back to article 30-up: You know what? Those really weren't the days

It's 30 years since .EXE Magazine carried the first Stob column; this is its pearl Perl anniversary. Rereading article #1, a spoof self-tester in the Cosmo style, I was struck by how distant the world it invoked seemed. For example: Your program requires a disk to have been put in the floppy drive, but it hasn't. What happens …

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  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    How the frak did she do that ?

    What HTML magickry enabled ou dearest Verity to do that reversed-inversed type ?

    When I saw that I thought my eyes would pop out.

    I obviously need a refresher course on HTML5.

    As for Dank Mono, that seems like a lot of work just to make a copy of Arial with different spacing.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: How the frak did she do that ?

      It ain't HTML. Read up on Unicode. All kinds of odds & ends in there.

      Even Cherokee. ᎠᏂᏴᏫᏯ

    2. DropBear Silver badge

      Re: How the frak did she do that ?

      Do you ever go on YouTube? If so, do you ever read any of the comments? I'm just curious, no reason... (the "inverted script" pops up so regularly there most follow-up comments don't even bat an eyelid)

      1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge

        Re: How the frak did she do that ?

        > Do you ever go on YouTube? If so, do you ever read any of the comments?

        Once, years ago. I am still regretting it.

      2. Dave559 Bronze badge

        Re: How the frak did she do that ?

        No one who wants to retain their sanity reads the comments on CthulhyuTube; following that trail, the Mountains of Madness lie…

    3. MyffyW Silver badge

      You have not lived ....

      ... if you haven't tried to find the roots of a quadratic equation using FORTRAN 77 on a RM Nimbus 186* PC with aforementioned green screen.

      [*not a typo - there was a 80186 processor which my CompSci chums described as "different to the 8086, not necessarily better"]

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: You have not lived ....

        ... if you haven't tried to find the roots of a quadratic equation using FORTRAN 77 on a RM Nimbus 186* PC with aforementioned green screen.

        Was that the RM which was a hefty black box with square aluminium handles, looking more like a modern rack-mounted server than like any PC on the market back then? Yeah, I remember one sitting at one end of the college lab. I also don't remember anyone ever using it.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: You have not lived ....

          >Was that the RM which was a hefty black box with square aluminium handles

          You speak of the computer that came before it, the RM380Z. Close to a zx81 in big box form, with an operating system you had to load from cassette each time. The joys of J103 RESTORE

        2. Mage Silver badge

          Re: You have not lived ....

          No, the earlier RM380Z was an aluminium shoebox, Z80 & CP/M based. Stupidly with the bus as a ribbon cable across the top of the cards. Also stupidly only 7 bit data on printer port. We modded about a dozen for people so their Epson MX80 could do graphics printing and the upper part of the character set. The actual interface IC was all 8 bits. Sinclair was doing the Spectrum then and Acorn the BBC model. Schools could get a grant for Apple II (Why?), BBC Model B, or RM380Z. The BBC Acorn maybe had best range of "Educational SW" (mostly worthless compared to real teaching). The RM380Z had the most useful "professional" SW, such as Wordstar, SuperCalc, every programming language, databases, massive shareware etc, purely because of CP/M. I don't remember any school being daft enough to buy the computer without at least one floppy drive.

          Why would anyone have bought a RM380Z for cassette only? Maybe a home computer for games, but you'd not have ever bought any Research Machine only for home gaming.

          I was out of doing that stuff and designing industrial controllers before PC got past the 8088/8086. Hardly anyone used the 186. At least, with enough RAM, some PC makers supported various flavours of Unix on the 286 (Wang had a machine about twice the size of a PC that used giant cards and ran DOS or Unix (Maybe even MS Xenix).

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: You have not lived ....

            >Why would anyone have bought a RM380Z for cassette only?

            In 1981/2 it was still fscking expensive and we wor poor up-north

            The nice thing was that all the cool kids wanted to play games on the BBC-Bs a few later - but the old box was left in the corner all for me....

            The most interesting feature was that the TV modulator was so powerful you could tune any of the B&W TVs on other machines in the class to it without a cable and confuse people (we didn't have monitors when I started)

        3. sorry, what?
          Pint

          Re: You have not lived ....

          @Rich 11, that sounds very much like the RML 380Z's form factor. Though obviously with a different CPU since the 380Z was Z80 based. A really heavy piece of kit with a massively thick, seemingly indestructible metal chassis. I loved the fact that it had a lit up power/reset button that had a physical key lock next to it you could use to prevent bored kiddies resetting the machine. Oh, and the twin *vertically mounted* 8 inch floppy drives with the huge snap-shut closures. Real hardware for real programmers. #bliss#

          1. Rich 11 Silver badge

            Re: You have not lived ....

            Thanks, everyone, for clearing up my faulty memory. My RM nightmares, on the other hand, have resurfaced for the first time in 33 years... you bastards!

      2. Korev Silver badge

        Re: You have not lived ....

        ... if you haven't tried to find the roots of a quadratic equation using FORTRAN 77 on a RM Nimbus 186*

        You mean the old Nimbus with a custom version of DOS which meant you had to emulate "normal DOS" to run stuff?

        As a "deprived child" the one we had only 512KB of RAM which wasn't even enough to do that.

        1. MyffyW Silver badge

          Re: You have not lived ....

          Alas it was not the big box zx81. My inner Anastasia Steele thinks that might have been fun. In reality I think that would have sent me to the Students Union (or the dole queue) rather quicker.

          "My" Nimbus was beige and looked not entirely unlike an IBM-compatible PC. Until you tried to do anything with it...

    4. Steve the Cynic Silver badge

      Re: How the frak did she do that ?

      What HTML magickry enabled ou dearest Verity to do that reversed-inversed type ?

      http://www.upsidedowntext.com/

      ˙ǝuoʎɹǝʌǝ ǝɹǝɥʇ ollǝH

      Final edit: /ɯoɔ˙ʇxǝʇuʍopǝpᴉsdn˙ʍʍʍ//:dʇʇɥ

  2. jake Silver badge

    "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

    Nah. By 1988, Usenet was quite a useful tool ... and it hadn't yet become corrupted by the Eternal September, which ended the Golden Age in '93.

    And c'mon, admit it, you still use vi as nature intended.

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

      Just, not everybody in 1988 was so lucky to have Internet access, or even to a BBS. People bought magazines, books and so on to find the information. It is true most software came with excellent manuals (if you bought it instead of getting a pirated copy, of course). Still, there was those "undocumented" calls...

      Nor programmers with a DOS/TurboPascal background usually like vi (by version 4 in 1987 TP had a full CUA editor...) - even the WordStar key combinations were better... <G>

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

        I didn't say "Internet", I said "Usenet". Neither require the other.

        BBSes were a good source for things like so-called "undocumented" calls. If you had access to a Fido node, the world was your oyster. I didn't know too many people who had a computer at home (with a modem) who didn't have access to one BBS or another. And even then, there was always UUCP via dial-up. All you had to do was look around, the options were there.

        You can make vi look and act like WordStar, if you like. Some folks did. I never really saw the utility in that, though. vi was built by programmers, for programming. It did the job admirably. These days, it's still the fastest way that I know to get my thoughts into ASCII without distraction.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

          "And even then, there was always UUCP via dial-up. All you had to do was look around, the options were there."

          Where you were, maybe. Where I was in '88 the only thing UUCP did was get you through to the other Zilog (via a parallel cable IIRC).

          And, yes, vi is still the direct connection between brain and file.

        2. LDS Silver badge

          "who had a computer at home (with a modem)"

          The problem was the modem - many computer didn't come with one, and they were expensive. Even in most companies you didn't have one. Also, in many places outside larger cities without a local number to call, accessing Usenet, BBS or the like was expensive. Moreover you kept a telephone line busy.

          "vi was built by programmers, for programming"

          That was true for TurboPascal as well - but TurboPascal was built around the IDE idea. in DOS being able to edit, compile and debug from the same applications was very welcome, since you had no multiprocessing. Tools that required to edit, exit, compile, return to the editor to fix errors, rinse and repeat, run, debug, return to the editor, etc. etc. were far less friendly. That was one of the reasons of TP success.

          Moreover many DOS programmers didn't have a Unix background, a lot learned programming on 8 bit computers. and after all, vi looks too much like edlin... <G>

          1. big_D Silver badge

            Re: "who had a computer at home (with a modem)"

            I remember we had a bank of modems at work and a multiplexing. One operator on the night shift had some fun with the Essex Uni system and MUD, running 6 characters. Luckily his was on good terms with head of IT, who managed to spread the 4 figure bill across a bunch of projects, on the promise that it would never happen again!

            1. Dave559 Bronze badge

              Re: "who had a computer at home (with a modem)"

              spuddy.mew.co.uk ;-)

          2. Kubla Cant Silver badge

            Re: "who had a computer at home (with a modem)"

            The problem was the modem - many computer didn't come with one, and they were expensive

            Before BT was privatised and relaxed the rules, modems all had to be tested and approved by Post Office Telephones. As a result, there were about three models available, each costing more than a week's wages. All were robustly engineered so that you could stand on them to flash an Aldiss lamp - this being generally the fastest communication they could manage.

            vi was built by programmers, for programming

            I wouldn't have the nerve to badmouth vi. But for those of us who don't use it all the time, the startup sequence is usually like this:

            $ vi filename

            <start typing stuff, then notice that I didn't enable insert mode until the first 'i' in the stuff>

            :q!

            $ vi filename

            i

            <start typing...>

            1. John G Imrie Silver badge

              vi for beginners

              $ vi filename

              <start typing stuff, then notice that I didn't enable insert mode until the first 'i' in the stuff>

              :e!

              i

              <start typing...>

              :e! reloads the file

              1. Steve the Cynic Silver badge

                Re: vi for beginners

                :e! reloads the file

                Only if you cancel insert mode before typing it...

            2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              Re: "who had a computer at home (with a modem)"

              And local calls in the UK, even assuming you had a local BBS, cost more than long distance calls in the USA.

            3. strum Silver badge

              Re: "who had a computer at home (with a modem)"

              >Before BT was privatised and relaxed the rules

              BT retained the power to approve/disapprove modems for some time after privatisation.

          3. Geoffrey W Silver badge

            Re: "who had a computer at home (with a modem)"

            RE: "The problem was the modem - many computer didn't come with one, and they were expensive"

            Gosh. My first encounter with a modem was a weird box into which you inserted your phone - the old style, proverbial, Telling Bone phone - into rubbery ports and hoped for the best. What were those things called? My long term memory chip is frazzled.

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: "who had a computer at home (with a modem)"

              That "weird box" is called an acoustic coupler. I have several that still work. For rather small values of work. Thankfully, Vadic (later Racal Vadic) came to the rescue and told MaBell to go fuck herself. The rest, as they say, is history.

              1. Geoffrey W Silver badge

                Re: "who had a computer at home (with a modem)"

                What on earth do you still do with those "Acoustic Couplers" so that you know they still work? Who has a "Telling Bone" phone to fit them these days? Those things got me into my first bout of computer trouble when, as a student, we spent so much time on them we almost bankrupted the college. Oh, god, I wish I could misspend my youth all over again...I'd misspend it all over again.

    2. John Riddoch

      Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

      Dejanews was the Google of the 90s - all sorts of useful stuff squirreled away in Usenet forums and generally not tainted with the crap you get now. Google covers a lot of things now, but part of the problem is the 100s of ways Linux implementors do things, so you get some instructions for RHEL 6 which don't work on Debian, Ubuntu or, in some cases, RHEL 7.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

        Dejanews came online in '85. It wasn't widely used until 1999 or 2000ish. In theory it still exists, but after purchasing it the gookids fucked it up rather badly. Seems they don't know what to do with ASCII communications, the poor dears.

        Most Linux distros have their own forums where you can get questions answered. Going through google is an exercise in frustration.

        1. colinb

          Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

          Jake, sure it was '85? I don't remember it untl the 90's and wikipedia has it as '95.

          Dejanews used NNTP and that RFC was only written in 86

          1. Mark 110 Silver badge

            Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

            Are there any Usenet servers still running . . . quite tempted to go have a look. Just to see if all the Usenet spambots are still running and spoiling it for everyone more than anything else . . .

            1. David Roberts Silver badge
              Thumb Up

              Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

              News server?

              news.individual.net from the University of Berlin.

              Been using it for years.

              The ratio of troll to useful content is not always good (see Twitter).

          2. jake Silver badge

            Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

            A couple odds & ends follow:

            Dejanews was 1995, not 1985. 3AM typo. Mea culpa.

            DejaNews wasn't "the google of the time". That was AltaVista or InfoSeek (the WorldWideWebWorm had promise, but never really went anywhere).

            I personally never found anyone (on 6 continents) who couldn't convince a local college or uni to give them a dial-up UUCP link. Squeaky wheel & all that.

            I didn't say anything was free. YES, telephone calls cost money back then. Even most local calls. And you were tethered with a cord between the wall-mounted telephone and the handset. (Cool kids had a really, really long cord so they could hide from their parents while talking).

            You can customize how vi starts up with ~/.exrc (or ~/.vimrc).

            Vim allows column ("block") copy and paste.

            Yes, Usenet is still alive & well, despite the best efforts of the spambots and the bunny set. Either ask your local Uni for a text only feed, or talk to EasyNews, GigaNews or Altopia (in no particular order) about your particular needs/wants. Hint: text is cheap (free for some folks with minimal needs), binaries can cost money.

            IRC still works. Can be quite handy for real-time help with all kinds of things, from coding to stuck fermentation in your plonk. Or just plain old shooting the shit with like minded people.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

              @jake: Regarding access to usenet via your friendly neighbourhood university: sadly, most JANet sites dropped their feed a few years ago, and probably most undergrads would have had no idea what usenet was/is for rather longer.

      2. Steve the Cynic Silver badge

        Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

        Dejanews was the Google of the 90s

        The irony in this is ... sickening. Dejanews stopped being Dejanews when Google bought the company and transformed it into Google Groups.

      3. strum Silver badge

        Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

        >Dejanews was the Google of the 90s

        For those that knew about it. I remember leaving my (IT) boss gobsmacked, that I could answer a previously-intractable problem, with a simple DN search.

        A few years later, in another job, I was gobsmacked by a 'senior' programmer, who had never heard of Usenet.

    3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

      By 1988, Usenet was quite a useful tool

      It still is (for a very limited definition of "useful")..

    4. big_D Silver badge

      Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

      Ah, WordStar... And Peter Norton's pink shirt book on programming the PC.

      1. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

        Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

        There was also IRC ...

      2. Jeffrey Nonken Silver badge

        Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

        I used Wordstar in non-document mode for nearly a decade. I still miss the ability to do column copy and paste.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

          @ Jeffrey Nonken, column copy and paste is alive and well in notepad++

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

      Usenet was quite a useful tool

      Yes, pity it completely ceased to exist.

      Good thing nobody ever figured out how to share binaries on usenet.

      First rule of Usenet is.....

    6. lesession

      Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

      Have an upvote just for the use of 'Eternal September' which is a phrase I've not heard in many a year. The whole fricking world apart from you & me is now in Eternal September,and quite frankly I'm not so sure about me ...

  3. Admiral Grace Hopper

    All these years on

    and I still find myself in third normal form.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: All these years on

      Pity those who never even seem able to get to even 2nd normal.

      1. Admiral Grace Hopper

        Re: All these years on

        I pray for them. In Codd we trust.

  4. Nick Lord

    Verity Stob - the only reason I occasionally take a look at the Register.

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