Accelerando

Just discovered this a while ago after installing and using FBReader on some of my Android devices. There apparently is a free eBook edition of “Accelerando” by Charles Stross. An interesting note from the web site for my and your entertainment…:

“… “Accelerando” is a creature of its time, and that time is the late 1990s. I spent most of the 90s on a kind of sabbatical from writing fiction (my first love), with my head stuck up the fundament of the software industry. In the early 90’s I worked for SCO (back when it was a UNIX company, rather than the unholy terror that came back from the dead to haunt the free software movement). Then I discovered the web, back around 1993. I remember a wee daily email bulletin titled “what’s new on the web” that came from an address at NCSA; I used to visit all the interesting new web sites every day, until the volume grew too great some time in late 1994. I was supposed to be writing UNIX manuals, but I distracted myself by learning Perl – and was inadvertently responsible for the development of the robot exclusion protocol (by writing a web spider that annoyed people who knew more about what they were doing than I did).”

– as I indeed also used learning / writing Perl code to distract myself from more important things at more or less the same time, maybe I am pretty much target audience of this book, but it’s highly recommended to anyone into both science fiction (or that sub-genre they used to call *cough* “cyber-punk” throughout a certain period of time) and into entertaining novels depicting one possible idea of what a “future” might look like. You don’t need much of an IT or computer science background to enjoy this, but of course this doesn’t hurt (neither here nor elsewhere). I’ll finish my reading now and then see where to dive in to refresh my Perl skills, and be it just for the sake of distraction ….. :)

Complexity and the book.

Spent most of the evening trying to track down an InstantiationException thrown in some arcane branch of a procedure way too long to handle, let alone understand. Grown software. A large, fragile complexity, step by step built by adding small, simple changes, straightforward and in a disputable understanding of pragmatism. Documentation is tough. Tough when it comes to writing, maybe even thougher to read. That’s the very moment you end up with many thousand lines of code and hundreds and hundres of pages of text and pictures hyperlinked all across your intranet, making even simple problems incredibly difficult – such as where, for gods sake, to even start reading?!

That’s where your reading habits gradually change, time being the limiting factor with a continuous massive influx of input and information on virtually all channels. There’s a growing load of books partially read or unread at all piling up next to my bed. There’s an even larger bunch of books read once or twice, filling shelves just vaguely sorted, anything but a library as one would expect it. And there are megabytes and megabytes of digital books stored on hard drives or removable media. Collecting things, knowing it’s hard to actually do anything with them. You’ll never ever actually read most of these books, but it feels good to know you could, doesn’t it? The digital representations seem to make some things easier. Keeping them around is easier. Finding something in there is easier, if you’re not about just reading books for the sake of it but then and now keep track of quotes, inspiring moments and paragraphs that might prove useful for whatever purpose in whatever short-term future. Not reading them, actually, is easier.

Getting rid of it all is easier … after all you just remove entries from a file system index, in most cases not even caring about purging each and every bit of your digital book. Just forget it’s been there and let it be overgrown and ultimately replaced by new information, the same bits in another order representing something else. You will never have to go through the painful process of discarding actual books, those that still bear your liner notes, those that still have traces and scratches of sand on their covers, memories of earlier holidays sunny beaches. Those that still bear the smoke of your nightly cigarettes, reading through gloomy poetry in early twenties late summer nights. Those that helped you earn a living while guiding you through your first technical projects, all of a sudden figuring out that there’s a mismatch between theory and real-world problems, sending you back to re-learning things you thought you learnt ages ago. But how to attach such memories to digital data? Your bits surely don’t bear any of these, no matter how hard you try…

But reading technical documentation is nowhere near the joy of reading books for the sake of it. Yet, at times and in my world I sort of envy people who are into writing such books. Sit down, follow your flow, work and write and come up with something. Review it. Edit it. Review it again. Edit it again. Shape that stone until you’re happy – and then just publish it and leave it like this. No digging into ten year old story lines to fix logical errors. No need to repeatedly and frequently rewrite parts of the story while making sure the logic and the flow of the rest of the text still works and makes sense. Things are always so much easier to an ignorant outsider.

The source of InstantiationException has been pinned down and hopefully fixed. Minor changes, adding to the overall complexity. Another new path on the way through a vast structure of a system. And yet the usual flow. Edit. Build. Commit. Deploy. See it come up again, see it make through the tests to, at some point, just work. For a certain period of time at least. And I’m about to be a writer now again. Things are so much easier …

Goedel, Escher, Bach und Schleifen

Aus überfälligem Anlaß Lese-Empfehlung: Wer den ultimativen Br***f*** sucht, wird mit diesem Werk seine helle Freude haben. “Gödel, Escher, Bach” von Douglas Hofstadter ist zwar kein Fachbuch (dafür ist Stil, Sprache, Methodik zu unkonventionell und absonderlich), aber nichtsdestotrotz eine Quelle von Inspirationen, ein Buch mit einer Dichte von Aha!-Erlebnissen pro Seite, die sich kaum überbieten läßt. Der Preis dafür: GEB liest man nicht im Urlaub, im Liegestuhl oder abends bei Kerzenschein und Wein. GEB liest man konzentriert, mit einem Stück Papier und einem Stift daneben, wenn man daraus ‘gewinnen’ will. Wer sich darauf und auf Hofstadters bisweilen sehr sperrige Gedankenwelten einzulassen bereit ist, der erlebt einen furiosen Ritt durch den kompositorischen Anspruch Bachscher Musik, die surreal-rekursive Natur von M.C.Eschers Bilderwelten, die Implikationen von Gödels Unvollständigkeitssatz, Idee und Theorie formaler Sprachen und noch so einiges mehr. Ein Trip, der sich definitiv lohnt, aber, wie gesagt, anstrengend ist. Ich selbst “arbeite” seit einer ganzen Weile an dem Buch und stelle immer wieder fest, daß mehr als ein paar Seiten nach einem halbwegs normalen Arbeitstag einfach nicht drin sind. Und das Buch ist umfangreich… ;)