Of Noogler times

Found this while spring-cleaning:

Must have got this on my first day at Google, 12 years ago!

Resolved not to hold on to things out of pure nostalgia (or there would be more of them than ones I use), so it’s off to the “Goodwill pile” now for this T-shirt.

Ye Olde Linux

An account of “Linus-as-Martin Luther” from an article in Salon, 25 years ago:

Linus Torvalds is an information-age reformer cut from the same cloth. Like Luther, his journey began while studying for ordination into the modern priesthood of computer scientists at the University of Helsinki — far from the seats of power in Redmond and Silicon Valley.

Also like Luther, he had a divine, slightly nutty idea to remove the intervening bureaucracies and put ordinary folks in a direct relationship to a higher power — in this case, their computers.

Dissolving the programmer-user distinction, he encouraged ordinary people to participate in the development of their computing environment. And just as Luther sought to make the entire sacramental shebang — the wine, the bread and the translated Word — available to the hoi polloi, Linus seeks to revoke the developer’s proprietary access to the OS, insisting that the full operating system source code be delivered — without cost — to every ordinary Joe at the desktop.

While the rise of Linux no doubt played a central role in the last two decades, the “programmer-user distinction” hasn’t gone away as the author’s (or an early SVLUG zealot’s) giddy excitement would suggest. In fact “free software” was largely co-opted by the cloud giants of today — they wouldn’t exist without it.

Of moons and planets

Something fascinating from an “amateur analysis” of the moon’s orbit — the sort of thing I’m sure a lot of people wish they did but never do.

The Moon’s orbit around the earth

In other words, the Sun exerts more than twice as much gravitational force on the Moon as the Earth does. Asimov argued that this means the Moon is really orbiting the Sun, with some perturbation by the Earth, and that’s why the Moon’s path looks like a slightly wobbly circle around the Sun.

We might look upon the Moon, then, as neither a true satellite of the Earth, nor captured one, but as a planet, in its own right, moving about the Sun, in careful step with the Earth. To be sure, from within the Earth-Moon system, the simplest way of picturing the situation is to have the Moon revolve about the Earth; but if you were to draw a picture of the orbits of the Earth and Moon about the Sun, exactly to scale, you would see that the Moon’s orbit is everywhere concave toward the Sun. It is always “falling” toward the Sun.

P.S. the link to the Asimov book is here.

Monthly Curations — October 2022

  • I had initially dismissed this “crater full of ice” photo (on Mars) as too-good-to-be-true, but … it is real !
  • NeoVim is now just as much of an extensible editor (the easy use of Fennel for config has created an Emacs-Lisp counterpart !)
  • “Who made who” (from a HN comment, referencing links between cancers and fungi within them)
    • Sometimes I wonder if we’re just giant machines built by microorganisms. It would certainly make an interesting story, along the idea of a robot discovering they were made by somebody else, which I believe has already been explored
  • A talk on “Intelligence beyond the brain“, some notes:
    • Single-celled organisms are intelligent too
    • “Intelligent problem-solving in morphospace”
    • We can bio-engineer at a low-level, but not at a high-level
    • Cells can “recruit their neighbors” !!
    • Radically self-organizing
    • Experiments (some weird ones) show chemical intervention can “repair hardware defects”
  • “Systems at scale”, w.r.t. money laundering
  • Goddamnit, geeks have been righteously complaining about “feature-itis” and retreating to their hermit kingdoms for so long. Here is one such complaint all the way back in 1999 (!)
  • Elegant code, or inscrutable code golfing? You decide: “random walk in two lines
  • A somewhat despairing article, from the Economist (except it’s from 7 years ago, and things haven’t got any better …)
  • A “pre-historic” amputation (!)
  • I wanted the Moonlander but ergonomics led me to the Kinesis Advantage2. Today, you can get a mix of both, with the Kinesis Advantage360
  • Friedman describes the paradoxes we’ve been led to, in the absence of clear priorities
    • I understand why people want all five — now. I want all five! But they involve trade-offs, which too few of us want to acknowledge or debate. In an energy war like the one we’re in now, you need to be clear about your goals and priorities. As a country, and as a Western alliance, we have no ladder of priorities on energy, just competing aspirations and magical thinking that we can have it all.

  • On letting go of the GPL, by Martin Kleppman
    • For all these reasons, I think it no longer makes sense to cling on to the GPL and copyleft. Let them go. Instead, I would encourage you to adopt a permissive license for your projects (e.g. MIT, BSD, Apache 2.0), and then focus your energies on the things that will really make a difference to software freedom: counteracting the monopolising effects of cloud software, developing sustainable business models that allow open source software to thrive, and pushing for regulation that prioritises the interests of software users over the interests of vendors.

  • A phenomenal tour of the Great Pyramid, feels like I’m right there!

Monthly recap (October 2022)

“Spider army” 🙂

Minor updates

  • Pre-ordered the illustrated version of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”, which arrived a couple of weeks ago
  • Some dental mishaps
  • Diwali
  • Halloween (felt like back to pre-covid in terms of crows and decorations!)
  • Meeting a bunch of new/old people

Watched/read/made

  • A new actually funny series (on Hulu): “Abbott Elementary
  • Caught “Ticket to Paradise” in the hall
  • Watched “Matrix: Resurrections” (and wish I didn’t, it was horrible)
  • Finished watching “Rings of Power” (ditto; though this was so bad it deserves its own post later)
  • A really fun show (on Disney+): “The Mysterious Benedict Society” (we have since started reading the book together, highly recommend!)

Building big

"Cenotaph for Newton"
“Cenotaph for Newton”

There have always been “mega-building projects”. In the past, these were large hydro-electric projects, and more recently skyscrapers competing to be the tallest building.

Today one such mega-project is “the line”, which aims to cut across the desert in a narrow strip blanketed by sheer glass walls.

I find this ridiculous, but hey I’m not the one spending half a trillion on it, so I’m happy to watch them try.

I want humanity to build something gigantic, but my desires had tended towards something functional, like a large space station, or a space elevator, or some such.

Then I discovered Étienne-Louis Boullée.

None of his buildings were ever realized1, but his are the sort of ideas I can get behind.

My favorite2 is the “Cenotaph for Newton” (image above), but all his buildings exude some sort of quality I cannot name.

This is something I wish would be made in the world today. It can be.

These are all within our ability to make, lacking only the will to make them. I don’t particularly care who makes them, as long as they exist and are accessible.

  1. Well, except for residential work, like this, which still shows his influence.
  2. Biased by having recently read an astonishing account of his life. If someone deserves a monument like this, it’s him.