Some remarks on *Some Remarks*

Neal Stephenson fans will love Some Remarks.  Eighteen articles dating from 1993 to 2012 and ranging from less than a page to the epic 118 page WIRED article, “Mother Earth, Mother Board.”  I had missed some of his short stories along the way, so I think the collection is a fun trip.  Short stories like “The Great Simoleon Caper,” detailing a country-free digital currency (think Bitcoin) make me want to go back and read Snow Crash.

The newest article with a clever name, “Arsebestos,” describes how sitting on one’s “arse” all day is killing us.  Of course, to those that have read REAMDE, one can’t help but to think of Skeletor, the once morbidly obese MMORPG player who replaced his chair with a treadmill and now has ridiculously low body fat.  Arsebestos expands on that idea with the standing desk concept: replace your desk at work with a slow speed treadmill.

But “Mother Earth, Mother Board” really is the centerpiece of the collection.  A mere essay by Stephenson standards, it is a Depth-First-Search into the cable laying industry of 1996.  Ok, it’s a bit dated, but it’s a true microcosm of Stephenson’s exhaustive writing style.  Lastly, the included forward to David Foster Wallace’s Everything and More, makes me want to go out buy that book. In the little I have read of DFW, I can see why he resonates with Neal.

In more mundane news, I’m a bit busier than usual at the moment with two classes: Operating Systems and Introduction to AI.  Both are fun so far, but very project intensive. The OS class will be a look into the linux kernel, after this first project implementing our own shell. When I get to write comments like :

Reap all Zombies!

How is that not fun?!?  The first project for AI is to write a solver for a sliding puzzle game in LISP. If I did any programming in LISP in undergrad, I can’t remember it.  But, the plus side is that my emacs-fu will be that much better after this!

Emacs Wizardry: markdown-mode


I have made an amazing discovery recently.  While its not quite an achievement like the Curiosity rover (Mr. Rover has been entertaining to follow on Twitter) it certainly has brought me great joy nonetheless.  It is Jason Blevin’s markdown-mode.

Back in this post I mentioned that I would be using Emacs more routinely, to include editing these blog posts which I have been doing so far.  But to get the formatting just the way I like it, I’ve been using html-mode and editing the raw html and then uploading it to WordPress.  This wasn’t all that bad, but I’d have to remember the paragraph tag for each paragraph, use the right href, etc… Word wrapping was an issue too and I would have to fill / unfill paragraphs prior to uploading as well.

This is no more.  Using markdown-mode I can edit in the lightweight markdown and after installing markdown (via brew install markdown on my mac), I can quickly generate the html from the text. I’ve used github’s flavored markdown (gfm) before, but it never clicked with me to use it for blogging until I did some googling. Conveniently, gfm-mode is also available.

emacs (specifically aquamacs24 built from source at github) with the top buffer in markdown-mode and the bottom buffer showing the html.

I realized that I’ve just geeked out on Emacs, but very much in the Neal Stephenson definition from “Tune On, Tune In, Veg Out” in Some Remarks, which I have been enjoying lately:

“To geek out on something means to immerse yourself in its details to an extent that is distinctly abnormal-and to have a good time doing it.”

My Emacs usage has drastically increased now that I’m back at work, so there will be more geeking out in the future.

But first, from that same article, another great Stephenson quote (that and I’m enjoying the simple blockquote markdown syntax):

“The few conservatives still able to hold up one end of a Socratic dialogue are those in the ostracized libertarian wing-interestingly enough, a group with a disproportionately high representation among fans of speculative fiction.”