A fanboy is a boy or man who is an extreme or overt enthusiast of someone or something. It very specifically excludes half of the population. Yes, those people who frequently become mothers, and who excel at multi-tasking. If there are complaints about the sexist nature of the title, I will graciously allow fanperson, or even fanchild, to be used. However, I wonder if there is a good reason why this description applies to one gender, and not the other?
Some definitions of fanboy use ardently devoted, or even obsessed. While some restrict this obsession to a more general “single hobby or interest”, another specifies categories and includes comic books, science fiction, video games, music or electronic devices and mentions Apple and the iPhone specifically.
While the number of fanboy sites checked is limited, none of them mentioned vehicles either generally (cars, locomotives and other forms of railcar, aircraft, vessels), or road machines more specifically in the form of motorcycles, muscle cars or sports cars. Here, I admit an unnatural attraction to panel vans and multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs), most specifically, the Citroën Berlingo more than any other vehicle, although if Citroën doesn’t soon produce an EV version with a ca. 300 km range, it may be dumped for another E-MPV: a Renault Kangoo or even a Kia Soul.
In terms of clothing, there were a number of products that I purchased because of their fit. These included McGregor Weekend socks and Ecco shoes, especially. Unfortunately, once McGregor started acquiring socks from China, they just didn’t last, so I stopped buying them. Instead, I have relied on Trish to make most of my socks. She also produces all of my shirts and pajamas. Ecco started using narrower lasts, which meant that their shoes no longer fit. Fortunately, my daughter, Shelagh, introduced me to Allbirds, which have now become my preferred shoe brand.
Owning a large number of products produced by the same manufacturer does not make one a fanboy. Take Jula’s Meek range of battery tools. While I own a large number of them, it is primarily because the tools are good enough, and they have battery compatibility. Similarly, the Scheppach woodworking power tools I have were purchased because of their low cost. Some are being replaced with Bosch (and other brand-name) equivalents. I want tools that do the job. I am a hobbyist, not a woodworking professional.
Where I am a fanboy relates to computing equipment, hardware more than software. Yet, because of my education, software is important. In terms of programming languages, I describe myself as a member of the Algol tribe, with Simula the closest to my heart. Unfortunately, it has been 35 years since I last programmed in it. One of the most important clans of the Algol tribe is Pascal. Outside of this tribe there is Smalltalk, which is appreciated more for its origins at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) than its utility. I am also attracted to Forth, Lua, Node-Red, Processing and Prolog, each for specific purposes. Yet, in the real world, if I have to program, I stick to C and C++. More modern languages, such as Python, arrived too late for me to work in, although it is a language I have played with, and recommend younger people to learn.
When it comes to desktop/ laptop operating systems, I will probably stick to Linux Mint with a Cinnamon desktop. This is not because I have mastered it. Rather, it allows me to muddle though. Other operating systems such as LibreELEC, FreeBSD, Robot operating system (ROS) and FreeRTOS = free real-time operating system, will be used to meet specific needs. Yet, I have an emotional attachment to another Linux distribution, Mandrake, the first Linux distribution I used, or at least its descendent, Mageia. The first family computer we owned was an Amiga, with Amiga OS still finding a place in my heart.
Most of the software listed above, is either unavailable (Simula, being the best example) or freely available without cost (most other products). Thus, if there is a specific need, most of the above operating systems can be put on a memory stick, and be running on a computer within a few minutes. Then I can spend an hour or two indulging my (software) desires.
This is not the case with hardware. Most of the time, real money has to be spent buying gear. I have already wasted sufficient money buying computer components that break down far too early. Thus, the primary reason for being a fanboy is to secure reliable products.
In alphabetical order, some products are:.
Advanced Micro Devices (AMD): microprocessors, currently Ryzen models
Asus: computers, motherboards
Logitech: keyboards, mice, headphones
Noctua: fans, cooling systems
Raspberry Pi: single board computers, and peripheral interfaces (HATS)
Wacom: graphic tablets
Some products have almost attained fanboy status. One is Native Instruments for its musical/ sound equipment. A change in status is dependent on support for Linux operating systems, something currently lacking. Similarly, I am awaiting for RISC V reduced instruction set computers (RISC) to arrive at some point in the near future. Hopefully, this open-source microprocessor system will improve security, reliability and durability.
There are a number of products that at one time had fanboy status, but lost it. Western Digital is the best example. Before, almost all hard disk drives (HDD) in use here were made by the company. Now, Toshiba is the most popular brand, although I did purchase a Samsung solid-state drive (SSD) for my latest system. I also buy a number of Kingston products, in the form of memory sticks.
The opposite of a fanboy is a h8er, an adversary of particular products. While others may be h8ers out of prejudice, the term here is restricted to unreliable products. Printers often fall into this category with those provided by HP and Epson particularly notable.
The one other manufacturer that should be commented upon is Apple. Their Macintosh Performa series was a disaster, but countless times they make decisions that negatively impact users. This may be fine for the class of user that can upgrade regularly without thinking of the cost, but Apple products are not for people in the lower echelons of society. I have previously commented on my experiences with Apple products.
Final comment: Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield, in a YouTube video, on her Transport Evolved channel, 2020-11-25 at 20:32, used the term fangirl to describe what she wasn’t. This is the first time, I have been exposed to a gendered variant of the term. Admittedly, I lead a sheltered life.
Automotive prejudice is not necessarily against something. Often, it is for a particular nationality, brand or model. Some people appreciate vehicles because they originate in a particular country, or have a perceived status, closely related to the price of the vehicle when new. For others, use or performance measures are more important.
In British Columbia, where I grew up, and in Norway, where I grew old, there was and is, respectively, the odd freeway/ motorway allowing one to drive in a relatively straight line, but on most roads drivers must contend with the geography of mountains and valleys, and snowy road conditions. With few exceptions, an American built car with a large V-8 engine, and a soft suspension, is ill matched to the terrain. One needs something nimble, which is the adjective I use to distinguish sports cars from other vehicles.
Until the term got overworked and degraded, GT (Grand Tourismo = Grand Touring) cars were luxury sports vehicles for the monied classes. The only one that ever made an impact on me was a French Facel Vega, massively powered with a Chrysler V-8 engine. Other vehicles in this class included the German Mercedes Benz 300 SL Gullwing, the Italian Maserati Sebring, the American Studebaker Gran Tourismo Hawk and the English Alvis TD 21.
Slightly below this were less luxurious vehicles, the Jaguar XK-E, (known as the E-type in Britain, and among hard-core North American enthusiasts), the Chevrolet Corvette, the Porsche 356, the Volvo P1800 and the Alfa Romeo Giulia.
The British dominated the mass market sports cars, which also form their own hierarchy. This writer’s subjective ranking placed the Lotus Elite (aka Type 14), and its replacement, the Lotus Elan (aka Type 26) at the top. Immediately below this was the Austin Healey 3000, with its 6-cylinder 3-litre engine. Then came a series of Triumphs which culminated in the TR-4A, closely followed by MGs, ending with the MGB.
At the bottom of the heap were the cheap sports cars, the MG Midget and its sister the Austin Healey Sprite, along with its cousin, the Triumph Spitfire. The Triumph Herald, will not be mentioned, even if a convertible version was owned by John Lennon (1940 – 1980).
While I had an affection for British vehicles, they had cantankerous engines that needed considerable attention, and almost daily adjustment. The British sports car that avoided this best was, in my rather prejudiced opinion, the Sunbeam Alpine, made by Rootes Group. This was the first Bond car, appearing in Dr. No in 1962. It was also Maxwell Smart’s vehicle in the 1960s American comedy series, Get Smart, in its V-8 Sunbeam Tiger variant.
If I were to buy a sports car today it would be as an initial step in an educational project to learn technical skills surrounding vehicle electrification. This would hopefully result in a disposal problem being transformed into a functioning electric vehicle.
The specific vehicle would have to meet at least two of three criteria. First, it should have recycling issues, which should have the added benefit of being cheap. Second, it should come either without an engine (preferred) or with a defective engine. Third, and one potential cause of the recycling issue, it should have a fibreglass body. Yes, the Saab Sonett II and the Lotus Elan are both attractive, fibreglass vehicles, but existing models with functioning engines should be preserved. If for some reason they have engine challenges, they are top candidates.
Fibreglass replica cars, much like fibreglass boats, pose a recycling challenge. Some other people may even regard them as illegitimate. Yet, sports cars have often been considered works in progress by their owners. Thus, readers are encouraged to consider adopting one, to give it new life with an electric drivetrain, and allowing it to become a beloved object, that upcoming generations will yearn to inherit, despite its obvious imperfections.
People interested in undertaking their own conversions, may want to consider purchasing a wrecked electric vehicle, such as a Nissan Leaf, Renault Zöe, or ???
Production parts from Volkswagen’s e-up! can be used with a Kassel single-speed gearbox and Brunswick battery system components. This provides old VW Beetles, and potentially other related products, with 60 kW of power. The battery system can be built into the underbody and consists of up to 14 modules, each with a capacity of 2.6 kWh, providing up to 36.8 kWh. This would give an old beetle a new total weight of about 1 280 kg, allowing an acceleration to 50 km/h in just under four seconds and to 80 km in just over eight seconds. The top speeds is 150 km/h, with a 200 km range. Unfortunately, Volkswagen has misunderstood makers, and wants customers to use conversion specialist eClassics in Renningen, near Stuttgart, Germany.
An alternative for rear engined air-cooled Volkswagens, including Karmann-Ghias, and Porsches, is Zelectric. Once again, they “build to order”, rather than allowing people to undertake the work themselves.
General Motors, however, is offering a GM eCrate kit, although there are serious issues, especially related to the battery pack. It seems to be the drivetrain from a Chevrolet Bolt, slightly repackaged. An even more accessible manufacturer is EV West, which seems to be catering to the DIY market. Note: I have not used any of these products, and cannot comment on their quality or suitability for any purpose.
This is a second instalment on ruralization. It has been in development since 2020-07-14. Work on it was paused on 2020-08-11, but resumed again 2020-10-28. It reflects a state of mind de-stabilized (de-socialized?) by a pandemic during the summer of 2020.
With COVID-19 under-employing and unemploying people as well as shuttering businesses temporarily or permanently, faster than almost any time in the past century, it is time to reconsider what can be done to help people secure their well-being.
Well-being means that people will need access to potable water, nutritious food, appropriate clothing, adequate shelter, education and health care. Entertainment and cultural pursuits will also have to be included, but that does not mean supporting personalities and products promoted by an entertainment industry. Similarly, there will undoubtedly be a need for transportation, but not necessarily using cars or mass transit. Walking and cycling may be preferred. Exercise may be part of one’s commute, or a substitute for it, rather than membership in a gym. The office seems to be a casualty of the pandemic. Yet, there are conflicting opinions as to where it is dead, or just crippled.
On 2020-07-14 Ivanka Trump gave millions of recently unemployed Americans new hope, when she said, “Find something new.” So that is what is being presented here, except that it is actually hard work to find something completely new, so this weblog post will cheat, and pretend that survival/ prepping is something new.
Note: the number of unemployed in the US is difficult to ascertain. Many are trying to define out large groups of people, while others are trying to define in similarly large numbers. Danielle Echeverria writing in the San Francisco Chronicle states that the total unemployment claims filed since the beginning of the pandemic have moved up to 51 million (as of 2020-07-17), and the situation is still not optimistic since the complete reopening keeps being postponed.
With large countries such as USA, Brazil and the United Kingdom having failed to serve the needs of their residents, especially keeping them healthy, As this is being written, these and other countries are experiencing a second (or higher) wave of COVID-19 infections. Thus, survivialism has become a key thought in almost everyone’s mind. Part of the challenge, in some countries, has been the outsourcing of vital elements of pandemic health care, such as contact tracing, and the conflict between doing thorough work, and making a profit. Far too frequently, profits and disease transmission prevail at the expense of health and, even, economic well being.
From the Great Depression that started in 1929, through the World War II and the Cold War, people have given consideration to their survival, especially in the event of war. That all stopped in 1990, when the United States and its allies declared themselves the victors of the Cold War. This meant that the preparedness for war (which incorporates preparedness for other emergencies, including pandemics) was gradually discarded.
Many boomers experienced the Great Depression vicariously, by being a child of parents who had lived through it. They lived in homes with reserves of food and other items that were rotated, but never used up. They were there in case of an emergency. While clothing that had been outgrown would be recycled, old clothes that still fit and not worn out were seldom discarded, but saved in case they came in handy at some unspecified time in the future. This vicarious remembrance of the depression and World War II is something that distinguishes boomers from subsequent generations. Is this what has turned them into collectors (and some into savers), traits some find lacking in the younger people?
In contrast, the Cold War was something boomers (and some Gen Xers) experienced more directly. Wikipedia tells us, “The Cold War was a period of geopolitical tension between the Soviet Union and the United States and their respective allies, the Eastern Bloc and the Western Bloc, after World War II. The period is generally considered to span the 1947 Truman Doctrine to the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union.” It was also a period when survivalism/ prepping was accepted practice at every level of society. In the thirty years since the cold war ended, preparation had become a meaningless topic, until the global COVID-19 pandemic hit. Yet, once it hit, survival has been a major focus.
Survivalism, or prepping, means different things to different people. There are a number of different categories listed by Wikipedia: Safety-preparedness with an emphasis on surviving life-threatening situations that can occur at any time and anywhere; Wilderness survival, with scenarios that include plane crashes, shipwrecks, and being lost in the woods, where concerns include thirst, hunger, climate, terrain, health, stress, and fear; Self-defense, with an emphasis on surviving violent encounters, with a need for personal protection and self-defence skills; Natural disaster – brief (typically days to months in duration), with tornados, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, earthquakes or heavy snowfalls causing problems; Natural disaster – prolonged (2 – 10 years), with an emphasis on weather cycles and crop failures; Natural disaster – indefinite/ multi-generational, potentially caused by global warming or other forms of environmental degradation; Monetary disaster with concerns about the worth of paper money, and a suggestion to replace it with gold and silver; Biblical eschatology, waiting for the return of Christ; Peak-oil doomers, who have much in common with Rawlesians (followers of James Wesley Rawles) who prepare for multiple scenarios with fortified and well-equipped rural survival retreats. Their northern inter-mountain region includes Washington, Oregon and California, the entire states of Idaho, Nevada and Utah, western Montana, Wyoming and Colorado, northern Arizona and north-western New Mexico. They emphasize self-sufficiency and homesteading skills; Legal-continuity, with an emphasis on maintaining some form of legal system and social cohesion. Bio-chemical survivalism, is where the current pandemic would be classified, along with diseases occurring naturally or as part of a weapon system.
The Marmots, not the rodents, but members of a hypothetical family of humans, will be used as examples. Some call Cascadia home, others live in Cooth in eastern Canada, or in Bust Anvil, in the rust-belt in the great state of Forge, a few even live in Ginnunga Gap, where this post is being written.
Jade Marmot – the wrong approach
Jade Marmot doesn’t know much, but that has never stopped him. He carries an assortment of business cards with him, each with a different job title. The one he uses most often describes him as a publicist. He takes facts collected and analysed by other people, mixes them with his own special brand of fiction, then presents them on websites, from which he tries to sell somewhat related products or services. Several of these relate to travel, but when cases of COVID-19 started, visits to these websites declined. In response, he regarded the pandemic as a golden profit-making opportunity. He didn’t have any clear idea of what he would be able to offer. Google is the most obvious place to begin, so that, even if he fails, at least Alphabet Inc (GOOG) will be able to profit from his misadventure. That said, he used the Duckduckgo search engine with a Mozilla Firefox web browser, to find information on survivalism. This led him to the Graywolf Survival website, a typical wilderness survival website, and to its article, Prepping: 10 simple ideas on how to start.
Imagine for a moment, that someone like Jade, with approximately zero prepper experience, no military background, and limited survival skills, tried to set up an alternative website to Graywolf. Jade Marmot Survival, will not become the prepper website of choice, for the pandemic. Wilderness survival is not what most people are seeking. Sensible people who do want wilderness survival tips will stick to Graywolf, because Jade Marmot will be unable to provide the insights they need. Jade’s lack of knowledge about pandemics means that he will be unable to contribute anything of value, to help people cope with an evolving situation. Instead, he will offer them hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug with no documented positive effect on COVID-19.
Is there hope for Jade? A change of attitude can change everything, especially if that change involves a sincere willingness to be of service to others. There are no lost souls.
Honey Marmot has been a musician all of her adult life, performing live at clubs, not just in the village of Harmony, but other places near Cooth. Yet, with bars and restaurants closed, opportunities to perform ceased to exist. Unemployed, Honey started to devote more of her time to cooking, and – as spring arrived – to gardening.
She also noticed that with restaurants being closed, many people were having a hard time feeding themselves, choosing to buy junk food rather than making something nutritious.
As a musician, Honey was used to being part of a band. She did her thing, while others did theirs, and in a spirit of co-operation, the collective result was always something bigger and better than any of them could do alone. Contacting a few close friends, they were able in very short time to set up the Harmony Food Collective. It quickly evolved so that some people who had space for a garden, were able to grow crops. Others were able to use the ingredients produced to make nutritious food at a local church, producing 1 500 meals for the needy each week. Yet more people were involved in the distribution process, using an assortment of feet, bikes and cars.
Vernon is a complex person. He grew up in Bust Anvil, in the state of Forge. It was a place where boys aspired to be quarterbacks, and mothers expected daughters to become cheer leaders. Early on, Vernon adopted the name Slime, in order to hide what he described as a peculiar characteristic. While refusing to try out for the football squad, he did attend a trade school, became an automotive mechanic, and started working at T’s Garage.
Yet, under a hyper-masculine exterior, Vernon/ Slime had a secret life. His peculiar characteristic was a passionate interest in fashion. He not only subscribed to GQ (Gentleman’s Quarterly), and Dark Beauty Mag, but avidly read the works of DCB Pierre (1961 – ), including the latest, Meanwhile in Dopamine City (2020) a satirical dystopian novel about Lonnie, a widowed sewage worker, struggling to raise two children in a time of unencumbered digital innovation. In order to avoid being seen entering shops at the Fairlane Mall, he bought a Bernina 790 Plus sewing machine so he could make his own clothes.
Starting out with Steampunk fashions, he soon realized that Dieselpunk might be more acceptable in the circles he frequented. Tailoring punk fashions may not be on a freeway to fortune or even fame, but for Vernon/ Slime that is of secondary (or lower) importance. These activities are necessary to help him keep his sanity. In time, he will learn that others appreciate his values, and his blue Hush Puppy shoes.
Through the power of imagination, visualize the personas presented living in a small rural community. Import the people mentioned above, and find a few others in the local community with attitude, and a new infrastructure will start to emerge. It is not just what is present in the community that will propel action, but what is missing.
Once something basic, like a food collective, is started, people will notice other needs that are not being met. There is an obvious need for a Repair Cafe. With a use and discard mindset, products get used and discarded, even before their productive life is over. A Repair Cafe encourages consumers to have poorly performing products fixed by community technicians, so that these products will have a longer longevity.
Different people can take on different tasks. Jade actually has some positive attributes. He became obsessed with woodworking. Owning a range of tools, of various types: manual, mains electrical, battery electrical, as well as pneumatic, for different purposes. He is able to help people with their woodworking and basic construction needs. While Honey spends most days growing and cooking food, she finds time to ensure that the Repair Cafe has the ingredients it needs. Since Vernon thrives with textiles; weaving, knitting and sewing in particular, he is been able to help people with their clothing related challenges.
Tools are a means to an end. They are less interesting in themselves than the processes used to make and repair things. Both are necessary prerequisites to manufacturing and repurposing products and providing services in rural areas.
While a Repair Cafe, and similar institutions, provide a framework for people to work together, it is not essential. Individuals, working alone, can make an assortment of products, and provide any number of services for themselves, their families and for others.
In Norway a shed (or similar structure) of up to 15 square meters = 161.4587 square feet can be built without a building permit. This means that it is possible for families to build themselves a greenhouse that could provide much of the food needed for their family. It is also possible to add an additional 15 square meters to an existing house, again, without a building permit. For many families this expansion will be necessary, for two adults (and up to several children) to have sufficient office space to work from home.
Among the more positive benefits of the Internet is that it provides opportunities for people to develop relationships with others who have similar interests, to access knowledge and to learn new skills. Learning how to build sheds, or made additions to a house, or to grow fruit and vegetables in a greenhouse can be provided by videos and other materials found on the Internet. There are also numerous forums where assistance with problems can be found, and insights shared.
These are not perfect resources. Recently, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK), had a major story (in Norwegian) about an older, male paedophile using sophisticated technology so that he appeared to be a teenage girl. Unfortunately, there will always be people on the Internet trying to take advance of others. Thus, it is a resource that has to be used cautiously.
In particular, with respect to computing issues, some users focus on telling people what they have done to solve a particular problem, but not why or even how. This is not pedagogically sound. I suspect that these advisors lack the necessary knowledge/ insight/ foundation to give such advice. They are simply offering a formula that could result in a solution, but often doesn’t. “Well, it worked for me.” is not a particularly helpful statement, It does not lead anyone to a better understanding of the situation.
Regardless of the advice being offered, it is useful to fact check it, using up to several sources. The Internet does not offer any guarantees.
Another problematic area involves Facebook. Their business model is based on segmenting and clustering people based on attitudes, which is determined by the posts particular people like, or avoid liking. Clusters are based on sets of mutual likes. Information/ propaganda is presented that reinforces current (prejudicial?) attitudes. Thus, information is presented that closely mirrors the current world view of any particular user. Alternative world views are avoided. To counter this, it is my hope that people will spend less time on Facebook, and more time in forums dedicated to their special interests. To find these one can search with that specific topic, followed by forum and, optionally, a location such as a country, province or state. For example, knitting forum canada. One link provided information on 35 Canadian blogs and websites.
Last minute update: Sea Shanties
Living in a rural community, does not mean that one has to forego the company of like-minded souls. During the pandemic, people – even in the most densely populated of cities – have felt isolated. Thus, it is interesting to see one unexpected trend that has emerged on TikTok, the social media site that Donald Trump attempted to ban. Some attribute Glasgow area postman, Nathan Evans, of starting the trend with, Soon May The Wellerman Come. For information about this project, and more, see this Guardian article.
Others have followed through, such as The Longest Johns, a Mass Choir Community Video Project. Five hundred people submitted their versions of Leave Her Johnny.
If some subscribers find an essence of themselves in this weblog post, it is probably not a co-incidence. I have deliberately tried to portray some of the positive work being done by others during the pandemic, while fictionalizing lives. Genders, and other identifying characteristics, have been changed. No prizes will be awarded to anyone for identifying: Cascadia, Cooth, Bust Anvil, Forge or Harmony. Ginnunga Gap is not just Cliff Cottage, but also the workshop (former garage) at Vangshylla, Inderøy, Norway. (63° 50′ 31.08″ N 11° 05′ 26.57″ E)
Not impressed with the humour here? Fortunately, there are two types of people: the many who do not appreciate this humour, and the others, who don’t believe it is humour. Choose one, none or both. We are living through a pandemic, and for better or worse, humour has become a survival mechanism.
One quotation: “I think music has the power to transform people, and in doing so, it has the power to transform situations – some large and some small.” Why the Sound Is Still Sweet: Q&A with Joan Baez. Interview with Marlene Kelly, 2009-11-04.
One comment: Baez continues to be relevant. Starting with Charles Albert Tindley’s (1851 – 1933) I’ll Overcome Some Day (1901) that was transformed by Pete Seeger (1919 – 2014) and Guy Carawan (1927 – 2015) into We Shall Overcome (1947), it was sung by Baez at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (1963-08-28). She appeared at Woodstock (1969-08-15 to 18). Her musical success and activism continuing through the 1970s, and 1980s ending with China (1989), which condemned the violence of the Chinese government in its attack on student protesters. After a 27 year hiatus, she released Nasty Man (2017), about “a man gone wrong”, Donald Trump.
Note: This is the first of twelve tidbits to be published in 2021 that comment on influential women musicians (mainly singer/ songwriters). While today’s tidbit is being published on Baez’ 80th birthday, others will be published once a month throughout the year. The reason for this is that women in general, and people with non-European backgrounds, are under-represented in my weblog posts. This series is an attempt to compensate for this shortcoming. In 2022 similar posts will feature multicultural women scientists, followed in 2023 with posts about multicultural women writers (mainly novelists), the posts in 2024 will focus on multicultural women artists (mainly painters and sculptors). The series will end in 2025 with 12 posts about women photographers.
As above, at the end of every tidbit, there will be a link to further information, usually from the English edition of Wikipedia. This allows people to link to similar Wikipedia articles in other languages.
This tidbit was inspired by an article in the Norwegian monthly magazine Vi over 60 = We over 60. My dear wife, Trish, gave me a subscription to this magazine when I was still in my 50s, admittedly 59 shortly before I turned 60. I asked her to discontinue it after a year. Instead, she transferred the subscription to her name, so we have been receiving it for the last 12.5 years. Sometimes, she points out an article she thinks I might be interested in. This happened with the 2021-01 edition, when she pointed out an article on Joan Baez titled, Fredens førstedame = The first lady of peace (p. 21).
Many LPs in my Canadian record collection were published by Vanguard. This company was started by Maynard (1930 – 2020, a music producer and later a biographer of classical composers) and Seymour Solomon (1922 – 2002, a music business executive). They specialized in classical music, but then expanded into folk music, then into rock (less successfully). In addition to Baez, my collection included Vanguard records by Linda Ronstadt, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Ian & Sylvia (Tyson) and Country Joe and the Fish. None of these LPs moved to Norway, although some were repurchased as CDs. It is now over ten years since the last CD was purchased. Music is now stored on files, in folders, on a server, where it can be accessed by any computer in our house. This system even allows remote access. More importantly, the collection occupies no space. After having bought most of the music I listen to twice (once on LPs and once on CDs), I see no need to rent it in perpetuity from Spotify.
A workstation is a computer that acts as an attachment site for a wide range of tools (software as well as hardware), that a particular operator uses on a regular basis. In this weblog post, the history of computing will be examined, with an emphasis on its gradual expansion into new areas, as new capabilities emerged. This expansion results in the evolution of computers into workstations.
Military purposes came first. Colossus, designed and built starting 1943-02, was delivered to Bletchley Park, 1944[-01-18, and was operational by 1944-02-05. It was the world’s first electronic digital programmable computer It used 1 500 vacuum tubes, had paper-tape input and was capable of being configured to perform a variety of boolean logical operations on data, typically breaking code encrypted by German Enigma machines.
After the second world war, electronic data processing (EDP) became the new buzzword (or more correctly phrase or abbreviation, respectively) between about 1950 and 1970 that referred to automated methods to process data, most often business related. A data processing system consists of four components: hardware, software, procedures and personnel.
Data was prepared by keypunch operators who created punch cards, typically in the IBM card format, introduced in 1928, with rectangular holes, 80 columns, and 12 rows. The card size was 7 3⁄8 by 3 1⁄4 inches (187.325 mm × 82.55 mm). There were about 143 cards to the inch, or 56/ cm. A box provided 2000 cards. These cards were fed into a card reader, that was attached to a mainframe computer. Typical for the era was the IBM System/360 family of computer systems were delivered between 1965 and 1978. The model 195 was the most powerful, and cost between US$ 7 – 12 million.
Mini was another buzzword of the 1960s. It could refer to skirts (and dresses), cars and – for the discussion here – a class of computers, the minimachine. These had their own operating systems and software architectures that distinguished them from mainframes. Minis were designed for control, instrumentation, human interaction, and communication switching as distinct from calculation and record keeping. They also had a two decade long lifetime from 1965 to 1985, although there were almost 100 companies formed, my personal experience was with Digital Equipment Machines VAX-780s, and later with Norsk Data Nord 500 machines.
Workstations were small scientific computers designed to be used interactively by a single person. Perhaps the first workstation was the IBM 1620, launched in 1960. More began to emerge as minimachines became more popular and increasingly available. Most workstations of this early period were minimachines, repurposed for a single user.
With the emergence of microprocessors (in the mid 1970s), and personal computers (in the early 1980s), a more modern version of the workstation began to take shape.
A 3M workstation was an ideal for many computer professionals in the early 1980s. While it was a word play on the 3M = Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing company, it also referred to at least a megabyte of memory, a megapixel display and a million instructions per second (MIPS) processing power. It could be upgraded to a 4M machine if it cost less than a megapenny = US$10 000.
The closest most people could come to a workstation in the mid 1980s, was a Commodore Amiga 2000. It was a bargain machine at less than NOK 20 000. It had a MB of memory, but otherwise failed to meet the 3M criteria. It was more powerful but less expensive than an Apple Macintosh, that had come onto the market in 1984. It was also fitted with two 3.5″ floppy drives, five Zorro II expansion slots, two 16-bit and two 8-bit ISA slots, a CPU upgrade slot, a video slot and a battery-backed real-time clock. It came with an IBM PC Compatible bridgeboard with its own 5.25″ floppy disk drive, which allowed it to run MS-DOS, and compatible programs.
AmigaOS was a single-user operating system. Its firmware was referred to as Kickstart. There was a multitasking kernel, called Exec. Like most modern computers – but unlike many of its contemporaries – this was pre-emptive, allowing interupts to disrupt processing flows. It also provided: a disk operating system, AmigaDOS, a comand-line interface (CLI), AmigaShell; a windowing application program interface (API), Intuition; and a desktop file manager, Workbench.
Starting with AmigaOS 3.1, Workbench referred to what is now called a Desktop. Directories were referred to and depicted as drawers, executable files were tools, data files were projects and GUI widgets were gadgets.
Unfortunately, while there was software for 3D design, it did not extend far enough for that needed for industrial strength computer aided design (CAD) and other engineering tasks. Thus, the machine in some respects failed to live up to its workstation expectations. The Amiga came with a two-button mouse, unlike the Macintosh that had only a single button.
When the Amiga arrived, many people expected it to last into “the next century” by regularly upgrading hardware as well as software. Unfortunately, by the early 1990s, it was out of date, and the promised hardware never arrived.
Today, the computing power of any of the above machines is exceeded by an inexpensive (US$ 5), single board computer, such as a Raspberry Pi Zero W. Even the smallest computer today is a powerful processing machine, compared to those of the past. For example, the slightly more powerful Raspberry Pi 4, can provide 8 GB = 8 000 MB of RAM, and can support two 4k (3840 x 2160 pixels) screens = 16.58 Mpixels, and operate at 8 176 (Dhrystone MIPS).
In terms of operating systems, most versions of Linux are able to match (or exceed) anything and everything offered by an Amiga, or any other operating system from that period. For readers preferring to live in the past, a PiMIGA 1.3 clones the AmigaOS so that works on a Raspberry Pi 4, while AROS (originally Amiga Research Operating System (1995), now AROS Research Operating System) runs on x86 (conventional PC) architectures.
Bill, at the Dronebot Workshop, defines a computer as: “Not a tablet. Not a phone. Not a Chromebook.” This is a good starting point for a definition of a workstation, but in addition there have to be some positive attributes. It is some sort of a container filled with a microprocessor and various forms of memory, it is typically equipped with or attached to input devices, usually a keyboard and mouse, and output devices, such as a display. Other devices may also be plugged into the machine, as required.
Hobby Electronics: An Example
With a massive amount of computing power available in a box 100 x 100 x 50 mm (4″ x 4″ x 2″), there is a decreasing need for electronic hobbyists to buy dedicated hardware. An AMD Ryzen 5/ Intel i5 computer, 16 GB RAM, a 500 GB SSD attached to a Red Pitaya STEMlab = Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics laboratory kit, an open-source hardware project intended to be alternative for many expensive laboratory measurement and control instruments. It can act as oscilloscope, signal generator, spectrum analyzer, Bode analyzer, logic analyzer, LCR meter (a type of electronic test equipment used to measure the inductance (L), capacitance (C) and resistance (R) of electronic components) and a vector network analyzer, used to test component and system specifications, to verify designs and to ensure these components and systems work properly together.
Additional software such as KiCad, a computer aided design (CAD) program for electronic design, Thonny, an integrated development environment (IDE) for Python, as well as editors, file management and communication tools, including office tools, transform the computer from something that is nice to have, to an indispensable tool, a workstation.
Many of the tools mentioned above, could be purchased as separate/ independent tools. However, the total cost would be many times the price, as the tools contain multiple iterations of the same component. One other advantage is that this configuration takes up far less desk and shelf space than the seven (or more) tools it replaces.