How to make a personal operating system ?

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I have emailed you before, and i got so excited that a major player in the computer world awnsered me. So here goes my question. My friend and I want to make our own computer software, We bought an old computer and scraped it, and made a new computer, but we want to make our own operating system, You said you made basic for the Apple 1 and II. What did you us to make it? what type of software, if any would we need to make it with, and is there any hard ware we might need?


I don’t know if these comments will apply, but here they are.

In high school I fell in love with minicomputers, which were basically small computers equivalent to the microprocessors once they came out. Well, I could never afford a minicomputer but I looked at the programming instructions for machine language and tried to write my own short routines. In college I started trying to figure out how compilers, like Fortran, were written. I knew that the compiler program had to read a line at a time and figure it out and convert it to code that the computer could run. So I started writing a routine in assembly language (machine language) that would analyze a line for correctness. But I never could afford a computer to try it on, nor an assembler to type it into. It was just a personal program that nobody else knew about.

After I’d designed a computer, before Apple was even conceived, I decided to write a BASIC for real. I’d never studied how to do this, but I had self trained myself a bit back in college as I described above. I’d never used BASIC but I knew that this was the popular language for games and that was too important to ignore. The first thing I did was get a BASIC manual at Hewlett Packard, where I was working. I read it and made notes and pretty much learned what commands it had. Of course this was Hewlett Packard BASIC. It differed from the Digital Equipment BASIC, that Bill Gates’ first BASIC was based on, mostly in some string manipulation. This later turned out to be the greatest difference between my BASIC and theirs. I was tired of MID$, LEFT$, RIGHT$ type functions so I preferred the HP BASIC better (A$(5,7) meant the 5th through 7th characters of A$).

I’d never formally educated myself in the area of compilers and interpreters (compilers translate a program to machine code to run rapidly later, interpreters scan the program and figure it out as it’s being run, which results in much slower execution–BASIC is an interpreted language). But I knew how Syntax charts defined the structure and words of a programming language, as you find these in programming manuals. I decided to write down a full Syntax description of my BASIC to begin. I’d never done such a thing, but it wasn’t hard and was modeled after others that I could find.

I next decided that I’d actually put this syntax list into memory as part of my BASIC interpreter. It was stored character by character. I figured that I’d just scan the input line, after the user hit Return, character by character, tracing a path through the syntax table and backing and retrying things. If the line made it through the Syntax table then it was good, otherwise it was in error.

The unexplainable part is how I came up with the way my BASIC would actually do what it was supposed to. As BASIC elements were found in the Syntax Table, I generated tokens (codes) for these elements. For example, a left parenthesis might generate token #87. But in another usage, a left parenthesis might generate token #115. It depended on where it was encountered in my Syntax table in memory, the one I was traversing character by character and matching the input line. In an inefficient effort to make my BASIC very tiny and save every possible byte (even the minimal amount of memory for a computer language was very expensive in 1975) I actually counted how many BASIC symbols the ‘matched’ one was from the start of the syntax table, and used that count as it’s token value.

After this step, I generated a line that didn’t have to go through the Syntax evaluator again. The Syntax evaluator could be very tiny and run slowly, as it only ran once per line, which took only a fraction of a second for a typical line. When the program ran, it was already half in shape for speed.

Now comes a less explainable part. I had read and heard some things about compilers but I still don’t know to this day if what I did was good or bad. As a line executed in a running program, it consisted of numbers (precompiled into constants I think) and variable names and grammar elements like a plus sign token or a left parenthesis token. When, during execution, the BASIC encountered a ‘noun’ (number or variable) it was pushed onto a noun stack, ready for retrieval. This was like our HP calculators where I worked.

When the BASIC encountered a ‘verb’ (a token that called for an operation) it would be evaluated in comparison to a verb stack. This was the way of reading a human-written expression from left to right, but doing the operations in a different order (2+3*4 does the multiplication first in most computer languages, even though the plus sign appears first). For each token I assigned 2 priorities. One was the priority to push preceding tokens off the stack for execution. For example, 3 + 7 * 5 would push 3 on the noun stack, + on the verb stack, then 7 on the noun stack (where it’s ready to be the first element removed from this first-in last-out stack). When the * is encountered, it had a higher execution priority than + so it didn’t pull the 7 and 3 off and add them yet. Instead it pushed the * onto the verb stack and then the 5 onto the noun stack. The end of line was a token with priority to push everything off.

So at this time the * is the ‘topmost’ token on the verb stack. It comes off and runs a prewritten multiply routine that pulls two items off the noun stack, adds them, and pushes the result back on that noun stack.

Any token that causes others to be executed immediately off the verb stack would keep looking at token priorities until it’s own priority was such that it would merely be pushed onto the verb stack and await later execution.

Parentheses bring another factor into play. A left parenthesis is always pushed onto the top of a verb stack, hiding the execution priority of the preceding operator token until a right parenthesis, with extremely high execution priority, causes all tokens to be executed until the left parenthesis is encountered. At that time the right parenthesis has found it’s mate and stops forcing ops (tokens) to execute. This is a sort of exception to the concept of a single priority. In addition, the left parenthesis forces no ops off the verb stack, acting as though it has extremely high priority. But no ops force it off, until the right parenthesis, as though it had an extremely low execution priority. So I actually had two priorities for each token, a ‘push’ tendency and a ‘pull’ tendency. A verb (token) would only push other verbs off the verb stack and execute them if it’s push priority was greater than their pull priority.

I have no idea where these sorts of ideas came from. They just came to me as I needed an elegant solution.

A table held bites with 2 one of zixteen priorities for each token that might be in the interpreted BASIC program. Another table held an address pointer for each token, that pointed to the routine to run when that token was forced to execute. So for each of the dozens of tokens, I had to only write a short routine. This kept the program less complicated and easier to add new commands to.

I couldn’t afford an assembler. I wrote the entire program on paper, assigning memory addresses for each program instruction. When I shortened a routine, it was too much trouble to re-write (by hand) a few K-Bytes of code just to shrink the space. So there were many cases of short empty spaces in my BASIC. When a routine needed to expand, I’d usually jump to a patch area where it’s latter part was. None of this would have happened if I could have afforded an assembler, which would have packed things properly.


Comment from E-mail

First of all I just want to say I viewed your biography this evening on A&E. As a fellow “Macaddict”, I am first of all indebted to the genius of your invention and how it has made my life more pleasant. Second of all, I am equally impressed with you as an extremely decent and moral human being that has placed himself above the “Greedmill”. And last but certainly not least, I’ve been trying to convince a close friend that Macs are simply easier and more reliable to use than PCs. His reply is that my opinions are just advertising and propaganda. Any advice on how to deal with it?


Unfortunately, we once had a valid point. But it’s hard to say why, logically, now. The best thing going for the Macintosh is that it’s rarer. We can feel more special, like we are making a sacrifice to have a ‘different’ machine. The design fits into home interiors better. There’s less software so there’s less to go wrong or be incompatible with other software. Macs are very good, but I don’t think that you can get anyone to switch platforms based on that.

Now let’s say that your friend has an older mother that has no computer experience at all, but who ‘might’ want to get on the internet. You could make the case that her first experience may determine whether she uses or avoids the internet for the rest of her life. The less techie looking, more home styled, Macintosh might be a lot safer way to insure this.

Then again, WebTV might be the safest of all.

What a year !

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I saw your biography on TV last night and was very impressed- by your achievements, work ethic, and outlook on life. I’m the operating officer of a pretty young software company and your story completely inspired me! I read in one of your email responses that you went to college in Colorado, as did I. Which one? I went to Boulder – and what a time that was!


Boulder, 1968. I had 800’s on all my math/science SAT’s except for Chemistry (770) but visited Boulder and was in snow for the first time in my life so I decided that was the only place I’d apply. WHAT A YEAR. You’ll have to wait for my book. I even got put on probation for computer abuse, and was afraid that they’d charge me so I didn’t go back. But I had some incredible pranks, well beyond the one that was talked about on the biography.

Keep joking and laughing

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I am in class right now learning SQL and hope to be a successful developer. I just had some questions that I hope you can address on your main page if you get asked enough.

Q1: Your biography said you just realized in Hawaii that one day you didn’t want to invent and program any more, that you wanted a simpler life, is this true that you wanted a easier life?

Q2: I would really like to hear your advice for being a successful person not just in the IT world but in life in general?

Q3: I also wanted to email you just to see if I got a personal response from you, I understand that you are probably really busy so maybe I will write you again a few year from now. Even a generic email would be fine.

And you know you should take a break sometimes and not spend so much time sending emails , your fans will understand, I do!


A1: I wanted time for my young kids and I got that. I am having a tough time at the moment, mainly due to constant email. The show misled viewers in some aspects. I have 5 hours of email to handle on the easiest day of the year, maybe New Years day, but 8 to 20 hours most days. After a show like the A&E Special, I get a lot. …Woz

A2: Don’t set up your life with situations and cares where you may likely frown. Keep joking and laughing.

A3: Thank you for the generous comments. I’m glad that I was able to remain the person I was and not be changed by Apple’s success. Is that generic enough? I’m sending it to lots of people but only after reading their email and feeling it’s correct. A computer response would never be right all the time.


The fight for survival of the Macintosh

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Sorry to add to the likely incredible spate of email you are likely getting after the Biography special, but I just really didin’t think I could NOT drop you a line, even if it is getting awfully late here. I just thought I should take the opportunity to thank you, and to ask your advice. You can ignore the rest of the message from here on if you want to, and I will not be (too) :hurt, since its not your job to be an advice columnist.

First of all, thanks for the Apple II and all its progeny. Its had a major impact on my life. In 1978, I was eight years old when my dad introduced me to the first Apple II that the University of Saskatchewan ever bought. He was (and is) a prof in Educational Technology at the U of S, so I always got to play with the newest and coolest technologies when I was young. I’ve been an Apple person ever since (I’m writing this from my G4 400 at home). I’m a user support person at the U of S now, supporting Mac users in the Health Sciences at our university. So, I make a comfortable living off those ideas you had so long ago (in computer years, of course). But, you know (and you prabably do, from what they said about you in the Biography special), its more than that, more than just a way to make a living. Its (to me at least) a philosophy, a dream almost. Apple was always the company that helped people do things, to solve problems and to do it in a way that was friendly and understandable and different from the conventional. I have always tried to keep to that philosophy in my work life, and I think I have been relatively successful over the past 12 years.

That dream is threatened for me now, as it has been for some time. The writing is on the wall at my institution as far as I can tell. Macs are on the way out at the U of S, to be replaced in due time by (what else,) a Microsoft-dominated solution. Some small, rational part of my brain tells me that this is no big deal, they are only computers, I have skills that are applicable no matter what computer platform or group of people I am working with. But there is another part of me, deeply ingrained, that hates to see the dream die at my institution. I hate to see people say “Oh, we are getting rid of our Macs because everybody else has PCs, and we need to be compatible. It’s too much work to keep the Macs.” I hate to see the machines that I have always associated with “nice guys” (like yourself) be replaced by machines powered by a company that seems to win by forcing everyone to conform to its standards and crushing anyone that does not conform. The two companies were started by people with dreams, but from my point of view they are vastly different dreams.

My question for you (oh wise one :>) is, since you are the original dreamer who started us all down this path, what should I do? Should I listen to that rational part of my brain? If I had already, I would not be writing this email. Should I give up the fight? That is essentially what it has become, a fight for survival of the Macintosh, both in my local situation and on a global scale. It isn’t supposed to be a fight, I suspect you are thinking, and you never intended for it to be [and its not really your responsibility, and why the heck do people email you and ask you these kind of questions anyway? :>]. But I am really kinda stumped here, and I am hoping you have maybe faced this type of question before in your personal life.

And maybe you could do me a really big favor. If you still have any contact with the other Steve, and let him know that there are people out here in this kind of situation (more than one in this town at least). Ask him what he is going to do for all the people like me that have subscribed to what is essentially (as I see it) your dream (Besides telling us all that we need serious psychiatric help :>. That’s that little rational part of my brain butting in again!). He needs to be very careful, because the next year or so is going to make or break Apple(even if people have been saying that from 1982 on, this time it may really be true), and there is only so long that us “Mac Faithful” can remain that way (By the way, moving to fee for incident service on the Apple help line may make financial good sense, but it is suicide for Apple’s rapport with its users, particularly when in many cases when people like me call the support personnel at Apple learn new things as well).

If you have read this far, thanks for listening, and I am really glad to know that a nice guy can once in a while finish first. Maybe there’s hope for me yet! :>


I understand your anxiety and frustrations and sadness because I live them every day of my life. I have the same fears as you.

There was a time, perhaps between 1984 and 1993, when the Macintosh alone stood for a new humanistic world of computers. The Macintosh dreams included concepts like software that was so clear that you could intuitively figure out what to do. If you made mistakes, the computer gently told you what you’d done and guessed what you wanted to do and told you how to do it or offered to do it for you. Error messages were understandable and complete. Everything was plug and play and nothing went wrong. The GUI world needs little explanation.

The PC world in this time frame lived with less human concepts of computing and claimed that their way was correct and better for serious work. The Macintosh approaches for normal people (humans) made it too weak a machine for real work. We Macintosh users knew how much baloney this was and we held onto our good and correct dreams for humanity.

Now all computers have a GUI. But they all fail in the areas of what I call the Macintosh dreams. Software is crap wherever you look. Layouts aren’t standard enough to follow. Messages are incomprehensible. Dialogs and menus lead you to wrong choices and unintended errors. Software crashes too much. It loses data. Files get corrupted. Checkboxes are used when radio buttons are called for. Operations become deactivated at particular times for no reason, other than that you might have hit some key in a particular hundredth of a second.

Both Microsoft and Apple are monopolies. Mostly, dedicated Macintosh users buy Macintoshes and they won’t likely buy a PC. The number of Macintoshes sold does not depend on how much quality is in the software. The dreams are nearly dead. With no incentive to create intuitive and modeless software, like Control Panels for instance, that actually work, why should any company try to make them better for humans to use? The emphasis is always on some new product and the broken and non-working crap that’s around just sits forever. I’m amazed at how many times I see software that takes steps backwards from great things that were done more correctly and humanly before.

Technology and the money of big corporations has become much more important than human beings. That was not the original intent of personal computers. They were to put more power in the individual’s hand. As we store our data and apps on the internet, our computing world becomes a big corporate entity that makes individuals less and less important in the process. The era of truly personal computers is fading in many ways. The computer platform we use is becoming less and less important. This may be a boon to Apple, but there are many forces working against it, all for the sake of money. Apple has to be very different than all the others in terms of what it’s products symbolize to buyers. Right now, it’s the “think different” campaign. Some of us will make sacrifices to be included in that category.

A lot has been lost. Apple is not the only example.

Graduation prank

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I couldn’t love a machine as much as the passion that was put into building it. I bet you had more fun building that middle finger than you ever did making calculators. Or at least I would like to think you did. That is all I wanted to communicate to you. from one designer to another, or from one human being to another. Passion is a good thing.


You’re right. Steve Jobs and Allen Baum and myself made it. The graduation was Steve Jobs’ and it was at our high school. We spent 4 nights in a row working out a scheme that wound up with two ramps guiding 2 skates over the edge of a 2-story building right where half of the graduates exited after graduating. The skates pulled the sheet over. Tennis shoes and other things kept the sheet from blowing away. The skates were weighted down. Everything, including the tennis shoes, was tied together so that it couldn’t hit anyone on the head below. 40 lb. Fishing line held the skates at the top of the 2 ramps and ran down the side of the building.

The next morning the sign was down. Steve and I determined that the line had been cut at about waist height. It hadn’t torn. The next year, at Berkeley, I ran into one of the seniors working on another senior prank the last night that we got our sign working. He said that Steve Jobs had told them what we were doing up on the roof and had even shown them where the fishing line was. So they cut it themselves for fun. Too bad, it would have been funny.

We tried another very ambitious graduation prank there the next year but that’s another story.

When you die, I think that your ration of laughs to frowns is the most important thing to judge.

About Motorcycles

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Yesterday, I watched your biography on A&E TV. Very impressive and depressing at the same time. Impressive because of your accomplishments. Inventing the PC and promoting concerts that’s amazing. Depressing to see that you were kind of left out and used by Steve Jobs (at least that was my impression after watching a movie and your biography) and to think that was it.

I believe there is more to come. Invention wise. You changed the world like not many others, so whats next. My suggestion is to make apple computer more interesting for PC user. Like making it possible to use PC software? (There is more available and it’s cheaper) What about using the Mac system usable on a PC for testing purposes.

Here is the catch: I would like you to check out our [motorcycle] web site and let me know what you think about it.

I know that you get tons of e mails and you are busy like everyone else but I would appreciate your comments or an advice.


It’s hard to explain the concept of my being overrun by Steve Jobs. I’d say that I did design some incredible machines that may have been a needed step to kicking off this new market, as Mike Markkula said in the biography. But someone like Steve Jobs was needed to turn that product into a corporate success and to change the world and get them accepting it. So we both had important roles. My role was much more short lived but I put everything into it and could have done no better. I would never have wanted the attention and responsibility for more than my own work, which is what Steve Jobs has. I had certain strong personal ethics that would have rendered me a poor businessman, regardless of how much training I could have come by.

Your web site is quite exciting. If I were younger and freer I’d want to join up. I did commute for years on my motorcycle to Apple, and the feeling of a bike is the most fun thing ever in my life. It was much more fun than flying planes. It was like skiing to work every day, riding in the open air. I never wore strongly protective clothing but I was cautious and never went down while riding once I got my license. I always hoped that I’d give up riding before crashing and after a decade I did just that, although I always take the motorcycle test to keep my license valid.

Thanks for the concerts

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Just saying thanks for the concerts that you held at Glen Helen Park in Devore. Really were enjoyable. Wishing you al the best, Frank Guidi


I’m glad that almost as many people email me to say how they enjoyed the US Festivals as email me with thanks for starting Apple.


Comment from E-mail

Charlie Daniels Jr is my best friend. He and Big Charlie both are big Macintosh fanatics! I sent the link to your site to Charlie yesterday when I found it. He is vacationing in Colorado and has his Powerbook with him. He was going to pay you a visit.




Comment from E-mail

I am better than everyone I know at computers. That’s why I choose Linux because it was more advanced. Windows sucks and there aren’t enough non-desktop publishing apps ported to the Mac. But I would choose a Mac over windows, because Windows is always crashing and its slow and looks awful. But it has the most apps. You cant win all the time.


For different people, different platforms are the best. It’s closely integrated with how we view ourselves too. Windows is too closely associated with corporations excluding the Macintosh platform as a form of corporate bigotry, that I find it too offensive to use as a person. Linux does suffer from a lack of apps for some kinds of people, notably Macintosh users. But I have yet to hear that Linux is as bad as any other platform in it’s possibilities.

Another Apple?

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I posted this in SlashDot, but it probably won’t make it to you, so I’ll pose this to you personally. In your opinion, is there room in the industry for another Apple, where a couple of guys get together, start with nothing, and launch something amazing? Or has the industry gotten too overgrown? One of my fascinations is technological history, so I watched “Pirates” with baited breath (somewhat disappointed, however). I have had countless daydreams about meeting one of the industry pioneers – what I would say, what we’d talk about, the responses I’d get. If I ever make it down to San Jose (I’m up in Spokane, WA), is that offer for a cup of coffee still open? Thanks for your time, and God Bless.


It may make it to me. I’m answering some selected slashdot questions tomorrow.

I think that it’s always possible for what we did to be done again. It would normally require a once-in-a-decade new market opening up to be huge, one that established companies can’t address or don’t address. Right now the whole world is switching to internet services instead of what preceded. This phenomenon is just at it’s start yet there are countless opportunities for young people with nothing to create a big success here, even though most are achieved by business people from before. But look at successes like Yahoo and Netscape that came from unknowns.

The problem is always that I can’t say what the unknown opportunity is. If I could, so could millions of others and nobody could be successful by themselves.

Country Music

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I am a traditional country singer who grew up traveling on the road with Merle Haggard. Legendary songwriter Hank Cochran is producing my first CD now with Merle involved. We plan to make it REAL country.


Just a week ago I was listening to the only great radio show here (KSJC’s “Lubbock or Leave It” and one of the songs, that just made me cry with thoughts of how lousy most of today’s country music is, was an old Merle Haggert one. It wasn’t “Okie” but sounded similar. When I hear this sort of stuff I just realize that I missed a lot of the music that would have been ‘mine’.

Great word songs

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And Emmy Lou is a friend of mine! That is great that she played at your wedding! Did you meet the Road Mangler, Phil Kaufman? He was her road manager and has become quite a celebrity in his own right…


I’m not good with remembering people or names and I don’t try to get too friendly with performers because I feel that I’m one of hundreds bugging them. So I barely recall the name Phil but don’t really know him.

What I liked about Emmy Lou was the nature of the music and words that she sang, as well as her incredible voice. Also, the folks that she was associated with (Rodney, Rosanne Cash, Guy Clark, Steve Goodman, and the like) tended toward these great word songs that got beneath the surface.

Microsoft apps for the Macintosh

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I knew that you guys (Apple) got the GUI from Xerox… But why on earth would Jobs let Xerox and Co. even get a look at the Mac before it hit the streets? I mean, jeez… I understand why Xerox let you guys see the technology…. The Xerox ‘Brass’ had no vision, but Jobs did.


Steve wanted Microsoft to write some apps for the Macintosh.

About Steve J.

Comment from E-mail

As far as personalities go… I know Steve was/is your friend, but was he really as much of an A–hole as depicted in the movie. You seemed to be one of a hand full of people to keep a cool head and remain ‘true-to-yourself’ once the $$$ started rolling in.


Well, Steve pushes to get greatness. It turns a lot of people off and burns some out. I’m just too polite with people, shy actually, to behave this way. I decided when younger that the thing that was most important was having people like you.

Photo albums on HD

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If possible I’d like to connect with you there at MacWorld in SF…and bring you over to the Club Photo booth…they would be thrilled! They are releasing the newest Mac version of the Living Album, (1st in over 2 years) which we will be adding onto the LGX CD. I have been their major Mac proponent….I am glad they stuck with the Mac platform! They will be doing live uploads so we can publish any photos taken that day… Let me know if this works for you? If you don’t have lunch already booked, I’d be honored to invite you for a bite…


I will definitely catch the Club Photo booth. I think that it’s clearly time for this product to get better known. I looked in a catalog today and didn’t find it. Also, my wife had horrible time reducing some pictures she took of our daughter’s dog in order to email the pictures. PhotoShop wasn’t behaving and I’ll have to find out why later. There’s a real need for people to start keeping and organizing their photo albums on HD.

Open Source on Mac

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Currently I do not own a MAC. The main reason for that is because I am a hardcore gaming enthusiast. I think that that might change in the future and I am considering buying an iMac for my wife and daughter. I work as a Network Administrator, primarily with WindowsNT. Strangely enough, I do not advocate the use or purchase of Microsoft products. I make a living solving problems with these products. Needless to say, there is PLENTY of work to keep me busy. But on a personal level, (when I am not playing computer games), I am working with Linux. If I do purchase an iMac for my wife, I will dual boot it to Linux for my own use. I have also seen BeOS in action on an iMac and was very impressed.

I have a question for you if you have time:

One thing that I think could really help Apple right now, would be to go completely open source with its OS and possibly move its OS to one based on Linux or FreeBSD. Over the years I have heard only two complaints from ANYONE about the prospect of owning a Mac. The first is a lack of applications. While this is not wholly true, I think that the number of apps available could be dramatically increased if they moved their OS in the direction that I suggested above. The second complaint was the difficulty or inability of upgrading your Mac as opposed to a PC. Firstly, I don’t know enough about Mac hardware to know if that is true or not, but my guess is that if it ever was true, its not so today. The reason being that most PC’s (Mac’s included) are at a point where they are so far over powered for today’s applications that upgrading is totally unnecessary for at least 3 or 4 years which is the expected life of the machine anyway.


Apple prides itself on keeping greater compatibility by strictly controlling the hardware and OS and having less configurations to deal with. That might go against Open source. I would certainly favor Open Source though. I think that a lot of future OS ‘improvers’ would get educated this way. Examining code and trying to understand it is a better way to learn than from books. Associating the Macintosh with Linux would be the most positive thing Apple could do to be accepted everywhere. But Linux is UNIX and the underlying kernel of MacOS X will be MACH, which is also UNIX. It just may not be as popular as Linux.

While upgrading Macintosh hardware is often not easily accomplished, the basic elements (RAM, HD, Keyboard, peripherals, PCI cards) are easy to upgrade. It’s just not so in the consumer models, the iMac and iBook. The audience for these products is better off not including upgrade in their vocabulary. Upgrading causes more problems than it fixes. Isn’t that why you are working with WindowsNT and not willing to buy Microsoft for yourself?

How do you know where to start?

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What I’m interested in is how you learned all you did about electronics and such. I’ve always been interested in electronics but for some reason I just can’t seem to quite understand how I would go from reading a schematic and building a cuircit to drawing my own diagrams and creating a device that actually does something. Every time I’m reminded of how you built a whole computer from scratch in your garage, I just sort of sit in awe for a few seconds. Granted, you are probably the most popular of the garage hackers, but others have done so as well. Where do you start on something like that? How do you know where to start?


Although I’m not current on this stuff I have some suggestions.

You could look for electronics industry magazines. They aren’t on popular magazine shelves but you can find them in companies and libraries. Try to subscribe to some. Start filing interesting electronic component ads and articles and notes. Order any chip manuals or the like that you can. Get current with what’s going on there.

If you get a manual for a microprocessor it will have lots of schematics of how to construct a working device. You can buy some microprocessors with pre-programmed languages and I/O built in, ones with pins that you can attach to.

You might start with simple chips like counters and registers and shift registers and gates and try designing some simple projects like frequency generators or frequency counters. You’ll probably need to use an oscilloscope for this. You’ll learn so much even if you don’t build this. Then you’ll be ready to look for better chips for the same thing.

You can probably buy chips that output graphics and video from a microprocessor to your TV for the next step. These projects will cost a little and take some time but the learning will never be forgotten, and the techniques by which you achieve your goal will remain forever.

I used to think that when I came up with an approach to a certain circuit, I couldn’t really assign what was in my head to a company that I worked for. All the little pieces of computer circuit learning, and coding too, that was in me was all I had to go on for my future.

Apple in movies

Comment from E-mail

I have a question which I have been pondering for a while and I think you might be a man that can answer it. I have seen a lot of movies in my time and when a computer is involved in a movie say an actor is actually using it or it’s just in the background it alwyas seems to be a Macintosh computer never a PC. You don’t see Windows 95/98 running on these computers in the movies for example in American Pie that kid is using a Mac for transmitting video using a netcam. What gives? Is it Apple’s marketing? or is it that Macintosh screens have better refresh rates? I’d appreciate an answer


There are lots of reasons like Apple actually lobbying to have it’s computers in movies. But the most likely reason to me is that the sorts of people that make movies use Macintoshes. Most of the real interesting people like that whom I meet seem to use Macs.

Apple /// monitor

Comment from E-mail

Hello. I was fooling around on my Apple ][e the other today and finally noticed it’s monitor says “monitor///” on it. It’s a bit wider than the ][e, so I guess it’s an Apple /// monitor. I wanted to ask you: what was it you think about the Apple /// that just didn’t work? I’ve heard it wasn’t all that bad a machine, but I’ve seen pictures of it and sure looks big and bulky. The built-in 5.25in floppy drive idea wasn’t seen again, as far as I know, until the Apple ][c Plus (which I used to own, w/ a built in 3.5in floppy on the side of the keyboard). I also heard there were some heating/cooling problems with it. Is what I have heard true?


The Apple /// had a lot of hardware problems, including heat problems and PC traces that were too thin for that time and which shorted out. Also, the clock chip had to initially be left out due to a chip problem. There was very little software at first. Of the 5 main programs that we’d planned, only one was ready, the one being written outside of Apple (Visicalc). It had an Apple ][ mode but we actually added chips to disable functions, like the 80 column display and extra RAM. This was done so that users wouldn’t think that the Apple ][ was good for business. It was a marketing concept.