Monday, November 6 2000
One of the many fascinating things about the meeting of long-separated cultures is the technological exchanges that take place (after the initial flurry of killings has subsided). These exchanges are almost always unilateral, since such meetings usually happen when advanced westerners stumble into isolated jungle villages. Technologically primitive people are suddenly confronted with the factory-produced cargo of the modern world. To them, it's all as stunning and alien as if it had been accidentally left behind by a departing UFO. Coke bottles, bits of plastic-insulated wire, pencils, and god forbid, battery powered digital watches; it's all amazing and magical. Why? Because each of these trivial items represents the accumulated efforts of thousands and thousands of designers, engineers, manufacturers, artists, planners and project managers. They are single instances of massive, lucrative engines of duplication, all of which sits on layers and layers of accumulated ingenuity and invention, built over centuries in places long urbanized and connected to other places long urbanized.
Today, as a sort of dubious payment for services being rendered as well as an act of carefully-calculated meme promotion (not very different from the initial promotion of LINUX), I dropped off a truly remarkable piece of code at a nearby ISP, in the care of its only back-end web developer, a tom boyish woman named Sylvia. We installed the code in the course of only a half hour or so, and, against all expectations, it started working without the slightest setback. The most amazing thing was when the ASP front end was fired up it was still communicating with a backend on an entirely different server in an entirely different domain. When I changed the connection string to make it point to the right place, where there was no data, the program went, as it hasn't done for months, into a special "install mode" - launching a setup wizard and everything. I could tell it was impressing the hell out of Sylvia, who has never been given more than a week to develop anything. I felt a little like a soon-to-die-of-malaria white man explorer bringing a cargo of coke bottles and matches into the heart of darkness.
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