I’m sorry to do another post like this hot on the heels of the last (in, er, September…), but I must mark this: the great Wayne Shorter has departed, leaving behind the most extraordinary musical legacy. Like many of my age, I knew him primarily through Weather Report, finding more of his music through discovering Art Blakey, Joni Mitchell, and others. A giant has left us.
The end of an extraordinary era. Requiescat in pace.
Liz Truss being Prime Minister is like when Apple made everyone have that U2 album they didn’t want in their iTunes library— Rachael (@RachaelvsWorld) September 5, 2022
Recently posted from the BBC archives, this interview from 1979 is well worth seven minutes of your time… be sure to stick around for the end.
Frank Prentice was around ninety years old when he gave this interview, and died three years later. Just extraordinary.
#OnThisDay 1912: The Titanic sank on its maiden voyage, with the loss of more than 1,500 lives.— BBC Archive (@BBCArchive) April 15, 2022
In 1979, Frank Prentice described how he managed to escape death on the liner, where he was working as an assistant purser. pic.twitter.com/XOWvXPBGVo
Something I don’t believe many of us thought we’d see: this is genuinely moving, and made all the more extraordinary knowing what happened to Joni in recent years.
I’m just going to leave this here.
Happy new year!
Traditionally, we use the new year to look back and reflect. I’d rather not, given the past few years we’ve all had to deal with.
Instead, let’s go back much, much further… Recently, I found myself wondering what Jeff Atwood was up to. Jeff is someone who always has something to say, and I used to quote his posts regularly on this site. Happily, on new year’s eve, he posted for the first time in months and months, and it’s a corker: he’s looking to his roots in 1980s BASIC programming!
I think we owe it to the world to bring this book up to date using modern, memory safe languages that embody the original spirit of BASIC, and modern programming practices including subroutines.
So let’s do this. Please join us on GitHub, where we’re updating those original 101 BASIC games in memory safe, general purpose scripting language…
Jeff is talking about the BASIC Computer Games books that David H. Ahl compiled in the early 1970s and 1980s. Whilst these books were less well known here in the UK, they echo the times well enough! Painstakingly keying in lines and lines of BASIC, frustration at random shut-downs and typo-driven bugs… heady days.
These books, and the programs therein, are important milestones in computing history, so it’s fantastic that Jeff and others are looking to preserve the ethos behind them with a Github repo dedicated to the code in these old games.
On Monday 1st November, the world lost Emmett Chapman, an exceptional musician, instrument-maker and inventor. Emmett gave us the Chapman Stick in the early 1970s, and had been innovating with both the instrument, and the playing method he developed for it, ever since.
In 1995 I bought a reconditioned Stick from the man himself after years of hankering. Emmett took the time to call me, on several occasions and all the way from California, to give me updates on my instrument. He was charming, thoughtful and articulate – the world was a better place for his presence.
Thank you Emmett, and my condolences to Yuta and the rest of the Chapman family.
The widely-publicised outage within the festering citadel that is Facebook, Inc. has given rise to some informative posts, like this one from Cloudflare:
… the Internet is a very complex and interdependent system of millions of systems and protocols working together. That trust, standardization, and cooperation between entities are at the center of making it work for almost five billion active users worldwide.
Celso Martinho, Understanding How Facebook Disappeared from the Internet
Yet another reminder of the perils inherent in making your company a walled garden; I hope Google took heed. The founding principles of the internet are unequivocally opposed to the “single point of failure” model that the likes of Facebook seem hell-bent on following. Use the open web: celebrate it!
Farewell then, Sir Clive Sinclair.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Sir Clive and his inventions had a massive impact on the lives of countless kids in the 1980s, including yours truly.
I learned to program on the Sinclair ZX81 (known as the Timex in the USA), and even stretched the initial £69.95 investment in it to buy a 16Kb RAM pack. Heady times!
Keith Stuart has written an evocative piece about Sinclair and the home computer revolution of the 1980s. Recommended:
For families all over Britain, Clive Sinclair – who has died aged 81 – brought computers home. The hobbyist computer market, which introduced the likes of Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak to programming, was not as well-developed in this country and required some engineering expertise – you built computers such as the Altair 8800 yourself. The ZX81, you could buy in Boots or WH Smiths or from the Argos catalogue, and it was all there for you. For £70. A lot of money for my family at the time, but not too much.
Just moving the furniture around a little. This temporary blog now has its own page whilst I sort out the home page for the site. Oh, and carve out some time to migrate all that old content!
I love a good swear, me. And this is a superb example:
You think vaccines don’t fucking work? Oh, fuck off into the trash, you attention-seeking fuckworm-faced shitbutt. This isn’t even a point worth discussing, you fuck-o-rama fuck-stival of ignorance. Vaccines got rid of smallpox and polio and all the other disgusting diseases that used to kill off little fucks like you en masse. Your relatives got fucking vaccinated and let you live, and now here you are signing up to be killed by a fucking disease against which there is a ninety-nine-percent effective vaccine. You fucking moron. Go in the fucking ocean and fuck a piranha. Fuck. Fuck that. Fuck you. Get vaccinated.
Do give this link out to any deniers / whiners you come across…
For some time now, MS Word has been flagging up two spaces after a full-stop as an “error”. Given that, it seems as good a time as ever to say, can we please, please put this bloody debate to bed now?
This is my favourite bit in John Gruber’s assessment of the situation:
The two-spaces thing has been a “debate” only in the way that wondering if the earth is round, or if man landed on the moon, or if you should smash up a couple of cherries and orange wedges while mixing an Old Fashioned have ever been debates. One side has all the experts in agreement; the other side is wrong.
As Jason Kottke says, this is quite the paragraph:
Americans are, of course, the most thoroughly and passively indoctrinated people on earth. They know next to nothing as a rule about their own history, or the histories of other nations, or the histories of the various social movements that have risen and fallen in the past, and they certainly know little or nothing of the complexities and contradictions comprised within words like “socialism” and “capitalism.” Chiefly, what they have been trained not to know or even suspect is that, in many ways, they enjoy far fewer freedoms, and suffer under a more intrusive centralized state, than do the citizens of countries with more vigorous social-democratic institutions. This is at once the most comic and most tragic aspect of the excitable alarm that talk of social democracy or democratic socialism can elicit on these shores. An enormous number of Americans have been persuaded to believe that they are freer in the abstract than, say, Germans or Danes precisely because they possess far fewer freedoms in the concrete. They are far more vulnerable to medical and financial crisis, far more likely to receive inadequate health coverage, far more prone to irreparable insolvency, far more unprotected against predatory creditors, far more subject to income inequality, and so forth, while effectively paying more in tax (when one figures in federal, state, local, and sales taxes, and then compounds those by all the expenditures that in this country, as almost nowhere else, their taxes do not cover). One might think that a people who once rebelled against the mightiest empire on earth on the principle of no taxation without representation would not meekly accept taxation without adequate government services. But we accept what we have become used to, I suppose. Even so, one has to ask, what state apparatus in the “free” world could be more powerful and tyrannical than the one that taxes its citizens while providing no substantial civic benefits in return, solely in order to enrich a piratically overinflated military-industrial complex and to ease the tax burdens of the immensely wealthy?
David Bentley Hart, Three Cheers For Socialism
Those of us who have hung around the internet for the longest time will remember the breathy enthusiasm of the 1990s. We had skeuomorphism here, there, and everywhere in software design, and it was thrilling: General Magic’s Magic Cap, Macintosh System 7, hypertext, eWorld… oh my goodness. Soon we would all be connected in “virtual towns”! The world would become smaller, people would come together, learn, and solve the big issues! The design of this brave new world reflected all that. What a time to be alive.
Ah, but we should have taken more notice of the flame wars that erupted regularly in the most innocuous Usenet groups, because fast-forward to 2021, and we still have wars over made-up sky faeries, skin colour is still a massive issue, legion of us have to justify vaccination programmes, and the Flat Earth Society is in its seventh decade of existence.
So much for our collective development as a species. As my esteemed colleague Andrew Magerman says:
we humans are more fascinated by scandal and outrage, rather than plain old boring truth.
Andrew Magerman, Digital Privacy is not only a private decision – it affects us all
There is hope though! Almost two years ago, Jamil Zaki wrote the piece, The Technology of Kindness which is worth a skim. The article looks into what makes much of our online experience so nasty, but also establishes how that doesn’t have to hold true always. A couple of the sites positioned in the piece as online communities with heart have gone by the wayside, but Zaki does call out both RareConnect and 7 Cups – empathic, encouraging platforms versus the polarising shit-storm that is social media. There is hope.
Just a thought.
Now then. It’s been a while…
I decided to celebrate this site’s upcoming nineteenth anniversary by resurrecting it, which seems fair enough.
benpoole.com used to be a hand-coded Domino web app with extensive work-arounds to make it do the right thing. However, that is so early-noughties; I’ve decided to go full-on, nineties www with a static web page for now (!)
All the old content still resides in an NSF which I will be migrating in due course – will it be worth it? Who can say.
For now, if you’re reading this, well hello there, and thanks for having me!