Halt and Catch Fire

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Halt and Catch Fire

Post  Banjo on 2014-05-13, 15:52

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Looks like it will be another AMC success. Judging by the trailer it looks like it starts with Jobs and Wozniak who really weren't the start of the PC era, that would be Ed Roberts and MITS, but J and W got most of the publicity 2 years after Roberts so they get the credit by the uninformed. †Of course if H & CF is only a fictional representation of those times then the J and W characterizations wouldn't need to be 100% accurate.

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What Ever Happened To MITS Altair?

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In 1976 and 1977, MITS was at the top of the heap. They were selling the Altair 8800 A and B models, plus a small 6800-based computer and a full line of peripherals. MITS had dealers all over the country and they could easily sell everything they could make. They ran multi-page ads in all the magazines and had the largest exhibit space at all the computer shows. Why isn't MITS the biggest personal computer company?

The problem was that Ed Roberts was a much better visionary and designer than he was a businessman. Starting with an organization of three people, he built a big company in a very short time. No one can take away from him the fact that he built and shipped more computers of one type than anyone else. He also developed new products at the same time he was setting up production, not an easy task. But Ed Roberts knew nothing about marketing and he made some serious mistakes.

Roberts gave Richard Brown the entire east coast of the United States as an exclusive territory. Brown and his partner, Sid Harrigan, planned to franchise computer stores all over the eastern territory under the name "The Computer Store" (which Dick Heiser had failed to register.) However, they sold only a few franchises. Meanwhile, other stores opened which would have sold Altairs if they could have gotten them. Instead they sold IMSAIs and South West Technical Products computers because that was what they could get. Thus, Roberts built up his competitors instead of keeping them out of the market.

In addition, Roberts took the automobile dealerships as his marketing example for Altair dealers. He insisted that his dealers could only sell Altairs. He was credited with saying "Ford dealers don't sell Chevies, so Altair dealers will only sell Altairs." However, he could not supply enough computers to keep the dealers in business. In addition, MITS continued to sell directly to end users even after their dealer network was in place. MITS was actually in competition with the dealers and could not stop because of cash flow problems. At that point, Ed Roberts' company could have attracted venture capital, or even gone public to raise money, but he did neither.

To make matters worse, MITS was in competition with two marketing geniuses, Bill Millard and Ed Farber of Imsai, who opened all the dealerships they could. Anybody who would put up $2,500 and promise to buy 25 computers in a year could become a dealer. Imsai actually delivered what they promised. When I opened my store, The Computer Mart of New York, (the first store on the East Coast) the first ten Imsai computers were there waiting for me, exactly as promised. I got all the computers I could sell, as long as I paid cash in advance for them. But the story of Imsai is another chapter.

The plight of the Altair dealers, and the internal cash flow problems became too much for Ed Roberts, although he could have worked them out. When Pertec, the disk drive manufacturer and principal creditor, offered to buy MITS, he sold out and retired from the computer business. He went back to Georgia with his $2 million buyout and having always wanted to be a Dr. , he went to medical school in his 40's and became a family practitioner. He died 4 years ago.

Pertec was a typical big business organization and did not understand the free-wheeling culture of MITS and the personal computer industry. However they did know that MITS was selling a lot of their disk drives. They saw MITS as a way to get into an emerging market. The businessmen who ran Pertec felt that the Altair name was tainted with the "hobbyist" designation. They wanted Pertec to be thought of as a "business computer company." They therefore dropped the name, which was the greatest asset they had, and the Altair disappeared from the market. Later, Pertec itself was brought by Adler of Germany and was absorbed by its parent.

The Altair did not disappear from the thoughts of the computerists and neither did the hardware they used. People hung on to their Altairs as old friends. Nothing will ever exceed the thrill of seeing the sign-on for BASIC printed on the teletype for the first time and reading the prompt "READY."

Ed Roberts went to Georgia and attended Medical School and also became a farmer. At one point, he got back into the computer business, producing a series of modular components to be used as building blocks in laboratories and engineering projects. This business did not survive in the face of off-shore competition.

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Re: Halt and Catch Fire

Post  Banjo on 2014-05-20, 15:42

"Sneak" preview.

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The guys in the picture seem to be emulating Wozniak and Jobs but since it's a fictional piece, I guess not. †scratch†Of course they didn't have any female associates either....

Being fictional, I don't know how successful this can be, but of course it does avoid probable lawsuits if they were to portray the reality of those days...

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Re: Halt and Catch Fire

Post  Banjo on 2014-05-27, 14:09

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Re: Halt and Catch Fire

Post  Berry on 2014-05-28, 03:30

I will be interested in this one. †two thumbs up

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Re: Halt and Catch Fire

Post  Banjo on 2014-06-02, 13:57

Looks pretty good so far. At the very least it's a nostalgia trip. T.I. Speak and Spells, Byte magazine, Porsche 964, Return of the Jedi, etc. The Speak and Spell was Jennifer's favorite 'toy' when she was about the age of those two little girls.

There were a couple of gaffes; How do you cut a Dr. Pepper can in half with a soldering iron ? That must be one heck of a hot iron. †scratch†Although the edges did look ragged so maybe he used dikes....†scratch

A more egregious error was when they were looking at the pins of the PROM (programmable read-only memory) with the oscilloscope. On the screen we see a †sine wave, probably 60 Hz, which would not at all be what the signal would look like. He was calling out the correct signal levels, "+ 5V, ground, - V, " etc. But what would be seen on the screen would be just a straight line. High for +5v, (how high would depend on the setting on the amplitude knob on the scope) in the middle of the screen for ground, below the middle for a -V, etc. Any kind of a sine wave would be totally incorrect in any part of the circuitry other than on the input side of the power supply, which would not be on any PROM pin. †And all the actual data signals would be only +5v or ground. Any - V would be part of the external transmission scheme such as in a UART (Universal Asynchronous Receiver/Transmitter)

Incidentally, if you are in a room wired for electricity and you touch your bare skin , anywhere, with the probe of the oscilloscope you will see a waveform on the screen similar to what it showed on the show. †Your body acts like an antenna and picks up the 60 Hz from the wiring in the walls, lights, etc.

The fiesty , blond girl, never heard of her even though she's been on shows I've watched, does a good job.

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Wait a minute, that's the wrong actress. I meant this one:

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The one somewhat unrealistic depiction is in that time and place, a female computer engineer whose main talent was writing code and designing circuitry would be extremely, extremely rare. I'm not saying there were none, but in 35 years I never encountered one. But she does a good job in that role and brings a needed change of pace to the show. †two thumbs up

What they did to decode the IBM BIOS (basic input/output system) was probably technically feasible but it would have taken them longer than it seemed to. I don't know if the IBM BIOS was only 65 K , but stepping through HEX code one line at a time and writing it down would be a task, for sure. †

Then they converted the Hex code to assembly language which would be another tedious job because you would have to take the Hex code and translate it to raw binary, then take that and translate it to the assembly language used by whatever CPU chip was used in the computer (not sure if it was a proprietary IBM chip or Intel, guess I'll have to look it up .) Once you had the assembly language you could then see exactly what the BIOS was doing.

So...if for example you had one HEX 'word' such as CDAE, that would break down into binary as 1100 1101 1010 1110. Then you would need to know if the assembly language was in Octal, or BCD (binary coded decimal, a big IBM 'invention' at the time) , etc. and then correlate the bits into the assy. language code. This would take time....

Ah....here's the answer.

Type Personal computer
Release date August 12, 1981; 32 years ago
Discontinued April 2, 1987
Operating system IBM BASIC / PC DOS 1.0
CP/M-86
UCSD p-System
CPU Intel 8088 @ 4.77 MHz
Memory 16 kB ~ 256 kB

The 8088 was a slightly more capable version of the original 8080 which is the chip that really put Intel "on the map", although they had previously designed the 4004 chip which they sold to the British Railway System as the controller in an automated system to keep track of where all their rolling stock was at any given time. It worked, but Intel knew that an 8 bit CPU was needed for more rigorous jobs, hence the 8008 , briefly, then the 8080. Altairs used the 8080 in the first PC in '75, and I remember one time a couple of years earlier when I was working for Ventek in Westlake Village, CA when one of the original Intel engineers, an †Italian guy,( don't remember his name )
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came to the office to see how we were using the 8080 in the word processing system that we were designing and building. A concept that never got off the ground because word processing became an entirely PC based operation.....but I digress....

But in my stash of old documentation that I've saved over the years is a technical manual that I wrote explaining the way the 8080 worked. It was included with the customer documentation that went with the Altair.

I can see where this show is going to keep me busy critiquing...†Rolling Eyes


Last edited by Banjo on 2014-06-02, 15:52; edited 3 times in total

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Re: Halt and Catch Fire

Post  Berry on 2014-06-02, 14:33

This is all new to me (thinking about the rise of the computer industry. I see I have a lot to learn. I think Ben and I are going to like this show. †sunny

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Re: Halt and Catch Fire

Post  Banjo on 2014-06-02, 14:45

Keep in mind that this is about the rise of the PC industry, not the computer industry as a whole. The PC did cause the demise or severe drop in sales †of some of the big players in earlier years. Some names were mentioned on the show; NCR (worked for them for 5 years in Hawthorne, CA), Control Data (graduated from †their technical college near LAX) , Burroughs, never worked for them but they were a major NCR competitor. Digital Equipment Corp. (13 years) †sailed through those times unscathed because their product line was different and very useful to its target customers, but even so the PC revolution eventually caught up with them....†tongue

And of course IBM had been flying high for years with the 1401 and 360 systems, and even those were impacted by the PC. Although the 1401 had been obsolete for years by 1980.

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Re: Halt and Catch Fire

Post  Banjo on 2014-06-03, 15:05

Speaking of oscilloscopes.....these are really cute but I don't see a price ? †scratch

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Re: Halt and Catch Fire

Post  Banjo on 2014-06-17, 15:12

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Re: Halt and Catch Fire

Post  Berry on 2014-06-17, 15:42

I've got to admit a fondness for this gifted girl rebel type. Abby on NCIS is my favorite but this girl is a bright spot in her show too. †sunny

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Re: Halt and Catch Fire

Post  Banjo on 2014-06-17, 16:02

She's the most interesting character, that's for sure. The male characters are more stereotypical.

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Re: Halt and Catch Fire

Post  Rus on 2014-06-17, 19:25

While watch the past episode I started to wonder about the first laptops. I found the Wiki:

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to learn a little about the history of the laptop. I don't think I ever saw the 23 lbs model with a five inch screen. †roflmao† Hard to imagine lugging such a thing around in our modern world.

I knew that guy needed to be fired. You can't keep the negative people around when you are trying to work on a ground breaking new idea. Joe MacMillan also knows how to ruin a deal. That's commitment. †scratch
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Re: Halt and Catch Fire

Post  Banjo on 2014-06-18, 14:03

The 23 lb. model went nowhere in the marketplace. It wasn't until greater circuit board/IC etch density and ultra-low power chips were developed that the 'modern' lap top became feasible.

On the show when they came up with the idea of using a "piggy-back" concept to double the chip density within the space available in the case, that was the solution before multi-layer circuit boards became feasible which started not long after that time. By the late 80's 5-6 layer circuit boards were in use. They were a 'b...ch' to trouble shoot as far as shorts and opens were concerned and were almost always unrepairable, if the problem lie down in one of the lower layers.

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Re: Halt and Catch Fire

Post  Banjo on 2014-07-01, 15:00

Mackenzie Davis (Cameron) was on Craig Ferguson last week. It's easy to see why they cast her in that role. She comes across as a little bit like Cameron and was able to counter Craig's sexual innuendos with some of her own, which got the audience laughing, but what they were , were censored by the little flags that appear over their mouths, they run a delay obviously.

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Re: Halt and Catch Fire

Post  Banjo on 2014-07-04, 16:00

I'm impressed by their attention to detail. In the last ep where Gordon takes the CPU chip out of the anti-static bag, (by that time in semiconductor history it was generally realized how sensitive the new, more dense chips were to static electricity and they were always shipped and stored in those anti-static bags.), and he carefully handles it only by the edges while plugging it into the socket, but I didn't see an anti-static grounding strap on his wrist, and I thought, Oh no ! they've screwed the pooch in this scene ! But then when he gets up from the bench he reaches over and unsnaps the wrist band which had been under his sleeve. Bravo Gordon !

Their decision to use an 8086 CPU in the new portable computer was valid from a cost savings standpoint and the new 286 chip would have boosted the price quite a bit because they were hundreds of $ per (don't remember the exact price, around $300 I think) but it limited the ability to have any sort of graphics. The 286/386/486 were the first family of Intel CPUs that started them on the road to graphics, which we take for granted today.

In the scene where they are all playing the "Adventure" game, it was entirely text based because the 8086 had no graphics capability.

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Re: Halt and Catch Fire

Post  Banjo on 2014-07-21, 17:30

Ha-ha, I knew that eventually Gordon would admit to owning an Altair. I could tell you some stories about the Altair since I worked for the company that made them for two years....but I won't....†jocolor:singanddance:

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Re: Halt and Catch Fire

Post  Banjo on 2014-07-29, 18:36

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Season finale this Sunday.

Mackenzie Davis will be on Conan tomorrow.

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Re: Halt and Catch Fire

Post  Berry on 2014-07-29, 21:38

I have enjoyed this series....but gee whiz, can't anything ever go right for people? †scratch

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Re: Halt and Catch Fire

Post  Banjo on 2014-07-30, 14:49

Haven't seen the latest...DVR.....but the answer to your question is no....†tongue

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Re: Halt and Catch Fire

Post  Banjo on 2014-08-02, 13:52

Right at the end where he saw the first Macintosh with it's synthesized voice, he seemed surprised. But heck, Altair had a voice synthesizer card back in 76-77. It was an option, I don't remember that many were sold. The user did have to program in their own choice of words, but it could easily have been made to say , "Hello, I am Altair", when it was turned on. The first use of the mouse was the more revolutionary feature.

It was correct to go with MS-DOS as the OS in spite of Cameron's objection. Several competing OS's hit the rocks of failure trying to compete with MS-DOS during that time, although some survived to as late as the mid 80's.

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Re: Halt and Catch Fire

Post  Banjo on 2014-08-07, 13:36

It was sort of a mixed bag season finale. Cameron seems to be doing okay for herself but why did Joe burn the truck and why is he going on the hike ? †Gordon must know the †truck was burned, did he react? Didn't see it. At least he perpetuated the cliche of buying a Porsche as soon as he got some money. Bill Gates did the same when he still lived in Albq. and Microsoft was making money. His was just a stock 911, not the Whale Tail option like Gordons .

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