08.07.20

Gemini version available ♊︎

Computing Fundamentals

Posted in Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux at 11:49 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

2020 figosdev

Index

IBM vs Core
Chapter 7: Computing Fundamentals

Summary: “A graphical interface is better, for some things — sometimes. But it will also put a lot more on our plates.”

Ask people to explain computing in as few words as possible, and many will start telling you about 1s and 0s. They’re not wrong, binary computing is very useful and quite relevant in our modern world of tiny silicon-based switches.

But if you want to understand the fundamentals of computing, 1 and 0 doesn’t tell you very much. A few computers, like the Harwell-Dekatron WITCH, even processed or stored numbers in base 10 like we normally do on paper. But what are these numbers doing?

“A few computers, like the Harwell-Dekatron WITCH, even processed or stored numbers in base 10 like we normally do on paper.”As mentioned in the first chapter, modern computers evolved from automatic calculators. Creating a program is really telling the machine to move numeric values into certain places.

At the most fundamental level — where I never do much of anything and a “low-level” coder could tell you far more, you are working exclusively with numeric codes for everything.

If that sounds incredibly tedious, it is. The main thing that people do on this level (called “machine code”) is find ways to make coding easier.

In the very early days (the 1960s were futuristic by comparison) when someone wanted to use a computer, they would do all of it in numeric machine code, or they would punch data into cards that helped correspond single-character codes with numeric (consecutive) physical positions that the computer could read with a card reader.

These numeric codes went into “dictionaries” or paper code books. After some months or so, you might find that you had a dictionary with several useful computer “routines” in it.

“The difference between an interpreter and a compiler is a like the difference between hiring a personal translator and commissioning a translated work.”The goal of making these hand-coded dictionaries into automatic programs became the basis for the first compiler. Like the BASIC interpreter in chapter 2, the job of a compiler is to translate codes that are friendlier to a human into numeric codes the computer understands.

This was a revolution for most of us, and while it started in the 1950s, by 1964 this revolution was exactly what made a beginner friendly computer language like BASIC possible.

Now instead of coding the letters H-E-L-L-O (SPACE) W-O-R-L-D into numeric ASCII codes (or Baudot teletype code, since ASCII didn’t exist until around the same time BASIC did) and then entering the code to move the numeric data somewhere that it can be output to the screen, you just say:

    10 PRINT "HELLO WORLD"

And run the program. Seems like a lot of trouble just to say two words, but before that it was a lot worse!

If you have followed along and actually installed Core on your “thought experiment” PC, you can run a single line of code very similar to the above line. Just type:

    echo Hello World

It will do exactly the same thing, only this command is for a 1970s-UNIX-style “shell” interpreter, rather than 1964 BASIC.

The difference between an interpreter and a compiler is a like the difference between hiring a personal translator and commissioning a translated work.

“The general rule is that compiled programs are better for tasks where speed is very important, but interpreted tasks are better for code that is going to be constantly tweaked.”If you are talking to other people, and have a translator with you, the translator will do the “interpreting” for you as other people talk. Every time you run an interpreted program, you need to run the translation program.

While this has certain costs in terms of efficiency, it means that when you want to change something, you don’t have to wait for it to translate the entire program again — you can just start running the new version of the code immediately.

A compiler on the other hand, translates the entire program into computer-ready instructions. Whenever you run the compiled program, it will run without being compiled again — but every time you change something you have to wait for the entire thing to compile.

“When you first run Core, it’s not obvious whether the thing you’re using is more sophisticated than the chip from the early 80s running BASIC on the C64.”The general rule is that compiled programs are better for tasks where speed is very important, but interpreted tasks are better for code that is going to be constantly tweaked.

Many, though not all of the friendlier languages are interpreted, because it is easier to find and fix problems with shorter waits (or more complicated processes) between edits.

When you first run Core, it’s not obvious whether the thing you’re using is more sophisticated than the chip from the early 80s running BASIC on the C64. That’s because all it gives you for an interface is text on a screen.

If you’re used to fancy rectangles with animation and even video, you might look at a simple command prompt and wonder if this is just a throwback to the 70s. But this is an old cover on a much newer book.

Someone who has only used DOS or a C64 can marvel at everything Core has behind the prompt. With a single command you can download a file or a webpage from the Internet.

It might not be available with Core, but with Tiny Core or CorePlus you can play your MP3 files from the command line. And you can run Python, which is more advanced than pretty much any BASIC interpreter or compiler, ever.

“It might not be available with Core, but with Tiny Core or CorePlus you can play your MP3 files from the command line. And you can run Python, which is more advanced than pretty much any BASIC interpreter or compiler, ever.”What’s more, you can make it do these things automatically, in response to certain events or specific times — you can even make it do these things in the “background”, so that you can keep working or have it do more than one task at the same time.

Sure, you can do all of those things with a graphical system as well. And you need a lot more code to make that happen — and lots more code means lots more opportunities for large projects to go wrong.

Apart from being a geek’s canvas, the command line is also where you go if some parts of the system (like all that graphical stuff people run on top of the OS) aren’t working properly. You can fix a number of things from the command line; it’s a bit like opening the bonnet of your car.

“Apart from being a geek’s canvas, the command line is also where you go if some parts of the system (like all that graphical stuff people run on top of the OS) aren’t working properly.”But the best part about the command line is that it’s faster and easier to write code for. Nearly all frameworks for graphical tools add considerable overhead in terms of resources and code you must tend to.

When you talk to a voice assistant, you’re doing something very similar to using the command line.

Selecting things from a series of menus can get tedious when you know the things you want. Imagine if instead of telling someone “I’d like the chef salad” your only choice was to open the menu, find the salad you wanted, and point to it — and you had to order everything else that way too. When people order fast food, having a menu in front of them often slows them down.

If you had to order that way every day, or for 20 people, you would really start to hate flipping past page after page after page after page, poking at every item with your finger. Sometimes menus help with unfamiliar tasks. Then again, they had menus for the command line as well:

    1. Run Tetris

    2. Run Word Processor

    3. Quit

It isn’t the point of this chapter, but you could — with only things available to you from Core, code a little menu that displayed a list like the one here, using numbers to run each relevant command, with a number (or letter) that could tell the menu to quit.

Sometimes, instead of creating a menu, the easier thing to do is just take a command that already exists and giving it a name you prefer.

If you like the editor that’s called “nano” but just want to say “edit” or even “e” (why not both? You can do both if you want) you can create a second command so that whenever you hit the letter “e” and then hit enter, it will run nano. That’s even less work than hunting through icons on the desktop. Setting this up is also less work than creating a menu.

“A graphical interface is better, for some things — sometimes. But it will also put a lot more on our plates.”You can do far more than that, but menus are nice and easy. Shortcuts are nice and easy. Graphical environments can hide a lot of complexity, but they introduce even more of it in the process.

I’m using a graphical environment to type this — in a window next to another window, in a text editor I helped create — but did very little of the actual coding for.

And I’m running it in CorePlus. So don’t think I’m “fundamentally” against graphical environments or anything. A graphical interface is better, for some things — sometimes. But it will also put a lot more on our plates.

Licence: Creative Commons CC0 1.0 (public domain)

Share in other sites/networks: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.
  • Reddit
  • email

Decor ᶃ Gemini Space

Below is a Web proxy. We recommend getting a Gemini client/browser.

Black/white/grey bullet button This post is also available in Gemini over at this address (requires a Gemini client/browser to open).

Decor ✐ Cross-references

Black/white/grey bullet button Pages that cross-reference this one, if any exist, are listed below or will be listed below over time.

Decor ▢ Respond and Discuss

Black/white/grey bullet button If you liked this post, consider subscribing to the RSS feed or join us now at the IRC channels.

DecorWhat Else is New


  1. Taking Techrights to the Next Level in 2023

    I've reached a state of "closure" when it comes to my employer (almost 12 years for me, 9+ years for my wife); expect Techrights to become more active than ever before and belatedly publish important articles, based on longstanding investigations that take a lot of effort



  2. The ISO Delusion: When the Employer Doesn’t Realise That Outsourcing Clients' Passwords to LassPass After Security Breaches Is a Terrible Idea

    The mentality or the general mindset at Sirius ‘Open Source’ was not compatible with that of security conscientiousness and it seemed abundantly clear that paper mills (e.g. ISO certification) cannot compensate for that



  3. Links 30/01/2023: Plasma Mobile 23.01 and GNU Taler 0.9.1

    Links for the day



  4. EPO Management Isn't Listening to Staff, It's Just Trying to Divide and Demoralise the Staff Instead

    “On 18 January 2023,” the staff representatives tell European Patent Office (EPO) colleagues, “the staff representation met with the administration in a Working Group on the project “Bringing Teams Together”. It was the first meeting since the departure of PD General Administration and the radical changes made to the project. We voiced the major concerns of staff, the organization chaos and unrest caused by the project among teams and made concrete proposals.”



  5. Links 30/01/2023: Coreboot 4.19 and Budgie 10.7

    Links for the day



  6. IRC Proceedings: Sunday, January 29, 2023

    IRC logs for Sunday, January 29, 2023



  7. [Meme] With Superheroes Like These...

    Ever since the new managers arrived the talent has fled the company that falsely credits itself with "Open Source"



  8. Not Tolerating Proprietary 'Bossware' in the Workplace (or at Home in Case of Work-From-Home)

    The company known as Sirius ‘Open Source’ generally rejected… Open Source. Today’s focus was the migration to Slack.



  9. The ISO Delusion: A Stack of Proprietary Junk (Slack) Failing Miserably

    When the company where I worked for nearly 12 years spoke of pragmatism it was merely making excuses to adopt proprietary software at the expense of already-working and functional Free software



  10. Debian 11 on My Main Rig: So Far Mostly OK, But Missing Some Software From Debian 10

    Distributions of GNU/Linux keep urging us to move to the latest, but is the latest always the greatest? On Friday my Debian 10 drive died, so I started moving to Debian 11 on a new drive and here's what that did to my life.



  11. Stigmatising GNU/Linux for Not Withstanding Hardware Failures

    Nowadays "the news" is polluted with a lot of GNU/Linux-hostile nonsense; like with patents, the signal-to-noise ratio is appalling and here we deal with a poor 'report' about "Linux servers" failing to work



  12. Microsofters Inside Sirius 'Open Source'

    Sirius ‘Open Source’ has been employing incompetent managers for years — a sentiment shared among colleagues by the way; today we examine some glaring examples with redacted communications to prove it



  13. Links 29/01/2023: GNOME 43.3 Fixes and Lots About Games

    Links for the day



  14. The Hey Hype Machine

    "Hey Hype" or "Hey Hi" (AI) has been dominating the press lately and a lot of that seems to boil down to paid-for marketing; we need to understand what's truly going on and not be distracted by the substance-less hype



  15. IRC Proceedings: Saturday, January 28, 2023

    IRC logs for Saturday, January 28, 2023



  16. Unmasking AI

    A guest article by Andy Farnell



  17. The ISO Delusion/Sirius Corporation: A 'Tech' Company Run by Non-Technical People

    Sirius ‘Open Source’ was hiring people who brought to the company a culture of redundant tasks and unwanted, even hostile technology; today we continue to tell the story of a company run by the CEO whose friends and acquaintances did severe damage



  18. Links 28/01/2023: Lots of Catching Up (Had Hardware Crash)

    Links for the day



  19. IRC Proceedings: Friday, January 27, 2023

    IRC logs for Friday, January 27, 2023



  20. Microsoft DuckDuckGo Falls to Lowest Share in 2 Years After Being Widely Exposed as Microsoft Proxy, Fake 'Privacy'

    DuckDuckGo, according to this latest data from Statcounter, fell from about 0.71% to just 0.58%; all the gains have been lost amid scandals, such as widespread realisation that DuckDuckGo is a Microsoft informant, curated by Microsoft and hosted by Microsoft (Bing is meanwhile laying off many people, but the media isn’t covering that or barely bothers)



  21. This is What the Microsoft-Sponsored Media Has Been Hyping Up for Weeks (Ahead of Microsoft Layoffs)

    Reprinted with permission from Ryan



  22. [Meme] António Campinos Wants to Be F***ing President Until 2028

    António Campinos insists he will be EPO President for 10 years, i.e. even longer than Benoît Battistelli (despite having appalling approval rates from staff)



  23. European Patent Office Staff Losing Hope

    The EPO’s management with its shallow campaign of obfuscation (pretending to protect children or some other nonsense) is not fooling patent examiners, who have grown tired and whose representatives say “the administration shows no intention of involving the staff representation in the drafting of the consultant’s mandate” (like in Sirius ‘Open Source’ where technical staff is ignored completely for misguided proposals to pass in the dark)



  24. IRC Proceedings: Thursday, January 26, 2023

    IRC logs for Thursday, January 26, 2023



  25. Sirius Relegated/Demoted/Destined Itself to Technical Hell by Refusing to Listen to the Technical Staff (Which Wanted to Stay With Asterisk/Free Software)

    In my final year at Sirius ‘Open Source’ communication systems had already become chaotic; there were too many dysfunctional tools, a lack of instructions, a lack of coordination and the proposed ‘solution’ (this past October) was just more complexity and red tape



  26. Geminispace Approaching Another Growth Milestone (2,300 Active Capsules)

    The expansion of Geminispace is worth noting again because another milestone is approached, flirted with, or will be surpassed this coming weekend



  27. [Meme] Cannot Get a Phone to Work... in 2022

    Sirius ‘Open Source’ wasted hours of workers’ time just testing the phone after it had moved to a defective system of Google (proprietary); instead of a rollback (back to Asterisk) the company doubled down on the faulty system and the phones still didn’t work properly, resulting in missing calls and angst (the company just blamed the workers who all along rejected this new system)



  28. [Meme] Modern Phones

    Sirius ‘Open Source’ is mistaking “modern” for better; insecurity and a lack of tech savvy typically leads to that



  29. The ISO Delusion: Sirius Corporation Demonstrates a Lack of Understanding of Security and Privacy

    Sirius ‘Open Source’, emboldened by ISO ‘paperwork’ (certification), lost sight of what it truly takes to run a business securely, mistaking worthless gadgets for “advancement” while compelling staff to sign a new contract in a hurry (prior contract-signing scandals notwithstanding)



  30. Links 26/01/2023: LibreOffice 7.4.5 and Ubuntu Pro Offers

    Links for the day


RSS 64x64RSS Feed: subscribe to the RSS feed for regular updates

Home iconSite Wiki: You can improve this site by helping the extension of the site's content

Home iconSite Home: Background about the site and some key features in the front page

Chat iconIRC Channel: Come and chat with us in real time

Recent Posts