As a verbal person, I feel some nostalgia for what might have been. The evocative phosphor-green letters on a deep-space background that I grew up with gave way to the smiley Mac face and the white bitmap that turned computing entirely opaque. After I saw the Mac I lost interest in learning to code. I was like an aspiring activist who, before even getting started, was defeated by a thick layer of propaganda that made the system seem impenetrable. In literary critical terms inherited from the great Erich Auerbach in Mimesis, the grammar of the computer interface would go from parataxis—weak connectives, like all that black space, which allowed the imagination to liberally supply and tease out meaning—to hypotaxis, in which hierarchies of meaning and interpretive connections are tightly made for a user, the visual field is entirely programmed, and, at worst, the imagination is shut out.
Gone was the existential Old Testament or Star Trek nothingness of those phosphor screens—you can picture them from War Games—which left you to wonder who or what was out there.
Magic and Loss
It was as though a deep, wise, grooved, seductive, complex college friend had suddenly been given a face-lift, a makeover, and a course in salesmanship. She seemed friendly and cute, all right, but generically and then horrifyingly so. Nothing I did could ever bait her into a free-flowing, speculative, romantic, melancholic, or poetic relationship ever again.
As for coders, they have known since the bitmap appeared that rectangular screens, indexed by two coordinates, would demand design. And they were thrilled. Though vastly more expensive, the bitmap display was greedily embraced by the computer companies of the s and s for a significant reason: coders hugely preferred its grid and iconography over linear letters and numbers.
But why? Dyslexic programmers, not shy about their diagnosis, convene on Reddit threads and support sites, where they share fine-grained cognitive experiences. It took me a while to figure out that my dyslexia was the reason I and the command-line centric programmers would never agree. Davidson in Now You See It, is actually an agricultural skill that may even be at odds with traditional literacy. It allows farmers to look at a field of alfalfa and see that three stalks are growing wrong and the fertilization scheme must be adjusted.
Magic and loss : a novel of Golgotham | Bemis Public Library
For debuggers, as Davidson makes plain in her book, traditional text is an encumbrance to learning. And as Andres-Beck observes, command-line interfaces that use successive lines of text, like books, also bedevil those who find reading challenging. In , when programmers glimpsed the possibilities of the Xerox bitmap, they never looked back.
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This kind of interface defied the disorientation that had long been induced by letters on paper. Torah scribes in the first century defined literacy as the capacity to orient oneself in tight lines of text on a scroll without whitespace, pages, punctuation, or even vowels to mark spots for breath or other spatial signposts. As Negroponte explains in Being Digital, many digital natives, and boomers and Gen Xers who went digital, are drawn to the jumpy, nonlinear connections that computer code makes.
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On the site io9 recent studies of the differences between Chinese dyslexics and English dyslexics were used to make the case that dyslexics make good programmers, as programming languages contain the symbolic, pictographic languages that many dyslexics prefer.
In the s and s bitmaps were welcomed like a miracle by PC programmers. Writers sometimes long for the low-graphic blackout screen in the beloved and lo-fi word-processing app WriteRoom, but no one else seems to. The majority of computer users, and certainly programmers, were overjoyed at the reprieve from traditional literacy that the bitmap granted them. The s notion of user-friendliness was really a move from that tortured lost-in-translation technical language to graphics, which in theory would be legible in all languages and to a range of cognitive styles.
They summarize and explain actions, provide direction, offer feedback and even break through language barriers. That trolling use of graphics—to confront and annoy—is still in effect in various corners of the Web. Today a bitmap is really a pixmap, where each pixel stores multiple bits and thus can be shaded in two or more hues. A natural use of so much color is realist forms like photography and film. But the profusion of realist imagery since Web 2. The exuberance with which programmers, stymied by straight text, embraced graphics is the second reason the Web is a graphic wreck.
It was made by manic amateurs trying to talk in pictures, not by cool pros with degrees in Scandinavian design. Now there are—twenty? These represent the tips of the icebergs for the major tech players, and like ticker symbols, they all jostle uncomfortably for my attention. None of these has a word on them. They look maddeningly alike. The spindly shape and contemporary colors—bank blue, yes, but also burnt orange, grass green, and yellow—are a legacy of the ferocious determination of Microsoft to set itself apart from Apple and to seem less isolated and self-contained like circles and more compatible and connected like cursive letters.
This is hardly a team of miracle workers. Only then is it clear that the Mac interface, even with its confounding icons, is, in contrast with the Web, a model of sleek organization. The Web is haphazardly planned. Its public spaces are mobbed, and urban decay abounds in broken links, ghost town sites, and abandoned projects. Malware and spam have turned living conditions in many quarters unsafe and unsanitary.
Bullies, hucksters, and trolls roam the streets. An entrenched population of rowdy, polyglot rabble dominates major sites. People who have always found the Web ugly have nonetheless been forced to live there. It is still the place to go for jobs, resources, services, social life, the future.
This suburb is defined by those apps: neat, cute homes far from the Web city center, many in pristine Applecrest Estates—the App Store. In the migration of dissenters from those ad-driven Web sites, still humming along at www URLs, to pricey and secluded apps we witnessed urban decentralization, suburbanization, and the online equivalent of white flight: smartphone flight.
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The parallels between what happened to Chicago, Detroit, and New York in the twentieth century and what happened to the Internet since the introduction of the App Store are striking. Like the great modern American cities, the Web was founded on equal parts opportunism and idealism. Over the years nerds, students, creeps, outlaws, rebels, moms, fans, church mice, good-time Charlies, middle managers, senior citizens, starlets, presidents, and corporate predators flocked to the Web and made their home on it.
But a kind of virtual redlining took over. The Webtropolis became stratified. Even if, like most people, you still surf the Web on a desktop or laptop, you will have noticed paywalls, invitation-only clubs, subscription programs, privacy settings, and other ways of creating tiers of access.
When a wall goes up, the space you have to pay to visit must, to justify the price, be nicer than the free ones. Cool software greets the paying lady and gentleman; they get concierge service, perks. Best of all, the advertisers and carnival barkers leave you alone. Those prerolls and goofy in-your-face ads that make you feel like a sitting duck vanish. Web stations with entrance fees are more like boutiques than bazaars. Mobile devices represent a desire to skip out on the bazaar. By choosing machines that come to life only when tricked out with apps, users of all the radical smartphones created since the iPhone increasingly commit themselves to a more remote and inevitably antagonistic relationship with the Web.
Policed why? Perception, after all, is everything; many apps are to the Web what bottled water is to tap: an inventive and proprietary new way of decanting, packaging, and pricing something that could be had for free. Apps indeed sparkle like sapphires and emeralds for people enervated by the ugliness of monster sites like Craigslist, eBay, and Yahoo!.
That sparkle is worth money. Some of it should be provocative, emotional, even enraged. I like to think of Rovio, the game studio that created the juggernaut Angry Birds, as the center of rage-based gaming. Though of course the cravings should have subsided years ago, when I was on the global top-1, leaderboard for Angry Birds. Autographs available on request. What a great pretext for a game: pigs steal your babies and then lodge themselves in strongholds made of stone, glass, or wood.
In Angry Birds, as so often in life, the material world seemed to have conspired to favor the jerks, endowing them with what looked like breastworks, berms, and parapets, as if they were the beneficiaries of some diabolical foreign-aid package. And the looks on their fat faces?
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Perfectly, perfectly self-satisfied. You have your elaborate forts and your snorting equipoise. Her mother actually admits how she came to marry her father which is not very flattering, and the butler who has spent a lifetime in service, hands in his notice and comes back to Golgotham with his mistress. Nancy Collins with a dominant right eye. So the potential of the plot in enabling the possession of Hexe and doing all the usual dire things people do when they are bent on revenge starts off reasonably well. Indeed, the family history is enlarged upon to include grandparents and a significant backstory based on a coincidental meeting between the two mothers before they respectively produced Tate and Hexe.
Far be it for me to suggest this is mere padding. Sadly, I just got bored. This is actually quite a cool metaphor. Except, apart from an early flicker and a late rally, very little is made of her magical abilities in this book. I think this could have been a dark and tense novel, full of thriller potential and several set-piece fights or small battles.
Instead, it allows the romance to slow everything down and lighten the tone. I know the urban fantasy subgenre is not supposed to stray into dark territory. So all the potential is dissipated with too much exposition and not enough sense of danger for our parents-to-be and, after a quick birth, the baby boy. This is a major disappointment. Although the first in the series was uninspiring, the second managed to produce a genuinely interesting plot idea. Magic and Loss slides back into the genuinely bad end of the fantasy market and, unless you are a fan of the first two, you should not trouble the bookseller to sell it to you.
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