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Comment Management politics... (Score 2) 568

Donald Knuth's great work is called "The Art of Computer Programming."

There's really no answer to this question, but it may help to consider the motivations and interests of the people who use the names. There is a cluster of meanings that hover around the word "engineering" and around the word "art." Programmers fall somewhere in between the two. The search for absolutes is meaningless.

If you consider a symphony orchestra, it performs an economic job. It has to deliver cost-effective music on schedule. Performances contain defects; people need to decide on the acceptable level of defects. The performer are highly skilled operators of machinery like cellos and celestes. There is a management hierarchy; individual contributors, middle management (the "first seats,") upper management (concertmaster, conductor) etc. etc.

Yet few would call musicians "music engineers."

At the other extreme, the person who decides what heating and cooling systems need to go in a new building, and how the pipes and ducts should be sized and routed, exercises a great degree of creativity, but few would call them "HVAC artists."

What can be said is that management wishes that programming were more predictable, more standardized, and less dependent on individual heroics by non-interchangeable, talented individuals. Management is apt to fall for any smooth talker who claims to be able to organize the work of programming to be less like art and more like engineering.

Wishing, however, will not make it so, and the CMM Level 5 firms will continue to produce both good and bad work--healthcare.gov was the product of a CMM Level 5 organization. And meanwhile, both bad and good work will continue to be done by "undocumented, chaotic, ad hoc, reactive" manner by small teams of good people who give a damn.

I always preferred to be called a "programmer" because I have always felt that "engineer" sent a signal that I was working for someone who didn't really understand the nature of my work. I think a violinist would prefer to be called a "violinist" than a "chordophonic engineer."

Comment Yes, and no. They were nice. Let's not exaggerate. (Score 4, Informative) 220

There are many examples of fine old technology that can be admired for the ingenuity that went into devising non-digital solutions, and that depended on being precisely made.

Slide rules were nice. They were a working tool for just about a century, very roughly 1870 to 1970. There are always some virtues to old technology that are lost when it's supplanted by new--the discipline of keeping the characteristic in your head and never losing track of the order of magnitude, the freedom from the illusion of precision.

They were only mildly status symbols, at least at MIT during the 1960s. There was a certain amount of discussion of the comparative merits of Keuffel & Esser (wood) versus Pickett & Eckel (aluminum), whether it was better to fold the scales at pi or at the square root of ten, and so forth. Plenty of people got by with cheap slide rules. I never heard of any cases of slide rules being stolen.

Keeping them properly lubricated, keeping the scales aligned, keep everything tensioned just right so that the slide and the cursor would move easily when you slide them and then stay put when you stopped pushing was a bear. More than once, people were embarrassed when the slide would actually slip out of the slide rule and clatter on the floor.

When I saw my first HP-35 pocket calculator, $295 IIRC, I said "There, at least, is something that I'd accept in place of a slide rule--if you promised me it would last for decades and never break.

Yes, I feel some nostalgia for slide rules--but let's not exaggerate.

Oh, by the way--that "2 x 2 is 3.96" joke above is wrong. On an exact answer like that, on a well-made slide rule if you put the index of the C scale over 2 on the D scale--and you can get it so that it looks perfect, and the eye has darn good vernier acuity--the 2 on the C scale will be perfectly aligned with the 4 on the D scale. You would read it as "4." You couldn't possibly read it as 3.96, 3.96 is two full scale divisions away from 4.

The problem comes when the answer lies between two scale divisions. For example, 3.98 and 4.00 are two adjacent marks. You would be hard-pressed to tell whether an answer were, say, 3.99 or 3.993.

Comment Re:And we believe Gartner? Why? (Score 3, Insightful) 113

In 1990 or thereabouts Gartner predicted that OS/2 would become the dominant operating system within about three or four years. It wasn't a throwaway statement, it was a detailed report with a chart and table showing the exact percentages and numbers of installations for MS-DOS, Windows, Mac, UNIX, and OS/2. Windows was going to fade very quickly.

But that's the way it is with predictions. People will pay for them and just don't seem to care about the accuracy of past predictions.

Comment Re:Am I missing something? (Score 1) 203

Car owners are upset because they will surely need to have their cars recalled and have the chips replaced, and depending on which way VW makes the tradeoffs, may find that their cars drive badly after replacement or fail inspection after replacement or both. And also that the resale value of their car just plummeted.

Comment It was a failure on Carly's watch (Score 1) 7

Who can disentangle causes and correlations? I see a chart with lines going down, an arrow saying "Fiorina forced out," then lines going up. Shrug.

Looking at money is looking at things indirectly. What didn't happen on Carly's watch were great products, quality, a revival of engineering or innovation. Talk about Apple under Steve Jobs and lots of specific innovations come to mind--the iMac, iPod, iPad, the iTunes Store, and, certainly not least and in a way most surprising, the Apple retail stores. Now, seriously: can you think of one darn HP innovation since the DeskJet?

When a tech-oriented company starts to fail, the business types get their moment in the sun and promise to turn things around by paying attention to money instead of products. Then when it doesn't work, they say "we tried, but it was past rescuing."

Under Carly Fiorina's leadership, HP did not recover in terms of money, nor did it recover in terms of the underlying source of money, the innovation and products. She put "Invent" in the logo when she should have been putting it in the culture.

If Justin Fox wants to say that "Carly Fiorina was not the greatest CEO in corporate history. But she certainly wasnâ(TM)t the worst, either," that's fine with me. It reminds me of Dr. Wang grading his son's performance as President of Wang Laboratories as a "C."

Comment God damn it, what a tragedy the loss of HP is... (Score 5, Insightful) 273

The loss of HP, as it was from perhaps 1950 to 2000, wasn't just the loss of a brand or a manufacturer, it was the loss of an art form, a craft, a cherished part of engineering culture.

Their stuff was just so damn good, all of it.

A little detail that isn't often mentioned. In the 1980s or thereabouts, everything HP advertised was real. They never played the vaporware game, they never cheated just a bit on timing the ads. If you saw the ad in a magazine, it was finished, it was real, you could order it, it would arrive in a week or two--and it would work the way it was supposed to and meet all the specs. This, in a day when their competitors would run ads based on models or empty cases up to six months before the product was finished.

Using an incandescent light bulb as a feedback element in their audio oscillators was sheer elegance.

All their instruments were works of art. All of them had front panels that today's user interface designers ought to be studying. All the groupings made sense, almost every control was individually designed to perform its intended function. HP instruments looked good, felt good, were easy to use, and did exactly what they were supposed to do.

The first LaserJet was a revelation, and it worked perfectly, The first DeskJet was in many ways even more amazing--a 300 dpi printer for $600 when laser printers cost $3,000 and every other $600 machine was about 80 dpi if you were lucky.

HP's desk calculators were sweet, and the HP-35 was just a revelation when it came out. Everyone was proud of being able to do a square root, and here's this beautiful thing. Did everything a slide rule could do, everything, to ten-place accuracy when a slide rule would get you at most three. And, again unlike the competition--most particularly unlike TI--the math was impeccable, no glitches, no odd cases--they knew their numerical analysis and they got it right. RPN seemed weird, but at least it was consistent.The competition could never get this right--they would claim that you entered it "algebraically" but you would key in 30, then "sin" instead of sin(30).

The loss of the engineering days of HP was the loss of a whole discipline, a whole body of corporate memory on how to do things right. An irreparable loss of know-how. And it was engineering in the full sense of the word--these weren't self-indulgent overengineered toys, they were priced competitively and sold against competition in a real marketplace--and they were still so good.

Comment (Shrug) IÂll believe it when I see it. (Score 1) 93

IÂve been reading "Winklevoss Twins close to launching bitcoin ETF" stories since mid-2013. It has always just about cleared the last regulatory hurdle and it is always going to launch in a month or two and it is always "still on track." Slashdot just seems to be an amplifier of the latest publicity blitz.

OK, fine. Maybe it will happen and maybe it won't. No particular reason I know to pay attention to it until it does.

Funniest thing I've read about it appeared in January, 2015: "We believe that anyone who believes that gold is an important asset to hold in their portfolio should seriously consider adding bitcoin to their portfolio. When we consider all of the qualities that make money money, Bitcoin when compared to gold matches or surpasses gold in every measure of money. This is why we and others call bitcoin 'gold 2.0' or 'digital gold,' Winklevoss explained in his email."

Comment Some "demo." Not. (Score 2) 235

When I saw that there was a demo, I figured it meant I would get to dictate a voice question and have SoundHound answer it.

Watch a video? That isn't a demo. If all you can do is watch a prepared video, nothing has been demonstrated at all.

You might as well say Maelzel gave a "demo" of his mechanical chess player. In a non-interactive video, you don't even know for sure it's a machine answering the question or a little man hidden in the cabinet.

Comment It never was INTENDED to communicate or educate. (Score 2) 327

The name of the product says it all. It is not intended for communication, education, or the thoughtful display of information. It's not supposed to facilitate critical thinking by the audience.

It's intended to give the presenter the power to cloud men's minds... to convince... to project the presenter's views into the minds of the audience as forcefully as possible.

The once-competitive product from a once-competitor was named Aldus Persuasion. Not Aldus Display, not Aldus Presentation, not Aldus Foils--Aldus Persuasion.

Someone once called word processors (in the early days before everyone had them) "automatic weapons for inter-corporation turf wars." Much the same can be said of PowerPoint.

I was playing poker the other night... with Tarot cards. I got a full house and 4 people died. -- Steven Wright