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mdxi (4658)

mdxi
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http://mdxi.collapsar.net/

Journal of mdxi (4658)

Thursday November 20, 2003
03:06 AM

Isolationist

[ #15892 ]

You might want to skip this one. I'm feeling bitchy.

For years I've been feeling less and less a part of the mainstream of Linux users, so far as there is such a thing.

I don't care if Linux wins on the desktop. I don't care if GNOME or KDE has superior anti-aliasing and true alpha-blended animated pie menus. All that feels like a gigantic waste of effort to me.

It started when Doug Englebart came back into the collective hacker consciousness; 1998 or so. I read about him, and his works, and from there I went on to more closely study Knuth and Wirth and Djikstra, and others from the time when computing was a discipline serving engineers and not a wishy-washy school of performance art in the service of the nearly-illiterate.

And I think it should be that way again. In much of Europe, the discipline is called "Informatics", which I think is a much more proper expression of the focus of one's work than "Computer Science". They also seem to be more purist and concerned with efficiency than we are here in the States. (Not that this is new; I can't remember seeing a good old-school asm demo that had non-Nordic/Slavic names attached to it)

Microsoft has managed to gut computer science in the United States by effectively buying the curricula of many smaller universities through grants of hardware and software. The effect of these course changes is to turn a CS department into a trade school for turning out Windows programmers. I'm not raving a penguinista conspiracy theory here; I watched it happen to the school I was attending several years ago. Anyhow, this is to say nothing of all the people who declare CS but have no love for it; who never write a line of code outside their assignments; who had never seen an if/then before setting foot in the classroom.

I'm in an uncomfortable space, knowledge-wise. I'm well above the vast majority of users (Linux or otherwise), but I know nothing compared to the master programmers of this age or the preceeding one.

Still, I am unhappy with the lack of tools that work exactly as I like, and I am slowly coccooning myself in an envelope of my own software. I'm writing my own markup language and parser /a la/ TeX, because none of the existing ones strike the right balance of conciseness in the markup and power in the engine. I have started work on a program -- which is still partially without form in my own mind -- in the mold of Englebart's AUGMENT system. I have large plans for this, but I'm so unsure of specifics and my ability to pull it off that I'd rather just shut up about it for now.

So does all of this make me eccentric, or "old school", or "hardcore", or just an asshole? I don't do it out of malice, I do it because I think I should, but I still feel strangely guilty when I hear people chattering about new features in a desktop environment and I feel holier-than-thou because I'm so happy with a stack of xterms running screen running curses-based apps, emacs, and firebird, all running in ratpoison.

Anyway.

Wrote some perl today. Trying to get a new release of mfn and mffix out while simultaneously laying the groundwork for a modular rewrite of the other mfutils. Yay!

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  • Paul Graham says much of the same thing in his "Painters and Hackers" essay, mentioned somewhere else on use.perl (forgive me, this damned internet cafe allows me a single browser window, so hunting links is very tedious).

    I am constantly lumped in with a bunch of PC repairmen types when people ask what I do. Anything with "computer" in the explanation makes them ask "So you set up computers for people?". Bah. I've started telling people I'm a writer. Not only do they not press the issue, but they feel sorry for me---a double bonus.

    I use computers because I am addicted to information. If I did not need to organize a lot of (mostly useless) information, I wouldn't use Perl and I probably would not spend that much time typing. I know some people really enjoy rebuilding kernels, installing printer drivers, and making wireless antennas, but I just want to get work done. :)
  • cocoon and ratpoison (Score:3, Interesting)

    by inkdroid (3294) on 2003.11.20 9:58 (#25929) Homepage Journal
    So does all of this make me eccentric, or "old school", or "hardcore", or just an asshole? I don't do it out of malice, I do it because I think I should, but I still feel strangely guilty when I hear people chattering about new features in a desktop environment and I feel holier-than-thou because I'm so happy with a stack of xterms running screen running curses-based apps, emacs, and firebird, all running in ratpoison.

    The mere fact that you took the time to write down these thoughts into your journal means you aren't in the cocoon you think you are :-)

    I agree with your basic point: it's important to remember that all these lovely applications that we have today would not be possible without being able to build upon the work of the those who have come before...standing on thes shoulders of giants, as it were. Computer theory is the the bedrock that make todays applications possible, and it's really, really important to have respect and understanding for this stuff.

    It's important to see the value in new applications though. But I think you've got that covered, since you would be programming in assembly instead of Perl if you didn't. a.out.org isn't a very lively forum these days. :-)