The Cool

Hello, strange new planet!

There have been countless Steve Jobs eulogies in the past week. Jobs is a complicated figure for me. He joins other historic American innovators such as Bell, Edison and Ford, who’s biographies celebrate the “land of opportunity” mythology, where anyone motivated could get ahead. On one hand they bettered society with affordable mass-produced technology, and on the other hand they employed aggressive business strategies, introduced bad labor practices, and ruthlessly quashed competition.

Dennis Ritchie passed away this Saturday. Eulogies are not competitions, obviously. But the contrasts between Jobs’s and Ritchie’s legacies are hard to ignore. Jobs introduced to the world iconic form factors, gadgets you could hold. But Ritchie and his co-inventors laid the foundation for modern software. That svelte iPad? Its operating system is 40 years old, Ritchie’s brainchild.

But along with the software, Ritchie and his friends introduced an entire philosophy. A philosophy that is just as seductive to an engineer as the latest Apple aluminium unibody product.

I grew up on UNIX. We had a machine at home with the hostname saris, Hebrew for eunuch. My dad taught me The Cool. Specifically the UNIX Cool of keeping it simple, less is more, and silence is success. It is this Cool that made me want to program, and it will outlast every fancy gadget.

My Dad. Still programming, still cool.
The Cool


A long awaited feature has finally landed in Orca’s beta. We now support grade 2 braille.

If you never heard of contracted braille, or grade 2 braille, just think of the sort of shorthand tricks that teenagers use today when they text message each other, “you are great” turns into “u r gr8”. In contracted braille it would be “y >e grt”.

Unlike text messaging, grade 2 braille did not come about because of text input laziness, it came to be generations ago for reducing space and increasing reading speeds. Of course today, in the age of refreshable braille displays, the space concern is less important. Nonetheless, horizontal scrolling is reduced when using a 40 cell braille display, making the Orca experience that much smoother.

Translating a written language in to grade 2 braille correctly is a challenging problem. There are many rules that go into the process of translating a language in to it’s contracted form. Luckily we had a shared library from John Boyer called liblouis. John has been extremely helpful in helping us roll this release out using his library. And has been accommodating to are nutty release schedule.

A special thanks also to Mike for dealing with my braille ignorance, and to Will, who patiently reviewed my shoddy patch (I promise to do more pylint runs in the future).

And to all you users, abusers, and testers out there. We need your input on this stuff. Thanks in advance for that. If there are a non-English braille readers out there I would especially like to get in touch so we could iron out any localization kinks.


Short Days and Long Nights

I was the fortunate winner of two special things in the last local JVP benefit auction: Knitting lessons from Wendy, and monthly music mixes from Mike. Although I am an eager learner, I thought crafty Terah might enjoy knitting lessons a lot. So Wendy is teaching Terah to knit. I am closely watching the progress as the stitches are straightening out.

Album Cover

Mike has put his whole heart in to making personal monthly music mixes for me. The first one, January: Short Days and Long Nights, arrived in the mail a week ago. It has been a joy to listen to, I have it mostly on constant loop. Mike put together a diverse collection of music with subtle hints of the disc’s theme. I put together an internet radio station that plays the mix in a loop for all you out there to enjoy.

You could start listening here.

Short Days and Long Nights

Social Justice = Sustainability

I am in the middle of a book called The Ecology of Commerce. As the name suggests it is about how a free market could become environmentally restorative. Besides the main theme there are more than a few gems of social justice in there. Here is my favorite:

In reality, we have not one but two welfare systems. The first is meager, consisting of aid to the unemployed, dependent children, the poor and helpless. It is seen as a charity, a hand-out, a grudging acceptance of social responsibility, but it is almost always accompanied by judgement, admonishments of failure, and a high moral tone. The second welfare system is large, expensive, and expansive. It comes in the form of large government grants and programs for building highways, subsidies to the rich in the form of interest payment deductions on their houses, giveaways of timber and mining rights on government lands, government-financed research in universities, revolving door policies between the defense industry and government resulting in expensive, poorly planned procurement policies, and so on.

Hawkins goes on and writes that the top fifth of the population receives three times more housing subsidy then the bottom fifth.

Social Justice = Sustainability