elaine elaine

Niner since 2004


  • Bill Hill: Homo sapiens 1.0 - The world's most important operating system

    About data storage life.

    DVDs might have a 100 year life, I don't know. I'd be very surprised to find that *recordable* cd/dvd media on average has anything like that.

    When optical storage was a new thing, platters were being produced in cheap plastic for 'normal' use and glass or more stable plastics for archival use.

    My recollection is that the archival quality media indeed ran at a nominal 100 year life, however on average cd-r is pretty chancy see: http://www.mscience.com/survey.html

    Here's a link for a 2500 word article on what's necessary to achieve reliability in CD-R: http://www.mscience.com/longev.html. How many people do you think actually observe this kind of detail in making cd archives? --- I have no knowlege that DVD-R is considered yet more reliable than CD-R

    Tape archival quality *is* well understood. Here's a brief survey of actual experience, indicating that many users find individual tapes may only be good for 2-3 write cycles. http://www.sunmanagers.org/archives/1992/0319.html. This squares with my operating experience.

    Exabyte claims 30 year life for 8mm helical scan media. They also claim 50,000-pass mechanical  life (which very few people would say works in practice, possibly in highly ideal conditions?).
    But in any event Exabyte absolutely warns users that the archival life claim is based on a single-write use.

    I.e. you can't apply thier specs simultaneously. So iff one observes very exacting procedures (and expense) long-term archive is feasible on tapes, and probably on DC-R but if practically speaking few people will apply the correct procedures it's probably a moot point.

    Finaly, once on archive-media data is no longer available for random deletion/edit/reorganization, so while you're right that ability to throw stuff away is important, archival systems don't help with that.
  • Bill Hill: Homo sapiens 1.0 - The world's most important operating system

    Well I don't know for sure one way or the other.

    I will counterpoint your assertion: 100 years ago it was entirely possible for an individual to be current *to the level of detail understanding* in all areas of science.

    That was no longer possible 50 years ago and today while some people have a pretty firm grasp on  many fields, knowing all fields in depth, let alone detail is inconceivable.

    A specialist tends to have a narrower vocabulary and as nearly all of the brightest people today elect to specialize, it's possible that the average vocabulary size has actually become smaller.

    The larger point is that you read an article which drew an assertion you didn't think made sense. I would say that the primary driver for your disagreement (and I would say error, but it's not an important point) is a cultural bias to think that 'modern' == 'complex'

    And for a considerable time that's what everyone thought. Linguists have, however discovered that it ain't necessarily so.
  • Bill Hill: Homo sapiens 1.0 - The world's most important operating system

    As far as language/vocabulary -- you're wrong, sorry that's not my opinion that's the research result of linguists, and to be clear that is the analysis of the 'normal' user of language.

    Yes, I expect that the average user *here* for instance probably has a fairly large working vocabulary, however this is hardly a representative sample.s

    Vocabulary, in any case correlates better with profession than with 'intelligence'. 'Smart' people are in fact not necessarily knowlegeble in a wide array of fields.

    In fact the people with the *largest* vocabularies are, not surprisingly publishing editors, closely followed by executives, averaging in the 100k+ and 60k+ range.

    Technical people, in general however do not (on average) have especially large working vocabularies, my memory says the number runs in the 30-60k range.

    Also *working* vocabulary in a research linguistic context doesn't necessarily mean every word you know, in most research the focus is on the vocabulary you use on a regular basis.
  • Bill Hill: Homo sapiens 1.0 - The world's most important operating system

    Bill, good stuff and I'm sorry to take so long to reply -- got swamped with work stuff. It's useful and interesting to know that your background is in depth in typography, and the quality of media representation *please* do find a way to get that paper visible, .pdf format would be nice but .doc will do fine, I don't want to put you out with a translation headache.

    So now I will tell you what armpits have to do with software design, and how much the Matrix films tell us about the people who write software.

    Some points:

    Generally, I question the value of a 'big picture'/architecture point of view, especially if you don't really understand the underpinnings. Now that I understand your POV a little better I have to say that I really don't think the details and nuances that you're talking about are fully understood by anyone. What that might or might not imply for MS product development, of course isn't my call but here's my $0.02

    Your audio asserts without read/writeing civilization could not have progressed because nothing could be passed on. While it's a good arguing point, culture and technology were effectively passed on long before reading / writing were even available to the 'elite' let alone to the population generally. *Civilization* has co-evolved with homosapiens for:

    the 500 years since Gutenberg
    the 5000 years since
    the 100,000 years you reference as the beginning of H. Sap
    but also the 3M years of H. Sap, anthropologists long ago decided that the earlier versions of homo- in fact qualify as 'sapiens'.

    Oral traditions were probably as accurate as written and in some senses are more permanent/robust. When story-telling was *the* way of passing things on, knowlege could only be destroyed by killing all of the human vectors of a story, whereas uncounted volumes of the last 5 millenia have been entirely lost due to the reliance on media to carry the message.

    It is only by luck that today we have access to 'Beowulf', which, like the bible and koran was passed on orally and accurately across many generations.

    Just as many ancient writings are now unreadable because the languages in which they are written are no longer understood, it is almost certain that digital media has a dangerously short life-span due to the inevitable obsolecence of the hardware on which the data is stored, and the impermanence of the media itself. Some 9mm mag tapes holding the origins of some early free software were recently laboriously recovered from nearly-dead tapes, tapes less than 25 years old.

    25 years is a tiny timeframe against which to measure the ability to archive data.

    The next point is, as little as 100 years ago, again a tiny space measured against even modern human history science considered 'primitive' cultures and languages to be materially different from 'modern' culture and language.

    This is just ethno-centralism playing with the evaluation function. When linguists took a closer look they came to realize (I think about 30 years ago) that all languages are similarly rich and complex (and that the actual working vocabularies of most language-users across a wide sample set are similar irrespective of either language or level of education).

    So what makes a good medium? I agree that formatting, typography count. I have done a lot of technical writing, some good, some awful but I generally try to use formatting to make my work more readable.

    However I'm split on how to do that. I'm comfortable using troff (or html or sgml) formatting commands embedded in my text (which was far and away the best tool avialable to the job when I started publishing reports and papers).  I'm equally comfortable using FrameMaker, and like that it allows me to keep the technical bulk of documents in flat text so that I can separate critical thinking about my subject from critical thinking about the presentation.

    I'm absolutely convinced that putting sophisticated formatting tools in the hands of people who first do not take the time to think critically before writing, and second have no compuction about using formatting to dress up poor thinking is an abysmal solution to the problem of communication.

    I flatly refuse to use document formatting in email. If I have a subject to which formatting is important then an attachment is a fine thing, the body of the email may be a pasted summary from the attachment. Richtext and HTML formatted email are an abomination precisely because they are so often mis-used as described above.

    I liken this to how you denude a rainforest: put a chainsaw in the hands of people who don't know what they are losing. England took a few hundred years of empire building to destroy her forests, quite an accomplisment. That much rainforest is probably lost each year today. Of course demand comes into this equation. Forests are clear-cut either to provide hardwoods or agricultural products to industrialized nations. The cost in the loss of biodiversity is potentially staggering.

    Now Microsoft is in the business of selling Word and the rest of the Office applications. I'm really not trying to earn a Goodwin here in drawing an alarming analogy, so I'll return to the meat of my subject.

    If you're not really  sure you understand the OS you're catering to (H-sap v x.x), then drawing conclusions on a possibly poorly founded basis will almost certainly lead you in an unexpected direction.

    If 99% of face-to-face communication is non-verbal this is arguably even more true in written communcation. Most writers and readers convey nuance in their writing. The writers mood is usually conveyed in nuances in the writing style. We look for the visual cues that we normally get in our *far more ingrained* natural communication (face-to-face, spoken and un-spoken) by reading between the lines. I would flatly assert that there is a whole lot more telepathy going on in face-to-face communication than in the any but the very best written-read communication and face it, less than 0.00001% of the people who use writing are a Joyce, a Hemmingway or a Dickinson.

    Here's what happens when a successful company really  doesn't understand it's market as well as it thinks it does.

    In the '70s the Gillette company began trying to take a successfull set of personal care products from the US to Europe. They had a very hard time figuring out why the advertising campaign that had worked so well at selling RightGuard deodorant spray in the US was failing abysmally in Germany.

    Then they did a little research, and found that their target audience (businessmen working in Germany) on average wore the same shirt for an entire work-week.

    Now I don't know how much luck Gillette has had in changing personal sensibilities outside of the US. I do know that one of the things I truly relish about getting outside of the US is that I find myself among people who are clean but not fastidious about the fact that h. Sap is an animal.

    In fact my next bit of anthroplogical trivia is the fact that humans sense of smell is on a par with that of dogs. Physiologically, if you measure brain-response to stimuli there is very little difference.

    Why do people think dogs have such a refined sense of smell? --- Inherently biased market-research. We live in a culture which demands that we ignore each others odor, to pretend that it doesn't exist. Cultural programming is entirely strong enough to cause humans to ignore perfectly good data.

    (another fun trivia/culture fact: Archeologists for half a century, and historians for hundreds of years before them managed to ignore the paint-chips surounding the bases of roman and greek statues. 'Modern' people have only seen Venus de Milo as alabaster white, the 'scientitists', knowing that Venus de Milo, in addition to having no arms, was alabaster white, pure, one might even say a Platonic ideal. After several decades of mis-interpreting all those paint-chips someone realised that all that statuary had been painted in raucus day-glow colors back in the day when it was current.)

    And what does the Matrix have to do with this?

    The crowd that loved the first Matrix film were perhaps most widely represented among programmers and techies. The most common complaint I heard about the 2nd film was the awful waste of 15 minutes of film time on the 'orgy' scene (I've timed it, it was not quite 4 minutes from start of music to end of Neo's butt).

    Well you know an orgy is pretty much a place where you get exposed to sweat, smell (and ohmygosh naked male bodies in addition to the naked girl bodies -- yes not many men get invited to the all-female orgies).

    I have to say that if there's a problem with the software industry (no, I'm not singleing out Microsoft here) it's that I wish the writers of software would get outside the box a bit more.

    (and yes, I speak about orgies from personal experience. I also write code that is clear, simple and puts core functionality ahead of feature-creep, but then I write software principally for my own use. I know there's not much market for stuff that simply works and doesn't offer a lot of flash).
  • Bill Hill: Homo sapiens 1.0 - The world's most important operating system

    Ok, let's say that's true

    (parenthetically, why is this blog presenting 'developer' stuff in streaming media, not text? why is bill hill going on about H. Sap. (and writing and it's importance) rather than code and product and choosing a high-bandwidth, low content method to do so?)

    Why on earth does a developer blog provide me with controls on PP format (ms-word normal.dot choices) font family and size and etc fluff?

    If we're engineers then why the emphasis on format not content?

    Now to the assertion:

    I've been using Unix(TM) (&BSDI, Linux, obsd ...) for a good many years. From the days when what was available for professional work was a DOS 3.x PC I've sought out unix compatibility tools to make my life easier. Whether it was commandline editing, better than .bat,cmd scripting or X11 or .... I added these things to dos/Win platforms because they made it a more comfortable environment.

    However for nearly a decade now Unix has been sufficiently affordable that I don't have to seek out tools to make MS's operating system work the way I want it to. I've never looked back. Every time I have to sit down at win(nt/2k/xp...) I cringe at the abysmal user interface design. e.g. I've been using 3-button mice and *my* choices for how to use ctrl, alt keys to get what I want from my window manager. On win-32 systems it's improved recently, some ideas have even been borrowed from Unix shells and X11. However the flexibility, ability to customize the UI to how I want it just isn't possible.

    Granted my data sample=1 is an oddball case and I imagine I'd have no problem finding counterexamples that prove your point, My point however is simply that I dont' care how 90% of the people out there want it or how much effort MS put into choosing the 'best'.

    However, I also happen to know that the commercial vendors of this kind of tool have found that MS itself is their biggest client. Why? Well I imagine that people who write code recognize that simple, direct, flexible tools are what make them productive.

    Imho the best that's been arrived at in terms of what MS ships is very much a lowest common denominator.

    Don't even get me started on how it is that a company that's *addicted* to 'rich programming interfaces' has managed to created such a low-bandwidth UI.

    'Cause Unix (et al) have accomplished what, from my POV is a hellofa lot better using 'everything is a file' approach to coding interfaces.

    Enough of a rant for now, I do know it's a rant but if this 'blog' really isn't a marketing ploy then let's talk engineering, not fluff.