[linux-elitists] Introducing Myself

Ben Woodard woodard@redhat.com
Wed Jan 7 11:05:08 PST 2004


On Wed, 2004-01-07 at 09:55, Jason Spence wrote:
> On Wed, Jan 07, 2004 at 06:29:34PM +0100, Eugen Leitl wrote: 
> > On Wed, Jan 07, 2004 at 09:17:36AM -0800, Ben Woodard wrote:
> > > This might be a stupid question but does anybody know if BASIC is still
> > > hiding there in our BIOS. I don't remember how to get into it and
> > > haven't stumbled across it in a while but I sort of thought it was there
> > > somewhere. I think I had an XT which had it for sure and there was some
> > > trick to get into it but I've forgotten what that trick is otherwise I'd
> > > try it on a spare machine that I have here.
> 
> That was an artifact of the days when you either were a hobbyist or an
> IBM type, the hobbyists used an awful lot of BASIC, and so the vendors
> of hobbyist type machines felt providing one in ROM would be a
> competitive feature.
> 
> These days the hobbysts are just as good or better than the
> professional programmers and so we all kind of look funny at BASIC
> since there's perfectly good alternative languages to be religious
> about like Perl, Python, etc.  As a result, every BIOS I've seen in
> the last, say, 14 years or so hasn't had a BASIC in ROM.
> 

That makes sense. Thanks for the information.

You know there are a lot of hobbyists out there who still use BASIC.
I've been running into this a lot recently as I dig into robotics. One
of the popular approaches to getting started with robots is to use these
BASIC stamp processors which you program in BASIC. e.g.
http://www.parallax.com/html_pages/products/kits/starter_kits.asp

One of the selling features that these companies tend to proclaim is
"that you don't have to be a programmer" to use one of these things
because you BASIC is so simple. Of course, being a professional
programmer already, "having to learn to program" is not a hurdle to me
and so when I see that something is controlled with a BASIC stamp. I
tend to turn off. The problem is that so much of the hobby robotics
world is controlled by these BASIC stamp processors, I feel left out.

I would say that your supposition that a hobbyist programmer is almost
as good as a pro these days is not far from the mark. However, I would
say that there are is a whole segment of hardware hobbyist that find
programming quite a hurdle.

The problem for me is that I'm not as good at mechanical engineering and
electronic design but as soon as I get to the software I kick ass.
Finding something where the electronics and the mechanical engineering
is already largely done and the programming doesn't leave you hog tied
and gagged in BASIC is a challenge. Right now I've been sort of looking
wishfully at
http://lynxmotion.com/Product.aspx?productID=4&CategoryID=25 but I'm not
quite ready to plunk down $355 for something that has zero sensors and
can barely lift 3 oz. The problem overall seems to be that servos are by
far the easiest and cheapest to control BUT no servo is powerful enough
to do anything really interesting with. 

Anybody want to talk robotics with me? Anybody know of any good forums
for open source robotics?

-ben


> > Have you considered http://www.openbios.info/ or http://www.linuxbios.org/ ?
> 
> Also http://sourceforge.net/projects/cobalt-rom;  Somehow the Cobalt
> Raq BIOS got open sourced.
> 
> Note that doing so opens up the password hashing algorithm and CMOS
> checksum algorithm, allowing people with root to ENABLE AND CHANGE
> YOUR FIRMWARE PASSWORDS with nothing more than an iopl() and some port
> 0x70 and 0x71 twiddling.
> 
> I used that in a few hacking contests; it's really quite entertaining
> to see your competition locked out of their own VMware machine [1] :)
> 
> [1] Although the BX chipset and Phoenix BIOS combination emulated by
> VMware doesn't keep the password in the lower 128 bytes; there's an
> extended 128 bytes accessible using the usual protocol at ports 0x72
> and 0x73 where the password checksum is stored.




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