GUIs: Control, Conveyance, Continuity, and Context

Scream of anguishI’m a sucker for basic principles distilled into pithy prescriptions.

A freelance writer, Brian Boyko, has distilled the basic features of graphical user interfaces (GUIs) into four principles: Control, Conveyance, Continuity, and Context. He uses them to structure a well-reasoned though shrill critique of Windows 8.

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A really simple Drupal 7 example module

I developed this module back when I managed my self-hosted Drupal system. Since then I’ve found that there’s more to life than managing your own web site, and that it’s cheaper and more effective to do it through WordPress.com even though I retain a fondness for Drupal. Yes, it’s ironic that this Drupal example is hosted on a WordPress server.

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Boston University’s RAX Library

(circa 1973-8)

Boston University (BU) developed its own timesharing system in the 1970s for its IBM 360 and 370 mainframes. The system was based on the batch-oriented Remote Access Computing System (RACS) developed by IBM. McGill University also participated in RAX development, but their version was renamed “McGill University System for Interactive Computing” (MUSIC). Although many of the details are lost in the mists of time, both systems used some text processing tools developed at BU.

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Pragmatic Security: the history of the Visa card

BankAmericard welcome signI’ve been looking at the evolution of electronic funds transfer (EFT) and payment systems recently. My research uncovered a gem: about two years ago, David Stearns completed a dissertation that looks at the early evolution of the Visa card (originally “Bank Americard”) in the context of other evolving electronic payment systems. Stearns’ work is both readable and filled with interesting information.

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Boak’s Puzzle: Disposing of Classified Trash

Boak's History of US COMSECRecently I was skimming through the NSA’s “classified history of COMSEC” (Volume 1 and Volume 2).  This “history” is a transcription of lectures by David G. Boak, who liked to explain NSA-related topics from a historical perspective. He clearly inspired a generation of NSA’s employees. The last “real” page of the document contains a humorous story and a crypto puzzle (link to extract in pdf).

The NSA had an incinerator in their old Arlington Hall facility that was designed to reduce Top Secret crypto materials and such to ash. Someone discovered that it wasn’t in fact working. Contract disposal trucks had been disposing of this not-quite-sanitized rubish, and officers tracked down a huge pile in a field in Ft. Meyer.

How did they dispose of it? The answer is encrypted in the story’s text! Continue reading Boak’s Puzzle: Disposing of Classified Trash