Friday, June 04, 2004


Von chaos kommt ordnung

Way back in the 70s and 80s, I relished reading Byte every month. In many ways the highlight of the month was reading noted science fiction author Jerry Pournelle's column, which always had tales of big S-100 bus systems, a powerful box for p-System Pascal (all whimsically named), the superiority of Modula-2, and a host of other opinions that invariably inspired passionate reader response. I had read several of Dr. Pournelle's books and enjoyed them, and his monthly viewpoint, even if I virulently disagreed with it, was at least a reasoned view of the state of non-glass house computing at the time. Dr. Pournelle did champion Borland's Turbo Pascal in the beginning, probably the first really cost-effective and useful compiler for micros out there (anyone remember things like Digital Research compilers? Yikes.....) that I think was a great boost to the community that eventually became the open source movement. Sadly, Byte faded away with a whimper, and I didn't get my monthly fix of Dr. Pournelle's column, sort of a delightful irritant. I met the good Doctor at Comdex once, at the famed chili cook-off, and exchanged pleasantries, the sort of insubstantial encounter that persons of some renown probably encounter several times daily.

A couple of years back I discovered that the good Doctor had taken up blogging, and had resumed his column in the online edition of Byte. I'm somewhat loath to spring for a subscription to Byte's online service, in that I spend entirely enough time digesting IT-related content in print and online, and while its viewpoints may be interesting, I can access true thought leadership in the subject area through other avenues. The blog is somewhat in the style of the Chaos Manor column (I must admit to loving the name "Chaos Manor", as it aptly describes my humble home), but less wordsmithed and more interactive, with a lively reader mail section.

That site hasn't been shy about expressing its opinions on many defense and political issues, as it's entitled to. The problem I've been having with the site lately is that it has been expressing something akin to a Pat Buchanan-esque commentary on certain parts of the Middle East (in Mr. Buchanan's case, the operative phrases are "Si ca marche comme un canard" and "Dime con quien andas, y te dire quien eres"). Some examples of the recent discourse may be found here and here.

Dr. Pournelle is quite vociferous in his denial of any intent, and in all likelihood is relatively free of prejudice, but it is apparent that he loathes neoconservatives (which as I understand his history is a somewhat amusing concept), is quite opinionated, and given his curmudgeonly nature may use a broadaxe in a daybook setting rather than a rapier. One thing that Dr. Pournelle likely has not had however, is any sort of substantive interaction with the unfortunates who still bear "Himmler's Autograph" tatooed on their arms (I suspect quite the opposite, as Dr. Pournelle is well-known in defense circles and may have had at least passing acquaintance with persons covered by Operation Paperclip). Those who have tend to view discourse of this nature in somewhat of a different light. Dr. Pournelle's correspondents sometimes add to the fire, with more ominous rhetoric (although trolling may indeed be the cause of same).

I suppose I'll keep reading his site, as there's frequently worthy commentary and correspondence. I do view it somewhat differently, though, given the tone of some of what's been said there.


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