Morgan Computers has shuttered its stores as we celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall. The coincidence might not mean much to you, but Morgan and the Wall go together for me in a strange way: it was Morgan that indirectly funded my wanderings over the rubble that the Wall's collapse revealed. I - like everyone else of age - had …
Great article, nice end to the day, cheers.
It's a bit disappointing that you don't ONCE mention The Hoff in the article, given he single handedly brought down the Berlin Wall.
"more efficient, and relied less on brute force and memory and more on elegance of construction" - yep, that sound like a pretty good definition of "better software" to me...
Foul Mouthed Tim
Do we really need all the foul language? No journalist should ever be so short for words to articulate hat he has to say.
It was The Hoff?
There was me all these years thinking that Chuck had looked at it and raised an eyebrow....
best article I've seen in a long time on El Reg. Five star rating!
Love the Marx bit...
..."Marx was correct: the value of an item was the value of the labour that had gone into its production. The first copy of a piece of software had all of the labour that had gone into specifying, writing, debugging and so on. So that first copy had a high value. However, the second copy required only the labour of copying it plus the media it was copied onto. It was actually illegal to sell it at any price higher than that."
Which means, nobody could've afforded the first copy of Vista.
Come back, Karl, all is forgiven...
Thanks for the memories.
Too bad the US is sliding into such parternalism/socialism/statism. I think we've forgotten just what happened, and why, 20 years ago.
This was a real pleasure to read: nostalgic and appropriate. Plus sprinkled with comedy and farce.
The Labour Theory of Value
So the Labour Theory of Value is discredited in the eastern block? It's still alive and kicking in the west, where it governs the price of MP3 files...
That reminds me of a get-together with some Ukrainian friends a year or two later. We were comparing prices and were gobsmacked at the price of public transport in Kiev. Sacha saw this, grinned and said that their wages were low too, adding "Hey, the State pretends to pay us and we pretend to work!".
So, how much of this "obsolete" kit ended up in the hands of the people now threatening western democracy with company-killing day-trading software? Was the Russian Mob kitted out in this fashion?
At least I now understand why their bored teenagers seem so much more inventive than ours.
Y'know, much the same logic is used in IT exporting when dealing with "friendly" middle-eastern nations. I wonder when *that* will turn around and bite us in the rear-end?
Doesn't anyone else see anything wrong with the entire network for an old server because the gold was worth more ?
I wonder at the profit margin.
Seems a bit dishonest really. Taking advantage of people.
Very interesting article
A very different article to what we are used to on El Reg, however very enjoyable.
For a given value of "better"?!
"It may have been more efficient, and relied less on brute force and memory and more on elegance of construction, but that was about it."
So in other words, it WAS better, no qualifiers or evasion necessary.
Overall, it sounds like you were all very successfully taking advantage of your fellow man in the greatest spirit of capitalism. Well done you.
"the rubble that a socialist attempt at the world leads to" - Surely you mean the rubble that a totalitarian, pseudo-socialist cock-up of an attempt leads to, which is a far more accurate characterisation of the Soviet system.
And no, the basic Marxist logic wasn't wrong, it was the totalitarian state that was implementing it, creating a political climate where it was far safer to toe the party line and, as you say, "adhere to every ridiculous detail" rather than try to come up with logical, workable methods and systems. Socialism was an attempt to come up with a fair and compassionate system of resource allocation. It may have failed, but the fault was more Stalin's than Marx's. Capitalism, on the other hand, is by it's very nature heartless and unfair.
Rather than sing it's praises, maybe we should realise that we still haven't found any particularly good economic system, and maybe we should all work together to find something new that works for everyone rather than the lucky few?
@ Kenny Millar
This is a great article, and there really are some pearls of wisdom there.
We once had this level of entrepreneurship back in the early days of ZX81's, BBC Micros and Spectrums. Kids used to spend long hours getting every erg of performance from their systems by learning how they worked, and teachers would produce innovative ways of using computers to make non-computing subjects easier to teach. Small hardware shops like Viglen, and Quicksilver set up to produce reasonably priced hardware add-ons to provide graphics add-ons, sound systems, and storage systems.
This almost completely died out with the advent of the IBM compatible PC and, especially, Windows. There was no easy and cheap way to get into doing clever things out of such systems. Compilers, assemblers and debugging tools were not shipped with the OS, and had to be bought, Graphics were crude and difficult to get working. The interfaces were proprietary (including the original 8-bit expansion card for the IBM PC), and needed quite extensive electronics to even get working.
The fun was not there, and the whole infrastructure for home-brew hardware and software from talented individuals disappeared.
But not, apparently, in the previous eastern block countries. From your article, it would appear that the economic constraints and difficulties in getting equipment persisted.
I wonder how the youth of Russia are doing now. I suspect that they are tapping into the Open Source movement, and writing their code on Linux. In fact, I believe that there is a prevalence of non-European names in much of the code that I look at. Be interesting to see some research there.
Labour Theory of Value
"Marx was correct: the value of an item was the value of the labour that had gone into its production. The first copy of a piece of software had all of the labour that had gone into specifying, writing, debugging and so on. So that first copy had a high value."
An amusing piece - but, with respect, you seem to be confusing Marx's notion of Value with that of Price.
As you suggest (It was actually illegal to sell it at any price higher than that.), it's a common mistake.
Um, actually I kind of like being part of a system that benefits the lucky few - I'm quite happy with my allocation as things stand :)
@Kenny Millar - What foul language? :s
"So in other words, it WAS better, no qualifiers or evasion necessary."
Well, no, not really.
For you want to minimise your use of the scarce resource. What you want is the best "system" at the lowest price. So if hardware is expensive/unavailable then effort into the software makes sense. If hardware is cheaper than the effort required to make the software better, then it's entirely rational to not optimise the software but just buy more memory and processors.
Opinion by a Eastern European
So basically you took advantage of people who had no knowledge of how much their stuff was worth. Yay to you. Just don't act all surprised when suddently Russia seems to distrust the West. You (collectively) brought the current mess in East-West relations to yourselves.
Yes the Soviet-style communism was an inherently bad system. But by destroying it so abruptly the West actually made things in the East worse, at least for a period of time. This is something the russians and easterners in general find hard to forget.
What foul language? And just in case there is some: What are you? Eight?
The Time When XP's Testing For Bugs Began
There were computer magasines in SU before the 286icans, mostly of Texas Instruments, came and, generally, everyone involved in the ring knew that US technical export brings flattened crocks of - sshhh - IT. To withdraw even a Lisa, Mac GS or a fashionable Sun graphic station out of the "West" through American Custom office was impossible for a civil one. But even in 2009 there are plans "to settle in Russia an innovative Western hi-tech production plant to print 90-nm processor chips", costs a huge lot, just looks like they've bought somebody from the government and sell a recovered mainline to crooks from the ruling mob. Someone even had the courage to offer some hardware to Putin personally, as Reggers could read recently.
Anyway, Soviet Iskra and ES series (thx KGB for 8086 delivery, but they forgot to include a mouse in the first mail package) looked great in 80s, before the face of metal 16-kg home-made personal monster called DVK (jokingly "WCC", a "Wooden Computational Complex, древесно-вычислительный комплекс) with alfabetical Matrix-type black-green display... well, some dinos must remember.
When West stops selling innovations of 90s by the way of the bribery? The answer is obvious, I suppose: just when there will be no bribers on duty in offices of the government. Thus, there are still "evil commies" in Russia, but they are some members of different hi-sci commitees.
"So basically you took advantage of people who had no knowledge of how much their stuff was worth."
No. I added value to what they were doing by being there to add that value. The labour of the salesman is, after all, labour, which in itself has value.
"the blinkered rationality which underpinned the entire absurd system"
Just like in any Dilbert-compliant western company then. Or the rationale of the market rule. Or the creation of financial derivative products in cascade.
No need of a Russion Mob to threaten western democracy, (mostly) Republicans (Nixon, Reagan & Oliver North, Bush & Rumsfeld, etc) do this just fine. And succeed.
> Y'know, much the same logic is used in IT exporting when dealing with "friendly" middle-eastern nations. I wonder when *that* will turn around and bite us in the rear-end?
You are so out of touch! It has already happened again and again, much to the benefit of the US industry. Most prominent atm: Who do you think supported the talibans to rise and fight the soviets? But also who armed Saddam against Iran? And on and on...
@Anonymous Coward 17:12
No taking advantage of people here: the gear was worth much more than the gold to these guys. Win-win.
Just like you money is worth more than their carrots to the guys selling them on the local market.
This is called commerce.
> Too bad the US is sliding into such parternalism/socialism/statism.
Like many Americans, you are mistaking heavy-handed police surveillance state for socialism.
Socialism is about taking better care of the citizens: access to health, education, work, etc, for all.
Police states are in no way exclusive to socialism (even if socialism has used police states): some US-backed dictatorships are in no way socialist (but some are a bit, like Uzbekistan).
Somehow, the US has slided towards a situation were they have the worst of both worlds: no state care for its citizens, and heavy state powers. Please do defend your democracy, but target the right foes.
@ Tim Worstal
"For you want to minimise your use of the scarce resource. What you want is the best "system" at the lowest price."
I see what you're saying here, and I agree that the Western computer systems as a whole were better than their Eastern counterparts. At that point in the article, however, you were talking specifically about their software and I would contend that more efficient and elegant really is better in software terms. The brute force method of throwing more hardware at the problem may be the less expensive (and even quicker) way to get the job done in a particular economic situation, but I feel the ability to do more with less exhibited by the Eastern European programmers is something to be proud of.
@ Daniel Wilkie
Well, at least that's honest. Personally, I'm pretty happy with my comfortable situation in life too, but I want to see the great minds of the world strive to improve everybody's situation. I would sooner trust a Marx or a Trotsky than an Ayn Rand.
"The brute force method of throwing more hardware at the problem may be the less expensive (and even quicker) way to get the job done in a particular economic situation, but I feel the ability to do more with less exhibited by the Eastern European programmers is something to be proud of."
Oh, agreed. Sorry, that comment was just my inner economist screaming to be let out.
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