Here’s a nickle kid, get yourself a better TTY

You know you’ve been doing this too long when nothing in an article like this is new to you.

The first TTY I ever saw and (maybe) used was a TI, like this one. The librarian at my junior high borrowed it and used it to connect into Lexis-Nexis or something.

But the funny thing is, even in the late 80’s this was out of style. PCs were taking over and so I didn’t see a TTY again until university. There I saw plenty of DEC VT-100’s. And, our giant multi-processing machine from Sequent had an honest-to-god paper TTY attached to its /dev/console port. The sysadmins liked it that way so that they could see dumps on paper in the morning if the machine crashed at night. I learned about fsck that way, by watching one of them coax the filesystem back to health. (By the way, fsck is for babies. Real men fix filesystems with fsdb. Look it up.)

A few years later, I was the sysadmin for Fenris, a DEC RISCstation. This was one of the first machines using the MIPS processor, and it ran a funky Unix called Ultrix. It had a big monitor on top of it that you could use to do X11. So I figured, “whoo hoo, no more TTYs!”. But it turns out, the system had to be up and running to do windows.

Once, we needed to relink the kernel to change a tuning. Something didn’t go right. We had to fix it from /dev/console, in single user mode. The bios knew how to put characters up on the screen, but it couldn’t even emulate a VT100. It had line discipline and that was it.

To fix the computer, I had to learn the ed line editor from the printed manuals. But after reading a bit I realized immediately I knew how it worked. About 10 years before, I’d begged my mom to mail-order a word processor for my TI-99/4A called TEXTTIGER. It came on a shiny new cassette and I’d loaded it in. I was disappointed that it wasn’t WYSIWYG, but I learned how to use it’s line oriented editor. And I’d learned how to keep the content of the file in my head, and use search to move through the file instead of “goto line 1”, “next”, “next” etc.

This all likely explains why I am a vi guy today.

And why my beard is turning grey.

Leave a Reply