A Computer-Oriented Autobiography

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Life Among Computers

“A Computer is to Program”

Matt Neuburg’s primary interest in computers is programming them, an attitude that he summarizes with the motto, “A computer is to program.” He is particularly fond of development software, and of software that includes or responds to some kind of programming or scripting language to put the power into the user’s hands. He also likes software with a possible academic or humanities use, such as interesting outliners, databases, and other means of information storage and retrieval. He is also an inveterate teacher (or, as he likes to call it, an “exegete”), someone who enjoys learning things and then explaining them to others. These interests and attitudes have continually informed his work.

He started programming computers in 1968, when he was 14 years old, as a member of a literally underground high school club, which met once a week to do time-sharing on a bank of PDP-10s by way of primitive teletype machines. He also occasionally used Princeton University’s IBM-360/67, but gave it up in frustration when one day he dropped his punch cards.

He majored in Greek at Swarthmore College and received his Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1981, writing his doctoral dissertation (about Aeschylus) on a mainframe. This may have been some sort of groundbreaking use of computers in the Humanities; in any case it certainly demonstrated to him something that very few writers were yet aware of in those typewriter-dominated days before the advent of the personal computer, namely that the ability to cut and paste and revise your document in digital form is very, very cool.

He proceeded for the next 14 years to teach classical languages, literature, and culture at many well-known institutions of higher learning, most of which now disavow knowledge of his existence, and to publish numerous scholarly articles unlikely to interest anyone.

Meanwhile he had obtained an Apple IIc and was now hopelessly hooked on computers again. He spent hours disassembling and studying the ROM, and even went so far as to publish a couple of articles about technical aspects of assembly-language programming. He was an early user of ThinkTank, a Pascal-based outliner, and became particularly expert in a tiny but powerful text-layout program (somewhat similar to TeX) called Gutenberg.

In 1988 he was introduced (by one of his undergraduate students, Adam Engst) to the Macintosh. He immediately pronounced it a useless overpriced toy, but a year or two later he bought one, hypnotized in part by the lure of HyperCard, which he employed to write some educational freeware and other utilities (much of it still available on his Web site). He also spent a lot of time with programs such as Nisus, Storyspace, and Excel, and of course AppleScript when it first appeared. At the same time, being an academic, he was enthusiastically using the Internet before most of the general public had heard of it. He soon became an early regular Contributing Editor for the online journal TidBITS (founded and published by that same former student of his, Adam Engst); he continues to hold that position to this day, and over the years has written over 100 software reviews and technical explanatory articles for TidBITS.

In 1995, Matt Neuburg abandoned the Groves of Academe to devote himself to computers full-time, starting out as Managing Editor of MacTech Magazine. In 1996 he left MacTech to pursue an interest in UserLand Frontier, a scripting and data storage environment (descended, in a way, from ThinkTank); he wrote several online tutorials about it, culminating in his first computer book, “Frontier: The Definitive Guide,” the first Mac-based book published by O’Reilly & Associates.

A couple of years later he became interested in REALbasic as a way of creating stand-alone applications, producing several free programs with it, and eventually writing his second O’Reilly book, “REALbasic: The Definitive Guide,” which he revised extensively for a second edition a few years later. He has also published articles in REALbasic Developer magazine.

In 2000 he was hired by Late Night Software to write the user manual for Script Debugger 2.0, and software documentation has been a major part of his activity ever since. In addition to subsequent versions of Script Debugger, he was the documentor for Affrus and JavaScript OSA (also for Late Night Software), as well as for Ovolab’s Phlink and for A-Sharp’s Opal.

In 2003, Neuburg was approached by O’Reilly & Associates to create his third book, “AppleScript: The Definitive Guide.” This may have been the first full exploration of AppleScript as a rigorous computer language. The book later was extensively revised for a second edition. The book led to Neuburg’s becoming a regular guest teacher (specializing in training about AppleScript Studio) at the AppleScript Pro Sessions, an intensive set of AppleScript seminars organized by Ray Robertson, of Scripting Matters, and Shane Stanley.

Also in 2003, TidBITS launched a PDF publishing arm, Take Control, which has proven to be both revolutionary and successful. Matt Neuburg was among its first authors.

With the advent of Mac OS X, Neuburg began programming in Cocoa. Over the years, he has written some custom applications for business use, as well as some popular freeware utilities, including MemoryStick and NotLight.

Matt Neuburg continues to write for TidBITS; he has also written several online articles for oreillynet.com. His Take Control ebooks “Take Control of Customizing Tiger” and “Take Control of What’s New in Word 2004” remain popular. His “Definitive Guide” books for O’Reilly have been acclaimed by their readers as valuable instructional and reference tools. He does programming and training, writes documentation, and in general continues to enjoy learning, using, teaching, and writing about the Mac.

Earliest experience: learned to program (FORTRAN, Snobol), timesharing on a PDP-10
Wrote, edited, and eventually final-printed PhD Thesis (Classics) at Cornell University on mainframe
Bought an Apple IIc. Learned assembly language, BASIC, Pascal. Became expert in Gutenberg, a TeX-like markup/macro word-processing language for the Apple. Began using Macintosh occasionally
Intensive contact with Macintosh, eventually buying an LC. Serious use of Internet, including freeware contributed to Info-Mac. Learned HyperCard, C, Nisus Macro language.
Mac guru for Classics Dept at Christchurch University (New Zealand). First work with Storyspace. First article for TidBITS. Learned Excel Macro language, using it to write departmental solutions (gradebooks, etc.); also, many solutions using HyperCard, QuicKeys, etc.
By this time, extensive experience with AppleScript, Word Basic, FoxPro, FileMaker macros, HTML; widely known on Internet through TidBITS writings and extensive freeware, including study aids for Ancient Greek. Hired by XPlain Corp. as editor and scripting solutions builder for MacTech Magazine. Learned Frontier, Prograph, Excel Visual Basic.
At mid-year, broke with MacTech, began freelancing, mostly for TidBITS. Learned Scheme.
Began systematic re-study of Frontier. Heavy participation on Frontier mailing lists. Asked by Dave Winer to create tutorials. Frontier book.
REALbasic, and the REALbasic book.
Learned Helix, JavaScript.
Documentation for Script Debugger.
Second edition of the REALbasic book. Mac OS X: learning Unix scripting, Perl and Ruby, Cocoa / Objective-C, Panorama, MySQL.
Writes first major Cocoa application, a MySQL front end used in business.
AppleScript book. First Take Control book.
Second edition of AppleScript book. More Take Control books. Affrus documentation. Freeware Cocoa applications. Begins teaching at AppleScript Pro Sessions.
More software documentation, programming, teaching, reviewing, etc. Learning XML/XSLT. Work begins on FaceSpan 5. Started moving away from use of AppleScript, preferring Appscript (mostly in Ruby) instead. Realizing that TextMate can supply the functionality needed for a Frontier port to a modern language, began writing RubyFrontier.
RubyFrontier sufficiently functional that my own Web pages are converted to it; new software documentation projects are now all written with RubyFrontier as well. Still working closely with Mark Alldritt on FaceSpan 5.
FaceSpan 5 abandoned. Learning iPhone OS (later iOS) and Cocoa touch.
Various iOS apps, including contract work. iOS programming book. Switched from using svn to git.
2nd edition of iOS programming book. Still writing articles and documentation, etc.
Still doing annual revisions of iOS programming book, now split into two volumes (otherwise, it would be a 1600-page book!).

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This page prepared November 3, 2015 by Matt Neuburg, phd = matt at tidbits dot com, using RubyFrontier. RubyFrontier is a port, written in the Ruby language, of the Web-site-creation features of UserLand Frontier. Works just like Frontier, but written in Ruby!
Download RubyFrontier from GitHub.