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!


At 18:02, Anonymous Lars Balker said...

Hah, I thought "that sounds like a Conway talk" ;)

See if you can't get the evil twin to grow a goatee, it's more conventional.

At 19:21, Blogger Unknown said...

If you're not allowed to tell anybody of the time machine, you definitely shouldn't tell your wife! You know she can't keep a secret... ;-)


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