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Updated: 6/23/2005; 9:33:33 PM.


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Wednesday, January 05, 2005

They Hacked Graphing Calaulator Real Good, for Free

A reminder that what drives our most original work is not always the almighty buck.

They finished the Graphing Calculator in January 1994 and it has been part of the Macintosh ever since. Teachers around the world use it as an animated blackboard to illustrate abstract concepts visually. It shipped on more than twenty million machines. But it never officially existed.

The heart-warming and unbelievable story about how a cancelled software project that  wouldn't die and the programmers that couldn't abandon a valid and worthwhile programming dream.

It kind of reminds me of the soldiers in Iraq, without trucks they needed - scavenged unused trucks, completed their mission with honor and then was brought up-on-charges for stealing.  In this case, Ron Avitzur and  Greg Robbins finally were paid by Apple in the low five figures to make the Graphing Calculator legal since it's shipped with 20 million  Macs so far.

Ron Avitzur now sells a souped-up version for cash on his web-site.


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3:32:07 PM    

Friday, October 25, 2002

Celebrate Grace Hopper Day

If you are not familiar with who Grace Hopper was you are missing a vital pice of computer history. She was a remarkable person whose life should be celebrated.

Grace Hopper holding a nanosecond

Grace Hopper holding a nanosecond

by Margaret Rouse, Associate Editor,

I would like to nominate December 9th, the birthday of Admiral Grace Hopper, to be our first international IT holiday. Why Grace Hopper, you ask? Well, I'll tell you. Anyone whose obituary in Time magazine says "She is perhaps best known for having said "It's easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission" deserves a holiday named after her.

How would we celebrate Grace Hopper Day, you ask? Let's take a quick look at some of Admiral Hopper's contributions and see what we can come up with.

Grace Murray Hopper, a pioneer in computer science, is generally credited with developments that led to COBOL, the programming language for business applications on which the world's largest corporations ran for more than a generation. After receiving her Ph.D. in mathematics at Yale, Hopper worked as an associate professor at Vassar College before joining the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1943. She went on to work as a researcher and mathematician at the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corp. and the Sperry Corporation. Having retired from the Navy after World War II, she returned in 1967 to work at the Naval Data Automation Command. By the time of her death in 1992, Rear Admiral Grace Hopper had left many contributions to the field of software engineering and was arguably the world's most famous programmer.

But here are some lesser-known facts:
  • The clock in her office ran counterclockwise to remind her that there's always more than one way to do something.
  • She hated the words "because we've always done it this way."
  • She joked that she created COBOL because she didn't like to balance her checkbook.
  • When she was a child, she practiced her troubleshooting skills (notalways successfully) by taking apart alarm clocks.
  • She called her Admiral's uniform her "identifier" and used it to remind listeners that every record in a computer must have an identifier to be able to store data and retrieve it later.
  • During her lifetime, she was a popular TV talk show guest
  • She chain-smoked unfiltered Lucky Strike cigarettes.
  • She liked to be introduced as the "third programmer on the first large-scale digital computer."
  • She is credited with applying the engineering term "bug" to computing when her team found a moth trapped in a relay of the MarkII computer.
  • She was first asked to resign from the Navy when she was 40 because she was too old. By the time she was 80, President Reagan had to go before Congress once a year to get permission for her NOT to have to resign from the Navy

Amazing Grace, as Admiral Hopper was often called, was a colorful woman who might inspire some interesting ways to celebrate a holiday, don't you think?

I can just see it. On December 9, we'll all gather together in hyperspace and celebrate (virtually, of course) Grace Hopper Day. If nothing else, it'll be interesting to see what your co-workers pick as their "identifier." We can all spend the day troubleshooting and brainstorming new ways to solve old problems. In fact, we can start practicing by taking Quiz #30. Works for me.

So mark December 9th down in your calendar, and just for fun, please let us know how you plan to celebrate Grace Hopper Day!

Learn more:

Quiz #30: Troubleshooting

Grace Hopper

Grace Hopper nanosecond

[Via Doug's Dynamic Drive]

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9:56:47 PM    

Friday, May 24, 2002

Killing vs. Copying

Posted 24 May 2002 by vicious (Master)

Which is worse, killing a person, or copying the newest Metallica CD? Given where we seem to be heading in US legislation, it seems the latter must be much worse a crime.

Imagine how you do both. To kill a person, you can say, take a knife and stab him (or her). You could also take a gun, you could run the person over with a car, put some drain cleaner in his drink, or perhaps drown him in a bathtub. Now one thing to note that all the things you need to kill a person are readily available. A knife, a gun, a car, drain cleaner, bath tub are all easy to get. Well perhaps guns are harder then the rest, but possible.

Now imagine you'd like to copy the CD. Well, you might need some software to rip and burn the CD. Aaahhh! Now we are getting into what is to become illegal territory. Obviously, copying CDs must be a far worse crime then killing a person, since we want to make it harder even to get the tools to do it. Even though there are legal ways to use software for copying CDs, the crime of copying a copyrighted CD illegally must be so bad that we must sacrifice our rights for the legal use and ban such software entirely.

Guns have a similar problem, there are a lot of legal uses, and then a lot of illegal uses, such as killing someone. But it seems that here the illegal use isn't so bad that we'd want to ban guns. It seems very cynical to say this is because dead people don't have enough lobby money in Washington. I mean this is a democracy right? We pass laws on behalf of all the people. We do not give more power to certain people or institutions. We did away with all this long time ago when we overthrew the kings and monarchs right? We got rid of all the nobility, and people with inherited by god. Well I do argue here as both a Czech and someone living in USA, since both are republics and democracies. Or at least they pretend to be.

Now I'm not advocating making guns illegal. I own several guns. I like to go target shooting. That's a completely legal use of guns. I don't carry them around loaded, I don't go rob stores with them, nor do I go and kill random people with them. I use them solely for target shooting. Why should the fact that some idiot uses a tool to do something stupid impede my rights?

Same thing with copying music. Why should the fact that some people violate the fair-use policy impede on my rights to copy music. And same thing with anything that is usable for both legal and illegal uses. A cooking knife can be used for both cooking or robbing people on a bus. Does that make it bad to own a cooking knife?

OK, I know. Let's take away all the dangerous things away from people. Let's stick everyone in a nice room, let's put a big screen TV in there which would be pay-per-view only. Let's also put a camera in each home, to make sure nobody dares to copy any of this on some other media. Now let's rename the government/media conglomeration to "Big Sister." Oh, wait ... I'm getting ahead of myself, it's not yet 2084 ...

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5:32:52 PM    

Wednesday, May 08, 2002

Video games to help you relax

Racing to Relax game
The faster you relax, the faster you go

test hello test
BBC News Online's Alfred Hermida
By Alfred Hermida
BBC News Online technology staff
Most video games tend to get the pulse racing, but researchers in Dublin, Irish Republic, are working on developing games to help calm people.

Gary McDarby and his MindGames team at MediaLab Europe are looking at using gaming technology to aid people suffering from depression or trauma.

In their latest project, called Brainchild, you try to unlock a door simply through your brain waves.

"You are playing a video game but hopefully over time you would learn what is it that helps you relax," explained Dr McDarby.

Child nightmares

Dr McDarby came up with the idea of using technology to help people with disorders about 10 years ago when he was in Liberia.

Gary McDarby heads the MindGames group
McDarby: Wants to help troubled children
He came across a 12-year-old child soldier who was suffering from nightmares after taking part in a firing squad.

"I had a Walkman with an Enya tape so I suggested that he go to bed and listen to it to see if it calmed him and it actually helped him sleep," Dr McDarby told the BBC programme Go Digital.

"It made me think, 'imagine if you could have some kind of technology that you would know the effect it was having on you'. Now, 10 years later, we have a group looking at what is called affective feedback."

Dragon racing

One of games is a two-player dragon racing game called Relax To Win.

The idea is simple. Two electrodes are attached to a player's fingers and as the person relaxes, their dragon moves faster.

System uses galvanic skin response
Electrodes similar to ones used in lie detectors
The game uses galvanic skin response technology which works measuring the ability of the skin to conduct electricity. This changes as a person relaxes or tenses up and forms the basis for lie detector tests.

"As you relax, your dragon will walk, then run and then fly," Dr McDarby said.

"If you can get it to fly, it means you have got into a nice relaxed state.

"The technology is trying to make decisions to improve or enhance your state of mind," he explained.

The game takes place in a virtual 3D world set aboard a starship in space. The environment is designed to immerse the player, drawing more of their attention and making the feedback more effective.

"We're looking at a medium that a lot of people are drawn to and how we can use this constructively," he said.

Brainy approach

His team are now working on their next project, a game called Brainchild.

This measures brain reaction as well as galvanic skin response.

The player wears a cap packed with tiny sensors that pick up changes to brain wave patterns associated with concentration and relaxation.

During the game, the player is guided through a relaxation technique to unlock a door. The system reacts to the brain waves, making the game easier or harder, depending on how relaxed you are.

Brainchild is still being tested out, as the team is researching how far it can be used to help children with concentration or attention span difficulties.


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