My Best Teaching Is One-on-One


Of course, I team teach and do special lessons, etc.


But my best work in the classroom is after the lesson is over --
going one-on-one,
helping individual students with their assignments.


It's kind of like with computer programs, walking the client through hands-on.
The job isn't really done until the customer is using the program.


Monday, January 5, 2015

What WordPerfect Corp Should Have Done in the 1980s (or, the Reasons They Did Not Hire Me)

A question about running Unix WP 5 on a modern Debian system brought back some ancient memories.

I was at BYU in the mid-'80s, when WordPerfect was becoming the standard word processor. I knew the guy who managed the Macintosh version development for the first several years. Took classes from one of the founders of the company. Etc.

Tried to get a job there. I was headed in a different direction than they were, so they turned me down.

One of Satellite Software International's products was a FORTH language system which I used (not very effectively) as an intern at IBM when I was recovering from a broken engagement in 1986 or so.

(Heh. As I write this, the English wikipedia page on WordPerfect has it as Satellite Systems International, which is a completely different company. The Japanese page has it correct. There's one kind of bit rot.)

My memory is that Dr. Ashton once said, in class or lab, something about early versions of WordPerfect being implemented in FORTH, and that the C code base had a lot of FORTH-isms for quite a while. (This would not be surprising. FORTH, like LISP, is structured well for text stream processing, which is a lot of what made WordPerfect such a successful product.)

If I could have gotten Dr. Ashton's ear --

Never saw Bruce Bastion on campus that I remember, but I did have some opportunities to talk with Dr. Ashton, since I took a class from him. I tried to talk FORTH and the 6809 up to him. Didn't find out about their FORTH language system product until some time after that class. This was just another example of the social, political, market, non-technical stuff going on at the time, and my studied cluelessness.

I daydreamed while doing my homework, about getting into that company and building a "WordPerfect PC" using the 6809 or the 68000. About re-writing, as I assumed, the code in FORTH, and thus making it possible for the customers to add custom modules.

About using WordPerfect and a canonical WordPerfect Personal Computer as a wedge to push a new cross-platform freedom-enabling OS based on constructing a Unix-like system on the foundations of FORTH as a run-time and library model.

I was enamored with FORTH. They were moving the code base for WordPerfect along on standard C.

-- Don't get me wrong. I like C, to play with. It's lacking in certain features to support large projects, and C++ and Java only manage to point their fingers sort of in the right directions.

-- And not that FORTH did/does not need extending to handle some of the things that C handles well. But FORTH has the extensibility that C still lacks. (And I know that extensibility is a two-edged sword, the tendencies of source code to slip away from standards. And I now have an idea how most FORTH enthusiasts have cut themselves carelessly wielding that sword)

I was interested in the cooperative and open models of software development. They were interested in capitalizing their intellectual property.

I was anxious to set up viable opposition to the Microsoft Way. They were interested in a cozy third-party relationship with Microsoft.

I do not understand why anyone would want to voluntarily enter into a relationship with either Microsoft or Intel. It was obvious to me back then, that both companies were hell-bent on pushing their (quite patently false) claims of being the standard, pushing until they had a de-facto monopoly. And anyone who knows history knows the tyranny of monopolies.

Bell Telephone was the only counter-example of a non-evil monopoly, and the only reason they kept their nose (mostly) clean was that the government was breathing down their back.

There seem to be sirens lounging and singing on the rocks of technology --

Technology can be built into systems. (Computers are the archetype of this.)

Systems are great tools for tying customer relationships.

If you can discover it first, keep it secret, get a patent, you can tie your customers to your technology and then you have a guaranteed revenue stream.

It's a siren song.

These kinds of royal grants have been the tools of tyrants in practically every age, and the wedge they form in the social structures of tyranny has proven to be the most effective and destructive tool in undoing the same tyranny.

Unfortunately, innocent bystanders usually get hurt in the wars that result, by the thousands and millions.

That's the reason the US Constitution said "limited time". Temporary stewardship over part of the intellectual and creative commons, derived from the facts of individually-implemented ambition. None of this nonsense about making property out of the social artifacts of the intellectual domain.

No one was supposed to be able to keep control of their inventions and writings their whole lives.

Otherwise tyranny results.

Well, I was disappointed that people who should have been steeped in the traditions of freedom at BYU should be taking their company right into the heart of tyrannical traditions.

And they weren't interested in an idealistic, naive fourth-year sophomore like me.

Now, who's naive?

I guess we all are.

You know, here's the whole reason idolatry is so strictly discouraged in the Bible:

The tyrannical pseudo-religious systems that idols represent.

Until we, as a race, become mature enough to quit worshipping systems, I think God will never let us build a proper computer operating system.