Everything Old is New Again

Sometimes the lunchtime news review just aligns with a theme:

Some other news links of interest, but not falling within the theme:


How Times Have Changed…

From this month’s DataLink, describing the September 1968 meeting of the LA Chapter of the ACM:

“For the Chapter meeting, a panel will examine the question, “Separate Pricing for Software”, from the viewpoints of a software company, a broker of programs, and a computer manufacturer. It is expected that the discussion will be highly prejudiced, tense with emotion and perhaps totally devoid of objectivity. The audience will be searched for concealed weapons and large heavy objects before being admitted to the meeting room. Dinner will be served on paper plates and only platic forks and spoons will be used. Hard rolls are not on the menu.”


Unclear on the Concept

A few months back, I wrote how I was thinking about not renewing my ACM membership because I couldn’t see any future benefit. Monday, I received an email from ACM asking me if I was going to renew. I wrote them the following:

I’m a long time member, going back to when I was in college in the 1970s. But since then, I’ve moved out of the research area. I don’t go to conferences that are under ACM sponsorship (the one conference I’m involved in is under private sponsorship, with IEEE doing the proceedings). I don’t read CACM, and can get access to the ACM Digital Library through the subscription at work, if I need it. I don’t need the @acm.org address as I run my own domain. I can still attend local chapter meetings, and am still a member of the LA Chapter.

So I’m trying to figure out the benefit of renewing. So far, much as I like ACM, I can’t see a discernable, tangible, benefit. I’ve begun to wonder if the technical society model is becoming passe — you certainly don’t need it to get technical information or meet people in your field as you did in the 1960s through 1980s.

So, convince me. Show me a benefit that I actually use on a regular basis. I’ve been racking my brain, but right now, I can’t think of one.

So, how did ACM respond? Like they didn’t want my membership. Seriously. The response was effectively canned:

Thank you for contacting ACM. My name is Nanette and I will be happy to assist you today.

The benefits of ACM many are many and can be found at the URL below: http://www.acm.org/membership/benefits

Please read through them so you can decide whether you’d like to renew or not. Either way please let me know so that I may mark your membership record accordingly.

If you have further questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact me. Have a wonderful day!

You know, I had hoped ACM would respond with something a bit more personal, a bit more convincing. Certainly they would have back in my day, back in the days when I was active in the SIGs and Local Chapters (I was chair of both SIGSAC and the Los Angeles Chapter). But I think they want research folk now, not the actual practitioners. Perhaps I should ask Pierangela: after all, she’s Vice-Chair of SIGSAC, and on the ACSAC conference committee. Still, given their membership fees, I’ll be glad to use the money elsewhere.


Aging and Modern Media

As one gets older, one thinks about the past more often. Right now, with my daughter’s 8th grade graduation, it’s been on my mind, just as it was on my mind last November when I had my 30th high school reunion. So, this morning I created a group on Facebook for the UCLA Computer Club, and started trying to search for Computer Club folk (at least those I could remember). Now mind you, these are people who were technologically-savvy. They were some of the first folks on the Internet (back when it was just UCLA, BBN, and I think MIT). These were folks involved with the IBM 360/65 and IBM 360/91. These were folks using the net in the days of SFLOVERS. In short, if anyone from my generation would be up and active on places like Facebook (or here on LJ, or on MySpace, for that matter), it would be these folks.

You know who I found?

Three people. All of whom are CS Faculty, which means they probably have Facebooks due to their students.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m an oddity being so connected in this social networking world… (don’t answer that :-))


How Times Change

This morning, I went out and bought a Terabyte of storage. For just over $228, including tax. It’s about the size of six decks of cards, smaller than a Munchkin box.

I remember when a Terabyte of disk storage filled a computer room, required special air conditioning, and was ungodly expensive.

My how the times have changed.


Wither Professional Associations?

Back when I was in college (we’re talking around 1978), I joined the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). I was a big supporter of the organization. I worked on the ACM 81 conference in Los Angeles, I was active in revitalizing the UCLA Student Chapter. I was active in the Los Angeles Chapter, serving for a few years as its chair. I was active in the SIG arena, and was even chair of ACM SIGSAC for four years (and treasurer for another four after that).

I mention all this because I’ve got a renewal invoice sitting in my inbox… and I feel no urge to act upon it.

Whereas I used to read all the ACM publications I got: SIGPLan Notices, SIGSAC Review, SIGSOFT, and of course, CACM… I don’t know. I certainly don’t read their paper versions, and I have access to all the digital stuff through our corporate library.

Whereas I used to attend ACM-affiliated conferences, I don’t anymore. The few conferences ACM holds in my professional areas are not of interest (CCS, SACMAT). I’ve been involved with a major professional conference on my own (ACSAC), am part of their sponsoring body, and it has no ACM affiliation. The other conferences in my area of interest are either government run, commercially run (such as RSA), or IEEE (IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy). I don’t need the ACM association for professional discounts.

I’m still a member of the Local Chapter, but I rarely go to meetings. The few times I do, I’m still one of the youngest in the crowd … and I’m 48, which should say something about the crowd. I don’t need my ACM membership to meet people in my profession.

I don’t use the ancillary ACM services. I don’t use their life insurance, I don’t buy books through their programs.

So I don’t see why I should pay $100+ to rejoin ACM. I bet others are asking themselves the same questions. In today’s world, where we have the Internet to build associations, easy access to digital libraries and papers, and loads of conferences, why (unless one is an academic researcher) is there any relevance to professional societies. What do they bring to the table that you still cannot get elsewhere?


Patience is a Virtue

Today, I learned the importance of patience.

Apple, as is their wont after a major conference, released new versions of both iTunes ( and the iPod Classic Firmware (1.1). Silly me… I updated both. These were long updates, and iTunes went so far as to install some odd server as part of the software called Bonjour called mDNSResponder. When I started iTunes, it seemed to hang… so after 15 minutes of “Converting Database” with no movement on the progress bar… I killed it. That turned out to be my fatal error (or, as nsshere would argue, doing the downloads was my error… but I wanted QuickTime 7.4).

After I upgraded the firmware on the iPod, I discovered that the iPod would no longer sync. It would just hang there, with iTunes spinning its sync wheel, and the iPod doing nothing. So, given I paid for Apple Care, I called Apple. With the first care representative, we worked for 1.5 hours. We deleted and reinstalled iTunes. No luck. We rebooted the iPod. No luck. She was investingating some solution and had me on hold…when the call system transferred me to another front-liner in the Phillipines. With this fellow, we tried restoring the iPod (translation: “wipe ‘er clean, boys”). We still couldn’t sync songs, but we could sync songs manually. We also had the situation where when I disconnected the iPod, my system rebooted. As we were getting nowhere, he escalated the call.

That was where I was put in touch with Ryan. Now we were talking technie to techie. We tried a number of things: reregistering some DLLs. No luck. Backgrading the firmware to 1.0.3. (here, look for the red text). Surprisingly, that didn’t solve the problem. Putting our problem solving skills together, we figured that there had to be something causing the database to spin: either the new firmware wasn’t letting iTunes know what was on the iPod (but backing the firmware should have solved that)… or…. the iPod database was corrupted.

So, off we went to the iTunes library. Not the one on my removable hard drive, but the one in My Documents. We renamed the .xml file to be Library2.xml, and deleted the .itl file. Started up iTunes. No library. Import Library2.xml. Chugs away for a bit and we stop it. We attempt to sync with the iPod. Success! We delete the library again, and now it is chugging away on the over 16,000 songs in my library.

So, what did I learn from this, boys and girls?

Never, never, never interrupt iTunes when it is converting a database, even if it looks hung and isn’t using CPU.

Second, escalate the problem within Apple. Eventually you’ll get someone who knows what they are talking about and restores your faith. I thank Ryan for his patience in all of this.

Third (and I should have known this): Wait a day or two for upgrades (unless, of course, they are serious security problems… which QuickTime 7.4 addresses…)


zarchasmpgmr Would Appreciate This…

The Rime of the Ancyent Programmer

There was an ancyent programmer,
a hacker proud was he,
and though well past his prime, he knew
a thing or two, or three.

His hair was in a ponytail,
his bushy beard gone gray,
his face was lined by years of toil,
and this he had to say:

My life has been a long strange trip,
so many things I have seen:
technologies both good and bad
and all spots in between.

I started out, now long ago,
on mainframe IBMs,
and many clever programs wrote;
some of them truly gems.

Those were such very diff ’rent times.
And coding then was tough.
No screens or mice (things now so nice),
I tell you it was rough.

The 80-column card was king,
and cryptic JCL.
You wrote some code, it ran “batch mode.”
I tell you it was hell.

       Assembler programs I did write,
and complex FORTRAN IV,
but COBOL I refused to learn,
being told it was a bore.

Then came the days of minis, Oh!
My own machine, what joy!
A PDP from DEC I had;
it was indeed a marv’lous toy.

The toggle switches I did use,
with blinding speed I would
machine code programs enter in,
as all true hackers could.

Boot loader ROMs from diodes made,
and home-built D to As.
Both soft and hard ware I’d work on.
Those were such wond’rous days.

So eight-inch floppies, paper tapes,
two-Mbyte DEC packs,
magnetic, nine-track, half-inch reels,
were storage for my hacks.

Around that time it was I played
my first computer game.
“Colossal Caves” some did it call,
but “ADVENT” its true name.

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