Since G+ is closing up shop, people can read about my thoughts at my blog

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From Google+

In a way, this is recapitulating an ambitious idea John McCarthy had in 1961, of “creating a space where people out in society can access computing, to do whatever they wanted to do.” He called this a “computing utility,” where people could access a time-sharing mainframe remotely, and do their own programming projects, and run practical applications on it, to do and explore whatever they wanted in the domain. This got overtaken by personal computing in the 1980s and ’90s. Perhaps this idea will follow a similar path, going from “a space” to something you can take with you.

A guy I’ve been following off and on for several years, Bret Victor, set this up, in collaboration with Alan Kay, and some other sponsors, including Andy Herzfeld, and Mitch Kapor.

Magnolia – The 68000-based Smalltalk system from Tektronix

Ever since I heard Xerox licensed Smalltalk to a select few companies around 1980 (Apple, Tektronix, HP, and DEC), I’ve wondered what Tektronix did with it. Information on what Apple did with it was fairly easy to find. They mostly used it internally, though they released a couple versions on their high-end Macs, for those who asked. They didn’t market it, so you had to hear about it through word of mouth.

I used to know about Tektronix, because they made terminals. When I was in college, there were some around that were hooked up to the school’s Unix systems.

Originally shared by Ed S on Google+

Magnolia – the 68000-based Smalltalk system from Tektronix.

“The first development generation (1980-1981) of Tektronix’ Smalltalk system was a single-board 68000 system connected first to a Tektronix 4025 raster graphics terminal, later on to a directly connected bit-mapped display. The Smalltalk base system was implemented using their own Pascal compiler (cross-compiled on DECsystem 10/20 computers).”

“This success inspired Tektronix to come up with a Smalltalk workstation product, code named “Pegasus”. It ended up in the model 4404 which was 68010-based and was marketed as an “AI machine”, featuring both Smalltalk and Lisp (as an option). As Motorola was not shipping yet a 68k MMU, a discrete MMU had to be designed as virtual memory support was considered essential for supporting Smalltalk and Lisp.”

Latest news on the attempt to build a replica of Babbage’s Analytical Engine.

From Google+

Latest news on the attempt to build a replica of Babbage’s Analytical Engine. There’s some reason for concern about that, as noted in this report: Babbage may have left significant gaps in his design.

Reminiscing about Compute! Magazine

This guy really captures what Compute! Magazine was like (except for reading out code for someone else to type in. I typed it in myself), and what it means to me.

I wrote about my own experience with Compute! at

Originally shared by Ars Technica on Google+

If you need some classics for when the news gets slow this month: One of our favorite origin stories of nerdy Ars-i-ness involves coding by hand

In memoriam: Charles Thacker

Originally shared by Kam-Yung Soh on Google+

CACM also has an article [ ] but you may have trouble accessing it.

“Charles Thacker, one of the lead hardware designers on the Xerox Alto, the first modern personal computer, died of a brief illness on Monday. He was 74.

The Alto, which was released in 1973 but was never a commercial success, was an incredibly influential machine. Ahead of its time, it boasted resizeable windows as part of its graphical user interface, along with a mouse, Ethernet, and numerous other technologies that didn’t become standard until years later. (Last year, Y Combinator acquired one and began restoring it.)”

Alan Kay’s interview from “The Machine That Changed The World”

This is the complete, unedited interview with Alan Kay, which was used in the 1992 documentary, “The Machine That Changed The World.” Only a very short clip of this (about 30 seconds to a minute) appeared in the documentary.

Originally shared by Norbert Landsteiner on Google+

A great interview with Alan Kay on the history of computing and its ideas so far and on what had then been current and future in 1990 (and hasn’t become history by now).

Seymour Papert died yesterday at the age of 88

From Google+

I just heard the news that Seymour Papert, the creator of the Logo language, died yesterday at the age of 88. One of the things I’ve learned in my computer history research is that he was more influential than I at first imagined. Alan Kay credits Papert with inspiring him to understand that computers can be a new medium, which ultimately led him to think about the concept of the Dynabook, which led to the Smalltalk system. Kay helped Papert spread Logo into the schools when people like myself were growing up, and first learning about programming. Unfortunately, the reason for spreading it largely got lost in the process. What Papert intended was that it would be used as a tool for teaching mathematics to children. In most cases that’s not how it was used.

Lisp didn’t do well at all on 8-bit platforms back in the day, which is too bad

From Google+

You could make a Lisp implementation work on them (which was done many times), but it was too slow to be useable as a practical programming model. Alan Kay said about 10 years ago that this is the reason Lisp didn’t end up being more popular among programmers. Instead of getting used to a stack machine model, the poor hardware designs ended up getting us used to a register machine model, which is still how much of the profession views “valid” computing today.

Still, I think it’s good that there is some interest in trying to build and use Lisp on these simpler platforms. It’s an educational experience.

Originally shared by mos6502 on Google+

This week, Lisp on 6502 and 6502 in Lisp – a simple elegant CPU and a simple elegant language. First off, HACKADAY wrote up Alex Clemmer and Martin Törnwall’s efforts to write and bootstrap a Lisp on their Apple II – having no serial connection or floppies, they resorted to writing the code elsewhere and loading via the cassette port. Video within, and code at github linked from the blog at

Sadly, part 2 of the article and the assembly version of Lisp haven’t surfaced yet. Meanwhile, check the comments over at HN

As it happens, there were historical Lisps for 6502 machines: we found Acornsoft’s Lisp for the BBC Micro and Electron and P-Lisp for the Apple II – quite a resurrection story on that one, see

“my P-Lisp disk was, as far as I could determine, the last extant copy on planet Earth”

As for use of Lisp, we found COMFY-65, a mid-level language implemented in Lisp, and described as “a port of Henry G. Baker’s COMFY-6502 compiler to Common Lisp.” Originally from 1976, there’s an updated paper from 1997:

Meanwhile, over at

Andy Hefner wrote a high-level assembler in LISP and programmed his NES with it.

Finally, we should mention Brit Butler who wrote a 6502 emulator in Lisp, completing the circle: You’ll find a link within to his presentation video and slides about why he did this and what he learnt from it.

Any more Lisp links with 6502? Yes! You’ll find more at David A. Wheeler’s 6502 Languages page:

Educator opinion on Common Core

From Google+

This was a good discussion with educators who were invited to be involved with the process of approving the Common Core standard, but were taken out of the loop when they raised objections. They discuss what they predict will be the consequences of continuing with this standard, in math, and language arts and humanities, based on the restrictions built into the standard. It has implications for universities as well as public schools.

Book: “Drilling Through The Core”

William Easterly: The Tyranny of Experts

From Google+

William Easterly talks about a problem with our philosophy of foreign aid: We focus only on satisfying the material needs of the people we’re trying to help, but ignore the cultural/political/economic situations in those countries that is causing the abject poverty. He calls for aid organizations to emphasize individual rights before supplying aid.

I thought what he laid out also has bearing on our own domestic politics. He doesn’t talk about this, but when we look at our social programs, this is also what they are doing. They satisfy physical needs, but ignore the fact that the governments in the areas where they supply assistance are infringing on people’s rights, particularly their commercial rights.

Mary Eberstadt: How the West Really Lost God

From Google+

I thought Mary Eberstadt made an interesting and thorough case for why religious Christianity is on the decline in the West. She says it’s not what a lot of the critics of Christianity think is the cause (the progress of rational thought), but rather has a lot more to do with the popularity of marriage (the lack of it), and the lack of formation of nuclear families.

Peter Hanson Michael on America’s first president

From Google+

I can’t recommend this enough to American history buffs. This is Peter Hanson Michael talking about John Hanson, America’s first president under the Articles of Confederation. The significant part of this story is the fact that Hanson gave critical support to the revolution to separate from England, and then to the new government that formed after it was over. A great thing about this talk as well is that Michael gives a real sense of an emergent nation, in terms of its political institutions, going from the first Continental Congress to the Constitution.

Another striking part of the history is what happened to Hanson’s, and his wife’s burial plots through the years. It’s tragic.

Miles O’Brien commemorating the 45th anniversary of the first moon landing

From Google+

We’re at the tail end of the commemoration of the 45th anniversary of the first Moon landing. I thought this interview with Miles O’Brien on C-SPAN from July 18 was chock full of perspective on our manned space program, not just because he was talking, but also the informative callers. It’s worth a listen.

Just before this segment began, Miles and the interviewer had been watching some vintage CBS News footage of the first Moon landing with Walter Cronkite.

Ivan Oransky on the epidemic of retractions of scientific papers

From Google+

Academic fraud is not something that’s been on my mind a lot WRT science, but another topic Oransky covers in this interview, and on his blog, Retraction Watch, is mistaken overstatement of evidence, so called “significance chasing,” which is disturbingly common in science these days, so I read. It’s an important topic to consider, as these days science enters into everything from health claims, to education, to public policy.

Great piece of photographic history on the slit scan technique

From Google+

Great piece of photographic history on the slit scan technique. The end result looks a bit cheesy (good for comic relief), but I appreciated the background this guy presented.

I remember my high school graduating class was photographed using a slit scan camera to get a panoramic shot. We had to stand still for about 30 seconds while the lens panned across the crowd. This guy explains how a similar technology, using extended exposure, time lapse photography, was used to make the “space warp” animation in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and other similar effects in other familiar sci-fi shows, at least until digital video editing was invented.

A really interesting factoid he mentions is that a computer helped create the graphics for the opening sequence in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 movie “Vertigo.” Each spiral image was painted on a surface in a fashion that was similar to how a computer would’ve interacted with an oscilloscope. I’d be comfortable calling it the first time computer graphics were used in a movie.

Related post: Were the first movie computer graphics in a Hitchcock film?

How system security gets the short end of the stick

From Google+

(This is me commenting on Paul Homer’s blog post Predictions)

Another issue related to what you’re talking about is system security. I don’t know if this has gone forward at all, but last year I heard about the U.S. government trying to get the major service providers (like Facebook and Google) to share fairly intimate information about their users (like stuff they post about their lives, what they search for, etc.) so that the government could analyze it to help track down cyber attackers. It sounded like a dumb (and dangerous) idea, preferring to track people, rather than understand how to create systems that are more secure from attack. This, again, would require research funding.

There’s already a model from the 1960s, which was funded by government research, called Multics, that, from my understanding, was the most secure OS ever created. It was even more secure than systems that are in use today. Honeywell stopped selling it in the mid-90s, and it went out of use by the year 2000.

Unix was inspired by Multics, but its designers decided to make it “lighter,” leaving out Multics’s bureaucratic notions, and so it started out less secure, though it became emblematic of a new paradigm that Multics did not embody, of distributed computing via. a network. If research had been allowed to continue in this area, I think we’d be farther along in solving the problem of cyber attacks by now.

Common Core math

From Google+

When I first heard about this, I thought, “This is a simple division problem.” Hearing this mother talk about what is actually taught made the point much better. I’m left wondering, “What were they thinking?” It’s not that the answer is incorrect, but it’s laborious to the point of being pointless. A math educator might’ve used a similar pedagogy simply to demonstrate what’s going on (though putting numerals inside the circles would’ve sufficed for a 4th grade class), but would have first asked the students to recognize what kind of problem it was, to get them thinking about what they’re actually doing when they count, and then asked them to reason about which acquired skill they’d use to find the answer, before answering it.

A mathematician would say that counting is the act of associating one set of objects to another, where at least one set is ordered, using a regular interval. Commonly one of the sets is the set of natural numbers. Using hash marks, which establishes the idea that counting has to do with measuring out a quantity, misses the point.

My mom has her own laptop now

I’m happy to report that my mom has finally gotten her own laptop. It’s a cheap Asus with Windows 8. I helped her get it for Christmas. We’ve checked it out thoroughly, and she’s keeping it. 🙂 So I finally have my own laptop back (she’s borrowed it frequently for the past couple years).

It’s kind of unbelievable. If you had told me 10 years ago that my mom would be getting her own computer I would’ve thought you were nuts. She is the last person I’d imagine who would want her own, but circumstances have demanded it. What’s held her up is she wanted a cheap laptop that was fairly familiar and easy to use, but not one that would store all her information on the cloud. Since the hardware market has changed since the last time I shopped for a computer (2008), it was a challenge to find one that fit the bill.

Pat Caddell: Media Have Become an “Enemy of the American people”

From Google+

This is from Sept. 2012, but it’s still true.

Pat Caddell is an interesting figure in the Washington scene. IIRC he was Pres. Carter’s campaign manager. He’s still a liberal, but he hates what the Democratic Party has become, and so in the last 7 years or so he’s been in league with conservatives, opposing the Democrats. Here, he talks about something I’ve known for a while. Popular news outlets are acting as a political interest group in their own right. Nothing wrong with that. During the 19th century it was common for news outlets to be politically biased. The difference was they were up front about it. Today, they’re functioning under the implicit assumption, which they expect to be accepted by their audience, that they are “objective,” and so should be judged as pretty much beyond reproach. He apparently believes this should be the operating assumption of all concerned, but this is the real problem. Nevertheless, I found what he had to say here valuable.

Remembering Scott Carpenter

From Google+

Heard news that Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter died a couple days ago. He was the second American to orbit the Earth, after John Glenn.

Carpenter has been regarded as a local hero in Boulder, CO. He was born and raised here. IIRC, he went to my high school, Boulder High, and graduated from CU Boulder. A little trivia I learned about him is that the name of his flight, Aurora 7, was named after the street intersection in Boulder where his maternal grandparents lived, Aurora & 7th.

The first images of Earth from space…in 1946!

From Google+

For most of my life I thought the first images of Earth from space were taken during our early space program in the 1960s. It turns out that was way off. The first images were taken in 1946, using automatic movie cameras installed inside of German-designed V-2 rockets, which were launched from White Sands, NM.

What’s cool to contemplate is that now a few people with an iPhone and a weather balloon can take the same kind of movies. 🙂

Great discussion that provides some real perspective on our society’s fetish with college education

From Google+

I have nothing against college. I enjoyed my experience with it, but the more I hear about what’s happened since then, the more I realize that many Americans are having a rude awakening, and this message needs to be heard.

David Stockman: The Great Deformation

From Google+

Like I’ve said before, I don’t necessarily agree at first blush with everything Stockman says, but he’s worth listening to. I didn’t see anything to object to in what he talked about here.

I liked hearing what he had to say about inflation towards the end. He agrees with the idea that we are seeing inflation, but only in the financial markets (he wasn’t specific, but I’m thinking he’s talking about the bond market), but its effects are being masked by global investments in mining and cheap labor abroad, which are keeping prices down at the consumer level. He said it’s still a bubble, and like them all, this one will eventually pop, too.