May 02 2014
This month, our blog turns nine years old. In blogger terms, that’s an eternity. I credit the blog’s longevity to the fact that I’ve never stressed about writing anything here (I mean, when was the last time I wrote a post?) and to the fact that I would continue writing things occasionally even if no one read them. (Some would argue that this is already the case.)
In reality, the blog started earlier than that, as a collection of static HTML pages that I put up at my newly-registered domain 4d2.org back in 2002. At that time, the word “blog” existed, but no one had really started using it yet. WordPress 1.0 was still two years away. I would write the occasional technical article and post it to the site. The focus was pretty much on retrocomputing and the origins of the universe, which I guess are recurring themes for me. I had no way of knowing whether anyone was reading what I wrote, and I didn’t really care. I guess writing on this blog has been similarly motivated.
Anyway, one of the things that strikes me about this blog, re-reading my posts over time, is how much my posts suck. I tend to write when I get riled up about something, and as a result I tend to come off as some kind of angry, misanthropic egomaniac. To be sure, I am all of these things, but not usually all at the same time.
The posts of mine that have attracted the most readers and comments have always been the practical and technical ones: how to hack the MSL out of a Treo 700p, posts about the Commodore 64, and so on. I think I’ve shied away from this kind of writing because I feel it doesn’t hold up well against Kara’s writing. In one corner is me ranting about something that 300 people in the world care about, and in the other is Kara with her gorgeous writing, beautiful photographs and excellent recipes.
So anyway, over this past week Kara and I have bought and set up an Amiga 3000 — yes, that’s where this was going; did you expect something else? I find myself struck by the beauty, simplicity and usability of this ancient system. Unlike the C64, which I adore for all kinds of irrational reasons, the Amiga 3000 at 23 years old is still quite practical. Its support for things like DMA SCSI and PostScript mean that I don’t have to surround it with an ecosystem of ancient, fragile peripherals. But most importantly, AmigaOS is astonishingly usable. You push the button and the computer turns on. The workbench metaphor makes sense, buttons do what they intuitively should, and tasks that peg the CPU at 100% don’t freeze the user interface. It’s beautiful.
And it reminded me of how jaded I’ve become about computers. I work in IT and I see us repeating the follies of history over and over again — and in an industry where “history” consists of anything more than 5 years old this is particularly depressing. I hate most enterprise software; I hate Windows 8; I hate Mac OS; I’ve fled to Slackware to try to keep from hating Linux. I guess I’ve assumed that I’m just becoming miserable and unpleasant or something.
But if Kara and I can both turn on an Amiga, the last gasp of a company that’s been dead for 20 years, a device that we have basically no experience with, and recognize immediately that it’s a beautiful and usable thing, then maybe there’s nothing wrong with me after all. IT in general now seems determined to be the victim of its own excesses, and our collective memory span is getting shorter by the day, so who’s to say that current computer technology doesn’t just plain suck?
Like it or not, I realized, this is what I care about. I need to keep writing in defense of computers as well-designed, usable content creation systems for the home, even if I’m the only person on the planet not using an iPhone for all his computing tasks. It may not be as interesting as cookie recipes, but it’s what I do.