Dec 28

The blues ate rock and roll!

I’ve been diving into the history of rock music recently because, quite by chance a few weeks ago, I glimpsed an answer to a couple of odd little questions that had been occasionally been bothering me for decades.

The most obtrusive of these questions is: Why does nothing in today’s rock music sound like the Beatles?

It’s a pertinent question because the Beatles were so acclaimed as musical innovators in their time and still so hugely popular. And yet, nobody sounds like them. Since not long after the chords of the “Let It Be” died away in 1969, every attempt to revive the Beatlesy sound of bright vocal-centered ensemble pop has lacked any staying power among rock fans. It gets tried every once in a while by a succession of bands running from Badfinger to the Smithereens, and goes nowhere. Why is this?

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Dec 18

C, Python, Go, and the Generalized Greenspun Law

In recent discussion on this blog of the GCC repository transition and reposurgeon, I observed “If I’d been restricted to C, forget it – reposurgeon wouldn’t have happened at all”

I should be more specific about this, since I think the underlying problem is general to a great deal more that the implementation of reposurgeon. It ties back to a lot of recent discussion here of C, Python, Go, and the transition to a post-C world that I think I see happening in systems programming.

(This post perhaps best viewed as a continuation of my three-part series: The long goodbye to C, The big break in computer languages, and Language engineering for great justice.)

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Dec 16

You’re gonna need a bigger Beast

I’m taking a management-approved break from NTPsec to do a repository conversion that dwarfs any I’ve ever seen before. Yep, more history than Emacsmuch much more. More backtrail than entire BSD distributions, in fact about an order of magnitude larger than any repo I’ve previously encountered.

Over 255000 commits dating back to 1989 – now in Subversion, formerly in CVS and (I suspect) RCS. It’s the history of GCC, the Gnu Compiler Collection.

For comparison, the entire history of NTP, including all the years before I started working on it, is 14K commits going back to 1999. That’s a long history compared to most projects, but you’d have to lay 18 NTPsec histories end to end to even approximate the length of GCC’s.

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Dec 02

Decentralized threats as the mother of liberty

Dave Kopel gives us a fascinating account of the divergence between American and British gun culture in The American Indian foundation of American gun culture. I learned some things from this article, which is not a trivial observation because I’ve studied the same process from some different angles.

While Kopel’s article is excellent of its kind, it stops just short of some large and interesting conclusions that immediately present themselves to me, upon reading his evidence, because I think like a science-fiction writer. A significant part of that kind of thinking is a broad functionalist perspective on how societies evolve under selective pressure – a drive to look beyond specific historical contingencies and ask “What is the adaptive pressure motivating this social response? Can we deduce a general law of social evolution from this case?”

I’m going to anticipate my conclusion by coining an aphorism: “Decentralized threats are the mother of liberty.” Kopel’s account of how the American and British traditions of citizen arms diverged illustrates this brilliantly.

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