Catastrophe!

It is with infinite disgust that I report that my Vile and Wretched Human, known to you by the ridiculous appellation Tom Simon, has just acquired a new specimen of household vermin, species Felis catus.

A photograph of the monstrosity is attached. It was labelled ‘Sonny’ by the SPCA of Hanna, Alberta, whence it was deliberately transported in a heinous plot to disturb the natural depression and infelicity of the house.

Other activities have, of course, been curtailed whilst this vile colony of self-organizing organic refuse is duly installed in the Simon domicile. I told him so, but did he listen? Does any human listen to his demonic alter blogger? Not often enough, that’s the unvarnished truth of it.

(Signed, under protest)
H. Smiggy McStudge

[Read more…]

The Memory Problem

As I mentioned the other day, during the holidays I passed some time leafing through a stash of ancient computer magazines found in my back room whilst mucking out. I still have nearly every issue of ROM Magazine (1977–78); not to be confused with ROM Magazine (1968–present), the official publication of the Royal Ontario Museum, or R.O.M. Magazine (1983–85), a Canadian zine for Atari hobbyists, nor possibly others. No, this ROM was subtitled ‘Computer Applications for Living’, and an ambitious little periodical it was. To distinguish it from the others, I am tempted to go into Monty Python mode, and call it ‘ROM which is called ROM’, but I shall cramp myself down and stick to the bare three letters.

Microcomputers began to be heard of in about 1973, and the first commercially successful machine, the MITS Altair 8800, came to market about the end of 1974. By 1977, the earliest manufacturers (who mostly sold their machines in kit form) were being pushed aside by relatively large consumer electronics firms like Radio Shack and Commodore, and by an upstart called Apple, which you may have heard of. These early machines were flaky, quirky, and required rather a lot of technical knowledge to operate; and there was little in the way of commercial software, so you generally had to learn to program them yourself.

In consequence, there was a voracious after-market for technical information and how-to stuff, much of it supplied, in those pre-Internet days, by magazines. There was BYTE, which covered the nuts and bolts of the new hardware for an audience mostly of engineers; and Dr. Dobb’s Journal, which covered the bits and bytes of software for an audience mostly of programmers; and Creative Computing, which covered whatever seemed most interesting at the moment (not a bad approach, that); and a raft of mostly short-lived zines dedicated to this platform or that.

And then there was ROM, which was a platform for what have since been called technology evangelists. Its mission was to introduce these weird new toys to society at large, and explain how and why they were going to change the world in drastic and unforeseen ways. It failed on both counts; but not for want of trying, nor for lack of quality.

For if you look at the bylines in the nine issues that were published, you will find yourself staring at a convention of first-rate geniuses. A sampling:  [Read more…]

#nocontextforyou

Of course the professor needed a grad student to help him. She knew where to find the comma on the keyboard.

Now hear this, that is all!

Difficult times during the holidays: periods of friction with the Beloved Other, ghastly weather, and yet another change to the monstrous regiment of pharmaceuticals, all of which left me fatigued, frazzled, and scatterbrained. In short, I got no work done; for which I cry you mercy.

I did get one or two ideas for essais, which I intend to work on as the electrochemical state of my brain permits. One of these – strange to say, but perhaps not so strange for me – came when I was leafing through ancient back numbers of ROM, a short-lived computer magazine from 1977–78. Stay tuned for an explanation of that, if you dare.

M. T. on ©

Only one thing is impossible for God: To find any sense in any copyright law on the planet.

—Mark Twain

I reply:

Mr. S. L. Clemens believed that copyright ought to be perpetual, and that it required uncommon stupidity to think otherwise. He liked to say, in tones of surprise and personal affront, that every other kind of property was eternal, but copyright alone was confiscated by the government at an arbitrary date.

Which ignored the fact that patents are also ‘confiscated’ after shorter terms than copyrights.

And the fact that real estate is liable to confiscation after a term as short as one year, if you fail to pay your property taxes; and likewise with mines. [Read more…]

A memory, as Christmas approaches

I was born in Vancouver, B.C., many aeons ago in a former world, and immediately put out for adoption; which happening in due course, I found myself with the man and woman whom I remember as my parents. They had a massive RCA console black-and-white TV with built-in stereo, about four or five feet long, something very much like this: [Read more…]

Sowell on book reviews

Over the years, I have come to find writing book reviews even more distasteful than reading them. Part of this is my own fault, for being one of those old-fashioned holdouts who still believes that you should actually read the book before reviewing it.

Sometimes I am only into the first 20 pages of a 500-page book when it becomes painfully clear that this one is a real dog. The rest of the ordeal is like crossing the Sahara Desert—except that often there are no oases. True, the reviewer gets to slaughter the author in print at the end of it all, but this merely appeases the desire for revenge, which only real blood would satisfy.

—Thomas Sowell, ‘Some Thoughts about Writing’

Sowell on editors

If there is any rhyme or reason to the way editing varies from one editor to another, it seems to be this: The less the editor has written under his own name, the more he wants to write under someone else’s name.

—Thomas Sowell, ‘Some Thoughts about Writing’

Thomas Sowell on writing methods

My own writing practices are the direct opposite of that followed by these prolific and renowned writers. I write only when I have something to say.

—Thomas Sowell, ‘Some Thoughts about Writing’

André-Philippe Gagnon, a cast of thousands

I mean to say, of course, that André-Philippe Gagnon is a cast of thousands. The Beloved Other and I went last night to see him in concert. I had seen him once before, in the early nineties; for her, it was a new discovery.

And what a discovery! He began the performance with a one-man history of rock & roll, impersonating singers from Elvis Presley to CeeLo Green. His star turn was a duet between Céline Dion (herself, on video) and Frank Sinatra (André-Philippe, live).

Here, by the magic of YouTube, are some highlights of his show, as performed in a different (and rather more posh) venue:

Visit André-Philippe Gagnon’s website.