you want to drop x?
Friday, February 15 2008
It was crunch day for the delivery of a website some colleagues and I have been working on at our various remote locations for the past several months. Our focus today was details, but I managed to find a few surprisingly egregious bugs along the way. As was typical with this particular client, they were still dropping spec changes on us on delivery day. That there was anything to deliver at all was nothing short of a miracle. The site, by the way, attempts to sell people carbon dioxide offsets, a racket tailor-matched to the constant American craving for cheap, easy, and behavior-maintaining absolution (Catholic indulgences were ahead of their time!)
My laboratory is full of bits and pieces of mechanical and electronic devices that are either on their way up (they are being built) or on their way down (their parts are being scavenged). This is metaphor for the way words, idioms, clichés, myths, and other cognitive units in a language work. But I can do this metaphor one better if I describe the way functions and libraries of functions behave in a computational environment. In that context the cognitive units are a lot more like those of a language in that they can be cloned and matched indefinitely without ever exhausting supply. They can also interact with each other in unexpected ways, ways that can actually produce comic content. Today I'd built a dummy table called "x" with my database building tool, and when I was done with it, I decided to delete it. In database parlance, the removal of a table is called "dropping." My tool is a cautious one, so it asked, "Are you sure you want to drop x?" That was the moment of humor, since "to drop x" means "to take ecstasy." I told my tool that I did. The table vanished and my tool deadpanned "x was dropped." Quadrillions of monkeys typing at typewriters may not be able to write even so much as a fragment of one of Shakespeare's sonnets, but random event trajectories can occasionally build authentic humor from the junk drawer of language. Mind you, this humor hadn't exactly been roll-on-the-floor funny, but it had given me a little hope (if that's the appropriate feeling) that one day robots will indeed be creative and funny.
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