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[NOSC] You say you wanna revolution

As a longtime Forth programmer and hardware designer, and shorter time
MISC -> NOSC subscriber, I've seen many instances where beautifully
simple ideas languish simply because they fly in the face of current
fashion trends in the computer industry. The creative mavericks have
been paying the price for over a decade; the politically savvy
opportunists have yet to discover how they have assiduously played into
the hands of the monopolies and will soon be hard up for decent paying
jobs, thanks to a general stagnation in the industry, nightmarishly
complicated industry standards that require mega budgets to even
consider attempting, offshore software sweatshops, etc. The glory days
are over unless you work for the monopolies, and not all of us can stand
that kind of corporate culture in the first place.

It has taken me a long time to appreciate some of the finer points and
the overall consistency in the evolution of the chips, silicon design
tools, and Forth compilers developed by Chuck Moore, Jeff Fox, and Dr.
Ting. These guys have my total admiration for their persistence and
purity of vision in rejecting the emperor's new clothes in favor of
putting the programmer back in the driver's seat. It's great news to me
that Chuck now has his own website, which must be a considerable relief
to Jeff Fox. Thanks Jeff, for all the effort you have put into making
the saga available to all who are interested enough to actually read
through it.

The recent flurry of NOSC/MForth/CForth postings illustrates what I see
to be a culture clash. Good intentions are apparent, but differences of
opinion as far as how to gain the notoriety required for funding the
ongoing development work abound. I assume these are due to the widely
varying backgrounds and age groups that we encompass.

IMHO, those who advocate porting <insert favorite OS here> to a MISC
implementation are missing a key point behind the MISC initiative, i.e.
an OS typically attempts to be all things to all people, and becomes
very ugly very quickly. My take on this (and I have seen this put into
practice many times) is that what is needed are simple interface
routines to perform the I/O functions (keyboard, mouse, video, mass
storage, datacomm, etc.) rather than all-singin'/all-dancin' hardware
abstraction monstrosities that pretend that everything is a file. So
much for OSs.

I'll go farther here in stating that with enough CPU performance, which
appears to be abundant enough even with my silly little 20 MIPS
Steamer16, you can use software to replace dedicated hardware for an
amazing variety of realtime applications. Sure, you need at least a
free-running timer and parallel ports, and judicious analog and digital
hardware interface assists, but the minimalist approach keeps you in
control of the the procurement/availability/obsolescence issues and
allows you to make tradeoffs that are simply denied by the menagerie of
the silicon that is quasi-available out there. I definitely think that
Chuck's current concept of an array of identical processors is superior
to the dedicated coprocessor approach taken in the past. The faster the
CPU is, the less reason to complicate the design with dedicated
hardware. If the CPU design is debugged, then all of them in the array
are as a natural consequence. In a multiprocessor design, you can even
do away with interrupts by roadmapping which processor is responsible
for what task and the interprocessor communication architecture. Why
bother involving a '765 floppy disk controller, 16550 UART, USB
controller, etc. when you can talk directly to the interface cable
buffers? Software is easy to fix, hardware takes another design
iteration and fab run.

Another good example of solving a serious system-level issue is Chuck's
idea of establishing pin locations such that a 4 nS memory chip can be
mounted on the opposite side of the PCB with no more that 1 cm of trace
length pin to pin. The best solution to many problems is to sidestep them
in the first place by changing the rules of the game. In this case,
signal integrity is reconciled with simple, low-cost PCB fab technology.

Maybe the best bet for funding is to approach universities and research
foundations, rather than bored and greedy venture capitalists. Or maybe
we should all buy lottery tickets and pledge the winnings. I agree with
Jeff that wooing the mainstream with me-tooisms is a waste of time. A
unique niche based on nya-nya minimalism is the natural arena for Forth
chips to shine in. The computer industry as a whole is now decadent and
needs a slap in the face. The biggest pair of balls is way too high up
in the clouds to swing a decent kick at unfortunately, just ask the US
Dept. of Justice.

Don't think of the MISC chips as being a PC-incompatible replacement
that needs a plethora of SVGA PCI card drivers, etc. Think of them as an
opportunity to expose the fraud behind the shortsighted standard
products that get flogged to us this year and discontinued the next in
the guise of progress. And of course if you are a "nobody", you'll never
get the information necessary to write your own driver. Even supposing
you do, it will be necessary to do it all over again when the card is
discontinued. Far better to put a stake in the ground and design your
own high-resolution color display subsystem with whatever features and
hardware/software tradeoffs you see fit, for example.

I hate to see quibbling over which geometry results in what mind-numbing
MIPS figure. I take it for granted that sophisticated designs are
subject to certain statistics as the fat lady sings. I just want to hear
her perform, even on an off day.

It's reverse heresy to be conservative on these mailing lists for
heretics ;)

Myron Plichota

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