On the Appreciation of Users

Forty years ago, on 15 May 1974, a small group of Unix users met at Columbia University. They met to hear Ken Thompson, to exchange bugs and solutions concerning the Unix operating system and to share bugs and solutions concerning their DEC hardware. They needed each … [Read more...]

John Boyd and the Origins of “Agility”

Agility is all around us these days, but the origins of Agile programming and Agile marketing lie in the Korean War and the work-up to invading Iraq. Lisa Morgan recently wrote that “Most software organizations are some version of Agile” here on the Software Quality … [Read more...]

The History of Computer Language Translation

We’re starting to take for granted the number of tools that translate from one human language to another – not least of which are the translations included in Web browsers – even when they do an imperfect job. The technical road to relative success in this realm has been a … [Read more...]

January in History: A Geek’s Almanac

Happy New Year! But it's only been that for a bit over 250 years. Only in 1752 did January 1st begin the “New Year.”   The first day of January was celebrated as the New Year festival, but from the 12th century until 1752 the calendar year in England began on March 25th, … [Read more...]

A Short History of Computers in the Movies: Panel Lights, Spinning Tapes, and Lab Coats

The big screen has always tried to keep step with technology… usually unsuccessfully. Let's look at how the film industry has treated computing. The always-reliable Wikipedia states: “Burroughs B205 hardware has appeared as props in many Hollywood television and film … [Read more...]

Removing Insecurity: The IETF Hums 5 Times

The IETF, which defines and promotes Internet standards, is taking a stand against the activities of the NSA by agreeing to improve the security of Internet protocols. Unless you've been marooned on a desert isle, you're aware of the fact that your email and your phone … [Read more...]

November in History: A Geek’s Almanac

There's no date without some history. Some dates are “important,” some are “happy,” many are sad.  Some events are of historical importance; some are of artistic importance; some matter because of their technological importance. For instance, November is rich in women’s … [Read more...]

Computers and Doctor Who: The First 20 Years

We all know that the arts reflect the technology of their times. So let's look at the Doctor (“the definite article,” as Tom Baker said in December 1974) and his use of computers. “An Unearthly Child,” the first episode of Doctor Who, was aired by the BBC on 23 November … [Read more...]

40 Years of UNIX, and ‘The Scariest Thing I’ve Ever Done’

Let’s take a moment to appreciate the heritage of this influential operating system, and the many ways it has bettered our world. On a beautiful October morning in 1973, Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie drove up the Hudson River valley to the new T.J. Watson Research Lab … [Read more...]

What Good are Terabytes? Because Data Sets are Not Information.

We keep on amassing more and more data. And we're told frequently about the uses to which this data can be put. But data is not information and information is hard to glean from terabytes of stuff. There are, however, needles in those haystacks. At the same time, some … [Read more...]