Tag: Technology

Dave Winer, Revolutionary

Dave Winer wants publishing platforms to stop locking writers into using the platforms’ own writing tools to compose content:1

I’d like to see someone like Substack or Medium, for example, who says “Write your stuff in your favorite writing tool, export it in Markdown, and give us the link. We’ll take it from there.”

That way you could:

  1. Use a tool that fits your writing style perfectly.
  2. Developers would be incentivized to create such tools.
  3. You could use more than one service, say use Substack to manage your mail list, and Medium to manage your web presence, and Facebook for discussion among your friends, Slack to discuss among your work colleagues. […]
  4. Great archival services could come about because they could be one of the services you cc on your writing.
  5. Service providers could make custom toolkits to make it easy for tools to adapt to this interface. […]
  6. Who knows what else will come about.


It’s amazing that we have this incredibly powerful network, but the business models of service providers protect their services by not allowing writers a choice in writing tools.

Everyone wants to make money and try to build an empire on the basis of their suddenly being an essential middle-man. Even if that entails complicating the task of providing access to (mostly text) files over a network, a process that the World Wide Web made a pretty decent start on resolving a couple of decades ago.

  1. Apologies to Dave Winer for the length of the quote from his original post, but I thought the points he was making about the implications of the basic concept he’s putting forward deserved to be spread far and wide. 

Some people

Let’s see how long it takes for Amazon Go-style technologies to spread to other retailers. How long will it take for the rest of us to learn from the attitudes of … some people.

(Normally my reaction would be that it’ll be a long time before such technologies get deployed anywhere I regularly shop, but given how keen local branches of supermarket chains have been to radically reduce the numbers of staff deployed on tills during opening hours I’ve a feeling I’ll be encountering this technology sooner than I imagine.)

[Via Memex 1.1]

The Future

Happy Valentine’s Day from Facebook:

Happy Valentine’s Day! Just logging in for a quick scroll? Take your time.

You’re not on here as much as you used to be. Still, we’ll never forget you. In fact, we at Facebook love celebrating the moments and people you’ve worked really hard to forget. So now that you’re here, please enjoy this picture of you and your ex-boyfriend from five years ago.

You really loved that wine bar. Look at how happy you were. And is it just us or is your body snatched in this pic? Do you still own that blouse? Oh, right, it doesn’t fit anymore. Just like your ex, it’s gone now. […]

So, which is the most depressing vision of a social life in the 21st century: Facebook as a bitchy friend, or Ericsson’s vision1 of a social life where your domestic appliances are apparently your only company after a dinner date falls through?

[Facebook humour via The Overspill, Ericsson video via Sci-Fi Interfaces]

  1. From just over a decade ago. Back when having a robot vacuum cleaner was a sign we were living in the future. 

Insane and Ludicrous

Reading this article about The lost history of the electric car – and what it tells us about the future of transport raises an interesting question:

[Aas more people bought private cars…] electric vehicles took on a new connotation: they were women’s cars. This association arose because they were suitable for short, local trips, did not require hand cranking to start or gear shifting to operate, and were extremely reliable by virtue of their simple design. As an advertisement for Babcock Electric vehicles put it in 1910, “She who drives a Babcock Electric has nothing to fear”. The implication was that women, unable to cope with the complexities of driving and maintaining petrol vehicles, should buy electric vehicles instead. Men, by contrast, were assumed to be more capable mechanics, for whom greater complexity and lower reliability were prices worth paying for powerful, manly petrol vehicles with superior performance and range.

Given that electric vehicles require less maintenance and don’t necessarily have to offer Insane and Ludicrous modes for acceleration, will future generations of car see manufacturers offering electric vehicle models optimised for local, urban journeys?1 Or will that particular marketing opportunity be overtaken by the whole notion of owning a car giving way to subscribing to a transport service, so that the very idea of sinking serious amounts of cash into owning a car will seem as outlandish as the proposition of urban streets piled high with horse shit?

[Via Memex 1.1]

  1. Let’s assume that genuine self-driving vehicles are several generations away yet, whatever Elon Musk’s fans would like to believe. 

Go! Go! Go!

I defy you not to cheer while watching this:

Go, little car, go…

[Via Memex 1.1]

The Metaverse (minus legs, and a few other things)

Judging by the Wall Street Journal‘s Joanna Stern’s Trapped in the Metaverse video, Meta (and Microsoft, and every other tech giant hoping to get into the avatars-pretending-to-share-a-virtual-table market) have a really long way to go to turn the current state of the art into an enticing experience.

Start with adding virtual legs to the avatars, and then work your way up from there, guys…

[Via Daring Fireball]


Having watched the highlights1 of Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement that Facebook are changing the name of the company to Meta and working towards a new platform that will combine Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, I think Nick Heer sums it up best:

The metaverse is me making a list of chores to give to the staff of butlers and housekeepers and gardeners I am employing at my large country house I will have in ten years instead of vacuuming my apartment today.

How many of us2 talk about what Alphabet do rather than just talking about Google?

  1. Am I being unfair to Zuckerberg by not watching the entire 1hr 17min video? The thing is, nobody is paying me to spend time reporting on the whole Facebook/Meta story and I don’t pretend to be a journalist. This post is, like every post here, my opinion and readers are welcome to disagree with me in comments here or email me links to (hopefully more succinct) accounts from Facebook/Meta of what they’re doing and why. 
  2. Other than journalists quoting from a press release. 

So Wrong on so many levels

The article title says it all. How to Install Windows 3.1 on an iPad:

Recently, we noticed FastCompany editor (and friend of How-To Geek) Harry McCracken on Twitter experimenting with running Windows 3.1 on an iPad. With his blessing, we’re about to explain how he pulled off this amazing feat.

That poor, poor iPad. What did it ever do to deserve that?

[Via Six Colors]

, 13 July 2021. Category: Uncategorized. Tagged: .

Emotional about Windows

Rumour has it that Windows 11 is much more than a new theme slapped onto Windows 10:

Microsoft Chief Product Officer Panos Panay ties the new look to eyebrow-raising statements about emotion: “We understand the responsibility of [functionality and practicality] more than ever before, but it must also be personal—and maybe most importantly, it must feel emotional.”

As I type this, my work laptop is generating and saving off several thousand Excel files (courtesy of some VBA code I wrote the original version of several years ago) to my laptop’s local SSD, prior to my using File Explorer to copy those eight thousand-odd newly-created spreadsheets into a folder on a networked drive on our intranet where internal users will be able to see the spreadsheets come Monday morning.1

Trust me, Panos, Windows 10 is already generating plenty of emotions in this user as I navigate my way through all the nooks and crannies of the Windows user experience that I need to in order to get this done.

[Via The Tao of Mac]

  1. There are reasons why I don’t have Excel create those files directly to their eventual location on the network, mostly having to do with how much slower the process is if I get Excel to save files to the networked location as it works its’ way down the list I’ve given it. Copying the spreadsheets over in a single batch at the end of the process is a net win, even if it takes around half an hour after I drag-and-drop the files over to the correct folder’s icon on the network drive for Windows File Explorer to pop up a dialog telling me it’s started the file copying process. 
, 26 June 2021. Category: Uncategorized. Tagged: .

Chinese Typewriting

Thomas S. Mullaney tells us the story of How Lois Lew mastered IBM’s 1940s Chinese typewriter (and of how he eventually met Lois Lew, to reveal the backstory of the woman who demonstrated the system as part of IBM’s attempt to market a Chinese-language typewriter in the late 1940s):

The IBM Chinese typewriter was a formidable machine—not something just anyone could handle with the aplomb of the young typist in the film. On the keyboard affixed to the hulking, gunmetal gray chassis, 36 keys were divided into four banks: 0 through 5; 0 through 9; 0 through 9; and 0 through 9. With just these 36 keys, the machine was capable of producing up to 5,400 Chinese characters in all, wielding a language that was infinitely more difficult to mechanize than English or other Western writing systems.

To type a Chinese character, one depressed a total of 4 keys—one from each bank—more or less simultaneously, compared by one observer to playing a chord on the piano. Just as the film explained, “if you want to type word number 4862 you would press 4-8-6-2 and the machine would type the right character.”

Interesting as the story of the young woman who featured in the demos of IBM’s Chinese Typewriter was, my first thought was that it was probably just as well that a combination of bad timing and geopolitics meant that the invention wasn’t a success.

Contemplate Mullaney’s summary of what Lois Lew had to do in those demo sessions…

In front of those 3,000 onlookers […] Lew was handed one newspaper article after the next, one letter after the next, which she then had to transcribe on the Chinese typewriter.

In other words, Lew had to:

  • Translate multiple passages, each containing hundreds of Chinese characters, into their corresponding four-digit codes;
  • Perform these translations entirely in her mind;
  • Input these codes into the machine (without delay or typo);
  • Maintain grace, composure, even a smile, the entire time.
    [Emphasis added. JR]

Lois Lew, by this account, did a remarkable job of translating the content into the right 4-character combos to get the IBM Chinese Typewriter to produce output (and maintaining an illusion that this was effortless, because obviously that part of the job was important too in a big, official demo.)1 She sounds like a remarkably capable person, but consider the effects if IBM had managed to get the Chinese market to adopt this system. A generation of young Chinese might have been mentally scarred for life by the scale of the task of being expected to memorise-and-regurgitate-on-demand thousands of 4-digit codes.

The incoming Chinese Communist government might well have regarded this attempt to shackle their workforce to such a horribly brittle, error-prone system of reproducing content as a CIA plot, a hostile act.

Looking on the bright side, perhaps the burden that the IBM Chinese Typewriter inflicted on users might have incentivised the Chinese to invent a really capable speech recognition system. Never mind the millions such a project might make: just consider the gratitude of a large portion of the nation’s workforce freed from memorising all those 4-digit codes.

[Via Memex 1.1]

  1. I can’t help but wonder whether the output of those demo sessions was all it was cracked up to be. Is the Chinese take on this that the Americans demonstrated a system that sort-of-worked but relied upon the typist being uncommonly good at converting Chinese writing to symbol numbers, I wonder? Were the system’s prospects killed by the chances of recruiting an army of typists who could work at Lois Lew’s standard? 
, 24 May 2021. Category: Uncategorized. Tagged: .
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