I'll be flying back East due to a death in the family. Back next Monday.
I'll be flying back East due to a death in the family. Back next Monday.
Posted on March 31, 2004 at 16:53 | Permalink
An e-mail all the way from Argentina cited my HyperCard eulogy and informed me that the product had been mentioned in Tim Berners-Lee's original WWW proposal. Son of a gun, there it is. I never knew that.
The same search also pulled up some historical notes on HTML, which reminded me of other projects of the time that might have influenced the WWW. (We'll have to ask TBL to find out for sure.) Anyway, back in October 1988, a year after HyperCard's release, Jan Walker of DEC and John Leggett of Texas A&M organized something called the Dexter Hypertext workshop (named after the inn where the group first met). I attended on behalf of Apple and HyperCard, and most of the functioning systems of the time or before were also represented by team members. There wasn't a really firm agenda, other than to compare experiences on architecture, usage, wins and losses for mutual benefit. (These tales obviously belongs to a more innocent, less IP conscious time.)
Two things eventually came out of the series of four Dexter workshops. One was the widely cited 'Dexter' formal data model of hypertext, driven by Mayer Schwartz of Tektronix and Frank Halasz of Xerox PARC, with input from the rest. Another was a practical experiment in exchanging content among hypertext systems, which as I recall was instigated during a bull session while driving to the Houston airport after a meeting. The practical result was that I hired Jeremy Bornstein of Brown University, who had already worked on the early HyperCard-based Perseus project, as a summer intern with a charter to see what could happen. Jeremy collaborated with Victor Riley at Brown to design and test an SGML-like text markup, based on the Dexter formalism, that could move content among several systems (it was never used as a native format). This was demonstrated at the Hypertext '89 conference (written up in an ancient Jakob Neilsen trip report) and eventually published in the proceedings of a NIST hypertext standardization workshop.
While the Dexter Hypertext Interchange was SGML-influenced, there was another project going on separately that was specifically SGML-based. HyTime started as an effort to express music in SGML. It was driven by Charles Goldfarb, inventor of SGML, and Steve Newcomb, then at Florida State. At some point I became aware of this effort, and invited Goldfarb over from IBM to present to my Apple group. As I recall, a two-hour conversation between myself and Goldfarb in the Apple City Center parking ramp afterwards led to my concordance of Dexter and Hytime which is cited in the HyTime history. Hytime was very elegant, but also quite baroque, and too much overhead for wide adoption at the time.
Both of these efforts were pretty well known at the time. (The cited NIST initiative died after one meeting, when the industry representatives decided a standard was premature and bailed out. We were right.) Both Dexter models and SGML based representation were well discussed at the ECHT90 European Hypertext Conference, attended by both TBL and Robert Cailliau. In March 1991, Victor Riley posted information on Hytime to a list where it was picked up by the CERN team It's clear that by some time in 1991 SGML related features to the evolving HTML were in play at CERN, and by 1992 HTML could be expressed in an SGML DTD. Unlike Goldfarb, TBL and team were willing to cut loose from the overhead of a full and formal SGML system in favor of simplicity, and the rest is history. We got markup that could be banged out in a line mode text editor, and put off the reckoning with formalism until the advent of XML.
(NB: Most of this from memory and Googling around. It does remind me that somewhere in the attic is a collection of old conference notes and
incriminating historically significant photos. If anyone cares about this stuff, I can dig some of it out. Send e-mail.)
Posted on March 31, 2004 at 16:44 | Permalink
The Intel co-founder has donated $250,000 towards setting up a charter school in Los Altos Hills here in the Valley. Quote: "Betty and I feel very strongly that competition in educational opportunities results in innovation and significant improvements for all participants."
Good for him. The primary and secondary education systems are real travesties of the Valley. The high real estate costs that jack up the costs of living and doing business are made all the worse by the insult of an educational system that caters more to teacher's unions, administrators and politician's careers than to students, parents, and taxpayers. Many feel they have to buy over their financial weight and real needs to get their children into a decent district, or budget for private schools on top of their tax burdens. Meanwhile, districts like Los Altos and Sequoia (where I have the misfortune to live) do everything they can to footdrag and obfuscate even the nominal level of competition represented by legally mandated charter school startups. If you thought the creative, intellectual haven of the Valley must be immune to feather bedding and log rolling, think again. And don't even consider discussing vouchers.
In competition is accountability, and that's what the fight's really about - an ongoing effort to evade accountability, all the while whining about budgets and salaries. The tune has gotten very old. Cheers to Mr. Moore for calling it like it is, and putting his money there as well.
Posted on March 31, 2004 at 14:00 | Permalink
To the surprise of few, Apple's Hypercard passed away quietly this week, after life support was finally withdrawn by the company. It had a run of over 16 years - though the last were in circumstances of at best benign neglect. Not a bad duration for a software product, but it still hurts to see it go, since I had some part in its gestation.
HyperCard was Bill Atkinson's brainchild. Though influenced by a number of others, most notably Ted Kaehler, Dan Winkler, and Chris Espinosa, it was
Bill's vision, tenacity and willingness to go to the mat with John Sculley and even the board of Apple that got it out the door, over the resistance of Jean-Louis Gass�e and others who saw it as 'competing with our developers'. It was launched with a typical Apple PR blitz at Boston Macworld in 1987, and was also a centerpiece of the fall 1988 launch of Apple's first CD-ROM drive and its push towards mulltimedia. (The latter was my show; my role was producing large scale database and multimedia pieces with HyperCard to show off the CD-ROM and multimedia strategy, and get some developer momentum going.)
HyperCard always had a marketing problem of not being clearly about any one thing. Since it was initially packaged with every Mac shipped, it's likely the majority of buyers used it as a quicky Rolodex, if anything. But HyperCard's biggest win was a very low entry threshold for those who wanted to build their own 'stacks' - combinations of user interface, code, and persistent data. There were plenty of examples to suggest ideas, and all the code was open for tweaking. This did enable a burst of creativity by users, many of them educators and artists with no training in programming or database.
The proliferation of ideas created its own confusion. What was this thing? Programming and user interface design tool? Lightweight database and hypertext document management system? Multimedia authoring environment? Apple never answered that question. Probably the answer was 'yes, all of the above', and HyperCard could have been forked into several related products, each tailored to a specific market. But instead the forces against internal software projects won out, and HyperCard was shunted off to Apple's Claris spinoff, where it lost in the battle for attention with Filemaker and Apple/ClarisWorks. Several improved versions came out, but the code was never even completely ungraded to handle color displays, killing off interest from the multimedia and UI markets. Hard core supporters, particularly from the educational community, kept it alive when Apple reabsorbed Claris, but only on sufferance.
From a software architecture point of view, HyperCard had a number of interesting ideas which might bear reexamination. At a time when persistent object stores were still novel, HyperCard was built around one. It's not going too far to say that its user interface was simply a reification of the object database. HyperCard's programming model was object-like, but didn't fall neatly into either the class/instance or delegation styles. Individual visible cards in a stack were created as instances of prototypic backgrounds and could be pre-populated with text fields and action buttons. Default message passing was an odd hybrid of visual containment and fixed object hierarchy. These features, plus a very texty scripting language, seem to have made for a very approachable tool for the nonprofessional coder or database creator. (To my knowledge there was never a study of programming usage and usability of HyperCard. A real gap.)
HyperCard also had its share of problems, particularly as a programming environment. Almost uniquely, every data element in HyperCard was a string. (Anyone else remember SNOBOL?). If you wanted another data structure, you built it out of strings, or expanded the programming language by adding in new compiled code primitive 'XCMDs'. The binding of code to individual cards and objects within them made it easy to create an unmanageable project with code snips splattered all through the stack, and many of the neophytes fell into this trap. Ditto the lightweight database had very weak identity and abstraction capability, another trap for the budding multimedia author. The tight binding of interface and data store also created weaknesses only obvious in retrospect: There was no cut line at all between client and server, and creating one was probably impossible in the original code base. HyperCard implemented everything in script code, even links. It was about as far from RESTian as you can get. If HyperCard had in some way mutated into an alternative to the Web, we'd be living in an even worse malcode Hell than we've got now.
So, adieu, HyperCard. I had a heck of a lot of fun with you (and the gang that birthed you), and I know others did as well. Your passing will leave a gap, particularly for the educators who still have no clear (and cheap) alternative. I hope some of the lessons you taught are passed on to new projects that allow just plain folks to try out coding and authoring.
Devastating critique of the FOAF-ian echo chamber. Even if he weren't right (and he is) and there were some adequate ontology to express the nuance of human interactions, there's this slight knowledge elicitation problem.
Memo to readers: Do not bother sending me 'semantic web' plans that reprise the delusions of big symbolic AI, having only swapped the LISP costume for new XML clothes. On the other hand, if you want to spend your own time and money hacking FOAF, I'm all for it. Train wrecks can be highly instructive. Just try making some fresh new mistakes, rather than repeating the old ones.
Posted on March 24, 2004 at 13:42 | Permalink
...when you've got the blogosphere. Some interesting finds while wandering through the military and foreign affairs parts of my reading list:
Posted on March 24, 2004 at 11:14 | Permalink
As Fred Wilson notes, we're now 'officially' in a correction on the NASDAQ. And I agree with his conclusion: It's a good thing, the market was getting too frothy. (I can say this with some detachment, having cashed in my Qubes in early winter.)
As evidence I'll offer that today's VentureWire brought the news of no less than four S-1 filings: Accent Optical, Seven, Brightmail and Shopping.com. Seven is likely the weakest, with just under $7m in trailing revenues, losing almost $13m in the same period. What's likely going on here is that they are perceived as being in a hot sector - mobile - never mind the level of competition and actual financials. As we should have learned a few years ago, that's a sign of froth. Some of these and other still quiet S-1 filings are now likely to be wrong footed by the markets. Just as well.
Disclosure: We have an investment in a Brightmail competitor.
Posted on March 24, 2004 at 10:26 | Permalink
Some help needed here:
UNIVERSITIES FACE PATENT ISSUES FOR ONLINE TESTING
An undisclosed number of colleges and universities have received
letters from a company called Test Central saying that it holds a
patent on online testing and that the schools are in violation of that
patent. Ellen K. Waterman of Regis University, one of the institutions
threatened by the company, called the letter extremely broad,
potentially covering any type of testing online. An official from Test
Central rejected that characterization but said he believes "that other
people are profiting at our expense." Test Central's patent, for which
it applied in February 1999, was granted in early 2003. According to
Rita S. Heimes, a visiting assistant professor of law at Suffolk
University Law School, a patent can be effectively challenged by
showing prior use of the patented technology. Many institutions engaged
in online testing prior to 1999, but, said Heimes, because the cost of
fighting the patent in court could be extremely expensive, many
institutions will simply opt to pay licensing fees.
Chronicle of Higher Education, 26 March 2004 (sub. req'd)
Posted on March 23, 2004 at 14:52 | Permalink
Posted on March 23, 2004 at 10:59 | Permalink
After one failed attempt to scramble up the side of the crater in which it landed, Mars rover Opportunity is now out and on the surface, looking at broader horizons. This remarkable little hole-in-one may go down as a historic step along the road to Mars.