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.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

MacFamilyTree 7.3.4 - Create and explore...
MacFamilyTree gives genealogy a facelift: it's modern, interactive, incredibly fast, and easy to use. We're convinced that generations of chroniclers would have loved to trade in their genealogy... Read more
Yummy FTP 1.10.2 - FTP/SFTP/FTPS client...
Yummy FTP is an FTP + SFTP + FTPS file transfer client which focuses on speed, reliability and productivity. Whether you need to transfer a few files or a few thousand, schedule automatic backups, or... Read more
VueScan 9.5.08 - Scanner software with a...
VueScan is a scanning program that works with most high-quality flatbed and film scanners to produce scans that have excellent color fidelity and color balance. VueScan is easy to use, and has... Read more
Iridient Developer 3.0.1 - Powerful imag...
Iridient Developer (was RAW Developer) is a powerful image conversion application designed specifically for OS X. Iridient Developer gives advanced photographers total control over every aspect of... Read more
Air Video Server HD 2.1.0 - Stream video...
Air Video Server HD streams videos instantly from your computer on your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch or Apple TV. No need to worry about converting or transferring files. We took everything that was... Read more
Duplicate Annihilator 5.7.5 - Find and d...
Duplicate Annihilator takes on the time-consuming task of comparing the images in your iPhoto library using effective algorithms to make sure that no duplicate escapes. Duplicate Annihilator... Read more
BusyContacts 1.0.2 - Fast, efficient con...
BusyContacts is a contact manager for OS X that makes creating, finding, and managing contacts faster and more efficient. It brings to contact management the same power, flexibility, and sharing... Read more
Capture One Pro 8.2.0.82 - RAW workflow...
Capture One Pro 8 is a professional RAW converter offering you ultimate image quality with accurate colors and incredible detail from more than 300 high-end cameras -- straight out of the box. It... Read more
Backblaze 4.0.0.872 - Online backup serv...
Backblaze is an online backup service designed from the ground-up for the Mac.With unlimited storage available for $5 per month, as well as a free 15-day trial, peace of mind is within reach with... Read more
Little Snitch 3.5.2 - Alerts you about o...
Little Snitch gives you control over your private outgoing data. Track background activity As soon as your computer connects to the Internet, applications often have permission to send any... Read more

2K Announces WWE 2K, Mobile's First...
It seems like this month has been pretty big for wrestling. First Wrestlemania, then 2K has announces that they're releasing  WWE 2K for iOS. It's a simulation-based WWE game where you'll get to play with several WWE superstars such as John Cena, ... | Read more »
How the Apple Watch Could Change the Fac...
The Apple Watch is still a ways out, but my previous musings on the wearable’s various features got me thinking: what might it be like a year after launch? Two years? Five years? What if it becomes a symbiotic part of the iOS framework to the point... | Read more »
Pie In The Sky: A Pizza Odyssey (Games)
Pie In The Sky: A Pizza Odyssey 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: A game about delivering pizza. In space. | Read more »
Chosen Gives Hopeful Singers, Songwriter...
If YouTube videos and reality TV shows like The Voice have taught us one thing, it’s that there are a lot of people out there who are anxious to show the world their talents. And if they’ve taught us a second thing, it’s that there’s an almost... | Read more »
Android's Popular OfficeSuite Now A...
Once only available for Android devices, OfficeSuite has finally landed on the app store. The Mobile Systems app lets you view, edit, create, and share Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents as well as convert them to/from PDFs. It's touted as being... | Read more »
Warhammer: Arcane Magic is Coming Soon,...
Turbo Tape Games has announced that they're joining forces with Games Workshop to bring the turn-based strategy board game, Warhammer: Arcane Magic, to life on the iOS. | Read more »
Fast & Furious: Legacy's Creati...
| Read more »
N-Fusion and 505's Ember is Totally...
| Read more »
These are All the Apple Watch Apps and G...
The Apple Watch is less than a month from hitting store shelves, and once you get your hands on it you're probably going to want some apps and games to install. Fear not! We've compiled a list of all the Apple Watch apps and games we've been able to... | Read more »
Appy to Have Known You - Lee Hamlet Look...
Being at 148Apps these past 2 years has been an awesome experience that has taught me a great deal, and working with such a great team has been a privilege. Thank you to Rob Rich, and to both Rob LeFebvre and Jeff Scott before him, for helping me... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Adobe Brings Powerful Layout-Design Capabilit...
Adobe today announced the availability of Adobe Comp CC, a free iPad app that enables rapid creation of layout concepts for mobile, Web and print projects. With Comp CC, designers can rough out and... Read more
Apple offering refurbished 27-inch 5K iMacs f...
The Apple Store is offering Apple Certified Refurbished 27″ 3.5GHz 5K iMacs for $2119 including free shipping. Their price is $380 off the price of new models, and it’s the lowest price available for... Read more
16GB iPad mini on sale for $199, save $50
Walmart has 16GB iPad minis (1st generation) available for $199.99 on their online store, including free shipping. Their price is $50 off MSRP. Online orders only. Read more
New 128GB MacBook Airs on sale for $50 off MS...
 B&H Photo has 128GB 11″ and 13″ 2015 MacBook Airs on sale today for $50 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 11″ 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air (Model #MJVM2LL/A): $849 $50 off... Read more
13-inch 2.6GHz Retina MacBook Pro (refurbishe...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 13″ 2.6GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pros available for $979 including free shipping. Original MSRP for this model was $1299. Read more
Save up to $600 with Apple refurbished Mac Pr...
The Apple Store is offering Apple Certified Refurbished Mac Pros for up to $600 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each Mac Pro, and shipping is free. The... Read more
Samsung Galaxy S 6 and Galaxy S 6 edge U.S. P...
Samsung Electronics America, Inc. has announced the Galaxy S 6 and Galaxy S 6 edge will be available in the U.S. beginning April 10, with pre-orders being accepted now. “We have completely reimagined... Read more
13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro (refurbished) avai...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pros available for $829, or $270 off the cost of new models. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free: - 13″ 2.... Read more
Save up to $80 on iPad Air 2s, NY tax only, f...
 B&H Photo has iPad Air 2s on sale for $80 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 16GB iPad Air 2 WiFi: $469.99 $30 off - 64GB iPad Air 2 WiFi: $549.99 $50 off - 128GB iPad... Read more
iMacs on sale for up to $205 off MSRP
B&H Photo has 21″ and 27″ iMacs on sale for up to $205 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 21″ 1.4GHz iMac: $1019 $80 off - 21″ 2.7GHz iMac: $1189 $110 off - 21″ 2.9GHz... Read more

Jobs Board

DevOps Software Engineer - *Apple* Pay, iOS...
**Job Summary** Imagine what you could do here. At Apple , great ideas have a way of becoming great products, services, and customer experiences very quickly. Bring 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
Sr. Technical Services Consultant, *Apple*...
**Job Summary** Apple Professional Services (APS) has an opening for a senior technical position that contributes to Apple 's efforts for strategic and transactional Read more
Lead *Apple* Solutions Consultant - Retail...
**Job Summary** Job Summary The Lead ASC is an Apple employee who serves as the Apple business manager and influencer in a hyper-business critical Reseller's store Read more
*Apple* Pay - Site Reliability Engineer - Ap...
**Job Summary** Imagine what you could do here. At Apple , great ideas have a way of becoming great products, services, and customer experiences very quickly. Bring Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.