Some things never change

I am watching the Netflix series Halt and Catch Fire about computer entrepreneurs in the 1980s. I very much appreciate the fact that the heroes are mostly computer programmers or hardware hackers.

The technology is all absolutely spot-on. Every detail, no matter how arcane or nerdy, is completely correct and chronologically accurate. Clearly somebody on the writing or advisory team was actually there.

But what really intrigues me is that feeling of heady possibility, of creating an astonishing future that you know is just around the corner. It’s exactly what being in computer graphics felt like to me when I was just starting out.

And it’s exactly what it feels like now.

3 Responses to “Some things never change”

  1. J. Peterson says:

    I had the same sensation watching the movie Computer Chess a few years ago (mini-review: )

  2. Adrian says:

    I love the show and agree that the got the feeling of the era exactly right.

    But, as I recall, there were some technical oopses in the first few episodes that threw me out of the moment. The initial title card that explains what Halt and Catch Fire means is complete nonsense. Correctly explaining how to read two hex digits from eight LEDs and then doing it wrong. Reading the BIOS ROMs byte-by-byte using an oscilloscope on a powered-down circuit may be possible, but I don’t think that’s how you’d actually do it. (And it was then pointed out to me that the source for the BIOS was already published by IBM in 1982.)

  3. admin says:

    They simplified for the sake of exposition, but the essential drama was correct. Although Phoenix Technologies (the real-life company in 1983) could indeed read IBM’s technical manuals, they could have been sued by IBM for copyright infringement if they had simply copied them. So they set up “clean rooms” of engineers who had never looked at the manuals, and then had those engineers implement their bios, based on a set of specs provided by other engineers. That way they managed to make an IBM clone while avoiding the possibility of copyright infringement.

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