Dan Bricklin for President

January 20th, 2020 9:06 AM
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In a recent letter to the the Concord Monitor, the daily newspaper of Concord, New Hampshire, a reader submitted a letter about our country's upcoming presidential election. He compared two politicians, saying one was a "visionary", the first to present the ideas; but the other would be the "implementer", the one better suited to execute the ideas.

He then made an analogy using names Apple II users may recognize:

Do you know who Dan Bricklin is? Ever even heard of him? Dan Bricklin invented the spreadsheet. VisiCalc was the product that made the Apple II a viable business tool and the rest is history. Bricklin is a visionary and hero to software people like me.

But as often happens in software, first or even best doesn’t always win the game. First Lotus with 123 took the spreadsheet market and made it a real business game changer, followed by Microsoft Excel years later. Mitch Kapor (Lotus) and Bill Gates got the vision done.

This view of history rings false to me. Perhaps it's my Apple II bias, but Dan Bricklin did everything this reader says Mitch Kapor and Bill Gates did. VisiCalc was the first "killer app", demonstrating the value of personal computers and justifying their existence is offices and businesses across the country. Steve Jobs himself went on the record as saying that if it weren't for VisiCalc, there wouldn't've been an Apple Computer Inc.: "If Visicalc had been written for some other computer you'd be interviewing somebody else right now."

Did Lotus 1-2-3 improve upon VisiCalc? Certainly. According to Wikipedia, "1-2-3 quickly overtook VisiCalc, as well as Multiplan and SuperCalc, two VisiCalc competitors." But that's simply the nature of software development and evolution: any product that comes later will benefit from better hardware and development tools. Lotus 1-2-3's release in 1983 does not diminish the vision and implementation achieved by Bricklin in 1979.

As the Concord Monitor reader acknowledges, Bricklin is a hero and visionary — without whom we wouldn't have Lotus 1-2-3. Bricklin deserves credit not just for VisiCalc, but for helping the personal computer revolution succeed and for paving the way for visionaries to come.

What schools don't teach

March 18th, 2013 11:18 AM
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Filed under Musings;
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Computers play an important role in education, be it in programming or game design. Retrocomputers like the Apple II can be especially valuable in any of these disciplines, especially programming. The finite, knowable universe of an 8-bit machine provides the perfect canvas on which budding programmers can craft their first algorithms.

But in many schools, the question isn't with what computers should programming be taught, but whether programming should be taught at all. Demand for programmers has never been higher, with the number of positions growing at twice the national rate. Yet ninety percent of schools offer no programming courses at all, leading to colleges graduating fewer computer science majors than they were a decade ago.

The non-profit Code.org is bringing attention to the need for more programming education in this country with a public service announcement (PSA). For this five-minute video, they have recruited the likes of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and will.i.am, as well as some less likely suspects.

(There are also one-minute and nine-minute versions of this PSA.)

When I was in high school, a required course was geometry. I found it a challenging course, but reasonably so. The theorems and corollaries about alternate interior angles and their kin weren't intended to train me to be an architect; rather, they were lessons in logic, teaching me how to think and solve.

Programming is the modern geometry, offering similar value to students, whether or not they seek careers in computer programming. I do not consider myself a programmer, yet I have benefitted immensely from the languages I taught myself outside of school. I have occasionally tried to pass on these lessons to friends, showing them some (literally) BASIC concepts on the Apple II, such as variables and FOR loops. They remain completely mystified, with one going so far as to marvel at my own capacity to grasp programming: "You're a creative person, Ken, yet you can program. I've never met anyone whose mind can switch between those two modes so effortlessly."

But programming is creative. A relative who doesn't realize that basic tenet recently characterized programming to me as "Doing the same thing, over and over". How he confused programming with data entry is beyond me. But the fusion of creativity and logic is perhaps best found on this digital landscape, and students would benefit from being introduced to that sandbox — whether or not it's on an Apple II.

Tributes to Steve Jobs

October 10th, 2011 10:10 AM
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Filed under Mainstream coverage, Steve Jobs;
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Between last week's video and a special episode of the Open Apple podcast, I've said all I can about Steve Jobs' passing. But many others have shared more eloquent thoughts than mine, and I'd like to share some of my favorites here.

The Open Apple shownotes link to several celebrities' social media tributes. Among those not mentioned are Richard Garriott, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg.

On the visual front, there have been many artistic interpretations, including from the New Yorker and XKCD.


No replacements found


There's always the hope that if you sit and watch for long enough, the beachball will vanish and the thing it interrupted will return.


New Yorker


Pailheads


BoingBoing.net temporarily reskinned their site with a familiar look.

Boing Boing

Several celebrities have offered video tributes, including liberal show hosts Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart.

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