideas or relationships? Yes, if it's science and
technology; no, if you are studying culture and human interactions or writing histories.
Of course most dead links I simply fix. But for ones I deem "historic" (run
your own damn website!) my solution is to textually "damage" URLs so that
search engines and browsers don't recognize them, and knock my already dubious
standing amongst the SEO set, but allow people reading the document to see what
the link intended. Usually this means simply removing the anchors and
enclosures. It's a bit ugly but integrity is preserved. Also I'm lazy, and it's
Before the internet, science and tech was practiced more or less within
closed cultures, and documents and lore and all that were sealed within. It's
still difficult to find old contemporary information, now. Things pre-net
generally aren't documented except occasionally historically, which is
completely different from contemporary views. That's what makes it so
interesting to me.
Electron tube database,
1958-1961 An indexed database of vacuum tube
catalogs. I suppose the data is useful if you're working on old
stuff, but mainly the catalogs are beautiful. Some 2000
devices are indexed, but entire catalogs are rendered as color
images of reasonable resolution. These devices were once
bleeding-edge technology, in exotic metals and glass.
COMPUTING MACHINERY AND
INTELLIGENCE by Alan Turing: I propose to
consider the question, "Can machines think?" This should begin
with definitions of the meaning of the terms "machine" and
"think." The definitions might be framed so as to reflect so
far as possible the normal use of the words, but this attitude
is dangerous, If the meaning of the words "machine" and "think"
are to be found by examining how they are commonly used it is
difficult to ...
On holy wars and a plea for
peace Embedded in this now-arcane discussion
of bit, byte, and word ordering within computers and
communication links are insights the author makes further on.
Skim the nerdly parts if you like, and enjoy a taste of some
lovely cultural discourse from a time gone by.
Programmers Don't Use PascalWritten as
sarcasm but ends up endorsing macho programmer culture. A
letter to the editor of Datamation, volume 29 number 7, July
1983. I've long ago lost my dog-eared photocopy, but I believe
this was written (and is copyright) by Ed Post, Graphic
Software Systems, Wilsonville OR USA. The story of Mel is a
related article. Programming has had it's bro problem for some
Mel the Programmer
Though this was written in the 1980's, the LGP-30 was a vacuum
tube machine from the late 1950's. Turns out that Mel is Mel
Kaye, a real person, who wrote the software libraries for the
LPG-30 and LGP-21, and is a macho programmer of the canonical
sort, self-modifying code, obscure, secretive,
anti-documentarian. I have his signature on some LGP
documentation. His code is tight, fast, absolutely unreadable
and absolutely unportable. The requirements of "optimum coding"
of serial drum memory machines and primitive tools made clarity
Classic Computer Scams: World
Power Systems, Inc. In 1979 an outfit calling
itself "World Power Systems, Inc." appeared in the pages of
BYTE magazine, selling products just a bit too wonderful to be
true. Alas, they were scam artists, taking people's money and
sending nothing in return. In the early 90's I stole their name
for my website.
BEFORE: DISPLAY TECHNOLOGIES AND METHODS
Burroughs Corp. Nixie and
Panaplex application notes While there's
sufficient information in the net and elsewhere to light up
Nixies and make them work (see my Nixie datasheets) as far as
subtleties go (off-cathode leakage, ionization time vs.
multiplexing, the reason for the funny digit stacking order)
there's little informatin out there. But here are a few useful
Burroughs Application Notes.
the Charactron display
device The Charactron was a special-purpose
electron tube, was a peculiar device with a brief life, but
appears to have been an important fulcrum of sorts in the
history of computer graphics and art.
Army Tactical Operations Central
(ARTOC) information system This talks about
an amazing brute-force approach to what is essentially a
real-time tactical multimedia system ... in 1961. I doubt it
ever worked but I bet it was expensive. My favorite line from
the article: ("hundred million bit disk file... each housed in
a 2-1/2 ton utility truck"). A 2.5 ton USB stick.
BEFORE: INFORMATION COMMUNICATION
An annotated history of some
character codesThis is a fairly comprehensive
and technically thorough discussion/dissection of serial
character codes, aka ASCII, ECMA6, Fieldata, ITA2, and others.
It was ambitions HTML in 1999, too.
Bits, Bauds, &
Modulation ratesThe scheme by which data is
sent serially over a single wire. First used mid-19th century,
still true today for asynchronous serial links. Mark and space
Number and character
representation within computers How is a
number (quantity) represented, stored in memory, or sent via
some communications protocol? There is no "real" or "right"
way. When you have the concept in your head of "one hundred and
twenty three", how you express that is utterly independent from
the concept. Arabic or roman digits, 123 small stones, etc. The
concept of a quantity is utterly independent of it's
Paper tape Paper
tape is a data storage medium from a past century. It's
roots are in mid-19th-century telegraphy. It's physically
lovely tangible media.
magnetic tape for data
storageOnce universal, now forgotten, storing
digital data (not analog sound) on magnetic tape is pretty much
a lost art. I like magtape for its physicality (only; it's
awful in practice). A small reel of half-inch tape typically
holds 10 megabytes, for an approximate sense of working with
Data General NOVA4 As if
I had nothing else to do, I dragged home this complete 1980's
minicomputer system, a data-logger for an oil refinery, and
abandoned 20 years before, and made it work. You could today
(sic) easily replaces it's 2000 lbs, 5000 watts of waste heat
with a Raspberry Pi.
Machine Meh. I did this paper design during
the year I was working in San Francisco, while Josh was in law
school. I didn't have any way to work on anything physical so I
did this paper design. It will never get built of course.
BEFORE: NICE TO LOOK AT OLD TECHNOLOGY
Photos from the Ivall
book. Scans of select pages from "Electronic
Computers" by T. E. Ivall, 1956. Published by The Philosophical
Library (London, NYC).
V-45 Digital VoltmeterOne of the earliest
digital voltmeters ever made; circa 1960. It's lovely and makes
great sounds, and has a beautiful display. 4 digit resolution,
0.01%, +/- 1 digit accuracy. 26 transistors, 4 telephone
steppers, 10 steps/sec. rack mount, 19"x5.25"x16", approx. 15
General Radio Model
723c Electronic Fork This lovely device is an
electronic frequency standard dating from the 1940's or early
1950's, a large tuning fork with a vacuum tube amplifier, and
electromagnetic transducers to drive the fork. It outputs a
nice sinusoidal voltage; a side affect is the constant, and
substantial, singing of the tuning fork in it's Micarta and
Various fine instruments of
the past Teletype Model 28 Teletypewriter. A
mainstay of communications for a generation, the model 28 is a
genuine Brick Shithouse. Built into a hefty grey-wrinkle
cabinet that sits on the floor, a fantastically complex,
utterly reliable purely mechanical device.
BEFORE: COLD WAR
The Black Hole of Los
Alamos Ed Grothus' Black Hole, aka Los Alamos
Sales Co. nominally sells what he calls "nuclear waste" --
surplus from the infamous Los Alamos National Laboratory, home
of the Manhattan Project in the 1940's, and of even
less-reputable horrors in the decades that followed.
Civil Defense film
strips Below are some representative images
from some Civil-Defense 35mm film strips I purchased from
Xerxes Books' 'atomic ephemera' list around 2000 or so.
Content-wise these filmstrips are utterly predicatable --
fallout, basics of radiation dosage, radiacs, decontamination,
shelters, etc, ad nauseum. The graphical style is pretty nice
though, typical of the era. Unfortunately the quality of the
images here suffer f...
SatelliteA 45 RPM LP-sized "record" (grooved
plastic disc) containing audio recordings of the Soviet Sputnik
sattelite circling the earth. The recording was made by a radio
amateur. It's hard to grok now just how alarming this event
was to Americans. Audio and images.
updated 08 feb 2020
Things of or pertaining to tech, science and culture after the start of the
internet. My Fido/FidoNet stuff is here even though it is not
strictly-speaking internet related, it overlapped the internet's early
commercial deployment, and was a parallel cultural response.
There are many things missing here I will be restoring after I finish
Carbon Dioxide Camp
Our Burning Man camp, often a theme camp, semi-organized from 2005 through 2010,
was a great time, then we were done!
The standard for RS232 I
think this is the very first document that I put on a
webserver, in 1993. I swiped it from
http://unix1.hials.no/~aoy/home_uk.html. it was so damn useful
I was afraid it might disappear (lol). Finding this document was one
of the things that made me consider that the web might actually
1994 online "toilet cam"
hoax In 1994 I put up this fake toilet camera
web page, to poke fun at the idiotic cameras-on-coffee-pots and
other net.nonsense that was all the rage then -- it backfired.
People took it seriously, and TIME magazine gave it an
anonymous mention in an article about the horrors of the
new-fangled internet ("we're doomed!") (OK, they were right.)
AFTER: FIDO/FIDONET, WPS, LITTLE GARDEN/TLGNET
Fido and FidoNet
Historiographic fodder for a history of FidoNet, the world's largest
ever amateur computer network. Predates the (accessible) internet.
I wrote the code and deployed it for a few years.
The Little Garden, TLGnet,
Inc. From 1992 until it was sold in 1996 I
ran an internet service provider (ISP) called The Little
Garden, later TLGnet, Inc. I had four other partners of varying
degrees of involvement. TLG started in 1992 as a "share" of a
then-arcane and expensive internet connection between three
pioneer businesses; more detail is available here.
ohm's law is easy
If you think you want to work with electronics you need to
learn Ohm's Law. It's easy, it's just a proportion. Without it
you can't do shit, and you will ruin all your LEDs, be
mystified by resistors burning up. It's all quite easy. Stop
resisting (no pun intended, but I'll take it.)
Circuit building: stop
using antique parts!The time to use
Darlington-configured power transistors is never. There's
nothing good about them. If you have a drawer full of them,
seriously, throw them out. MOSFETs are trivially easy to use.
Control 100 amperes with an Arduino pin and no heatsink or
weird base current. TIP120? why not use a 6L6? At least those