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Bertil Hatt
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The Sign of Our Generation

Captured while waiting for the bus. Bro, methinks you need new pants.
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Bertil Hatt

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Jean-Baptiste Quéru originally shared:
 
Dizzying but invisible depth

You just went to the Google home page.

Simple, isn't it?

What just actually happened?

Well, when you know a bit of about how browsers work, it's not quite that simple. You've just put into play HTTP, HTML, CSS, ECMAscript, and more. Those are actually such incredibly complex technologies that they'll make any engineer dizzy if they think about them too much, and such that no single company can deal with that entire complexity.

Let's simplify.

You just connected your computer to www.google.com.

Simple, isn't it?

What just actually happened?

Well, when you know a bit about how networks work, it's not quite that simple. You've just put into play DNS, TCP, UDP, IP, Wifi, Ethernet, DOCSIS, OC, SONET, and more. Those are actually such incredibly complex technologies that they'll make any engineer dizzy if they think about them too much, and such that no single company can deal with that entire complexity.

Let's simplify.

You just typed www.google.com in the location bar of your browser.

Simple, isn't it?

What just actually happened?

Well, when you know a bit about how operating systems work, it's not quite that simple. You've just put into play a kernel, a USB host stack, an input dispatcher, an event handler, a font hinter, a sub-pixel rasterizer, a windowing system, a graphics driver, and more, all of those written in high-level languages that get processed by compilers, linkers, optimizers, interpreters, and more. Those are actually such incredibly complex technologies that they'll make any engineer dizzy if they think about them too much, and such that no single company can deal with that entire complexity.

Let's simplify.

You just pressed a key on your keyboard.

Simple, isn't it?

What just actually happened?

Well, when you know about bit about how input peripherals work, it's not quite that simple. You've just put into play a power regulator, a debouncer, an input multiplexer, a USB device stack, a USB hub stack, all of that implemented in a single chip. That chip is built around thinly sliced wafers of highly purified single-crystal silicon ingot, doped with minute quantities of other atoms that are blasted into the crystal structure, interconnected with multiple layers of aluminum or copper, that are deposited according to patterns of high-energy ultraviolet light that are focused to a precision of a fraction of a micron, connected to the outside world via thin gold wires, all inside a packaging made of a dimensionally and thermally stable resin. The doping patterns and the interconnects implement transistors, which are grouped together to create logic gates. In some parts of the chip, logic gates are combined to create arithmetic and bitwise functions, which are combined to create an ALU. In another part of the chip, logic gates are combined into bistable loops, which are lined up into rows, which are combined with selectors to create a register bank. In another part of the chip, logic gates are combined into bus controllers and instruction decoders and microcode to create an execution scheduler. In another part of the chip, they're combined into address and data multiplexers and timing circuitry to create a memory controller. There's even more. Those are actually such incredibly complex technologies that they'll make any engineer dizzy if they think about them too much, and such that no single company can deal with that entire complexity.

Can we simplify further?

In fact, very scarily, no, we can't. We can barely comprehend the complexity of a single chip in a computer keyboard, and yet there's no simpler level. The next step takes us to the software that is used to design the chip's logic, and that software itself has a level of complexity that requires to go back to the top of the loop.

Today's computers are so complex that they can only be designed and manufactured with slightly less complex computers. In turn the computers used for the design and manufacture are so complex that they themselves can only be designed and manufactured with slightly less complex computers. You'd have to go through many such loops to get back to a level that could possibly be re-built from scratch.

Once you start to understand how our modern devices work and how they're created, it's impossible to not be dizzy about the depth of everything that's involved, and to not be in awe about the fact that they work at all, when Murphy's law says that they simply shouldn't possibly work.

For non-technologists, this is all a black box. That is a great success of technology: all those layers of complexity are entirely hidden and people can use them without even knowing that they exist at all. That is the reason why many people can find computers so frustrating to use: there are so many things that can possibly go wrong that some of them inevitably will, but the complexity goes so deep that it's impossible for most users to be able to do anything about any error.

That is also why it's so hard for technologists and non-technologists to communicate together: technologists know too much about too many layers and non-technologists know too little about too few layers to be able to establish effective direct communication. The gap is so large that it's not even possible any more to have a single person be an intermediate between those two groups, and that's why e.g. we end up with those convoluted technical support call centers and their multiple tiers. Without such deep support structures, you end up with the frustrating situation that we see when end users have access to a bug database that is directly used by engineers: neither the end users nor the engineers get the information that they need to accomplish their goals.

That is why the mainstream press and the general population has talked so much about Steve Jobs' death and comparatively so little about Dennis Ritchie's: Steve's influence was at a layer that most people could see, while Dennis' was much deeper. On the one hand, I can imagine where the computing world would be without the work that Jobs did and the people he inspired: probably a bit less shiny, a bit more beige, a bit more square. Deep inside, though, our devices would still work the same way and do the same things. On the other hand, I literally can't imagine where the computing world would be without the work that Ritchie did and the people he inspired. By the mid 80s, Ritchie's influence had taken over, and even back then very little remained of the pre-Ritchie world.

Finally, last but not least, that is why our patent system is broken: technology has done such an amazing job at hiding its complexity that the people regulating and running the patent system are barely even aware of the complexity of what they're regulating and running. That's the ultimate bikeshedding: just like the proverbial discussions in the town hall about a nuclear power plant end up being about the paint color for the plant's bike shed, the patent discussions about modern computing systems end up being about screen sizes and icon ordering, because in both cases those are the only aspect that the people involved in the discussion are capable of discussing, even though they are irrelevant to the actual function of the overall system being discussed.
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Bertil Hatt

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Regarding the debate about "real" names, between +Robert Scoble and +Vic Gundotra: all names are real to those using them.
Can we please call "FirstName LastName" (European-style) civil names, "NickName LastName" common names and the rest pen-names (or keyboard-names), company brands, etc.? Saying that "Violet Blue" or "Maître Eolas" are not "real" names defeats the point of the debate.
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Bertil Hatt

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Every body seems to have discovered +Joseph Smarr after his Ask me Anything piece, and +Robert Scoble keeps re-mentioning his being banned from Facebook (without mentioning +Jon McCrea who launched all that buzz); all that talk about being open would miss +Chris Messina (of hash-tag fame) commenting from Google’s bench. Let me give you the whole team, including +David Recordon who is trying to open things at Facebook, in the prime of their youth, the trove with all the bad jokes and stuffy openings that they would have preferred we all forgot — their pseudo-TV-show (“2008 called, they want.…”)

http://thesocialweb.tv

Seriously, I was one of the maybe 50 people who watched it, and one of the three commenters. It was amazing. It's now easier to understand how important this show was, and how it still is. Please lobby them all to come back for a “Why and how we did what we did” episode, and more importantly, to bring more insights in things to come.
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Have him in circles
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Bertil Hatt

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The History of Typography - Animated Short. It uses:

291 Paper Letters.
2,454 Photographs.
140 hours of work.
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Bertil Hatt

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Isn't the new Google+ a lot like Quora? The design, obviously, but beyond that: amazing people, no audience… I'll enjoy both as long as there are around.
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Bertil Hatt

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Tim O'Reilly originally shared:
 
This article about gamers solving a thorny protein folding problem important in AIDS research is being touted as a triumph of "gamification," the application of game mechanics to other problem domains. But there's an important lesson here. Much of what is written about gamification (including some books published by my own company) focuses mainly on what I might call "the shallow end of gamification," namely extrinsic motivators like points, leaderboards, and scoring. But game experts concur that the heart of most games is the intrinsic motivation of challenge and learning. And it is precisely that deep end of gamification that was on display here.

Yes, "winning" matters, but it's winning at hard things - intrinsic motivation - that really matters. People aren't stupid. Pasting scoring on trivial activities doesn't make them less trivial. As Rilke said in his poem The Man Watching, "What we fight with is so small, and when we win, it makes us small." We want to be challenged by vast, hard things.

The appeal of Foldit is that the problems it presents in spatial reasoning are challenging puzzles that force people to exercise their abilities. The fact that those abilities are put to work in a meaningful cause makes it even sweeter.

Any company thinking about gamification should think hard. Jumping in the shallow end of the pool is a great way to break your neck. The right place to jump is in the deep end.
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Bertil Hatt

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Leon Håland originally shared:
 
I should probably be doing something work-related.

Data provided by Google Search. Special thanks to +Paul Allen.
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Louis-Jean Teitelbaum's profile photoBertil Hatt's profile photo
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C'est pas parce que toute la terre a un compte que le monde entier est conquis ! C'est beaucoup plus facile, "de nos jours", de pousser les gens à créer un compte et laisser adresse et mot de passe que ça ne l'était à l'époque des débuts de Facebook.
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Bertil Hatt

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A vast majority of the post that I see have more than 100 comments; I'm not sure those that I see by default are representative. What would be the point of participating with such a stack piled against my limited attention and partial understanding?
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true... and your comments don't even appear on your profile, it's like a coup d'épée dans l'eau
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Have him in circles
272 people
Anthony Hamelle's profile photo
Clement Hussenot-Desenonges's profile photo
Jean-Baptiste Rousset's profile photo
Alexander Halavais's profile photo
Jean-Jacques Arnal's profile photo
Joel GOMBIN's profile photo
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