The technical and scientific talks at the CCC are usually of very high quality. The more philosophical and political talks tend to be more hit and miss. However, when these talks are well done, they can be really good.
My absolute favorite this year was Joscha’s speculative Machine Dreaming.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve longed to travel. Discover new places. Meet new people. Find out what’s beyond the horizon. Satisfy my ever-present curiosity.
I travel regularly for work, but it’s usually to the same places on the world. I’ve been on vacation to other places, but always only for a couple of weeks. Always as a visitor, never really as a nomad.
One of the things I would still like to do is give up life here in the west for a while and just be a nomad for a year or two, with nothing on me but a mid-size backpack. For some reason, I never took a gap year before or after uni.
It’s now actually possible for me to do this – I’ve got some reserves, no debts, no dependents or relationship – but I still struggle with actually going. I’m actually very happy where I am at the moment. Part of me is worried that taking a break will hurt my career, and that it’ll be hard to find a job as good as I have now when I return. So is this just fear for the unknown, should I just not be such a chicken and take that break while I can?
Currently playing: Brandi Carlile – Forever Young
It’s been a while since I have managed to do a proper book review, so I’m going to just list books rather than produce a lot of prose. Over the last couple of months I read:
We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson
The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman
The Call of Cthulu and Other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft
Post Office by Charles Bukovski
The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico
Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Pattern Recognition by William Gibson
Dreaming in Code by Scott Rosenberg
Scott Rosenberg, who is a journalist writing for Salon, followed the team of the Chandler Personal Information Manager (PIM) around for the half a dozen years since their founding back in the early naughties.
The Chandler project was started by Mitch Kapor, the original author of Lotus 1-2-3. His goals for the project were ambitious and idealistic – he wanted to build something that could not just replace Microsoft Exchange, but that was also Open Source, decentralized and more generic. Like himself, the team around Kapor consisted of many veterans of successful software products. Despite that, the book ended up chronicling a tragic history, rather than an epic tale of success.
Over 5 or 6 years Rosenberg documented the progress of the project, it was redesigned from scratch again and again, important components were thrown out and rewritten, and personnel joined and left – all without anything being released that was actually useful to end-users.
Rosenberg writes in a way that is understandable for non-programmers – there are some technical terms, but for the most part the book is about the people, their motivations and their interactions. The book gives the reader some impression as to why large software projects are hard, but at the cost of making it sound like a mystical, nobody-knows-what-they’re-doing kind of process.
For programmers, there is a lot of classic computer science history – weaved through Chandlers tale – that is probably not very interesting, but that’s fairly easy to skim over. As a software engineer, I did cringe as I read about mistake after mistake that the Chandler team made – all of this seemed way too familiar.
If anything, Chandler serves as a warning as to what can go wrong with a software project.
Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
The main premise of this book is a world with a class system in which what colors you can perceive is what sets you apart. The protagonist is a “red”, who has been sent to the outer rims of civilization because he has shown signs of rebellion – attempting to improve queuing. It’s an interesting premise – and the book is full of absurdist humor. The story and the characters weren’t as interesting.
The Children of Men by P.D. James
If there is no future for the human race, what is the point of fighting for anything – of rebelling? P.D. James describes a world of infertility in which the last remaining youth is revered and everybody is meekly waiting for the world to come to an end. It’s an interesting concept for a post-apocalyptic book, but I felt the book was long-winded and then ended prematurely.
Three Famous Short Stories by William Faulkner
When I was visiting New Orleans we heard various stories about William Faulkner and his time drinking in the city. I had never read any Faulkner, so I figured now would be a good moment to try some. I eventually found a tiny book store – housed in one of the places Faulkner had lived. It was run by an old American lady and her dog, and I suspect they had been there for the last 20 or 30 years. Every visitor was consistently sniffed by the dog and greeted by the old lady. I asked her for recommendations on a first Faulkner and this is what she gave me.
These stories were a mixed bag. Spotted Horses did nothing for me. Old man was better – not because of the story but because of the characters. The Bear was my favorite, in particular his recreating the air and atmosphere of hunting in the south.
In England they ask: “Is it for charity?”
In Flanders, France, Italy and Spain they say: “What beautiful madness.”
From the 2013 Dunwich Dynamo route instructions.
The Dunwich Dynamo is an overnight bike ride of about 200km from north-east London to the coastal city of Dunwich, in East Anglia. I’d read about it on the web somewhere in February, when I was researching cycling in London. It seemed like a fun thing to waste some energy on, and when July came around I managed to convince two friends and my sister to join me.
We’d left late – my fault, as I had forgotten to prepare my gear – and arrived for the start in Hackney after a 20km ride that involved crossing central London on a busy Saturday evening. Despite being an hour and a half late, there were fortunately still plenty of cyclists around the pub in the park. The Dynamo Dunwich isn’t organised – it’s just an annual ride from a group of cyclists that got out of hand – but there are some food stands along the route and there are organised buses back to London. We managed to get our hands on some route descriptions, which proved themselves very useful later on.
It was already dark by the time we left, and for the first while we didn’t see any other cyclists. The first bit of the route was as frustrating as the ride to the pub earlier in the evening – an endless stream of cars, and traffic lights every couple of hundred meters. It took an hour or so before we’d left everything you could possibly call London behind, and were out on the dark country roads.
Soon enough we ran into other cyclists, and then more. Before long, we were part of a long snake of endless blinking red and green lights, contracting and expanding as we climbed and descended hill after hill. We had kept it basic – bright front light and decent back light – but some people had gone out of their way with the light shows on their bikes. The atmosphere was friendly and chatty here, and no longer as hushed as back in the city. Everybody who stopped for a break was asked whether they were okay or needed help by passersby.
After 30 or 40 kilometers we arrived at our first stop: a small village of which I forgot the name, with two pubs packed with cyclists. Not long after that we had our first flat tire, and if that wasn’t bad enough we had to watch all the cyclists we had recently overtaken pass us. After fixing the tire, we paddled on on our own until we hit the first semi-official stop. When we got there it turned out that they had just run out of food and drinks, and the same thing happened at the next stop where somebody was selling hot dogs. As B. was trying to fix the bump in his recently replaced back tire with one of those crappy small bicycle pumps, he accidentally broke the valve and so we had to use our second and last spare tube.
We hit the 85km marker and not soon after, dawn set in. Unfortunately it was kind of drowsy and grim – there were clouds everywhere, and it had started drizzling – so we didn’t actually get to see the sun rise above the horizon. We grabbed breakfast at a truck stop and then continued on. At this point we also started getting cross traffic – some cyclists apparently were tired of the Dunwich beach already and had decided to paddle back to London.
At the next stop we were quick enough to grab the last cups of tea,. The last 20 miles were fairly uneventful. We got to the beach some time around eleven, much later than we had originally estimated. We had a quick glance at the sea, bought an ice cream and then hopped on the bus back to Londinum.
It was a great night, although it seems more like a dream than a memory now, because of my lack of sleep. It had a special kind of atmosphere. I’ll certainly do it again next year, and perhaps I’ll ride back as well.