Older blog entries for argent (starting at number 11)

Microsoft had the right idea, they just haven't figured out where it makes sense yet.

I'm talking about their whole web browser == the OS thing. You don't want to do that on the desktop, your applications are too heavy-duty, they break the browser metaphor, and the security issues are horrid.

But where it does make sense, is in a handheld computer. The applications you run in one of those things are, mostly, well suited to the model of filling out forms and following links.

Take an iPaq, and install a lightweight browser. No javascript or anything applety... it's a purpose-built browser, if you want special behaviour suited to the touchscreen you hardcode it in.

Then add a copy of Apache with a server-side scripting language. Maybe a bunch. I like tcl (NeoWebScript, that is), but something like REXX or Perl or even a VB clone or Javascript would be useful for people who like those.

Build in your address book applications and the like using the web server. As much as possible your user interface for EVERYTHING is through http://localhost/....

You'd want a few extensions to HTML. A mechanism to edit using rich text in entry fields (using an SGML/XML markup, of course, behind the scenes), for example, and a way to deal with large graphical objects that's better than the way things like Terraserver or Mapquest manage it. But mostly you'd do things through the browser.

It just seems like an automatic match. And with cross-database links (and look at critlink for an idea of how to synthesize them if there's not a good anchor already there... perhaps have a special tag in the URL to signify 'search the document for this string'?) you'd get some nifty epiphenomena.

It's almost worth picking up an iPaq running Linux to experiment with the idea...

What some people would consider "the ideal hacking environment" I'd consider a bare minimum. It's been a long time since I worked some place that didn't have 24 hour access, 24 hour A/C, decent lighting, and so on.

A controlled auditory environment. I can't work when the guy in the next cubicle is yelling at a vendor on the phone, and I can't work if I can't occasionally yell at a stupid vendor. Same with music. I need it sometimes, but I don't want to hear anyone else's.

Headphones are a no-go... I can't get up and move around. Maybe bluetooth headphones would solve the problem.

Lots of bookshelves. All the way to the ceiling, at least on one wall. Places to put up my posters and pictures. An expectation that *good* artwork won't get pilfered. No hassles about work-area toys.

Couch, preferably a variety of couches.

Offices have plusses and minuses. Plus: you can get away from people. Minus: people can get away from you. Cubicles really do seem more efficient, but we need get-away-from-people space. Maybe a couple of quiet rooms with couch/desktop/workstation/closed door/sound system... and a timer?

Plenty of ethernet. At least 4 ports per office VLANnable to whatever test lans you need them to be on. And as many hubs and switches as you want for in-office things.

Room for at least 3 workstations in the office, per person. Sometimes you really need to have an end-user system for end users.

A real electronic workbench you can take stuff to beat up on hardware on, including good lighting and magnifiers and soldering iron and lots of little boxes full of stuff like solder and sockets and common parts.

A full size arcade Tempest machine, in good shape.

Don't forget to keep an eye out for Alex

Lost Dog

I was looking for the ALEX global file system by Vince Cate. It was his thesis project, and it provided a really nifty way to access random FTP servers via an NFS proxy. It seems to have died a horrible death, though... the related Gecko project is rolling on, but it's really FTP land I want to get to. Anyone know whether ALEX is still alive anywhere?

Why would someone want the March issue of Upside magazine?

(Apparently, if you're mentioned in it)

I get it for free. It goes straight to File 13.

(Though I'd keep a copy or two if they had my name in it. I'm not that blazé yet... it always freaks me out when someone unexpected like the bouncer at the Old Absinthe House in New Orleans goes "You're at Neosoft, right? Peter da Silva!"... that was when I realised that the Internet had won.)

Got my replacement GoType keyboard, and work just ordered a Handspring modem for me. Just add a digital cellphone and pretty soon I'll never need to be offline.


An interesting idea floated (at least) by maphew.

The stage beyond Master.

Inigo Montoya. The Dread Pirate Roberts. The Corsican Wizard.

Yes. It's fitting.

The other night:

I'm sitting at the table in this fast food mexican place eating fajita tacos (and skimming Salon or something on my Visor thanks to Sitescooper) in a bit of a hurry, when I see this old guy in the corner. Looks like your stereotypical career homeless guy, stringy grey hair, weathered face, carrying a bundle and a bedroll.

But he's sitting there typing on this honking laptop with a 13" TFT screen (plugged into the wall... he'd found himself a table where he could borrow a bit of fast food electricity), and now and then he'd go outside and walk back and forth, smoking a cigarette, talking on a cellphone, gesticulating like some hot executive making a deal. Reminded me of Chad Mulligan in Stand on Zanzibar. Working on the Hipcrime Manifesto, maybe... boy he'll be pissed when he finds some spammer in India has ripped off the name.

Never did find out what was going on. If anyone else has seen this apparition (Taco Cabana, corner of Bissonet and Kirkwood, Houston, Texas) fill me in...

In article <8cfs7j$8tj$1@nnrp1.deja.com>, Andrew Cooke <andrew@andrewcooke.free-online.co.uk> wrote:
> There's a Malbolge hello world program at
> http://www.andrewcooke.free-online. c o.uk/andrew/writing/malbolge.html -
> I think this is the first significant Malbolge program.


I sort of feel like I'm in the presence of something out of one of Vernor Vinge's Singularity stories. It's like running into an algorithm that only makes sense in a higher Zone of the galaxy. It's like Willi Wachendon discovering the difference between himself and an enhanced human. The Singularity suddenly feels very close indeed... no unaided human could have written that program, and somehow this feels more important than anything else wetware and software can do better together, because this is applied to the genetic material of the software itself.

[If you do two diary entries in one day only one shows up in the "recent diary entries" page]

Furrfu, I've actually been pushed over the top to Master level. I don't feel much like a Master right now.


Today was a no-hacking day. Spent some time pondering extensions to wmforum for work, but I haven't been able to get past my perl writing block. The language is so unpleasant I'll do anything to avoid working in it, including cleaning up my office. Why couldn't Larry Wall have been exposed to something decent like Smalltalk before deciding to replace sh, sed, and awk with a linguists wet dream and programmer's nightmare. And why doesn't this do what I think it does?

for ($file) {
    /^\.\./ && failPage 500, "Illegal file name";
    /\// && failPage 500, "Illegal file name";
    other checks go here

Yeh, I can do a bunch of things like if($file =~ /^\.\./ || $file =~ /\//) { failPage 500, "Illegal file name"; } but I'm trying to get into the perl mindset. If you're going to do something evil then you should accept that evil in all its fullness and go all the way. Don't hold back. I think I can get it to work with something like failPage(500, "Illegal file name") if /^\.\./; but IIRC that's the wrong idiom... you want to put the important stuff first.

The alternative is to blow off perl and just duplicate the cookie-handling and MySql grovelling in a language where someone actually designed the syntax like tcl or even forth, but that still requires understanding the perl code...

Recovery, in the form of digging holes and plugging them with Texas Mountain Laurel, is tempting... but I really need to get cracking on this damn project.

[why the hell doesn't this thing let me put <code> tags in here... look at what I hadda do!]

[updates, last 000409.0746]

I see graydon wants more internal hyperlinks as well. But the Powers that Be aren't so happy about the idea. Let's see if you can use labels [1].

Software Genes

I really like aoliva's comparison of software systems and biological systems. Open Systems and Open Source software are the software equivalent of sexual reproduction. The promote the growth, adaption, and speciation of implementations, interfaces, and protocols... read my followup to aoliva's article for more on that aspect.

Since I posted that I've been thinking about one particular example, and how it fits into the whole idea...

Software systems thrive if they can use the work of lots of people to drive them. Even relatively closed systems like Microsoft Windows benefit from this, though they don't develop nearly as fast if you can't get into them one way or another... and they tend to concentrate their development in the one niche the designer planned for them.

Palm has the same problem, to some extent... they see the Palm as a "personal organizer" rather than as a full fledged information appliance... a pocket computer. This model has plusses and minuses, but at least they've been willing to open the OS up somewhat by letting third parties TRG and Handspring do their own versions. The Palm OS is also sufficiently simple and static that OSK Inc. has done their own hosted implementation... and of course there's the incompatible clones by Royal, Oregon Scientific, and Microsoft...

Each of these last systems are examples of the conflict between sexual and asexual reproduction. Palm seems ambivalent about this whole sex thing... after all it can be awfully unpleasant if you're in a bad relationship (sex was never designed to be for the individual's benefit, it's the species that wins big in the sex game)... and it's picky about its partners.

It's happy to open up to the company run by its former guiding light (Jeff Hawkins at Handspring), and it's had a long relationship with TRG... but it slapped Royal down pretty hard, Oregon Scientific seems to be in a slow slide to obscurity (their units are now being distributed with heavy discounts through surplus houses... hardly a good sign), and of course Microsoft is now in their third cycle of trying to emulate the Palm.

It'll be interesting to see how this plays out. Will Palm be like Bell Labs, and open up all the way, or will it be like Apple and drift back to asexual celibacy... or stick to their almost-respectable semi-monogamy with TRG and Handspring for a while longer?

Microsoft is an interesting case, too. They give the appearance of openness... at least, you can buy a Microsoft-compatable PC or handheld from any number of vendors... but they're just a tease. What you're really buying is a Microsoft-specced PC: Compaq and Dell and Gateway are more or less constrained by Microsoft's designs... they hang like hopeful suitors picking up a dance here or there but if they actually exchange genes it's pretty much a one-way transaction... just enough sharing to keep them happy, but as soon as they look like they're able to become serious partners in the trading game... like when Compaq acquired Digital [2]... they get slapped down. "NT on the Alpha? Well, so long as you don't mind doing all the work and slip me a few patents and technologies on the side".

I think Palm wants to be Microsoft, but they don't have the room to maneuver. If they change the OS too rapidly, it'll alienate their existing user base who haven't been trained to buy a new OS every couple of years. If they don't change it rapidly enough, it'll get cloned out from under their control by people like OSK Inc.

And unlike Microsoft they're competing with their own licensees. They could hit the emergency brake like Apple did when they pulled the plug on UMAX and Power Computing, but I'm pretty sure Hawkins has an exit strategy... and the experience to pull it off... if Power Computing had Jef Raskin and Steve Wozniak on the payroll they'd still be in business today.

Sex is complex, disturbing, exciting, and scary... whether the negotiations are played out in a singles bar or over faxes and email in corporate boardrooms. But without it you can't adapt to new circumstances and spread to new niches. That's why Microsoft doesn't dominate... well, not quite everywhere yet.

Let's see if putting the updates at the end with a link at the beginning is less distracting.

bma wants to be able to comment on diary entries too, like this.

You can add comments to diary entries through CritLink, the only problem is that you don't seem to be able to edit or add things when you're looking at Advogato through CritLink. You can also link to specific diary entries... the first (earliest) entry has a label of "0", and they increment... this is particularly convenient because CritLink allows you to add comments directly and easily to labels... like this one...

It eould be really nice if CritLink supported editing notes. There's some horrid typos in those last two!


[1] Yep, you can!

[2] Looks like Compaq's finally assimilated digital.com. Damn.

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