Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Tombs of Technology

I went through a lot of technology during my first 12 years years of PC ownership, where I iterated through computers every two years and constantly updated our voice and network connectivity. In 1995 we moved into our first house; after two years we had a basement full of accumulated techno-crap, which I cleaned up and out. I re-organized all the spare gear I kept in the dungeon into four storage tubs:

  • Computer cards and peripherals
  • A/C cords extension, and assorted gizmos like suicide strips 
  • Telephone and Ethernet supplies
  • Audio and Video

They labeled were with a sequence number and year, as in:

I thought I would be at adding them in the following years.  That didn't happen, which is a good thing. The reasons are subtle, but obvious in hindsight:

  • I had moved four times in the ten years of and after my first computer, but after 1995:
    • We lived in Stoneham 12 years, and 
    • We have been here in Kenmore for 15 years (and counting). 
  • We now call professionals to run new phone, network, and video drops.
  • Technology has stabilized and better packaged:
    • Our two year upgrade cycle of computers is now six+.
    • The gigabit Ethernet network I installed in 2007 is still running.
    • External connectivity via USB, HDMI, WiFi, and BT are (mostly) past their teething problems, and (usually) just work.
So I've still got the four cartons, but things go in and out of them far less often.  This may be first I've reached in that box for a coax cable since we moved here.

Of course, my office closet is several times the size of the one in Stoneham, and has everything from backup drives to (many) flavors of USB and other cables. Now if I could get it cleaned & organized …

… maybe there is a fifth tomb, the size of a small room.  Sigh.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Where No Drive Has Gone Before

When I started at Clarkson in 1978, they had a IBM System/360 65J. Announced in 1965, it was obsolete long before I laid on eyes on it, but it was far faster than anything I had touched, and best of all, it had video terminals with erasing backspaces.

Physically, the machine required five full size frames (hence the term "mainframe") for the CPU and 1 MB main (core) storage.  There were also frames for 3 MB of Large Core Storage, which was bigger but slower than the main storage. The IBM System/360 Installation Manual-Physical Planning runs 161 pages.

For disk storage, the S/360 had three IBM 2314 direct access storage facilities with eight online disk drives each. Each drive had 11 14" platters holding a total of 29.2 megabytes. With 24 drives (each the size of a commercial washer) across the 3 banks, the system had 699 megabytes online total.  (By the mid-1990s, that storage would fit on a fraction of a single Windows 95 5.25" hard disk.)

Now? CPU, memory, and disk drives are even smaller, to say the least:

Kingston 240 GB M.2 drive measuring 80 mm by 22 mm

The interesting thing is that these drives are small enough to fit in new places. Formerly, if one wanted to put better drive than an SDXC card on a single board Raspberry Pi, one had to use an external 2.5" drive with a USB cable; that's a tad smaller than a 2314 drive, but still annoying. 

But now, people such as Argon 40 are building quality cases for the Raspberry Pi 4b (compare the below to the plastic cases I used for Raspberry Pi 3b units).  The Argon 40 cases look great, act as large passive heat sinks, and have thermostatically controlled fans for when passive cooling isn't enough. Better still, they have added similar cases (and adapters for existing cases) that hide the M.2 drive away. 

On the right: An Argon One case exposing the bottom of the installed Raspberry Pi 4b 
On the Left: a simple base for the case (no drive)
In the Center: the Kingston M.2 drive from above installed in an expansion case base

Two Argon One cases, with & without
the higher expansion base for a M.2 drive

The Argon One expansion base uses a U-shaped USB3 connector
to make the electronic connection between the base and the case.

NoteClick on any of the photographs for a larger image. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

A Time To Cast Away …

I learned to ride a bike when I was nine years old, the spring before we moved from Cowlesville to Skaneateles.

My sister had gotten a new banana bike for her 11th birthday, and I got her old one as a hand-me-down: A green girl's Huffy with 20" Balloon Tires and training wheels that my father had painted blue and put a hand-cut top tube on to make it boys bike. I needed only a couple weeks to lose the training wheels.

In my teens, I took possession of another hand-me-down, a 3-three speed from my brother which was a little too tall for my diminutive height.

In 1982, I got my first new bike while living in Endicott NY, a Miyata ten speed racing bike. (Yes, it later shared garage space with our Mazda Miatas.) The highlight of that bike was in the summer of 1985 before I returned to Clarkson for my final tour of duty when I sold my car and put over 1500 miles on the bike. I also used it for commuting in Potsdam and Kingston.

After 20 years, we replaced the Miyata with a Trek hybrid. The Trek never got the heavier use of the Miyata, especially after it was supplemented by Schwinn Airdyne (upright) and Vision Fitness HRT 2200 (semi recumbent) stationary bikes. The Schwinn Airdyne didn't last; the HRT 2200 has, and is the bike which moved up to my office last summer.

The Trek has not been touched since The Before Time. Sadly, with my mobility/balance issues, which especially cause problems mounting and dismounting bicycles, this spring I decided the Trek has zero future with me. Yesterday, we sold it to Play It Again Sports for a pittance.

That makes me sad, but I am heartened because the HRT 2200 has gotten used this month; I've already beaten last year's total (and seven other years since 2004), and it's only early June.

Maybe there is an adult tricycle in my future. We'll see.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Everything Old is New Again

We're thinking of replacing our late-2015 27" iMacs with Mac Studios, which don't have monitors. While we could buy shiny new 4K-resolution monitors, it's overkill. 27" Retina iMacs by default run at only ~50% maximum resolution, and I wouldn't be able to see a thing at full resolution on an iMac or a new 4K monitor. And from my Mac Pro era (2008-2016) I have two 30" monitors with a full resolution which is about same as the default (50% resolution) of the iMacs. I'm writing this on of one them hooked to the iMac. I think this is an excellent intermediate and quite possibly permanent solution.

I just need to find my Webcam …

Dell Monitors fronting (and hiding) my 27" iMac
(The second monitor above is a 24" Dell monitor which has been the iMac's second monitor as well.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

I haven't heard that name in years …

I commonly write my name as "Drew Derbyshire", but for legal purposes my full name has always been "Andrew H. Derbyshire"; the former never has my middle initial, and the latter generally does. Unfortunately, people tend to shorten my birth name to "Andy", which my mother (and by extension, me) disliked. 

Thus, I've used "Drew" since August 1985; I switched when returning to Clarkson for my final undergraduate tour of duty. My login was "$AHD" or "ahd", but my email said I was "Drew Derbyshire", and people simply accepted it. Now, decades later, I still use "ahd" when I can, and there many people who have no idea where the user id comes from. 

(I just tell them "Automated Help Desk".)

Earlier in 1978 as a Clarkson College freshman, I was introduced to their System/360 model 65J; it was the first large machine I used. On it, I first learned the ancient incantations of IBM OS/360 and its Job Control Language (JCL). I extensively used OS and its spawn in my work well into the Drew era (1995 or so). OS Jobs run with JCL start with a JOB card; it has an account number, a jobname (often based on the account), and a 20 character field for the programmer's name and job description (printed on the green bar listing to keep it from becoming Little Listing Lost).

(Of course, when was last time you even saw green bar paper? But I digress …)

Meanwhile, I've written before about my muscle memory on computers. I'll go to do something on an old IBM host, Microsoft box, or UNIX system and I can't remember how. However, my fingers tell my brain to "Stop thinking … we are on the case". So my head listens to the stereo, and they summon the ancient incantation and bang it out.  Usually, it's right.

Lately, I've been playing with OS/MVS systems (the successor to OS/360), including writing jobs on it. Yesterday, I noticed my magic fingers had taken charge without bothering to tell me, as shown by the attached.

Simple batch JOB on my local copy of OS/MVS

When I looked at that job the last night, I realized my fingers were indeed trained to write OS JCL in the "Andrew H. Derbyshire" era. Well, that's what they still do, and who am I to argue?