Ian's Blog

Why I Love Neal Stephenson

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I’m reading Cryptonomicon for the second time, having rediscovered it on a basement shelf and remembering that I really enjoyed it years ago. Last night I got to this part, when Randy’s trying to crack the Arethusa intercepts from his Manila jail cell:

“Who framed me, then?” Randy asks, kind of rhetorically. He was just in the middle of doing some pretty cool C++ coding when he got yanked out of his cell to have this surprise encounter with the Dentist, and is surprising himself with just how bored and irritated he is. He has reverted, in other words, back into a pure balls to the wall nerdism rivaled only by his early game coding days back in Seattle. The sheer depth and involution of the current nerdism binge would be hard to convey to anyone. Intellectually, he is juggling half a dozen lit torches, Ming vases, live puppies, and running chainsaws. In this frame of mind he cannot bring himself to give a shit about the fact that this incredibly powerful billionaire has gone to a lot of trouble to come and F2F with him. And so he asks the above question as nothing more than a perfunctory gesture, the subtext being I wish you’d go away but minimal standards of social decency dictate that I should say something. The Dentist, no slouch himself in the social ineptness department, comes right back as if it were an actual request for information.

Obviously any book that contains the phrase “pure balls to the wall nerdism” is probably good. An author who writes entertaining fiction and knows the software developer’s mindset this well is rare. Hilarity ensues. I can’t say that I’m proud of these moments, but what professional software developer hasn’t been there? Of course, I’d have to substitute an “oblivious coworker” for the “incredibly powerful billionaire,” making the caricature even more painful. šŸ™‚

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Written by Ian Olsen

November 28, 2007 at 10:55 am

Posted in Work Life

One Response

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  1. Nerdism? It reminds me of “Stuck on You” where Walt decides (at Eva Mendes’ suggestion) not to run from his deformity, but to embrace it.

    Peter Waitzman

    February 13, 2008 at 11:03 am


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