S01 E10
16 Aug 2021/01:26:21

The Showstopper Show

Oxide and Friends Twitter Space: August 16th, 2021

The Showstopper Show
We’ve been holding a Twitter Space weekly on Mondays at 5p for about an hour. Even though it’s not (yet?) a feature of Twitter Spaces, we have been recording them all; here is the recording for our Twitter Space for August 16th, 2021.
In addition to Bryan Cantrill and Adam Leventhal, speakers on August 16th included special guests G. Pascal Zachary (see gpascalzachary.com), and Jessamyn West (see jessamyn.medium.com), as well as Dan Cross, Tom Lyon, Josh Clulow, and others. (Did we miss your name and/or get it wrong? Drop a PR!)
Some of the topics we hit on, in the order that we hit them:
  • G. Pascal Zachary’s “Showstopper! The Breakneck Race to Create Windows NT and the Next Generation at Microsoft” book
  • Tracy Kidder’s “The Soul of a New Machine” book
  • [@0:46](https://youtu.be/hlQuF75L4TE?t=46) “The endless debate of NT vs Unix.” 
    • Bryan: My whole career was kind of defined by going where Windows wasn’t. I don’t know what I was expecting, but what I found was a real time capsule from software development in the 90’s.
  • [@2:46](https://youtu.be/hlQuF75L4TE?t=166) Jessamyn: There was some familial impact (from developing DG Eclipse) that wasn’t mentioned in the book. 
    • “O, Engineers!” retrospective from wired
  • [@6:30](https://youtu.be/hlQuF75L4TE?t=390) What was Kidder’s process? “He lived in my house!”
  • [@8:32](https://youtu.be/hlQuF75L4TE?t=512) Zachary interviewed family members extensively. > People couldn’t leave, they were staying at the office all the time.
  • [@14:23](https://youtu.be/hlQuF75L4TE?t=863) I do feel this is a time capsule. A time before two mega-trends hit: the Internet and open source.
  • [@17:33](https://youtu.be/hlQuF75L4TE?t=1053) Microsoft was kind of a joke software company in the early 90’s. > Dave Cutler was a force of nature.
  • [@19:59](https://youtu.be/hlQuF75L4TE?t=1199) No one understood why someone was good at coding. It was a mystery to everyone, why there was such a wide stratification of coders. > There were projects that never saw the light of day. 
    • Ashton-Tate, dBase > There was a sense from Cutler and Perazzoli, that leadership of the team, > that these guys at Microsoft really didn’t get how serious the process > of building this battleship was.
    • I think the level of anguish did surprise me.
  • [@23:59](https://youtu.be/hlQuF75L4TE?t=1439)
     In “Soul of the New Machine,” the machine was the star, and people served it. East Coast vs West Coast attitudes. > On the West Coast, the personal computer were supposed to help you > actualize your counter-cultural values. 
    • Ken Olsen of DEC > Computing is equivalent with IBM. There was no software industry > so long as IBM gave all the software away for free.
  • [@26:09](https://youtu.be/hlQuF75L4TE?t=1569) Crashes. > Wozniak dreamed of owning > his own PDP > computer, which cost as much as a house. So he was aware of the robustness > of the minicomputer, and by contrast, the puny power of a personal computer. 
    • Thirtysomething > Dave Cutler was not cuddly. He was menacing, he could lose his temper. > And I tried not to get to close to him physically for that reason. > There were two looming father figures in Cutler and Gates. > And I think it created a lot of anxiety.
  • [@29:52](https://youtu.be/hlQuF75L4TE?t=1792) The stakes for NT at Microsoft were high. 
    • Fred Brooks’ “The Mythical Man-Month” book > It was a watershed moment in the history of computing. > It was more like the last battleship, rather than the next frontier.
    • Bryan: I didn’t realize this, that Gates was arguing against memory protection with Cutler. From our perspective, shipping an operating system without memory protection, in an era when microprocessors supported it, is malpractice.
  • [@33:14](https://youtu.be/hlQuF75L4TE?t=1994) Cutler’s vendetta against Unix. > Conflict was at the heart of innovation at Microsoft at that time. 
    • Mitch Kapor of Lotus. > These early personal computer innovators were dismissed and sometimes > humiliated by mainstream big iron people of the 60’s and 70’s.
    • Bill Gates’ “The Road Ahead” book doesn’t mention the internet.
    • Zachary’s “Endless Frontier: Vannevar Bush, Engineer of the American Century” book > Computers on the West Coast were seen as extensions of your creativity, > and a tool for liberation. And for a long time that dominated the horizons.
  • In 2005 Gates and Ballmer don’t want to do cloud computing. “Who’s gonna want to put their stuff in the cloud?” We’ve found that computing is a collective experience.
  • [@38:28](https://youtu.be/hlQuF75L4TE?t=2308) Email and personal messaging 
    • Sun Ray thin client computer
    • Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson’s “The UNIX time-sharing system” paper > Unix was an experiment in collaboration.
    • RSX-11 for the PDP-11. And VMS for the VAX. > The attitude of looking down on Unix (as undesigned, academic) is > carried forward by Microsofties today.
    • Tom: You can forgive Cutler’s misgivings, because Unix pretty much stole the thunder out of VMS.
  • [@42:24](https://youtu.be/hlQuF75L4TE?t=2544) Interviews for the book. Family members perspective on workplace behavior. 
    • Betty Shanahan, Society of Women Engineers. Brief Q&A
    • EAGLE (Eclipse Appreciation and Gratitude for Lonely Evenings) award > Betty’s husband got an award for having to do his own laundry…
    • Jessamyn’s “Women in Early Tech” blog entry about Shanahan
  • [@48:10](https://youtu.be/hlQuF75L4TE?t=2890) Where did these engineers end up? They are broadly no longer engineers. This project burned people out. 
    • Short 1993 article by Zachary: “After two years in ship mode… a lot of people are angry, tired, and burned out.”
    • Johanne Caron, linkedin
    • Pascal: Kidder was like a fly on the wall. I was doing reconstruction as well as observation. I talked to family members to get the whole picture.
  • [@53:20](https://youtu.be/hlQuF75L4TE?t=3200) Cutler got to run his own show. > Ken Olsen was like the LBJ > of the computer industry: he’s waist deep in the big money. 
    • Corporate culture. Hotshot coders. Renegades, rebels, hero programmers. > It’s the majesty and mystery of code writing, that there’s such a wide > range of performance.
    • Pascal: I wasn’t invited to the 25 year anniversary of the NT team..
  • [@1:01:47](https://youtu.be/hlQuF75L4TE?t=3707) Journalists and companies. > Soul of a New Machine was very flattering to the company. 
    • Jobs backdated stock options, in violation of clear federal law. Gates repeatedly stole things. > The hobbyists were a small market, Microsoft needed to sell to corporations.
    • Zachary’s “Software, the Invisible Technology” 2016 essay > Where we used to relate to programs, we now relate to services.
  • I think there needs to be a greater literature of software: the making of it, its purpose, its vulnerabilities, its values.
    • Tom: It’s because us practitioners are too embarrased about it all..
  • [@1:05:49](https://youtu.be/hlQuF75L4TE?t=3949) Josh compares and contrasts. > Coders don’t have to test their own stuff. The second stringers do that. 
    • Pascal: I would encourage people to write more about software and how it’s created.
    • Zachary’s “Code Rush” film ~56mins about Netscape.
  • [@1:08:58](https://youtu.be/hlQuF75L4TE?t=4138) The rise of open source. Software as immutable artifact: once it’s written, it’s written. > Amazon, Google, Netflix are not possible without open source.
  • [@1:10:50](https://youtu.be/hlQuF75L4TE?t=4250) Jessamyn on helping people use tech. Accessibility > I’m a service oriented person. I work with > people who are struggling with technology.
  • [@1:15:24](https://youtu.be/hlQuF75L4TE?t=4524) Agency of users. > Bryan: Without memory protection, you would lose hours of work. > One bad application could cause the computer to reboot. 
    • Open source tools, and user accessible scripting/modding.
    • Gary Larson’s “The Far Side” comic “Blah blah blah Ginger”
    • Tweet series about Internet Explorer’s 25 year anniversary
  • [@1:22:01](https://youtu.be/hlQuF75L4TE?t=4921) Pascal’s parting thoughts. > The transformation of software from artifact into service, > is both fabulous and also scary. It changes all the time. > When NT was done, it was a fixed unchanging thing. 
    • Bryan: The darker side to services is people need to attend to it whenever it breaks.
    • Adam: It’s the death march with no end. > Pascal: Thanks everyone, I’d love to hear from you individually. > I’m interested in why people continue to turn to Showstopper > and find some value in it.
    • Pascal: I encourage you to think about the literary aspects of software. I think it’s valuable for society and civilization, for our culture, because there really is an artistic, artisanal side to software. Thanks again for including me.
If we got something wrong or missed something, please file a PR! Our next Twitter space will likely be on Monday at 5p Pacific Time; stay tuned to our Twitter feeds for details. We’d love to have you join us, as we always love to hear from new speakers!