On today's episode we chat about the rise of retro-computing, the appeal of e-ink readers, and what we would pay for /dev/null as a service.
How could you not love a team with a bio like this: "We’re a young and dynamic team of messy data-scientists who have failed at being employed on the real market. Our experience in losing data and throwing files away is more than amazing! Over the years, we have managed to get rid of so much important data at home and even at work." Find out how you pay other people to throw your data away here.
The New York Times reports on the rising prices of old computers and their parts. Retro-computing is fun, especially when you're stuck at home for...feels like a while now.
Stack Overflow memes have made it to Tik Tok, and it is joyous.
To round things out we chat about our love of e-ink, the desire to buy a reMarkable 2, and this amazing piece of digital wall art.
Paul Ford Dancing teens pointing at words, I'm like, where was this when I was a kid? this would have been so great. The words appear in the sky and you point at them? Ugh, God, that's good stuff.
Ben Popper Couchbase is a modern, multicloud-to-edge, SQL-friendly JSON document database for building applications with agility, performance, and scale. If you’re new to Couchbase and would like to learn more, the Couchbase Developer Portal is the best place to start! It’s loaded with tutorials, videos and documentation, as well as best-practice tips, quickstart guides and community resources including the Couchbase Developer community forum. Ready to get started developing on Couchbase? Visit couchbase.com/new2couchbase.
BP Hello, good morning everybody!
Sara Chipps Hey!
PF Hey, good morning!
BP Hi Paul, Hi Sara.
PF Ahh, nothing going on in the world. Just relaxing.
BP Yeah, it's pretty boring out there. I'm not sure there's any news? Maybe, well, we'll we'll come up with something. We'll come up with something. Paul, I know this is always right up your wheelhouse. The none other than the gray lady herself The New York Times is telling me that retro computing is hip. It's in, its having its moment.
PF You know, it's funny is for me, just in classic fashion for myself. I made a concerted effort to be kind of done with all things retro in the last 18 months, like just, you know, because it's bad, because people I have a floppy disk is my Twitter avatar. And so people are like, it's an Amiga floppy disk and from workbench 1.3. And people are like, "Oh, well, you know, Paul, he's, he's into that stuff." And I am, I like, I actually am always curious about the history of technology and where ideas come from, but I was like, and getting to associated with old things. I should just kind of stop talking about that. And now it's cool. Now the New York Times has said it's cool. So once again, I have blown it.
BP You're just cycling out of the trends.
SC Every time I see one of these things, I think of one time I was in Brooklyn outside of a hip, Williamsburg coffee shop. And there was just a guy on a tiny stool with a little typewriter on his lap just type writing away. It's like, oh, it's like so twee.
PF It is a little twee. See, I'm not into, I was never into the hardware side of things. Because old hardware is expensive and annoying. And it like catches fire. Like I don't want to live with that. But I do love emulators. I always think emulators are cool, because they're just, yeah, you can use an old game from a Commodore 64 from 20 years ago, you can go like, oh, that's kind of funny, or that doesn't make any sense anymore. Or wow!
BP Sara, I have something for you. This came from a friend who's in media, but not in technology at all. Ben Smith, formerly BuzzFeed, who's now the media comms at the Times. Turns out we're neighbors in this little town we moved to, once I left the city. And so he sent me a TikTok from Stack Overflow. I'll put it here in the Slack chat. But I guess maybe Stack Overflow memes are starting to get out into the wider world. He didn't understand this at all. He just thought it was hilarious. So I don't know, when you're cruising around TikTok, do you ever see stuff like that?
SC Oh yeah, all the time. There's all kinds of Stack Overflow TikToks. It's great. I love seeing them.
PF So wait. Tell me about this. I didn't know anything about this.
BP It's a great sketch. So it's like a non programmer trying to figure out how to put on their shoes as a human being. The question is, "how should this human being put on their shoes?" and the programmer goes to Stack Overflow and then they go through, I think three three different questions which are kind of meant to represent the canonical answer.
PF Got it.
BP Yeah. How do you explain Stack Overflow to a non programmer without telling them what it is?
PF So wait, Sara, you're big on TikTok.
SC No, I'm not big on TikTok. I just watch probably 1000 TikToks a day. Yes.
PF Yeah, you're you are engaged with TikTok, I think is what I meant to say. What's the Stack Overflow scene overall?
SC Always pretty similar. People make a lot of the same jokes that we see online of like, here's what happens when you answer a question on Stack Overflow and then like, getting pounded in the head with like, a big mallet or something like that. [Paul laughs]
PF Oh so like classic TikTok material.
PF Okay, okay. Because TikTok isn't really a teaching tool. Right? Like it's a mocking like, you have to make fun of a thing. Or sing a sea shanty. Oh my god, they're getting good.
SC Yeah, it's also like, you can either make people laugh or rage in a very small amount of time.
SC Laugh, rage or support. Lady engineer TikTok is the best. There is a lot of awesome engineers with cool experiences that they'll share online, which is I love finding that.
Pf And I'm imagining was just like a certain amount of existential exhaustion built into that community? That makes for good good humor? Yeah.
SC Yeah, but great makeup tips. I learned a lot.
PF So alright, Stack TikTok, didn't know.
BP So somebody sent this along to us in the in the mailbag. I'll share with you, maybe give me some thoughts. Are you familiar with dev null as a service, have I shared this with you?
PF Sara, do you know what dev null is?
SC I know it's like a Linux concept. Can you be our Linux whisperer?
PF Oh boy, this is danger zone. You know, I gotta say recently, you know, whenever people have stopped just yelling as much at me in public and in email, like, they'll just be like, "Hey, I heard you say that. And I thought I would clarify." So I'm less horrified to just talk out loud. Because after 20 years of being screamed at maybe, maybe our culture is changing for the better. I'm not terrified. But let me let me do my best. So Unix has the concept of device drivers, which are like virtual files. And just as you can kind of write something to a file, you can write it to the device driver. So a great example would be the printer. I want to print something. And so I concatenate that, that text on to the printer device. And the printer goes, "Oh, I just received a bunch of text. I better go do my printer thingy." So dev null is the black hole. Dev null is like put it in here and nothing will come out. It's the trash fire of the--
SC Oh it's like part of the file structure. Is that what you're saying?
PF I'll give you an example, let's say I am, I'm doing something and it produces an enormous amount of output. And I want that output to go away, I don't want to see it, I only want to see like one kind of output and not the other, I can just send all of that to dev null. And it's now gone, I don't have to deal with it, I'll only see the other messages that are showing up on the terminal. So it's a place to throw things away and never hear from them again.
SC So and like that's probably really valuable when you have these like terminal, when you're returning just a ton of data and you only want to see a little bit of it.
PF That's right, or you're testing, right. You don't want to write, you know, five terabytes of output to disk. You just want to throw them away.
SC Okay. And so this whole thing is thinking of it as a service?
PF Yeah. So how's that work?
BP Don't get rid of your data yourself anymore. Use our distributed service located over 380 countries. I like there Who We Are. We're a young and dynamic team of messy data scientists who have failed at being employed on the real market. Our experience in losing data and throwing files is more than amazing.
PF Alright, so this is a fun, fun thing. Not seriously.
BP Yeah, I think so.
PF Alright, devnull-as-a-service.com. It's got a lot of dashes, devnull-as-a-service.com. I see. So the idea here is that you can really, you can send things to their website, and it'll throw it away for you for only $5,000 a year.
SC That's so great. What a feature.
PF They created a nice little page. It's someone named Florian. Look, I'm ready to use it. I'll do it. I'll give him $5,000, it's hard to throw data away. We're learning that as someone backs up all of Parler right now while we're recording and they're talking about it. It's very hard, Parler should have used dev null as a service.
SC $5,000 is not even a Bitcoin.
PF Hey, how's Bitcoin doing?
BP Oufff, ouff. It's a rollercoaster out there.
SC Really, really?
BP Didn't it drop like 30%? overnight.
PF Yeah but it's still $33,000 per nonsense nickel.
BP Yeah, yeah, depends where you got in.
PF I mean, if you're, if you got in on January 9, you've had some warning at this point around what's going to happen.
BP It's just, it's such a cycle. It's like, "Don't get in, its headed into a bubble. Don't play with fire!" And then it's always "Oh, man, I wish I'd gotten in." That's where I'm at. Every time it goes on one of those runs.
PF Or you could put that money in an index fund. [Ben chuckles]
BP I don't think that keeps up with inflation anymore. Is opening up your source code worth it? We have a post here from Terry Cavanagh, who builds games, I guess. This was a puzzle platformer. He's also done Super Hexagon and Dicey Dungeons.
PF Super Hexagon! I played that once. Oh and v v v v. I don't know how you pronounce this, v v v v v v or six v or v v v?
SC Yeah. That was a very popular game.
PF It was popular.
BP What do you think of this, like blanket statement? I mean, what have you ever been involved in a project that went open source? Or let out the source code in a certain way? And it did or didn't work? Or is this something that's difficult to relate to?
PF I mean, what are the outcomes? Right? The outcomes are you release it and nobody cares. That's my experience.
SC Or you release it and people yell at you for being dumb. [Ben laughs]
PF You release it and people use that as a chance to show their dominance and to control the territory, right, like, and then there's you release it and people issue incremental improvements in order to generate a better product, which happens. I think when you have a super famous product that is 11 years old, you have a much better chance. And you know, look, I mean, the thing is here, like there's a WebAssembly part of it, right? So like, what that is something that you will never have time to do as an independent developer on a retro game is port your game to lots of different systems. People on the systems are motivated to do that. So those are great outcomes. It's more, it's more people get access.
BP Somebody ported it to the Dreamcast here.
PF Yeah, exactly. Wait, which one? Dreamcast is a while ago, right?
BP That's a very obscure one.
SC This guy's GitHub has a project, Terry Cavanagh, the author of the v v v v. There's a project here called Tower Defense of the Heart. [Ben laughs] In a language called Haxe. Have you ever heard of that, Haxe? I have not.
PF This is so Haxe is like a fully cross platform language like that's the thing. It's really being on building apps like across everything. And it has its own VM. And it's I know it gets used for games. It feels like an open source unity, but maybe a little more, a little less three view, 3d oriented and a little more like broad web application oriented.
BP I mean, it makes a lot of sense, because there's all of these things where now your games can plug in, that are pretty, pretty sealed out like the Apple TV right now has Arcade, and I'm sure doing stuff for that. And the Amazon Fire and a computer and a phone, right? You have to be able to be in cross platform is pretty important. As a game developer.
PF Good for Haxe. Alright, so wait, you know, we haven't done a while we haven't looked at Stack Exchange for the top questions. Oh, here's a good one. How to pull back an email that has already been sent on super user. Ugh, that is a rough one, 'cause it's a dream, right? Do you guys use the Gmail like the undo button on Gmail that setting?
BP I do. All the time.
SC But rarely, I rarely need it.
BP They're baking in a little window there for you.
PF What is that user pattern where it's like, "Okay, good to go." And then 90% of the time, you're gonna go, "Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait."
SC Yeah, I've used it twice since I had it. But it makes me feel good that I have it.
PF Oh, really? I use it all the time.
BP Well you can see the email you've just sent. So sometimes I realized I forgotten to sign it or include the link or whatever. Like, I kind of scan the email I just sent right after I sent it, which is a weird, it is a weird pattern. I guess I could read it over first.
PF But the truth is, you're not getting that email back unless you're breaking in and racing it.
SC Yeah, what's your "I shouldn't have sent that email" story? Do you have like a real nightmare that you think of when I say those words?
PF I have other tremendous humiliations in my life. But I never actually have I've never had one of those where I got truly called out. I think I forwarded one thing I shouldn't have, but it was more like "Oh, yeah, you're kind of you're kind of a dick." And I was like, "Yeah, I was kind of dickish." And the person was like, "Yeah, okay" just kind of anticlimactic, annoying, predictable behavior, rather than like, like, there's the ones that are like, "Oh, I've ruined my life." Those are always wonderful. And then there's the reply all nightmares. And then but most of these are just like, yeah, I guess I really am nowhere near as good of a person as I like to protect myself as and the person on the other side goes. Yeah, that's about right. I remember I did once I got it. I was on the other side. So I wrote a newsletter for a magazine. And somebody I knew replied and thought they were forwarding it to someone else and just kind of trashed my writing.
SC Oh my God!
PF That was a good one. I never let them forget it. I still know that person. Like I'm friends with them. And I will never let them forget. It was pure jealousy. And I loved it. I loved it, was wonderful.
SC One time when I was a baby developer, just like a baby, baby. I was sending an email to a friend I was working with regarding gossip in my dating life, and I accidentally sent it to the entire team.
SC It was really awful. I think I was just thinking about how cringe it was. That was the worst.
PF Yeah, that's terrible.
SC Didn't make eye contact for awhile.
PF It's just also everything you're avoiding. And they're all laughing at you for real. Like it's not paranoia. They're actually laughing at you. [Sara laughs]
BP I mean, that makes me think, Sara, yeah, I've definitely, I couldn't think of it with email. But with Slack, I've definitely sent a chat to somebody that was gossip or completely unrelated to work. And then realize that I've sent it, you know, to a different dm or like a big open group, and had to like rush in and delete it. But that doesn't really leave much of a trail actually. Like if you get to it.
PF Oh, yeah, the Slack dm erase is pretty good. One of the things I'm most proud of is I have not had a true dm fail on Slack. Knocking on wood as I'm saying it, I have never, I've never really screwed it up. I really thought hard about it. I'm like, okay, let's make sure that when I'm communicating, and actually I sort of buttoned up a lot of my overall dm style, like I'm just careful, because it's it's a risk. Like, it's so easy to run your mouth when you're bored. And then you realize I shouldn't have been running my big mouth. What's funny is now that I'm the boss, I'm sure those conversations are happening about me, like you know, you get that the stats statistics or the Slack statistics, and it's like 90% of conversations were in dm this week. And you're like, oh, were they? But I feel that that's sacred right. Being able to bitch and moan inside a dm is sacred right.
BP Are you familiar with the Law of Demeter? I've never heard of this before.
PF No, what's that?
BP It's that the principle of leidse knowledge or the Law of Demeter is a warning against entangling your class with details of other classes that render first layer after layer. It tells you that it's better to talk only with your friends and not with your friends of friends. And then the person here is asking, is there a good scenario in which you should violate this, they have some code in their app that you know, is A to B to C to D, while the LED recommends only a to b. And when is it valid?
SC Wait, are we talking about human beings or code?
PF It sounds like object oriented code.
BP Applies to both.
SC Yeah, yeah. Okay, got it. So the Law of Demeter is don't include information about one class in another class, you want them only to be responsible for what they are in charge of.
BP Yeah, I'll share with you here. This was from our software engineering Stack Exchange, which I think is where I see the most sort of, like, open ended questions, you know, that are more about like, best practices and principles. As opposed to, can you help me fix this error that's getting thrown out?
PF Why do ogres eat people?
SC That's an important question.
PF You know, what I love is the answer too is like, so the question is, like, "what nutrients force ogres to feed on people?" And the answer is like, "what nutrients force humans to feed on pigs?" Like, apparently, were just delicious. You know, as we're as we're talking, what you're realizing is that the absolute, like everything has been knocked out of tech news. Like, there is nothing going on. Everyone is just kind of limping along hitting their posting ratio. And just--
SC Or not, I know companies that are just not posting anything.
PF Oh God yeah.
SC I saw something cool this weekend. Let me share it. This post that is on Medium and got a lot of traction on Hacker News is about a guy who took a Raspberry Pi and two E ink screens, and made art for his wall that shows the front page of the New York Times every day. So great.
PFOh there's a picture of it. I mean, it looks like an old school newspaper that's been framed. So is that e-paper that display?
SC Yes, yes.
PF You know, I think the paper is something that is due for a Renaissance. I feel that like it kind of it got there early, got there early with Kindle. And then everybody's like, alright, well, that's what it's for. But I'm looking at this. This is cool as hell.
SC They're Remarkable. Have you heard of Remarkable,
PF That's what I wanted to bring up, right, like, so apparently, it's a PDF viewer that you can scribble on. And it really, really works and feels like paper.
SC I've been really thinking about getting one.
PF I've been thinking about it too and I'll tell you why. Because I feel that I like technologies that catch up with the garbage world we live in. Like we have to deal with PDFs in our world, there's just no way you're gonna have PDFs, and there is nothing. I have a big iPad, and it is good for scribbling on PDFs, but it just doesn't quite get there. And it looks like this one does when it comes--like the iPad is actually a wonderful supercomputer that lets you do everything. And it's pretty good for reading PDFs, but this just looks like it nails it.
SC It does. And you know, I take notes, I'm like, some people have really good systems on the messiest note taker, I just like grab the closest notebook and just write something and just lose it. And so something like this seems like it'd be really helpful.
PF Oh, imagine having one notebook instead of 20 old spiral bound notebooks that are one third filled each piled up on a shelf?
BP You do have different ideas when you get to like, switch between writing and sketching. Like when you get to switch between drawing or creating arrows, making maps and writing stuff down. Like it brings out a different side of you.
PF Nothing is better, paper is so good for the brain, compared to computer. It's so good.
SC Well, e-ink is like almost close to the second second best because like the battery life is forever. It's like almost like paper.
PF Oh e-papers so good. So this is the thing, right? So let's think about this. It's getting cheaper. So it used to be expensive. But yeah, I think it's getting cheaper. And so you have to assume eventually, it's gonna get really cheap, right? So high resolution, probably still black and white for a while. But there I know, there, there have been attempts to make it in color. You can hang it anywhere. It's gonna be Wi Fi controllable. And it's a high res display medium. And then with stuff like Remarkable you can scribble all over it. This is a this is a point of disaggregation. Right? Because 99% of everything that used to do with computers you can now do with a device that kind of sits in your lap and that you can mess around with with your fingers.
SC Yeah isn't that crazy? Everyday my mind is blown.
PF Every time, every time I'm like, oh, wow. Sometimes it gets a little disappointing because it's like every now and then I would like to buy something and I'm like no, I don't need to buy anything. I don't have to.
BP Yeah, there's that viral video where they take all the things like that just come stock on the old iPhone and they unbundle it a Radio Shack and even in like 1997 it would have cost you $4,000 you know for the calculator and the compass and the computer and the camera. There's a lot of arguments about whether or not that's why we don't have any inflation because just like all this stuff we used to buy is all wrapped up now in this one little device.
PF On the flip side, all of that stuff had a headphone jack. So that was cool. [Sara & Ben laugh]
SC Paul, you had that great tweet this weekend with the American Psycho picture.
PF Oh yeah, that's right. I tweeted out the picture of the dude from American Psycho looking at his stereo with a poncho on right before he murdered someone and I'm just like all this stuff could be in your phone. He's got an equaliser. Listen to Genesis.
BP I think the e-ink stuff is amazing. I've seen kindles that you know, just like got left for two years or something as long as you don't turn it on the battery just last for ever with those things.
PF They're drawing no juice, right. So it's, so incredible battery efficiency is just really attractive because it turns out to be kind of a pain to keep things charged. And it really aligns well with books. So I think that there is probably this category of you know, and God forbid, it would just be a multi 100 million dollar business instead of a trillion dollar business. But there is this category of things where like incredibly low battery, incredibly high resolution and kind of a little bit passive, but maybe you can interact with it in scribble and kind of quiet consumption. Like the market is never going to be as big as it is for like Kindle fires where your kids can watch, you know, robots smash each other while you get some work done, right like that's, you know, there, those are $49 you can buy them in a bucket at Best Buy, like a giant bucket full of Kindle fires, I saw that. And I was like, Okay, well, that's where we're going. When you're purchasing your consumer tech out of a bucket, then where you're getting to--you know what I mean? Those like giant paper buckets near the checkout, where they just sort of throw the boxes in?
BP Yeah, a tablet is now an impulse buy next to the candy in the checkout. I just like, "Ugh, give them one of those"
SC Oh, yeah, a little sticks you put in your TV.
PF Oh those, my God. So consuming high resolution, high bandwidth content is like has approach to zero. And the platforms are going to make all their money from from selling you access.
BP That's what Reed Hastings says. Netflix is competing with sleep.
PF Well, you know, this does kind of blow up the--I remember there's a point where it goes too far. Like back there's a point where the it was either the CEO or suddenly person and Coca Cola said, you know, "The future I want is one where you have two to three taps, hot cold and Coke." And it was like, first of all, that's like four or five taps. Sometimes you know, but and people did not react well to that. Yeah, people did not want--they're like if that's your goal that's kind of uncool. Like Coke does not need to come out of a tap in my house.
SC But I'm sure there's several business books written about that.
PF Well, look, we've all been in that meeting where the thinkovator in chief says like, "Now hold on a minute. What if instead of hot and cold water..." you know, and everybody's like, "Yeah, that is the future we want, right? Like, why not think that way?" And then someone runs their mouth to beverage monthly. And now you have a scandal on your hands.
SC Am I naive as someone on the outside wondering if like the e-ink is like the solution for the classroom?
PF Oh, yeah, I think it would be really good.
SC Yeah. Because here's the thing I learned is that kids all collaborate in Google Docs, and they communicate in there.
PF Here's the problem with younger kids doing remote school right now. It's just a cognitive overload. We are we are constantly--I'm using these tools for the Chromebook, which have gotten a lot better in the last year to kind of manage what the kids can access. Yeah, they're much better. So you can set timing per app, which is really good. Except then, when you have a little kid and suddenly Minecraft turns off, they don't see that as like, "Oh, I'm glad I'm regulating myself with the computer." They completely freak out. And so it's just like, it's really tough, right. And what I would love are devices that were relatively cheap that were just completely away from the absolute disaster farm that we all work and live on now like this. It's so unhealthy to be like two seconds away from YouTube. And a nine year old cannot regulate themselves.
BP I can't regulate myself. So how can you expect a nine year old year old to?
PF I think e-paper with audio and Wi Fi built in where the teacher could talk to you would be a magical device for where we are right now.
BP The disconnect economy is definitely something I would want to invest in, like electric objects, that old art project, I loved that it was a screen that hung on your wall. And it was a piece of art that you could change. It had a little bit of sort of like life to it in the way you know, digital object does. But it wasn't interactive at all.
PF No, it just showed nice art. It was really nice matte kind of screen. We have to work and the art was well curated. It wasn't expensive. It was just a very cool idea. Yeah, I think like e-paper on the wall. This is to me, god, I wish I could go this way like it would be so much better for education. Everything is--although at the same time it's great that the kids can watch like YouTube of how Van Gogh used to paint, although everybody's now pronounces it Van Gough everywhere. So I guess I better get on.
BP I'll say one more thing before we have to jump to our lifeboats. Which is that, yeah, Paul, the teachers who lock things down well as you do have had some success. But the teachers who don't like the library, teacher, whatever who comes in who's not really sure is completely unaware that while she's reading her book on the Zoom to the kids, they are all just chatting in the background, changing their avatars and exchanging emojis. Like unless you lock it down, that's where they immediately get.
PF Within like 12 seconds. Because what happens is, you can multitask. So like the kids are watching YouTube on the side. It's funny for a while and then you're just like, ugh, like it's just exhausting, 'cause you--I went to bed with my kid, I like got him settled down. I'm sort of petting his back. And he's like, like, "How you doing buddy?" And he's like, "Dad?" I'm like, "What?" And he's like, "I hate parental controls." Right? And I'm like, "Well, let's talk about that later." But it's like, this is as we're going to bed like computer was four hours. I hate parental control. Like that is to him the worst thing that has ever happened. And we actually have a deal like we hide the remotes, like there is because kids don't have regulation, and then you put them in front of the most unregulated brain chaos device, as we all know, because we've just lived through four years of a global, like, explosion of brain chaos. And you're like, "Okay, we're gonna get we're gonna figure it out." It's not good. E-paper, e-paper is the answer.
PF Yeah. We're gonna get better about our mailbag.
PF I'm Paul Ford, friend of Stack Overflow. I have a company called Postlight that I co-founded and we are in need of engineers. We have a lot of good work coming our way. And boy, as well as product managers and designers, remote or New York City based is great. So get in touch. Postlight.com.
SC Great, I'm Sara Chipps, Director of Community here at Stack Overflow. And you can find me at @SaraJo on GitHub.