Of First and Last Noders




During one of the recent 'database hiccups', while editing my node on implicate order in an attempt to further integrate my rather inadequate knowledge of David Bohm's "backwards in time" physics, I found the following fragment, under the heading "AmbientWave's Words to a Young Noder, Historical Souvenir Edition", along with much even less comprehensible material (apparently concerning something called the Edev Retro-Temporal Recovery Team) had been unaccountably inserted into the copy in my edit box. I was unable to recreate the circumstances which had caused this, and, fearing persecution and accusations of lunacy, had thought it wise to keep it quiet. However, my own noder's block, and the realisation that it's unlikely to be taken remotely seriously - not least, I conjecture, because throughout the entire text there is not a single mention of soy - these considerations have lead me to present it here, where it may serve, perhaps, as a dim warning of just one possibility among the many mysteries that the future holds.

-j.k., Aug, 2001




... though Archivists have determined with some certainty that the original concept and implementation was created by an unemployed electrician, named Brian Eno after the great and justly famous analogue composer, some of whose works, featuring recordings of vacuum cleaners and boiling kettles, exist to this day.

As originally conceived, the Database was simply the idea of taking everything worth knowing about anything, and putting it all in one place where people could find it. We can only marvel that nobody had attempted this previously (though a small, but respectable, school of historians, the Oralists, maintains still that there were previous attempts, in particular something known as 'the Wub', or Webster, more commonly thought to have been the primitive network technology that was required by the First Implementation.)

One can only imagine the creative freedom enjoyed by those first Servants of the Database, as they created fresh writeups for even the most basic of concepts. Like gods in the dawn of the world, they traced the first tentative trails across the un-noded wilderness of human knowledge with style and verve.

Even (and, perhaps, especially) in those early times, the conflict between the raw will-to-node of a young noder and the sublime goals of the Database were noted. Legends, carefully preserved through the ages, tell us of a great noder, sensei, who shaped the nodegel mythos and spearheaded the attempt to resolve this tricky problem.

Around this time the first Nobel Prize (now known, of course, as The Big Ching) was awarded for a node, possibly by noethzola or the mysterious figure who is known to us as Masts (though by the disreputable, but zealous, members of his small cult of followers, he is called aerials.) The records were lost in the Great Restoration, but it is thought that the node contained an early proof of V = L from a zero-axiomatic system, using interaction networks of nondeterministic self-replicating Turing Machines.

A movement, the Crypto-Noders, determined to see the widespread use of this machinery of knowledge in more practical spheres, began to grow strong.

After the Fall of Dotconomy - an uncertain conflict, apparently originating in a dispute concerning dollors, a sort of primitive imitation of XP which was then in currency - the world was ripe for change. With Crypto-Noders activated in every walk of life (and possibly complicitous in the downfall of the old order) the necessary idea of Government by Database was eventually arrived at.

The Database, which had been gaining hugely in prestige and was inching its way towards its first Terabyte (how tiny that now seems!) was a natural choice of implementation. (But, natural though it now appears to us to combine the governance of things with the accumulation of knowledge about them, we must not underestimate the achievement in recognising this. Great ideas always seem obvious in retrospect.)

Thus was created the first dynamically editable and public codex. Network connections were set up in all courtrooms so that judges (still human, in those distant times, of course) could node their decisions and keep up to date with recent case law and decree nodi nukings, lest they should convict some innocent of a recently nuked offence. All XP transactions on the open market were autonoded to ensure propriety, and noding was introduced as a required subject in all schools for ages of three and above.

This was the golden age of noding. The Database grew strong, and, with the introduction of compulsory factual noding for all, progressed steadily towards the goal of completeness. The research required to find just one or two un-noded topics could take many days - and this even with the help of those diligent taxonomists of knowledge, the metanoders, who made it their business to chart the gaps and holes in the nodespace.

But deep in the heart of that wonderful fruit of human aspirations, a little worm was busy spreading its rottenness and disease. It first came to attention when an inventory of nodes dealing with the Database itself, its laws, cultures, and practices, was essayed. The shocking result was that their number significantly exceeded that of the other nodes. Perhaps this shouldn't have been altogether surprising, since the Database had become the primary medium for human creativity, scientific endeavour, and social interaction; but especially disturbing was the fact that the majority of these nodes were ones legislating noder behaviour - particularly in that complex social environment now known (for undetermined reasons) as the cheesebox. For example, the codicil delineating the exact manner in which it was permissible to give a backhanded compliment to a noder of higher status ran to a node-chain exceeding 41,000 individual writeups!

The Database Council invoked a special plenary session to consider the situation, and what they found was not pleasant. AI nodegel explorers determined with 90% certainty that conspiracy was afoot. The design of the complicated set of requirements for behaviour was cunningly set up so as to ensure the retention of a rigid noder hierarchy. Worse, once the pattern was discovered it became plain that many nodes having nothing to do with noding or noders were corrupted, harbouring subtle deceptions, disinformation, and even outright lies! An XP racket reaching to the very highest and most regarded nodes in existence was uncovered. Nodes of historical value had been drawn into the web of deceit, and plain-talking innocent factual nodes, attempting to decry the multiple injustices, setting the record straight, or just coincidentally in contradiction of the falsehoods, had been duplicitously nuked.

Further investigation showed that the blame was to be laid at the feet of an octogenarian - a high-ranking Council member (though thankfully not yet the highest) who in his youth had been excluded, under another name, from participation in the Database - the most severe sanction, short of physical deprivation of some kind, that was then available.

This noder (whose name is not to be spoken, though I'm sure you know it) was so embittered by his punishment that he'd set to work a small army of followers; at first human ones: poor trolls and down-and-outs, short of XP, whom he'd ensnared with rhetorical force and the strength of his charisma; and then, at their direction, a legion of illegal AI noders, working under the guise of plausible human identities culled from medical record nodes, fiendishly contrived with the connivance of a few eminent scientific noders, power-hungry and tempted by false promises of XP riches and fraudulent accreditation. Together, this unholy alliance had set to work to create the chaos and disruption, partly advancing the political ambitions of its leader, partly just reflecting his whimsy and malice, whose presence was now glaringly obvious in every corner of the Database.

At once the High Council set about rectifying the problem. Ancient engineers, with unmatched knowledge of the complex code underlying the workings of that Implementation, were called out of retirement to advise. The sheer number of fraudulent nodes, the huge scale of the crime, dictated that purely human intervention, as required by long and dearly held tradition, would not suffice. With grim purpose, an elite team of programmers set about creating a node-worm that would traverse the unimaginable quantity of logs and nuke records, slowly restoring the nodegel to a state of grace, righting wrongs committed over two noding generations, nuking the wholly corrupt, rectifying the subtle errors, and reposting (with full Rep) the unjustly nuked.

Dear child, as you have learned from your ancient history nodes, it was not to be.

No-one knows to this day whether it was a subtle coding error (and let us not forget, this was a programming project whose like has never been attempted) or whether a diabolical trap in the arcane defences of the malicious code infesting the Implementation was triggered; but for whatever reason, the process failed badly. The few surviving records tell us that at first all seemed well; but without warning, the node-count started to drop rapidly. Auto-nuking ran rampant, and the distributed nature of the Implementation, its strict locking and tight coding, made stopping the process impossible, without bringing human society itself screeching to a halt. All that could be done was to sit back and watch the progress of the worm as it wreaked its destruction on all that was held dear, and plan for a full restoration from backups to the previously infested state when it had run its course, whereupon a second attempt could be made.

As you doubtless have heard many times, the precious backups were stored at the house of nate - a grizzled old coder who claimed to have worked with Eno on the very first primitive Implementation (though these claims are now summarily dismissed, by all but the Oralists, as the forgivable fancy of an old man.) These irreplacable backups were held on removable media of an ancient kind, occupying more than half of what was then considered a very large building. Tragically (and we must really question the sentimental decision of those who allowed this archaic and inefficient storage method) the consequences had not been fully thought through, as became abundantly evident on nate's synchronous, and singularly unfortunate, acquisition of a new state-of-the-art computer, which had been inexpertly installed, without the proper heat-shielding.

The Oralists maintain, and no-one contests them on this point, that the fire was due to an uneaten "pizza" (whatever that is) lazily left on the system-box by one of the install engineers; but the details hardly matter. The result, of course, was that three generations of meticulously kept backups, the sole repository of the wealth of uncorrupted human knowledge and creative strivings, were consigned, with the rest of the house, to the scarlet flames of the ensuing conflagration.

As soon as this became known, an immediate attempt was made to halt the Database, and therefore the ravaging progress of the malfunctioning worm. The world waited and watched as servers that had run uninterrupted for twenty five years or more were unceremoniously shut down. The courts and schools, the hospitals and markets, the arts and the sciences, the very throb of human life on this planet, fell silent. Apoplexy and anticipation were universal. And of course the criminals and politicians did not hesitate to take advantage of the unwanted hiatus (though thankfully the latter were impeded by the lack of any substantial alternative means of communication.)

Thanks to the tireless efforts of those ancient coders and their hastily but exquisitely engineered counter-worm - see the node-chain under Operation Resurrect for the full details of their strategy - we were able to retrieve, as one by one the little lights flashed into life, speakers beeped, and disks spun up around the globe, what we now retain of the collected knowledge and culture of those times.

And so, we may not be able to claim with utter certainty that the Nation of the Americas was founded by Tom Waits, that the French Revelation was set in motion by the Gladys Knights Templar, in collusion with Cohen Leonard and the Red Pip Movement, or that the frying pan was indeed invented by Ludwig Wittgenstein. But the odds are on our side. And in any case, what does it matter, my young friend, when the freegel is formless as always, and the vast reaches of the unknown are still to be noded; when the comradeship of the noders is yet unsullied with the evil that is passed, and the cheesebox is permanently unlegislated by decree; when the nodegel itself is pure and fresh as it ever was?

Jump in, young noder, and swim! Swim!

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