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Living with Schizoaffective Disorder

Please to Forgive

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The Call of Duty:
Concerning Theory

Profoundly Impoverished is the Heart of the Man
Who Possesseth Not the Courage to Mock Himself for His Own Folly.

Jonathan Swift
mdcrawford@gmail.com

Forward

Should you read my work yet fail to find yourself offended and profoundly so, then I have either utterly failed in my duty as a writer or you yourself have utterly failed to heed my hard-won advice. But if one of my readers should be so profoundly moved to anger by the lessons I teach herein that he dedicates himself to the taking of my very life, then I shall prepare to meet my Maker born not out of fear nor desperation but from the comforting confidence that follows from taking pride in a job well done.

PAY ATTENTION!

I went to Hell and back to bring you this message. I don't want to have to say it twice.

Your Servant,

Jonathan Swift
San Jose, California
swift@softwareproblem.net

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Mind of a Cybernetic Entomologist

It is said we use but one-tenth of our brains, and that we would have profoundly greater mental capacity if we could learn to use them all. But it's just not enough simply to try harder: to read more books, to go without sleep that one may study, to get one's advisor's permission to take more units, none of that helps.

One must learn to think in profoundly different ways; not just one new way, but several distinctly different mental paradigms. Each mode in itself uses but a small portion of our brain, but each taken simultaneously enables the use of our brain as a whole.

That I prefer to work at night isn't because of my Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder and never has been. While I do find that isolation enables me to focus more effectively on my coding, the real reason is that so many of the diagnostic techniques I use in my debugging work are so... unconventional.

I applied one such unconventional technique during my time as one of the Cybernetic Entomologists at Dialectical Telecom Corporation in Paradise, California. The damn phone wouldn't boot despite my best efforts. Just that one phone - our other prototypes all worked fine - but the tech in the hardware lab on the first floor looked it over and swore nothing was wrong with the circuitry.

I pretended to busy myself with other work until I was certain all the other engineers had long left the building, and that Thai had completed his rounds and returned to the security desk. Going through the back door to avoid Thai's watchful eyes, I fetched a blindfold, an incense burner, a small, stiff pillow and a cage containing a bantam rooster from my Chevy Prizm in the parking lot.

I printed hardcopies of the boot loader and initialization source, then arranged the pages in a seven by thirteen rectangle on the floor of the C.E. Team office. After firing up some sandalwood, I turned out every light on the floor then assumed the Lotus position on the pillow. I began to chant, slowly, quietly, rhythmically...

Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.
Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.
Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.
Nam Myoho...

I don't know how long I chanted, but long enough I guess because I opened my eyes to find myself in a dense jungle. Dim sunlight filtered through the canopy high above. Through the trees to my left I could see the steep steps of a stone pyramid. Immediately in front of me across a small clearing was a small marble obelisk carved with the portrait of an elaborately dressed Mayan warrior.

I smiled. Tikal. A personal favorite. I am not always so fortunate: a software engineer must learn to make do with the tools at hand even if the only "debugger" is a bank of eight LEDs. But it's nice when one has the opportunity to use a truly high quality development tool, and one that's Free as in Freedom to boot: Richard Stallman himself developed Tikal at my personal request.

RMS gets a lot of crap for being so inflexibly righteous about the Free Software Foundation's work. Say what you will about Stallman, but the man knows how to write code.

Looking down, I found ninety-one stone tablets set into the forest floor in a seven by thirteen rectangle. Each tablet bore an elaborate carving. Starting at the top left, I spent several hours carefully studying the images on each and every tablet. Finally I satisfied myself that I would not find the bug through inspection of the source alone. Time to fire up the old debugger!

I opened the door of the gilded cage then reached my right hand in, my index finger extended. The Quetzal bird hopped off his perch and onto my finger. I withdrew my hand slowly and carefully so as not to startle him.

I explained my problem to the Quetzal and told him that the best guess I had was that it might be some subtle edge case either in the boot loader or the memory setup.

"You don't have to do this, you know," I said in Ancient Mayan. "No one would think the lesser of you if you refuse. But it would be a great kindness if you did; my coworkers at Dialectical Telecom are depending on me. Apple has been kicking our collective asses up and down the street ever since they came out of nowhere with the iPhone."

The Quetzal gave a friendly chirp then nuzzled his head affectionately against my cheek. "Thank you," I said, "Thank you very much. You're a good bird."

Gazing gently into his eyes I carefully drew the bronze dagger from the sheath at my hip, then swiftly as I could chopped off his head. After disemboweling him, I stood and turned my back to the stone tablets, then donned my blindfold.

"Tsirhc-Itna Eht Si Amabo Niessuh Kcarab!" I shouted, then flung the Quetzal's entrails backward over my left shoulder. Whipping off the blindfold, I turned back to the array of tablets then got down on my knees, pen and notebook in hand as I eagerly transcribed the resulting Hex code back into Mayan.

Miskatonic University.

Student Bookstore.

Theology Section.

All Hallow's Eve.

Midnight.

Come Alone!

Short Sleeves and Light Cotton Pants Recommended.

I know you might be surprised, but I've been here before. You should see what I stumbled across in the Mac OS System source code when I was a Debug Meister at Apple in the mid-90s. The Mind Simply Reels.


I was surprised to find the campus completely deserted; the students at all the schools I ever studied at tended to stay up late but I figured Theology students must all be larks. I had never visited Miskatonic myself but I knew all about it as my thesis advisor at UC Santa Cruz had done his own graduate work there.

I was surprised as well to find the bookstore's door unlocked. I must be expected, I thought, feeling around on the wall for the light switch. Frustrated at my inability to find it, I smiled in recognition when I saw the small table just next to the door. Clem told me all about this, I thought, Completely slipped my mind.

I took a wooden match from the box, struck it on my teeth then lit one of the tallow candles that were kept on the table for the use of after-hours bookstore shoppers. After giving my eyes a moment to adjust to the dim, flickering candlelight, I began to walk slowly past the aisles of bookshelves. Thaumaturgy, Occult Studies, The True Name of G-d, He Who Must Not Be Named, She Who Must Be Obeyed, Applied Biology, Undead Biology, Celestial Mechanics, Evil, A Greater Evil, The Lesser of Two Evils...

Here we go! Theology. I stood quietly, waiting in calm anticipation, but was struck with fear when a sudden, sharp, cold wind blew in from the open window, extinguishing my candle flame.

Cold sweat broke out all over my body. My heart was racing, yet my blood ran cold as goosebumps stood out on both my forearms. Damn! I thought, This is gonna be good.

My name is Virgil, said the voice from outside my head.

I found something strangely familiar about the sound of Virgil's voice.

I turned away a bit, then without looking directly, focussed my attention to my left. What at first seemed but a lighter patch among the shadows began to grow both brighter and larger, then to take on human form. When I was finally able to perceive the folds in the cloth of his toga, I turned directly towards him then offered my right hand in greeting. "Jonathan Swift," I said cheerfully, then yanked my hand back after it passed right through him.

"But you can call me Jon."

I have come to request your presence in Hell. There is a Distinguished Gentleman who is eager to meet you. He has waited a very long time for this opportunity, but his impatience was tempered by his understanding of just how very busy you are with your debugging work.

You don't have to come with me if you don't want to. No one would think the lesser of you if you refuse. But it would be a great kindness if you would at least agree to listen to what he has to say.

The Old Man carries a heavy burden, and hopes that your unique insight into the nature of software faults might lighten his load.

"I'm happy to help if I possibly can," I replied. "I haven't always been so good at fixing bugs. I know just how it is to be totally stymied by a problem one cannot solve."

Close your eyes for a moment. I did. "Now open them." What had been at first a pale, white apparition was now a tall, thin man, his toga now Royal Blue. There was a thoughtful, scholarly quality about the look in his eyes.

"Look carefully at the palm of your hand." I held my hand close to my face, studying it for a while until I realized that, just barely, I could see right through it.

"Now take mine."

After grasping his hand with my right hand, I loosened my shirt collar with my left. I found myself growing uncomfortably warm.

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