Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A new use for old technology

The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park has found a use for 30-year-old BBC Micros - teaching students how to write programs. One ICT teacher said: "The computing A-level is about how computers work, but if you ask anyone how it works they will not be able to tell you. Modern computers go too fast. You can see the instructions happening for real with these machines. They need to have that understanding for the A-level."

I often think back wistfully to the days of programming early microcomputers where each instruction or subroutine you wrote had a direct effect on the hardware. Even the way things appeared on the screen were a direct result of my own coding. Today, Windows manages all input and output and actually prevents the programmer from directly accessing the hardware. In modern programming you never see a machine instruction. It's all done using high-level language commands to set the properties of "objects" - software "black boxes" that simplify and speed up complex programming tasks but hide the mechanics of their operation. You couldn't write modern software the old way, but I still miss the simplicity of early computing.

I have pretty similar reasons for being concerned at what developments like SDR and D-Star will do to the ham radio hobby. The technology is so complex that the average amateur will have no understanding of how they work, only how to use them. I miss the days when you could open a schematic and follow the path of a signal from one end to the other.

Of course, you can still buy kits to build simple radios. I hope that there will always be a place in our hobby for simple, analogue radios that the average amateur can understand, and I don't mean just in a museum.
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