Hard computing problems have become either trivially easy or so impossibly difficult it’s not even worth trying anymore.

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The Moderna team that first created the COVID-19 vaccine designed it in two days. It was a weekend project in January. On Friday evening we had no vaccine, just a series of TGIF memes and an upcoming weekend to look forward to. On Monday morning we had the vaccine. I’ve spent longer than that trying to vertically center text on a webpage.

I say this as a joke, but it’s also kind of true (vertically centering is annoyingly difficult. If I’m lucky, I can wrangle it with flexbox when the wind is blowing in the right direction). A wonder of…

In the beginning, the web was a free bonanza. Now every site tries to sign you up for a monthly subscription.

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There was a time when it seemed like everything was free on the internet.

Free email. Free hosting. Free software. Free cloud storage. Free photo storage. Every social media site was free as was every search engine and every news site. The software that powered the servers running the web was free. If anywhere was the land of the free, it was the internet. Some free things weren’t even free enough. There were degrees of free-ness: “free” as in beer, or “free” as in speech. And we gobbled it all up. …

How we fall for magical solutions

Top tip: don’t get photographed in the chair if you’re running for president. Photo by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash

There’s an old story that John F Kennedy’s father knew a stock market crash was coming in the 1930s because the man shining his shoes gave him stock tips. I don’t know how true that is, but it appears in seemingly every story about market crashes along with a picture of an old-timey shoe shiner.

I don’t trade stocks, I’m a product manager/software engineer sort of person but I notice something similar with technology. Here’s what happens. People come to me with an idea for an app. Often they have already named it: “Mercury” or “Borealis”. Something grand even though…

Cracked screens and scuffed edges. The mental toll of using devices not designed for the real world

Photo Credit: AndreyPopov via Getty Images

A few weeks ago, I dropped my iPad. There was a moment, a gut-wrenching moment, seemingly in slow motion, as I watched my iPad Pro, 12.9", with its Apple A12X chip, Bionic 64-bit architecture, and Apple M12 motion coprocessor fall. Millions of dollars of research and development, decades of Moore’s Law, and the ultimate manifestation of Jony Ive’s vision meet: the floor.

At the Apple Special Event™ that launched the iPad Pro, the screens behind Apple’s polo-neck-enveloped executives filled with abstract videos of iPads spinning, tumbling, and turning through the air, weightless and indestructible. In the split second my iPad…

How we take the wrong morals from stories

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So here’s a question that’s harder than you might expect: whose porridge does Goldilocks eat?

The answer is, of course, baby Bear’s. His porridge is all eaten, his chair is broken, his bed has Goldilocks still in it. Because his, in each case, is “just right.”

Most people get this far, but the next part is where our memories let us down: how does Goldilocks conclude that baby Bear’s porridge is “just right”?

First she tries Daddy Bear’s porridge which is “too hot”. Then she tries Mummy Bear’s which is “too cold”. Finally, she gets to Baby Bear’s which is…

Buying property feels like bartering in the middle ages

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There is a romantic view that homes are made with love. That through hard work and caring we can transform shabby buildings, with peeling wallpaper and drab colours into Instagram photos. But in reality homes aren’t made with love. They’re made with skill. I realize this as I look at the wonky bolt I have attached to my gate. Just wanting it to be straight isn’t enough to make it so.

I blame home renovation shows. The house-hunting, nesting couples may change, but the woodworm and planning permission remains the same. Over and over we watch the misadventures and pitfalls…

Requirements documents are halfway between a peace treaty and a Christmas list.

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I have an email from Glenn. He needs to get a piece of software built and wants to know if I can make it for him. At the end of his email, he says, “I’ve gathered all the requirements,” and offers to send them over.

He says it so confidently: “I’ve gathered all the requirements,” as if they were strewn across the ground and he just picked them up. The phrase sticks with me because I have no idea what to expect. Will it be a Word document, an Excel sheet, a PowerPoint, a mind-map, a set of Jira tickets…

Lived Through This

Sometimes our bodies are best left alone

Photo: Rizky Panuntun / Getty Images

For several years in my twenties, the main thing I did was itch. And scratch.

The “itch cycle,” they call it. Irritants cross the skin barrier, causing the sensitization of immune cells. When you scratch, your nails damage the surface barrier of the skin, allowing more allergens to enter. And thus more itching. And scratching. And itching again. This is why it’s a cycle.

As an affliction, itching seems so trivial. A minor irritation to the skin. It isn’t a broken leg or cancer. Those are ailments you can deploy surgeons and research toward. No one calls 911 over an…

And what the next recession will mean for them

Image by the author

I’m in a meeting. With a stakeholder. I call her a stakeholder but she’s just someone who wants something. In this case, the something she wants is a website.

“It needs to be engaging,” she says.

She wants to solve a business problem and so she came to the technology department. As we talk she produces a shopping list of ideas: interactivity, commenting, liking, user profiles, a mobile app (for iOS and Android, of course), user-generated content. …

The journey from tucked in grey shirts to hoodies

They call themselves the digital team, but they’re just posting pictures of cats to each other, no one seems to have the sides off their computers anymore. Photo by Zane Lee on Unsplash

He’s short, grey hair, mustache, balding, wearing a short-sleeved checked shirt. In his office (which has no windows) is an O’Reilly XSLT book with a Heron on the front. Let’s call him Gordon (the man with the checked shirt, that is, not the Heron).

A few things you should know about Gordon:

  1. He loves comments in his VBScript files. And if you don’t put comments in the right format, that script will be deleted.
  2. You cannot write any code until you know about networking. And Microsoft installer packages. And Configuration Manager. He’ll start by teaching you about Windows NT 4.0…

Simon Pitt

Media techie, developer, product manager, software person and web-stuff doer. Head of Corporate Digital at BBC, but views my own. More at pittster.co.uk

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