Paw Prints: Writings of the maddog

Jon
Bell Systems Technical Journals Published

Oct 31, 2010 GMT

My friend Benjamin Scott send some email around today stating that Alcatel/Lucent had published all the old Bell System Technical Journals from 1922 to 1983 online and freely accessible. As Ben said:Bell Labs practically invented much of our recent civilization (communications theory, transistor, laser, microchip, Unix, the list goes on). The public switched telephone network, before the Internet came along, was probably the most complicated system in human existence. They documented a lot of it in these journals. Making them available like this is a huge boon to technology historians. My favorite Bell System Technical Journal (BSTJ, for short) was Volume 57.6, published in August of...
Eating Your Own Dogfood

Oct 31, 2010 GMT

 One of my favorite sayings has always been “You should eat your own dog food”. When applied to programming it quite simply means that you should use the code that you generate. I started saying this many years ago when I noticed that the Unix product managers at Digital Equipment Corporation were not using Unix in their day to day work. They had Microsoft Windows systems on their desktop, and would often go over to VMS to use “EDT” (the VMS text editor) for doing “real editing”. One product manager at a very high level even admitted to “hating Unix”, and when asked why they were the product manager of a product they hated said “Where else could I make this...
What if ITs all the same?

Oct 30, 2010 GMT

 Recently I was reading an article that was quoting Steve Jobs about how the Android phones from different manufacturers were all slightly different. He was pointing out that HTC and Motorola were putting on slightly different human interfaces and that this was crazy compared to his iPhone where all the phones were exactly the same. I started wondering what world Mr. Jobs lives in. Is it a world where every car is the same? Every house is the same? Do people shop around for different makes and models of things out of some type of twisted self-hate, or is it that people like to have choice in the way things look and work? As a software developer, I can appreciate the fact...
How much money for memory?

Oct 30, 2010 GMT

 Readers may have noticed that I have a theme lately regarding storage sizes, for example talking about disk drives and the TK50 tape drives. This was in anticipation of purchasing a new “laptop” computer, the first new one I have had in six years. More about that machine tomorrow. Recently I reached into the history museum of my mind and pulled out an old memory board from a VAX 11/780 that we used at Bell Laboratories in the time-frame of 1980. That VAX system used quarter- megabit integrated circuits on the memory boards for its main memory. Since the VAX used ECC correctable memory, it meant that each quarter megabyte of memory had eight chips for the actual data and a...
dd(1): deceptively simple

Oct 26, 2010 GMT

 Unix (and Linux) command line programs are like old friends. You get caught up in the day-to-day hustle of life and you may forget about them temporarily, but sooner or later you remember them and that warm feeling comes over you.... dd(1) is one of those programs that gives me a warm feeling. How simple dd(1) seems to most people, just reading in data at one end of the program and outputting the data at the other end, perhaps doing a little data blocking or unblocking and perhaps a little conversion. And of course a lot of us use dd(1) to clone disk drives and other “utility” tasks, because dd(1) is simple, fast and can work from a command line. Yet on two separate...
What's In A Name? The story of DLT vs dlt

Oct 26, 2010 GMT

 The TK50 was a cartridge tape and tape drive system launched by Digital Equipment Corporation in 1984. It was not the first cartridge tape that came out. 3M had developed a cartridge tape called “QIC” for “Quarter Inch Cartridge” in 1972, and our Unix systems supported that, but Digital also decided to create its own tape cartridge and drive, and of course it was deemed to be “proprietary”. For its day it was a competitive system: o it used a pocket-size tape cartridge (o.k....for a large, coat-sized pocket) o it used a “serpentine motion” which meant that it would write to the end of the tape, then shift the heads slightly and continue writing as the...
The Needs of the Many

Sep 30, 2010 GMT

 "The Needs of the Many Must Outweigh the Needs of the Few..or the One." - Spock in “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan” With those words Spock chose to die in order to save the rest of the crew. Philosophically whether you agree to what Spock said or not, an important part of the lesson was that Spock chose to act the way he did...he exercised choice. Sometimes developers inadvertantly do not offer as much choice to their customers as they should. For example, when we choose not to engineer and offer a clean upgrade path to a new version of a program or distribution. Many years ago I helped design a new "update" facility for Digital's Ultrix...

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