Dec. 10th, 2012

hirez: Humppa! (Humppa!)
This (as linked by the estimable @tef on the rather less estimable Twitter) was an odd read.

Back in the old days, just before beetling off to HEU and changing my life forever, I used to write C that ran on squitty little industrial(ish) PCs the size of, oh, four Betamax tapes sellotaped together. What that alleged code mostly did was grab serial data off the wire and send it up a modem to another squitty PC somewhere else. What made it 'fun' (FAVO) was that the serial data was destined for a printer, so was sort-of structured by layout on the page (and thus fitted into the boxes on the forms), which made working out which bit meant what a bit of a laugh. To add to the excitement, the data itself had come out of the back of some random pathology lab, so the guesses as to which bit meant what had to be 100% accurate.

Anyway. Before I'd been allowed into the programming room, I'd been set to assembling the immediate predecessors of the squitty-PCs, which were, er, oh hell. 68HC11-based? Something like that. A washing-machine controller with ideas, before all of this physical computing malarkey was cool. They were named the 'Argus programmable modem', which was basically true. Imagine a BBC micro sawn in half and running an integer BASIC optimised for serial comms and wonky data-logging. Because assembling and testing (and repairing) programmable modems became boring after about a fortnight, I started work on some noddy stock-wombling code - about enough brains to warn me or Brian that with a lead-time of (mumble) and an order quantity of (blah) we'd best order a bucket of grommets by next Wednesday - which brought me to the attention of the clever buggers in the coding room. I got the impression that it was a case of 'So, think you're clever do you?'

Well, actually, yes I did. And to prove it I persuaded them to order some toys from the Grey Matter catalogue and thus double productivity.

One of the things was FTPs PC-TCP library (Big green loose-leaf binder, IIRC) because I was convinced that speaking to the bloody path computers as a notional equal was going to be much less painful than Being A Printer. (There's some notional anarchist political wossname in there, which in the context of the tosspot boss and his many ways was radical business.)

The other blokes were less convinced. This TCP/IP malarkey was clearly some untrustworthy, proprietary and fly-by-night protocol and anyway the NHS was going to standardise on OSI/X.400/X.500 so anything else would be a waste...



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