hankrules2011

A polymath rambling about virtually anything

Archive for March, 2015

RIP Sir Terry Pratchett

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 13, 2015

Yesterday, the world lost one of its funniest and best writers ever — Sir Terry Pratchett. He was a fantasy writer, but a satirist too, perhaps the best ever. His wit was sharp, his jokes hilarious. He wrote a long series called the Discworld series, over 30 books, about a world riding on the backs of four elephants which were in turn riding on the back of a giant turtle hurtling through space. The times were largely medieval, but he made them relevant to our own. He had trolls, dwarves, werewolves, vampires, igors, goblins, witches, wizards, and more. His City Watch mini-series was much beloved. I’m reading the last Discworld book right now. Pratchett came down with Alzheimer’s eight years ago, still managing to publish two more books, but sadly died yesterday at the young age of 66. It’s a real tragedy. He sold over 85 million books. I wrote reviews of some of his books that I read. You can read them here:

 

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A Review of Dealers of Lightning

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 3, 2015

Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer AgeDealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age by Michael A. Hiltzik

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve heard of Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) for years now and of its importance, but this book really drove home just what a critical place PARC was for the development of the personal computer. It was an excellent, excellent book. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Back in the mid-60s, Xerox decided they wanted to compete with IBM and AT&T by developing their own research labs in the hopes of winning prestige and a possible Nobel or two, just like Bell Labs did. They set PARC up with a virtually unlimited budget and told the director he could hire whomever he wanted. Pake, the director, had heard of one Bob Taylor, formerly of ARPA, the precursor of the Internet, and hired him to head his computer lab. Taylor instilled a fierce commitment in his employees, but had a very adversarial management style and made a lot of enemies around the company. Another key hire was Alan Kay, a programmer with a dream of creating laptops and one day tablets (30 years before they ever came out) which would be so easy to program, kids could do it. Soon PARC had the best and the brightest from Stanford, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Harvard, UC Berkeley, Utah, etc. They came from all over, from the best computer science programs. And there were no deadlines and nothing to produce – it was like a giant think tank where you could just follow your dreams to see where they’d lead with unlimited funding. For the most part.

By the late 60s, one of the programmers had produced a mouse, ancient by our current standards, but radical by theirs. Also, they were producing GUI operating systems for point and click possibilities. By the mid to late 70s, the inventers had invented a graphical user interface, an operating system, overlapping windows, a text editor (word processor), a programming language, software, Ethernet for networking, a mouse, display, keyboard, audio, and a laser printer, which would be the only thing Xerox would go on to make money with. And that’s the crux of the situation. Xerox didn’t know what it had. Xerox did nothing with PARC. PARC embarrassed Xerox. The wizards at corporate were so far behind the times that change of that enormity just unnerved them too much to act, so they didn’t. In fact, they got rid of the R&D people who had created PARC, brought in new managers to run PARC, got rid of Bob Taylor (who had gotten too big for his britches), prompting a ton of resignations from his team members, and lost a lot of people who went on to form companies like 3Com, Adobe, SGI, and others. Xerox could have OWNED computing and they blew it! They literally could have been Microsoft, IBM, and Apple rolled into one and they blew it. The author tries to shield them from this criticism. He tries to say that as a copier company, they weren’t equipped to sell computers. Well, why invest in researching them, then? He tried to say you’d have to retrain 100,000 salesmen. Well, do it. Piss poor excuses, in my opinion. Xerox has no excuse for blowing things the way they did.

One last thing. I really enjoyed the chapter on the visit by Steve Jobs. Of course, it’s a famous story about how Jobs visited PARC, saw what they had, ripped them off, put everything in the Mac, and made a killing. Part of which is true. However, with his first visit, he was given just a main demo given anyone who would visit. Apparently he wasn’t impressed and he had the ear of the Xerox CEO, who was investing in Apple, so PARC got a call telling them to show Apple everything. Jobs and his crew went back again and this time got more, but not everything. Somehow Jobs knew this, and before Jobs was out of the building, the Xerox CEO was on the phone to PARC telling them to show them everything. This elicited a great deal of stress and agony in some Xerox employees, who thought they were giving away the store. (They were.) So Jobs went back and apparently went nuts when he saw the GUI interface, and his engineers also appreciated the mouse and networking, etc, et al. And so the Mac was born.

This book isn’t perfect. There are a ton of people to keep up with. It gets hard. Sometimes the book gets a little boring. But all in all, if you’re into computers and into the development of the personal computer, the story of how the first one was built before Steve Wozniak came along and claimed to do it is pretty awesome and the story of Xerox PARC is pretty awe inspiring. Definitely recommended.

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A Review of Dogfight

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 3, 2015

Dogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a RevolutionDogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a Revolution by Fred Vogelstein

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Rarely has a book incensed me the way this one has. First of all, let me announce that I am an iPhone lover and Android hater. No need to take pot shots at me. Just the facts. If you don’t like it, read something else. Anyway, I thought this book was going to be a reasonably objective look into the war between Apple and Google on smart phones and tablets. Boy, was I wrong. The author lets us know right away where he stands. He starts by mocking Apple and Steve Jobs as they get set to introduce the iPhone to the public, making them look like total dunces and then pulling one over on the public’s eyes with a brilliant demo. Then, poor Google. They loved the iPhone. They loved Apple. So imagine how hurt they were when Jobs and Apple got wind of their development of the Android and didn’t appreciate it, of how badly their feelings were hurt. They even went for walks with Jobs assuring him that they weren’t going to go ahead with Android — only to do it. And this was somehow justified by the author. The author also went out of his way to explain that Apple has never sued Google, just the phone and tablet manufacturers. Okay. Nonetheless, Apple has the patents and it’s winning. This is a hatchet job disguised as journalism and it pisses me off. It also pisses me off that I spent good money on this damn book thinking I was getting one thing when in fact I was getting something else. If I wanted to read something by a Google cheerleader, I would have bought something else. So too, if I had wanted to read of a Jobs smear job on Google, I would have bought that — but I didn’t. I wanted something balanced. This was not. So I didn’t finish it. I made it to the seventh chapter before giving up. I’m trying to get my blood pressure down now. I can’t believe what a crock this book is. What a Google lover this author is. How open software trumps closed systems every time, which isn’t necessarily the case — look at the facts. Of all of the books I’ve not recommended, this comes in at the top of my list. Most definitely not recommended!

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Med Cocktail Mess

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 2, 2015

So I’ve been doing a lot of research on various websites lately on several different meds I take and the outlook is pretty grim. This all started because about a month ago, I was put on a new med with what drugs.com said had 109 side effects, including extreme rage, anxiety, hostility, suicidal tendencies, depression, and more. That’s a little worrisome. So we monitored how I did and to our relief, I didn’t experience any of those. What I did experience were extreme drowsiness, bloody noses, chest pains, dry mouth, and extreme tiredness, to the point of making it difficult for me to function throughout the day. But the payoff was good because the med — for pain — was actually working! However, as I started researching, I noticed the med was mentioned with another med that I was on, another fairly new one, that also had extreme tiredness as a side effect. Double whammy, I guess. Then, as I continued to research, I found a site that listed countless posts with people discussing three meds that I’m on — one I’ve been on for a long time — and a cocktail they believe is responsible for both short and long term memory loss. Big time memory loss. Very sobering. I guess the good thing is I’m on average doses for two of them and a smallish dose for the third, so I guess that’s good, but I’m really fatigued all of the time, just worn out. And my memory’s been going for awhile now. But perhaps more importantly, I can’t function during the day anymore. In the morning, I’m dropping off early and it doesn’t help that I’m a severe insomniac, often up at 1 or 2 AM. I’m usually good late in the morning or during the mid afternoon, but by late afternoon, I’m nodding off in a chair and by evening, I’m falling asleep in a chair and I’m ready for bed by 8. I don’t usually make it to bed that early, but I’m ready. It’s gotten so bad that it’s rough for me to drive during the day. I’ve fallen asleep at red lights. And yet I have a hard time taking naps. Go figure. It makes no sense. I get three hours of sleep a night, typically, and can’t sleep during the day, often, except now I’m always tired and nodding off. And it’s the meds. I’ve read about a few people who said their side effects cleared up when their doses were doubled. I’m a little concerned about asking for that, but I’m willing to give it a try. I’m going to try and call one of my doctors today about this. Four different doctors are monitoring these three meds I’m on. Surely one of them will have something decent to say about it! And the thing is, my pain level has substantially decreased, so I don’t want to decrease my med dose. It’s working. But something’s got to be done about the fatigue. I’m already taking Nuvigil and Adderral. I don’t know what else they could do about that. Maybe doubling the dose would do it. I’m willing to try it. Gah! These meds are going to be the death of me!

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