Programmers At Work

February 19, 2013

New Posting of 1986 Jaron Lanier Interview

Filed under: Uncategorized — sml @ 11:36 pm

Today I posted the Jaron Lanier interview from his early days as a young programmer in California. Back then, this free-spirited guy was touting Virtual Reality to disbelieving stares. Jaron has become a great spokesman and sage for the industry, questioning where we are going and where we have come from. He is an author, computer scientist, and gadfly of the industry. You can read all about his recent work here.

Enjoy the interview at the link to the right from the youthful optimism of Jaron Lanier’s twenties.

November 29, 2010

Toru Iwatani, PacMan Designer and Professor Today

Filed under: Uncategorized — sml @ 12:41 am

Some 25 years later, I still distinctly remember  meeting with Toru Iwatani in his offices in Tokyo, Japan in 1986. His quiet demeanor, his upfront declaration that he wasn’t a “programmer” in the coding sense of the word, and how he came at the creation of his game and his software from an unusual perspective, as one who wanted to entertain and connect emotionally with the folks who chose to buy and play his game was different. Toru Iwatani spoke of emotions, imagination, whimsy and the simple essence of game design. And we all know how well he understood those in the context of games.

Toru knew that one way to a woman’s heart is through her stomach and particularly if it doesn’t involve consuming any real calories. So via munching circles modeled after a pizza pie with one piece taken out, and a stream of edible dots,  Toru Iwatani succeeded beyond belief. He may not be a coder, but he stands out as a true software visionary. He was a pioneer in attracting women to games, and today we see the result as women are major casual gamers and the key players of Facebook games. It all started with Toru!

Other software designers I interviewed at the time such as Gary Kildall, Charles Simonyi, Bill Gates didn’t lack for imagination but they were “modern age software tool and system builders; they created the bricks and mortar that would go into making our digital revolution. Toru Iwatani set out to create something that would capture our hearts, minds, and imaginations. And what was so brilliant about it, was how simple and distilled his approach was. Decades later, PacMan is alive and well, living on ipads, iphones, and every other existing or emergent platform available. It has inspired The PacMan Museum and multitudes of fan sites around the internet. They do a wonderful job of cataloging the long and illustrious history of this iconic game.

The interview still stands today as a classic which every game designer needs to read.   In fact as I have jumped in to help some friends, Chuck Gamble of Lucky Radish Studios, and Jim Murff of DeeDog Development to help launch a fresh take on the old standard of mix and match books (sliced up body parts you combine to create your own kooky creatures)…Chuck the artist has delivered a whimsical fun creative app for the Ipad and Iphone entitled MIXAMAJIG.  In the process, I have looked for inspiration and wisdom in Toru Iwatani’s words.  Keeping the app full of whimsy and easy to use while also delivering the creatures of Chuck’s fantasy world to life in all the glory the gorgeous ipad and iphone screens deliver has been an adventure. Now if we could only transport ourselves to Tokyo, Japan to receive the ultimate schooling in game design, by taking classes with Professor Iwatani, at the Tokyo Polytechnic Institute where he established the Game Design Institute in 2007 and teaches to this day, I’m sure we’d be golden in the new age of 99 cent apps and for the next version which will include a game element. Our work is never finished, as Toru Iwatani knows so well.

Read the full interview with Toru Iwatani in the collection of interviews posted at the right. Today more than ever in this age of simple games on small platforms his insights are powerful models to follow. This interview in the Japan Times from the summer of 2010 also captures Iwatani’s thoughts to design and live by…good luck!

And what the heck, if you enjoy Programmers at Work and the  Toru Iwatani interview and want to support another indie artist and designer trying to make his mark  check out Mixamajig in the app store and buy it for a buck. I’m sure it’ll get your brain cells firing and your bellies laughing.

June 17, 2010

Dan Bricklin- 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — sml @ 3:45 am
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“Maybe technology will pass me by, maybe not.” This is what Dan Bricklin said back in 1986 and I’m here to report, Dan has been riding technology waves like a seasoned surfer ever since then.

Recently I visited Dan Bricklin’s personal blog and found just like always,  he continues to innovate and create cutting edge software, this time for the ipad and iphone.  He shares on his blog his insights into the development process and how the characteristics of the two different platforms lead to different approaches to designing software, and also some of the challenges he faced in coding his program, Note Taker HD.

Given that I’ve jumped on the app development bandwagon and begun a fun project with a group of friends, not only did I find Dan’s information useful, but I was also reminded of the early garage days of the PC platform. Today is somewhat like that with programmers moonlighting at night in hopes of making their mark on these exciting platforms. Dan is a great example of the same type of activity back in the 80s. Back then, Dan in business school  had a stroke of brilliant insight and figured that taking the model of  paper ledgers and creating a software spreadsheet would be a useful tool.  Today we have pioneering individuals such as Ge Wang of Smule re-imagining what a musical instrument is and generating more “aha” excitement and change.

I dug back into my PAW archives and read over Dan Bricklin’s interview from 1986 and posted it today. You can find the link in the column to the right. If you go to the end, you get a real treat by seeing Dan’s original command diagram for Visicalc which was scribbled on a ledger paper. Enjoy! And thanks to Dan for all the information and insights he shares through his extensive writings on his site.

May 21, 2010

Programmers At Work in China

Filed under: Uncategorized — sml @ 5:41 pm

Just wanted to share the news that Turing Books, a highly-regarded technical book publisher in China, has plans to translate Programmers At Work into Chinese and publish it in book form in the coming year. I’m thrilled at the prospect and curious what the many bright, young engineering entrepreneurs in China will learn from the historical perspective and insights provided by the PC pioneers featured in the book. Will their insights and approaches cross the borders of culture and time and strike some universal chords of inspiration and technical creativity. I hope so. I believe so. We’ll soon see.

I

July 10, 2008

Charles Simonyi reflects

Filed under: Uncategorized — sml @ 3:02 pm

Charles Simonyi, still engaged and pushing the software envelop twenty years later, has written up his reflections on his PAW interview and he has posted it on the blog of his current company, Intentional Software.

Thanks Charles for taking the time to add your insight and perspective to this continuing creative dialogue about where computing has come from and where it is headed!

May 20, 2008

Bill Gates 1986-2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — sml @ 6:18 am
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Today I’ve posted the Bill Gates interview under the PAW–1986 interviews column at the right.

Let’s just say a little water has gone under the bridge since my interview in 1986. I’m sure many of you will enjoy reading this interview and noting all the quaint antiquities…like BASIC…the still amazing way code had to be squeezed into tiny amounts of memory, and also the predictions or lack thereof…it’s a revelation about how hard and yet easy it is to see the future…Gates could see that we were entering the “information” age and wanted to tackle it for the PC in a big way, via putting a multimedia multi-volume encyclopedia on CD ROM, which at the time was like imagining how to shovel the universe into a shoebox (I know because that’s the job I did for Microsoft at the time.) But today we look back on it as quaint with the way we’ve brought the universe to our fingertips via the internet. Little did we know at the time there was no need to shovel it into the pc shoebox. Instead we needed to imagine how we could shoot it and a dynamic web of other information around the planet into your offices on wires.

So enjoy this old and precious conversation with Bill because I sure did. He’s an amazing person to spend time with and I feel privileged to have worked with him back in those early days.

April 5, 2008

Jon Kabat Zinn @ Google

This talk about mindfulness at work and how the tuning and reflection meditation produces can lead to creative breakthroughs and solution serendipity is worth watching.

March 27, 2008

Gary Kildall 1986-2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — sml @ 11:38 pm

“It’s fun sitting at a terminal and letting the code flow.”

“My pace varies during the development of the program. At some points the code gets explosive and I have everything inside my brain at one time; all the variable names and how they relate to one another, where the pointers start and where they end, disk access, et cetera. All sorts of things go on in my brain that I can’t put on paper simply because I’m always changing them.”

“The only time I don’t want to come back is when the code explodes. “

“I also think programming is very much a religious experience for a lot of people.”

Gary Kildall was a brilliant programmer who worked hard and played hard. As evidence of his bright outlook he originally named his company  “Intergalactic Digital Research” and after he sold the company , he moved to Austin, Texas and lived the good life, flying, boating, and collecting sports cars.

Gary Kildall died in July 1994 in Monterey at the age of 52. The computer media, with a few small exceptions, ignored his passing. The circumstances of his death are somewhat mysterious and covered in this excellent article on wikipedia.  He is buried in Seattle where he grew up.

Gary was the first person to interface a disk system to a microcomputer and create an operating system for the personal computer. He changed what had previously been a circuit designed for process control applications into a fully functional computer. This enabled microcomputers to perform tasks previously done only on minicomputers and mainframes. The world changed dramatically because of his work.

The full interview is posted at the right. It was a wonderful conversation about how Gary got into the code flow.

March 10, 2008

John Warnock 1986-2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — sml @ 5:19 pm

Today I’ve posted the interview I did for Programmers at Work in 1986 with John Warnock, founder of Adobe. It’s worth noting his is one of the few companies from 1986 that still remains an independent, thriving entity today. And it’s striking to me because of all the individuals I interviewed back then, John Warnock had far more of the professorial aire about him than a “business mogul” bent. He was a pure and focused spirit with an obvious dedication and love for his pioneering pursuit of making the pc and its peripheral into a powerful and elegant typesetting and publishing tool. Quite simply, Warnock’s invention of Postscript revolutionized the pc and publishing industries.

Warnock remains fixed in my memory as an incredible warm, kind, thoughtful person. He was clear and articulate in his vision and as you can see in the sample program design notes included with his interview, he brings an artistic hand to his technical pursuits.

Warnock now enjoys retirement. His company celebrated its 25th anniversary recently.

Read and enjoy.—Susan Lammers

P.S. The response to putting up the interviews has been wonderful. Thanks to everyone for your support and encouragement! And ideas are already percolating for adding new content and making the original book available. Keep coming back for more.

March 3, 2008

Behavioral Economics/Behavioral Software

Filed under: Uncategorized — sml @ 6:07 pm

With this post, I will wander a bit out of the Programmers at Work box and take a little interlude to digress to current events.

I went to hear Dan Ariely, a professor at MIT who works both with the economics department and the Media Lab, discuss his research and book Predictably Irrational. He was an entertaining, insightful speaker. His work focuses in on how people behave in decision=making trying to codify and explain seemingly “irrational” behavior. One example of the research he did was on cheating and how he found that there is a low-level of cheating that is widely practiced and tolerated in our society, yet over a certain threshold or in certain conditions, for example if you sign a pledge to be honest before you fill out your IRS form, rather than after you fill it out, you are much more likely to be honest or not.  It was a fascinating talk and I’d urge you to go see him or read his book.

One thing he mentioned is the desire to use this research for “good” and to inspire a new category of software he dubbed in the category of “mind” programs designed for the consumer, the idea being to help regular people, individuals navigate their personal path through to a point of making a good, informed rational decision or plan in important areas such as “retirement planning”, health insurance, and the like instead of “irrational” ones which is more often the case. I loved this idea and thought it’s a rich territory for developers today, particularly those who are willing to focus on the “consumers” needs and foibles, rather than being a tool of the businesses who sell these services.

I left the meeting wondering if there was a counterpart to Behavioral Economics in the software field, perhaps called “Behavioral Programs” or “Behavioral Systems and in searching on the web I have found very little specifically called this. Yet, one thing we know today is that software could use a lot more understanding and appreciation of patterns of “irrational” behavior and the internet provides a vast connected knowledge-base and connected consumer base and through this much prediction and behavior can be studied and used. I suppose the work of start-ups such as Farecast and others are just the beginning of treading in this interesting territory.

I’m sure there are lots of others. So I welcome your insights and ideas about this area of programming and research.

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