What made Xerox PARC special?

In case you haven’t heard of Xerox PARC before, it’s a research center founded in the 1970’s and, particularly in its early years, provided many vital inventions to the technology community. One of the most visible inventions is the graphical computer interface with point-and-click interaction and windows.

On Quora Alan Kay, one of the original computer scientists at XEROX Parc, answers the question of what made Xerox PARC special:

There was a vision: “The destiny of computers is to become interactive intellectual amplifiers for everyone in the world pervasively networked worldwide”.

[…]

Parc was highly concentrated with regard to wealth of talents, abilities, vision, confidence, and cooperation. There was no real management structure, so things were organized to allow researchers to “suggest” and “commit” and “decommit” in a more or less orderly fashion.

It’s worth reading his whole answer to get an understanding of what was the driving force for the researchers.

Shania Twain Releasing New Album Soon

CBC News:

Twain is charting a return to music after suffering from dysphonia — a vocal cord disorder that she attributed to stress. She has had intensive voice therapy over the past few years to relearn how to sing.

[…]

She plans to release her first new music in 15 years later this spring, revealing she’s been writing new songs that reflect in part on her painful 2008 breakup with husband and producer Robert “Mutt” Lange.

Shania Twain is one of my long-time favorite country artists and I’ve been hoping she would release new music for years, thoguh. I can’t wait for her new album, and am curious what her new sound will be after her dysphonia. She’s been through

You People Make Me Sick

A rant like this is exactly why the internet exists. Posted in the Grilled Cheese subreddit:

A grilled cheese consists of only these following items. Cheese. Bread with spread (usually butter). This entire subreddit consist of “melts”. Almost every “grilled cheese” sandwich i see on here has other items added to it. The fact that this subreddit is called “grilledcheese” is nothing short of utter blasphemy.

Go read the whole thing, have a laugh and learn not to mess with people and their grilled cheeses.

The Case of the 500-Mile Email

I came across the story of the 500-Mile Email quite some time ago, but it’s an absolute classic:

I was working in a job running the campus email system some years ago when I got a call from the chairman of the statistics department.

“We’re having a problem sending email out of the department.”

“What’s the problem?” I asked.

“We can’t send mail more than 500 miles,” the chairman explained.

I choked on my latte. “Come again?”

“We can’t send mail farther than 500 miles from here,” he repeated. “A little bit more, actually. Call it 520 miles. But no farther.”

Dangers of Texting and Driving

The CBC:

A witness says the driver of a pickup truck that collided with a church minibus in rural Texas, killing 13 people, acknowledged he had been texting while driving — highlighting the dangers of sending messages on smartphones while behind the wheel.

A stark reminder that whatever the text message may be, it is never more important than the road around you while driving. Pull over and stop if it’s urgent, or save it until your destination.

Curated List of Falsehoods Programmers Believe In

On GitHub there is an entertaining collection of falsehoods that many programmers believe in:

Falsehood articles are a form of commentary on a particular subject, and are appreciated by the developer community at large for their effectiveness and terseness. They’re a convenient written form to approach an unfamiliar domain by dispelling myths, point out common pitfalls, show inconsistencies and subtleties.

In a sense, Falsehood articles are a suite of wordy unit-tests covering extensive edge-cases provided by real-world usage.

I’m personally a fan of the date and time falsehoods.

Mountain Biking Mt. Wilson on Echo Chutes and Sam Merrill

I consider myself comfortable on my mountain bike, and capable of covering fairly technical terrain. Even if I can’t ride it, I know I can walk it. This video by BKXC, however, shows a trail I simply would not take a bike to.

A narrow trail along sheer drops means the pucker factor is high with this one.

New Investments for Xbox Developers and Gamers Kick Off GDC 2017

I generally avoid posting about topics that are specific to Microsoft, but there were some big announcements from Xbox at GDC this year with a couple in particular that I want to call out.

The Xbox Live Creators Program:

…empowers anyone to rapidly publish Xbox Live-enabled games on Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs, in a totally open way. With the Creators Program, anyone can integrate Xbox Live sign-in, presence, and social features into their UWP games, then publish their game to Xbox One and Windows 10. This means their title can see exposure to every Xbox One owner across the Xbox One family of devices, including Project Scorpio this holiday, as well as hundreds of millions of Windows 10 PCs, and millions of folks using the Xbox app on mobile platforms.

Starting today, we encourage developers to download and start using the Xbox Live Creators SDK at https://developer.microsoft.com/games/xbox/xboxlive/creator, where they can learn all the details of the program. The Creators Program is currently in preview, so the program will pilot with a select group of developers initially. We will be opening store publishing submissions to all developers soon.

For context, currently only approved developers can release games on Xbox and at significant cost. While the ID@Xbox program makes this both easier and cheaper, it is still a significant hurdle. The Xbox Live Creators Program makes Xbox Live available to all game developers for just the cost of a Windows developer license ($20 USD at the time of writing), with some restrictions on the Xbox Live services they can utilize.

Xbox Game Pass:

…is a new gaming subscription service that gives you unlimited access to more than 100 Xbox One and Xbox 360 backward compatible games on Xbox One – all for $9.99 USD per month.

Xbox Game Pass can be thought of as “Netflix for gaming”.

Congratulations to the folks in Xbox that are a part of making these possible. These are significant steps forward in the Xbox business and I’m excited to see them become a reality.

How to Beat the Robots

The New York Times has published an interesting and detailed look at possible ways to address the job market being automated:

Maybe the automation of jobs will eventually create new, better jobs. Maybe it will put us all out of work. But as we argue about this, work is changing.

Today’s jobs — white collar, blue collar or no collar — require more education and interpersonal skills than those in the past. And many of the people whose jobs have already been automated can’t find new ones. Technology leads to economic growth, but the benefits aren’t being parceled out equally. Policy makers have the challenge of helping workers share the gains.

That will take at least some government effort, just as it did when the United States moved from an agricultural economy to an industrial one, with policies like high school for all or workers’ rights.

Whether there’s political will for big changes remains to be seen, but here are some policies that economists and policy experts think could help now.

They cover many of the same theories I did a few weeks ago in my post on The Information Revolution, including improved education, basic income and infrastructure investment.

Mortgage Brokering is Being Automated

The CBC at the end of February, 2017:

Tory Shoreman thought she was safe.

As far as career choices go, working in mortgage financing at one of the country’s top banks seemed like a solid bet.

She figured there would be more job security than many other professions and plenty of opportunities to climb the corporate ladder in Toronto.

That was back in 2010.

Over the next seven years, she says she had a front-row seat to watch automation — most often intelligent software — take over nearly every aspect of mortgage processing.

As I stated in my post on The Information Revolution, all repetitive jobs will be automated at some point in the future, regardless of whether they are considered blue-collar or white-collar.