Category Archives: Technology

So long, Steve, and Godspeed.

The second personal computer I ever owned[1] was an Apple II, with no floppy drive. I bought it, along with a small color TV, from my close friend Robert Trammel while we were both living in Houston sometime around 1980.We had already spent hours together programming on it, then carefully (though not always successfully) saving our programs out to cassette tape. After three months, I sold the computer and TV back to Robert — not because I didn’t like it, but because I was spending far too much time on it.

A few years later — in 1982 — my close friend Wayne Holder hired me into his nascent software company, Oasis Systems, in part to help with his existing and planned word processing utilities (The Word Plus, Punctuation + Style), but mostly to develop computer games. And we did, developing Sundog: Frozen Legacy on the Apple II, a game for which I still get e-mails (and which Wayne is even now working on resurrecting for modern platforms). In January 1984, a few months before Sundog shipped, we were invited by Guy Kawasaki to come up to Apple to see a preview of the Mac and to talk about what software we could port to the Mac. Through my connections with computer stores in San Diego, I was able to get a personal loan of a Mac for a few days at home prior to the official announcement in Cupertino later that month, which Wayne and I attended as well. That was my first time seeing Steve Jobs in person, and it remains a memorable highlight of my professional life.

When the Mac shipped a few days later, I went down to the one computer store in San Diego that I knew would be getting machines from Apple. I took $3000 in cash with me and managed to convince the store owner — a friend — to let me have one of the three Macs he had to sell. Through a connection with Phil Lemmons — editor-in-chief at BYTE — I ended up writing the official BYTE review of the 128K Macintosh (August 1984 issue). By the end of 1984, I was writing full-time for BYTE, including on-going coverage of the Macintosh, particularly once my BYTE column started in mid-1985. After a few years of writing for BYTE, I switched to writing for Macworld magazine. Steve was now long-gone from Apple, and Apple was having some of its own problems going forward.

But in late 1987, I was contacted by Addison-Wesley. They were interested in having me write a book about Steve Jobs’ new project at NeXT. Folks at NeXT had apparently suggested me to Addison-Wesley, probably due to my writing at BYTE and Macworld. I leapt at the opportunity, particularly since in coincided with our family moving from Utah to just outside Santa Cruz (where I would be doing technical writing for Borland on a consulting basis). Once there, I found myself invited to visit NeXT HQ on Deer Creek Road, sit in on meetings, and attend the 0.3 NeXTstep Dev Camp. And, yes, that meant getting actual face time with Steve Jobs as well — not a lot, but this was a man whose creations had been impacting my personal and professional life for over a decade at this point.

The writing of the book dragged out as I waited to get my hands on an actual NeXT cube, which finally happened (if I recall correctly) at the end of 1988 or early 1989. I wrote the first several drafts of the book on that NeXT cube itself. The book came out in the fall of 1989; it remains the single most successful book I’ve ever written, due to the intense interest in NeXT itself, more than any particular writing skills or technical insight on my part.

The following year, I found myself working with a world-class typographer (Mike Parker) and graphic designer (Vic Spindler) to create a design-oriented desktop publishing system. I was doing all the software prototyping on my NeXT cube, and we made the decision to make the NeXT our first target platform. For five years — 1990 to 1995 — I served as chief architect and CTO at Pages Software Inc, where we developed Pages by Pages and then WebPages, while spending nearly two years just trying to raise venture funding. We closed on funding at the start of 1992 and shipped our first version of Pages in early 1994. We quickly sold all that we were going to in the all-too-small NeXTstep market. My frustrations at seeing larger firm try to leverage off of NeXT’s incredible innovations led to an op-ed piece in the November 1994 issue of BYTE, “Whither NextStep?” The day that issue came out was the last time that Steve Jobs and I spoke — he called me from the back of a car somewhere to ask me what the hell I was doing writing that. I said, telling the truth. Pages would close its door the next year, unable to secure additional funding to move its technology to Windows.

When Steve engineered his brilliant reverse takeover of Apple — getting Apple to buy NeXT for $400 million, then slowly moving himself into the CEO seat — I was not optimistic. I still had unconditional praise for the NextStep technology, but I was dubious about Steve’s ability to sell technology to markets and to compete with Microsoft.

Boy, was I wrong. I was not only wrong about his abilities at Apple, I was wrong in my BYTE article about NextStep being on a downward slope. NextStep, of course, was the foundation of Mac OS X, and Steve transformed Apple into the most-admired, most-imitated, and most-valuable company in the world. And I was tickled that, when Apple brought out its own word processor, it was named “Pages”. Steve had always liked that name when we were developing (and shipping) our own product years before; glad he was able to use it.

To quote John Perry Barlow over on FB, “The world is suddenly a less interesting place.” ..bruce w..

[1] The first was an HP-67 card-reading programmable calculator.

[Cross-posted from And Still I Persist]

The nine billion blessings on the food

A common discussion among Latter-day Saints (and among many other Christians as well as believers in other faiths) is the all-too-easy tendency for prayer to devolve into mechanical recitation as opposed to, well, talking with God. That’s why this website (hat tip to Futurismic) caught my attention:

Information Age Prayer is a subscription service utilizing a computer with text-to-speech capability to incant your prayers each day. It gives you the satisfaction of knowing that your prayers will always be said even if you wake up late, or forget.

We use state of the art text to speech synthesizers to voice each prayer at a volume and speed equivalent to typical person praying. Each prayer is voiced individually, with the name of the subscriber displayed on screen.

The website is well done, if a bit home-grown looking, and fairly complete. It let me go through the entire process of buying a one-time prayer and paying via Paypal (and, yes, I got the payment confirmation e-mail from Paypal), so it’s not (entirely) a joke. And for all I know, they may well have one or more computers set up with voice synthesizers.

Many of you will of course be reminded of Arthur C. Clarke’s famous short story, “The Nine Billion Names of God”, though the stated intent here is merely petitionary prayers, not bringing about the end of creation. They have sections for specific religions: Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Unaffiliated, with corresponding prayers and “special package deals” (no, really).

They don’t have “Mormon” or “Latter-day Saints” on the list of religions, and when I clicked on the “Other Religions” button, a page came up with this wonderful headline: “We apologize but other religions are not yet supported.” What is both funny and a bit sad is that I suspect most of us could come up with a standard template for LDS morning and evening prayers, as well as blessings on the food.

So here’s the questions/challenge for all of us: what distinguishes our prayers (personal and family) from those that could be set up and recited by a computer?  ..bruce..

Comparing programming languages to religions

Courtesy of Slashdot comes this tongue-in-cheek comparison of various programming languages to specific religions. Yes, Mormonism is in the mix:

C# would be Mormonism – At first glance, it’s the same as Java [equated to fundamentalist Christianity], but at a closer look you realize that it’s controlled by a single corporation (which many Java followers believe to be evil), and that many theological concepts are quite different. You suspect that it’d probably be nice, if only all the followers of Java wouldn’t discriminate so much against you for following it.

Of course, the real irony is that for a lot of programmers, programming languages and related technologies are religions, with the term “religious wars” used freely to describe the fierce disputes over which language/technology is better.  I’m old enough to have lived through (and participated in) the wars on algebraic vs. RPN notation (calculators), assembly language vs. high level languages, BASIC vs. C, C vs. Pascal, C++ vs. everyone else, and so on.

UPDATE: I got an e-mail from Pat Eyler pointing out that Yukihiro Matsumoto (aka ‘Matz’), the principal author of the Ruby programming language, is an active Latter-day Saint, which thing I did not know.  This, of course, means that the author of the comparisons missed an opportunity for a cool inside joke by equating Ruby (instead of C#) to Mormonism.  ..bruce..

Money-back tithing guarantee, ATMs at church

Here’s an approach to tithing we probably won’t see from Church HQ any time soon:

Here’s something different., the church with locations in Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona and online is offering a three-month tithing challenge. Give for three months. If God doesn’t deliver on his promise to provide for you, you can ask for your money back. All of it. No questions asked.

The same article points (through a few hops) to this article as well:

It is a bid for relevance in a nation charmed by pop culture and consumerism, and it is not an uncommon one. But Baker has waded further into the 21st century than most fishers of American souls, as evidenced one Wednesday night when churchgoer Josh Marshall stepped up to a curious machine in the church lobby.

It was one of Stevens Creek’s three “Giving Kiosks”: a sleek black pedestal topped with a computer screen, numeric keypad and magnetic-strip reader. Prompted by the on-screen instructions, Marshall performed a ritual more common in quickie marts than a house of God: He pulled out a bank card, swiped it and punched in some numbers.

The machine spat out a receipt. Marshall’s $400 donation was routed to church coffers before he had found his seat for evening worship.

What makes this last item particularly funny is that the print edition of the Sugar Beet (the late, lamented LDS equivalent of the Onion) had an article several years ago about the Church installing ATMs in ward buildings for making donations, doing automated tithing settlement, reporting home teaching, and a few other functions. I remember showing the article to the bishop (I was one of his counselors), and — after chuckling — he observed that it really could be useful.

Actually, I don’t think the Church would go in this direction. Instead, I think the Church at some point is going to really make a push into having members of a ward carry out functions via the ward’s web site (highly underused by most wards). I think the success of the system (which really is pretty remarkable) points out the future direction of Church technology involving members. ..bruce..

Post-Rapture “friends and family” notification service

No, really.

Courtesy of Dave Barry (yes, that Dave Barry) comes this link to a website that promises — for a fee — to send e-mails and do electronic delivery of documents to a list of people once the Rapture occurs:

You’ve Been Left Behind gives you one last opportunity to reach your lost family and friends For Christ. Imagine being in the presence of the Lord and hearing all of heaven rejoice over the salvation of your loved ones. It is our prayer that this site makes it happen.

We have set up a system to send documents by the email, to the addresses you provide, 6 days after the “Rapture” of the Church. This occurs when 3 of our 5 team members scattered around the U.S fail to log in over a 3 day period. Another 3 days are given to fail safe any false triggering of the system.

We give you 150mb of encrypted storage that can be sent to 12 possible email addresses, in Box #1. You up load any documents and choose which documents go to who. You can edit these documents at any time and change the addresses they will be sent to as needed. Box #1 is for personal private information such as “passwords” and letters to be sent to your closest lost relatives and friends.

We give you another 100mb. of unencrypted storage that can be sent to up to 50 email addresses, in Box #2. You can edit the documents and the addresses any time. Box #2 is for more generic documents to lost family & friends.

The cost is $40 for the first year. Re-subscription will be reduced as the number of subscribers increases. Tell your friends about You’ve Been left behind.

First off, let me be clear: I’m not mocking this site. In fact, it strikes me as a logical step given a firm belief in a pre-tribulation Rapture — at least as long as you believe that those ‘left behind’ still have a shot at repentance. And if you do, it seems to me that the fact of the Rapture itself — not to mention the tribulation that would follow it — would probably do a whole lot more to cause folks to repent than getting a post-Rapture e-mail from someone who was taken. But if I earnestly believed in a pre-tribulation Rapture and post-Rapture repentance, I might well look into this. (Besides, the site itself seems to indicate that this can also be used to give key information to those left behind, e.g., accounts, passwords, and so on.)

I have no proof one way or the other whether this site is serious or a joke; a ‘whois’ investigation turned up little information other than that the domain was registered via Only time will tell.

Of course, the LDS view is different. We believe in an post-tribulation Rapture (though we seldom call it by that name) that will occur at Christ’s coming. We also believe that those caught up to meet Christ at his coming will then come back down to earth — still mortal — and start the long task of cleaning up the mess we’ve made of things down here.

faith-promoting story — Any story that makes you feel glad you’re a Mormon, even if you can’t bring yourself to believe it.

— Orson Scott Card, Saintspeak: A Mormon Dictionary (Orion Books, 1981)

Of course, the question is — is there some equivalent notification system for Latter-day Saints? A “don’t tell anyone, but I’ve got to attend a meeting at Adam-ondi-Ahman” system? The problem with that is that not only do Mormons have a hard time keeping secrets in the first place, we tend to make up more than actually exist (“faith promoting rumors”).

Beyond that, the Church itself is so well wired and organized that it already has the infrastructure to get out any notification worldwide in a matter of hours. Besides, the meeting at Adam-ondi-Ahman will probably be broadcast via satellite.

Other suggestions or comments? ..bruce..

Church Handbook of Instruction posted online

…but not legally. Wikileaks, a website devoted to publishing confidential materials, has posted the 1968 and 1999 versions of the LDS Church Handbook of Instructions. The Church has responded by sending Wikimedia a takedown notice for copyright infringement.

On the one hand, I’m not sure why the Church has felt it necessary to keep the CHI under such tight controls. I’ve served twice in bishoprics and multiple times in other callings that have given me access to some or all of the CHI, and there really isn’t anything there that (IMHO) is or needs to be confidential. Frankly, I think the Church should have a fully hyperlinked version of the CHI at the website, but that’s their decision, not mine.

On the other hand, I fully understand the Church’s legal need to pursue the copyright infringement issue simply as a matter of guarding its copyright over the material — namely, because failure to do so may reduce the copyright protection of the original material.

Hat tip to Slashdot.  ..bruce..

Restoring the earth and ourselves: Brigham Young

In the (out-of-print) anthology To The Glory of God (Deseret Book, 1974), Hugh Nibley had an entry entitled “Brigham Young on the Environment” (pp. 3-29). The entire article is worth reading, but I’ve always been intrigued by the following passage, which suggests that the Article of Faith that states that “the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory” is talking about work that we will have to do (Nibley’s citations are from the Journal of Discourses and indicate volumn:page:year):

If the earth still retained its paradisiacal glory, we would be justified in asking, “What do we do now?” But that glory has departed, and the first step in the rebuilding of Zion is to help bring it back. “Who placed the dark stain of sin upon this fair creation? Man. Who but man shall remove the foul blot and restore all things to their primeval purity and innocence? [That is a large order, an impossible assignment, and Brigham admits it.] But can he do this independent of heavenly aid? He cannot. To aid him in this work heavenly grace is here.” (10:301:64.) Fortunately it is God’s work, in which he allows us to participate. “The greatest acts of the mighty men,” said Joseph Smith, have been disastrous. “Before them the earth was a paradise, and behind them a desolate wilderness. . . . The designs of God, on the other hand” are that “the earth shall yield its increase, resume its paradisean glory, and become as the garden of the Lord.” It is a clear-cut and fundamental doctrine: “We believe . . . that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.” (Tenth Article of Faith.) that, however, according to the same Article of Faith, will be the last step of five in the rehabilitation of the earth, and according to Brigham Young, it was to be a long hard pull: “Not many generations will pass away before the days of man will again return. But it will take generations to entirely eradicate the influences of deleterious substances. This must be done before we can attain our paradaical [sic] state.” (8:64:60.)

Now, in fairness, I think that Nibley is misapplying that last quote a bit, though he may not have had the full paragraph on his note card (and appears to have a typo) — but the original, complete quote is in and of itself interesting and does indeed have environmental application and again is decades (if not a full century) ahead of its time:

If the days of man are to begin to return, we must cease all extravagant living. When men live to the age of a tree, their food will be fruit. Mothers, to produce offspring full of life and days, must cease drinking liquor, tea, and coffee, that their systems may be free from bad effects. If every woman in this Church will now cease drinking tea, coffee, liquor, and all other powerful stimulants, and live upon vegetables, &c., not many generations will pass away before the days of man will again return. But it will take generations to entirely eradicate the influences of deleterious substances. This must be done before we can attain our paradisaical state, for the Lord will bring again Zion to its paradisaical state.

May God grant that we may see and enjoy it. Amen. (JD 8:64)

Something to think about. ..bruce..