Some days, my day job doesn’t seem like a job that a real person would have at all. It seems like something out of a sitcom. Today, I have:
- Worn a bear mask in the office (panda in my case; seen below alongside my head of department, in a grizzly mask).
- Chatted about popular TV shows that happen to contain libraries, for inclusion in a future podcast series.
- Experimented with Web-based augmented reality as a possible mechanism for digital exhibition content delivery. (Seen this thing
from Google Arts & Culture? If you don’t have an AR-capable device to hand, here’s a video of what it’s like.)
- Implemented a demonstrative XSS payload targetting a CMS (as a
teaching tool, to demonstrate how a series of minor security vulnerabilities can cascade into one huge one).
- Gotten my ‘flu jab.
Not every day is like this. But sometimes, just sometimes, one can be.
This article is a repost promoting content originally published elsewhere. See more
things Dan's reposted.
Now, it’s Saturday morning and you’re eager to try out what you’ve learned. One of the first things the manual teaches you how to do is
change the colors on the display. You follow the instructions, pressing
CTRL-9 to enter reverse type mode and then holding down the space bar to
create long lines. You swap between colors using
CTRL-8, reveling in your sudden new power
over the TV screen.
As cool as this is, you realize it doesn’t count as programming. In order to program the computer, you learned last night, you have to speak to it in a language called BASIC. To you,
BASIC seems like something out of Star Wars, but BASIC is, by 1983, almost two decades old. It was invented by two Dartmouth professors, John Kemeny and Tom Kurtz, who wanted
to make computing accessible to undergraduates in the social sciences and humanities. It was widely available on minicomputers and popular in college math classes. It then became
standard on microcomputers after Bill Gates and Paul Allen wrote the MicroSoft BASIC interpreter for the Altair. But the manual doesn’t explain any of this and you won’t learn it for
One of the first BASIC commands the manual suggests you try is the
PRINT command. You type in
64", slowly, since it takes you a while to find the quotation mark symbol above the
2 key. You hit
RETURN and this time, instead of complaining, the computer does exactly what you told it to do and displays “COMMODORE 64” on the next line.
Now you try using the
PRINT command on all sorts of different things: two numbers added together, two numbers multiplied together, even several
decimal numbers. You stop typing out
PRINT and instead use
?, since the manual has advised you that
? is an abbreviation for
PRINT often used by expert programmers. You feel like an expert already, but
then you remember that you haven’t even made it to chapter three, “Beginning BASIC Programming.”
I had an Amstrad CPC, myself, but I had friends with C64s and ZX Spectrums and – being slightly older than the author – I got the
opportunity to experiment with BASIC programming on all of them (and went on to write all manner of tools on the CPC 464, 664, and 6128 models). I’m fortunate to have been able to get
started in programming in an era when your first experience of writing code didn’t have to start with an
examination of the different language choices nor downloading and installing some kind of interpreter or compiler: microcomputers used to just drop you at a prompt which
was your interpreter! I think it’s a really valuable experience for a child to have.
This article is a repost promoting content originally published elsewhere.
See more things Dan's reposted.
For a philosopher, Helen Nissenbaum is a surprisingly active participant in shaping how we collect,
use, and protect personal data. Nissenbaum, who earned her PhD from Stanford, is a professor of information science at Cornell Tech, New York City, where she focuses on the
intersection of politics, ethics, and values in technology and digital media — the hard stuff. Her framework for understanding digital privacy has deeply influenced
In addition to several books and countless papers, she’s also coauthored privacy plug-ins for web browsers including TrackMeNot, AdNauseum, and Adnostic. Nissenbaum views these pieces
of code as small efforts at rationalizing a marketplace where opaque consent agreements give consumers little bargaining power against data collectors as they extract as much
information, and value from this information, as they can. Meanwhile, these practices offer an indefinite value proposition to consumers while compromising the integrity of digital
media, social institutions, and individual security.