A Visionary

Technology has changed our world so much in the last 100 years that it’s a bit of a cliché to say it. My grandparents grew up in Bodie, California, where three generations of Dolans, McDonnells and Bells lived for several decades. People who visit the mining ghost town of Bodie, a California State Park, today will see a glimpse of the difficult conditions in that beautiful and desolate place. My family were mechanics, miners, engineers, and assayers. Most of them worked on the technology of mining.

A few years ago, my grandmother gave me her dad’s Trautwine Engineering manual. Leafing through this little tome, you get a feeling for the level of engineering and technology of the day. It’s signed inside by my great-grandfather, “Harry F. Dolan, Bodie, CA. Green Creek Power Plant, Feb. 1., 1913.”

A little over 50 years later, we would be taking men to the moon, and using everyday technology that would have been fantasy in my great-grandfather’s day. I was a small child and marveled, as all kids did then, at the space program and the astronauts.

But nobody around me in my childhood knew what was going on, not too far away, in an area that would become known as Silicon Valley. A small group of researchers were working on computers and thinking about what might be possible with them someday. Their ideas continue to directly shape computing and communications technology today. They built a system demonstrating their ideas, and on December 9th, 1968, fifty years ago today, they demonstrated the system in what has become known as The Mother of All Demos.

In the late ‘60’s, there were plenty of visionaries talking about what computers and technology would do in the future. Some of them had pretty good ideas, and some of them were right about what might happen. But Doug Englebart and his colleagues built something and showed us.

The demonstration of the system was itself a wonder of the time. The computers were down in Menlo Park at SRI (Stanford Research Institute), and a half-dozen people were working to keep the demonstration working. There are times when Engelbart pauses the demonstration to describe what’s happening and some detail about how it’s working, and we know now that he was stalling for time while his team re-establish the connection to the computers, or otherwise fix some problem while Engelbart filled time.

It is worth taking a moment to think about what computer technology was like and what it meant to create this system and demonstrate it before a live audience. This was five years before Bob Metcalf invented Ethernet, and six years before Robert Kahn and Vint Cerf released the original spec for TCP/IP, the foundation technology that today we call the internet.

The system that Doug Englebart demonstrated in 1968 started as an advanced computing project funded by ARPA, the Advanced Research Projects Agency. The ideas presented would become the basis for new ways of interacting with computers.

The original video of the Mother of All Demos has been assembled into a set of three videos, about 30 minutes each, by the Doug Engelbart Institute. They are viewable on YouTube:

Part 1:

[https://youtu.be/M5PgQS3ZBWA]

Part 2:

[https://youtu.be/hXdYbmQAWSM]

Part 3:

[https://youtu.be/FCiBUawCawo]

For more information about Doug Engelbart, and the Mother of All Demos, the Doug Engelbart Institute is a fantastic resource.

[http://www.dougengelbart.org/content/view/209/448/]

If you are interested in more about the history of Silicon Valley and modern computing, I recommend Fire in the Valley, by Michael Swaine and Paul Freiberger. They recently released an updated Third Edition. It’s my favorite history of Silicon Valley and computing.

[https://pragprog.com/book/fsfire/fire-in-the-valley]

On Passwords

I find I’m repeating myself, but it is important.

Use a Password Manager – I recommend 1Password.

It will make your online life simpler and easier, and you get better security, too.

It makes your life easier, because you will have your passwords with you whether you are on your computer, or your phone, or a tablet. It will make your life simpler by remembering your passwords automatically and filling them in for you whenever and wherever you need.

The improved security is largely a function of this simplicity and ease-of-use. Because it’s easy and simple, you will use 1Password to create good strong passwords automatically for you — passwords that are far more complex than anything you would ever make up, let alone try to type. They also have great features like Family Plans and sharing passwords in your family or team.

The only downside is getting started. It’s not that hard, but there are some ways of thinking about things that seem at first a bit odd and maybe even confusing.

That’s why I’m happy to hear that the folks at The Sweet Setup have created a course on 1Password. These are people who do really great courses on how to use some of my favorite apps, and they are one of my trusted sites for reviews. (They are not paying me for this endorsement, and I don’t think they even know me)

Their course will also be on sale for a special low price of $23 for the first few days.

So pick up a copy of 1Password, if you haven’t already. And [See Below!] for a link to the new course over at The Sweet Setup, or go there now and sign up for their newsletter so that you get notified directly of this and other course releases and articles. They also have posted an article describing the course.

Here’s the Link to the new course on 1Password:

https://thesweetsetup.com/1password/

Oh, and there’s this! From The Sweet Setup:

BONUS: We have partnered with the folks at 1Password to offer you an extended, 90-day free trial of 1Password for Families (a $9.98 value). After you purchase the course, you’ll get a special link from us to use in order to sign up for 1Password with your extended trial.

Yet another reason to try the course, and 1Password!

A Better Facebook

Simple Steps to get the shit out of your newsfeed

I’ve done a bit of cleanup on Facebook in the last few days, and with great success. All I did was “Hide all from …” for a handful of pages on Facebook. In the iOS app, it’s two clicks: the … on the upper right of the post and then “Hide all from…” Once I started, I was truly surprised how few it took before my Facebook feed was noticeably better.

I have a big pile of friends. My life has taken me many places and connected me to many people and though I have not kept up with all of them as well as I might, Facebook has helped. It has reconnected me with many wonderful people and I love it for that.

But there’s some stuff that’s shared that diminishes the rich experience of connecting with my friends and family.

A lot of that stuff comes from just a few “pages” on Facebook that seem to exist just to drive people apart. Well, maybe some exist just to make money, but their formula is to create “memes” that play on divisions and drive “us vs them” attitudes.

Important: Many of the pages that I’ve blocked express ideas that I agree with, mostly. But I still don’t want them in my Facebook feed. Because it’s easy to fall into the trap of letting yourself get riled up by stupid shit that you agree with. This is very important, because I see this hurting a lot of my friends and family. They are constantly looking at and sometimes sharing stuff that turns the ratchet on their anxiety, anger, frustration, or even hatred.

What I’m not going to do is give you a list of the stuff I’ve blocked. I am giving this idea to you and hope that you also will do a little cleanup of your Facebook. Do it for yourself. The good stuff, the fascinating stuff, the important stuff will still find you. And you’ll enjoy Facebook more and also enjoy more all those wonderful people in your life, wherever they are.

Love as a Force for Social Justice | Stanford University

Link

 

On this beautiful Christmas morning, I want to recommend a gift you can give to yourself, this course.

My friend Anne Firth Murray teaches this course (and others) at Stanford University and now it’s available as an online course through Coursera. Although it officially starts today, I’m already well into it and can attest to its quality and power.

We can all use some of the connection and kindness in the love described in this course. I hope you get as much out of this course as I am.

Hosting Conversations

For almost a year now, Joell and I have been hosting a series of events at our home to explore important ideas in a group conversation setting. We call it Salon. It’s been a great experience and we intend to do more of these events in the coming months.

But we’re also experimenting with something new: hosting arts events as a spark to the conversation.

Our friends Llysa Holland and Andrew Litzky run a theater program in Seattle called theater simple. For 27 years they’ve been producing wonderful theatrical experiences — over 1100 performances on three continents. (Including work with Make A Wish foundation producing fantasy experiences for the Make A Wish kids.)

One of their recent productions caught our eye. The Fever is solo play by Wallace Shawn. (My Dinner with Andre’ as co-writer and actor; and a long list of credits as playwright and actor, from All That Jazz and Taxi to Toy Story and The Princess Bride)

In the theater simple production, Llysa Holland plays the lead, an American sick with fever in a hotel in an unnamed small country in the middle of a revolution.

My hope is that this is the beginning of a series of events in our home where we use theater, music, and other arts as a catalyst for meaningful conversation. Please join us.

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/joell-and-darius-dunlap-present-the-fever-by-wallace-shawn-tickets-40153324675

Know-How

From Hobbies to Trade Skills to Artistic Expression, developed knowledge and improved craft is the mark of accomplishment — Coding is no different.

– Darius Dunlap

I wish schools still had Shop, and Band, and Art. I believe there is a kind of mental development that’s missing without them. And I believe that these kinds of classes — focused on doing and making — support and expand the skills of reading, writing, arithmetic, problem solving, and other key skills we all want kids to develop.

These days there is a lot of talk about “Learning to Code.” And that would be great, except for this aura of magic around it. Because learning to code is really a lot like learning carpentry, or photography, or learning to cook. The basics are pretty simple, though that is not evident to the uninitiated. And full expertise is a lifetime pursuit. And most of us are content with a modest competence.

Learning to code is easier than it has ever been. Not because it’s become simpler, but because the tools have become better, specifically in that they allow you to do something useful more easily and with less knowledge and skill.

Photography is undergoing and transformation in a similar way. It’s not that the pictures we take with our phones and fancy digital cameras are better than film for the expert photographer, but that these new tools provide immediacy. You can take a picture and instantly see it. You can learn from every photograph taken, right there, right then, and take another and another until you get the photo you want. You take more photos, too. Your photography improves at a pace and in ways that would have required much more patience, organization, focus, and effort a couple decades ago when the turn-around was so much slower.

Deep expertise still takes years, but the basics are more accessible than ever.

It’s the same for coding.

Mastering coding, or more properly Software Engineering and Computer Science, is not something every needs to do. it’s probably not something every could do, even if they tried. It’s a deep field and the complexity of the most advanced techniques are beyond those without an aptitude. At the very highest level, it requires not just superior mathematics and problem solving, but also philosophy and compassion — designing systems requires thinking beyond the immediate technical problem to understand how the system fits into the world and how people are going to use it. The people who can do all of this well are rare.

But for the rest of us, our needs are simpler. We can create something that solves a straightforward problem, using the excellent tools developed over the last several decades, and never have to think about the mathematics of drawing the curve at the corner of our icon or the physics of making our animation look natural, or the details of setting up a server and keeping it reliable and secure.

So “Learning to Code” is a lot like learning to cook. It doesn’t mean we will all become master chefs with Michelin-rated restaurants. But it does mean we can learn to make a good loaf of hand-made bread from natural starter that’s better than what you can get off the shelf at the grocers.

Most importantly, learning to code, like taking shop or joining the band in high school, helps you get better at other things. It helps you solve problems in other domains, and it develops your mind.

Your Online Home

Big companies on the internet make it easy for you to just rely on them for everything you need online. But there’s value in having your own place independent of your Internet Provider (ISP) or other companies.

By having your own internet domain, and the basic services to go with it, you get at least a continuous place where your stuff lives, and where people can find you.

Your Own Domain, Step-by-Step

  1. Find and Purchase a domain name on Hover.com
  2. Setup email on Hover.com or G Suite.
  3. Setup a simple website with Squarespace.com or WordPress.com
  4. Connect other services to your domain.

Basics of setting up your own domain

Most essential is an internet domain of your own and a place to send and receive email. There are many outside services that do this, but I recommend specific companies below. The companies that get my recommendation all have excellent support and reliable service and work well for people who want an independent place of their own on the internet without having to become a web server and email guru.

Find and Purchase a Domain Name

When you buy a domain name, like dariusdunlap.com, you want to work with a reputable company that provides good technical support and an easy-to-understand system for buying and maintaining your domain.

Hover.com

My recommendation is Hover.com. It’s where I maintain all my domain names and the related administration stuff. They also have just about the best service and best technical support of any company I’ve worked with. Call them if you don’t believe me. They even have a concierge service for setting up or moving your domain.

Setup Email

Hover.com also has great email plans that make it simple to have your own email. This is what I use for my personal and business email.

Google also provides great email service in their “Google Apps.” If you like the speed, reliability and great features of gmail, consider using Google Apps for your domain. It’s a great service. As a non-profit, Square Peg Foundation uses Google Apps, including gmail, for free thanks to Google’s generosity. (If you run or are involved with a non-profit, I highly recommend Google’s non-profit programs)

Another service I should mention is Mailroute.net — they provide email filtering against Spam, viruses and scams, plus other services to keep your email secure and reliable. If you use Google for your email then Mailroute is not necessary, but for most other email providers, it’s a nice and reliable addition.

Setup a Simple Website

Lots of services have nice tools for creating your own website. I recommend Squarespace as a simple way to get yourself setup with your own website. You can even try it out without any commitment. For more advances uses, I recommend WordPress. You can use WordPress.com or one of the excellent WordPress hosting providers. I will write more on WordPress in another post.

Connect Other Services

Hover.com makes it easy to Connect various popular services to your domain, including Etsy, Shopify, Squarespace, and About.me. Their Technical Support team is also very helpful if you don’t see your favorite service on their list. Just select “Connect” in your Hover.com Control Panel for your domain.

More Info on getting yourself online

The principles of creating and owning your own presence online are well expressed by my friends at IndieWeb.org. I will be writing more on IndieWeb, Online Services, and the Open Internet in the coming weeks. I’ll also be updating and revising this article over time.

Education and Learning with Joi and Mimi Ito

This is a great listen for parents, educators, and anyone interested in how kids (and adults) learn. It’s a conversation between Joi Ito and his remarkable sister Mimi about learning, education, digital media and more. You can find it on YouTube and Soundcloud and Joi’s website:

Youtube —  https://youtu.be/P0CxCR9Uj60

SoundCloud — https://soundcloud.com/joi-ito/33-conversation-with-mimi-ito

Joi’s website — http://podcast.ito.com/33-conversation-with-mimi-ito

If you’re not familiar with Joi and Mimi, here’s a good start:

Mimi Ito — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mizuko_Ito
Joi Ito — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joi_Ito

iPhone Changed Everything

iPhone and Tea

10 years ago today, Steve Jobs introduced the world to a new thing — the iPhone. Even if you are familiar with the event, have seen the video, or were there, it may not occur to you how weak the reception was in that room, that day.

With remarkable style, Steve Jobs setup the context masterfully, and then said,

… we’re introducing three revolutionary products….

(Polite clapping and a couple whoops)

Continue reading “iPhone Changed Everything”

Love and Fear


Yesterday I was cleaning up around the house and enjoying the latest Tim Ferris Show, What I learned in 2016, and right in the beginning was reminded of Oprah’s idea that there are only two emotions, Love and Fear.

We push back from this sort of idea. It’s too simple, we say. “I’m not afraid of anything”, we say. But as Tim Ferris says in his rapid-fire style:

Continue reading “Love and Fear”