September 12, 2017

Well, let’s start it off with. . . . . .something else.

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 7:33 pm

Jerry Pournelle, the first author to write a novel on a computer, dies at 84

I link this not really because it has any particular archaeological significance, but he was part of a whole milieu back in the late 1980s and early 1990s that kind of set me on my path. Not archaeology — I was already on that — but rather to my entire side (some would say main) career path working with computers. ‘N junk.

Regulars may recall that I started undergraduate school as a computer science major, but ended up in archaeology because it interested me far more than programming ^$)#ing linked lists in ^$)#ing assembly language. Anyway, a few years into grad school my funding sucked, my faculty advisor was an alcoholic, and I needed to earn a living, so I ended up by chance with a Large City’s Department of Public Health analyzing data. First on an old IBM mainframe and then we moved to PCs running. . . . .OS/2. Having been a Vax guy, I adored OS/2 and thought Windows was nothing more than DOS in a clown suit. And thus I entered unto the Great OS Wars of the 1980s and 1990s.

Anyway, Pournelle: He used to have a column in the old Byte magazine (ha, look what’s in the top row there). He was an exceptional writer for a magazine like that, not some technical mumbo jumbo or rehashed advertising copy; his columns told a story. In a way, they were almost all the same: He’d describe how he changed something in his Windows network — say, adding a video card — and then the network wouldn’t work, and he’d spend the next week tracking down what was going on and calling tech support (they used to have such things back then), and flipping dip switches, and blah blah blah, until he finally got it going again.

Which is a big reason I thought Windows was nothing more than DOS in a clown suit.

He gave OS/2 a try and was actually fair in his “review”, unlike most other @sshats who would just say “It’s not like Windows so it sux” and leave it at that. He did spend some time getting it up and running but then he admitted it was quite stable and just chugged along.

And then he forgot about it and wrote more columns about Windows ^$)#ing up (Note: I’ve gotten a bit more of a potty mouth in the last few months; please bear with us — Mgmt).

I guess the point of all this is that the whole period back then got me on the whole mostly non-academic route I’ve continued on to the present. As y’all know, I’ve linked to a lot of stories on the academic meltdown (as I see it) over the last couple of decades; that stems from having spent a lot of time in the Real World while having a foot in academia as well. And Pournelle was a memorable part of that whole process of extracting myself from the world of pure academia.

I liked, but was not fascinated with, Lucifer’s Hammer (which kinda scared the dickens outta me), The Mote in God’s Eye (which had some neat, if really flawed, ideas about cultural evolution), and probably the most disturbing one, Inferno, which also kinda creeped me out. It’s basically a sci fi retelling of Dante’s Inferno but with modern sins and punishments. I finally got around to reading Dante’s version a while ago; tough reading but worth it. Definitely read that one if you pick any of them. Might be dated, but it’s still good I think.

So, RIP, dude. You done good.

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