Sunday, May 26, 2013

Trail of Techs

Technologies I've Known

I'm not sure what provoked the idea, but some reflection of mine on a long gone technology inspired me to make a word cloud from the technologies I've wrestled with in my time.

Some readers here may have become familiar with Wordle  ( as a handy online tool to create word clouds from source material you supply.  It seemed a perfect tool to visualize this set of operating systems, programming languages, and communication protocols.

The job of creating the word could was easy. A quick list of the names typed into a Google Doc gave me the source material.

A visit to the Wordle website allowed me to paste the words in and experiment with layout for a bit until I had the look and distribution I wanted.

Where I find this particularly interesting is when the process creates the word cloud from a substantial body of work. The primary concepts begin to emerge visually and the tone of the work can be seen a little as well.

Since this was a simple list and the frequency of the words' appearance could not be used to emphasize the important ones, I had to use an advanced feature of the tool at Wordle.

This one allowed me to supply a weighted list of words and phrases and using that it would generate the image.  A little bit of experimentation here with the weights and layout -- and a picture finally emerged that in my opinion, effectively depicts and emphasizes the technologies that have required my attention.

The fun part about this was admiring the final result.  As my eyes wander over it, I am reminded of the quirks and crannies that I've had to discover and adapt to.  I have to confess that a tear comes to my eye when I think back fondly to the rock-solid sturdiness of SCO Unix. It was rock solid that is, if you could somehow live through the installation process from 42 floppy disks and the complex partitioning of your hard drives as you did the installation. There was always the fear that disk #39 would be bad.

I love thinking back to the wild-west chaos of Perl programming syntax where everyone was free to write the program in a completely different way and in a completely different style. And Everyone did! So almost every feature addition or bug fix by a new programmer required that "the whole thing had to be rewritten from scratch."

I remember defending the hermetically sealed isolation between Java programmers and their beloved pointers. And promising that program startup time was not consistent with runtime performance, so it would be okay to write server code with it, maybe even more than user facing code.

I remember arguing with Solaris kernel engineers about the pros and cons to various memory segmentation strategies. And marveling at the elegance of a new filesystem design that seemed capable of lasting through a virtually infinite number of iterations through Moore's Law.

I remember scoffing at the simplicity of HTML and then learning that being simple doesn't mean being easy, and realizing that I'd have to internalize many of the fundamentals (and quirks) of this markup language simply in order to get my job done.

There are dozens of other memories that come back as I look at the trail. I hope that as you gaze upon the odd path through the technologies of the past couple of decades, you'll find your own memories of that time come to light. It's been quite a ride so far, hasn't it?

If you feel inspired to make your own technology Wordle, be sure and drop back in to let us know where to see it.