Tag: Technology

Looking Back 10 Years at My Vision for Smalltalk

My old colleague Laurence Rozier forwarded me an email tonight which was sent earlier today to members of the Squeak developers list. The email contained a link to a chapter entitled "The Future of Squeak" that I wrote for a compilation of essays and discussions about the Squeak variant of Smalltalk back in 2000.

It was strange enough to see that piece being referenced after so many years. But it was stranger still to read it over and realize that it could still elicit such passion in me for this, the Best Computer Programming Language Ever, tempered by my usual chagrin that its curators and caretakers were unable (and in some ways unwilling) to do what it would take to make Smalltalk the broad language of choice for software development I always thought it deserved to become. (On some level, I still think that, though the intervening years have taught me to be less certain of my own certitude.)

With the benefit of hindsight, it seems to me that Squeak ultimately did itself in with its "cuteness". Many of its creators and defenders were focused so intently on the language's proven utility as a language with which to teach children programming that they neglected the ways in which their UI design would perpetuate the notion that Smalltalk was a "toy language".

I had recently become aware of a Squeak fork called Pharo that showed some promise. In one of my "I love this stuff, why can't I work in it?" free-form explorations one night, I downloaded it. At first blush, it appeared these guys (including one of Squeak's major developers, Stephane Ducasse) had done what I thought had needed to be done to Squeak but didn't have the expertise to do myself. Tonight as I started this note, I decided to update my Pharo image. It's in process as I write this and has already failed once due to a connection timeout problem but I'm going to stay with it and perhaps explore Pharo a bit further even though there's no way I can justify taking the time to do so.

Smalltalk does that to me. It just gets under my skin and into my blood like no other programming language I've ever learned.

Installing Snow Leopard, a Scary Halloween Story

Yesterday I finally got around to upgrading my main system to the new OS X 10.6 "Snow Leopard" release. This release was reputed to be relatively insignificant and unimportant and blissfully easy to install so I figured I'd take advantage of a Friday night in which I had social obligations to run the upgrade on auto-pilot. Maybe it was because it was Halloween eve or something, but what a freaking scary experience it turned out to be.

First, I got a message from the installer that said the DVD was dirty and that I should clean it and try again. I had just taken the DVD out of its protective sleeve, handled it carefully, and put it into the player. I ejected it and examined it and I didn't see anything defective but I carefully wiped it anyway. After restarting the process, I didn't encounter that issue again.

Second, I went away and left the installer running. When I came back, I was greeted by a blank gray screen with the chasing arrow circle. No idea how long it had been that way though it seemed like it was probably a long time. I waited another 20 minutes or so thinking I might have come back mid-reboot but when nothing changed, I powered off the iMac and restarted it. That got me to my Finder desktop so I figured the install was done. I tried then to install an HP printer driver that required Snow Leopard but it told me that I was still running 10.5! WTF?

Third, I re-inserted the upgraded DVD and restarted the installation. Sure enough, it came up and started to run exactly as if no upgrade had happened in the first place. Wow. Very strange.

Fourth, after this incarnation of the upgrade seemed to finish running, the system shut down, came back very slowly (not so unusual after an upgrade) and then I saw a dialog on the screen that said that in order to run something called NotificationExec, I'd have to install Rosetta! Huh? Rosetta is the OS9-compatibility box, right? And Apple stopped supporting Rosetta and OS9 quite some time ago. So what was this about? Well, I had one of those infinite dialog box experiences. I must have clicked the Cancel button on 30 or 40 of those dialogs, which kept reappearing. I tried terminating the process to no avail. I was finally left with no choice but to power the unit down and back up again.

Fifth, when the system came back up, it went into that same dialog process again. Unbelievable! I noticed that as it did so, it was at least launching my startup software between dialogs. So I stayed with it and eventually the dialogs stopped appearing and I had what appeared to be a full install. I ran the HP printer  update and that ran fine, so my system apparently at least thinks it's running Snow Leopard.

Sixth, I then launched GraphicConverter, one of my 10 most frequently accessed applications. I got the dialog box warning me this was the first time I'd launched this program. WTF? Now I'm concerned that some system settings got blasted by the install disruption and I'm looking forward to a weekend of painful attempts to get my system stable again. But once I OK'd that warning dialog, the app ran fine.

Seventh, somehow this system seems to have lost its recollection of local network nodes. The one that serves as my file sharing server from which I run NoteShare, shows up in Finder but NoteShare won't see it and won't let me share from it. The server is fine because I can run my Air's version of NoteShare and access its files just fine. As I write this, I'm still stuck on this problem and I have no idea how many more I'm going to encounter.

I wonder what is unusual about my setup that would cause this much confusion around this experience. I'm not finding any other reports of such major glitches trying to upgrade to a version of the system that I clearly didn't need to upgrade to to begin with.

Scary indeed.

Sure Glad I Didn’t Get Up at 4 to See the Lunar Display

Well, that was a real dust-up. Or maybe I should say a dust-down. I got up this morning eager to see video of this early morning's NASA experiment only to find that there was no video and not even any interesting still imagery of the event.

NASA officials, who are far more interested in data than in stunning photography, are ecstatic at the success of the program but it's a bit of a PR crisis. The media — mainstream and otherwise — overhyped this event with some help from NASA. Though to be fair many of the more spectacular animations that had lots of people salivating over the visual impact of the crash were not generated by NASA.

The experiment will prove immensely valuable to the science community. But it's been quite some time since NASA had a PR event that captured the national imagination and they know full well that absent such fluff, they will face funding issues in a Congress not inundated by public demands to keep spending money on space exploration.