Tuesday, March 28, 2006
  in memoriam, Stanislaw Lem, 1921-2006
We were are all left poorer today. Stanislaw Lem will not write another word, will not open any more new doors, will not hold any more mirrors to our society. But he will still make us think, always make us think.

We knew this was coming. Best known for his 1960s novels, (Solaris, Eden, Memoirs Found in a Bathtub), Dr. Lem had ceased writing novels in 84, only to brake that vow with Eyeblink (2000), maybe his last word of farewell, certainly his last world of hope.

Together with Heinlein, K.Dick, and Vonnegut, Stanislaw Lem alone did more for culture and the elevation of the human mind than most national governments ever achieved.

Deep in a way that some find hard to follow, Stanislaw Lem was also the quintessencial European writer, armed with the wit and sagacity that so often populate his works.

During the last 40 years, he taught us to look in the mirror and laugh at ourselves - as individuals and as a species - as the only way to find perspective in a world that has long ago surpassed our boundaries of understanding.
"In my fourth year I learned to write, but had nothing of great importance to communicate by that means. The first letter I wrote to my father, from Skole, having gone there with my mother, was a terse account of how all by myself I defecated in a country outhouse that had a board with a hole."
Highcastle, 1966 (autobiographical)
Together with Borges and Lovecraft, he created worlds that the human mind grasps - and sometimes fails - to understand, showing us, at the same time, how much we have traversed since we left caves, and still how much road lies before us.

Another European, Antonio Machado, wrote "camiñante, no hay camiño; se hace el camiño al andar". Stanislaw Lem showed us a way by walking it. And he will keep on showing it, wherever he is, for as long as we are here to take the steps that make the road.

Professor, for that, we thank you.
Friday, March 24, 2006
  Fat Users
Jaime Cardoso talks - once again - about "network computers".

First of all, I don't quite understand the concept behind the "network computer" designation. The last computer I had that wasn't on a network was back in the 1980's.

Besides, when I read "network computer" I tend to think of something that acts as a compute node for the Network, something more like a grid node than anything else. So, Marketing has it all upside-down. The oh-so-modern "network computer" is, in fact, an X terminal.

And those, my friends, I also had in the 1980's.

The current definition of "network computer", from an architect's point of view (which is from where I stand, want it or not), still doesn't differ much from the 1980's X-term. Central processing, central session management, remote display. You can log off from the machine in your office and continue your work, as you had left it, from any other terminal in the building, in the company, in the network.

Hmmm. I could do this in 1989. I still can do it today.
The benefits are obvious, and many people have spoken about them. My question, the real question, is Why didn't it catch on?

And the real reason is Fat Users.
Fat Users don't like thin clients.
Fat Users like to think they're special, that their machine is brighter-bigger-better than the guys next door's.
Fat Users like to think they have a distinctive activity that makes them need special tools, configured in a special way. Than makes them need extra tools, that aren't even company-standard.
Fat Users like to change the colours on their desktop, because it makes them more productive.
Fat Users like to have a special wallpaper on their desktop, because it makes them more motivated.
Fat Users need to sync their phones' agenda with Outlook (or something), because Fat Users have this oh-so-very-important life, and they can't miss a meeting.
Oh, and Fat Users need their own printer, that only they can print to. And it has to be connected to their machine - that's how they know only they can print to it.

Network computers aren't the answer - they aren't even a question.
Getting companies to standartize on a platform and on a configuration, getting users to stop worrying about detail and concentrating on being productive - those are the main issues today, as they were in the 1980's.

Fix that, and the door is open for the return of the X-term.
  in the beginning
In the beginning was the Tao. The Tao gave birth to Space and Time. Therefore Space and Time are Yin and Yang of programming.

Programmers that do not comprehend the Tao are always running out of time and space for their programs. Programmers that comprehend the Tao always have enough time and space to accomplish their goals.

How could it be otherwise?
The Tao of Programming

Technology is more about people than most of us care to remember or admit. Sometimes it's easier to focus merely on the technical side of an issue than to thoroughly dissect and discover the true implications of it in society and in people's lives, and to judge its merits using a complete, 360º approach.

Why do we do this? Because we can see no further than the tecnological horizon? In most cases, no. We do it for one (ou more) of three reasons:

1. The field of reasons and implications is too wide. If you start considering the social and political implications of the domain name system, you'd be discussing it for years, instead of improving on DNS software. Sometimes we take the technical issue ourselves, and leave politics to the politicians.

2. We choose to believe in something, in a positive way; and we choose to let belief be stronger than factual reasoning - even if the factual reasoning would be enough to prove our point, we choose not to fully prove it, because it would take too much time and effort. Instead, we provide statistics, case studies, examples, anything that proves our point. We plainly choose to believe.

3. We choose to believe in something, in a negative way; either from past events, from observed examples, from other's experience, from our own moral-ethic-aesthetic rules and inclinations, or by mere adherence to a mass-phenomenon, we choose to believe something is bad, should be avoided, or is plainly wrong. We tend to support this view in any way that is more comfortable for us, be it research papers, market studies or anectodal evidence. We simply choose to reject and avoid, which is another form of belief-system.

If we were trying to draw parallels to existing non-technology-related paradigms, we would find a close match in some religious systems.
A large group of agnostics - the ones that just don't care and go about with their lives -, then on one side the do-believers, on the other side the no-believers. If you look at any technology clique that is around, these days, you find pretty much the same model, done with differing degrees of emphasis.

A separate fourth group comprises the "scholars", those who study and analyze, and try to keep an apparently unbiased standing amidst the different sects. Whether they can or actually do maintain this equidistance is, more often than not, a cause for its own debate.

What interests me is the mechanism through which these informal groups light - and keep lit - the fires that fuel them. I am a long time observer - and participant - of the global IT community, while at the same time a student of compared religion; so maybe the parallels are more obvious to me than to most people.

The comparison is obviously not perfect, as no comparisons ever are. Still the resemblances seem too great to not be looked into, so that the lessons - and the risks - learned in one field can be applied to the other.

What would the community think?

Juliao Duartenn's thoughts on people and technology

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Location: Portugal
March 2006 / April 2006 / May 2006 /







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