[ExI] The most important personal computers in history, ranked

spike at rainier66.com spike at rainier66.com
Sun Aug 15 17:50:19 UTC 2021

-----Original Message-----
From: extropy-chat <extropy-chat-bounces at lists.extropy.org> On Behalf Of
Bill Hibbard via extropy-chat
Sent: Sunday, August 15, 2021 10:11 AM
To: ExI chat list <extropy-chat at lists.extropy.org>
Cc: Bill Hibbard <hibbard at wisc.edu>
Subject: Re: [ExI] The most important personal computers in history, ranked

> Forty years ago this week, the iconic IBM PC made its debut, . . .
> https://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/most-important-personal-comput
> ers-in-history/

>...That brings back memories. In 1981 I was part of a small company, named
Davis Hibbard Mayer Norton and Phillips Inc, that developed a product based
on the IBM PC to simulate GOES weather satellite signals. Davis and Norton
engineered a custom circuit board that went into the IBM PC and I wrote the
software. The GOES signal was about 1.8 MHz which we simulated on the PC's
4.77 MHz 8088, an 8-bit processor. It was a tricky design problem. We ended
up selling ten of our simulators to organizations that wanted a way to test
their GOES receiving systems.


Long time ago but also long after 1981, I did some controls support work for
the follow-on to GOES.  I remember that program: it was a troubled but
friendly enough office environment.  Turns out that particular GOES-Next
design never closed, but it wasn't a controls problem that spanked us, it
was a sensors group that was a bit too ambitious beyond the technology of
the time (this was about 2002.)

But regarding the IMB PC, this event brings back mixed emotions for a lot of
us.  I was a hardcore math geek and had gone into the specialized and
new-ish discipline of figuring out math problems by letting a computer
calculate a jillion calculations, finding the pattern with the eye and
intuition, guess at the end result formula, then after the fact create a
derivation, hide the computer, dress up weird and go act like a bigshot
mathematician who discovered the new finding the honest way.

They caught me of course.  I was socially awkward, but I just couldn't
compete with real mathematicians in social awkwardness, regardless of how
hard I faked extreme geekiness.

But we had fun with it.  I was using Apple 2 computers the university had
bought to do my trick-math, but soon found severe limitations from that
M6502 slightly overclocked to a mighty 1.2 MEGA HERTZ!  Oh mercy, 1.2 MHz,
we shall rule the world, ja?  But then we heard, the mighty IBM was coming,
and it was going to EAT APPLE's LUNCH, a phrase commonly tossed about in the
geek community until we recognized the redundancy, after which it was
shortened to IMB was going to EAT APPLES.  This brought my much personal
satisfaction, for Apple was developed by... hippies.  Long hair, beards,
dope, the works.  Oh mercy.  But IMB was staffed by serious engineers
dontchaknow, in white shirts, skinny ties, pens in the pocket, everything
one needs to design a real computer.

OK then.

A professor ordered one, and we planned a big unveiling party at his house.
He urged us geeks to write up some benchmarks.  I wrote some Lucas Lehmer
benchmarks, ran them on the Apples, collected some data, came over to the
professor's house, ran them.  Oh dear.  The nerds in white shirts let me
down.  That mighty Intel 8088 running at aaaaalll thoooose megahertz, was
only a little faster than the hipster Apple, which cost less than half as
much.  Dang.  Establishment 0, hippies 1.  I didn't like hippies but if they
produce a product with better value, they win.  They won, IBM let us down.
With aaaalllll thooooose resources and alllll those guys in white shirts and
pocket protectors, they aughta be able to do way better than something the
hippies already had on the market for three years.  They did just enough
better to have slightly higher numbers, which wasn't good enough for what I
was doing.

Fun aside: the research I was doing could be split to run two calculation
threads simultaneously, or really arbitrarily many simultaneous threads.  It
was way better to run two Apples in parallel than to have one IBM PC which
cost more than the two Apples combined.  The hippies won that round.
Speaking of round, I live within a few miles of the Great Donut, the
Mothership.  A good friend happened to own a house within walking distance
of that toroidal monstrosity.  His home value alone went up so much in 33
years that he can retire comfortably anytime he wants.


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