Blast From The Past: Apple ][+

I first learned to code when I was 9 on an Apple ][ Europlus that my father bought to do the accounting for his gas station, in 1980. The language was Applesoft BASIC which Microsoft provided to Apple. (Whatever happened to those guys?)

That machine blew my mind. I could make it do what I wanted. That was my first real introduction to what I learned later was software engineering and computer science.

So I was delighted when I saw this awesome nostalgia trip article by Jason Snell over on six colors.

I remember those 5.25″ inch floppy disks so well. The whirring and clanking of the disk drives as you issued the “PR#6” command to get it to boot something off the floppy.

Back then we liked whirring and clanking and computers were super easy to use with the command to “boot from the floppy” being something obvious like “PR#6”.

Like many command line instructions it actually makes a certain amount of sense in context. In this case the context was the floppy drive was connected to a disk controller which was in expansion slot number six, so the command means “prime slot number 6”. Good times. Good times.)

Reading his article also caused me to descend into some Googling that eventually lead me to this  Apple II emulator which is unbelievably cool.

Amazon Attempts to Put The ‘Convenience’ in Convenience Store

The New York Times has a short piece (with lots of photos) on Amazon’s new Go store opening this week is Seattle. The store is opening a year later than Amazon originally said it would but the premise is fascinating.

There are no checkouts or registers. You enter the store using the app, take what you want off the shelves and then just leave. The store detects what products you put in your bag and charges you.

Amazon made a video:

It is apparently smart enough to notice if you put something back and not charge you for it.

Amazon being Amazon, they don’t say much about the technology other than buzzword bingo (“deep learning”, “computer vision”, “sensor fusion”.)

GeekWire did some digging a little over a year ago and had an interesting report that cites some patent applications. One of the tidbits in that piece is a patent suggesting that if the store has difficulty figuring out whether you just picked up a bottle of mustard or a bottle of ketchup, they might use data from your previous purchases to determine which it is more likely to be.

While I am intrigued by the idea, I wonder if it feels (as the NYT reporter mentions) stressful at first when you simple leave a store “without” paying. I get stressed sometimes walking into a supermarket with a bottle of water I bought somewhere else and feel oddly guilty when I am using the self-checkout that I am not paying for the drink, wondering if people think I am shoplifting. Of course that might say more about me than anything else.

The broader adoption of computer vision in retail is going to be a very interesting area to watch, with some interesting cultural changes sure to come as part of it.

The $25 Billion Eigenvector

I am really enjoying spending more time indulging in some good old fashioned Computer Science. Getting back to theory and basics is a great reminder of what I love about computers, what they can do, what they can be.

Machine learning and associated AI topics are attracting a lot of interest these days (much of it warranted, some of it not) but every so often you need some good old fashioned linear algebra.

This paper [PDF] uses the academic equivalent of link baiting with a provocative title for what is really an applied discussion of linear algebra, using Larry & Sergei’s PageRank algorithm (or at least a simplified, public domain version of it.)

I often struggled in college to connect the abstraction of theory to its practical application AKA “how will I ever use this in the real world?”, so I love papers like this that try to connect the dots more. (You really need a discussion of Markov chains here too for the full picture, but thats another paper I guess.)

The Ultimate Old School PC Font Pack

I have spent most of my years living in the Apple universe, starting with the Apple ][ (learning Applesift BASIC among other things) and for the last 25 years, pretty much all-Mac. But over the years there were PCs mixed in there too and of course DOS in the early days (learning Lotus 1-2-3 which was eye-opening for a 12 year old).

So coming across this site and just seeing it is definitely a fun nostalgia trip.