Be careful what you wish for

John Siracusa finally gets a blog. Now what?


About a year ago, while playing around in Google to see who’s saying what about one of my recent articles, I came across a blog post that said something like, “That John Siracusa guy is great. I’ll read anything he writes!” Well, the time has come to put that to the test. Ars has seen fit to give me my own blog, and I intend to use it.

As anyone who’s read one of my articles knows, I have a lot to say. (One of the titles I considered for this blog was “I Have An Opinion!”) But articles are limited to a single topic. For me, that’s usually Apple hardware and software. What about everything else? Enter the vanity journal: a place where I can do like the bloggers do and spew forth every little thought that pops into my head.

Okay, well, not really. But I will often stray from the topic of Apple, even if I do tend to stay within the realm of geekery. I’m also open to suggestions. If you have questions for me or some topic you’d like to hear me expound upon, just email me. Remember, I have an opinion!

About the title

After talking with Caesar, it became apparent that there are computing heathens among us who do not know what FatBits is. FatBits was a feature of the original version of MacPaint that magnified the drawing area to 8x its normal size. This allowed the user to manipulate the picture one pixel at a time. You can see an example in the screenshot above.

The original Macintosh had a 1-bit display; a pixel was either black or white. The pencil tool in MacPaint took advantage of this simplicity. Instead of drawing in black or white, the pencil tool toggled the state of pixels. A single click turned a black pixel white and vice versa, while a click-and-drag drew a line using the inverse color of the first pixel clicked at the start of the drag. Command-clicking with the pencil tool toggled FatBits on and off. Holding down the option key turned the pencil into the “hand” tool used for moving around the drawing area.

Thus did the MacPaint become the ultimate power in the nascent GUI universe--a program that Don Knuth has recently described as “probably the best program ever written.”

I just explained one very tiny corner of the application that began my life with the Mac in 1984. A straightforward implementation of these features would be very different. The pencil tool would draw in a single color. The magnifying feature would be a separate tool or menu command. The hand tool would also be selected and used separately. In fact, many years later, MacPaint imitators for other platforms followed these “obvious” rules in their interfaces, entirely missing what made MacPaint such a special program.

And remember, this was the original release of MacPaint. There were few comparable predecessors from which to learn. This was not a refinement of a venerable application. This was not the polish that comes after several years of end-user feedback and major revisions. This was version one. It seemed to spring, fully formed, from the forehead of Zeus. It was, to a ten year-old John Siracusa, the greatest program he’d ever seen.

So why is FatBits the title of my blog? Aside from the obvious nostalgia trip and old school Mac cred, I think it’s good fit for my personality, and my writing style here at Ars. I spent a lot of time in FatBits as a kid. I am (and was, even at ten years old) the kind of person who’s not satisfied until every single pixel is just so. What I do here at Ars is write about Apple with the same spirit as I twiddled pixels in MacPaint, activating my own mental FatBits mode as needed to examine interesting corners of Mac OS X, nearly imperceptible flaws in Apple’s hardware, and so on.

Call it attention to detail, if you will…although it may less charitably be described as borderline obsessive-compulsive. But that’s me; WYSIWYG.

This article originally appeared at Ars Technica. It is reproduced here with permission.