April 2nd, 2012

The banality of banality

Something that occurs to me which I don't think I have seen mentioned is that I can easily imagine politicians / civil-servants / whoever thinking 'well, we have people retain email headers using the email protocol, surely we can return Twitter using the Twitter protocol and Facebook using the Facebook protocol?'. It seems to me non-obvious that the world doesn't work that way. Indeed, I would suspect this would be someone's 'first order' assumption if they don't understand very much but know slightly more than the 'it's all magic' level.
Certainly, we had (under the old regime) an annual 'work out which parts of our software development are eligible for R & D tax credits' session, and every year I would be struck that the guidelines were written for someone who didn't really know (or care) very much. The list resembled to me what you would get if you asked a pal who was a slightly old and out of touch computer science academic what R & D should be about, 'compilers good, UIs bad' etc., wrote down his/her prejudices and declared that the government guidelines. I never quite got round to working out who I should complain to. I think my boss got someone else to do it most recently, probably fed up with my muttering about it.


Forgot to say, 'Bazzer' won the 'what should the nick-name for the coffee known as a 'flat white' be'. Go forth and order your Bazzers.

The dear and the Antiope

Amongst books that should have been written but haven't, I am sad that no-one has written the definitive book on Teletext to celebrate its decommissioning along with analog television. It should have been lavishly illustrated with screen-shots obviously, and interviews with editors, graphic designers etc. Probably too late now, and I am certainly not going to write it, even if I had the contacts / talent / time, which obviously I don't. However, if you do want to write it I suggest the title 'Optional Reception of Announcement' (from the first three letters of the mildly contrived Optional Reception of Announcements by Coded Line Electronics).
Antiope was the alternative French system, though the French gave up and switched to 'World System Teletext' i.e. 'our' system quite early in the game, before there were many decoders deployed. Antiope was actually somewhat more flexible in terms of what it could display - the British system was deliberately designed so that each line was transmitted with exactly the same number of characters, so that there was no need to decode the text into separate memory - the way it worked was that there were non-printing characters which changed the attributes of subsequent characters without displaying anything for that character itself. This sort of thing mattered many iterations of Moore's Law ago, and is a fine example of the finely honed British ability to do things on the cheap which has been developed over generations of the technical class being told they have to do things cheaply. Quite often this leads to something that does 85% of the job being done for 25% of the cost, in such a way that there is no way of enhancing it to do 100% of the job if and when more money / more resources / cheaper tech becomes available. In this case, however, it seems to have worked.