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Comment Name, address of eBay CEO (Score 2) 318

PayPal is a subsidiary of eBay. The CEO's name is John Donahue. I've written to him. If anyone else wants to:

John Donahue
CEO, eBay
2055 Hamilton Ave
San Jose, CA 95125

It's my belief that as of 2013, a personal letter, written in ink on physical paper in an envelope with a stamp, sent by USPS, has more impact than e-communication or online petitions.

Submission + - Oh. Snap. Is the iWatch going to be a snap bracelet? (

stinkymountain writes: Apple watcher and lawyer Yoni Heisler digs up some Apple patent filings and finds a series of designs that show a wrist watch with a `snap bracelet' form factor and a flexible display that allows the device to fit snugly on different sized wrists. Also, there's a indication that Apple might use kinetic energy to help charge the device.

Comment And a tip of the hat to Context MBA (Score 1) 276

Oh, my, sic transit Gloria mundi. I don't think anyone ever called it "Lotus 1-2-3," it was just "Lotus..." nobody knew that or if Lotus had any other product. But let's also take time for a tip of the hat to the utterly forgotten Context MBA.

"Integrated software" was very much in the air then. In fact for many years, and contrary to popular belief at the time, Appleworks outsold Lotus 1-2-3, but was "invisible" because it was sold directly by Apple while the bestseller lists were compiled from sales by distributors like Ingram and Corporate Software.

I believe Context MBA actually preceded Lotus 1-2-3, and was a very, very impressive achievement at the time. In addition to 1-2-3's three functions, it also had a reasonably capable low-end word processor--think WordPad--and a decent communications package/terminal emulator (you could use it to download data to put into the spreadsheet). It had a decent user interface and a high degree of integration--it wasn't just a suite. But it had an interesting Achilles heel: it was written in UCSD Pascal for portability.

"Portability" was sort of trendy at the time, because there was such a zoo of incompatible PC architectures. (The shakeout and dominance of the IBM PC architecture happened with surprising speed). Pascal and C vied for language of choiceCoding for portability had worked wonderfully well for Multiplan, Microsoft's spreadsheet. In a world of dozens of incompatible personal computer architectures, Microsoft could deliver Multiplan quickly on everything. (I remember a friend using it on his Commodore 64). But it imposed a performance penalty, which for some reason wasn't too bad with Multiplan but was with Context MBA, and it ran sluggishly on the IBM PC.

Lotus took the diametrically opposite track, writing in assembly language and often breaking the rules and bypassing OS and BIOS to write directly to the hardware. Lotus 1-2-3 actually became a standard informal test of PC compatibility; it wouldn't run on anything that wasn't a very faithful clone of the PC. Because of its speed, it virtually erased Context MBA from the market and from collective memory.

My personal limited experience with Context MBA was on an HP9800, a 68000-based 1981-vintage $10,000 desktop computer intended for scientific and technical applications, with good HP-IB (IEEE-488) capability. On that platform, Context MBA ran well and was a solid and very likable piece of software.

Comment Bezos originally said the same thing. (Score 1) 207

Can't find the quotation, but early on he was very clear on Amazon having focussed on books, for what seemed like very good reasons. As I recall, the point was that there were humongous numbers of titles--far more than any physical bookstore could stock; there was a well-structured database of them--Bowker's Books In Print; shipping size and weights were manageable; and there were straightforward and fairly speedy mechanisms to get any book in print from any publisher--you or I might have trouble ordering directly from a publisher, but a modest-sized business like a bookstore or like Amazon did not.

As I recall, he said that it was much more suitable business than CDs, I think because the number of books in print was far higher than the number of CDs "in print."

He gave what SEEMED like a very convincing case for books being uniquely suited to Internet commerce. I remember being very surprised when they branched out into consumer goods.

Comment Electric recording is no substitute for acoustic (Score 1) 166

Electric recording has a harsh sound that can't compare with the human warmth of direct, acoustically-recorded 78-rpm shellac.

Although direct acoustical recording has a peaky response, the peaks occur in just the right places to make the sound richer.

There is no upper frequency cutoff at all. Logically, ultrasonic frequencies must move the recording stylus and make some impression on the disk, an impression that can be heard even if it can't be seen or measured. These homeopathic doeses of ultra-high-frequency sound explain the airy "open" feeling never experienced with vinyl LPs.

A pair of ticks separated by 1800 milliseconds on an LP distract your attention and spoil the sonic experience, but you can listen "through" a steady continuous series of ticks at 767-millisecond intervals on a scratched 78, because due to the endless repetition you can anticipate and ignore them.

Finally, and most important, when you drop a 78 on edge and it instantly shatters into three wedges held together at their points by the label, the sharp pang of sudden loss makes you feel how valuable and precious these disks are, giving you an emotional connection you can never have with unbreakable vinyl.

Comment That's because the vendors do a lousy job (Score 1) 418

I loved the VAX/VMS documentation. It was complete and it was accurate. I loved the original Inside Macintosh documentation; it interesting because it was complete, accurate, and _knowledgeable_. It took helpfully opinionated stances, like "Usually, you will set this argument to nil," or "Returns an integer value of 0 or 1. Only the Shadow knows why it is an integer rather than a boolean."

A couple of years ago I needed greyscale images, nothing fancy but using color was just silly, and wasted over a day trying to get Microsoft .NET PixelFormat.Format16bppGrayScale to work. It kept throwing exceptions and I was just going nuts, unable to figure out what I was doing wrong. Eventually I Googled, and found three-year-old forum postings explaining that Microsoft had never implemented that functionality. But in three years, they couldn't be bothered to remove it from their symbol tables or to update their documentation to at least indicate that it was "reserved for future implementation" or something.

Look for yourself: the online documentation still shows it as available. "The pixel format is 16 bits per pixel. The color information specifies 65536 shades of gray."

Mac OS X is just as bad. The so-called documentation looks and feels as if it were automatically built from header files.

Forum postings and crowd-sourced chatter is great--it's where I learned what I needed to know about PixelFormat.Format16bppGrayScale--but it's not a substitute for documentation. And, by the way, neither is sample code--it is valuable in show what works--or worked at the time it was written--but it does not show you the limitations or the boundaries, and nobody takes any responsibility for its future accuracy.

Comment Earlier IDEs (Score 3, Informative) 181

Without even trying to do any historic digging:

Asymetrix Toolbook shipped "with" Windows well before VB. In fact the company I worked for foolishly assumed it was "part of" Windows. Toolbook, in turn, was not exactly a knockoff of HyperCard, but was certainly a member of the same genre.

LabView for the Macintosh shipped in 1986, and not only still exists but has a very solid niche in some circles. LabView is such a pure visual IDE that there are not visible lines of code as such; it is all wiring diagrams.

Bill Budge's 1983 Pinball Construction Set, for the Apple ][ and Atari, was certainly an IDE, although for a restricted class of applications.

Incidentally, it seems to me that the later incarnations of Visual Studio are considerably less "integrated" than the original Visual Basic was. Visual Studio has the feeling to me of being no more "integrated" than, say, Borland C++ or the (1985) MacPascal. Unlike VB, it just had a fairly crude resource-editor-like "drawing" environment. It feels OK when you're creating things for the first time, but the visual objects do not really "contain" code--they have a very loose and fragile connection to the code associated with them.

Comment W. Grey Walter's "Toposcope" (Score 5, Informative) 25

This is reminiscent of the "toposcope," built In the 1940s by late W. Grey Walter. It was a 22-channel EEG, or perhaps one should say EES for electroencephaloscope, which displayed a map of the brain's electrical activity in real time... if I recall correctly, on 22 "magic eye" tubes, allowing the special propagation of brain waves to be visualized.

Comment Perhaps I belong to the only generation... (Score 1) 5 live out an entire lifetime relatively free of terror of bacterial disease.

I was born in the Penicillin Age.

In the 1950s when I was a little kid I had a lung infection--not bacterial, never diagnosed, so the story isn't totally apropos--but anyway they sent me to the hospital, where among other things I got penicillin injections every day. (In the buttocks. Huge needle, viscous stuff, fairly painful, especially for a little kid in an age where nurses believed the key to managing small kids was to _surprise_ them. It was the kid in the next bed who warned me "It's not a temperature, it's a stick.") I hadn't mastered taking pills, and when I got home they got some stuff from the druggist called "aureomycin." It cost $70 for the smallest bottle I've ever seen. I spat it out and said "I can't take it, it tastes too bad." My dad said "Oh, come now, let me show you," put a drop on his tongue and spat it out and said to mom, "Nobody can possibly take this, it tastes too bad."

Anyway, almost everyone reading this has grown up in times when we take it for granted that big tombstones aren't going to be surrounded by a flock of little tombstones, and that when we get an infection, we go to the doctor and get some pills and follow the label directions and take them all, and it will probably be cured. It seems quaint to imagine _dying_ of bacterial disease.

And slowly, it is all coming back. First it was tuberculosis, never quite fully conquered but the days of the "sanitarium" seemed to be gone. Then "hospital staph." And soldiers coming back from Vietnam with penicillin-resistant syphilis. MRSA. And now "incurable gonorrhea."

Will I live long enough to die of once-routinely curable bacterial infection?

Comment A rant from an unhappy G1G1 buyer. Caveat emptor. (Score 1) 99

This may be unfair, but it's what I'd do with any other "product" as like the 2008 G1G1 XO and any other "company" that produced it. It was a while ago and hopefully things have utterly changed, but I have to say that my experience with the 2008 G1G1 program was so inexcusably bad that it poisoned MY opinion of the program. Supporters will make excuses and some may be valid, but the thing was a travesty. It fell utterly short anything we expect from a "product." It was simply not as" advertised".

The biggest disappointment to me was that it was billed as a transparent system, with all of its own OS code supposedly exposed and viewable via a "View Source" key. As delivered, and during its first year of updates anyway, that button did nothing of the sort. It would show you HTML source within the web browser, and did nothing at all elsewhere--not even give a warning.

The claimed "20 hour" battery life turned out to be about 3 hours. Several subsequent "power management" updates increased it to about 4.

At least my keyboard worked. A colleague who bought one had a keyboard failure within about a month of delivery, and it turned out that such failures were common--and that anything resembling "customer service" simply didn't exist.

Comment Sore finger from PDP-1 light pen (Score 2) 610

Actually, I used a light pen on a PDP-1 and my problem was that I got a sort spot on the pad of my index finger. Normally, there was a shutter closed over the sensor, and you had a slide a little spring-loaded slide to uncap it. The spring was probably stronger than it should have been, and the slide had little ridges on it to give a better grip.

My finger didn't actually get blistered, but close. It got sore and painful enough to make me realize I needed to avoid using it for a day.

Comment Hung fire for forty years? REALLY? (Score 2) 610

Vertical desktop touch screens have been with us since at least 1972. The University of Illinois' PLATO project didn't just deploy them on a significant scale, it exposed impressionable students to them.

Since then, many perfectly good touchscreen technologies have been available, commercially, and have been widely deployed e.g. in kiosks. And GUI software support behind them, e.g. Windows for Pen Computing, GO, etc. has been around for two decades.

Meanwhile, successful deployments of touchscreen technology have been widespread since, let's say, 1997 and the Palm Pilot--but always on small, handheld, horizontal-screen devices.

If large vertical touchscreens are really usable for sustained periods of time, and if they really add something of substantial value to mouse point-and-click GUI's, I find it very, very hard to believe they wouldn't have already gained traction.

I'd add that if multitouch gestures are really a significant improvement, I think it's at least as likely that they will take the form of detached, horizontal trackpads like the Apple Magic Trackpad. Horizontal surface, small-muscle coordination.

Comment Horizontal touch surface? (Score 1) 6

I think it's significant that vertical touch screens are still rare on desktops. Their use in 1972 in the University of Illinois' PLATO system meant not only that the technology was employed in a large scale, but that it was made available to impressionable students. Over the years many technological solutions were found, prices have come down, and there's been wide-spread use in "kiosk" environments.

If they were really usable in full workday desktop environment I think we'd have seen them take off long ago.

Nevertheless, I would point to the Apple "Magic Trackpad" as a possible compromise. If, in fact, multitouch gestures add real value to a GUI, but large vertical screens cause "gorilla arm," then an auxiliary flat multitouch panel is a possible solution--and has the advantage of being retrofittable to existing displays. It was once thought that people would have great difficulty adapting to the "abstract" nature of mouse movements in one plane causing pointer movements in another--and indeed there seem to be small percentage of people who find this to be a real problem--but by and large people adapted quickly.

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Life would be so much easier if we could just look at the source code. -- Dave Olson