Prog/Math/Sci summary: November 2016

As always, random stuff from the past month and half, slightly late:

  • A breakthrough for programmable1 matter (“… a universal programming methodology that can automatically generate the desired magnetization profile and actuating fields for soft materials to achieve new time-varying shapes.”)
  • Big things in the universe are really big, such as this large collection2 of quasars
  • A “code first, math second” guide3 to basic statistics
  • If you think IDEs etc have been making steady progress, see this video4 from 1993
  • Programming as a career is often made out to be a “young person’s game”, but it doesn’t have to be. Ben Northrop talks5 about the problems, and how to tackle them.
First, I try to take the long view. I’m more wary of roles with excessively taxing expectations and few opportunities for novel experiences. I’ve seen quite a few colleagues take the bigger pay check at an employer where there’ll be little opportunity to work with new things and learn. In 5 years, they realize that much of their valuable knowledge has evaporated and their pay is way out of whack with their actual worth. In some cases, I think making less money in the short term (at a better employer) will yield more money (and stability) over the course of a long career.
Second, given that time is limited, I try to invest most in knowledge that is durable. My energy is better spent accumulating knowledge that has a longer half-life — algorithms, application security, performance optimization, and architecture. Carving out niches in these areas, I hope, will better bullet-proof my career than learning the newest, flash-in-the-pan Javascript library.
  • Nice to see people view systems as IDEs, as here6 for Unix, but … if only we’d revive Smalltalk instead :-(
  • Here’s a reminder that sometimes, old languages and old systems outlive everyone who worked on them in the beginning: Nuclear plants are expected7 to continue using PDPs until 2050 (!)
  • I don’t personally do frontend web development, but if this guy’s8 accurate, I’m not missing much.
The thing is, it’s still nothing new. Ten years ago we were building crappy and weird-looking software in C#, now we’re building crappy and broken software in a mix of JavaScript and other languages, and they run in the browser, or on smartphones, and they’re responsive, so that when you tilt your tablet sideways, that big fat menu disappears. Huh.
That’s what they call the churn.
  • For the historical link of the month, a reminder that social networks9 are nothing new.
  • As a follow-up, here’s an old rant10 (from 1998, on and net.subculture.usenet) on usenet, lamenting how it’s falling apart. Both usenet and the rant are obsolete, so you probably don’t care about it.
  • Finally, here’s an interview11 with Douglas Engelbart. He died in 2013, and unfortunately only remembered as “the guy who invented the mouse”; but if you want your mind blown, search for “the mother of all demos” (or just watch this).

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