TweetFollow Us on Twitter

December 93 - THE VETERAN NEOPHYTE

THE VETERAN NEOPHYTE

ABRACADABRA

DAVE JOHNSON

[IMAGE 064-065,_Veteran_Neophyte1.GIF]

I've just returned from a really long vacation. For six weeks I didn't touch a single computer. (Well, that's not strictly true; I did stroke many a touch-screen on information kiosks or ticket machines, but you get the idea.) The first time after my return that I grabbed the mouse of a live Macintosh there was a brief instant -- just a single, sharp, fleeting moment -- when I felt the magic again.

Can you remember the first time you got to play with a working Macintosh? Were you amazed -- I mean really astounded -- as I was? Did you: Peek under the mouse to see what was there? Click and drag all over the place just to watch things happen? Drag a file into a folder and then immediately open the folder to see if the file was really there? Create a nest of new folders deep enough to get bored, just to see if it would work? Try every combination of bold, outline, shadow, italic, and underline?

I'm betting that the fundamental reason you're interested in programming the Macintosh is because of that magic. I know this isn't true for everyone out there (some of you -- gasp -- probably do it for the money!), but I suspect it's true for most of you, or at least it was when you started. Maybe you wanted to make a little of that magic yourself. Maybe you just wanted to peek behind the curtain to see how it was done. Or maybe you wanted (as I did) to find out where the magic came from, to hunt down its source. One of the problems with that kind of techno-magic, though, is that the more you learn about it and the more you use it, the more it fades away.

So here's the next question: When was thelast time you felt the magic? If you're like me, the magic of the Macintosh interface has been completely subsumed by everyday familiarity. It's become a part of everyday life, like matches, or light bulbs, or TV. I'm sure that when matches were still new, striking one and making fire was an amazing thing. I'll bet people used up whole boxes of matches, striking them one by one, just to see it happen. But matches are no longer special; their magic has become cheap and commonplace and has therefore ceased to be magic at all. People don't light matches for the thrill anymore (pyromaniacs excepted); they use them to light something else -- matches have become a means, not an end. Similarly, we don't marvel anymore at the fact that just by flipping a switch we can make an entire room as bright as day, banishing forever the night; we think instead about what we want to do tonight. We don't marvel anymore that moving pictures and sounds can be plucked out of the air (or out of a cable, these days) and made to show up on a box in our homes; we think instead about what's on.

This is probably a necessary and inevitable step in a culture's acceptance and assimilation of a new technology: people stop marveling at the fact that they have a new ability, and begin simply tousethat ability. That period when new technologies still feel like magic is also the period when a culture is adjusting itself to the technology and being transformed by it. By the time a new technology has been fully integrated into society, it's taken for granted, the magic exhausted and the transformation complete.

So how does this apply to computers? Is the magic from computers all used up? Have they been fully assimilated by human society and finished their transformational work? Are they now taken forgranted and just a part of the background noise of modern life? In the words of my mom when I asked her (at age 11) if I could get a tattoo on my chest: Hell, no.

Particularmanifestationsof computers have become a part of daily life for many people: cash machines, video games, bar code readers at markets, and so on. These are computers, but they're masked -- the true nature of the machine is obscured by a task-specific facade. Even the relatively small number of people who use "real" computers in their everyday lives use them for only a few tasks (word processing, graphics editing, number crunching, and game playing are common -- somehow recipe filing never caught on). So they're really just using two or three specific, task- oriented applications. And yes, these particular uses of computers have become mundane to those who use them: writers use word processors without blinking, accountants use spreadsheets without a hint of awe.

But I'm not sure whether computersas computers can ever be fully integrated into society. They're too slippery, too prolific, too, well,protean. (Protean: able to take on new forms easily, after Proteus, a sea god in Greek mythology who could change his shape at will.) Just when we get used to them in one guise, they blur and shift and suddenly they're something else, something new, something magical all over again.

And that's where programmers come in. We're the ones who get to cause that shift. We're the ones who get to craft new faces for the machine, like mad, happy mask makers. We're the ones that get tomake the magic. We get closer than anyone else to tasting the real flavor of computers -- their malleability and chameleon-like talent for taking on new forms -- but it's still only a taste, and the price is outrageous. Making magic turns out to be nothing but hard, grungy work. Being a wizard looks great from the outside, but there's a downside most people don't see: to create the magic, you need to spend inordinately huge amounts of time doing completely unmagical things, and even worse, you have to give up experiencing the magic for yourself. It's like sleight of hand: it looks like magic to the audience, but to the conjurer it's not magic at all. Learning that kind of magic means spending countless hours alone in front of a mirror, practicing the same moves over and over and over until they're automatic and can be made without even thinking. By that time any residual magic has been completely wrung out of it.

Like brain researchers who set off to find the source of human consciousness and end up studying the function of some enzyme in sea slugs, programmers often set off to find the source of the magic and end up writing device drivers. There's a valuable lesson there, one that took me years to learn: the magic isn't part of the machine at all. You can follow the computer's workings right down to the bottom, and what you find is a boringly predictable mechanism as devoid of magic as a meat grinder. It's like trying to find musical beauty by closely examining a CD: all you can find is a series of rough pits in a reflective surface, and there's no indication whatever that those pits could contain something sublime.

So where does the magic come from? The answer's obvious, once you stop to think about it: it comes from people. It turns out that computers don't possess any magic of their own, they're just very, very good containers for human magic. The computer is simply a shell, albeit one that's infinitely malleable. The people who shape the shell, who tell the computer what to be, are the real source of the magic. I guess I should've known.

RECOMMENDED READING

  • Man Meets Dog by Konrad Lorenz (Penguin Books, 1964).
  • The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (Random House, 1964).
  • Let It Rot! by Stu Campbell (Storey Publishing, 1975).

DAVE JOHNSON wants to know: is he the only one who does watch-cursor push-ups during time-consuming Macintosh operations? First you find a horizontal black line (they're everywhere: window frames, folder icons, buttons, even the progress bar itself), then you put the watch cursor just above it, so that the bottom edge of the watchband overlaps the horizontal line by one pixel. Now carefully move the cursor up and down by one pixel, and there you have it -- watch- cursor push-ups! You can do pull-ups too! Amaze your friends! *

Dave welcomes feedback on his musings. He can be reached at JOHNSON.DK on AppleLink, dkj@apple.com on the Internet, or 75300,715 on CompuServe.*

Galileo's finger is preserved in a bottle, just like a holy relic, in a science museum in Florence, Italy. I saw it myself. Really.

Thanks to Jeff Barbose, Michael Greenspon, Bill Guschwan, Mark ("The Red") Harlan, Bo3b Johnson, Lisa Jongewaard, and Ned van Alstyne for their always enlightening review comments.

 
AAPL
$109.41
Apple Inc.
+2.67
MSFT
$45.74
Microsoft Corpora
+0.58
GOOG
$504.89
Google Inc.
+9.50

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Command-C 1.1.7 - Clipboard sharing tool...
Command-C is a revolutionary app which makes easy to share your clipboard between iOS and OS X using your local WiFi network, even if the app is not currently opened. Copy anything (text, pictures,... Read more
Tidy Up 4.0.2 - Find duplicate files and...
Tidy Up is a complete duplicate finder and disk-tidiness utility. With Tidy Up you can search for duplicate files and packages by the owner application, content, type, creator, extension, time... Read more
Typinator 6.3 - Speedy and reliable text...
Typinator turbo-charges your typing productivity. Type a little. Typinator does the rest. We've all faced projects that require repetitive typing tasks. With Typinator, you can store commonly used... Read more
GraphicConverter 9.5 - Graphics editor w...
GraphicConverter is an all-purpose image-editing program that can import 200 different graphic-based formats, edit the image, and export it to any of 80 available file formats. The high-end editing... Read more
Toast Titanium 12.0.1 - The ultimate med...
Toast Titanium goes way beyond the very basic burning in the Mac OS and iLife software, and sets the standard for burning CDs, DVDs, and now Blu-ray discs on the Mac. Create superior sounding audio... Read more
QuickBooks 2015 16.0.2.1422 R3 - Financi...
Save 20% on QuickBooks Pro for Mac today through this special discount link QuickBooks Pro 2013 helps you manage your business easily and efficiently. Organize your finances all in one place, track... Read more
Remotix 3.0.6 - Access all your computer...
Remotix is a fast and powerful application to easily access multiple Macs (and PCs) from your own Mac. Features: Complete Apple Screen Sharing support - including Mac OS X login, clipboard... Read more
BetterZip Quick Look Generator 1.5 - Let...
BetterZip Quick Look Generator lets you view the contents of compressed archives through OS X's Quick Look functions. Simply select an archive in the Finder, in Mail, or Spotlight and press the... Read more
Sandvox 2.9.3 - Easily build eye-catchin...
Sandvox is for Mac users who want to create a professional looking website quickly and easily. With Sandvox, you don't need to be a Web genius to build a stylish, feature-rich, standards-compliant... Read more
Pixelmator 3.3.1 - Powerful layer-based...
Pixelmator is a beautifully designed, easy-to-use, fast, and powerful image editor for OS X. It has everything you need to create, edit, and enhance your images. Pixelmator is a layer-based image... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

The Drive : Devil's Run (Games)
The Drive : Devil's Run 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: ON THE ROAD AGAIN! The Drive - Devil’s Run is classic point to point style racing game that pays homage to the classics... | Read more »
Procreate Pocket (Entertainment)
Procreate Pocket 1.01 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Entertainment Price: $2.99, Version: 1.01 (iTunes) Description: Create - anytime, anywhere. Made by the developers of the award-winning Procreate® for iPad®, Procreate Pocket™ allows... | Read more »
IRON FINGER - Mini Games Championship (...
IRON FINGER - Mini Games Championship 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Quick to play, easy to learn yet hard to master.. TAP, SWIPE & TILT your way through mini games that... | Read more »
Pentaction: Medieval (Games)
Pentaction: Medieval 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Pentaction: Medieval is a turn-based strategy board-game about chance and skill on the battlefield. Take control of your... | Read more »
Hipstify Review
Hipstify Review By Jennifer Allen on December 17th, 2014 Our Rating: :: COOL FILTERSUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Add filters, quotes, and fancy frames to your images, thanks to Hipstify.   | Read more »
Mighty Smighties Gets Evolve Cards and N...
Mighty Smighties Gets Evolve Cards and New Worlds Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 17th, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Duckie Deck Card Wars Review
Duckie Deck Card Wars Review By Amy Solomon on December 17th, 2014 Our Rating: :: STYLISH GAME OF CARDSUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Duckie Deck Card Wars adapts the classic card game War for use on devices, complete... | Read more »
PDF Office Review
PDF Office Review By Jennifer Allen on December 17th, 2014 Our Rating: :: CONVENIENT PDF EDITINGiPad Only App - Designed for the iPad Want to create your own PDF files? Import them from elsewhere? Adapt a web page into a PDF? PDF... | Read more »
The Out There: Ω Edition Update will be...
The Out There: Ω Edition Update will be Releasing in 2015, Bringing Better Graphics and Additional Content Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 17th, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
Pinball Planet Pro (Games)
Pinball Planet Pro 1.02 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.02 (iTunes) Description: - Our missionWe've always loved to play pinball games but we noticed most modern pinball games are simulators for the... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Holiday sales continue: MacBook Pros for up t...
 B&H Photo has new MacBook Pros on sale for up to $300 off MSRP as part of their Holiday pricing. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro: $1699... Read more
Google Search App For iOS Gets A Major Makeov...
Google has given iOS users an early Christmas present with a substantial update of it’s not-very-often-upgraded Google Search app. Google Search has been my go-to tool for Web searches since it was... Read more
ShopKeep Apple Pay And Chip Card Reader Avail...
ShopKeep, a cloud-based technology provider to more than 10,000 small business owners to manage retail shops and restaurants with iPads, has released its new Apple Pay and chip card reader. This... Read more
Holiday sale! 27-inch 5K iMac for $2299, save...
 B&H Photo has the 27″ 3.5GHz 5K iMac in stock today and on sale for $2299 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $200 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for... Read more
Holiday Sale! 3.7GHz Quad Core Mac Pro availa...
 B&H Photo has the 3.7GHz Quad Core Mac Pro on sale for $2599 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $400 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price for this model from any... Read more
iPhone 6 Number 3 Canadian Google Search Of 2...
CTVNews.ca reports that Apple’s iPhone 6 was the third highest-trending Google Canada search topic of 2014, exceeded only by Robin Williams largely after his death by suicide in August, and the FIFA... Read more
New iPad mini 3 Counter-Top & Wall Mount...
newMacgadgets has announced new secure all-acrylic displays for the iPad mini 3 (also works fine with the mini 2, last year’s iPad mini With Retina Display, and the original iPad mini). The new iPad... Read more
Holiday sales continue, MacBook Airs for up t...
B&H Photo has 2014 MacBook Airs on sale for up to $120 off MSRP, for a limited time, for the Thanksgiving/Christmas Holiday shopping season. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax... Read more
B&H lowers price on 27-inch 3.2GHz iMac t...
B&H Photo has lowered their price on the 27″ 3.2GHz iMac, now on sale for $1629 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $170 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price for this... Read more
15-inch 2.0GHz Retina MacBook Pro available f...
B&H Photo has lowered their price on leftover 2013 15″ 2.0GHz Retina MacBook Pros to $1499 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $500 off original MSRP. Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
Project Manager / Business Analyst, WW *Appl...
…a senior project manager / business analyst to work within our Worldwide Apple Fulfillment Operations and the Business Process Re-engineering team. This role will work Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.