[rescue] Looking for Ultrix 4 for DECstation

Carl R. Friend crfriend at rcn.com
Fri Jul 22 18:30:31 CDT 2011

    On Fri, 22 Jul 2011, Ian Finder wrote:

> I devote my time and money to this because I think this stuff should
> be accessible once people hopefully "get it."

    Time and money are actually fairly easy on the folks who collect
microcomputer gear; the stuff I'm interested in is about the size
of a commercial freezer -- and then there are the "big systems"
(like the DECsystem 1090 at RCS/RI) that all-up in running order
take up a couple hundred square feet and tens of kilowatts of power.

> In 100 years, nothing would pleasure me more than if these machines
> could be preserved in such a way that they are dynamic and
> interactive, instead of sitting with a blank screen as a "mummified"
> inoperable corpse.

    I rather suspect that in 100 years' time none of the technology
we currently regard as "high" will be comprehensible to the layman;
either things will have moved on to such an extent that the dis-
connect between then and now will be an unfathomable chasm or things
will have reverted to subsistence agriculture and render the tech we
now strive to preserve as "magic".  The pendulum can swing either way,
and I am starting to see indications that it may go towards the latter
rather than the former.

> I mean how neat would it be to be able to use the machine from inside
> its display case.

    This would be "insanely cool" for a very few individuals -- mostly
in academia as historians of tecnological development.  It may come
to pass that there might be at some point, "retrocomputerists" that
may occupy the same niche as steam-power fans of today, but I am not
terribly optimistic that there is "mass-market" appeal here.  I really
think it will remain a rather "geeky" (in the best sense) pursuit.

> Some day, I hope to put more time and my HDL skills into more
> future-proof and accessible ways to keep these systems running-- disk
> emulators, replacing all the caps with tantalum ones, and perhaps some
> sort of imaging and remote access system.

    It's worth noting that the newer technologies are likely to have
shorter life-spans than the elder ones.  I have several systems that
just fire up and run -- and these date back into the 1960s.  The key
is that none of them have anything resembling PROMs in them -- they
are, to a one, time-state devices using combinational logic.  To this
end, I also happen to believe that preserving the *documentation* is
at least as important as -- and perhaps moreso -- preserving the
physical hardware.  That is, of course, if somebody from 2110 can
read the schematics (formerly known as prints).

> This is why software preservation, legal or not, above ground or not,
> is crucial.

    I completely concur, but we live in a very litigous society and
one needs to be careful.  Might makes right in the modern world,
and "might" directly translates into how powerful one's lawyers are
and that translates into how much one can pay them.  As "little
people", we don't have access to those sorts of resources.

> On that topic, what is the lifespan on the (E)EPROM roms in all these
> machines and peripherals we love so dearly?

    I'd posit that even if you could back up all the (E)EPROMs in
your average machine now you'd still have a brick at the end of
20 years' time.  Stuff being manufactured now is, at the core of
it, disposable -- it breaks, throw it away and buy a new one -- very
unlike the standards of the '60s and '70s.

| Carl Richard Friend (UNIX Sysadmin)            | West Boylston       |
| Minicomputer Collector / Enthusiast            | Massachusetts, USA  |
| mailto:crfriend at rcn.com                        +---------------------+
| http://users.rcn.com/crfriend/museum           | ICBM: 42:22N 71:47W |

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