This is my personal thoughts, opinions and musings place. I will also rant about things, especially politically-correct things that irritate me. And sci-fi. Did I mention sci-fi? There'll be lots of sci-fi stuff here. And movies, too. Mmmmm... Movies

Saturday, May 21, 2005

The ugliness of modern computers

When I first got my Creative Nomad Jukebox, it failed to come with a USB cable to hook it up to the computer, so I was obliged to go out and buy one. Unfortunately, the store was out of regular cables, and I had to buy one of those fancy artsy fartsy glowing ones. You plug it in to your computer, and both ends of the cable light up. Unfortunately, that's all it does.

So, it occured to me that modern computers are really ugly. All they do is sit there and work on the inside, but the cases themselves are pretty useless. When I first learnt computers, it was in high school on an IBM 1130 mainframe. Ah, those were the days. It actually had a display console. Not a screen, mind you, a console. Accumulators, stacks, program pointers, these were all displayed upon a Star Trek-like panel of blinking lights. Of course, in those days computers were weak and primitive enough that you could actually display that sort of information and have it make sense.

Which brings me to the HP and Data General. Apart from PCs, the HP and Data General mini-computers are the only computers I have actually ever seen. All others I've worked on, Sun Solaris, IBM MVS and AS400, these I've always accessed remotely and never actually laid eyes on. But HP3000 and DG Eclipse machines I've physically seen and worked with. And let me tell you, there is something... exciting... about non-CRT based status indicators.

On the HP3000, there was a horizontal performance LED bar. It would measure performance like this:

And so on

The wider the bar would light up, the busier the system was. I'm generalizing here, of course, but you get my drift. You had visual confirmation of what the system was doing. If the system would crash, you could see that, too. Though, it's been often said that the only way to crash a properly configured HP3000 was to detonate a tactical nuclear device overhead. That, too, is a generalization, but they were rock-solid machines.

The DG Eclipse was a little different. While the computer itself didn't have status indicators, the hard drives normally shipping for those machines did. Now, the drives were special. They were only about 600 megabytes or so, and they cost about $25,000 Canadian, so I guess it's only fitting they had something on them. They were also ridiculously fast, so much so that when were forced to get a SCSI drive at one point, we were shocked by how slow SCSI drives were by comparison. This'll come as a great shock to PC users who thought SCSI drives were fast. In any case, the hard drive had cylinder indicators on them, which is to say they would show what cylinder the drive heads were positioned on at any given moment. If the cylinder indicator ever stopped moving, your system had crashed, and that used to happen on a relatively regular basis, though not necessarily due to a system fault.

Which brings me to modern machines. What, exactly, do they have on them? Nothing, that's what. A big fat zero! And it's a shame, because a visiual indication of system activity is very stimulating. A display screen is fine and dandy, but sometimes simplicity is king!


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