Computer Hardware Pornography

I've never understood programmers who loved the craft of programming, but were disinterested in the underlying hardware -- the very tool that allows them to practice their craft. I have an unabashed love for computer hardware that borders on inappropriate. I'm not ashamed to admit it.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

I feel your pain, brotha. I still have a VIC 20 in my basement that I. Can’t. Let. Go. Of. I still find myself frequenting when I’m waiting for a long query to complete.

Um, but I probably won’t be interested buying your copies of those books used!

I’ve got the Game Machines book. I had a hard time putting it down. You should also check out Digital Retro by Gordon Laing. It’s got a ton of machines you never even knew existed. Good Stuff.

Well if you want a piece of history I can get you a few chunks of a PDP-11. It’s sitting in the bush behind my parents house. I should warn you that 10 Ontario winters probably haven’t been to good to it. I’m sure the 10M hard drives were stored indoors so they’re in better shape. They needed a forklift to move so shipping costs to you may be a bit of a bitch.

Hey David, I also have my VIC 20 too. Ahhh, memories.

Speaking of hardware porn for geeks/programmers…

what? no atari 400 users with the membrain keyboard?
hmmm always the underdog :frowning:

Is that a PDP-8 on the cover of “Core Memory”? That was the first computer I ever touched. It brings back memories of toggling in the boot program, and programming in assembler. It had a whopping 4096 12-bit words of (core) memory.

My dad was a programmer since before I was born (in '78). I had a old, broken card punches to play with. Every year I would trot out the same oral (show and tell in your country, maybe?) with bits of hardware which I passed around the class. Giant disk drive heads, old cards, 128k 8-inch floppies etc. Good memories.

I had a Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48k. I loved it, I literally had tears in my eyes when one day it stopped functioning. I don’t know there’s something about older computers, that i like way more than the modern ones

“The Digital Pimp, hard at work”

:slight_smile: Jeff you need some time away from … yourself apparently :slight_smile:

Coded by my friends back in 96:

I think most modern computers are pretty dull. They have none of the quirky inventiveness of the early microcomputer pioneers. I have fond memories of my Spectrum and BBC Micro but none of the anonymous beige boxes after that. It wasn’t until my first Mac that things started getting interesting again.

But, in a similar vein to the books you mention, I liked Gordon Laing’s “Digital Retro: The Evolution and Design of the Personal Computer” (

I have no significant interest in agriculture just because food is necessary

I think that’s an unfair analogy. To be a programmer uninterested in hardware is to be a farmer uninterested in farm machinery. It’s how you produce the fruits of your labor, so it has a fairly direct impact on how you work, and even your productivity.

Jeff, I think you should also have a copy of this one:

In case the above AMazon ugly link does’t work, here’re the ISBNs:

ISBN-10: 3822812935
ISBN-13: 978-3822812938

Nice looking book :slight_smile:

I’m reasonably sure that is NOT a PDP-8. I remember working on one of them in high school back in the 70’s, and I definitely don’t remember any sort of silver dial on the front. All of the controls were toggle switches.

Ah, the joys of toggling in the boot program (and then slowly reading through the entries trying to figure out why the silly thing wasn’t working THIS time).

I love hardware and all the stuff constantly being rolled out, but also think it’s distracting. The time it takes up “to get into” this hobby and maintain it is perhaps ill-justified by the limited (even if useful) benefits gained. After a long time building systems I’ve simply fallen back to Dell/Apple etc because it simplifies my job as a Software Developer to not to have to deal with or even be interested in the underlying aspects of the hardware. YMMV.

I was hoping to make it to the Maker Faire, I was hoping to speak to some fellow Makers about my home made 3D printer.

Ah well… another time


As programming becomes an increasingly high level or abstraction of the hardware, I believe knowledge and interest in hardware becomes less important for the developer.

Dalton Filho’s analogy may be unfair. But what about a graphic artist. They are dependent on computers but contemporary ones do not need to know anything about hardware.

Love your blog by the way! I built my computer but still get intimidated when it comes to hardware.

When I was taking electronics courses in college, I felt the approach was too far in-depth and not enough big picture. I remember when we were discussing op amps, the math was all laid out and I saw how they were modeled, but it wasn’t until I actually played with one in a lab that I realized it amplified a signal.

Same deal when it turned to transistors. Lots of math and theory, but what does it actually do? “Voltage at the gate causes current to flow from the source to the drain.” Too much jargon. It’s a switch! You put voltage here, it turns on. You take it away, it turns off.

That’s why I switched from electronics to computer science, and why I enjoy programming but don’t worry about the hardware. Logical ones and zeroes are more pure than the quirks and imperfections of the physics of electricity beneath them. I can appreciate how it works, but if you go too deep, you lose focus as to what it does.

As for me, I prefer the mind over the body, simplified abstractions to simple instructions. I have little regret for all the extra things you can get them to do when you get down to the hardware details.

But how can I fail to be nostalgic of the times I spent with Timex Sinclair 1000, Atari 800 (and her younger sister, 130XE) and that classy Amiga 3000? Sure, computers are all high maintenance unsophisticated little time wasters, but I don’t see how I could live without them.