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The Portable Data Base


The implementation of the portable data base in AutoCAD Release 9 finally completed the unification of the product across all machine architectures. The development notes describing this project are an example of the developer documentation that accompanied code submissions in the period.

The Portable Data Base

AutoCAD databases are now portable between operating systems and machine architectures. This allows efficient use of networks containing both personal computers and 32 bit workstations.

by John Walker
February 3rd, 1987

It was a dark and stormy night. The trees swayed in the wind, and the rain beat upon and streamed in rivulets down the dark window pane illuminated only by the cold light of a Luxo lamp, the flickering of a Sun 3 monitor, and the feeble green glow of a programmer debugging too long.

When the doorbell rang, I almost welcomed the interruption from the task in which I was engaged: fourteen subroutines deep in DBXTOOL, on the trail of a stack smasher which not only obliterated AutoCAD, but wiped the information the debugger needed to find where the error occurred. I glanced at the clock and noticed that it was 3:30. Since it was dark outside, it must be 3:30 in the morning. Only a very few people show up at the door at 3:30 on a Sunday morning.

  Let's see: the stereo isn't on and no recent revelations have called for celebratory reports from the carbide cannon or the .45, so it's probably not the neighbors or the cops. That narrows the field considerably. I fully expected to open the door to see Kelvin Throop, as always slightly distracted, somewhat overweight, his face looking like it had been slept in, but sparkling with anarchic and subversive ideas.

With the usual irritation mingled with expectation, I opened the door and discovered I was looking at the neck of my early-morning caller. I looked up, and saw a face I had not seen for almost twenty years. It was a face free of pain and fear and guilt. John Galt had come to call in the middle of the night.

``Galt'', I said, ``I haven't seen you since, when was it, 1967? That's right, December 1967 it was. We were walking down the railroad tracks in Cleveland; the snow was a foot deep on the ground, the sky was grey and the only warmth was the switchbox heaters at every set of points. Yes, it all comes back now. I remember you saying it was all over and you were going to drop out, and me saying things were just about to turn around. And I remember turning around and walking back to study for the physics exam and seeing you disappear into the snowy distance. Hey, come on in, have a Pepsi, tell me what you've been up to.''

Galt walked in the door, put down his paper bag and, as always, strode to the refrigerator and opened the door. He poured a tall Pepsi and made a peanut butter, turkey, swiss cheese, and onion sandwich, polished both off, and then turned to me and spoke.

``As usual, you've got it all wrong. It wasn't December 1967, it was November--November 8. The first Saturn V launch was scheduled for the next morning, and you were bubbling over about how the final triumph of technology would turn around a disintegrating society. I said I'd had it with this decadent, exploitive culture, and I was no longer going to allow my mind to be enslaved by the looters. I tried to convince you to join me. But your time had not yet come. So I moved on to convince others, and to work on my speech.''

``Hey, I remember that speech. How's it come since that draft I read back in '67.''

``Pretty well. I'm up to 560 pages now, and there's no filler in there. I'm adding a refutation of the epistemology of Kant cast in terms of Maxwell's equations, and that will probably stretch it a tad.''

``Don't you think that's a bit long?''

``Well, with the attention span of this society down to less than 30 seconds, some of the induction steps may get lost in the shuffle, but it's full of great sound bites and should play on the news for days.''

``When 'ya gonna cut loose with it?''

``When the collapse of this decadent society due to its disdain for the products of the mind, and the consequent disappearance and exodus of the creators becomes self-evident.''

``Hey, Galt, lighten up! When I last saw you the cities were in flames, the US was losing a hopeless war, the stock market had just crashed, the gold standard was being abandoned, three astronauts had died in a fire, the SST was facing cancellation, and the ABM was being negotiated away. Look at what you've walked out on! We have peace and prosperity, business is booming, and basic science and technology have flowered in directions unimaginable by the world in which we last spoke.''

  Galt walked into the computer room. He looked at the PC/AT linking AutoCAD. He looked at the Sun monitor, which was showing a full compilation of AutoCAD in one window, a completed execution of the regression test in another, and the debugger in a third. He walked over to my bookcase and pulled out my copy of the Dow Jones Averages chartbook from 1885 to the present. Moving in that eerie way he always did, in one motion he pulled the book from the shelf, opened it, and spread it in exactly the open space between the keyboards of the Sun and the IBM. For a full ten minutes Galt was silent as he turned the pages from 1968 through 1986. It appeared to me that the man had been out of circulation for a long time. I watched his face carefully to see if it registered surprise as he hit 1985 and 1986, but as ever those stony features remained unmoved. Galt closed the book, replaced it on the shelf, sat down on the chair in front of the AT, and turned to me. ``Just wait,'' he said.

``So, enough about me'', Galt continued, ``what are you doing?''

``Well'', I said, ``where to begin? In '68 I...''

``Oh come off it,'' Galt interrupted, ``I have my sources, after all. I mean what are you working on now.''

Sheepishly, I continued.

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Editor: John Walker