Poll of a Billion Monkeys

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Command Line of God

Invisible Hand - The Command Line of God

This is an extremely long essay (with annotations), which was sent to me by a friend. Nevertheless it reminded me in several different ways of my own theories of the stages of God-Technology and of many conversations I have had with various friends of mine about man and technology, so I felt that I would republish it in part here, as well as providing links, credits included.

I could include my own annotations to this article but most anything I would contribute has either already been written in my own papers about God-Technology or will be included in future articles about the same subject matter. The original essay was by Neal Stephenson and if you've ever read one of his works then you'll know exactly who I mean.



The Command Line in 2004

In July 2004 I found myself sitting alone in the dark, on the enclosed deck of a ferry boat oozing between fog-shrouded islands of the Alaskan coast. The scenery was haunting, but after the first three hours, I decided to occupy myself by finally reading Neal Stephenson's essay about the command-line. Halfway through it I began crossing things out, and scribbling comments in the margin. The essay was five years old, and in dire need of a fresh perspective.
Months later, I learned that Stephenson himself was dissatisfied with the essay.
He wrote that it, "is now badly obsolete and probably needs a thorough revision." An "Ask Slashdot" poll quoted him as saying, "I keep meaning to update it, but if I'm honest with myself, I have to say this is unlikely."
Though I have fleshed out my original comments into longer, more structured pieces, it is not my intention to replace or revise Neal Stephenson's original writing. His original essay is a much more cohesive and entertaining read than my notes are. (He is a Writer, after all. I consider myself a code-monkey by comparison.) In fact, my notes do not hold together unless they use the original essay as a framework, and that's why his entire essay is reproduced here, with my comments color-coded. And yes, I have
sought and obtained permission from Neal to do this.

In the Beginning was the Command Line

by Neal Stephenson

About twenty years ago Jobs and Wozniak, the founders of Apple, came up with the very strange idea of selling information processing machines for use in the home. The business took off, and its founders made a lot of money and received the credit they deserved for being daring visionaries. But around the same time, Bill Gates and Paul Allen came up with an idea even stranger and more fantastical: selling computer operating systems. This was much weirder than the idea of Jobs and Wozniak. A computer at least had some sort of physical reality to it. It came in a box, you could open it up and plug it in and watch lights blink. An operating system had no tangible incarnation at all. It arrived on a disk, of course, but the disk was, in effect, nothing more than the box that the OS came in. The product itself was a very long string of ones and zeroes that, when properly installed and coddled, gave you the ability to manipulate other very long strings of ones and zeroes. Even those few who actually understood what a computer operating system was were apt to think of it as a fantastically arcane engineering prodigy, like a breeder reactor or a U-2 spy plane, and not something that could ever be (in the parlance of high-tech) "productized."

entire essay here: The COMMAND LINE

Copyright 1999 by Neal Stephenson 1999 The Hearst Corporation
Annotations Jul 5th - Dec 29th 2004, by Garrett Birkel, garrett atmotiondotcom. Reproduce at will, provided the credits remain.

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