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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 24th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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A trip down (very expensive) memory lane

17 August 2017

Last night I took a couple of hours (well three hours actually) out of my normally busy evening to watch some TV.

Well it wasn't TV per se, because I've not had an antenna connected to my TV set in more than a decade. It was a TV programme however, streamed from the interwebs.

The piece of entertainment I watched was the first few episodes of the series Halt and Catch Fire which is an 80's-based tech-drama.

Wow... this was great stuff (once I managed to stop laughing at the technical inaccuracies) and greatly reminded me of my early days in the computer industry when a man, an idea and many long hours was all it really took to create ground-breaking products.

This was a timely watch, as it was only last week that I made a video on some of the software I wrote back in (wait for it...) the early 1980s. (Cue massive waves of nostalgia)

My, how times have changed.

Although many aspects of creating awe-inspiring tech products and software have been made much easier, thanks largely to the Internet, the ability for one guy, or even a couple of people, to get together and create something fantastic from a simple idea and lots of sweat, is all but gone.

There's no way that anyone is going to repeat the Apple story by building a computer in their garage.

There's also little chance that we're going to see someone coming up with wildly popular and useful software such as "Electric Pencil" using the same "one-person, lots of sweat" development model.

These days, any project of significance requires a decent team of artists, programmers, marketers and management -- which also means it needs huge gobs of capital. That's kind of sad really.

Why?

Well because a single person's vision is easily lost or distorted out of recognition when it is forged by so many hammers. Often it's the simplicity and elegance of one person's vision that creates fantastic products. Once you get a committee involved however, you're far more likely to end up with just another camel.

However, while still bathing in the joy of nostalgia for the early days of the microcomputer industry I started wishing I'd saved all my old Byte and Dr Dobbs Journal magazines.

But wait... maybe they're online...

Woohoo... yes!

This Byte archive is a fantastic resource and I must admit to spending way too much time browsing through the scanned pages of issues going right back to the very first one, published in 1975.

For anyone like myself, who started out in microcomputer systems about this time, these old editions of "the" computer magazine are gold.

For those who know nothing before Windows and GUIs, these old issues will be a real eye-opener.

For example, did you know that back in 1977, a 4K RAM board would cost you about US$180?

That's US$727 in today's money -- or around NZ$1,000.

Yes children, that's the kind of money we paid for our hardware back in the early days of computers. It's kind of funny because today, NZ$1,000 would buy you almost 80GB of top-spec DDR3 RAM -- that's TWO MILLION times as much memory for the same money!

Wow!

So, whether you're an old gray-beard like me who was their when this whole microcomputer thing first started, or a noob who wants to know what things were like way back then, I suggest you trawl through some of the old back-issues of Byte and perhaps take a look at the Halt and Catch Fire series (available via your favourite KODI plug-in - I suspect;-).

Ah, happy days!

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