Category Archives: Technology

The Good Old Trash 80

I ran into a web site today showing the 1980’s Radio Shack catalog of the TRS 80.

It made me feel sentimental as my very first computer had been a Trash-80 and I remember having a lot of fun with it. One of the most difficult tasks for me to understand, at that time, had been the idea of an interpreted language, like that TRS-80 Basic.

Before that computer, I had been mostly exposed to assembler and some high-level language like Fortran and PL3 on an IBM mainframe. The idea of typing in human-readable code and directly running it – without compiling and linking – was a strange concept for me to grasp.

The TRS-80 I had was far less sophisticated than the one shown in the above catalog, so I looked around and found a picture that matched better what I remembered:

I believe that I had the 16kB model but certainly no floppy disks – I saved my programs and data on cassette tape. With my difficulty to grasp the concept of interpreted languages the first program I bought was an assembler. I was quite some work to get anything done with this setup:

  • Insert the cassette with the assembler and load the program
  • Edit and assemble the code, keeping source and assembled program in memory
  • Insert a new cassette into the recorder and save the source file
  • Insert a different cassette into the recorder and save the assembled program
  • Load the assembled program (overwriting the assembler in memory)
  • Running, testing the assembled program and writing down errors
  • Rinse and repeat

This lengthy procedure trained you to really think ahead and consider all possible errors – it took too long to ‘just try’ something. In this regards those interpreted languages are much easier and train programmers to be much sloppier.

The bigger part of the internet now is based on such sloppy work – whenever you have a PHP file it is more or less interpreted like the old Basic in my Trash 80. I once read – and it made a lot of sense – that we would do a lot to avoid global warming if we would compile all those billions of lines of PHP code into machine code once and then execute that on the server. All data centers around the world could be scaled down considerably if each line of PHP code would not have to be compiled over and over and over again, thus saving energy for the processors of the webserver and the energy for cooling them.

Maybe, then the web could run on a couple of TRS-80s.

Slow-mo, 3D – all the good stuff

Sometimes we might not realize that we are standing at the cusp of a new world.

Looking back it is easy to see that something new and exciting had been happening at a specific time, but while you are in the middle of it, it might not be so obvious.

Watching the slow motion video, Louie Schwartzberg presented at his TED talk, drove it home that this is similar to the wonder people experienced when they watched the first ‘movies’ around the previous turn of the centuries (the one from the 1800s to the 1900s), especially when the subject was either so far away that the chance of experiencing it oneself was minimal or total creative fiction like a trip to the moon.

Movies really allow you to experience a different reality, either far away in term of location of far away in terms of speed of time as in this example…

If you want to see more from Mr. Schwartzberg, you can check out his Youtube channel and dig out your 3D glasses because he has some really good 3d videos to show.

Triumph of the Nerds

Now that all those nerds that created the computer revolution are getting to an age where we might lose them – see Steve Jobs – documentaries like Robert X. Cringley’s Triumph of the Nerds become more of a history text book (book understood more figuratively).

In the old InfoWorld magazine/newspaper Cringley’s column “Notes from the Field” was always my favorite – your’s too, Max, right?

So, I just had to stop and listen (and watch) when I ran into his documentary “Triumph of the Nerds” on Youtube.

What to Do to Be on Money and Coins

When playing with my scanner and photo editing software to find out how to get around the built-in law prohibiting to scan money, I looked at the dude on that one bill and could not help thinking about what he did to become so admired that he now is on one of those pieces of paper that is usually called money.

Honest Abe managed to trample liberty with all his feet by forcing the south to remain in the union. They did not like to be in that union any more but Abe did not want to lose what they contributed so he waged a war to keep them in. As he was the victor he packaged his motives as “freeing the slaves” – but politicians, especially when victorious have always been very good at this kind of re-purposing.

Another dude that I just recently learned to see in a different light does not have his own paper bill, but at least he has a coin, and, as I remember, at least one stamp with his picture…

Wernher von Braun – the man who took us to the moon.

But he also was a war criminal because he built – or helped build – all the V2s that were used to bomb England. He did not have to stand trial in Nuremberg because his services were needed in the US of A.

So, what could I do to get my picture on some money or at least a coin?

No good idea yet but maybe some of you might come up with something.

And, so that you did not come here for nothing – here is how I got the picture of Abe from the 5 Dollar bill. My scanner – an HP – did scan the bill without a problem into a png file. I could not open that in Photoshop or Corel Paint – but Gimp was not so picky about the law. So I opened it there, cropped and straightened it, then selected all and hit the Crtl C.

In Photoshop I could open a new doc and just paste the data from Gimp. Once saved as a Photoshop native format – psd – there was no problem re-opening that file – and cutting out honest Abe.

How many planes in Europe and America

Found this great web site that shows real-time flight traffic around the world, OK, most of the world – guess the one that has radar.

What I found interesting is the amount of traffic in the air at any given moment in time – and the difference between Europe and North America. As expected, North America has more traffic, but Europe’s traffic is more up to date (yellow v. orange).

More on Chrome Users, Profiles and Applications

Recently I reported on my findings about the Google Chrome parameters

  • –user-data-dir and
  • –profile-directory

Now I had to set up a computer for somebody with two main gmail accounts and I wanted to have direct access from an icon in the windows 7 task bar to each of these two gmail accounts.

It required a bit of juggling all these Chrome parameters but I finally managed to have two gmail icons in the task bar that allowed the user to get her two gmail accounts without ever having to switch accounts. The following solution also avoided the confusion that was created by the fact that Chrome remembers the last User that was active when Chrome is closed.

The first icon has the following parameters:


and the second is different in selecting another user within the same profile

   --profile-directory="Profile 1" 

You know how to set the properties of a pinned icon in the windows 7 task bar, yes?

Really? You are good – it was more by accident that I ran into this and was rather relieved when I did – Right-click on the icon, and then right-click again on the name of the application (usually the second from the bottom if the application is not running, otherwise the third.) This is  how you get to the usual window for the properties of a shortcut.

They are alive!

Ran into a video at the YT Academy (YouTube) of autonomous little robots ganging together to play the James Bond theme. Sure, they did not build all the instruments themselves but I am sure this is just a matter of time.

But all these little guys jamming it out makes them really look alive and having fun…

I had to look a little bit further on what that actually is all about, and found this TED talk…

G-Male – that’s how it’s spelled correctly

If you are a gamer you know Donkey Kong. It was actually the first game my son ever had. I just learned that when I asked him how it’s spelled.

Spelling! This brings us close to the crux of this little article. The name is a translation error, a spelling error between languages, so to speak. Have you ever wondered why a game about a monkey is called DONKEY Kong? Rumor has it that it’s simply a translation error – the Japanese translator just mistook the D for an M and now we are stuck with a Monkey called Donkey. Other data suggests that the Japanese character creator used Donkey as a representation for stubbornness and Kong to indicate the monkey-ness (King Kong is a apparently a term for the generic big ape.)

Whatever is right – I like the first explanation better and stick with it, especially as it allows for a much better transition to the following video that shows that Gmail has been spelled incorrectly from the very beginning.

Here is the correct version – G-Male – and what it really means…


Size does not matter

There is always that little innuendo when discussing the question if size matters.

But I don’t want to get into this, even though I chose that headline to get your attention – – did work if you are reading this, didn’t it?

So, take a look at this one example where size does not matter…

Before the mighty FAA, we are all created equal. Once you have your clearance, it’s yours. You might give it up to let a big guy with 300 passengers go first, as these big guys are probably burning a lot more fuel on idle than I in my single-engine plane will use for a whole trip.

Two tales come to mind. One was that of a flight instructor telling the story at the Pilot’s Co-Op of catching a ride on a business jet once and how the crew was treated to a nice dinner at the FBO when they stopped somewhere for gas. Only when he saw the bill did he understand.

In the other story, I was a participant myself. It was right after my primary training that I advanced from the Piper Tomahawk to a Warrior at the Pilot’s Co-Op. My instructor, during the checkout on that new type of plane, put me through the paces of practicing my landings. Our airport, Burbank, has intersecting runways. One of them – 15 – was often used for commercial traffic. If there was a 737 ready for take-off on runway 15 and another – smaller – plane on approach to runway 8, the departing plane, and all its 150+ passengers, had to wait. Runway 8 is very long and the length from touch down to the intersection with runway 15 was plenty enough for a little plane to touch down, stop, and leave the runway so they never crossed 15. So, it was customary that traffic control asked the landing traffic if they were able to land short of 15, meaning they had no intention to get to or even cross runway 15. If the landing traffic confirmed that they would not get to runway 15, the tower could let the big iron take off on runway 15 while the landing traffic was still on approach to runway 8.

That was standard operating procedure, but now yours truly, new pilot being checked out at a new airport and on a new plane, enters the picture. On approach to runway 8 for the fifth or so time, I confirmed that I would hold short of 15 and so the tower controller gave takeoff clearance to the Southwest 737 and it started rolling on runway 15, the runway I had promised not cross or in any way to mess with.

Just then my flight instructor, who I was so glad to have had with me, made the decision that I had messed up the approach – I was too high or too slow or both, floating too far down the runway. He grabbed the yoke – MY PLANE!, pushed the throttle to the firewall, and keyed the mike: “Tower, Cherokee 888 going around!!”

Now that was not good. The 737 was rolling towards the intersection and we, in our lttle tin can, were now climbing out over runway 8 towards the intersection with runway 15.

Tower: “Southwest 114 ABORT – Southwest 114 ABORT!”

All went well, the 737 stopped before the intersection and we sailed unscathed across the intersection. I was too busy digesting all this so I did not take a good look into the cockpit of the 737 that was sitting right there on my left side. But I could imagine that the pitch of the captain’s voice might not have been as low as it usually was.

We got the expected call from the tower: “Cherokee 888, Tower, contact the tower after landing!” Was I glad that I was only the student, and my instructor legally the pilot in command! A bit after we landed and tied down, I saw my instructor on the phone with the tower – very meek and apologetic – rather different than his usual boisterous self. Fortunately for him, he got off with a warning.

It was a big story at the Pilot’s Co-Op and many guesses were made about how much money in kerosine this incident had cost Southwest. I mostly felt with the poor passengers who did not really know what was happening: the usual bit of anticipation or fear at the takeoff roll and then suddenly screeching brakes – it might have convinced some never to fly again.

I myself only had one instance of “Call the tower after landing!” but I could weasel myself out with the excuse that I was going someplace further away and could truthfully tell the controller that the tower would be closed when I returned. So, he just scolded me a bit and told me to listen better next time.