Monday, May 31, 2010

Doing things on a computer

Using my iMac to communicate through blogs is an interesting activity. In associated domains, I'm fond of Twitter, but I see it as subservient to blogging, or simply as a convenient means of pointing to exceptional things on the web. On the other hand, I get bored by Tweeters such as Nassim Nicholas Taleb (the Black Swan guy) who stretch over backwards in attempts to impress us with 140-character aphorisms. As for Facebook, I find it totally uninteresting, if not vulgar.

I've become accustomed to using my iMac in two or three other ways. Above all, I devote a lot of energy to writing, using the excellent Pages tool from Apple. I've also built various websites, mainly for fun. A typical example is this short presentation of the medieval hermit Bruno [1030-1101] who inspired the foundation of the order of Chartreux monks:


The following archaic example is an online sales demo that I produced for a competition. I rarely show it to anybody these days, because it incorporates unpleasant audio clicks, which I put in deliberately (a decade ago, I thought that was smart). I've lost the source code, otherwise I would eliminate these annoying sounds:


To build these websites, I've been using a tool named Flash, now marketed by Adobe. Long ago, before getting carried away by Flash, I used to create conventional HTML websites by means of a dull tool named Dreamweaver, also marketed now by Adobe. Here's a satirical example, designed in pure HTML, which dates from 2003:


Today, alas, a big problem has arisen concerning Flash: Steve Jobs doesn't like it, and he prohibits it on both the iPhone and the iPad!


Click the above photo to access an article entitled Thoughts on Flash in which the CEO of Apple makes it clear why there won't be any Flash stuff turning up on their iPad device.

Let's suppose that, contrary to my article of February 2010 entitled Second look at iPad weaknesses [display], I were to become concerned by, or even interested in, this new device… primarily because of its potential in the domain of electronic books. If this shift in attitude were to occur (as I think it will), then what should I do about my longstanding commitment to Flash? The answer to that question reflects the fact that "longstanding commitments" simply don't exist in the computing domain, where things are evolving constantly, and we have to accept all kinds of changes, including those that look at first like disturbances. So, obviously, I should abandon Flash… But what should I put in its place?

Steve Jobs provides us with a serious answer, maybe the only serious answer: HTML5, that's to say, the upgraded variety of HTML that the World Wide Web Consortium is currently examining. Apparently, there are significant parts of this future standard that are already operational, as long as you build your sites by means of a "good editor" (such as the latest version of Dreamweaver), and read them with a "good browser" (such as Safari). And of course, any vague feeling you might have that the computing world is becoming more-and-more Apple-dominated is just pure coincidence…

But that's not all. I wrote my first computer programs in 1958, when I was working with IBM in Sydney. Today, I'm still fascinated by computer programming, but purely as a hobbyist. If this new beast known as the iPad is here to stay (as would appear to be the case, at least for a while), then I've decided that it might be a good idea to learn how to write programs for it. In that way, I would surely feel less frustrated about abandoning Flash, whose scripting was a kind of Canada Dry ersatz for real programming.

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