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PyCon UK Talk Proposal

Posted: 10 Jun 2022, 16:31
by qwertyface
Hi all, I'm going to be proposing a talk on the things I've done with the Gigatron in Python at PyCon UK 2022 in September. I'd be really keen to get your feedback on the proposal. The conference have some guidance on what makes a good proposal here.

Title: Alternative History Retrocomputing
Abstract (Max 50 words): Python is a very high-level programming language. I've been using it for very low-level programming. We'll meet an unusual computer.
Description (Max 400 words): We're all guilty of rolling our own implementation of existing code, but how far have you taken it? Ever reimplemented multiplication? Did you use CPU instructions that had literally never been used before?

The development of microprocessors like the Zilog Z80 and MOS 6502 in the 1970s eventually gave rise to the 8-bit home computers that many remember fondly. When Marcel van Kervinck and Walter Belgers designed the Gigatron, a quirky but surprisingly capable computer made from 74xx series logic ICs, they showed that a different course of history was possible - we could have had microcomputers without microprocessors, perhaps much earlier. They also created a world of unclimbed mountains: on the Gigatron you can be the first person to implement your favourite game or algorithm.

A few years ago I built a Gigatron, and I'm having great fun with it. I started off trying to implement a Forth interpreter, but while I've programmed for many years, I'd never written low-level code before. I really thought it would be easy! In this talk I'll show what I've achieved with the Gigatron, how working within the challenging architecture has broadened my perspective on programming, and how Python was at the heart of it all.

The talk will explore technical details, but won't require specialist knowledge. It's likely to touch on:
  • Python as an assembly language
  • Test Driven Development
  • CFFI
  • Hypothesis
  • Data analysis with Matplotlib and other parts of the scientific stack.
  • System Architecture
  • Hard real-time programming
  • Programming language implementation.

Re: PyCon UK Talk Proposal

Posted: 27 Jun 2022, 15:16
by qwertyface
My deadline is on Saturday, so if anyone has any feedback on this, I'd appreciate it.

Re: PyCon UK Talk Proposal

Posted: 19 Jul 2022, 15:05
by qwertyface
It wasn't accepted - although I wonder if it got close, because I'm aware some people got their rejection emails quite a lot earlier.

Re: PyCon UK Talk Proposal

Posted: 18 Aug 2022, 20:03
by qwertyface
Due to a cancellation, it looks like I'm now going to be giving this talk. Hopefully I'll manage to pull the bunch of loose ends of my various projects into something coherent in the next month!

Re: PyCon UK Talk Proposal

Posted: 19 Aug 2022, 07:43
by at67
Congratulations, would be great if you could provide some sort of link in this thread afterwards!

Re: PyCon UK Talk Proposal

Posted: 19 Aug 2022, 08:42
by qwertyface
Yes, I absolutely will. The talks are usually recorded and uploaded to YouTube.

Re: PyCon UK Talk Proposal

Posted: 19 Aug 2022, 16:05
by walter
Looking forward to the talk!

Re: PyCon UK Talk Proposal

Posted: 18 Sep 2022, 22:49
by qwertyface
The talk seemed to go quite well, all things considered, and I had a lot of interesting conversations around the conference.

The video is here. The time slot was quite short, so I couldn't cover a lot of what I'd have liked to, but I think it was at least coherent.

Re: PyCon UK Talk Proposal

Posted: 22 Sep 2022, 15:59
by walter
Nice! Kudos for doing a whole talk with just one slide.
I once did a presentation on TinyBSD, booting TinyBSD into RAM from a 3.5" floppy, then putting in a second floppy holding JPGs of the slides to show. The 486 I ran it on did not have a coprocessor so they loaded really slowly :-)

I enjoyed the talk!

Re: PyCon UK Talk Proposal

Posted: 23 Sep 2022, 09:32
by qwertyface
Thanks Walter, I'm glad and relieved that you enjoyed it. I was a bit worried that you would think it was inappropriate for me to talk about your friend Marcel as I did at the end, since I didn't know him beyond a relatively few messages exchanged online. I really do feel a great deal of gratitude to him.

I had big ideas for what the slides were going to be like, but procrastinated on building it in the run up to the conference. I didn't do the sensible thing of just giving up on the ideas, but instead tried to build it while at the conference. I was up 'till midnight the night before, trying to write presentation software in vCPU assembly language, and I very nearly pulled it off - I just had a few bugs I was too tired to fix. In retrospect I should have used GCL, because if nothing else, I could have copied and pasted more existing code. I forgot to pack my EPROM programmer, otherwise the slides could have run on the hardware.

It sounds like you were at least prepared for your talk!

The slide you saw was meant to be the second slide. Here is what the first slide should have looked like (I prototyped them in Python).
hello.png (2.71 KiB) Viewed 28 times
Edit: Oh, and the irony is that one of the things that would have made writing my proto-Powerpoint a lot easier, would have writing unit tests. Especially since one of the themes of the talk was that being able to write unit tests makes assembly programming much easier for me. Of course, in the heat of trying to get things done fast, I didn't do that, and everything took longer as a result.