Another story, which took place on April 1st 1984:
I was requested to present Unix software tools to the Software
Workbench undergraduate course. After talking about grep, SCCS,
lex and what not, I described an experimental expert system that
creates applications by combining UNIX tools. Given an English
description of an application, the system produces user manuals.
Given an “O.K.”, it would go on and produce the actual
The system was a success: it kept some of the students busy for
a long time. Here it is, reconstructed from memory:
echo “What should your application do?”
echo “Type a short description followed by a control-D”
cat > /dev/null
echo “Working… here is the user’s manual:”.
/usr/games/festoon | some sed | nroff -man | more
echo “Is that O.K? If not, please describe what’s wrong.”
I’m I strange for finding this hilarious?
(Yes, I know the answer, never mind)
Geek line, do not cross.
Today, seventeen years ago, we re-entered South Africa from Lesotho as part of the 50th Anniversary Tour of South Africa. All through 1996/1997 I’d been frantically putting a Land-Rover together, with much accelerated effort towards the end (if it wasn’t for the last moment I’d never get anything done).
With help from my brother, we ended up getting the Rand-Lover through roadworthy at the end of February 1998, and Elmari and I left on the trip on the 6th of March. It was a bit… frantic.
Since then, this mysterious package has been kicking ’round the back of the Rand-Lover.
Look, it’s wrapped in period-authentic newspaper.
But what can it be?
Look! It’s the trim…
…that goes on the back doors, here.
The intention was to fit these somewhere on the trip. A lot of things did get fitted, but the trim did not make the list.
Yesterday, Eskom blessed us with some more electricity rationing. There’s a round ‘tuit for me! Yay!
I used these captive nuts and M5 machine screws.
And there you go (actually it was a lot more finicky than it looks).
The colour mismatch is 17 years’ worth of fade on the door. Not too bad, actually.
I decided to leave the nearside door for another 17 yea… nah, kidding, I did both.
Some people collect tiny transistor radios. I don’t have enough of them to call it a collection but I guess I’m working on it.
The Ross Electronics Corporation imported transistor radios from Japan from 1955 to about 1970. They were located at 589 East Illinois Street and later (I think) 2834 South Lock Street, Chicago. As far as I can tell, there’s no relation to the Ross Radio Company of Youngstown, Ohio.
Here’s a better image of the schematic on the inside of the back cover (yes, there was a time when radios came with schematics).
It would be a mistake to expect good performance from a 1965-ish design running on one 1.5V cell, but the performance of my one is beyond mediocre. But then again, I didn’t really buy it to use it.
In 1951, Cyril Kornbluth wrote a short story where a fellow ended up way in the future. A future populated by morons, because intelligent people breed less. A future with passenger cars
Swept-back lines, deep-drawn compound curves, kilograms of chrome. He ran his hands over the door- or was it the door?-in a futile search for a handle, and asked respectfully, “How fast does it go?” The psychist gave him a keen look and said slowly, “Two hundred and fifty. You can tell by the speedometer.”
Barlow began to wonder if he knew what a kilometer was, exactly. They seemed to be traveling so slowly, if you ignored the roaring air past your ears and didn’t let the speedy lines of the dreamboats fool you. He would have sworn they were really crawling along at twenty-five, with occasional spurts up to thirty.
[root@mort ~]# uname -a Linux mort 2.6.6 #1 Mon May 31 12:28:13 SAST 2004 i686 unknown [root@mort ~]# uptime 08:21:51 up 900 days, 2:10, 2 users, load average: 0.21, 0.08, 0.03 [root@mort ~]#
Try that with Windows.
But they’re moving the datacentre today so that’s as high as it’s going to get for the next couple of years.
Moore’s law, the speed at which technology moves forward, means that the digital past gets smaller every year. So this is what is left are the tracings of hundreds of people, or thousands, who, 20, 30, 40 years ago found each other and decided to fabricate all this…digital stuff. Glittering ephemera. They left these markings and moved on.
Who wouldn’t want to go back 20 years—to drive again into the office, to sit before the whiteboard in a beanbag chair, in a place of warmth and clarity, and give it another try?
In 1961, Frank Drake helped organise the first Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) conference. In preparation for his speech, he came up with the Drake Equation, which effectively multiplies a whole lot of unknown probabilities together to come up with a figure which may or may not tell us how many real live aliens there might be out there trying to communicate with us.
Drake’s Equation is little more than an interesting thought experiment, since every single variable is a SWAG. Still, people use it to come up with a figure that motivates them to aid the search. Nothing wrong with that.
But even if Drake’s Equation convinces you that there are many many civilisations out there, there’s reason to believe that the Earth is unique, or at least very rare, in one way. From where we stand, the sun and the moon both occupy about 30 arc seconds, or to put it differently, the sun is 400 times bigger than the moon and also 400 times further away.
Where the unique becomes sublime is when we have a total eclipse of the sun. If the moon were bigger, we wouldn’t see a halo. If the moon were smaller, it wouldn’t be a total eclipse.
Which is why Iain Banks, in his novel Transition, suggests that instead of watching the great American eclipse of 2017, you should rather be looking around. Many of the spectators might have hitch hiked a number of lightyears to observe the phenomenon.