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TorgoX (1933)


"Il est beau comme la retractilité des serres des oiseaux rapaces [...] et surtout, comme la rencontre fortuite sur une table de dissection d'une machine à coudre et d'un parapluie !" -- Lautréamont

Journal of TorgoX (1933)

Saturday July 02, 2005
06:23 AM

The Nightmare

[ #25484 ]
Dear Log,

I hereby expose you to a bit of prose that depicts something that I refer to, in my personal lexicon, as simply "The Nightmare":

«Shutting down the Troupe's systems was delicate work.  Even the minor systems, for instance, the little telephone switches, had a million or more lines of antique corporate freeware.  The software had been created by vast teams of twentieth-century software engineers, hired labor for extinct telephone empires like AT&T and SPRINT.  It was freeware because it was old, and because everybody who'd ever made it was either dead now or in other work.  Those armies of telephone engineers were now as scattered and extinct as the Soviet Red Army.

Those armies of engineers had basically been automated out of existence, replaced by higher-and-higher-level expert systems, that did error checks, bug hunts, resets, fault recoveries.  Now a single individual could use the technology -- any individual with a power plug and a desk.  The sweat and talent of tens of thousands of clever people had vanished into a box you could hold in your hand and buy in a flea market.

The Troupe's switching stations were cheap-ass little Malaysian-made boxes of recycled barf-colored plastic.  They cost about as much as a pair of good shoes.

There wasn't a single human being left in the world who fully understood what was going on inside those little boxes.  Actually, no single human being in the world had ever understood an intellectual structure of that complexity.  Any box running a million lines of code was far beyond the direct comprehension of any human brain.  And it was simply impossible to watch those modern screamer-chips grind that old code, on any intimate line-by-line basis.  It was like trying to listen in on every conversation in a cocktail party bigger than Manhattan.

As a single human individual, you could only interface with that code on a very remote and abstract level -- you had to negotiate with the code, gently, politely, and patiently, the way you might have dealt with a twentieth-century phone company.  You owned a twentieth-century phone company -- it was all inside the box now.

As you climbed higher and higher up the stacks of interface, away from the slippery bedrock of the hardware grinding the ones and zeros, it was like walking on stilts.

And then, stilts for your stilts, and stilts for your stilts for your stilts.  You could plug a jack in the back of the box and run like the wind of the wind.  Until something crashed somewhere, that the system's system's system couldn't diagnose and figure out and override.  Then you threw the little box away and plugged in another one.  The Troupe's system was temperamental.  To say the least.  For instance, the order in which you detached the subsystems mattered a lot.  There was no easy or direct explanation as to why that should matter, but it mattered plenty.  Jane kept careful professional track of the system's incongruities, its wealth of senseless high-level knots and kinks and cramps.  She kept her notes with pencil and paper, in a little looseleaf leather notebook she'd had since college.»

-- from Bruce Sterling Heavy Weather