My room's a time capsule
of sorts. The library
of over 100 books, starting at fourth grade
. The poster
s dating from the 1991 World Series
. The stacks of CDs. The basket full of clothes
that no longer fit. The old computer
– there’s probably a whole time capsule
in that hard drive
alone – and the new one. It is a monument to each phase in my life. The World War II
History stage. The science-fiction
stage. The Tommy Hilfiger
stage – that was seventh grade
. The programming
stage. It's all here, a physical biography
of the past six years. Perhaps by looking through it we'll learn something of the current stage in development
The first few books in my paperback section well illustrate my literary tastes: Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, Herbert’s Dune, Kerouac’s On the Road, the ‘Dystopic Trilogy’: Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World, and Zamyatin’s We, all capped by Dylan Thomas’ Collected Poems Thoreau’s Walden and Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. As you can see, my tastes are rather eclectic. Yet each novel comes form a different period in my life. Dune was one of the first science-fiction books I read, along with The Silmarillion, in eighth grade. I read what I like to call the ‘Dystopic Trilogy’ over the course of my Freshman year which, perhaps not coincidentally, was one of my more depressing times. On the Road was probably the most mind-altering due to its free-form prose style and bohemian ideals. The 400-page Zen was read in only three days last year due to procrastination for my book report. I just finished Walden which was, indeed, beautiful; but I somehow find myself agreeing with Melville more than Thoreau. Finally, AP English this year has introduced me to the incredible world of poetry and, wanting to read a relatively contemporary poet, I’ve been regularly looking to Dylan Thomas. However, while these books may be representative of several phases in my life, they fail to quantify the length and intensity of these phases. Sure, I presently find myself reading philosophy and poetry, but this phase, manifesting itself in only 5 or 6 books, cannot hope to compare to the many years I spent reading science fiction and fantasy. The ‘highly literary works’ are more like the natural numbers lost in a sea of SF/F-reals.
Our sample space is even more skewed because it is taken only from the paperbacks. Almost all of my World War II books are much too large to fit in the smaller row and the writer is much too lazy (Err...he likes to have his material on hand...) to actually shelve his programming books. Thus, our sample is skewed because the sample space itself is not evenly distributed. Fortunately, our ever observant scientist has recognized this anomaly and will now proceed to alleviate the problem. The second shelf is about twice the size of the first and thus contains most of my hardback copies. There you will find Jane’s Fighting Aircraft of World War II, Cornelius Ryan’s Trilogy: The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far, and The Last Battle, multiple works by Ambrose, and – the epitome of history geekdom – Achtung-Panzer! by the originator of ‘blitzkrieg’, Heinz Guderian. This last book was especially humorous because I asked for it for Christmas, leading my sister to proclaim every one of my subsequent gift requests ‘Panzer-War-Jackal-Stormtrooper-V’. While she probably thought this to be humorous, I only enjoyed it more for linking four of my greatest loves together: WWII History, the computer game Panzer General, the ancient, original Nintendo game Jackal, and, of course, Star Wars. Unfortunately, (or luckily, for my sister) my WWII phase slowly disintegrated in the ever-increasing-entropy let loose when one of my Mom’s Ph.D. friends introduced me to the mysteries of Robert A. Heinlein (then again, maybe my sister preferred Panzer-War...).
The only statistically significant set remaining are my various programming texts. Unfortunately, these are slowly becoming indistinguishable from the floor which they invariably rest upon, for my room is not a simple time capsule – No! – it is a living time capsule (not only ever swirling under the effects of entropy, but biological as well...) I’ll list them autobiographically and see if something emerges from the chaos: Sams Teach Yourself C++, Computing Concept with C++ Essentials, Learning Perl, Just Java 2, Java Examples in a Nutshell, Running Linux, MySQL & mSQL. As you can see my plan in learning programming languages was designed to disprove all theories concerning predestination, for it embraces the fact “that the only strategy which an opponent cannot predict is a random strategy”; or at least that’s how I like to rationalize my stupidity in the order I chose to learn languages. Fortunately, I quickly escaped the guilty pleasures of overrun screws and smashed stacks generative of C++ to emerge as a full-fledged, just another, Perl Hacker. Perl may well have corrupted my ‘good sense’ concerning code-commenting and OO, but, honestly, is this really such a loss? I prefer to call it job security. Un/Fortunately, the good/bad habits that Perl introduced were soon eviscerated by a hot shot of Java. Java was interesting in that way all things that you have to wait forever for are interesting. You see, I was writing emulators for the various encryption machines used during WWII (Enigma etc.) for a website. This, of course, meant I had to use the AWT (Java 2 was not yet widely available in browsers so Swing was out of the question, and would have made it still slower) to make some – it seemed at the time – rather complex GUIs. Java is by definition slower than any truly compiled language, especially when using a compiler that is, itself, written in Java; but most people today will tell you that “Java isn’t really that slow”. To these people I say: “Try running XF86 on a P166 with just 16 Megs of RAM.” Only then will they truly understand the slowness of Java. The emulators were still fun to write though, and Java was so much more elegant than the now vague nightmare that was trying to learn C++ without help. At this time I was also Running Linux for no other reason than to say “I have now fully defenestrated my computer.” While running Windows I had thought myself to be 1 1337 h4Xor, what with my incredible several hundred line programs and hot notepad skillz; Linux destroyed this naïveté. I though I’d be hacking that Linux Kernel in no-time-at-all. After scrolling through a couple thousand lines of code, I was thoroughly humbled. Subsequently, I followed Carlyle’s advice and did “the Duty which lay nearest me,” using Perl and my newly acquired MySQL book to develop the backend for my encryption website (http://library.thinkquest.org/C004911/). This experience was mind altering because I finally had to worry about such abstract concepts as usability and reliability. Who would’ve guessed that forms labeled simply “TextForm 1” would be confusing? Apparently “Please type your Comments, Requests, Flames etc. Here” is somehow more clear! I don’t think I will ever understand the (l)users.
It seems that our experiment in time capsules has worked too well. I spent three paragraphs on my bookcase (and self-deprecation) alone! I guess that old CS axiom is true: “The first 90% of the code accounts for the first 90% of the development time. The remaining 10% of the code accounts for the other 90% of the development time.” I suppose I could attempt to prune it down a little, not fully implement the literature feature so that the original expectations might be met in the space alloted. Yet, are not the primary virtues of a Perl programmer “Laziness, Impatience and Hubris”? I’ve unquestionably got laziness down, and impatience isn’t all that hard, so I think I’ll fulfill the Hubris requirement by changing that title from “My Room – The Time Capsule” to “My Bookcase.” Anyway, hopefully you now have a good feeling for many of my past phases (and my humor). And what of the current phase in development? I suppose I’ll know in a few years, I’ll just have to look around.