Monthly Curations – July 2019

(yep, not a lot this month …)

The shrew-like networked GUI equipped microcomputers of Apple were released as products only two years after this central planning dinosaur was postulated. Eventually, decades later, someone built a mechanical golem made of microcomputers which achieves a lot of the goals of fifth generation computing, with independent GUI front ends. I’m sure the Japanese researchers of the time would have been shocked to know it came from ordinary commodity microcomputers running C and using sorts and hash tables rather than non-Von-Neumann Prolog supercomputers. That’s how most progress in engineering happens though: incrementally. Leave the moon shots to actual scientists (as opposed to “computer scientists”) who know what they’re talking about.

On Kafka, Confluent, and … Clojure

As I’m absorbing more of the general flavor of event-streaming and everything around it (… in the beginning was the log …), I keep gettin a bit of deja vu and realized that there’s an uncanny resemblance to something else, a different place I’ve encountered similar relationships between things in a different concrete form … in Clojure.

I feel Clojure keeps getting compared to other “languages for talking to machines”, and discussions tend to end up rehashing either the static-vs-dynamic-typing cliche, the lisp cliche(s), the scripting-Java cliche, and so on.

What is missed (I feel) is the symbolic nature of the language, which allows it to really represent concepts at an arbitrary level of abstraction … something that will be incomprehensible if all you ever compare it to is examples of computing factorials in other languages.

In particular, it is a sort of “language of the system”. The same patterns I see Apache Kafka getting involved in, for distributed data-processing systems, are the patterns I imagine with symbolic objects in Clojure code.

So instead of a log with brokers and producers and consumers and streams, I see … LazySeq, with transducers; instead of Schema Registry, spec … and so on.

This is not a fully-formed thought yet, but … dunno, I’m enjoying this parallel so far.

Monthly recap (July 2019)

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Flowers that Tara picked, kept in a bowl

Major updates:
– Laguna Beach vacation
– Accepted an offer from Confluent, Joined on the 22nd!
– Surprise birthday party for me (again) by Shivi
– A friend’s mother passed away, attended the funeral

Minor updates:
Dolphin watching (no whales though)
– Watched 4th of July fireworks
• Women’s Soccer World Cup final (happened to be playing in our hotel room)
– Tara moved to the last preschool class
– Took a bunch of haikus I’d written earlier and put them into a book
– Has to deal with a tedious CP-2000 from IRS
– Added Caltrain to my commute (technically, my first public transportation commute in a decade!)
– One birthday party every weekend …

Watched/read/made:
– Finished Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
– Watched Stranger Things season 3 on Netflix
– Watched the new Lion King with Tara
– Watched a musical Beat Bugs at the Palo Alto Children’s Theatre

Retro-active content

Just finished importing two old Tumblr blogs (each from roughly 4-5 years ago), one under my name and one … not.

So there’s suddenly a lot more content at this blog, in 2014-2015 !

(of course, it lacks tagging etc, but, it exists … all part of my current plan to aggregate bits and pieces of my digital life into this WordPress blog …)

Interesting links: July 2019

thunderstorm, from space
Thunderstorm, seen from the Space Station

(a very short list, not a lot this month, I was too busy !)

A new change

I joined Pure Storage in the beginning of last year, and felt like it was one of the best year of my life, for numerous reasons:

  • Learning to live outside “the Google bubble”
  • Meeting a bunch of interesting, smart people
  • Learning a whole bunch of new tools and ways of thinking
  • Getting a a good feel for the different tradeoffs involved in a small-vs-large place (eye opening!)

About a year and a half later, something else came along that I felt unable to pass up, and as of next week I’ll be joining the team at Confluent.

There are a few things that are interesting to me:

  • A focus on Distributed systems
  • The potential for event-streaming as a transformative force for all digital businesses, not just the likes of Uber and Twitter
  • An impressive team that I met both during interviews and after
  • A sweet spot in terms of engineering size and focus (no longer a small startup, but still having a lot of room to grow)
  • A new challenge for me: a while new ecosystem to learn and master (!)

Of course, all these reasons are “after the fact”; the real motivation ultimately comes (for me, at least) from some sort of “gut feeling” that I get when I meet new people.

I felt this feeling when I first met a few people at Pure, and I felt it again at Confluent, and I gave to trust in it, and that I’m doing the right thing right now …

Making a change like this is new for me, because I’m not accustomed to ever changing anything when I’m happy (always sticking around until something makes me really unhappy) —— I will greatly miss everyone that I’ve worked with or talked to at Pure, as well as the managers who supported me, and I do hope we can stay in touch and work together again some day …

… but for now, I’m looking ahead with nervous excitement to the start of a new adventure.

Seveneves

The last Neal Stephenson book I read was probably Anathem, which was a while ago (I remember I was enamored enough to have subsequently bought the “accompanying soundtrack1”).

Before that had been the massive and delightful “System of the world” trilogy (as it turned out, I read all of these on the Kindle device I then possessed, and only realized how fat these books were in physical form when I saw them in a store).

Seveneves begins with a bang2 (and yes, Neal does seem to be good at beginnings, better at middles, and not-so-great at endings, and … what’s wrong with that? 🙂

I came for the exquisite world-building and was not disappointed at all. This was an extremely detail-oriented expository sort-of book, that would turn off anyone who wasn’t ok with that style.

So … having completed this book a week ago, I’m a satisfied reader here, especially since I’ve been waiting (for many years now) to do a better job of slowly reading some fiction. It’s hard because time is short, but it’s still satisfying, so it’s worth being creative about fitting in a few minutes of reading here and there 3.

The story is largely in three parts: what happens soon after the moon breaks up, what happens after the “hard rain” wipes out all life on earth, and a “fast-forward” to a speculative future five millennia after all this.

In all this nitty-gritty detail, it’s easy to think that this is all about imagining the future with a clear slate, while … I couldn’t shake the feeling that this could just as well be about the past.

There is a strong tendency to think of history4 as essentially linear, and even, to some extent, “progressive”; that there is some end-goal5 towards which we are, and have been, progressing, slowly or quickly.

What Seveneves can be seen as, then, is an imagined “theory of cataclysm”: while the majority of the text is centered around “how do humans survive in space?”, the other question, reading between the lines, is “how do future generations of human beings, born on earth with none of the contextual cultural and scientific memory of the earlier survivors-in-space, make sense of these gods-and-demons, and their mysterious devices?”

Or, to put it bluntly, what if these “future generations of primitive savages”, who don’t understand the works of the “magic-wielding” space-humans, and have to come up with their own myths to explain them6, are basically … us?


  1. “Iolet: music from the world of anathem” ↩︎
  2. The first line reads: ‌The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason. ↩︎
  3. Practically, this means resorting to the e-book format most of the time … ↩︎
  4. (in all its forms: cultural, political, biological, geological) ↩︎
  5. this of course, is what most disagreements are about … ↩︎
  6. (especially after these space-humans (perhaps) fight against and destroy each other) ↩︎