Halt and Catch Fire (open spoilers)

Anyone plan on watching AMC’s newest show tonight?

Yeah… it was okay… willing to give it a shot… I like the Mary Stuart Masterson haircut of the female engineer… Since Mad Men and Sons of Anarchy are coming to their inevitable endings…

So far I like it, but given the subject matter, I’m predisposed to.

I’m trying to figure out the real-world inspirations for the story and various characters. For example, I remember a documentary by Robert X Cringley (aka Mark Stephens) in which he described how Compaq reverse-engineered the IBM PC. So that’s clearly an inspiration.

And they mentioned that the Joe MacMillan character (the one played by Lee Pace) disappeared for a year after leaving IBM. I assume eventually they’ll get into what he did during that time.

It’s interesting, I just hope it doesn’t get to be too much of a soap-opera.

Why didn’t they just buy an IBM Technical Reference book? It has the BIOS listing in there. Yes IBM copyrighted it, but they also published the assembly listing AND gave the inputs and outputs for the various interrupts used by the BIOS. It’s not really that hard to figure out. What they did get right is you want someone who has no prior knowledge to seeing the BIOS to duplicate its capabilities. Linus Torvalds did this when he reverse-engineered the Unix operating system to create Linux.

I had a few other nit-picks (such as probing directly on a board instead of using a chip extender, a smoking board that blows the lights circuit, or getting through 65535 addresses in just two days without any errors), but it’s nice to see this aspect of the early PC industry. I liked seeing the thick Byte magazine - man, I miss that!

Writing: sucked.
Acting: sucked.
Story: sucked.

I could only sit through the first 20 minutes and it made me want to halt and set fire to my TV.

Anybody get through the entire hour of this dreck?

I liked it and will keep watching it. I like Lee Pace and Scoot McNairy, and I’m not familiar with the actress who plays the female computer programmer but she was fun. I also enjoyed the 80s music.

Not me. I wanted very much to like this but found it way too in love with its own cleverness and “dramatic” photography. A good script might have helped, but I found the characters unlikeable. Every one of them. So I’m out.

I loved it. Can’t wait until next week.

I could do without the long-winded blustering from the good ole Texas boys, however. “This ole bull is gonna skin ya like a prize hawg and gore ya 'til you squeal like an armadillo stuck in a sportscar grille! Yeeee-haw!”

I’ll probably continue watching it since I lived through the era, but I really didn’t like the writing choices. Originally, I thought the blonde was a guy because women just didn’t hang out around arcades and computer engineering school classes in those days. Other than Grace Hopper, I don’t even remember knowing any female programmers or engineers in those days and I’ve been working in the field since 1957. Also, if she was a guy it would have made the sex scene much better.

The person who really did reverse engineer the IBM PC was a male, although I don’t remember his name right now. He worked for Compaq. I think they should have kept it more realistic and true to the period.


Sunday night’s episode was the best so far; I’m starting to be glad about sticking with this show.

I love that Joe MacMillan will fuck anyone to get what he wants!

I wanted to like it but couldn’t forgive the first scene where our heroes can see the future of computing down to a T. Hindsight is awesome, these characters are not.

So far the show is strictly second rate. I want to be interested but I’m having a tough time. All the same problems with character and writing as everybody else.

I think I’m sticking with it because I just can’t see what the point is supposed to be. They aren’t going to come up with a new type of computer, so all they can do is copy what someone else did, probably earlier in real time. Who cares about that? And even if genius girl - possibly the worst character of all television history - invents a whole new architecture, how can they make anybody understand what that means let alone be invested in it?

Maybe that’s it: the hook is that the show is so pointless that people will keep tuning in to try to guess the point.

Kind of. Torvalds was in a better position because, by that point, the POSIX standards had come into effect and were actually being taken seriously by the Unix vendors at least to the extent that anyone who was aiming at POSIX conformance would have a pretty fair amount of source-compatible application software once their kernel and libc were done. Torvalds was aware of, and interested in, de facto standards defined by the behavior of closed-source Unix variants, but POSIX was higher on his list of information sources. The fact Linux was also able to leverage the GNU Project’s libc, which was written to be POSIX complaint, was a major help.

Your description of carefully-clean-room reverse-engineering actually sounds more like the advice the Free Software Foundation gives to people who want to contribute to GNU Project codebases. Standards make this kind of cleanliness easier because you can read the standard, not code, to determine behavior.

I’ve been assuming that the point is the journey/characters.

The computer could be a mcguffin, but in that case you don’t spend half your time explaining in voluminous and incomprehensible detail what the size, weight, and innards of the mcguffin are like. That trick never works.

Jean Sammet.. I used a quote from her on programming language design in the presentation on my PhD thesis I used to find a job.

The ads for this showing airing during Mad Men turned me off so much that I didn’t watch it. I know the Motorola processor used an instruction they called HCF to step through PC (program counter) values which was really useful for testing.
Everyone and his uncle cloned the IBM PC back then. Is the show making this sound like some kind of heroic effort? At AT&T we resold one from Olivetti - great for running spaghetti code.

Watched two eps and gave up on it. The subject matter is just too narrow and the plot is a cliche. But it’s probably geared for 30-somethings.

I have a question on the basic plot – I think I’m missing something critical.

What I got from the first episode (and I have no background in computers) is that Joe and Gordon reverse-engineered an IBM PC by taking it apart and somehow figuring out the code that made it run, through the use of oscilloscopes and blinking lights. I don’t know if this makes any sense or not, but I’m willing to let that slide.

Then they then hire Cameron to write code and, to keep things legal and avoid copyright issues, they make sure (or she makes sure, I’m not sure Joe has the same reservations) that she doesn’t have the benefit of their reverse-engineering work.

So – what was the whole point of Joe and Gordon’s work, if Cameron has no access to it? How is that big book of 65536 addresses that they compiled being used at all?


Apparently, it was the mcguffin needed to break the company and force them to fire everybody but the microcomputer team so there would be dramatic tension making it absolutely necessary for them to succeed rather than just a failed team that got written off like in the real world.

The initial attempt by Joe and Gordon proves that the the IBM PC can be reverse-engineered and it forces the hand of the management to invest in the project. So even if Cameron can’t use their work, clearly the project wouldn’t have been initiated without that first attempt.

I liked the episode though they still have some work to do to flesh out the characters. And I remain a bit baffled at the choice of subject; an early 80’s Texas-based PC clone-maker isn’t an obvious choice for making a TV show about the computer industry. The real action in that era was at companies like Microsoft, Apple and Commodore and fictionalized versions of any of those companies would have made for a more interesting show.

Actually I think the perfect subject would have been an Atari-like company in the 70’s, a great mix of counter-cultural craziness and revolutionary technology. For AMC it would have also been a nice segue from Mad Men in both time(60’s to 70’s) and place (California) while still being very different.