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Comment Re:Teapot Tempest? (Score 2) 146

No, the outrage is about what they were hired to do. Things can be legal, yet objectionable or unethical or deceptive. Talking on a cell phone in movie theatres, or paying for one newspaper in a vending box but taking five, or farting in church--are all legal as far as I know, but they are all objectionable. If someone paid people to do it, it would not be come less objectionable merely because they were being paid.

Comment I waited 20 years for IBM's downfall... (Score 1) 1

Starting in about the 1970s I just started going bananas about how crappy all of IBM's stuff was, how intrinsically bad, how it was a house of cards resting entirely on business muscle and monopolization and unfair competition--and doomed to die, soon. When IBM came out with the IBM PC (16K of RAM? A choice of 320x160 color or 80-column characters only but NOT BOTH? Some off-brand house-labelled OS instead of CP/M?) I was absolutely sure the end was near.

By the 1983-1994, as IBM softly and silently receded--not with a bang but with a whimper--into its present role--a humongous, hugely profitable $200 billion-market-cap Dow Jones company that doesn't do anything with computers that directly impinges on me in any important way--I was so exhausted by having been wrong for so long--and so disappointed by the absence of any dramatic, collapse event--that I didn't enjoy it.

I sure hope Microsoft fades into irrelevance soon, but I'm not holding my breath.

Comment Re:Problem is, that hollywood is ran by MBAs (Score 1) 1029

"Hollywood USED to be about making the best ART. Now, with the MBA's, it is about making short-term profit." I looked carefully to see whether you were being ironic... I don't know quite what to say! Despite "Ars Gratia Artis" on the ribbon around MGM's Leo, Hollywood has always been venal. Don't you know WHY the movie industry is centered in Hollywood?

Originally it was in New Jersey, and the Westerns, popular even then, were filmed in the Palisades. The problem was, the patent on the "Latham loop," that little loop of film that acts as a buffer between the continuously-turning reels and the intermittent claw, and a number of related patents, had been bought up by a cartel that charged fabulous amounts for properly license motion picture cameras. Many movie producers who were using unlicensed cameras fled West to be out of reach of the patent cartel's lawyers and process servers. Nothing about art there--it was all technology, intellectual property, and slightly illegal business dealings.

Then there were the years of the studio system and all sorts of complicated business linkages. The phrases "A picture and B picture" came from the studios' forcing theatres to buy pictures in bundles and pay for a lousy B picture in order to get the A pictures.

Hollywood cranked out tons and tons and tons of the most terrible schlock. Movies like "Raiders of the Lost Ark" are hommages to the Hollywood serial, but in college as a lark they showed actual serial episodes along with the movie series and they were unimaginably bad. Vast quantities of screen time were used up with non-action action, like cars slowly driving up to houses and parking and opening the car doors and getting out and walking up the walk...

Schlocky free TV killed off some of the market for schlocky movies. During the 1960s and 1970s there was a brief, slight elevation of the quality of movies with the breakup of the studio system and the rise of independent producers. But don't kid yourself. Rock Hudson trying to seduce Doris Day was not Great Art.

Comment Hollywood's impossible dream of blockbusters-only (Score 4, Interesting) 1029

In 1967, following the success of "Mary Poppins," Roy Disney said that the Disney studio ought to have "at least one 'Mary Poppins' every year."

There's nothing new about the money people wishing there was a simple formula that they could get rid of all the pesky issues of creativity, talent, and the public's taste.

Submission + - Microsoft is sitting on six million unsold Surface tablets (ibtimes.co.uk) 1

DavidGilbert99 writes: Microsoft took everyone by surprise last year with the Surface tablet. It was something completely new from the company everyone knew as a software company. However nine months later and the sheen has worn off the Surface tablet and Microsoft's financial results on Thursday revealed it has taken a $900 million write down on the Surface RT tablets, leading David Gilbert in IBTimes to estimate it is sitting on a stockpile of six million unsold tablets.

Comment I call BS, nominators/nominations are secret. (Score 2) 719

Any assertions that so-and-so "has been nominated for a Nobel prize" are unverifiable. Anyone can claim to have nominated anyone, but there's not way to know if they're telling the truth, because nominations can be made only by nominators invited by the Nobel committee, and the identity of the nominators and their nominations are kept secret for fifty years. See Nomination FAQ:

"Q: Has X been nominated as a candidate for the Nobel Prize?

A: Information about the nominations, investigations, and opinions concerning the award is kept secret for fifty years.

Q: What about the rumours circling around the world about certain people being nominated for the Nobel Prize this year?

A: Well, either it's just a rumour, or someone among the invited nominators has leaked information. Since the nominations are kept secret for 50 years, you'll have to wait until then to find out."

Comment Did he TRY Windows 8? (Score 1) 240

If he didn't try it, but relied on underlings telling him that it was good, then shame on him.

If he tried it, realized how bad it was, but let it go out anyway because usability was less important than some other agenda--forcing developers into writing apps that would work on Windows Phone 8, maybe--then shame on him.

If he tried it and he thought it was good, then shame on him.

Comment I've been trying to get permission for 10 years.. (Score 4, Insightful) 128

Tell me about it. I have been trying fruitlessly for over ten years to find someone capable of giving me permission to post a chapter of a 1955 novel, The Gadget Maker, by one Maxwell Griffith. It has not been reprinted since a 1956 paperback. It very obviously has no commercial value left in it. But if you happen to be an MIT alumnus, you would be fascinated to read the chapter describing the protagonist's years at MIT during the 1940s. It's a wonderful picture of a milieu--and it's not as if there were all that many novels set on the MIT campus! (The protagonist applies for admission to the aeronautical engineering program, interviews with the department head, expecting to be asked why he loves aeronautics--and finds that the department head's only real concern is to make sure that he isn't Jewish).

It's under copyright. The copyright was properly renewed in 1982. It has been a long, difficult journey--publishers basically do not take any responsibility for anything about old books, and the novel was published by Lippincott, which was taken over by medical-book publisher William & Wilkins, which acquired all Lippincott's medical books claims to have no records of Lippincott's fiction. No record at the Author's Guild, no leads through the MIT Alumni Association. Where the story stands at the moment is that I put up a sort of shout-out on my website, and Maxwell Griffith's son contacted me--and said he thought it was OK but that he needed to check with his two sisters. That was over a year ago and I've heard nothing... I've just emailed him again and perhaps there will finally be a resolution.

It's a perfect example of a cultural loss. There are thousands of books out there that are of intense interest to a few hundred people, or more, that under the old copyright laws would have been long out of copyright, but now are locked up--and you cannot find the person with the key. Thousands of books of cultural but no commercial value are being sacrificed in order to protect a tiny handful that are still worth big money.

Comment Re:The luddite's Google: Card catalogs (Score 4, Interesting) 277

Yes, in the 1960s there was a conference entitled INTREX, for Information Transfer Experiments, that was sort of about library-like computer systems. One of the papers was a thoughtful examination of what it meant to "browse" in a library and how one would build a computerized "browsery." I don't know if any such thing was ever implemented, but it seems like a problem that hasn't been solved.

All the computer types assume that you want to do a targeted search and know what you are trying to find. All I can say is, I learned so much by going into the stacks to find specific book X and getting distracted by all the interesting books on related topics on the shelves around it.

Comment Amazing... shocking... sad. (Score 2) 2

Altavista was a revelation... it was so much better, faster, and more comprehensive than Infoseek. However, there was a problem with relevance--you might have to wade through hundreds of results before getting to the one you wanted.

Of course, within weeks of the launch of Google, I found that Google seemed to be just as comprehensive, but (in those days) usually found the sought page within the first few entries.

Even so, the death of Altavista is as seemingly unbelievable as the death of... Lehman Brothers, or Pan Am, or Digital Equipment Corporation.

Comment Educational perennialism (Score 1) 564

When I was at MIT in the sixties, all undergraduates were required to take four semesters of "Humanities," in which we read chunks of Plato, the Bible, St. Augustine, Shakespeare (King Lear, I remember) and I-forget-what-all. The current requirements actually are eight semesters properly distributed in "HASS," Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, and perhaps some current student will be able to say more about what that amounts to.

It wasn't a waste of time but I've never been really sure about the whole Great Books, "core" curriculum, Western canon thing. I think I learned much more about having a skeptical attitude from my science and engineering profs and from my fellow students than I did from my humanities courses. Science as taught at MIT then was not at all an authoritarian dispensation of knowledge.

The doctrine of the permanent value of certain "Great" works is sometimes called "educational perennialism," and reaches a high degree of development at St. John's College, Annapolis, where all subjects, including the sciences, are taught directly from original source texts. By all accounts it turns out well-qualified students although I'm not sure how many of them go on to engineering careers.

There is a certain arbitrary character to it. It took me a long time to figure out what the big deal about Latin and Greek was. In high school I took Latin and my understanding was that learning Latin would teach logical thought, and put me into contact with "great" works. Gradually I figured out that the reason why public high schools have Latin was that they were imitating prep schools; prep schools taught Latin because it was once an admissions requirement to Harvard; Harvard required Latin because it was imitating Oxford; Oxford required Latin because it had historic ties to the Church of England, and the Church of England was an offshoot of the Catholic-in-the-large sense church, which in turn spoke Latin (in the West) and Greek (in the East). There was also, I guess, some authentic personal enthusiasm on the part of some well-educated Brits in the 1800s for the "classics," i.e. they got a kick out of reading Horace's take on things, but I think it was mostly a cultural and historic heritage from the Church.

How many Victorian-era colleges taught Arabic so that students would be able to read al-KhwÄrizmÄ in the original, I wonder?

Comment Re:Assembly programmer. (Score 4, Interesting) 336

If you want to get technical: the language was MACRO-11. Which is an example of an assembly language. I program in "C#", not in "compiler."

In the Digital world, the name "MACRO" stuck because there were very early assemblers for the PDP-1 that did not have macro capability. So "MACRO" was the name for the assembler that did. In subsequent machine generations, "the" assembler was usually called MACRO even though as far as I know there weren't any assemblers without macro capabilities.

And perhaps I should add: the reason that it's called assembly language is because of drum memory. The usage dates back AT LEAST to the IBM 650 and Symbolic Optimal Assembly Language (SOAP). "Assembly" was short for "optimal assembly." Each instruction contained within it the address of the next instruction--they weren't sequential--and "optimal assembly" was the process of calculating how long each instruction would take so that the next instruction could be placed at the right location on the drum that it would be almost under the head when the last instruction had completed. "Optimal assembly" was the memory placement aspect of it.

The symbolic optimal assembly program added to that the advanced capability of allowing programmers to refer to instruction codes by convenient, easy-to-remember mnemonics like UFA and STA, as well as the capability of giving your very own names to instruction locations.

For some reason, the category name got abbreviated to "assembler" rather than "symbol-" um... symbolizer? Symbolic? OK, maybe THAT reason... and it stuck, even after advanced computers like the IBM 704 started to have random-access memory.

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