Where I'll be spending my Thursday afternoon
James Mickens is speaking at the Harvard CS Colloqium at 4pm today in Maxwell-Dworkin, which is amazing because James Mickens is amazing because James Mickens is the author of "The Night Watch":
As a highly trained academic researcher, I spend a lot of time trying to advance the frontiers of human knowledge. However, as someone who was born in the South, I secretly believe that true progress is a fantasy, and that I need to prepare for the end times, and for the chickens coming home to roost, and fast zombies, and slow zombies, and the polite zombies who say “sir” and “ma’am” but then try to eat your brain to acquire your skills. When the revolution comes, I need to be prepared; thus, in the quiet moments, when I’m not producing incredible scientific breakthroughs, I think about what I’ll do when the weather forecast inevitably becomes RIVERS OF BLOOD ALL DAY EVERY DAY. The main thing that I ponder is who will be in my gang, because the likelihood of post-apocalyptic survival is directly related to the size and quality of your rag-tag group of associates. There are some obvious people who I’ll need to recruit: a locksmith (to open doors); a demolitions expert (for when the locksmith has run out of ideas); and a person who can procure, train, and then throw snakes at my enemies (because, in a world without hope, snake throwing is a reasonable way to resolve disputes). All of these people will play a role in my ultimate success as a dystopian warlord philosopher. However, the most important person in my gang will be a systems programmer. A person who can debug a device driver or a distributed system is a person who can be trusted in a Hobbesian nightmare of breathtaking scope; a systems programmer has seen the terrors of the world and understood the intrinsic horror of existence. The systems programmer has written drivers for buggy devices whose firmware was implemented by a drunken child or a sober goldfish. The systems programmer has traced a network problem across eight machines, three time zones,
and a brief diversion into Amish country, where the problem was transmitted in the front left hoof of a mule named Deliverance. The systems programmer has read the kernel source, to better understand the deep ways of the universe, and the systems programmer has seen the comment in the scheduler that says "DOES THIS WORK LOL," and the systems programmer has wept instead of LOLed, and the systems programmer has submitted a kernel patch to restore balance to The Force and fix the priority inversion that was causing MySQL to hang. A systems programmer will know what to do when society breaks down, because the systems programmer already lives in a world without law. (...)
And, what's even more hilarious, the man who once wrote...
You must believe me when I say that I have the utmost respect for HCI people. However, when HCI people debug their code, it’s like an art show or a meeting of the United Nations. There are tea breaks and witticisms exchanged in French; wearing a nonfunctional scarf is optional, but encouraged. When HCI code doesn’t work, the problem can be resolved using grand theories that relate form and perception to your deeply personal feelings about ovals. There will be rich debates about the socioeconomic implications of Helvetica Light, and at some point, you will have to decide whether serifs are daring statements of modernity, or tools of hegemonic oppression that implicitly support feudalism and illiteracy. Is pinching-anddragging less elegant than circling-and-lightly-caressing? These urgent mysteries will not solve themselves. And yet, after a long day of debugging HCI code, there is always hope, and there is no true anger; even if you fear that your dropdown list should be a radio button, the drop-down list will suffice until tomorrow, when the sun will rise, glorious and vibrant, and inspire you to combine scroll bars and left-clicking in poignant ways that you will commemorate in a sonnet when you return from your local farmer’s market. (...)
...the talk is titled "building a better web browser". I'm cutting my CS161 office hours short to get a seat in the front row.