Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fixed gear bikes and programming languages (or, "This language is AWESOME: it can't do anything!")

Austin is Texas's San Francisco. I hate San Francisco. Well, I love San Francisco. I love-hate San Francisco. And Austin.

What I love about these places is their intellectual ferment and diversity of things to do. (Wanna play go? There's a free class by a 3-dan player at the Dobie Mall. Wanna learn Esperanto? Talk to Anderson at the go club.) What I hate is fixed gear bicycles. Fixies. 

When you ride a fixie, there's a certain kind of hat you're supposed to wear. Also, you need to put a playing card in the spokes. Also, fixed gear bikes are SO much better. Why? Because you can't shift gears. It's harder. It makes you a stronger bicyclist. Why be a stronger bicyclist? So you can ride your fixie without being winded. Why not just keep your old bike and choose not to shift gears? Because, man, just because.

Imposing needless difficulties on yourself to make yourself better can be a good thing. The Spartans opted not to build walls around their cities so soldiers would have to be more on-guard and ready for battle. I think it mostly worked out for them. A tribe in Africa refuses to sweep their floors with long-handled brooms because doing housework without back pain is just lazy. I don't know how that's working out. Sometime artificial difficulties are used to make you better. Other times they're kept around to signal status, folksy wisdom, totems, or team spirit.

Prolog taught me to think declaratively, and FORTH taught me to write re-invent a thousand wheels. There are tasks I would choose implement in these languages even if I knew I could do the same in something mainstream. But the real gifts of these explorations have been the satoris they have given me. Having cried in the dojo, I can laugh on the battlefield. Having removed the ankle-weights, I come back to Basic a stronger man.

I can always shift gears when I come up against a big hill. But I don't have to.

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