Safe?

Geoff Manaugh opens his story about spending six months following round a professional safecracker with an image that might have been hand-crafted to get my attention:

The house was gone, consumed by the November 2018 Woolsey Fire that left swaths of Los Angeles covered in ash and reduced whole neighborhoods to charcoaled ruins. Amidst the tangle of blackened debris that was once a house in the suburbs northwest of Los Angeles, only one identifiable feature stood intact. It was a high-security jewel safe, its metal case discolored by the recent flames, looming in the wreckage like the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey.1

No mysterious alien structures show up in Manaugh’s story, but it’s interesting just how much demand there apparently is for a legal safecracker. Me, I’ve never owned a safe in my life and don’t have anything I’d want to keep in one if I did have access to one.2

Before the smartphone

Coming soon (with any luck) to a screen near you: General Magic, A Documentary Feature:

Judging by the trailer, John Sculley is not going to come out of this smelling of roses.

General Magic, the upcoming documentary, is a tale of how great vision and epic failure can change the world. The film features members of the original Mac team along with the creators of the iPhone, Android and eBay.

These designers, engineers and entrepreneurs saw the future decades before it happened. General Magic captures the spirit of those of us who dare to dream big and the life-changing consequences when we fail, fail again, fail better, and ultimately succeed.

I realise it’s not going to be showing up in my local multiplex: I’ll settle for it eventually turning up somewhere I can (legally) pay for it, download it and watch it.

[Via Cake, via Extenuating Circumstances]

Professionalism

Note to self: if you’re going into business with David Heinemeier Hansson have all your ducks lined up and know what you’re doing. Because otherwise, he’ll end up calling you out for your failings online:

[…] Now I’ve ended up writing a long tirade, and I completely accept that some people might gag with summary like: “So they gave you a bunch of money, fucked up a few things, but now the books are back in stock, so why do you care?”. Because I do care. Because we didn’t write this book primarily to make money, but because we had something urgent to say, and wanted as many people as could benefit from that message to hear it. But yes, I’m writing this to process my own frustration, if not outright rage, as well.

A bridge pretty thoroughly burned, I’d say.

Stack Overflow at 10

There’s a certain amount of irony in the proposition that one response in the comments on Jeff Atwood’s post commemorating the 10th anniversary of the launch of Stack Overflow was to suggest that the post be marked as a duplicate of https://stackoverflow.blog/2018/09/27/stack-overflow-is-10/.

I think Jeff Atwood puts it best himself:

Interesting, so we can close posts as duplicates across completely different websites now? Fascinating. I hope all websites on the internet get the memo on this exciting new policy!

For what it’s worth I’m the most amateurish of programmers, and over the years I’ve found Stack Overflow immensely useful. Read the answers carefully and there’s an astounding amount of useful information in there.

Standard Notes

On my radar, for if (when) Evernote stumbles: Standard Notes

A writing experience unlike any other. Standard Notes is free to use on every platform, and comes standard with cross-platform sync and end-to-end privacy. For those wanting a little more power and flexibility, we created Extended, which unlocks powerful editors, themes, and automated backups.

There’s an argument to be made that Evernote has been stumbling from the moment it aspired to become a Unicorn, but I’m thinking more of the way the company recently started haemorrhaging senior executives and seems directionless. The only saving grace it has right now from where I’m sitting is that it isn’t OneNote, which I have use of at work and which plainly satisfies the needs of lots of people who are deeply tied into the Microsoft Office ecosystem but which definitely isn’t for me, especially not when I do my personal computing nowadays on iOS.

[Via 4 Short Links, via Things That Have Caught My Attention]

Root?

Darius Kazemi might just be some kind of evil genius:

I gave a talk at CornCon 2018 about the history of the cron utility in UNIX systems, in the character of a man who gradually realizes that he is not speaking at CronCon, a conference about the time-based scheduler, but rather at CornCon, a conference about the cereal grain, also known as “maize”. Thanks to Casey Kolderup for taking video, and Jen Tam for hosting me.

Be sure to follow the link to see his entire performance. The moment when he started on the significance of root in the two contexts at hand, I just lost it.

[Via A Whole Lotta Nothing]

Choices, choices

As of Google Chrome version 69, Google are treating being logged in to any Google service as the same thing as being logged in to Google Chrome:

Most Google services have for me this in common with Facebook: these services are too deeply integrated and impossible to use in part or isolation. It’s either the entire system or nothing, based on how the question of consent is approached. You would like to use GMail (logged in obviously) but Google search, Youtube, Chrome etc without a login? No can do. You selected strict settings in Facebook for your profile data? You’re just an API/permission redesign away from having your choices nullified. Part of me feels that this Chrome shared computer issue that Googlers mentioned is real, but it’s also just too convenient to solve this by tieing Chrome closer to Google, you know? Note to Google: any time you find the software engineering decisions you’ve made being compared with those made by Facebook, that’s probably not a good thing for your end users these days.

[Via Extenuating Circumstances]

Love Notes to Newton

I’d somehow failed to notice that a documentary about the Apple Newton had been released: Love Notes to Newton is a mix of historical footage about the machine’s development and tributes to the dwindling band of Newton aficionados who have tried hard to keep their Newtons in daily use in the modern world where the smartphone in your Pocket utterly outclasses its ancestor.

It’s fair to say that the Newton was an inspiring failure: Palm were the most visibly successful company that tried to follow in the Newton’s footsteps, but they didn’t ever get beyond the geek market. 1 While few users refer to their smartphones as a PDA that’s just what it is. The biggest difference between a smartphone/PDA and a Newton is that the Newton’s operating system took great pains to revolve around collections of object-oriented data that it made available to any other program on the device, where modern smartphones run standalone Apps and tend to have tighter constraints on what data is visible to different apps. To a large extent, if you can trust Newton fans to be objective for a minute, is that smartphones substitute sheer processor horsepower for smart software.

It’s tantalising to wonder what could have happened if the Newton had survived a bit longer after the return of Steve Jobs to Apple: might the improvements in Newton OS 2 (and whatever might have come to pass in Newton OS 3 if they’d got that far) have allowed the platform to flourish, or was it unfortunate enough to be a revolutionary product from a company that couldn’t afford to wait for it to outgrow the bad reputation it was saddled with because they over-promised what it was one day going to be capable of, and doubly cursed because it was a highly visible effort by a recently ousted CEO to be a visionary in the mould of his predecessor/successor?

The thing is, right now Apple’s iOS team would look at this documentary and think it couldn’t happen to them. It not only can, but one day it almost certainly will.2

Anyway, Love Notes to Newton is definitely worth a watch if you have any sense of how things were when John Sculley was running the show and it wasn’t at all clear where Apple’s next hit product was coming from.

[Via 512 Pixels]

One Day

I guess the reason people keep coming back to being inspired by Vannevar Bush’s Memex, Alan Kay’s Dynabook and what have you is that the internet as it currently exists falls so far short of the dream of what a global information network could have been. Thank goodness that dreams like this keep popping up:

[This is going to be…] a very rough sketch of an idea about what a future computing system might look like. I don’t know how to get from here to there, or even if ‘there’ is entirely satisfactory. But I feel that a ‘there’ roughly in this vicinity is somewhere we should be heading towards.

Let’s start with what the ‘here’ is that is less satisfactory.

We currently have an Internet made of vast layers of complexity layered on each other; software layers going back to the 1960s at the very latest, built on traditions and workflows originated in the 1950s. Our current model of deploying computing services, ‘the cloud’, thinks nothing of **simulating entire computers* – with gigabytes of RAM and hundreds of gigabytes of disk – on other computers, just to get one service that listens on one TCP/IP port and sends a few bytes in response to a few other bytes. [Emphasis added]

The operating system inside these simulated computers-on-computers then consists of, essentially, an entire simulated computing department from the 1950s: a bank of clerks operating card punches (text editors and Interactive Development Environments), other clerks translating these punchcards from high-level to low-level languages (compiler toolchains), machine operators who load the right sets of cards into the machine (operating systems, schedulers, job control systems), banks of tape drives (filesystems and databases), printers (web servers, UIs )… and a whole bunch of prewritten software card stacks (libraries, component object systems, open source projects).

This seems a bit less than optimal. […]

Just a bit, yes.

The point isn’t that this essay points to an obvious right answer: it’s that the current solutions fall so far short of what could be done. Building ever-taller stacks of old technology on top of stacks of even older technology might be good for maintaining the market share of the market leaders, but it’s probably not the best way to get to where we’d like to be one day.

Anyway, the point is the essay I’ve linked to offers plenty of food for thought.

[Via Extenuating Circumstances]