22 November 2013

Geeky humor

James Mickens' meditation The Night Watch is a very fine example of a certain kind of geeky tech humor.

The main thing that I ponder is who will be in my gang, because the likelihood of post-apocalyptic survival is directly related to the size and quality of your rag-tag group of associates. There are some obvious people who I’ll need to recruit: a locksmith (to open doors); a demolitions expert (for when the locksmith has run out of ideas); and a person who can procure, train, and then throw snakes at my enemies (because, in a world without hope, snake throwing is a reasonable way to resolve disputes). All of these people will play a role in my ultimate success as a dystopian warlord philosopher. However, the most important person in my gang will be a systems programmer.
You can’t just place a LISP book on top of an x86 chip and hope that the hardware learns about lambda calculus by osmosis. Denying the existence of pointers is like living in ancient Greece and denying the existence of Krackens and then being confused about why none of your ships ever make it to Morocco, or Ur-Morocco, or whatever Morocco was called back then. Pointers are like Krackens—real, living things that must be dealt with so that polite society can exist. Make no mistake, I don’t want to write systems software in a language like C++. Similar to the Necronomicon, a C++ source code file is a wicked, obscure document that’s filled with cryptic incantations and forbidden knowledge. When it’s 3 A.M., and you’ve been debugging for 12 hours, and you encounter a virtual static friend protected volatile templated function pointer, you want to go into hibernation and awake as a werewolf and then find the people who wrote the C++ standard and bring ruin to the things that they love. The C++ STL, with its dyslexia-inducing syntax blizzard of colons and angle brackets, guarantees that if you try to declare any reasonable data structure, your first seven attempts will result in compiler errors of Wagnerian fierceness ....

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