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The coming civil war over general purpose computing

Even if we win the right to own and control our computers, a dilemma remains: what rights do owners owe users?

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"Do things that have never been done before,” says guy who invented computer

Joel Runyon writes about "An Unexpected Ass Kicking," intellectually speaking, which he received in a Portland coffee shop from Russell Kirsch—the 80-year-old man who invented America's first internally programmable computer. Kirsch isn't a big fan of Apple products. Xeni

Coming soon: Computer finds the face of Jesus in a photo of toast

You know how your brain likes to see faces where there are not actually any faces? (Hint: This tendency, called pareidolia, is the force behind all those faces of Jesus turning up on slices of toast.) Turns out, computer programs can suffer from pareidolia, too. (Via Alexis Madrigal) Maggie

An encounter with Russell Kirsch, inventor of the world's first internally programmable computer

Joel Runyon:

"That’s the problem with a lot of people”, he continued, “they don’t try to do stuff that’s never been done before, so they never do anything, but if they try to do it, they find out there’s lots of things they can do that have never been done before."

I nodded my head in agreement and laughed to myself – thinking that would be something that I would say and the coincidence that out of all the people in the coffee shop I ended up talking to, it was this guy. What a way to open a conversation.The old man turned back at his coffee, took a sip, and then looked back at me.

“In fact, I’ve done lots of things that haven’t been done before”, he said half-smiling.

Not sure if he was simply toying with me or not, my curiousity got the better of me.

"Oh really? Like what types of things?, All the while, half-thinking he was going to make up something fairly non-impressive."

"I invented the first computer."

ZX Spectrum is 30

Sinclair's ZX Spectrum, the astoundingly successful sub-£100 personal computer, is 30 years old today. [BBC. Photo: Iñaki Quenerapú]

Commodore 64 creator dies

"We need to build computers for the masses, not the classes" — Jack Tramiel [Mercury News] Rob

Put Alan Turing on the £10 note!

Peter Flint sez, "Alan Turing, computer pioneer and geek hero, is generally credited with helping, via his work at the top-secret Bletchley Park code-breaking centre, to shorten World War 2 by anything up to two years. He tragicaly took his own life after his (then-illegal) homosexuality came to light. One way to commemorate his work and to make his legacy more widely understood waould be to include his picture on the next £10 note. Sign the petition and help this to happen!" The richest person in Britain would be Turing-complete. Cory

Thumbdrive computer up for pre-order

Cotton Candy, a computer the size of a (big) thumbdrive, is available for pre-order and will ship in March. The $199 machine, which runs Ubuntu or Android 4, has a 1.2GHz ARM CPU, 1GB of RAM, and HD video acceleration. [FXI via Ars Technica] Rob

Evil computer just wants to be friends

In the tradition of The Shining re-cut to look like an uplifting comedy, comes this music video, which repurposes scenes from several movies—most prominently 2001: A Space Odyssey—to tell the story of a misunderstood computer that accidentally hurts the ones it loves.

The song is "Limited" by Jascha. The video was created by my friend John Pavlus (who has also made some cool films about entropy and the Antikythera Mechanism). He says:

It seemed like a fun challenge to take images that have acquired so much "baggage" over the years — like the glowering cyclops eye of HAL from 2001, which has become visual shorthand for "evil machine" — and try to attach completely opposite emotional associations to them. What if something like HAL wasn't evil at all, but just misunderstood in its intentions, like a puppy who plays too rough with its owner? That's exactly the image that Jascha's plaintive refrain in "Limited" put into my head. Remixing material from five very different films creates a necessarily impressionistic approach to telling a story, so maybe the story this video tells in your head isn't the same one that it tells in mine. Either way I hope it's a good one.

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How Computers Work

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How Lord Sugar taught me to hack stuff

This piece was originally published on a now-defunct website for general audiences. It now lives on here in vaguely inappropriate perpetuity

My first computer was a Sinclair ZX Spectrum, most likely bought at Dixons in Worthing, England, circa 1986. But that's not the one I'd like to talk about, because it was defective and went right back to the store.

Dad, convinced by Clive Sinclair's legendary quality control that you get what you pay for, opted for the expensive Amstrad CPC over a replacement or a Commodore 64. Together, these three machines were the ruling triumvirate of 8-bit home computing in Thatcher's Britain. The Amstrad wasn't much different to the Commodore -- brighter graphics, tinnier sound -- but came with a built-in tape deck, a crisp color monitor, and a decent warranty.

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Luxury computers

As its qualities are determined by the cutting edge of engineering rather than fashion or component cost, technology defines a competing system of value to traditional luxury. That hasn't stopped Bentley aiming for the old-school appeal with its curious clutch-style $20,000 laptop. Though about as powerful as a late-1990s toilet seat iBook, it even scooped the prestigious Microsoft Fashion PC Award.

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Science Book Club: National Geographic's The Big Idea

I have a weird relationship with coffee-table books. In general, I kind of think of them as clutter—like a particularly heavy and ungainly pile of junk mail that you can’t just throw away.

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Steve Jobs bio out early for downloads; "60 Minutes" devotes entire episode to book

As every blog and news site everywhere has already reported (including Boing Boing), the definitive biography of the late Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson, is out today.

Actually, it's out today in paper, but was released yesterday for download via Amazon and iTunes. I'm willing to bet it breaks some sort of download sales record.

Last night's edition of the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes was devoted entirely, 100%, to stories on Jobs and his products.

As Mike Godwin noted on Twitter, Steve Kroft asks during the segment how Jobs, "who dropped LSD and marijuana," goes off to India and returns to become a businessman. LOL @ "dropping marijuana." The show sure does know their demo. At least they didn't say he smoked acid.

Snarking aside, the 60 Minutes pieces are worth watching. Here's part 1, here's part 2, and here's 3 (!), on iPad apps for autism. In other news this week, Obama says we're bringing troops home from Iraq, and Qaddafi's dead.

Related: Dan Lyons, former Fake Steve Jobs, on the backlash.

The Steve Jobs biography.

Walter Isaacson's definitive biography of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs is out Monday.

All week long, excerpts have been leaking out, with little snippets of the late Apple CEO's reported thoughts on alternative medicine, Android, Bill Gates, being strategically mean to people, Obama, what apps Obama's staffers had on their iPads, cancer, teachers' unions and labor rights, Issey Miyake turtlenecks, the adoptive parents he loved and rebelled against, and the biological parents who gave him up for adoption (whom he is said to have referred to as "sperm and egg donors").

The first real review, by Janet Maslin in the New York Times, is out today.

You can read all 630 pages of the book for yourself soon. [Amazon].