Jul 20

Donald Knuth reads my blog?

Received in email from Donald Knuth’s secretary:

I know from your blog that you’re doing lots of real important stuff these days. So I’m sure you want a break; you clearly must be ready to hack INTERCAL just once more.

Huh…Donald Knuth reads my blog?

Um…Donald Knuth reads my blog?

Wha…Donald Knuth reads my blog?

Eric clutches the nearest piece of furniture as the universe spins dizzily around him.

Eric successfully resists a vague feeling that he ought to fall to his knees and cry out “I’m not worthy!”

Er. Well then. I guess I’ll have to ship another release of INTERCAL, won’t I?

Jul 11

Killing the Founder

During the controversy I described in Condemning Censorship, Even of Werewolves one of the parties characterized me as “nuts and in decline.”. This failed to bother me, and not because I’m insulated against such insults by my natural arrogance. OK, I am largely insulated against such insults by my natural arrogance, but that’s not the main reason I easily shed this one.

In general I’m much less bothered about people who think I’m crazy than they usually think I should be because I know a lot about the life cycle of reform movements. I studied this topic rather carefully in early 1998, just after Netscape announced its intention to release the Mozilla sources, when I noticed that a burgeoning reform movement seemed to need me to lead it. I was particularly influenced in my thinking by the history of John Humphrey Noyes and the Oneida Community.

Here is part of what I learned: There comes a point in the development of every reform movement at which it has to kill the founder. Or anathematize him, or declare him out of his mind. Or neutralize him in a more subtle way by putting him on a pedestal so high that he can’t actually influence events on the ground.

Continue reading

Apr 08

You have ascended

Redoubtable hacker Chip Salzenberg wrote me last night with the subject line “You have ascended”. I quote in full:

Long time no chat. Hope you are well. In fact, I don’t have to hope, because I just read this in a book:

Raymond in his brilliant The Cathedral and the Bazaar [2001] …

That’s all well and good, and I know enough authors not to be excessibly impressed by publication.

Thing is, this book is by Fred Brooks. As in, Brooks’ Law.

Oh My Lack Of God.

Do you have a halo now, or maybe a relic to protect you from feature creep?

After boggling for a few minutes, I wrote back:

I can almost top this. Donald Knuth once sent me a bug fix. For INTERCAL.

Hmmm.. Now, where did I stash that Amulet of Yendor?

If you found the preceding exchange cryptic, you need to get out more are probably a normal human being with, like, a life. How sad for you.

Feb 18

How you know you’ve made a difference

I received this a few seconds ago in my mailbox. It’s not especially unusual for me to get wow-you-changed-my-life email, I see two or three in a typical month, but this one is…well, I’ll say a bit more intense than usual. Also, 34 is an unusual age; they tend to be teenagers. Sender’s name masked and one bit turned into a live link. Otherwise unedited, typos and all.

I just finished reading your [Hacker HOWTO] for the second time in as many
days. All of my life I have wanted to be a programmer. I have never
done it. I dealt with the failure of that by downloading cracked
software and telling myself that I was a “hacker.”

When I clicked on the link to your guide, my intention was to get
started on the road towards what I envisioned a hacker to be.

By the end of your guide, I was wallowing in humiliation. I felt…
well basically I felt like a jack ass. I never even knew what a
hacker was. I wasn’t even a cracker, just some poser with no

Your guide showed me that any of my few contributions to the cracker
community were meaningless, juvenile ploys for attention with no
progressive merit. They won’t matter in 6 months because I haven’t
‘built’ anything.

After reading your guide, I began to research and really appreciate
the open source community. I saw that the degree of separation
between us wasn’t to huge of a gap and I realized that I could,
through dedication and hard(but fun) work, be part of something that
is growing and giving. A place where individual contributions aren’t
lost in the grand scheme of things, but help shape that scheme.

I am 34 years old and I have no problem admitting to you that your
guide made me feel like a complete ass. It also directed me to an
ideal I will be proud to contribute to.

For that, I thank you Sir.


I replied by quoting “I saw that the degree of separation between us wasn’t to huge of a gap” and said “I’m glad you got that far. Good luck on your journey.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you know your life has made a difference.