The weird, wonderful world of Y2K survival guides

The category amounted to a giant feedback loop in which the existence of Y2K alarmism led to more of the same.

Harry McCracken in Fast Company has a great article on The weird, wonderful world of Y2K survival guides: A look back (Dec. 13, 2019).The article samples some of the hype around the disruptive potential of the millenium. Particularly worrisome are the political aspects of the folly. People (again) predicted the fall of the government and the need to prepare for the ensuing chaos. (Why is it that some people look so forward to such collapse?)

Technical savvy didn’t necessarily inoculate an author against millennium-bug panic. Edward Yourdon was a distinguished software architect with plenty of experience relevant to the challenge of assessing the Y2K bug’s impact. His level of Y2K gloominess waxed and waned, but he was prone to declarations such as “my own personal Y2K plans include a very simple assumption: the government of the U.S., as we currently know it, will fall on 1/1/2000. Period.”

Interestingly, few people panicked despite all the predictions. Most people, went out and celebrated.

All of this should be a warning for those of us who are tempted to predict that artificial intelligence or social media will lead to some sort of disaster. There is an ethics to predicting ethical disruption. Disruption, almost by definition, never happens as you thought it would.

50th Anniversary of the Internet

Page from notebook documenting connection on the 29th, Oct. 1969. From UCLA special collections via this article

50 years ago on October 29th, 1969 was when the first two nodes of the ARPANET are supposed to have connected. There are, of course, all sorts of caveats, but it seems to have been one of the first times someone remote log in from one location to another on what became the internet. Gizmodo has an interview with Bradley Fidler on the history that is worth reading.

Remote access was one of the reasons the internet was funded by the US government. They didn’t want to give everyone their own computer. Instead the internet (ARPANET) would let people use the computers of others remotely (See Hafner & Lyon 1996).

Interestingly, I also just read a story that the internet (or at least North America, has just run out of IP addresses. The IPv4 addresses have been exhausted and not everyone has switched to IPv6 that has many more available addresses. I blame the Internet of Things (IoT) for assigning addresses to every “smart” object.

Hafner, K., & Lyon, M. (1996). Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet. New York: Simon & Shuster.

HyperCard at the Internet Archive

Screen Shot of Internet Archive HyperCard Collection

The Internet Archive is now collecting HyperCard Stacks and has an emulator so they can be run in the browser. If you have old ones to contribute you can upload them to (which has a nerdy HyperCard like interface.)

Like many, I learned to program multimedia in HyperCard. I even ended up teaching it to faculty and teachers at the University of Toronto. It was a great starting development environment with a mix of graphical tools, hypertext tools and a verbose programming language. It’s only (and major) flaw was that it wasn’t designed to create networked information. HyperCard Stacks has to be passed around on disks. The web made possible a networked hypertext environment that solved the distribution problems of the 1980s. One wonders why Apple (or someone else) doesn’t bring it back in an updated and networked form. I guess that is what the Internet Archive is doing.

For more on the history of HyperCard see the Ars Technica article by Matthew Lasar, 30-plus years of HyperCard, the missing link to the Web.

What is cool is that artists are using HyperCard to make art like Formality* discussed in the previous post.

The End of Agile

I knew the end of Agile was coming when we started using hockey sticks.

From Slashdot I found my way to a good essay on The End of Agile by Kurt Cagle in Forbes.

The Agile Manifesto, like most such screeds, started out as a really good idea. The core principle was simple – you didn’t really need large groups of people working on software projects to get them done. If anything, beyond a certain point extra people just added to the communication impedance and slowed a project down. Many open source projects that did really cool things were done by small development teams of between a couple and twelve people, with the ideal size being about seven.

Cagle points out that certain types of enterprise projects don’t lend themselves to agile development. In a follow up article he provides links to rebuttals and supporting articles including one on Agile and Toxic Masculinity (it turns out there are a lot of sporting/speed talk in agile.) He proposes the Studio model as an alternative and this model is based on how creative works like movies and games get made. There is an emphasis on creative direction and vision.

I wonder how this critique of agile could be adapted to critique agile-inspired management techniques?



The Body in Question(s)

Isabelle Van Grimde gave the opening talk at Dyscorpia on her work, including projects like The Body in Question(s). In another project Les Gestes, she collaborated with the McGill IDMIL lab who developed digital musical instruments for the dancers to wear and dance/play.

Van Grimde’s company Corps Secrets has the challenge of creating dances that can travel which means that the technologies/instruments have to . They use intergenerational casts (the elderly or children.) They are now working with sensors more than instruments so the dancers are free of equipment.

Pius Adesanmi on Africa is the Forward

Today I learned about Pius Adesanmi who died in the recent Ethiopian Airlines crash. From all accounts he was an inspiring professor of English and African Studies at Carelton. You can hear him from a TEDxEuston talk embedded above. Or you can read from his collection of satirical essays titled Naija No Dey Carry Last: Thoughts on a Nation in Progress.

In the TEDx talk he makes a prescient point about new technologies,

We are undertakers. Man will always preside over the funeral of any piece of technology that pretends to replace him.

He connects this prediction about how all new technologies, including AI, will also pass on with a reflection on Africa as a place from which to understand technology.

And that is what Africa understands so well. Should Africa face forward? No. She understands that there will be man to preside over the funeral of these new innovations. She doesn’t need to face forward if she understand human agency. Africa is the forward that the rest of humanities must face.

We need this vision of/from Africa. It gets ahead of the ever returning hype cycle of new technologies. It imagines a position from which we escape the neverending discourse of disruptive innovation which limits our options before AI.

May Pius Adexanmi rest in peace.

The Secret History of Women in Coding

Computer programming once had much better gender balance than it does today. What went wrong?

The New York Times has a nice long article on The Secret History of Women in Coding – The New York TimesWe know a lot of the story from books like Campbell-Kelly’s From Airline Reservations to Sonic the Hedgehog: a History of the Software Industry (2003), Chang’s Brotopia (2018), and Rankin’s A People’s History of Computing in the United States (2018).

The history is not the heroic story of personal computing that I was raised on. It is a story of how women were driven out of computing (both the academy and businesses) starting in the 1960s.

A group of us at the U of Alberta are working on archiving the work of Sally Sedelow, one of the forgotten pioneers of humanities computing. Dr. Sedelow got her PhD in English in 1960 and did important early work on text analysis systems.

Finding Lena Forsen, the Patron Saint of JPEGs | WIRED

In 1972, a photo of a Swedish Playboy model was used to engineer the digital image format that would become the JPEG. The model herself was mostly a mystery—until now.

Wired has another story on Finding Lena Forsen, the Patron Saint of JPEGs. This is not, however, the first time her story has been told. I blogged about the use of the Lena image back in 2004. It seems like this story will be rediscovered every decade.

What has changed is that people are calling out the casual sexism of tech culture. An example is Chang’s book Brotopia that starts with the Lena story.

Burrows and Antonia Archives: Centre For 21st Century Humanities

What happens to old digital humanities projects? Most vanish without a trace. Some get archived like the work of John Burrows and others at the Centre For Literary And Linguistic Computing (CLLC). Dr. Alexis Antonia kept an archive of CLLC materials which is now available from the Centre For 21st Century Humanities.