GEMESYS "NorthStar" Z80 Computer - showing a histogram, which resulted from running a randomness-simulation. The program is a couple of hundred lines, written in BASIC! The BASIC interpreter, the system "Monitor" (a very tiny, simple "operating system", that one can "branch" to!), and the program and data - all fit within 64K (despite using a 1-megabyte chip for the on-board memory).
The "NorthStar" Z-80 was designed by a clever friend as a hobby exercise. (Circuit board designed by Dan Collins, with KiCad, and then fabricated direct from KiCad file, by JLCPCB in China - onboard ROM-chip for BASIC interpreter and Z-80 Monitor program burnt with TL866-2-plus by XGecu, also of China. Fine tech at great prices.) With a little PIC chip to provide a working VT-100 "terminal" to drive a VGA display, and an old laptop running Kermit (for off-line program storage), one can have a complete, working computer, that can be built with some parts, a soldering iron, and the "zasm" Z80 Assembler program (for the Monitor and the BASIC interpreter.)
The BASIC interpreter is a Microsoft product, for which Microsoft released the source code. We thank the folks at Microsoft for this fine generosity. The little Z-80 MS-BASIC (from the year 1978!), is a truly wonderful example of doing a very great deal, with not very much. It is really a lovely thing - a tiny, antique jewel of coding excellence.
This little Z-80 SBC (Single Board Computer) is really interesting. It can invert matrix data, and thus do real, actual, useful work - and offer real, actionable value. I am always rather surprised by this. Dial it all back to bare essentials, and sometimes, real insight is possible.
There is great learning possible, by close examination of the first, or very early versions of a technology.
Such as: It is very difficult (but not impossible) to get quality pseudo-random generated values on a deterministic system. It is difficult - but as this little Gaussian histogram shows - it is not impossible - even if using tiny code frames. You can code up a linear-regression example, and run it with real data and get real results - much like I did as a young lad, using Fortran compilers running on DECsystem 20's and the IBM VM 370 (a big, water-cooled monster that filled a room at University of Waterloo).
I fear the modern technologies are at risk of driving much of society retrograde, and killing the sense of wonder and joy that comes with honest discovery and focused learning efforts. The modern technics simply create tight, toxic neural feedback loops, so that it more resembles cocaine addiction or opium-den user-engagement models. No one seems to be actually *learning* anything, much less *doing* anything.
I spent a few days with some folks who have three kids - two boys and a young girl. The kids spent *all* their time on the computers or iPhones, watching action animation movies, Youtube or playing games. It was disturbing. None of them seemed very happy, and their relentless focus on the interactive play, or the chattering "Youtube" people, was clearly affecting their ability to interact with real people around them. It was like they were ghosts - only partly present.
These are the people who will soon be voting and determining the outcomes of elections - and they are completely immersed in a false, fantasy-world of carefully crafted neural stimulation.
I remember the crazy things that we did as kids - the wild trouble we would get into, and the powerful life-lessons we would learn as part of fixing the disasters we created - out of curiousity. This current crop of kids seems to have none of this - as all their socialization actions seem to be through online experiences which are false, fictional constructs of bitstreams. It looks a *lot* like hard-core drug addiction - and I am curious if it will have the same problematic social outcomes as we drive forward through time, to an evermore twisted and corrupted future.
Not many are looking up anymore. They just stare *down*, at their iPhones, engaged in their little fantasy worlds.
My "inner trader" whispers that this social model is gonna kill us all - far before our time. We all will die at some point, of course - but are we to be just the programmed "Eloi"? There won't even be any "Morlocks". Just lots of dead Eloi, who ran out of mental battery power, staring at their little iPhones. It's a weird and disturbing far-future vision.
[ Update: But then, I found the Naomi Wu archives, on Internet Archive. Very cool, very good. I am seriously impressed (and not just because of her *very* large synthetic breasts!) Honestly. I am most impressed by her fine use of English, truth be told. See the Sept. 13, 2021 diary entry for link to her archive of technology reviews & "Maker" videos. ]