Tag Archives: Internet

Odd-numbered Bits

The Leap-launch of the 64-bit Raspberry Pi 3 yesterday set me thinking: if I’d been born 4 years later, my life it bits could have been very different. I might have been in at the start of the PC revolution and progressed  through the 8, 16, 32 and 64 bit Intel architectures with everyone else. I’d be one of those people who considers Windows PCs to be Real Computers. I find that concept hard to grasp.

I actually used 24 and 36 bit computers at university and started work on a 32-bit, virtual memory machine. We got free software from other people like us, via the DECUS library.  I’ve never had to worry about allocation of physical memory, like some kind of primitive savage. Since the mid-80s, I’ve been waiting for the world to realise that they took a wrong turn and I finally think it might be happening.

Free software happened. Real Operating Systems became available for ‘desktop computers’ (so we could shove them under the desk and stop worrying about regular access to the reboot button.) We got always-on Internet access and now we’re starting to think about parallel processing and functional programming again, like we were in the 80s. If I had the chance to choose a time to start computing, it would be now, at the age of 6.

We were worrying about nuclear annihilation, over-population and running out of fossil fuels then too. Maybe we’ll remember those soon too, now our houses are full of stuff.

“What did the capitalist dream ever do for you Grandad?”

“It wasted my precious time, Best Beloved.”
(sweet because stolen from that nice Mr. Kipling)

….and maybe Mr. Dylan:

“I ain’t a-saying you treated me unkind
You could have done better but I don’t mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don’t think twice, it’s all right.”
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You kids had one job: to make everything amazing

In between me starting to learn to ‘computer science’ and stopping writing compiled code in about 1985/6, the world of information systems moved from punched-cards and teletypes to on-line editing and batch-processing to full screen editing then windows and code management and source-code level debugging. I moved from mainframes that made you choose between upper-case letters or maths, to super-minis and graphical workstations. I didn’t move to PCs because they were so obviously THE WRONG WAY to go. This took less than 10 years.

Shortly after I stopped coding, I became aware that the portability of C and Unix wasn’t just snake-oil, and of the availability of relational databases, network filing systems, the object model and parallel computing: Hoare’s Communicating Sequential Processes.

Later, lost in server-land I became a ‘user’ of hypertext and browsers for documentation, a little later of the Internet. I use ‘social’ tools and believe that they are an enabling tool for a new society based on networks rather than hierarchy. What a pity they’re so clunky.

Inspired to make things better, I decided to learn to code again. It must all be so great by now!
What do you mean, “Do I want to be a front-end or a back-end developer?”
Well, since you ask, I want to be both and sideways and up and down, virtually travelling freely through multi-dimensional networks, working with 3D graphical representations of algorithms and business objects moving in object pipelines, using standardised Free tools in the Cloud, with the display and persistence mechanisms abstracted away, out of sight as implementation details to worry about later, but with automated parallelism and fault tolerance.

What? What’s THIS? Why am I expected to work with a tagging language designed for sequential documents? Seriously, you want me to specify a font? I have to write different code for web browsers or phones?! And where is my hover-board? What the hell have you people been doing?
Did Microsoft lead you into the woods to see their unicorn foals? Were they goats in a dunce’s cap?

Are we all back now? Hold someone’s hand. We can get through this if we all stay together and look out for the traps. Don’t get too close to the googles. They seem friendly but they’ll pick your packets.

The Empire Strikes Back

Intranets were intended to copy the success of the Internet within an organisations’ borders. They were the embodiment of ‘small pieces, loosely joined’, to cut through the hierarchical control structures of a large enterprise, to allow local innovation, human conversations and direct access to expertise.

That’s why they needed a ‘hub’. A star-structure is just a tree-structure, drawn from above (and there are no longer any borders.) The enemy (your customer) has breached your outer defences. Beware, you may have to listen to them. The last thing you need now is your staff cooperating, without your permission.

My Mindmap Wants To Womble Free

I’m writing ‘a book’ (possibly four) at the moment. I’ve already made public my idea that the ‘social networks’ that we’ve knitted out of the Internet can be used as an “idea collider”, to generate creativity; in the same way that particle accelerators are used to increase the rate of improbable collisions and accelerate scientific data collection and discovery.

Last night I read a tweet from Dave Winer. He both wrote and uses the outline editing tool Fargo to collect his creative sparks. Dave linked to an article by Alex Hillman on ‘Lifehacker’, which suggested that we should all keep such a ‘spark file’ for our light-bulb moments. This excited the idea particles floating in my brain. You might say it dropped a ‘spark’ on the dry tinder I’d been collecting and I replied. Dave didn’t understand a word I said. This post is an attempt to clarify what I think, at least to me.

What I didn’t look at last night was the embedded video, ‘outlining’ Steven Johnson’s book. It ends, “Chance favours the connected mind”. Steve smashed into my thinking the notion that we are not colliding ideas but idea components. We may not be bouncing ideas off one another, hoping for more sparks but fusing together half-baked ideas to make a whole. Almost like ‘society’ still exists on the Internet. Yikes!

Fargo is a web-accessible, scriptable, outlining tool that uses Cloud storage. “An outliner is a text editor that organizes information in a hierarchy”; what we often call a tree but is more often represented as a root system, drawn from the side.

Trello is one of many software implementations of ‘Kanban boards’. The idea was adopted from the Japanese automotive industry to become very popular with Agile software developers and several other more specialised software implementations exist. Trello’s blog proposed “The great horizontal killer applications are actually just fancy data structures. Spreadsheets are not just tools for doing “what-if” analysis. They provide a specific data structure: a table.” Trello’s specialist data structure is ‘List of lists’.

My own brain problem is not memory fragmentation but memory capacity. The fire-bucket I’ve used to catch my sparks for the last few years has been Mindmapping. A mind-map is a tree (or root) drawn from above (or below.)

The first point I failed to express last night was that ‘outlining’, Kanban boards and mind-mapping are topologically equivalent activities.
Hierarchies, list of lists and mind-maps are sylistic variations of exactly the same idea. My Spark File tool of choice is a mind-mapper called Freemind. I particularly like it because (it’s Free, ) it is graphical and allows links between branches, at any level. It breaks the hierarchy. The results are often ugly – just like reality.

Albert Einstein said that a model should be as simple as possible but no simpler. Human society is not a hierarchy but a complex network built on personal relationships interspersed with imposed structure. One of our favourite models is a delusion. If you doubt this, look at a platypus. Yes, I believe there is a better model but I’m still Wombling for half-baked ideas.

References:
Dave Winer’s tweet that started this <https://twitter.com/davewiner/status/448587642813546496
Alex Hillman on Lifehacker <http://lifehacker.com/5941997/defrag-your-brain-with-a-spark-file, including the video outline of Steven Johnson’s book ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’.
Trello blog entry on data structures http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2012/01/06.html

Tools:
Outline Editors http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outliner
Fargo http://threads2.scripting.com/2013/april/introducingFargo
Kanban boards http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanban_board
Trello http://blog.trello.com/trello-ios-2-5/
Mindmapping http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind_map
Freemind http://freemind.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Main_Page