July 2005
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Month July 2005

An updated personal history of computing

Back in 2003 on my “previous” blog, I updated a long-standing essay I’d called “A Personal History of Personal Computing.” That blog is long gone in the transition away from Radio Userland to Typepad, but I think it’s time to reprint and update that essay. Moore’s law is one way to look at the history of personal computing. Another is the history of companies that have come and gone, making personal computers and software. Still another is a personal view. This story is about my own personal computing history — the machines, what I did with them, what software I thought was important. I omit computers that I didn’t really have control over, such as University mainframes and Unix servers, and I also omit the vast array of servers and computers I administered at RealNetworks, Internap, and now Network Clarity.

The story starts in the late 1970’s, shortly after personal computers came about and before IBM changed things forever….

Book #42: Jasper Fforde, The Big Over Easy

Fforde’s newly released book, “The Big Over Easy: A Nursery Crime”, inhabits a world different than the Thursday Next novels, but carry over the author’s ability to draw a comic “alternate England” to great effect. The new series follows Detective Jack Spratt, investigator in the Nursery Crime Division, as he solves the murder of Humpty Dumpty in modern-day “alternate” Reading. Along the way, the mystery unfolds with consummate Fforde complexity, managing to pull in references to most classic nursery rhymes. As with the Thursday Next novels, The Big Over Easy isn’t really a children’s book, but is rather a fantasy mystery for adults who enjoy the British tradition of comedic whimsy. I’m a huge fan of the Thursday Next novels, and naturally I was somewhat disappointed to find that this (and next) year’s books from Fforde were going to be a new series, but Fforde carries off the new series well and I’m hooked.

Book #41: Michael Craig, The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King

Michael Craig’s book chronicles a series of high-stakes poker games played between Andy Beal, a Texas banker, and top poker pros between 2001 and 2004 in Las Vegas. Beal is far more than an amateur poker player, spending vast amounts of time and millions of dollars to experimentally determine exactly what the pro’s “edge” consists of. At the end of the day, Beal determines that their edge against a truly solid player is thin indeed, with the pros relying more on player selection to beat Beal than anything else, and Beal relying upon consistently high stakes to rattle the pros in return. The book was light reading, of course, but if you’ve watched the World Poker Tour on the Travel Channel or tournaments on ESPN, Craig’s book contains some fascinating stories about the development of the televised poker craze and interesting backstory on many of the pro players.

About recent posts…

My posts here have been more personal lately, and less substantive along the usual lines. That’s been somewhat unavoidable, but it’s temporary. In addition to getting the new laptop and spending time switching, I’ve been working on another longish essay for Progressive Commons, and that takes time before anything is really visible for readers. I do plan to have one longish essay for PC in August, and am hoping for another in September, and perhaps if I get lucky, another in October. This may keep my posting on Extended Phenotype fairly light and oriented towards books and wine for awhile, although as each essay goes up on Progressive Commons I’ll cross-post here.

On the reading front, I’ll have a couple of fun books to report on fairly soon, but on the “serious” front I’m deeply…hmm…engrossed? mired? in Michael Sandel’s Democracy’s Discontent, along with a slew of reading in support of the essay projects. These will take a little longer. Sandel’s book is excellent but is a fairly “active” read as I look up references and refer to other works along the way.

End of public service announcement…now, back to our regular programming.

More on the Mac…

I’ve completely switched, at this point, to using the Powerbook as my primary machine for both home and work. Didn’t really plan it that way, but who needs to lug two machines around? There are still some things I need the Windows laptop for — some work related, like Crystal Reports development, and a great UML editor (Enterprise Architect). Others are personal — PartyPoker.com doesn’t have a version of its software for the Mac, and neither does Fedex-Kinko’s with their Internet printer driver. I use the latter fairly regularly to send large PDF’s to be printed at the local Kinko’s so as not to stress out the work printer. Law review articles almost always get this treatment, since they’re typically very large.

I did install VirtualPC and WinXP since it came with my copy of Office Professional for Mac, but man, is it slooooow on my 1.0GHz G4. Perhaps if I had a dual G5 and a ton of memory it would perform better, but who knows. I gave up trying to print a Cass Sunstein article to Kinko’s within VirtualPC today, and will just fire up the Windows box whenever I need to do this sort of thing.

I finally decided on an outliner/note-taking program, and in a surprise move (even to me) I chose OmniGroup’s OmniOutliner Professional 3. The export options and printing simply worked better, plus the ability to create multi-column designs gives flexibility to create summaries and action item columns. Naturally, I’ve got Quicksilver and all the other accoutrements of being a modern Mac user, but I have to admit to not using Quicksilver much at all — perhaps as a launcher it’s OK, but the vast majority of my searches are email/document searches and Quicksilver doesn’t shine here. Spotlight will shine for me, I think, but not until Spotlight/Entourage integration works. In the meantime, I yearn for Google Desktop Search.

Ecto is still the blog editor of choice for me, it’s so good both on Mac and Windows that I can’t imagine what I was thinking, writing in w.bloggar all this time.

For some reason, WIFI at Cafe Allegro isn’t working for me (I get an error message) but I can see it’s working for the guy two tables over with a 15″ powerbook, so who knows. Five minutes of fruitless searching didn’t yield anything in /var/log that is indicative of the error, and the error dialog is singularly uninformative. So no bandwidth for me…we’ll see how long I can stand it before the shakes set in…

Starbucks green tea lemonade…

One word: ugh.

Essentially a green tea “Arnold Palmer,” this would be a terrific beverage for cooling off after a walk around the lake, sitting outside at Starbucks and doing some work — If they didn’t make it painfully sweet. What the heck is it with sweet iced tea, anyhow? Not being a Southerner by origin, I guess I just don’t get it. Tea is supposed to be a slightly tart, tannic beverage, possibly served with lemon, but never with sugar — at least to my mind.

This is just nasty.