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For story purposes, can someone build their own smartphone, computers, and OS from scratch?

  1. Yes

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  2. No

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  3. I Don't Know

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  1. pensmightierthanthesword

    pensmightierthanthesword Member

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    For story purposes, can someone build their own smartphone, computers, and OS from scratch?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by pensmightierthanthesword, Jan 26, 2017.

    Yes or no? This is for story purposes, only. I'm not interested in the exact steps someone would take to do this, honestly, just can it be done? It's briefly mentioned, but is it realistic. Obviously, how would the first OS ever have been made if not from scratch? I remember discussing it with someone years ago and they said if you built your own computer you'd have to get a mainstream OS. They made it sound like you couldn't build your own OS from scratch. That had me wondering, then how on Earth was DOS, Windows, and Apple's OS first created if not from scratch. I remember watching videos about how the first computer (calculator) was an archaic analog system of gears and levers. Would a handcrafted OS be compatible with the worldwide web of today or would a mainstream OS be required to get someone online? I know that the internet started out as a tool for the military called the ARPANET (if my facts are wrong feel free to correct me). I know there isn't one main hub or headquarters where the internet is set up, but it's a communal entity. If my question is naive it's because my understanding of technology is naive. I should probably read more about the history of the internet and computers as we know them today, but this is a good place to start. Writing forums are a tool that should be utilized, but not the end all be all of the story's research.
     
  2. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Assuming that when you say "from scratch", you don't mean "out in the wilderness with nothing but what the forest provides", yes. :)

    Assuming your character is creating these things in a world where similar things already exist, then he or she benefits from everything that came before, from the knowledge of protocols that already exist, etc.

    Someone once asked in a different thread about people recreating technological artifacts after a cultural fall and how long this would take. My answer was that the simple knowledge that plastic is a thing that can exist and the laymen's knowledge that plastics began with research into plant polymers is a gigantic leg up compered to someone who has never known a world with plastic and has no idea that the sticky juice that comes out of plants can be made to do incredible things. :)
     
  3. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    Short answer is yes, a big enough geek could (and, as you surmised, in the early days did) build his own phone, computer and OS.

    But.

    To build something to compete with a modern phone or computer, you'd need either some VERY clever engineering skills (not really credible) or access to the chips and components that any home computer builder takes for granted nowadays.
    To write your own OS is feasible (Windows basically just sits on top of DOS - and every now and then some code results in your seeing a DOS screen), and it COULD be made to replicate what DOS achieves. But, in order to do that you'd need to know the protocols that your new, improved DOS was handshaking with in order to talk to sluggish old MS/DOS over the internet (can be done, they've done it between Macs & PCs).

    If you're just talking about a free-standing computer and OS that's merely an improvement on an abacus, you just need enough time off from hunting mammoth...
     
  4. pensmightierthanthesword

    pensmightierthanthesword Member

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    It's possible, but not plausible or realistic in today's age. It would take a lot of money, probably, which I can imagine people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs had at the time they made these technologies. You'd have to have a character behind the making of these independent smartphones, computers, and OS who is incredibly smart to do it or you'd need access to the equipment which is hard to come by. It would take a lot of ingenuity and time, that most people don't have, but it is possible.
     
  5. pensmightierthanthesword

    pensmightierthanthesword Member

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    :superlaugh: That would be funny if someone wrote about a character heading into the the jungle to find components to build a computer. "His travel was arduous but Joe found what he needed, in the jungle's of South Africa, in order to design the perfect state of the art laptop."
     
  6. pensmightierthanthesword

    pensmightierthanthesword Member

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    This part interests me. What if there was a character who didn't know about how plastics were made, but say there was a zombie apocalypse (thinking of Diary of the Dead) would the internet and computers still be working and could they maybe research how plastic is made? That's probably a dumb question.
     
  7. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    No.

    Gates came from a comfortable background, but not great wealth. He dropped out of college to found Micro-Soft (sic), and the rest is history. Steve Jobs came from a less comfortable background, but also made his money AFTER founding Apple.
     
  8. CDanChan

    CDanChan New Member

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    I'd say it's possible, but the character would obviously need the appropriate knowledge.

    As in, there is no way that I personally could ever do such a thing. And probably a very high percentage of folk on this planet would be incapable. But you find someone who has the knowhow and is able to source the required materials and you're cooking on gas. Like Eugene from Walking Dead. Sort of.

    But it would probably take a very long time.
     
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2017
  9. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Doubtful as to the looking it up on the internet part. I would think a Z.A. would bring with it widespread, long-term power outage. All the socioeconomic infrastructure that leads to you having electricity would break down in a full-on Z.A.
     
  10. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Operating systems are certainly a possibility - afterall the various linux OS's were all written by someone, and there are various open source phone OS's. as to building the hardware its certainly possible with the right kit but it seems unnecessary when you can pick up an cheap smart phone on ebay or in tescos/walmart or whatever, root it and then install the OS of your choice.

    If we are talking zombie apocalypse scenarios it would certainly be possible to repair an old handset or put together a bastard rig out of bits, but it would be pointless as the cell towers and networks would be down, you'd be better off building a radio tranciever

    Computer wise I've built several computers from bits, its easy enough as most motherboards are push fit with the exception of the processor. Again in a ZA it would be doable if you had power, but with no internet why would you unless you wanted it for calculations etc - personally i'd be focussing on firearms, survival equipment, and food.
     
  11. pensmightierthanthesword

    pensmightierthanthesword Member

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    I did not know this. Interesting. But now I want to look up how he founded Apple when he was living less comfortably. Was Apple always making computers or was it something else? Don't you have to at least have some money or a loan to start a business? Your comment has me intrigued. Wiki-trip!
     
  12. pensmightierthanthesword

    pensmightierthanthesword Member

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    I have an idea for the reason why my characters would want to design their own phones, computers, and operating systems from scratch. I don't want to give too much away about my story, the fact that they could buy a cheap phone has crossed my mind at one point but in this universe, there is a reason why they would need to build everything from scratch.

    The cell phone tower/radio transceiver point you made is a good point. How would they even be able to communicate electronically without at least one mainstream component like a cell phone tower?
     
  13. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    What's your definition of "from scratch"? Are you assuming that computers/cellphones/cell networks/etc. exist, but they want to build a different one, so that they'd have to choose from existing parts? Or are you assuming that they don't yet exist?

    If they exist, yes, but the effort would likely take months/years, and the end result would be inferior to the products created by companies with more time, people, and money. If they don't exist, I think that it's fairly unrealistic.
     
  14. Dnaiel

    Dnaiel Senior Member

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    It has taken many, many years of research, trial and error, countless thousands of people, and a whole lot of funding to give us our computer world. "From scratch" can mean a lot of different things. If you mean like some guy or gal or even a few people marooned on a planet even a lot like earth, then no. No small group of people would live long enough to build the necessary equipment to build the necessary equipment to build... etc... all the things they need for rare earth extraction, resource refinement, research, and so on.

    If you have a lot of very knowledgeable people with lots of resources and equipment, then possibly. They would have to have a broad range of skills, knowledge, and experience, as well as the manufacturing equipment. The operating system would be a significant problem, too. Even though some people are capable of writing a complete version of Linux, you can't simply get away with that without a working relationship with the hardware crew, which is necessary to lay out the specifications of the hardware. Additionally, the programmer(s) will be starting out with machine code. Building a complete OS starting from that, and capable of running even a simple phone is going to take a long, long time.

    Ultimately, it's a huge stretch. Without more details, I can't just say yes or no. You need a lot of people with a lot of skills and a lot of resources and lots of time.
     
  15. pensmightierthanthesword

    pensmightierthanthesword Member

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    Cell phones do exist in this world already. What I mean by from scratch is not having to use any existing technology, only the materials that make up the basic components of this technology. From the ground up, like making a pizza from scratch by buying the dough, sauce, pepperoni, etc. Yeah, you most likely buy the ingredients from the store, but what if you had items like liquid plastic that hardens when you pour it into a mold (I know this because I use to use liquid plastic when I went to effects and film school) or metals, etc and so on. Maybe the character in question is an effects whiz and a computer whiz. If they were a welder or had a workshop it would be possible, maybe. But it would require them to have a lot of money. If I don't explain how they acquired all this material and I'm assuming it's a lot of material then it wouldn't be unbelievable and be a plot hole. How can I make it believable is the question?

    It reminds me of the scene in that dreadful Carrie remake where the director shows Margaret White working at a cleaners, which I'm not sure was explained in the novel or original movie. It might have been explained in the novel. It also makes me think of Misery where it revolved around aspects of writing, including plot holes.
     
  16. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Well, that's not really from scratch. Dough comes from flour and riser. Flour and riser come from wheat and I'm-not-sure-what. Sauce comes from tomatoes and water and salt and oil and onions. Tomatoes and onions come from seeds and farming, salt comes from the sea or a mine. Pepperoni comes from pork and seasonings; pork comes from a pig and seasonings come from growing herbs.

    So how "scratch" are we talking?

    It's extremely likely that the end answer is "No." but I'm still not absolutely positive about the terms of the question.
     
  17. Dnaiel

    Dnaiel Senior Member

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    You still have a lot of work to do, even with those resources on hand. The laboratories that manufacture chips, for example, are huge, multi-million dollar facilities maintained under strict, clean-room code. The silicon wafers that will house them are sawed off huge silicon columns that are grown under extremely controlled conditions.

    And that's just for starters.
     
  18. Dnaiel

    Dnaiel Senior Member

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    Assuming you have the silicon wafers and even the microchips manufactured, you also need the OS. And, as I explained already, that's a huge challenge.

    Possible depends greatly on what you have at hand and the skills, etc.
     
  19. pensmightierthanthesword

    pensmightierthanthesword Member

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    Hmm.
     
  20. pensmightierthanthesword

    pensmightierthanthesword Member

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    Basic materials, but not too basic, I guess. I don't think someone would want to take the time or even have the resources to create the materials used to make a motherboard or a processor. I don't really know any other way to define my definition of "scratch", honestly. I would guess they'd have to buy the materials like the liquid plastic to make the phone casing, the materials to make the motherboard, and so on. It would take a lot of time storywise, but I can explain that in my story. That's no problem.
     
  21. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I feel the need for more details from the story, and I realize that you may not be comfortable explaining the scenario. But if they aren't, for example, starting with existing manufactured chips that were made for the same purpose or a very closely related purpose, I don't see it working.

    When you say "a lot of time" are you thinking on the order of decades?
     
  22. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    My inclination would definitely be to buy computer parts , if that's available, or to scavenge used ones - a computer doesn't have to be inferior because its home built, indeed many home built rigs are much higher spec than the built ones because the money goes further.

    In regard of the phone - the difficulty with mobiles is the miniaturization, you can't just push fit it all together, however if it doesnt have to be portable you could build a communication rig out of computer parts ... but the issue as I said before is the wider networks required to support the communication - cell towers, internet etc ... if they exist you can hack access to them , but if they don't exist at all you are knackered
     
  23. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    But a home built computer usually follows some standard and uses a preexisting OS. It's usually an Intel-based PC clone running either Windows or some flavor of Unix, with manufactured innards and peripherals that are addressed with existing drivers --unless I'm deeply deeply confused?

    (Yeah, "Innards" isn't exactly a technical term, but I don't know what you call the interior bits like video cards, memory, drives, blah? "Peripherals" always seems to refer to the outside bits.)
     
  24. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Well yes , but i'd expect a home written operating system to be linux like... you'd have to write it to use the existing hardware , unless you wrote the software first then rewrote all the drivers etc to match which you technically could but why the hell would you.

    Its also probably possible to run some variations of linux on a rooted phone, 'Tiny linux' will run on a Rasberry Pi and a lot of phones have more processing power than that.

    End of the day the answer to the OPs question is yes you can if you use preexisting parts - but why the hell would you ?
     
  25. Sack-a-Doo!

    Sack-a-Doo! Contributor Contributor

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    Yes, but...

    The term operating system (OS) is shorthand for disk operating system (DOS). And having a DOS is not exclusive to Microsoft. Originally, we called that one MS-DOS (Microsoft Disk Operating System) and there were many others — C64 DOS, AmigaDOS, Atari DOS, UNIX, Multics, etc.

    In short, an OS is really just a way for the operator to interact with files held in storage (floppy disk, hard drive, flash drive, SD card, etc.) What most people mean when they say OS is computer interface which can be broken down into two categories, command line shell (also called a text interface) and a graphical user interface (GUI). The former demands the user type commands which are then executed; the latter is the familiar window/menu/toolbar interface we see in Windows.

    And BTW, Windows is not an OS even though it's commonly referred to as one. It's a GUI overlay on top of MS-DOS. Yes, MS-DOS is still alive under all that fancy window dressing... if you'll forgive the pun. :)

    Every other OS is the same in that there is an underlying text command interface with a GUI overlay.

    Rolling your own DOS at this point in history would be reinventing the wheel for (approximately) the 40th or 50th time. And with so many to choose from, it would be much faster to use one that's already available.

    Not exactly. Each stage of OS development was an improvement on what already existed.

    The first CI (computer interface) was a row of eight 1/0 switches which, combined, represented an 8-bit number. These numbers could be data or, depending on their placement in the sequence, represent a command to the CPU in machine language. As you can imagine, programming a computer was cumbersome. With input, checking, testing, etc. it could take weeks to finalize a single simple program. Programs were stored on punch cards (the flash drives of their day) so they could be fed into a computer and the computer would then carry out the series of commands.

    In the late fifties and early sixties, the next generation of interface was developed as an improvement over switches and punch cards and this is when keyboards started to be used along with CRT screens. Along with this interface improvement came storage improvement; punch cards were replaced by various types of drives (hard, floppy, and tape). And this is where the DOS truly started to take shape.

    All a DOS really did at that stage was either allow the operator to save a program from computer memory (where it had been painstakingly input) to a storage device (drive) or load it from the storage device to computer memory where it would then be run.

    During the early 1970s, Xerox PARC invented the WIMP (windows, icons, menus and pointer interface) and the mouse as a further improvement. All this really did was allow the operator to click on icons/menu items/on-screen buttons in order to do a particular task... such as save, load, etc.

    Since then, there have been no significant changes to the way we interact with computers.

    You wouldn't have to, but it would save a lot of time. For instance, it took Linus Torvalds several years to come up with his first version of Linux and even that wasn't from scratch. It was based on Minux which was developed over several years in the early 1980s.

    So, if someone really wanted to start from scratch with no outside help from early OSs, it could conceivably take anywhere from three to ten years.
    Every one of them was 'inspired' by what was going on at Xerox PARC. Bill Gates did a tour and thought it wasn't worth bothering with (until years later when every other OS developer started eating Bill's lunch); Steve Jobs did a tour and based the original Mac interface on what he saw.

    And everyone else was, to a greater or lesser degree, either inspired by Xerox PARC or what was going on at Apple or Microsoft.

    It could be, but there is so much involved that it simply wouldn't be worth it unless the person handcrafting their own OS had absolutely no other choice. In order to code an OS so it could interface a computer with the Internet would involve writing code to interface:
    • computer to storage devices,
    • computer to display (monitor)
    • computer to input devices (keyboard, mouse, touch screen, etc.)
    • computer to network interface
    • computer to Internet protocols
    And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Security is a big issue these days and that's as complex as all the things together in the above list.

    Bottom line: The someone you're talking about could choose between spending years writing an OS or going on the Internet and downloading an existing one. Easy choice for most.

    And now let's talk about the hardware briefly.

    To build a computer from scratch would entail designing and etching circuit boards, designing and building microchips, handcrafting some type of enclosure, designing interfacing connections and a lot of other tasks, all of which take a lot of specialized knowledge. Even using off-the-shelf microchips still means doing all those other things (and I'm leaving out a number of tasks) and again, it would take years to develop something workable, decades if the person is working alone, even if they have access to all the specialized equipment needed.

    So, again, it's a choice between spending years of R&D or just go buy something for a few hundred dollars.

    Another way to go about this would be to go dumpster diving at a computer recycling/repurposing depot. If the person knew what they were doing, they could find all the parts they need for free and assemble a PC in just a few hours. From there, if they had access to the Internet (or a dumpster full of Linux howto books) they could easily get their hands on an OS. And if they only need a rudimentary system, something that would allow them to get onto the Internet, but not necessarily powerful enough to—say—do HD video playback, this would be cheap (free), fast and (given a certain level of technical expertise) easy.

    EDIT: One more note on OSs...

    Every OS developed since the mid-1990s has been the product of a corporation with tons of resources. To develop a modern OS capable of Internet access and the type of GUI we've all become accustomed to would take far more than a single person working alone.
     
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2017

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