Friday, September 28, 2012

So how many of me are there?

One thing bothers me about my situation....

OK there are a lot of things that bother me about my situation, like for example I don't have a life and my alter ego does. But another thing that bothers me is that if there are two of me here, there must be one of me missing somewhere else. I may be flattering myself, but I think that's going to suck.

It seems like whenever the time machine is used, you end up in a slightly different universe than the one you left. The goats probably didn't notice. They are happy as long as they have something tasty to eat, like grass, moss or cardboard boxes. But, unlike the goats, I can see I am in a different universe. One obvious difference: this universe is inhabited by a rather unreasonable version of me that refuses to go in the time machine, whereas the universe I came from was inhabited by a better version of me (me, in fact) who didn't have a problem with time machines.

But up to the point where I arrived back in time it really seems like the universes were the same. In fact they may well have been one universe. So an alternative theory is that the universe bifurcated into two when I arrived back. That I actually created this universe by my arrival. That makes me the creator of this universe, which I think is a pretty important role. I should totally get some credit for creating the universe.

But what about the universe I left? They assured me that I had arrived the day before from the future, so if that is true, that's not the universe that is missing a me. Is it the universe that he came from, or did they get an Erik from a fourth universe? Perhaps there isn't a universe that is missing a me, there's just an endless chain of universes, each of which provided an Erik to a previous one. Perhaps there are even some where the Eriks are piling up and they don't know what to do with them.

I am strangely comforted by the thought that there might be an infinite chain of universes, each with at least one Erik in it. Others may find it less comforting, perhaps even a little spooky.

Another comforting thing about multiple universes is that there might be one where GOTO is still called JAOO.

I am really looking forward to building my new life at JAOO GOTO. After the party I expect to be a bit hung over. Not sure I'll make it to the keynote about Microsoft and Open Source. Some early bird will be able to tell me whether it was about how they are trying to crush Open Source with patent trolling, or whether they explained why they prohibit some Open Source licenses on their source hosting site.

Then there's the talk about Perl 6. The way I imagine the Perl 6 project is as a distributed version of the artist from Spaced. But it's probably more complicated than that.

In fact I think I'll just camp out in the programming languages track. I love programming languages. There are talks about 'R' and 'D'. If I ever invent a language all the good letters will be already taken.

And Tuesday at 5 there is more programming language goodness in the form of the Dart user group for Dart users or those who want to try being Dart users. You have to register, but it's free even for those that don't have a GOTO ticket!

On Wednesday I am definitely going to the Personal Productivity track. Last year it was a blast - a series of great mini-talks with tips on how to do more with less effort. I wonder if it's too late for me to do a talk on techniques for using vim with only 9 fingers.

In the afternoon there is The browser is dead (Dan, you tease, I know you don't really mean it!) and probably yet another language talk before the big Hejlsberg closing keynote which is also free to people who register even if they don't have a ticket. What's with all the freeness this year? Crazy stuff. But if you want a ticket ping me for a discount code.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

How I lost a fingertip and gained a ticket to GOTO 2012

Yes, I'm bitter.

It sounded like a great chance to test the amazing technology we have in Google. "Be the first human to test the time machine" they said. "It's perfectly safe, it works just fine on goats".

I volunteered to dogfood test the time machine. I couldn't get in on the Google Glass dogfood; this sounded almost as cool.

The plan was to go back just one day. No dinosaurs, no accidentally killing your own grandmother. And it worked 99.9%. Which I guess is pretty impressive. Better than Meat Loaf's "Two out of three ain't bad". Unfortunately for me, the missing 0.1% was the tip of my little finger!

The day before the test I was sort of expecting to meet myself from the future, but they said that wasn't safe. Paradoxes and such. So I went into it without meeting my future self. No problem, they told me my future me was just fine. I wasn't worried. Nobody mentioned the finger.

I was pretty surprised, then, when I arrived back at the day before and my finger hurt like hell. The blood was a mess, the pain was something else. Basically the tip of my finger didn't make it, it was left in the future when the rest of me went back one day. They gave me some pain killers, bandaged me up and told me to relax in a bean bag chair. There was a meeting in the next room, people were trying to keep their voices down, not succeeding. I decided to barge in on the meeting. Someone was explaining that goats don't have fingers, "there was no way to know". They told me they had already agreed not to tell my past self what had happened. I told them there was no way I was not going to warn myself about something like this. That was why I had already phoned myself up and warned myself.

That turned out to be a mistake. Not the most thought-through thing I have ever done. I blame the pain meds. It turns out they were planning to wait a day, pick up the finger and sew it back on. I would have been just fine in a few weeks.

What happened instead is that my past self was very uncooperative. Basically he said he wasn't going to get in the machine without pain killers. They pointed out that I had gone in without pain killers so it would cause a paradox if he had some. He says, in that case he is not going in the machine.

So now there are two of me.

Why does this never happen in the books? I've read my share of time travel books and I don't remember this issue arising.

We've talked it over with our wife. She is pretty freaked out. To put it mildly. She keeps saying "I thought you were working on virtual machines, not on virtual Eriks". I point out that we are both physical. It doesn't help.

She only wants one of us. And she is picking the me with the intact hand, which is sad, because the way I see it, he is the unreasonable one.

The Danish state isn't going to accept two of us either. I have a CPR number but it's the same one as the other me. They don't just give out new ones to people who suddenly find they need two. And I can't explain the situation, because I am still bound by the NDAs not to tell anyone about the top secret time travel technology.

Google offered me a new job in another country, but after the way I was treated after the time machine accident I am not going to work with them. For some reason the other me is happy to stay.

So basically he gets my life and I get to start over. Sometimes I want to kill him, but not for long. After all, he is me. According to the evolutionary biologist J.B.S. Haldane you should be willing to lay down your life for two brothers or eight cousins. It's to do with the maths of kin selection: They have just as much of your DNA as you do, so they are equivalent to you. This also means I should be willing to lay down my life for one of me. I'm not willing to do that, because he is being an idiot about getting into the machine, but I'm also not going to kill him. Me. Whatever.

The only thing I get is a bit of money, some clothes and a free ticket to GOTO.

GOTO is always a good place to network. This year I have to make it the mother of all networking events. I have three days to pick up a new life.

Moving to the UK is definitely an option. A country that is so terrible at keeping track of its citizens seems ideal. According to John le Carré what you do is go to a church yard and find the gravestone of someone who was born around the same time as yourself. Then you go to the passport office and say that you are that guy and you lost your birth certificate and you need a new one. This sounds like the worst plan imaginable, but it actually worked for John Stonehouse, a British M.P. who decided he wanted a new life down under. It would be good to pick a dead person with a CS degree so I don't have to do that all over again.

At GOTO I will definitely go and see what Anders Hejlsberg is going to talk about. The rumours have been flying. It's something to do with JavaScript according to ZDNet, so it's something I have some expertise in. And I guess there is a certain beauty in the idea of having a twin/evil twin thing going with one of us at MS and the other at Google. On the other hand, he is the evil twin in this affair, so he should be the one that goes to Redmond.

I'll certainly go and see Cantrill and Pacheco talk about debugging stuff that only happens in production. I know all about bugs that only happen in production (well, in dogfooding, which is almost the same), and there's no way I'm going to try the machine again to see if we can reproduce the problem. If they corner me and ask for better dtrace support in V8 I'll just say yes, yes, you can have whatever you need. It will be the other Erik's problem to keep my promises.

Perhaps I should go see the MongoDB talk. They use V8 too and who can resist a talk title with the word "humongous" in the title? No-one, that's who.

At the party, Monday night, I plan to treat the pain in my hand with some ethanol-based pain killers. But perhaps I should start drinking a little earlier, because Contratemporal Virtual Nanomachine Programming In Topologically Connected Quantum-Relativistic Parallel Spacetimes...Made Easy! doesn't sound like something you can really appreciate sober. Also, if it's so easy, how do you explain my finger?!‽

So that's some ideas for Monday. I'll be hanging out in the exhibition area too. Everyone knows that's where the real conference takes place. Though the idea of an unconference has always struck me as being a bit like saying "The parks are the nicest parts of London, so let's bulldoze the rest of the city and have only parks. In Paris we will leave only the cafes and in Brussels we will leave only the high speed rail links that enable you to go to somewhere nicer".

Obviously I'll be posting this only on the Google-internal version of Blogger. Imagine the chaos if I accidentally posted it on the external version!