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"None of this is going to matter"
July 4, 2014 6:05 PM   Subscribe

Landon "Dadhacker" Dyer reminisces about Patching the Newton: "How do you fix bugs in a ROM, if you can’t change the image?"
The patches live in the battery protected low-power RAM of the Newton, and they’re theoretically immortal as long as power holds out. This is why the battery compartment has a wacky mechanical locking system meant to discourage people from simultaneously removing both the main and the backup batteries. It’s a byzantine contraption of sliders and buttons molded in Holy Shit Yellow, and it’s meant to scare people into being cautious.

Bonus:
Apple's archived KB on How to Insert/Replace Batteries.
Dadhacker on Newton Storage History: "a lot of great technology hidden away in the guts".
Dadhacker previously on MeFi: Atari; Cars.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle (16 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
The coding bits are largely lost on me, but even without them that's a pretty fascinating read.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:36 PM on July 4 [2 favorites]


I love articles like this that are friendly, yet technical. I don't really know what he's talking about, but it's written such that I don't feel dumb. I'm excited because he fixed some patch problem, and I like knowing how things are made anyway. This was pitched just beyond my level, and I appreciate that.
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:40 PM on July 4 [2 favorites]


Oh, this is great!
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 7:11 PM on July 4


Don't know why they weren't using NOR Flash memory. Intel introduced it in 1988 and it was in widespread use by the the early 90s. It was cheaper than battery backed SRAM.
posted by JackFlash at 7:11 PM on July 4


Don't know why they weren't using NOR Flash memory. Intel introduced it in 1988 and it was in widespread use by the the early 90s. It was cheaper than battery backed SRAM.

Because the battery backed SRAM was both data storage and the working set. There was no secondary storage at all on a Newton. You could buy a flash card for it but by default all user data and program code was stored in battery backed RAM.
posted by Talez at 7:23 PM on July 4 [2 favorites]


Code was stored in a mask programmed ROM. How else could the device boot? Then for patches they had to use the dangerous SRAM kluge instead of a more flexible Flash RAM. If for any reason they every lost battery power, they lost their code.
posted by JackFlash at 7:35 PM on July 4


Oh man, NewtonOS storage. Once upon a time I had a lot of brain cells tied up in this (even at the time) dead environment. It's an amazing box, one that you open and find all kinds of neato dev presents, and you wonder why it never caught on, and then you realize that you're hacking away on software (both dev AND end user) that cost as much as a small car did when it was introduced and it all starts to make sense. It's a very cool system that does amazing things with the tech of the time, but he nails it when he says it was half baked. Much like the alien race in HHGTTG who built a spaceship that looks like the spaceship built by cavemen who had had a spaceship described to them, the MessagePad was a glimpse of 21st century tech built in the last part of the 20th century.

That said, I can reach over from where I'm sitting, fire up my MP2000 (with the memory upgrade) off of its shelf and surf the web, far better than I should be able to with anything that's 20 years old. That dev environment is what has kept it alive all these years. Don't get me started on the eMate. That's yet another litany of missed opportunities right there. *sigh*
posted by 1f2frfbf at 8:11 PM on July 4 [7 favorites]


I'm amazed I understand everything he's writing, in pretty much full detail. Yet my Master's degree is in English Lit for crying out loud. Maybe this is why I seem to be unemployable.
posted by JHarris at 9:02 PM on July 4 [1 favorite]


JHarris: "I'm amazed I understand everything he's writing, in pretty much full detail. Yet my Master's degree is in English Lit for crying out loud. Maybe this is why I seem to be unemployable."

Don't tell prospective tech employers about your English Lit degree.
posted by double block and bleed at 9:50 PM on July 4 [5 favorites]


Fascinating story. The whole blog is a goldmine.

Oh, and if you google "Landon Dyer", he's NOT the unfortunate 28-year old Landon B. Dyer who's on the news today after dying in a head-on collision with an 18-wheeler.
posted by hat_eater at 3:26 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]


moar plz kthxbai
posted by GallonOfAlan at 6:15 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]


Heh. I did a double take to make sure I got to that post from Metafilter, and not Hacker News or something.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 9:57 AM on July 5


Always wondered if they ever got a call from Nabisco's legal team.
posted by radwolf76 at 11:53 AM on July 5


Neat insights. It took me way to long to realize that this device's name is a play on the title of Ira Flatow's PBS science show (which used a Kraftwerk instrumental as it's theme song).
posted by Twang at 1:11 PM on July 5


1f2frfbf: Don't get me started on the eMate. That's yet another litany of missed opportunities right there. *sigh*

That was Apple's MO in the 90s -- they were always thinking at least 10 years in the future but the execution was hobbled by the limitations of technology. The eMate was yet another Apple product that was 10 years before its time.
posted by nathan_teske at 9:50 AM on July 6


I thought conventional wisdom was that NewtOS stuff got kilt by Steve upon his return because they were Scully joints.

Anyway, I, too, have a MP2000 on the shelf behind me. It's a stellar piece of kit, really.
posted by uberchet at 2:18 PM on July 8


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