Skip to main content

Alternate Computer Science History

I'm basically putting a giant sign on me by even saying this in public, but for a while now I've been sketching notes on the side for a series of writing I call Alternate Computer Science History. The idea is to envision alternate histories for how we may have developed computers over the years, both in how those differences would have played out in the past and the impact it would have on what we've built on top of all these things since then.

What makes this so fascinating? Legacy. Computers are so steeped in legacy to such a remarkable degree, but they're still so young. What kind of boxes are we putting ourselves in? So I find it fun to explore what could have been different. What we have today, built on so many layers built up over the decades, is really nothing short of accidental. We could have ended up with a lot of other paths these developments could have taken over the years... couldn't we have?

So maybe I'll just keep these private, or maybe I'll publish some of it if I ever polish any bits of it in an interesting format. Have any thoughts? Do you think this sounds fun? Let me know.

Comments

datagrok said…
You might be interested in getting hold of Ted Nelson's "Literary Computers" to read the source for the fever dream of Project Xanadu. I found a copy at a local university library.

It's interesting to look back at his 1993 pre-Internet vision of a hypertext future, but some parts are stupendously bad.

He managed to predict the Internet cafe, ("Silverstands,") but in his vision they were a single licensed chain of franchised gatekeepers to the Xanadu network. He advocated for DRM schemes that triggered an independent royalty micro-payment from every viewer for every piece of quoted text in a document. Scary stuff.

His "Silverstands" article includes a specification for the "perky" silver uniforms that the staff must wear, complete with a "changing variety of tasteful accessories." Which I suppose predicted "flair" six years before "Office Space."

It is itself a piece of alternate computer science history that I'm quite relieved never came to fruition, despite its few good ideas.

Popular posts from this blog

The Insidiousness of The Slow Solution

In software development, slow solutions can be worse than no progress at all. I'll even say its usually worse and if you find yourself making slow progress on a problem, consider stopping while you're a head.

Its easy to see why fast progress is better: either you solve the problem or you prove a proposed solution wrong and find a better one. Even a total standstill in pushing forward on a task or a bug or a request can force you to seek out new information or a second opinion.

Slow solutions, on the other hand, is kind of sneaky. Its insidious. Slow solution is related the Sunk Cost Fallacy, but maybe worse. Slow solutions have you constantly dripping more of your time, energy, and hope into a path that's still unproven, constantly digging a hole. Slow solutions are deceptive, because they still do offer real progress. It is hard to justify abandoning it or trying another route, because it is "working", technically.

We tend to romanticize the late night hacking…

Finding "One Game A Month"

I was really excited about the One Game A Month challenge as soon as I heard about it.
For about two years I've struggled in fits and starts to make my way into game development. This hasn't been productive in any of the ways I hoped when I started. Its really difficult to be fairly experienced as a developer, which I believe I am in my day job as a web developer, while struggling really hard at an area in which your experience just doesn't exist.
Its like being a pilot who doesn't know how to drive.

But this challenge provided a new breath to this little hobby of mine. It gave me a scaffolding to experiment, to learn, to reflect on finished projects. I had spent far too much time on game projects that stretched on far past their exciting phases, bogged down by bad decisions and regret.
And it has worked.
I have a lot to learn. I have a lot of experience to gain through trial and error and mistake and discovery. I have a lot of fun to be had making more small games t…

On Pruning Your Passions

We live in a hobby-rich world. There is no shortage of pastimes to grow a passion for. There is a shortage of one thing: time to indulge those passions. If you're someone who pours your heart into that one thing that makes your life worthwhile, that's a great deal. But, what if you've got no shortage of interests that draw your attention and you realize you will never have the time for all of them?

If I look at all the things I'd love to do with my life as a rose bush I'm tending, I realize that careful pruning is essential for the best outcome. This is a hard lesson to learn, because it can mean cutting beautiful flowers and watching the petals fall to the ground to wither. It has to be done.

I have a full time job that takes a lot of my mental energy. I have a wife and a son and family time is very important in my house. I try to read more, and I want to keep up with new developments in my career, and I'm trying to make time for simple, intentional relaxing t…