Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Preparing for life in the twenty-first century. Uh, and a half.

Half of the US will have videotex terminals by 2000—Friday, July 25th, 2014

A news blurb in the April, 1982, 80 microcomputing:

By 2000 A.D., videotext terminals will cost as little as $50, according to a study by the Institute for the Future, a California research and consulting group.

The concern also predicted 10 percent of the homes in the United States will have terminals by 1990—when the devices will sell for $200—and 40 percent by the end of the century.

According to the computer newspaper Infoworld, figures on videotext compiled at the end of 1981 reveal 42,000 U.S. and Canadian terminals were subscribing to Dow Jones, The Source and CompuServe; 150,000 U.K. terminals were receiving one-way CEEfax and Oracle teletext; and 10,500 terminals were interactive with 500 electronic publishers and 500 users in seven countries over Prestel’s international service.

This was not in the April Fools section, nor is it a simple change in terminology. In 1981, the “videotext terminal” was specifically a dumb terminal used for interacting with subscription services—and there were people who still thought the dumb terminal with network (dial-up, at the time) connectivity would be the mainstream version of the personal computer.

Abolishing the corporate income tax gains steam—Friday, July 25th, 2014

Abolishing the invisible tax called the corporate income tax has surprisingly gained new supporters since I wrote No corporation pays taxes. Megan McArdle wrote on Bloomberg View that:

The problem with this extended chess game is that every move is very costly. First, it adds to the complexity of the tax code. With every new rule—no matter how earnestly said rule attempts to close a “loophole”—it becomes harder to know whether you are in compliance with the law. This is true on both sides; corporate tax law has now passed well beyond the point where it is possible for a single expert to be familiar with its ins and outs. This makes it harder to plan business expansions, harder to forecast government revenue, and it requires both sides to hire more experts in order to determine whether corporations are compliant. It also means more lawsuits, and longer ones, as both sides wrangle over how this morass of laws should be applied to real-world situations.

The corporate income tax makes it harder to create new businesses because you can’t just become great at making your new widget; you have to become great at understanding and influencing Washington, DC. Which means that many people who would otherwise create thriving new markets with new jobs don’t.

John Steele Gordon at Commentary adds to this, noting:

Megan points out that abolishing the corporate income tax would bring howls of protest from the left that corporations aren’t paying “their fair share.” But corporations, of course, don’t pay the corporate income tax. Instead it’s paid by some combination of workers, with lower wages; customers, with higher prices; and shareholders, with lower profits. The particular combination depends on the economic circumstances of each industry. And abolishing the corporate income tax (which was, anyway, only intended to be a stopgap until a personal income tax amendment could be ratified) would have many extremely positive effects for the American economy.

He goes on to list several benefits of ending the invisible income tax and invisible sales tax that we call the corporate income tax.

And in January, economist Lawrence Kotlikoff wrote in the New York Times that:

Deadlines & Monkeyshines: The Fabled World of Chicago Journalism—Monday, July 21st, 2014
Chicago press, 1924

“Press group waits in Criminal Courts Building Memorial Day night, 1924, for expected confession of Nathan F. Leopold and Richard Loeb.” Author John J. McPhaul is person number 3.

Deadlines & Monkeyshines is a glimpse into an ancient world of titans: a world where, rather than one newspaper, or two cooperating newspapers, a city might have four or even five newspapers all competing for as much readership as they could steal from their rivals—or make without their rivals picking up on it until after press time.

John J. McPhaul came up in the tail end of that era, and his anecdotes are about Chicago, but I expect that the same kinds of stories could be found in any frontier-born city. At the time McPhaul wrote Deadlines & Monkeyshines, there were only two newspaper publishers, and only four papers, with each publisher putting out a morning and afternoon edition. But the world he tells about is a world where newspapers could start overnight on the shoestring of a whim and end just as quickly.

Many of the problems we complain about today existed then—they were just only told about in the backrooms and over card tables on the dog watch. McPhaul describes such a late-night card game on page one, consisting of two to three reporters, a sergeant or lieutenant, and possibly a bookmaker or bondsman.

They, as today, thrived on violence. During the 1894 Pullman Company strike, newsmen wrote the following irreverent ditty:

    • War correspondents bold are we
    • And our trade is grim and grey.
    • Peace and quiet suit us not—
    • We want war and we want it hot!

McPhaul also reproduces the Wilbur Storey quote above, but in the context of being a Democrat who

…was no admirer of President Lincoln or the Republican party. He seemed principally interested in the war as a means of selling papers. His standing order to his reporters with the troops was “Telegraph fully all news and when there is no news send rumors.” News and rumors alike were published under exclamatory headlines.

Even modern gremlins such as the sock puppet were exercised by early reporters, in the form of journalists writing letters to the editor under pseudonyms.

Even back then government officials knew how to trade access for good publicity.

James Garner and The Rockford Files—Sunday, July 20th, 2014

My girlfriend and I just finished watching the entire Rockford Files on Netflix a few months ago. We loved it so much we went through withdrawal, and went looking for more, only to find that they made some movies afterward, so we got those on DVD and watched them, too.

I was a little too young to watch Maverick, but The Rockford Files, if not the originals then at least in syndication hit me just at the right time. Jim Rockford was cool, he lived on the beach in California, he was exasperated with stupidity but still stuck his nose out for his friends. He helped define what it was like to be a grown-up.

I never watched The Rockford Files all the way through—we watched our TV somewhat haphazardly. When I discovered that Netflix had it, I immediately suggested we watch it, likely in my nerdy way, and we kept watching it all the way through. It remains a great series today; watch it!

The Future from 1981—Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

I’ve been slowly going through some of my old computer magazines. In the November, 1981 80 Microcomputing, publisher/editor Wayne Green wrote something that caught my eye:

Will the day come when we really don’t need secretaries any more? I’m convinced it will and I think I see the way it will come about.

The first step is the normal executive desire to have the latest in gadgets. This will bring the computer to the elbow of the executive (as soon as some furniture firm wakes up to the need for an executive desk placing the computer where it is handy to use).

The computer will begin by providing instant interoffice communications, access to data for decision-making, E-Z Calc worksheet planning and so forth. The word processor will encourage sending notes in answer to business letters, getting us into a much less formal correspondence style. Once we can live with a business letter which does not have to reassure the recipient of his name and address, much of the secretarial role will have faded away.

Our computers will be able to remember addresses, file correspondence copies, and all of those lovely things the secretary used to do.

Considering the problem of finding good secretaries, the path of least resistance for executives will be to depend more and more on that computer by their side.

Speaking of which, it’s been some time since I’ve written about the need for smaller computers or terminals which are connected to the office computer system via a radio link instead of the usual umbilical cord. We have radio telephones now, so separating the computer from the system by a radio link is not a big step.

We’re remote-controlling our television sets and lights, so why not our computers? My concept of the coming office computer is one that will be much like a hard bound book, with an LCD display inside the cover which can be read when you lift the lid. The keyboard will be like those on the hand-held computer systems, though in typewriter keyboard format.

With a portable terminal like this you would be able to use it as a computer by itself, or, if you were around a host system, you could dump letters for printing, access data, and communicate with others via it and the phone lines.

Recent calculator-sized television sets have an LCD screen which seems easily adaptable to our needs. Other than making things a bit smaller, there isn’t a lot more to invent before we have this new type of micro-micro computer.

Must-have iOS app: Editorial—Thursday, July 10th, 2014

Another app that’s quickly entered the must-have realm for me is Editorial. It’s basically a Markdown editor, and it’s a good one. It is a universal app, working on both the iPad, for which it was designed, and the iPhone.

  1. The undo button is on the special keyboard bar on the iPad. Shake to undo works as well, but having it on the keyboard is easier to see.
  2. I’m typing this list in Editorial, and as I hit return to go to the next item, it automatically fills out the number for me—no mode switch required.
  3. It seems simple, but it apparently isn’t—iA Writer only received this functionality as I was writing this review—Editorial displays Markdown files with formatting. A quote is indented, emphasized text is emphasized, and so on.

One interesting feature—and one that’s very useful to TaskPaper users—is that it recognizes .taskpaper files and displays them as tasks with checkboxes that can be checked off. I store my task lists on Dropbox, and can then edit them both on my iMac (using TaskPaper) and on my iPad/iPhone (using Editorial). Only the iPad can currently easily check off tasks; however, the special bar of the onscreen keyboard changes to be appropriate for TaskPaper files, on both the iPad and the iPhone.

Using Editorial just as a Markdown editor, note editor, and TaskPaper editor on the iPhone and iPad is enough right there. The killer, though, is the workflow feature. Within the workflow editor are simple tasks that can be chained together to form a workflow; for example, I often look on Wikimedia Commons for related imagery; I can now select the text I’ll be searching for and hit a button in Editorial to search. The web page is brought up within Editorial making moving back and forth faster.

I have another workflow for blockquoting selected text. People use workflows for uploading posts to their blogs, tweeting selected text, and titleizing selected text.

Workflows can be organized by tagging them, and then filtering by tags, by tapping a button with that tag’s name.

Finally, workflows can include custom Python code, putting pretty much no limit on what you can do to your text in a workflow.

Must-have iOS apps—Thursday, July 10th, 2014

Apps for the iPhone and iPad that make doing things incredibly easier.

Which comes first? Apple TV or an earth-shattering asteroid?—Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

I just picked up a new HDTV set, a Samsung 5300. It’s a fine TV1, but the interface sucks. It’s inconsistent and unreliable, and it really makes me wish Apple made an HDTV set. The next best thing is the Apple TV box.

The Apple TV is the only reason I bought the Samsung: they have a better reputation for screen quality, and I expect to not have to deal with the built-in software. However, I want to hold off until the next iteration but every time the Samsung interface hangs or a button acts differently than it did three seconds ago, I wonder how long that’s going to be.

When will the next a…

Apparently, it’s going to be around when the next asteroid hits the earth.

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