Seven wonders they missed

A Floppy disk still readable from 1987.

A laptop multi-booted into three hundred and twenty different operating systems, only five of which are pirated.

The spreadsheet written in Atari BASIC that is still running a 100 employee business.

An 8008 running a critical nuclear missile launch system in a bunker in Nevada. (Don’t fret, it’s due to be replaced next month by some bespoke stuff from Halliburton).

Linux running on emulated Gameboy emulated on a TRS-80 running under simulated MSDOS on a Macintosh virtual PC being emulated by another Gameboy running on an Xbox-1 simulated through a Turing-equivalent configuration of glider guns. The Linux simulation is running Quake III, at one frame every couple of million years. Ping times are not what you would like.

An overclocked Pentium running at 9 Ghz, cooled with a slurry of liquid nitrogen and dry ice.

A blog with no spam comments.

JMF again

Ah, Making Light has another installment of John M. Ford’s “occasional works.”  He’s funny, poetic (in a good way, often hilarious), and worth reading just for his references to other stuff.  Link.  Ford’s book Web of Angels is one of the most overlooked pieces of early “cyberpunk,” and ironically one of the best.  (I was jealous; I guess I got to write a lot of code and work with a lot of really good people, but I wish I could have learned to write like that).


The Next Big Language will be FORTH. You heard it here first.

Of course, it will take a while, and when it finally happens it won’t really be FORTH anymore. It will have had to change, its zealots will have had to move on, whereupon we will be left with a nice, compact, self-describing, mutable beyond belief virtual machine with flexible linguistics and a decently transparent runtime architecture supporting fast, whizzy stuff (hear me, guys? Step one is: enter the modern world with actual memory management, okay? Strings wouldn’t be a stretch either).

FORTH. And shave those beards.  Three, three steps.  Right.

A couple of great books

Emma Bull is back from a hiatus of nearly a decade (I guess I don’t count Freedom and Necessity — it was co-written with Steven Brust and I didn’t like it much) with a wonderfully realized western/magic/fantasy that brings the Earpe brothers and Doc Holiday into a different kind of focus.  I highly recommend Territory.  I’m guessing it will have a sequel, hopefully it won’t be a long wait.

I finally got around to reading M. John Harrison’s Light.  Why did this sit on my shelf for so long?  Some of the best hard-sf and just plain good writing I’ve read in the last couple of years.

Matt Ruff (of Sewer, Gas, Electric and Set This House in Order) is back with Bad Monkeys, a fast-paced, gnarly-attitude me-against-the-world-even-though-I’m-locked-up-in-an-insane-asylum reminiscent of the best of Jim Dodge.  If you haven’t read either author, well, definitely check out Monkeys, and then go read Dodge’s Stone Junction.


Neat stuff

Just some links:

A Google video on Erlang.  Link.  The paper in HOPL III on the history of the development of Erlang is quite good.  I’m looking forward to the proceedings from the Erlang conference later this year (link).

Also, things that heat up to yellow-hot, make lots of noise and go fast: Pulse jets.  Link.


Snippets of Beautiful Code

Leaving out the obviously pedagogical works; this is for fun.  How much can you learn from a few lines of code?

I read Kernighan and Plauger’s book Software Tools nearly 30 years ago; it was a wonderful introduction to clear, crisp programming and mid-level design, and I’ve rarely seen books as compact or (I think the right word is) humble.  It covered a lot of territory in just a few hundred pages, all the way from simple searches to a compiler/translator, and most of the tools were useful.  It was clear that while the authors knew what they were doing, they weren’t trying to hit you over the head with an agenda other than keepings things small and simple, a refreshing change from many of todays’ “Wham! Object! Oriented! Programming! With! Freebles! Is! The! One! True! Way! WhamWhamWham!”

A few other snippet-like books I’ve enjoyed have included Knuth’s source code for TeX (though frankly reading web-style code gets tiresome after a while), Jon Benley’s Programming Pearls series (less for the code than the pragmatic reasoning), and the three volumes of the ACM’s History of Programming Languages conferences (seeing the thought process behind your favorite languages — and the horrible mistakes either avoided or committed — is quite interesting).  Programmers at Work was fun, but badly needs an update and it wasn’t heavy on technical details.  Skiena’s The Algorithm Design Manual sounds dry, but has some nice commentary and good war stories (he actually calls ’em war stories — anyone who’s been in the trenches knows that CS is really a battle between good and evil, right?).

O’Reilly has just published Beautiful Code (ed. by Oram and Wilson), which is a collection of thirty or so chapters by various pretty good engineers describing quite pretty hunks of code and design.  I’m four chapters into it and can’t put it down; the description of how Subversion does delta-tree transmission is so obvious that it’s a wonder anyone could have done it a different way.  There’s stuff here all the way from how Python does hash tables [which I don’t like, though I guess it is pretty] to a discussion of design defects [defects are pretty? yes!] in the Solaris kernel.


I spent a few days last week learning (that is, doing something real for the first time with) Lua.  It’s a fine, pretty, small language with no illusions of grandeur; it gets the job done and stays out of the way.  [I wish it had less free scoping, but a perl script fixed that].

Some people lament the proliferation of small languages.  I’m frankly of the opinion that you can’t have too many, and if the whole world was Java or C# we’d be in the same boat as if we were all plugging away at “perfectly good FORTRAN.”  Though debuggers are nice . . .


No more fruit

According to this Reg article (link), our favorite produce stand in California has closed.  (The photo of the store differers from what I remember, but according to the map it’s in the right spot).

The stand had absolutely wonderful produce at rock-bottom prices.  I’m sorry to see it go.  I also had no idea it was the site of the original Shockley labs.

Ah well.

A heartfelt blog

Here’s a heartfelt blog about the savaging of New Orleans and its environs, various things political, and just plain ranting.  Link.  The signature post is here [Warning: Use of Profanity, Use of Hard Truths].

We’re pretty much in agreement about Texans, except for our friends who live in San Antonio, who we consider honorary residents of Anyplace But There.  Were it not for them, I would happily cede Texas to the Mexicans, or make it part of Honduras or Outer Fuggupistan and toss in whatever change I happen to have in my pocket (lessee, seventy eight cents, plus some string) to sweeten the deal.


Heard on a radio piece about tours of the house that Bush grew up in.

“This is the birthplace of two presidents and three governors.”

To which I would add:

“When they left home, the average IQ in our household went up.”


Is it just me, or…?

Is it just me, or

Is the ultimate application of whizzy distributed, transactional and provably correct communications technology (that your startup has been sweating blood over for 18 months / that your doctoral thesis is all about / that you recently got some patents on / that you read some fantastic papers about) just another “social networking” site with belly-button banners where the same wacked-out fucks hang out trying to stalk 36-year-old FBI agents posing as teens and you spend all your time chasing illegal content uploads and spam.

Okay, probably not just me.