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Dennis Ritchie

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Hugh Pickens writes "Ron Fournier and Sophie Quinton write in the National Journal that seven in 10 Americans believe that the country is on the wrong track; eight in 10 are dissatisfied with the way the nation is being governed, only 23 percent have confidence in banks, and just 19 percent have confidence in big business. Less than half the population expresses "a great deal" of confidence in the public-school system or organized religion. 'We have lost our gods,' says Laura Hansen. 'We've lost it—that basic sense of trust and confidence—in everything.' Humans are coded to create communities, and communities beget institutions. What if, in the future, they don't? People could disconnect, refocus inward, and turn away from their social contract. Already, many are losing trust. If society can't promise benefits for joining it, its members may no longer feel bound to follow its rules. But history reminds us that America's leaders can draw the nation together to solve problems. At a moment of gaping income inequality, when the country was turbulently transitioning from a farm economy to a factory one, President Theodore Roosevelt reminded Americans, 'To us, as a people, it has been granted to lay the foundations of our national life.' At the height of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt chastised the business and political leaders who had led the country into ruin. 'These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men,' said FDR. 'Restoration calls, however, not for changes in ethics alone. This Nation asks for action, and action now.'"


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I am no longer a part of Stack Exchange.

I still have much literal and figurative stock in the success of Stack Exchange, of course, but as of March 1st I will no longer be part of the day to day operations of the company, or the Stack Exchange sites, in any way.

It's been almost exactly 4 years since I chose my own adventure. In those four years, we accomplished incredible things together. Stack Overflow is now an enormous bustling city, a hugely positive influence on the daily lives of programmers around the world, a place to learn from and teach your peers. And the entire Stack Exchange network, born out of the seed of Stack Overflow, is a reference model of high signal, low noise, no-nonsense Q&A that makes the internet better for all of us. I could quote traffic figures, but to me that's not what it's all about. I prefer to think of it building something awesome, because I know that if you build it, they will come.

Stackoverflow-stackexchange-logos

And they did. I'll be damned if we didn't change our little corner of the Internet for the better. Possibly permanently. This is more than I could have ever hoped for, and I am honored to have been a founding and guiding part of it for the last four years. But I don't need to be a part of it forever – nor should I be, if I've been doing my job correctly. Stack Exchange was always about designing software and creating recipes for self-governing communities who love a particular topic. It is an honor to be a "just" a citizen of this community again, because as a citizen, I too have the power to shape its future. Just like you do.

Startup life is hard on families. We just welcomed two new members into our family, and running as fast as you can isn't sustainable for parents of multiple small children. The death of Steve Jobs, and his subsequent posthumous biography, highlighted the risks for a lot of folks:

For a long time, work was my only thing. I worked evenings, weekends, and Christmas. At those rare times when I wasn’t at work in body, I was there in spirit, unable to speak or think of much else. I wanted so badly to climb the mountain that I stopped asking why I was doing it.

I admire Steve for the mountains he climbed. At the same time, I wonder if he missed the whole point, becoming the John Henry of our time. He won the race, but at what cost?

Me? I may turn out to be a failure in business, but I refuse to fail my kids.

I've followed Brad Wardell's success for a long time, and he had a very similar reaction to Jobs' death.

In the last several years, the company has been successful enough to generate a substantial amount of capital. And with it, I have been fortunate to bring in people with great talent. And so I started thinking of all the amazing things we would do. I would put in crazy hours to do it, of course, but we would go and do amazing things.

Then Steve Jobs died.

And suddenly I realized something. What is the objective here? My oldest child just turned 15. My other two are no longer little either. And I have been missing out on them. And my wife.

For all the success and amazing accomplishments of Steve Jobs, in the end, nothing could save him. Death can come at any time. And I realized that if I found myself on death’s door, I would regret deeply not having spent more time with my kids when they were…well, kids.

You may have more discipline than I do. But for me, the mission is everything; I'm downright religious about it. Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange have been wildly successful, but I finally realized that success at the cost of my children is not success. It is failure.

I've met so many amazing people through Stack Exchange. First, the incredibly talented team of people who work for the company, many of whom I personally recruited. As far as I'm concerned, you are among the best in the world at what you do. That's why we hired you, and it has been an honor to serve with you. But more than that, the broader community that formed around a shared vision of making the Internet better through these beautiful public parks of curated, creative commons Q&A. I have continually been humbled by the brilliant minds that saw fit to work alongside us towards this goal, who selflessly contributed their own time and effort because they just plain loved this stuff as much as we do.

I will miss you all terribly.

What's next for me? I honestly don't know. I do know that I love the Internet, and I remain passionate as ever about making the Internet better – but right now I need to be with my family. In six months, perhaps I'll be ready to choose another adventure. I have total confidence that the team at Stack Exchange, and the thriving community that makes it so great, will carry Stack Exchange onward. After all, our shared voyage never ends, it just takes different forms.

Come, my friends.
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
the sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;

It may be that we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are —

One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Farewell, Stack Exchange. I hope you can understand that if I was hard on you at times, it was because I wanted you to be the best you could possibly be.

It was because I loved you.

[advertisement] What's your next career move? Stack Overflow Careers has the best job listings from great companies, whether you're looking for opportunities at a startup or Fortune 500. You can search our job listings or create a profile and let employers find you.

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Above: Cycling 74′s just-released video highlights enhanced audio quality; our friend, French artist protofuse, has a go at working with the beta and showing off the new user interface. (See C74′s official take on the new UI below.

Max 6 in Public Beta; For Home-brewing Music Tools Graphically, Perhaps the Biggest Single Update Yet

Just because a music tool fills your screen with tools and options doesn’t necessarily make it easier to realize your ideas. From the beginning, the appeal of Max – as with other tools that let you roll your own musical tools from a set of pre-built building blocks – has been the blank canvas.

Max 6 would appear to aim to make the gap between your ideas and those tools still narrower, and to make the results more sonically-pleasing. The reveal: it could also change how you work with patches in performance and production. I was surprised when early teasers failed to impress some users, perhaps owing to scant information. Now, Max 6 is available in public beta, and the details are far clearer. Even if Max 5 was the biggest user interface overhaul in many years, Max 6 appears to be the biggest leap in actual functionality.

It’s what I’d describe as a kitchen-sink approach, adding to every aspect of the tool, so there’s almost certain to be some things here you won’t use. What could appeal to new users, though, are I think two major changes.

More visual patching feedback and discoverability. First, building upon what we saw in Max 5, Max’s approach is to provide as much visual information as possible about what you’re doing. It’s probably the polar opposite of what we saw earlier this week in something like the live-coding environment Overtone: Max’s UI is actively involved with you as you patch. There are visual tools for finding the objects you want, then visual feedback to tell you what those objects do, plus an always-visible reference bar and rewritten help. This more-active UI should make Max more accessible to people who like this sort of visual reference as they work. No approach will appeal to everyone – some people will find all that UI a bit more than they like – but Max’s developers appear to be exploiting as much as they can with interactive visual patching.

Multiple patches at once. New objects for filters and data, a 64-bit audio engine, and low-level programming are all well and good. But the change that may more profoundly impact users and workflow is be the way Max 6 handles multiple patches. Max – and by extension Pd – have in the past made each patch operate independently. Sound may stop when you open a patch, and there’s no easy or fully reliable way to use multiple patches at once. (Compare, for example, SuperCollider, which uses a server/client model that lacks this limitation.) That changes with Max 6: you can now operate multiple patches at the same time, mix them together with independent volume, mute, and solo controls, and open and close them without interrupting your audio flow. (At least one reader notes via Twitter that you can open more than one patch at once – I’d just say this makes it better, with more reliable sound and essential mixing capabilities.) Update: since I mentioned Pd, Seppo notes that the pd~ object provides similar functionality in regards to multiple patches and multi-core operation. This has been an ongoing discussion in the libpd group, so I think we’ll revisit that separately!

One upshot of this change: some users have turned to Ableton Live just to host multiple patches. For users whose live performance set involves Ableton, that’s a good thing. But it could be overkill if all you want to do is bring up a few nifty patches and play with them. Now, I think we’ll start to see more people onstage with only Max again. (Check back in a few months to see if I’m right.)

Here’s an overview of what’s new:

  • Discoverability: A “wheel” makes the mysterious functions of different objects immediately visible; Object Explorer makes them easier to find, and new help and reference sidebar keep documentation close at hand.

  • 64-bit audio engine

  • Open multiple patches, solo and mute them, open and close them without stopping audio, mix audio between them with independent volume, and take advantage of multiple processors with multiple patches.

  • Low level building blocks: You don’t get new synth objects, but you could build them yourself. New low-level data-crunching goodness work with MSP audio, Jitter Matrix, and OpenGL textures

  • More JavaScript: An overhauled JavaScript engine makes JS scripting faster and more flexible, and there’s a proper text editor with syntax highlighting (though, of course, you may still prefer your own).

  • New visuals: Vector graphics and “HTML5 Canvas-like” UI scripting (though to me it’s a shame this isn’t just the HTML5 Canvas). There are also massively-expanded Jitter powers, but those are best left to our sister site Create Digital Motion.

  • Filters: New filter-visualizing tools for audio filter construction and manipulation.

  • Dictionary data type and associated objects let you describe information in a more structured way (all kinds of potential here from control to composition)

  • Projects now let you organize data, media, and scripts in the manner more associated with conventional development environments

  • What about Ableton? No news on that front, but I expect more soon. Max for Live users will at the very least get the advantages above, since Max for Live is really Max inside Live.

Looking over all that Max does, I have to say, I’m really amazed. I wonder if computer musicians ever pause to consider how fortunate we are. Even if this isn’t the tool for you, its availability – compounded by the availability of a range of other tools – is itself worth reflection.

Max is a program that shouldn’t exist, doing a number of things it shouldn’t do, for a user base that shouldn’t exist, doing things they shouldn’t be doing.

It doesn’t make sense that you could maintain a commercial project for this kind of audience, that you’d wind up with something this mature and powerful that had a continuous lineage stretching back to the 1980s. It doesn’t make sense that musicians would embrace such a tool and produce invention. The only explanation is sheer love.

Then, even as Max reaches new heights, some of the alternatives you have for making your own music tools are simultaneously growing by leaps and bounds. They provide very different approaches to music making (compare Overtone and SuperCollider, or Pd and libpd, or AudioMulch, or new Web audio tools). There really aren’t many fields that have this kind of choice, free and commercial, in their medium. In science and engineering, there’s private and public funding, producing some amazing tools but nothing with this kind of meeting of power and accesibility. There’s just something about music.

The fact that Cycling ‘74 can maintain a business model – just as open source projects maintain volunteer contributions – is a testament to sheer passion and love for music, and a commitment to perpetually re-imagining how that music is made from an atomic level up. There was a wonderful piece on C creator and UNIX co-creator Dennis Ritchie, whom I remembered yesterday, that observed that what he did was to do what others said couldn’t be done. From Max itself to what people make with it, I think that fits nicely.

So, have a look at the public beta, and let us know what you think. The release of Max 6 has caused more people to ask what this means for Pd and other tools, or even whether to patch things from scratch at all, but I’ll leave that question to a bit later. (I do have my own opinion about which tool fits which circumstance and user, but that’s best left to a separate discussion.) For now, you can try Max yourself and see what the fuss is about. If it doesn’t fit your means of music-making, know that you have a wide array of other options – pre-built to low-level code to old-fashioned tape-and-mic approaches, and everything in between. Go out and listen and see what you discover.

http://cycling74.com/downloads/max-6-public-beta/

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