What would Wiener think of the current human use of human beings? He would be amazed by the power of computers and the internet. He would be happy that the early neural nets in which he played a role have spawned powerful deep-learning systems that exhibit the perceptual ability he demanded of them—although he might not be impressed that one of the most prominent examples of such computerized Gestalt is the ability to recognize photos of kittens on the World Wide Web.
Sunday, April 28th, 2019
Saturday, February 2nd, 2019
PIctures of computers (of the human and machine varieties).
Monday, October 1st, 2018
An ongoing timeline of computer technology in the form of blog posts by Sinclair Target (that’s a person, not a timeslipping transatlantic company merger).
Tuesday, July 10th, 2018
This strikes me as a sensible way of thinking about machine learning: it’s like when we got relational databases—suddenly we could do more, quicker, and easier …but it doesn’t require us to treat the technology like it’s magic.
An important parallel here is that though relational databases had economy of scale effects, there were limited network or ‘winner takes all’ effects. The database being used by company A doesn’t get better if company B buys the same database software from the same vendor: Safeway’s database doesn’t get better if Caterpillar buys the same one. Much the same actually applies to machine learning: machine learning is all about data, but data is highly specific to particular applications. More handwriting data will make a handwriting recognizer better, and more gas turbine data will make a system that predicts failures in gas turbines better, but the one doesn’t help with the other. Data isn’t fungible.
Saturday, June 23rd, 2018
If only all documentation was as great as this old manual for the ZX Spectrum that Remy uncovered:
The manual is an instruction book on how to program the Spectrum. It’s a full book, with detailed directions and information on how the machine works, how the programming language works, includes human readable sentences explaining logic and even goes so far as touching on what hex values perform which assembly functions.
When we talk about things being “inspiring”, it’s rarely in regards to computer manuals. But, damn, if this isn’t inspiring!
This book stirs a passion inside of me that tells me that I can make something new from an existing thing. It reminds me of the 80s Lego boxes: unlike today’s Lego, the back of a Lego box would include pictures of creations that you could make with your Lego set. It didn’t include any instructions to do so, but it always made me think to myself: “I can make something more with these bricks”.
Thursday, December 21st, 2017
The transcript of a terrific talk on the humane use of technology.
Instead of using technology to replace people, we should use it to augment ourselves to do things that were previously impossible, to help us make our lives better. That is the sweet spot of our technology. We have to accept human behaviour the way it is, not the way we would wish it to be.
Friday, December 8th, 2017
This 1993 article by Mark Weiser is relevant to our world today.
Take intelligent agents. The idea, as near as I can tell, is that the ideal computer should be like a human being, only more obedient. Anything so insidiously appealing should immediately give pause. Why should a computer be anything like a human being? Are airplanes like birds, typewriters like pens, alphabets like mouths, cars like horses? Are human interactions so free of trouble, misunderstanding, and ambiguity that they represent a desirable computer interface goal? Further, it takes a lot of time and attention to build and maintain a smoothly running team of people, even a pair of people. A computer I need to talk to, give commands to, or have a relationship with (much less be intimate with), is a computer that is too much the center of attention.
Wednesday, September 27th, 2017
The title is pure clickbait, and the moral panic early in this article repeats the Toyota myth, but then it settles down into a fascinating examination of abstractions in programming. On the one hand, there’s the problem of the not enough abstraction: having to write in code is such a computer-centric way of building things. On the other hand, our world is filled with dangerously abstracted systems:
When your tires are flat, you look at your tires, they are flat. When your software is broken, you look at your software, you see nothing.
So that’s a big problem.
Bret Victor, John Resig and Margaret Hamilton are featured. Doug Engelbart and J.C.R. Licklider aren’t mentioned but their spirits loom large.
Tuesday, September 26th, 2017
Anecdotes about the development of Apple’s original Macintosh, and the people who made it.
Like a real-life Halt And Catch Fire.
Monday, May 1st, 2017
The Long Now Foundation has been posting some great stuff on their blog lately. The latest is a look at orreries, clocks, and computers throughout history …and into the future.
Monday, January 30th, 2017
A fascinating bit of technological archeology tracing some of the oldest still-running software, from a COBOL program at the Pentagon to the firmware on the Voyager probes.
Thursday, August 14th, 2014
How computers work:
One day, a man name Alan Turing found a magic lamp, and rubbed it. Out popped a genie, and Turing wished for infinite wishes. Then we killed him for being gay, but we still have the wishes.
Then we networked computers together:
The network is ultimately not doing a favor for those in power, even if they think they’ve mastered it for now. It increases their power a bit, it increases the power of individuals immeasurably. We just have to learn to live in the age of networks.
We are all nodes in many networks. This is a beautiful description of how one of those networks operates.
Friday, August 2nd, 2013
A wonderful presentation by time-traveller Bret Viktor.
Friday, January 11th, 2013
A look at the depiction of computer hardware and peripherals in sci-fi movies over time.
Saturday, January 7th, 2012
Wallow in nerd nostalgia and experience the Proustian rush of rebooting old operating systems.
Friday, August 6th, 2010
This looks like an excellent event: learn about programming without being a programmer.
Wednesday, January 13th, 2010
The bottom-up appeal of netbooks in all their cheap, crappy glory.
Monday, February 2nd, 2009
The entire text of this seminal work is online in HTML, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.
Wednesday, September 17th, 2008
Judging from the research information collected on Delicious, Flickr and Last.fm, this book proposalâ€”tying together informatics, music and gamesâ€”could blossom into a great read.
Sunday, June 1st, 2008
Richard Feynman and The Connection Machine.