alice maz

new substack post (this time not on an airplane): one with the machine. I read "as you may think" by vannever bush and "man-computer symbiosis" by jcr licklider and wrote about them in the context of intelligence augmentation, transhumanism, and the promise of ai

this one was really fun to work on, and pretty important I think too. my central thesis here is that these men inspired much of the internet and the desktop computing revolution, and are largely remembered in those terms. but the truth, when you go back and read them, is that we've only gotten through phase one. they didn't just want better tools for us to use in the manner we do, like fancy teletypes or complicated graphics terminals. they wanted us to install these tools into out consciousness, work with them directly, to be something more than mere man

I'm a skeptical person by nature, so I'm not saying ai can get us there soon. but the advancements that openai has made, plus the reading I've done in the historical literature, has moved me from "idk it's cool but what is it good for" to "oh, shit, I need to use this stuff and see how it fits into my life." the very next thing after I hit publish (and slept, since it was 6am, and ate, since I kinda forgot to) was read the openai docs. it's been a little bit since I've had the drive to code for fun, so I'm excited to find out for myself how to use these tools, with an open mind and humble heart

there was definitely a point, a few weeks ago, when playing with chatgpt and getting hallucinations, that I wanted to scoff and declare it too early to be useful. but that's a craftsman's pride talking, the same as the men who hand-wrote assembly and scoffed at compilers. it's the disease of the old: once you get really good at things, you want to believe you can keep doing them "your way" forever. and once I recognized that, I cleared away all my preconceptions so I can approach from an angle of play. I'd been trying to force the tool to bend to me, but I'd like to see how I can bend with the tool

I've always been a huge believer in the computer as a means of individual empowerment. technology-as-lever. so I'm excited to try this one out and see what I can do with it

in other news, I wrote this the day that elon decided to ban substack from twitter lol, so getting it out there has been an amusing task. first he blocked likes/retweets/replies on any tweet with a substack link, so I got the bright idea to 301 through my own domain, but then he had them label anything that redirects to substack as spam/malicious... honestly very disappointing. between the censorship and the dev-hostility, this is honestly the worst leadership the site has ever had. I hope this ends up being our yahoo tumblr moment, and it survives to see the hands of new management. it is by far the most special place online to me, and I would be crestfallen if he actually managed to kill it

and, I guess somewhat related, I'm also on bluesky now as it's a cute quaint little place so far. plenty of what I've been calling "just had lunch!"-type posting. my friend mentioned the fediverse had a similar period. so maybe that's the embryonic stage of any new social network, before it differentiates into its adult form

new substack post: you can just do stuff. I summarize lessons from arpa and xerox parc that inform how we aspiring technology cultists might think about putting together new ambitious orgs for science and engineering work that aren't just venture-backed startups. also I write about franny and zooey, stoicism, and a few little anecdotes about kids learning how to affect the world. several people called it heartwarming, which makes me happy

I am now 2/2 for writing articles on airplanes. the first (12 hour) leg of my flight to bangkok had no wifi, and the only thing I put on my new kindle was a free (as in libre) chemistry textbook, major sections of which were free (as in lacking) of images. so when I got tired of trying to imagine space-filling models of molecules based on alt text, I looked through my computer for pdfs to read, and found this one by dominic cummings, and then wrote basically the entire post before touchdown. so if you want me to write more, maybe the solution is more flights

also I'm in bangkok! and planning on going to chiang mai and manila at least as well. I love it here already, it's so fresh and alive and busy and free in a way that no cities in america or europe are. well, maybe easy to say with american money, but yknow. it's also interesting how this place feels like "neutral territory" between the chinese and american empires. like anyone can just show up as they please. it's nice. one of the things I hope comes out of a multipolar world is more liminal space, it'll be interesting. really interested in asean in particular for this, and have loved the vibe of southeast asia from afar for a long time, so it's great to finally be here experiencing it

I wrote my first substack post: into the void. I used the science fiction novels/serials void star, a memory called empire, and to the stars as a jumping off point to talk about different visions of the future and the desire every fighty autist girl has to spend her life in battle. I'm very pleased with how it turned out, especially since I wrote nearly the entire thing in a single plane ride, after a weekend of drinking and fencing

I made a substack the other week, which I haven't posted anything to yet, but I expect to eventually. partly because the twitter algorithm makes it impossible to ensure people who explicitly want to see certain posts will ever actually see them, and partly because I hope it will encourage me to write smaller, lower effort things more frequently

I generally write one giant post every year or two, but not because I don't want to write more. usually what ends up happening is something like... I'm inspired to write something but need to do more research, the longer I research the more I link its core concepts to everything else in my knowledge graph, eventually the original topic seems too quaint to bother with, but the broader thing is too heavy to be tractable. what I'd like to do is write things earlier in this process, when I can dash off ideas before they're sodden with meaning. putting things on my website always feels like a Statement, but maybe putting them somewhere else (ie your inbox) will make me feel less like I need to live up to such a lofty standard. and eventually the refinement will result in a body of work of greater scope than I would be able to tackle as individual doorstoppers anyway

2022 has been good to me! this is a refreshing change from 2021, which was without a doubt the most painful and miserable year of my life. 2022 was possibly the best. I've mostly been taking it easy, relaxing and healing I guess. not doing a whole lot

I went to europe for the first time this summer! it was really special, I had a lot of great times with internet friends and people from hostels, and felt a lot of really valuable feelings

in portugal, I went to sintra on a misty day, and hiked from the town up to the moorish castle (which everyone thought I was insane to do, as apparently they all take the bus! I want to hike to cabo da roca next time.) it was pouring rain by time I was done for the day, and instead of following the road back, I cut through the forest, on deserted footpaths that cut through dense trees and occasionally followed the old outer walls. it was one of the most beautiful experiences I've had, the sense of isolation and connection with nature and just joy of being out in the rain

in finland, I met someone from online, and dragged him to a performance of shakespeare's "as you like it" inside an old swedish fortress on an island in the bay. I'd randomly seen an ad for it on a train the day before, but couldn't remember the spelling of the theater to find it online, so I just waited a half hour as trains passed until I saw another one with the same ad to take a picture. I managed to convince him it would likely be in english, half-believing it myself, but I was wrong. he didn't stay long (sorry!) but I pulled up the english script and used proper nouns and character turn-taking to make sure I was in the right place to the finnish. it was fun, and some older ladies were amused at my willingness to do all this just to keep up. on the ferry back, I had an incredible experience where the gold of the midnight sun danced on the deep blue water, and I found I could stop seeing it as light on water and simply see it as color. that, and the forest, made me think of being on acid a bit, although I was completely sober. the experience of being able to turn off the pattern-recognizing machinery in the brain and see things as they actually are, rather than what the represent

in estonia, I met a twitter friend and hung out with hers, spending all night at this cute neighborhood bar that had an impressive selection of beers while also seeming to be run out of a house. the bartenders took turns coming outside to smoke and chat with friends, and the sign announced "if the gate is open, we're open." we went and sat on the castle walls and when I walked by again at 6am back to my hostel, the sign sure was still out. we also did a day trip out to the coast, and to a park with a waterfall, and then went back to town for a pre-midsummer cookout. I was granted honorary estonian status for my unfeigned enthusiasm for baby herring in oil and an incredibly spicy mustard called sinep that I've been unable to order anywhere in america

and then in latvia, was midsummer. I went out to the festival in town with like 20 people from our hostel, and it was incredible. I've been thinking of myself as something of a pagan (at least a "pagan spirit," in the fashion of rene vivien and natalie barney), and seeing an unbroken pagan tradition alive was truly amazing. so much joy and revelry! the bonfire, the music... the park had an amphitheater where music was played on stage all night, with chants and rituals punctuating, and we danced nonstop from 10pm to 4am, with members of our party gradually leaving as the night went on. few locals could speak with us, but they treated us like their own, showing us how to do some of the dances we weren't familiar with. I had to leave before the end, with a flight to catch the next day, but those who stayed said it ended after 5 with chanting to the sun

I also got to experience sauna, in finland and latvia, for the first time. the sauna in helsinki was nice, a traditional smoke sauna (an explanation of the technical and qualitative differences from a wood sauna has been added as an alice dialogue tree) and access to the ocean, but the one in riga was really special. another friend brought me to it, out on an island separate from the city proper, in an area that looks like it's been largely abandoned since the retreat of the soviets. there's a rusted metal and crumbling concrete bridge you have to cross, with gates to prevent people from using it, but bars punched out so people can access it anyway. I wasn't sure I had the right place until I saw a man in a business suit duck through the gap. and then through a field that google calls a road, to a junkyard that hosts an anarchist event space, complete with its own sauna house. mixed-sex, nude, and with a section of the canal lined with sand to be able to cool off right after. after several hours of that, we sat up til late, grilling on the solstice in front of a fire

I think I loved lisbon most of all, though, just as a city. it's too slow and calm for my blood, but a nice place to relax and decompress. when I walk through the twisty streets and steep staircases of alfama or bairro alto, I think of how badly I want to spend a month there with a girl, with nothing but romance on our minds. it is a unbelieveably gorgeous city, the most beautiful I've seen

I've settled in seattle for now, and have more friends here than I ever did in sf or austin. I'll probably pack up and travel for a couple years next, but I expect to be back. seattle has a nice mix of urban and nature that makes it a good home base, I think. and it certainly seems to be the schelling point for weird queers such as myself. I'm thinking I'll go to southeast asia next, which has been a dream of mine for awhile. and more of europe, and south america

sometimes I think about the first half of my 20s, living la boheme, with nothing but precarity and revelry and threat, day-in, day-out. sometimes I feel like, jesus, if only I'd spent that time productively, working and studying, where would I be now? but it's a silly thought. the times I had then made me who I am now, and I would surely be much more cloistered and cautious if I hadn't learned to dare and live. but I also think, more than that maybe, that it was good to run it through my system, because it let me focus on work later without ever wondering what I missed out on. I think of travel in a similar way, now. I need to do it all in a burst, see what actually is out there, so when, or maybe if, I come back, I have no regrets on what I never did

happy thanksgiving, and merry christmas! I'm excited about what 2023 has in store for us all

I wrote a tour through the general principles of programming, as something of an art and something of a bucket of hammers. I muse on learning styles, knowledge graphs, the contingency and interplay of systems, and the future of the "software engineer": how I think when I think about programming. I also give a working idea of abstraction, debugging, and coin the term "jenga pagoda" for the layers of systems we build to hide other systems

it's been awhile! crazy couple years, huh? things have been pretty turbulent for for me, but I'm doing my best

2020 was really exciting! everything had a sheen of change and newness. going out in the world, it felt like everything was on the brink of becoming something completely different and unexpected, every day. I don't know if I'll ever have that same feeling of wonder and excitement as I did in march, when the world caught up with what we knew online. biking in deserted streets, exploring abandoned places, waiting for something to happen. it really was kind of magical

besides that, I was working like crazy the whole year. I was reorganizing my git repos the other week, and (at least based on a naive wc) I wrote more code in 2020 than the entire rest of my career combined. and that's including several months devoted exclusively to research. I learned more in 2020 than I ever did before too... despite how it ended, that feeling of having to hit the ground running, having to do everything and handle anything... it taught me so much, not just the things I did, but what I'm capable of

unfortunately things took a turn the next year, and for a variety of reasons, I had to resign from sylph in early 2021. within a few months I also ended my relationships, and with no reason not to, decided I may as well leave austin too. the first half of 2021 was by far the darkest period in my life, and honestly I'm still sifting through the emotional wreckage

but, I'm optimistic. I moved to seattle in the second half of 2021, and like it quite a bit. I've been doing just enough freelancing to pay the bills and no more. I've been calling myself "virtuously unemployed." it's the first time I've been single in half a decade, which affords me a certain degree of freedom that I've missed a lot. I've been traveling more than I ever have, and expect to a lot more. I've been reading a lot. I'm not working on anything exciting, and I won't have the spirit for "real work" back in me for awhile, but I'm looking forward to what the future holds

anyway! last week I finally wrote a thing I've been meaning to for awhile. a sort of willy wonka tour through what I consider to be the fundamentals of programming, aimed at providing context and background to new-ish coders familiar mostly with the rote mechanics, but who haven't built up their feel for the lay of the land. the way I think about things may well be too idiosyncratic and personal for other people to find much utility in. but, we'll see!

aside from that, I started reserializing a thing I wrote over a decade ago, a europa universalis narrative after-action report titled pine bamboo and plum. starting with the red turban rebellion, and ending about 150 years later, I basically try to set up a stable "concert of china," with the restriction that there is no "westernization," and instead the crucible of competition and conflict leads to a china that never "falls behind" europe at all, ushering in a bipolar geopolitics from the dawn of the sage of exploration

it ends abruptly, albeit on a high note, before I could put my plans into full effect. and I likewise had to stop reserializing it when my life abruptly exploded last year. but I would like to finish that, probably all at once, with an epilogue to tie things off

oh, I also went to hereticon in january! it was easily the best trip I've taken, maybe ever. a veritable paradise for an extroverted nerd. I feel like I ran into 50 friends I hadn't expected to see, and made like 100 more. I talked myself speechless (voiceless?) every day and night, then drank tea with honey and lemon all morning every morning to scrape together enough voice to do it all over again. I might write more about it at some point, it was just so so so good. I need more of that energy in my life, being around people with weird interests who can share them at length, who don't need tons of context to keep up with my insane ramblings about my own pet topics, and who are just super fun and super optimistic about what we are capable of doing

it also inspired me to dust off some other things I've wanted to write, things I felt I couldn't do proper justice to while devoting all my best brain cycles to the startup. I want to write about classical chinese philosophy and its applicability to the present, about narratives that drive society, all my big historical ideas I'm so fond of

2021 was hell but I'm doing a lot better now, and excited to see where things go now. everything feels so full of light

I'll post the programming thing in a couple days. let's work hard and have a great year!