Archive for December 2011
Like every year, I’m spending the last few days of the year out in Berlin with some friends.
This morning we had breakfast in one of those hip breakfast cafes, somewhere away from the big Platzes. The atmosphere was mellow and passive, having just checked out of our hostel after a short night and not really feeling up to anything. The cafe was a nice place, with a handful of tables set around the big stack of books. We ate quietly and sipped our lattees. Being the geeks that we are – and despite the fact that this was supposed to be some sort of vacation – we checked our RSS feeds and email. For a while, we were the only customers, just eating quietly.
After some time, an elderly Dutch couple took the table on the opposite side of the books from us. I don’t like hearing Dutch from strangers when I’m abroad. Nothing like hiking somewhere in the mountains only to get interrupted by some fellow countrymen bickering over their sandwiches and who was supposed to bring the thermos. It makes the whole experience a lot more down-to-earth and takes away some of that being-away magic. Anyway, these folks were no exception. Shortly after they arrived their conversation topic changed to the quality of their hotel, the long list of things that was wrong with it and then something about the maintenance of their vacation homes.
Not long after, we were also joined by two well-dressed women in their late twenties. They were apparently old friends that were meeting up again after quite a while. I had no idea where they were from, but their chat was in a combination of German and French. The conversation drifted, from the well-being of parents to work and relationships, the understanding of which was beyond me because of my limited knowledge of French and ability to grasp complex graphs in the early morning. It took a strange turn when the topic changed again, and they talked about their future, which apparently heavily depended on the stars.
And then at some point we were being kicked out – the clock had reached noon, and this was after all a breakfast cafe – and we moved on to the pub. I probably won’t see any of these people again, and probably wouldn’t recognize them if I did, but they’d shared a bit of their life with me, without knowing it.
I have a pretty fucked up circadian rhythm. Like many programmers I can really immerse myself into a problem, and then just hack away at it until it’s dealt with. In ye olden days, I would sometimes even get to midnight without remembering to eat dinner.
One of Paul Graham‘s essays is about the maker’s schedule, and describes very well why it is so annoying to be interrupted. In terms of productivity, there is little that compares to sitting in the dark in the middle of the night hacking away at something in total focus with no interruptions, a full pot of tea next to you, headphones on and nothing but the chatter on IRC for company.
I was sad to learn of Christopher Hitchens’ passing. There were many topics on which I agreed with him and probably just as many on which I disagreed. He could be a royal asshole if he wanted to. I admired him as an outspoken atheist. But his real strengths were as a well-spoken writer, debater and skeptic.
He made up his own mind – and took interesting positions. No matter what his opinion was, he always had something interesting to say and made you think.
Steven Novella expresses it better than I can, and in more detail, in his eulogy. E.F.‘s column is also interesting to read. It’s disappointing that the Dutch media seem to be blissfully unaware of the significance of Hitchens’ passing.