Starting November 7, 2008
More about spreadsheet use that doesn't fit Dvorak's model, Reacting to John Dvorak's silly criticism of spreadsheets, Podcast with Amy Wohl about the 1984 Mac announcement, Tech Tuesday in February at new Microsoft R&D space, New OLPC version of SocialCalc: 0.7.9, No Tech Tuesday in January, No Tech Tuesday this month, Tech Tuesday this coming Tuesday, Video of OLPC's Nicholas Negroponte's talk at Vilna Shul, Tech Tuesday is on the 18th this month, Why hasn't Dan been blogging much?
More about spreadsheet use that doesn't fit Dvorak's model [link]
Hanan Cohen sent me a note to point out that Joel Spolsky blogged about his work on the Excel team and how they learned that "we realized that an enormous number of people just use Excel to keep lists. They are not entering any formulas or doing any calculation at all!" (from The Process of Designing a Product). Hanan should remember what Joel wrote -- according to his web site he translated Joel's User Interface Design for Programmers into Hebrew.
Reacting to John Dvorak's silly criticism of spreadsheets [link]
A few of my friends have sent me emails reacting in horror to John C. Dvorak's column on PCMag.com about the 30th anniversary of VisiCalc. John starts out:
2009 marks the 30-year anniversary of the now-ubiquitous spreadsheet program. And society as a whole has deteriorated ever since its invention. It was the spreadsheet that triggered the PC revolution, with VisiCalc the original culprit. Can anyone say that we've actually benefited from its invention? Look around: I think we've suffered.
John, as usual, takes a very strong stance, making all sorts of flawed assertions (for example, spreadsheets were not just "designed for accountants" any more than pencils were -- my notes from the time say I was aiming at marketing, management, home, production, engineering, as well as accounting). He humorously implies that it's better to do things the "old" way, not looking at different scenarios or "doing the numbers" when making decisions. What does he suggest instead? Use astrology? Wish for the best? He blames Enron, the mortgage crisis, and high oil prices on spreadsheets. He demeans accountants and calls into question people with that background doing any other job.
Of course, as usual, what John has to say has a small grain of truth and then lots of wild exaggeration. That's his job. Yes, people who do things we don't like used spreadsheets in their work. They also used word processors, cell phones, and paper. Bad decisions were made before and after all of those were developed. But they are all, on balance, very helpful. We would be much worse off without them.
Dave Winer wrote a blog post about John Dvorak last week titled "Actors and non-actors." He writes: "In person, Dvorak is a gentleman and really nice thoughtful guy. On the web and in his podcast, he's an actor playing the role of a cranky, thoughtless clown." Dave then includes a short video interview where John explains how he writes things to get attention.
I agree with Dave. I've met John many times, and have appeared on his TV shows. He is a real gentleman in person and is very thoughtful. But, as I've watched him reading from his teleprompter, I see that he also knows his craft, which is to entertain his audience.
Here are a few photos from Fall Comdex 1999:
John and Dan getting made up, John's teleprompter
So, no offense taken, John. In real life, I'm sure you don't mind if a spreadsheet helped make a decision that made you more money, and won't mind a good accountant defending you if the IRS ever made a mistake not in your favor.
Podcast with Amy Wohl about the 1984 Mac announcement [link]
I had the pleasure on Monday to have lunch with Amy Wohl when I happened to be in the Philadelphia area. Amy has been a computer industry guru since at least the early 1980s. We talked about what we each were doing and about old times. She mentioned that she had done some consulting to Apple in the early days of the Mac, and was at the announcement. I asked if she'd be willing to do a podcast and she agreed.
It came out pretty well. Much of what she talked about related to trying to help Apple sell to businesses. Amy blogs at Amy Wohl's Opinions, as well as a few other places -- see her web site.
You can find the nine and half minute recording on my podcast page as "Amy Wohl reminiscing about early Mac 2009-01-26".
We were in a restaurant, which was not too noisy, and I used my Electro-Voice RE50N/D-B omnidirectional mike connected to my Zoom H4 recorder. This is the first time I've used that mike for an on-location podcast. I usually use a directional mike in situations where there are other people making noise, but some pros have been telling me to use the RE50, and I see it frequently on TV being used for interviews -- at least as much as I see my other interview mike, the Sennheiser MD46. They tell me you just hold it closer to the speaker and that way their voice will be louder than the background noise, instead of depending upon the directionality of a cardioid mike. An omnidirectional mike avoids the strange effects with a cardioid when you are trying to switch between two speakers. (The person you aren't pointing to sounds like they are yards away, and there may be some other distortion as you move the mike.) It's also smaller than the MD46 and easy to carry in my daypack.
Tech Tuesday in February at new Microsoft R&D space [link]
Just a heads up: I hear that there will be Tech Tuesday this coming month on February 10th. Instead of meeting at a pub/restaurant in Waltham, this time we have been invited to check out Microsoft's new R&D space in Cambridge overlooking the Charles River and the Boston skyline. Like the Waltham location, it is convenient to public transportation. There will be pizza, a Zune give-away, and more.
New OLPC version of SocialCalc: 0.7.9 [link]
SocialCalc is one of the things I've been working on over the last many months. I've overhauled a lot of its internals to handle long recalculations and other things needed by Socialtext to make it really useful in a business setting. Enough of the pieces are now working to release a new build for the OLPC XO machine.
We'd really like people to test this before we make a more formal release for the XO. The recalculation code has been modified, so checking that it calculates correctly would be very helpful. It is still missing reasonable grade-school-level graphing, but most everything else we'll need for pedagogic use is there. It even lets you use Ctrl-V to paste something you copied from a browser (like data in a table) or some other application, and has a much nicer color-chooser.
You can find the latest version on the Software Garden OLPC home page. It includes an email address to send bug reports and comments.
No Tech Tuesday in January [link]
Ian McGuinness of the Mass Tech Leadership Council tells me that for various reasons they are not having a Tech Tuesday this month. Hopefully, they will next month.
No Tech Tuesday this month [link]
Just a note: According to Ian at the Mass Tech Leadership Council, there is no Tech Tuesday this month. All the holiday parties, etc., made scheduling the place difficult.
Anyway, the holiday parties are a great way to mingle, at least for people currently in the business or recently looking. A lot of VCs and service firms have get togethers this month. I was at one this week that Matrix Partners put on. It is just a cocktail party where you stand around talking to other people who were involved in Matrix-backed companies over the years while eating a little bit of food (they backed Trellix). Last year I ran into Don Bulens there, who had just made a deal to sell EqualLogic to Dell, and did a YouTube video (search for "Bulens Matrix").
Tech Tuesday this coming Tuesday [link]
Just a reminder that we are having Tech Tuesday this coming week, on the 18th of November, at 5:30pm. It's at the Skellig Irish Pub again. This is in Waltham, MA, close to 128 and right near the commuter rail that comes from Porter Square. While they serve beer and stuff, like other restaurants all ages are allowed in. Admission is FREE and students are encouraged to attend, too, to mingle with each other, potential employers, and "seasoned" veterans and potential mentors. See the Event Sign Up page for a list of some of the people coming and to sign up (though you can just show up, too).
Video of OLPC's Nicholas Negroponte's talk at Vilna Shul [link]
Nicholas Negroponte, founder and chairman of the One Laptop Per Child non-profit organization, spoke and answered questions for a little over an hour on October 22, 2008. This was another in the wonderful Vilna Shul speaker series organized by Doug Levin. I sat on the front row and made a video recording, which is now available for viewing on Google Video.
Nicholas spoke about the history of OLPC, the trials and tribulations of getting it adopted in many countries, the upcoming Give One/Get One campaign starting November 17 with the help of Amazon.com, why he's happy the XO can run Microsoft Windows, and more.
The lighting, with both a bright screen to show his slides and the low room light on his face, was challenging, but I think being able to see him and his expressions along with the photos adds a lot compared to just the sound. I was able to use a lavalier mike on Nicholas and a shotgun mike for the audience questions, so the sound quality is pretty good.
To watch the video, go to "Nicholas Negroponte of OLPC speaks at Vilna Shul".
We haven't been hearing as much about OLPC for a while, but huge numbers of units have been, and will continue to be, deployed. This talk is a good way to catch up on that deployment.
Tech Tuesday is on the 18th this month [link]
The Mass Tech Leadership Council decided to have this month's Tech Tuesday on the 3rd Tuesday of the month instead of the normal 2nd because of Veterans Day. So, it will be at Skellig's, as it has been, but on November 18, 2008, at 6pm. To sign up (it's free and you can show up even if you don't sign up) go to the signup page.
Why hasn't Dan been blogging much? [link]
If you look back at the last several months here you'll see that I haven't been posting much on this blog. There are several reasons for that. I was quite busy working on SocialCalc, "sprinting" to meet some deadlines to add various functionality "under the hood" that is important for its integration into the Socialtext wiki system. In addition, last summer I was working, again, as an expert witness on a patent-related lawsuit (on the side that was being sued for infringement). That lawsuit settled, but then I had another (non-programming) big project that I had to meet a deadline for, and finished that in time by the skin of my teeth a few days ago. This is all in addition to family events and my ongoing podcasting and responsibilities on various boards. (I still have a video recording of Nicholas Negroponte from last month to process and post.) I have been posting on Twitter once in a while (as "DanB"), but even there not too much.
Now I'm back to mainly working on SocialCalc, so things will be a little less crazy, I hope. Maybe we'll even see some postings here on a topic other than Tech Tuesday.
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