Monday, May 18, 2009

A programmer's view of the Universe, part 3: The Death of Richard Dawkins

We're getting close to the end of my blog. After today's entry, I only have three left to write. After that, I'll only blog anonymously or (more likely) not at all.

This is part three of five in my "Programmer's View of the Universe" series. I struggled for a while with how best to introduce the ideas in this installment, and ultimately opted for a short story.

This is a science fiction short story. It's different from many other sci-fi stories in that it is set in the "near future", but it has realistic schedule estimates. So unlike 1984, 2001, The Singularity is Near and all the other sci-fi stories that grossly underestimated their project durations, this one is set 1000 years in the future. I.e., right around the corner.

The story is disrespectful to pretty much everyone in the world. It will create a fantastic shit storm. This is probably a good time to point out that I don't speak for my employer. [Edit: Yay for fiction! Apparently marking something as fiction placates people. Nice to know.]

The story is 18 pages (PDF from Google Docs print preview). That's not unusual for my blog, but I went ahead and published it as a standalone document.

I'd encourage you to enjoy it, but I'm old and embittered enough to know better. You probably shouldn't even read it. Just wait for someone to summarize it for you.

Installments 4 and 5 will not be short stories; they will be regular old blog rants. In them I will further develop these ideas, and I will also attempt to clear up any gross misconceptions about the story, of which there are bound to be many.

My final blog-rant entry is the only one I care about anymore. I've been working on it so hard that my fingers have started to fail. It's been tons of fun, aside from the chronic pain. It's about a neat programming language, and Emacs, and lots of other stuff. I can't wait!

Oh yeah. Here's the link to the story. I've never done a read-only Google Docs link before, so it's probably broken. Or editable. I don't know. We'll see.

This week is going to suck. People are going to be mad. Maybe I should take a vacation and come back when the whining is finished. Can someone email me and let me know when it's all blown over?


Blogger Adam Sheldon said...

Why will you be ending your blog!?!

Its one of my favorite reads!

3:55 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

I bet you think of other stuff that needs saying after these articles. I'm sure they aren't the end.

After all, you do enjoy a good rant.

4:09 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Joel said...

That was perhaps one of the weirdest things I've ever read, and I've been reading this blog for some time. I think I'm going to have to wait for someone to summarise it. And I'll have difficulty comprehending the summary.

4:21 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for putting this into a format that I can read on my phone when I have more time (via Instapaper).

4:31 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger mo.stoneskin said...

Mate I'm not gonna read the story unless you decide not to end your blog.

Seriously, this was the one blog I read before I started blogging, this was it.

Ah well, if you've got a good reason then fair enough.

I'm gonna download the thing if I can because I sure as hell won't be able to read an 18 page document in the remaining 5 minutes of my lunch break.

4:37 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Ryszard Szopa said...

Wow, the short story is really great! Maybe except it is... uh, too short :) I mean, seriously, if you have any more stories in your drawer, please don't be mean and share them. Unless you plan to publish them, but that would be even better.

BTW your story somehow resembles the Polish SF writer Jacek Dukaj. I think you may like him, of course if there is an English translation.

4:47 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger psyho said...

This is one of my favorite blogs, please don't stop posting here.

Pretty please with a cherry on top?

4:50 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Chris Handley said...

Come-on, don't stop your blog! (I hope you are kidding) Even one blog post per year (perhaps a drunk Xmas special?) would be OK. Yours was the first blog I started reading, and it's still the best.

4:57 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Aaron Davies said...

I can't summarize it, but I can take a stab at a logline: Stross meets PKD.

4:59 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

Because it takes a lot of time and effort of this part!

Now we wait for STEVESECRETARY to start posting.

5:07 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

I read it but I don't understand it yet, except I think I do a little bit.

I look forward to the epic finale at the End Of All Things, where you summarise what you were going on about all along and show a neat way to insticate the Singularity using Emacs and do it all in less than 20 words.

5:08 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

If the best blog stops having new content, I quess it's time to stop reading blogs.

Does someone here know of any blogs out there that come even close? I have quite a few in my google reader but it's mostly on the level of Coding Horror.

5:25 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

Alternative ending: we give Steve enough money so that he quits Google and becomes a full time blogger.


5:32 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger AriT93 said...

please don't stop. Good writing and interesting ideas are always welcome. Besides, with the current posting interval, it's almost like you quit after each post. amirite?!?

can someone post the pdf somewhere for me it is not accessible behind my current employers firewall

5:34 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Jacob A. said...

how does one with such a distinct style blog anonymously? :(

5:41 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger shevy said...

The death of a blog.

5:51 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

You don't think you're giving yourself perhaps a little too much credit? "People will be mad" ... sure. In some alternative universe.

5:53 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Mark said...

Thanks for sharing that. I really enjoyed the story.

5:54 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Chris Handley said...

Heh, going by the first chapter, someone's been watching too much anime, possibly mixed with a bit of Thief (I'm hoping Eidos don't mess-up Thief 4). You even managed to get a Portal in there, plus a bit of WoW experience, and even some Amazon data centres... Or I could just be imagining it all!

Anyway, a pretty good piece of hard SF. Having you decided to leave Google, and write SF stories instead? ;-)

6:18 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Matt said...

Please don't quit :(

6:26 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Brady said...

Weird, cool and intriguing. You're good.

6:36 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger knowtheory said...

Still reading the post, but i should note that the Dennet + body switching thing is a reference to Daniel Dennett (a professor of philosophy at tufts), who is an anti-realist about qualia, and religion as far as i am aware.

Dennett also authored an amusing paper titled "Where Am I?" which discusses, in length, the notion of location, self, and identity, through thought experiments regarding remote perception (i.e. wrapping our meat sensors with a seamless interface to the inputs and outputs of a robot for instance)

Incidentally the paper "Where Am I?" can be found in the anthology that Dan Dennett & Doug Hofstadter compiled and annotated called The Mind's I (It's a good book, well worth reading).

6:45 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger TommyMac said...

Ending your blog? Come on! Who are you kidding? You'll be back in six months tops.

The Virtual Sink

7:09 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger db48x said...

That's a great story! Very weird, and SO COOOL; the essence of a good science fiction story :)

I've enjoyed your weblog, so if you do move to a more anonymous location, at least leave us some clues.

7:19 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Luke said...

Steve, don't go emo on us and talk about quitting Blogging! The internets need you.

Seriously, you are one of the most profound and entertaining bloggers in this industry. If anything you should blog more often.

Now, let me get on to reading that story.

7:20 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger James said...

nth-ing the request that you not stop others, yours was the first blog I read, and was what inspired me to get seriously into programming...basically, it's your fault I'm in computer engineering now :p

But seriously, please don't stop.

8:16 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Mark said...

It seems to me that announcing the end of your blog is going to create more of a shitstorm than the story (which I have not finished yet - it's quite good so far). To echo the general sentiment, please don't stop!

8:35 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

Why would you think people would rant about that?

Very good, I liked it a lot!

Also please don't stop your blog - its good stuff!

8:37 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger A D Bachman said...

That was beautiful.

Will take a bit to process, but thanks for sharing.

9:30 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Tim Visher said...

I have no idea what this is about. I believe it is because I'm not smart enough to get it. Perhaps an explanation later? :)

Please don't stop blogging!

9:43 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Capt. Jean-Luc Pikachu said...

We're getting close to the end of my blog. After today's entry, I only have three left to write. After that, I'll only blog anonymously or (more likely) not at all.I'm sorry to hear this. Good luck in future endeavors.

9:50 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger billo said...

Great stuff, Stevie. Seems to me that you've got the beginnings of a complete novel here, or maybe a novella at least. There's a ton of stuff here you can expand on. Quit your day job and become a writer!

10:46 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Dmitry said...

Can't wait to read your another one emacs post!

11:14 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Brad said...

Am I trying too hard to dig up strange loops, or was the raven referring to us?

11:29 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger L. David Varvel said...

I think I might know why you were expecting a shitstorm. Reading the story, it felt like the sacred cows you're attacking are:

1. Religion
2. Atheism as a form of religion
3. Technological utopianism
4. Pure rationality

Is any of that even close? Any hints?

11:33 AM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Tomy said...

I read enjoyed pondered the story.

You're wasting your time at Google. You should be writing and publishing.

12:35 PM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger cwlq said...

Very nice, but I agree with Ryszard Szopa and billo that I wish it was longer still.

Does anyone have an idea why External Dawkins does everything three verbs at a time?

12:53 PM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Brad said...

I interpreted the verb triples as parallel processing.

1:05 PM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

Noooo, don't stop blogging. Fair enough you'll run out material, but in 6 months time when you think of something new...

5:22 PM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

(no need to post to comments) I think I get it. Rally on GOOG -- major layoffs coming? No critical comments allowed on blog. I say you *certainly* have no need to worry -- or, if you are worried about others, they have the google resume now. There really is a ton of stuff out there right now. Maybe it is not google quality change the world stuff, but it is there.

If I am missing this and there is going to be a major dive in GOOG and this is warning, maybe an update to the post with some obscure meaning might help?

6:08 PM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Brian Slesinsky said...

This is first-rate science fiction. You should write more!

I'm guessing the part about it being extraordinarily controversial is misdirection to get short-attention-span blog readers to read a science fiction story. (If so, it worked on me.)

7:28 PM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Tiang said...

Well written and kept me going all the way to the end. :)

7:36 PM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

I really enjoyed the story, and the only comment I have after my quick read is if there was a breaking of the 4th wall with the Raven?

10:03 PM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'm sorry to see you go. I've really enjoyed reading your story. You have a unique style in the blogosphere and all of your rants have been exceptional. If have chosen to stop blogging, I wish you good luck in the future.

10:29 PM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Ray Cromwell said...

Although I consider myself an agnostic in the sense that I don't care about deities, and consider many of the questions posed either meaningless or unanswerable anyway (e.g. I allow for the existence of a deity, can't disprove it, but don't really care very much if it exists), I do find the frequent analogies of atheism, science, or rationality as a 'religion' an unsatisfying on almost every level.

If the world did have a dominant 'church' of atheism or science, that drummed zealous, repetitious, dogmatic unemotional logical thinking into its members, a sort of 'Vulcan' world religion, who knows, the world might be a far better place.

But what we've got is world religions today, based on myth, that enslave people, silence them, whip them, strip away rights, and on and on. You've got cults like Scientology essentially little more than a tax-exempt Mafia.

And I'm supposed to buy into a an analogy of atheism as an organized religous, that somehow, strong, unrepentant atheists, like Dawkins or Hitchens, are somehow the equivalent of Jehovah's Witnesses, Evangelicals, Mormons, or Sunni or Shia?

Talk about weaksauce. Look, I get the criticism of atheists -- that dogmatic unquestioning thinking, even unquestioning uncritical support of science and logic, can be bad and that people should be open minded, but there's far more dangerous dogmatism to worry about in the world besides radical materialist Extropian atheists.

Of course, the highbrow position is Pancritical Rationalism. :)

11:37 PM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Steve Yegge said...

Hello all, and thanks for the nice feedback.

The short answer for why I'm going into blog-retirement is: insufficient return on investment. It's nice that some people like it, but it's too much work for the stress it's given me over the past 5 years.

I may come out of retirement once a year for a holiday special. Who knows?

I may also start a jwz-like blog wherein I post interesting things I find or that people send my way. That's much less effort, and would probably be more generally accessible for the tl;dr crowd. FWIW I empathize with them a bit more, having now spent sufficient time ruining my online attention span on reddit.

Fake51: you underestimate the ability of people to get mad. Some people start mad and just take it out on you. The hating has gradually become a little too much for me.

knowtheory: yes, I've read all of The Mind's I (twice). The Dennett story you reference was one of three or four significant influences on my Dawkins story.

Everyone: your interpretations of the story, hunches and guesses have been right on the mark. That's not to say you've guessed the whole picture, but you're off to a clever start. I especially liked that several people quickly figured out the raven's reference to additional observers.

The story was fun to write, even though fiction exposes you to ridicule on even more levels than regular blogging. (For instance, several redditors decided that my use of the Greek prefix "holo" for "whole" makes it bad sci-fi. They're just being assholos, I know. But it still stings.)

Tomy: yours is my favorite comment so far. You win the chocolate factory.

I'll post another comment with some minor spoilers.

11:57 PM, May 18, 2009  
Blogger Steve Yegge said...

As promised, some spoilers. First, here's a timeline I put together when copy-editing the story:

1941 Dawkins is born

2009 present day (Dawkins is 68 years old)

2172 year in Toronto when Dawkins dies (has run 752 km or 467 miles)
- ran 12 miles past 37th timeshift marker
- average pace 30 km/hr => ran for a hair over 25 hours

~2250-2300 Rosie Migration (takes about 50 years)

2320 first Rivers awaken (over period of about 4 years)

2342 Microsoft buys out Roman Catholic Church
- 2347 Microsoft accidentally Posifies 99% of Catholics

2390-2420 COMA ascends to power

2431 Dawkins is canonized by COMA

2706 Dawkins goes into hiding after COMA tries to martyr him

2717 Singularity awakens

2792 External Events paper published (Singularity is 75 years old)

2802 COMA collapses; Dawkins comes out of hiding after 96 years

2898 Benedicto starts Chronathlon (14 years before Dawkins runs it)
- alligator gets him in 2238 after 664 km (413 miles) [33 markers + 4 miles]

2912 Dawkins starts Chronathlon (971 years old)
- Juan and Danny destroy his data center on the same day

2919 ImmersiverseCorp opens the Saint Dawkins historical tour (7 years after his death)

3003 year the story takes place (91 years after his death)
- 60,000 tours have run in 84 years (roughly 2 per day)

Second, here's a partial glossary:

Heitor Villa-Lobos: a Brazilian composer.

Sandarwin: "Saint Darwin"

Head Branson: Richard Branson (converted to Islam at some point in the back-story, although in the story all today's religions are defunct)

Head Bill: Bill Gates

Head Daniel: Daniel Dennett

Rosies: "normal" people whose consciousness is hosted online in data centers, and can also inhabit bodies. Most have multiple processors.

Poseys: people who never became Rosies; i.e., regular old-style humans.

Ashes: dead people

Ritchies: Posey slang for Rosies

External Event: in short, a miracle. Any event that originated outside the deterministic universe.

Experience Credit: what almost everyone in the human race competes for. As you rack up experiences your prestige grows.

Rivers: super-conscious online intelligences composed of billions of human participants.

Red River: reddit

Singularity: the first true AI. Considers itself a plurality, but nobody can really tell.

Passprint: a pill that alters your cells in a way that is detectable by structure-building bacteria.

Kondo: last name of famous Nintendo game-music composer.

Kazuhiro: first name of my first college roommate

Rekki: character from Haibane Renmei (anime)

Human race brain: accidental pun! Noticed during copy-edit.

All the other names were somewhat arbitrary.

Edit: spelling

12:07 AM, May 19, 2009  
Blogger Steve Yegge said...

Ray Cromwell: hang tight. You're not wrong (although your use of the term "weaksauce" is perilously self-applicative). Your concerns are pretty close to what I'm going to be talking about in the next 2 installments.

I know you're concerned about the general direction here, but I didn't entirely just fall off the cabbage truck. I've spent the past six months reading a 2-meter stack of thick books in preparation for these last 3 entries. I believe I have a nonzero shot at adding something new to the discussion. We'll see!

12:15 AM, May 19, 2009  
Blogger baxter said...

Incidentally, my favourite show is Futurama.

2:54 AM, May 19, 2009  
Blogger Anticontrame said...

I like it - very Strossy. It's not perfect, but I'd take a chance and buy a hypothetical book of yours.

Now to check out your blog...

3:38 AM, May 19, 2009  
Blogger Илья Казначеев said...

I need to say that I absolutely loved your blog and you're first on my worshipped bloggers' list.

However, if it's your decision to stop blog rants, it's yours.
After all, you've stopped your drunken blog rants and it went okay.

I want you to consider blogging without comments, tho. This way you don't have to leak your soul into flame battles and still carry the word. And don't read reddit :)

As for additional observers, that's great, I've figured it out in the mourning, having read the story in the evening.

4:20 AM, May 19, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

Steve, thanks for all the wonderful blog posts over the years. We'll all miss your great rants and wish you luck with all the programming and other stuff you enjoy.

6:40 AM, May 19, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

Also, if you stop writing your rants, how will we know to avoid Fable 3?

6:57 AM, May 19, 2009  
Blogger Jason Hutchens said...

I hope you continue your occasional guest appearance on the Stack Overflow podcast - always very entertaining. And my wife and I have our fingers crossed that you'll update your Most Favoured Anime list; we enjoyed Last Exile and Twelve Kingdoms. Best regards, and boo to the haters.

7:15 AM, May 19, 2009  
Blogger SulfaInDaHouse said...

It'll be a bummer if/when you end your blog. I enjoy reading it every time.

Thanks for the posts and the stories. Your a great writer.

7:51 AM, May 19, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

A couple points:

- It is said that the historical tour of Dawkins' death has a different ending every time you take it. How is it a historical tour then?

- How is it possible that almost every instance of the tour generates an External Event? Does External Dawkins (who seems to be a God-like figure external to the online world of Rosies and able to modify it at will) intervene almost every time the historical tour occurs (about twice a day in online time)?

- How can Rosies tell which event is External and which is Internal? (Similarly, can we tell if something is a miracle or just an unusual event?)

- The raven (Singularity) says that there will be other observers. If this is true and the other observers are us (Steve's readers), it means that (1) the Singularity knows about Steve Yegge's story from 2009 [found it in some archive?], (2) it knows the future [knows exactly what Dawkins will do if he is told to do "something special"], (3) it knows the two will match -- otherwise it would not call us "observers". In effect we have a character in the story confirming that the story is true. The Singularity's request that Dawkins do something special for the sake of the additional observers is of course bogus, since Dawkins has no influence over the experience of readers in 2009. The Singularity may just be manipulating Dawkins into fulfilling the 2009 prophecy (why it would do that remains a mystery).

- A simpler interpretation is that the raven is not referring to the story's readers. He is merely creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. If External Dawkins does something impressive, there WILL be many more observers because a historical tour will be made out of the event.

8:43 AM, May 19, 2009  
Blogger David Golightly said...

Amazing work, Steve. You may try to give up blogging, but I don't believe for a second that you'll be able to keep from writing, and I do hope you continue to publish in some form. (The geek world needs you!)

The Raven is an amazing symbol in the story, which stuck out in my mind after reading. I don't know what inspired you to include it, but for me the character is loaded with allusions to the trickster Raven of Pacific Northwest folklore, who in various myths creates the world, steals the sun from the Grey Eagle who selfishly hoarded it to himself, and decreed that all creatures should only get to live one life (after which, the people, in vengeance, kill the Raven's son and daughter).

Another allusion brought to mind is to the Guide Mark II from the 5th and last Hitchhiker's book, which (as I recall) takes the form of a bird to engineer the destruction of the Earth (along with the series' major characters).

So, there seems to be an ambiguous creator/destroyer role in the Raven.

9:19 AM, May 19, 2009  
Blogger David said...

I love post human stories. They are so optimistic. Great job and launching it on Wolfram|Alpha day is priceless. I'll now forever think of you as a science fiction writer. I loved the idea of the rivers. If you have not read Danny Hillis' essay "Intelligence as an Emergent Behavior or, The Songs of Eden" then check it out.

9:45 AM, May 19, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

Here are some of the points I got from the story:

Religion, regardless of beliefs, as an institution is just a means to help people not think - hence COMA.

People are people no matter the form. Even though the people in the story are essentially living in a computer, they are mostly the same.

Everyone dies eventually - Dawkins cannot escape death, because there will always be some random sort of events that cannot be accounted for and it will fail at some point.

9:49 AM, May 19, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

One minor nitpick: What's a "Cerebrus"? Is it a cross between Cerebus the Aardvark, and Cerberus the three-headed dog? Perhaps a 3-headed Aardvark! :-)

10:19 AM, May 19, 2009  
Blogger Jared said...

@Ray Cromwell: I wouldn't think for a second that Steve is suggesting that the proponents of atheism would be dogmatic enough to organize a church of un-dogma, just that "humanity remained more or less the same as ever: a bunch of bloody idiots" and would be stupid enough to turn something inherently about individualism into something about group identity.

Despite Brian's (Dawkin's) attempts to get folks to think critically, the best they can do is parrot those ideas back (with few exceptions, which are of course squelched):

Brian: "You've got to think for yourselves! You're all individuals!" Crowd, together: "Yes, we're all individuals!" Brian: "You're all different!" Crowd: "Yes, we're all different!" (Individual: "I'm not" Crowd: "Shh! shh!") Brian: "You've got to work it out for yourselves!" Crowd: "Yes, we've got to work it out for ourselves!" Brian: "Exactly!" ... Crowd: "Tell us more!" Brian: "No! That's the point! Don't let anyone tell you what to do!"

from Monty Python, Life of Brian:

11:16 AM, May 19, 2009  
Blogger Илья Казначеев said...

tszynalski, you assume that history is a graph without cycles.
It's not. And that's what makes a miracle a miracle, also.

History is evaluated lazily. Perhaps this story was undefined "until" those events took place.

12:59 PM, May 19, 2009  
Blogger Rob Allen said...

Regarding your blog ending: dammit dammit dammit.

Regarding your story:
It's a fascinating world you've built and I would like to visit it again and for longer. I know you have a ton of crap on your plate at the moment but at least consider making into a full out novel. I'd gladly read any drafts for comment.

1:03 PM, May 19, 2009  
Blogger Илья Казначеев said...

Also, you can't make a historical tour from this external event.

External events aren't pure, their output can vary even if their input is same. They could exploit the fact that every Dawkins' death ended in a new (different) external event, but they surely can't repeat any of those events.

1:05 PM, May 19, 2009  
Blogger Jon Ericson said...

For those interested in thinking about religious belief rather than merely dismissing it as irrational, the work of Alvin Plantinga would be a good place to start.

It's a fine story, but I wonder why Dawkins didn't pony up for a failover datacenter or two? Seems like an life or death application to me. But then we wouldn't have much of a story, I suppose.

I always assumed the dragon in Revelation 12-13 was a European one. Chinese dragons seem too happy to be the embodiment of evil. In any case, the description clearly points back to the snake in Genesis chapter 3.

I'm looking forward to the last few parts. If I thought a writer as talented as yourself could stop writing, I'd be complaining about the end of the blog too. Be sure to point us to whatever you do next.

1:07 PM, May 19, 2009  
Blogger Peter Lind said...

Great story, I'd love to read more! I'm sure you have enough followers who are interested enough to buy a book, so why not have a go at it?

As everyone else (maybe not the haters) I'm sad about the blog. Thanks for all the great posts!

1:12 PM, May 19, 2009  
Blogger Steve Yegge said...

karlvonl -- yes, it's a terrifying 3-headed Aardvark. Branson had a sense of humor. (Loved that graphic-novel series, by the way.)

1:18 PM, May 19, 2009  
Blogger Ray Cromwell said...

Did you ever read Hans Moravec's story of the CellTicks in Mind Children by any chance? In that story, the 'external events' turn out to be flaws in the software/hardware (I don't remember which) which violate the known science that the simulated intelligences have models. By probing the events, they are eventually able to deduce an external programmer and attempt to communicate with him. The story goes on further from there. Somewhat reminiscent of Simulacron-3/The Thirteenth Floor.

1:34 PM, May 19, 2009  
Blogger jes5199 said...

okay, this a good scifi story. It's on par with the work of Rudy Rucker, for example. So it's extra impressive that you aren't a professional writer, and that this might be your first public foray into fiction (is that true?).
But I got the impression that it was might be shocking or revolutionary -- and I'm not seeing that. If it had been published in FLURB, I would have said "oh, more of the same."

2:10 PM, May 19, 2009  
Blogger 米国人 said...

That's some wild stuff there Stevie. Reminds me of William Gibson's style.

I hope you're just joking about your blogging days coming to an end.. Say it isn't so man! :(

2:50 PM, May 19, 2009  
Blogger 米国人 said...

I just had an idea.. would you agree to keep blogging if we print out a big green bar paper list of all the haters and smack-talkers and go beat them down for you? (like Jay & Silent Bob did in their last movie..) :)

3:05 PM, May 19, 2009  
Blogger SidR said...

This also reminded me of "The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect" which is another singularity related Sci-Fi short story.

Steve, please don't stop blogging.

7:08 PM, May 19, 2009  
Blogger Steve Yegge said...

jes5199 -- thanks! Yep, that was my first serious effort. (I once wrote one very short sci-fi-ish story in my blog that wasn't very good, about an airport security line. Didn't put much effort into that one.)

And yeah, the ideas I explore in this story are tame for anyone who reads any amount of sci-fi.

As far as people getting mad goes, I suppose it'll have to wait for the next entry or two. I started this PVOTU series because of some incredible vitriol I was experiencing from some extremists on reddit. I expect it to come out again at some point, once I start stating my position a bit more definitely.

Ray and Sid -- nope, I've never read those. I'll take a look! FWIW I haven't read any sci-fi in the last 20 years or so. I'm a bit out of touch with it.

8:23 PM, May 19, 2009  
Blogger Chris Handley said...

Steve, I didn't know you were getting any really nasty criticism, let alone enough to make you stop blogging. If it's comments on Reddit (or wherever), then why not avoid reading them? Frankly anybody criticising your blogs is failing to get the point of them in the first place.

Although IMHO, if you are attracting criticism, that is just an indication you are actually doing well. Some people do NOT like seeing others to be successful, and want to drag them down to their level. (James P Hogan has said that's the normal British attitude, and why he moved to America, and there may be some truth in that. He's an SF writer, but started out as an engineer, and originally only wrote an SF story for a bet!)

P.S. I thought it was fairly obvious the raven was talking about us readers. It also felt a bit Terry Pratchett-ish for some reason.

3:26 AM, May 20, 2009  
Blogger slicedlime said...

Very sad to see you shut down the blog, but knowing how much work blogging can be if you want to produce unique content I understand why.

On the story I can just chime in with everyone -- sure you haven't got a hidden book project to surprise us with?

5:27 AM, May 20, 2009  
Blogger happyseaurchin said...

what an incredible commentary!

never been here before

i guess the writer of the blog
is one person
i would like to meet :)

will check the short story too

6:01 AM, May 20, 2009  
Blogger JB said...


That story will sit on my top shelf between Doug Adams and Bob Heinlein for many years. Bravo, and thank you.


P.S. Anyone starting a River project yet?

7:01 AM, May 20, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

So if you wanted to catch up on sci-fi its worth starting with Anathem because it is a great story that kicks ass when it needs to and has monastries dedicated to maths and I think you would totally love it.

When you're reading critical comments they usually work best if you switch your internal monologue over to the voice of the Comic Bookstore Guy. That makes them a lot funnier.

Better to provoke a strong reaction than to provoke none- at least that way you have people thinking.

7:01 AM, May 20, 2009  
Blogger Denton Gentry said...

Commentors on reddit can be brutal. I've only been subjected to it once, with your high profile I can only imagine how cringe-inducing it must be.

10:49 AM, May 20, 2009  
Blogger Emphyrio said...

Why "Rosies" and "Poseys"? Is this a reference to the nursery rhyme? If so, I'm missing the connection. The nursery rhyme originated during the Black Death -- a "rosie" was a person infected with the plague; pockets full of posies (flowers) were to mask the smell of the dead and dying. Are you suggesting that uploading your brain into a computer is a sort of plague?

@Ray Cromwell -- wow, someone else has read Simulacron-3! I'll have to check out the other stories you mentioned.

11:19 AM, May 20, 2009  
Blogger Ray Cromwell said...

Haters are everywhere, just look at the comments in any YouTube video, it comes with the territory. But it isn't helped that Steve tends to take strong positions on everything. That tends to produce enemies over time, so I wouldn't worry about it. Hell, even Dawkins and Hitchens paint a haters bullseye on their back by being so extremely anti-religion, well-deserved or not.

I don't think Steve's story pushed that many buttons. Steve got my blood boiling more when, in what was a quite nice presentation on the state of Javascript VM optimization, he decided to go off on a tangent and do a hit-and-run on Scala for no apparent reason.

That means you can either tone down the strength of the message, or just learn to live with the negative comments. But if Steve toned things down, he just wouldn't be Steve anymore. :)

You can catch negative comments from anonymous jerks even if you talk all nice. Some people just love posting negative attacks on the internet, I guess because the barrier to entry is so low, and there's no repercussions to the poster.

12:09 PM, May 20, 2009  
Blogger Steve Yegge said...

FWIW, I did a drive-by commendation of Scala at the end of my last podcast with the Stack Overflow guys.

As far as blogging goes, I think I'd rather focus my efforts on something bigger. What that would be exactly, I haven't yet decided.

I'm honestly not sure if it's possible in practice to become a professional writer of fiction and make a living off it -- at any rate, a living comparable to what I can scrape together as a programmer at Google who started waaaaay after the IPO.

Everything I've heard suggests that the fiction industry is cutthroat-competitive and impenetrably insular. I've seen experiments where famous authors submitted new work anonymously and failed to get published. Or if they were published, they failed to be noticed, since nobody was promoting them.

That suggests to me that if I were to write books, I would have to do it on the side while I spend the majority of my day making my living. And I'd have to self-publish for some shiny nickels: hardly worth the effort, I'd think. (It's no wonder Hubbard did what he did -- it's too bad I have a personal code of ethics, or I could do something similar for programmers, and call it New Agile.)

Neal Stephenson came to Google and talked to us about it once, and pretty much validated the bleakness of the options facing would-be writers.

So we'll see. My final blog entry will suggest another way I might be venting my creative energy.

But it looks pretty likely that I'll be a professional programmer for the rest of my days.

3:49 PM, May 20, 2009  
Blogger Andrei Vajna II said...

That was kind of a crappy story. I'm sorry, but you're not made for writing Sci-Fi. Rants suit you better. In fact, the other (two if I remember weel) stories you wrote for your blog are better than this one.

Thus, I greatly regret you'll be ending your blog (it's my favourite, by the way), but, please, don't waste your time becoming a Sci-Fi writer.

All the best!

5:47 PM, May 20, 2009  
Blogger Rolodex said...

Dude, thanks for the blog. When you're done, you're done. Looking forward to the encores.

3:15 AM, May 21, 2009  
Blogger Steve T. said...

I really like you, Yegge, and your writing. I'm even older than you are, so I don't think your posts are too long. But I do think you're slowly corroding your mind by trying to have reasoned discourse on the internet. That's not what it's for.

Here's where I would be if I had had your blogging experiences: I would be a guy who had started out trying to explain a few things to my fellow programmers that I thought they might not have been exposed to or might not understand as well as I did. I would have gotten discouraged that the conversation seemed to be all heat and no light, and I would have concluded that current software didn't let blogging be done properly, but I wouldn't have had time to re-invent the blog, so I would have started a blog that looked and acted like everyone else's, and just hoped like hell that I got a good result because I was smart and well-informed and sincere. Then, I would have put a lot of thought and energy and time into my posts because that's the kind of person I am. And then the tide of vitriol and ignorance would have crushed me flat. But I wouldn't want to believe that human nature was as shitty as the internet makes it look, and I would think it was weak and cowardly to just turn off comments and dispense wisdom from on high like I was Paul Graham or somebody. So I would continue to march until eventually I just ran out of energy, and I would feel like I was quitting in defeat, sort of, but I would have to quit anyway in self-defense.

Probably you are in a completely different place because you're smarter than me, and you've actually blogged and I've only imagined what it must be like. But, just in case my hypothetical situation resonates a bit, I want to say that I don't think quitting your blog is giving up on humanity. It's not even giving up on the internet. It's just giving up on fighting the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, which -- like all scientific theories -- can never be proven but certainly fits all the data
we have at so far.

Go do something that's not beyond human powers. Like write a book. Or teach a class. Or anything that's not throwing pearls before swine. (Look at that. A jillion year-old chestnut describes your situation. Who woulda thunk it?)

And if I'm way off base with all of this, I apologize and wish you well.

9:25 AM, May 21, 2009  
Blogger nihilocrat said...

I think the ultimate joke of blogging is that people who write really good blogs will eventually notice that they're kind of a waste of time, or just kind of lame compared to the other things you could be doing with your time.

9:30 AM, May 21, 2009  
Blogger Marco said...

This story was really good. Like really good. I enjoyed it a lot and would read more. If you're gonna quit blogging and become a writer, write one last post to let me know where to find your books.

10:01 AM, May 21, 2009  
Blogger Prashanth said...

Steve, I am speechless! For me this is not just another blog. It is a source of inspiration to do better every single day.

I cannot think of any other programmer who has had such a big influence on me.

I mean, the passion, the originality of the thought, the honesty and the frankness with which you convey your ideas is something that no tech blogger can ever match.

Its really sad to know that one of the few sensible voices out there is going silent.

I respect your personal decision and hope that you do well in your future endeavors.Thanks a lot for all the great articles.(Even the amazon rants)

11:21 AM, May 21, 2009  
Blogger Vincent Povirk said...

How can external events be a source of truly random numbers if they are simply determined by events that occur in a related, presumably deterministic, plane?

4:37 PM, May 21, 2009  
Blogger Steve Yegge said...

Ooh, Vincent you've managed to drag a spoiler out of me.

It's your "presumably" clause that fails here. You can't presume anything about the host system. Host systems tend to be many many orders of magnitude more complex than systems embedded in them.

7:42 PM, May 21, 2009  
Blogger Praveen said...

You are a blogging hero,please don't stop. Money, Google is not everything. Don;t disappoint your admirers.

8:23 PM, May 21, 2009  
Blogger Ray Cromwell said...

The only thing humans have is models of physical phenomena, so the only real useful definition of true randomness is that which is not computable (representable by a program shorter than itself)

Thus, there are truly random numbers even in totally deterministic systems. The output of certain cellular automata, some patterns in diophantine equations, and the halting probability are examples.

Go look up Gregory Chaitin's Omega for an example of a truly random number. It is a real defined number, it has a value, there is a procedure for calculating it, only we can't carry out the procedure and there is no analytical shortcut.

If our universal were based on cellular automata, that seemingly totally random events with no predictability or theory, could simply be the result of a completely deterministic underlying automata which cannot be modeled any similar than simply evaluating its rules empirically and getting the next output.

9:02 PM, May 21, 2009  
Blogger Gautam said...

Hey Steve,

It was an interesting and gripping story. Rosies and Rivers are fascinating.

Although, certain sections of the story were difficult to grasp by me, due to the references you put in to other works, until i saw your comments with the spoilers.
Now i know what else to read, before i read your stories. :)

Always wanted to say, that, you are an inspiration to programmers and 'programmers-who-want-to-be-writers' alike. Please carry on writing.

10:55 PM, May 21, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...


I'd love to see a list of titles in that 2-meter stack of books. I hope when you're done with the PVOTU series and the final post you'll wrap them all up in a nice PDF that we can read offline, and that you can sell through a or something similar. (And it seems like Cory Doctorow should be your model for a future in writing, not Neal Stephenson....)

3:44 PM, May 22, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

Reading I'm DASH RENDAR was much funnier.

6:38 AM, May 23, 2009  
Blogger Gopalakrishnan Subramani said...

I was able to follow you till "Programming's Dirtiest Little Secret" then I lost the contest on stories. I love reading your blogs and I choose to work on emacs over 'emacs vs vim' war, just because you use emacs. I got confused choosing editor for my hacking when I get into Linux on midnight after a long my day job on Windows platform. Initially I was using gedit for Python. Now I have more power on emacs and python than ever. It is funny but I have built good trust on you.

I practice 'Programming at the speed of thoughts' approach. Its not a book. When I am in front of computer, I should be able to write the programs as fast as my thoughts flowing in mind. I should have complete control on my keyboard, influences on programming language API's and the source code I am producing and my thoughts. I feel emacs is the right platform for my work. I am able to customize and play with emacs with great community help. Big thanks to you.

I am more interested in your upcoming post about programming and emacs.

When I read that you are stopping blogs, I thought like "Have you ever legalized marijuana?" comments could have hurt you personally and you are another victim like a wonderful blog on community. My other thought is that you quit wine so, you will not get words for drunken stevy blog rants (just kidding). But you have some other reasons, well.

What we will be missing from you is that all about programming and stuffs related to that. Your post about Good and Bad agile is still on my head. I don't know whether I can get into google or not (Google is my dream company) but I feel its a good and long standing approach towards programming.

Don't drink much :-). Take care. All the best.

12:41 PM, May 23, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

"It's your "presumably" clause that fails here. You can't presume anything about the host system. Host systems tend to be many many orders of magnitude more complex than systems embedded in them."

You are talking about a GEB/Godel Incompleteness kind of concept here aren't you?

9:06 AM, May 24, 2009  
Blogger Sanjeev Saikia said...

hey steve, you can't stop blogging, you know it... you're going to blog harder than ever before and your fingers will fall off but you will still blog (you will learn tongue typing)... so get back to the keyboard... 'cos I enjoy your posts! sanjeev

1:11 PM, May 24, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not having written anything for public scrutiny I'm not exactly qualified to comment on your decision to stop. However, why are you so sensitive to the anonymous negative comments posted on the internet in regards to your writing?

You've mentioned numerous times that the negativity has caused you bother throughout the years. Any writer of significance will have harsh critics, whether it's in published dead tree form, or electronic. There is always going to be some asshole deciding to go against the grain for the sake of stirring the pot.

Jeff Atwood is one of the more critized writers within the blogosphere, yet he keeps powering on because he likes to write.

Your return on investment argument is valid, though I'd say you're the most acomplished computer engineering related blogger in the world. What bigger return could you want?

That said, you've kept me entertained through every single one of your posts, whether I fully agreed or not. You've taught me a lot and inspired me to learn a lot. You've also made me late for work (this morning for instance) because I've been so engrossed in a post.

I very much look forward to the next (and hopefully not final) 3.

3:20 PM, May 24, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

Every time I see a new post from you in my feed reader, it's like someone left a little nugget of gold in my inbox. A lot of hackers/wannabe writers have left their well-wishes here, but from this writer/wannabe hacker, I just wanted to say thanks. Your work inspires the hell out of me, you're a huge part of the reason I'm working in tech today, and from the couple times I've seen you allow yourself to be personal in this space (to be Steve, if you will), you've always struck me as a really decent guy and lord knows we need more of that around.

So while I won't be taking your feed out of my list anytime soon (hope springs eternal, right?) and I certainly Nth the popular consensus against your blogging retirement... Well, if we are almost to the end of the line here, I wish you godspeed, and hope to catch you further down the trail. Thanks for everything.

1:27 AM, May 26, 2009  
Blogger Boris said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3:03 AM, May 26, 2009  
Blogger Boris said...

I have been reading your blog for some time, and now I think it's time to comment:

Your rants are very educational and I've always enjoyed them. You have opinions, and when I don't completely agree (in the rare cases when I have enough experience to have my own opinion on a subject), looking at it from another point of view helps me understand better.

And you must know that, but I'll still say it: not everyone who reads also comments. I never did---I know less, bacause I've programmed less and I'm younger. Apart from the very few who actually have something important to say and know they have to say it, most of the commenters are just loud and obnoxious, or sound like worshippers (which must be nice to hear, but somehow weird).

But I understand why you don't feel like doing it anymore. Still, it will be a loss for a whole lot of people. The kind that think that ``I agree with you'' is a waste of time (I read the comments, too!) and don't really know how to contribute in a meaningful manner.

About the short story: you can write! You've hidden that for a long time: your rants are, well, rants, a nightmare to read even for a very fast reader like me, and you can't write stories like davesecretary. Writing good English is just as difficult as writing good code I guess, and it takes way too much time.

Good luck with your next project, whatever it is. And I'll be looking forward for the holiday special!

3:49 AM, May 26, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

Eval please:

(with-current-buffer "*blog*"
(dolist (file (directory-files "/home/stevey/rants/unfinished/"))
(insert-file-contents file)))

5:32 AM, May 26, 2009  
Blogger Sony Mathew said...

"Host systems tend to be many many orders of magnitude more complex than systems embedded in them". Richard Dawkins (and I) would argue the opposite. Your presumption would favor the "God theory" i.e. the most complex host (God) exists at the outermost (or the beginning) and systems embedded from there on are less complex - while Dawkins (and I) would argue that host systems get increasingly simpler until there is just one simple ???. As an example: PC hardware is magnitudes less complex than some of the software it usually runs.

For those of us with little time to spare (but enjoy reading your mind's conclusions and so your blog) - i would greatly appreciate a summary of the central points you were trying to communicate with your fictional story. i prefer fiction as film. You should hookup with a local film hobbyist who is likely looking for a good story to tell.

11:39 AM, May 26, 2009  
Blogger Sandy Smith said...

Your writing is exquisite - very reminiscent of Vernor Vinge's Rainbow's End (AI emergence, Contact Lenses, Google/Microsoft Monopoly, Plurality of consciouness) mixed with George R. R. Martin Fire and Ice Series (magical raven, switched-point-of-view structure).

Well Done. You really have something substantial here, I would love to read it in fuller form.

The vision is there, my question is, who will start the revolution?

11:12 PM, May 26, 2009  
Blogger bugsbycarlin said...

I think this was how Steve convinced Richard to be a little more open minded.

Notice feel accept the different writing style of the External Dawkins, who gets to produce a truly unpredictable event in an otherwise predictable universe.

I think Steve was the Raven, and he gave the unfinished story to Richard, gave Richard his predictable universe, telling him that, just this once, many more people would be watching. Richard played the part of the External Dawkins and did something Steve didn't predict.

11:18 PM, May 26, 2009  
Blogger bugsbycarlin said...

tszynalski - We exist outside the story. We're all externals. The 2009 that you and I are spending reading Steve's story is entirely different from 2009 as it would be rendered in the story. That 2009 would be entirely encapsulated, part of the story. We're free of the story, external to it.

... much like the External Dawkins.

11:27 PM, May 26, 2009  
Blogger bugsbycarlin said...

... and I really have to come back a third time to ask... Steve, if I'm not crazy-pants, did you really get him to do part of it? That's just a really cool way to finish a story.

11:30 PM, May 26, 2009  
Blogger ... said...

Interesting read

12:56 AM, May 29, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I only just recently got into your blog, after hearing you on the StackOverflow podcasts.

Now I know your a world famous blogger ;) Your writing is amazing and fun to read so it's a shame your stopping.

Is it related to working at Google?

Anyway all the best.

3:50 AM, May 29, 2009  
Blogger Simon Richard Clarkstone said...

I can't wait to follow you on Twitter. ;-) (It's the perfect hiding-place; no-one would think to look for you there.)

6:00 PM, May 29, 2009  
Blogger Seth Dillingham said...


The most controversial thing you've ever said is that you're almost done writing.

What a loss that will/would be.

8:40 AM, June 02, 2009  
Blogger Gabe said...


I'm sorry to hear that you're ending you blog. It's long been one of my favorites. It's one of the few blogs where I've gone back into the archives to reread old posts, and it's probably the only one that I still do. I'll miss your blog immensely. I have you to thank for my interests in anime and emacs, and a unique perspective on programming in general. I've never taken the time to write a comment before, mostly because it would have seemed like pointless me-too-ism. But anyway, thanks for having written your blog. Don't let the critics get you down. They may be the most vocal part of your readership, but they're also the smallest.

I have to admit I didn't fully get the story at first. After reading the comments here, though it makes a lot more sense. The notion of the raven representing the readers made it all make sense for me. The reason External Dawkins has to make the event special this time, is that this time is the time that we're reading the story. The implication is that the story-universe exists in a way independant of our own universe and the story is a glimpse into it. This works in the context of the previous two installments of the series. The story universe is like the fishbowl or the mario kart track. I think the Externals are a level of introspection in the universe, like the introspection in a program that you mentioned in The Pinocchio Problem.

Have you ever read At Swim-Two-Birds? It's about some characters in a novel who rebel against their author and take revenge by writing their own novel about him, in which he's subjected to various atrocities. I think you'd like it.

11:04 AM, June 02, 2009  
Blogger leoboiko said...

re Tomy: Sometimes I think TI sucks too much brainpower to do things that in the long run don’t matter. People of the future would be happier with writer stevey.

5:03 PM, June 02, 2009  
Blogger leoboiko said...

Being also too burned by net flames, I simply disabled comments in my blog. I found people build much better-reasoned replies in their own blogs (via trackbacks & such) than through comments; they’re even more polite.

5:17 PM, June 02, 2009  
Blogger Even Mien said...

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

9:56 AM, June 03, 2009  
Blogger Sri Charan said...

Hey Steve.

Seriously don't stop blogging. Your blog is among the ones I read (and re-read) very often. Enjoyed all your posts...I have not yet gotton to finish reading your story yet. Yeah. Will do it over the weekend!

4:10 AM, June 05, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11:55 AM, June 05, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

Please read this and change your mind!

11:59 AM, June 05, 2009  
Blogger Daniel Demski said...

I quickly got the reference to the readers but wondered what the real point of the story was, thinking "religion; main character was Dawkins; Stevey thinks about things in layered systems... think mariokart think mariokart think mariokart..." as I read through the comments.

Then I read your 'spoiler'

"It's your "presumably" clause that fails here. You can't presume anything about the host system. Host systems tend to be many many orders of magnitude more complex than systems embedded in them."

Ha! Okay..

Plus a further down comment, can't find it now, and I finally thought of the fiction as fiction, a system embedded within our world. The author is the hole to that world and the readers... the players? Of course the readers weren't really introducing externalities though.

Now, fact is, I disagreed a good deal with your embedded system ideas when I read your mariokart post, though they so much echoed things I had thought about mariokart- but with different conclusions.

But I'll be very interested to read your follow-up firmer statement of your position. I'll try and comment in a timely manner.

Good blog. I will go back now and see what I missed, having started reading last year sometime.

8:39 PM, June 05, 2009  
Blogger jartur said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:02 AM, June 08, 2009  
Blogger jartur said...

Hello Steve, I am not sure if you read this comment, but I prepared a simple PDF version of this story. It's not great typesetting but, objectionably, better than Google Docs PDF. In case you object me hosting this at my site just tell me & I'll remove the file immediately. For now though here's the link:

1:05 AM, June 08, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

Be a shame not to read this anymore in the future. This is both the blog I take with some of the largest pinches of salt and enjoy reading the most. That's an awesome and rare combination.

Just remember that hate mail is easy because the inspiration is stronger and true appreciation isn't aired as much as it should be.

I'd figure the appreciation <-> hate mail ratio is skewed heavily in the appreciation's favour but it is more quiet. Think of it like gravity or something.
So the next time you get hate mail please imagine the appreciative emails you didn't get due to apathy but were still experienced by those readers. :)

5:03 PM, June 08, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'm surprised no-one has mentioned the Thursday Next books by Jasper FForde. slippage of viewpoint on a grand scale: a character in an alternative version of England, can jump in and out of books (eg Jane Eyre), and can alter the plot of the book from within (the version of Jane Eyre you know and love isn't what you think thought it is was would be)

And I also second the influence Steve has had on me as a programmer. I'm better than I would have been without the blog: thanks Steve

7:28 PM, June 12, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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2:26 AM, June 16, 2009  
Blogger Ben Bryant said...

"all the other sci-fi stories that grossly underestimated their project durations, this one is set 1000 years in the future."

"in the late twenty-third century... Humanity had chosen to move their minds online en masse"

So his far-fetched ideas are not actually placed 1000 years in the future.

2:08 PM, June 21, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi Steve! For some bizarre reason, your "programmer's view" articles keep causing the following poem by Robert Graves to pop into my head. I hope you enjoy it...

(Many thanx to Mr. Crockford for his excellent site)

4:49 AM, July 01, 2009  
Blogger Dev Life said...

Hey Stevey, you can't quit. Your rant blog inspired me to set up a rant blog of my own. I think you've been spoilt at some of the organisations you've worked at and there are developers all over the globe getting a really hard time by shit project managers and insane marketing teams. Please continue with your rants but try to beef them up a bit to deal with some of the real challenges that we developers face daily. Here's a glimpse of the reality:

6:05 AM, July 17, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

Worth noting: this blog post is in the screenshots for Instapaper Pro on the iPhone App Store. :-D Seems the developer is a fan ;)

9:18 AM, July 20, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

Goodbye Steve. Thanks for all your efforts.

10:21 PM, August 01, 2009  
Blogger Ilya said...

Great story, Steve! I loved the future-history postulations -- maybe your have a book in you! ;)

12:38 AM, August 28, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

I just have to put a word in for your continued writing. Only just found your blog today, and found myself spending hours reading. :P

Great work!

11:58 AM, September 23, 2009  
Blogger High Power Rocketry said...

: )

5:28 AM, September 24, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

I bet you will be back! It's in your blood.

10:01 AM, October 03, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

Looking forward to the next installment. You're not going to put it off forever to make some kind of point about vaporware, are you?

5:29 PM, October 10, 2009  
Blogger TruePath said...

Regarding you response to Vincent am I correct in assuming what you really mean is something like "produces numbers that are random in that context/universe/space." I take the point to be that while the sequence might be non-random to someone in the external environment (e.g. the host system) as far as the embedded system goes that sequence is random.

However, I'm not convinced this is actually possible unless the host system is willing to rollback events in the embedded system and change the past. In particular the host system has to feed numbers to the embedded system in finite time so may only realize arbitrarily long afterwords (when some computation halts) that the numbers they provided will "look non-random" in the embedded system.

Of course if you allow the host to roll back events in the embeded system it's all good since then the sequence provided can simply converge to a genuine Martin-Lof random.

6:19 PM, November 01, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

This is one of my favorite blogs, please don't stop blogging

1:10 AM, November 03, 2009  
Blogger tritill said...

Cmon, what about the emacs blog entry you wanted to write - you probably left emacs for eclipse than, i suppose. Dude there was no better nerd stuff to read on the web than yours and if you stop, i might as well leave emacs and wander of into hourglass-lands...cmon cmon cmon...or write a book, maybe.

7:36 AM, December 03, 2009  
Blogger Seth Dillingham said...

Trying to figure out how “We're getting close to the end of my blog. After today's entry, I only have three left to write.” actually meant zero left to write. Is there a numbering system where 3 is actually 0?

Yes, that was a snarky way of saying I miss Steve's posts, and keep checking back hoping there would be something new.

2:02 PM, December 03, 2009  
Blogger temp said...


When do we get the last few installments? reaaally looking forward to it..


6:12 PM, December 13, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

It is something really interesting to read about the topic! keep up the good work.

3:06 AM, December 14, 2009  
Blogger DMan said...

How are the last promised posts coming along?

Thank you

12:50 PM, December 23, 2009  
Blogger John Keys said...

belousov zhabotinsky

6:44 AM, December 25, 2009  
Blogger John Keys said...

quit blogging. It's better to leave it alone while it's good'n'enough than to gradually descent into suckness

6:58 AM, December 25, 2009  
Blogger news issues last news usa trends said...

you should not stop.continue posting.its really informative & interesting.

9:53 PM, December 29, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

I've really enjoyed this series so far and have been waiting for the final 2 installments.

It's been a while now. Are you still planning to finish them?

12:04 AM, January 08, 2010  
Blogger Gaurav Sharma said...


re: "Host systems tend to be many many orders of magnitude more complex than systems embedded in them."

A forest ecosystem with just plants/trees (a host system) isn't necessarily more complex than the interaction between a group of chimps. The complexity of interaction between the chimps can be vastly more complex than complexity inherent in the host system.

re: "You can't presume anything about the host system."

Extending the previous example to today, we've already done this, and it's worked. Physics is quite reliable :)

It raises interesting questions about how one would go about creating a host system of their own, although I suppose there's no point going there unless it has some found function.

8:20 PM, January 13, 2010  
Blogger Unknown said...

Stevey where are you?

7:59 AM, February 12, 2010  
Blogger Swaminathan.V said...

Hi Steve,

When are you going to write it again.
This is Swami from India.
Your blogs are amazing....

common start writing....please dont stop...

1:22 PM, February 27, 2010  
Blogger Marina_Rivne_Ukraine said...

Hello from Ukraine !

It the interesting story, I enjoyed reading all it, very much, so thanks !


Marina Demchuck.

Rivne [Rovno]

4:15 AM, March 18, 2010  
Blogger Ryan Hoegg said...

So here we are, beginning the Spring of 2010. I wonder if you ended your writing career early, right in the middle of PVOTU? Or if you posted parts 4 and 5 somewhere else on the internet or in the Real World as another "host system" prank? Google has been no help so far.

If not, I'm still looking forward to the rest of the story.

12:23 PM, April 13, 2010  
Blogger Tim said...

Don't stop blogging. "The Emacs Problem" was the best article I've read content-wise.

11:45 PM, May 25, 2010  
Blogger Unknown said...

I don't have your email address, but I think it's all blown over now. We're ready for those last three blog posts...

3:24 AM, May 29, 2010  
Blogger TheScholar said...


It has been more then one year now...

1:58 PM, June 04, 2010  
Blogger Tartley said...

Did anyone figure out what happened to Stevey's proposed final two blog posts? Is there a clue in the story that leads one to find the location of Stevey's new pseudonymous blog, populated only by people smart enough to leave interesting and non-insulting comments?

1:50 AM, July 04, 2010  
Blogger Tartley said...

Also, my own teeny contribution to the interpretation:

External Dawkins, external to the system of the world, is able to look in, observing events within the world, but we are not, using the rules of the system we are part of, able to look out and discern him. However, his existence can be deduced from the occasions when he reaches in, deus ex machina, to induce events which, viewed from within the system, appear miraculous.

Since Daniel and Juan were posies, their crash at the datacenter must have taken place in meatspace, and would have resulted in their irrevocable deaths. The External Dawkins rescues them from this fate, by injecting them into the historical simulation, to be granted immortality in their new lives as rosies.

This is an inverted form of the resurrection. "Something special" indeed.

The Singularity, as the culmination of science and rationalism, is is able to divine which events are externally-induced (ie. miraculous), and in doing so, is able to communicate with the divine being, External Dawkins. The Singularity is therefore the representative on Earth of the rationalist deity.

This correspondence between the traditional religious hierarchy (God, Jesus, Saints) and the rationalistic equivalents (External entity, Singularity, Saints) is explicitly hinted at throughout.

There is doubtless much I still haven't fathomed. Most prominently in my mind at the moment, what is the relationship between Richard Dawkins and External Dawkins? Did External Dawkins, as a/the programmer or creator of reality, inject his own consciousness into the simulation, to observe it from within? Creating a copy of himself, which is Richard Dawkins? (hence External Dawkins has a special interest in the death of this particular individual.)

Also, the tasks that the Singularity sets about performing: "...the many tasks set before him. It was time to begin." I don't know what to make of this. I want to somehow connect it to the Creation, but am groping in my interpretation here.

If you see this, thanks for a wonderful read Stevey. I read it when first published, and am back for a second viewing now.

2:36 AM, July 04, 2010  
Blogger Tartley said...

My own teeny contribution to the interpretation:

The External Dawkins, being external to the system of our world, is Godlike from our viewpoint, able to reach in and manipulate reality in ways that contravene the laws of physics. "External events" are miracles.

From within the system, we are not able to directly observe the existence of External Dawkins, but a sufficiently perceptive and intelligent entity (The Singularity) is able to infer its existence from observation of external events.

As such, the Singularity is able to commune with External Dawkins, and is therefore the representative on Earth of the rationalist deity.

This correspondence between religious and rationalist hierarchy (God==External Dawkins, Singularity==Jesus) is hinted at throughout, most explicitly by "Saint Dawkins")

2:46 AM, July 04, 2010  
Blogger Tartley said...

So the story, for me, is a reminder that rational viewpoints can never comprehend whatever is outside the system. We Brights cheerily dismiss religion, even though our own worldview provides a perfectly adequate possibility that such a thing may exist. The religious may believe for the wrong reasons, but may turn out to have the last laugh by actually being right. Although of course that is little comfort for those Catholics, condemned to mortality by a clerical error, while everyone else who matters gets to merrily live for ever.

I'm still puzzled by some things, most prominently: What is the relationship between Richard Dawkins and External Dawkins. Is the one a limited copy of the other, injected into the system in order to observe it from within?

Also, what are the "many tasks" that the External Dawkins sets about "It was time to begin." I want to tie this into Creation but am groping here.

2:52 AM, July 04, 2010  
Blogger Paul Hobbs said...

Thank you for everything Steve. You really made an impact on me.

11:18 AM, July 12, 2010  
Blogger tania said...

Richard Dawkin is nothing but science which never die, don't see him as person rather he speaks for truth. why don't see the religious terrorism in muslim countries.

- Tanya
Web Design Firm

1:37 PM, December 02, 2010  
Blogger Fordi said...

That was quite fun, rife with throwaway MacGuffins you can pick up and chew on later if you pleased. Don't take that as an insult - slowly and smoothly creating an MG out of the expected amusements of the readers is a far more interesting way to explore the consequences of a concept than blunt-force Deus ex Machina.

Do you plan on personally fleshing out this universe? Or on soliciting open or managed participation? I would almost certainly buy the novels if this were the teaser.

1:14 PM, December 06, 2010  

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