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Section :: Features
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Now We Are Three

Yup, It’s the third birthday of Bitwise! So what’s changed...?
Sunday 1 June 2008.

Well, time really has flown! The first issue Bitwise went online in June, 2005. At that time, I was recovering from a long (10 year) stint as the Delphi programming columnist for PC Plus magazine in the UK - which may explain why the content of that first issue of Bitwise had a decidedly Pascal-like flavour.

There was a an article by me all about writing a screen capture program in Delphi and another article by Bob Swart all about writing a Blog application in Delphi. Just for good measure, we also carried an interview with marc hoffman about the Rem Objects’ Pascal language, Chrome, and another interview with Anders Hejlsberg who, before becoming the architect of C# had been the chief architect of - yup, you guessed it! - Delphi!

Issue One did cover other topics too - including software reviews, articles about learning foreign languages online, Smalltalk and C# tutorials and Dermot Hogan’s guide to serial communications using Visual Basic 6 - an article which (much to my surprise) continues, month on month, to be one of the most popular features on the entire Bitwise site even now. And who said VB6 was dead...?

Anyway, take a trip down memory lane and read the editorial and articles from our very first issue HERE. (Incidentally, my dog has grown quite a bit since the picture on that page was taken too...!)

Why Bitwise?

Let me tell you a bit about the motivation for creating Bitwise in the first place. The fact of the matter is that I’ve been writing articles for computer magazines for a very long time. I began back in the mid 1980s. The first article I ever wrote was a short software review for a magazine called ‘What Micro?’. At the time I was earning my living by interviewing pop stars such as George Michael, Kim Wilde, Depeche Mode, Boy George and Duran Duran. It was in order to type those articles faster that I bought my first PC - an Olivetti M-24. As a hobby, I thought I might as well learn how to program the darn’ thing and so spent the next year writing an adventure game in Turbo Pascal. After doing that, I decided to have a go at computer journalism and I’ve been doing it ever since.

One of my first regular jobs was as a columnist for Computer Shopper magazine in the UK. In its launch issue, I wrote a column called ‘Rants and Raves’ and I continued writing that column for several years until a rival magazine, PC Plus, made me a better offer to write a column called ‘Rants and Raves’ for them instead - and also to record ‘Rants and Raves’ videos for their cover disc. Well, I wrote that column for PC Plus for another decade or so and, along the way, recorded a few dozen videos - everything from serious interviews with software developer-types to less serious pieces in which I and the then features editor, Mary Branscombe, re-enacted old TV series such as The Avengers and Quantum Leap, claiming, under the flimsiest of pretexts, that this was relevant to computer-related topics. Anyhow, I guess someone somewhere must have liked what we did as I was subsequently commissioned to do some similarly silly computer-related features for BBC TV (the blue screens were bigger but the budget alas, was not!).

Over the years, PC Plus editors came and went, and so did a few important little clauses in my contract. I won’t bore you with the details, but the time eventually came when I decide to follow their lead. Just like the editors and the clauses, I too jumped ship... bye bye, PC Plus, and thanks for all the fish.

For a while, my column migrated onto the web in pretty much its traditional form - one column per month - see here: http://www.rantsandraves.co.uk. For old time’s sake, I even put a few of the old (and deeply embarrassing) Rants and Raves videos online - complete with the usually very serious Mary Branscombe dressed up as a Village Person and, beating the living daylights out of me in the name of art. Watch and tremble.

Tempus Fugit

The saddest event in the history of Bitwise was the death of my old friend and colleague, Wilf Hey. Wilf was a man of great intellect and boundless enthusiasm. While he too was a long-time columnist for PC Plus (exploring algorithms in the popular ‘Wilf’s Workshop’), his great love was mathematics. I was delighted when he agreed to write a column on Bitwise called Mathematical Digressions devoted to ‘recreational mathematics’.

I am not a mathematician myself so it takes someone of genius to get me interested in maths - it says a great deal for Wilf’s ability to communicate his knowledge and enthusiasm that he managed to accomplish that difficult task. In his columns for Bitwise he covered a bewildering array of truly bizarre topics ranging from the mathematical significance of the shape of mint humbugs to the maths of card tricks.

See all Wilf’s columns here:
- http://www.bitwisemag.com/copy/wilf/wilf.html
and here:
- http://www.bitwisemag.com/2/-Wilf-s-Mathematical-Digressions-

The Rise Of Ruby

My interest in Ruby dates from about the same time as the launch of Bitwise. Released at last from the shackled of deadlines for my monthly magazine columns, I started experimenting with languages that were new to me. One of these was Ruby.

In common with most Ruby newbies, I was initially attracted to the language by the strange sounding ‘Ruby On Rails’ which all the coolest kids were burbling about at the time. And, just like other Ruby newbies, I had precious little idea what Ruby was, what Rails was and whether or not the two were different from one another. Well, I soon discovered that Rails was a pretty neat framework and that Ruby was a very nice language that tended to use words rather than curly-brackets (which appealed to the Pascal programmer in me) and was more truly object oriented than most other modern OOP languages (which appealed to the Smalltalk programmer in me).

In less time than it took to say “Let’s write a Ruby IDE for Visual Studio”, I had persuaded my colleague, Dermot Hogan, to set up an offshoot of his software consultancy and development company and dedicate ourselves to, well, writing a Ruby IDE for Visual Studio.

Over the past couple of years we’ve carried a lot of coverage of Ruby in Bitwise - not all of it written by me and not all of it uniformly favourable. While the Ruby IDE developer in me (he shares space with the Pascal and Smalltalk programmers!) wants to persuade the world to code in Ruby, the journalist in me (ah, it’s really getting crowded in there, I tell you!) believes that there are, at least two sides to every story, and creative criticism is always worth listening to. Sadly not everyone agrees and some of the most unpleasant and vitriolic comments that have ever appeared on Bitwise were posted in response to what I thought was an entirely reasonable critique of Ruby by Matthew Huntbach.

The Rich Kids

If the rise of dynamic languages such as Ruby and Python has been one of the notable features of the years since Bitwise began, another increasingly important trend has been the rise of the RIA - Rich Internet (or ‘Interactive’, if you prefer) Applications.

The two phenomena are not entirely unconnected. Microsoft’s Silverlight is, or will be, programmable using dynamic languages including .Net versions of Python and Ruby. But at the time of writing the all-dominant RIA technologies come not from Microsoft but from Adobe.

We’ve recently carried a few articles and interviews about developing RIAs using Adobe’s web framework, Flex, and its new desktop application framework, AIR - and we plan to have a great deal more coverage of these topics in the months ahead.

But I wonder what we’ll be writing about three years from now? Will Ruby have lived up to expectations? Will Rails be a major web development framework or a footnote in programming history? Will Flex be the face of the web? Or will Silverlight have displaced it?

Or will we all be interested in some quite other technology that I can’t even guess at...?

Tune in three years from now and let’s compare notes. ;-)

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