Around 20 years ago, enthralled by the database-like properties of the Be File System in BeOS, I decided to see if I could use the filesystem itself as a backing database for a live web server application. I ultimately wrote TrackerBase, and served betips.net from a BeBox in my home for a few years.
The basic idea was that BeOS let you create custom filetypes with custom attributes, and provided APIs for querying those attributes. The rest was just custom database query code, but without an actual database.
Fast forward two decades. I’m all-Mac now. I recently stumbled across the original .pkg installer for TrackerBase and wanted to have a look. Discovered that there was no way to open the package from the Mac side, and reached out to the Haiku community (Haiku is the open-source successor to BeOS). Within an hour, a community member provided me with a tarball, and I was able to see that code again for the first time in a long time.
It’s always embarrassing to look back on old code, but that was especially true in this case. And Perl? What was I thinking? Anyway, these days we have github, so I’ve just published the original code on github, untouched, for posterity’s sake. MIT license.
Irrelevant as it may be today, I’m still proud of it as a novel application of an innovative filesystem.
I’ve fallen out of like with the web’s usual April Fool’s day shenanigans (on account of being an old humorless curmudgeon), but this one hits joyously close to home.
Toward the end of the BeOS era, I was working with the publishers of the Linux Journal to create a sister publication, the BeOS Journal (this is true – not making this up). I was the senior editor, and had commissioned and packaged all of the content. We had the first issue in the bag and had already gone to layout when Be made the formal announcement that it was folding their cards. Of course, the BeOS Journal went down along with it, and issue #1 never saw the light of day.
But today is a great day. Seven years later, the publishers of Linux Journal have finally come to their senses, and have decided to drop Linux coverage in favor of full-time BeOS content. The introductory video speaks for itself.
The day we’ve anticipated for so long has finally arrived. I’m thrilled to see the technology world finally sitting up and taking notice of the greatest OS ever developed. Though I unfortunately can no longer promise to be a substantial contributor to the project, I’ll be reading BeOS Journal regularly and cheering from the sidelines. Hup hup!
Also excellent today: ThinkGeek is running a special on the Super Pii Pii Brothers video game for Wii controllers (see video). Now that’s compelling game content!
Back in the BeOS days, I created a public database of tips and how-to information for BeOS users, called the BeOS Tip Server (betips.net). The site had grown to around 700 tips when Be, Inc. finally went under and I went looking for another career. At that time, I handed ownership of the Tip Server over to a still-avid BeOS user, and didn’t think about it much again.
Late last year, I discovered that links to betips.net were dead. I contacted the owner, only to learn that the database and the site templates had been lost in a data disaster. I combed through my backups and archives and couldn’t find any sign of the templates. However, amazingly, I still had a copy of the mysql database. Dug my old x86 laptop out of the closet, booted BeOS for the first time in eons, and found the original site templates tucked away in a buried folder. Eureka! But ewww… all table-based and mid-90s looking… just fugly.
Even though I have almost no interest in BeOS these days, I was once proud of the site, both for the content it had amassed and for the method I had used to serve it (TrackerBase).
Couldn’t stand the thought of the whole thing being lost to history, so decided to resurrect the site. Took a fair bit of grunt work to clean up the data and get the tables into shape as a WordPress back-end, but the work is finally done, I’ve got control of the domain again, and intend to leave the site up for posterity. There’s a standing offer for any current BeOS/Haiku users to help clean up old content and start adding new.
BeOS has an open source descendant called Haiku. I’ve never run Haiku, but expect that most of the content on the site will apply for that OS as well. I’m also interested in having new Haiku-specific content added to the repository.
The fact that OS X still has no central FileTypes preferences panel for controlling associations between file types and the applications they launch in, defining new file types, seeing and editing metadata associated with filetypes, etc. is, IMO, a glaring omission from OS X. BeOS, of course, had File Types nailed. OS X has inherited and expanded on a lot of great ideas from BeOS over the past few years, but for some reason still keeps this kind of control out of the user’s hands (you can set the application associated with a file, or with all files “of this type” from Info property panels, but seriously – this kind of functionality should be baked into the system preferences panel.
The excellent RCDefaultApp gives you the control you’re looking for. Let’s just hope something similar is in Leopard.
&tConvening themes: The world viewed as a network of digital photographers collectively shooting every square inch of the globe, the ability to stitch those images together into a cohesive, navigable, continuous view, and the world-changing cognitive power of zooming through scale, now becoming commonplace.
Dan Sandler points out that Google Street View (which is mind-blowing both in its power and its privacy implications) is not only one of the few Google apps to require Flash, it’s also “the first Google app to feature the Be Man:”
Thanks for the images Dan.
Humor, history, and coincidence aside, Street View changes the world, just a little bit for the better and a little bit for the worse. For the SF Chronicle, Mark Morford on Street View as invasive: I Can See Your Thong From Here:
Ah, Google, you great wicked benevolent super-cool vaguely disturbing Big Brother überbitch mega-company, quietly taking over the entire goddamn Net universe and most of the terrestrial world, too, one cool but simultaneously unnerving innovation at a time. … The question has been raised: How much is too much? How much implied privacy should we have as a society, as a community, as a city, and do we let this sort of technology run free simply because the draconian creepiness of it all is so easily offset by how damn fascinating and helpful and nifty a utility it so very obviously is?
Posted last August about Photosynth, a product emerging from Microsoft Labs designed not only to be a digital photo album conceptually way beyond iPhoto or Aperture, but that is also capable of intelligently stitching together images from disparate sources into zoom-able, photographic, 3-D representations of places on earth. In this video from a recent TED conference, Blaise Aguera y Arcas demonstrates a 3-D, navigable reconstruction of the cathedral at Notre Dame created by stitching together images scraped from Flickr — photos taken with everything from cell phones to high-quality SLRs, by photographers who have never met one another.
I’ve been playing a bit with Flickr Maps and looking more into the options for geotagging photos, but Photosynth blows the doors off the concepts of 2-D image-place connections, opening up a realm where all photographers on earth are unintentionally collaborating on a single, global, steerable, zoomable view that never ends.
Steven Berlin Johnson did a fascinating seminar for The Long Now Foundation (available both as podcast and as a summarized blog entry) on what he calls “the long zoom” — an entirely new way of grokking our world, started by the famous Powers of 10 and now becoming almost de rigeur thanks to emerging photo / video / vector technologies. What once blew your mind (and all previous senses of scale and proportion in the universe) with “Powers of 10” has become an increasingly commonplace quick swoop around Google Earth to find a business address.
Just when you thought you’d never see an example of computing hardware as enchanting as the BeBox, original hardware designer Joseph Palmer announces its resurrection – this time with 16 processors! And you thought pervasive multithreading on two CPUs was good. While he was at it, Palmer has added 16 (yes, 16) MIDI ports, a RAID 5 drive config, 64GB memory, and two GeekPorts. I think my time with OS X just might be drawing to a close. I hear the Haiku project is thriving these days.
Whoa! Birdhouse reader Jamie Wilkinson just emailed to let me know he had been doing some BeOS research at Wikipedia, not found an entry for my name, and had decided to create one! I made some small tweaks and added a couple of scripts to the list, but Jamie did a great job of summarizing things accurately. Not sure whether this means I’ve arrived or been put out to pasture…
Back in 2001, I had some fun with Leonard Nimoy’s monologue Visit To a Sad Planet by shooting a series of overly literal scenes illustrating the piece, and editing them in Adamation’s personalStudio for BeOS. Decided tonight to put it up on YouTube, just because I could, and to see if gets any traction.
The Sad Planet page describes a bit of the shooting process.
Haven’t tried this myself, but a reader just pointed out SpotMeta, which extends the Mac OS X filesystem to include fully customizable metadata fields, presumably searchable by Spotlight.
Based on how OS X has progressively integrated some of the coolest features of BeOS, I predict that something similar to this will soon ship natively in the system. So I’m not exactly eager to start tacking on 3rd party extensions to the filesystem — yahweh knows how the two would interact when extensible metadata becomes “official.” But it’s cool to see people thinking in these terms.