I have a distant cousin named Albert Vanderburg. Online, at least, he goes by the name “Panther”. We’ve never met, although we have exchanged email from time to time. Albert is, shall we say, an “outlier”. (I don’t think he would argue with that assessment.)
Panther lives in Hawaii, and is homeless. Nevertheless, he has maintained a blog since October 8, 1997. That’s a pretty early entry into blogspace! (Dave Winer, who claims to be one of the earliest—although I don’t know how to judge the accuracy of that claim—started on April 1, 1997.)
I just read that General Magic is closing down. That makes me sad.
In addition to having one of the best company names around, General Magic pioneered one of the things that has really drawn my interest over the past 10 years: secure mobile code. Their Magic Cap operating system (and the Telescript language it was built on) was designed to change the world, and got a lot of attention for a while. Pavel Curtis slammed their vision of the Internet pretty hard in one of the best conference talks I’ve ever heard (the closing address at the 1995 Winter USENIX), and he was correct—but they nevertheless tried to do a lot of things right.
They had a booth at JavaOne last year. I hadn’t thought about them in a while; I was surprised to learn that they hadn’t already gone out of business. In one sense, it might have been better if they had—reading their material at the booth, they seemed like just another mundane J2EE/XML/enterprise computing/wireless buzzword company. A far cry from the visionary dream of their early days, and certainly not very magical. But you do what you’ve got to do to survive, I guess.
Except that giving up that dream didn’t work, either.
People are forwarding an email around the Internet, laughing about it. A lady hit “reply” when she meant to hit “forward,” and wrote some rather unpleasant things to the wrong person. I find it hard to laugh, because I’ve made similar mistakes, and the only thing that saved me is that I happened to make those mistakes with innocuous messages.
Granted, in this case the lady reveals a particularly ugly side of herself. But one big lesson to be learned is that convenience comes with a price. Every time we make something easy, we also make certain kinds of mistakes much easier than they were before. In the days of writing letters, we had to write the name on the envelope ourselves, look up the address and write it, etc., even if we were replying directly to a letter we’d received. It was still possible to put two letters in the wrong envelopes, but it wasn’t nearly as easy as it is today, when we can just click “reply” or “reply all” or “forward” and away it goes.
The next time someone shows you a dramatic new convenience, take time to think about what new kinds of mistakes you’ll be making soon.
Elliotte Rusty Harold (everyone’s favorite geek with three first names) just released his answer to Java XML APIs: XOM. I can’t help but laugh. Not because it’s not good, or not a good idea – at first glance, it looks very nice. I laugh because about ten years ago I was working with an API called XOM: the X/Open OSI-Abstract-Data Manipulation API.
Elliotte’s XOM certainly has a better acronym expansion: XML Object Model. Here’s hoping the API itself is as big an improvement over the original XOM.
I don’t know what got me thinking about this today—perhaps it was the Yahoo headline Still No Sign of Fifth Harry Potter Book—but I went looking, and found the first hint I’ve seen about the release of Neal Stephenson’s next book, Quicksilver. Apparently it’s expanded to three books, the first of which will arrive at the end of July next year. (The other two are scheduled to appear at six-month intervals after that.)
It could still slip, of course, but the transformation into three novels rings true: shortly after the release of Cryptonomicon, Stephenson talked about his next book and said it was nearly finished, but that there would actually be several books in the loosely coupled series begun with Cryptonomicon. Since then, however, he’s been saying stuff like “ I have this book I want to finish, and I’m a long way from finishing it.” It’s been clear for a while that there was some sort of major change in direction for Quicksilver, so maybe this explains something of what happened.