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
$517.96
Apple Inc.
-3.72
MSFT
$39.75
Microsoft Corpora
+0.57
GOOG
$536.44
Google Inc.
+3.92

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty 1.1.1.180...
Download the patch by launching the Starcraft II game and downloading it through the Battle.net connection within the app. Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty is a strategy game played in real-time. You... Read more
Sibelius 7.5.0 - Music notation solution...
Sibelius is the world's best-selling music notation software for Mac. It is as intuitive to use as a pen, yet so powerful that it does most things in less than the blink of an eye. The demo includes... Read more
Typinator 5.9 - 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
MYStuff Pro 2.0.16 - Create inventories...
MYStuff Pro is the most flexible way to create detail-rich inventories for your home or small business. Add items to MYStuff by dragging and dropping existing information, uploading new images, or... Read more
TurboTax 2013.r17.002 - Manage your 2013...
TurboTax guides you through your tax return step by step, does all the calculations, and checks your return for errors and overlooked deductions. It lets you file your return electronically to get... Read more
TrailRunner 3.8.769 - Route planning for...
Note: While the software is classified as freeware, it is actually donationware. Please consider making a donation to help support development. TrailRunner is the perfect companion for runners,... Read more
Flavours 1.1.10 - Create and apply theme...
Flavours is a Mac application that allow users to create, apply and share beautifully designed themes. Classy Give your Mac a gorgeous new look by applying delicious themes! Easy Unleash your... Read more
Spotify 0.9.8.296. - Stream music, creat...
Spotify is a streaming music service that gives you on-demand access to millions of songs. Whether you like driving rock, silky R&B, or grandiose classical music, Spotify's massive catalogue... Read more
SlingPlayer Plugin 3.3.20.475 - Browser...
SlingPlayer is the screen interface software that works hand-in-hand with the hardware inside the Slingbox to make your TV viewing experience just like that at home. It features an array of... Read more
S.M.A.R.T. for USB and FireWire Drives 0...
S.M.A.R.T. for USB and FireWire Drives is a kernel driver for OS X external usb or firewire drives. It extends the standard driver behaviour by providing access to drive smart data. The interface to... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

148Apps Live on Twitch: Pivvot’s Looper...
On our latest Twitch stream, we’ll be playing a pair of minimalist arcade games, one that just got a big content update in Pivvot, and another that was inspired by it in 15 Coins. Whitaker Trebella, creator of Pivvot, will discuss the new modes... | Read more »
Word Cubes Review
Word Cubes Review By Jordan Minor on April 15th, 2014 Our Rating: :: SQUARESVILLEUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Word Cubes is fine, but it is barely any different from any other word game.   | Read more »
PAX East 2014 – Desert Fox: The Battle o...
PAX East 2014 – Desert Fox: The Battle of El Alamein is Coming to iOS Soon Posted by Rob Rich on April 15th, 2014 [ permalink ] Shenandoah Studio has become one of the go-to developers for war games on iOS, with | Read more »
Tank of Tanks Review
Tank of Tanks Review By Carter Dotson on April 15th, 2014 Our Rating: :: TANKS A LOT!iPad Only App - Designed for the iPad This multiplayer game played on a single iPad is simple, chaotic fun.   | Read more »
PAX East 2014 – Dungeon of the Endless J...
PAX East 2014 – Dungeon of the Endless Just Might Have a Shot at an iPad Release Posted by Rob Rich on April 15th, 2014 [ permalink ] I think it’s fair to say that | Read more »
SideSwype Review
SideSwype Review By Carter Dotson on April 15th, 2014 Our Rating: :: ON YOUR SIDEUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad SideSwype is a puzzler that takes inspiration from Threes, but becomes its own incredibly fun game.   | Read more »
PAX East 2014 – Bigfoot Hunter Invites P...
PAX East 2014 – Bigfoot Hunter Invites Players on a Wild and Wooly Photo Safari Posted by Rob Rich on April 15th, 2014 [ permalink ] Yeti. Sasquatch. Wendigo. | Read more »
Dungeon Quest Review
Dungeon Quest Review By Cata Modorcea on April 15th, 2014 Our Rating: :: NO STORY, BUT GOOD FUNUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Dungeon Quest does a lot of things right, but ultimately forgets about one of the core... | Read more »
Tempo AI and Speek Join Forces to “Kill...
Tempo AI and Speek Join Forces to “Kill the Conference Call PIN” Posted by Rob Rich on April 15th, 2014 [ permalink ] Today Tempo AI, makers of Tempo Smart Calendar, and | Read more »
Fighting Fantasy: Starship Traveller Rev...
Fighting Fantasy: Starship Traveller Review By Jennifer Allen on April 15th, 2014 Our Rating: :: A SIGNIFICANT VOYAGEUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Continuing the release of Fighting Fantasy titles, Starship Traveller... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Save $50 on Mac mini Server
B&H Photo has the 2012 Mac mini Server on sale for $949 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $50 off MSRP. Read more
PhatWare’s “Ultimate Writing App For iOS” Ren...
PhatWare Corp. has announced it has renamed its new WritePro word processing app for iPhone and iPad: WritePad Pro. The decision to change the app’s name to leverages the strong brand awareness and... Read more
Full Resolution Photo Editor Tint Mint 1.0 Re...
California based independent developer, Jeffrey Sun, creator of the iOS app Modern Editor, has released Tint Mint, a new photography app for editing enthusiasts. The app costs a dollar, and it packs... Read more
16GB iPad mini (Apple refurbished) available...
The Apple Store has refurbished 1st generation 16GB iPad minis available for $249 including free shipping. Both black and white models are available. Read more
Save $120 on the 27-inch 3.2GHz Haswell iMac
B&H Photo has the 27″ 3.2GHz iMac on sale for $1679.99 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is about $120 off MSRP. Read more
Using a Mac Doesn’t Eliminate The Heartbleed...
Low End Mac’s Dan Knight notes that any time you visit a website with an https: prefix or see that secure lock icon on your browser, some type of security software is busy trying to protect your data... Read more
AirPrint Basics Tutorial Posted
A new Apple Knowledge Base article helps get you started using AirPrint, the Apple protocol that enables instant printing from iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, and Mac without the need to install drivers or... Read more
Speed Tips For Running LibreOffice On The Mac
LibreOffice is my favorite of several free, open-source application suites, and the one I have configured on my Mac as my default app for Word documents that one frequently has to deal with. It also... Read more
Snag a 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro for $115 of...
B&H Photo has 2013 15″ Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to $115 off MSRP for a limited time. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 15″ 2.3GHz Retina MacBook Pro: $2489.99... Read more
MacBook Airs on sale for $50 to $100 off MSRP
Several resellers are offering $50-$100 discounts on 11″ and 13″ MacBook Airs today, including Amazon, Best Buy, B&H, and others. See the breakdown of deals on our MacBook Air Price Tracker,... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Market Leader - Cincinnati...
…challenges of developing individuals, building teams, and affecting growth across Apple Stores. You demonstrate successful leadership ability - focusing on excellence Read more
*Apple* Retail - Manager - SoHo - Apple (Uni...
Job SummaryKeeping an Apple Store thriving requires a diverse set of leadership skills, and as a Manager, you're a master of them all. In the store's fast-paced, dynamic Read more
Position Opening at *Apple* - Apple (United...
**Job Summary** Every day, business customers come to the Apple Store to discover what powerful, easy-to-use Apple products can do for them. As a Business Leader, Read more
Position Opening at *Apple* - Apple (United...
…challenges of developing individuals, building teams, and affecting growth across Apple Stores. You demonstrate successful leadership ability - focusing on excellence Read more
Position Opening at *Apple* - Apple (United...
…Summary** As a Specialist, you help create the energy and excitement around Apple products, providing the right solutions and getting products into customers' hands. You Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.