The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'maciej ceglowski'
Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, a story of bohemian, intellectual bootywhang in Communist Prague, has acquired a reputation as a standard seduction prop. Though, according to Maciej Ceglowski, it is a very mediocre book; the literary equivalent of one of those high-concept Working Title films that purports to be sophisticated art-house fare for people who like the aura of intellectuality without the arduous chore of being made to think (or, for that matter, read subtitles):
Milan Kundera is the Dave Matthews of Slavic letters, a talented hack, certainly a hack who's paid his dues, but a hack nonetheless. And by his own admission, this is his worst book. If you strip off the exoticism of Brezhnev-era Czechoslovakia (this rinses off easily in soapy water), you are left with a book full of vapid characters bouncing against each other like little perfectly elastic balls of condensed ego. And every twenty pages the story steps outside for a cigarette so that the author can deliver a short philosophical homily. Kundera has a sterile, cleanroom writing style meant to suggest that he is a surgeon expertly dissecting the human condition before your eyes, but if you look a little more closely, you see he's just performing an autopsy on a mannequin. Or more accurately, a RealDoll.Ceglowski goes on to recommend a set of books by Slavic authors much better than Kundera, and rate their date-impressing potential. He's right on the money for The Master and Margarita (in terms of it being a cracking good read, at least), and I get the feeling that I'm going to have to read Adventures of the Good Soldier Svejk.
Maciej Ceglowski with a brilliantly incisive piece on why the Space Shuttle is a bad idea, terminally compromised from its design onward by political considerations, is now little more than a pointless welfare scheme for the aerospace industry at the expense of actual research which could be conducted, and should be knocked on the head, with the funding diverted to more cost-effective and scientifically interesting, if less showmanly, automated experiments. A few choice quotes:
This brings up a delicate point about justifying manned missions with science. In order to make any straight-faced claims about being cost effective, you have to cart an awful lot of science with you into orbit, which in turns means you need to make the experiments as easy to operate as possible. But if the experiments are all automated, you remove the rationale for sending a manned mission in the first place. Apart from question-begging experiments on the physiology of space flight, there is little you can do to resolve this dilemma. In essence, each 'pure science' Shuttle science mission consists of several dozen automated experiments alongside an enormous, irrelevant, repeated experiment in keeping a group of primates alive and healthy outside the atmosphere.
The ISS was another child of the Cold War: originally intended to show the Russians up and provide a permanent American presence in space, then hastily amended as a way to keep the Russian space scientists busy while their economy was falling to pieces. Like the Shuttle, it has been redesigned and reduced in scope so many times that it bears no resemblance to its original conception. Launched in an oblique, low orbit that guarantees its permanent uselessness, it serves as yin to the shuttle's yang, justifying an endless stream of future Shuttle missions through the simple stratagem of being too expensive to abandon.
But NASA dismisses such helpful suggetions as unworthy of its mission of 'exploration', likening critics of manned space flight to those Europeans in the 1500's who would have cancelled the great voyages of discovery rather than face the loss of one more ship. Of course, the great explorers of the 1500's did not sail endlessly back and forth a hundred miles off the coast of Portugal, nor did they construct a massive artificial island they could repair to if their boat sprang a leak.
The Soviet Shuttle, the Buran (snowstorm) was an aerodynamic clone of the American orbiter, but incorporated many original features that had been considered and rejected for the American program, such as all-liquid rocket boosters, jet engines, ejection seats and an unmanned flight capability. You know you're in trouble when the Russians are adding safety features to your design.
The NASA obsession with elementary and middle school participation in space flight is curious, and demonstrates how low a status actual in-flight science has compared with orbital public relations. You are not likely to hear of CERN physicists colliding tin atoms sent to them by a primary school in Toulouse, or the Hubble space being turned around to point at waving middle schoolers on a playground in Texas, yet even the minimal two-man ISS crew - one short of the stated minimum needed to run the station - regularly takes time to talk to schoolchildren.Of course, in the Bush Era, even more billions will be spent on
Hacker and painter Maciej Ceglowski calls bullshit on Paul Graham's Hackers and Painters, claiming that the two occupations have no more in common than hackers and, say, pastry chefs, and that Graham's essay is basically an attempt to appropriate a sexier and more romantic image by hand-waving and sophistry:
Great paintings, for example, get you laid in a way that great computer programs never do. Even not-so-great paintings - in fact, any slapdash attempt at splashing paint onto a surface - will get you laid more than writing software, especially if you have the slightest hint of being a tortured, brooding soul about you. For evidence of this I would point to my college classmate Henning, who was a Swedish double art/theatre major and on most days could barely walk.
Also remark that in painting, many of the women whose pants you are trying to get into aren't even wearing pants to begin with. Your job as a painter consists of staring at naked women, for as long as you wish, and this day in and day out through the course of a many-decades-long career. Not even rock musicians have been as successful in reducing the process to its fundamental, exhilirating essence.
It's no surprise, then, that a computer programmer would want to bask in some of the peripheral coolness that comes with painting, especially when he has an axe to grind about his own work being 'mere engineering'.
Ceglowski puts the blame for Hackers and Painters, and the whole genre on the obvious suspects:
I blame Eric Raymond and to a lesser extent Dave Winer for bringing this kind of schlock writing onto the Internet. Raymond is the original perpetrator of the "what is a hacker?" essay, in which you quickly begin to understand that a hacker is someone who resembles Eric Raymond. Dave Winer has recently and mercifully moved his essays off to audio, but you can still hear him snorfling cashew nuts and talking at length about what it means to be a blogger . These essays and this writing style are tempting to people outside the subculture at hand because of their engaging personal tone and idiosyncratic, insider's view. But after a while, you begin to notice that all the essays are an elaborate set of mirrors set up to reflect different facets of the author, in a big distributed act of participatory narcissism.
Disclaimer: I'm currently halfway through Hackers and Painters; so far, I've found it interesting in a big-ideas sort of way. Though I am as yet undecided on whether the emperor is actually clothed, and whether Graham is a visionary master, a self-important blowhard or a bit of both. (One could perhaps count it in Graham's defense that Ceglowski admits to being a Perl programmer, but I digress.)
Swingin' Stalinism, in the form of 1950s Communist propaganda posters from Poland. Totalitarianism never looked so groovy. (via bOING bOING)