Eightface

by Dave Kellam

Origins of the blink tag

Lou Montulli, a former engineer with Netscape, writes about the origins of the blink tag. It seems that it was a lament for the lack of features in text-based browsers.

Back in 1994 I was a founding engineer at Netscape, prior to that I had written the Lynx browser, which predated all of the other popular browsers at that time. Lynx had been and still is a text only browser and is commonly used in a console window on UNIX machines.

Sometime in late summer I took a break with some of the other engineers and went to a local bar on Castro street in Mountain View. At some point in the evening I mentioned that it was sad that Lynx was not going to be able to display many of the HTML extensions that we were proposing, I also pointed out that the only text style that Lynx could exploit given its environment was blinking text. We had a pretty good laugh at the thought of blinking text, and talked about blinking this and that and how absurd the whole thing would be.

Saturday morning rolled around and I headed into the office only to find what else but, blinking text. It was on the screen blinking in all its glory, and in the browser. How could this be, you might ask? It turns out that one of the engineers liked my idea so much that he left the bar sometime past midnight, returned to the office and implemented the blink tag overnight. He was still there in the morning and quite proud of it.

Why am I not surprised that the idea originated in a bar.

January 31, 2015 ·

Gmail fixed itself

Earlier this year, Google’s Gmail service fixed itself before the engineers did. From the post-mortem blog post:

Users began seeing these errors on affected services at 11:02 a.m., and at that time our internal monitoring alerted Google’s Site Reliability Team. Engineers were still debugging 12 minutes later when the same system, having automatically cleared the original error, generated a new correct configuration at 11:14 a.m. and began sending it; errors subsided rapidly starting at this time.

Found this sifting through some old bookmarks, hat-tip to Kyle Neath.

December 1, 2014 ·

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.

May 31, 2014 ·

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.

April 6, 2014 ·

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.

April 1, 2014 ·

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.

February 26, 2014 ·

The story of an old-timey programming hack

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Tom Moertel’s tale of a great old-timey game-programming hack, it reminded me of my computer science days and assembly programming.

A long time ago, when I was a college undergrad, I spent some time working on computer video games. This was in the 8-bit PC era, so the gaming hardware was almost impossibly slow by today’s standards.

It might not surprise you, then, to learn that, back then, game programmers did all sorts of crazy things to make their games run at playable speeds. Crazy, crazy things.

This is a story about one of those things.

December 17, 2013 ·

The Minitel app store

I’m more familiar with the America-centric history of networked computing, so I’m always fascinated to read about things that were happening in other parts of the world. Jeremy Rossman takes a look at France’s Minitel system and how it provided one of the first app stores.

In the early eighties the French government vaulted its country’s tech industry a decade ahead of the rest of the world by introducing a computer terminal called the Minitel. Rolled out as a beta product in 1980 and launched to the French public in 1983, every household with a landline subscription was eligible for a free Minitel. Its killer launch app was a digital version of the yellow pages — to encourage adoption the government cancelled the production of [the] paper [version].

October 25, 2013 ·