Math Notes: Finally

6 Jul 2024

I’m a keen user of Readwise, a service that collects highlights you make in various places — Kindle, OCR from physical books, their own read later service — and presents them for review at spaced intervals. It’s a great way to get more out of your reading, and helps make connections you might otherwise miss.

Around the 40th anniversary of the Mac at the start of the year, I found myself reading a lot about the early history of the project, in particular the period when it was still being driven by Jeff Raskin. I noted down the following passage from Genesis and History of the Macintosh Project (in Stanford’s “Making the Macintosh: Technology and Culture in Silicon Valley” collection), but at the time only thought of it as one amongst many interesting details of the proto-Mac and Canon Cat.

The original concept gave the word processing program access to calculator ability without having to leave the word processing environment. Studies have shown that having a multiple level system is more confusing than a single level system. IBM’s Displaywriter has a similar but more primitive facility. This opens the way to office computation applications, and a further enhancement was proposed (at the instigation of Steve Jobs [This isn’t strictly true, but once he understood my idea of expanding a word processor to include all other functions, he said Like Visicalc? and I said that that was what I meant. But he often believed that any suggestion of his could not have been previously thought of and it was therefore politic at the time to give him credit for many things that other people had done.] ) to give the editor abilities similar to Personal Software’s Visicalc, except that the facilities would be embedded in the editor so that no file shifting would have to take place to use Visicalc results in a document or vice versa. [This whole concept was lost when Jobs took over running the software end of the project. Key Mac software team members resigned in protest. The new team was much more conventional-minded.]

When this came up for review this week, it tied back to Apple’s recent WWDC to add an interesting perspective; pretty much exactly the feature Raskin describes as being planned for the original Mac but dropped before shipping is making it to the platform with macOS Sequoia (and its sister versions of iOS and iPadOS). In any case, Math Notes is probably the feature I’m most looking forward to from the new releases, and I’m glad it’s finally made it in. What’s a decade or four between friends?

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