Archive for ‘November, 2012’

With the seasons

Living in England taught me many things; layering will save your life, beer can be served at higher temperatures than ice-cold and actually that’s pretty nice, yes you can fit that many people into a Tube carriage and by the way how about we try fit ten more just for kicks there’s the chap.

One of the lessons that I treasure most is this; be aware of the seasons.


Australia is a hot bloody place a lot of the time, and when it isn’t hot it tends to be raining. These two states aside, it’s very easy to grow up lacking a basic understanding of the order of nature.

Gum trees are perennials, so they don’t change very much. Plus there are lots of them, so in the end they’re just sort of there – background. We have native flowers but in the cities they don’t appear everywhere.

In England it is so obvious. February is the snowdrops, March and April is daffodils, early summer is tulips. Late summer is blackberries from laneway to the train station. In autumn the leaves turn and drop. Winter is bare trees and red berries.


The change of the seasons is easy to miss in Oz. Sure, it’s hot or it’s not, but until I lived in England I did not or could not pay any attention to the inbetween.

There are some exceptions. One of the few obvious signifiers of the seasons in most of Australia is the Jacaranda bloom.


The jacaranda means it’s summer.

Listen. You’ve been hypnotized. You’ve been told you need a corporate job. You need a college degree. You need stability. You need the white picket fence. You need the IRA and the health insurance. Snap your fingers in front of your face. The American Religion is a myth, just like the movie, Thor, is based on a myth. Stability is only in your mind. There’s $15 trillion dollars in our economy, recession or no recession. It’s falling like snow. Reach out with your tongue and taste it.

James Altucher

It’s turtles all the way down

I read on Hacker News about the demise of Glitch, which I understand was a browser-based MMO.

In the post on Glitch announcing the closure of the game was this passage;

Why don’t you give the game away or make it open source or let player volunteers run it?
Glitch looks simple, but it is not. Any massively multiplayer game is several orders of magnitude more complex than a multiplayer game (and those are usually an order of magnitude more complex than a single player game). The state of the world changes hundreds of thousands of times a second, and each of those changes has to be immediately saved in a way that is safe and redundant. Most of those changes — decrease in a chicken’s lifespan, the regeneration of a rock, the health of a tree, the movement of every player — have to be sent from server to server and from server to player’s local computers. If you’re in a busy place in Glitch, your computer might be receiving hundreds or even thousands of messages about stuff that’s happening around you every second.

It takes a full-time team of competent engineers & technical operations personnel just to keep the game open. Even if there was a competent team that was willing to work on it full time for free, it would take months to train them. Even then, the cost of hosting the servers would be prohibitively expensive.

This is Glitch.

Glitch Game

There’s the game interface on the left, with a chat window on the right, some icons on the bottom, a few players in the game. There’s lots on the screen, sure. But, gosh, this is just the start.

It isn’t unreasonable to intuit that Glitch has tens of thousands of lines of code, ran on multiple servers located across distant geographies, and required hundreds of hours of input from designers, artists, engineers, support providers, and management. And it’s just a game, right? A nice looking game that happens to be so complex that it resembles the activity of a miniature universe.

It’s a little bit frightening, I find, to think about the complexity behind the systems and tools we use everyday and take for granted. This game, your banking website, the phone in your hand. It’s all built on the shoulders of giants but have so many giants (and lesser mortals too) ever before been so involved in such an intricate, inextricably tied web?

Looking at this as a veneer, a mere portal into the workings of the systems and infrastructure that give it life, is a little like looking into the abyss. Where does it end? In the mind of the designer who created the icons, or the developer who implemented them, or the person who tested, or the server admin who deployed the code, or the data centre guy who performed some routine tests on the Linux server, or the thousands of people who’ve contributed to Linux, or the people who built the Enigma machine, or developed electricity, or first created fire…

When someone asks me ‘how long will this take to implement’ I just have to give them a wry smile. Because the answer is about 13.75 billion years or so.