Apr 19, 2007

Do you live in civilization?

Like so many such questions, the answer entirely depends on your definition of "civilization"; once you've accepted the definition, the answer is obvious. Another of my favorite examples is "Is X art?"; once you accept the definition of art, the answer is usually obvious. It's the accepting of a definition that's the interesting part, not the question itself. Often it's not even meaningful to try to say which definition is "better" or "worse", it's just a matter of what each given definition captures and highlights.

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Software is Uniquely Complicated
Apr 16, 2007

In 2007, with a well-loaded Linux desktop installation, my /usr/bin is 257 megabytes, with debugging off and dynamically-linked libraries not contributing to that count. My particular copy of the Linux kernel 2.6.19 with certain Gentoo patches has 202,381,268 bytes of C code alone. If I'm computing this correctly, at a constant 100 words per minute (5 chars/word), that's 281 24-hour days just to re-type the C code in the kernel.

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The Programming Construction Metaphor
Apr 11, 2007

I've gone on before about how distrustful of metaphors I am, and it seems like every year I'm getting more distrustful of them. Either deal with the thing as it is, or just give up understanding it. Metaphors lead to the beginning of understanding, but no farther.

Programmers aren't immune to the metaphor sickness, and if there's one metaphor you can expect to see trotted out at the earliest available opportunity, it's the "programming as construction" metaphor. This metaphor has been skillfully deconstructed many many times before, but I'm going to deconstruct it from the opposite angle... what if construction was like software engineering?

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Apr 10, 2007

I've chickened out on going to see The Last Mimsy. Subsequent reviews make me fairly convinced that the scriptwriters completely missed the point of the original story, or simply didn't care, and took the opportunity to turn a story of wonderment into yet another polemic about how the world is doooooomed. (Sure, in the movie it's saved in an utterly unbelievable way, but since that's not going to happen in the real world, it's just another Doomed World story, in the vein of Spielburg's AI.)

I can't tell you how tiresome this pessimism in our country is getting. Things are, by and large, pretty damn fine in the ways that most people claim to care about. The economy is quite solid, in that you have to go looking for reasons to be concerned. You can find some, but the balance is not in favor of the thesis that we're in trouble. (Unless you live in Michigan.) As annoying as radical Islam is, if we just had the will we have a massive advantage in almost every other way that matters. (If it weren't for the existence of nuclear weapons I don't think I'd spend much time worrying about them.) Every month our economy grows in size comparable to the entire yearly output of some countries.

It's important not to misunderstand my point. I'm not saying things are rosy, because they aren't. What I am saying is that the unrelenting tone of pessimism is unjustified. The future is unknowable and uncertain, and I'll freely admit that's somewhat stressful in some ways, but it's hardly doom and gloom in every direction you look.

The Easter weekend I was able to spend some time with a childhood acquaintance on furlough from a mission trip in Mali. Even as I am intellectually aware of the state of Africa, simply having a personal connection into it somehow brings it more alive, even if in some sense nothing he told me was really a surprise. It's a human thing.

Huge chunks of the Mali population live in mud huts, thatched with reeds. Now, to be fair, this isn't as utterly horrible as it would be where I live in Michigan, but nevertheless, mud huts. The simplest medical problems can present insurmountable obstacles. This is reality; even as you read this, millions of people are living this. Just writing that sentence nearly blows my belief circuits out again.

There's just something so horribly wrong with the wealthiest culture on the planet pissing and moaning about how horrible the future is sure to be, led by some of the wealthiest people of all (Hollywood elite) and fed by the most influential people (the media). Give me a break!

Apr 09, 2007

A heads up on what's coming with the Programming Wisdom series: Since it's both a "book" and a series of "blog posts", some of the writing priorities are different than they might otherwise be.

The next few posts are primarily intended to motivate the work, so as standalone pieces they are less than compelling, although they still have some interesting points, I think. After the next three or four posts, it starts getting meaty.

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