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Ed Roberts, Personal Computer Pioneer, 1941-2010

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the set-things-in-motion dept.

Hardware Hacking 110

jcr writes "CNET and the Huffington Post both report the death of Henry Edward Roberts, best known to all of us as the inventor of the Altair computer, at the age of 68 from pneumonia. As it happens, I never got to use an Altair, but I did meet Ed once, back in the mid-1980s. Since that time, I've never referred to the Altair bus as the 'S100' bus, since I agree with him that an inventor is entitled to name his invention." Updated 7:40 GMT by timothy: Roberts was 68, not 88 as originally stated; thanks to the readers who pointed out the typo.

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A fitting tribute (0, Troll)

Fanboy Fantasies (917592) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704298)

This guy?
*_g_o_a_t_s_e_x_*_g_o_a_t_s_e_x_*_g_o_a_t_s_e_x_*_
g_______________________________________________g_ _
o_/_____\_____________\____________/____\_______o_ _
a|_______|_____________\__________|______|______a_ _
t|_______`._____________|_________|_______:_____t_ _
s`________|_____________|________\|_______|_____s_ _
e_\_______|_/_______/__\\\___--___\\_______:____e_ _
x__\______\/____--~~__________~--__|_\_____|____x_ _
*___\______\_-~____________________~-_\____|____*_ _
g____\______\_________.--------.______\|___|____g_ _
o______\_____\______//_________(_(__>__\___|____o_ _
a_______\___.__C____)_________(_(____>__|__/____a_ _
t_______/\_|___C_____)/INSERT\_(_____>__|_/_____t_ _
s______/_/\|___C_____)_ALTAIR|__(___>___/__\____s_ _
e_____|___(____C_____)\_HERE_/__//__/_/_____\___e_ _
x_____|____\__|_____\\_________//_(__/_______|__x_ _
*____|_\____\____)___`----___--'_____________|__*_ _
g____|__\______________\_______/____________/_|_g_ _
o___|______________/____|_____|__\____________|_o_ _
a___|_____________|____/_______\__\___________|_a_ _
t___|__________/_/____|_________|__\___________|t_ _
s___|_________/_/______\__/\___/____|__________|s_ _
e__|_________/_/________|____|_______|_________|e_ _
x__|__________|_________|____|_______|_________|x_ _
*_g_o_a_t_s_e_x_*_g_o_a_t_s_e_x_*_g_o_a_t_s_e_x_*_


Important Stuff: Please try to keep posts on topic. Try to reply to other people's comments instead of starting new threads. Read other people's messages before posting your own to avoid simply duplicating what has already been said. Use a clear subject that describes what your message is about. Offtopic, Inflammatory, Inappropriate, Illegal, or Offensive comments might be moderated. (You can read everything, even moderated posts, by adjusting your threshold on the User Preferences Page) If you want replies to your comments sent to you, consider logging in or creating an account.

Important Stuff: Please try to keep posts on topic. Try to reply to other people's comments instead of starting new threads. Read other people's messages before posting your own to avoid simply duplicating what has already been said. Use a clear subject that describes what your message is about. Offtopic, Inflammatory, Inappropriate, Illegal, or Offensive comments might be moderated. (You can read everything, even moderated posts, by adjusting your threshold on the User Preferences Page) If you want replies to your comments sent to you, consider logging in or creating an account.

Important Stuff: Please try to keep posts on topic. Try to reply to other people's comments instead of starting new threads. Read other people's messages before posting your own to avoid simply duplicating what has already been said. Use a clear subject that describes what your message is about. Offtopic, Inflammatory, Inappropriate, Illegal, or Offensive comments might be moderated. (You can read everything, even moderated posts, by adjusting your threshold on the User Preferences Page) If you want replies to your comments sent to you, consider logging in or creating an account.

Re:A fitting tribute (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31704334)

never seen an ASCII goatse before. Clever. Now go away.

Re:A fitting tribute (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31704462)

you must be REALLY new here.

Re:A fitting tribute (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31705364)

LOL!

88? Not that lucky. (4, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704308)

2010 - 1941 = 69

Re:88? Not that lucky. (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31704320)

His age was computed using a Pentium, not an Altair.

Re:88? Not that lucky. (1)

Cryacin (657549) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704348)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ed_Roberts_(computer_engineer) [wikipedia.org]

Yep. Must have been a Plentium 150. The dates are correct, just not the math.

Re:88? Not that lucky. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31704516)

Ed Roberts is now in Hell, and it is irrelevant that Ed Roberts boasted that he did not believe in Hell when he lived on earth. Be assured, Roberts believes in Hell now. Like the rich man the Lord Jesus told about in Luke 16, who died; “and in Hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus (the beggar on earth), that he may dip the tip ofhis finger in water, and cool mytongue; for I am tormented in this flame.” Lk. 16:23,24. When told that he could not have a drop ofwater, for ever, though tormented in flames, he begged for somebody to rise from the dead and preach to his kinfolk, lest they also die and come to this place of torment. Ed Roberts – the filthy blasphemer – the obscene potty-mouth skeptic, agnostic, and profane atheist – who had nothing but disdain for God and the Bible all the days of his tragic life – is now, at this minute and for ever writhing and screaming in exquisite pain – pleading for mercy from that God he flipped off while jacking off for MITS lucre. Roberts made lots of money making fun of God; now he must deal with God – face to face – for ever. “The Lord thy God repayeth them that hate him to their face, to destroy them; he will not be slack to him that hateth him, he will repay him to his face.” Deut. 7:10. When Roberts died he split Hell wide open at once; as it is written: “Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming; it stirreth up the dead for thee. All they shall speak and say unto thee, Art thou also become weak as we? The worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee.” Isa. 14:9,10. Ed Roberts is in Hell. Deal with it. You will soon join him. America is Doomed.

Re:88? Not that lucky. (3, Funny)

jcr (53032) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704552)

When did Fred Phelps' little family of douchebags start trolling /.?

If you're going to heaven, and Ed Roberts is in Hell, then I think I'd rather go where he is.

-jcr

Re:88? Not that lucky. (2, Funny)

EdIII (1114411) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704640)

LOL

Why did you feed the auto-troll? I am more demanding of my trolls. They have to work for their treats.

I think nearly every time a submission is made on Slashdot about somebody passing on a lazy troll takes out this troll form and replaces the name. I have seen it quite often and in several places.

Re:88? Not that lucky. (1)

Tetsujin (103070) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704788)

Ed Roberts is now in Hell

Damn, I never knew God hated the Altair so much...

Re:88? Not that lucky. (1)

vegiVamp (518171) | more than 4 years ago | (#31705390)

Well, Altair *did* kill quite a lot of templars.

Re:88? Not that lucky. (2, Funny)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704346)

He invented also a device that moved him back 19 years. And his bio dont tell about the years he was hidden fearing facing his younger self. So we must thank him for personal computers and that the universe didnt got destroyed by a paradox.

it's all in the 8's (5, Informative)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704422)

the altair 8800 ran on an 8080 and you programmed it in octal.

Of course it was not octal. it was binary. there were 16 switches across the front.

these days most people represent binary numbers as hex. Ever wonder why Octal used to be so much more popular? when you write octal numbers they are really inconvenient so why use them?

Well the answer is, if you are keying in binary number in one switch at a time you can do it lightning fast in octal but not in hex.

with octal you use your middle, index and ring fingers and you can whip the switches up an down. While you do have four fingers you can't easily use all four fingers to slap the switches

try it, your fingers are not equally long, and it's hard to retract your fingers in all 16 possible positions.

octal is easy.

So you programmed altairs in octal.

the altair I used did not even have a boot loader. you just toggled in the binary to enter the boot loader then once you had that in you could read the casstte which had a longer more sphisticated boot loader. which then read in BASIC.

there was no OS. if you wanted an OS, you wrote it in basic as you needed it.

to enter the program into memory the altair used an interesting trick. the front panel switches could set the address counter to an address, which could then be incremented. You put the computer into a wait state to enter the data to be written to the memory, then advanced the address counter.

by the way the 6502 was a much better processor with a simpler but more sophisticated instruction set.

one reason I think the 8080/Z80-series beat the 6502 was an early version of the megahertz myth. The 4mhz base clock rate of the z80 was faster than the 6502's base clock rate of 1Mhz. But the z80 used 4 clock cycles and a few wait states for most instructions. the 6502 complete nearly every instruction in one instruction.

if only the altair had been 6502 based.

(the 6502 came out later in time of course, so it's understandable.. and there was a 6800-series version of the altair that never caught on).

Re:it's all in the 8's (2, Insightful)

jcr (53032) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704536)

>if only the altair had been 6502 based.

It's a chicken-and-egg problem. Intel's success with the 8008 and the 8080 were a major factor in convincing MOS technology to hire Chuck Peddle and the rest of his Motorola team to develop the 6502.

-jcr

Re:it's all in the 8's (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31704734)

That is not why.

It was convenient to think in Octal because the commands were of the form cc ddd, sss where cc was the command, ddd was the destination register, and sss was the source register.
Thus, for example, "move C, A" which was 01001111
could be 0100 1111 [Hex 4F] which required a lookup or an interpretation,
or it could be 01 (mov) 001 (register C) 111 (register A) [Octal 117] which was easy to construct.
Then you only had to remember the order of the register numbering, and a few commands.

In octal, therefore, the programming became intuitive. In hex it was a constant struggle to remember somewhat random numbers, else convert from the octal.
Using octal which was the natural rendering of the command structure, made coding intuitive, quick, accurate, and efficient.

Re:it's all in the 8's (2, Insightful)

Gim Tom (716904) | more than 4 years ago | (#31705786)

Having learned Assembly on a Dec PDP8 back in the mid 1960's I was struck by how similar the Altair 8800 looked to that machine. The Dec had fancier switches and we had a paper tape reader and a model 33 TTY for output. However, you STILL had to key in the FIRST (of two I think) boot loaders by hand in Octal on the front panel. Octal has NOT gone away, however. ALL IPV4 addresses are really OCTAL numbers. If you can think in Octal and know how an XOR gate works then Net Masks make perfect sense.

Re:it's all in the 8's (3, Interesting)

Colin Douglas Howell (670559) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704746)

these days most people represent binary numbers as hex. Ever wonder why Octal used to be so much more popular? when you write octal numbers they are really inconvenient so why use them?

Well the answer is, if you are keying in binary number in one switch at a time you can do it lightning fast in octal but not in hex.

with octal you use your middle, index and ring fingers and you can whip the switches up an down. While you do have four fingers you can't easily use all four fingers to slap the switches

Interesting, but I don't think that's the only reason octal used to be more popular than hex.

Although hexadecimal was introduced very early in computer history, it was generally rejected early on. There was little agreement on how to represent digits greater than 9, and it seems many people found the idea of using letters for numerical digits to be highly objectionable.

Octal didn't have that problem, and it was a natural fit for computers of the 1950s and early 1960s. Many of these used 6-bit characters (upper case only) and had word sizes which were multiples of 6. For example, all of DEC's systems developed before the PDP-11 had such word sizes, as did IBM's 700 and 7000 series of scientific systems. On such systems, words and characters would cleanly fit into an even number of octal digits.

Even on the PDP-11, which had 16-bit words and 8-bit characters, octal was still preferred. The PDP-11's binary instruction format, which had 3-bit specifiers for its registers and addressing modes, made it much simpler to read and write PDP-11 machine code in octal than in hex.

IBM's System/360, which had 8-bit characters, 32-bit words, and byte-addressable memory, had a big effect in making hexadecimal popular in the computing world, but it took time for the shift to fully take place. I think part of the reason octal was still used with the Altair was persistence of octal's old dominance.

Re:it's all in the 8's (1)

Colin Douglas Howell (670559) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704792)

one reason I think the 8080/Z80-series beat the 6502 was an early version of the megahertz myth. The 4mhz base clock rate of the z80 was faster than the 6502's base clock rate of 1Mhz. But the z80 used 4 clock cycles and a few wait states for most instructions. the 6502 complete nearly every instruction in one instruction.

I'm not sure why you think the 8080/Z80 "beat" the 6502. While it's true that many early 8-bit microcomputers were based on the 8080 and Z80, especially in the CP/M world, some very popular and successful 8-bit systems used the 6502, like the Apple II, Commodore 64, and Atari's home computers and game consoles.

As for the clock speeds, they are indeed misleading, partly because they measure different things. 8080 and Z80 systems used "fine-grained" clocks, with 2 to 3 clock cycles per memory cycle. The 6502, and its predecessor the Motorola 6800, used "coarse-grained" clocks, with a single clock cycle per memory cycle. As long as the two types of systems used similar memory technology, the memory cycle times would be similar, and performance of these systems was almost totally dominated by memory traffic.

Re:it's all in the 8's (1)

Anne Thwacks (531696) | more than 4 years ago | (#31705026)

with 2 to 3 clock cycles per memory cycle.

Correct, if 2 to 3 means 7!

Re:it's all in the 8's (1)

Colin Douglas Howell (670559) | more than 4 years ago | (#31705058)

Correct, if 2 to 3 means 7!

No, it means 2 to 3. :)

I think you're confusing "memory cycle" with "instruction cycle". By "memory cycle", I mean a single bus access to memory: the memory address gets put on the bus, and then the data value is received or sent. Most Z80 and 6502 instructions require several such accesses: 1 to fetch the opcode byte, possibly additional ones to fetch further operation bytes, if any, followed by memory accesses for operand fetch and/or writing the result.

Re:it's all in the 8's (1)

david_thornley (598059) | more than 4 years ago | (#31706022)

The Z80 I had took four clock cycles for the first memory access (the first byte of the instruction) and three for each following memory access. There were a few exceptions, but overall that was pretty accurate. There were instructions that took four cycles.

On the 6809, first memory access was two cycles, with one for each remaining one. Again, there were exceptions. The 6809 was a somewhat later chip, and had assembler compatibility with the 6800 rather than the almost complete binary compatibility the Z80 had with the 8080.

I never owned a computer with an 8080 or 6502, so I can't comment on them.

Re:it's all in the 8's (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#31705472)

I'm not sure why you think the 8080/Z80 "beat" the 6502. While it's true that many early 8-bit microcomputers were based on the 8080 and Z80, especially in the CP/M world, some very popular and successful 8-bit systems used the 6502, like the Apple II, Commodore 64, and Atari's home computers and game consoles.

Well, you likely wrote that on a computer which uses a descendant of 8080. There's also still quite a bit of Z80 around us, or so I've heard. 6502 lineage...died out.

(one can consider ARM as a spiritual descendant of 6502, sort of; but it's too big of a stretch, I think)

Re:it's all in the 8's (1)

VanessaE (970834) | more than 4 years ago | (#31706522)

With apologies to Samuel Clemens, Western Design Center would tell you that the report of the 6502 lineage's death has been exaggerated. [westerndesigncenter.com]

Re:it's all in the 8's (2, Interesting)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#31706922)

Yes, I've stumbled once, while under wiki effect, on the info that somebody still makes them; without the volume info though, nice to see they are not dead yet (with apologies to general Franco ;) )

Still, no clear & big descendants, and in the meantime many new widely succesfull players in microcontroller market have shown up and are bound to show...

Re:it's all in the 8's (2, Informative)

noidentity (188756) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704838)

I used to think the 6502 was superior for its lower clocks-per-instruction, but I've since learned more. The 6502 uses a two-phase clock, so it's really double the apparent clock rate. The Z-80 uses a higher clock, but runs memory at a lower rate. That was one of the limiting factors of those days, the speed of the external bus. So you could use the same speed memory with a 4 MHz Z-80 as with a 1 MHz 6502 (don't know the exact numbers, but it's basically like this). The Z-80 also had more registers and you could do many register-to-register operations, whereas on the 6502 you must use memory for things like ORing two values together.

That said, I much prefer the 6502 for its simple and clean instruction set, and the fact that it didn't use any microcode when decoding instructions. It feels like a RISC machine, while the Z-80 feels just like x86, as it's an extension of the 8080, itself not very elegant either. Things like two-byte relative jump instructions are SLOWER than three-byte absolute jumps, for example.

best 8-bit uP ever: 6809. Hands down. (1)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704906)

All those wonderful indexing modes... the dual stack pointers... relative everything for PI code... what a great instruction set.

The downfall was it was random logic inside, and they hit a speed wall they couldn't get past.

I missed that thing so bad I wrote a complete emulation, from mpu to OS (flex09) to drives to terminal and graphics card. Now I'll always have it. Nothing like a little 6809 assembler to relax by.

Re:best 8-bit uP ever: 6809. Hands down. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31704942)

I got my feet wet with the 6809. You are right that it was a great design. I went form that to x86 and it was such a mess.

Re:best 8-bit uP ever: 6809. Hands down. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31704944)

Would you care to share your work?

I'm partial to the 6809 and still have a single board computer based on it somewhere in the deep end of the attic running Assist09. When terminals where still connected by RS-232, this little home-brew could do wonders for auto-injecting commands. It was a hardware macro expander, if you will.

There surely are others that have done (or are still doing) similar projects.

Re:best 8-bit uP ever: 6809. Hands down. (1)

six809 (1961) | more than 4 years ago | (#31705730)

Agreed, I learnt on the 6809 and remember being bemused by the limitations of 6502 when I came to try it!

Oddly I read this while having a text editor open on m6809.c :)

Re:it's all in the 8's (1)

ZosX (517789) | more than 4 years ago | (#31705416)

to enter the program into memory the altair used an interesting trick. the front panel switches could set the address counter to an address, which could then be incremented. You put the computer into a wait state to enter the data to be written to the memory, then advanced the address counter.

Interesting post. Older computers operated similarly to this. The altair was really a throwback to the early days of computing where registers were entered by hand via switches and the program or rather the machine could be halted to change things in between. I'm rather glad we at least have a mouse and keyboard now. :)

There is an excellent series that PBS did in the 80s on the early history of computing. It ends up in modern times, which at the time was I believe like 84 or 85, so it definitely gives an interesting perspective, especially where computers where headed. I'm pretty sure you can find a torrent of it, but I also believe that that it is on youtube. It is called "The Machine that Changed the World" Well worth a watch or three. Also I just ran into this on youtube. Great. Now my day is shot. :)

http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=2AB505056203F80F [youtube.com]

Re:it's all in the 8's (1)

jimmydevice (699057) | more than 4 years ago | (#31705442)

The 8080's register src and dest were encoded in the 6 lsbs. It was easier to mentally decode the instructions in octal, just like the PDP-8

Re:it's all in the 8's (2, Interesting)

bkeahl (1688280) | more than 4 years ago | (#31705718)

I remember those days, and you're right about keying octal. I remember being amazed at how fast I ultimately loaded the cassette bootloader in memory! I seem to remember something like 1444 bytes free after loading the BASIC interpreter.

I blame that blasted machine for being in this industry!

Re:it's all in the 8's (2, Funny)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 4 years ago | (#31706392)

there was no OS. if you wanted an OS, you wrote it in basic as you needed it.

Real mean wrote their own bootstrap, OS and higher level language in assembler.. "Basic".. damned kids these days.

Re:88? Not that lucky. (1)

DavMz (1652411) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704596)

From wikipedia: Henry Edward "Ed" Roberts (September 13, 1941 – April 1, 2010)

So he actually died at 68.
(and everyone knows that 68 in hex is 88 in base 12)

Re:88? Not that lucky. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31704634)

booosh!

Re:88? Not that lucky. (2, Interesting)

Tetsujin (103070) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704782)

2010 - 1941 = 69

Interestingly enough, at any given time if you were to ask the man what number he was thinking of, that would have been his reply!

Clearly he had some kind of latent premonition of his death.

Re:88? Not that lucky. (0, Offtopic)

junjie_1024 (1773516) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704914)

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Re:88? Not that lucky. (1)

redkcir (1431605) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704952)

Depends on the Month as well as the year. I was born 1949 and by your figures (2010-1949) I should be 61. I was born in late December of 49 and my age is 60 at present, which it will be until my birthday in December.

1941-2010=69 years old not 88 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31704310)

Come on guys facts or basic math.

He started something big (5, Insightful)

NixieBunny (859050) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704324)

The Altair really got the hobby computer market going. It was by no means perfect, but it was something that a lot of people were hungry for. I had the thrill of working in a retail computer store in 1978 when the IMSAI and Apple were going head-to-head. [IMSAI is a spelling error in this text entry box, which tells you who won.]

Re:He started something big (1)

adolf (21054) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704456)

If the spell checker decides the losers, then Alienware, Acer, Lenovo, Sun Microsystems, are losers (which, in these examples, is at least arguable).

Surprisingly: Cray, Compaq, and DEC are all apparently winners. Even though they all, inarguably[1], they pass spell-check in my Firefox just fine.

[1]: "Inarguably," ironically, does not pass spell check.

Re:He started something big (2, Funny)

adolf (21054) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704466)

(I'd rewrite that to correct for a missing "and" in the first sentence, and a missing "losers" in the second, but my vodka martini with a couple of lovely marinated olives says I don't want to. Arguably, this makes me a loser, but then: "Adolf" passes spellcheck just fine. Please moderate accordingly, whatever that means.)

Spellcheck driven M&A (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31706044)

At the time Sperry/Burroughs merged to form Unisys it was rumoured that Sperry's word processing software rejected "unisys" and suggested "anuses" as a likely fix.

Re:He started something big (4, Funny)

nicolas.kassis (875270) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704492)

could it be because apple is simply a dictionary word?

Re:He started something big (2, Interesting)

jcr (53032) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704546)

I read a pretty interesting book about IMSAI a while back, and how they self-destructed. Apparently, their management was all caught up in the "EST" cult, so they simply ignored any negative information at all. Instead of dealing with problems, they fired anyone who insisted on mentioning them.

-jcr

Re:He started something big (1)

dzfoo (772245) | more than 4 years ago | (#31707812)

I read that too. I think it was in the book "Fire in the Valley", which was later made into the TV movie "Pirates of Silicon Valley," sans the real interesting parts.

Very interesting book, by the way.

      -dZ.

Re:He started something big (3, Insightful)

spire3661 (1038968) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704894)

Didnt David Lightman from War Games have IMSAI equipment?

Re:He started something big (2, Insightful)

beejhuff (186291) | more than 4 years ago | (#31705942)

Hah, that's the first thing I thought of also! You're correct, he did indeed. And, if you're interested, you may be able to purchase the one used in the movie: http://www.imsai.net/Movies/WarGames.htm [imsai.net]

The PC you're using today is thanks to the Altair. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31704326)

You probably don't realize it, but the PC you're using today is all thanks to the Altair.

It was revolutionary. It was groundbreaking. On one hand, it helped encourage Jobs and Woz to set up Apple. On the other, it was also responsible for the creation of Microsoft. But not only that, it showed that what was once a dream could become reality, and IBM made that dream the reality we enjoy today.

Age (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31704332)

You will call the bus after it's inventor and not it's designation, in respect to it's inventor, but you can't do basic math in order to work out how old he was?

Re:Age (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31704352)

You can't even use an apostrophe correctly. Don't talk to us about other people's bad math.

Re:Age (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31704578)

You will call the bus after it is inventor and not it is designation, in respect to it is inventor, but you can not do basic math in order to work out how old he was?

Good job with the apostrophe usage.

Ed Roberts Dead at 68 (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31704356)

I just heard some sad news on talk radio - Computer engineer Ed Roberts was found dead in his Maine home this morning. There weren't any more details. I'm sure everyone in the Slashdot community will miss him - even if you didn't enjoy his work, there's no denying his contributions to popular culture. Truly an American icon.

Re:Ed Roberts Dead at 68 (0, Flamebait)

Miseph (979059) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704636)

And initial reports confirm that the death was not AIDS-related, as many had first feared. It would truly have been a blow to his legacy had being HIV positive been a contributing factor in this matter.

Re:Ed Roberts Dead at 68 (1)

Askmum (1038780) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704720)

And initial reports confirm that the death was not AIDS-related, as many had first feared. It would truly have been a blow to his legacy had being HIV positive been a contributing factor in this matter.

--
I completely disagree with every word of the above post.

I'm glad you put that sig there. Because I don't see why being HIV positive would be a blow to someones legacy or even affect your look on someone.

True Visionary (1)

Ronin Developer (67677) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704364)

I learned the basics of computer programming, initially on a MITS Altair 8800 in, 1976-77. It was an exciting time - computer kits sprung up like weeds. And, we computer geeks were born.

May he rest in peace.

The altair (1)

jdigriz (676802) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704376)

I still have my Altair 680 in a closet somewhere. I paid 10 dollars for it at a ham radio fleamarket. A real bargain to own a piece of computing history.

Ok, ok! I'm Sorry for the typo... (3, Funny)

jcr (53032) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704404)

Give it a rest, will you?

-jcr

Re:Ok, ok! I'm Sorry for the typo... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31704432)

Umm, KIND OF important, don't you think?

Oh well, may rest in peace...

ba-dum-bum.

YOU FAIL IT ('IT' is basic math)! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31704468)

Ok, NOW we can give it a rest!

Re:Ok, ok! I'm Sorry for the typo... (1)

Concerned Onlooker (473481) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704544)

Definitely. Especially when Slashdot claims to employ editors.

When I met Ed... (5, Interesting)

jcr (53032) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704406)

Sometime around 1987 or so, he was working on a startup called "Georgia Medical Electronics", and his plan was to make very cheap, stackable modules that had an Altair-bus on the top and the bottom, so you could snap a CPU together with a disk module and a power control module and have a simple process control computer for a factory (for example). My partner at the time was one of the few people left who remembered how to write a CP/M BIOS, and we went down to Atlanta to talk to him about working together. It didn't pan out, but I was glad to get the chance to meet him.

-jcr

Re:When I met Ed... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31704424)

Yeah. I know what you mean.
My father was going to take me on a fishing trip to Canada once but we didn't go.

Re:When I met Ed... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31704484)

John, I had no idea you were homosexual (unless I have misunderstood your use of the word "partner"). Have you ever been with some of the famous BSD developers (I mean the old school ones from way back at Berkeley) who were into men?

Re:When I met Ed... (1)

jcr (53032) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704512)

Assuming that your question is sincere, I was referring to my business partner.

If you're trying to push my buttons, you'll have to try again. Sexual orientation is a non-issue to me.

-jcr

Re:When I met Ed... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31704602)

It certainly isn't a non-issue to God. You will soon be joining Ed Roberts in hell, you filthy fag sinner.

Re:When I met Ed... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31704656)

What's with the religious trolling? God damn, give it a rest! ;)

Re:When I met Ed... (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 4 years ago | (#31706370)

Someone else did ship a modular computer like that in the mid 80's.. Cant remember their name. Saw their ads in Byte.

Altair bus (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31704436)

To be fair, although very similar there were some minor differences between the Altair bus and the S-100 bus and what later became the IEEE-696 bus. But, yes, Altair did have the first bus to use the 100 pin connector using an edge connector and his design was the basis for the other 2 derivatives. The later IEEE-696 also specified a "double height" version of the card which provided more chip real estate than the relatively short (for the day) card specified in the original design.

It was a great breakthrough and he will be missed.

Re:Altair bus (1)

yuhong (1378501) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704556)

On this topic, anyone remember the 16-bit version of this bus? Anyone remember the S-100 8086 processor cards from SCP and CompuPro (and I am sure other vendors too)? Anyone remember playing with SCP 86-DOS before it got bought by MS for the IBM PC? What about CompuPro's S-100 286 processor card? They even made a 386 card using a connector at the top to expose the extra lines to other card. What about CP/M-86? Anyone want to predict what would have happened if IBM were able to license CP/M-86 from DR and put MS's BASIC on top of it like MS was willing to do initially?

April 1st (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31704442)

People needs to stop dying on April 1st. Nobody takes the news seriously (at first).

Re:April 1st (3, Funny)

Tetsujin (103070) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704802)

People needs to stop dying on April 1st. Nobody takes the news seriously (at first).

Hey, dying isn't fun, let me tell you. I expect if I were dying, I'd be looking for ways to make it fun.

last words (1)

dominious (1077089) | more than 4 years ago | (#31705114)

I am about to -- or I am going to -- die: either expression is correct.

Dominique Bouhours, French grammarian, d. 1702

Re:last words (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31707822)

According to French Wikipedia, that'd be " Je vais ou je vas mourir, l'un et l'autre se dit ou se disent." It also says the story is made up.

Re:last words (1)

Tetsujin (103070) | more than 4 years ago | (#31708276)

According to French Wikipedia, that'd be " Je vais ou je vas mourir, l'un et l'autre se dit ou se disent." It also says the story is made up.

Well, it's not really made up, just embellished a bit. I'm sure he would have said that if he'd had time. What he actually said was "Je vais ou je vas ACK" - but that didn't make for a very good final quote so they extrapolated a bit.

Didn't have one of those, but (5, Interesting)

Whuffo (1043790) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704488)

A friend built one. Pretty cool machine - well designed and it worked very well. I waited and built a SOL machine for myself and it was lots of fun, too. I was "lucky" enough to have an ASR-33 to hook to it and loaded programs from paper tape. With a 32K expansion board I could run 32K Basic and there were many evenings when I started the machine up, loaded the OS from tape then put the 32K Basic tape in the reader, hit start, and went out for dinner. Assuming nothing went wrong it'd be at a READY prompt in a little over 1/2 hour.

What's kind of funny in a strange way is that 32K Basic was a Bill Gates project. I remember having a problem one day, calling for help and speaking with him on the phone about it. He solved my problem for me - and I never imagined that things would turn out the way they have. The days are long gone when you'd toggle in the bootloader from the front panel - or get technical support from Bill Gates.

Things have changed a lot since then - I'm still quite amused by the current crop of "hackers" who think they're all that but never built their own computer from chips and raw PC boards. Building a PC these days is something grade school kids can do.

Re:Didn't have one of those, but (3, Insightful)

jcr (53032) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704520)

I'm still quite amused by the current crop of "hackers" who think they're all that but never built their own computer from chips and raw PC boards.

Think that's bad? I knew someone who was a manager of a software test group at HP who didn't even understand basic household wiring. He had a hell of a time grasping how a simple three-way switch works.

-jcr

Re:Didn't have one of those, but (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31704676)

That doesn't surprise me, actually. HP isn't known for their software, really. At least not in the good way.

Re:Didn't have one of those, but (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704692)

And I’m still quite amused by the current generation, who never planted and hunted and butchered their own food, never built their own house and car, and wouldn’t survive a day in the wilderness. ;)

Times have changed. I designed my own tiny computer, and did a lot of system programming in the days before graphics, sound and chipset drivers.
But there is an ideal in programming: Don”t re-invent the wheel!
There is no point in writing your own standard library, if you already have a perfectly good one that it very mature and optimized.
The same thing is true for building your own computer. You can still improve things, if you want or need to. You can still learn all the internals, to achieve that.

But it does not make you a bit better, to keep re-inventing your wheel and learn things that you don’t need. Because without doing that, we have time to learn more high-level and advanced things, making us orders of magnitudes more efficient and hence faster.
That there are idiots out there, who think HTML is a programming language, and are too lazy to learn those more advanced things, is a different topic.

I, for one, prefer to learn and be able to use Haskell and GHC with its ultra-advanced concepts, to writing stupid repetitive error-prone routines for a boot loader or on a BASIC interpreter.

Fuck your lawn! ^^

Re:Didn't have one of those, but (3, Insightful)

DamonHD (794830) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704934)

Dead right.

I have designed and built my own random-logic boards and 25 years ago before university I designed and wire-wrapped a robotics system and OS that was seen on TV and got lots of investment, etc, etc, but I'm still pleased as punch these days to be able to get a SheevaPlug running an entire Linux with full IP stack, etc, in a smaller volume and with lower power consumption which itself can host Java with its extensive API libraries...

Which lets me focus on the bits I'm interested in.

Rgds

Damon

Re:Didn't have one of those, but (1)

stevey (64018) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704748)

I'm still quite amused by the current crop of "hackers" who think they're all that but never built their own computer from chips and raw PC boards. Building a PC these days is something grade school kids can do.

I've been thinking that for a long time now, even though I didn't start that far back myself.

I started with the z80-based ZX Spectrum, and then graduated through a series of early PCs. The earliest one running GEM with a hercules (monochrome) graphics card.

As there wasn't much real software about then if you wanted it you wrote it yourself, reading the programming guides, and Ralf Browns' interrupt list.

These days there are people grown up who've never known anything before Windows 95; they grew up with the GUI and an environment which just worked. They never had to tinker, they never understood from the ground up how the PC works, and have little incentive to experiment. Back in my own personal olden days you had debug, you had built in support for programming. Nowadays its' all hidden away.

Don't even get me started on people who don't understand what pointers are, or how they work...

Re:Didn't have one of those, but (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#31705712)

How is having a huge library of software to do things (which weren't even possible on your first machines...), and approachable by huge number of people, bad?

FYI, I started with C64.

Re:Didn't have one of those, but (3, Insightful)

NixieBunny (859050) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704798)

You think you had it hard waiting for paper tape? My brother wrote his own 2K Tiny Basic interpreter for the M6800 from scratch, stored on reel-to-reel tape. We wanted a printer; Dad brought home a Friden Flexowriter and invited us to make it talk. We did. We were lazy enough to ask for a 4K RAM kit with a genuine PC board for Christmas, since wire-wrapping 32 chips was a bit tedious.

Re:Didn't have one of those, but (2, Interesting)

DrJimbo (594231) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704936)

Reminds me of when I was developing on SBC-80 systems based on the Intel 8080 back in the '70's. I was doing everything in machine code, typing it in on a teletype and using a simple monitor program from Intel. I had a big program, maybe Basic or some other simple "high level" language that I loaded via paper tape. I needed to move the program to another place in memory. So I copied the program using the monitor (program) and then wrote my own little program to change all the addresses in the code to match the new location.

Unfortunately I mistakenly ran my relocator on the original code not the copy and I didn't catch the error right away. Funny thing was that both copies of the code, call them A and B, now worked. Every jump or call in A would jump or call to the correct location in the B code and every jump or call in the B code would go to the correct location in the A code.

When I was writing my own code I would write it out in assembly on graph paper and then manually convert the assembly mnemonics into hex that I would eventually type in via the teletype. I had to calculate all the addresses manually. I learned to leave a little space between the subroutines. That way if I had to add a few bytes of code during debugging, I wouldn't have to recalculate all the addresses again because most of the code wouldn't have to move.

Re:Didn't have one of those, but (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#31705588)

Were your home built machines able to do anything close to what current ones are capable of doing? (I'm not talking about raw power, i/o, etc. per se; but what they enable)

Re:Didn't have one of those, but (1)

Peter Simpson (112887) | more than 4 years ago | (#31707418)

SWTPC 6800. An acquaintance had bought one, built most of it, and had several memory cards to build. He had run out of desire to solder chips, so he let me take it for a month to build the memory boards and test the system. I had a Teletype and a soldering iron, so I spent a month of my summer vacation playing with it (building the memory boards took only a day or two).

Real Computers have switches and lights.
Real Hackers design and build their own computers.

RIP Ed.

yay for a renaissance man who touched many (5, Informative)

1 a bee (817783) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704576)

This man did many things and touched many lives. Bill Gates's and Paul Allen's, included. FTA:

Roberts founded Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems, which sold the kits. A young Gates and Allen would later found their fledgling Microsoft firm in Albuquerque, N.M., where MITS was based, and provide a computer language that helped hobbyists program and operate the Altair.

After selling his company, he tries both farming, and then medicine. (He's in his 40s at this time.)

He sold his company in 1977 and retired to a life of vegetable farming in rural Georgia before going to medical school and getting a medical degree from Mercer University, in 1986.

Roberts worked as an internist, seeing as many as 30 patients a day

Talk about multi-dimensional..

Re:yay for a renaissance man who touched many (2, Funny)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704992)

yay for a renaissance man who touched many

That’s what the pope said! :D

April Fool's!! (0, Troll)

chewthreetimes (1740020) | more than 4 years ago | (#31704586)

lol

My First Computer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31704604)

I programmed using the Altair 8800 when I was 16 and attending university at Simon Fraser in British Columbia. You really learned how to program effectively when flipping those switches.

Triumph of the Nerds. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31704928)

Check it out on YouTube if you haven't already seen it.

http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=triumph+of+the+nerds&aq=f

Handheld Altair (1)

bolt_the_dhampir (1545719) | more than 4 years ago | (#31705126)

I'm still wondering when someone is going to make a "handheld" Altair, reproducing some of the looks and most of the functions (except for plugin cards) and selling it on ThinkGeek or somesuch for a reasonable price. I want to play around with an Altair, but I'm not going to get one of those huge replicas: http://www.altairkit.com/index.html [altairkit.com]

Re:Handheld Altair (2, Informative)

captjc (453680) | more than 4 years ago | (#31708882)

I believe that Briel Computers, the guys who designed the Apple 1 replica, The Replica-1 computer and other cool kits are working on something similar. The first version was a standard ATX case that was shaped like a Altair and the front panels were a controlled by a reprogrammable Microcontroller acting as an 8800 emulator. I am not quite sure of the specifics. http://www.brielcomputers.com/altairpc.html [brielcomputers.com]

After looking on his site, it seems they are now working on something similar to a handheld Altair called the Altair 8800 Micro. http://www.brielcomputers.com/wordpress/?p=246 [brielcomputers.com]

The pneumonia was coused by Swine Flu (1)

maitas (98290) | more than 4 years ago | (#31705400)

It seems that the pneumonia was coused by Swine Flu

RIP Mr. Roberts (2, Interesting)

bkeahl (1688280) | more than 4 years ago | (#31705542)

The man was one of the pioneers of the industry. I sure wish I could find one of those original 8800's to stick on a shelf. Maybe make it do one of those Cylon-like LED scans back and forth! Talk about bringing back memories! I worked on one of those in school, repairing and calibrating the cassette interface! It's what got me hooked on computers. As I recall, after manually entering the boot-loader via the toggle switches and loading BASIC off the cassette tape we had 1444 bytes free or something like that! All those toggle switches and lights, blinking and flashing, flashing and blinking ...

Was he vitamin D deficient from indoors work? (1)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | more than 4 years ago | (#31705782)

Adequate vitamin D (the sunlight vitamin) helps prevent pneumonia:
    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=pneumonia+vitamin+d [google.com]

At the end of the winter, Ed Roberts' vitamin D supplies would have been depleted.

The right amount of vitamin D also helps prevent influenza, cancer, heart disease, and a variety of other illnesses:
    http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/treatment.shtml [vitamindcouncil.org]

All computers should come with a warning label about this, IMHO. :-)
    http://blogs.intel.com/csr/2010/02/with_all_of_the_debate.php [intel.com]

I'd suggest it is possible that vitamin D deficiency is the leading cause of death of computer users including most slashdotters. See also:
    "A Decade Of Vitamin D Supplementation Would Save $4.4 Trillion Over A Decade; Would Save $1346 Per Person Per Annum"
    http://www.lewrockwell.com/sardi/sardi111.html [lewrockwell.com]

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