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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Cracking the Code

For many years, JavaScript evaded me. I wanted it for my website, I could see its potential for my life, but I just couldn't wrap my head around how it worked. It was a fruit I couldn't reach, a nut that wouldn't crack. I made a promising debut in the biz, you might say: I grew up with a Texas Instruments TI-99/4A, and learned BASIC at an early age. I even programmed a video game in Year 10 Computer Studies, a racing car simulation with sprite and treacherous track. That was in the age of the Commodore 64. When the Internet arrived, half a decade later, I fancied that it could provide the platform for a new kind of literature, an interactive, choose-your-own-adventure style of fiction. I started to write a novel which I hoped would be like the magic book from Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age: a device that was more storyteller than mere story, bespoke but bewilderingly cuttingedge, an intuitive, intelligent machine. HTML was cool and easy to pick up, but it wasn't interactive enough for my goal. I soon realized that only JavaScript could deliver the desired dynamism. Unfortunately, computer languages had evolved since my TA forays, and this new lingo looked a hell lot more complicated than BASIC. What is it with these functions, attributes and elements? I remember asking myself, frustrated; what does object-oriented mean? Looking back, I can see that I had succumbed to the same misconception that scuppered my efforts to learn German in Year 11: I did not appreciate that every language has its own grammar. As language leaners know, grammar is the hardest part. Master the grammar, and the rest will follow.  

This breakthrough was 20 years in the making, but something miraculous has happened in the past few months... I suddenly get JavaScript! Of course, these days I no longer write fiction... I suppose you could say that fiction writes me. Life is a code (Baudrillard), a narrative (Lacan), and JavaScript is the interface which enables me to read this code, one line at a time...

We all have algorithms running in our minds at any time, unfathomable routines, an endless chain of signification (to put it in Lacanese). Functions waiting to be triggered, like samskaras lurking in the murk. The first step is to codify what it already there, conscious and unconscious, constructive and destructive. Then you can set about reprogramming yourself. Currently JavaScript can predict how far I can drive from home, estimate my tax due  (var taxdue = taxableIncome * .19;), and even tell me when it is time to move out. Piece by piece, my personal assistant is taking shape. The Grand Algorithm is here!

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