Saturday, November 14th, 1998

There's a basic question about web sites to which I don't have a particularly good answer, and that's "What do you want one for?"

The only answer I know to that is the one that I'm finding out through the hundreds of granular decisions involved in fiddling with the two that I have.  If you've checked in here more than a couple of times, you'll know what I mean by that, since it doesn't stay the same for long.

In the process I've learned a bit of HTML and gotten a bit of practice with writing for the web, and even if that's all there were, it would be enough.  But it isn't all, that much I do know.

Thursday, October 1st, 1998

What, October already?! ;-)

Thursday, July 30th, 1998

Oh, by the way, while we don't yet know the details of the "MMC", not even which company is developing it, we have learned that Amiga will stick with their own kernel for the basis of the next-generation OS.

Saturday, July 16th, 1998

Ever try to engage someone with whom you didn't seem to share a common mode of communication in a dialogue? Ever had someone persist in an attempt to engage you in an interaction you wanted no part of, as much because of the way they were going about it as for any other reason? Ever felt as though the only responses open to you were all too inappropriate for use?

Just as people have preferred sensory modes, they also have preferred modes of interaction.

For example, some are quite content to trade potshots across a gulf of misunderstanding and mistrust (or even fundamental disagreement), whereas others have nothing at all to say at that distance, except perhaps in written form. (The latter might sound dysfunctional, but what good ever came of potshots aside from creating an opportunity for a more useful interchange, and how often does that result in comparison with destructive escalation?)

How do you feel about aggression? Ambiguity? Sensuality? Formality? Innuendo? Spontaneity? Precision? Conviviality?

And how do you reach out to someone whose answers are very different from your own?

Tuesday, July 7th, 1998

For some years now it's been the fashion to profess a belief that government is neither an appropriate nor an effective custodian of the well-being of the people, and that people, each acting in their own best interest, will collectively produce a (market) condition that serves their needs.

Frankly, I still don't buy it, at least the part about the market taking care of things, left to itself.

Sure, it works remarkably well for some, and more-or-less well for many, but there's always some for whom it doesn't work at all, and more for whom it barely does.

The less disingenuous apologists of the leave-it-to-the-market philosophy will quietly admit that some destitution (and the vicarious fear it produces in those not directly effected) is a necessary motivator, without which far too many would grow lazy and unproductive, to the detriment of all. They would likely go on to point to the pathetic productivity of pre-reform Soviet factories as an example of the deadening effect of a system which disregards this principle.

I suppose that, before one goes off half-cocked accusing them of calous disregard for the sufferring of others, one really ought to apply the "compared to what?" meme...but I'm already drifting from the point I wanted to make.

Our society has already demonstrated that it won't tolerate more than a fairly low falling-through-the-cracks rate. We're more tolerant of failure than some societies, but not so tolerant of it as to be willing to really give the market its head and throw caution to the wind. But, because we have a serious hangup about government largesse, we've ended up expressing our compassion through mandates imposed on business, which neither add up to a comprehensive solution nor leave the market free to operate to best advantage.

True, big government is expensive, but a higher tax rate is much easier to factor into business operations than the myriad requirements which all-but-automatically arise in its absence.

I would prefer to see government back in the safety-net business with both feet, and constraints on business limited to what's necessary to prevent harm. If it's a dragon, at least leave it free to be a good dragon.

Monday, July 6th, 1998

(See previous entry.)

So what sort of instructions, you might wish to know, could constructively be woven into memory? A good answer to that is way beyond my current understanding, but, continuing in uninformed speculation mode...

A stack, for one thing. A stack is a special kind of memory (often explained by analogy, think of a stack of trays in a cafeteria), an array that is only accessible from one end (or very near to one end, like the next one or two positions in the array). The basic stack operations are loosely termed "push" (add a tray (data element) to the top of the stack and push all the others down one position) and "pop" (remove a tray (data element) from the top of the stack and allow all those below to move up one position). A hardware stack (and there have been hardware stacks around for a long time) does all of that shifting automatically (or, more likely, maintains a pointer to the top of the stack and accepts or serves up data through a 'port'). Being little more than a bit-shift operation (done without pointers) few things could be simpler to implement, so long as contiguous addresses are also arranged next to each other on the chip.

Block transfer (moving sizable chunks of data from one position to another) is time consuming when done via software in conventional memory. Implementing it in hardware only gets a bit complicated in the case where data needs to be realigned, that is where it's not sufficient to move whole 'words' (the number of bits of width, usually 16, 32, or 64, but soon to be 128 or even 256) around. But that brings up the next topic...

Bit-shifting, rotating bits around in a word, and directing the overflow. Combine this with block transfer when data needs to be both moved and realigned.

Accumulation...adding numbers in consecutive addresses.

Bit-flipping (logical NOT), as well as other logical operations.

It gets more interesting if you can do things like, say, specify the range of addresses over which you want an operation to apply and employ a bit-mask to specify which data within those addresses should be effected.

And, while you might treat such active memory as a sort of cache, implementing the write-backs in software, having it automatically update conventional memory after every operation might prove less attractive than treating it as a separate, scratchpad memory, just as are the registers of current CPUs.

As before, this has been uninformed speculation. You've been warned!

Sunday, July 5th, 1998

(See previous entry.)

...and, since those who know are bound by non-disclosure, this is a time for patience...and uninformed speculation, a favorite passtime of mine. ;-)

I would like to take this opportunity to speculate on the nature of the "MMC" (acronym for "Monster Mystery Chip", a nickname given to the secret-but-supposedly-blazingly-fast design on which Amiga seems to be pinning its hopes for a future...along with the modernized OS).

The amount of detail which has been released to date would (will) fit into a rather short paragraph. It is a serious design effort, with a firm timeline (goals, anyway) -- mounted by a medium-sized company with a recognizable name, but not usually thought of as a supplier of processors -- to produce an extensible processing system ("cpu" seems not to be clearly applicable), with volume availability of the initial design slated for mid-1999, and systems based upon it expected in late-1999. I also gather that this system will be capable of emulating other architectures through programmable microcode.

I take almost as a given that it is, in essence, an array processor, much like that Altivec addition to the PowerPC architecture, or the MMX addition to the Pentium instruction set, only on a grander scale than either.

While not as obvious, it also seems likely that it combines processing with memory, or at least with amounts of memory comparable to the cache on other architectures, performing some operations on significant amounts of data simultaneously. That is to say that it probably incorporates some processing operations directly into its memory circuits, making for less-dense memory, but much faster overall execution of those instructions.

Since I've already stuck my neck out this far, let me go on to suggest that it's probably built around a radically-reduced primary instruction set (something like HP's Precision Architecture), elaborated by programmable microcode; that the in situ (sitting in memory) execution unit I've predicted may be accompanied by a more conventional one; and that the former may reside on an array of identical chips rather than on a single chip.

One last reminder...the foregoing has been uninformed speculation.

Saturday, June 27th, 1998

It seems vaguely like some sort of case study, although just what sort I'm not at all sure. Gateway 2000, having acquired Amiga, and, apparently, after a period of uncertainty as to how to exploit that acquisition, is even now moving toward a solidifying strategy, an early unveiling of which, last month, stirred both excitement and concern in the community of Amiga loyalists -- of whom there are more than even Gateway had anticipated.

Amiga officials stated that they were looking beyond the current AmigaOS for the basis for a new, modern operating system, specifically mentioning both Linux and BeOS as potential sources, but the implication seemed to be that their intent remained the development of a new system, and only meant to accelerate that process by using existing code from a variety of sources.

Tempting as it must be to try to lever the Amiga name, patents, and loyal community of users and developers into a captive market segment of their own for the future, I think Amiga and Gateway might be better served by a strategy which creates a bridge to carry the current Amiga community into a stronger, existing alternative-OS market, perhaps providing the latter with a critical mass as well as providing the former with a link to the future.

BeOS, being a media-oriented operating system with no legacy baggage, would seem the logical choice. Gateway/Amiga's role would be in the development and licensing of Amiga hardware emulation and the Amiga operating system...and in the porting of BeOS to any preferred architecture (other than those for which it is already available).

This scenario would hardly effect any plans to exploit AmigaOS for embedded-system applications, and plans to develop it in parallel for a wide range of systems could proceed without interruption, with some licensed BeOS code being included in some applications and none at all in others.

Evenso, I rather expect the independent-development-using-borrowed-code path to be the one taken, and even that will be a vast improvement over the stagnation Amiga has sufferred in recent years. We should know what the decision is before very long...until then I'll hold out a little hope for the also-rans teaming up to present a really-credible alternative to the dominant player in the operating system market.

Wednesday, June 17th, 1998

This evening I learned that I've lost a step-brother.

Sunday, May 31st, 1998

It's probably more the exception than the rule (anywhere, anytime) to believe that there is something deeply inappropriate about a significant part of what vocal communication has become. I'm not referring to taboos with regard to particular expressions -- those are common -- but to the uses to which vocalization is put, and its effects, some unintended, when unleashed in a contiguous (mass) society...and particularly in one in which it can now be remotely reproduced and even synthetically produced or altered.

Nevertheless, this has been my attitude for most of my life, at least since becoming aware that denotative meaning is only one of the ways in which speech is attitude that I've only slowly weened from.

Speech is something for which we are hard-wired -- not any particular language, but the propensity to learn an association between utterance and significance and to develop skill in wielding that association. It is, like everything else about our genetic inheritance, an evolutionary consequence of the circumstances of our forebearers.

This is to say that it came into being under (and in response to) very different circumstances from those with which we are now faced, while people still lived in small bands of tens, or at most hundreds, and only rarely came into contact with others.

One of the ways in which those circumstances must have been different from today is that, then, every voice was known as belonging to a particular individual, and interpreted in terms of what was already known about the owner. Today we are often exposed to voices the sources of which (much less the identity of the owner) are difficult to trace. They exist ephemerally in a milieu of indistinct experience.

What I long failed to appreciate is that this milieu is more like the pre-linguistic auditory environment than is language itself, and also more like what our ancestors must have encountered in the natural world, their dealings with each other aside.

Conclusion? None, really. This is just something in the process of taking shape in my mind, as I let go, little by little, of prejudice and allow my thoughts to flow to more closely match experience.

May 24, 1998

There's been some confusion as to what's proper use of the Internet. There was a time when it was only for the use of scientists working on defense projects, many years ago. Then there was an interim period during which more general (but still serious) use was acceptable, but not commercial or recreational use.

That's all changed now! The Internet was opened to commercial use several years ago, and private web pages (for example), having nothing whatsoever to do with either government-funded research nor any business enterprise, have become ubiquitous. This is electronic self-publishing; and, at least as far as the use of the net is concerned, it's totally appropriate.

But what the net is used for and what uses are made of any particular access channel are separate issues. For instance, your employer may provide you with access, but restrict your use of it. That's their right -- their equipment and their connection to the net -- but it shouldn't be viewed as reaching beyond that special circumstance.

That special circumstance aside, private use of the Internet is little different from private use of other media, with a web page being quite similar to a letter to the editor or small display ad in your local paper...although likely to be seen by fewer people than either of those. The same sorts of liberty and constraint (legal, contractual, and ethical) apply to both.

April 25th, 1998

The WELL (Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link, Internet domain "") is an online conferencing system, the community of people who interact through it and around it, and the deep accessible record of those interactions. Within it are many discussion areas, called conferences, some open to all members and some private, but each with some general theme or perspective. Conferences contain topics, sometimes hundreds of them, and topics can run up to a couple of thousand "responses" each, although a fraction of that is more common.

The quality of the conversation varies even more widely than what you're apt to hear on any given day, from the vulgar (yes, it's true) to the brilliant, and everything in between. Far from being dry and academic in tone, it's full of wit.

The WELL differs from usenet newsgroups in that everything is stored sequentially on and served from a single system. Because there is so little temporal disjunction (at worst a few others' replies may slip in while you're composing yours) topics read very much like conversations -- sometimes tightly focused and sometimes like what you might hear at a dinner party seated at a long table, with several conversations happening at once, but not so many that you can't keep them straight.

The WELL also differs from many online systems in that anonymity is not allowed and in that much of what's posted there remains on the system for years. These two factors work together to make The WELL an unusual (perhaps unique) environment, one which has a way of exhorting its members to stretch their minds and give clear expression to their most fleeting thoughts.

All that having been said, it's also true that The WELL isn't for everybody. It's something of an acquired taste, and one that many wouldn't see any point in acquiring, which is fine, because it's very likely that its special culture would be sorely strained by even a ten-fold increase in size, much less a few million members. If you're drawn to it, by all means, come find out what it's about. If you're not, not to worry.

April 19th, 1998

It's been three years since the bombing of the federal office building in Oklahoma City. One man (Timothy McVeigh) now awaits execution for that act, while another (Terry Nichols) awaits sentencing, and yet another (Robert Jacks/Jacques/Jacquez/Jocques) is believed, at least by some, to remain at large, although a search of the FBI's website for "Jacks" or "Jacques" producednothing.

But while it's certainly important to find those responsible for such a terrible act and bring them to trial, in my mind they were part of something much larger, which continues to misdirect and waste the energy of many people -- misdirect it in a number of ways, including a rabid assault on government in any form and a nurtured longing for a return to racial/ethnic separation and, in many cases, white supremacy.

That this 'movement' also addresses real issues contributes to its wasteful nature, for it intertwines reasonable indignation (for example over a society that is increasingly trivialized as the well-being of corporations comes to be the reason for its existence rather than the other way round) into a mixture so contaminated with the unreasonable that it must first be extricated before it can be allowed to develop.

Perhaps, in the long run, it is better to preserve activism, even if, for a time, it takes a decidedly counterproductive turn, but I think it more likely that this movement will spiral down into irrelevance, or else split, with those taking the high road gaining momentum while those who continue to wallow in the mire of bigotry and purposeless discord finding themselves increasingly isolated.

April 18th, 1998

I used to keep a journal, filling volume after volume with all kinds of things. I suppose it served as the poor-man's substitute for therapy, since my need to do it dissipated about the same time that I discovered computer bulletin boards, roughly thirteen years ago.

But, nice as it is to be able to bounce ideas off other agile minds and to share experiences with others at the relaxed pace of textual conversation, there are still ways in which it doesn't substitute for that process by which a blank sheet of paper and a pen become the means of catching a flitting impulse and massaging it into a meaningful form.

The web, on the other hand, while mostly lacking the conversational aspect, provides considerably more flexibility, both with regard to form and to initial incoherence that only gradually yields to clarity. It's also public, affording at least the possibility that the effort one invests will benefit someone else.

What I hope to do here is to apply the techniques I found useful in keeping a journal to this electronic medium. Chances are that it will take some time for it to take shape.