Sunday, September 27, 2009

Where did they go?

I'm not a good programmer. I'm naturally quite techie, but I've never really had the patience to sit down and make great art with my PC. The skills I have are those I was able to absorb from those in my immediate vicinity - replication not initiation.

That said, I do enjoy absorbing the culture of tech - the story of mel, the jargon file, esoteric languages, and the old tales of the MIT AI lab and Xerox Park. I read books by Neal Stephenson and William Gibson. Buried somewhere on my hard drive is the complete archives of Phrack mag, although I barely understand half of it (typically the obsolete half - yay analog phreaking!).

And one of the things I pick up from these shards of geekiness is a sense of wistfulness. They talk about the September that never ended. They talk about the AI Winter. They refer to newsgroups and communities of unsurpassed elegance and sophistication, that now no longer exist. There's a sense of stumbling across the forgotten artifacts of some lost higher civilisation. Once heroes and wizards strode the Earth; now there are only echoes.

Where did they go? What happened to the cypherpunk generation? Did they all quit programming, or wind up in wage-slave jobs that crushed their creativity, or die of drug overdoses, or get locked up for not respecting someone's lack of respect for computer security? Have the elves passed into the West, making way for the Age of Man?

I hope not. I like to think that, somewhere, these ideals hold on. Somewhere, in a hidden mailing list, on a firewalled server, carried by a stream of encrypted emails spliced into innocuous data, the crypto-anarchist dream lives on. It's just waiting to be found, locked behind doors that cry out for the right key. So what if the key in question is 8192-bit?

Maybe I'm deluding myself. Maybe the cypherpunk movement just died out, faded back into oblivion. It would be a poorer world if that were so, but the world has no responsibility to respect our desires.

But I allow myself this one dream. And in consolation for the lack of evidence, I hold this thought tightly:

If they couldn't hide themselves from people like me, they wouldn't be worth admiring...
Read the full post

Sunday, September 20, 2009

How To Learn French

1) Work your way through Wikibooks: French

2) Download a freeware French-English dictionary (I'm usingFreedict - open-source but not very user-friendly).

3) Download a good book here and ici, and read them side by side.

4) Tune in to web radio (alternatively pick a DVD, and set the language to French and the subtitles to English).

It's amazing how long you can spend on the internet and still not use it to its full potential.
Read the full post