Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Accelerated Computing

One big problem of the economies of the US and the UK is the cult of the CEO, and the resulting flood of CEO hagiographies that appear after a surge in their company's stock price. These aren't harmless fluff pieces, they contribute to a CEO mindset that is profoundly destructive — see Elon Musk for one example. Will Hutton writes:
But decades of being congratulated and indulged for the relentless pursuit of their own self-interest has turned the heads of too many of our successful rich. They really believe that they are different: that they owe little to the society from which they have sprung and in which they trade, that taxes are for little people. We are lucky to have them, and, if anything, owe them a favour.
Below the fold I continue the "Old man yells at cloud" theme of recent posts by trying to clarify an aspect of the current Jensen Huang hagiography.

Thursday, July 11, 2024

More On The Halvening

At the end of May I wrote One Heck Of A Halvening about the aftermath of the halving of Bitcoin's block reward on April 19th. Six weeks later it is time for a quick update, so follow me below the fold.

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Engineering For The Long Term

Content Warning: this post contains blatant self-promotion.

Contributions to engineering fields can only reasonably be assessed in hindsight, by looking at how they survived exposure to the real world over the long term. Four of my contributions to various systems have stood the test of time. Below the fold, I blow my own horn four times.

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

X Window System At 40

X11R1 on Sun
Techfury90 CC0
I apologize that this post is a little late. On 19th June the X Window System celebrated its 40th birthday. Wikipedia has a comprehensive history of the system including the e-mail Bob Scheifler sent announcing the first release:
From: rws@mit-bold (Robert W. Scheifler)
To: window@athena
Subject: window system X
Date: 19 June 1984 0907-EDT (Tuesday)

I've spent the last couple weeks writing a window
system for the VS100. I stole a fair amount of code
from W, surrounded it with an asynchronous rather
than a synchronous interface, and called it X. Overall
performance appears to be about twice that of W. The
code seems fairly solid at this point, although there are
still some deficiencies to be fixed up.

We at LCS have stopped using W, and are now
actively building applications on X. Anyone else using
W should seriously consider switching. This is not the
ultimate window system, but I believe it is a good
starting point for experimentation. Right at the moment
there is a CLU (and an Argus) interface to X; a C
interface is in the works. The three existing
applications are a text editor (TED), an Argus I/O
interface, and a primitive window manager. There is
no documentation yet; anyone crazy enough to
volunteer? I may get around to it eventually.

Anyone interested in seeing a demo can drop by
NE43-531, although you may want to call 3-1945
first. Anyone who wants the code can come by with a
tape. Anyone interested in hacking deficiencies, feel
free to get in touch.
Scheifler was right that it was a "good starting point for experimentation", but it wasn't really a usable window system until version 11 was released on 15th September 1987. I was part of the team that burned the midnight oil at MIT to get that release out, but my involvement started in late 1985.

Below the fold are some reflections on my contributions, some thoughts on the astonishing fact that the code is still widely deployed after 40 years, and some ideas on why it has been so hard to replace.