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Another new guy...


CocoGuy
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Hello all -- another new guy here. As you can probably tell from my name, my first computer was a 16k TRS-80 Color Computer (aka "CoCo") in 1980 when I was 10 years old. By the next year, I'd piggybacked another 16k onto the motherboard and had taught myself BASIC. 6809 Assembly Language came a year after that as well as a 300 baud modem. That first computer was followed by a 64k Tandy CoCo 2 with dual 5 1/4" disk drive and then a CoCo 3. I briefly owned an Amstrad PC (the only time I've ever seen Amstrad in the USA), but ultimately moved into the 16-bit generation with the Amiga 500. In college, my education continued on the Zilog Z--80, Intel 8086, and Motorola 680X0 processors. I have used a bunch of platforms over the years including Altera and Xilinx EPLDs and FPGAs.

I recently retired as an electrical engineer, and over the years I have noticed how far removed from hardware computer education has come. I well remember the days of running a compiler, performance testing, and then writing Assembly Language to optimize the portions of code that were too slow (because the compilers were terrible or bug-ridden) on things like the TI TMS320C50 DSP. I think a lot of laziness has resulted from the exponential increase of compute and storage resources. Consequently, I think many bugs make it into products these days, and I worry about life critical systems being built on high-level technologies by people that don't understand the low-level fundamentals.

Favorite microprocessor: Motorola MC68B09E; Least favorite microprocessor: Intel 8086

Things I miss: HP RPN calculators, spiral-bound user manuals and comprehensive reference guides, block diagrams and detailed schematics, my trusty TI TTL Logic Data Book, Tektronix analog oscilloscopes

Things I don't miss: cassette tape storage, 150/300 baud communication and acoustic couplers, software-on-cartridge, generational incompatibilities

Edited by CocoGuy
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1 hour ago, CocoGuy said:

HP RPN calculators

My HP 48G is still running and my daily driver. I just retrieved it from my semi-abandoned office, where it sat unused for a year. Got it home and cleaned the battery corrosion out, and now it's back at my side at my home office.

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I had a 48GX, but apparently I sold it not long after I entered the workforce and my employer supplied calculators. I actually missed my HP-15C enough that I bought a SwissMicros DM15L from Switzerland a couple months ago. I had to do some mods internally to get the keyboard to feel more like an HP, but other than that, I think it's great. I also still have an HP-28S which I bought on Ebay a while ago.

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Welcome.  I hear the 6809 is indeed a slick processor.

I'm also watching the inherent resources sloppiness of production systems these days, with mixed feelings.  And yes, critical bugs in critical applications bothers me too.  Though, I do think that, in general, the lower you get into the software layers, the more well understood it all is -- including the bugs and their workarounds (this was always the case).

 

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30 minutes ago, rje said:

... Though, I do think that, in general, the lower you get into the software layers, the more well understood it all is -- including the bugs and their workarounds (this was always the case).

I don't disagree, although I do think there are plenty of software developers (maybe not true software engineers) out there that would like to be as abstracted as possible from hardware. Lately, it seems it is getting to the point that these same people practically consider virtualization/containerization as "low-level" when it is anything but. 🙂

Oh, and yes, the 6809 was a joy to work with, especially since it had the registers/instructions to do 16-bit math even though it was just an 8-bit processor.

Edited by CocoGuy
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Ah, my CS degree was as far from the hardware as it could get.  So, software engineering hasn't required meaty hardware knowledge since before 1987.  Sure we took 8086 assembly... one class... and digital logic... neither of which proved we learned anything about it.  I arguably learned more about hardware and assembly language during my high school years, by playing with Jim Butterfield's assembly language monitor for the C64.

Software engineers in my neck of the woods indeed never look at hardware.  They're at about the level our comp sci professors taught at: abstracted from the hardware.  We talk about loose coupling, data encapsulation, high cohesion, containers, inversion of control, builders...

...We don't use addresses... we don't handle pointers... we use garbage collectors...

...well OK, sure, the whole point of software engineering is that there's nothing another layer of indirection can't solve (except too many layers of indirection).  The kind of nerds I work with reached that point-of-which-you-speak around the time of the dotcom bust.

But... well the most fun I had at any job was two years ago when we were doing IoT.  I soldered pin headers to sensors and then wrote the control code.  OK OK yes the control code was in Python and Perl, but I soldered things to other things, and actually used resistors as part of my job.  It was so cool!!

Now my current job is back to the usual abstraction, but that's okay.  I have my memories.

Edited by rje
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34 minutes ago, rje said:

...But... well the most fun I had at any job was two years ago when we were doing IoT.  I soldered pin headers to sensors and then wrote the control code.  OK OK yes the control code was in Python and Perl, but I soldered things to other things, and actually used resistors as part of my job.  It was so cool!!

Now my current job is back to the usual abstraction, but that's okay.  I have my memories.

You reminded me of a story... I spent the first 12 years of my career doing digital design as well as writing all the low level code for our designs. That was true for everyone in my office. Later as we scaled up production, we ultimately had to cave and hire a small team of software engineers to handle things like GUIs (what? No command line??) and interfaces to systems/infrastructure outside of our control.

Up to that point, C was about as high level as we EEs got, but these fellows showed up wanting to use this new, cool language called Java. We all hissed and shook or heads, but they forged ahead and got something working. Unfortunately, it only worked about a fifth of the speed it needed to. Sometimes it's best NOT to use the latest and greatest. Java was a total pig at that time. LOL

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I remember the emergence of Java.  And Java is still a heavy language.  But, there are even more piggy languages out there.  So sloppy.

However, I cannot honestly diss Java; it kept my career alive for the past 20+ years.

And, also honestly, I do appreciate interpreted/bytecode languages.

But yeah, C rocks.  I’m writing my current X16 game in C, and that makes me happy.

Edited by rje
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