That processor could address 1Mb of memory. Yes, a whole luxurious megabyte! Trust me, that was a big figure in 1981.
However, you didn't get the whole megabyte. Oh no. Things like video cards and the built-in BASIC need some RAM to use, so IBM reserved the upper 384Kb of RAM for that purpose. That gave the machine 640Kb of RAM to play with.
In 1981, that was actually pretty amazing. Remember, the first IBM PC (Model 5150) could only have a maximum of 256Kb fitted into it. The minimum RAM to be fitted was 64Kb. So at the time, these probably seemed like fairly generous limits...
So, the IBM PC was cloned, and became effectively an industry of its own. Its originally generous architecture lasted some 21 years longer than I think IBM would have wanted...
So some fairly nasty hacks had to be performed to get more RAM under MS-DOS.
The first was Expanded Memory. That required a special memory card, and a driver to be loaded. It was also a horrifically ugly bank-switching affair.
For those that aren't aware, "bank switching" meant that you didn't get access to all the memory you had on that card. You got access to the memory in 16Kb pages - and only a maximum of four of them. So basically you got 64Kb at a time.
And yet this was better than no memory, so people persevered.
Then, with the Intel 80286, we got Extended Memory. That allowed flat access - no bank switching - to all the memory above 1Mb.
(Provided the processor was in protected mode, that is.)
And it gets no better. There is also the High Memory Area, which is a best described as a godawful hack.
Technically described, it's the first 64Kb (almost) of the Extended Memory area. Due to some trickery involving - believe it or not - the keyboard handling interrupt, that small sliver of memory at the start of the Extended Memory area can be accessed by real mode programs.
Truly, the High Memory Area is a hack which makes Expanded Memory look graceful by comparison.
Basically, RAM on an IBM (Compatible) PC was a mess. An unruly, damnable mess. And we wrestled with it using the tools that MS-DOS provided (HIMEM.SYS, EMM386.EXE, DOS=HIGH) or with third party programs (QEMM, 386MAX).
All to gain a few extra bytes in that precious 640Kb area that PCs were originally so generously given.
It was no wonder that when Windows 95 came along, so many people were happy to be free of these kinds of ugly hacks!
And I remember all of this and more. All of it, in these days of technological luxury, just so many wasted neurons...
It's that time of year - resolutions time.
I'm quite serious. And this isn't an attempt to shirk anything.
(I'm making no resolutions this year because I'm more of a fan of kaizen. So when I needed to start running, I didn't wait - I just started. I'm simply wondering about why we make resolutions at New Year.)
Despite preferring continual improvement, I can see that having a time to take stock of things and set new goals is positive. I just don't see why it should be January 1st.
My first problem is that it seems a very arbitrary point. There may be some psychological attachments of importance for some but that's about the only thing to recommend it.
After all it's just a point on the calendar. And that calendar has been tinkered with so much to try to make it align with the Earth's orbital oddities that our New Year is now almost two weeks after the Winter Solstice, which is both the origin of the New Year and a more logical candidate, as the Winter Solstice is a physically measurable phenomenon which heralds a real change - days growing longer after it.
But having thought about it, I don't think that the Winter Solstice is the best candidate either.
The second problem I have with New Year's Day as a point for reflection and goal setting is its frequency. It is, unrelentingly so, yearly. (The clue is in the name.)
If you're employed in an organisation of any moderate size or larger, you'll probably have Annual Reviews. And if they're anything like mine, half the goals that were set a year ago are then ignored in that review, because "things changed" and "new priorities appeared".
(And you should have been meeting with your boss to cover that and amend the goals every four to six weeks, but that didn't happen because both of you were busy working. On things that had changed, and new priorities that had appeared.)
So I think that yearly is too long. And that brings us back to Solstices, which occur twice yearly.
That's a much nicer schedule. But I don't like using the Solstices, because they mark the longest and shortest days - it's no good planning activities that may rely on conditions outdoors then, because it's either too late or too early.
So the only sensible options, it seems to me, are the Equinoxes.
At an Equinox, you know that the next six months (approximately) are going to be either better indoors or better outdoors. With a Solstice, you're at the peak - if your resolution requires outdoors activity, then you're either at the best or worst time for that RIGHT NOW.
Which is probably not the best time for a resolution.
Whereas with an Equinox, you're at a point of balance. Days will either grow shorter or longer, and you'll find out how the activity works with your schedule for both as you'll experience both lengthening and shortening of days during the next six months.
And the Solstices are also celebrations in themselves - even if not absolutely celebrated these days. But we all take summer holidays, or visit family for Christmas - making the Solstices a busy time at which reflection might not be easy.
And yes, I appreciate that not all resolutions rely upon the weather and the length of day. But many do. And we subconsciously change our behaviour during the longer or shorter days - if people wanted to stay indoors during summer, pubs wouldn't have gardens and terraces. Let's face facts - we are swayed by what it's like outdoors, and that may well affect how easy it is to accomplish your resolutions.
The more I think about it, the more I think that anyone taking up Resolutions should make them Equinoxal. Six months, easier to plan around the big events of the year, a better idea of the weather... They seem ideal.
Which is probably why the idea will never catch on. But I'll try to use it as a review point myself, to help my kaizen along...
Tonight and tomorrow are the Internet's busiest time of year.
In the same way that at New Year the mobile phone networks get a free stress test with millions of messages of goodwill, the Internet is about to get a massive stress test as people open their Christmas presents.
Because when's the last time you had a shiny new computer that didn't have to download updates almost immediately after being turned on for the first time?
Not to mention registration, apps being downloaded, and so forth.
And all that on top of the extra traffic generated by a holiday.
Yes, tomorrow is a difficult day for the Internet.
So have some patience, and spare a thought for those unfortunate souls who are working behind the scenes to keep it all running.
(And all those folks working in the emergency services, armed forces, utilities, health care and social care, and other essential roles.)
It is, after all, Christmas.
Today, I got my first ever tip, via Flattr.
It was (predictably) for vCardSplit. My gift that just keeps on giving... the cockroach of software!
Flattr isn't quite like other payment systems. This isn't a donation of a fixed amount - with Flattr you put money into a tip jar on a monthly basis, and go round "Flattring" things.
The act of a Flattr is kind of like a Facebook like - it can be public, which is why they call it "social micropayments". People can wander along to my profile and see what I've Flattred. If I chose to allow it, they could even see the amounts.
(But I don't. And yes, there's also an option to simply hide all your activity as well - including past activity. The company is run by Swedish folks, who seem to understand privacy.)
The clever bit is that at the end of each month, Flattr takes your monthly allowance and divides it equally amongst all the things you Flattred. So you don't get to determine the amount - it's just taken care of.
Didn't Flattr anything? Nothing goes out!
Want to Flattr someone more? Just go back next month. Or click twice, and set up a monthly subscription to their work...
The idea is that, on grander scales, it'll all even out for those being Flattred - some people give proportionately small amounts during busy months, and some people give proportionately large amounts during slow ones.
But it's better than nothing, and more likely to happen because the costs are fixed for the person giving.
Plus, it's a simple click to say "this is good enough that I want to give you some money".
How cool is that?
Flattr take a cut, of course - and at the moment, it's a fairly high 10%. The hope is that as it scales up, their costs will drop and that rate can be reduced.
Frankly, that 10% is the only thing I'm not too keen on - but nothing's free, and I really like the idea. Up until recently, I'd only experimented in using it to give, and the main problem was just finding the time to experiment in using it to receive.
So on Sunday, I integrated Flattr with my website as a test.
It was pretty easy! Especially as there's a Drupal module for it, so it was pretty much "install module, configure permissions, configure module, done".
So then I started looking at PayPal donate buttons etc.
I wanted to put all methods of donation live at once, so I thought I'd turned Flattr off, but I evidently didn't!
But this was probably a good thing. I've crossed the Rubicon - I'm not just (very occasionally) using Flattr to give to others, but now I'm offering them the chance to give to me.
I really like Flattr, both in idea and implementation. Really, if anything, what it's mostly missing is that critical mass of people using it.
I hope that it gets the scale it needs, and am happy to be adding my +1 to the party.
And remember, I don't know if I've got tuppence or a tenner from this first Flattr, as this month's payment dividing hasn't yet been done. So I'm not biased, and can honestly say I've not been paid for my thoughts here!
Do you live in an echo chamber?
It's easy to. And it only seems to get easier.
Before we go on, you might like to read this article at The Atlantic which covers a large, recent echo chamber.
In case you don't read it, I'll summarise: Those on the further reaches on the political right in America are shocked that Barack Obama won a second term - because the right wing media they watch spent six months before the election saying that Obama would lose. It was regarded as disloyal, unpalatable and (at an editorial level) unprofitable to say anything else.
That's an Echo Chamber.
I don't follow much national or international news these days, but when I do I use three websites - The Independent, The Telegraph and BBC News. That covers most sensible biases.
And I often find myself in disagreement with The Telegraph, but I still read it. Exposure to a different point of view is healthy.
Technology makes it easy to live exclusively with your biases today. And that's purely a human failing - one which can be cured with a mere few clicks or taps.
But for convenience, the trend is towards aggregation that mirrors our preferences - a prison we build for ourselves out of satins and silks, that strokes our ego as it draws the curtains on the world outside.
Reading an uncomfortable viewpoint every day should be the mark of the stable, reasonable adult in our society.
Review your news sources. Add discomfort. Leave the Echo Chamber.