June 23, 2010
On Sunday I had the joy of experiencing four machines that have fascinated me for many years – three of which I had never seen in working order before. It was geek heaven for me.
Bletchley Park is widely regarded as the birthplace of modern electronic computing. Shrouded in secrecy during the Second World War, it was the home of the codebreakers – a talented team gathered from many nations that built upon the initial pre-war work of the Poles to crack the various Axis ciphers. Most famously, it was code breaking on an industrial scale. The Enigma decryption was aided by the brute force of the Bombe, and the Lorenz was attacked by the Colossus, the first true electronic computer. Both have held a special interest for me, and I last visited Bletchley Park when both were in the process of being rebuilt, the originals having been senselessly destroyed in the name of national security.
Seeing and hearing the Bombe clicking and whirring away as it went through the possible combinations was a magical and enthralling moment. There’s a certain presence and rhythm to the machine that is captivating and I can only imagine what it would’ve been like to have been surrounded by many of them, all working away to supply Churchill with his “Golden Eggs” and equip key Allied personnel around the world with an invaluable view into the National Socialist war machine.
Colossus itself is even more magical to behold. Like the Bombe, it has a presence that is quite unlike any modern computer – the natural rhythm of each decryption iteration, the lights and sounds of the Colossus at work had me spellbound and I returned a few times during the day to take another look. I’d love to find the time to volunteer to help maintain and operate both Colossus and the Bombe rebuilds.
Housed in the same building as the Colossus was another, albeit more modern, computer: the PDP-11. I’ve long held an interest with these particular DEC minicomputers for a variety of historical reasons, but notably the origins of UNIX, the C programming language and the pioneering artificial reality work by Myron Krueger which I covered in my university dissertation. Until Sunday I had never seen one in the flesh, let alone up-and-running. Another computer I would love to use.
The finale of the quartet is not one specific machine, but a range of them: the Amiga. To celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the launch of the Amiga, Bletchley Park was home to a marquee celebrating Amiga past and present: from a selection of classic Amigas, to the new PowerPC Amiga hardware produced by ACube and A-Eon, the fantastic AmigaOS 4.1, and the iMica range of x86 machines running AROS. The Amiga still has a loyal and enthusiastic fanbase, and far from dying out over time seems to even be attracting a new generation of users – not to mention enticing back a few former fans. OS 4.1 and AROS look amazing, and the new hardware based around the elegant PowerPC chip is keeping the platform alive.
The Bombe, Colossus, PDP-11 and the Amiga – all at Bletchley Park. What more could I have wanted on a sunny Sunday?
January 30, 2010
Is it me or are meaningful URLs disappearing?
I’ve noticed more and more companies giving search keywords, rather than a proper URL, in their adverts and publicity material. You’ve really got to be confident that someone will find your site rather than a rival’s, a domain squatter’s, or something else entirely.
And the rise of short URLs is annoying too. There’s nothing wrong with compact URLs, but the reliance on short URLs that are totally unmemorable and redirect to the real resource is starting to get on my nerves. Microblogging sites like Twitter have promoted the use of them in recent years. You can’t see what the link points to, you can’t take a URL and determine if the link could be relevant to you, worse you’re relying on that short URL remaining available in the future.
With time at a premium, making that call as to whether to click on a link or not is being hampered by having to take the plunge with a cryptic URL. Or maybe improved: I’ve found myself ignoring short URLs and going elsewhere instead. And if a company wants me to go search to find their information, that additional element of indirection coupled with the very real chance of not finding the right resource has resulted in me going elsewhere.
I’m a big fan of RESTful interfaces, or Resource Oriented Architectures, but even as they become more and more popular, we seem to be facing an even bigger rise in the obfuscation, or even abandonment, of meaningful addressing of resources.
Am I alone in this thought?
August 30, 2009
The first tech podcast I started listening to was LUG Radio, sadly demised. The second one was This Week In Django, which has been dormant since the beginning of the year. I worry that I jinx podcasts.
Podcasts give me a great way to keep up with what’s happening in areas I’m interested in. I sometimes listen to them at work, but usually in the evenings when I can listen while doing other things. My current list of tech-related podcasts is as follows (in order of appearance in my freedom-hating iTunes podcast list):
Distrocast – http://distrocast.org/
JD and Jeremy cast their highly critical gaze over various Linux distributions, and other things too. I love the fact nothing is sacred and they’re not afraid to rip things to shreds and hurl abuse. Not one for the easily offended or the “Linux and Open Source is Always Perfect” brigade. A much needed contribution to the Linux community. They make me chuckle, they make me think, and they introduced me to ArchLinux, which is a pretty cool distro.
FLOSS Weekly – http://www.twit.tv/FLOSS
Randal Schwartz, Leo Laporte, and guest appearances from the mighty Jono Bacon. FLOSS weekly takes a look at different free, libre open source projects. Always entertaining and informative, it’s great to hear more about projects I use or have heard of, as well as offering an excellent way to discover new projects.
The MDN Show – http://www.mac-developer-network.com/category/shows/
Formerly Late Night Cocoa, which ended up becoming a paid-for service. Scotty and John discuss various aspects of Mac development in an easy to listen format, albeit with some very cheesy music. The supporting tips from “The World According to Gemmell” are always small, thought-provoking chunks of advice that are great to try out, whether you’re a Mac developer or not.
Linux Outlaws – http://www.linuxoutlaws.com/
Fab and Dan’s show has proved a more than capable replacement to LUG Radio, covering Linux and free open source software… with the odd beer review, creative commons music, and Fail. Linux Outlaws is laid-back, light hearted and always interesting, packing a lot into each show.
MacCast – http://www.maccast.com/
Adam Christianson’s enthusiasm for all things Macintosh really shines through. MacCast is a great way to keep up-to-date with the latest news from Apple and the Mac community.
.NET Rocks – http://www.dotnetrocks.com/
I had a bit of trouble finding a decent .NET podcast when I realised I needed to start delving into the murky world of Microsoft and .NET development. Carl and Richard were my salvation. A slick podcast which covers the breadth and depth of .NET, it’s the perfect way for me to keep an eye on the .NET ecosystem. If you’re used to the world of open source and UNIX development, I’d recommend giving this show a go to see things from the other side of the fence. You’ll learn some new things and maybe appreciate what you’ve got a bit more.
Pragmatic Podcasts – http://www.pragprog.com/podcasts
Irregular, short podcasts from the excellent Pragmatic Programmers publishing house. The podcasts involve interviews with authors and are usually linked to new releases – it’s good PR because I’ve ended up checking out books based on the interviews.
Python411 – http://www.awaretek.com/python/
I’m not sure how to categorise Python411, produced by Ron Stephens. Since the dormancy of This Week in Django, it’s the only active Python-related podcast, albeit irregularly. It has a pleasantly cosy and informal feel to it, and there are some useful gems of information to be found in the episodes.
Sod This – http://www.sodthis.com/podcast/
Billed as “Brain Burps for the Tech Savvy”, Gary and Oliver’s podcast is another one that’s difficult to categorise as it’s relatively new and quite an eclectic experience. I can’t write much more than that, but it’s worth a listen for things such as an interview with IronPython guru Michael Foord or the Women In Technology episode.
The Software Freedom Law Show – http://www.softwarefreedom.org/podcast/
Bradley and Karen from the Software Freedom Law Center cover the legal side of the open source community. If you’re an open source software developer, or a developer interested in the issues surrounding patents, copyright and intellectual property, I can highly recommend this podcast. It’s very accessible so you don’t need to be a lawyer to understand it.
TuxRadar Linux Podcast – http://www.tuxradar.com/podcast
Not as good as Linux Outlaws or LUG Radio, sorry guys, but still a worthy addition to anyone’s Linux podcast collection. News and chat on Linux and open source software from the Linux Format crew.
A VerySpatial Podcast – http://veryspatial.com/avsp/
I was umming and ahhing about adding this, but it is tech-related. A Very Spatial Podcast is the long-running weekly show covering geography and geospatial technology. Being quite new to GIS, and then only currently dealing with very basic geocoding of data, parts of the show can be a little indecipherable to my newbie mind. It’s well presented and covers a good range of topics – I might not understand everything, but it’s helping me to learn fast. If you have any interest in the geospatial technology, professional or amateur, check it out.