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CERN's iPod-like control devices, from 1973

A recent dig through some old papers uncovered this CERN memo from 1973 describing controls for the Proton Synchrotron being built at the time. I visited the control room some years later and saw the controls in action, installed on a room-hugging curved console reminiscent of a NASA mission control room. I was so impressed by the devices I asked for a copy of the documentation, written by (one assumes) their designers, F. Beck and B. Stumpe.

These are like the ur-controls for the iPod and (later) iPhone, but anticipate the music player by almost three decades. In fact, the CERN knob is better than the click wheel: It is programmable to be smooth, indexed, or with variable turning resistance and spring return. It was inspirational to feel how it responded when turned in the various modes.

Apple is very good at commercializing ideas, but big research institutions such as CERN, erstwhile Xerox PARC and Bell Labs excel at creating the ideas themselves.

This memo was from a different time,…

Error handling in Upspin

The Upspin project uses a custom package, upspin.io/errors, to represent error conditions that arise inside the system. These errors satisfy the standard Go error interface, but are implemented using a custom type, upspin.io/errors.Error, that has properties that have proven valuable to the project.

Here we will demonstrate how the package works and how it is used. The story holds lessons for the larger discussion of error handling in Go.

Motivations

A few months into the project, it became clear we needed a consistent approach to error construction, presentation, and handling throughout the code. We decided to implement a custom errors package, and rolled one out in an afternoon. The details have changed a bit but the basic ideas behind the package have endured. These were:

To make it easy to build informative error messages.To make errors easy to understand for users.To make errors helpful as diagnostics for programmers.
As we developed experience with the package, some other motivations…

The Upspin manifesto: On the ownership and sharing of data

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Here follows the original "manifesto" from late 2014 proposing the idea for what became Upspin. The text has been lightly edited to remove a couple of references to Google-internal systems, with no loss of meaning.

I'd like to thank Eduardo Pinheiro, Eric Grosse, Dave Presotto and Andrew Gerrand for helping me turn this into a working system, in retrospect remarkably close to the original vision.



Manifesto

Outside our laptops, most of us today have no shared file system at work. (There was a time when we did, but it's long gone.) The world took away our /home folders and moved us to databases, which are not file systems. Thus I can no longer (at least not without clumsy hackery) make my true home directory be where my files are any more. Instead, I am expected to work on some local machine using some web app talking to some database or other external repository to do my actual work. This is mobile phone user interfaces brought to engineering workstations, which has its …

Go: Ten years and climbing

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Drawing Copyright ©2017 Renee French

This week marks the 10th anniversary of the creation of Go.

The initial discussion was on the afternoon of Thursday, the 20th of September, 2007. That led to an organized meeting between Robert Griesemer, Rob Pike, and Ken Thompson at 2PM the next day in the conference room called Yaounde in Building 43 on Google's Mountain View campus. The name for the language arose on the 25th, several messages into the first mail thread about the design:

Subject: Re: prog lang discussion From: Rob 'Commander' Pike Date: Tue, Sep 25, 2007 at 3:12 PM To: Robert Griesemer, Ken Thompson i had a couple of thoughts on the drive home. 1. name 'go'. you can invent reasons for this name but it has nice properties. it's short, easy to type. tools: goc, gol, goa. if there's an interactive debugger/interpreter it could just be called 'go'. the suffix is .go ...

(It's worth statin…

The power of role models

I spent a few days a while back in a board meeting for a national astronomy organization and noticed a property of the population in that room: Out of about 40 people, about a third were women. And these were powerful women, too: professors, observatory directors and the like. Nor were they wallflowers. Their contributions to the meeting exceeded their proportion.

In my long career, I had never before been in a room like that, and the difference in tone, conversation, respect, and professionalism was unlike any I have experienced. I can't prove it was the presence of women that made the difference - it could just be that astronomers are better people all around, a possibility I cannot really refute - but it seemed to me that the difference stemmed from the demographics.

The meeting was one-third women, but of course in private conversation, when pressed, the women I spoke to complained that things weren't equal yet. We all have our reference points.

But let's back up for a mo…

Prints

Two long-buried caches of photographs came to light last year. One was a stack of cellulose nitrate negatives made on the Scott Antarctic expedition almost a hundred years ago. Over time, they became stuck together into a moldy brick, but it was possible to tease the negatives apart and see what they revealed. You can view the images at the web site of the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust. The results show ragged edges and mold spots but, even beyond their historical importance, the photographs are evocative and in some cases very beautiful.

The other cache contained images not quite so old and of less general interest but of personal importance. My mother moved from the house she had occupied for decades into a smaller apartment and while preparing to move she found the proverbial shoe box of old pictures in a closet. Some of the images are from my youth, some from hers, and some even from her parents'. One of the photographs, from 1931, shows my paternal great-grandparents. …