“When we start cataloging the gains in tools sitting on a computer, the benefits of software are amazing. But, if the benefits of software are so great, why do we worry about making it easier—don’t the ends pay for the means? We worry because making such software is extraordinarily hard and almost no one can do it—the detail is exhausting, the creativity required is extreme, the hours of failure upon failure requiring patience and persistence would tax anyone claiming to be sane. Yet we require that people with such characteristics be found and employed and employed cheaply.”
—Richard P. Gabriel, Patterns of Software
“You have a choice”
“Unlike Facebook, which has no real competition, Apple’s app ecosystem is dwarfed by Android and its apps. If you prefer much looser enforcement vs bad actors, more malware, less privacy and a platform maker that itself collects private information by the ton, you have a choice.”
Programming will remain very difficult
As an aside I would like to insert a warning to those who identify the difficulty of the programming task with the struggle against the inadequacies of our current tools, because they might conclude that, once our tools will be much more adequate, programming will no longer be a problem. Programming will remain very difficult, because once we have freed ourselves from the circumstantial cumbersomeness, we will find ourselves free to tackle the problems that are now well beyond our programming capacity.
—EWD340, The Humble Programmer, by Edsger W. Dijkstra, 1972
Sword and Sorcery
“I was actually tired of sword-and-sorcery as the genre then existed. I admired the work of C.L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, and Fritz Leiber and continued to respect the vitality and invention of Howard, but I had little time for the likes of Tolkien and Lewis, whom I regarded as bad popular children’s writers whose moral attitudes were highly questionable and whose particular syntheses had none of William Morris’ vision, Howard’s manic originality, or Leiber’s sophisticated flair. I was, I suppose, bored with the form itself. So when Carnell commissioned the first Elric story I decided I would try to do something as different as possible from everything which then existed.”
—Michael Moorcock, introduction to “Tales of the White Wolf”
Programming is a Joy
“Programming is a joy. That’s why people do it. No one should spend hours in front of a computer terminal out of some dreary sense of duty, or because they have some vague notion of becoming “computer literate”. That’s not the point. Programming ought to be fun—and if you’re not having fun, you shouldn’t waste your time.”
—Michael Eisenberg, “Programming in Scheme” (1988)
Talking on the Internet
Or—more likely—a wide variety of nasty computer viruses. If Hiro reaches out and takes the hypercard, then the data it represents will be transferred from this guy’s system into Hiro’s computer. Hiro, naturally, wouldn’t touch it under any circumstances, any more than you would take a free syringe from a stranger in Times Square and jab it into your neck.
And it doesn’t make sense anyway. “That’s a hypercard. I thought you said Snow Crash was a drug,” Hiro says, now totally nonplussed.
“It is,” the guy says. “Try it.”
“Does it fuck up your brain?” Hiro says. “Or your computer?”
“Both. Neither. What’s the difference?”
Hiro finally realizes that he has just wasted sixty seconds of his life having a meaningless conversation with a paranoid schizophrenic. He turns around and goes into The Black Sun.
—Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash, ch. 5
Not always, but sometimes.
Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius
In a short story called “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” Jorge Luis Borges describes the discovery of a strange book. Written in an arcane language, the book seems to be one volume of an encyclopedia of another world, intriguingly unlike the world of everyday reality. The world of the volume rapidly becomes a universal obsession: scholarly journals were devoted to it, people begin to dress and act in ways suggested by the volume. So compelling are the glimpses of the world revealed by the volume that its reality finally crowds out our own, and the world becomes the world of Tlon.
The volume you are holding in your hands is the volume Borges had in mind.
—Michael Swaine, preface to Dr Dobb’s Journal Vol 09
“You know, I find that argument, that if you’re not paying that somehow we can’t care about you, to be extremely glib and not at all aligned with the truth. The reality here is that if you want to build a service that helps connect everyone in the world, then there are a lot of people who can’t afford to pay. And therefore, as with a lot of media, having an advertising-supported model is the only rational model that can support building this service to reach people.”
—Mark Zuckerberg, Vox interview
Of course Facebook cares about you, just like a slaughterhouse cares about the cows driven up to the ramp. If they could reach more cows, they would, even if those cows couldn’t pay to drive themselves to the slaughterhouse.
Do Something Weird
“This is the kind of possibility that the pointy-haired boss doesn’t even want to think about. And so most of them don’t. Because, you know, when it comes down to it, the pointy-haired boss doesn’t mind if his company gets their ass kicked, so long as no one can prove it’s his fault. The safest plan for him personally is to stick close to the center of the herd.
Within large organizations, the phrase used to describe this approach is “industry best practice.” Its purpose is to shield the pointy-haired boss from responsibility: if he chooses something that is “industry best practice,” and the company loses, he can’t be blamed. He didn’t choose, the industry did.
I believe this term was originally used to describe accounting methods and so on. What it means, roughly, is don’t do anything weird. And in accounting that’s probably a good idea. The terms “cutting-edge” and “accounting” do not sound good together. But when you import this criterion into decisions about technology, you start to get the wrong answers.
Technology often should be cutting-edge. In programming languages, as Erann Gat has pointed out, what “industry best practice” actually gets you is not the best, but merely the average. When a decision causes you to develop software at a fraction of the rate of more aggressive competitors, “best practice” is a misnomer.”
—Paul Graham, Revenge of the Nerds
“I love Halloween, the one time of year when everyone wears a mask, not just me. People think it’s fun to pretend you’re a monster; Me, I spend my life pretending I’m not. Brother, friend, boyfriend, all part of my costume collection. Some people might call me a fraud, I prefer to think of myself as a master of disguise.”
—Dexter, S1E4 “Let’s Give the Boy a Hand”