Matthew David Rodgers


Entry 14

Gonna be a quick one this week, as it’s the fourth of july, and I’ve got beers to drink and fireworks to pretend I’m impressed by.

My hold on Ellen Ullman’s Close To The Machine did indeed come up, and I’m really in love with it. It’s feels so rare to have someone that intimately understands software and is also very capable at expression outside of it. I mean, plenty of software people are great at expressing things about software, but Ellen Ullman is able to express much more.

It’s as much a portrait about pre-social media Silicon Valley as it is about her personal reckoning with aging and dulling, both in her place on the bleeding edge of industry and in previously held iron-clad beliefs.

Sometimes the references to the actual tech she describes feel like an incantation: she lists a bunch of of acronyms and protocols in a row to overwhelm the reader with the specifity and complexity of a subject, but usually it’s because it actually is specific and complex. It’s a small gripe, I can’t expect her to treat the engineering with as much explanation and context as the real subjects she expresses.

I’m really impressed with it. She has this great section where she describes the difference between an Excel spreadsheet and the (early, pre-javascript, even) web browser.

The spreadsheet is a tool, one that waits for data and commands to be input by the user, and performs its duties instantly and without subterfuge. While the browser– but more honestly, the web– is an autonomous being, guarding data that it hoards and embeds into its own structure of loosely linked sites. The user is dominant to the spreadsheet, but the user is subordinate to the web– it must conform to conventions and rules to use it correctly. A spreadsheet, the program that created the personal computer, is much more honestly a tool.

So little feels like a tool anymore. The web’s mode of interaction has come to dominate the way we interact with technology. Who can imagine that their phone, with it’s machine-learning chips and personal assitants, is totally subserviant, the way that a spreadsheet is?

I also rewatched Portrait Of A Lady On Fire this week, which made me, uh, emotional. I saw it in 2019 alone on valentine’s day, and sobbed in a theater with a bunch of 60 year-old women. It has lost NONE of its potency in the elapsed time.

Other than that, I think I’m basically done with Dark Souls 3. It feels much shorter than usual, and I’m not sure why. I put 65 hours into Dark Souls 2, and I’m only at 43 for this one. I’m going to rush to the wiki to find all the things left to do before I fight the final boss and kick to NG+, so maybe the time will fill up.

To close: a song by Gabriel Sayer that I’m a big fan of. Happy fourth, all.