Misplaced Software Priorities

For a perspective from William Jolitz, co-developer of 386BSD, on the need to separate “innovation” from “renovation” in design, read Misplaced Software Priorities today. While it may gore a few oxen – especially those who work in the architectural flatland of low-level software – given the rapid outsourcing of this very same area to low-cost programmers in India and China, it might be time to listen to an alternative view from a long-time Silicon Valley developer and entrepreneur who’s done more for the acceptance of open source than all the pundits put together.

Of course, if someone wants to stay low-level, they can always learn Mandarin, right?

Tom Foremski Interviews Doug Engelbart

Doug Engelbart is a computer legend, but he is also still very much alive and has plenty to say. Tom Foremski of SiliconValleyWatcher had a poignant chat with him. The upshot – have the last 20 years been a failure?

Some snippets from Tom’s excellent interview:
” ‘How do you deal with society when its paradigm of what is right is so dominant?’ Doug Engelbart, the 1960s computer visionary asked me the other evening. It’s a question he has pondered many times over the past 20 years or so, ever since his research funding was taken away.

Mr Engelbart and his teams of researchers at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) shaped the look and feel of the PC, as John Markoff chronicles in his latest book What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry.

Mr Markoff’s book raises the profile of Mr Engelbart, well known as the inventor of the computer mouse, and less well known for his seminal work in creating many of the concepts later found in the personal computer. Mr Markoff returns credit to where it is due.

What the book does not chronicle is how the rise of the PC killed funding for Mr Engelbart’s work.

By 1979, he had lost all funding from SRI because of unfavorable peer review.

‘The other research groups said what I was doing could be done better with microcomputers or through machine-based artificial intelligence. That was the dominant culture at the time. What people don’t realise is that there are many different cultures and not one is right.’ Mr Engelbart told SVW.

As a result of his experiences, he questions whether the past 20 or so years of his life have been a failure.

That’s how long Mr Engelbart has been trying to raise funding to continue his research into human machine interfaces and solving large, complex problems using networked software.

But the culture of our time has been unfavorable to his ideas of developing human-centric computer applications using one big powerful computer with many users. The paradigm of the PC revolution is that everyone gets to have a computer, no time-sharing needed.”

No, Photoshop is Not “real life”, Dave

Dave Pogue today reviews the Bushnell binoculars, and just can’t figure out why they’re so blurry. So I told him “it’s obvious”. Here’s why for the rest of you…:
1. They didn’t bother to adjust the focal plane focus of the sensor to coincide with the same focal point of the binocular eyepiece (e.g. a mfr defect).
2. To confirm this, adjust the binoculars slightly out of focus and take shots – I bet you’ll find that it gets better if it is not fixed focus.
3. If it doesn’t change at all, that means they have a fixed focus, and that the focus is set wrong. This is not adjustable by the user easily, but if you disassemble the binoculars and adjust the focus manually, you’d correct this problem.

But wait – there’s more. I have a long list of errata on digital cameras, most recently the Canon SD200-300 on-camera editing issues, for example, discovered by us at ExecProducer over the course of handling production issues. So I’m quite familiar with these and other annoying issues (light level problems, for example, and resolution issues) and how to find the best way of handling them. So another nit with Dave is a very basic one – using photoshop is not “real life”, as anyone in serious astrophotography will tell you.

Cookies and Popups and Ads, Oh My!

Another marketing lament on how cookies and spyware and popups and intrusive ads are ruining it for the good marketers ends up in my inbox. Why, oh why, they cry can’t someone come up with a way to make the Internet a wonderful place for selling, and keep the bad guys from ruining a good thing. Alas. 🙂

It’s a matter of architecture and trade-offs, courtesy of those techie types no one can understand. Simply put, online marketing people have to give up on magic solutions like cookies and popups and sneaky tracking – they’re all easily disintermediated by the same tech folks who programmed them in the first place. Live by the sword, and die by the sword.

To paraphrase a famous campaign slogan, “It’s the content, stupid”! Provide good content on the Internet, tailored for your audience, and they will watch it and the relevent ads – just like TV. Rely on tricks, and in “Internet time” someone will put out a way to block you. Amazing thing, the Internet.

Take it from an Internet expert who actually knows the insides of all this stuff – it really is this simple. And it places online marketing back under the control of the online marketing specialist where it belongs.

Inside the Black Box or Outside the Flim Flam

Reading the article today There Are No Black Boxes in Online Marketing, I had to laugh when Tom Hespos laments “To me, it seems ridiculous that anyone in this industry would want to put blind faith in a piece of technology without understanding fully why it works”. Absolutely! It would be wonderful if marketing and sales really wanted to know how things worked inside the “black box”. This would make the bona fide technologist who labored over a real product very happy.

But the reason we have black boxes is simple – the customers don’t want to know anything about how it works – they just want it to give them the results they want when they want them.

This desperate willful ignorance on the part of “don’t tell me about the technology, just tell me how it works” online marketing crowd is fertile ground for the flim-flam product that spews out worthless “results” in pretty charts. Like what you may ask. Gee, like security that isn’t, spam filters that don’t, and software “accelerators” that slow the processor – I could go on for hours, and I haven’t even hit any hardware yet.

Let’s face it – an ordinary sincere technologist doesn’t have a chance next to those magical solutions. If she says they don’t work, she’s told that her competitor has it and it does work. If she argues with her customer, she’s blamed for “losing the sale”.

So until black box results are tied to an online marketer’s performance (and job security), expect more black box solutions and very few honest answers.

I Spy with My Little X-Eye – But I’m Blind, I’m Blind….

Yes, I know. There are so many much more expensive technically incompetent products I could be writing about right now – in operating systems, networking products, switches, routers, you name it. So why would I nominate the PC CHIPs X-EYE PC Camera (USB 1.1) for “worst product of the year”? Perhaps because it was such a great big lie that it could ever work that even if I was given it for nothing it would still cost too much.

First, it claimed to be 100k pixel resolution (352 (h) x288 (v) max resolution, frame rate – 30 fps at CIF (352×288), color 16.8 million true color (24-bit), software – BMP/AVI/ TWAIN). All you need is a pentium (200 MHz), any Windows system / 32MB ram / 12MB disk. All for $15.99! Seems like a too good to be true deal, and it is.

When Marketing Fails, Technology Sails

This column is absolutely right about “clutter” on the Internet inhibiting effectiveness. And Cory Treffiletti is right in stating no one cleans up the “old methods” when introducing new ones. I suppose we all have that problem.

But when marketing fails, technology sails. The success of firefox is 1) security (e.g. block tracking), and 2) no pop ups (no ad clutter). Whenever I deal with a “creative” marketing group that thinks the world is one big contextless contentless commercial, I always see a failure in the making.

As anyone serious in this biz knows, “it’s the content, stupid”.

A Wandering through the Vintage Computer Faire

The Vintage Computer Faire was held last weekend at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View last weekend. Sellam Ismail, VCF Coordinator and vintage computer collector, was kind enough to send me a couple of passes. Unlike the cozy NASA-Ames location of several years ago, the Vintage Computer Faire, typically home of games, small computers like the Amiga, and the like, has begun to nicely complement the “Big Brothers” collection of DEC, IBM, and other gargantuans in the museum’s permanent collection. What better place to talk about the good old days but in a place surrounded by a VCF buff’s beloved machines.

Last year we did a presentation at VCF 2003 entitled Before 386BSD: The Symmetric 375 & Berkeley Unix (see the mention in Talk About Legacy Machines). Symmetric Computer Systems, a venture-funded company founded in 1982 by William Jolitz, was a contender in the hot race to produce a personal BSD Unix system. The Symmetric 375 was the first system out the door with hardware floating point and virtual memory, beating Sun by years. It was the first system with open source supplied, integrated, and tested, from EMACS to SPICE for use in scientific and engineering work. And it was the first to ship systems with all software fully installed and tested, ready for use immediately. William and Lynne Jolitz discussed the design and development of the 375 computer and its influence on 386BSD – the first open source BSD system for the X86 released a decade later. That was a fun talk!

The year before that, when the VCF was still at NASA-Ames, we put together a poster entitled Symmetric Computer Systems – The Story of a Systems Startup. And that was a lot of fun, let me tell you. Ever try to get an all-wirewrap handcrafted system running? We did…