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.

33 thoughts on “You have ascended

  1. Any word on what’s going on with the devteam nowadays? At least give us a hint of whether we’re getting 3.4.4, 3.5.0 or 4.x or nothing?

  2. >Any word on what’s going on with the devteam nowadays? At least give us a hint of whether we’re getting 3.4.4, 3.5.0 or 4.x or nothing?

    Dude, I haven’t been an active nethack dev in about ten years.

  3. I’m guessing this is from “The Design Of Design”, thanks for the prod to actually go read it.

  4. Made perfect sense to me.

    But then, I know that Jay Maynard’s middle name is “you ignorant splut!” :-)

    And: “Brooks has a new book??!” I’m so there.

  5. CatB certainly is a good book. It’s an important part of the open-source historical landscape. I’m not surprised to read it has attracted such recognition. Good for you :)

    I actually rank it somewhat higher than TAoUP…which is another fine read.

  6. >I actually rank it somewhat higher than TAoUP…which is another fine read.

    Well, sure. CatB broke new ground; TAoUP was a summary/elucidation of an existing tradition. Both valuable, but it’s obvious which is more important.

  7. I quoted CatB multiple times throughout my Masters classes. I also encourage my students to read it when the argument of closed v. open source software is brought up. Alas, I’m just an adjunct or I’d make it a required text for the class.

  8. esr: TAoUP was a summary/elucidation of an existing tradition.

    Don’t sell yourself short….TAoUP broke new ground too…for me, at least. I’d never read a text that provided such articulated insight into the ‘zen’ of the unix mindset/culture. I knew it, and felt it, from personal experience, yet you managed to pluck the right words from the air to render it in literary amber.

    CatB was a view on something I genuinely hadn’t thought deeply about, and it sparked something dormant. That’s why I value it over TAoUP.

    Jon: …Alas, I’m just an adjunct or I’d make it a required text for the class.

    That’s a shame. It would make an invaluable text. Try sleeping with someone important ;)

  9. Damn! Fred Brooks is quoting you now? Wow.

    FWIW, CatB and TAoUP were both sourced for the final paper in my undergrad systems development class , when CatB was still hot off the presses, so to speak. Got an A+ on the paper, but of course it’s not published or anything like that. :)

    What I find fascinating is that nearly 10 years later, CatB is still very much relevant. Anything written that’s related to computer technology and especially software development that remains relevant for nearly a decade is practically canon.

  10. >What I find fascinating is that nearly 10 years later, CatB is still very much relevant.

    Bwahaha. That means my sinister master plan for world domination is working! :-)

  11. > Don’t sell yourself short….TAoUP broke new ground too…for me, at least. I’d never read a text that provided such articulated insight into the ‘zen’ of the unix mindset/culture. I knew it, and felt it, from personal experience, yet you managed to pluck the right words from the air to render it in literary amber.

    Actually, while I like TAoUP and consider it valuable, I had read Gancarz’s “The Unix Philosophy” years earlier, and think it is a more concise and in some ways better insight into unix.

  12. And in other news, ‘Come From’ instruction considered beneficial…

  13. >I had read Gancarz’s “The Unix Philosophy” years earlier, and think it is a more concise and in some ways better insight into unix.

    More concise, agreed. I knew what an antinomy I was setting up by writing a big book about Unix. I considered it a calculated risk, and one that I think paid off pretty well.

    “Better”…well, I’m not going to dispute with anyone who makes that evaluation. Not out of modesty, but because I think Gancarz and I were trying to do somewhat different things. I think we both succeeded in what we set out to do, so “better” turns into an argument about the relative value of our goals.

  14. Better in the sense that it is more generally applicable, more fundamental. TAoUP is in the sense of more immediate usability, especially once you understand the principles, but “The Unix Philosophy” is a clearer exposition of the principles.

  15. I am writing about the first edition of “The Unix Philosophy” here. The later version “Linux and the Unix Philosophy” isn’t as clear or concise.

  16. Do you hang out on nethack.alt.org much these days? And _when_ is the devteam going to gift us with another release? HP mon really needs to be incorporated into an official release ;)

  17. I read the free online version of TAoUP and was so impressed I bought the dead tree copy. It is a standard reference on my office bookshelf. I consider it one of a few books that profoundly influenced how I write code and approach problems. The other, strangely, is “Writing Solid Code” (1st Edition) by Steve Maguire, Microsoft Press. Changed the way I wrote C code overnight. TAoUP had a similar effect in how to design solutions.

    I use the arguments in that book for textual format over binary ones regularly. It seems a lot of developers are still hung up on the idea that binary is more efficient and easier to manage without seeing the downsides. Very useful especially today in the era of XML becoming the dominant data language.

  18. @Matt: I think the attitude stems from the fact that a lot of developers around today started out as MS-DOS PC users in the 1980s. Although the PC could address 1MB of RAM (640K of RAM, and 384K of ROM) you had to do that in 64K segments and the OS and language tools of the day didn’t make it easy for you to do that, at least not initially. Unix has always used a flat memory model, and the overhead has always been kept to a minimum by using small, single-purpose tools with open interfaces. So the technology really had a large effect on the culture in both cases; then the *BSDs and Linux brought together a sort of mixing pot of PC people and Unix people by making Unixes designed to run on PCs.

    Of course, my analysis of the situation may be tainted by my own experiences.

  19. And anyway, the new open source roguelike hotness is Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup…

  20. Wait… Does that mean I’ve been having delusions of normalcy?

    Hmm… makes me wonder what’s the youngest anyone’s read CatB and actually understood it?

    Then again, that can open up at least two cans of philisophical worms, the first being how much understanding can actually go between people, and how much someone who wasn’t there can understand it. Meh, something to be either fuel for crazy dreams, or for someone actually qualified to puzzle out something useful.

  21. CatB is a very Hayekian answer to a problem. It was actually one of the documents that lead me to libertarianism.

  22. >CatB is a very Hayekian answer to a problem. It was actually one of the documents that lead me to libertarianism.

    What? Memetic subversion? Moi? I would never dreeeeammmm of attempting such a thing….heh heh heh.

  23. @Doc: Erm, of course you always have to consider that the ideals and philosophy of any writer always shows in his work. If one is fairly consistent in one’s philosophy, one almost can’t help it. :)

  24. >Erm, of course you always have to consider that the ideals and philosophy of any writer always shows in his work.

    There’s more to it than that, in this case. It’s not just that I’m a fan of Hayek who happened to wander into analyzing open-source development, it’s that Hayek’s analysis of social implicit knowledge directly gave me the toolkit I needed to understand what I was seeing. So in a sense my “ideals and philosophy” matter less than Hayek’s in this instance.


  25. Baylink Says: Hey! My Brooks Number is 2.

    Jay Maynard Says: So’s mine. Whee!

    A rising Eric lifts all nerds.

  26. Congrats ESR

    Well deserved indeed

    First thing I read by you was “How to Become a Hacker”, and it changed my world.

    nanos gigantium humeris insidentes indeed

    I salute you

    M.Roman

  27. > A rising Eric lifts all nerds.

    And the Webby for Outstanding Achievement in Understated Geek Humor goes … to:

  28. >What I find fascinating is that nearly 10 years later, CatB is still very much relevant.

    but of course. it (and more pungently: HtN Homesteading the Noosphere) was talking to/describing fundamental culture and human traits —ur-memes— rather than efflorescences of transient memes. delineating processes rather than ringing the changes on outcomes.

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