Saturday, March 8, 2014


Pollution Caused by Chip Fabrication

It is a sobering fact that the chip fabrication industry which is so vital to our modern society is also the cause of a lot of pollution. This unglamorous topic doesn't get much media attention. No one wants to be reminded that the hi-tech world of computers isn't possible without the use of a lot of caustic chemicals.

To summarize, some of the items used in the various processes of chip fabrication include: Acetone, Arsenic, Arsine, Benzene, Cadium, Hydrochloric acid, Lead, Methyl chloroform, Toluene and Trichloroethylene. More details on these items can be found here: Environmental Impact.

The cost of cleaning up contaminated soil was one of the reasons why Commodore Semiconductor Group went out of business. More information on this can be found at the EPA site but suffice to say that groundwater in Norristown Pennsylvania was contaminated with high levels of trichloroethylene. This also led to the eventual demise of Commodore Computers. 

This leads me to propose the idea of using older computers as long as possible instead of continually buying new computers. For the last 10 years I have done this, although initially it was more of a cost saving measure. My computer philosophy has shifted towards the idea of 'computer minimalism'. I've already remarked on the longevity of certain computer models, including ones using the Pentium 3 coppermine CPU.

To apply the idea of minimalism to computers we must select an operating system that is efficient and adjustable. My short-list of possible operating systems for minimal computing include: OpenBSD, Vector Linux Classic, and Fedora Core 1. One might be a bit surprised to see FC1 on that list due to its (relative) old age, but I must admit to a certain amount of inclusionism in my philosophy on computers. One could conceive of examples of far greater levels of minimalism but I wanted to be able to at least do mundane things like running a web browser and web server.

Thus we could fix or at least reduce the problem of the pollution caused by chip fabrication by buying or fixing up old computers that have already been manufactured. Naturally we would select old computers that are the most easily repairable and have a ready supply of replacement parts available. One example of a computer that fits this desciption is the IBM Personal Computer 300GL (slot 1, p3 running at 400 mhz).

Saturday, January 11, 2014


DNS Propagation and Disappearing Services

I had to change the nameservers on a few of my domains. Formerly I was using the free service of dnsever to supply nameservers for my domains. This stopped working yesterday. It's an unfortunate reality that free internet services disappear, or cease to be free.

Since I have more than one domain pointing to my server it's still possible to access via the domain. Eventually the new dns records should propagate within 24 to 48 hours and things should be back to normal in a day or two.

It's been a bit of a battle keeping web services running. The now infamous ice storm which began in Dec. 22nd, 2013 disrupted power and telephone lines through much of Ontario. One of my phone lines stopped working, but it wasn't too bad as it was restored in a couple of days. Also I experienced two power failures of about 5 hours and 2 hours respectively. My UPS's kept the computers going for half an hour each time but it's clear that I need a longer lasting UPS than that.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


CBC changes radio links again

Just a quick note to say that CBC has changed their direct radio links once again, here is the new link:

Saturday, August 3, 2013


2.11BSD Unix on PDP-11/73

Sunday, July 7, 2013


Computers and Operating System Bundling

In reviewing the history of computer sales in the 'modern era' we can see an interesting pattern. Early on we saw home computers which booted directly into ROM BASIC and booting into another operating system isn't even possible. Later on we see many examples of the CP/M operating system being bundled with z80 based computers. CP/M was usually bundled as one needs a unique BIOS for each type of computer. In a rare exception Radio Shack sold CP/M separately for their Model 4 machine for $150 in 1985.

Upon the release of the IBM PC we find that IBM offered three different operating systems for their machine: PC DOS, CP/M-86 and UCSD Pascal. Of these 3 operating systems PC DOS becomes the operating system of choice for most users. Even in this early era we can see that computer users had some different choices of OS.

By 1985 we see the rise of the IBM compatible computer and the near ubiquity of the x86 cpu architecture. Of course soon after this we see various Motorola 68000 based systems, including the ones offered by Commodore, Atari and Sharp. One constant we continue to see is that most operating systems are closed source although we see in academia that Universities have some access to the Unix v6 and v7 source code. The idea of bundling an open source operating system with a computer doesn't occur until much later. In 1987 we see the release of the open source MINIX OS.

In the 1990's we see the appearance of BeOS which is offered for free to various OEMs. has an excellent blog post to explain how Microsoft suppresses the use of BeOS by OEMs. BeOS lives on in an open source implementation called Haiku.

With the increased use and speed improvements of the internet we see a new phenomenon: open source operating systems are distributed via downloading. This includes operating systems such as GNU/Linux, the BSDs, Haiku, Plan 9, Inferno, AROS and many others. By 2008 the Jiangsu Lemote Tech Co releases the Lemote computer with Linux and PMON, a completely open source system.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


Early History of Microcomputers

Friday, May 24, 2013


OpenBSD on Dell GX110 Hits 1 Year Uptime

 Out of all the operating systems I've ever tried, I have to give a special nod of appreciation to OpenBSD 4.7. An hour ago it hit one full year of uptime. The hardware it's running on is nothing special, just an old Dell GX110 with a P3 cpu and 256 megs of ram. No mysterious slowdowns occurred and the system is still responsive. This marks the first time I've ever run a computer non-stop for over 1 year.

Here is a list of the longest uptimes I've personally had with various combinations of operating systems and hardware:
Longest Uptimes

dell gx110 openbsd 4.7  365 days
server tyan fc1         276 days
dell gx110 freebsd 8.1  169 days
toughbook cf-48 f10     165 days
hp nx9030 f16           127 days
zaurus sl-5500 embedix  120 days
acer 5534 f14            89 days
vector qdi p3            58 days
pcchips f10              35 days

FC1 refers to Fedora Core 1
F10 refers to Fedora 10
F14 refers to Fedora 14
F16 refers to Fedora 16

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]