Tony Brooker, the guy who developed Autocode, arguably the world’s first machine-independent programming language, has passed away at the age of 94. He did it to make one of the early computers, the Ferranti Mark 1 in Alan Turing’s lab in Manchester University, useable by human beings. There’s a lovely recording of him talking about it on the British Library site. Also, a nice obit in the New York Times.
“The truth is that these companies won’t fundamentally change because their entire business model relies on generating more engagement, and nothing generates more engagement than lies, fear and outrage.”
- Sacha Baron Cohen speaking about Facebook, Google et. al.
- How reading has changed in the 2010s Good summary of a decade by Erica Wagner.
- This is water David Foster-Wallace’s famous Kenyon College Commencement Address.
- Nabokov’s pugilistic spirit Jennifer Wilson’s entertaining (and informative) review of a new edition of Vladimir Nabokov’s essays and journalistic work. He was a harsh reviewer of other people’s work.
- How the Loss of the Landline Is Changing Family Life The shared phone was a space of spontaneous connection for the entire household. Most American homes don’t now have a landline. Sobering insight into a world we are losing.
Shortly after I wrote Building vs. Streaming in popped an email from Drew Austin, who was musing about what happens when a new product/service fills a void and thereby leads to the decline of whatever filled it beforehand.
Here’s the money quote:
The increasingly-maligned model of VC-funded, loss-leading hypergrowth in the pursuit of market dominance, understood another way, is a quest to create voids that matter, voids that will hurt if we let them emerge by rejecting the product currently filling them (the fissures of a post-WeWork world are at least perceptible now). In the early ‘00s, when Blockbuster died out, it was clear that something better was replacing it (there’s a nostalgic counterargument that I’m tempted to indulge, but let’s just accept this). Today, it’s more common to watch something decline without a replacement that’s clearly better. It’s easy to understand why physical media led to file-sharing and then streaming, but what comes after Netflix and Spotify? Does anyone think it’s likely to be another improvement? I don’t, and the companies’ Facebook-like pursuit of absolute ubiquity is why. Unlike the immediately-filled Blockbuster void, I fear the Spotify void. I already got rid of all my CDs. The residue of buildings and cities determines what gets built on top of them, and if we’re conscientious, we’ll build with a more distant future in mind.
Dave Winer has come up with an nice metaphor for the impeachment process:
If you think of the United States as a company, we’ve had a strategic partnership with Russia for the last three years, kind of like the one Microsoft had with IBM. Russia is analogous to Microsoft. They’re about to roll over us in the 2020 election. Our last gasp is the impeachment.
Impeachment is like IBM shipping OS/2 and the Micro Channel Architecture. Both were designed to rid IBM of Microsoft once and for all. But it didn’t work. It was too little too late. Microsoft came out with Windows 3.0, and IBM became a global consulting company. The company that dominated the computer business left the computer business. With the US and Russia analogy substitute “computer business” with “democracy business.”
Ouch! Full disclosure: I was foolish enough to fall for IBM’s ploy. On a research budget I bought an IBM PS2 computer running OS2. It was a turkey with only one good point: a really nice keyboard!
Every Saturday morning for as long as I can remember, BBC Radio 3 has had a programme at 9am called “Building a Library”, in which a group of experts review recordings of classical music with a view to recommending the one(s) that the listener should contemplate adding to his or her ‘library’. The implicit model is that the music comes on a disc, which made complete sense in the pre-streaming era. The fact that the channel is still running the programme suggests that lovers of classical music still buy discs, which I guess really marks them out nowadays from lovers of pop, rap, etc., most of whom probably get their music from streaming sources. In which case a ‘library’ is now a playlist, I guess.