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

How to build a successful civilisation i...
GodFinger 2 grants you godlike powers, leaving you to raise a civilization of followers. In the spirit of games like Black & White, the GodFinger games will see you building bigger and better villages, developing more advanced technology and... | Read more »
How to get all the crabs in Mr Crab 2
Mr. Crab 2 may look like a cutesy platformer for kids, but if you're the kind of person who likes to complete a game 100%, you'll soon realise that it's a tougher than a crustacean's shell. [Read more] | Read more »
How to be a star in Britney Spears: Amer...
If you've ever wanted to be a star, baby, then you've probably already checked out Britney Spears: American Dream and are happily making your way up the charts. But fame doesn't come easy, and everyone needs a helping hand sometimes. So we've got... | Read more »
AppSpy is hiring a part time Staff Write...
| Read more »
How to save lives in ER Surgery Simulato...
A serious earthquake has struck a nearby town in ER Surgery Simulator - Emergency Doctor, and it’s up to you to save the victims. [Read more] | Read more »
Tips and tricks to get a high score in G...
Ketchapp Games loves the endless runner genre. And its newest game, Gravity Switch, is no exception. Gravity Switch takes a fresh approach, though, as you move a block, suspended in zero gravity, safely through a maze of shifting pillars. If the... | Read more »
Tips and tricks to get a high score in S...
Smash Fu is a high-paced tile-tapping game that requires quick reflexes and some practice. You’ll have to smash bricks with the skill of a seasoned black belt to get a high score. To raise the stakes a bit, you’ll also have to avoid tapping any... | Read more »
How to keep the ball rolling in Dropple
If you're new to the minimalist puzzler Dropple, you may find yourself struggling to make it beyond the first couple of steps before your ball falls into the endless abyss below. [Read more] | Read more »
Game Craft releases new Legend of War ti...
Set for release at the end of this month, real time strategy title Legend of War seems sure to delight with a veritable feast of sweet features to get stuck into. Developed by Game Craft, the game is due for release through both the App Store and... | Read more »
How not to die in Traffic Rider
Traffic Rider, an Out Run-esque game in which your ride a motorcycle recklessly into trffic, might not seem particularly complicated. [Read more] | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Apple refurbished iMacs available for up to $...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2015 21″ & 27″ iMacs available for up to $350 off MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free. The following models are available: - 21″ 3.... Read more
Textkraft Professional Becomes A Mobile Produ...
The new update 4.1 of Textkraft Professional for the iPad comes with many new and updated features that will be particularly of interest to self-publishers of e-books. Highlights include import and... Read more
SnipNotes 2.0 – Intelligent note-taking for i...
Indie software developer Felix Lisczyk has announced the release and immediate availability of SnipNotes 2.0, the next major version of his productivity app for iOS devices and Apple Watch.... Read more
Pitch Clock – The Entrepreneur’s Wingman Laun...
Grand Rapids, Michigan based Skunk Tank has announced the release and immediate availability of Pitch Clock – The Entrepreneur’s Wingman 1.1, the company’s new business app available exclusively on... Read more
13-inch 2.9GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for...
B&H Photo has the 13″ 2.9GHz Retina MacBook Pro (model #MF841LL/A) on sale for $1599 including free shipping plus NY tax only. Their price is $200 off MSRP. Amazon also has the 13″ 3.9GHz Retina... Read more
Apple price trackers, updated continuously
Scan our Apple Price Trackers for the latest information on sales, bundles, and availability on systems from Apple’s authorized internet/catalog resellers. We update the trackers continuously: - 15″... Read more
Clearance 12-inch Retina MacBooks available s...
B&H Photo has dropped prices on leftover 2015 12″ Retina MacBooks with models now available starting at $999. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY tax only: - 12″ 1.1GHz Gray Retina MacBook... Read more
Check Apple prices on any device with the iTr...
MacPrices is proud to offer readers a free iOS app (iPhones, iPads, & iPod touch) and Android app (Google Play and Amazon App Store) called iTracx, which allows you to glance at today’s lowest... Read more
New 2016 13-inch 256GB MacBook Air on sale fo...
B&H Photo has the new 13″ 1.6GHz/256GB MacBook Air (model MMGG2LL/A) on sale for $1149 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $50 off MSRP. Amazon has the 13″ 1.6GHz/256GB... Read more
Apple refurbished iPad Air 2s available start...
Apple has Certified Refurbished iPad Air 2 available starting at $339. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free: - 128GB Wi-Fi iPad Air 2: $499 - 64GB Wi-Fi iPad... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Nissan Service Technicians - Apple A...
Apple Automotive is one of the fastest growing dealer...and it shows. Consider making the switch to the Apple Automotive Group today! At Apple Automotive , Read more
ISCS *Apple* ID Site Support Engineer - APP...
…position, we are looking for an individual who has experience supporting customers with Apple ID issues and enjoys this area of support. This person should be Read more
Automotive Sales Consultant - Apple Ford Linc...
…you. The best candidates are smart, technologically savvy and are customer focused. Apple Ford Lincoln Apple Valley is different, because: $30,000 annual salary Read more
*Apple* Support Technician II - Worldventure...
…global, fast growing member based travel company, is currently sourcing for an Apple Support Technician II to be based in our Plano headquarters. WorldVentures is Read more
Restaurant Manager (Neighborhood Captain) - A...
…in every aspect of daily operation. WHY YOU'LL LIKE IT: You'll be the Big Apple . You'll solve problems. You'll get to show your ability to handle the stress and Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.