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10 years

I started this blog on May 31, 2006. It’s been 10 years.

When I started on it, I expected to be leaving technical advice for programmers and IT people, since I had been doing that in comment forums for a while. The advice I was leaving was becoming repetitive, and rather involved. The same problems kept coming up for people. I saw a blog as a way of optimizing the process. I thought I’d just write it here once, and refer people to it. Very quickly, though, a new interest was emerging for me, which grew into re-evaluating and exploring computer science, and that’s mostly what I’ve been writing about since.

The purpose I’ve held for this blog is to share what I’ve learned as I’ve tried to understand in much more depth the perspective on computing that drew me to the field when I was young. The reason I wanted to share it is I understood quickly that if it’s going to be something I’m going to pursue down the road, it has to be more than just me who sees value in it. I wanted to bring other people along. I thought of it as a “trail of breadcrumbs” for people like myself. I don’t know if it’s had that effect. It seems more like there have been certain subjects that have drawn a large audience, but the interest is focused there, and on a few related posts, and not on the blog as a whole. That’s alright. At least it’s having some impact, as I see when people leave appreciative comments, and on occasion e-mail me to extend the conversation. This is just an impression, but it appears I’m on a path that most don’t want to follow, and that may have to do with the fact that most don’t have the luxury. Nevertheless, I will continue posting about what I learn. It helps my learning process to write about it, and it helps my writing to do it with the knowledge that others will see it.

Related posts:

My journey, Part 6

The 150th post

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I’ve been spending quite a bit of time on Quora lately. This is one of the better questions I’ve seen on there in the last 7 months.

Bugs represent defects in a program, though in some cases the unintentional consequences are users might have a use case for such flaws the developer originally didn’t think of.

Some bugs graduate from being defects to growing into official fully supported features.

What are the best examples of this in software history?

What are the best examples of software bugs that became features (a.k.a. misbugs)?

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Looking back at 2012

I spent a lot of time helping out my mother last year. A good part of it has been that she’s shifting to doing research online, using my computer. It’s not so much that she wants to do this. She’s been a techno-phobe for as long as I’ve known her. It’s that our society has moved a lot online, so it’s now a requirement for her. She’s been getting used to this, and has even come to like it a little. So I’ve been assisting her with it, and many other things not related to the techie world. She and I have looked into getting her a low-cost laptop of some sort, though she hasn’t settled on anything yet.

In addition, I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around an actual computing artifact (an 8-bit computer and its operating system–starting small), and some concepts of creating a simple virtual machine and a compiled language to go with it.

All of this is explaining why I’ve had less time to write. 🙂 I looked back at my posts for 2012, and was a bit surprised to find I had only written six. I’m definitely slowing down on my writing, though I have no intention of discontinuing it.

Here are the top 5 most read posts for 2012. As I’ve said before, this only reflects what’s been getting attention. None of these are posts I wrote last year:

1

Exploring the meaning of Tron Legacy, 10 comments

2

Does computer science have a future?, 13 comments

3

A history of the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga, 5 comments

4

Remembering Steve Jobs and Apple Computer, 0 comments

5

Great moments in modern computer history, 8 comments

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I discovered this week that a bunch of videos I had embedded in past posts had “broken.” They were all from Google Video. Some of them were ones I had posted to it.

Many times the videos I embed in my posts are crucial to their meaning, so I was wondering what I was going to do with the posts that used them. I wanted to be able to work on them without my incomplete edits going “public,” so I took down the following posts for a few days:

The death of certainty and the birth of computer science

I’m not a scientist, but I play one on TV…

The computer as medium

“Reminiscing” series, parts 1, 2, 3, and 4

Saying goodbye to someone I never knew

Redefining computing, Part 2

Exploring Squeak and Seaside

I have revamped them, getting rid of videos that have disappeared, and dead links. I found many of the same videos I had used before, posted somewhere else. I also revised some of the text. I’ve re-posted the above articles.

I frequent YouTube, and I remember seeing an invitation on there a while back to merge my Google videos into my YouTube account. YouTube didn’t mention a thing about Google Video going away. From what I remember, I didn’t take their offer, because I had assumed YouTube limited the length of most videos to 10 minutes. The whole reason I had posted videos to Google’s service was they didn’t have a length limit.

Doing some research on this, I discovered that Google had totally shut down its video service this past May, and had been disallowing anyone from posting new videos to it since a few years ago. There is still a “Google Video” service now, but it functions like a normal Google search. It just isolates its results to other video sites, like its blog search.

As I was working on my posts, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the videos I had posted to Google’s service had in fact been merged into my YouTube account, as private videos, and none of them had been truncated. I don’t recall being notified of this. Even so, I was thankful to see they were still around. One less thing I had to think about.

There is still a video would’ve liked to have “recovered” in all this, but I can’t find it anywhere. It’s Alan Kay’s presentation to a group of teachers called “What is Squeak?”

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Top posts of 2011

2011 was a slow year for posts on my blog, 15 in all. That’s the smallest number I’ve written in a year since I started this blog 5-1/2 years ago.

In prior years I went through a phase of discovery. I was finding all this material, and just interpreting it helped me learn a new perspective. There was so much to say about it. I think last year I started trying to figure things out, to push the boundaries of my own technical knowledge, and to go more in-depth on prior issues I had covered here. That takes more time and effort. What I was saying before was, “Look at that shiny ball over there! Look how beautiful it is!” I kept getting closer and closer to it. Finally, I approached it. It was in my grasp, but all I saw was the surface. Not what’s inside, and what made it tick. I’ve started to reach inside to see more of this thing. I also had plenty of other non-computer/science issues cross my path last year that demanded my attention for a while.

Here are the top 5 most read posts for 2011. Only one, “Exploring the meaning of Tron Legacy,” was written last year:

1

Exploring the meaning of Tron Legacy, 8 comments

2

Does computer science have a future?, 13 comments

3

Great moments in modern computer history, 8 comments

4

A history of the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga, 5 comments

5

The beauty of mathematics denied, 3 comments

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The 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is coming up in 2 days. I received the following e-mail today from Meetup.com, telling the tale of how Meetup was created in response to the 9/11/01 attacks in New York City. Great story!

Fellow Meetuppers,

I don’t write to our whole community often, but this week is
special because it’s the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and many
people don’t know that Meetup is a 9/11 baby.

Let me tell you the Meetup story. I was living a couple miles
from the Twin Towers, and I was the kind of person who thought
local community doesn’t matter much if we’ve got the internet
and tv. The only time I thought about my neighbors was when I
hoped they wouldn’t bother me.

When the towers fell, I found myself talking to more neighbors
in the days after 9/11 than ever before. People said hello to
neighbors (next-door and across the city) who they’d normally
ignore. People were looking after each other, helping each
other, and meeting up with each other. You know, being
neighborly.

A lot of people were thinking that maybe 9/11 could bring
people together in a lasting way. So the idea for Meetup was
born: Could we use the internet to get off the internet — and
grow local communities?

We didn’t know if it would work. Most people thought it was a
crazy idea — especially because terrorism is designed to make
people distrust one another.

A small team came together, and we launched Meetup 9 months
after 9/11.

Today, almost 10 years and 10 million Meetuppers later, it’s
working. Every day, thousands of Meetups happen. Moms Meetups,
Small Business Meetups, Fitness Meetups… a wild variety of
100,000 Meetup Groups with not much in common — except one
thing.

Every Meetup starts with people simply saying hello to
neighbors. And what often happens next is still amazing to me.
They grow businesses and bands together, they teach and
motivate each other, they babysit each other’s kids and find
other ways to work together. They have fun and find solace
together. They make friends and form powerful community. It’s
powerful stuff.

It’s a wonderful revolution in local community, and it’s thanks
to everyone who shows up.

Meetups aren’t about 9/11, but they may not be happening if it
weren’t for 9/11.

9/11 didn’t make us too scared to go outside or talk to
strangers. 9/11 didn’t rip us apart. No, we’re building new
community together!!!!

The towers fell, but we rise up. And we’re just getting started
with these Meetups.

Scott Heiferman (on behalf of 80 people at Meetup HQ)
Co-Founder & CEO, Meetup
New York City
September 2011

I had no idea! I didn’t hear of Meetup until Howard Dean ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, since his campaign was using it to organize. I thought it was a social media thing, of sorts, and I wasn’t that interested in it. Somehow (can’t remember now) I started using it in 2009, and I found a local Lisp users group through it. I’ve met some great people as a result. Thanks so much, Meetup!

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The 150th post

This is my 150th post, so I thought it would be a good time to do a retrospective of where I’ve  been. I would’ve done this earlier, but I “missed” the 100th post I wrote back in September 2008. It just blew right past me.

Honestly, when I started this blog I wasn’t sure it was going to go anywhere. I was inspired to start it because I kept running into people on tech forums who had the same technical problems, or repeated the same tired arguments, and I got tired of repeating myself trying to correct them. I figured I would just write my thoughts once, and the next time someone talked about the same thing, I would provide a link to what I wrote here.

I started blogging (kinda) in 2004. I had set up my own website with a .Net service provider back in 2003, I think, so that I could create some ASP.Net demos that other people could see. This was during the “tech depression” after the dot-com crash of 2001. I was looking for work, and looking for opportunities to market myself. I got the idea to start writing and publishing on that site, probably from seeing other ASP.Net developers do the same thing. Only thing was I hadn’t set up any automated system for publishing what I wrote. I had some ideas about that, but I never got around to it. The main reason it was a pain to try to blog on my own was I wrote my articles in Microsoft Word, and exported them to HTML. That was never fun. Word put in TONS of tags for all sorts stuff I didn’t need, and there was no “simple HTML export”. My memory is that the way Word did things created problems on my website, but I can’t remember what. I don’t remember what I did to make things copacetic. Maybe I just did my own HTML “back porting” to fix the problems. So I only wrote a couple articles back then.

I think I had found other people who had blogs around this time, though I wasn’t real clear on what they were. How were they different from regular websites? I didn’t find the answer to that for a while. I finally did a search for blogging services in 2006. I found it was easy to set one up online, and the fact that they were free was a nice perk! I checked around at a bunch of different blogging sites. I had heard (I think) that Chris Sells of Microsoft fame had a popular blog on WordPress, so I checked this place out. The main thing I was looking for at the time was the ability to back date posts, because I wanted to import the two articles I had on my website, and date them to when I actually wrote them. WordPress was the only one I found that allowed this. So this is where I set up shop.

I’ve sometimes had to suffer through bugs in the WordPress blog editor. I’ve seen a few major ones. One of them made me want to tear my hair out a few years ago, but in most cases these were one-off instances where I wanted to do something new with an article, so I didn’t run into this crap that often. In any case, all of the nuisances I encountered were eventually fixed. If there’s one thing I’d really like is the ability to edit an article as if I were in “preview”. I hate this mode of working where I have to type something up in an editor that kinda-sorta does WYSIWYG, but not quite, and the only time I see what it’s really going to look like to readers is when I hit “preview”, and I can’t edit that! It would be a wonderful improvement if I could edit in a “live” WYSIWYG mode. We used to have this on PCs dammit! (There I go again!…)

I’ve already posted the top posts for 2010. Here are the top 10 most read articles that I’ve written since I started this blog on May 31, 2006. This is based on hit statistics to date, with #1 being the most popular:

(Update 5-13-2013: I deleted “The joy of Squeak” from my blog, since the source material I wrote about (the episode of Leo Laporte’s show, “The Lab,” which featured Squeak) no longer exists on the internet.)

1. Great moments in modern computer history, posted 8/22/2006, 5,762 hits

2. Java: Let it be, posted 3/6/2008, 5,301 hits

3. Squeak is like an operating system, posted 7/19/2007, 4,011 hits

4. Lisp: Surprise! You’re soaking in it, posted 5/10/2007, 3,909 hits

5. Exploring Squeak and Seaside, posted 10/10/2006, 3,836 hits

6. A history of the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga, posted 5/16/2008, 2,764 hits

7. Having fun playing with fire, er…C, posted 7/2/2007, 2,313 hits

8. Microsoft patches Visual Studio 2005 for Vista. Confused? Answers here, posted 3/12/2007, 2,171 hits

9. How to secure Windows XP against malware, posted 9/22/2006, 2,121 hits

10. The joy of Squeak, posted 3/17/2008, 2,094 hits

“Java: Let it be” was the most popular post I had written, for a couple years, but “Great moments in modern computer history” has gotten a consistent amount of attention since I posted it, and finally edged out my Java article as the most popular.

My favorites

Since I started this blog for myself (though I’m thankful that others have found it valuable enough to read along), I’ve put in my own favorites as well. These are articles I’ve referred back to sometimes, and represent good memories or some realization I’ve made. I’ll just list them from the most recent to the oldest:

SICP: Exercise 1.19 – optimizing Finonacci, posted 11/22/2010

SICP: Exercise 2.6: Church numerals, posted 5/22/2010

Getting beyond paper and linear media, posted 5/6/2010

Realizing Babbage, posted 1/30/2010

SICP Exercise 1.11: “There is no spoon”, posted 1/18/2010

The death of certainty and the birth of computer science, posted 8/29/2009

Why I do this, posted 8/17/2009

Does computer science have a future?, posted 8/12/2009

Michael Jackson dead at 50, posted 6/26/2009

The beauty of mathematics denied, posted 6/19/2009

Tales of inventing the future, posted 1/23/2009

The “My Journey” series, posted from 12/29/2008 through 1/18/2009

The culture of “air guitar”, posted 6/10/2008

Kitties, posted 5/4/2008

“Reminiscing”, parts 3, 4, and 6, posted from 10/31 through 11/13, 2007

Redefining computing, Part 2, posted 7/11/2007

Having fun playing with fire, er…C, posted 7/2/2007

On our low-pass filter, posted 3/12/2007

Great moments in modern computer history, posted 8/22/2006

Rediscovering Dr. Dijkstra and Giving Lisp a Second Chance, posted 5/31/2006

My favorites have changed with time. If I had made this list two years ago my emphasis would’ve been different. My tastes have changed as I’ve learned to see things differently.

As you can tell I haven’t written anything in the last 2-1/2 years that’s been a “big hit” with the internet reading public. As I compare the popular posts with my favorites, there are only two that are in both lists: “Great moments in modern computer history”, and “Having fun playing with fire, er…C”. I notice that all of the other ones that were popular have to do with a platform or a programming language. It’s nice to see that topics on computer/software history seem to be popular, though. “Great moments in modern computer history”, “Having fun playing with fire, er…C”, and “Java: Let it be” all had an emphasis on software history.

On I go…

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Top posts of 2010

I noticed other bloggers are talking about their top posts from the past year. So I thought I’d get in on it.

Edit 1-7-2011: I should’ve noted that these are not the top posts I wrote in 2010, but of all the articles on this blog, these were the most viewed in 2010.

1

Does computer science have a future?, 13 comments

2

A history of the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga, 4 comments

3

Great moments in modern computer history, 8 comments

4

The beauty of mathematics denied, 3 comments

5

Thoughts on the 3D GUI, 4 comments

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I’m trying something which I’ve seen one other blogger do, though I’m adding a new twist to it. Hopefully it’ll go well. As this blog has evolved I’ve tried to give it a defining purpose. There have been some things I’ve wanted to share with my readers, but they’re of the, “Hey, look at this,” variety. I kind of tried that here a few years ago, but settled more on reserving this blog for my own “deep thoughts” on computing, and societal issues.

I’ve been sharing articles and videos with “friends” and such on Facebook for about a year-and-a-half now. It’s had its moments, but it hasn’t been that satisfying. The main reason I did it is I wanted to have thoughtful engagement with others, but that didn’t happen much. There are times when I like a little light-hearted fluff, too, and that’s more compatible with the Facebook ethos. I’m making an effort to broaden the sharing to more than just “friends” in a “walled garden” network. Just trying something different.

(Update 5-12-2013: Posterous shut down on April 30. I moved my “favorites” blog to WordPress. I talked about an “e-mail” feature below on Posterous. I vaguely remember hearing about an “e-mail to post” feature on WordPress, which I can enable, but I haven’t tried it. Since all I got on Posterous through that was spam, I’d just assume not use it.)

I’ve decided to set up another blog for this purpose that is just about stuff I’ve found on the internet which interests me, mainly articles written by others, and videos. It probably won’t have a lot of commentary (I do that here). It’s hosted on Posterous, which makes it easy to post different forms of internet media. The web address is http://markfavorites.posterous.com I’ve created a WordPress blog, at http://marksfavorites.wordpress.com (I’ve also included it on my “Links” sidebar as “My favorites”). It has comments enabled so people can respond to what’s shared. It has a feature, which I’ve enabled, where anyone can contribute posts to my “favorites” blog, which I will moderate. This enables you to share something with me. All you have to do is send the posting as an e-mail to post@markfavorites.posterous.com. I think I got this all set up correctly, but if you have any problems with it, let me know. My personal e-mail address is on the “About” page of this blog. We’ll see how this goes. This “favorites” blog I’ve set up is public, so potentially anyone “off the street” can post to it. But hey, if it’s interesting, I’ll let it on through.

As I said, Posterous makes it easy to post internet media. Typically you just put the URL a video or audio file in the post, and it figures out how to embed it, or link to it, properly in the post. For articles it’s better if you put the URL in an anchor tag. This applies to all e-mail postings as well. Most e-mailers have a “link” feature you can use to create anchors.

Will be seeing you…

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I’ve turned on a feature on WordPress called “e-mail replies”. I’m not really sure what it is. I’ve seen some other blogs that are set up so that when you comment on a blog post it will e-mail you if anyone else has come along and commented, making conversations more convenient. I’m giving it a whirl. If I get complaints about it I’ll turn it off.

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