Thoughts 19289

On the motivation for writing more regularly, the design tapestry of consumer electronics, an idea for a text-based HTTP game, and the loss of trust in a laptop.

Intentions

I started this website with somewhat mixed intentions.

On the one hand, I needed an outlet for a specific voice in my head that was desperate to put into writing the many connections between various technical topics that I’d been thinking about. That voice is still the main driver behind this website to a certain extent.

It was also a cry for attention in some ways. And in some limited but positive ways, it worked. That motivation might still be here to some degree, but my hope is that going forward it becomes a smaller part of this overall experience for me.

As a beacon of motivation, I’ve been looking to Tom MacWright’s website, and specifically this post on “How to blog”. I hope to follow his recommendation of establishing a regular cadence of writing, mostly of small thoughts, in the hope that writing the little things will make it easier to write the bigger things I have in mind. I also take inspiration from my wife’s daily companion idea notebook, on which she’s written in bold ink the title, “Random Shit Every Day”.

So here’s to the first of hopefully many collections of randomness, of things I’ve read, things I’m thinking about or things I want to make.

Welcome to Thoughts.

The Design of Electronic Things*

Dieter Rams and Apple (and I guess Jony Ive too). Richard Sapper and Lenovo. Matías Duarte and Palm/Google. Ralf Groene and Microsoft.

Who are the designers that built or inspired modern consumer electronics, how (or if?) they think about what people need versus what they want and when does good design serve human needs versus business needs?

Reading Losing the Signal about RIM and the BlackBerry. Watching Job’s 2007 iPhone launch. Feeling nostalgic about the Palm Pre.

Can calm technology can help us with new and old problems and is the Light Phone the answer?

Request for Adventure

I recently finished Tracy Kidder’s 1981 book The Soul of a New Machine, a great read about a small chapter in the history of computer hardware. In it, computer engineers at Data General use a text-based game called “Adventure” (aka Colossal Cave Adventure) to help troubleshoot the development of the new Eagle microcomputer, what would later be released as the MV/8000.

Now, text-based adventure games were a little before my time when it came to computer games. But I’ve always been fascinated by the role that these types of games played in early computer history.

So I’m adding this idea to my project list! A text-based adventure game that operates via back-and-forth HTTP requests. Explore a cave or a dungeon, read magic texts, attack evil goblins, etc.

Here are some ideas:

A Purge of Laptops

While trying to install a large program on my Apple A1398 EMC 2745 (aka a Late 2013 Macbook Pro Retina 15”), I unhappily discovered a macOS “feature” politely called purgeable space. Skipping the details, this feature presented itself to me as a bug and prevented that program from being installed.

The solution involved writing a series of large ~30GB files of junk data using /dev/random and then immediately deleting those files in order to clear out the purgeable. And since my purgeable space was approaching 150GB on a 500GB machine, this ended up being a lot of big junk files. Even as far as computer troubleshooting experiences go, it was total bullshit. Helpfully, a 2016 blog post describing the same issue confidently suggests that “Apple will squash these bugs in short order”.

Now, I grew up as a Windows kid (3.1 and 98!) and continued using Windows through college and my early work life, building my own gaming computers at home and managing IIS web servers on company laptops. Recently, I’ve been using Linux more and more on the side, from configuring rebuilt laptops with fresh Linux Mint installs at an awesome tech reuse non-profit to building web apps and large data processes on a 32-core/800GB server running Ubuntu. Personally, I’ve mostly stuck to macOS since buying that Macbook Pro in 2015, a decision I weighed heavily at the time because of my unfamiliarity with the OS. All of that is to say that I love working on different operating systems! And I’m not a total slouch when it comes to figuring things out on computers.

As for the Macbook, I ended up loving it! Until now. At this point in my life, I want to know exactly what my computer is doing and why. And for better or worse, this recent “purgeable space” frustration feels like a switch has been flipped in my mind, a betrayal of that implicit assumption that I know what my computer is doing. So my somewhat brief fling with macOS might soon be coming to end.

So what’s next then? I’m considering a couple of different options, including going back to Windows on a laptop/hybrid device in the compelling Microsoft Surface lineup or going straight-up Linux on a laptop with Dell’s new XPS 13 Developer Edition.

Either way, computers are a forever journey and it feels like it might be time for a new chapter.

Notes

*The idea about electronics design almost tanked this first attempt at Thoughts because it kept getting bigger and bigger. I had to stop and rewrite it as a brief summary for now to get it out the door.