# 0b10

Two-Bit History

Computing through
the ages

• In 1962, JFK challenged Americans to send a man to the moon by the end of the decade, inspiring a heroic engineering effort that culminated in Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the lunar surface. Many of the fruits of this engineering effort were highly visible and sexy—there were new spacecraft, new spacesuits, and moon buggies. But the Apollo Program was so staggeringly complex that new technologies had to be invented even to do the mundane things. One of these technologies was IBM’s Information Management System (IMS).

• I’ve always found man pages fascinating. Formatted as strangely as they are and accessible primarily through the terminal, they have always felt to me like relics of an ancient past. Some man pages probably are ancient: I’d love to know how many times the man page for cat or say tee has been revised since the early days of Unix, but I’m willing to bet it’s not many. Man pages are mysterious—it’s not obvious where they come from, where they live on your computer, or what kind of file they might be stored in—and yet it’s hard to believe that something so fundamental and so obviously governed by rigid conventions could remain so inscrutable. Where did the man page conventions come from? Where are they codified? If I wanted to write my own man page, where would I even begin?