Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Too Much Time On Their Hands

I am a big fan of all things to do with computers, I love the innovation that has driven this industry forward at the speed of light, I also love those people that create things, just because they can. It is very much like the quote from the mountain climber when asked why he had climbed Everest, his reply was a simply "because it was there".

The computer industry has always been teeming with people that have that 'because it is there' attitude. I suppose that in some ways I have empathy with these pioneers, because I also suffer from the same problem. I spent almost a whole year persuading a perfectly good Apple G3 that what it really wanted to do was run Linux. You can read the sordid tale here.

Plus the various web sites that I create for no good reason, or even this blog, that eats up hours of otherwise perfectly good beer drinking time.

My humble efforts pale into insignificance when you see the efforts of others. There are many of them, unsung hero's of the truly pointless projects, I want to single just a few, that I feel should be immediatly inducted into the "Pointless Computer Projects Hall of Fame".

My top five is (It's my blog so I choose):

Coming in at number 5 is myself. I spent a year making one of my Apples run Linux, when I eventually got it running, I had nothing for it to do. My wife and I both chat on the IRC (Internet Relay Chat), in an attempt to 'learn more' about the IRC I set up my own IRC server on the BeerBox (another pointless project), the IRC tho does not consist of one server, but many. The Apple G3 became my second IRC server, so I have my own IRC network! Jan logs onto the BeerBox from her Windows XP box, and I log on to the Apple from my Windows XP box, and we chat online. That's fine exact we actually sit 3 feet from each other! Oh and there is no other traffic on this IRC network, so we tie up 4 computers to talk online.

My number 4 pick would have to be the creator of www.badgerbadgerbadger.com , now this is a guy with problems. The website consists of a Flash animation of badgers, snakes and the occasional mushroom, accompanied by a really catchy soundtrack. Five minutes of being badgered and you will be running for the padded room.

Coming in at number 3 has to be Google. Google is one of my favorite companies, they come out with the best free software, but occasionally you have to wonder what the hell was going through their minds! In order to make Google more international the front page offers a link to 'language preferences', from here you can select the language that you want to use, including Elmer Fud and Klingon. Give it a try!

Number 2 is actually something that several folks worked on. If you were involved in computers in the 1960's and 1970's you likely worked on an IBM mainframe, either a member of the 360 or 370 series of computers. These beasts needed a room the size of an aircraft hanger, special airconditioning, a false floor, good supply of water for the cooling system, fat check book to pay the electricity, and a swarm of really smart young and women to run it. Sometime in the early 1990's IBM released the various products into the public domain (MVT, MVS, JES2, TSO, VTAM, etc). Well an enterprising group of souls, with way to much time on their hands wrote some software so that you too can relive the halcyon days of MVS from the comfort of your PC. It is called Hercules, and if you are old (like I am) it is a blast from the past.

The king of pointless computer projects, the one that takes the cake, is the Japanese gentleman that created an Excel spreadsheet that plays Pacman. If you don't believe me, take a look.

I use this spreadsheet in one of my Excel classes as an example of just how big a spreadsheet can be. As I recall it is 256 columns x 6000 rows! To see the game board you have to zoom out to 10%.

Yup, this has to be the winner!

1 comment:

WBS said...

Remember making Fractals all those years ago, or possibly the largest amount of time ever spent by thousands of people was writing BASIC code listings from magazines into their BBC B or Spectrum machines, having no idea why the program wouldn't run then finding in next months issue a correction to the code.

My excuse is that I learnt about programming from doing that - honest I did, really.