I used to be a professional computer programmer, writing in the C language on the Unix operating system back in the 1980’s when half a megabyte of memory was enough to support a sixteen-user system.
But I’m still enough of a coder to share the excitement that has been rippling through the IT security community recently after the publication of a paper from Mark Dowd, X-Force Researcher at IBM Internet Security Systems.
It’s late on Sunday evening and I’ve just finished writing a column for Ariel, the BBC’s inhouse newspaper. I’m tired, but thought I’d spend five minutes installing Growl, the fabulous tool that tells you about what your Mac’s up to, on my new iMac.
And I came across a discussion thread on the Growl google group that included this fabulous aside from Brian Ganninger
Meta: Each discussion should be unto itself, bringing baggage in only leads to additional problems. We are in a neutral medium that doesn’t provide implicit contexts – your emotions, your tenses or speaking patterns, your anything else – and lends itself to exactly what is in front of the viewer.
Which is, of course, true. And is also what we want our social networks to make untrue.
Much as I adore my MacBook I have no desire to form a life-long union with it or attempt to interface in any way that doesn’t involve keys, trackpad and my fingers.
Others seem to feel differently about the matter, like David Levy, who reckons that by the middle of the century our relationships with the machines that currently service our social lives will have grown significantly, and that intelligent robots will be sexual partners too.
My friend Giles at Proboscis kindly invited me to suggest the material for one of their really cool eBooks, and being that kind of hack I chose three essays by Johnson, the man to whom all journalists are beholden.
The eBooks are part of their Diffusion project to create a platform for public authoring and cultures of listening by creating and sharing knowledge, stories, ideas and information. As they put it:
The Diffusion Shareables (eBooks & StoryCubes) are playful hybrid digital/material publications combining the tactile pleasures of tangible objects with the ease of sharing via digital media.
And they are also fun. You can get mine from their website – it’s a PDF which you print, fold and cut into a very nice little book/booklet.
I’ve just finished marking the essays my students at City University have to do as part of the course in online journalism that I teach. They’ve done some good work, especially the assignment where I get them to argue that the BBC should be forced to close down its online service because the license fee is really only there to pay for television.
They also seem to have realised that anyone who wants to break into professional journalism needs to have some sort of online presence beyond a Facebook profile, as it’s the first thing an editor will look for when they apply for a job, so there are a few new blogs and online publications out there that might not otherwise have appeared.
On Monday 31st March I was at Queens’ College, Cambridge, for the dinner to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the formation of the Mathematical Laboratory, which later became the Computer Laboratory. Maurice Wilkes, who build the EDSAC in 1949, was there, and gave a speech. And the conversation on my table was largely about the problems of finding good programmers and of persuading young people that Computer Science is a good degree to do. This article was the result.
Sixty years ago, on June 21 1948, the Small-Scale Experimental Machine, or ‘Baby’, ran its first program and the age of the stored program digital computer properly began.
Built by a team led by Tom Kilburn and Freddie Williams at Manchester University, Baby showed that storing the instructions for a computer in the same memory as the data it was working on was both feasible and effective.
I went to Paris yesterday to see the Patti Smith exhibition, Land 250, at the Fondation Cartier. It was fabulous, a thrilling insight into the mind and work of someone I have admired for many years.
And afterwards I sat on the bench where de Beauvoir and Sartre worked, in Les Deux Magot, for a coffee and a baguette.