Saturday, 31 December 2011

Quote of the Day for 2011-12-31

Happy the people whose annals are blank in the history books! 
        -- Charles de Montesquieu, philosopher and writer (1689-1755)

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Saturday, 10 December 2011

The Strange Birth and Long Life of Unix

IEEE Spectrum has a long read [1] on the history of Unix and how it evolved to where it is today. It makes for interesting reading and has some interesting insights, stories and anecdotes. It is especially memorable on account of Dennis Ritchie's recent passing away[2].

There's also another older post related to the history of Unix[3].


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Friday, 09 December 2011

Evolution of shells in Linux From Bourne to Bash and beyond By M. Tim Jones

IBM Developerworks has a writeup on the evolutions of shells in Linux. Covers a fair bit of territory and is a nice read with some scripting comparisons to help get a bit more context.

Here's a brief blurb:

Shells—or command-line interpreters—have a long history, but this discussion begins with the first UNIX® shell. Ken Thompson (of Bell Labs) developed the first shell for UNIX called the V6 shell in 1971. Similar to its predecessor in Multics, this shell (/bin/sh) was an independent user program that executed outside of the kernel. Concepts like globbing (pattern matching for parameter expansion, such as *.txt) were implemented in a separate utility called glob, as was the if command to evaluate conditional expressions. This separation kept the shell small, at under 900 lines of C source (see Resources for a link to the original source).

The shell introduced a compact syntax for redirection (< > and >>) and piping (| or ^) that has survived into modern shells. You can also find support for invoking sequential commands (with ;) and asynchronous commands (with &).

What the Thompson shell lacked was the ability to script. Its sole purpose was as an interactive shell (command interpreter) to invoke commands and view results.


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Thursday, 08 December 2011

Android: A visual history By Chris Ziegler

The Verge[1] has an interesting article on the history of Android. It covers the genesis of Android and has interesting photos of the UI as it has evolved over the years.

Here's a brief blurb from the article:

Google’s Android operating system has undergone a pretty incredible metamorphosis in the three short years since it debuted on the T-Mobile G1. Think about it: three years, eight major releases. Eight. To put that in perspective, there have only been ten major consumer-grade releases of Windows (give or take, depending on how you count) in over twenty-five years of retail availability. You could make a pretty convincing argument that no consumer technology in history has evolved as quickly as the smartphone, and Android has been at the very center of that evolution.

With the release of Android 4.0 — Ice Cream Sandwich — on Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus, we wanted to take a look back through the years at how Andy Rubin’s brainchild has evolved into the industry titan that it is today. What’s changed? What has (sometimes stubbornly) stayed the same?

class="indent"> The Android era officially began on October 22nd, 2008, when the T-Mobile G1 launched in the United States. Initially, many features that we couldn't live without today were missing — an on-screen keyboard, multitouch capability, and paid apps, for instance — but the foundation was in place, and a few lasting trademarks of the platform debuted on those very first G1s to roll off the assembly line:


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Sunday, 04 December 2011

More than just digital quilting

The Economist has some interesting coverage[1] on the Maker movement and talks about the do-it-yourself culture, open hardware and open source and how it can foster innovation and spur science and technology.

A few choice blurbs from the article:

The maker movement is both a response to and an outgrowth of digital culture, made possible by the convergence of several trends. New tools and electronic components let people integrate the physical and digital worlds simply and cheaply. Online services and design software make it easy to develop and share digital blueprints. And many people who spend all day manipulating bits on computer screens are rediscovering the pleasure of making physical objects and interacting with other enthusiasts in person, rather than online. Currently the preserve of hobbyists, the maker movement’s impact may be felt much farther afield.

Start with hardware. The heart of New York’s Maker Faire was a pavilion labelled with an obscure Italian name: “Arduino” (meaning “strong friend”). Inside, visitors were greeted by a dozen stands displaying credit-card-sized circuit boards. These are Arduino micro-controllers, simple computers that make it easy to build all kinds of strange things: plants that send Twitter messages when they need watering, a harp made of lasers, an etch-a-sketch clock, a microphone that serves as a breathalyser, or a vest that displays your speed when riding a bike.

Such projects are taking off because Arduino is affordable (basic boards cost $20), can easily be extended using add-ons called “shields” to add new functions and has a simple programming system that almost anyone can use. “Not knowing what you are doing is an advantage,” says Massimo Banzi, an Italian engineer and designer who started the Arduino project a decade ago to enable students to build all kinds of contraptions. Arduino has since become popular—selling around 200,000 units in 2011—because Mr Banzi made the board’s design “open source” (which means that anyone can download its blueprints and build their own versions), and because he has spent much time and effort getting engineers all over the world involved with the project.

Applying the open-source approach to hardware has also driven the development of the maker movement’s other favourite piece of kit, which could be found everywhere at the Maker Faire in New York: 3D printers. These machines are another way to connect the digital and the physical realms: they take a digital model of an object and print it out by building it up, one layer at a time, using plastic extruded from a nozzle. The technique is not new, but in recent years 3D printers have become cheap enough for consumers. MakerBot Industries, a start-up based in New York, now sells its machines for $1,300. The output quality is rapidly improving thanks to regular upgrades, many of them suggested by users.


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