12 March 2005

Computer types seem fascinated by Postmodernism

In an essay by the always-wonderfully expressive Paul Ford, he says that [m]any computer types seem fascinated by Postmodernism. Guilty. He includes an unusually inexpressive (ok, almost always) few paragraphs on the subject of geeks and Postmodernism [Wikipedia]. I have my own idea on the subject based on the work I had done with natural language processing. I hadn't considered that many other geeks were so inclined, but there you have it.

At work, we use Virtual PC to create test and demo environments. I can't believe that I hadn't used this before. With it, you can create OS images that can be run in a window within the current OS. We're using a Win2000 image within Win2000, but you could just as easily have an XP or Unix or even BeOS image in there. The clipboard is shared and folders from your actual OS can be shared into the virtual OS. When running, the virtual PC appears as a machine on the network.

Although I haven't tried it (yet), you could probably have virtual PCs within a virtual PC and share up and down the chain. They would all exist on the network and, although slow, could be used to simulate multiple clients and servers all on one machine. This is all happening within a single OS that's running applications managed by the kernel ultimately executed instruction-by-instruction through the CPU. At times, further abstraction is added because the applications are actually executed by scripts that are run within other applications on the kernel, etc.

application -> script -> application -> kernel -> CPU

(Unnecessary reference: Douglas R. Hofstadter examined this quality of symbol systems within symbol systems in Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid [Amazon]. This is probably where geeks got their first dose of self-referential systems.)

Studying natural language processing, like studying programming languages, gives you an appreciation for the astounding achievement of language. One minute you're tagging parts of speech (syntax), the next you have a contentful piece of communication (semantics) that is tied to the real world (pragmatics [Wikipedia]). The terrifying part is that the black box of how symbols become meaning is on the fringe of our understanding. Similarly, within the syntax of programming languages, a language's statements and expressions are combined to create functions or objects; those are combined to create libraries that are combined, based on their own syntax, with other functions or objects to create different libraries; these are combined to create an application; that application may be used to run scripts and the process repeats itself.

Postmodernism is a natural fit when you deal with such systems and meta-systems.

[ posted by sstrader on 12 March 2005 at 8:28:31 PM in Programming ]