Sunday, August 28, 2005

first year

first year anniversary

A year ago today I started keeping this notebook. The original idea was for it to be a social thing. Instead of keeping a private notebook of my computing experiments, I published everything in a blog to make it part of a conversation.

Who were the other voices?

A pattern emerged in how I went about finding ideas and exploring them. It seems I hit upon an interesting paper--often from a regular source like Google Labs, Bell Labs or the MIT PDOS group--and I'd then try and reason about the paper's subject in the context of Inferno. So the other voices I started listening to were from the authors of these great papers.

Sketching out a program from something I'd read in a paper helped me to understand the paper better and generate ideas that went beyond the paper. This was not just useful, but also a lot of fun. Much as writing is more than communication but an extension of the process of thinking, programming is not merely a corporate activity, or an economic activity, but also a philosophical activity. By which I mean, it's part of the process of reasoning about something.

The code was as much part of the conversation as the prose. And where the prose was english, the chosen platform for expressing the code was Inferno. By including the code an active element was added to the notebook. Everything I talked about could be pulled apart, put back together and run on an Inferno system.

Was Inferno the right choice of system? How does Inferno help or hinder me to reason about computing problems? Alan Kay has said, "Point of view is worth 80 IQ points" when talking about the power of smalltalk. Paul Graham has expressed similar ideas about the power of Lisp. Why not do the Notebook in Squeak or Lisp? I don't have a good answer to this. It might be just accident that I started my career learning UNIX, moved on to Plan 9 and finally landed on Inferno. In a way it was part of my computing culture, and culture is king of all. I strongly believe Inferno is the most powerful environment I can most easily manage in which to explore ideas. It has broad scope, it is small and easy to understand, and the whole system is under my control. The only other environment that comes close is Squeak. But with my UNIX background I have much stronger connection to the UNIX philosophy of programming as opposed to an Object Oriented one.

Looking ahead it's hard to see what I'll be writing about next. The more papers I read and try out, the more it leads me onto other things that I know nothing of. I was interested for a while in symbolic programming, CA and Alife. I would like to try some DHT applications (from papers in MIT PDOS), but I have lost interest at the moment. No doubt my interest will come round again. However, notice the pattern again, the reason for my interest in these things is often caused by a good source of papers on these topics. In other words, who's talking about what. It's likely I'll find another source of papers on a subject I haven't considered before and will put a lot of effort in writing code to help me think through those new ideas.

I'd like to see the Inferno community grow with more programmers with whom I can talk more directly. I'd like to see wild new ideas about computing with Inferno as part of the language.

1 comment:

Jack said...

I've been lurking in your blog off and on for a while. Mostly because my programming skills are both so poor and so rusty (ah, vicious cycle).

But I hear you loud and clear, both from fascination with the ideas read about and with the desire to find some common social ground.

It also seems we share some similar overlaps in our interests. I also have a floundering blog, but at least yours is interesting, and I suspect you have a lot more lurkers than you know.