The Son of the last of a long line of thinkers. (delascabezas) wrote,
The Son of the last of a long line of thinkers.

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wtf monday.. continued

I've used computers for a long time. Not a long time in the global scope, but certainly four fifths my life. For some under twenty reading this, that may sounds like an inane statement. For those pushing thirty, it is a much thinner group. My first real 'aha' moment with a computer was back in 1985, when I formatted my first hard drive, trying to free up memory. That was where I learned the difference between RAM, ROM, hard drives, and exactly how bad the buckle of a belt can hurt when it is not firmly grasped in the hand of the person who is wielding it. Since then it has been a long road of those kinds of moments, in gradually escalating layers of knowledge and interoperability. Technology has been a lifetime crusade, but I only recently discovered what my grail is.

A bit more behind the cut:

At the time I formatted the hard drive, I was trying to compile a BASIC program I had gotten from my then mentor, Peter Stark. Pete was about 10 years older than me, and last I head head of him, he had retired in his late 30's after breaking the bank in the dot com bubble game, and patenting a neat little EE process which apparently beats in the hard of most of your basic cell phones on the market.

Pete was a nerd. He was, in my world, in many ways, an idol. He introduced me to RPG's, tabletop gaming, anime, and computers. His dad worked for IBM (my dad was an accountant, hence the PC in my home), and was a wealth of computing information in my young and formative years. Atari, BBS'es, war dialing, flight sims, Chessmaster, BASIC programming, phreaking, hacking, cracking, listservs, documentation, hardware, the start of what we know as the internet - hell, the start of pretty much everything I used came to me via conversations or floppy disks I got from Pete. In some ways, he resented me, he was my minder (sometimes paid, sometimes unpaid), and he had a pretty broken home, so he sometimes partook in the slightly less broken ensemble of my family. I remember adding an overprocessor to a 386 to make it a 486. I remember the first time I ever saw someone fry a mobo (it was Pete, who spilled a bottle of mountain dew on it as he was trying to solder a sound card connection onto it. I remember installing a 9600 baud modem and thinking that data could never flow so fast. I remember laughing about that years later, when 14.4 kbps became the standard. I am laughing now, typing this on a LAN connected to a fractional T3.

Pete's friends, Mark, Leo, Austin, and later my elementary school friend Johnny and his uncle George, and friend Alex - they were a mad crew. I once watched them get wasted on stolen beer, and remember every grimace on Alex' face as he ate an entire pack of Topps baseball cards. He had lost a bet that Topps were still packaged with a stick of gum inside. He had to soak the last two in beer to get them down. Thinking back on it, I think that is the first time I ever tried beer. Small wonder I don't like it.

George's four cats, Mace, Flail, Katana and Halberd, were the first cats I ever truly bonded with, I was sadder when Flail got run over by a car than when our first family dog died. Shit, I imagine all those cats are dead now. Leo is dead now. He died of AIDS, not too long before my Grandfather died of spinal cancer. He was also the first openly gay person I knew, and very open about it. All the other guys gave him hell for it, but never in a way that hurt, only in a way that egged him on. I find it funny, in some ways, that I knew what 'fag' meant before I knew what a virgin was. Such an odd education.

If my parents knew 1/10th of what I got into "bike riding" or "hanging out at the park" with Pete and his friends, I am sure they would both go into full blown apoplexy, even today.

I have no idea what happened to Austin, as he was the eldest, and had the least time/interest in me, aside from making fun of me for being a kid. He was always frustrated with me for asking so many questions. I don't think he was part of the group at heart, but was grateful for the company, since nobody else would really take him in. He was a fat kid with a harelip. He was something of a social pariah for being Jewish, and for living in a single family home, but none of the rest of the guys cared.

Mark is in jail in federal jail in Kentucky or somefuck. He wrote me a letter addressed to me at my parents' place just before Y2K. He had tried to blow up a K-Mart using a car full of homemade explosives after dropping out of school. He had wanted to say goodbye before the world ended, and for some reason, mine was the only address of the crew he remembered. That is probably because he was the first of the crew with access to a car, and Pete used to have him drive me home all the time.

Mark apparently thought that Y2K was going to be the end of it all. In all fairness, I should mention that Mark was the first person I ever hung out with who was on acid. I was seven. He was fourteen. I haven't tried to resume contact with him since that letter, so I don't know how he feels about being wrong. Johnny apparently works a coding job in Jersey, according to my brother, who was the last person I know to talk to him. He has a younger brother who is as old as my youngest cousin. There are seventeen years between brothers there - with two different fathers who left the same woman, in the same state. Patterns of mistakes, patterns of behavior.

Peter was a good egg, so was the rest of the crew. They let me get into some trouble, but never too much. They censored themselves somewhat when I was younger, but less as I got older. When the last of them left for college, I was 10, and starting my own hassles of thought ant enterprise. I still talked to Pete over breaks, and we still all got together now and again to game. That ended when I was 14 and the last of them graduated and moved away.

I owe a lot to Pete, in terms of who I have become in this world. For the record, I also blame him for me being a gaming geek.

Despite my love affair with the Wizardry series of PC games in the late 80's (I even got one from the library, if you believe that), the first game that really nailed me was in 1989, when I tried to fire up the game "Heroes Quest" (later re-named Quest for Glory) on my family PC. By then, dad's work on the machine was more of a monthly close thing, and I had a LOT more time to play on it, without butting heads with him. I was the one who pushed for windows, when it finally came, and I was the one who took over the troubleshooting not long thereafter.

Without getting too much into detail, I decided that I would try to trick the game. There was one point in the game where you need to do a bunch of heroic things in the local castle. In order to gain access to the castle, you need to announce your name to a herald (spelling whatever name you chose for yourself correctly) so he could announce you to the baron for an audience. One of the central quests in the game required that you find the Baron's long lost son. After some snooping and talking to people in the game, you figure out the Baron's Son's name (which, ironically, I shit you not, was Bernard). I jumped out of the game, created a new character, and gave him the exact name of the Baronet, assuming that I could fast-talk my way through the quest, if the gate guard announced me as the long-lost son of the Baron.

In reality, it didn't make a lick of difference to the game what my name was. Of course, this was before I understood scripted logic, and how computers worked on the inside from a programmatic sense. I definitely understood cause/effect relationships, and how to DO things with computers, but I didn't understand the essence of computation, and the cold beauty of the latticework of logic beneath the shell.

I turned to those early resources at my disposal. The Sierra On Line BBS was full of older gamer geeks, whose responses comprised the usual cocktail of internet responses. Some applauded thinking outside the box, others amounted to 'RTFM N00B'. Both sides seemed to agree that to understand why what I did would not work, I needed to understand how programs worked. That led me to my first brush with OOP, via The Zen of Programming, which was assigned reading years later in my intro to OOP class in college.

As a footnote, Sierra, the game company that made the series of Police Quest, Hero Quest, King's Quest etc, also had the first graphical online game environment I ever took part in. It was called Sierra On-Line, a BBS based GUI, complete with avatars, gambling, and live real time MMORPG, which cost 39.95$ for FIVE HOURS of connectivity (long distance for dialing CA not included). After getting into my first internet relationship (with a woman who later became a r/l girlfriend, and who came in and out of the scene in my life from so many angles it is hard to pick her out of it), I learned the moral lesson of moderation, when that 400$ bill came in. My parents did not believe it possible for someone to spend 50 hours on a computer doing ANYTHING that was not a paying job. How the world has proved them wrong.

Since that last brush with the conceptual reality of programs and programming, at the doorstep of 1990, I have continued to love technology. Sometimes I am fascinated by potential, other times wowed by achievement. Occasionally I am nauseated by its poor application, or outraged by its misuse. Most of what keeps me in technology head space these days (aside from a steady paycheck) are the theoretical possibilities beyond the event horizon. Towards that end, over the past few years I have spent large amounts of energy absorbing the underlying physics principles which has led to the theories bundled as quantum mechanics. This has not been focused until fairly recently (last two years or so) wherein I have been exploring the logical/logistical conundrums of quantum computing, and moving through the murky waters of cryptography into the full-blooded science of information theory.

My patterns of thoughts and obsessive reading shout out at me through my expenses on books for 2006 (part of keeping an itemized tax log); anthropology, biographical minutiae, history, theoretical science, philosophy, theological history, theoretical spirituality, information theory, annals of fights between inventive geniuses - all of these interconnected harmonies with no central melody to unite them.

None of this data flow really came full circle until a couple weeks ago, when I was trying to make some notes for further research, and dropped my Treo. When I came back up from beneath my desk, I bumped my head, which hurt a lot. While I was trying not to curse too loudly, scrubbing the lump forming on the back of my skull, my gaze fell to two books stacked on the corner of my desk, one of which had been knocked askew by my noggin . Programming the Universe was sitting atop Decoding the Universe. Despite the painful knot I gave myself on the underside desk, I have to laugh now at the revelation it led to.

For those who have not seen the movie Pi, allow me to add a spoiler or two:

  • The protagonist suffers from migraines (which is how the movie was recommended to me)

  • He believes that he has found a number set which unlocks the patterns in life, which is a closed numbers system. he uses this magic number to break codes on the stock market, or whatever else he applies the number to.

My greatest moments of self-realization always come at times when my life is in chaos, and I am being so scrutinizing of all the variables in my world, while trying to maintain a rational detachment from them to analyze trends.

I'm looking for the opposite of what the guy in Pi had. I am searching for the algorithm that tells me where the grail is not. I don't need essential starts, universal answers, or self-solving problems. I want to be able to apply an information frame set to a logical reduction with scoped variables, and find out which ways it will turn up wrong, and what those things wrong have in common. I want to know where the patterns of wrongness lives, not the home address of the universal solution. Gather enough of that problem data, and I think you might be able to quantify chaos meaningfully. I've been a worst-caser for a long time. I am looking for a system to support it, and refine it. I want to do this before the variable I am solving for becomes a realistic constant in my information framework.

I don't think the truth of life lies in the answers. I think it lies in what all the failures and wrong answers have in common, either in madness or in method.


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