Ralph Grabowski's report on the business of CAD > Issue #840 > December 9, 2014 >
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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
This is the last issue of 2014, as upFront.eZine takes its annual break over Christmas. Look for the next issue on January 12.
- The editor
Books I've Been Reading
by Ralph Grabowski
Some subscribers noted that I haven't kept up with an annual feature in which I wrote about the books I've read. Here I return with this year's list.
"The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom"
by Evgeny Morozov
Published in January 2011, this book is suddenly relevant, what with the NSA, social media companies, hackers, and even formerly trustworthy corporations lusting to know too much about us all. When this book first came out, it was scoffed at for being overly negative about the technological utopia we call "the Internet."
I'm half-way through it, and now see the book's prescience as "The Third Wave" (Tofler) of this 2010 decade -- none more than chapter 5, "Hugo Chavez Would Like to Welcome You to the Spinternet," in which the now-dead dictator tried at first to ban the irritant called "Twitter," and then co-opted it as an excellent propaganda tool. If technology is morally neutral, as some would argue, then it has to work equally well to good and evil purposes.
By coincidence, The Next Web (an ironic name, given the topic) yesterday published Andrew Keen's "10 reasons why the internet is not the answer" at http://thenextweb.com/insider/2014/12/07/ten-reasons-internet-answer-2/. Well, not so much "not the answer"; rather, Mr Keen argues that the Internet is an invention that failed society by becoming the worst sort of thing, a global monoculture. He doesn't explain why the entire Internet is narrowing down to a Google-Facebook duopoly; maybe we need to buy the book, or something. Anyhow, the homogenization is due to the network-bandwagon effect (a.k.a. Metcalf's law), in which the value of a service is equal to the number of users, squared. It can only get worse.
"Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future"
by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters
I just bought this ebook last week on my Kobo account, so I haven't read it yet. But I from what I hear, he talks about planning for the future when we don't know what the future should be.
"The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty"
by Nina Munk
I have been fascinated by the extremes in contrast of helplessness and self-sufficiency on the African continent, especially I have as several friends working there, such as translators of dialects to help villages become literate, or teaching leprosy patients to become self-sufficient. These decades-long, small-time, unnoticed efforts make a difference; scaling the work to huge bureaucracies, on the other hand, guarantees that they will fail quickly, spectacularly, and publicly.
Which is why, when I came across this book, I snapped it up. Jeffrey Sachs is a big-name economist who consults to leaders of struggling economies. With this experience as his background, he figured out how to solve Africa's poverty problem: by making people self-sufficient through a variety of careers that wealthy Americans would help fund through small demo projects, which would then scale up to the entire continent. Easy-peasy.
The author was his assistant, who believed deeply in his work and was in an excellent position to record the launch, startup headaches, and ultimate demise of Mr Sachs' dream. The thorn that burst the balloon was his failure to understand that the funding couldn't keep up with a culture that wasn't going to change sufficiently fast enough. Parachuting doesn't work, it turns out.
"Is Reality Secular? Testing the Assumptions of Four Global Worldviews"
by Mary Poplin
This former free-spirited atheist university professor changed her worldview after entering deep depression brought on by drug use, multiple sexual experiences, and two abortions. To make sense of things, she decided to examine four worldviews that she considered primary in the world, and how they effect ethics:
A world view that seems normal in one part of the world seems weird in another, so much so that the author uses the analogy of a fish in water: just as it doesn't know it lives in water, so we are mostly unaware of the worldview we inhabit. (She decides that monotheism is the worldview that makes the most sense.) It's hard work wrenching our minds out of a given worldview, and so this book is useful for helping us peek above the water we assume is natural, when it might not be so.
"Resolve and Fortitude: Microsoft's Secret Power Broker Breaks his Silence"
by Joachim Kempin
Microsoft was a company driven by a founder (Bill Gates) who was driven by a paranoia that his company was always in danger of failing. Hyper optimist Joachim Kempin, on the other hand, was so successful for Microsoft in sales in Germany that he was brought over to head office to take over sales for the entire world. He was the one who negotiated those monopolistic contracts with the likes of Compaq and Gateway, in which the hardware makers agreed to sell customers only Windows and no other operating system, in exchange for paying Microsoft lower royalty fees -- and unknowingly competing with all other hardware makers who also benefited the same "lower" fees.
This is a self-published book that was not copy edited, and so is rife with grammar errors, as well as German speech patterns. For instance, companies are referred to as "she," which can be confusing to North American readers. Being an autobiography, Kempin has no time to make apologies for his market-destroying tactics. But he does get really mad at Ballmer (heh, who fired Kempin) and at that monopoly court case (at which Kempin's testimony went poorly).
The book is great for understanding what went on inside Microsoft during the 1990s.
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"Dogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a Revolution"
by Fred Vogelstein
For another insider story of events historically important to the technology world, here is the one about the dogfight between Apple and Google. Vogelstein reports on how the two worked in secret on new technology, and the frustrations of the early models not working out... and not working out -- and not working out. When Steve Jobs first introduced the iPhone publicly, it pretty much didn't work.
Read about Google pivoting when they saw the iPhone (their first Android model was going to have a keyboard) and of Jobs' fury at what he saw as intellectual property theft by Google -- this from the guy who copied the graphical user interface from Xerox.
"Ex Friends: Falling Out with Allen Ginsberg, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Lillian Hellman, Hannah Arendt, and Norman Mailer"
by Norman Podhoretz
New York is the center of the publishing world, and it used to be common for someone with something to say to launch a publication -- a magazine, maybe quarterly. This was one way that intellectuals waged war on one another. Another was to write book reviews critical of authors they didn't like; a third was to hold parties and not invite certain people. By the mid-1950s, these relationships involved the reckless use of drugs and sex that would become common society-wide a decade later.
Podhoretz was initially part of the left-wing scene, but increasingly became disgusted by it. And so this is his record of why he fell out with his former chums, as he retells of the lust, the alliances among the in-crowd, and the backstabbing. I am amused at critics who pan this book as being one-sided, as if an autobiography is supposed to be "fair."
The most chilling moment comes when an enraged Ginsberg yells at the departing Podhoretz, "I'll get you through your children!" And Ginsberg did, of course, accomplish this by advocating the reckless use of drugs and sex that became common society-wide a decade later, ruining so many lives. Podhoretz reports his own children survived the 60s, but the children of some of his friends did not.
"Joseph Anton: A Memoir"
by Salman Rushdie
I am not a fan of Salman Rushdie's turgid writing, but I am a fan of free speech. And so I was fascinated to read about the life of Joseph Anton -- the name Rushdie took on during his decade of hiding from an Ayatollahian death fatwa -- his new name being a combination of Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov.
The autobiography describes the stress of living under the death threat: marriages failing, missing out on his children growing up, having to switch to new households, keeping his location secret, the financial cost, the rejection of nervous governments and of frightened publishers, friends eventually abandoning him, and the attempts on his life.
Through this book, we learn about the cost of free speech.
And One More Thing...
CAD Systems Unlimited releases Acad2Shapes for compiling and organizing AutoCAD shape files. It converts up to 255 shapes from a template DXF file into an SHP shape file. Shapes are like blocks, but highly efficient yet hard to create, hence the need for software. For a demo version and the documentation, see http://www.slickwin.com/acad2shapes.html
Even More News From...
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Letters to the Editor
Re: It's Time to Declare browserCAD in a Deep Funk
I remember the cannonball splash of sunglass.io, which I read here first, of course, in Issue #738, and I have often wondered what ever became of them and their preposterous claim. Thanks for the update.
To solve the 'problem' these browserCAD companies face (no real market), they have only one hope: Make an addictive tool, then give it to educational institutions for free. Get the kids hooked, and you'll have created a generation of addicts who will eventually pay. Of course, the companies that do this will have to support themselves until the addiction is firmly rooted, which will probably take another 5 years. The Vulture Capitalists will not be too happy about that, or course.
- Peter Lawton
The world of browser-based design apps has always seemed odd to me. But after reading your perspective on it, I now have a better understanding of the limitations from the various angles. It also grates me when I read CAD articles written by non-CAD publications and they use the wrong terms. It's like listening to grandma explain to a teenager what Wutang Clan is.
- Dave Stein
About the new user asking how we did it when CAD was so slow:
1) It was still a lot faster than paper and pencil. I've spent a couple of days manually hatching a cross-section that AutoCAD 2.17g (which I started on) could do in a few seconds.
2) Similarly for repetitive stuff like arraying and mirroring.
Ah, but modern computers are so much faster. Well, maybe. Our first AutoCAD station was a 6MHz AT that we had "crystallized" to 8.5MHz. The dealer gave us a rack of crystals and we swapped out the main clock crystal with ever-faster ones until the computer hiccupped a bit. We the backed off one step, paid for the crystal we needed, and returned the rack to the dealer. (We paid another $1,600 to get a second megabyte of RAM, and the computer had a 20 megabyte hard drive.) With a bit of other tweaking and tuning, it could go from a power-on cold boot to the AutoCAD command prompt in 35 seconds.
On the other hand, my current machine is a 3GHz unit with 6GB RAM and a 500GB hard drive that takes 3-1/2 minutes to get to the same point, because of all the fancy graphic icons, ribbons, etc that it has to load.
The bottom line is that for generic 2D drafting both machines ran fast enough to keep up with my thinking. The older machine was probably faster, because of all the time I spend today hovering the cursor over an icon waiting for the tool tip to tell me that this still isn't the command I'm looking for.
And yes, the average age of respondents was probably increased significantly by me writing in.
- Bill Fane
The editor replies: Hey, I enjoyed drawing hatch lines by hand, but maybe that's just me. I miss the lettering, drawing symbols by stencil, and all the rest that made hand drafting an intimate experience.
Isn't this what we pragmatists said at the beginning of all this CAD-WEB hype? Great reporting, Thanx!
Thanks and keep up the good work!
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