Eightface

by Dave Kellam

On booting up a PDP-11/34

The NYC Resistor hacker collective recently got an old PDP-11/34 up and running again.

We rescued two PDP-11/34 computers and their associated equipment from a storage unit in the Bronx and have been working on getting them running again. The computing system included multiple RK05 hard drives, two RL02 decpack drives, a TU11 tape drive and tons of media, including “digitized monkey brains“.

Unsurprisingly, the operating system is not y2k compliant.

Is Big Data a mistake?

Tim Harford takes a look at big data for the Financial Times and asks if we are we making a big mistake.

But the “big data” that interests many companies is what we might call “found data”, the digital exhaust of web searches, credit card payments and mobiles pinging the nearest phone mast. […] As our communication, leisure and commerce have moved to the internet and the internet has moved into our phones, our cars and even our glasses, life can be recorded and quantified in a way that would have been hard to imagine just a decade ago.

I think the main take-away is that there’s a need to be careful with the data and not jump to conclusions, just because you have a lot of data, doesn’t mean it’s good. I also think it’s important for these companies to allow us, as consumers, to access our data in the same ways that they’re able to.

As a side-note, I came really close to not posting this link because of scuzzy clipboard hijack behaviour from FT. I copied the above text to use as a quote. Upon pasting the quote, they attached a wonderful message about the effort that journalism takes and to use the link to share instead. That’s exactly what I was doing, and despise the insinuation that I somehow disrespect the efforts of journalists by copying a paragraph of text.

You are a real artist

For all my creative friends who’ve struggled at times trying to achieve their dreams, an artice from Sara Benincasa, Real Artists Have Day Jobs.

Have you ever dreamt of being a real artist?

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to call yourself a real painter, or a real writer, or a real actress, or a real musician?

Have you ever described yourself as someone who does something amazing and magical and wonderful and life-affirming and then added “on the side”?

Well, you might not like what I have to say.

Because I have come here today to deliver the unfortunate truth that you are lying to yourself.

You are not going to become a real artist one day.

You are a real artist right now.

Go read the rest.

Interview with a frozen food tester

Mike Dang interviews a freelance illustrator, named Matthew, about his side-job as a professional frozen food taster.

I’d come home with huge blisters in my mouth from the salt. Yeah, fried food doesn’t have the same appeal anymore. And the other amazing thing is seeing the whole world behind literally every product we consume. Every aspect of the foods, taste, appearance, texture, is so insanely focus grouped and tested. Every major food company has a similar testing process.

Sounds like fun.

On progress bars

Here’s a somewhat fluffy NYT Magazine piece from Daniel Engber, titled Who Made That Progress Bar? He credits it to an interface designer named Bob Stahl. I found this tidbit interesting:

Myers asked 48 fellow students to run searches on a computer database, with and without a progress bar for guidance. Then he had them rate their experience. Eighty-six percent said they liked the bars. “People didn’t mind so much if it was inaccurate,” Myers says. “They still preferred the progress bar to not having anything at all.”

It lets the user know there’s magic happening behind the curtain.

Flipboard and automating layout

Flipboard Duplo candidates

Charles Ying wrote an article for TechCrunch detailing Flipboard’s automated approach to layout with their new Duplo engine.

Ultimately, what we’ve done with Pages and Duplo is take the elements of magazine layout design — a powerful tool in framing a story and its impact on the reader — and created a way to automate the process, while still capturing the essence and art of a human designer’s craft.

There’s some pretty cool stuff going on under the hood, including adding a degree of randomness to the layouts, so you don’t get the same layouts over and over again.

Acceptable in the 90s

The folks who’ve made things on the Internet since the 1990’s have had a kick out Zach Holman’s piece Only 90s Web Developers Remember This. For me, it was the 1×1.gif:

1×1.gif should have won a fucking Grammy. Or a Pulitzer. Or Most Improved, Third Grade Gym Class or something. It’s the most important achievement in computer science since the linked list. It’s not the future we deserved, but it’s the future we needed (until the box model fucked it all up).

All the things I’ve forgotten. Blink, deal with it.

Landmarks in time

Matt Connor wrote an article about Netflix killing discussions, which has an interesting quote from a book I hadn’t heard of before; Moonwalking with Einstein by Michael Siffre.

Monotony collapses time. Novelty unfolds it. You can exercise daily and eat healthy and live a long life while experiencing a short one. If you spend your life sitting in a cubicle and passing papers, one day is bound to blend unmemorably into the next — and disappear. That’s why it’s important to… have as many new experiences as possible… Creating new memories stretches out psychological time, and lengthens our perceptions of our lives.

When I arrive in a new city and start exploring, one of the first things I do is pick out some landmarks to orient myself and avoid getting lost. Similarly, events in life can serve as a landmark in time. When you’re young and in school, it’s easy… the semesters and various breaks serve to chunk things up. As you get older, it becomes harder, the days begin to bleed into each other. Getting out and doing something different allows you to break up any monotony and slow down the passage of time.