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Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey

Summer Hike

I did some backpacking on the AT this weekend between Daleville and Catawba.  A paltry 20 miles and I covered it a lot faster than I meant to, and so ended up with some time to kill up on McAfee Knob.  I set my bag down to make my morning coffee, and realized I had set it down right next to this beauty.  I initially thought whoa, snake! and then noticed the head and thought SHIT! COPPERHEAD! Fortunately, she didn’t seem too upset by it, and I went back to my breakfast and she to her sunbathing.  Thanks for being laid back, babe.

I didn’t take too many pictures during the hike, but the ones that I did take are here.

Count Zero / Mona Lisa Overdrive

William Gibson

Mona Lisa Overdrive

It probably doesn’t speak well for Count Zero that I was two chapters into it before I realized that I had read it before.  Not just read something like it, but actually ready the book, some unknown number of years ago.  It can be hard to tell with genre fiction, because by definition it’s all pretty similar.  I finished it anyway, and figured that while I was at it, I might as well finish the trilogy and read Mona Lisa Overdrive, too.  Because I’m the kind of guy who aims to finish things once I’ve started them.

You can’t really talk badly about Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy for being genre fiction.  If it didn’t invent the cyberpunk genre, it certainly defined it.  A lot of our “cyberspace” terminology — and even some of the technologies themselves — were fictions created by Gibson that became realities created by Gibson readers.  That’s no small feat for a writer.  To inspire not just a literary genre, but a whole way of interacting with information in the real world.  He created a whole different kind of “cool”, where pasty-faced loners are “cowboys” and the data they manipulate is frontier.  Emmanuel Goldstein as Billy the Kid.  An impossible coup.

Even after all this time, data wrangling is still fascinating to me.  Since my father brought home the first Pong machine and attached it to the antenna of our black-and-white TV, I’ve been pretty hooked on digital world-making.  When the ATARI 2600 got replaced with the ATARI 800XL home computer (with BASIC built-in), I started spending my study hall hours in the library reading Family Computing and writing INFOCOM-style text adventure games long-hand in a spiral notebook.  They were terrible programs: hugely redundant labyrinths of IFs and GOTOs.  But something about it was amazing to me.  It still is, but I still don’t know what it is.

It probably has something to do with solving problems in finite spaces.  I was a nerd, no doubt about it.  Solving problems in people spaces wasn’t something I had learned to do.  Too many variables, too difficult to reproduce results.  The space wasn’t sufficiently constrained.  But finite computer space was different.  The same inputs created the same output every time.  If you tried, you could understand and control the system — the whole system, consistently.  It was a problem-solver’s dream: define the constraints, PEEK and POKE at some memory bits, and you got exactly what you wanted.

Luckily for me, I was forced to live without a computer for most of my teenage years.  The 800XL went belly-up and wasn’t replaced, I couldn’t afford a computer of my own until my junior year of college, and I was forced to work on other skills.  Messier skills like art and music and finally people.  The ATARI years served me well, though.  I’ve been data wrangling for all of my adult life, and make a comfortable living staying at home and pushing ones and zeroes into the tubes.  Without Gibson, those tubes would surely still exist, but they would have been shaped differently.