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Ideas & Analysis

Discussions of various issues including suggested solutions to problems and pure speculation

The Mastodon Hunters

Well, I didn’t expect this, though I probably should have: A huge wave of former Twitter bluechecks and their followers have descended upon the Mastodon Federation, and–sunuvugun–they’ve started throwing spears at each other.

First of all, for those who have never heard of it: Mastodon is a social network modeled superficially on Twitter. It’s distributed, in that anyone can create a server instance of Mastodon, and connect to other Mastodon instances through an underlying protocol called ActivityPub. It’s very cool in its own way, and brings other (ancient) distributed social networks to mind, like Fidonet and Usenet. Within a server instance, members can post and read tweet-ish things called “toots.” Theoretically, any Mastodon instance (there about 7,000 of them) can trade traffic with any other Mastodon instance. Content moderation, codes of conduct, and control of what other instances can share traffic are entirely under the control of the members of a given instance. There is no centralized management. Each instance governs itself.

So NPR’s Adam Davidson set up a Mastodon instance called journa.host, mostly targeted at journalists fleeing Twitter. The journa.host instance now has about 1,600 members, though that number doubtless changes hourly. I’ve cruised some of the posts, and it looks a great deal like the sort of stuff we’ve always seen on Twitter: some interesting, some blather, and some complaining about the indiscretions of others. Here’s the weird part: Almost immediately, fights broke out.

Maybe that’s not weird. Maybe that’s just how social networks operate. In this case, it had repercussions: A great many Mastodon instances, told by one malcontent or another that journa.host was transphobic, decided to block journa.host entirely. If you read Twitter, look for posts by @ajaromano, a bluecheck journalist who’s been trying to figure out why journa.host is being blocked so much. There’s a threadroll here. She’s trying to pin down what makes journa.host transphobic, and so far she got nuthin. Someone linked to a transphobic NYT article? Seriously? The NYT?

What this leaves us with is basically a Twitter-flavored forum with 1,600 members, shunned by all the other major Mastodon instances. So much for having 75,000 followers.

Now, why? I seriously doubt journa.host did anything transphobic or Aja Romero would have found it by now. I think the problem is much simpler and more mundane: Longtime Mastodon users think the wave after wave of Twitter refugees are ruining the neighborhood. The federation network can’t crash, but massive activity spikes can slow things down enough so that it might as well have crashed.

I’m not sure why it should be so, but I’ve read that Mastodon leans left. So in a way it’s the perfect solution for people who hate Elon Musk enough to bail on Twitter, leaving their blue checks and their thousands of followers behind. Alas, right now it looks a lot like Mastodon’s fediverse is the Holy Roman Empire of social networks: thousands of dukedoms, city-states, and strange little scraps of intellectual backwaters and walled fiefdoms that just don’t talk to anybody else and occasionally start throwing rocks.

What happens next? Nobody’s saying it out loud, but I’ll hazard a guess: They’ll soon be back on Twitter. How soon? A month or so. We won’t know for sure because they won’t want to admit it, but Twitter is successful because it’s big. Musk will eventually figure out how to make it pay. The real interesting question is what shape the Mastodon fediverse will be in come the new year. What’s the sound of one instance banning?

Silence. Heh.

The Great 2022 Mastodon Migration

My God, you’d think the world was ending. The screaming, yowling, weeping and rolling on the floor in the wake of Twtter’s acquisition by Elon Musk is something to see. I’m interested in Twitter because for me it fills a need: quick announcements, wisecracks, indie book promo, Odd Lots-style links to things I find interesting or useful….so what’s not to like?

One thing, and one thing only: disagreement.

But that’s the viewpoint of the bluechecks, not me or most of my friends. The bluechecks are fleeing Twitter. Where to? Mastodon, mostly. Poor Mastodon. Gazillions of new users are arriving, with so little computer smarts that they can’t figure out how to use the platform. Mastodon has a lot of promise. This is their chance to make the bigtime, instead of lurking in the shadows of all the monumentally larger social networks. I’m very curious to see what they make of it. I wonder if they understand the demands that will be made of them: Forbid disagreement with…anybody I don’t like.

There was a time when disagreement was a learning opportunity. Or most of it, anyway, at least disagreement among reasonably intelligent people. But that was way back in the ’70s. As we slid into the ’80s, disagreement became insult. I avoided disagreeing with people of a certain psychology, knowing that they’d just get bright red and scream at me before I ever had a chance to make a case for my own positions.

The ’80s were the era when, little by little, I stopped going to SF conventions. Why hang out with people who’ll jump down your throat at the slightest hint of disagreement? I missed the social element of conventions, but by 1985 or 86 cons had gotten so toxic I just stopped going.

(These days I go to one con a year: Libertycon, where I know I won’t get screamed at for having ideas at odds with the bluecheck zeitgeist.)

Now, in the Groaning Twenties, disagreement is first-degree murder. Or genocide. Or maybe the heat-death of the universe. Does it bother me? No. It makes me giggle. I’ve been called a racist and a fascist and a few other more peculiar things. Like I said: I giggle. It’s all so silly. I still write subversive hard SF and program in Pascal. I am what I am. You can’t change me by screaming at me.

Why have I gone on at such length about the disagreement phenomenon? Easy: After years of being a staunchly defended echo chamber, Twitter is now trying to become a profit-making enterprise. I used to pay for CompuServe. If Twitter becomes a paid service, I will pay a (reasonable) price for a subscription. I get the impression (and admit I could be wrong; we’ll see) that Twitter will moderate people who use dirty words to denigrate other people…but won’t ban those posting links to peer-reviewed research showing that Ivermectin is an effective broad-spectrum antiviral.

That would be a tectonic change in the social media universe. It’s going to take a few years for Elon Musk to figure out how to do it. But that dude can orbit 52 telecomm satellites in one damfool rocket…I’m not willing to speculate on what he can’t do.

So. Has Twitter changed since the Great Mastodon Migration? A little. In scrolling down through my Twitter posts over the last month or so, I see a few replies have gone missing, doubtless originally posted by people who are now tooting their little hearts out over on Mastodon. With only a few exceptions, the bluechecks have very little to say that isn’t abject fury at people who disagree with them. (And to think I almost majored in journalism, sheesh.)

Musk is laying off thousands of people. The firm can either survive without them or fold. Me, I’m pretty sure the whole damned operation could be run by a thousand or so good, smart, devoted staffers. The trick is to find and motivate such staffers. I suspect Elon Musk can do it.

In the meantime, the bluechecks are fleeing. G’bye, guys! Have fun over on Mastodon! Here on Twitter we’re still having a wonderful time! (I’d say, “glad you’re not here,” but I’m too nice a guy to do that. What else could you expect from a Pascal programmer?)

For Validation, Try Federation

Somebody wrote an obnoxious hate-piece over on The Verge some days back, welcoming Elon Musk to Twitter Hell. The essay is for the most part corrosive nonsense, but the piece does have an insight or two. The primary one is true, and subtle to the point where I doubt most people ever give it much thought: What social networks sell is valildation.

In other words, people gather on social networks to feel good about themselves. The network accomplishes this by censoring any voices that disagree with network members. Remember the days when disagreement was a learning opportunity? I do. Even polite disagreement is now “literal violence,” at least to the cohort desperately lacking self-esteem.

What Musk does to Twitter won’t be known for awhile. I’m guessing that people will no longer be banned for politely questioning conventional wisdom, like posting links to evidence that Ivermectin actually does have strong antiviral properties. Ditto HCQ. Why linking to a peer-reviewed scientific paper should be blanket-bombed as “misinformation” is simple: “Misinformation” now means “anything I or my tribe disagree with.” If Musk can call a halt to that, it will have been worth every nickel of his $44B. What it means, however, is that Twitter will become a network that does not specialize in validating its members by silencing their critics. If those seeking validation flee to another network, that’s a good thing. I generate my own validation. So do most of my friends. I guess not everyone can do that.

The real problem with moderation is that it tends to bias network traffic toward viewpoints the moderators favor. Worse, there’s one body of algorithms to moderate the whole damned network. Unless you’re in the favored cohort, you’re out of luck.

There is something called Mastodon that almost nobody talks about. (More on Mastodon here.) It’s a social network composed of independently hosted social networks, joined loosely through a mechanism called federation. Every instance (which is what they call an individual Mastodon server) can have its own moderation guidelines, and everybody can block anybody they don’t want to hear from. This sounds like the perfect solution: On Mastodon, nobody can hear you disagreeing with them if they don’t want to. Shazam! Validation!

I don’t have time to even join a Mastodon instance, much less host my own. If you’ve had experience there, by all means describe it in the comments. I bring it up here today because of an article I read about Twitter founder Jack Dorsey: He’s creating a new social network to rival Twitter. He’s doing it with federation. It’s called Bluesky, and it just opened registration for beta testers. It uses a protocol developed in-house called the Authenticated Transfer Protocol (ATP.)

I’ve been reading the news about Bluesky for the past few days. There’s not much hard information yet, but it sounds a great deal like a slightly more centralized Mastodon. I could be wrong about that. Again, hard data is scarce. I did notice that nowhere in the articles I’ve read is there any significant mention of moderation. That’s a very sore spot for a greeat many people, primarily those who just want validation, or tribalists who want to limit user perspectives to their own template. One hopes that Dorsey can get past this hunger for censoring The Other, and actually create a space where literally all perspectives can be heard.

We’ll see.

Sudowrite, Egad

I got wind of an online AI thingie called Sudowrite this morning. It’s a sort of writing engine that takes a piece of writing you’ve started and then runs with it. I’ve always been interested in AI, including AI creativity (“The Steel Sonnets,” “Sympathy on the Loss of One of Your Legs”) and used to play around with Eliza back when Eliza was young and hot. Well, here we are, in 2022. The supermarket is fresh out of Soylent Green, but by gully, Sudowrite is here, waiting for me to get stuck on something and yell for its help.

What I did was not quite that, exactly. For my first test I gave Sudowrite the initial few paragraphs of my weird fantasy short story, “Whale Meat.” Then I told it to go off and do its best to continue the story. First, the text from the current version of the story, which is published in my book Cold Hands and Other Stories. After the second horizontal rule, behold Sudowrite’s run with what I admit was a very peculiar football.


Sitting on a cold bus-bench at night-west I wished I had never been born a witch. I had just killed a man and Mara wanted whale meat. But I am on the canvas. I am not the painter. Creator forgive me. We had to stay somewhere. It would have been in the park with the ice if Lennie had not looked in my eyes in the public library and half-snerfed my pain.

There is no word for Lennie now. Years ago he would have been a hippie. Longer ago, a beatnik. Further back into time’s fog, a bohemian. Head. Weirdo. I don’t know what people call them now. Freak, perhaps. But he knew we were tired and homeless, and told us to stay with him.

His apartment was a hole. I was too exhausted to snerf him. He gave us hot coffee and a blanket and we slept on ragged foam rubber with the roaches. My dreams floated in hunger, tormented by Mara’s request for whale meat. She told me without words. I snerfed the picture in her head, a gray sea-mountain blowing steam from its nostril above moonlit swells.

I woke from restless dreams in a sweat of fear and anger. Some part of me never sleeps, and knew Mara was in danger. In yellow candlelight Lennie was bending over Mara, knife in his hand above her belly swollen with James. His eyes were slits and he chanted a language I never learned. I snerfed him. Some bad acid (is it still called acid?) was eating away at him and leaving only insanity in its wake. Snerfing him gave me a grim glimpse of the future: He would kill Mara and James in seconds. The knife began to circle for its last time, like a live thing in his shaking hands.

I had to time-opt. The universe ground to a slow halt around us while I dug up power from my heart-place, and zotted him. Lennie’s poor head shorted out like power lines blown away in a windstorm, with sparks and shrieks of inner agony.


His blood froze in his veins, his skin burned and turned black, his body dropped like a puppet with its strings cut.

I pulled Mara and James from the bed, and backed out of the stinking room, stumbling into the street, breathing deeply of the winter air. We hurried away past the sleeping city, three in a row. I held them in a circle of toil’d air. The sad lights of the city slid behind. We were two hundred miles away before Mara spoke.

I don’t mind you killing Lennie, I snerfed. He would have killed us.

I was just defending myself, I snerfed.

So were the people in the Warsaw Ghetto, Mara snerfed.

I walked faster. She didn’t snerf me.

The river was frozen solid. I cut off a section of the ice, and chopped it into chunks with the edge of my mind. I piled the chunks


Does this work? Dunno. I admit I was curious where Yonnie piled the chunks of ice, but it only gives you so many words at a time. Sudowrite half-understood my made-up word “snerf,” which is a witch-power, essentially telepathy. I forgive Sudowrite for not knowing that James was still in Mara’s uterus, where he’d been for five years. (Witches are pregnant for seven years, and James still has two years to go.)

Now, this isn’t the fairest of tests. I’m going to dig around in my notes files for an opener, ideally one I abandoned for some reason, and then go back and forth with Sudowrite to see if the one-and-a-half of us can actually finish a story that doesn’t read like a Salvador Dali painting looks.

I’ll let you how it goes.

SASM Crashes on “Section” in a Comment

As most of you know, I’m grinding along on the fourth edition of my book Assembly Language Step By Step, updated to cover x64. I’m using the SASM IDE for the example code because it provides seamless visual debugging using a front-end to gdb. Back in 2009 I created the third edition, and incorporated the Insight debugger front end for visual debugging. A month or so after the book appeared, Insight vanished from the Linux world. I tried a lot of debuggers and editors before I discovered SASM. It’s treated me very well.

Until today.

Now, I’ve been programming since 1970, in a lot of languages, on a lot of platforms, and I’ve made a lot of mistakes. Finding those mistakes is what debugging is about. Today, I was working on a short example program for the book. When I finished it, I clicked the Build button. It built as it should. I needed to single-step it to verify something about local labels, but when I clicked the debug button, SASM crashed. As Shakespeare would have put it, SASM died and gave no sign. The whole IDE just vanished. I tried it again. Same thing. I rebooted Linux. Same thing.

Puzzled doesn’t quite capture it. I loaded another example program from the book. It built and debugged without any trouble. I loaded example after example, and they all worked perfectly. Then I copied the source from the malfunctioning example into a file called crashtest.asm, and began cutting things out of it. I got it down to a start label and a SYSCALL to the exit function. Still blew SASM away.

Most of what was left was comments. I did a ctrl-X to cut the comment header onto the clipboard. Save, build, debug–and it worked perfectly.No crash, no errors, no problemo.

Soooooooo…….something in a comment header crashed the IDE? That would be a new one. So I dropped the comment header back into the file from the clipboard and started cutting out lines, one by one. I narrowed it down to one comment line, properly begun with a semicolon and containing no weird characters. The line that crashed SASM was this:

;         .bss sections.

I cut out the spaces and the period. No change. I cut out “.bss”. No change. I was left with the word “sections.” On a hunch, I lopped off the “s”. No change. Then I lopped off the “n”. Suddenly, it all worked.

SASM was crashing on a comment containing the word “section.” I verified by deleting the line entirely and typing it in again. Crash!

I stared at the damned thing for a long time. I loaded a couple of my other examples, and dropped the offending comment header into them. No problems. Twenty minutes later, I noticed something: In crashtest.asm, the fragment of comment header text was below the three section markers:

section.bss
section.data
section.text

; section

Now, in my other examples, the ones that didn’t crash, the comment header was above the three section markers. So I went back to crashtest.asm, and moved the comment header to the very beginning of the file, above the section markers. Suddenly everything worked. No crashes.

WTF? I assembled the offending crashtest binary from the command line without trouble. I loaded it into gdb from the command line and messed with it. No trouble.

I wrote this entry not for answers so much as to provide a report that other SASM users can find in search engines. There are things about SASM that aren’t ideal. Sure. But I’ve never seen it crash before. I’ll see if I can send the crashtest.asm to the people who created SASM. I’m sure it’s just a bug. But it’s the weirdest damfool bug I’ve uncovered in a whole lot of years!

Good-Bye Guidestones

Somebody blew up the Georgia Guidestones last night. “What the hell are the Georgia Guidestones?” you might (reasonably) ask.

Ha! Exactly the point I’m about to make.

Ok. Here’s the short form: Back in the late ’70s, some rich person or group managed to persuade the premier Georgia marble quarry and monument builder to cut out five 19-foot-tall marble slabs (plus a capstone) and carve a sort of New Age Ten Commandments onto the stones in English, Spanish, Hebrew, Hindi, Arabic, Chinese, Russian, and Swahili.

This was no small project. The point man behind the Guidestones was one Robert C. Christian, a pseudonym that he demanded never be connected with another name. He had truckloads of money and spent it liberally. In 1980 it was complete. The land had been purchased from a local farmer and was eventually deeded to Elbert County.

Here’s what’s on the stones, in case you (reasonably) don’t care enough to google it:

  1. Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.
  2. Guide reproduction wisely – improving fitness and diversity.
  3. Unite humanity with a living new language.
  4. Rule passion – faith – tradition – and all things with tempered reason.
  5. Protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts.
  6. Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a world court.
  7. Avoid petty laws and useless officials.
  8. Balance personal rights with social duties.
  9. Prize truth – beauty – love – seeking harmony with the infinite.
  10. Be not a cancer on the Earth – Leave room for nature – Leave room for nature.

It was in the news for a little while. ’80s New Agers went nuts for it. Then, little by little, the Guidestones were more or less forgotten. I read about them in the early 80s in one New Age book or another, then didn’t see anything significant about the stones until I read this morning that somebody tried to dynamite the damned things, and mostly succeeded.

There’s more details on the stones themselves here, if you’re interested. I did enjoy the somewhat goofier entry in The Creepy Catalog a little more.

Like most weird things, it has a low-profile fanbase who have been endlessly arguing about whether it was the Freemasons or the Rosicrucians or the Priory of Sion or maybe Ted Turner or Shirley MacLaine behind it. It’s been called satanic. It’s been called Roman Catholic, mostly because of the name R. C. Christian. Reaction to the stones in some quarters has been spectacularly unhinged–read the Creepy Catalog article to see what I mean.

The obvious thing to be taken away from the history of the guidestones is that they have accrued a lot of enemies, and eventually, one of those enemies would be tempted to strike back. The inscription is the sort of syrupy New World Order nonsense that was very hip back in the ’80s. Sure, it’s all upbeat and idealistic in a let’s-all-sit-together-and-sing-Kumbaya sort of way. Everybody be everybody’s friend, ok? Let’s all abandon our native languages and join our high school Esperanto club! Let’s all guide our reproduction…er, wut? There’s a word for that: Eugenics. Been tried. Millions died. Balance personal rights with social duties? This means, historically, that there are no rights, and social duties are forced on ordinary people by some ruling elite with all the guns.

In other words, the usual deadly Marxist claptrap. That, I think, is why the stones have been mostly forgotten. Reading the inscriptions again made me groan. Easy for you to say, Mr. Christian. If I were to read them too often, I would giggle.

Now, some odd thoughts:

  • Keeping secrets is hard. Especially huge, expensive secrets. I find it suspicious that the responsible entities have never been outed. There are theories, mostly tinfoil-hat stuff, but no hard facts.
  • Supposedly, Mr. Christian and the banker he worked with communicated via mail. Letters from Mr. Christian were always sent from a different place. So…where did the banker guy send his letters to?
  • This was all done during a period now 40+ years in the past, and according to Mr. Christian, planned 20 years before that. My guess is that most of the insiders are long dead. Who’s keeping the secrets now? There are either second-generation insiders keeping secrets, or they took the secrets to their graves.
  • Or…was the bombing a publicity stunt?

Think about it: Just like your elders, you spent your life and all your heavenly idealism putting this thing together without revealing whodunit. 40 years later, the whole shebang is an asterisk in some book on the backroads of Georgia. Honestly, I think more people have heard of the Mystery Spot than the Georgia Guidestones.

So what better way to get people talking about the Guidestones again than to create a conspiracy to knock them down? #guidestones is trending on Twitter now. Supposedly local government knocked the other stones down a few hours ago to keep them from falling on feckless tourists. Also supposedly, the cops fingered a perp, though about that I see nothing firm.

But here’s the deal: People are talking about the Guidestones again! Social media is making its message immortal. I consider it a terrible waste of good granite, but it’ll be in the news for a few days until the next mass shooting or Congress impeaches Trump again. Given the silliness of the whole business, that might be the best that the shadowy Guidestone conspiracy can hope for.

BTW, the Guidestones were not the American Stonehenge. That honor goes to Carhenge, which I visited with Carol and some friends when we drove to Alliance, Nebraska for the 2017 total solar eclipse. I’ll tell you this: Nobody is gonna knock that down anytime soon!

Is Substack Special?

Sometime very early this year, probably January, a reader asked me in an email what I thought of Substack, and if Contra would be better off there. She likes my work, and told me she “binged” on my old entries. At the time, I’d heard of Substack but never looked at it. Over the last couple of days I googled on the site, went there, and learned a great deal about it.

The answer is no. I’ll be 70 in three weeks, and I don’t have the stamina to try to blog for money. Ten or fifteen years ago, I would have been sorely tempted. No more. I have my loyal readers, and I don’t need the money that badly. But…but…if I were on Substack, I’d be famous!

No. Anybody can be on Substack. If I were already famous, I might try it. But I’m not. (I do have a certain fame. It’s five miles deep and three inches wide.)

Basically, Substack is Kindle for newsletters. And newsletters in this context are long-form blog entries. You can charge readers a subscription fee, minimum $5/month, or any dollar amount greater than that. (Newsletters can also be free if you prefer.) Readers can then read your entries on the Web, or on the iPhone app. (They’ve been a thing since 2017, and they don’t yet have an Android app? That’s just, well, stupid. They say they’re working on one. Sheesh, I hope so!)

Substack has thousands of newsletters, and as of the end of 2021, over a million paid subscribers. The top 10 writers in aggregate make $20M per year. That’s better money than I’ve ever made doing anything. But if you look at who the top ten writers are, it becomes painfully obvious: All of them were famous working in other venues long before Substack ever existed.

I’ve read Andrew Sullivan sporadically for a lot of years. I read him on the late suck.com back in the ’90s and lots of other places since. He’s the #5 writer on Substack. He’s interesting, funny, and doesn’t bend the knee to partisan bitchlords demanding unquestioning allegiance. I haven’t subscribed yet, but I may. He’s damned good.

Other writers I’ve heard of and read elsewhere include Bari Weiss, Matthew Iglesias, Matt Taibbi, and Glenn Greenwald. (Greenwald is #1 on Substack.) A chap I know, Tom Knighton, has three different Substack newsletters. (You’re not limited to one.) I’m sure other people out on the edges of my circles have Substack newsletters. (Have one? Let me know!) However, I’m guessing that there’s an 80/20 rule on Substack (or maybe a 90/10 rule) stating that 20% of the writers make 80% of the money. That’s the rule in a lot of business models, Kindle included.

That may just be the way the universe works. You have to build a platform, as the agents put it. In other words, you have to promote yourself, especially if you don’t already have a pre-existing reputation and thousands of cheering fans. As some of my self-published author friends on Kindle have learned, you sometimes have to do so much promoting that you don’t have the time (or the energy) to write new material.

So I won’t be there. I’m having too much fun on 20M and writing new SF. What, then, do I think? No question: It’s worth it, if you’re young and energetic and can write interesting text on a definable topic on a regular basis that at least a few people might pay $5 a month for. I have one concern about Substack’s viability: They do not currently discriminate against conservative writers, or centrist writers who don’t care for progressive dudgeon. Apparently a number of progressive writers have ditched Substack because–the horror!–Substack doesn’t censor conservative viewpoints.

Not yet. If they ever start, it’ll be the end of them. In the meantime, you have your choice of a very broad spectrum of very good writers. A lot of the posts are free, and you can sample any author you want. I’m budgeting myself four paid subscriptions, not because it’s expensive, but because there are only so many hours in a day.

Go take a look. I was moderately impressed.

In Pursuit of x64

You may be wondering where I am, given that I haven’t posted a Contra entry for over a month. I didn’t want May to conclude with zero entries posted, so I figured I’d take a break here and get you up to speed.

Here’s the deal: My publisher has asked for a Fourth Edition of Assembly Language Step-By-Step. It’s been thirteen years since the Third Edition came out, so it’s well past time. The idea here is to bring the book up to date on the x64 architecture. In fact, so that no one will mistake what’s going on, the title of the new edition will be x64 Assembly Language Step-By-Step, Fourth Edition. Whether they keep the “x” in lowercase remains to be seen.

So I’m off and editing, writing new code and checking every code snippet in a SASM sandbox, and making sure that I don’t forget and talk about EAX and other 32-bits-and-down entities without good reason. (There are good reasons. Even AH and AL are still with us and used for certain things.) Make no mistake: This is going to be a lot of work. The Third Edition is 600 pages long, which isn’t the longest book I’ve ever written (that honor belongs to Borland Pascal 7 From Square One, at 810 pages) but it’s right up there.

My great fear has been the possibility of needing to add a lot of new material that would make the book even longer, but in truth, that won’t be a huge problem. Here’s why: Some things that I spent a lot of pages on can be cut way back. Good example: In 32-bit Linux, system calls are made through the INT 80H call gate. In the Third Edition I went into considerable detail about how software interrupts work in a general sense. Now, x64 Linux uses a new x64 instruction, SYSCALL, to make calls into the OS. I’m not completely sure, but I don’t think it’s possible to use software interrupts at all in userspace programming anymore. I do have to explain SYSCALL, but there’s just not as much there there, and it won’t take nearly as many words and diagrams.

Oh, and of course, segments are pretty much a thing of the past. Segment management (such that it is) belongs to the OS now, and for userspace programming, at least, you can forget about them. I’m leaving a little description of the old segment/offset memory model for historical context, but not nearly as much as in previous editions.

I also dumped the Game of Big Bux, which doesn’t pull its weight in the explanation department, and isn’t nearly as funny now as it was in 1990. But have faith: The Martians are still with us.

My guess is that from a page count standpoint, it will pretty much be a wash.

It’s going to take me awhile. I don’t know how long, in truth. Especially since I am going to try to keep my fiction output from drying up completely. The book will slow me down, but (for a change) the publisher is not in a huge hurry and I think they’ll give me the time I need. I have 56,000 words down on The Everything Machine, and don’t intend to put it on ice for months and months. I’m not sure how well that’s going to work. We’ll see.

The Twitter Damn Breaks

Twitter’s damn has broken. That’s not a typo. The word “damn” means “to cast into the outer darkness.” Twitter is famous for doing that. Well, alluva sudden I’m seeing reports of the Twitter-damned finding that their accounts are live again, and they suddenly have thousands more followers than they had a couple of days ago.

Ok, I’m not one of them. A couple of days ago I had 612 followers. Last time I looked it was 614. But people I know personally suddenly have a thousand or so new followers, and on Twitter itself I see people claiming that they have gained thousandsof followers in the last day or so.

Something’s happening.

And it’s happening too soon. Musk and Twitter have not yet closed the deal. You can’t sleep in a house until all the papers are signed and the money changes hands. So why is Twitter suddenly casting the gates wide again and allowing–conservatives, urk!–to rejoin the global conversation?

Makes no sense, not like that’s a new thing for Twitter. But as a Fluffy the Puppy in my novel Dreamhealer said to Larry the Dreamhealer, “Sense is overrated sometimes.” I can think of two (related) reasons why Twitter is suddenly unbanning the damned, and giving them their followers back. This is speculation, obviously, but if you have any better crackpot ideas I’ll hear them:

  1. Twitter’s current rank and file are terrified of Musk. Not sure why. It’s not beyond imagination that they fear Musk using their own censorship machinery against them–and so they’re dismantling it. I doubt our man Elon is dumb enough to try something like that. But an awful lot of people with ivy degrees think he’s the devil incarnate. Or:
  2. Twitter’s management wants to erase all records of their banning decisions, as well as all operational details of whatever algorithms they employed to do the dirty work. What they fear is the general public finding out how pervasive Twitter’s censorship was, and how laser-focused it all was against a fairly narrow demographic. The worst outcome they can imagine is Musk taking over the company’s servers and posting all the details of how it once worked where the public can easily see them.

There may be more to it than that. We won’t know for awhile what Musk actually intends to change in Twitter’s daily operations. I’ve often wondered if the whole thing is theater, and that something will magically turn up at the last minute that makes the whole deal go belly-up. If so, well, Elon has made his point: Free speech is worth something, and it isn’t free if half the discussion is artificially suppressed.

Again, it’s too soon to be sure of anything. Sooner or later, we’ll know. In the meantime, the water’s over the damn and the damn is in ruins…wich is how all damns richly deserve to be.

Flashback: Ash Wednesday

From my Contrapositive Diary entry for February 25, 2004. I have a conflicted relationship with Lent, as I suggest here and may explain in more detail in coming days as time permits.


Ash Wednesday. Lent is not my favorite season. I spent my Catholic youth up to my nostrils in penitential sacramentality, and it’s taken me a long time to get over it. I’m mostly there; St. Raphael’s parish here [in Colorado Springs] is about as close to perfect a Catholic parish as I’ve seen in my years-long search-and it’s Episcopalian. The boundaries are slippery, but there’s something called Anglo-Catholicism, and…well, that may have to be an entry for another time. Right now, I’m kind of exhausted, but I wanted to relate a quick story of why I really love St. Raphael’s.

We went to the small noon service for Ash Wednesday, a reverent, quiet, music-less Mass with ashes distributed after the sermon. I hadn’t had ashes put on my forehead for a lot of years, nor had I seen a church with the statues and crucifixes covered with violet cloth for even longer-the Romans don’t do such things anymore. Carol was acting as acolyte-an adult altar girl-and I was in the pew by myself. It was hard to see something as deeply mythic as the enshrouded crosses without thinking back to my own childhood, and remembering being in the pews with my parents during Lent, with all the statues covered and in the air that inescapable sense of misdirected contemplation that somehow always came across as fatalistic gloom. As Deacon Edwina made the ashy cross on my forehead, whispering, “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you will return,” I could only think of my father, who became dust far sooner than the father of a confused and anxious young man should. There were tears on my cheeks as I walked back to my pew, and as I began to kneel again, a little girl in the next pew back (whom I didn’t know) reached out and touched my arm.

“Why are you crying?” she asked, her face full of concern.

“I was thinking of my father,” I said, trying to smile and failing, “who died a long time ago.”

She didn’t say anything in reply, but she leaned over the pew, put her arms around my waist, and gave me a quick hug. I was thunderstruck. She was maybe nine years old, and I had never seen her before. (Her family goes to the 8:00 liturgy, and we attend the 10:30.) There are times that I find myself thinking that cynicism has won, and we who believe that all manner of thing will (eventually) be well should just pack it in. But at that moment I felt that if a nine-year-old girl will reach out to comfort an old bald man she doesn’t even know, well, the Bad Guys don’t stand a chance in Hell.

And on Ash Wednesday, to boot. The contrarian moment passed, and I felt wonderful all afternoon. What power our children have over us!